I came across this video recently that I took while in Canada for the polar bears a few years back. These fox had just had a territorial dispute, and then decided to jump around after they were done. It's funny and I thought you would enjoy it.
Through the 2016 holidays, it was nice to see family and catch up on many much-needed projects. The Christmas season is a busy selling time, as well, but I was still able to see everyone I wanted to see back home and many extended family members. Once the New Year came, I headed back to Canada for a few weeks to be with me fiancé in Canmore. I was excited to be back with her and scout out the Canadian Rockies for wildlife. It was cold and snowy while I was in Canmore, but I didn’t have a whole lot of luck in locating much wildlife other than elk.
I always enjoy going to Yellowstone in the winter and searching for the wolves, and other animals. I left Canmore on the 24th to scout for my upcoming workshop that started on the 28th. I did manage to see some wolves in those three-days and figure out where they were hanging out, but they were very far away when I did see them. There has been a good amount of snow this year, which was nice because there weren’t any brown spots showing like there has been in years past. The animals didn’t cooperate for me in those three days to get many shots, but I felt confident I could find them when we come back to the north on my workshop.
On the night of the 27th I went and stayed with some friends in Livingston, MT, and then on the morning of the 28th I went to Bozeman to get my group. I was excited for the workshop to start and help them find and photograph the wonders of the Yellowstone Winter. We headed to West Yellowstone after I had gotten everyone, and that night we went out to shoot the sunset. The next morning would be our first in the park, and we would go in from West on a snow coach.
Everyone was excited and ready on the 29th, and at 7 a.m. we headed into the park, and my good friend Justin Parsons was our driver guide as well. It was forecasted to be the coldest morning of our time in West, so we headed toward Old Faithful first thing to try and get frosty bison. The sunrise that morning was absolutely incredible, and a great way to start the workshop! I wish it had been colder than 5 degrees, but we were still able to find some bison that were covered in frost in the thermal areas. We spent a long time with the bison and headed back toward the Madison River. We got there after lunch, and as we were looking for a bobcat, another coach had already spotted one and everyone rushed out. It is always such a treat to see a wild bobcat! We were fortunate to watch it across the river for a few hours that afternoon as it stalked ducks and waited for an opportunity to pounce. It never did jump, but we got great shots of the bobcat! It was a great first day of the workshop!
On the 30th we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley in the morning. It was so nice being the only group at the canyon in the morning, because in the summer that never happens. It was a nice day, so we headed into Hayden Valley while the light was still good. We photographed a famous tree there, and then further down the road found a red fox. It was a very cooperative red fox, and we got to watch it hunt as it moved along the endless snow ridges. It even decided to come our way and walked right up to us and onto the road! Once it crossed we kept photographing it, and it went on a ridge with the beautiful dark clouds behind it!
We had heard otters were near the canyon, and we had great timing because the other groups had come to look for the fox we had and we went to the otters, where 50 people had been. When we got there we were the only ones there, and the otter pups were so playful. They played and played and played and ran around and were so fun to watch! A bald eagle flew in after a while and landed on a tree close to the road! It was one of the best otter experiences I had ever had! We went to Artist Point to photograph the canyon, and when we left we found the otters again and had to stop. A different bald eagle was in a tree nearby this time too. The otters weren’t as playful this time, but were still active. One otter went running and sliding our direction down the frozen river, and it was great to photograph! If he did it again I thought I would take a video of it because it was so neat. Some time later it did it again, and I videoed it running and sliding on its belly numerous times! I never thought this video would go viral, but nature and wildlife sure can capture people’s hearts! We even managed to catch a glimpse of a bobcat that evening. What an incredible first couple of days!
The 31st was our last day on the snow coach, and we headed to Old Faithful again in the morning. We followed wolf tracks for a long time, but never saw the wolves. It was a very windy day, which wasn’t a good sign for trying to find wildlife. Animals don’t like wind, and will hunker down in the trees and wait for the wind to die down. We shot some thermal features, but it was hard to photograph in the blowing snow. On the Madison River we found more coyotes, and even got to watch one try and fish in the river. Later that day a bobcat was spotted, so we got to see a bobcat again! I can’t believe we got to photograph the bobcat every day of our trip in from West!
Our time in West went better than I could have hoped, then on the morning of February 1st I drove the group to the Northern Range of Yellowstone. It was not a fun drive because of the snow and wind from last night that iced up the road. We made it safely, and then that afternoon went in to the park and checked out the northern range. We found some big horn sheep and coyotes on our afternoon run, but it was just good to see that part of the park and refigure out where the wildlife were in the north.
On the 2nd we left Gardiner at 6:30 a.m. and it was snowing hard when we left. It didn’t let up, but when we got to Roosevelt Junction, a mother and calf moose were right off the road. It was still a little dark, but they were right by the road. We were able to stay with them for a little while as they moved near the road. It snowed so hard when we were with them, but it made for a dramatic scene. A great start to the day! We continued on to Lamar Valley, but it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see anything. A large bison was on the road, and we were able to get ahead of him and pull into a pullout and let him walk by. He was beautiful and fully covered in snow. It had been a very long time since I had seen it snow that hard in Lamar. The roads were getting dangerous because of how much it was snowing, so we headed to Mammoth hoping it wasn’t snowing as hard. It was snowing just as hard, but we photographed the terraces anyway, and it made for a neat scene. We called it a day a little early because it wouldn’t stop snowing and the visibility was so bad.
We left at 6:45 again on the 3rd and headed into the park. It was a quiet morning, but when we got back to Pebble Creek we found a small bull moose bedded. We waited for him to get up, and it was a beautiful scene when he did with the trees fully covered in snow. It snowed off and on throughout the day, but nothing like yesterday. My group really wanted to see wolves, as did I, but it is never an easy task. Most days, if you see them, they are really far away and you have to pray you are in the right spot if they do come close enough. Around lunch I was able to show them a pack of eight wolves through a scope, but they were over a mile away. This is what wolf watching is like over 95% of the time in Yellowstone. Wolves are, in my opinion, the hardest of the large mammals to photograph because they are skittish and hate people. We saw some wildlife that afternoon, but didn’t have many opportunities other than with moose.
Our last full day was the 4th, and when we went in that morning the wind was absolutely howling. On the Blacktail Plateau the snowplow hadn’t been up there yet, and I was plowing through 3-4 foot drifts! It was absolutely crazy! I only did it because I knew the road, and was surprised I didn’t get stuck honestly. It was super windy across the whole park, which almost never happens. Nothing was out because of the wind, but we did find one large bison fully covered in snow. The wind blowing created a dramatic scene at times, and we stayed with him a long time because I knew there was nothing else out. The roads were very dangerous and we had to wait on snowplows a couple of times to clear the road of snow. We went back to Mammoth because of how dangerous it was, and that nothing was out. A wolf pack was on a ridge above Mammoth, but again way to far for pictures. We photographed the terraces in the sunlight and then went in. There was no way I was driving back out with how dangerous the roads were.
On the 5th we put everyone’s luggage in one room and then headed in at 7:30 into the park. I am dropping them off today, but no one’s flight is until the evening, so we went in the park in the morning. It was again very windy and very little wildlife was out. Four large bison were near the road and in a nice scenic spot. A couple of times the wind kicked up and made for a very nice cold windy scene! A little further down the road we found a moose, and he came close to the road. Then he turned around and crossed the river! It was a great way to close out the workshop! We drove to Bozeman and I dropped everyone off by 4 p.m. A great way to relax after a long, but great, workshop was to watch the super bowl with friends!
Overall I was very excited for how the workshop went! We saw so many different species of animals, and all of those species gave us an opportunity to get good pictures except the wolves. I know wolves were on the top of everyone’s list, but I can’t define a workshop by wolves only. They would have been great, but we were able to get great shots on many species, including the elusive bobcat. Twila flew in the night of the super bowl and I can’t wait to get to show her Yellowstone for her first time!
If you haven’t seen my video of the otter sliding on it’s belly that went viral, click on the video below this blog! It got over 70 million views on facebook!
I caught this otter running and sliding on a frozen river in Yellowstone National Park a week ago. It was so much fun to watch and it was having so much fun! Enjoy watching!
October was just what I needed! The summer was so busy that I didn’t have time to think about many other aspects of my photography and business. After closing the gallery, and then photographing the elk rut, I finally had a chance to relax for the first time in months. I was looking forward to falling back into what I had known as my past, and not having day-to-day responsibilities. I thoroughly enjoy the freedom my job allows, and the ability to go anywhere at any given time. Before this summer, I was use to photographing, and then taking a break, and then photographing more. There were no breaks this summer, because when I wasn’t photographing, I was in my gallery in Skagway. And it will likely be that way for years to come.
I didn’t realize how much the summer had drained me until I began to fully relax. I was so caught up in the gallery, and trying to make it successful, that many things fell through the cracks. I envisioned only needing a short amount of time to be caught up on most things, but I was wrong. The more I relaxed and looked back on the summer and other needs of my business, the more I realized I had lots to do. I’m grateful I was able to take a step back and analyze the summer, and my business as a whole, and see how things went and how I would like them to go in the future.
As my career has changed and progressed, I have enjoyed each new twist and turn. I’ve never known where I was going to be from year to year, but now that has changed some too. I will still have many unknown during the fall and winter, but for the spring and summer I will be in Alaska. I can think of many worst things that being in Alaska, though.
All that spare time I use to have as I got my business going, is long gone. I enjoyed all the unknowns and paths that I’ve taken to get to this point in my career, and look forward to the future ones. I got caught up in this summer, and got away from a couple of thing that has made my career so great. October allowed me to see that, and to hopefully not have that happen again. Relaxing and a distressing of the mind were critical for me. I needed to get back out in nature, and forget about all the other things of the world that catch so many people and don’t let go.
I did a fair amount of work in October, but it was the times I didn’t work that made October great. Exploring new areas and finding new places to photograph is what excites me the most! There is so much area in our great continent to explore and search. My fiancé recently moved, and spending time with her in the mountains around her area was great! I did a lot of pre scouting for the winter, and now can’t wait for winter to get here. It will be exciting to see what winter brings in this new area to me.
On November 10th I hooked the trailer back up and begun the long drive to Tennessee. I wasn’t looking forward to the three-day drive, but it had to be done. My truck has started to have a little transmission issues, but I figured I could make it back to TN. It did fine across the country, thankfully, and after 39 hours of driving I got back to Tennessee. I have a gallery exhibit in my hometown of Tullahoma that opens on November 19th from 5-7 p.m. at the Fine Art Center.
As the days of September ticked away, I got closer and closer to packing up the gallery and heading south. By September 12th I was ready to go, but still had a few days before I would take the gallery down for the winter. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy having my own gallery, but I was just exhausted from an extremely long Alaskan summer. I knew going in that it would be mountains of work to properly get my gallery up and running, but it turned out to be even more than I had planned. It was nice knowing my first year was almost done, and how much better prepared I would be for next year.
The last day the gallery was open was the 16th, and as soon as it slowed down that afternoon, my employee and I took the gallery down and packed it for the winter. I left a number of things in the gallery, as I will be back next year, but took many of the prints with me. It only took a few hours for it to come down, and I hope setting up next year will only take that long. We got it all packed up, and by that evening I was on the road heading south into Canada.
On the drive south, I finally had time to look back on the summer and evaluate most of what had transpired. May seems like years ago, because of how much took place over the course of the summer. It’s amazing to think back on how I thought things would go at the beginning of the summer, and how many things ended up turning out. I’m sure in the coming weeks I will have more time to sit and think about the summer, but on the drive it was nice to not have to worry about how the gallery was doing for the first time in months. My brain was ready for a break, and photographing in the Canadian Rockies would be the perfect medicine.
After over two full days of driving, and almost 30 hours, I got to Canmore, AB, which is where my fiancé had moved. I was very happy my car made it there with no problems, because it has started to act up a little, but it also has 264,000 miles on it! It has been a beast, and I plan on riding it until it dies! After only a couple days of rest, we headed out to go photograph the elk rut in the Canadian Rockies.
Photographing is always where I am the happiest, and also not thinking about the gallery while out photographing was extremely nice. A number of my photographer friends were out photographing too, and it was fun catching up with everyone. The elk rut was in full swing, and on our first morning a large bull gave us a good chase. That was Twila’s initiation into how crazy the elk are this time of year. She is a quick learner, and that was the only really intense moment we had on the trip. Soon after he chased us, I ended up getting my favorite picture of the trip. His females decided to swim a river, so he went after them, and it was very foggy and hard to see, but it made for a very dramatic picture with the elk in the river!
It was nice seeing some of the bull elk I had seen last year back, and them be even larger this year. Over the course of 10 days, we fully immersed ourselves into the elk rut and got some great photos! There were two elk that were particularly dominant, and all the other elk would run from them. I was really hoping to get to photograph a fight, but it didn’t happen unfortunately. There had been fights before we were able to get to the park, but by the time we had gotten there most of the hierarchy of elk was already established, and the challengers would just run away.
One of the nice things about the elk rut is, even though you may not know exactly where the bulls are sometimes, if you sit long enough you would hear one bugle. The elk bugle is one of my favorite sounds of the mountains, and it is so majestic hearing them call out and hear it echo throughout the valleys. It is such a powerful sound, and one that gets my heart beating. I particularly like the cold mornings when you can see their breath as they bugle. Being in the woods with them during the rut is exciting. You really have to stay on your toes, because they are pumped up on testosterone and can charge at any second.
We were also excited to be back in the Canadian Rockies, because it is where me met exactly a year ago on September 21st. I was actually photographing a bull elk, and Twila was a tourist who happened to stop that day. We ended up hitting it off, obviously, and we both have a deep love of wildlife. But being back in the place where we met was special. It just goes to show you never know what will happen in the mountains!
Over the course of the 10 days I was able to capture some nice behavior, and capture them in many different environments. When they are on the riverbank or in the river is when I like to photograph them the most, and I had a few opportunities when they were there. One day a couple friends of mine and I followed a bull elk as he left his cows and went to look for more. It was a neat experience walking beside him for nearly three miles and just seeing more into what an elk does in the rut. One of the biggest things during the rut is that they are unpredictable, and I like the thrill of discovering the unknown.
The northern lights were also out a few nights, and one night we stayed up to look for them. They came out for us, and we went and watched them over a lake. It is always a neat experience seeing the lights and watching them move across the sky. It was a calm night too, which made for some nice reflections on the lake.
By the 28th I was ready to go and get back to Canmore. My body was running on empty from my summer and the past 10 days, and I didn’t have the energy I was accustomed to having. We left after the morning shoot, and the nice thing about living in Canmore is that it is only a short drive away. I fully realized how exhausted my body was when we got there, because for the first few days I couldn’t stay awake later than 9 p.m. But again, I wouldn’t change any of it.
I’m looking forward to just relaxing and hanging out for the next number of weeks and catching up on photos from the summer. I was so busy this summer I didn’t have a chance to organize and really go through most of my photos. But I should have some time coming up, and will try and get caught up on my pictures while also relaxing. It’s crazy to think that my first year of having a gallery is already over. What a summer it was, and now to relax and look back on the summer and prepare for next year.
I wasn’t back in my gallery long before I already had the itch to get back out and go photographing. I had planned on going in a couple of weekends to photograph whales in Juneau, but those plans changed. That whole week everyone who came in my gallery was showing me amazing photos and videos of humpback whales bubble feeding from their iPhones, so I knew I had to go immediately. My friend Aaron, from Yellowstone, lived in Juneau and I had been in communication with him about the following weekend, so I was happy he could accommodate me the next day. My plans became final at 4 p.m. on July 28th, and at 5 a.m. on the 29th I was on a plane to Juneau. When the wildlife gets hot, you can’t waste any time and have to go immediately. I was very grateful to have good friends in Juneau that I could crash with, and borrow their truck too.
They picked me up at the airport at 5:50 a.m., great friends!, and then we went to Mendenhall Lake. My friend and his girlfriend are glacier guides on Mendenhall, so we first kayaked two miles to the glacier across a fogged in lake, we could hardly see, but as we got closer it started to clear some. It was awesome being the only ones out there and kayaking to a glacier. We pulled the kayaks on shore and then put on crampons and walked onto the glacier. The ice was very blue that morning, and just gorgeous. I got some real nice shots of the glacier, and then we went and found an ice cave. Seeing and walking into an ice cave under a glacier is quite the experience. It’s something I can’t describe except through the photos I have. It was an amazing, but scary, experience at the same time, and the photos came out great! We had a great time and then kayaked back. I was so grateful that they took me out on the glacier for free.
They both had to work after that, so they dropped me off in town and I went on a whale watching tour that started at 3:30. There were 50 people on the boat, not my favorite, and we got to see what I came for. We found a group of humpbacks, they are usually solitary, and they were moving along the shore together. They did bubble feed a couple of times, but it happened so fast and unexpectedly each time, and I didn’t get much. It was neat to see, and I would be better prepared for next time. On the 30th I did a long hike by myself to try and get above the Mendenhall Glacier and get a more aerial shot. As I got higher I got into the clouds, and they weren’t breaking up. I didn’t want to sit up there all day and get nothing, so I called a different whale watching company and they had an opening at 1:30, so I hurried four miles back down the mountain. My friends picked me up as I got there, and dropped me off at the harbor just in time.
This time I was on a small ship with only 12 people, and it was much better. I just knew we were going to have success, and success we had! We went straight out to where a group of whales were bubble net feeding, and what a sight it was. Seeing a group of 10 whales come up at the same time with their mouths open is quite the site! My boat even had a microphone under water, and we could hear the different sounds they were making, and would know when they were about to come up. It was such a better experience than the day before, and I got some great shots! I was bummed we left as soon as we did, but where we went we found a pod of Orcas! They were being active and staying close to the surface and being somewhat playful. There was a baby in the group and it even jumped a couple of times. What a great trip! And I get to go with the same company tomorrow. So glad I flew down the mountain to go whale watching.
My first tour was at 7 a.m. on the 31st, and my friends dropped me off on their way to work. We saw a few orcas and single humpbacks, but nothing great. I learned from this trip it’s actually not best to be on the first trip of the day, because they have to find where the whales are, and spend more time searching. I was trying to decide after that tour whether to stay tomorrow morning before flying back to Skagway, because my next tour went out at 2 p.m. I went back and forth, but ended up deciding to leave after my tour this afternoon so I could be back in the gallery tomorrow, and I had a feeling I would get more shots on my last tour. My gut was right, and we got to see more bubble net feeding, and I captured some nice scenic shots of them feeding! By 7 p.m. I was back on a plane to Skagway and home by 8 p.m. What a crazy three days, but it was more than worth it! You have to go with your gut in wildlife photography and not look back and just go. Heading back to the gallery was a great idea, because on the 1st we had a killer day, and was a great way to kick off August!
For the next couple of weeks I worked the gallery and stayed in Skagway. As the summer has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable in my own gallery and learned more about what the people are looking for and how to sway them to buy art. It’s never easy, and each day is drastically different than the day before, but I’m learning a ton. When I’m in Skagway, I’m trying to catch up from all the time I was gone, and then get ahead a little for when the next time I’m gone I don’t have a mountain of work to come back to. It’s a never-ending cycle, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
On the afternoon of August 15th I left Skagway and headed for Denali. I slept in the car somewhere along the way, and then got to Fairbanks the next afternoon and got some car work done and bought a few things you can’t find in Skagway. I stayed at a friends that I had met in the backcountry of Denali a few years back, and it was fun to catch up. The morning of the 17th I picked up my friend, Tin Man, from the airport and we headed to Denali. I had a special travel permit that started on the 18th, so we went on the 17th to explore a little. We found some nice caribou and did some short hikes, but didn’t get anything great. We camped further back in the park and were ready to go the next morning when we could drive the entire Denali road in my car.
We left camp at 4:30 a.m., only to be stopped a few miles away because the road was closed to fix part of the road. We only had three days of the permit, and this wasn’t how we wanted to spend it, waiting on road construction. So we waited until 7 a.m., very painful, and then continued on. Denali mtn. was out, but we were to far away from where we wanted to be, and wouldn’t have been if the road wasn’t closed. You can never take the mountain being out for granted, and it quickly got covered in the clouds. So frustrating! We went to some of my favorite spots anyway, but not much was going on.
After a while we headed back toward the front, and that turned out to be a great decision! There was a caribou that had just shed his velvet, and had very red antlers. We were able to stay with him a while and got some great shots! I’ve been trying for a few years to get a caribou like this. After him, we decided to hike up a mountain to another large caribou, and he posed for us on the mountainside once we were able to get to him. Hiking in the Denali tundra is not easy, and Tin Man had never done it before. It is unrelenting, and very bushy and hard to maneuver through. I have years of experience in it and can find easier routes, still not easy but easier, but Tin Man struggled. He pushed through, though, and made it to the caribou in time. We were even able to spot a huge moose below us that we photographed after we left the caribou. It turned out to be a great first evening, after a very disappointing start to the day.
The road was closed again until 7 a.m. on the 19th, so we slept in until 6 a.m. and then left. Having two of our three days start way later than we want really stunk. It is a special privilege to have the permit I had, and not be able to fully use it hurt. The mountain didn’t tease us this morning and was fully behind clouds and rain. We didn’t spend much time far back in the park before heading back to where we knew caribou and moose were. I’m glad we didn’t waste our time back there, because we immediately found a bull moose. He wasn’t huge, but we got a few shots. Some really nice caribou were close by, so we went to them. They stayed in a group and gave us some great opportunities! I love how different all caribou antlers are.
After we had got our fill with the caribou, we decided to head back deep into the park because the weather was improving. Almost immediately we found a cow and bull moose when we got out there. They were in a depression with a pond, so we stayed and waited for them to come out. It was worth the wait, and the bull posed for us on the hillside with the mountains behind him. It took us a while after to find another moose, but we finally did, and the light was great! We trekked up to him, but he was not cooperative. It was a brutal hike through the tundra to get to him, and then he would move out of range. The light was great and we hadn’t found anything else, so we kept trying. I’m so glad we did, because eventually he relaxed. Tin Man had a bad back and couldn’t keep up, but he did make it, which was not easy for him in the type of terrain we were in. The bull moose decided to pause on a little ridge for minutes with the mountains behind him and great light! I couldn’t believe it! Then he came to the pond I was near and ate basically right in front of me. It was absolutely incredible! I don’t even know how many miles we trekked, but the shots we got were insane! We finally left the moose at 10 p.m., and didn’t get back to camp until after midnight. What a day!
After the day before, you would think we would sleep in, right? Wrong! There is no sleeping in if you’re a wildlife photographer, and by 5 a.m. the next morning we were heading back out. We found a beautiful cross fox first thing, and it was the first fox we had seen. Only a couple more miles down the road we saw two bull moose on a ridge, and I knew we would go after them. I had only had four small donuts for breakfast, and was to tired to actually eat when we got to camp last night, but when there are photographs to be had it doesn’t matter to me. So off we went across even worse tundra to trek through than yesterday.
When I got to the top of the ridge, there were three bull moose, and they went to pond to eat. Tin Man unfortunately couldn’t make it because his back was really hurting him. But I kept going and ended up following these moose for over three hours. You just never know what or where an animal will go, but you have to have patience to stay with them and wait it out. When I left the car that morning I would have ever dreamed of the shots I would get a few hours later, and am still excited about the shots I got that morning! Let’s just say that after miles of following, losing them, and finding them again, I got to photograph all three on a ridge silhouetted against the Alaskan Range and reflected! Those shots will never be duplicated, and those are the shots that all wildlife photographers strive to get and spend months working for. I’m still ecstatic about that moment and how incredible it was! When I finally got back to the car, and Tin Man, I felt bad telling him about it and wish he would have been there with me.
We didn’t find anything else deep in the park, so we went to the front and were hoping to find that huge moose from our first night. Sure enough, high up on the hill he was standing in the willows. He was a very long way away, and in some nasty terrain. The threat of rain was also strong, but I decided to go in the end. When in Rome, or Denali in this case was my mindset. It was a very hard slog to where the moose was, and I wasn’t positive where he was because he bedded down. I somehow managed to find his antler between the brush, and not to much longer he got up and began eating again. He was huge, and I was glad I decided to go. I got some real nice shots of him, and after a while another bull- moose came from somewhere and joined him. The way he responded to the other moose was aggressive and interesting to watch. Glad he didn’t show that aggression toward me. It started to rain harder, so I went back. But what a beauty of a moose he was!
What a three days of the permit! We didn’t take any time off and had 15-18 hour days! But we were rewarded for our hard work. On the morning of the 21st we packed up and left by 7 a.m. and explored the entrance area of the park. We got to follow another nice bull- moose around and got some nice pictures before having to head back to Fairbanks for Tin Man to catch his flight. After dropping Tin Man off I continued on my way back to Skagway and spent the night in my car along the way and got back on the morning of the 22nd. It is a 14-hour drive from Denali to Skagway.
After being back a day at the gallery, my parents came on the 24th. They got to experience the difficulties of Alaskan travel when their plan was delayed for hours because of low clouds. But they made it in, and got to see my gallery all set up! My parents were in town four days, and spent most of that time in the gallery with me, and exploring the area around Skagway. I took the scenic train ride with them one day, and had been trying to do that all summer. It was fun having my parents in town and them getting to see my gallery in action and all the prints on the wall.
On the morning of the 28th I flew from Whitehorse to Vancouver to help my fiancé move. She was moving to Canmore, AB to be more in the mountains and in a much quieter place. I was glad I could fly down to help her with this move and take some stress off of her. We hired packers for the move, but there was still a ton to do. It was neat being there as her life transitions to Canmore and creates a new life there. She has a great view of the mountains from her deck, and I can’t wait to go back and visit! I flew out on September 4th to go back to the gallery to close out the summer.
As you can see I am a man who is constantly on the move. There is not time to rest in the Alaskan summer, because it is short. I’d have it no other way and enjoy everything that comes with being in Alaska. But I am more than looking forward to the fall and winter, to take it a little easier, and finally take some time to relax. What a summer it has been though! I’ll wrap up the gallery in a couple of weeks and head south.
After I got back from Lake Clark National Park I wasn’t able to slow down at all. My friend, Jackie, who had worked the gallery for the month of June had to leave, and left on the 28th. I had only gotten back on the 26th from Lake Clark, and barely had time to go over everything with her about how things went while I was gone. My new employee, who I had actually met in my gallery when he was on a cruise in May, arrived on the 29th from Las Vegas to work for the rest of the summer. It was a whirlwind of days, and I was exhausted from my trip to Lake Clark and drive back to Skagway.
My new employee, Rick, had gallery experience from working in Las Vegas, and I was excited that he already had art selling experience. I only has a week with him before I would leave again to go photograph, so I had to get him trained quickly on how Skagway and my gallery worked. I’m hoping the third time is the charm with employees and that I won’t have to look for another employee this summer. It was obvious quickly he was much more comfortable being in the gallery and selling art. I more just had to tell him how I try to do things and give him backstories on the photos to help him sell them.
The week went by fast, and before I knew it I was heading back to Whitehorse to pick up Twila, and head on a two-week photo road trip with her! I felt at ease leaving the gallery with Rick, which was a great thing. I picked Twila up on the 7th and we drove all the way to Denali that night. It was her first time on the Alkan highway and seeing any of that part of the Yukon, and being in the main part of Alaska. Seeing her so excited about the views and drive took me back to when I first drove to Alaska. It was a very long day, and we had dinner with friends at a random rest stop who were going the other direction, but we got to Denali. After sleeping in, we met up with my friends Lisa and Eric Plasker, who had flown to Anchorage and drove up yesterday.
We would spend the next couple of weeks with them, and it was also Eric’s first time to Alaska. We did a hike first, and had some nice views and saw one moose, and then took a bus in that evening further into the park and saw more wildlife. On the 9th we took a bus deeper into the park and had a great day of seeing wildlife, and caught a quick glimpse of some of the Denali mtn. We packed up camp on the 10th and drove to Seward, a long but beautiful 7 hours from Denali. Alaska is such a beautiful state, and I enjoyed getting to show it off to Twila. We pitched camp on a river bar with a mountain straight up in front of us, and it was so peaceful and quiet. That night we treated ourselves and camped steak over a fire, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it!
Seward is right on the coast, and on the 11th we went on an all day scenic boat ride. The coastline around there is spectacular, and the wildlife is abundant. We got to see a number of sea otters and whales, and went up close to a glacier. It was a great day, and was Twila’s favorite part of the trip so far. The next morning we left at 8 a.m. and drove back to Anchorage to catch our flight over to Katmai National Park, the main part of our trip. We had to repack everything before we went, and did it on the side of the road. With me you just never know when and where things will take place. We left at 3 p.m. and had a great flight to King Salmon, and then Twila got to sit up front in the floatplane over to Katmai! She use to work for a floatplane company and loves float planes, so this was a real treat for her! Once we got camp all set up we went to the river and got to see our first bears, including a mom and two spring cubs swimming. Katmai had always been on the top of list for Twila to visit since she was a little girl, and I was excited to get to bring her here and show her all the bears!
On the 13th we went to the viewing platform at the falls first thing to beat the crowds there. Twila was so excited being at the place she had only imagined for so long! There were a few bears there, but a ton of fish. One mother bear was just jumping and catching fish almost every time she tried. The sun came out and the lighting got harsh, so we went and got waiters for her, and Lisa and Eric. We waded the river for a scouting trip, and the river was super high. It was very different from last year and almost three feet higher! We had to be very cautious, and I knew this would change how the bears chased fish and where we could go. My friend Tim and his fiancé Jenna came in later that day, and it was fun catching up with them and shooting with them that evening. We even got to photograph a bear at the top of the falls catching fish! I was so excited that Twila got to have that experience.
July 14th was a very special day! We went to the falls first thing again, and then headed to the river because it was slow at the falls. We only had a short time with good light before it got too bright, and had a mother and her two spring cubs across the river. Once it got too bright we went in a tried to take a nap because we had been going nonstop since we started our trip. But it was so hot in the tent from the sun beating down on it, that we couldn’t sleep. That is not normally a problem is Alaska of being too hot. But we at least relaxed for a while.
That afternoon was a huge afternoon as we headed to the river to photograph; I had planned and hoped to propose to Twila on the river. With the river high, I wasn’t sure how it would go though. I also wanted to do it with bears behind us, and they were not cooperating that afternoon. I began to fear it wouldn’t happen that day, when all of a sudden a mom and yearling cub came out of the woods behind us. I knew it was the moment I had been waiting for, and after I handed Twila’s camera to a friend, I got down on one knee in the river and asked Twila to marry me!!! She said yes, and it was great seeing her excitement and surprised look!!! I knew it would be special to have bears around when I proposed because they are both of our favorite animals, and being in Alaska with bears is just special! We spent the evening together not photographing, and we were now engaged!
It was nice being off the grid and just getting engaged, because we got to enjoy the moment to ourselves for a number of days before we could even tell anyone. The morning of the 15th was slow, but that evening was great! We found a mom with three spring cubs we hadn’t seen before, and her cubs were so small. After they left we went up stream and found the mom and yearling I had proposed in front of, and the light was starting to get real nice! As we were photographing them, a mom and three three-year- old cubs came running by, and it was a crazy scene. They were running everywhere and there was so much excitement. One cub stayed back, and the mom with the yearling cub didn’t like that. She ended up charging the other cub, and what an action scene that was! Nothing happened, but there were lots of great growling and other noises. We even managed to get a mother and her two spring cubs in the last light of the day. What a day!
We followed up the night of the 15th with a great morning on the 16th. The mom and two spring cubs were out early and gave us a nice show. Then two three-year-old siblings came by and started playing, and gave us some great shots. The bigger one even laid down in the water and was playing with its paws and just chilling in the water. He was curious about us too, and I had to let him know we weren’t afraid of him. The mother and three spring cubs were out that evening and we got more shots of them in good light.
Our last two full days were a little slow, but we still saw bears every day and had at least one good encounter a day. The mom and her three three-year-olds are a sight to be seen, and are very goofy and fun bears to watch. They always added excitement when they were around. There was a mom with three spring cubs that hung out near the falls, and it was neat when they would sleep near the platform and see them lie together and climb trees together. It’s always neat watching bears in any situation! Our last good moment was when the mom and yearling, I proposed in front of, had a long wrestling match that was fun to watch and photograph.
On the 19th we packed up early and then went to the falls one last time before we got on a floatplane and headed back to Anchorage. Twila got to sit in the front of the floatplane again. In King Salmon our flight reservation was messed up, and that was terrible. You could be stuck there for days before getting out because all the flights are booked full. It was a stressful couple of hours as we tried to figure out what happened, but in the end we got the air company to admit they had messed up and we got very fortunate to get the last seats on a plane that evening! We were so glad we got out, because she had to fly back to Vancouver tomorrow, and that couldn’t be delayed.
It was very sad dropping her off at the airport on the 20th and saying goodbye for a number of weeks. I was so happy having her along with me for the past two weeks, and we had some great experiences, and we will have many more to come! After I dropped her off I started my drive back to Skagway, and spent the night in my car along the way again. It was good to be back at the gallery on the 21st and to talk with Rick about how it went while I was gone. Trying to juggle running a new gallery, but still getting out to photograph has been a tough and challenging balance. It’s not my normal Alaska summer, but it will become my normal I’m pretty sure. Each time I come back it’s still a little surreal that I have my own gallery!
I thought I would spend the next few weeks in Skagway, but those plans changed. My plans are always changing, but that’s how I like it! I’ll write about this unplanned adventure in my next blog. The summer is flying by and what a summer it has already been!
Leaving the gallery for a couple of weeks was scary to think about, but I was looking forward to getting to photograph bears in Lake Clark, and knew I had a good friend I could trust in my gallery. It is a very long drive from Skagway to Anchorage, 15 hours, so I drove 7 hours after work on the 13th and slept in my car in a pull off, and then finished the drive on the 14th. I had to do a few things in the big city before meeting with my clients for dinner that night, since Skagway doesn’t have much. It was exciting meeting them and knowing that tomorrow we would fly out to Lake Clark!
It was a super clear day on the 15th when we left at 8 a.m., and I saw Denali from the air for the first time. Denali is over 150 miles from Anchorage, and it was awesome seeing it from the air and the rest of the mountains as we flew down the coast to Lake Clark. It was by far the clearest sightseeing flight I had ever been on to Lake Clark. We even got to see a mom and cubs as we landed, and that got the group excited! We quickly went to the lodge and got settled before heading out for a quick trip before lunch. It was already starting to get hot, and we did see a river otter, but the bears were already in the woods escaping the heat. It stayed clear and hot the rest of the day, and we didn’t see much, but I knew better times were to come.
The next morning it was still clear, and we left at 5 a.m. by foot to catch the first light of the day. That was a great decision, as the mom and two yearling cubs were out, and as we got to them they crossed a little stream and we had them reflected in the water with the most perfect light on them! Nothing like walking out and immediately getting incredible shots! It was the kind of light you only dream of getting on animals! We stayed with them for a little while and got more shots, but nothing could top the first encounter of the day. We tried off and on throughout the mid-day looking for bears, but it was again too hot for them to be out.
As the day began to cool off we were out near the beach when we spotted a mom with three spring cubs! We all got very excited and went their direction. It was possibly the first time these cubs had seen people, and they were leery of us. We kept out distance and let them move around where they wanted. It was a beautiful evening, though, and the mountains 55 miles across the water were very clear and created a great backdrop. Watching them walk the tidal flats and play was great! What an incredible day we had!
On the morning of the 17th we got up real early again, but nothing was out early. After searching a long time we finally found the mom and three cubs again. They were out clamming, but the tide was starting to come in. Mom waited too long to come in, and got surrounded by water. The cubs were anxious and nervous, and as mom left they all tried to cling to her. She didn’t like that at first, but then relented and let them on. We were a long ways off and the light was bad, but seeing a mother bear with three cubs on her back was a sight to be seen. It was a little scary because the cubs were terrified, but such a neat experience to witness. We had some good encounters throughout the day, but seeing the cubs on the back was something few people ever get to see.
Lake Clark is great because you never know what you will get to see, and the bears are very photogenic there. The 18th was a nasty, wet, dreary day, but my group was willing to wait in it and see what would come out. We were rewarded when the mom and three came out of the trees near us and went out to dig for clams. It was very grey out, and we were all cold, but we followed. The cubs were playful and gave us a lot of different pictures, and didn’t mind we were there. After a while of being out there they wanted milk, and mom laid down close to us and let them feed. The cubs had the memory of yesterday on their mind when they were done feeding and didn’t want to walk back, because the tide was coming in. Two cubs clung to mom as she got up, and she didn’t like that at all. She even stood and shook to get the cubs off, and that was an awesome shot to see the cub hanging on for dear life! This family really has shown us some behavior most people never get to see!
We went in and warmed up and dried off after they left. We were really soaked and cold, but excited with what we had captured! In the late afternoon we were watching from the lodge when we spotted a mom and two spring cubs! Spring cubs always gets people excited, and we sprung up and got all our rain gear on and went to photograph them. These cubs were not as playful, but still spring cubs. We were about to leave after being with them a while, when the mom and two yearling cubs came out of the woods. This made the little spring cubs nervous, and they ran. Mom even stood up beside them to look at the other bears to assess the danger. After waiting so long and getting nothing, we all of a sudden had great images! You just never know what you will get to witness.
Some days are slow, like the 19th, but that is why you spend a number of days in places. For many days it might not be happening, and you have to wait a day or two for the action to pick back up again. We saw some bears, but didn’t get any great action. The weather was nice again on the 20th, and we went out early. The mom and 2 yearling cubs were out, but they were a non-active set of cubs. But then a male was following a female close by and they took off and stood to check the situation out. They continued to run and stand in the great light, and gave us a show! I had more clients coming in later that morning, and I told the group that was already with me to not tell them of all the great viewings we had already had. I really hoped we had more to come, but I didn’t want the new group hearing about what we had gotten already. Every week is different and exciting, and I wanted them to be excited about what we saw for their week.
We got off to a great start with the new group when we found the mom and two spring cubs on a beach further down. A few of the people in the new group were with me last year, and we didn’t get spring cubs, so being able to show them spring cubs on our first trip out was fantastic! They moved around and dug for clams and gave us some nice shots with the close mountains behind them. The rest of the day we had bears, but no special behavior happened.
On the 21st we got up at 5 a.m. and didn’t find anything until we came back to the lodge, and a younger bear was playing with moose antlers. It just goes to show you never know where the bears will be. The day for the most part was a dud because it was so hot and no bears were out. As the day got later, I really hoped we would find a bear in the good light. The mom and two spring cubs were on the other side of the river, and then a male and female came running and scared them. I thought our chance of seeing them again was gone, but they ran to the beach. After we made our way out there and found them, we had an incredible evening. They played on the beach, and then went in the water and played around in the perfect light. We even got them nursing in the perfect light. It’s not often you get the wildlife and the good light both at the same time. We couldn’t have asked for a better evening!
The 22nd was another hot, clear day, and we had the mom and two yearling cubs early, but it was slow after that. The mom and two spring cubs did come out, but only two people went to photograph them as the others stayed in and didn’t care to shoot in the bright light. We found the mom and two spring cubs in the evening, but a male bear scared them and they never came out of the woods.
My group really wanted to photograph the spring cubs in the grass, and I was fearful it might not happen. They would just run to a tree if in the grass near the woods. Our luck changed on the 23rd, as they were further out in the grass and not near the woods. We slowly approached, and they were calm and just continued to eat. I was so glad to finally get my clients pictures of them in the grass. We had a nice long shoot before they left. After lunch we found them again, and they were napping out on the tidal flats. As we approached they didn’t wake, and they were very cute all cuddled up to one another. As they changed positions and moved around we got some great shots of them together! Cubs can be so cute! I was already pleased with the day when we found the mom and two yearling cubs. As we got to them they decided to sleep on a log. The mom put her head over the log, and the cubs laid on it! I couldn’t have set it up any better myself. It was like they were posing for us! We were all clicking away and just enjoying the moment. This was the cherry on top, and we still had one full day left.
The next day, the 24th, we found the mom and two spring cubs in the grass again! It is nice to get them in a more natural setting than on the beach. The cubs have gotten calmer since we’ve been here and don’t mind us being around. They eventually went to the beach, and we left to go find other bears. We found the mom that had three cubs, but now she only had two. Nature is tough on bear cubs, and less than 50% make it sadly. The two cubs were still just as playful as before, and really gave us a good show. That evening the two yearling cubs really gave us a special showing though. They had been very non-active cubs, but that changed tonight. They were running everywhere and standing and play fighting like crazy. It’s like they finally had some sugar and were ready to play. They could really move across the sedge flats and cover some ground in a hurry. It was hard for us to keep up with them because they were moving so much! What an incredible last full day! I didn’t know how I was going to be able to keep finding better photographic opportunities for my group, but they continued to come.
Before we left on the 25th a few of us went out and were able to get the two yearling cubs playing some more. I’m glad those cubs were finally coming to life. After 10 days of going hard, I was exhausted. I got some absolutely incredible photos, and was so glad to be able to put my clients in some great situations! Even though I was exhausted, I didn’t have any time and had to get back to Skagway. I did my best to not think about the gallery while in Skagway, but it still was on my mind. We were off the grid, so I couldn’t check, which was nice in a way. After taking a nap in Anchorage I got on the road and drove half way, slept in my car, and then finished the drive the next day. Summers are busy in Alaska and there is no time to rest. I was happy to hear how the gallery went while I was gone and that my friend had made some sales while I was gone.
I’m so glad Lake Clark was an absolutely fantastic trip, and was looking forward to going through all the great shots I took while there.
Seeing my gallery come together was an incredible feeling! All the hard work and time put in was worth it, and seeing the finish product was a dream come true! Once the gallery was all set up, my attention turned to selling the photos and learning how the tourists think. My girlfriend flew up at the end of April to fine tune the gallery and be with me when the gallery opened for the first time. I had done art festivals with a tent before, but this was much different and was way more exciting having my own building.
The beginning of the season was slow, as there weren’t many cruises yet and sometimes no ships on days. But I honestly liked that because I was exhausted from the past couple months of preparation and needed to rest. I loved having my girlfriend here the first few ship days to throw ideas around with her and hear her opinions on how things went. She had to fly back on May 6th, and my employee got here on the 7th. Having an employee was crazy for me, because I have always done everything myself. But for the gallery to run while I am gone on different photo trips, I had to hire someone for the summer.
I was excited to meet him and train him on the gallery. A lot of the training was not your normal training, and entailed me telling him stories about myself, my travels, and the stories behind each photo. The story behind the photo can often sell the photo, so the more he knew about me and the work behind each photo, the better prepared he would be to entice someone to buy the photo. It was an adjustment for me not being out in the field all the time, and having an employee. In all my years in Alaska, I was always out in the field. So even though I was in my own art gallery, on the nice days I wanted to be out looking for wildlife and taking photos.
The season was slow to get going, but by mid May more ships started to come in on a consistent basis. It was exciting when we had the first four boat day in town, and seeing all the people on the street and them coming through the gallery. It was crazy to see the town go from a small sleepy town, to a hustling and bustling town all of a sudden. The tourists and locals all had great things to say about the gallery and how much they liked it, which was a great sign. Once I was able to sell my first large print, I felt really good! One thing I learned really quickly was that each day is very different here. I minus well forget anything that happened the day before because all those people are gone and a whole new group is in, which is good and bad. It was up and down every day, and I had to forget about that and just think big picture and let it average out.
As the season started to get busier, things weren’t working out with my employee. He was stressing me out badly, and not doing a good job so I had to let him go. This was not in the plan, and I made an emergency phone call to Jackie, a good friend since 2008, and she was able to come up and work for the month of June. What a lifesaver! This was a crazy change of plans, and it all happened so fast. I had planned a photo trip with my girlfriend starting on June 1st, I was itching badly to get out and photograph, and Jackie only had a few days to plan and get up here by May 30. So I had one day to train her and then left to a place that had no cell service at all. This was scary in so many ways, but I trusted Jackie and knew she would do her best and promote me well.
I hadn’t gone photographing since February, and that was killing me. Being in Alaska and not photographing was going to kill me. So on June 1st, I flew from Skagway to Gustavus, AK for a weeklong photo trip with Twila. This was our first adventure together, and there would be nothing easy about it. We would get dropped off on the most densely populated island of grizzly bears in the world, have no other people around, be completely off the grid and contact with anyone, and kayak with whales and other sea life. I hadn’t ever sea kayaked before, so I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone either. Nothing like pushing her into the deep end on our first trip, not my ideal first trip, but I knew she could handle it and that is why she is my girlfriend!
The trip got off to a rough start because our first plane was almost an hour late in leaving Skagway, and we didn’t have any spare time. Luckily, we boarded a plane in Juneau as soon as we landed and went to Gustavus and then immediately to the dock, where we got a minor tutorial in sea kayaking. We had to do that to catch our water taxi to the island. When we got dropped off the waves were over two feet and scary, and then it started to pore. So much stress in one little amount of time was not good. We were incredibly fortunate in that there was a shelter where we happened to get to shore at, and we were able to camp in the shelter and not pitch a tent. I had no idea that the shelter was there until we were getting dropped off. Thank goodness for the shelter! It was a rough start, but Twila handled it all very well.
It rained almost the entire rest of the day, so we only took a short paddle that day. I was so happy to have the shelter and be able to dry all our wet clothes and gear. Twila woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, and then we heard a whale spout, so we hurried and got ready and got on the water. It wasn’t raining, and the water looked like a lake. We paddled out and saw our first whale from the kayak. It was a great morning and we had a few whales swim past us, and not be that far away. It is awesome and scary all at the same time kayaking with whales. With mammals you can see them all the time, but when whales go down it’s anyone’s guess to where they will surface again. I didn’t want them to surface too close because humpback whales are such a huge animal, and the last thing I wanted was for one to hit our kayak. The closet one came was 40 yards, but that was plenty close enough. It was an incredible first morning and we learned a lot on how they move and what to look for. The rest of the day was quiet and it rained all afternoon, but the morning was fantastic.
On June 3rd we got out on the water around 6 a.m. and not as many whales were around. We saw a few, but they were a long ways off. In the evening we saw the mountains for the first time, and what a view we had. I wanted to get a whale with the mountains in one photo so badly. The next morning we went out a little later because the tides are always changing. We saw a couple whales close that morning, but they didn’t stick around and went down the coast. One thing about sea kayaking in Alaska is that you have to be very mindful about the tides. Where we were the tide change can be as much as 28 feet, so we had to carry the kayak up and down the beach every day as the tide was changing. And if you didn’t know how big the tides were, then the tide could easily rise to your kayak and carry it off and you would be stranded. The wilderness of Alaska is no joke, and you have to be completely prepared for everything when you go out and play in the wilds of Alaska. But carrying the kayak so far up and down each day was harder than I imagined for both of us.
On our last evening, the 4th, it was a beautiful evening and the water was real calm again. We didn’t have any whales close, but a few porpoises hung around. It was neat spending so much time with them on a clear calm evening. Being alone with only Twila in remote Alaska with the views and wildlife we had was hard to beat. I love that peace and quiet and not worrying about the stress of the normal day to day. We got picked back up on the afternoon of the 5th, and it rained that entire day. If we hadn’t had the shelter, all of our clothes would have been saturated and we would have been stuck in our tent a majority of the trip. But everything worked out and we got to kayak with the whales and stay safe. Twila more than passed the test, and proved that she truly loves a good adventure, and will go with me anywhere and is patient in waiting on the wildlife and loves seeing all the wildlife!
We didn’t have anywhere to stay that night, and the boat captain was very nice and invited us to stay at his place. It was nice to be in a dry house, and he even cooked us steak. The next day we caught the ferry and traveled to Juneau. I wanted to see where the cruise ships go to be able to relate more to the tourists coming in the gallery. I was also hoping for more photos along the way, which didn’t really happen unfortunately. A good friend from Yellowstone, Aaron Lind, picked us up from the ferry terminal and showed us around Juneau. He is a glacier guide in Juneau for the summer. It was my first time in Juneau, and we walked where the tourists walked and scoped the art out in town. We hung out that night with him and his girlfriend, and then caught another ferry to Skagway the next morning.
It felt so revitalizing to have gotten to go photographing again, but I wanted more time. As soon as we got back to Skagway on the 7th, we were back in the gallery and checking on Jackie and how things went. Nothing major happened while we were gone and she made a few sales. I know I left her in a hard spot leaving like that, and was very grateful she could help me out. I took Twila back to the airport on the 8th, and then buckled down and got a ton of work done over the next few days. I didn’t have long to get everything done because I was leaving again on the 13th to drive to Anchorage for my photography workshops to Lake Clark National Park. I don’t know when I will get rest again, but oh well. I managed to get everything done just in time and hit the road on the afternoon of the 13th for Anchorage.
The first month of the gallery being open went by very fast, and I learned a lot in that first month. There is still so much to learn and get better at, and I am looking forward to the journey.
After months of hard work and planning, and years of taking photographs, my first gallery is now open in Skagway, AK! Opening the gallery has been of the best and most challenging things I have ever done. I'm use to preparing for months of the road and living out of my car, but planning to have a storefront with my images was way harder. There were so many little things to think of that make a huge difference in the look and feel of the gallery and how the images are displayed. After months and months of preparation, I was just ready to get all of my images to Alaska and set up and be done with the preparing part.
On April 18th, my dad and I left Tullahoma, TN and began the very long drive north to Alaska. In all it was 3,500 miles, 65 hours, and 4 full days of driving to get to Skagway. We were both exhausted when we arrived, but began setting up early the next morning. It was a bumpy ride across Canada on the Alkan highway, and over half of my framed pictures had corners broken. I figured a few might be dinged, but over half? We found an all around handy fixer rope with corners, and amazingly it was able to fix all of my frames! This was a huge sigh of relief, because I wasn't sure what I was going to do otherwise.
As the gallery came together more and more each day, my excitement grew. My dream was becoming reality of opening my own gallery. From the beginning of my photography career, I always enjoyed the fine art side of photography more so than the editorial or photojournalism side. In the past few years I began to look around towns and scope out areas that I thought might be a place where I could have a gallery. I didn't think it would happen this year, but I found a great opportunity and went for it, and now I have a gallery in Alaska. The summer will continue to be a learning experience of things to change, prove on, and what works and doesn't work for a gallery store. I'm excited to learn those things and see how the summer and my first gallery go. I'm very excited about this next phase in my photography career!
On January 30th, my first winter in Yellowstone photography workshop officially began when Robbie and I picked up our first client at 1:30 p.m.at the airport. She was from Germany, and then we went and picked up three people from Italy and one guy from Michigan. We each drove a vehicle to West Yellowstone to give us flexibility during the workshop and more space. That night we met for dinner and went over the final details and got everyone excited for the week, and particularly for the next day.
Everyone was ready to go in the morning, and at 6:45 a.m. our snowcoach pulled up, and my buddy Grahm was driving it. It was 15 degrees, and we were going to spend the day on the snowcoach looking for wildlife along the Madison River, but particularly hoping to find a bobcat. We found river otters swimming around in the morning, which was neat. I had never seen them on the Madison before. We also saw a lot of coyotes and a few red fox, but no bobcat. There were a few good photographic opportunities for our first day, so that was good! We will be on the snowcoach three more days, so we will have many more opportunities for the bobcat and other wildlife.
It was -25 degrees when we woke up on February 1st, so we decided to head toward old faithful and look for frosty covered bison. When it is that cold, and bison are hanging out in the thermal areas, there fur will become covered in frost. It was very foggy in the thermal areas, and that was great for us! We found a number of groups of frosty bison, but I finally saw a group I really liked. We walked out 100 yards to them and got great shots of them as they moved around! They moved on, and we photographed some of the beautiful landscape on the cold morning. We spent the entire morning with frosty bison and got great pictures! The afternoon was spent on the Madison again, but still the bobcat still eluded us. The morning was terrific though!
The next morning it was -29 degrees, but we decided to spend the morning on the Madison looking for wildlife. It’s very nice having the snowcoach when it is that cold. You can get out for a little to photograph, but also know there is a warm coach right their if you get to cold. It was a very quiet morning and we didn’t see anything. All the animals must have stayed in bed because it was so cold. We decided to go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and check out the landscapes of winter. I love winter in the interior because there are so few people. We were actually at the canyon by ourselves, which is not possible in the summer. It was a beautiful day, and nice to see the canyon on a clear day! After we were done there we went back to the Madison for the late afternoon. We again saw many coyotes, and this time we got good pictures of them.
February 3rd was our last day on the snowcoach, and was much warmer than it had been. The morning started out slowly, but then Grahm spotted a wolf briefly crossing the river. This was exciting, and we spent time scoping places out and looking for it again. 30 minutes after we gave up we spotted it, but only for a couple of seconds again. We parked down the road thinking it would head that way, but it never came out. We were so close to getting shots of a pretty black wolf. There were a lot of red fox out in the valley, but they never came close for a great shot. The bobcat never did show itself either, but we gave it the best effort we had. It might not have shown, but we did get many other great shots and our time in the interior of the park was well spent. The frosty bison were the highlight for me, and for most of our clients!
On the morning of the 4th we loaded up and left at 7 am to drive to Gardiner, Mt, where we would base out of for the last three days of our workshop. Our hotel rooms were luckily ready at 10:30 am, and we unpacked and then put all the photo gear back in and headed for the park. We drove out to Lamar Valley, and a wolf pup was close to the road eating on an old bull elk carcass. That was a great way to start! We spent time there, and then went to a newer carcass hoping coyotes or wolves would move in. They never did, but bald eagles were flying around and eating on the carcass. We stayed there until dark and then headed in. Not a bad first afternoon on the northern range.
We got up and left at 6:15 the next morning to get out to Lamar Valley early. It paid off, and as we were going around a corner a wolf was right there. He unfortunately had mange, but was still a black wolf only 40 yards away. Everyone got images of him before he wandered further away across the valley. Another pack actually killed his pack mate not long before we showed up, and he was running from them. We saw some bighorns after that, and they were nice enough to get up from their sleep and wander over our way, and my clients got some real nice shots! The mid-day and afternoon were slow, but the morning was fantastic.
The 6th was our last day of the workshop, and we left at 6 in the morning. There wasn’t the morning activity like the day before, unfortunately. However, we made up for it in the mid morning when we were looking for wolves on a ridge, when all of a sudden a wolf came darting out of the woods chasing an elk. It happened so fast, and then the chase went behind a hill. The wolves did get the elk, but we couldn’t see it happen. It’s only the 3rd time I’d ever seen a wolf chase! We spent most of the rest of the day in that area, and saw wolves, but none came closer for us to photograph. But what a way to end the workshop with a wolf chase!
Most of the people flew out on the 7th, so we took them to the airport in the late morning. I went back to Gardiner to watch the Super Bowl and to relax after the airport drops. It was a long week, but a good week. I really enjoyed all the clients, and was glad I could put them on some good shoots. Yellowstone is such a large place, and even a week in Yellowstone doesn’t seem like much time because there is such a variety of wildlife and so much terrain. I’m glad the workshop was a success and look forward to doing more in the future!
I’m very excited about 2016 and where it will take me! I’ve got some great road trips planned and places to visit, but first I had to sort through what I photographed this year and what I need to focus on for this coming year. The first few days of the year were spend just going through everything from 2015 and trying to plan out my winter trip first. My girlfriend came to visit on the 5th and stayed through the 11th. It was great having her around before I left for the road, and I got to take her to the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time! It was hard to watch her leave, but she had to as I was starting my road trip on the 12th.
While she was visiting I was still planning and trying to organize everything I would need for the next few months. It is never easy to plan for a three-month period of living out of your car in the winter. I did get everything done that I wanted to, and finished packing the car the night of the 11th. When I left on the morning of the 12th it felt good to hit the road again! I hadn’t been out photographing since before Thanksgiving, and was beginning to get antsy. I went to Washington D.C. first for a National Geographic photographers conference. It was interesting this year because Fox recently bought National Geographic, and we got to hear their plan for moving forward. We didn’t get all the info or hear everything we wanted to hear, but I was glad I was there to hear what they had to say about the merger and moving forward.
The conference lasted for two days, and on the 15th I drove to Maryland to try and photograph ducks and birds. I was there last year and looked forward to going back, but there were not nearly as many birds around this year. I did get a nice shot of two eagles silhouetted one morning at least, but that was it. So the next day I went with my photographer friend to his family cabin near the outer banks of North Carolina. It’s like going back in time there, and its just fun being there and soaking in the atmosphere of the place. There are a bunch of duck hunters there, and I was hoping to be able to go with them a few times to take pictures of them hunting, but I only got to go once. I did get to relax while there, but I was hoping for more photographic opportunities than I got.
We were trying to decide when to leave to drive across the country to Yellowstone, but the weather decided for us. I ended up leaving the afternoon of the 20th, and my friend the next day. A huge snowstorm was heading to the east coast and I didn’t want to get trapped for days. I left the afternoon of the 20th because I found a friend from college who lived on my route a few hours away, and got a head start on the trip. It made the next days drive to Chicago an easier one, still not fun, but easier. My buddy and I were going to stop and photograph bald eagles along the Iowa, Illinois border, but there were no eagles. I’m guessing the mild winter in the north is the reason there are so many less birds around this winter. So we didn’t stay and drove to Sioux Fall, ID that night, and then finished the drive to Yellowstone the next day. It was a long drive across the country, but I was happy to be in Yellowstone!
My first day in Yellowstone was the 24th, and what a day it was! It started off very slow, but mid-morning I found a wolf near the road. It’s always exciting to be the first to find a wolf, and especially a close one, because it rarely happens. I didn’t get any shots at first, but I was persistent and ended up getting some good shots of a pretty wolf! Everyone else saw him and the others in his pack when they got far out in the valley, but I got the close shots! Wolves are by far my main goal this winter, so getting a good shot on my first day was very exciting!
The next morning I saw some wolves, but they were a very long way away. Later I was driving slowly over a bridge and spotted a river otter on the ice. I parked and walked down to the river. I looked all winter last year for otters and never found any, so I was excited to have spotted one. There ended up being two otters, and after waiting a while they put on a good show. It was 12 degrees out, so I didn’t wait around forever after they left. The next day I saw one otter and went down there again, but only got a few shots. A bobcat had been spotted a few days in a row in an area, but I never did see it. I hiked and snow shoed around on the trail and off trail, but never found any real fresh tracks. It would’ve been exciting to find it.
The next few days were not very exciting at all. I would get up and leave at 6:30 to get out to Lamar Valley by sunrise and hope that wolves were close. I managed to see wolves each day, but the closest they were was a mile off. For spectators that is fine, but it isn’t good for photography at all. I ended up doing some hikes back near Gardiner for big horn sheep, and managed to find some good size rams. I was looking for a monster I found there last year, but didn’t find it.
I was glad to be in Yellowstone for six days already, because on the 30th I picked up my winter photography workshop group. I was excited for this workshop and it would be my first in Yellowstone. It was nice to scout some places out on the northern range for my clients, and also get some shots. I will spend the next week with my photography workshop and hope to have many great wildlife encounters with them!