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Adventuring in Alaska August 2021

Alaska is a special place for my wife Darlene and I. We return as often as possible. We recently had the opportunity to return to spend five days with a small group of photographers to show them the beauty of the state. 

We visited the Kenai Peninsula in our search for wildlife, especially bears, where we spent time at the Kenai and the Russian Rivers. We saw huge red-sided Coho salmon making their way upriver to spawn. We also photographed loons at Skilak Lake. We were disappointed that we saw no bears but it was a day full of adventure and breathtaking scenery nonetheless. The Chugach Mountains, Kenai Mountains and the scenic Turnagain Arm dominated the scenery that we enjoyed as we travelled the Seward Highway. 

On our second day we took an excursion boat out of the coastal town of Seward. We cruised through Resurrection Bay into the ocean. It was drizzling with some fog but it didn’t keep us from standing out in the clean ocean air photographing dreamscape like images of the rugged, forested Alaska shoreline and the Kenai Fjords towering rock Chiswell Islands. We saw wildlife including sea lions and a myriad of sea birds, puffins and bald eagles. We even had a humpback whale surface right next to our boat, raising its tail above the water. We then travelled to the face of the Aialik Glacier to watch the calving of the ice into the sea, while harbor seals floated on the dislodged chunks of ancient ice in an attempt to avoid being eaten by Orca whales.

On day three we travelled north into the massive Talkeetna Mountains with their jagged peaks and glacial scoured valleys, green with tundra and decorated by scattered late season wildflowers. We explored Hatcher Pass and the dilapidated Independence mine. As we travelled through Hatcher Pass we photographed sweeping vistas and aqua blue-green glacier fed rivers. 

We eventually met the Parks Highway and turned north to our second lodge located in Talkeetna, an eclectic little tourist town south of our ultimate destination, Denali National Park and Preserve. As we drove we passed through Broad Pass with forests stunted from the harsh winter conditions that they must endure to survive. The incredible scenery was dotted with beaver ponds that mirrored the foothills of the Alaska Range on their still surfaces.

On our last day we arrived at Denali National Park and Preserve early to another wet, drizzly day. We boarded the park bus and started our journey through the park, enjoying some of the most majestic scenery in the world in spite of the clouds and fog that came and went through the day. We saw, and photographed, ptarmigan, caribou and grizzly bears in the distance along the way. We eventually made it to the Eielson Visitor Center deep in the park where we watched two grizzlys grazing on the tundra in the fog on a high ridge above us. When we left the visitor center the bears had made their way down the ridge to a hillside very near the road. Our bus stopped and we photographed them until they crossed over the hillside and out of our view. We were able to take some incredible Denali grizzly bear photos. 

After an uneventful but scenic ride back to the park entrance we left the bus and then went to have a warm meal. As we ate we talked about the two things that the group wanted to photograph but wasn’t able to, a moose and the massive Denali, the third most prominent mountain peak in the world. 

We finished dinner and made our way south on the Parks Highway toward our lodge in Talkeetna. We had gone approximately 10 miles when we came across a bull moose near the side of the highway munching on the vegetation. We pulled over and carefully positioned ourselves to get the moose photos that the group had hoped for. We didn’t mind that it was along the side of the road. 

The weather had been mostly clouds, drizzle and some rain throughout the week. Not enough rain to spoil our fun but enough to obscure the view of “The High One” Denali. We all went to bed on the last night of the workshop feeling satisfied for the amazing week, but a bit disappointed in not being able to see the mountain, our last piece of the puzzle. 

The next morning was one of reflection on the week that we had just spent. Tired but satisfied, we packed our luggage in the van and proceeded to leave our lodge and make our way back to Anchorage. We left under a clear blue sky that morning. We drove up the road to a viewpoint with a clear view toward the Alaska Range, the home of the elusive Denali. We stood in front of a majestic crystal clear view of a pure white snow covered Alaska Range and standing head and shoulders over its neighboring peaks we finally saw Denali. 

Our Alaska adventure was complete. My friends could hardly believe the week that we had. They left for home on their flights filled with memories that will last a lifetime and camera memory cards full of reminders. 

Leave It Better

The Painted Hills in Oregon

I remember a quote that I had read when I was a boy that has stayed with me my whole life. Robert Baden-Powell is quoted as saying, “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it…”  He was referring to being a good human, but in this day and age of increased recreational use of the outdoors, it is being used more as a way to increase the awareness of the proper care and use of our public lands. “Leave it better than you found it” is the new “Leave No Trace”. Those of us who care must do more than leave no trace. We need to try to offset the effects of those who won’t.

When the coronavirus came it changed almost every aspect of our lives. People started working from home. The travel restrictions cancelled a lot of people’s vacation plans. Cruise ship and air travel became impractical, as did hotel and resort stays. Even movie theaters and public places such as restaurants saw a dramatic decrease in business or were closed completely. With these restrictions came a new form of vacation trend, visiting the open outdoors. Everyone, including many who had never spent time in Nature, headed out to hike and camp seeking something other than sitting inside until the coast is clear.

Hiking and camping have seen a huge surge. Lawrence Lujan, the United States Forest Service (USFS) public affairs specialist is quoted as saying, “The visitation that we typically saw on the weekend, we were seeing during the week. And the visitation that we typically saw during a holiday weekend, like the Fourth of July, we were seeing on weekends.” What once was a weekend activity became one that was being done any day of the week.

The inevitable problems that come with the increased use of recreational lands are mostly wear and tear, but there are those who aren’t familiar with how to care for the outdoors, or just don’t care, that create other problems. Off trail hiking in sensitive terrain, off road driving or parking in restricted areas, trampling vegetation, illegal or abandoned campfires, vandalism and leaving trash behind have all increased.

The increase of visitation to the outdoors isn’t all bad news. With more people coming out to these beautiful natural places comes the appreciation of these places by more people. Typically, when someone visits a special place, one that they connect with and fall in love with, they are more apt to put forth an effort to preserve it. Volunteerism has increased with the increase in visitation but it’s not enough to offset the effects of the public loving these places to death. Everyone needs to accept the responsibility to help care for the land that we use as we use it.

So how can we leave these places better? Many times it’s just a matter of carrying a trash bag in your pack to gather trash and litter others leave behind. Volunteering with organizations that help to develop and maintain these places is becoming essential, and popular. If you’re unable to volunteer, donating to these organizations helps them greatly – I support groups such as Trailkeepers of Oregon. We need to teach our children by setting an example for them to follow. Also raising the awareness of those that you associate with to adopt the Leave it better principle of outdoor use.

Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to care for these special places. It’s up to us to assume that responsibility and apply it to how we use our shared public lands.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

  • 1.       Plan ahead and prepare
  • 2.       Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • 3.       Dispose of waste properly
  • 4.       Leave what you find
  • 5.       Minimize campfire impacts
  • 6.       Respect wildlife
  • 7.       Be considerate of other visitors. 

Photography Close to Home

Macro Photography

If you are like most of us, you have been spending a lot of time around the house lately. We can only spend so much time working or doing chores before we start to try to figure out something that will occupy our creative minds between obligations. I like to give my mind a break by taking time to be creative. As photographers, and creatives, we have a lot of options for making some creative artistic images at home.

Macro Photography – Macro photography is a type of photography that involves photographing small things. It is Springtime and the flowers are blooming and the bugs are starting to crawl. They both make excellent subjects for macro photos. You do not necessarily need a lens that is made specifically for macro if you have a zoom lens that will shoot at a focal length of about 90mm or more. Something that I like to do with flowers is to take a spray bottle and spray water drops on the flowers. I also like the look of a shallow depth of field. Using an open aperture and getting close to your lens will create a soft feel around the narrow-focused area in your shot. Give it a try.

Abstract Photography – Everyone knows about abstract painting, but abstract images can be created with your camera too. An observant eye can find patterns and textures that could be interpreted as impressionistic paintings. Structural shapes, angles and patterns can be framed in a beautiful yet abstract way. Not only are you able to create abstracts by observing your surroundings but you can use the camera adjustments to alter the reality of the scene. Something that I enjoy doing is to extend the shutter speed to a second or more and move the camera to create patterns of movement. This technique is called Intentional Camera Movement. Try varying the degree of focus. Shoot into the sunshine through leaves. Be creative.

ICM - Intentional Camera Movement

Portraiture – Photograph your family or your pets. Artful portraiture is something that can challenge you. Try using your family members or your pets as subjects for your photos. Be mindful of the background and consider the lighting on your subject. Some beautiful portraits can be made using the light that comes in from a window. Set up a sheet as a backdrop and use shop lights with a fabric or some translucent paper in front to reduce the harshness of the light. Be creative.

Taken in a dark room with a single light

The best thing about a digital camera is that we are not limited on how many photos there are on a roll of film. This allows us to just get lost in taking photos. It allows us to experiment. You can take a photo, preview it, correct, or change a setting and try it again. It allows you to be able to occupy yourself creating artistic images all day. So, do not despair if you are agonizing about not being able to get out and take photos like you would like to. Play and practice close to home in the meantime. 

The Weeping Walls Autumn Color

Weeping Walls Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

This is an off trail location on Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge near the little town of Cascade Locks, Oregon. This area was affected severely by 2017’s Eagle Creek Fire. I feel fortunate to have been able to photograph many of the areas that are now closed to hiking.

Although the Eagle Creek Trail is still closed at the time that I write that, the US Forest Service hopes to have the trail reopened soon.

Although Springtime workshops will be delayed Autumn workshops are still a go. Contact me for more information.

Christmas Valley Oregon

Christmas Valley Oregon

Christmas Valley Oregon – I love the diversity of landscape in Oregon. We have most everything that a landscape photographer could want to photograph. Oregon has a pretty awesome ocean coastline abutted against forested mountains and hills, valleys, glacial peaked mountains, sage and juniper high desert plains, low elevation desert mud playas and a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon – Hells Canyon on the Idaho border. We also have windswept sand dunes, not just along the coastline, but right in the center of the state in Central Oregon.

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes in Central Oregon are some of the remnants of the catastrophic volcanic explosion of Mount Mazama just 7000 years ago that blew 1600 meters (almost a mile in elevation) of the 12,000 foot (3700 meter) mountain completely off, creating a caldera that contains the iconic 1,943 foot (592 meter) deep Crater Lake,  that we know today. The Christmas Valley sand is composed of ash and pumice that was ejected during the eruption. Although the dunes are majestic on their own, they’re only a small part of the evidence of an event that changed what we know as Oregon forever, and greatly affected the people who lived there.

What’s thought provoking to me is the fact that humans were in the area and were witness to this event. Incredibly preserved reed sandals have been unearthed in a cave near the little town of Fort Rock not far from Christmas Valley that have been dated from 9000 to 13000 years old. Life for the native Klamath people in the area changed forever after the massive eruption. Their legends tell of an angry battle between Llao, their “Chief of the Below World” who inhabited Mount Mazama (Giiwas in the Native American Klamath language), and his rival Skell, their “Chief of the Above World”. Llao fell in love with a beautiful Klamath maiden but she refused his offer of immortality if she would become his wife. This angered Llao and he rained rocks and fire down from the sky onto the people below. During the battle Skell tried to protect the people from above while standing atop Mount Shasta. The battle ended when Skell was able to force Llao back into the mountain. All of this commotion formed the crater on Mount Mazama which filled with torrential rains that followed the battle.

The mountain became sacred ground to the natives and the people were forbidden from going there. Some shaman forbade them from looking in the direction of the mountain. 7000 years ago, all of this would make perfect sense. The human catastrophe and the pure terror that they witnessed must have been something that we as modern humans can hardly understand.

Today we can still witness the effects of the massive geological battle that forms so much of the landscapes that we photograph. I feel that understanding the science as well as the legend of these areas works to enhance our appreciation for them and allows us to better translate their meaning and message through our photos.

The winds in Central Oregon blow with some regularity in this area and create dunes as well as ripples in the sand. The patterns that they create are perfect for a photographic foreground. Unique conditions such as a vivid sunrise or sunset can complete a breathtaking scene.

Christmas Lake, Christmas Valley and nearby Peter’s Sink and Peter’s Creek were named for pioneer stockman Peter Christman, who grazed his cattle there and had a house at Silver Lake, 18 miles (29 km) to the southwest. The name “Christmas” was an early corruption of the name Christman that became entrenched in the vernacular by 1900.

The Christmas Valley Sand Dunes are administered by the Bureau of Land Management and are easily accessible and are designated as a recreational area for campers and wanderers as well as OHV use. Camping areas are available for extended camping stays. If you find yourself wandering in Central Oregon exploring our amazing public lands a trip to Christmas Valley should be on your list of places to stop and experience. 

Glacier National Park 2020

Grinnell Point at Swiftcurrent Lake

Well, I finally made it back to Glacier National Park. This time with my good friend Chris Byrne. Chris was conducting a workshop and had a great group with him. I was glad to tag along.

The last time that I went to Glacier I was confronted with cold weather ,snow and ice. I remember camping at Two Medicine Lake on my last day there and getting frozen inside of my Jeep during the night. I woke up to about a 1/2 of an inch of ice covering the whole Jeep. I couldn’t see any mountains so I headed back home early.

This time I was met with some pretty epic conditions. We had two incredible sunrises at Swiftcurrent Creek. Travelling from one side of the park to the other via the Going To the Sun Road is always epic, but the skies were so atmospheric. Probably due to the winds at the beginning of the trip kicking up glacial dust into the air.

In all we had seven days to play in this incredible place. Photographing lakes, creeks, waterfalls, amazing mountain peaks as well as wildlife such as moose, deer and even a grizzly bear.

It will be hard to beat this trip, but I can’t wait to return to Montana.

A Winter Afternoon in The Mt Hood National Forest

A Winter Afternoon In The Mt Hood National Forest

A Winter Afternoon in The Mt Hood National Forest – Gary and Darlene spend some time photographing the forest.

I found some time to practice with my Mavic Pro… and I didn’t crash. 😀 Flying this drone and feeling comfortable doesn’t come hand and hand to me. I find flying this machine very stressful but I hope that that feeling goes away the more that I fly.

Now that I’ve broken the ice with this video look forward to more videos from me. Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel in the meantime. I’d sure appreciate it.