Category Archives: Travel

A Final Night and Morning in the Grand Tetons

I got up early on Friday to drive the three hours from Canyon Village in Yellowstone, through West Yellowstone, and then down to Idaho Falls.  Why?  Because of some upcoming international travel, I needed a Yellow Fever immunization.  Due to timing, and a nationwide shortage of said vaccines, it was most convenient for me to make an appointment with Eastern Idaho Public Health.

I arrived early (as planned, just in case), so I went down to see the eponymous falls.  A Mormon Temple is in the background on the left.

Click any image to enlarge.

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After my immunization, I had lunch, and headed eastward to go over Teton Pass.  From the top, you can see a nice view of Jackson Hole.

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I drove on down to Jackson and got settled into the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park for my final night.  I did a little infrared photography in the bright afternoon sun, before heading back to Jackson to meet with a couple of friends for one final night.

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Because of the great location and view from near my hotel room, I set up my camera for star trails.  I did a couple of 35-minute captures from about 11 PM to a little after midnight..  Here’s one of the photos.  The moon was waxing gibbous, and provided plenty of illumination for the snow on the mountains.

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Despite the late night, I rose early in hopes of great color at sunrise.  I got a little bit of pink in the sky, much like earlier in the week.  Here are a couple of photos—one of Mount Moran, and one of Mount St. John.

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Before I knew it, it was time to leave for the airport and fly home.

The general consensus at the Nature Photography Celebration (organized by The North American Nature Photography Association) is that it was a successful event that we should repeat in new locations in the future.  We heard from great photographers presenting about their latest projects, and we had plenty of free time to go out and photograph great locations on our own.  (And we even had a small trade show with support from many camera manufacturers, camera stores–especially Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo & Video–and other organizations.)

A big thank you to my friend Charlotte for sharing wine, cheese, and a hyperactive dog in her beautiful home, and for including me in her network of friends, who all made me feel welcome a long way from home.

I am grateful for the beautiful places like the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, and all the other National Parks and National Monuments we are blessed to protect for future generations.

Quake Lake

The first time I went to Yellowstone was in the mid-1980’s.  Harnessing the power of the internet, such as it was back in 1985, I found suggestions for places to go in the region.  One suggestion was to visit a place called “Quake Lake”, a few miles northwest of West Yellowstone, Montana.

In 1959, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake occurred, centered near Hebgen Lake on the Madison River in southwestern Montana.  It caused a massive landslide in Madison Canyon, killing several people camping along the river.  It also created a new lake, below Hebgen Lake, named Earthquake Lake.

Every time I visit Yellowstone, I have also ventured over to this area.  There are roadside information displays, and a visitors center with more information about the quake.  If you are at all interested in geology and earthquakes, I encourage you to visit.

Here’s the view of the landslide from the visitors center…

Click any image to enlarge.

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Here’s a view of Quake Lake, looking to the west.  Trees that were inundated by the water are shown in the foreground.  The landslide is at the far end of the lake.

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Yellowstone Wildlife

Yellowstone is known as much for its wildlife as its geologic features.  Until this year, I’d never had a “long” camera lens with me in Yellowstone for wildlife.  This year, I had a Fujifilm XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, and also a Fujifilm 1.4x teleconverter.  With my Fujifilm X-T2, which has an APS-C sensor, I had the 35mm equivalent of up to an 840mm telephoto lens.  All of the images below were shot with this lens/TC combination.

On Thursday morning, I started the drive up to the Lamar Valley.  I stopped along the way to visit the Tower Falls area, where I saw a bunch of cars stopped by the side of the road (a “bear jam”).  I got out and saw that the fuss was about a black bear and her cub.  I stayed for about half an hour observing and photographing the bears.

Here’s the mom…

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And the cub, up in a tree, working its way down to see mom.

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Finally mom comes up part way to encourage the cub to get past a tricky section of branches…

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Once on the ground, mom played with the cub.  Here, it’s about to swat it lightly on its rump…

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Now, let’s see who can make the most ferocious face…

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And then it was time to move on, to see what there was to see around the next bend.  Back at Tower Junction, near the Roosevelt Lodge, a few pronghorn were grazing…

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And a little further north, some bighorn sheep, just hanging out on the hillside…

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As I continued deeper into the Lamar Valley, I hoped to see, but did not expect to see, one of the wolf packs.  I did see hundreds of people, over several miles, hoping to see wolves, but never saw any myself.

But there were plenty of bison, in several herds.

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I even saw a few bison calves…

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The bison were starting to shed their winter coats…

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And then it was time to move on again.  In my next post, a visit to an interesting geologic location just outside the park.

Yellowstone National Park

On Wednesday, I planned to get up early for sunrise photography, and to start driving up to Yellowstone.  But I woke to rain in Jackson, and slept in another hour.

I drove up through Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and entered Yellowstone National Park at the south entrance.  I continued north, and rain turned into snow.  It was 34 degrees and the roads warm enough to not have trouble with ice.

Click on any image to enlarge.

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I tried to be a tourist and visit a roadside sight or two.  Here’s Lewis Falls, with me standing on snow, watching the snow fall.  Did I mention it was 34 degrees?

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Soon, I decided it was best to just keep driving on to Old Faithful.  By the time I got there, the snow had subsided, and there was just a little bit of rain.  I arrived a few minutes before the famous geyser erupted.  Not the photo I imagined with a brilliantly colorful sky in the background, but this is more of a snapshot anyway.  In the peak of summer (and in better weather), you would see thousands more people surrounding Old Faithful.

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Peak season begins Memorial Day weekend, and I was there just before that.  So it was beginning to get crowded, but nothing like the park sees later on.  Being a week or two before the busy season begins also means that not every road (or campground or lodge) is open—but it’s still a great time to visit.  The creeks, rivers, and waterfalls were really flowing.

Here’s the inside of the historic Old Faithful Inn, with people waiting to enter the dining room.  Some consider the inn the largest log building in the world.

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I walked around for awhile in the rain in the Upper Geyser Basin in the Old Faithful area.  It was nice to get out and walk around.  Here’s one of the pools in the area:  Morning Glory Pool.  Pro tip:  bring your polarizing filter to cut down on reflections in the water.  I left mine at home.

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My destination for the night was Canyon Lodge, so I kept on driving north (no more falling snow!), past the other other geyser basins.  Here’s an overlook showing the Norris Geyser Basin in the distance.

Continue reading Yellowstone National Park

More Time in the Grand Tetons

I’m back in Austin now.  I chose not to keep up with the blog as I went.  A combination of 16+ hours of light for photography each day, lots of travel time, time with friends, and a little bit of allergies all conspired to help me choose sleep instead of half-hearted writing into the night.  But I’m back, and have four more blog posts in the works after this one.

Sunrise each morning was about 5:50 AM, so I’d get up every morning about 5:00 and head out to see what the sunrise would bring.  We never had any truly spectacular colors in the morning, but it was still beautiful to be in this amazing place to see how the sun would first light the mountains.

Click on any image to enlarge.

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Balsam Root, the yellow flower in the foreground of the photo below, was blooming in many places in the valley.

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Some mornings would start with fog in low-lying areas.  Clouds in the mountains were constantly changing.  This infrared photo is from the same day as those in my earlier blog post about the Snake River Overlook.  It was taken about fifteen or twenty minutes before the images I posted last week.

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I dropped by another couple of famous places for photography.

Oxbow Bend, below Jackson Lake on the Snake River often has still water in the mornings, great for reflections of Mount Moran, and to its left, the mountain known, at least for now, as Mount Woodring.  (And further left are Mount St. John and Rockchuck Peak.)

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Mormon Row is a section of Grand Teton National Park that I suspect most people don’t visit, but is famous among photographers.  A group of Mormons from Idaho homesteaded here beginning in the late 1800’s, and lived here through the mid-1900’s before being sold to the National Park Service.

Perhaps most famous is the Thomas Alma Moulton barn, shown below.

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I didn’t do much hiking this trip, but I did take an easy five-mile hike on Tuesday up to Phelps Lake.  This is where I saw the moose in my earlier blog post about Grand Teton Wildlife.

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Here’s the GPS track for the hike.  It’s part of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in the southernmost section of Grand Teton National Park.  This section was donated by Laurance S. Rockefeller to the National Park Service in 2001.

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Grand Teton Wildlife

I’m a day behind in my blog posts.  I’ll eventually catch up.  Both yesterday and today, I took photos of some of the wildlife here.  Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours in the morning with Bear 399 and her two yearling cubs.

But first, I had to wait for a small herd of bison to cross the road.  Here are a couple getting into a tussle before they jump over the fence in the background.  (And the last one over clumsily knocked down that fence.)

As always, click any image to enlarge.

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Bear 399 has been hanging out around Pilgrim Creek, so there are typically “bear jams” as people crowd the side of the roadway waiting for the bears to do something interesting.

Here are a few photos from Monday morning.

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Not far away were a few elk…

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Then this (Tuesday) morning, I hiked up to Phelps Lake, in the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, in the southern end of the park.  I ran into a couple of people who asked, “Did you see the two moose?”  They told me where to watch for them on the way back.

I finally noticed them about 30 yards off the trail.  Can you see the two moose in the first picture?

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I zoomed in on the moose on the left.  It’s amazing how well two very large animals can hide only a few yards from a commonly used trail.

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Another couple of blog posts are coming soon.  Tomorrow, I leave the Grand Tetons and start a short couple of days in Yellowstone.

Snake River Overlook

Pro Tip:  If you’re going to use your iPad for your alarm clock, confirm that it’s set to the right timezone, so that you don’t accidentally wake up at 4 AM when you were planning for 5 AM.

This morning’s forecast was for mostly clear skies, so I woke up early and headed into the park.  I decided to start at the Snake River Overlook, made famous by Ansel Adams in his 1942 photo, The Tetons and the Snake River.  The view’s not quite the same, because the trees have grown so much taller in the last 76 years.

I spent about an hour there, before and after sunrise, shooting a variety of compositions.  Here are a couple of similar photos that I liked, one visible light, one infrared.  The first is closer to sunrise, with the fog still lifting off the river.  The infrared image is from a bit later, after the sun started to illuminate the foreground.  Which one do you like better?

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After I left the overlook, I headed down to Schwabacher’s Landing to take advantage of the reflections in the relatively still water.

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I saw elk and geese today, and hoping I see more wildlife tomorrow.

Grand Teton National Park

I flew to Jackson, Wyoming, today.  I’m here, in part, for a North American Nature Photography Association Nature Photography Celebration.

Today’s forecast called for an 80% chance of rain, but that can lead to some nice dramatic photos.  I headed north into the Grand Teton National Park, stopping at the Moose Junction Visitor Center to find out about trail conditions during this early part of the season.  I continued driving north, to get my bearings.  It’s been over twenty years since I was last here.

The weather held out just fine.  It was mostly cloudy, with intermittent rain showers that never lasted more than a few minutes.  I think the weather will improve somewhat during my stay.

Here are a few images to give you a taste of what it was like today.  Click on any of them to enlarge.

Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain:

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Mount Moran, in the clouds:

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The first image was taken with a Fujifilm X-T2, with a Fujifilm 18-55 lens.

The second and third images were taken with a Nikon D300 and Nikkor 18-200 lens.  Camera converted to infrared by LifePixel.

More coming up later this week.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Epilogue

Thanks for reading this series of posts.  I wanted to say a few final words.

First, about the location:

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I’d been to Munich many times before, but everywhere else was new to me.  I loved everything about northern Italy—the scenery, the hiking, the people, the mix of cultures, the food, the wine, and even the fact that everything seems to run just a few minutes behind schedule. Smile

Second, let’s talk about gear.

I don’t usually talk much about clothes on this blog, but a few items were so good I want to call them out:

All were both comfortable and functional, which is what you want in travel wear.

For photo gear, I had to trim weight because I would be carrying it all on my back for many miles.  This was different than last fall’s trip to Alaska, where the biggest consideration was the weight limitation for the charter flights to and from Lake Clark.  Once I was at the lodge in Alaska, I never had to carry my gear very far.

In years past, I would have carried all Nikon full-frame gear—I was seriously considering bringing a Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8, 24-120mm f/4, and 80-200mm f/2.8.  But, as I’ve expanded my Fujifilm mirrorless collection over the last couple of years, the lighter weight Fujifilm X-T2 seemed like a better alternative.  The weight difference between Nikon and Fujifilm in body and equivalent lenses was about 4 pounds.  For the entire, fully-loaded photo backpack, the Fujifilm system allowed for a sizable 20% reduction in weight.

I also don’t think I was giving up anything in terms of image quality.  The Nikon has more megapixels, but the Fujifilm is an excellent camera, too—especially for landscapes.  I’d still choose the Nikon over the Fujifilm for sports or bird photography, but I wasn’t doing any of that in Italy.

The next consideration was how to carry all my photo gear, including my tripod, and the things I’d need at the mountain huts—toiletries, rain coat and pants, an extra layer for warmth, extra camera batteries and memory cards, a pack cover, etc.

After a little research, I found that a backpack I already owned would be a good option, the Lowepro Fastpack 350.  It has a lower padded compartment for camera body and lenses, and an upper compartment for whatever you can stuff in there.  One major downside of the pack is that there’s no consideration for a tripod.  I attached my tripod by putting the feet into the small mesh pouch on the side of the pack, and attaching a small bungee cord to the pack’s top handle, and wrapping it around the top of the tripod.  This worked well enough, though it wasn’t entirely secure.

I also wished that my pack had a rain cover.  To make up for that, I bought the REI Co-op Duck’s Back Rain Cover – 40 Liters, which I used several times.  It was a worthwhile investment.

For camera gear, I carried:

All of the gear was used extensively.  Total weight, including the pack, was about 17 lbs.

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I want to give a plug for the Really Right Stuff BXT2 plate.  Up until a couple of weeks before the trip, I was just planning to use a generic Wimberley plate for the camera.  The one annoying thing is that you have to remove the plate to get to the battery compartment.  I went ahead and bought, with a few days to spare, the BXT2, which is constructed in a way where you can still access the battery without taking off the plate.

There was one interesting little feature to the BXT2 which I initially considered a gimmick.  The plate has a slot and a magnet to hold an Allen wrench in place.  When one of the other photographers asked, “Hey, does anybody have an Allen wrench handy?”, I was able to immediately pull it out.  The gimmick is actually a pretty handy feature that I grew to appreciate.

You’ll note that I chose to bring a pretty small tripod—maybe four feet tall at its maximum.  There were several times I’d wished for my larger tripod, but there were many more times I was glad that I wasn’t carrying the extra weight.  (My large tripod weighs almost double what my small tripod weighs.)  One thing that helped me cope with the small tripod was the X-T2’s bidirectional tilt-screen display.  I didn’t have to kneel down to look through the viewfinder; I could tilt the screen up in either portrait or landscape orientation, and compose more easily standing up when I wanted to.

I did have one gear failure near the end of the trip.  On the morning of the hike to the Locatelli hut, I noticed a small 1” tear along the seam of the upper part of the backpack.  By the time I got to the hut, it was 3”-4” long, and by the end of the trip, the tear was about 5”-6” long.  The backpack wasn’t really designed for two camera bodies, so it probably suffered from having the extra weight.  It sufficed to get me home, but I’m going to have to replace this backpack now.

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Finally, I want to give a plug for Kerrick James and KJPhotoSafaris.  Jen and I have done several photo trips together, and we’ve kind of outgrown the “photo workshop” experience.  We self-organized our trip to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park last year, and Jen’s family has self-organized many trips to Africa through the years.

But Kerrick’s trips are different.  First, Kerrick and Julie are genuinely nice people who are pleasant to be around.  Second, Kerrick is a top-notch, working photographer.  As such, he’s learned to be a problem-solver… “The weather’s terrible, so here’s what we’re going to do to make the most of it.”  Third, it feels more like we’re all collaborating.  Kerrick shares his valuable and experienced perspective on the scenes before us, but he is also keenly interested in our own points of view and the images we’re able to create.  It’s very much a feeling that we are all teaching and learning together.

So, if you’re an intermediate to advanced photographer looking for an active photography trip, check out KJPhotoSafaris.  You’ll end up in a great place with great people.

Thanks to my friends, new and old, that were part of this trip.  Thank you for being teachers.  Thank you for the camaraderie, and for the bad jokes occasionally punctuated by a good one.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 7

Okay, time for the home stretch.  We spent the night in the ski village of Cortina d’Ampezzo, host of the 1956 Winter Olympics.  We began to disperse back to our regular lives.  James and Marina left soon after we got to Cortina.  In the morning, we bade farewell to Jake and his family.  The remaining five of us, Kerrick, Julie, Mark, Jennifer, and I caught the morning bus to Venice.

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From there, we left Mark at the airport, and Jen and I took the Alilaguna Water Transport to the city.  This took about 90 minutes.  Pro tip:  We could have, like Kerrick and Julie, taken the bus to the train station, taken a shorter trip on the water, and saved about an hour.

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In Venice, I shifted gears to street photography instead of grand landscapes.  I had been told that Venice is a maze, and that’s an apt description.

Here’s an infrared shot from the Pont dell’Accademia, reached after crossing a bridge we probably shouldn’t have, and then making many, many wrong turns trying to find our way back to our hotel.  So many paths dead end at the water, and you have to backtrack and try another path.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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Once over the bridge, we walked a bit further and passed through the famed Piazza San Marco.  Here’s an infrared photo of Basilica di San Marco.

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After arriving again at the hotel, I attempted one of the greatest challenges of the trip:  how to send a postcard back to the US.  Italian Post Offices close early afternoon, so it was too late for that.  To buy stamps at other times, you have to find a tobacco shop.  That’s not hard.  The hard part is having them sell you the right kind of stamp.  (If anyone needs a stamp that’s only good for mail to the rest of Europe, let me know.)  I asked at the hotel, and it took a good 15 minutes looking things up on their computer for them to come to the conclusion that the stamp I was sold was indeed not the stamp I needed.  They then sent me to find a street vendor, many of whom sell postcards, as well as private mail stamps.  So I bought one of those stamps—and oh, by the way, you can only send your postcard by way of their mailbox.  I’ll let you know in a few weeks if my mother got her postcard.

That evening, Jen and I met up for one final dinner with Kerrick and Julie.  It was a great ending to a great trip.  The next morning, we all began our trips home.

Here’s a collection of some of my snapshots from Venice.  Thanks for reading.  I’ll have one more post after this where I talk about my photo gear.  Stay tuned.

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