Tag Archives: National Parks

Northern Lights

There exist websites that forecast the likelihood of seeing the northern lights.  Despite being in Alaska for a week last year where the prediction was occasionally high, I’ve never seen them.  On our second night at the lodge, the prediction was once again fairly good, so most of us set our alarms to wake up in the middle of the night and look for them.  And once again, my hopes were dashed.  My camera was all set up, so I decided to take some photos for star trails in the dark, clear night sky…

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The next night’s forecast was not as good, so we didn’t set any alarms.  However, I woke up and went to the bathroom about 1:30 AM, and decided to peek outside.  And there they were.  I took a couple of 20-second (ISO 800, f/5.6) exposures, then woke my friends before returning to my camera to take a handful more exposures.  A friend of mine staying in Denali (several hundred miles north) that week said they were wonderful up there.

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Coastal Brown Bears of Lake Clark

It was finally time.  We’d been planning this trip for almost two years, and still didn’t comprehend what it was going to be like to photograph these bears.  After arriving at the lodge, we unpacked our camera gear and went right out into the field to find some bears to photograph.  We remarked in the moment, “do you think we’ll make fun of ourselves later this week for taking so many photos of bears sleeping in the meadow?”  We acknowledged the answer was “yes”, but we took them anyway.  Several thousand photos of bears later, this photo doesn’t bubble up to be among the best, but here it is anyway…

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The excitement of watching bears graze on grass and then take a nap soon wore off, as we moved to the beach to watch the bears dig for clams.  Their keen sense of smell (and an abundance of razor clams) lets them quickly find a spot to dig into the sand with their paws and bring up a clam to eat.  Different bears have different strategies for opening the clams, but the “smush the clam on the sand, then pry it open with your teeth” technique was pretty common.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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Watching the bears fish was the most exciting.  The bears would sit in or near the water, and then start running after a swimming salmon.  They failed many times, so it was sensational when they succeeded.  As you might expect, being along Silver Salmon Creek, these are Silver (Coho) Salmon.

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We saw three different moms with cubs.  The moms would catch fish, eat part for herself, and share with her cubs—while chasing away other bears who might try to grab the fish.

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Speaking of cubs, they have a lot of personality.  They can be playful.  They can be whiny.  They pick fights with their siblings.  And they are cute enough that mom (usually) puts up with it all.

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After eating, it’s of course time to stretch out and take a nap.

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Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska

I just got back from hanging out with bears in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, in southern Alaska about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage.

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These are coastal brown bears, ursus arctos horribilis. They’re genetically the same as grizzly bears—“grizzly” generally refers to inland bears.  A couple of hundred bears spend time along the coast here.

Living along Silver Salmon Creek, the bears have access to a varied diet of  salmon in the creek, clams on the beach, and sedges in the tidal marshes.

(Click any of the images to enlarge.)

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The focus of this trip was bears, but we saw a few birds, too—bald eagles, puffins, plenty of seagulls, a couple of harriers, and red-winged blackbirds, to name a few.  Here’s a bald eagle on the beach, thinking about fish.

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Here’s a greater yellowlegs, tringa melanoleuca, wading at the edge of Silver Salmon Creek.

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In upcoming posts, I’ll share a few more bear photos, talk about the lodge that served as home base, and discuss my photo gear choices.

Please comment if you have questions you’d like me to answer in upcoming posts.

Alaska, Day 12

The rain continued off and on through day 12 in Kantishna, but that didn’t stop us from hiking a bit.  In the morning, we went to Blueberry Hill, near Wonder Lake.  We tasted wild blueberries and low-bush cranberries along the way

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View of Wonder Lake (and behind the clouds, Mount McKinley) from Blueberry Hill

As you can see, it was overcast.  We hiked in mist and the occasional rainshower.  The cloud ceiling was only a few hundred feet.

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In the afternoon, we hiked to the cabin of Fannie Quigley, a woman and local legend who lived in Kantishna from 1906 (before the park) until her death in 1944.

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We also hiked a couple hundred extra yards to get to the official end of the road at the air strip.  Here’s proof…

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Next up, a long day of travel from Kantishna back to Anchorage.  More to come.

Alaska, Day 11

I’m catching up after being off the grid in the Denali backcountry.

After the great weather in Talkeetna, the rain came again.

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Storm approaching Eielson Visitor Center

We took a bus to the Denali Backcountry Lodge, at the end of the park road, 92 miles from the entrance.  It was a six-hour bus ride, which included stops when we saw wildlife.  Our driver/guide pretty much talked non-stop for that six hours, describing scenery, animal behavior, park history, and anything else relevant for our trip.

Along the way, we saw Dall Sheep, Moose, Caribou, Grizzly Bear, Gyrfalcons, and WIllow Ptarmigan, to name a few.

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More to come tomorrow, as I continue catching up.

Hawaii, Day Seven

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow, I’ll have been here a week already.  On the day after tomorrow, I will start home.

I have several images I want to show you, and I was also struggling with which inspiring word to use for today’s post.  I finally chose two images to fit with the word “power”.

This morning, we went on a boat tour with Lava Ocean Adventures along the southern coast of the Big Island.  There’s no lava flowing into the ocean right now, so I don’t have any dramatic photos of that.

I did manage to get this photo of a dolphin who swam near our boat for a few minutes.  Seeing this image, I am reminded of the word “power”.

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Most of the rest of our day was spent in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We ended the day at the Jaggar Museum overlook, photographing the inner caldera and the glow of the hot lava in the steam clouds.  This image also reminds me of “power”.  The lava here stays in the caldera, and does not flow out to the ocean.

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More adventures tomorrow.  See you then.

July in Boston

I made a trip to Boston a few weeks ago, to visit some professors and other customers. (And a few friends.)

One evening, I was stuck in traffic, inching along next to Boston’s Museum of Science.  I decided to stop in for one very photography-related reason… because it was so heavily influenced by photographer, mountaineer, and cartographer Bradford Washburn, director of the museum for over 40 years.

If you look for it, you can find a small exhibit at the museum about Brad and Barbara Washburn.  I recommend finding it.

I also had the pleasure of being in Lowell, Massachusetts for one day of the Lowell Folk Festival. Wow, this was a great event, and I wish I could have stayed for the whole weekend. I heard several great bands, including The Steep Canyon Rangers, Plena Libre, The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band, Bua, and others.

Here’s a photo of the main stage at the Lowell National Historical Park, with the Steep Canyon Rangers playing.

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They shut down several square blocks of downtown, and have a variety of stages with music going constantly.  And the food!  Lots of tents with a wide variety of good food.  If you’re near Lowell in late July, I highly recommend experiencing the festival.

A Weekend in Denver

After leaving New Mexico, I went up to Colorado and enjoyed catching up with several friends. My first night, I captured this great sunset with the Denver skyline from my hotel room balcony.

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My friend Micaela took me snowshoeing for the first time.  We went up to Bear Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park, and we had a wonderful time with a couple of feet of fresh powder in some places.

Snowshoeing in RMNP Despite her best efforts with snowballs, she did not cause me to trip over my own snowshoes and fall down.

Tucson, Day 2

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As a musician, I’ve been trained, in the moments leading up to a performance, to relax—to calm myself, and peacefully contemplate what I’m about to do. It puts me into the right mindset, by clearing everything else out of my head. And then when I’m ready, I can execute the way all the rehearsals taught me to perform.

And so it needs to be with photography. I know my cameras; I can handle most of the photographic situations I’ll be in. But if my mind is still back home, thinking about work  or other chores, I won’t be ready to make the photographs I know I can make.

Even in nature photography, there’s a lot to think about—what’s going to happen next?  When’s the sun going to set?  Which way is the wind blowing?  What time does this park lock its gate?  What’s the hyperfocal distance for this shot?

Today, in the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, I had to just say, “Stop!”

saguaro_arms I was standing next to a 30-foot-tall Saguaro, and listening.

The wind was blowing hard.  I stopped to listen to the wind flowing through the needles of the Saguaro.  Wow.  I bet a lot of people go through life never hearing that sound.  Let’s listen a little bit more, to the birds, and the squirrels…

A whole lot of nature photography is being patient. It’s waiting for the right light. It’s waiting for a shadow to move. Or a cloud.

saguaro_national_park_javelina_rocks And sometimes, the right light doesn’t happen.  Sometimes, the cloud doesn’t show up in the right spot.  That’s part of nature photography.

But if my mind is open, I will still enjoy what I’m doing. I can listen for the wind. I can watch and listen for the animals around me.

Okay, I’m ready again. Ready to take another photograph. My mind is clear again.

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I’m in Arizona this week.

In the days leading up to this trip, I was stressing about projects left undone at work and at home. I wasn’t sure how easily I would shift my focus to photography.

I visited the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park this afternoon.  I just did a quick drive-through around sunset, to get a better idea of what I want to try tomorrow.

Once I got out into the desert, watching the sunset, I knew I was mentally prepared for the photography.  The challenges back home are well taken care of (for which I am grateful!), allowing me to settle into the nature around me.

Here’s one of my infrared shots from today.

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Look for more over the next week.