Alaska Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bears in Alaska

Alaska Grizzly Bears

Another drop in the bucket of things that I have to do in my life, to intermingle with and photograph grizzly bears, has been achieved. Darlene and I have just returned from an amazing trip to Alaska that included a hike on a glacier, a boat ride into the Prince William Sound and a flight over the glaciated peaks of the Kenai Peninsula, but the highlight of the trip was mingling with grizzly bears in the wild.

We drove to a location that we had visited and were unsuccessful at on a previous trip to Alaska. We weren't all that confident but decided to give it a whirl. We did know that the river was full of salmon so it would be possible. The bears come down to the rivers when the salmon are spawning for an easy nutritious meal.

As we arrived at the trailhead a group of fishermen were walking out to their cars. They had been chased out of the fishing holes by a sow and her cubs. Darlene and I got excited. We grabbed or gear and headed down the trail toward the river. As I hiked down the trail my mind was on uber-alert with my bear spray quickly available. The last thing that I wanted was to surprise a momma and her babies. Darlene was singing a song to herself as she walked, hoping to alert a bear before we arrived if one was in our path.

We got down to the river just as the evening light was starting to fade. I had 150-300mm zoom but was wishing that I had a 600mm with me. Primarily to be able to get a shot without walking right up to them and asking them to smile. As it turned out the 300mm worked well, but I didn't get any closeups. - I digress. As we walked along the river we saw a group of people coming out that told of another bear further downstream.

Darlene and I walked with a bit more vigor due to the adrenaline in our veins, but when we arrived the bear had gone back into the woods. We decided to just walk up and down the path for a while until we became tired of that and had a seat to just sit and wait and watch.

We sat there chatting in a low whisper while we sat near the brush next to the river as to not alarm any potential bear who might want to come back for another salmon snack. I told Darlene that it was getting a little dim and that we'd now need to really push our ISO to get anything with an acceptable shutter speed. We discussed being hungry and that perhaps we should leave and find a meal before it got too late when as I looked over Darlene's shoulder toward the river I saw the big sow grizzly lumbering out of the forest toward the river on the bank right across from us no more than 20-30 yards away. I said in a concerned and excited whisper... "Bear! Bear! Bear!". Darlene turned and showed her obvious excitement as we both started to photograph the bear as if we were hidden paparazzi! A moment or two passed and out came a cub, then another and then another. A momma and three cubs. We could hardly believe what we were seeing. I will never forget that moment. The moment when she gracefully emerged from the forest. My first thought was, "this is not the zoo".

We photographed her and the babies until they decided to retreat into the forest. Not long after we heard some commotion down river. All of a sudden I heard the "huff, huff" from a bear. It sent a chill up my spine. A minute later a small group of tourists came walking toward me with a sense of urgency. They said that a male grizzly came out of the woods near them and chased them away. I grabbed my gear, and Darlene and we headed toward where I heard the commotion. My senses on alert I walked slowly as I scanned the trail ahead, the forest to the right and the river to our left.

As we approached we could see a bear in the river. Darlene and I found a safe spot to observe and proceeded to watch one of the most beautiful things that I've experienced in my life. In the river was a young bore , perhaps two years old, playing as if he had no care in the world. He walked around in the river picking up fish and tossing them around into the air, wading into deeper pools and just swimming around. He was a joy to watch and to photograph but our light was fading fast. The cameras were having a hard time and I didn't want to hike out in the dark so we grabbed our gear and headed back.

As we were walking out we could see silhouettes of bears in the river. We walked a little quicker and counted ten bears in all on this visit. It was as if they were all coming out of the forest at once. We hurried out while we still had light to show our way.

That night at our hotel we decided to dedicate the next day to getting some great bear photos. I reviewed my shots that night and came to the conclusion that I needed that 600mm. The shots were great, but not close enough as far as I'm concerned and I'll be darned if I'm going to get closer! We decided to drive 150 miles one way to Anchorage to rent a lens. We returned with just enough time to get ready and head to the river.

We arrived with my rented 150-600 zoom lens and walked up and down the trail and spent that evening there with absolutely no success. As the light faded I lamented the fact that we had blown a whole day and the cost of the lens. Darlene suggested that we take our last day in Alaska and come back one more time.

The next day was beautiful. We spent a great day in the Alaska scenery, but I was anxious to return to the bears that evening.

We noted that the time that the sow and her cubs came out of the woods was approximately 7:30 pm. We made sure that we were there early and staked out a spot to sit near where she had been the night that we saw her previously. Sure to form at approximately 7:30 down from the forest she came - Her and her cubs.

The rest is history. This family came down and ate for a while, retreated back into the woods for a while and then returned for an encore. Insuring that I got my amazing bear photos. I was beyond excited. We were so excited when we got back to the car that we felt like kids at after a carnival. I scrolled down through the photos, checked focus etc and then drove back to the hotel fulfilled and in disbelief that the photos on my card were mine. 

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Leslie Gulch and The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon - Oregon is truly an amazing place. In terms of variety of the landscapes available within an easy day’s drive, who really needs to travel outside of the state to find what they want to experience? From my perspective, that of a landscape photographer, I speak primarily in regards to the natural world. Oregon has views of the ocean, rolling hills and valleys, forests, mountains, glaciers, sagebrush desert, mud playa desert, you name it. I tell people that in Oregon there’s a view of a canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon - Hells Canyon on the Snake River.

Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon
Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon

Considering the variety of terrain that we have to choose from here, I seem to gravitate to Eastern Oregon. Perhaps it’s because I live in trees and relish a clear view of the sky and clouds, but I seem to breathe more freely in the open spaces and expansive views that I find there.

My latest trip east included a stop at a place that I can never get tired of exploring, Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch is on Bureau of Land Management land located about an hour from the little town of Jordan Valley near the Oregon and Idaho border. Named for a

poor fellow named Hiram E. Leslie who was struck by lightning there in 1882, it’s a part of a larger area that is a part of the many canyons that make up the Owyhee River drainage. It’s a canyon with towering rock spires and formations made of ancient volcanic tuff, a rock very similar to what’s found at the popular Smith Rock State Park, but times ten as there are huge formations surrounding you all the way through the canyon and up side canyons.

Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon
Owyhee Country in Eastern Oregon

The canyon has a 15 mile dirt road that takes you down into and through to the end where it meets the Owyhee Reservoir where there can be found the 8-unit Slocum Creek - Leslie Gulch Campground (Open from March - November) and a boat ramp. Many people come here to fish. A bit of caution must be expressed here. The road can be treacherous in rain, and the area can be prone to flash floods so be warned. When adventuring in remote areas always be prepared and make sure that your vehicle is up to traveling for miles on dirt. Please don’t go unprepared.

Once you’re in the canyon you’re surrounded by castle like pillars of rock formed by ancient volcanic ash, sheer cliffs and honeycomb type rock formations. The rock features are jagged and more reminiscent of a place in southern Utah or Arizona, but it’s all Oregon. In the Springtime wildflowers bloom, but as Summer approaches the grasses turn yellow and the canyon can be prone to grass fires. Although elusive, there is an abundant amount of wildlife there including bighorn sheep which was established there in 1965 that number close to 200 animals. As you sit at camp you’re serenaded by birds including chukars, which are a type of partridge, and coyotes in the evening, while consumed by the aroma of sage and juniper. Oh - And there’s no cell phone service there so you have no choice but to relax and take it all in.

Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
Cliff Along the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

While in the area take note of some other places nearby that are also worth visiting. There are many other places to get a view of the Owyhee River as well as camping places. Succor Creek is another spot that I’d recommend. Consider also visiting Silver City Idaho, a remote “ghost town” at the end of a rough dirt road that still has a few hearty residents holding on there and a city ordinance that prohibits modern improvements. Take a day and explore the old town and its old buildings including the Idaho Hotel. The little town of Rome and the Pillars of Rome and views of the Owyhee River as well as the Alvord Desert - A mud lake much like Death Valley in California are nearby. The Steens Mountains, considered the Alps of Oregon tower up from the Alvord Desert, and also the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge north of the Steens is an amazing place to sit and birdwatch.

The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon
The Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon

Prior to my time in Eastern Oregon I must admit that from all that I had heard I felt like there was nothing there but sagebrush and coyotes, but once I decided to go it was immediately obvious to me that I had found the solitude that I love and an expanse of land to explore and discover. It may not be for those who want luxury in their free time as there aren’t many motels but for those who want to get away from the luxurious, forget a shower for a few days and spend time in the natural world, I would recommend Leslie Gulch.

Ricketts Glen Pennsylvania Winter Waterfalls

Ricketts Glen Pennsylvania Waterfall

As some of you already know, I just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania. I didn't have as much down time as I had hoped and that which I did have was taken up with cat naps. I had a tummy problem the whole trip. This put a damper on my hike in to Ricketts Glen, which was a hike that I had been so looking forward to. Bad tummy or not, I was going to attempt this.

For me this was more of a trip to spend time with my buddy Chris Byrne my new friend Neven Dries and to meet up with another new found friend, Zachary Bright. When we arrived at the park it was closed to the general public but the ranger allowed us in as long as we had crampons, the cleats that you put on your boots to keep you from slipping, ice axes and a section of rope. So we outfitted ourselves in anticipation of the hike.

Truth be told I was hoping for inclement weather, and the weather leading up to this morning promised some beautiful conditions at it had snowed the day before down in Reading. I was hoping to hike in fresh fallen snow, but when we got there the bright sun was shining and the temps were starting to push 40° F. This made for a beautiful walk, but challenging conditions for photos what with bright highlights and deep shadows, but I had to get some photos.

Once I was in the creek and trying to find my comp I regretted lightening my pack by taking out my Neutral Density filters. I did have my circular polarizer with me thankfully. By lowering my ISO, stopping down and adding the CP I was able to get some photos that were acceptable, but certainly far from optimal image quality. Here in Oregon I prefer to shoot creeks and waterfalls in the rain or soon after a rain, ideally under an overcast sky. This is one of the photos that I took that morning.

In this photo you may notice that There's a lot of complexity. There's a lot going on in it. I did my best to compact the comp and to balance the light. It was a struggle, but I hope that I pulled it off. I'm imagining this same place in the Spring or in the Fall.

Although I love the Pacific Northwest, it was a great adventure for me to explore these Atlantic Northeast locations. I really, really can't wait to return.

Thank you Chris. You're a good friend. Thank you Zachary. You're a good man and I can't wait to shoot with you once more. I appreciate all that you guys did to make this happen.

And most of all Neven Dries who helped facilitate this trip, the primary purpose of which was to talk to the amazing people from the Burks Camera Society of Reading Pennsylvania. I will never be able to repay your kindness. I'm so glad to have met you my friend.

Please, once you find some time, go check out their work. You won't regret it.

Nikon D810 - Nikon 20mm f/2.8 prime - 0.6 shutter - f/22 - ISO 64

Wildflower Season and Leave No Trace

Balsamroot Sunflowers at Rowena Heights in the Columbia River Gorge

Wildflower Season and Leave No Trace

Well, it's February and, so far, a mild Winter. If this trend continues we will have an excellent wildflower season. An early Spring has two consequences for photographers. I beautiful wildflower season and a lot of mosquitoes and ticks.

The Columbia River Gorge has many beautiful fields of flowers. One of the most popular locations by far is Rowena Crest. Rowena is known for its fields of lupine and balsamroot flowers. The location is usually over run by photographers and hikers who love these fields. Because of this the wear and tear on the terrain, as well as newly developed trails made by off trail walkers, it's becoming pretty severe, especially in certain viewing areas. Beautiful foreground areas have been denuded and worn down to bare dirt.

Rowena is only one of the areas that are being affected by the increased use due to the popularity of photography today. Because of this I would like to remind everyone to do their best to Leave No Trace at these sensitive high use areas.

Walk on established trails. It's difficult sometimes to stay on the trail when you see a nice clump but there's a great chance that the trail is there due to its view and there will be many other flowers along the way. Once you mash the grasses down to resemble a trail, others will naturally follow.

Don't pick the flowers. It may be tempting to pick a few flowers to create an arrangement, to turn their faces toward the camera or to simply bring home a bouquet. Please reconsider. Once they're gone they're gone for others and their ability to go to seed to supply fresh flowers next Spring is gone.

If you go with friends please limit the size of the group. The larger the group size the more apt for the group to leave the trail. A group of photographers in one place can cause a lot of damage. I've seen a group come in to photograph a place and completely stomp the area down.

Although controversial, consider the practice of not sharing the location to a pristine area that has yet to be affected by this high volume traffic damage. Some call this elitist, but in my mind it's certainly not. If I'm able to explore to find my own little discoveries, others can make that same effort too. If I could trust my fellow photographers to actually be conscientious enough to not tear these areas apart, I'd be happy to tell the world. In the last 15 years of doing landscape photography I have seen so many of my favorite areas become overrun with non caring humans who have crowded these beautiful areas, tearing up the foregrounds that were once used in photos.

My message is simple and is not meant to be elitist. My message is simply to respect these places that we love to photograph. Preserve them for future photographers. Volunteer with local groups who are restoring or maintaining these areas. Keep these places from being closed down permanently. If you see another photographer off trail, consider mentioning in a nice way that they might consider staying on a trail. If you see others causing malicious damage, especially vandalism, consider reporting the action.

We all need to consider ourselves stewards of these lands. Most are public lands shared by all. Consider them something that you need to value and take care of.

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon.

My friend Matt Payne and I were talking about this photo of The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon and how it's such a prominent in a sea of city lights, making it an obvious composition for a photographer with an eye for detail. I think that some who have photographed this overpass intersection have done it intentionally due to seeing the photo but others who may not have seen this previously just see it and do it.

I took this photo back in 2011 with my friend Bruce. He had seen this intersection in another photograph, perhaps not this exact composition, and wanted to try to get the shot. I was glad to come along, and am honest that I did not create this comp. I was unaware of it until Bruce talked to me about it.

in 2011 not many had photographed this intentionally but since then I've seen it pop up in a lot of photographer's portfolios, and rightfully so. The photos are certainly striking, especially if you've never seen it before.

I shot this at 300mm from the top of "Pill Hill at the OHSU Tram upper terminal. It was windier than the halls of hell, but it's a great place to view the city.

 

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens

Moonlit Mount St Helens with lupines in the foreground taken from Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Night photography is a lot of fun but can be a challenge, even on a bright moonlit night, but the results can be dramatic. The breeze made this shot a challenge, while the moon light threatened to shine too bright and cast too many shadows. I still had fun playing in the dark that night.

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens in the moonlight

Moonlight and Flowers on Mount St Helens

With about 50% moonlight I set up this shot at Loowit Viewpoint near the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The clouds above the mountain created a great fan like effect.

I used a short tripod to include the flowers in the foreground. Because I couldn't stop down to get my depth of focus I used two photos; One for the foreground and another for the background. Once blended I finished with brightness and contrast adjustments.

Moonlight Mount St Helens.

Amazing White River Falls & Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls Oregon

White River Falls and Celestial Falls Oregon

White River Falls in the background and Celestial Falls in the foreground on the White River near the town of Tygh Valley Oregon.

White River has its source on the southeast side of Mount Hood and its terminus at its confluence with the Deschutes River just north of the town of Maupin.  It's located about 35 miles south of The Dalles.

At the base of the falls is an old abandoned hydroelectricity generation plant which was active from 1910 to 1960.

You can learn more at the Oregon State Parks website.

 

 

Panther Creek Falls Washington

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls Washington during high water.

It was a great day to visit this waterfall. I had tried to drive to the trail two weeks prior and was stopped by fallen trees and unmelted snow. In the meantime the road had been cleared and so Darlene and I decided to drive up and give it a look. I'm glad that we did. With the high Spring runoff from the snow and the rain has made the creeks and waterfalls very full and powerful. This particular waterfall has areas to the right side of the normal fall that become a water curtain when the water becomes high. These were the conditions that I sought.

As I approached the falls the view through the trees was breathtaking as it appeared as a soft, bright diffused veil of water past shadows from the trees. When I broke through the trees and walked down to the water's edge the mist was soaking. I had to cover my gear to keep it reasonably dry. The rocks were very slippery and because I was down there alone didn't push my limits much.

The compositions from there are a little bit limited but conditions make a big difference, and this amazing curtain of water at the right side of the main falls, which is not there in normal water flow, was pretty incredible and made a unique photo for this location. The sun and the mist would play on each other as each one changed in time.

Just a quick word about photographing this location. Be aware that there's a viewing platform at the top of the falls that most folks view this scene from. The more adventurous and capable can take a steep and slippery slop to the bottom, but please beware if you attempt this, especially when it's wet.

 

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