Friday, June 22, 2018

Back in Alaska, 2018

Brown Bear on Admiralty Island
  I'm back in Alaska after almost a year to be expedition leader for UnCruise's newest itinerary: Bears, Bergs, and Bushwhacking. This itinerary is only run by our smallest boat, the 22 passenger Safari Quest. With wilderness management protections in place here in the Tongass National Forest, the Safari Quest is able to take passengers into highly protected areas where only two groups of 12 hikers can step foot onto ground each day. The amazing Admiralty Island, or what the local Tlingit people call the island "Kootznoowoo" or Fortress of the Bear, because it has the highest concentration of brown bears in the world.

  The trip ends up doing a round trip back to Petersburg, which means that most of the time out on the water we are in prime humpback whale feeding grounds. Frederick Sound has been a hot spot for humpback whales spending the summer months here in Southeast Alaska. Calm waters of the Inside Passage mixed with snow capped mountains in the background provide stunning locals for whale encounters.

The Safari Quest
Bubble net feeding up close
  I have my hopes up that over the next four weeks we will find humpback whales bubble net feeding. Take a look at this encounter from last year! Once the herring start forming big schools the intelligent humpbacks use this feeding method to trap the elusive small fish. Having the ability to fit everyone into our two skiffs makes the possibility of witnessing this behavior from a small boat almost a definite.

Kayaking in a salmon stream
  The wildlife of Alaska is always an amazing part of the trip. But it is often the glaciers that leave a lasting impression of the guests and the crew alike. Waking up to see giant pieces of ice floating by, made up of impossibly blue color is only the beginning of the wonder of these glaciers. Seeing a 200ft tall wall of ice, that sometimes breaks off apartment building size chunks is an experience no one can ever forget. The landscapes here are stunning, from rivers of ice, to sunsets near 10pm, to a lone bald eagle perched atop a floating berg.

Ice Garden in Le Conte Bay

Glacier Calving at Dawes Glacier
  I am wrapping my mind around the fact that this is my job. There is certainly something very satisfying about working in a place like this and being able to share this experience with guests week in and week out. Season after season I can see this with fresh eyes through all the first time guests. Although after being away for almost a year I feel like my eye are fresh as well. The excitement certainly is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Catalina's First Visit to Stave Island

Heidi and Catalina on Stave Island
 One of the big bonuses for us splitting our time between Vermont and Maui is that we give young Catalina a chance to spend some quality time out on Stave Island. June 11th, 2018 she first visited the island and from the picture here she looks pretty jazzed about it. I don't blame her, it is a pretty amazing spot for a kid to explore.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nate and Kelly Visit Vermont

  Miami is a few thousand miles away but the draw of baby Catalina is great. It had been too long since we had hung out with Nate and Kelly (read about their Oahu visit, and us visiting Miami).  I had just flown in from running trips off the coast of British Columbia and was ready for some friends and family time in Vermont.

   During the visit our good friends Mary and Jackson came over and brought along their dog Rolo to play with Neka. All of us had worked in Southern California and out in Maui, so it's great to reunite with some fun adventures around the world.

Proud Mama
   We spent the day hiking around Jeffersonville, VT, exploring waterfalls, and drinking, snacking, and birdwatching our way down the river in canoes. Catalina didn't come along for the canoe ride but she was up for some serious hikes. 

On the knife's edge
Rolo, Jackson, Mary, Me, Kelly & Nate
   The second day we hit the ground running with a stair steppin' hike up from Smugglers Notch to the picturesque Sterling Pond. Catalina got a lot of praise on the way as the youngest baby on the trail, I got a serious workout, and Kelly found a ton of trilliums which is one of her favorites.

   It was great to spend a little time with everyone, and it makes me wonder...where in the world our next adventure together will be!

Catalina's first Sterling Pond visit

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Taming the Snake River, Jackson, Wyoming

I'm in front in yellow
Air paddling
   I enjoy a good white water rafting ride. You can judge that by my exploits down the Zambezi River and the Nile in Africa. So when my dad mentioned the possibility of some early season high water rafting down the snake river here in Jackson I thought it sounded right up my alley.

  I didn't expect too much craziness from the way everyone was talking, especially since the entire trip takes less than an hour, but due to the high water caused by all the snow melt from the Grand Tetons it was a blast, and enough to get my nerves going!

About to get a face full of ice cold water
  I went with Lewis and Clark rafting company and the guide Aaron was great. He had just gotten back from a big rafting trip through the Grand Canyon and was gearing up for his 15th season on the Snake. He was really excited for the water to come down a little so the standing wave at Lunch Counter would start working for river surfing. He had just gotten a new board and was pretty jazzed to talk to another surfer about it.

  Lunch Counter is the big rapid and there were some massive waves that we hit, almost flipping the entire raft. After hitting the first big rapid which you can see in the pictures above, we were hit by a side wave which is the one which raised the safety kayaks eyebrows. I noticed he came close after and softy said, 'that was close' to our guide in the back. But Aaron was jazzed up as were we all. It may not be the Great Zambezi but this is what rafting is all about!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Landscape Photos from Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Famous Barn in front of the Tetons
Leading line to the Tetons
Landscape Photos from Jackson Hole, Wyoming

  It is a place of big skies, open plains, jagged snow capped peaks, and endless views. The landscape photo potential also seems endless here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

  There are several famous photo spots and viewpoints here in Jackson Hole that have shown up in well known photographs over the years by legendary landscape photographers like Ansel Adams. But what I found is that there are still secret areas to find that provide everything you need for an incredible vista.

Springtime in Jackson
  There are three things I look for in a good landscape photos; an interesting background, a dramatic sky, and something in the foreground to give a little story to the landscape. If I can find a road or some other 'leading line' that draws the viewers eye deeper into the scene it is a definite bonus. Opportunities to combine all of these elements abound here in Jackson which is why it would be on my top destination for any photography itinerary....or if you just like beautiful views.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

SuperVolcano Under Yellowstone

 Yellowstone National Park contains a caldera of a supervolcano that measures 35 X 45 miles. All kinds of geothermal activity can be seen here from steam vents, to hot springs, to geysers. It is caused by the movement of the North American Plate slowly sliding over a hot spot...very similar to Hawaii. Driving around Yellowstone and seeing the wildlife mix with the volcanic activity, it is no wonder that it was destined to become our first national park in 1872.

  The extreme temperature of water in the geysers and hot springs create a unique environment for colorful extremophiles, bacteria that survive and live in the scalding water. The bacteria can be quite colorful, making the springs very picturesque.Some pools were bright orange while other were a greenish blue, while some had just about every color you could imagine in a bright rainbow array of colors.

 Most of my best photos came from an area around the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest hot spring in the United States. There was quite a bit of steam blocking the view of the entire spring but the colors still came through. I think the steam added a bit of mystery to the photos which I like as well.  I had to watch out while walking around the springs as the steam is corrosive to delicate cameras.

  The afternoon rain clouds were starting to build up which provided a great background for landscape shots. These beautiful and unique sights alone would make Yellowstone a must see destination, but add all the wildlife to the mix and now you have a place that you could come back to time and time again. It was interesting to try and count the different languages being spoken around us as I explored the park.

 Another unique geological feature is located in the northwest corner of Yellowstone, called Mammoth Springs. This is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine which tumbles down forming a terrace of white and orange. It is algae living within the 170 degree water that gives these hot springs its color.

 As I walked around the upper terraces of mammoth hot springs I noticed several large bison patties, which means that sometimes the large animals come in for a bit of warming at the springs. This is where I would spend my winter if I was a bison here.

  Yellowstone should definitely be on any photographers hit list. If you are looking for inspiration or a chance to shoot something new this is it.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Yellowstone Wildlife Safari

Map of Yellowstone
  Yellowstone Wildlife Safari

  I've been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Africa, leading safaris from Kenya down to Cape Town. One of the big draws of traveling all the way to Africa is to see and experience a place where big animals still roam, and the predators still rule.

   So imagine my surprise when I found out that you could have a similar experience right here in my backyard, a place called Yellowstone National Park. After leading adventures in British Columbia this spring I flew into Jackson Hole, Wyoming to meet up with my dad and Cheryl to go on an American wildlife safari and this is what we saw.... in one day.

   To get to Yellowstone from Jackson you drive north through Grand Teton National Park and after an hour and a half you enter the south entrance of Yellowstone. Before we got to the entrance we had already come across a major traffic jam cause by a grizzly bear near the road. We got out and walked over to the crowd and were greeted with not one, but three grizzly bears, a mom and her two playful yearling cubs.

Grizzly Bear with cub
This is what a bear jam looks like
    The crowd continued to grow and I was a little shocked that the rangers allowed everyone to stand just seventy yards away as the mom fed on grass and the cubs ate daffodils in between playful wrestling matches. I though about managing hiking groups in Alaska in this situation and that is only a group of ten! But the bears continued to act like bears and didn't seem to mind the camera filled crowd. 

While we watched the grizzly mom and cubs we heard that there was also a black bear up around the corner. It is fun to be in a place where both species lives side by side. We missed the black bear but we did have an even better black bear encounter up near Tower in the park. A mama bear and her tiny cub were slowly moving and eating about 50 yards off the road down a little slope.

Look what I found mom!
   We stayed up on the side of the road looking down and watched the energetic baby bear race back and forth past her lumbering mom. The cub tried to climb a big tree trunk twice, but aborted each time. Then the curious cub found a little sapling pine tree and scampered up it. To its surprise the bear found a robins nest in the tree. I don't think it knew quite what it had found, so while the cub spent a lot of time examining the bright blue eggs in the nest it didn't eat them in the end.

The concentration of big mammals in the park really made me feel like I was back in Africa. Then you add the beautiful scenery and all of the geothermal volcanic activity and it turns into a must see for anyone. It is a World Heritage Sight and a Biosphere Reserve, and quite important historically as it is our very first National Park. It contains 67 species of mammals and is great for birding as well.

  Some of the species we came across are big and charismatic like moose and big horn sheep. But smaller mammals can also steal the show from ground squirrels to yellow bellied marmots. Elk can still be seen in large herds and wolves draw a large following of 'wolf watchers', who bring out chairs and spotting scopes to watch them from across valleys.

  You can check out some of my best pictures from the day and this part of the world here: DaiMar's Photos

  One of the most idyllic sightings in Yellowstone are the herds of massive bison, or American buffalo, that still dot these rolling plains. This picture of a bison eating near a river with steam from a hot spring in the background is a vision of Yellowstone that I won't forget. For the most part these are docile creatures interested only in mowing down the grass. However this has lulled visitors into a false sense of safety in the past and every year some person gets too close and ends up getting tossed by a bison. I made sure I didn't make that mistake, so this wide angle picture below was taken by sticking my camera out of the window from the safety of our vehicle. But it does show how close this bison came to us!