Monday, May 29, 2017

Looking Ahead to Alaska

   I find myself once again in Seattle at Fishermen's Terminal, on the verge of cruising up to Alaska's famous Inside Passage for a summer aboard one of the UnCruise boats. I can't help but look back through some of my old pictures and remember all of the amazing encounters and experiences I've had these past two years as an expedition leader. And I can't help but imagine what lies in store for this summer.

  I've witnessed massive calving events at different tidewater glaciers. I've seen the salmon run so thick that I could literally reach in and grab one with my bare hand. I've seen hungry mama bears teach their cubs how to catch fish. I've seen eagles spar in mid-air and puffins get a running start as they take off from the water. I have walked inside a cave made completely out of ice under a glacier. I've been woken up in the middle of the night to experience the incredible lights of the Aurora Borealis. And I've been surrounded by interesting guests and a stellar crew through it all.
Aurora Borealis
  I don't know what this season will bring, but I am definitely looking forward to it. I'll spend a lot more time off the boat, leading expeditions instead of managing a group of guides like the last two years. Now that I work on the fleet's smallest boat it is just me, and 22 passengers. I guess this is what they mean when they say, 'the buck stops here.' I have to learn and know it all. But I always say that if you are getting paid to learn then it is a worthwhile endeavor.

   I have only been away from the humpback whales for a couple of months but already I miss their antics. I was lucky enough to work in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands all winter where the humpbacks play and now I will follow them north, where I hear that they are already up feeding. We are going to make a special stop at a world class bear viewing spot called Pack Creek on our way north to try and spy some of Admiralty Islands well known brown bear population. And I expect we will see a few bald eagles on our way.

Brown Bear on the Hunt
Humpback just in front of my kayak
  It is a real treat to share this expansive wilderness with like minded people. In fact, its about time for me to go meet the next group of guests that are accompanying the Safari Quest for the next 12 days as we cruise through the Inside Passage ending in Juneau.

-Hoping for flat calm seas and cool evening breezes.

   To buy these pictures and more of Alaska check out my photo site here;

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sailing British Columbia's Sunshine Coast

Aboard the Safari Quest
Safari Quest running the Malibu narrows

Taking it all in from the top deck
Cruising through the yachters paradise of British Columbia can be a addictive calling. Smooth waters, deep fjords, dense forest, and tumbling waterfalls await those willing to head out from the dock. You leave civilization behind and retrace the routes of ancient explorers like Juan de Fuca, Captain Cook, and Admirable Vancouver. The islands are crisscrossed with trails that can take you through old growth forest that was standing when those same explorers came through. The sunsets bathe the sky in a multitude of colors and wildlife abounds, even for the untrained eye.

Follow this link to check out another post about this area called Into the Mist

  The area does not come without its dangers. The weather can turn in a matter of minutes, so keeping a rain jacket handy is never a bad idea. It is easy to want to walk quietly by yourself in the woods but you must remember you are sharing these ancient woods with other bears. And something that should be on all boaters' minds are the massive tides in this part of the world, and the treacherous currents that come with it. When a huge volume of water is forced through a narrow opening then what looked like a calm lake when you entered could be raging rapids and whirlpools when you try to leave. 

Orca in sunset colors
   During the summer months the humpback whales swim through on their northern migration. But the stars of the year round show are orcas, pacific white sided dolphins, dalls porpoise, harbor seals, and stellar sea lions. It is also a wonderful place for birders with harlequin ducks, goldeneyes, and bald eagles galore.

Spring snow melt means wild waterfall conditions

Thursday, May 25, 2017

El Dorado Canyon State Park, Colorado

Iconic bridge of El Dorado
Soaking it in
  Exploring El Dorado Canyon State Park in Colorado, USA. 

  Just outside of Boulder, CO you reach the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains. Here one finds a changing geology from the uplift of plates colliding into one another. The folding of the land up into mountains brings a stark change to the vast flat prairies that lead up to it. It is also here that rock climbing, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts head to find their zen, their wilderness, and their adventure.

Looking down towards the prairies
Climbers getting vertical
  One such place that encompasses all of this is the El Dorado Canyon. The wooden bridge arcing across the rocky mountain river is one of the first things you see once you drive into the park. It is also a great place for some long exposure photography, especially if you have a neutral density filter to block out some of the light. It is an iconic picture that you often see for the state park brochures. There are also some amazing rock climbing routes among the monolithic peaks of the canyon. I saw at least four groups of climbers busting out all of their gear and working their way higher up the rock face. It is no wonder that so many great climbers come out of the Boulder area with access to world class climbing right in their backyard.

Train coming through the park way up in the mountains

Reflections on the trail
  I wanted to explore as much as I could so I asked around about hiking opportunities for photography. I was told to head up rattlesnake trail, past the site of the old hotel, all the way up to the continental divide lookout for great views over the park. I was not led astray. The views were great, the weather just got better and better, and I even timed it right to have a train come by when I was up near the railroad tracks. Some puddles on the trail gave me a fun opportunity for some reflection shots and all in all it turned out to be a great place for a day outing.

El Dorado Springs town
 On the drive out you pass through the tiny town of Eldorado Springs which is worth a stop as well. A local pool and unusual art museum line the street and the few homes are tucked in next to a beautiful winding river. If you are in the Denver/Boulder area and looking for a nice escape for the day, here you go.

Find more of my pictures of the rocky mountains here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Deep snow in May
  Rocky Mountain National Park in early May can be a slew of different weather. In one day of hiking you can go from wildflower blooming meadow to deep snow covered trails and from overcast to sun burning to rainstorm all in a matter of hours. In fact during my one day exploring the park this is exactly what happened to me.

Bear Lake in the Spring
Fast flow of Alberta Falls
  I started out at the Bear Lake trailhead. It is a very easy, very accessible trail that is a short, mostly level jaunt from the parking lot to the edge of the lake. But at 9,475ft elevation it was covered in deep snow. I was lucky I was there early morning as the trail is popular and becomes quite slushy as the day progresses. The lake itself was mostly iced over though too thin to try and walk out on. With giant peaks of the Rockies looming just behind the lake I could imagine the early morning reflections that must draw photographers in the summer season.

  An offshoot trail from here leads about a mile up to one of the best waterfalls in the park, called Alberta Falls. A glacially fed river tumbles down a narrow gorge. This gave me a perfect opportunity for some long exposure shots. And while waiting for the photos I was kept company by some very bold chipmunks. Grey and stellar jays played in the trees above me, woodpeckers pounded away at trees in the forest, and big wild turkeys put on mating displays on the drive up.

A stellar jay playing hard to get

    Families enjoyed the Bear lake loop trail, while those a bit more adventurous, and with better gear, headed up to some of the smaller, higher lakes. Except for the bird calls the forest noises were muffled by a thick blanket of snow. A rocky outcropping overlooking Nymph lake provided yet another great view of the continental divide and the frozen lake below.
Pictures of the Inspirational Rocky Mountains
  Driving back down a ways my next stop was at the Sprague Lake Nature Trail. This is another very easy, and beautiful path around a lake that even boasts wheelchair accessibility. It was while I was here that the overcast weather started to dissipate leaving picturesque landscapes. A couple of friends set out in a canoe, slowly drifting with their fishing lines bobbing up and down. Once again views of the high peaks of the continental divide showed themselves, lending a stellar background. It's no wonder that this was the place recommended to me for early morning sunrise shots.

Sprague Lake

   The lake seemed quite shallow and did provide a great habitat for some local wildlife. I imagine that bears and mountain lions make their way down while there are no people around, but I did see a family of mallards and Canada geese. This place will be on the list to return to for sunrise/sunset. 

Not a bad spot for a picnic
  Next I headed down in elevation to a beautiful expansive meadow called Moraine Park. The meadow is what is left behind after a glacier receded back into the mountains. The scoured earth left behind is now covered in grass and a favorite feeding place for elk and deer. A large herd could be seen lounging far back in the meadow. Picnic tables were set up and a picturesque river ran through the middle of the meadow.

A river runs through it
  If you were planning a picnic lunch stop, then this should probably be it. It'll be a good place to bust out your binoculars as well.

Rocks in the Rockies
Rain clouds and snow banks
  From here I headed back to the main road and followed it high up into the mountains as far as the park would let me go, a place called Rainbow Curve. The views in all directions were magnificent. I found myself pulling over at every overlook. And now the white puffy clouds were starting to take on a dark grey tinge letting me know I better hurry if I want to fit this all in. The snow banks were 10ft high next to the road in some places and I watched the outside temperature dropping on my car's digital dash readout. The rains did come but not before I could walk past where I could drive and really soak in the high altitude splendor of the Rocky Mountains.

Different high elevation ecosystems