Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sunrise Whales in the San Juan Islands

Sunrise Humpbacks
Humpback Photos
  After going a few days without seeing any cetaceans (whales), we got lucky running across a few humpback whales near Thrasher Rock in British Columbia. It looked like a mother with a yearling, maybe getting ready for the long migration south to the breeding area.

While we watched the duo we were also basking in a beautiful sunrise. I guess this is why they call this part of British Columbia's coast the 'Sunshine Coast.' The colors and backlighting added a little uniqueness to an already magical encounter with these whales.

Big Bull headed my way
   It turns out that our whale watching for the day was not over after we left the humpbacks. A few hours later, close to the Canada USA border, I spotted the telltail tall black dorsal fin of an orca from a couple miles out. I couldn't believe my binoculars just happened to scan right over that area as it came up for a breath. It took another fifteen minutes for us to get over to them, as they were travelling the same direction we were. Once we caught up with them they put on quite the show. We saw a few tails and some quick movements before having to continue on for our destination. Any encounter with orca is a special one here. It is so easy to miss them as they travel over a hundred miles a day.
Orca tail flukes

Both humpbacks and orca share a certain level of intelligence that we are only beginning to comprehend. It always feels like I am in the presence of social beings when I'm surrounded by whales. Maybe one day I'll get an underwater photo of an orca. Until then I'll keep going for the perfect one above water.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Mist of Fall in British Columbia

Alone at the Skookumchuk Rapids
Mist hugging the forest
  It turns out Fall is a pretty amazing time to cruise through islands and fjords of British Columbia. Early morning clouds hang low enough to touch the mist rising from the water. It has a way of hiding thousand foot cliffs only to reveal them a few seconds later. The fog also hugs the forest, often moving in and around the huge old growth trees like some ethereal river.

Paddle Boarding the Fjord
   It is a rare opportunity for photography, as mist can often be a landscape photographers best friend. It add a mysterious effect, and always reminds me of ancient Chinese paintings where layers of mist would separate the foreground, middle, and background adding depth to a two dimensional scene.

Ready to Deploy
  The fog became so thick at one point during a kayak excursion this week that all sound was snuffed out except a ship's foghorn that would cut through the mist from far away every few minutes. Watching out ship emerge out of the mist was a beautiful thing. I feel like the dense fog adds to our feeling of being in the wilderness, far away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. It is one of the best parts of my job getting to work in nature like this.

  Enjoy the pictures, you can find bigger prints at And if you are headed up to the area there is no better way to see it than on the Safari Quest ( Princess Louisa Inlet is the fjord we kayak and hike in as seen above. The pictures here to the left and right and below were taken at the Harmony Islands, B.C.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Exploring the San Juan Islands, Washington

  The San Juan Islands are nestled in between the US. mainland and the southernmost part of Canada, Victoria B.C. Back in 1859 a war almost broke out between England and the U.S. over who these islands belonged to. It was eventually left up to a third party to decide. The arbitrator was the leader of Germany at the time, Kaiser Wilhelm. He sided with the U.S. and from that point on the San Juan islands belonged to us. And if you get a chance to go visit the islands you will be glad the Kaiser voted that way because they are a hidden gem right in Seattle's backyard.

Gardens at Roche Harbor
  Friday harbor is the main town amongst the islands. Its quirky shops and bookstores keep the tourists and locals entertained, while a storied company town history still shines through on San Juan as shown in the Co. store and historic lime kilns at Roche Harbor.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse
  Most of the business these days is from tourist, although one farmer has found a way to be independent from that economy by raising award winning alpacas. We always stop in when we are there to give them a pet and a quick bite to eat before taking in some of the more historical and scenic stops like lime kiln point and the cute lighthouse there.

  Other islands boast wilderness opportunities, like Sucia Island. It is a state marine park and with no ferry service you have to have your own boat to get out there. Once there it is crisscrossed with trails, beautiful coastline, great kayaking, and some wonderful geology. The sandstone formations have been carved into natural works of art by all the wind and rain and winter storms. Isolated rocks house harbor seal and stellar sea lion haulouts, and families of river otters scamper around the shoreline. It feels as though the hustle and bustle of Seattle is far, far away.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Shoulder Season in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest

Kayaking in front of Chatterbox Falls, B.C.
  After a successful and exciting summer season in Alaska I am guiding trips through British Columbia and the San Juan Islands for a little over a month. It is a wonderful time to be boating and adventuring in the area because most of the other summer cruisers have left the area. But we still have some chance for amazing weather.

Victoria, B.C. lit up
   The trips included some culture and town time like visiting the Royal B.C. Museum and having high tea in Victoria as well as touring around San Juan Island and the whale museum in Friday Harbor. But aside from these stops we spend the majority of our time out in the wilderness exploring marine parks, deserted islands. and a beautiful fjord called Princess Louisa Inlet.

High Tea at the Empress in Victoria
Robert Service Tribute Bar

Transient Orca Encounter
Pacific White Sided Dolphin
  The food and drink onboard are top notch and the fact that we focus on the wilderness experience means that we draw a certain kind of guest who is likely to be interested in the outdoors, adventure, wildlife, and immersing into the wilderness around them. So in other words, they are my kind of people. I try to educate them on the area and the wildlife with different presentations at night as we travel from place to place. And it is always amazing to see the bonding which naturally happens on these trips.

  Part of that bonding happens because the guests can push themselves to try new things and have new experiences that they share together. We sometimes have groups that come out already knowing each other but for the most part the are independent travelers who enjoy similar interest. By the end of the week it is not unusual to see a few tears and to have people stay in touch with each other and come out on future trips with us in different destinations.

Hidden Waterfalls: Chatterbox Falls
Bushwhacking Obstacle Course
  If we are lucky we get some great wildlife thrown in as well. This week we had a close encounter with a pod of transient killer whales. These are the mammal-eating orca that have pretty huge ranges so its always lucky to come across them. Bear, dolphin, porpoise, and a load of different bird encounters can also be had in the area that we cover.

Polar Plungers
Hot Tub Time
   Its amazing that this area is so close to Seattle yet it seems to still be quite the secret. I think it can stay that way for a while longer and I'll take full advantage of having these places all to ourselves in the meantime.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine

Pemaquid Ligthhouse Complex
Leading Lines in the Rocks
   I've always heard of the beauty of Maine's coastline and the majestic lighthouses that dot it. It was a goal of mine on this road trip to Maine to find some of the most beautiful of these ligthhouses. After asking around it seemed that everyone was pointing me in the same direction, towards the tip of the Pemaquid peninsula. As soon as I saw the coastline here I knew I had come to the right place.

Heidi on the Cliff
   Standing guard over the Pemaquid Neck is a lighthouse complex that dates back to 1827 when it was commissioned by John Quincy Adams. The lighthouse is locally famous, and is featured on the Maine State Quarter. But it is the geology of the cliffs below the lighthouse which really separates it from the pack. The rocky cliffs formed deep underground before being uplifted to the surface showing off some incredible metamorphism. Under intense pressure the rocks were folded and layered and for a photographer now they provide a hundred leading lines in every picture. Tidepools added to the scene above reflecting the beautiful buildings and sky. Lots of visitors were sitting on the rocks, soaking up the scene and the sun while watching the waves crash below. I can understand now why Pemaquid Lighthouse is the only lighthouse to be featured on a piece of US currency.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exploring Maine

   I had always heard that Maine was a beautiful place, with cute historical villages, and a rugged coastline. I had heard the tails of fishermen and lobsters but until now have never gotten a chance to experience the state myself. Heidi had planned a four day road trip to Maine for us and I was excited to finally see it first hand.

Rockland Breakwall and tall ship
  One things we always try to do when we go on road trips or to new places is to look up old friends. Not only is it a great way to reconnect but they can give you the local knowledge about their area. We first headed to Camden to track down our friend Phoebe who I last saw underwater scuba diving in Bali.

  We had a wonderful time checking out towns like Rockland and Camden which all seem to be situated around bustling harbors filled with beautiful boats and wooden tall ships zipping in and out. We had a wild dinner at a wonderful little restaurant called the Rhum Line where the weather changed from beautiful sunset, to lightning, to torrential downpour, to finally hail! We tried our best to stay dry under the outside umbrella but eventually had to make a run for it.

Phoebe and the lighthouse
  After experiencing the 'cabin in the woods' life that night we were pleased to see the sun was back out for our morning walk. Phoebe met us for breakfast before taking us to the nearly mile long Rockland Breakwater. There was a little lighthouse at the end and we nearly timed it perfectly to see a big tall ship sail right by the end of the breakwall as we got close to the end.

   The next stop for us was our cute bed and breakfast called the Kennebec Inn located just outside of the downtown area of Bath, Maine. The proprietor was a lovely woman who cooked up some delicious breakfasts. The town of Bath was fun to walk around and learn about its storied boat building history which continues today with big military ships. The architecture all around this part of Maine it typical of the New England historical design with beautiful porches and frills.

 There are tons of peninsulas which are all worth exploring here in mid-coast Maine. We hit up the beach closest to our b&b for some photo taking and shell collecting. There was an old fort built on the river that reminded me a bit of Fort Pulaski back in Savannah. The beach was massive with incredible views. Tiny waves trickled in and we did find some intact sand dollars that Heidi took to add to her shell collection.

 It turns out that Maine is every bit as beautiful as people describe. I feel like I only got a small taste of the what the state has to offer but you know what they say, 'always leave something for next time.'

Downtown Bath, Maine