Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

Happy Holidays everyone!

It seems appropriate that having spent 5 days amongst the polar bears that I would have not 1 or 2 blog posts from that fabulous adventure … but 5!  I mean, there was just so much to experience there, so many new friends (both polar bears and human), and my goodness, so many photographs to share.  If you haven’t seen the previous posts, take a few moments (OK, it may actually take a few moments longer) to get yourself caught up.  I’ll include the links at the end of this post … #5 of 5.

I had always dreamed of seeing real live polar bears when I was very young.  Over time of course, I was fortunate enough to see them in zoos, but that wasn’t enough for me.  Little did I know then, that decades later, I would become addicted to BEARS … all kinds.  Maybe it was already in my DNA, who knows.  LOL.

I, as in solo, flew off to Alaska in late September of 2015 … just 2 weeks after returning home from there from an adventure out there with Tom.  It was crazy and I was feeling a bit crazier.  How could I do that without Tom?  My trusted adventure partner and personal sherpa … OK, any that knows me knows that I’m not joking.  However, I did, and I never looked back, then or now, and have the time of my life.  Five days in Kaktovik, Alaska … 8 trips out in the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, photographing polar bears, from a relatively small boat.  They were everything that I hoped … and more!_DSC2594 We observed lone polar bears as they roamed the arctic landscape.  We also were treated to sows with their young cubs.  I found it fascinating when they would encounter other bears.  In this instance, I believe that the bear in the water was familiar with the sow …perhaps an older offspring from the past.  The cub was quite interested in playing with it, but mom would always place herself in between the cub and other bear._DSC2673 _DSC2679 _DSC2701A few times the encounter seemed like it was becoming a bit tense.  I was so engaged in the interaction, but make no mistake about it, I didn’t want to see any fights.  Yes, I’m that one.  Haha._DSC2712 Mom and the bear would wrestle around in the water, while the young cub obediently waited on the shore._DSC2738 They reminded me of dogs playing in the surf or anywhere else for that matter.  There was a lot of snarling, teeth flossing, claws bared …_DSC2861… but like most brawls, there wasn’t much else but playful fighting … or perhaps a play for dominance and lesson teaching.
_DSC2859 All the while, the cub observed from afar and would call out to its mom.  Of course, she ignored its calls._DSC3054 Eventually, she would exit the water and join her cub.  Before long though, the other bear would come close to shore and off the cub would go to play or defend its mom, we really couldn’t tell._DSC2946 Once again, mom would escort the bear back into the water._DSC0642When it was safe to proceed, she began to travel the landscape again, with her cub along her side.  Seems like the cub wanted to still interact with the other bear though._DSC3311Just as any good mom would do, she them gave the cub a little nibble in the backside to teach it a lesson.  LOL
_DSC3142 These bears would find just about anything they could to play with, eat, or entertain themselves.  _DSC3682 While we were positioned in an open boat, the bears would share the waters with us.  Though they are excellent swimmers, we were quite safe and always kept a respectable distance.  I just loved how entertaining they were and how many positions that they could get themselves in.  Look at the size of those pads!_DSC2130 _DSC2106Whale blubber made an excellent toy to play with … the nastier, the better.
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As always, I became obsessed by the size of their feet and the beauty of their pads.  As opposed to brown bears, these bears had more distinct pads … better for photography even._DSC2072 The real beauty of them though was their movement on the land.  So determined in their walk._DSC3395 Again, the interactions with other bears that they encountered seemed to be calm and even at times playful.  _DSC3338 When I was told that we had to get back to shore on our last trip, I felt that old familar feeling that I can only describe as only ….. NOOOOOO! …. followed by incessant shutter clicking.  As if the thousands I had already taken weren’t enough.  😦_DSC2758 Once we waited for our van to take us from the shore to the inn for the last time, I saw something that was so incredibly appropriate.  A rainbow positioned just perfectly behind a whale bone on the snowy landscape.  It was a sign … our trip was over … but to me also was a sign to me that I would return one day.  🙂IMG_0156 Even our departure was exciting.  Though I had secretly (OK, maybe not so secretly) hoped that our flight would be unable to make it in to pick us up, there it was taxiing down the runway, which double as the road, to pick us up.  Dang! IMG_0045 As were were loading up for our return flight to Fairbanks, I still didn’t want to leave.  But ultimately we had to … the 4 of us and 4 more Canadian photographers shared a pleasant flight back to the big city.  See, it’s all relative in Alaska.IMG_0092 Yes, it was a fabulous trip to the arctic … the literal end of the land … for these amazing polar bears.  Our group was fantastic and I still keep in touch with each of them, as well as several of my new friends from Canada.  Amazing how photography bonds people and makes the world a much smaller place.  It is my hope that my photographs and stories shared in this and the other 4 blog posts from this amazing adventure serve to keep others informed about the polar bears and their fight for survival.  It’s up to us to insure that our children, grandchildren, and for many more generations have the opportunity to know the joys of polar bears … yes, up close and personal like I did.  🙂harshaj_20151005_191-31-100As promised, here are the links for the other blog posts shared:

Part 1:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/im-dreaming-of-a-white-bear-polar-bear-that-is/

Part 2:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/sun-rays-water-play/

Part 3:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/adding-a-dash-of-snow/

Part 4:     http://www.tnwaphotography.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/an-arctic-celebration/

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

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Did You Think I Was Done With The Bears?

As I finish up on the bears of Katmai NP & Preserve, we have more images from our initial set of spring cubs and their mom.  We seemed to see these guys just about everywhere that we went….. not that I’m at all complaining … to the contrary, I was elated.DSC_8219 As they would move along the edge of the river, mom would pay close attention to the boars in the area … for though this is not breeding season, sometimes boars and young cubs don’t mix well.DSC_8292 When she saw something that she didn’t like, she would head up on the ridge line for better options.DSC_8296 Eventually, when the threat was gone, she would then return her and the cubs to the rivers edge for some more fishing.  This sow was not the best fish catcher out there … she should take some time to watch Flapjack … the most skilled by far!DSC_8319 When the cubs weren’t in hot pursuit of following mom, they would periodically use that time to get some playing in … way too cute!DSC_8345 One this particular day, we opted to carry only one tripod, so Tom would occasionally improvise while I was using it.  Quite resourceful, I say, using that big backpack as a backrest on the rocky shore.IMG_2927 Glad he did too, so he could get low profile images like this one!DSC_8371 Of course, sometimes he improvised in other ways … like using my head for his tripod!  Thanks Dave for capturing this very special moment.  To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less.  Nothing can distract me from photographing the bears…. just figured that I would deal with him later.  😉IMG_0984This little one is obviously an over-achiever in the making.
DSC_8614 OK, who can guess who the cub in the back is?  Of course, it’s the same cub who we often found standing up.  LOL.  When they stand, to me, they seem to take on behaviors like our own children.  Wouldn’t you agree?DSC_8392 Now for the 3rd set of spring cubs from this years trip … meet Ying & Yang.  I had seen them from the floatplane as we were beginning to land, but they were off running, the opposite direction, on the vast landscape, so I was thinking that we weren’t going to meet this sought after trio.  Luckily, we did.  Aptly named due to drastic difference in coloration.  What’s really cool about this is that I’ve never seen such a light colored cub!  It’s not blonde … almost a grey silver color!  Really, really unique! In 9 years of photographing bears, I’ve never seen anything like it.  Not only its extremely light color, but its fur was like a fluff ball.DSC_8888I was, as everyone else was, amazed and became entranced with their differences.  DSC_6577 Towards the end of the day, this mom led her cubs up on the hillside and searched for somewhere to lay down to nurse them, but the cubs had other ideas and we never got to see it before we had to leave.DSC_8507 DSC_8524 So all in all, 2015 was an amazing trip to Katmai NP & Preserve for us.  We had such varying photo ops …. whether it be simply solo bears chasing and catching salmon ….DSC_9120 … to not one, or two, or three, but 4 sows, each with 2 spring cubs (though only able to photograph 3 of them) …DSC_9207 … to photographing spring cubs playing together while mom was fishing …DSC_8958  … to being able to capture tender bonding moments such as this moment between sow and one of her cubs, it was amazing.  Unbelieveable how each trip is so different from the last.  For those that don’t understand why we keep going back … there’s your answer.DSC_8985 Back at the floatplane, just prior to boarding, we paused to get a shot of Tom & I, with Dave (www.goseebears.com) and Wes (www.belugaair.com), our friends.  We highly recommend the services of both of them.  🙂IMG_2982 Yes, we’re now back to returning past Homer Spit, and heading towards Beluga Lake, with nothing but a HUGE SMILE across my face … some things, never changed._DSC3084 The same goes true for a celebratory dinner at Fat Olives in town.  Yum yum!IMG_2956Next up:  2015 – Photographic Year In Review

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

The Happiest Place on Earth … Katmai!!

Always a favorite adventure for me each year is our return to Katmai National Park & Preserve for some amazing bear encounters and photography.  As we have for the past 3 years, we enlisted the services of Dave Bachrach of AK Adventures to serve as our guide and Wes Head of Beluga Air to get us there safely.

On this trip to Alaska so far it had been pretty good weather, so we hoped that our luck would continue.  Sure enough, on the day of our departure for Katmai, the skies were clear and we were psyched to board the Beaver floatplane for the leisurely trip over.  Beluga Lake was just about as calm as could be.

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Of course, I kept some gear in the cabin with me, ready to take some aerial shots along the way.  This image is of Homer Spit which is a road that extends into Kachemak Bay, with the amazing mountain and glacial views as a backdrop.  Gorgeous!_DSC3085 Mt. Augustine, situated in Cook Inlet, is the most active volcano of the Eastern Aleutian arc.  On our way to Katmai, we always fly over it, but don’t always have such a clear view. Last eruption was in 2006, which can play havoc for aviation in the area.DSC_6155 Once we landed in the interior of Katmai NP & Preserve, Tom was able to pull up his hip waders as he exited the floatplane.  His steady hands and feet are always appreciated, especially by me as we transfer our backpacks, camera gear, and tripods._DSC3054Almost as soon as we began our hike from the lake to the river and creek where the bears were congregating, we saw evidence of their presence … the bear print … one of my favorite sightings.  🙂
DSC_6182 Once we reached the river, our first glimpse was that of this sitting brown bear … stationary in the waters and just chillin.DSC_6161 Though it’s hard to judge the size of a sitting bear, once they stand up, it’s much easier to tell that this was no mini bear.  LOLDSC_6171 As we hiked off the beaten path, in search of bears a bit more secluded, we ran into this beautiful, yet scruffy looking, bear fishing for salmon in the creek.  My favorite part of photographing bears is when they look at us … and our eyes meet and we become unitied in place and time.  Bears eyes are so captivating to me, I find it hard to get behind the lens because I want to see them firsthand.  DSC_6195 While we remained still, simply observing this bear, it decided that fishing was a bit slow and it would sit along the creeks bank and wait for some salmon to swim close enough to it, that it didn’t have to exert too much effort.  Again, the stare vacillated between looking for salmon and checking us out.DSC_6282 Eventually, it found what it was looking for and in a quick lunge, it was over for the poor salmon.DSC_6518 Many different solo bears were out and about, staking a little bit of geography as their fishing spot … all the while the occasional human fisherman were out there as well.DSC_7026 Everyone was catching salmon, but none more proficiently than the brown bears.  🙂DSC_7055 DSC_7046 Preferentially, the bears seek out the female salmon, since the eggs are quite the delicacy. When they find one, they go straight for the roe.  In this image, you can see the eggs flying out of the fish as the bear tears into it.DSC_7071For some strange reason, I had just asked Dave about an unforgettable boar from a few years back.  To my surprise Dave said that he had seen him earlier this year.  I was quite thrilled because he was quite large and older, so I was happy that he had made it over the last two years.

Tom called out a large bear coming around the corner of the creek, so we watched for it as it approached.  I couldn’t believe my eyes … it was my long lost friend, Flapjack!  The same boar that I had just asked about.  Now I was over the top ecstatic as he got nearer and nearer.
DSC_7220I know it sounds crazy, but he got pretty close, then just stared at us, and I felt that perhaps he remembered us.  LOL.  People tell me that I humanize animals a bit, but it was truly a magical moment for me.  I remember the first time, 2 years ago, when we encountered him.  He was, by far, the largest boar I had ever seen.  Quite identifiable by its right ear injury, which left his ear split and flat … like a pancake … hence the nickname “Flapjack”.
DSC_7449 A proficient fishing machine, as you can well imagine by his size, he still had great technique and was catching more than his share of salmon.  He was also quite quick in devouring it.  🙂DSC_7491 Yes, we were quite happy so far with our adventure … especially since it was my birthday!  I considered Flapjack’s visit as my present, as well as the amazing brown bear activity and the awesome weather.  So many images this year, so the blog will feature 2 more posts of these amazing creatures.IMG_2929Not to be outdone by the bears, we celebrated our bear viewing with some sushi of our own.  🙂  Oh, and I can’t forget about that amazing appetizer of brussel sprouts too!IMG_0978IMG_0975

Next Up:  Cubs, Cubs, & more Cubs!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Homer-Bound

The Russian River Campground is an interesting place to stay when in Cooper Landing, Alaska.  It is home to the notorious “combat fly fishing” for salmon, trout, and other varieties.  It’s also a place where the photographers can find bears also fishing in those rivers.  While we did find brown bears again on this trip, it was only one afternoon, and we really wanted to say our goodbyes to them.  🙂  So we visited the river via the boardwalk for a final walk.  We took our time once we arrived at the confluence of the Russian River and the Kenai River, just down a bit of the ferry.
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It was a stunning morning and once again we were treated to the early morning sunlight peering through the trees along the boardwalk.  It was a bit cold this morning and foggy as well._DSC2970 We patiently sat down for awhile at the stairs and chatted with some of the fishermen.  We received various stories of theories as to where the bears were … none of which were authenticated nor pleasant.  I still hoped that they would return one last time for us.  In the meanwhile, a big group of common mergansers came by.  I was quite fascinated at their “team effort” in chasing down and beaching of some small minnows and smelt for their dining pleasure.  I had never witnessed it before!DSC_6022

The fireweed was still in bloom and had already reached the end of the stalk … meaning winter was simply about 6 weeks away.  It was only August 21st!_DSC3009

Harlequin ducks were also out and about in the Russian River.

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When we decided to make our way back on the boardwalk, we encountered this sighting, which usually means only one thing … bear(s)!  I eagerly made my way to their spotting._DSC3014 But it was for not, as it was simply a bald eagle that had flow in and the fishermen were simply admiring it and taking some cell phone shots as well.  Dang!DSC_6076 On the way towards Homer, we stopped a few times for photographs, but we were equally anxious to get there and check in with Beluga Air and Dave for our Katmai bear viewing the next day._DSC3042 It’s so beautiful to photograph the fireweed standing tall and proud in various fields.IMG_2901 _DSC5946 Once we arrived at our final destination for the evening, Homer, we ventured to the end of the “spit” and took in the beauty of Kachemak Bay and glaciers within the state park across the Cook Inlet waters.DSC_6159 IMG_2914We visited the Beluga Slough area, which is a “must do” annually, though we didn’t see the sandhill cranes like in years past.

_DSC3131 We also visited Bishop’s Beach and built our traditional cairn … in celebration of our upcoming wedding anniversary.  Each year we build this feature containing 1 stone for every year we’ve been together … plus 1 more for good luck … so this year it was a cairn of 19!  It wouldn’t be the same to not do it, though I’m wondering how much more stable we can make it during the next 5-10 years!  LOL_DSC3124

We then checked in for our bear trip which initiates the next day … weather permitting, as always.  Let’s hope for it to be a good morning.  🙂

Next up:  Katmai or bust ….

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

 

Our Last Denali Day

So on our final day in Denali NP for 2014, what did we wake up to?  You guessed it … another bluebird day.  🙂  After a restful morning (the only one on our entire trip – LOL), we set out to “troll” again for wildlife and try our luck at Savage River.  As you can see the fall colors were already beginning to pass, though still evident and colorful, their vibrant peak of explosive color was already a thing of the past.

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Savage River is a wonderful place for taking a leisurely hike around the Savage Loop Trail along the river, as it meanders its way.  The cold fresh air, the sounds of the water rushing by and the birds calling out overhead, and those clear beautiful skies made for the perfect day to end with in our week long stay at Denali.

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It’s just so picturesque.  Knowing that this would be more of a landscape walk-about, I carried my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my D800 camera body.  Tom outfitted himself with his 70-200mm f/2.8 lens onto his D7000 … just in case we encountered wildlife.  See, in years past, we’ve gotten amazing shots of the marmot sunning themselves on the rocks along the trail.  So, we were really scouting hard to find some.  Unfortunately, we never did find any and admittedly, I felt a bit dejected.  😦  But I reminded myself that we had an amazing stay in Denali already and certainly in Alaska as well.

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At some point, I saw a photographer shooting something on the hillside.  Of course, I had to know what it was.  Armed with a pair of binoculars, Tom was still unable to ascertain what it was.  Perhaps he was just shooting the landscape, but he had a longer lens.  Curiosity got the best of me and I inquired with another person who had spotted him as well.  To my surprise, he said that there was … wait for it … a LYNX!  I surge of excitement ran through my body as I set off uphill with my … wait for it … 24-70mm lens.  Sweet!  Quickly I realized that I had like… no chance … so I commandeered Tom’s 70-200mm and pursued that lynx.  🙂

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OK, now I’ll admit that this are not the stellar shots that I was hoping for, but I’ll take them!

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This lynx was intent on observing something … perhaps even more intent than we were on observing the lynx.  LOL  We photographed it for quite some time … just 3 of us … and I was thrilled beyond belief.

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Finally, the lynx got up and began to retreat from us, but not before giving us that “vogue” look.  It reminded me of the first lynx that I ever tried to photograph … only that time I missed for 2 reasons:  1. Our shuttle windows were frozen shut and therefore we couldn’t get the windows down.  2.  Once our windows finally were successfully lowered and the lynx gave me that same “vogue” look over the shoulder, I clicked and my shutter, only to realize that I had the shutter speed set to “bulb” from trying to photograph the aurora the night before.  Ugh … don’t you just hate when you’re not prepared?

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I vowed to never make that mistake again … you know, heading out without a wildlife lens … just in case!  After encountering and photographing this lynx though, I felt on top of the world again.  See, the lynx was seldom seen in Denali in 2014, since the snowshoe hare have declined in numbers lately, as they run in 7 year cycles in their plentiful numbers – just as the lynx do.  Nature at work again.

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So short of the marmot, our wildlife sightings this year were amazing and plentiful.  As we headed to return to the RV, we’re once again treated to this expansive sight.

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The colors have finally arrived towards the lower elevations of the park … aka the first few miles within the park boundaries.

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Before we leave Denali NP, we opt to take one last hike in the Riley Creek area.  The trees are showing off beautifully against the skies covered in patchy clouds.

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No trip to Alaska, or just about anywhere away from home, is ever complete without our trademark cairn building and an image of our creation.  Built out of river rocks along the Riley Creek waters, Tom and build our cairn … one rock at a time … each representing a year that we’ve been together … united by our love for each other and for nature and the outdoors.  17 rocks in all … & counting  ❤

DSC_9487Here’s to 2015!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

It Just Keeps Getting Better (Denali NP-Part 3)

Well, it’s another day in paradise for sure … as we’re greeted to an amazing bluebird day!  Nothing like viewing Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) from such a distance away and seeing it without being shrouded in the clouds.

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Of course that was the telephoto view, while the below image was the “eye’s view” taken with a traditional landscape lens near the Mountain Vista Trailhead parking lot.  Either way, the beauty is apparent.

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New to us in 2014 was the Savage Alpine Trail, which was conveniently located adjacent to the Mountain Vista Trailhead parking lot, near the Savage River Campground.  We decided to give it a shot.  I was immediately pleased when I came across a sign warning of bear activity in the area.  I remember thinking that this was going to be a great hike!

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Designated trails in Denali NP are a rare sight to see, as most of this vast wilderness makes only for its own DIY (Do It Yourself) trails.  In the past, one could hike here, but being that it ventured close to the moose rut closure in the fall, it wasn’t generally accessed frequently.  In the beginning of the trail, some boards were used to designate the trail and keep it in good condition.  It was so beautiful as we made our way about 1/4 up the mountain.

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About 1/3 of the way up, we were treated to views like this.  Oh yeah!

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Before long, the views behind us, actually all around us were increasingly spectacular with our climbing elevation.

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Upon reaching near the summit of the climb, Tom took in the view from all around.

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It was one of the most breathtaking views … I’m talking 360 degrees … I’ve ever witnessed.  Didn’t matter which way you looked.  I didn’t ever want to leave as I tried desperately to soak it all in … essentially trying to imprint it into my soul … to draw upon in future days when I would once again long for this solitude and immense beauty.

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But alas, we eventually had to descend … happily the beauty remained all around us.

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And when the mountain views had eluded us, we still had running creek waters to call upon our senses, as the water made its way down the mountain.

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In the finale, we were treated to a beautiful gravel path back down to the park road and our RV waiting for us.

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We never see those bears that were “frequenting the area” :-(, but we were treated some wildlife sightings, mainly birds, such as this lovely grouse seen almost immediately as it scurried off the path in front of us as we explored.  🙂

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Every day and night, we would “troll” those first 15 miles of accessible park road for any wildlife that might be in the area.  Usually it was a moose on the loose, but many have  seen wolf, lynx, bear, porcupine, a variety of squirrels, and other sightings.

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On this evening we made our way back to Savage River to try our chance at finding a bear, lynx, dall sheep, wolf, or whatever might be passing through the area, but only moose were found.  Hard to beat the scene though as the sun began to set on the landscape.

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Then when we turned around to leave for the night, I saw this amazing moon beginning to rise on the landscape.  Being that it was still low, it looked amazingly big … and definitely beautiful.  “Pull the RV over right now”, which was a request usually reserved for wildlife sightings – LOL.

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After a few shots, Tom thought that I was done, but no … for I knew that the light would be changing again and that the image might become more interesting and beautiful.  As we were waiting for the moon to continue to rise and the colors to emerge, we were entertained by this cute little guy … flying into our RV grill … in search of bugs!  We watched as he repeatedly fly in and out.  It was quite interesting and most definitely entertaining to watch.

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Sure enough, the colors began to pop and all I could think was that this was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

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We did however have another day waiting for us to explore the wonders of Denali.  I did a mental checklist of the Big 5 … all sightings were accomplished of the moose, bear, caribou, dall sheep, and the wolf.  Denali in its full glory was also accomplished (30% club inductees once again – even better since we viewed it without a hint of a cloud).  Lots of bird sightings … variety of smaller animals … But I was missing a lynx  ;-).  I was still pleased with my luck so far, as lynx sightings in 2014 were scarce due to the decline of the snowshoe hares in the park … a favorite food of the lynx.

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Stay tuned for the remaining stories and images from Denali NP.

© 2014 TNWA Photography

Another Day … Another Experience

What a difference a day makes!  Even though it has barely been 24 hours, most of the snowfall from 36 hrs ago has melted on the lower elevations and you could almost watch as it began to disappear from the landscape.  Luckily, those magnificent clouds and fall landscape colors remained.  🙂

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When I say that the landscape was bright, I mean it.  It seems as though I almost needed sunglasses to effectively mute some of the colors erupting.  The reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and even tones of blues … all unmistakeable and truly god’s work of beauty.  We felt quite honored to be a part of witnessing this display, as it quickly arrives and just as quickly fades into the muted shades of winter’s landscape.

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Once again, the cow moose were plentiful and roaming amongst the willows, as they dined freely.

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As much variety of wildlife that we were treated to the first day, we seemed to hit a bit of a dry spell the next.  Except of course, for the wolf pup sightings!  My friend, Rebecca, told us of her various frequent sightings of the pups, but we hadn’t seen any yet and were quite bummed to say the least.  However, on this day, it was alas, our chance.

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Not the most amazing images I’ve even taken, but the experience was quite rich indeed.  This little one paced the road in front of us for quite some time to the delight of everyone on our shuttle.  Once in a while, it did turn around and give us a “vogue shot”, but for the most part we were treated to its backside.  LOL

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The grizzly bears of course were out and about as always, though I think that I had heard that earlier in the year, the bear sightings were harder to come by.  Funny how timing is everything, as they say.

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Berries are “what’s for dinner?” for these guys at this time of year.  They ingest incredible amounts of berries to provide them the much needed last minute gorging that will serve them well through their early winter and hibernation period.  Having the proper nutrition is mandatory for those sows who will bear cubs during their hibernation.  In fact, if they don’t have the proper nutritional (fat) stores when they den, they may not even produce their young!

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If you ever get the chance to travel and visit Denali NP, don’t miss out on a visit to the Eielson Visitor Center, some 70 miles or so into the park.  From there, many amazing vistas await you, as well as several wonderful hikes (of varying endurance levels), which are quite rewarding.  Of course, in 2014, the hikes were either closed due to the high winds or the presence of bears, who also use the trails.  Guess they appreciate the views as well.  LOL.  In the image below, note the hikers below and appreciate the scale of vastness of this incredible landscape.  Also, note that there are very few trails designated in the park … it’s mostly a “DIY” system … that is, Do It Yourself!  🙂

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This sow and her cub cruise the hillside, finding berries where they can.  It’s fascinating to me how quickly these cubs learn from their moms about survival, even though the sow will continue to nurse the cub while they’re still cared for by her.

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Just look at that CUTENESS!!!

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Yes, we were treated to lots of bears in Denali this year and many of them were quite photo-worthy … and not a major stretch for the lens.  😉

_DSC5770 Of course, there’s more to Denali than the 88-mile stretch of park road.  Lots of opportunities abound to get out and explore on your own and of course, we did just that.  More to come, so check back often and stay tuned!

© 2014 TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

I Didn’t Forget About Denali NP (Who Could?)

How do you know when you’re going to have a great time in Denali National Park?  Of course … when your first image goes something like this … how can you miss!  Denali is always an amazing place, but when you combine the beauty of the Denali wildlife & wilderness with the arrival of the fall colors and add a dash of sensing the beginning of the moose rut, this is what you get.

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Of course, on our first day in Denali NP, we were also greeted by the feeling of the arrival of winter as well!

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Now some visitors might have been quite bummed to have this greeting waiting for them, but when you reside in the heat and humidity, you tend to be quite excited!  SNOW! … and lots of it!  (Thanks to Rebecca Tifft for snapping this image of Tom & I for us)

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Denali NP is unique in that one can only explore the first 15 miles in their own vehicle.  After reaching Savage River, one can only travel to the interior of the park on a bus … whether it be an interpretive one or simply a shuttle bus.  But that doesn’t mean that awesome views and wildlife can’t be found in those first 15 miles.  The clouds in the skies provided for amazing landscapes.

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Shortly after Savage River, one starts to look for caribou, amongst other wildlife.  In the late summer/early fall, the bulls may still have their velvet covered antlers or the velvet may have already been shed, leaving their antlers to be quite bloody looking.

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Bears are also quite often seen right outside your shuttle window.  This particular one was walking along the braided river and eventually entered the river to cross it.  Funny … if you look closely, it seems as those this one has white nails.  Apparently, they can have a variety of claw colors, though I found this one quite unusual.  LOL

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Sometimes, they are quite far away.  However, the sight of observing this sow and her 2 cubs, as they travelled across the snow covered landscape was pleasing to me.  Gives the viewer a sense of the vastness of the land … as well as the harshness of the winter-like conditions that they and the other wildlife endure.

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It wasn’t our first snowfall experienced in Denali, in fact once we had snowfall in July!  You just can’t predict the weather in Alaska … especially in Denali.  What you can predict is that you’ll be treated to some of the best wildlife viewing in the US.  When you get to see the animals in the midst of the snow-covered landscape, you’ll also know that you hit the jackpot!

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The landscape itself looks so dramatically different in the snow too, whether dusted with a thin cover of snow or dumped upon, it’s all quite breathtaking.

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The iconic view from Stony Hill Overlook is quite different in the snow, but still remarkable.  Now that I think about though … it’s always different no matter what time you visit.  Sometimes you get full mountain (Mt McKinley, aka Denali), which we did on several days while we were there, sometimes you get no view at all, and sometimes you get this partial view.

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And the viewing of Denali constantly changes throughout the day, so you can never give up on trying your luck (except of course when it’s dumping snow relentlessly, as it was on our first evening in the park).  🙂

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Unique images of the wildlife, desperate to continue to get their fill of nutrition before this unanticipated snow storm becomes an expected daily event, make for amazing photo opportunities.

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Photo ops … it’s not just for the bears … as this adorable red fox entertains us with its own “vogue” looks as well.

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In the early evening, the snow cover from the night before had already began to melt, thanks to the clear skies which usually follow the snow’s nasty skies.  More bull caribou are encountered dining on the autumn-kissed tundra.  Below is actually a great example of how the bulls might have their velvet (on left), or may have previously shed their velvet already (on right).  Like most things in nature, everything progresses at its own pace.  The females which are pregnant later in the season will keep her antlers, while the other females as well as the bulls, will eventually shed them after the mating season.

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The moose rut usually takes place later in September or early October, so lots of bull moose begin to arrive near the front of the park (i.e. those first 15 miles) about this time and begin to jockey for superiority and the sweetest females.  🙂

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Often at this time the females will hang out with other females.  Sometimes they are followed closely by a bull that might be in pursuit.  The bulls are quite patient and wait until the time is right.

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Of course, the sunsets of Denali NP are also a sought after image, though I find myself torn between pursuing wildlife images OR the landscapes … Decisions, Decisions, Decisions … and a nice “problem” to have.  Wouldn’t you agree?

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Stay tuned:  More to come from Denali NP and its grandeur.  I promise, I won’t make anyone wait that long either.  🙂

© 2014  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

“Sail Away” With Me

In the last blog post, “Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?”, I shared our experience crossing the Denali Highway for the first time.  It was quite exciting, but before we crossed we arrived in Paxson and drove to the first pull off to get our bearings and grab a quick bite in the RV.  It was the evening of our 6th wedding anniversary and I began to think about 7 years ago when we witnessed the aurora for the first time.  The “highway” was going to be quite secluded from any city lights.  I ran outside to assess whether or not we had a chance to repeat our luck.  The sky was beautiful, but heavily scattered with wispy clouds.  Normally, I would be tickled pink, but I was hoping for clear skies.  We proceeded to fix dinner and got to sleep a bit earlier than normal … setting the alarm for 11:30 pm.

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When the alarm rang, I got dressed for the cold and the wind, which I could hear howling outside.  Is everything ready?  Camera with proper night shooting settings? Tripod set up? Remote shutter connected?  Fresh memory card?  Fresh battery?  Proper wide angle lens attached?  All systems seemed like … GO.  The stars were brightly lit and that’s when I realized that the skies had indeed cleared.  Yippee!

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In & out of the RV I went, trying to get warm from that wicked wind.  On one particular run outside, we saw it … the aurora, also referred to as the northern lights.  It was stretched out on the vast landscape before us.  At this point it was relatively stagnant … just fabulous light which would intensify and then retreat.

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Composition … I searched my surroundings for something that I incorporate into the frame to make the shot more interesting.  OK, secret be told, this is actually a really nice outhouse in the lot that we were parked in.  LOL.  I know, quite romantic, but who cares, it was a structure and served the purpose I was looking for.  Now the light was beginning to include a hint of purple hue as well.

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It was then that the lights began to float across the night’s dark sky.  I distinctly remember hearing the wind, feeling it against my face, and I became quite thrilled.  Yes, my senses went back to that first night on August 30th, 2007 … Chena Hot Springs – Tom & I snuggled up under multiple blankets, freezing, as we laid down on top of a picnic table and watched the northern lights as they danced across the sky.  Of course, I would run over to my tripod on occasion to try to capture the experience.

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As the aurora intensified and other colors appeared, I no longer felt the cold.  All I felt was the sensory overload that I was experiencing and the endorphins or whatever flowing through my body … touching my soul like only the aurora can.

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In some cultures, witnessing the aurora is considered to be one of the most prized events in their lifetime.  Some say that the experience bestows good relationships and fortune on its lucky observers.  We never expected to see it the first time we did, so it was quite the pleasant surprise.  It totally moved us spiritually, as the lights fell like curtains dancing in the wind.

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At this point, I thought it was dwindling and I figured that I would be satisfied with what I had already witnessed.  I retreated into the RV and put my PJs on for the night.  Before I got under the covers, I took one my shot at the night skies.  This is what I saw … and all bets were off … in my bare feet and PJs (I’m talking single layered), I ran out with my tripod in hand and began shooting in awe again.  In actuality, it was even colder than before, but it didn’t matter.

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Point is, I didn’t even feel it.  Tom stayed inside for a bit, then finally joined me, with proper clothing on, of course.  Oh, and he offered me my jacket.  Always the sherpa.  ❤

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On August 30, 2008, we got married in Chena Hot Springs in honor of our 1st aurora experience.  Seemed appropriate that we would once again see them on August 30th, some 6 years later.  Sort of like renewing our vows.  🙂  Each year, on our anniversary, we go out into nature and present each other with a gift from nature.  I don’t think we could have asked for a better one.

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Reminds me of the David Gray song “Sail Away”.

Lyrics:                                                                                                                                           “Crazy skies all wild above me now
Winter howling at my face
And everything I held so dear
Disappeared without a trace”

I’m sure that wasn’t the actual meaning of the lyrics, but it was to us.  I couldn’t say anything better to describe the experience.  You totally get lost in the experience.  I still get all emotional when I hear that song … ask Tom.  LOL

Coming Up:  A Week in Denali National Park.  Stay tuned.  🙂

© 2014 TNWA Photography

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?

Each year that we travel to Alaska, we always make sure that we experience something NEW … something that we hadn’t tried before … somewhere that we hadn’t been before … or something that we haven’t photographed before.  In 2014, one of our NEWs was traveling across the Denali Highway – from Paxson to Cantwell … all 135 miles of it!

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Though this was already our 8th trip to Alaska, it was of course, our 1st across this infamous stretch of lonely road.  Why?, you might wonder.  A few responses come to mind, such as “the more travelled Glenn Highway is wonderful as well”, “the road is too slow for our pace”, “what if we got a flat(s) along the way?”, and being a relatively un-maintained road, “how bad is the road really?”.  The road had a reputation of being primarily washboard like and extremely dusty.  Caution went to the wind and onward we drove.  Well we began on our journey early one morning and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by almost 24 miles of paved road right off the bat!  The scenery along the way, on this mostly clear day, was unmatched as well.  Like the Glenn Highway, it was breathtaking views, but it all felt so much closer on the Denali, as it climbed steeply up the foothills of the central Alaskan Range.

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OK, maybe not that close … but you get the idea.  🙂

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Everywhere you looked, there were jaw-dropping views.  We found ourselves experiencing “shock & awe”  Awed by all of the beauty and quite honestly shocked that we had never traveled this way before.  Of particular beauty was the area around Triple Lakes … gosh how I wished I could own that cabin!  LOL

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At precisely MM 21.3, was where the paved road ended and the gravel road began.  We both paused for a moment – yes, to take the image, but also to vow to each other that no matter what happened, we were in it together and wouldn’t place any blame on each other.  LOL.  We were going full steam ahead in our rented 28′ RV (which wasn’t restricted from the “highway”, but rather not encouraged, with warnings to proceed with caution).  Heck, we figured it couldn’t be worse than the year that we drove a slightly larger RV over Hatcher Pass … not a good idea for anyone wondering about that trip.

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Various lakes and kettle ponds dotted the road and the views continued to wow us.

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We even got to shoot some hawks along the way.  The wildlife however was otherwise non-existent … but who could blame them for hiding, since it was an active hunting season.  Sort of bummed about that.

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Views of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hayes, Mt. Hess, as well as the overall Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaskan Range were offered up along the way.  At the Mcclaren Summit, the road reaches a height of 4086′, which earns it the 2nd highest road in AK.  The area also serves as a drainage for the Cooper River, Tanana/Yukon River, and the Susitna River.

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In the distance, you can see the Maclaren Glacier and the Maclaren River, with the mountains looming even further in the distance.

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We found it really difficult to make our way across the highway on our adventure, as we couldn’t have pictured it nicer and so far, pretty uneventful as far as the road was concerned.

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All that we were missing was the wildlife, but as I mentioned earlier, I was glad that they were all in hiding.  Though there were numerous hunters camped out, we didn’t see any of their successful conquests … thankfully.

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As we neared the 2/3 marker of the highway, the weather began to get dreary and our visibility began to diminish, so we made more of an effort to simply get it done.  Gone were the promised views of Denali, but hey, it was an amazing run while it lasted.

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Would we do it again?  There’s a 3-word response to that question … In A Heartbeat! It just goes to prove the point … “sometimes the road less traveled is the most amazing one”.  On a side, for those with good recall and might have been wondering, Yes, we were still talking when our tires once again hit the pavement for the final 2-3 miles.  In fact, I believe that we were closer than ever … very tired, but exhilarated at the same time.

Stay tuned for our unexpected surprise along the Denali Highway … you don’t want to miss it, I promise.  🙂

© 2015  TNWA Photography