Second Flight to Photograph Brown Bears

On June 26, 2022, our pilot flew us over to Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park. Before I left to meet Martin Boland (pilot) and two couples from Chicago, I photographed a bald eagle at the Baycrest KOA campground in Homer, Alaska and a two detail images near my campsite. While I was on the beach and amongst the bears digging and eating clams, I took several environmental pictures of the bears so my followers could get the feel of where we were. I, of course, love to get tight portraits of the bears. You should notice how calm, relaxed and lacking any anxiety because of the humans near them. If they have any anxiety, it is almost always because of other bears, not us humans viewing and photographing them. Sometimes I am surprised by the images I capture. I do plan my compositions well. However, I sometimes don’t realize there is something in my image that makes it extra special. One example is the sow and her two cubs with another sow pushing her back to land. I planned for the perfect moment of separation of the bears and the beautiful scenery behind them. Yet, I had not noticed the bald eagle sitting in the tree behind them until I started reviewing and editing my images. Look carefully to see the eagle. That makes the image something more unique than one without the eagle. A boat delivered some more folks to join us viewing and photographing the bears. The closeup images of bear skat and a paw print assure people that there are definitely bears in the area. The bears are very skillful when it comes to finding and eating the clams at low tide. I tried to show my followers this process. Then, there is the set of images showing how bears who like one another can pal around and gently play fight with one another. Finally, the last image in this series I took of our extraordinary pilot, Martin Boland holding his camera with his Cessna plane in the background. You see, Martin takes pictures of the bears and his guests flying with him. I wanted one of him for myself. Thank you, Martin, for two wonderful days.

Flight Across the Bay to View and Photograph Bears

On Friday, June 24, 2022, Martin Boland, pilot and owner of Scenic Bear Viewing in Homer, Alaska said he had room for me in his Cessna to visit the bears in Clark National Park. Along with four other guests from Minnesota, we had to turn back due to thick fog and low cloud cover during our attempt to visit in the early morning hours. Martin said we would try again in the late afternoon. We met at the airport hanger around 3:00 PM. Martin said this time we should try for a beach in Katmai National Park. When we landed we saw no bears on the beach. I took a picture of my telephoto lens and camera with tripod by the plane. I used another camera body with a wide-angle lens for environmental images. Martin climbed a hill to look for a bear trail then motioned for us to follow. When the group made their way along the bear trail, there was absolutely no doubt in any of our minds that bears where in the area based on enormous amounts of bear scat everywhere you looked and stepped. When we finally excited the forested trail, we found six bears out in the open. Because I was so out of balance with my heavy camera equipment, my boot got lodged in the mucky mud and water one might find in a marshy area and I went sideways and down. I love the bear feet prints. Don’t you? Bears like humans prefer to be comfortable. Resting in the shade is what we found them doing when we got close to them. We had a great time watching the three adult bears sticking together before attempting to get closer to the sow and her two cubs. They were very skittish and moved away from us. This made it difficult to capture the kind of images I was hoping for. The three adult bears were quite calm and comfortable with our presence. Just look at the elder muddy fellow and how playful he seemed to be. Apparently, he really enjoys lying around, especially in the mud. Probably helps him cool off. I don’t know, maybe he wished he was a black bear instead of a brown bear. The other guy was interested in the blond female and just followed her every move. Blondie was an eating machine, busy eating the sedge grass. I had to crop the images of the sow and her cubs so you could get a better look at them. I gave Martin three bear images framed that I captured from our 2019 trip. Thus, the photo of the two of us with Martin holding my gift to him in front of his Cessna.

Traveling from Anchorage to Homer, Alaska

On June 23, 2022, I drove from Anchorage through the Kenai Peninsula to Homer. Before leaving the Golden Nugget RV Campground in Anchorage, I decided to get some pictures of the flowers in hanging baskets around the office. I remember thinking of my sister, Jean, knowing she was in the hospital during my 2019 road trip to Alaska. I took a picture of Jean Lake on a foggy, smoky morning in June of 2019. My sister passed away that year. This trip, I decided to take a look at Jean Lake as I was once again headed for Homer. I took a new picture that looks quite different because a fire destroyed many trees in the forest around the lake in 2019. I did not see the home or lake cabin that I had seen in 2019. Maybe it was also destroyed. I stopped in Ninilchik to visit the Russian Orthodox Church Cemetery. I could not see the inside of the church because the door was locked. I also visited the campground area along the beach. Usually, you can drive down to the far end of the beach where fish scraps are left for the gulls and the bald eagles. A very large truck was blocking access to that end of the beach preventing me from attempting to photograph the eagles there. First stop after arriving in Homer was the Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center to take a portrait of me and Benjamin Bear with the “Bears Standing Tall” gallery wrap that I donated in 2019. I am very pleased it is still hanging and that many locals and visitors get to view it. Next, we went to the Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor’s Center to see if my image of “Bald Eagles in Their Nest” was still being displayed. I was told it had been hung in the Seminar Room, but, had been taken down. It was just being stored in a closet. No one could see it there. The artwork was offered back to me. I decided to try to find a new home in a different location in Homer for folks to enjoy. It’s likely that I will drop it off at Homer City Hall as a donation to display it in another location. I visited the nest in the Small Boat Harbor and found it there. I was told that the eagles abandoned this nest and were building a new one close by. I took a few images around the Small Boat Harbor. I drove to Bald Mountain Air Service on the Homer Spit (kind of like a narrow strip of land extending out into the Katchimak Bay). Next door on the boardwalk was a humorous sign. I can’t resist taking photos of signs like this one. Bald Mountain Air told me they were completely booked to fly to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park for the entire month of June. I decided to visit the bears in other locations with another pilot, Martin Boland. More about Martin and photographing bears to come. Filled up with Regular gasoline before heading back to the Baycrest KOA Campground.

Drive Out of Denali National Park to Anchorage, Alaska

I was very cloudy driving out of Denali. Got some pics of a Ptarmigan. Because the Ranger did not want me to take a picture of my camper entering the check point, I decided to take a couple leaving the checkpoint. If you leave early, there are no Rangers at the checkpoint. I saw a busload of people getting off at a turnout known to see moose at a couple of ponds down below the road. When I exited my truck, I noticed they were all looking beyond my truck behind me. When I turned around, there was a beautiful rainbow framing my camper. It was better than moose, don’t you think? After leaving Denali Park, I noticed sun and blue skies. I pulled into the Denali State Park North View to a spectacular view of Denali Mountain. I also found a wonderful view of Denali at the South View point. I wasn’t sure if the mountain would provide a good view from Talkeetna, but it did. Finally before having a great meal in Wasilla and driving on to Anchorage, there was the opportunity to take photos of the bull moose. What a great day it was.

Teklanika River Campground, Denali National Park, June 20, 2022 Hiked the River Gravel Bar and Surrounding Area of My Campsite

I was ready to go hiking when it started to rain. After a couple of hours relaxing in my camper, the rain stopped, and I ventured out to explore the river area and areas near my campsite. I first noticed the bird activity. I was lucky to catch the mother Robin in her nest and then feeding the small ones. Of course, the flowers caught my attention. There were many water areas for the wildlife. Many signs of moose activity in the area. Finding your way back to your campsite is pretty important. Look for obvious signs to return safely. Can you identify the wildlife tracks along the river’s edge?

Father’s Day, June 19, 2022 Denali National Park Shuttle Ride to the East Fork Turnaround

I caught the bus shuttle around 7:00 AM out to mile 43 and hiked in to where the road closure is due to the rockslide in the Pretty Rocks area, just before the Polychrome area. I took a look at my Father’s Day card from my wife and three grandchildren. I took a sunset photo around 3:00 AM that felt like in should have been a sunrise image. I believe there are at least 21 hours of daylight here in Alaska during the summer. The three images after that were taken at the Teklanika River Rest Area overlook. The bus made a stop for a sighting of Dall Sheep. Then, we arrived at the East Fork turnaround area. Folks started hiking up the road to see the sights and view the rockslide area. We all looked for bears, but, found none. I brought two cannisters of bear spray just in case I met “two” bears. Beautiful scenery. Photographed caribou below us. Took Pretty Rocks landslide images. Sad. Saw a marmot and a ground squirrel on our hike back to catch a new bus. Our bus driver, Darlene pointed out the raven’s nest below the bridge. I took the picture of the caribou resting in a patch of snow before being dropped off back at my campground.

Teklanika River Campground Site 28 (3 Nights) Mile 29.1 Inside Denali National Park – Day One, June 18, 2022

I left the Denali Grizzly RV Campground early to avoid the nearby construction. At my first stop, I took some photographs of the Tom Savage Cabin site. At the next turnout, there were two busloads of people. I hiked out around them for a couple pictures. I took a couple of truck camper images and environment pictures before reaching the Teklanika River Campground. That covered area is where I met the bus around 7:00 AM the next morning for a ride out to the East Fork turnaround area and a return trip to my campground. I drove the two loops looking for a campsite. I selected the first sight, number 28 in the second loop. It had a nice trail leading the bears to my camper. Not really. It would more likely lead a moose to my camper (many signs of them in the area). The restrooms were directly across the road from my campsite and so were the landfill trash and recycling bins. No neighbor on one side of me, sounded good, also. Took a self-portrait with Benjamin Bear before he crawled into bed for a nap while I organized my stuff, including bear spray and a foghorn if needed. Neither was needed, yet a good precaution for safety.

Denali National Park, Alaska

On June 17, 2022, I drove the first fourteen miles into the park. Beyond that, personal vehicles are not allowed to travel unless you have a permit to camp. My permit to camp at Teklanika River Campground at mile 29.1 miles into the park was scheduled for three nights (June 18-20, leaving on the 21st). Benjamin Bear and I were disappointed that we could not get our traditional portrait with the Welcome to Denali “Bear” Sign. It seems it is in storage until road construction is complete. We decided we liked the “Caribou” Welcome Sign and took our picture there. I captured an image of the Nenana River at the edge of Healy, a community with guest services about 3.5 miles from the entrance to the park. I realized that I never really paid much attention on earlier trips to notice several turnouts to get images of Denali mountain from about miles 8 through 13. I was hoping to see the mountain and I did. Smith luck. Moose are often spotted along the road leading into the park. Certainly, you will notice other signs of their presence. Sometimes they are busy eating and other times they are running away from the people visitors. At the end of the first fourteen miles, there is a bridge over the river leading to the Ranger Welcome Station for guests riding the bus shuttles and for people like me who may travel to their campground inside the park. There is a parking lot just before the bridge where folks enjoy a picnic or do a little hiking. I hiked up the rock cliff trail and took a few pictures. I first got a photo with a volunteer who was showing wildlife horns and pelts. I was hoping to see a marmot amongst the rocks. Instead, I got some pictures of a little Pica. I finished with an image of a shuttle bus rounding the curve on the dusty dirt and gravel road.

Drive From Tok to Fairbanks, Alaska

Saw one moose driving from Tok to Fairbanks on June 15, 2022. Saw the sunrays coming through the clouds near the river. Had a construction delay due to bridge repair. Notice the bug spatter on my windshield. That’s because the gas station had no soapy water to wipe it clean. Made my traditional stop at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska to take a self-portrait of myself and Benjamin Bear in Santa’s sleigh before arriving in Fairbanks. This year, however, I decided to go inside the gift store and realized Benjamin and I could take some pictures with Santa Claus. We put in a good word about my grandchildren in Texas. Because of all the construction detours in Fairbanks, I found Costco by accident. Look at the price of Regular Gasoline even at Costco. Stayed at River’s Edge RV Campground in Fairbanks. My photographer friend, Peter, would not enjoy camping here. Lots of noise…airplanes, helicopters, ambulances, and other camper sounds. It was necessary to make this a laundry day before traveling to Denali National Park on Friday. I will be camping inside the park at Teklanika River Campground for three nights during the Father’s Day weekend. Happy early Father’s Day to all the fathers. I won’t have wifi to post new blogs until I get to Anchorage. I left myself a couple of notes to remind myself not to call my wife, Sally on Thursday June 16th because a husband should never disturb his wife and girlfriends when they are watching “Outlander.”

Driving from Haines through BC and Yukon and Arriving in Tok, Alaska

I captured a panoramic of the mountain in Yukon on my way to Tok. Got to see a grizzly cross the road in front of me. Did not have time to adjust my shutter speed to get a less blurry shot of the fast-moving bear. Captured a cool image of a flowing creek with snow and ice in the Yukon Territory before arriving at the Alaska border to take the traditional self-portrait at the Welcome to Alaska sign. Gas prices in Tok.