25 September 2017

Stunning Mountains in the North Cascades

North Cascades National Park/Forest, WA

Silver Lake Campground
After leaving Bella Coola we went via Williams Lake to pick up our generator that was being serviced and headed south. I wanted to photograph Mt Shuksan in the North Cascades but we also wanted to catch up with some new friends in Vancouver. Although it would have been less driving going into the US to the North Cascades and then driving over to Vancouver we were advised that crossing the borders multiple times in a short period of time would lead to suspicion that we were up to no good, so we went to Vancouver first and then crossed into the US. We made sure we didn't have any fresh food so that we didn't have to declare anything but we were pulled over anyway. We parked our rig and a guy asked us why we had been stopped. We don't know. So he went back to the woman in the booth and asked her - she was either having a bad day or needed to increase her quota of checking on people. It seems we have too many stamps in our passport. Really? After two hours standing in a queue we finally get to talk to someone in border control who is more interested in asking our advice on whether he should go to Fiji or Australia for his honeymoon while his supervisor wants to taste my Anzac biscuits if he checks our camper. Unbelievable.

Last night of camping in a park
Lindsay takes more risks than I do to get a photo
When we finally get to our national parks campground in the North Cascades it is shut, not just for the night, probably permanently.
We have to go back to Maple Falls that has a County campground which turns out to be one the nicest forest campground we have ever been in. So we go back, check in and unhook our trailer. I had planned to be up at the mountain mid afternoon but with all the stuffing around at the border and having to back track to another campsite, we are a few hours later than I had hoped.

Falls on the way up the mountain
Back at the information centre which is now closed a staff member in the carpark advises us that it will take over an hour to get up the mountain and if we are going we better go as soon as possible because sunset will be too late as another mountain will shade Mt Shuksan. Lindsay drives up there like there's no tomorrow up the narrow twisty mountain and I hold on for dear life. By the time we get there, it's not  shadows from the other mountain, but clouds that have covered the top of my mountain. We took a few photos but really we needed to go back.

The decoy lake
Back up there the next morning and the weather was glorious.We chatted to a couple having morning tea by the lake and he mentions that most people photograph the lake around the corner. Opps, we are in the wrong place! It's too far to carry our camera gear so we drive over to Picture Lake. There are a few people walking around the lake and one other photographer with a tripod. There was a slight breeze that was ruffling up the water so that even with a long shutter speed we couldn't get a smooth glass like appearance on the water nor reflections. So we waited and eventually the wind dropped and the water looked stunning.

Mt Shuksan from Picture Lake, it looks even better in Spring
The Heather Meadows visitor centre is further up the mountain with a number of walking trails starting from the carpark. We chose one and found a couple of puddles to photograph but nothing like Picture Lake. The area is only accessible from July after the snow melt until October when it starts snowing again. Artists Point up here is apparently spectacular in spring with the wildflowers in the foreground and mountains behind, but we were too late.

One of the ponds we found on our hike
The North Cascades National Park is sort of divided up into two areas, there is the one were you go to Mt Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest and then another one further south which goes to Dialbo Lake. On our last day we did the drive to Dialbo Lake dropping our trailer off on the side of the road before it got too windy. If you only have time for one area, I would choose the north.

Dialbo Lake
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Joshua Tree National Park
This is the end of our trip. We left our trailer on consignment in California and it sold just under six months later. We brought our truck home and it is being converted to right hand drive and will be on the market soon. They are a dime a dozen over in the US but a little rarer over here, so hopefully it will be worth the effort in bringing it back.

Silver Lake County Park, Maple Falls, WA


8 September 2017

Teddy Bears

Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada

This place is special and this trip has been planned on the time we wanted to spend in Bella Coola.

We don’t actually stay in Bella Coola, but in the valley which is at the end of Highway 20 aka the Freedom Road after descending the Heckman Pass otherwise known as “the hill”. A steep, winding, narrow in parts gravel road that descends from 5000ft to the valley floor in just over 21 kms which takes about an hour to travel. There are places which are only one vehicle wide and while downhill traffic is supposed to give way to uphill traffic, they don’t! The drops are breathtaking and I was much happier when our lane was closest to the mountain side. We only had to pass one truck which happened to be in a wide section, all the other vehicles were cars.

As we passed the Provincial campground at Fisheries Pool, we stopped outside and I walked in to see if there were any vacancies. As I was walking down the pot-holed dirt road overhung by trees, I realised that was I was doing was really, I mean really stupid. I’m in bear country with no bear spray; they could be anywhere. There were three camping spots and as Lindsay had walked in too, I didn’t have to walk out and stayed behind to mind our spot while he went out and got the truck and trailer. This campground is usually packed with fishermen, but luckily for us, not this year. I was really happy to secure a spot here. It meant that Lindsay could go out first thing in the morning looking for bears without me and it also cut out two 40km drives from and to Hagensborg each day, double that if we went back for lunch. Then of course we could go back to our trailer for cups of tea during the day. The only downside was water. There is a water spigot here but the water comes from the river and while it was okay for showers, it is not fit for drinking.

It was pretty slow going photographically as there weren’t many bears. Was it the fires? Were there too many fish? – which means they can fish anywhere – who knows? We saw six bears – a sow and one cub, a sow and two cubs and black pants. There was a sow and three cubs but she was up the Tote road that was closed off. If we had been caught going up there the ranger’s could throw us out of the national park. There was only one day that we didn’t see any bears at all and five minutes after we left Fisheries Pool; one came past (don't they always).

In between waiting for bears you get to know your fellow photographers and there were people from all around the globe – USA, other parts of Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Syria and surprisingly a few from Australia. We met some really nice people. We had planned our trip to coincide with the time our Dutch friends Connie & Dirk were going, so it was lovely to see them again too.

There are only two places that you can see the bears – at Belarko platform aka the kindergarten as they treat us like children. It’s just a big playpen with an electric fence around it. And Fisheries Pool where we were staying. On the first day we were there a new ranger was saying she wanted Fisheries Pool closed down to photographers as they didn’t have the manpower to monitor it. Luckily that didn't eventuate.

Another way of seeing bears is to take a float. We had booked one on two different days. Connie and I did the first one and then two days later, Lindsay and Dirk did the other. We figured that by splitting up we would get different photos. Doing a float was no guarantee of seeing a bear but it did better your chances as they could be anywhere on the river and didn’t always come to where the people were. The sows tend to come near the people to protect their cubs from boars, but not always.

While we both saw the sow and two cubs, the boys were held back by another boat in front of them and by the time they got there, the light was in the wrong place and the pictures weren’t any good. Fraser who thinks he owns the river has the most boats; he floated down the river first and sat on the bears for half an hour, so that anyone behind him missed out. His floats tend to be fully booked so you could have up to six to eight people in a boat. We couldn’t get a ride with him, but in a way with that many people we wouldn’t want to. Connie and I had a couple from Brisbane while Lindsay and Dirk had the boat to themselves. We went with Tweedsmuir Lodge and also negotiated that the spouse who wasn’t on the river could stand up on their private viewing platform which overlooks the river.

Bear footprint
On the day between the floats Connie, Dirk, Lindsay, Josh and I went on our own quest to find a bear. Lindsay left his camera in the car and forgot to cover it up so everyone felt happy that if anyone were to break into a car it would be ours and not theirs! Lindsay designated himself tour leader and took us through the bush and onto the river’s edge where we saw a number of recent bear footprints. The sand didn’t last long and most of our trekking was over rocks up the river. It was quite warm and I was glad I’d changed into a t-shirt and had to take my jumper off. In the distance we could see a bear. He was running through the water chasing fish having the time of his life. It was such a privilege to see this magnificent animal in his natural habitat. It actually looked like he was running towards us, but he hadn’t actually seen us. Then he did. And away he ran.

Likely BC

We booked a tour a few months ago with Eco Tours which is located in a rainforest. We were to have three full days of bear viewing. Before we arrived we rang to get directions and asked if they were seeing many bears. She hesitated but said yes. Mmm. Connie and Dirk had booked but not paid for Chilko Lake Lodge. When they found out that there was only one bear being seen up there they cancelled. We couldn't cancel our trip as we had paid for it some months beforehand as was required.

On our first day Gary took us north for an hour and a half by boat. The fog was thick and we couldn't see more than a few metres in front of us. He had to use his GPS to navigate and actually got Lindsay to guide him at one stage. Just before the Mitchell River we transferred into a flat bottomed boat. It was quite exciting. We motored up the river and then drifted down. But excitement turned to disappointment as we went up and down the river seeing evidence of bears - paths, footprints and half eaten dead fish. But no bears. It was pretty cold, I had feet and hand warmers, beanie, and many layers of clothes. Gary went into the bushes and saw about 20 dead fish stockpiled. As we were motoring out we did come across one sow and cub but as soon as they saw us she growled and they scampered off into the bushes. We didn't even have time to raise our lenses. The two Australian girls had been on a walking tour the day before and seen nothing. The following day we did a walking tour too. Donned waders and walked across the river a couple of times and waited and waited. Penny the border cross collie was with us as she is excellent security between us and the bears should we be so lucky. Ryan told us a story of how he had been working on his chainsaw while clearing a trail for guests and Penny had warned him of a bear and then acted as go between warding the bear off. Ryan has never had to use bear spray to avert an attack, he has always managed to talk his way out of one. We told lots of stories that day but not while we were waiting on the side of the river for the bears as we had to keep still and quiet. Oh, so boring. He tried a few other well know places but nothing. The bears are staying in the bushes. A black bear ran quickly across the road in front of us, but I didn't see it. I'm not interested in adult black bears anyway as grizzlies are my favourites. Another group went up the river and saw one bear for a nanosecond, it too rushed off as soon as it saw them. The bears are really skittish. It might have something to do with the fires, was it the recent eclipse, was it too warm? They had 40°C this summer when their average is 25°C. Something is very wrong. Winter is coming early, yet the trees haven't even completely turned. Tornadoes in Texas, earthquakes in Mexico. Mother Nature is confused and angry. We actually left a day early, Lindsay decided that nothing was going to change, so what was the point in sitting on a boat in the cold, freezing our toes and fingers off. This was his trip, so it was his choice as to what we did.

Driving back south we stopped on the side of the road for the night but could see smoke not far away. The fires were too close for comfort so we drove a bit further so at least they were on the other side of where we needed to go and couldn't block us in.

Fast forward ten months and there was an article in the news about a ranger being attacked by a sow with cubs in Bella Coola. It was Jordan, one of the rangers we had talked to regularly. He had heard a noise outside his back door, went outside and found himself between the sow and her two cubs. She attacked him and understandably he dropped his mobile. He fought her off and managed to get inside but couldn't call anyone so he had to drive himself to hospital all the while telling himself not to pass out. His injuries were horrific, so it is a sad reminder about just how careful you need to be.

07/9/2017-16/9/2017 Bella Coola, BC
18/9/2017-20/9/2017 Eco Lodge - Likely BC

29 August 2017

Photographing around the smoke

Grand Teton NP, WY

Working our way north took us to the Grand Teton national park. Even though we’ve been there four times there are places we haven’t photographed. Now that Lindsay is starting to take landscape pictures, he wanted to try the Mormon Row barn at sunrise. There had been forest fires in the north for a few weeks now and the day we arrived the smoke was quite strong and was covering up the mountains so I wasn’t very optimistic that we would get good pictures. While we didn’t really need to be there long before sunrise, you do need to get a spot as it’s very popular. And whoever gets there first sets the line that you can photograph from. So if someone is using a very wide angle lens, they are going to be further back than I would want to be. Going up the back road is full of pot holes and can be really messy if it's been raining but it's significantly shorter than going by the sealed road. Arriving just before sunrise was a bit slack but we did manage to get a good spot. The clouds and a tree were stopping the sun from throwing light on the barn until quite late and by then there were only a handful of us left. Most people left way too early and missed out on the great light.

We stayed in the Gros Ventre campground again which has been outsourced to a private company by the national parks, everything is the same but the prices have increased considerably. This campground is the closest to the town of Jackson Hole and the Mormon Row and about ½ an hour to Schwabachers' Landing.

the famous Mormon Row barn
This barn is not as popular but is only just up the road
That afternoon we drove around the park, looking at Oxbow Bend which might look good in the fall but just wasn’t doing it for me this time. We also looked at Schwabachers Landing, which I had heard about but never got to. There are a number of spots to take good shots. Lindsay wanted to try the barns again which would mean he would have to drop me off really early so that he could get to his location. He liked the area around Beaver’s Dam at Schwabachers Landing, so I suggested he shoot that and I would shoot the area near the entrance. The next morning were so many photographer’s there when we arrived that I nearly couldn’t find a spot to put my tripod. This would now have to be my favourite spot in the Tetons, it is just gorgeous. In the fall apparently there can be 40 photographers at the Beaver Dam, it really is the pick of the locations. Most of the trees seem to be evergreen so it can’t be for the fall colours, I just think they happen to be here so come to shoot at the landing.

Schwabachers Landing - Beaver Lake
Schwabachers Landing - near the carpark
Along the road to Gros Ventre campground
we never got to see him completely out of the bushes
how do you like my rack?
I had thought of going to Mount Rainier, but it really isn’t the best time of year for landscape photography, so we decided to add the days to Bella Coola. On the way through Washington we drove past a field of sunflowers which I would love to get pictures of, but we were one or two weeks late as the flowers had already started to droop as the seeds were ripen and the heads get heavy. It also makes it harder for the birds to steal the seeds!

The more we drove north the heavier the smoke became. There were forest fires in Montana, Washington and Oregon. Canada wasn’t much better as they had many fires too.

Our border crossing was blissfully uneventful. Only two questions: did we have firearms or alcohol. No and yes. We read out our list of wine as we always do, heaps more than the limit but no problem, off you go.

an iPad photo as my camera was locked in our trailer in storage - this is their dock. iPad's don't do good sunsets
We caught up with our friends Cameron and Christine who now live in Lac La Hache – it was their house on Vancouver Island that we stayed at three winters ago. Their house is right on the lake with wonderful views and a boat pontoon right at the bottom of their garden. Cameron had organised for us to leave our trailer at a nearby RV Park for $5 a night and we stayed downstairs which is a self contained space which they sometimes rent out on AirBnB. It was great to catch up with them again. We took a spin in his boat looking at all the lakeside homes and picked fresh corn up at Soda Creek. Cameron had managed to get a virus that was hijacking his windows laptop everytime he went onto the web. It wasn't that easy to eradicate so Lindsay took his laptop with us to work on it when we went north. After many hours and trying numerous things, the most simple solution was to create a new logon and transfer all the files over. So glad we don't use windows machines anymore.


26 August 2017

Desert Mustangs

We loved photographing the mustangs in Cody, so when Charlene invited us to her neck of the woods to the west of Salt Lake City to photograph the wild mustangs there we jumped at the chance. She showed us of a campsite up in the canyon not far out of Tooele which I still can't pronounce - there's a w in there somewhere! Even though it was quite warm, our campsite was under trees and lovely and cool.

Charlene played local guide on our first day taking us way out into the desert for about 90 minutes to her secret place. Sometime during the day the horses normally make their way to a couple of water holes. We checked both but there weren't any horses to be seen. At the second one we could see a huge herd off in the distance. Unfortunately there were some people on trail buggies and the horses bolted and ran further off into the distance. The horses associate the trail buggies with the rangers who come out to sterilise them, so they don't stick around.

After a long time some of them started coming back. We drove out to them and spent a couple of hours photographing them. The day was very hot and there was no shade cover. And because it was hot, they didn't want to exert any energy fighting. As they started to move across the plains towards the water hole we drove up to the water hole to wait for them.

coming up to the water hole
My camera stopped working towards the end of the day and I thought it had overheated from sitting in the sun. I was devastated, but luckily it was okay the next day.

you never know what you will find beneath your feet even in a desert
The second day we went out by ourselves which was even hotter and the action was even less. This isn't the time of year to be out here photographing these horses but you can't always be in the right place at the right time. Thank you Charlene for taking the time to show us your secret spot on such a hot day.

I was able to get my eyes tested in Salt Lake City but glasses take 10 days to make and you can't order them in one store and pick them up at another, which meant I couldn't get them made up. Luckily I brought an old pair of sunglasses, but they are 2 prescriptions old as I left my previous pair in a campground washroom in 2012 and someone took them before I could get back there 10 minutes later.

They love to make a mess, imagine drinking that water now?
Calm and order
Until it's not
Photographing the Milky Way, we need to find some foreground interest 


17 August 2017


Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The best thing about a National Parks pass is that you can bypass the queues going past the entrance kiosks as you can swipe the card reader to open the boom gate up, which came in very handy during the peak times such as the weekend. The queues going into the national park were very long and we just sailed passed them all. We can't fit in the campsites in the National Park as we are too big and unfortunately we couldn't get a booking in the county campground that we had been to before as it was booked out, so had to go to a commercial one.

We spent most of our time down at Sprague Lake inside the RMNP photographing the moose, trying a sunrise picture of the lake and mountains and finally a Milky Way shoot but there was too much light pollution and the pictures just came out red. At one time Lindsay had gone walking off in the dark to talk to another photographer leaving me alone in the dark. I could hear noises was it a bear, coyote, or horror of all horrors, a mountain lion? I was in charge of both our cameras, so I really didn’t want to leave and maybe it was better not to move, maybe it couldn't smell me. It turned out to be the two Elk we had seen walking across the lake at dusk - they scared the crap out of me.

Fi and Lindsay

There weren’t as many moose as we would have liked, just one cow and her two babies, a yearling and a bull.

Prescription sunglasses are pretty expensive so if I was going to put an insurance claim in for the ones that went sailing into the abyss at Horseshoe Bend I would need to make a statement at a police station. We didn't have time in Page, so I went to one in Estes Park, Colorado but because the incident happened in another state, they couldn't help me. So I rang the police in Page Arizona. No they can't help me as it happened in the National Park, if it had happened in the carpark which I thought as in the national park, they would have. So I had to ring the National Park at Glen Canyon in Arizona. Yes, they would pass my message onto the ranger and he would call me back. But of course he didn't. I rang another 10 times, "no he's not here, we will pass on your message". The national parks are so short staffed that I was the least of his worries and obviously not worth wasting time on. I kept ringing until we got to Canada and then had to give up. I knew I could get glasses at Costco and there was one in Salt Lake City, so I organised an appointment with an optometrist for when we would be passing through in a weeks time.

Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake is a favourite spot for the moose, about an hour south of Estes Park; the town just outside the RMNP. We got down there just after sunrise and there was already a parks lady ready to take our entry fee at that time of morning! it was nice to know our national parks pass was valid here too. If there were any moose there, they were hiding!

The solar eclipse occurred when we were in Estes Park near Rocky Mountain NP but as we didn’t have the special glasses we didn’t go looking. If the eclipse can melt camera sensors, I would hate to think what it does to eyes. I’m not sure if it got darker because the clouds covered most of the sky or because of the moon going in front of the sun, either way it must have been a bit disappointing for people who had come here just to see it.