Sandia Mountains

I know how Captain Ahab felt while searching for his white whale. The passion, the drive, the commitment that transcends all else to achieve, at all costs, a singular aim. Unlike Ahab, however, reaching my goal didn’t cost me a leg or anything else; instead, it was quite the opposite. I was not chasing an elusive whale. I was stalking the Sandia Mountains, which were right there in front of me every day, taunting me. Defying me to create a fantastic photograph of them.

Let’s back up a moment to add context. And we’ll see how this scene went from this so-so photograph to something extraordinary.

This modest scene would soon turn into an incredible one

Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, there is a picturesque mountain chain to the immediate east of the city—the Sandia Mountains. These mountains, reaching 10,678 feet tall, might not be the tallest, but they dominate the skyline all the same. We all, every day, look up at the mountains and enjoy the view.

The Sandias have a nifty trick up their sleeve, too. If the conditions are just right at sunset, they will light up and glow a beautiful red color—watermelon red. Some days it will be intense, others subtle, but this variation gives the mountains their character. And “Sandia” means “Watermelon,” so the glow truly is the mountain’s namesake.

Naturally, this is a prime topic for any local photographer, myself included. How could it not be?

And therein lies the rub. The mountains are there every day, impossible to miss. It is easy to photograph them. Simply point your camera to the east, and there you go. Wait until sunset, wait until the glow appears, and you can’t go wrong. But there is far more to it than that, of course. Far, far more.

I wanted a different photograph of the Sandias and far from an ordinary snapshot. I wanted it to be unique and genuinely capture the essence and glory of the mountains. Those moments and those days don’t come along very often. And they are impossible to predict. So many conditions have to come together, and, for me, at least, the window of opportunity is relatively narrow for the photograph I pictured in my mind.

I knew I wanted dramatic clouds. Many days at sunset, whatever clouds are around the mountain will dissipate with the setting sun. The scene starts out beautiful, but as the sun slides toward the horizon, the clouds drift away, and what was magical becomes ordinary in the blink of an eye. I also wanted to showcase the fall colors. Why? I don’t know. It is just how I wanted it to look. I don’t want much, do I?

So, most days, I would look at the mountains, the sky, and the forecast and try to decide if the day would work out for me. I often gathered all my equipment and headed to one of my favorite viewpoints. Every day I would stand there and watch the mountains as the daylight began to fade. I was set up, ready to make the perfect photograph. And inevitably, the day would end with an average scene. It is here that I began to compare myself to Captain Ahab. He couldn’t catch his whale. I could not make my perfect photograph.

The next day I would start the process over again. And this went on for a very long time. I would have driven myself crazy if I wasn’t already there.

One day, though, I thought all the conditions would line up. The fall colors were at their peak in one spot in Rio Rancho. The golden colors were exactly the shade I was looking for; although some leaves had fallen, most remained. The day was also cloudy, and clouds in the sky were essential to my vision. But, working against me, it was a very windy day, and the clouds were becoming thicker throughout the day. This would prevent any sunset colors from appearing.

I visited my chosen spot in mid-afternoon to give it a good look—that’s the photograph at the beginning of this story. I wanted to be 100% certain of my viewpoint should the end of the day work out, so, like so many days before, I did my initial scouting earlier in the day.

So, I headed home and waited.

As the afternoon wore on, though, conditions worsened for me. The clouds continued to become thick and heavy. The wind picked up. The perfect conditions would not come together, and I would be disappointed again. Still, the eternal optimism in me won out. I once again packed up my gear and headed out. I made it to the location quickly enough, but as I suspected, it would be a bust. The mountains were now mostly in shadow—they would not light up tonight. The earlier breeze was now outright windy. The clouds were heavy. At least I would enjoy the mountains, all the same.

Sunset arrived. I stood there silent, grateful for the fact I was there but forlorn at seeing another opportunity slide by me.

Indeed, the most magical thing happened.

Right after sunset, the sun somehow found a way to slip through the heavy clouds. The right side of the Sandia Mountains began to glow their beautiful watermelon color. Huh. Didn’t that beat it all? The sunset was going to tease me; in any event, it was far too windy to create meaningful photographs.

Against all odds, the glow began to creep more to the left. Now, half the mountains looked really lovely. And the clouds started to light up, too. Still, the sun was now well below the horizon, and the scene would collapse at any moment.

Except it didn’t. It continued to get better.

In the blink of an eye, the mountains glowed with a vibrancy I didn’t see very often. The watermelon red was reflected in the Rio Grande River in front of me. And the clouds offered their own version of reds, providing a perfect counterpoint.

And miracles of all miracles, the wind dipped to a strong breeze. I had, quite literally, seconds to pull off catching my whale, er, make my photograph.

And I did.

Sandia Sunset

Sandia Sunset

The result is Sandia Sunset. Against all odds, I finally made the photograph I had pictured for so many years. I caught my whale. I achieved a photograph that, to me, captures the glory of the Sandia Mountains.

You can purchase Sandia Sunset here, and always enjoy the view!

Fishing Eagles

I stood at the water’s edge, alone, and long before the sun would even think about making an appearance. Being here was not an uncommon situation and one familiar to me. I knew the eagles would arrive shortly, and I hoped they would go fishing. The only question was would they beat the sun, or would the sun sneak out before they appeared?

The answer, surprisingly, was neither! Instead, the blue herons flew from nowhere, and before I knew it, they were there in front of me, foraging in the shallow water for breakfast. There wasn’t enough light to make any photographs, but there was enough for me to enjoy the scene, so I did.

They were quiet, intent on finding their meal, and kept to themselves. The morning was tranquil, and it was too easy to become enraptured in the scene before me, never moving again. I almost forgot about the eagles. Almost.

It wasn’t long before the eagles appeared. The sun rose simultaneously, and I wonder if this was by coincidence or design. Alas, I’ll never know. One moment, the herons were alone in the water, and the next, the sun bathed the eagles in its rays, and the birds soared high overhead, gazing intently at the water below them.

Eagle Catch

In the blink of an eye, an eagle dove headlong into the water, looking for its first bite of breakfast. With a barely heard splash, the eagle quickly rose again into the sky, now with a fish grasped firmly in its talons. Eagle Catch is the moment the eagle heads skyward. The vignette would repeat throughout the morning. Dive, then catch, the soar, over and over.

Incoming Eagle

However, the eagles and the blue herons didn’t exist peacefully at all times. Now and then, an aggressive eagle would fly right by a heron, who almost always objected. Incoming Eagle shows us one of these moments, and the heron is not pleased with the eagle bearing down on it.

The eagles would circle high above, always keeping one eye on the water. They would fold their wings and streak toward the water when they spotted their prey. The term “eagle eye” means something. Most of the time, they would catch a fish, but they would also miss it from time to time.

And some eagles would attempt to steal another’s fish, apparently thinking this was easier than catching it. This effort seldom was successful, but it must be a good enough strategy to keep attempting it. Sometimes, a fight would break out over the endeavor, and the fish dropped back into the waters below. The food was plentiful, so the battles were brief and not intense.

Eagle Dance

The wiser, older eagles grabbed the fish, tucking it close to their body, making it harder for another eagle to see and harder to steal. They are, quite literally, pretending as if they are flying around empty-taloned. Even though I knew there was a fish in the talons, it was hard to see and challenging to be sure. The younger eagles would fly with their fish readily exposed, inviting another eagle to take it from them. Eventually, they all learned how to hide the fish.

Despite the drama between the birds, sometimes a lone eagle soaring in the sky created a decisive moment. Voyaging Eagle shows us exactly what I mean. The eagle, wings outstretched as broad as they can go, sweeping across the sky, remains one of my favorite eagle photographs ever, and I could not be more pleased with how it turned out.

Voyaging Eagle

Eventually, all the birds had their fill, and gradually, so slowly I barely noticed, began drifting away. Before I realized it, I was alone once again. With a sigh but not a heavy heart, I packed up and headed out for the day. It had been a fantastic day with the eagles, and the blue herons, and who could ask for anything more?

Online Gallery

I’m excited to announce that my new online gallery is now available on the Virtual Galley page! This virtual gallery lets you tour and view selections of my work from, well, anywhere. The virtual gallery is an exciting way to discover and browse my photography, and it is just like being there in person.

Online Gallery

I’ve carefully selected some of my favorite pieces to showcase in the online gallery, organized into four wings: Adventure, History, Journey, and Route 66. Once inside the wing, you move around however you like, and there will always be another stunning photograph around the next corner. You can come back to the lobby to select a different wing.

Each piece has a title card, and some title cards are clickable. Clicking cards outlined in blue take you to the piece’s web page, where you can view more details, read the story, and purchase it. As for the others? Those are from my archives! I’ve dug deep in the digital cellar to find some of my favorite scenes that I want to share with you.

Online Gallery

Moving around is simple. If you are on a keyboard, use the arrow keys, and if you are on a touch screen, your finger moves you around. Click or tap the title card for more information. There are options at the bottom that let you customize how the gallery will work for you.

Galeryst

I want to thank my friends at Galeryst for helping me bring my online gallery to you. Galeryst is, well, nothing short of fantastic. They are a small team dedicated to making sure your work stands out, Galeryst is incredibly flexible and super customizable. You will be delighted with the results. If you’re an artist, I encourage you to give them a try. Be sure to head over to their featured galleries page to check out some of the other artists!

Let’s dive into the online gallery: the doors are open, and adventure, history, journies, and Route 66 awaits.

Ever Onward

The adventure continues in Ever Onward!

Ever Onward, my fourth book, is now available. You’ll encounter everything from the frigid Alaskan night in winter to terrifying tornados to tender moments on the waterways. We’ll visit more national parks, and yes, we stay up late after dark to wonder at the night sky!

Ever Onward

Of course, the stunning photographs make Ever Onward a wonderful volume, but the stories are what makes the book. I take you behind the scenes on my adventures, and we can spend the time we need to properly tell the story. We go deep into the backcountry of Mesa Verde National Park to visit places that few ever have the privilege to witness. We trek into the far reaches of Death Valley National Park to explore its past and hear tales told to me by those who might know, or they might be just a story. And we find something very unexpected along the way, too.

We meander through swamps and byways. We’ll marvel in the forests. We climb tall mountains. Together, we stand on the shoreline of oceans, and yes, we even go on the ocean, much to my dismay. We even peer through telescopes to see the wonders that lay beyond our planet’s confines.

We go Ever Onward, exploring, being delighted and amazed, and seeing the world around us in a whole new light.

Like Route 66, Sojournic Tales and Unbounded Chronicles, Ever Onward has the same trim size, making a fantastic collection for you. The premium pages are heavyweight and the colors rich and true.

Be sure you order your copy today!

Throne’s Glory

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, has more than its fair share of enchanting places, although you have to know where to look. Knowing where to find extraordinary beauty is always the case, of course, but in New Mexico, it is paramount, and the best places are easy to overlook. The photograph Throne’s Glory, at the bottom of this story, is a perfect example.

I made Throne’s Glory in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness. Like its more famous cousin, the nearby Bisti Badlands, the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah boasts tortured, twisted rock formations and sparse vegetation. But, unlike the Bisti, this wilderness is much smaller, giving it a more intimate feel. It’s also less accessible, and you’ll need to walk at least a mile to find the most interesting rock formations. Because it is a wilderness, there are no roads through it, and all motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited. Then again, walking is the best way to discover its secrets, so it works out well in the end.

One fall afternoon I made this trek to photograph Alien Throne in front of the Milky Way. I knew that the Milky Way was vertical at this time of the year, making a perfect backdrop for what I had in mind. I bumped and jostled along the dirt roads on my way to the parking area; as each mile slipped behind me, the road worsened. The last couple of miles wasn’t even a road at all; it was more of a maze of two tracks through the brush. I know the area relatively well, so I had no trouble navigating, but I remember the first times I was out there were a puzzling and disorientating experience. I reached the parking area, which is more of a wide spot than a designated parking area, packed up my camera gear, and headed out into the wilderness.

Navigation is best accomplished by picking out a distant feature and making your way toward it. There aren’t any formal trails or paths, although now and then, you can find a footprint or two of someone who was before you. At first, you’re able to walk in a wash, which is easy progress. Later, you make your way across the landscape as best as you can. Sometimes, you’ll reach a small cliff or impassable section; it’s time to backtrack and find a different route. In any event, it is fun to explore and take your time on the way. The further you go into the alien landscape, the more interesting it becomes.

The Ah-Shi-She-Pah has several groupings of rock formations, and I made it to the one that holds Alien Throne after a pleasant and, surprisingly for me, uneventful trek. I set up my equipment, made myself comfortable in a camp chair, and waited for night to overtake me.

Waiting for night in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness

This photograph, made just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, shows the sinuous and oddly-shaped rocks. Alien Throne, one of the more recognizable formations and my target for this adventure, is on the left side of the photograph. You can see my camera positioned below it at the very bottom.

Eventually, the sun was long gone, and night stole in. With night came the first star, then more stars, and before long, the sky was alive. The Milky Way rose right where I expected it to, behind Alien Throne, and finally, I made Throne’s Glory.

Throne's Glory


Jupiter and Saturn make a guest appearance in Throne’s Glory, too. They are the large, bright lights to the rock’s left, with Jupiter slightly above Saturn.

Alas, it was time for me to leave. I packed up my gear and headed back through the maze of the wilderness to where I had parked. I had a headlamp for the return trip, and the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah was truly otherwordly when lit only by starlight and the dim light of my lamp. I’ll be back there again, of course, both in daylight and the nighttime, and we’ll explore more of its wonders then.

More Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah

This adventure isn’t the first time I’ve been in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah wilderness, of course. The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah is one of my favorite places to visit, and you can find another story at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah’s Night.

The Playa

The Playa

Death Valley National Park covers a vast area and, despite the word “valley” in the name, a wide range of topologies. It has mountains, hills, plains, valleys, and even sand dunes within its borders. There is one area that particularly stands out, the Playa, commonly known as The Racetrack, notably because of its ultra-flat surface and sailing rocks. The Playa is a lakebed, almost always dry, but now and then rains turn it back into a shallow lake, at least for a few hours. The lakebed isn’t the most notable thing, however, as we shall soon see.

Before we can explore the Racetrack, we first need to get there. On the surface, this is as simple as driving out the 26 miles on a rocky road. The road is flat, has minimal elevation gain, and doesn’t require any problematic navigation, save going straight at a well-marked intersection. Simple, right? Appearances are deceiving as they say.

The road looks easy enough at first blush. But its rocks are not round, nor are they easily driven over. Although relatively small, the stones are exceptionally sharp and quite fond of puncturing tires. You think to yourself: “how bad can it be?” The answer is, “beyond your imagination.” The experience is an exercise in careful, precise driving, choosing what looks to be the least worrisome section to traverse, and hoping you miss the worst of it. Hint: you won’t. In addition to worrying about routine punctures, you also have to worry about tearing your sidewalls out should you venture too close to the edges.

If the rocks don’t do in your tires, the constant vibration of 26 miles of washboards and bone-jarring bumps will shake something important loose or cause an engine component to fail. As for your suspension, it is unlikely to be the same after this experience. Far too many people have decided the laws of physics do not apply to them, and far too many people have learned the hard way that retrieving your vehicle is not quick, inexpensive, or uncomplicated. It is quite the opposite.

Teakettle Junction

In any event, I made it to The Playa in a few hours. There isn’t a lot to see, and even less to photograph along the way, except for Teakettle Junction, which is the only possible turn on the entire route. Just behind the sign, you can see what passes for the road. Legend has it that teakettles were left at this location by early settlers to indicate water is nearby. Although this may indeed be true, I suspect it is more of a myth than actual fact. Today, some consider it good luck to leave a teakettle, sometimes inscribed with a message, at the junction. The Park Service occassionally clears most of them out, and the collection slowly begins again. Water or not, myth or reality, it is a welcome waypoint on the way.

And truly, despite the hazards, the journey itself is a pleasant, albeit slow, excursion through the desert.

Near the end of the track, you can catch a glimpse of the entire Playa sprawling in the distance. It looks small, but it is almost a mile wide and nearly three miles long. Distance and size are not always easy to gauge in the desert.

Distant Playa

Finally, we get to the Playa itself, and it certainly is worth the effort. This ancient lakebed is flat as a pancake across its entire surface. I don’t mean that it has ripples in it, or small swells not worth mentioning. I mean, it is perfectly flat everywhere from edge to edge. It is featureless, too, except for its sailing stones.

Sailing Stones

The sailing stones are the main attraction. Scattered across the lakebed are numerous rocks, some of which are quite large, and behind them their trails as they moved across the lakebed. Some tracks are small, others long, some straight and some curved. Until recently, it had been a mystery how they moved. The Playa, with its sailing rocks and their trails, in the middle of the Death Valley, make an interesting juxtaposition.

Because the lakebed was bone-dry, I spent hours wandering about it, examining every rock and every trail I came across. I bent down and looked from their point of view to see where they might be going. Peering around them, I wondered if they would move, but they remained stubbornly in place for me. I looked at small rocks, and I looked at the largest ones. I examined every rock I could find.

The spectacle of the sailing stones is not one soon forgotten. Alas, it was eventually time to leave, but I’ll certainly be back soon!

Oh! You wanted to know how they move? Several things have to happen all the same time: the lakebed has to fill up, just enough to cover the bottom, but not too much, plus ice has to form just right at night, the next day has to be sunny, and finally, there have to be light winds. If everything lines up correctly, the ice is capable of moving the rocks, little by little. Over the years, they sometimes leave trails in the mud.

Explore more of Death Valley

Want to explore more of Death Valley? You can visit Zabriskie Point and places beyond!

Death Valley

There are places on this planet which are hot. And, there are places with scorching heat. There are even places that are below sea level. And then there is Death Valley National Park, which is all of these places and more. Along with this harsh environment, however, there are also wonders to be found.

David explores Death Valley National Park in California

California’s Death Valley National Park is isolated and remote, far from anywhere. Perhaps because of its remoteness, the valley has a certain timelessness to it, and it is easy to forget the modern world while you are there. The valley exists today as it always has, and always will. The landscape is arid and barren, for life is an effort here in one of the harshest environments anywhere. And indeed, its early history is one of struggle and perseverance as the early settlers and 49ers found out as they crossed through here in the mid-1800s.

Vegetation is sparse, at best, leaving a landscape comprised solely of sand and rocks. Winds howl through the valley, further drying it out, and the searing summer heat parches the unwary. The desolation is endless, even as you climb out of the valley and into the surrounding mountains. Although there are some low bushes and shrubs in the hills, and even trees at the higher elevations, you are still in a desert environment. Water remains precious and not easily found, and the summer heat is formidable.

Death Valley possesses the lowest spot in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level. Being in Badwater Basin doesn’t feel any different than being at sea level, except in the summer when the temperature routinely tops 120 degrees and has a record temperature of 134 degrees. That’s hot! It is the kind of heat that hits you like a blast oven and can easily overwhelm you before you even realize what is happening. The experience of being here, in the lowest place on the continent, is a powerful and moving one.

But yet, beauty is everywhere. Even in this harsh environment, there are soaring landscapes and amazing scenes. From sweeping panoramas to intimate moments, Death Valley is a photographer’s wonderland. Looking up at the surrounding mountains while you are in the valley is spectacular. The mountains meet the valley floor in a sharp line, making a dramatic transition. Although there aren’t any sheer cliffs, the mountainsides are steep and unforgiving, and most of all, imposing. Looking down at the valley from up above is equally inspiring, and we’ll see that view in detail at Zabriskie Point in just a bit.

But first, let’s stop at Artist’s Palette. This area is renowned for its uniquely colored slopes. The jagged hillside is composed of unusual and unexpected colors and jumbled together. Turquoises and purples, oranges, greens, and blues are everywhere, and it does indeed look like a colossal pallet. Metals have oxidized the soil, creating a very different landscape. Instead of the mounds being a jumble of color as you might expect, each has a unique color, creating the pallet effect when seen from afar.

Death Valley: Artist's Pallet

It was very wild to make my way through the purple sand to the top of a low hill to make this photograph. Every step I took, I kept looking down, wondering if I would see brown beneath my feet. I never did. On the other side of the purple hill was a green one, which I also dutifully scaled. All around me, colors assailed my senses, and Artist’s Palette has left a long-lasting impression on me. I’ve never seen this to this degree anywhere else.

Badwater Basin is another highlight of Death Valley. Here, there is, amazingly, water. It just isn’t drinkable water. Instead, it is salty and bitter and undrinkable even to the most desperate. What makes this area unique, however, is the massive salt flat, miles upon miles across, completely unbroken almost as far as the eye can see. I made this photograph after walking a mile out on the salt flat. Even at that, it felt as if the far side was no closer than when I started, and the distances began to fool my eye. The more I walked, the farther away the mountains became, and my sense of scale was completely off-kilter the entire time I was out there.

Death Valley: Badwater Basin

Finally, let’s visit Zabriskie Point, where I spent quite a bit of time and many sunrises. Zabriskie Point is easy to get to, but far harder to leave. You want to linger here for just a moment longer to witness how the display will change. Then, as you get ready to depart, you can’t help but wait a bit more to see what happens next. The timelessness of Death Valley is strong here, and knowing how many people before you have beheld the scene before you is a powerful reminder. Some of the most iconic Death Valley photographs and posters feature this very view.

Zabriskie Point is an overlook into the valley below, which is incredible in and of itself. What makes it truly spectacular, however, are the tortured rocks surrounding you. There isn’t a straight line anywhere, and erosion has created a rock fairyland. The colors, while not as colorful as Artist’s Pallet, are outstanding, especially in the warm glows of the early morning and late afternoon.

Each morning here tells a different story, and each morning presents its unique imagery. This photograph, Zabriskie Point, is my favorite from all the ones I made. Some mornings were full of reds, but this morning the clouds briefly lit up with an ethereal orange glow. Coupled with the oranges and deep yellows of the rocks below, and contrasted by darker ridges and the distant mountains lighting up, I think Zabriskie Point is a classic Southwestern desert photograph. I can feel the drama of the sunrise, yet the tranquility of the desert offsets that. There is tension, and there is a counterpoint of calmness in Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley: Zabriskie Point

You can read more about Zabriskie Point here.

Death Valley is also home to The Playa and its magical sailing stones.

Alaskan Eagles

One of my goals for Alaska was to find and photograph bald eagles. I didn’t think this would be too much of a problem since Alaskan eagles are common. Or, rather, I hoped they were easy to find. In the end, finding them wasn’t difficult, but photographing them, and photographing them well, was a different story entirely.

If I had to characterize the most common place to spot a bald eagle, it would be at the top of a tree. My neck still isn’t quite right because I spent all my time walking while looking up. I tripped over a good number of things along the way, but that didn’t dissuade me. I continued scanning the tops of trees. To be sure, I saw a lot of eagles, too. But just because they were in a faraway treetop didn’t mean it would make a good, or delightful, or even reasonable photograph. I needed a different approach.

Now I started to look at mid-level in the trees, and lo and behold, I found them. There weren’t as many, but the ones that I did see made for better photographs. I was on to something here. I just had to keep searching. 

Eventually, outside of Juneau, I found a perfect, secluded location. There was a small stream that fed a pond, which in turn emptied into the ocean. There was a solid treeline for the Alaskan eagles to perch in, and there were plenty of places for me to set up and wait. I did just that. I readily spotted several eagles, and now it was a matter of waiting for the right opportunity.

Intense Eagle

Here, I learned my second lesson about eagles. Once they are sitting, they are in no hurry at all to move. Once they settled in on a branch, they were likely to stay put for an hour or more. Oh, they would move around a bit, but as to the actual flying part, not so much. But that was OK. It gave me plenty of time to work on the perfect photograph, and eventually, I made Intense Eagle. The lighting was excellent, the sun was ideal, and the pose was flawless. I couldn’t have been happier!

Intense Eagle

Intense Eagle was not the only eagle photograph I made, of course. While I was out on the sailboat (Humpback Whales details that part of the adventure), I saw quite a few eagles, mostly in trees, and occasionally on the distant shore. But now and then, an exciting opportunity presented itself.

Icy Eagle

While sailing toward the LeConte Glacier I began to encounter small icebergs floating in the ocean. These icebergs completely enchanted me. Most were little, but there were larger ones as well. But amazingly, as I sailed by one of the medium-sized ones, I spied a bald eagle perched on it! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. What a fabulous perch it was! If offered a commanding view of the nearby ocean, and it even moved, providing an ever-changing viewpoint. I sailed the boat around the iceberg, looking for the perfect angle. The eagle watched me but wasn’t alarmed, which allowed me to make Icy Eagle. Icy Eagle just makes me smile every time I look at it and reminds me that you find eagles almost anywhere.

Eagle Post

Not every eagle photograph came about because I waited for hours on end. A few came about by happenstance, as is the case with Eagle Perch. I had been outside of Petersberg for the better part of the day, chasing the Alaskan eagles along a beach. I was positive the beach would work out, but after a day I realized it wasn’t going to. There were several eagles, but they were all high in the trees, away from the beach, and far from me.

Despite my patience, they were onto me and didn’t allow me to make any good photographs. With a sigh, I packed up, started up the car, and headed back into town. As I drove, I wasn’t thinking about much, except perhaps what sounded yummy for dinner. I drove into the outskirts of town, now paying attention to where I was. Next, I motored past a quaint neighborhood. I drove past an eagle hanging out on a post. I then headed into the central part of town and wait a minute! It finally dawned on me what I had just driven past. 

I turned around as fast as I could and sped back up the road. And there, sitting on an old post in the water, was a bald eagle watching me. I couldn’t believe it! The eagle was as calm as could be, enjoying the last rays of the day’s sun. 

Quietly, and slowly, I exited the car and picked up my camera. I sauntered nonchalantly in the eagle’s general direction, being careful not to let it know I was interested in it. It ignored me. Good! I prepared my camera, and feigning complete and utter disinterest in the eagle raised my camera, composed the photograph, and before the eagle knew what I was doing, made Eagle Post. I don’t think the eagle ever quite realized what I was doing. And in the end, Eagle Post has become one of my favorite eagle photographs as well.

Eagle Post

Sometimes, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Being in Alaska is a marvelous start. It was such a joy to bring these Alaskan Eagles to you, just as it was awesome to create Humpback Whales and Fishing Bears for you. I’ll be back in Alaska soon!

Fishing Bears

One of my goals for this Alaskan trip was to photograph a bear fishing. That’s an easy thought to have from the comfort of my chair at home: “Hey, I’d like to photograph fishing bears!” But turning that thought into reality, in Alaska, in the wild, is quite a different story. Luckily, I had a plan. Whether or not this plan would work remained an open question, but there is only one way to find out. It was time to set forth and find my fishing bears.

The first step of the plan was getting to Alaska and getting myself in a position to locate bears in the first place. I did this by sailing in the inner passage, and you can read about that part of the adventure in Humpback Whales. Once I was satisfied with my efforts with the whales, it was time to head to Admiralty Island, which has an exceptionally dense brown bear population. This island was my best bet to find a bear and, perhaps, the best opportunity for fishing bears.

Admiralty Island is an enormous island and is as big as the island of Hawaii’s O’ahu. There is only one small native village on it, with just a few hundred people living there. Beyond that, the island is pristine wilderness, untouched and unworked by humans. In other words, a perfect place for me to find bears, with the bear density estimated at one bear per square mile. Since the salmon were running, the easiest way to locate a bear was to find a stream, then walk up it looking for where the bears fish, then wait for them to come again. My plan was coming together. I sailed to the east side of the island, as far away from any established facilities, trails, or other human signs as possible.

Admiralty Island: Hopefully, there are bears to be found here!

When it comes to finding the right stream, one is as good as any other to start. Because I was out in the wilderness, there were no guides, no books, no reference, and no information whatsoever. I anchored in a small, sheltered cove and took a zodiac to the shore, landing near a small stream. I made my way to the mouth of the creek, watching for salmon. There were a few, to be sure, but not enough, so I headed back out in the zodiac to another nearby stream. It took a couple of tries, but eventually, I found one that had a decent amount of fish. Now it was time to see if the bears were here.

I was exceptionally cautious because I was in the wilderness with an unknown number of bears with unknown temperaments. I bushwacked my way upstream, which was both easy and complicated. It was easy because all I had to do was head upstream. It was complicated because although I could wade in parts of the stream, in other places, deep water and fallen trees blocked my progress. In these cases, I had to go around, and where the banks were steep, this was not easy. All the while, I needed to be extraordinarily quiet and careful, lest I encounter a bear before I was ready. There was a lot of stopping, listening, and looking very carefully all around me.

A stream where I thought I might find bears.
The spot where I made Gone Fishing

Eventually, I found a place I thought would work out. There were quite a bit of recent fish remains, so I knew the fishing bears were here. I found plenty of cover for me, too, and I had an excellent vantage point behind a fallen log a short distance away. There weren’t any bears, though, so that was not so good. Since it was now later in the day than I cared for, I marked the spot for tomorrow.

The next day dawned bright and clear and was a perfect day to photograph fishing bears! I got up early and repeated yesterday’s trek to my chosen location. I set up, settled in, and waited. And waited. Then I waited some more. The woods around me were both at once quiet and noisy, but as the day went by, I became more accustomed to the sounds, and all became normal. The wait continued. Eventually, planning and patience paid off!

A baby brown bear crossing the stream

I almost didn’t see them at first; they came so silently. Before I knew it, a bear was crossing the stream right toward the fishing spot I was watching! And right behind the bear were three small cubs. Not only did I encounter a bear, but I encountered Momma and her cubs, too. Momma bear was aware of me, but I was far enough away that she was not concerned with me at all. She waded into the water, and before I knew what was happening, she had successfully taken a salmon! She brought it back to the shore for her cubs, who devoured the meal in moments.

This process repeated several times, and after Momma Bear satisfied the cubs, she had a meal herself. As quietly as they arrived, they disappeared into the woods, although I continued to wait. After all, fishing bears is what I came to photograph. I was impressed at the skill and speed the bear caught a fish. I didn’t know what to expect. The bear would walk into the stream, and a couple of moments later would splash out with a fish. The skill of the bear was terrific to watch, and she made it look incredibly easy. It isn’t, that’s for sure.

The bears came and went several times throughout the day, and I watched and photographed them each time. This photograph, Gone Fishing, is the one I am most proud of from that entire time, even though it showcases only one of the cubs. Its expression is priceless, and you can see the anticipation of another meal in its eyes.

Gone Fishing

Alas, it was eventually time to move on. I did explore several other streams and locations, but this one was the best. And there was more of Alaska to explore, too, which we will do in the next story.

Humpback Whales

Hear the whales while you read!

If you would like to hear the whales while you read, just click the play button to the right!

Tap/Click play to hear the whales

There are many different ways to explore Alaska, but the most interesting ones are when you get off the beaten path. And since Alaska is not small, there are many different paths you can leave to explore on your own. I’ve been there a couple of times now, and each time I’ve experienced and photographed incredible sights. This article is the first in a series of posts about our incredible 49th state. The question becomes where to start, but the humpback whales in  Whale’s Morning and the events leading up to that photograph seems like the right place.

One way to explore Alaska would be driving, and indeed, that’s a great start. Alaska doesn’t have an extensive road system, though, so just driving might not be the best way. You could fly over it, of course, and see some incredible scenery from above, but that, too, isn’t the best way. Or, you could sail its waters, and when it comes to the Inner Passage, this is absolutely the best way. I started my sailing adventure in Petersburg and ended many days later in Juneau. In between, I encountered gorgeous places and wild animals. Those we’ll chat about soon, but for now, we’ll talk about the humpback whales.

The Inner Passage is perfect for the humpback whales. Its waters are pristine and deep, offering prosperous hunting. Whales are, quite literally, surrounding you as you ply the waters, although one area, Stephens Passage, is home to several large, stable pods. I stayed quite a while here and was sad when it was time to weigh anchor and head to other waters. I spent most of my time near the Five Fingers Lighthouse, which is still operational, but also the part-time home to whale watching organizations. It makes the ideal base, and using a lighthouse to watch the humpback whales allows the researchers to keep watch over the entire range. 

For me, mornings were my favorite time. I’d wake early, well before the sun did, and wander up on deck. There, in the stillness of the pre-dawn, I could hear the whales breathing. It is a slow, deep sound, almost human-sounding. In and out, slow and steady, the whales would breathe, surrounding me. It wasn’t easy to count them, but I would estimate forty or fifty were in the waters around me. The crispness of the air froze their breath for just a moment, allowing me to make some surreal photographs. 

Vaporous Whales

Vaporous Whales is one of those photographs. Their breath would rise in the crisp morning air and hang there for the longest time. Each whale would rest on the surface for a bit then dive back down, only to be replaced by another. The process repeated over and over, eventually leaving a myriad of vapor trails from their breath.

The humpback whale routine is fascinating to watch. Each one rests quietly on the surface, slowly moving toward whatever destination it has selected. Without warning, the whale rises ever so slightly from the water, then slides beneath the waves. Their tail lifts behind them, pointing toward the sky, then follows the whale into the murky depths. Headed Down is the decisive moment of their dive.

Headed Down

I made Whale’s Morning on a still and calm morning. The horizon was cloudy, though, which dashed my hopes for a bright and colorful sunrise. I was up early with the whales and had my fingers crossed, but alas, the skies were cloudy. As dawn approached, I kept hoping conditions would improve, but they did not. The sun began its daily trek, and although the whales were nearby, a stunning photograph did not appear to be in the cards. Yet, much to my surprise, the sky did light up. Not in the pinks and reds I was expecting, but warm, soft yellows! The moment was even better than I had hoped. Whale’s Morning was the result of this spectacular dawn, thanks to a humpback whale who chose the perfect moment to dive deep.

Whale's Morning

We’ll continue our Alaska adventure in Fishing Bears.