Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “bear”

Leaving the Kenai

Skilak Lake and the Kenai Wildlife Refuge was still closed so there was no way we could spend a week there. Smoke from the fires obliterated the view across Cook Inlet while we were at Discovery Campground in Captain Cook, so were weren’t sure we wanted to hang out near the fires anyway. But we did want to spend some time at Kenai Lake, so we headed east to Quartz Creek Campground.

We got there early enough that there were plenty of available spaces for a day or two – many of the campsites are reserve only. The campground is beautiful, with some sites on the Lake, some sites near the creek, and all sites wide, fairly level, and paved. We had Verizon 3G signal, though it was weak, and good, strong sunlight for about four hours a day, enough to keep our batteries mostly charged.

Our reason for stopping was to have some kayak time on Kenai Lake. The blue of the water with the mountain backdrop was irresistible.

Kenai Lake

Kayaking Kenai Lake

kenai lake

Kayaking Kenai Lake

The winds were a little high, gusting around 20 knots, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we liked. But we did enjoy a good workout and a sunny day.

The spot we were in was only available for two nights, so we packed up and moved to Bird Creek Campground on Turnagain Arm. Contrary to the reviews on RVPark Reviews, the campground is well paved, the sites are large, level and paved, and the campground overall is very clean. The sites are open (so not private) so it was great for batteries. The Verizon signal was only so-so. We were only a few steps down the hill to the bike path and a few more steps to views of Turnagain Arm, which was hidden behind trees from our campsite.

Our purpose in stopping here was to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We were also within twenty minutes of Southern Anchorage and grocery stores and fifteen minutes from Girdwood.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a great place to see and learn about Alaska’s wildlife up close. For a photographer, it is a great place to practice shooting wildlife.

Some tips for shooting wildlife that isn’t so wild:



musk ox

musk ox

Get close. Use the opportunity to capture their faces and expressions. This makes it easier to hide any fences, posts, and other stuff that draws attention away from the animal.

EagleIf there is a fence between you and the animal, get closer to the fence and shoot through it. Make sure that you are closer to the fence than the animal is – if you are focused on the animal, the fence will blur out of focus and be much less noticeable. (in this eagle picture, there is a fence link on his back and the upper right corner – places where there looks to be fade. Much better than if the fence was in focus.)


A moose cooling off in a pond

Sacrifice ISO for shutter speed. You may not be able to blow the picture up to poster size due to grain, but you will be able to capture interesting moments.  This image was shot at f/6.3, ISO 400 for 1/1250 second. This allowed me to capture the detail in the water. Had I been using my usual f/8, ISO100, my shutter speed would have been closer to 1/125 and most of the image would be blurry.


Antler detail – reindeer

Try for detail. I have never seen a reindeer antler and never seen an antler in velvet up close. The reindeer were all hanging around by a fence in a dark corner, so there was really no opportunity to get a decent reindeer picture. But, the antlers were fascinating to me. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to how they grow or why they take the shapes they do. So I took this as an opportunity to study the antlers just in case I someday get the opportunity to shoot caribou in the wild. (Reindeer are domesticated caribou).



bison calf

A Bison calf, keeping cool on a warm day

Try for personality. Some of my most successful wildlife shots are not ‘great’ wildlife shots, but excellent expressive shots. People love to relate to wild animals on a human level.



Be patient. Sometimes, animals (or people for that matter) just won’t cooperate. They eat, they sleep, they hide, they make it impossible to get a great shot. But, just like waiting for a sunrise or sunset, sometimes you just have to wait them out. Had I been a little more patient on this day, I could have had an image of a momma grizzly and cub playing in the water. Instead, I got them eating grass.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear eating grass

And some days, no matter what you do, the animals just won’t cooperate. You just have to get what you can and learn from the results. When we lived in Washington, DC, I used to go to the National Zoo about once per month. The Zoo opens officially at 10AM, but they allowed people in at 8AM for jogging, wandering, and whatever else. Because the zoo was almost always empty at that time, I found it very easy to sit in one spot for a couple of hours and study the animals I was shooting. I learned a lot about them and could pick out specific animals by their movements and how they acted. This greatly helped my wildlife shooting. Some days I would return with fifty images, some days 400.  But, if I had just one image that captured an animal and his/her personality in full, I was ecstatic. It’s the little things, I guess. Practice, lots and lots of practice, makes a good photographer; owning the best/newest equipment just makes practicing easier.

While I got no ‘iconic’ images at AWCC, I did learn quite a bit, had a wonderful day watching wildlife, and got to get up close with many animals I had not had a chance to shoot before.

black bear

A very agitated black bear





Cassiar Highway

We woke fairly early, packed up, and headed out 37A to pick up the Cassiar Highway going north. Heading east, one has a better view of the hanging glaciers around bear glacier.


37N going east

Near the end of 37A, we saw a bird in the road. He was marching slowly, not seeming to make much progress. It looked like a quail of some sort, small but chicken like and, as Mike let off the gas, we made jokes about crossing roads. The bird ignored us and continued crossing the road. Mike applied the brakes, slowly at first – we were pretty far away from the bird when we noticed it. And the bird kept not crossing. There is only so much braking you can do in a bus with a towed; by the time we got to the bird, we were going maybe 20 miles per hour. I’m pretty sure the chicken is no longer crossing the road. I found feathers attached to a rear compartment door and the front bumper of the jeep. We really hoped it wasn’t an omen for the day to come. We had been on the road for barely an hour and already had our first casualty. We try very hard to avoid animals at all costs – not to save damage to our rig, but damage to the animal. However it happened, I hope it was quick.

The worries about bad omens ended pretty quickly as, as soon as we got on the Cassiar, two foxes crossed the road (they were much quicker than I and so, no pictures). The foxes were together, one red and one black. They actually stopped on the side of the road and watched us, much smarter than the chicken.

The Cassiar Highway is a beautiful drive. One could stop every five minutes to take a picture but then, one would take a week to drive it. There is something relaxing about letting the beauty unfold as you move through the landscape; with the huge bug catching windshield, it is much like watching an imax movie.

We stopped at Mehan Lake to take in the view and make another pot of coffee. This would be a great spot to overnight, with picnic tables, a porta potty, and a level parking area with enough room for a few rigs.

Mehan Lake

Mehan Lake Rest Area

As we continued north, the road got narrower. There were no shoulders and frost heaves and potholes started appearing more frequently. Between the potholes, site-seeing, and the sometimes winding road, we managed about 40 miles per hour for the day. One great thing about the road though, at least in May, is that no one is driving it. We saw no more than one car per hour. Since there was no center line, we could dodge around the potholes a little easier. We did manage to spot a few caribou and a black bear. We decided that this would be the perfect place to ride out the Zombie Apocalypse. Chances are, you wouldn’t even know it happened and, if you did, it would take months if not years for the Zombies to get there. It had a certain appeal.

black bear

Black bear on the side of the road. For the camera gear minded, this was shot with a 17-40 lens, barely cropped. He was that close.

Caribou running into the woods. Smarter than a chicken.

Caribou running into the woods. Smarter than a chicken.

We overnighted at Rabid Bear rest area at Dease Lake. While there is no view of the lake, there is a large parking area with bathrooms and trash cans. We were joined for the night by a class C and a minivan, both also heading north.

The next morning we continued north, stopping at Jade City for coffee and to browse their stuff. If you like jade, this is the place to go. They also have a restaurant (not open) and a free ‘camping’ area for RVs.

Jade City view

the view south from Jade City. This was the first really cold and overcast morning we experienced.

About 30 miles from the end of the Cassiar, we came upon an accident. It was at a blind curve; a semi-truck was lying on its side and 3/4s of a Toyota truck was sitting in the road. Members of a construction team from a bit further north had secured the scene. It seemed that the semi had taken the blind curve wide, not expecting there to be a car coming the other way, and then over corrected, tipping over and shearing off the driver’s side roof and windows of the Toyota. With an average of one car an hour, I can understand his confidence. No one was seriously injured but an ambulance was on its way. Because there was nothing we could do to help, we continued north. It was more than 20 minutes later when we passed the first police car and ambulance going south; at a minimum, help was at least 45 minutes away. There is no cell phone service out there – if there is an accident, one must hope someone will come along who either has a sat phone or a very fast car.

Yukon sign

We made it to the Yukon!

We reached the end of the Cassiar and took a left. The Alaska Highway seemed large and luxurious, with its fancy lines and shoulders, after a day and a half of the Cassiar, but we lost the beautiful scenery.

Alaska Highway

Finally! On the Alaska Highway!

We did spot a black bear scratching himself though.

Bear. Doing what bears do when they have in itch.

Bear. Doing what bears do when they have in itch.

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