Hi, and welcome to my blog. It occured to me that when you view the images in my galleries, that you would like have some idea as to the how, when and where. Therefore, through this blog, I will attempt to provide some background and detail about the photo trip that resulted in the images posted on my site.
It is the last week of 2017 and I’m composing my last blog about our adventurous travels for the year. This narrative is about our very exciting trip to New Zealand. It has been nearly a month since we returned and I’m finally putting my memories down on paper (so to speak). The trip to New Zealand was such an amazing experience that, even now after nearly a month, Jane and I will stop what we are doing and reflect on the wonderful time we had. So let me begin this tale at the beginning.
New Zealand had been on our unofficial “bucket” list for some time. There is just something mystical about New Zealand. Anyway, about a year ago I happened upon a New Zealand photographer’s website that offered a fifteen-day guided photography tour of New Zealand’s south island. After some discussion and a review of our finances, Jane and I decided to go for it. The entire trip, from when we left home and returned home was 22 days. New Zealand is a long way from San Diego.
Our tour started in Christchurch. We arrived a day early, in case of unanticipated travel delays, and enjoyed sightseeing around Christchurch. There was still plenty of residual earthquake damage to be seen around town although much reconstruction has occurred since the devastating earthquake of 2011. We sauntered about town to take in the sights and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the botanical garden, after all we were in the southern hemisphere and it was late spring in New Zealand.
Our photographer guide was Petr Hlavacek, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, who has made New Zealand his home. Petr resides on the west side of the south island and specializes in panoramic landscape photography. Since landscape photography has been a challenge for me, this tour was a perfect opportunity to both savor the scenic beauty of New Zealand and attempt to capture it in photographic images. Jane and I were not disappointed! Petr guided us to some of the most amazingly scenic locations on the south island and helped me tremendously in visualizing panoramic compositions.
We photographed at six of the south island’s nine national parks. Even though all the parks had stunning landscapes, Petr let us know that there were three outstanding locations which he referred to as the “three jewels” of his tour. The three jewels were a stay on Fox Glacier, an overnight on Doubtful Sound, and a visit to Mount Cook Village. Mount Cook (renamed Aoraki/Mount Cook) is the highest mountain in New Zealand.
The sojourn to Fox Glacier involved a helicopter flight and was totally weather dependent. Fortunately for us, New Zealand was experiencing a warm dry spell and we experienced no inclement weather during our entire stay. So, the helicopter flight to the Fox Glacier was on. Briefly, this first “jewel” of the trip involved an afternoon flight up to a mountaineering hut on Fox Glacier, an overnight stay at the hut, a flight the next morning to a lower portion of the glacier, and then a final flight back down the mountain.
The flight up the mountain was an exciting experience as the helicopter hugged the mountain side on its way up the glacier. After only a few minutes of noisy flight, there was nothing but snow and ice below us. The Fox Glacier icefall (where the underlying bedrock steepens causing the glacial ice to flow faster and chaotic crevasses form on the glacier surface) was a majestic and unforgettable sight. All too soon we arrived at our destination, the Pioneer Hut, situated on a steep ridge high atop the Fox Glacier névé (the snow field at the ahead of the glacier).
Pioneer Hut is a Spartan mountaineering shelter at the head of Fox Glacier operated by the New Zealand Alpine Club. The hut has bunk beds that can accommodate up to 16 people. Counting our party, the hut was fully occupied with mountaineers. Some of the men were eating, or studying their maps, and others sleeping in preparation for their treks onto the glacier. Going onto the glacier was not a simple matter, as we learned firsthand. You don’t traverse the glacier on your own. Even hiking the short distance from the helicopter landing area to the hut, we needed to fit into climbing harnesses and be tied to each other with ropes. Snow shoes kept us from sinking into the snow as we trudged, single file, to the hut.
Inside, the hut was austere with an outer anteroom for storing boots and hiking gear, a long cooking counter, a small eating area with a table and bench seats, and taking up most of the space were the bunk beds. The bunk beds, however, were not individual bunks. They were bunk platforms with each platform having space for four people to sleep. So Jane and I found ourselves huddled together sleeping with two other mountaineers on our shared platform.
It is difficult to describe the sense of isolation and awe generated by being on top of a living glacier. Jane and I were enthralled with the experience and captivated by the scenic beauty of shear mountain peaks protruding above the glacial snow. In the afternoon we were harnessed, tied together, and shod with snow shoes by our mountaineer guide and led onto the glacier for sunset photography. The sun cast long shadows of our small group that were mere specks on the vastness of the Fox Glacier névé.
As a glacier is slowly pulled down a mountain valley by gravity, the snow that caps the glacial ice is slowly melted away at the lower elevations. This results in hard, glistening, blue ice being visible at the surface of the glacier. That is where we were transported to next. After some early sunrise photography at the hut, the helicopter returned to relocate us lower on the glacier to photograph ice caves. This time we were shod with steel crampons to secure our footing on the hard and slippery ice. Our mountaineering guide shepherded us cautiously around dangerous crevasses and weak arches in the ice. Keeping our footing, even with the steel crampons securely fastened to our boots, was a challenge as we attempted to photograph the colorful blue ice caves. After a couple of hours scrambling over the hard ice, the helicopter returned to take us back down the mountain ending our unique adventure on the Fox Glacier.
The second adventure in Petr’s jewelry case was an overnight expedition on Doubtful Sound. This was a more civilized “jewel” with an all-inclusive menu and bar. This adventure began at a small village on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri where we boarded a ferry to transport us across the 55 square mile lake. At the western side of the lake, we disembarked and were loaded onto coaches that carried us some thirteen miles, over the Wilmot Pass, from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. There we boarded the Fjordland Navigator for our overnight expedition.
Actually, Doubtful Sound is not a sound (arm of a sea) at all. The waterway is a deep and narrow glacier-formed fjord. Our ship navigated through these steep, u-shaped, canyons quietly. The canyon walls were densely covered with rain forest vegetation and rose abruptly from the calm waters of the fjord. Clouds of mist shrouded the high peaks, adding mystery and drama as we ventured farther and farther towards the Tasman Sea. Calm winds and mild temperatures made our trip, and photography, most enjoyable. The food was good, the wine tasty, and this time we only had to share our cabin with two others.
As we neared the end of the fjord at the Tasman Sea, we encountered a small colony of New Zealand fur seals basking and frolicking on some rocky outcrops. Here photography was more difficult as the swell from the sea was more severe and the seals were some distance away. And, on our way back to the head of the fjord, the on-board naturalist announced the spotting of the rare and endangered Fjordland Crested Penguin. Fortunately, I had the proper lens on my camera and was able to get a few images before the birds wandered into the dense undergrowth where their burrow was hidden.
Petr’s third tour jewel was Mount Cook. Mount Cook is New Zealand highest mountain at just over 11,200 feet and is where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills prior to ascending Mount Everest. Like Mount Denali in Alaska, Mount Cook is frequently hidden from view due to storm clouds coming from the Tasman Sea. Mount Cook is a sacred mountain in Māori culture. So, like Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) the mountain’s name has been changed to Aoraki/Mount Cook. For us, the good weather we had experienced so far in our trip held and we able to see and photograph Aorkaki/Mount Cook from afar and close up.
Not only was Aoraki/Mount Cook one of Petr’s jewels, this majestic mountain is also the crown of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. During most of our photography tour we traveled along the west side of the south island parallel to the Southern Alps. Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, though not extremely high compared to the Rocky Mountains, are snowcapped and very rugged. The Rocky Mountains are, in geologic terms, rather old and eroded. The Southern Alps, on the other hand, are geologically very young and erosion has not rounded their peaks or filled their valleys with sediment. Glaciers left over from the last ice age are still present in large numbers in the Southern Alps, unlike Glacier National Park in Montana where glaciers have almost totally disappeared. For anyone who loves mountains, the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook evoke a deep sense of wonder and awe.
After the photography tour with Petr Hlavacek, Jane and I rounded out our New Zealand adventure with a short side trip to Dunedin on the southeastern side of the South Island. We had learned from friends in San Diego that Dunedin was the location where some of New Zealand’s most unique wildlife could be photographed. Before leaving home, we arranged with Elm Wildlife Tours in Dunedin to visit an albatross colony and observe endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula. Sunny skies again favored us as we boarded a sightseeing boat, sailed past the Taiaroa Lighthouse and into the calm water of the South Pacific Ocean. From the boat we were able to photograph several species of ellusive albatross.
Yellow-eyed penguins spend most of their day foraging for food in the ocean, coming ashore only in the evening to spend the night in their burrows. Our Elm tour naturalist brought us to a permanent wooden blind from where we could see the penguins, one by one, waddle up from the ocean onto a sandy beach and make their way slowly to the grassy slopes where their burrows were hidden. Penguins are a delight to watch and the yellow-eyed ones were no exception. Just the way they sway side to side while strutting across the sand makes me smile. Negotiating an obstacle, or jumping among boulders, with their short, stubby legs, the penguins seem totally uncoordinated, yet they always manage not to fall over.
With the frolic and humor of watching rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguins, our New Zealand adventure pretty much came to an end. All that remained was the long, long flight home.
Images from our New Zealand adventure can be viewed in the New Zealand gallery.
Normally, around the end of September Jane and I would find ourselves up north in Montana enjoying the grandeur of Glacier National Park. This year, however, we were forced to make a last minute decision to cancel that autumn trip due to the devastating wildfires in and around the Park. The consequence of that unfortunate cancelation was that we now found ourselves in the unaccustomed situation of being at home for a bunch of weeks rather than traveling and photographing. What was I going to do with all that unexpected time on my hands? I’m not terribly good at being at home for too long. Not that there are no “projects” to be done around the house, it is just that I’m not a handyman and rather good at procrastination. So, as Jane watched me get more and more bored and restless, she came up with a brilliant suggestion. Why don’t I try and get a timeshare trade somewhere so we can take a bit of a trip?
That is how our consolation trip to Sedona, Arizona, came about. Turned out we were able to get a last minute timeshare trade to Sedona for the first week of October. The long way to Sedona, up U.S. Highway 95 from Yuma and over the mountains through Prescott and Jerome, is only about a day’s drive from San Diego. So the consolation trip to Sedona was an easy one week vacation and, needless to say, I was a happy camper to be on another journey. Sedona is surrounded by picturesque red rock formations and I looked forward to making some panoramic landscape images. In addition, it turned out that the 2017 Harvest Moon, the full moon nearest to the start of fall, or autumnal equinox, was to occur during the first week in October. That meant some more moon photography practice for me.
For a consolation trip, this short hop to Sedona turned out to be a truly astonishing junket. The timeshare unit was spacious and homey, there was a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, and numerous trails to hike. We enjoyed all of it, eating sleeping and hiking. We also explored some of the backcountry on dirt tracts to ancient Hopi cliff dwelling sites. All in all, we much appreciated this last minute consolation trip to Sedona.
I have not made a separate gallery for this trip to Sedona, so don't worry if you can't find any additional images from this trip.
What can be said about the great American total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, that hasn’t already been voiced all over the internet, television and printed media? This spectacular astronomical phenomenon, visible across the entire nation, from coast to coast, was indeed all it was forecast to be. Jane and I traveled from San Diego to Rexburg, Idaho, to be in the middle of the “totality” experience. The accolades expressed by the pundits from NASA, the Science Channel, and NOAA for this unique interaction between the sun, moon and earth were confirmed by us for the two minutes that we observed the magic of the sun’s corona erupting into space. Being awash in the darkness and chill of a total solar eclipse, while captivated by the dancing light of the sun’s coronal flares discharging from behind the moon into the atmosphere, was an exhilarating and exciting event.
Astronomers predict another solar eclipse will travel through the middle of the country, from south to north, in 2024. Who knows, perhaps we will travel to Texas to catch that one also.
August found Jane and me in Denali National Park and Preserve. We took advantage of an Alaska Airlines two-for-one ticket deal. I had wanting to go back to Denali National Park to try for some of the iconic wildlife to be photographed there. The last time Jane and I were in Denali I was still photographing with film, so you can imagine how long ago that was. Anyway, after the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and Ancient Puebloan sites of Mesa Verde, we packed our bags for a short trip to Alaska’s premier park.
From previous trips to Denali, we knew that access to the interior of the park was restricted to busses only, no private vehicles beyond Mile Marker 15. There are a variety of bus tours available and our strategy was to use the Shuttle Bus that allowed passengers to get off and then get back on another Shuttle Bus, provided that there were seats available. We purchased Shuttle Bus tickets that allowed us to travel to the end of the line, some 85 miles and five hours one way, into the park, on three separate days. We left on the early morning bus each day but our strategy of getting on and off did not work out as anticipated. For one, the weather was always threatening and it rained pretty much every day, although not continuously throughout the day. Then, even though the bus left each morning with plenty of empty seats they were quickly filled by campers picked up along the way. We feared that once we got off the bus, it would be difficult to get back on another without having to wait a long time, potentially in the rain. So we pretty much rode the full busses from beginning to end each day, photographing from the bus as best we could.
Since the Shuttle Bus rides took all day, we had allowed a couple of days for exploring on our own. Those explorations proved to offer some fairly good photo opportunities. At Horseshoe Lake we encountered a beaver that had just felled a branch from a birch tree and was dragging it from the forest to a small pond where he commenced eating the fresh green leaves. We found a colony of pika near the Savage River Loop Trail head and spend lots of time watching and photographing these small little rodents as they foraged among their rocky habitat. Further along the Savage River Loop Trail we noticed arctic ground squirrels digging for roots and eating seeds from wilted flower stalks.
Even though we had gotten glimpses of Mount Denali from the bus, the high mountain peaks were obscured by clouds and overcast skies most of the time. Consequently, we decided to treat ourselves to a scenic flight thinking that the plane would be able to fly above the overcast and allow us to experience the grandeur of Denali. Our thinking turned out to be correct. Taking off under cloudy conditions, with not much prospect of clear skies at all, when we approached the mountain we were above the clouds and Mount Denali appeared in all its glory as if floating on billowing cushions.
To view images from our Denali trip go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and then find Denali National Park and Preserve.
It is not often that I get to toot my own horn, but here goes. Nature Photographer magazine, my favorite for finding great photography locations, has recently published three articles I had written about great photo locations in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. The Wyoming article featured the wild horses of McCullough Peaks near Cody, Wyoming. The Utah article highlighted the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument established in 1996. The Grand Staircase is often overlooked by photographers in favor of the more famous parks in Utah, but it has some really outstanding photo locations. Finally, Great Basin National Park was the topic of the Nevada article. It is a wonderful park to visit in the fall when the aspen trees are in blazing colors.
You can probably find the magazines at Barns & Noble, or perhaps online.