Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


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Alaskan Wonderland

Male Brown Bear at Lake Clark NP

Male Brown Bear at Lake Clark NP

Seeing and being able to photograph bears and cubs in their wild habitat was on my bucket list. I wanted a place where bears were plentiful and I could observe them and their interactions to each other. I’ve seen grizzlies and black bear in both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, but only at a distance and in a very fleeting way. So I researched several different places in Alaska and found many places were simply not feasible for my budget. I finally settled on Alaska Homestead Lodge in Lake Clark National Park. I was a bit disappointed that due to my late scheduling (I had procrastinated about whether I could afford it or not and finally went for it in early March) there was not room for me to stay overnight, but I arranged for a day trip, which means you are flown over from Soldotna, Alaska in the morning and are picked up about 5pm that day.  I also wanted to see Denali, but found I had waited too long as all reasonable places to stay had sold out, so I decided to explore Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula instead.

Portage Lake, No. 3

Portage Lake, No. 3

Alaska is quite expensive, but seeing as their tourist time is probably limited to two months or so of good weather, I guess this is to be expected. I was only there four days, but each day was so full of beauty and wildlife, I consider the outlay for my trip to be money well spent.

My first full day, I went for a 5 mile walk/hike in Kincaid Park. The park is right in Anchorage but has wildlife, including moose and bear. I was so excited to see a bull moose within the first 30 minutes of my walk, and then later I came across a moose and her calf. Later I also visited Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Area and then drove down Turnagain Arm to Portage Lake. This was in early July, so it never gets dark. Luckily the hotel had blackout drapes and after a long day, I fell asleep easily.

The second day I headed out on the Seward Highway. The drive is known for its beauty. I had a taste of it the day before, but as I got further on the Kenai Peninsula, I found myself breaking into songs from the Sound of Music. The scenic beauty literally made me want to sing. I was filled with a renewed sense of awe at how beautiful our world is. I was surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks and lush green valleys. One especially beautiful place was Tern Lake, right at the junction of the Seward and Sterling Highways. The lake had a lot of wild birds, including a swan family with a cygnet.

Though I was trying to watch my budget, a few days before I left, I arranged for a half day boat tour of Resurrection Bay in Seward. Next time, I will take a full day trip in order to see more of the fjords. The tour was through Major Marine Tours and was informative and wonderful. I didn’t really listen to the information as I was out on the boat’s deck taking pictures and trying to keep warm! Sadly, clouds had started to blow in, so the light and contrast were not as good for the scenery or photography, but I saw lots of wildlife, including mountain goats, sea lions, two different types of puffin and humpback whales. After the tour ended, I headed over to Soldotna, where I was scheduled to fly out the next day for my bear viewing adventure.

The forecast for this day had changed to rain, but thankfully it turned out to be a day where the gods took take pity and granted a reprieve! The flight over to Silver Salmon Creek at Lake Clark National Park, was short (about an half hour) and filled with amazing scenery of the Cook Inlet and Redoubt Volcano among the other beautiful snow capped peaks. There is a beach where the plane lands, and brown bears could be seen in the distance clamming. These brown bears are genetically the same as the grizzlies in Yellowstone and other places, but because the food sources are plentiful, they tend to be less aggressive and the dynamics between the bears are different. I was excited and just wanted to get going, but we had to get in the ATV trailer to go to the lodge to get on our Wellington boots first. There is a line of fir trees off the beach and beyond that a very large meadow with a dirt trail around it for the ATVs. Across the meadow are a few structures, a few belonging to Alaska Homestead Lodge and next to it the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. There is also a ranger in residence during the summer. The creek is off to the south, and that area becomes the focal point later in the summer as the salmon begin to run and the bears congregate there. In the meantime, the bears graze in meadow sedge grass and go clamming. Behind the lodge and meadow lie wilderness and forest and mountains and the terrain becomes difficult to navigate through. Very close to the lodge, there were two cubs playing with each other while their mother grazed. By the time we got our boots and got back to the beach, the bears had started to come in from the beach, but we followed a mother and her cubs and watched as the triplets nursed. The day was filled with lots of bears and cubs. The cubs stay with the mothers up until they are three years, so most of the cubs were yearlings or two year olds, and I was beginning to despair that I would not see any of that season’s cubs, when we viewed a mother and two dark brown cubs way across the meadow. We finally made it there to watch the two young cubs. (It can take quite a while to make it around the meadow loop. Looking at my picture times, it took about 45 minutes from the north end of the meadow to go clockwise around the loop out to the beach and then to the area where the young cubs were.) They were adorable as they climbed over mom, but they were ready for a nap shortly after we arrived. The day went quickly but was rich with experiences. We also had a tasty salmon lunch (caught fresh the day before). The guide was knowledgable about the brown bears and I always felt secure and never frightened. We retained a respectable distance from the bears, and the distance was even greater for the very young cubs. I really didn’t want to go back on the plane, I loved being with the bears so much and this is a trip I want to repeat and not cross off my bucket list.

Dall Sheep Above Seward Highway, No. 1

Dall Sheep Above Seward Highway, No. 1

The rains did let loose on my final day, but even then I had a morning of just clouds and light rain when I went looking for the caribou herd that was supposed to be in the area around Sterling. Unfortunately I did not find them, although I did come across three moose. In the afternoon, it started to pour so I started back to Anchorage, stopping at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on the way. I felt sad to see some of the animals in captivity, but many of these are rescues – black bears cubs that were orphaned, or bears, moose, foxes, or owls that were injured or had to be picked up. If they are able to release them they will, but some will never be released as they cannot fend for themselves or have become too used to urban areas. The center was responsible for reintroducing a herd of wood bison back into the wild, so it does good work. There were also caribou, a new animal for the center, but they were in a back area going through an observation period. They are trying to get the caribou population back up in Alaska. The central Arctic herd that was 70,000 in 2010, fell to 50,000 in 2013 and is now estimated at only 22,000. The rain continued to pelt down as I continued my drive towards Anchorage. Suddenly through the heavy rain, I was surprised to see a Dall sheep ewe and its calf lower on the mountainside above Turnagain Arm. I quickly drove into a turnout on the other side of the highway where a man was watching the low tide and hadn’t noticed the pair. I had seen Dall sheep a couple of days before, but they had been specks high up above me. Not even the bad weather could diminish the joy I felt at seeing just another instance of natural, wild, and untamed beauty before I headed towards the airport to return home.

Big Girl

Big Girl

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Silver Falls State Park – Waterfalls

Late Spring and early June, I returned to Silver Falls State Park to take the Trail of Ten Falls Hike. Last year, I had my dog with me, and this particular trail does not allow dogs, so I was excited to finally be able to see the beautiful waterfalls on this 8-9 mile trail.

This hike does not disappoint.  It is relatively easy and there are plenty of beautiful waterfalls throughout the hike. I did took one wrong fork so I ended up on Maple Ridge Tail missed the Lower South Falls. I ended up with two uphill sections, in order to see South Falls, but it was well worth it! Also, there were lovely wildflowers about, the weather was perfect, and there was plenty of water in the falls!

These pictures and much more can be find at my main website – BelindaGrebPhotography.com. See the sidebar for other sites. Next month I will be featuring my trip to Alaska where I was blown away by the beautiful scenery and excited by my encounters with moose, brown bears, Humpback whales and much more! I hope you are enjoying your summer.

Behind South Falls

Behind South Falls

South Falls During Spring

South Falls During Spring

At the Foot of South Falls, No. 2

At the Foot of South Falls, No. 2

At the Foot of South Falls

At the Foot of South Falls

Splendor at South Falls

Splendor at South Falls

Lower North Falls

Lower North Falls

Double Falls

Double Falls

Middle North Falls

Middle North Falls

Looking Out From Under North Falls

Looking Out From Under North Falls


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Back to Burns, Malheur and the Wild Horses

If I had the time and money, I’d make the trip to Burns at least once a month.  My heart is so attached to the wild horses that I see out there, in addition to the wide variety of birds to be sighted around Burns and at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s not a huge trip for me, four hours, but long enough to require at least one night’s stay, and better with two, since once you get out there, the driving doesn’t stop.  South Steens Mountain is about 50 miles south of Burns which will take you through Malheur NWR and the small historical town of Frenchglen.  To really see all the area has to offer is to take forays down gravel roads and I have even ventured at times onto deeply rutted dirt roads where I prayed that my car had the clearance to pass over boulders and ridges.  This last May trip, I also did a bit of walking by foot to reach the wild horses as the dirt road became impassable by my passenger car.  One note: I do try and stay at a respectable distance.  The horses will be aware of me from quite a distance, but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable with my presence.

This Spring the area looked generally much more lush than last year.  I stopped first to see the Palomino Buttes horses which are west of Burns.  I was looking forward especially to see a favorite, more approachable band, that as of Fall last year, consisted of the Palomino Stallion (some locals call him a Dunalino), his primary mare, Bella, two of her sons, Pallaton and Traveler, from prior years, and a filly from last year.  Also there was a bay mare and her colt, and another bay mare that had joined them sometime during the Summer or Fall.  (Some of the horses are named by the locals.)  I didn’t see any horses initially.  Then I spotted white spots on a very distant hill (both Pallaton and Traveler were white/light colored palominos).  When I walked out, I saw it was my favorite band with some significant changes.  Pallaton was not with the band.  This isn’t such a big surprise, since as a three year old, he would start to have conflicts with his father.  I was surprised this hadn’t started happening last year, since Pallaton had already started chasing fillies in other bands.  Instead, he and his father seemed to work as a team, protecting their band from another stallion on the couple of occasions I observed.  I also observed that when the band was on the move, Pallaton would the lead while the stallion brought up the rear; this year Traveler took the front spot.  Though Pallaton’s absence was expected, it was still a blow, as the bonds between the family, especially he and his mother, and he and Traveler, were affectionate and playful.  Even the bond with his father had been a special one.  I still don’t know whether the bay mare and her colt were with the band. I think so, but the horses coats change so much from season to season and this time I wasn’t in close enough to compare other markings from my earlier picture.  There were also two new foals and at least one other horse I don’t recognize at all.

Though I hadn’t made it over to Burns until May, I did see some Sandhill Cranes still in the area, one pair with two colts (what the “chicks” are called because of their long legs), along with various other birds.  I didn’t even see the colts until I reviewed the images on my computer.  The birds weren’t as plentiful as they would have been a few weeks earlier but they were much more plentiful than they had been last May.

While in the vicinity of Malheur I was excited to capture a couple mammals I had not photographed before in the area, including, not one, but two hares.  Last year the ones I saw had proven too quick for my reflexes.  I also saw the first marmot I had seen in Oregon as well – a yellow-bellied marmot.  These critters spend most of their time in their burrows (80%) hibernating or otherwise, so I was lucky to capture this one.  I had seen a flash of one about an hour earlier than this, so apparently the beautiful Spring day was too enticing to pass up.

I also saw the usual suspects, mule deer and pronghorn antelope.  Mule deer are distinguished from white-tailed deer as their tales are black, their ears are larger, and antlers fork rather than branch on the males.

Just past Malheur NWR, is the small historic town, Frenchglen, population 12, and continuing on Hwy. 205 you will find the south entrance to Steen Loop, a gravel road that loops around the mountain.  The road will usually be blocked at some point during Spring due to snow as the mountain rises over 9000 feet, although it does it in a fairly non-dramatic way.  If you’re lucky you will be able to view some of the wild horses in South Steens herd.  I’ve been lucky to see multiple bands together on two occasions and on other occasions, a small band by itself.  This time, I was not exceptionally close to them but it was wonderful to observe them – some playing, the more mature grazing or resting along with the foals.

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Is it hard to see why I’m in love with this place?  If you travel out there, don’t expect luxury. You will get the most basic of accommodations and a very limited assortment of restaurants.  In fact, you will need to be sure that you fill up on gas before you leave Burns to go exploring.  During summer, the temperatures can get quite high, so it would be advisable to carry water for both you and your car.

I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed this post.  To see more of my work, please visit Belinda Greb Photography for all of my published work.  My next post will be on some of the beautiful Oregon waterfalls I’ve visited in mainly Silver Falls State Park.

 


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Yosemite in Spring

Early in April, I met my longtime friends for a vacation in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. It’s a lovely time of year to visit as tourist numbers are lower than summer, but the downside is that some of the trails and roads, including Tioga Pass and the road to Glacier Point were closed (seasonal weather closures).

I hadn’t been to the area since I was a child. We entered the park, and the famous tunnel view is a grand sight to behold.  Yosemite Valley area is splendid. I felt like I was in a long narrow amphitheater surrounded by these awe-inspiring views and granite cliffs. We had reserved rooms at Yosemite Valley Lodge, and I really enjoyed staying in the national park without having to spend the time driving in each day. It didn’t hurt that the Yosemite Falls was right behind our room. All the waterfalls were at high water levels due to the plentiful rainfall California had received that winter. At night I fell asleep to the sounds of rushing water.

Also, I enjoyed getting up in the early morning to take a walk around Cook’s Valley before cars lined the roads. The day was crisp and there were few people about and lots of water in the fields, so I was able to get some lovely reflective shots of the falls.

The weather was beautiful the first full day we were there, and we enjoyed the trail to Mirror Lake after we had let our fellow shuttle bus passengers move on past us. And that is the downside of Yosemite Valley: like Yellowstone there are tons of tourists, but unlike Yellowstone, at least at this time of year, they are concentrated into the much smaller area of the Yosemite Valley. This may not bother others as much, but now having acclimated to the less traveled terrain of my Oregon locale, it is a difficult adjustment having my nature intruded upon by so many other humans. I know I have to share. : ) It is a lovely trail that accompanies Tenaya Creek up to Mirror Lake, which is pretty small, although it used to be larger before a dam was built.

The next day I took a longer hike around the Yosemite Valley Floor Loop. While we did less than half the full 20 miles, it is an flat easy walk that gives some stunning views of El Capitan, Sentinel Falls, Cathedral Rocks and Merced River.

 

After visiting Yosemite National Park, my friends and I drove south to spend a couple of days at Sequoia National Park and one day it was even snowing. In the future, I would wait until later in the year to visit this park as some of the trails were snow-bound. But it was beautiful to see the majestic giant sequoias, including General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world, and also General Grant. These trees are among the oldest living organisms alive on Earth, with General Sherman estimated to be between 2300-2700 years old.

All in all it was a vacation filled with wonder and awe at the beautiful world we live in, and I loved being able to share the experience with my friends. And I also hope to explore more of these two national parks in the future!

To see more, please my Yosemite Gallery or Sequoia National Park Gallery .

 

 

 

 

 


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Remember Who You Are

This piece was inspired by my recent fretting about our public lands and the wildlife that inhabit them at threat from “short-sighted” men who would seek to sacrifice land and species for immediate gain. First, I feel a defiant and courageous spirit is needed by those willing to fight on behalf of our environment and to protect the other sacred life forms we share Earth with, and secondly, there is my belief that there must be some eternal aspect of what is wild and free and God-formed that will not be bound by the small petty materialistic greed of those who would seek to dominate nature. I call upon that spirit to help us preserve what can be owned by none and should be shared by all, including the future generations that follow.

Do you believe you are a spirit who has a purpose more meaningful than amassing material goods and living in gold plated houses? Or are you here to think only about yourself? Do you respect life in all its forms? If so, join the resistance.


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Looking for Inspiration

 

Inspiration. I haven’t found it in the election cycle, the divisiveness of Americans, the Malheur occupation or subsequent acquittal of seven of the occupiers, the online reality world of likes and emojis, the difficulty in finding a common ground to discuss climate change or race relations. So I look for inspiration in the place I always do – nature.

touched-by-light

I’ve felt more tethered to home this year and a major part of this was my own doing: worry about a family member, worry about my old car, worry about expenses resulting in a general lassitude.

I’ve explored less and as a result I have felt somewhat like I’ve been treading water throughout the year, barely keeping my spirits afloat. The mini-trips to see wild horses in Eastern Oregon and Mount Rainier have been islands of bliss in an otherwise fairly dull  year.

family-of-horses

When I see the affection and bonds displayed in the wild horse families and bands, I wonder how so many can fail to acknowledge, value or respect that. But to constantly think about things like this is debilitating because I lose hope that human consciousness will ever evolve to a point where a majority of the people can think beyond themselves and do what is best for the world or can have the same compassion for others (including animals) that they have for themselves.

When I’m out in nature, I don’t think about these things. I just think how beautiful things are. I want my photographs to convey that beauty – to make people remember that there are things worth preserving for future generations, that there is a natural world that we can be inspired by and emulate. I can still find inspiration in works of art and literature, but it’s a lot easier to find it in nature. Here’s hoping mankind can remember we’re part of nature and not the overlords of it before we destroy it.

For more of my photography please visit: http://belindagrebphotography.com/


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Mount Rainier

I had a wonderful short camping trip to Mount Rainier at the end of July. The wildflowers were in bloom and the weather was amazing. The first day we arrived in the afternoon and started a hike about 3:30pm. We meant to do the 5 mile Lakes Trail hike, but we missed the turnoff for the loop and continued instead on Mazama Ridge and then Skyline Trails. In the end, it was a wonderful mistake as even though it added an additional two or so miles to the hike, the scenery was amazing. The second day’s hike turned out to be almost 11 miles and although we were rewarded by the alpine meadows of Summerland, we all agreed the first day’s hike was our favorite as the hike was long, uphill, and grueling considering that I was carrying camera equipment. The first hike was more interspersed with beautiful views.

For more Mount Rainier images, please visit my national parks gallery . Selected images are also available on RadiancePhotos at Etsy and Belinda Greb Photography at Amazon Handmade .