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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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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This is Our Home, Resist and Protect

This has been a pretty bleak winter on all fronts with a lot of cold, rain and anxiety. But on the days where the weather has permitted I have tried to get out to take advantage of the beauty the winter season can bring to our natural areas and to get away from the news.

icicles-triptych-w

Icicles Triptych w

I have recently been reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – and this book should be a must read for anyone who would like to visualize the world without the regulations that so many have fought for over the last 60 years and that are now being threatened. These regulations not only protect our environment and wildlife but us as well (higher-ups on the food chain but still subject to it).

winter-lamb

Winter Lamb

Call your congressmen and tell them you do not approve of repealing regulations that have protected our wildlife, environment and you and your family in exchange for corporate profits. Our future, your child’s future should not be for sale. This site (back online 3/6/17) will help you track environment subjects –Click Here

All of these landscapes or nature images in the slideshow below (except the last composite image) are from areas that are our public lands – either federal or state. We start off from a heron landing in the marsh at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (state); Willamette National Forest in Oregon (federal) including Carmen Reservoir and Fish Lake, then to the Neptune Scenic Area and Cook’s Chasm along the Oregon Coast above Florence (state). The last image is a composite of some woods and deer photographs I had and is entitled “This is Our Home” and meant to be a reminder that we share the planet with wildlife and flora, and I would hope we can learn to respect that.

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My next post will show some images from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area up near Portland, Oregon.

Also, I have put together a sampler of some of my photography over the last few years.

I do rely on sales to further my photography journey. My photography is for sale at: Belinda Greb Photography (via Fine Art America); Radiance Photos (Etsy); Belinda Greb Photography at Amazon HandmadeBelinda Greb Photography at Society6 or in the UK at Belinda Greb Photography at Photo4Me. Some of these sites offer various products in addition to frames, matting, canvas, metal or acrylic prints. I fulfill the Etsy and Amazon Handmade site prints and offer prints up to 16×24 (signed on the back). Thanks for your views and patronage.


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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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Another Wild Horse Family from the Palomino Buttes Herd in Oregon

I have to admit something – before I started really observing animals for my photography, I never really thought in depth about family in terms of what it means for other species. Growing up, we did have four generations of Irish setter dogs – the first three generations females and the last generation, two brothers, but I was young, so I didn’t think about that.

To humans, family is sacred. Nothing should come between parent or child. Siblings should be close. But when I think of what our domestication of animals does, I see we do not honor those same bonds. While even in the wild, the animal young will eventually separate from the parent (in some species much sooner than others) there are emotional bonds, and for our own purposes and conveniences, we think nothing of breaking those bonds because we are not thinking of animals as sentient beings. For that matter, many do not value their lives. Think of all the celebrities that millions idolize (especially pop icons) who wear the skins of dead animals as a fashion accessory. But let me get back to the idea of family and emotional bonds. There are bonds, easily observable, and if we observe these, then maybe we can start to think of animals in a different way, more like ourselves, and maybe we can start respect the lives and the emotional bonds of animals more. I think we would be better humans for it.

Caption (Starting from Upper Left and going clockwise) 1) Bella mother of Traveler and Pallaton. 2) Traveler, colt born in 2015. 3) Band Stallion (name unknown) and father to Traveler and Pallaton. 4) The two brothers. 5) Pallaton. 6) Fun and games between the brothers. For more wild horse photography, please visit my horse gallery: http://bit.ly/1QoDBaW.


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The Need for Public Lands

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and
a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. – John Muir

Two American White Pelicans

Two American White Pelicans at Malheur NWR (©Belinda Greb)

Lately my heart and mind have been in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a wild gem of Oregon taken over in early January by armed militia. This takeover was in response to the arrest of Hammonds, two ranchers who intentionally set two fires that spread to public lands endangering lives, (in 2001 of the young relative who was instructed to set the fire and  in 2006 of firefighters who were in the area). Bundy and his followers purported to take over the refuge for the purpose of returning the land to the people – a ridiculous proposition since the land already belongs to the people, as in “We, the People”. They didn’t want the government to manage the land and instead unilaterally decided that they would be the ones to do so. Malheur NWR is one of numerous  public lands that have been set aside by our forefathers who wisely saw the need to preserve natural habitat and wildlife for future generations. I suspect most of us consider this a blessing, but sadly there are those that consider it an overreach of the government.

Falling Light on the Marsh

Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Falling Light on the Marsh ©Belinda Greb)

Public Lands

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln ceded land around Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove Area to California for use as a state park in response to Galen Clark and Senator John Conness who argued that with the increased tourism since since the mid 1850s, unregulated commercial interests were becoming a threat to the area. This would set a precedent for establishing Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park, Meanwhile after 11 years of trying, Ferdinand Hayden, was finally able to put together a geological survey in to the Yellowstone Area. This resulted in an influential report, that included pictures by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and in 1872, Ulysses Grant signed the Act of Dedication which made Yellowstone a national park. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park)

Waiting for Wolves in Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park (Waiting for Wolves ©Belinda Greb)

There was opposition at that time to the establishment of the park. Local settlers in Montana worried that the economy would suffer from federal prohibitions and so numerous bills were put forth to reduce land-use restrictions. There were those that wanted the land for logging, mining, and hunting. Sound familiar?

The entities in charge of public lands need to balance the needs of interested parties while protecting the land. While hunting is not allowed in National Parks and many Wildlife Refuges, on other public lands, hunting is allowed. There are guidelines for the logging that takes place on public lands, and there will always be controversy about whether these guidelines are too strict or not strict enough. Ranchers were allowed to continue grazing their cattle on public lands and charged a nominal fee. Grazing fees per AUM (animal unit per month) was raised in 2015 to $1.69. Of course fees for grazing on private or state lands is much higher. In Oregon, the state fee is $5.60 in 2016. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grazing_fee) How many of you can feed your pet dog or cat for that $1.69 for even a couple of days?

William Finley Refuge

William L Finley NWR (William Finley Refuge ©Belinda Greb)

In addition, as opposed to owning the land, the ranchers are not responsible for the financial cost of purchasing the land, maintaining or paying taxes on it like other property owners would be. But apparently some of these occupiers, like Cliven Bundy, feel that they should not have to pay any fees at all, and for years he has gotten away from this, refusing to pay the fees or remove his cattle from federal lands. After a court order allowed officials to remove his livestock from federal lands in 2014, armed supporters advanced on collectors resulting in a standoff. The cattle were not removed by BLM due to their concern that employees might be harmed or shot. So now Cliven Bundy owes the people over $1 million dollars and continues to graze his cattle on public lands. If our society continues to give in to this type of behavior, we will have anarchy.

Flight of the Great Blue Heron No. 2

Seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Flight of the Great Blue Heron ©Belinda Greb)

There’s certainly a right to question how the land is being managed, but trying to bully your opinion across via intimidation and guns is not it. The government entities that regulate these lands are not above reproach, but they are trying to balance the rights of the community along with the special interests of ranchers along with the wildlife advocates and environmentalists. How can this be an easy task? And of course the administrators are also going to be have their own personal opinions and beliefs. But dissenters should take any issue with that management to our legal system or the media.

Pete French Long Barn No. 2

Malheur NWR (Pete French Long Barn No. 2 ©Belinda Greb)

Malheur NWR

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908.  The land was initially occupied by the Paiute Indians. Settlers then came in and took over much of it, relegating the natives to a reservation. How ironic is the world view that rages against the government but really isn’t talking about returning the land to the original inhabitants.

One settler amassed with his employer, Dr Hugh Glen, over 140,000 acres.  He also restricted access to water to other fellow settlers and in fact was murdered in 1883 by one settler whose access to water he denied. Not a pretty story.  Some of the land was sold to pay of company debts, and after being resold, nearly 65,000 acres was incorporated into the refuge in 1935. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P_Ranch)

Great-Egret

Great White Egret seen at Malheur NWR (Great Egret ©Belinda Greb)

In the late 1880’s bird populations were being decimated by plume hunters who used their feathers for hats or  vanity wear, as I like to say in regards to fur coats. In 1908, photographers, William L Finley and Herman Bohlman noticed both the diversity of birds and the horrible effects of plume hunting. Finley successfully personally lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt for federal protection for the area. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malheur_National_Wildlife_Refuge) The William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge, also in Oregon, was named after him in 1964.

I find myself getting so upset and angry by the Malheur occupation. First I’m angry at the nerve of other people coming from out-of-state with their guns, taking over the buildings, government vehicles, blocking roads, and causing so much damage, not least of which is the emotional damage done to the community around Burns. This is an invasion. There were threats to people and their families who worked for BLM or USFWS, and there has been a huge financial cost to the county.  I am also angered at this threat to a beautiful refuge and the wildlife that is there.

Private vs Public

If these protections were not in place, we would not have our system of: 58 national parks; 560 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts; 155 national forests and 20 grassland areas; and other state managed wildlife areas. These are open to people to enjoy, but more importantly to conserve natural resources and habitat for wildlife. How would these lands have fared had they not been under federal protection? Look around – how well have mining, privately owned logging companies, corporate farms served the land or the interests of the general population? In addition, there’s a wealth of information and recent discussion about how cattle grazing impacts environment and climate. Google it.

Cows

Cattle on Public Lands in Harney County (©Belinda Greb)

“Why should we protect this lands? How will it benefits humans, or really me?” some may ask.

  • Deforestation results in global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases and return moisture to the air. Once they are cut, the land will dries out quickly.  Clear cutting results in loss of habitat for many species – 70% of animals and plants live in forests. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/0).
  • Loss of habitat results in loss of species. Just think what would happen if there were no birds and how that would affect the insect population. How would that affect crops or the spread of insect transmittable diseases…and so on? What about the disappearance of a predator that helped keep the rat population in control? It’s all about balance. The loss of one species can result in the overpopulation of another. There is a fine balance between prey and predator. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel that clearly explains this issue.
  • If there were no regulations, there would be no limitations on the type of chemicals that are used or other safety regulations that exist for a reason. Even with regulations, there are not enough controls and we’ve seen the impact of the chemicals on bees which are so important pollination and agriculture.
Surveil

Red Shouldered Hawk seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Surveil ©Belinda Greb)

If resources are not managed, there is no sustainability. This affects us directly in regards to food and shelter. Would you really trust Ammon Bundy who represents his own interests or the interest of like-minded individuals over a government department that while cumbersome is still subject to the interests of many, including: legislators, citizens, and businesses?

Those are the self-interested reasons for preservation and conservation.

Acorn Woodpecker

William L. Finley NWR (Acorn Woodpecker ©Belinda Greb)

Being a photographer, and spending a lot of time observing animals, I am on the side of the wildlife. We do not occupy this land alone. We share it with animals and flora. We have already created an environmental imbalance that threatens not only our future, but the future of all living beings. We have used our lands and water as a huge trash can that we think we can keep pouring our waste into without consequences. Those consequences are catching up, and it is the poor and the animals who will suffer first.

These public lands are also important in that for many that is the only place that many will see life in a near natural state. The beauty and understanding that come from being in nature to those that are open to it can give one a profound respect for life, its vulnerability and its resilience. Nature can make us better human beings by connecting us to the the larger natural world that contains a multitude of life outside the “me.” It can teaches us that life is not ego-centric but all-encompassing.

Love your public lands and protect them.

Resilience-w11x14

Wild Horse seen in Harney County (Resilience ©Belinda Greb)

Photographs taken at: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Harney County, William Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone National Park,  and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (run by Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife). belindagrebphotography.com

 

 

 

 

 


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Glacier National Park

A trip to Glacier National Park was on my wish list for 2015, but I had given up on the idea, as my calendar filled up and budget was depleted by some other great trips: Utah to see friends and travel to Arches and Canyonlands in Utah, and then Grand Tetons, and later to New York, Washington DC and Chincoteague Island in Virgina where I also got to see family and friends.

Yet in late summer, two other trips presented themselves, and despite worries about my expenses, something was  pushing me to say Yes, and so I did.  First in planning an October trip to Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon this October to meet up and travel with my dear longtime college friend and her family, and then an unexpected and last-minute trip to Glacier National Park with a photographer friend I had never met in person, Jemmy Archer, but whose work I love.  Her photography can be seen here: http://jemmyarcher.com/.

I am so thankful I followed my gut! I am also incredibly grateful that Jemmy asked me along as it was a wonderful experience to see Glacier National Park and to hike and photograph with another photographer.

Smoke on the Water

Smoke on the Water – Lake McDonald, late afternoon, day of arrival

Smoky from Fires

On arrival the air was thick with smoke and I was wondering if I had made a mistake. The woman at the car rental place said it was smoke from Oregon, Idaho and Washington, and I thought that was weird to blame it those states as there were three fires right in or near the park.  However it had been raining (finally) when I left Oregon, and there was no rain in Montana at that point, and the next morning, the skies were much clearer, so the smoke had blown in from neighboring states.

Highline Trail

Glacier National Park is famed for its beauty. When I had gone to Yellowstone with friends a few years before, a park ranger had said that Glacier and Yellowstone were his two favorite national parks. I do think Glacier is visually the most beautiful.  There are these high steep cliffs and passes that the Going-To-The-Sun-Road runs through and everywhere you look the vistas are otherworldly beautiful. I don’t have the same feeling of expansiveness or freedom as I do in Yellowstone or Grand Tetons, and I think for me, that has to do with all the surfaces seeming to be uphill, downhill or valleys.

The first full day, we hiked Highline. I like to walk more than hike, but there are over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park, and reading about them made me want to do even the trails that were listed as difficult.  Jemmy is a much better hiker than I, and I worried about slowing her down, but as we are both photographers who pause to stop and take pictures, it wasn’t too much of a problem.

I’m not too afraid of heights, or narrow paths, so I did okay on Highline, where there is a hand cable to hold on to on a fairly narrow ledge, but going uphill is no friend of mine! And the whole week was chock full of uphill trails.  Luckily, on every trail, I can say the effort was worth it.

Rain was in the forecast, so even though we were hoping to make it to Haystack, we did stop and turn back just before that point as the skies were threatening.  Sure enough, they did open up just before we got back to the car but not enough to soak us.

Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail

We headed over to the Many Glacier area the next day, leaving while it was still dark in order to get an early start.  It takes about 3 hours to drive over there from where we were staying in Columbia Falls, and driving the Going-to-the-Sun-Road was no easy task. I didn’t have to drive as I had only gotten an hour’s sleep the night before – tell me I have to get up early and watch me not be able to fall asleep.

The sunrise on the way over was beautiful, but the winds were crazy.  I nearly got swept away when I stepped out to fill the car with gas.  The woman at the Many Glacier Hotel information kiosk was not very friendly and very gloom and doom about that day’s and the week’s forecast.  If we had listened to her, we would have driven back to the timeshare and crawled back to our respective beds for the duration of the stay – Single digit forecasts, storm, etc.

Luckily the guy at gift shop was much more helpful. He suggested that Swiftcurrent (No. 1 on my list of hikes I wanted to do) would be a good hike as the first part of the trail is sheltered by trees. The winds died down very quickly, the drizzle stopped and it turned out to be a beautiful day full of beauty and wildlife.

Fischercap Lake has frequent sightings for moose, but we didn’t find any that morning, but a a mile or so past the lake, we nearly walked by a mother and her calf who were grain in the foliage.

Redrock Falls was also a highlight as was watching for mountain goats high on the mountain sides.  Then we heard that there were many Big Horn Sheep up at the head of Bullhead Lake, and that proved to be the case. The first herd was nearly camouflaged against the rock face of Swiftcurrent Mountain, but the second herd was very close as they were coming right down the trail.

The only misgiving about this hike was there was not enough time to make it up high on the pass.  I wanted to catch some of the view of Swiftcurrent Valley, so despite needing to head back, we did go up 2 or 3 of the switchbacks.  On the way back we were happy to see the mother moose and her calf again.

We did have a long drive ahead of us, but another moment of excitement came when we stopped as cars were stopped and a grizzly passed right in front of the car! It an amazing day that started at 4am and we didn’t get back to the timeshare until after 9pm, so very tiring as well.

Hidden Lake Trail

The next day was equally superb. We though Hidden Lake Trail would be a much easier and shorter hike, as it was less than 6 miles RT. The trail starts behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, and perhaps it was due to the previous long day, or the third day of hiking, but we seemed awfully slow getting up to the Overlook.  I noticed that with the wind and the altitude, I was having a harder time catching my breath on the way up. The views at the Overlook are amazing.  The whole area is surrounded by mountains, but at the overlook you see Hidden Lake and Bearhat Mountain.

Despite the beauty of the surroundings, the pristine waters of the lake, the highlight of the trip was encountering first one goat with a tracking collar, whom we hung out with for nearly an hour and a half along with some other hikers. Then as that goat decided to head uphill and  we followed, we were soon met by 7 other goats, including two very young ones, and one that was quite old. The marmots were much less shy and there were three or four sunning themselves on rocks as they looked out towards the lake.

Two of the hikers were a couple from France who had been over here two years ago and been so amazed they came back to spend a month and a half, living out of their car, in order to see our national parks.  I felt so proud as an American that others in years past had the foresight to work to have these lands set aside and protected so that they could be appreciated worldwide. While sitting and watching that first goat, there was a shared period of awe felt by the six hikers that were there that was palpable. I felt and still feel so grateful for that day and being able to observe the goats in such close quarters surrounded by so much beauty.

McDonald Lake and Avalanche Lake – A Light Day

Rain was forecast for later in this day so we planned a fairly light day to give ourselves a chance to recover between hikes and before we headed back to the Many Glacier are the next day.

We did rise early to catch the sunrise at Lake McDonald, and where we saw a couple of beavers (I first thought they were nutria or coypu until one slapped its tail) getting in their last bites before heading off to bed.

We then headed over to hike Avalanche Lake trail. I had read that Avalanche Lake is regarded to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the park, and it did not disappoint.  One passes through a beautiful fir forest, which felt just like home to me (Oregon), except that Avalanche Creek as deep carved channels and an array of red, blue and gray rocks.

Once we got to the lake, I found it very cool to think that on the other side of Bearhat Mountain, was Hidden Lake, where we had been the day before.

Before we headed back, we were also entranced by mountain goats, a mother and kid, high on the mountainside above us, scampering up and down the rocks.

Grinnell Glacier

Reflection of Mountains - Glacier NP

Reflection of Mountains – The view from Many Glacier Hotel

The next morning we headed back to Grinnell Glacier.  It was lightly raining, and we stopped at the Many Glacier Hotel to see if more information could be found about the forecast.

This time the rain seemed to get worse rather than better, and  I was apprehensive about going on the Grinnell Glacier Hike when the day was so soggy.  Thanks to Jemmy for talking me into it and loaning me a rain poncho.

While I loved the views, this was my hardest hike.  Our plan was to try and catch a boat on the way back as the articles had said the first part of the trail was fairly easy.  It might have been my tiredness, but it didn’t feel that flat or easy to me, unlike Swiftcurrent’s first four miles.  And once we hit the switchbacks, they seemed endless. I felt like Sisyphus, who for eternity was damned by Zeus to roll a huge stone up a mountain only to watch it roll back down once he reached the top. My camera bag substituted for the stone and my pauses to catch my breath were not even as long as the time it must have taken the Greek King to walk back down the mountain. At one point I felt like crying – when hikers returning from the glacier told us we still had another hour. I resented the young and old who seemed so easily to sprint by me. It’s true, I will admit it, I was feeling in a bit of a sulk, but trying not to whine too much. So again, thanks to Jemmy for urging me on. In hindsight, the pain of the effort is forgotten while the beautiful views and feeling of grace to be able to experience that sight is not.

Grinnell and Salamander glaciers are truly awesome. Sadly Grinnell Glacier is shrinking at an alarming rate.  At a worse case scenario of carbon emissions, the park will have no glaciers by 2030.

We did miss the boat though, literally, on the way back, but going downhill, for me is easier, although it still seemed d%(& long!

I can tell you that last week, I went to see Everest, and that yearning to climb a peak is a yearning that I lack.  I can understand it a bit in the abstract, but being cold, carrying heavy stuff and going uphill – no way.

Many Glacier and Two Medicine

We had made arrangements to spend the night at Many Glacier Hotel, which was an expense well worth it to save us the drive back again. The Hotel was opened in 1915 and has a charming sense of the past about it. The location is just ethereal, and I also enjoyed the food at the restaurant.

The next day was also rainy, so we just concentrated on seeing more wildlife.  We returned to Swiftcurrent and did catch the moose this time at Fischercap Lake.  There also were some guys who set up scopes and were letting people look at a grizzly on the side of the mountain.  Through the scope, I could see the bear very clearly, while with my bare  eyes, the grizzly was just a speck.  After breakfast at Swiftcurrent Lodge, where we had another great meal earlier in the week, we headed back along the road.  We had seen a black bear a couple of times high up on the mountain before, and this time, there was not only a cinnamon black bear, but apparently the grizzly that we had seen in the scope was making his way eastward at an astonishing fast clip (although he was just walking).

After a while, he disappeared, but we expected him to make his way to the other side of the mountain, so like others, we drove to the other side and waited.  Sure enough, after a half an hour, he appeared on top of the ridge in and a matter of 15 minutes, had made his way from top to bottom. I was amazed at his nimbleness on the steep rock face of the cliff.

Getting a photograph of a grizzly had been on my bucket list, and while I still would love to get closer photographs, this was a thrill to see one in action. The ranger was concerned that animals are losing a natural fear of humans. The bear did seem very blasé about the roughly eight photographers nearest it, pausing to look at us while still on the lower part of the mountain then veering to the right away from us before it crossed the road to make its way to the creek.

We took a south route back so we could see the Two Medicine area and did take a short hike in that area as well. Using the app on my phone, we did an average of about 10 miles a day (my phone said 9.44 but I had forgotten to take it one hike, so the average was above 10 miles), and it was great to be able to hike in this natural setting.

We were always alert on these trails for a possible encounter with bears, and we were relieved not to have had that experience (especially after seeing how fast they can move). We had been lent a can of bear spray from the car rental place and we would shout out, “Hey Bear” when we rounded bends or when visibility was poor.  The fact that there were fewer berries than usual was probably the reason we did not encounter any bears on the trails, especially on Grinnell Glacier or Swiftcurrent trails, as around this time they are trying to eat as much as they can before hibernation.  We did meet a couple of hikers who had seen a couple of grizzlies on their hike to Cracker Lake, also in Many Glacier.

I just read something that was very upsetting as I was trying to remember the word hyperphagia to write about how much bears eat at this time (during September they eat 4x normal summer amounts). This year in Yosemite, 33 bears were hit by cars.  In one year. I guess this is one advantage of Glacier Going-to-the-Sun-Road, that drivers cannot drive too fast.  I saw many people speeding in Yellowstone and it makes me sick that people would want to go to an area to see wildlife and then not respect it. SLOW DOWN MORONS!  It’s bad enough seeing roadkill near where I live. It breaks my heart knowing that most of those wild lives could have been saved if people were even just going the speed limit. In a national park it’s that much more painful to think about.

Okay. Breathe Belinda. But to me, being in our national parks is akin to being in a spiritual setting. And it makes my heart hurt that in these places, set aside so that we can preserve wildlife, there are such careless people who enter it with such an absence of conscience.

This has been one long post. But Glacier National Park is a treasure to experience.  I still have more photographs to process and I already want to go back, even to hike some more, not for the sake of hiking uphill (believe you me) but to have the experience and privilege of being able to see and photograph the amazing life and beauty that is here.

Thanks to Jemmy for inviting me, her kindness and the great experience of getting to know a wonderful person and photographer in person.  Please visit see her photography website: http://jemmyarcher.com/ and for more of my Glacier NP photographs, visit here: Belinda Greb National Parks Gallery.  Peace.