w w w . j a y j j o h n s o n . c o m
JOHNSON / ORIGINAL PAINTINGS OF WILDLIFE
: ADVENTURES IN NATURE
ADVENTURES IN NATURE
1960's, '70's, 80's, 90's to 2014
Brief accounts of my travels can be found by scrolling down:
1960's Childhood experiences
1976 Age 17 climbing all the 4,000 footers in White Mountain National Forest
1978 Hiking the John Muir Trail
1980's & 90's Kayaking New England
1981-82 10,000 mile / 16 month trek around America
1984-88 Touring America by motor vehicle
1989 St. Lawrence River
1990 Hiking the Wind River Range
1990 Touring Yellowstone
1991 Colorado & Utah
1992 Coastal Texas
1993 Zion & North Rim Grand Canyon
1993 Kayaking the Everglades
1993 Coastal Pacific Northwest
1993 Kayaking British Columbia
1994 Big Sur, San Joaquin Valley & Yosemite
1994 Corkscrew Swamp, Florida
1994 Colorado's Prairie Grasslands
1997 Northern Rockies
1998 Colorado Rockies
2000 Kayaking Baja / Sea of Cortez
2002 New Zealand
2002 San Rafael Wilderness, California
2003 Kayaking Bahamas
2004 Hiking Montana's Continental Divide
2005 Birding Arizona's "sky islands"
2006 Birding Florida
2008 Kayaking Florida
2008 Puerto Rico
2009 Winter in Greater Yellowstone
2010 Colorado's high passes
2011 Rocky Mtn. National Park
2013 Costa Rica
2013 Wilderness of southern California
2014 Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
MY EARLIEST RECOLLECTIONS
My earliest recollections of exploring the outdoors begin with childhood memories in the green
woods of Maine. My parents had a summer cottage there on a pond where my father and I would
wander the uninhabited shores and deep forests. No trails, just meandering through tall fern and
birch to see wherever we would end up.
I remember how we often launched a small rowboat into the misty pre-dawn waters of swamps
and rivers no one ever visited except us. And I remember the reason my father gave me, “just so
we can listen for beavers.” Nature was a dream.
Just sitting close to the mossy edge of a clear brook, riffling over golden ledge-rock, was as
addictive as TV. My mother often took me on bird-finding trips to National Wildlife Refuges where
I added to my “life-list” of bird species, and of course I always drew and painted whatever I saw.
1976 June, July, August
WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE
600 miles, 76 days, backpacking
By the time I was seventeen, just out of High School, I set off on a long solo hike (76 days in the
summer of 1976), climbing every peak over 4,000 feet in the White Mountains National Forest of
New Hampshire (48 peaks total). All my food and equipment was toted along on my back. At
night the stars and forests spread around me in a great silence. I learned for the first time what
it was like to live outdoors, what the rugged earth does to tender feet, and what animals see.
I walked 600 miles.
1978 July & August
JOHN MUIR TRAIL, CALIFORNIA
250 miles, 36 days, backpacking
Two summers went by before I prepared myself for another journey, this time further afield.
At Cornell University I had studied the cartographic archives and set my sights on the Sierra
Nevada mountain-range of California; the “Range of Light” as Muir called it. At nineteen I was
flying across the country for the first time to begin walking 250 miles from Yosemite Valley to
Mount Whitney along a mountain footpath named after John Muir, the famous naturalist. More
than a month of high crests above timberline, awesome glacier-carved valleys, snowy passes,
and river fords. I had never seen anyplace so beautiful as the High Sierra; each day was crystal
clear blue, and each afternoon ever so briefly spiced with one of the Sierra’s famous fast-moving
lightening showers. I never needed a tent at night. I simply stretched out under the stars.
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1981 - 1982
16 MONTHS AROUND AMERICA
10,000 miles, 476 days, backpacking, rowing, bicycling
In 1980, having just graduated from Cornell University, I spent a year planning one of the longest treks on record: 16 months of
wilderness travel, covering 10,000 miles of America’s natural environments. My two previous treks in '76 & '78 had given me a glimpse
of what life was like outside the box. Like most Americans, most of my life so far had been spent surrounded by buildings, traveling
by motor vehicle, watching TV, going to school. I had been in touch with Nature only in passing. This journey would be my opportunity
to set man-made things aside and experience the world in a way few people today ever have an opportunity to do. I would spend
16 months living completely on my own in what was left of the American wilderness.
1981 Appalachian Trail Beginning in Maine atop Mount Katahdin in Maine, I walked
2,100 miles south along the Appalachian Trail, a footpath stretching along the rocky spine of this
ancient mountain chain to Georgia. It took an entire summer to walk it with just the barest
essentials of food and survival gear strapped to my back.
1981 - 82 Rowing the Gulf of Mexico By autumn I reached Alabama where I
started rowing a Gloucester-gull dory down-river to the Gulf of Mexico. Winter was a series of
gusty shorelines - sandbars and marshes, across the vast labyrinth of bayous and swamps of the
Mississippi Delta, along Padre Island National Seashore to the southernmost tip of coastal Texas.
Each evening I came ashore and slept beneath the stars on what dry land I could find. With the
wind behind me, allowing me to ride the waves, I might make 30 - 40 miles in a day. Other times
storms bore down so hard I was confined to shore for several days at a stretch.
1982 Bicycling the Southwest From South Padre I set off on a heavily loaded bicycle
to explore the desert-lands of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and California,
crossing several thousand miles of deserted roadways, linking tiny towns, sometimes as far as a
hundred miles apart. No tent needed in this arid land. At night I simply rested in my sleeping
bag on the parched earth. Shooting stars seemed a common sight with unimpeded views all
around and crystal clear night skies above.
1982 Pacific Crest Trail The desert had come into full spring bloom when I neared the
Mexican border in California. The last leg of my journey began here, walking and climbing the
"Pacific Crest" Trail, atop the mountain ranges of California's Sierra Nevada and Oregon &
Washington's Cascades. A compass and maps were essential since the trail was often buried
beneath snow high in the mountains till late June. 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada; the
mountains both steeper and higher than the Appalachians; the vistas more awe-inspiring.
Another summer full of walking. Throughout the entire length of California I carried no rain
shelter, opting instead to finding natural protection on those rare nights that it rained.
In the end, after 16 months around America, I was in no rush to return to civilization. How
to describe the effect of travelling self-propelled through the wilderness for so many months?
The accumulated impressions are quite unlike anything experienced in daily life among towns and
cities (where so much insulation separates us from the natural environment). Sixteen months,
spanning ten thousand miles, living and breathing outdoors, I can only say the days seemed far
richer and fuller out here. My perspective on our world is forever changed.
1984 - 1988
ON THE ROAD
3000 miles, driving
During a 1984 road-trip to Florida I photographed countless
herons, egrets, anhingas, ibis, grebes, and other creatures
of the Everglades. This was the first of many "driving" tours
I would make during the '80's, photographing and exploring
across different parts of the United States. Next up was a
2,000 mile Southwestern jaunt through the late-April flowers
of Arizona and New Mexico’s deserts, seeing just about every
National Monument, every National Park, every zoo, and
every botanical garden in those states. I would return again
and again to the Southwest as this area became one of my
favorite regions. A year later I was driving the northern
coast of California when I went stopped to hike among the
giant Redwoods. Snow still lingered on the ground and
tourists were nowhere to be seen. I slept out a couple nights,
curled up inside a hollow redwood giant.
1500 miles, 14 days, driving, kayaking
Living in New England, I had always been fascinated by the idea of just heading
due north by car up the coast. With the Subaru loaded with gear & food, I set off -
“just to see wherever I would end up.” That somewhere was Newfoundland, an
island (reached by car ferry) more spectacular than I had ever expected with
towering marine cliffs white with nesting gannets, and tundra brown with herds of
caribou. I paddled along the coastline in a kayak of my own design (lashed atop the
car roof), awed by the vast tranquility of countless miles of uninhabited shores.
ST. LAWRENCE RIVER, CANADA
1000 miles, 7 days, driving
In the autumn of 1989 I drove north into Quebec along the Saint Lawrence River to
witness the annual snow geese migration. As the geese fly southward from their
Arctic breeding grounds, they converge at a particular point on the St. Lawrence
before dispersing southward to their winter ranges.
1980's & 1990's
NEW ENGLAND KAYAKING
My love for kayaking bloomed in New England waters; the isolated lakes of northern Maine, the
long ocean paddles out the length of Monomoy Island (off Cape Cod), the river journeys, the
swamp journeys, the wave-bound island reef journeys. There wasn’t a truly wild place in northern
New England that I didn’t paddle at one time or another.
Having grown up on a peninsula literally surrounded by ocean (Marblehead), and having
known so many summer weekends of boating with my father in Maine, I feel a special connection
with water. Kayaking allows an “up-close and personal” experience. When you're paddling,
you are among the waves. You're feeling the water on your hands with each paddle stroke;
catching the wind and sun on your back. Water-birds and shoreline mammals such as moose,
mink, and otter, all seem more accepting of your presence.
With camera in hand I’ve photographed animals that I never could have approached in a
larger boat. I’ve paddled late at night out on the ocean where bioluminescence lights up the
seawater (countless tiny organisms glowing with each paddle-stroke). I’ve sat eye-ball to eye-ball
with muskrats and herons. Reached down to pluck sunning turtles from their logs. Had
dragonflies and damselflies alight on my paddle.
(Just down the street from my studio is a river I've enjoyed paddling every month of the
year in every type of weather, even in mid-December when ice rims the shoreline.)
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1990 August & September
WIND RIVER RANGE
250 miles, 16 days, backpacking
If you're familiar with the history of American wildlife painting, you know about Carl Rungius
(1869 - 1959). His oil paintings of large mammals set such a high standard that today's wildlife
artists are still measuring themselves against his accomplishments. Venturing into the wilds to
hunt and observe animals was a way of life for him. From 1895 to 1900 he spent part of each year
in Wyoming's "Wind River Mountains."
The "Wind Rivers" are part of the Rocky Mountains. They encompass some of the highest and
most rugged alpine terrain in America. While most people today follow the well-worn "Highline
Trail" which remains well below the high peaks, I forged my own route above timberline wherever
I could stay up on the crest of the Continental Divide (for 250 miles).
Starting in Jackson Hole, I first walked across the Gros Ventre Wilderness to Green River Lake.
From there it was all map and compass (and instinct) across a grey landscape of broken rock
and glacial lakes. There were no trails, just plenty of inspiring views.
Past the glittering waters of Daphne Lake and Bear Lakes I had my first glimpse of
bighorn sheep (painted so many times by Rungius). A ram with curled horns glared
down at me like a gargoyle as I clambered up a narrow rock-choked ravine. Atop Flat
Top Mountain a herd of mostly ewes and lambs browsed out in the open. I spent a
day there observing - keeping my distance.
Descending down Elbow Creek from between Lost Eagle Peak and "White Rocky," I hit the Highline
Trail for the first time in a deep wooded valley of the Upper Green River. I followed it for a while,
but I'm not entirely sure where my own route diverged next. As I write this description years
later, I find that my notes are far from complete. I simply remember departing the heavily used
trail somewhere around Stroud Peak and not seeing it again for a few days. My memories are of
panting hard for air up in those altitudes; slopes littered with shards of rock; of walking for miles
along intensely bright ridgecrests under unblemished skies, looking down upon awesome glaciers
and glaring September snowfields. Camped at a high pass one evening, the weather flipped
suddenly from gorgeous sunset colors to dark thunder clouds that made the ground dance with hail.
I could easily see what drew Rungius back here time after time. The light, the colors, the form
of the mountains were uniquely Wind River.
When the sky was clear it was flawlessly blue. I often set up a lightweight tripod to mount the
camera on for landscape photography. The possibilities and compositions were endless.
From the Cirque of Towers I wandered south toward a thirteen thousand foot peak bearing the
name of these mountains. It wasn’t the highest (Gannet Peak to the north was 612 feet higher),
but being isolated at the southern end of the range with no accessible trails in the vicinity gave
Wind River Peak a staggering vantage point. The north face dropped vertically hundreds of feet
to a mile long glacier. Looking south I could see where I would soon be descending to the Popo
Agie River and the vast plains that fanned out into the distance.
From Sinks Creek State Park at the mountain's edge I followed a Highway 131 by foot into
the town of Lander. My wife met me there (driving a rental car), and together we spent the
next week exploring Yellowstone by motor-vehicle.
500 miles, 7 days, driving
In a few days of driving my wife and I criss-crossed every road in Yellowstone
(a distance that would have taken weeks to walk on foot.) We explored side-trails
along the way, some boardwalks leading across geyser basins like the one shown
above. We were bonafide tourists, stopping at Old Faithful and learning to spot
wildlife by watching for cars pulled over along the roadside.
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COLORADO & UTAH
3000 miles, 10 days, driving, hiking
Above: my rental car beneath a rainbow in the Rockies during a 3,000 mile solo tour
of Colorado and Utah. The state of Colorado had Bristlecone Pines, mountain goats,
bighorn sheep, alpine flowers, and giant sand dunes. Utah had colossal Arches and
expansive Canyonlands, cougar tracks, lightening, and swarms of evening bats.
I shunned motels, preferring to park along the roughest unpaved roads my little
rental car could handle, then hike into countryside where I rolled out my sleeping
bag. (I definitely prefer the ground to a bed).
Bristlecone Pines, the oldest living trees in North America. I snapped this photo as the shadow of
a dark storm cloud passed over the far mountainside.
Attending Robert Bateman's Colorado painting
seminar during my driving tour.
Mule deer at Great Sands National Monument in Colorado. These dunes formed from sand
trapped by the San de Cristo Mountains. The late afternoon sun caught the deer perfectly as I
watched them cross beneath a giant hill of white sand.
Hundreds of square miles of wide open spaces and spectacular scenery.
A road in Canyonlands National Park
Beneath an overhang of sandstone (a long hike in from the road) I rested as thunder
reverberated across the odd rock formations. At dusk swarms of bats came swirling
into the air by the hundreds as I prepared to sleep.
During my 10,000 mile journey in (1981-82) I had rowed the entire length of the
Texas coastline. Late winter 1992 a Texas print publisher lured me down to their
state with an all expenses paid coastal tour. Limited Edition prints were popular in
those days, and I guess they thought I had some potential. Limited Editions, in
case you're not familiar, were reproductions of original paintings on fine art paper.
ZION & NORTH RIM GRAND CANYON
1000 miles, 10 days, driving, hiking
I decided against that Texas print publisher in favor of The Greenwich Workshop
(then considered the leading print publisher in the country). Founder, Dave Usher,
brought me back to the Southwest in the spring for their annual sales convention -
and an opportunity to explore Zion National Park. Pictured above: "The Narrows."
On the north rim of the Grand Canyon I walked among the Ponderosa pine forests in
search of the Kaibab squirrel, a species that has evolved in such geographic isolation
(from its progenitor - Albert's squirrel) that it is only found in this small area.
KAYAKING THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES
100 miles, 9 days, kayaking
Sea kayaking brought me back to Florida in the winter of '93 for a serious 100 mile paddle through
mangrove swamps, tall-grass-wetlands, and mazes of uninhabited islands along sandy Gulf shores,
all within Everglades National Park.
The National Park encompasses broad stretches of uninhabited coastline along the Gulf of Mexico where I paddled
from one sandy island to the next. Dolphins and sea turtles played in the calm waters, while at sunset raccoons
roamed the mudflats searching for treats left by the sea.
A moment before dawn in grassy Everglades. Many envision the
Everglades as simply waterlogged grasslands, but there's more to
it than that. Mangrove trees (with their branching stilt-like roots)
grow out of salty water along the Gulf fringe. Elevated lands known
as "hammocks" support trees and bushes (like southern live oak,
gumbo limbo, and royal palm). Creeks penetrate as far as 10 to
20 miles inland from the Gulf. And large lakes (some 2 miles long)
are connected like beads on a necklace about 4 miles in from the
coast all the way from Everglades City to Flamingo.
Night view of a mangrove swamp. When I returned home, people often wondered if I had been a little concerned sleeping
in the swamps at night surrounded by alligators. The Park Service, however, does a great job at maintaining campsites
along the Everglades water routes where visitors are provided an elevated safe-haven either in the form of a cleared
embankment or a wooden shelter.
KAYAKING BRITISH COLUMBIA
100 miles, 9 days, kayaking
In the spring of ’93 I flew to Vancouver, British Columbia for 100 mile
paddle among the Broken Group islands of Barkley Sound on Vancouver
Island's Pacific side, an environment of uninhabited evergreen-clad shores,
windy channels, and huge swells pounding along the faces of towering sea
Within one of the many channels formed by the clustered islands, the water was less choppy, but the wind often raced
through, funneled, howling.
View from one of my campsites on one of the many uninhabited islands I visited.
1000 miles, 1 week, driving
A thousand mile drive south along coastal roads from Vancouver to northern
California gave a taste of Washington and Oregon's maritime environments while
visiting moss-laden Olympic rainforests, huge sea lion caves (near Florence),
numerous state parks, and the enormous basalt monolith off Cannon Beach.
500 miles, 7 days, driving, hiking
Winter '94: I returned to Florida's pale gray boardwalk within Corkscrew Swamp.
Truth be told, it puts Disney World to shame. Here 2.25 miles of hand-cut hammered wood
penetrates a lush world of cypress trees hundreds of years old. Like stepping back in time to
Florida as it was before rampant development. Day one I watched an alligator swim right under
my feet with a white ibis in its jaws. Animal life is always close by. Great blue & little blue
herons, snowy egrets, wood storks, night herons, spoonbills, all feed within a few yards of the
boardwalk. I returned to Sanibel Island a few days later to see the sunrise over Ding Darling
National Wildlife Refuge (above).
BIG SUR, SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY, YOSEMITE
970 miles, 6 days, driving, hiking
’94 was a busy year as I re-visited the Southwest, then went hiking in California’s coastal mountains
south of Big Sur (the Ventana Wilderness). I also searched the San Joaquin Valley from end to end for
the last remaining vestiges of the original grasslands (Tule Elk reserve, Kaweah Oaks, and the
Creighton Ranch). Before leaving California I revisited Yosemite Valley (the start of my 1978 John
Muir Trail adventure) and climbed the steeply rounded backside of Half Dome.
November 1994 brought me to Colorado to explore the vast prairie grasslands that cover
much of the eastern half of Colorado. Pictured above is a kit fox. (A visit to Estes Park
up in the Rockies was highlighted by herds of elk.)
Jackson Hole's National Museum of Wildlife Art featured their annual “miniature” show in
September of '97. Attending the show was a good excuse for another long road-trip, heading
northward through Yellowstone to Glacier National Park where I spent time observing grizzlies and
mountain goats. Northward into Canada, the flat grasslands spread for hundreds of miles before
relinquishing to the Canadian Rockies and eventually culminating at Banff where elk walk the
town’s streets at dusk. One of the highlights of this tour was an unexpected stop in the “Bugaboo”
Mountains. Up hundreds of feet I climbed to the Konrad Kane Hut overhanging Bugaboo Glacier.
Mountain Goat at sunset along the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail in Glacier National Park.
The "Artists of America Exhibition" was held in the city of Denver at the Colorado
Museum of History. While taking part of this black tie gala event was entertaining,
it just couldn't match the backcountry roads of the Rocky Mountains! Pictured is Ophir
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300 miles, 21 days, kayaking the Sea of Cortez
In May of 2000 I embarked on a journey into an area entirely new to me: the vast uninhabited
shores of the Baja Peninsula. For 21 days I paddled across aquamarine waters of the Sea of
Cortez where people are scarce and roads non-existent. Using a "folding" kayak (which I brought
with me by airplane and bus), I paddled along 300 miles of the driest, most rugged coast I've ever
seen, where arid desert meets the flourishing sea. Beneath the water were all shapes and sizes
of colorful fish. Only two small Mexican villages along this entire distance - the rest simply
timeless wilderness where temperatures daily reached 110 degrees.
Scorpion six inches long
Cliffs rising out of the sea at sunset. I often paddled until after darkness fell to take advantage
of the cooling temperatures. In complete darkness with the distant coastline just a black outline
against the stars, my paddle blades stirred up a spectacular display of bioluminescence (the
agitation of countless single-celled phytoplankton in sea water). Perhaps the most breath-taking
moment was when a large pod of dolphins passed beneath my kayak, their bodies transformed
into a ghostly shapes by luminescence.
Dolphins at sunrise (seen from my campsite onshore)
Along the 300 miles of coastline that I paddled, there were only 2
tiny towns. The rest simply a timeless wilderness of desert.
The ancient art of Florence (shown above) was just one facet of this Italian trip. I also visited Venice
and the rolling hill country of Tuscany. I'm not usually an enthusiast of towns & cities, but Venice with
its complete absence of cars, its quiet canals of ocean water that rise and fall with the tides, and its
endless walkways through ancient weathered architecture was an exciting experience. In Rome the
climb to the very top of the Vatican dome was impressive, as were the strewn relics of ancient Rome
right within the city.
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3000 miles, 30 days, driving, kayaking, hiking
During the northern hemisphere's winter, I spent a month in New Zealand's "summer," traveling alone from its
northernmost point (Cape Reinga) to its southernmost point (Stewart Island), experiencing all of its diverse
natural environments. With my folding kayak (strapped to the rental car roof) I was able to descend rivers,
navigate freshwater lakes, reach offshore islands, penetrate saltwater lagoons, and cruise the coastline. Here
was a country full of fauna & flora completely new to me. Birds such as penguins, kiwi, kea, kaka, tui, and
weka. Trees such as the giant kauri, flowering ratas, ancient mountain beech, and silver tree-ferns. In just
one month I traveled thousands of miles, criss-crossing the country from one end to the other, discovering
just how incredible life on this far side of the world can be.
SAN RAFEAL WILDERNESS, CALIFORNIA
100 miles, 7 days, backpacking
The following November I visited one of the least visited areas in America: the
197,000 acre San Rafael Wilderness. It seems to be a well-kept secret just inland
from Santa Barbara. (At least it seemed that way when I was there.) It's one of
the last remaining refuges for the Califonia Condor. For a week I rambled along its
rocky ravines and up over its steep mountainsides, basking in the intense quiet of this
Just before Christmas 2002 my wife & I traveled to Guatemala to bring home our son, Alexander,
who was then just an infant. Little did we know how much he would change our lives with his love
& happiness. Four years later my wife took this picture below as we had fun exploring the deep grass
of a hayfield near our home.
BELIZE TROPICAL FORESTS & CORAL REEFS
1000 miles, 14 days, buses, kayaking, hiking
While exploring the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, I paused beneath this
giant tropical hardwood. At my feet: a dancing parade of leaf-cutter ants,
known locally as the "wee-wees." Overhead a hen-size chachalaca roosted
among the dense foliage. I spent the first two weeks of March experiencing
the natural environments of Belize - a Central American country bordering
Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean ocean.
My folding kayak enabled me to paddle out to some of the offshore
islands, fifty miles of crystalline turquoise waters among mangrove cayes.
Snorkeling on the barrier reef (which extends the entire length of Belize),
I observed stingrays, bull sharks, and an endless array of vibrantly colored fish.
Ascending a Mayan temple above the hilltop canopy (near the Guatemalan
border), provided a tremendous view of inland forests - endless shades
green - home to toucans, parrots, howler monkeys, and agoutis.
This was my first experience with both tropical forests and coral reefs.
It was also the first time I utilized local public transportation to journey
from one end of a country to the other, enjoying the company of Mayan,
Creole, and Garifuna peoples, all of whom spoke some dialect of English.
I won't soon forget being the only American on a four hour bus ride (standing room
only), sandwiched and packed with laughing native holiday travelers, the bus-driver
roaring past every other vehicle on the road.
Spider Monkey quick sketch from digital camcorder (pencil on paper).
2000 miles, 14 days, driving, boat cruise
These last two weeks of August in Alaska with my family were a much less rigorous trip
than I'm accustomed to. With my wife, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and our 12 month old son,
we toured the most easily reached areas by van.
The only hiking I did during the whole two weeks was up to a ridgetop overlooking the
Harding Icefield. Along with driving, we also took a day-long boat cruise off the coast of
Kenai Fjords National Park and a guided shuttle-bus tour along the 60 mile Denali National
Park road; seeing just about every form of wildlife known to inhabit Alaska (from tufted puffins
to grizzlies to caribou).
Kenai Fjords National Park. A typical view from the deck of our ship. This was by far the most
rugged and spectacular shoreline I had ever seen.
100 miles, 9 days, kayaking
Before going to Andros Island my impression of the Bahamas had
been shaped mostly by TV and newspaper ads describing luxury
resorts and cruises. Andros Island was none of that. In fact it
could be described as a step backward in time to an era predating
the arrival of Columbus.
100 miles long by 40 miles (at its widest), Andros encompasses
vast uninhabited wetlands, pinelands, scrublands, beaches, and bays.
Much of the land is impenetrable by foot, covered with dense woody
vegetation peppered with poisonwood.
I came here to kayak in December 2003 to explore the island’s
maze of waterways and shallow bays. During my first 47 miles of
paddling I saw not a single boat, house or person, nor did I hear any
sounds - no motors, no jets. The only sign of mankind was at night
when I gazed up at the stars and traced the distant routes of
I spent 9 days paddling nearly 200 miles. Besides sea turtles,
sharks and stingrays I was disappointed to find little to observe.
On maps it had seemed like a paradise for wildlife, but in reality it
was a desolate wasteland of no outstanding features, no topography,
no hills, no distant landmarks, just absolute emptiness and an
unending horizon of sky meeting flat watery land.
NEW ENGLAND SUMMER
Kayaking on Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond.
THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, MONTANA
100 miles, 6 days, backpacking
In my New England studio I often-times find myself wanting to re-visit distant environments I have
especially fond memories of, such as my 1990 trek atop the alpine crest of the Wind River mountains.
Those remote, wind-swept peaks with their intense sunlight and autumn colors are hard
to forget. I dreamed of following the “Continental Divide” north through Montana and revisiting
similar alpine wonderlands. The Ananconda-Pintler Wilderness seemed best for me, since it lacked the
tight rules and regulations of Glacier National Park and its crest was much higher than that of the Bob
Marshall Wilderness. I brought six days worth of food and just the bare essentials of survival gear.
During the first 3 days I saw no one as I followed the trails deep into the mountains. At night -
herds of elk thudded through the woods, and bugling bull-elk brought the alpine air alive. At dawn -
woodpeckers woke me by trout-filled lakes as the first rays made cliffs far above into glowing reflections
on the water’s calm surface.
Trips like this are essential to my artwork; they re-establish an awareness of the unique color-palette
found here; and they allow me to fill in gaps in my knowledge of things like flora and rock formations
that I may have been missing from previous trips. Most important to me is the emotional connection
I gain from these wild places, without which true art is impossible to create.
2000 miles, 9 days, driving
A week after my hike in Montana, my wife, son, and father-in-law joined me at Jackson Hole
for the second phase of my trip: observing wildlife of Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the
surrounding countryside by car.
A few of the many quick sketches I did from my camcorder recordings when I got back to
my studio. I like to start the day off by doing 5 or 10 minute sketches for half an hour before
getting started with oil painting.
Sitting in front of a computer monitor, I work quickly for 5 minutes. When a timer beeps,
I move on to the next image. This helps focus my attention (and loosen up my hands)
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1500 miles, 14 days, driving, hiking
Southeastern Arizona is one of America's "hot-spots" for birdwatching. Mountain ranges rise
up from the flat desert to form "sky islands" that are green and alluring, attracting migrating
birds on their way north from Mexico and Central America. The last two weeks of April 2005 I
visited many of the sites familiar to dedicated birdwatchers. In the Chiricahua Mountains I
visited ustler Park, Cave Creek, the Southwestern Research Station, Cave Creek Ranch, Portal,
and South Fork of Cave Creek. In the Huachuca Mountains I visited Garden Canyon, Scheelite
Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Carr Canyon, Miller Canyon, and Ash Canyon. Outlying areas included:
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, San Pedro River, Banning Field Station, Buenos Aires National
Wildlife Refuge, and Madera Canyon. To top it off I drove nearly to the top of Mount Graham
where it started snowing at 9,000 feet. While my main interest was capturing images of birds,
not just checking off a list of species' names, this trip provided a surprising array of new birds
to observe. At least eight different hummingbirds: Violet crown, Broad-billed, Blue-throated,
Magnificent, Anna's, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, and Rufous. Four tanagers: Summer, Western,
Hepatic, and Flame. Plus Redstarts, Bridled Titmice, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and Elegant Trogons.
The trogons I followed for more than an hour as they fluttered from tree to tree, snatching up
large, juicy caterpillars. Perhaps the most unexpected sighting was the Spotted Owl in Scheelite
Canyon pointed out to me by another birder.
The Sonoran Desert with its characteristic saguaros
Elegant Trogon, as seen in a creek-side forest. Its mate was perched in another tree close-by
The Magnificent Hummingbird, so named for its large size and magnificent green and purple head.
A Vermillion Flycatcher, one of several that I observed closely as it hunted for flying
insects from its perched along the edges of riparian areas
Some quick sketches of Gila Woodpeckers done in my studio from videos I made in the field.
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2000 miles, 9 days, driving, hiking
Florida was once a paradise for wading birds: large plumed birds such
as herons and egrets. And, while their numbers have been drastically
reduced since the arrival of human settlers, they are still here in
concentrations rarely seen elsewhere.
May 4th I embarked on a nine day odyssey by car, visiting many of
the major hot-spots. I logged over 2,000 miles, shot 3500 digital still
images, and made hours of camcorder recordings. By the time I was
finished I had closely observed 28 species of birds in flight: Great Egret,
Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron,
Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork,
Roseatte Spoonbill, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns,
Sandwich Terns, Brown Noddy terns, Sooty Terns, Black Skimmers,
Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, Black Vultures, Swallow-tailed
Kites, Ospreys, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and assorted Sandpipers.
I chose the first two weeks of May because this was nesting season,
and the birds would be so busy feeding their young that they'd hardly
notice a photographer. Arriving at Miami airport at 5:30PM, I started
off by driving 230 miles north to a campground near Merritt Island
National Wildlife Refuge; I’d be there at dawn the next morning.
Then on to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, another 120 miles north.
This was a haven for Egrets & Herons. The alligators swarming the
waters beneath the nesting trees and shrubbery created a “predator-free”
nesting environment (no raccoons). A boardwalk conveniently allows
photographers to closely observe the birds while staying out of reach
of hungry jaws below. I stayed till dusk
Next morning I drove up the hard-packed sand of Huguenot
Beach off Jacksonville (almost to the Georgia border), where a thriving
colony of raucous Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns provided lots of
flight-shots. Hundreds of miles away on the Gulf side of Florida near
St. Petersburg, I spent the following morning sitting perfectly calm on
cool, damp sand at the edge of a small lagoon (at Fort DeSoto State
Park) surrounded by dozens of snoozing Black Skimmers and hundreds
of sleepy-eyed sandpipers. Following the "Yellow Trail" at Oscar Scherer
State Park a few hours later in the hot midday sun I watched an
endangered Florida Scrub Jay feed some tasty morsels to its youngster
among the limbs of Slash Pine.
The loop road at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge has been one of my favorite
places since I first visited it in 1984. I sat for quite a while watching a pair of
Ospreys bringing fish to their nearly full-grown off-spring. Later, miles inland, I
hunkered in the shade of a bush watching dozens of Ibis and Anhingas fly overhead
as they returned to roost at Lakes County Park. The park was within a network of
rapidly expanding urban environments just south of Fort Meyers. I discovered the
Gulf coast from St. Petersburg all the way to Naples, a distance of 180 miles, was
under massive development. Everywhere I traveled, heavy machinery was clearing
the natural vegetation, replacing it with huge upscale shopping centers, car
dealerships and more and more cookie-cutter housing.
Day 6 I stepped into another favorite place: Corkscrew Swamp. Twelve years
had passed since I'd been here last, but it seemed like yesterday. The 2.25 mile
boardwalk through mature cypress was still incredible, but this time the sounds of
bird calls were accompanied by the distant drone of motor vehicles from Highway
846 as commuters from more than thirty square miles of brand new suburban housing
poured westward toward the coastal metropolis.
Along Rt. 75, turning southward onto Rt. 29 into Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress
preserves, the sprawl ended abruptly and miles of uninterrupted green "wilderness"
stretched ahead with only a few cars on the roads. I walked the Fakahatchee
boardwalk, and enjoyed the vast solitude of Rt. 41, crossing the northern boundary
of Everglades National Park. The Anhinga Trail (the most popular destination within
the Park) was deserted early the next morning before sunrise, but alligators were
literally swarming beneath the boardwalk.
The Anhinga (or "Snakebird") after which the trail is named
Snorkeling the John Pennekamp State Park is like entering one of those colorful and hard to imagine TV documentaries
where schools of brilliantly hued fish light up the screen in your living room. Parrot-fish (deep violet and about the
size of my cat) grazed on crunchy mouthfuls of coral within arms reach. (I could actually hear them chewing).
I swam with barracuda, became part of a glittering wall of big silvery fish, and marveled over even the littlest
creatures with neon colors.
Down the Keys to Key West by nightfall. By morning I was aboard a high-speed catamaran headed for the Dry
Tortugas, a group of tiny islands 2 1/2 hours due south where Noddy Terns and Sooty Terns nest, and Cattle Egrets
stalk the courtyard of an ancient fort. This was my last day in Florida.
Cattle Egret searching for insects
750 miles, 7 days, driving
Close view of the cliffs on Sandia Peak above Albuquerque. This New Mexico trip was mostly a
family vacation, but did include a tram up the mountain, a visit to the Jamez Mountains, and a tour of
the Acoma Pueblo.
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700 miles, 9 days, hiking, snorkeling
Within the United States territory there is only one example of tropical rainforest,
and this is in Puerto Rico; 28,000 contiguous acres of mountainous terrain, home
to hundreds of species of trees and plants. For more nine days in May I explored
this environment, as well as the island’s other unique ecosystems.
A defining east-to-west range of interior mountains (as high as 4,000 ft.) creates a dramatic rain-shadow along
the south side of the island. This is a land of extreme opposites. Instead of rainforest, there are cactus. In
Guanica State Forest the land has been preserved much as it was before humans began clearing and building.
The sun is blazing hot. Wind whips fierce gusts off the turquoise sea. I walked the shore trail for
miles along this isolated coast. Inland other trails explore; parched forests of stunted trees covering low
Of the 700 miles recorded on my rental car’s odometer, many of these were along the
intensely winding mountain roads of Puerto Rico’s interior. At Maricao State Forest
Adrian Munz, the forest manager, pointed out 5 species of endemic birds (Puerto Rican
Tanager, Elfin Woods Warbler, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Tody, and
Green Mango) Above the ranger station a Euphonia was gathering moss in its beak
to build a nest above us.
El Yunque is what they call the National Forest that encompasses Puerto Rico’s 28,000 acre
rainforest. As night fell on terrain sloping steeply in all directions, I strung my Hennessey Hammock
between two trees for the night.
An abandoned road within El Yunque National Forest.
Rain caught up with me at Rio Abajo State Forest in the northwestern corner of the
island. This is “karst” country, a topography of abruptly rising isolated hills of
limestone (similar to those seen in ancient Chinese paintings). Here in the darkness
when the rain fell silent and I was cozy in my tent, the forest came alive with the
sound of the “Coqui,” Puerto Rico’s symbol of sound. These tiny tree frogs produce
such a musical call so loudly and in such numbers that you can hardly believe your
ears. I’d never heard anything like it. The sound was the same in Toro Negro and a
little different in Susua Forest where I camped.
At Las Croabas I joined a group of kayakers on a commercial tour of bioluminescent
"Laguna Grande" on the coast, where the water literally glowed with each paddle stroke.
On Isla de Culebra an hour’s ferry-ride off the coast, I entered the marine environment.
I‘m a novice when it comes to snorkeling, but I do have a mask with prescription lenses
and the world’s most comfortable fins (as advertised) which are stubby enough to fit in
my backpack. As I entered the water along a deserted stretch, I was greeted by two
cuttlefish (squid-like creatures) that hovered motionless, staring at me like I was the
oddest thing they’d seen that day – and I probably was. Within a hundred yards of shore
was a maze of coral reef with passages and drop-offs and caves inhabited by every color
fish under the rainbow. If only birds were this easy to observe! I could float within arm’s
reach of most, watching them eat, watching them socialize, watching them swim with a
leisure humans only dream of.
Old San Juan
I usually try to avoid cities, but Old San Juan (dating from the year 1520) is one of those special
places that blends wonderful old-world architecture with a stunning natural environment - San Juan Bay.
Today it is but a tiny fraction of the sprawling city of San Juan, where international flights now arrive
instead of sailing ships.
In a hidden corner of the old city was place where "nature" touched people.
While visits to preserved areas creates an impression of natural abundance, much of the island has
been greatly altered by people.
LAKE KAMESTASTIN, LABRADOR
14 days, hiking
Rob Mullen, founder of WREAF (Wilderness River Environmental Art Foundation),
invited me to join his latest expedition to the boreal forest of Canada, which brought seven
wildlife artists and one photographer to a very remote area of Labrador accessible only by
There are only a few towns in Labrador and just one highway (unpaved) - across which we drove 500
miles to reach the airport. From there it was 250 miles straight north to Lake Kamestastin where
the native Innu people have established a camp consisting of small log cabins and a lodge which was
still under construction.
Here we spent two weeks exploring the surroundings, returning each evening to the warmth of the
Lake Kamestastin has been known to the Innu for thousands of years as a unique place in the migration of caribou
(which today number more than 400,000). Caribou cross here at the narrow end of the lake, making them easy
targets. We found them easy targets too - for our cameras. And the possibilities for paintings endless.
At this latitude in October the daytime temperatures were mostly in the 50's, dropping
to below freezing at night. In the sun one day I managed to do some plein-air painting,
but mostly I wandered with my camera and a few other artists, recording whatever
crossed our path.
Besides caribou, there were numerous close encounters with black bears, porcupine, ptarmigan - as well as small
creatures like crossbills, grey jays and red squirrels.
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90 miles, 5 days, kayaking
I had intended to hike part of the "Florida Trail," but special restrictions (in effect during
the November deer hunting season) convinced me otherwise. I decided instead to retrace
part of my 1993 sea kayaking route through the Everglades.
Everglades National Park encompasses the entire southern tip of Florida.
I started in Everglades "City," which is really a quiet backwater village at the northern perimeter of the Park, and
paddled the "Wilderness Waterway" southward through mangrove swamps to Broad River as it flows westward to
the coast. Anyone wanting a glimpse of primal Florida need only visit the Broad at dawn. Egrets erupt by the
hundreds along the shore. Alligators catch morning rays on dry mud-banks. At the coast a tail-wind pushed me
along so fast I actually ran over an alligator resting in the shallows (I could feel it squirm beneath the boat as it arched
its back in only a foot of water). In the surf of Highland Beach sharks with three dorsal fins slithered after schools of
Having just turned 50, I was proving a little something to myself each day: that I could still keep up a steady rhythm
with the paddle. Day one and two were tough. There were strong head-winds, but I still managed 40 miles total.
Today with a tail-wind I would make nearly 30. I guess all those years of weight-lifting and running were paying off.
The last two days I would take it slower and soak up the environment; observe white pelicans & terns diving; relax
ashore a deserted island.
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2400 miles, 12 days, driving, hiking
Making the decision to paint mammals once again (after seven years of studying birds)
I decided to visit the greater Yellowstone area during the first two weeks of December 2009.
Big game animals come down from the high country at this time of year to escape heavy
snowfall and find better grazing. Landing in Salt Lake, I drove north to Dubois, Wyoming
to see the Whiskey Mountain herd of bighorn sheep. It was minus 17 degrees when I
arrived at dawn. Two rams were keeping a ewe and its lamb company as I approached by
foot wearing my Cabella’s “Winter Range” boots (so cozy). I got in close and the big guys
hardly cared. Fortunately digital cameras are unaffected by the cold.
Along the South Fork of the Shoshone River just west of Cody (a 240 mile drive north of Dubois), the weather
had warmed up to eight below and the sheep were so plentiful they were jumping over the fence along the roadside.
I spent the day among them, observing & photographing.
Another 250 mile drive brought the small town of Gardiner into view on the northern boundary of
Yellowstone National Park. Out along the gravel road past the high school a herd of pronghorn were
grazing, looking especially beautiful as the early morning sun graced their winter fur.
Above is a series of “captures” I made from a video I shot of a coyote hunting mice along the only plowed roadway
in Yellowstone National Park this time of year. (The road stretches from Gardiner to the eastern boundary of the
Park about 57 miles.) Out of 14 tries, it caught 4 mice. Not a bad harvest.
About 50 miles north of Bozeman I joined Pam Knowles and her husband
(both field biologists) at their bison ranch for some bumpy fun riding around
in the back of a pickup truck while bales of hay were tossed out. Bison came
galloping in from all directions. You get some interesting action shots this way.
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One of my favorite places from past visits to Yellowstone is a little town on the western border aptly
named: West Yellowstone. It's where the Grizzly Bear & Wolf Discovery Center is located. Grizzlies
have a wide open area strewn with logs & large rocks where the keepers hide food for them to find.
The wolves have a habitat full of interesting terrain and vegetation. I pulled into the parking lot after
a 90 mile drive through blowing snow and found the sun just beginning to filter in. The wolves seemed
to sense the change in weather and were especially perky.
I got to Jackson Hole after dark - 150 miles later. When the Discovery Center had closed I headed here
to get an early start the next morning. I had no idea what I would find next, but that's what I like about
exploring the outdoors: it's always a surprise. Some blazing red bushes caused me to swerve off the road
around 9AM. I needed some photos. The sunshine was brilliant. I turned down a rutted side-road in
Grand Teton National Park that led past the red bushes to a small pond kept open by geo-thermal energy. A flock
of Trumpeter Swans came into view and I thought, "this is what it's all about."
It was later that afternoon further along another Teton back road that I noticed a couple of cars pulled over at the edge of a
heavily wooded riparian area. People don't just park out here in the middle of vast open country for no reason. They
must have spotted something. It was moose: two big bulls, a cow, and a calf browsing along the creek-side. I had
the rest of my afternoon planned out for me now. I'd keep a reasonable distance and follow along till sun-down. The
big guys weren't even curious about me. It was one of those special times when everything was working right. Just me
and Nature. The other sight-seers went back to their cars after an hour and I was alone with the beasts. Just the way I like it.
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1600 miles, 12 days, driving & hiking
Crouched in a soft pocket of grass among a herd of mountain goats, I looked a thousand feet down the mountainside
to a road I had just climbed up from. Mountain goats are such trusting creatures. Their clear brown eyes watch me
innocently as they graze. Their fur so soft and white it seems like fresh fallen snow. I'm part of their little troop this
afternoon, up here in this thin alpine air, moving slowly as they do, enjoying the radiant sunshine and spectacular
vistas. THANK YOU mountain goats.
Mount Evans is a few hundred miles into a 1,600 mile tour I planned. Late September is aspen season, and down
below the forests glow brilliantly gold.
I had started at the town of "Estes Park" where elk are so common they forage on bushes outside McDonald's.
I hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park, then swung south along the highways through forested valleys.
Tomorrow I'll re-visit a grove of bristlecone pines I haven't seen since 1991. Using some "off-roading"
guidebooks I ordered on Amazon, I intended to trace a route over as many high passes as I could. (Some are
well-know, others are accessible only by 4-wheel drive.)
Sunrise, day five, I roll out of my sleeping bag atop Paradise Divide. Years have slipped by since I last awoke
anywhere so quiet as this. I'd forgotten what it's like. As a young man, hiking, rowing & bicycling across
America for 16 months I became well acquainted with the silence of wilderness, but rarely have I encountered it
since then - in man's world of towns & cites.
Later in the day I park the car and wander into a cathedral-like grove of aspens near Kebler Pass. Aspens
grow in such homogenous communities that you become swallowed up by an overwhelming array of tall narrow
trunks (pale as ghosts) above which spreads the dense canopy of yellow gold. Sunlight filters through, tinting
everything below, coloring it.
Weather on this trip is unseasonably warm. Seventies. Perfectly clear skies. It's now day seven and still no
rain. I'm up on the high plateau of sandstone that forms Colorado National Monument. Not the kind of environment
we usually associate with the Rocky Mountain state. But I love exploring arroyos and I'm now in some deep
(unnamed) shadowy place carved into the sandstone by rushing water. The thrill of arroyos comes from feeling so
isolated and at the same time so vulnerable. With their unscalable walls and obstacle course of boulders
along the floor, they provide a place where you truly feel immersed in the environment.
I had shot 9,200 digital images so far, and would eventually reach 11,600 by the time I finished this trip and
headed home. I wanted to gather all the little pieces necessary for creating paintings of mammals in their natural
environments. This means focusing on everything within view. Close-ups of lichen, beautifully sculpted boulders,
tufts of grass, forests of golden aspens, dramatic slopes strewn with rubble, distant mountain ranges, the outlines
of tree-tops, the wind-hewn shapes of evergreen shrubs clinging to barren ridges, fallen trees, autumn-tinged
brush, herbaceous plants, rocks, ledges, anything else that might form a background within my paintings.
I find myself most at home in these wildest places and wish I never have to leave.
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1100 miles, 6 days, driving & hiking
I had been running almost every day this summer with my family's dog, Robbie, a Brittany Spaniel, so I was
ready for some all day hikes in the Rockies. July 19th I shot this photo near Arapaho Pass in the Indian Peaks
Elk cool off and evade biting flies by migrating upward to the
lingering snowfields in Rocky Mountain National Park.
With my backpack loaded (camera gear, food, and raingear) I hiked up toward Pawnee
Pass above Lake Isabelle one morning, then hiked up Granite Pass near Longs Peak in the
afternoon. Another day I wandered past some of the well-known sites in RMNP: Dream Lake,
Emerald Lake, and The Loch. Above Haiyaha Lake left the comfort of trails to explore Chaos
Canyon and find some unique perspectives I might fit into my paintings. Pika (pictured
above) played hide & seek above treeline.
A trip to Colorado wouldn't be complete without a drive up Mount Evans. Resident mountain goats grazed close to
the road this time with little ones hugging close by their mothers.
One of the advantages of observing wildlife in national parks is their
"tameness." An hour went by as the sun slung low through the pines and
I hovered within 20 feet of this mule deer buck, never once sensing fear.
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WYOMING, IDAHO & MONTANA
2300 miles, 10 days, driving & hiking
So productive is the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park that I was back again for another whirlwind tour, including
a foray 250 miles north to the National Bison Range, westward through Targhee National Forest, and southward
200 miles to the Tabernacle Butte area of Wyoming's high desert grasslands (southeast of Pinedale).
A Yellowstone hot spot: Norris Geyser basin at dusk
The National Bison Range is what Montana used to look like before the
arrival of settlers. It's comparatively small (19,000 acres vs. Yellowstone's
2,219,823) and is surrounded by farmland, but once within the perimeter
you quickly lose sight of what's beyond as White Horse & Red Sleep
Mountains rise up to overwhelm the horizon. A large herd moved steadily
across the yellow slopes, rising up over a dip in the ridgeline where I was
waiting. They plodded along stirring up dust ahead of me and behind me
as they divided into two groups and kept going. It was one of those "Big Sky"
days in Montana: crystal clear and sunlight intense.
Back in Yellowstone a coyote fills up on grasshoppers.
Out of the way places are my favorites. This time it was off trail near Ross Lake in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness.
Some very rugged country along a bighorn migration route. Signs of grizzly or black bear digging up red squirrel
middens (fresh dirt, seed hulls & bear dung).
Above: view from a ridge top near Tabernacle Butte. Down near the car someone had blown a hole in a pronghorn
antelope many months before, leaving the carcass to sun cure. I now have the lower front leg and hind leg in my
studio because of it. (Ultra-light lower legs are one of the attributes that make pronghorn fast.) Out on the horizon
is 120 miles of pronghorn country till you arrive at Interstate 80. (That other white arrow marks for the
dirt road I came in on.)
Pronghorn antelope reflect a time more than 12,000 years
ago when more dangerous predators roamed these lands:
North American versions of cheetahs, lions, and hyenas.
Today, speeding at 60 miles per hour, they're "over-equipped"
for the likes of coyotes and wolves. They can cover the
length of a football field in 3.5 seconds or cruise for miles
at 40 mph. The competition thousands of years ago led to
evolution of a heart doubled in size, 50 percent more blood,
a windpipe capable of moving volumes of air in and out,
and lower limbs slender and lightweight.
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Howard Terpning retrospective
“The Ploy” Oil on Linen 30 X 48 Howard Terpning 1978
This was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. Not another “adventure in nature,” but a
witnessing of one man’s ability to capture Native Americans (the Plains Indians) in paintings.
Howard Terpning’s paintings are often large – some as much as six feet across. The colors are
vibrant and the brushwork distinct. His prices are some of the highest of any living artist
(in the hundreds of thousands). When I heard that the Autry National Center in Los Angeles
was launching a major retrospective, I made plans to fly out just to see it.
2000 miles, 2 weeks, driving & hiking
I had obtained special permission to drive the Denali National Park road during the first 2 weeks in August. Usually
visitors are required to take the shuttle bus, but this special permit allowed me to go wherever I wanted whenever
I wanted in order to photograph & observe the park's wildlife. Only "professionals" get these permits and you have to
go through a lengthy application process and lottery.
Atop a ridge I sat within 10 feet of two Dall Sheep as they grazed. In addition to sheep, I observed
caribou, grizzlies and ref fox.
I flew in to Anchorage several days ahead of time and drove across the Kenai Peninsula to Homer
where I took a float-plane over to Katmai National Park for some bear-viewing. The salmon were
running and dozens of grizzlies were patrolling the creek shore ready to plunge into frigid water for
a slippery meal.
And sometimes there were minor disputes over who would get to catch the fish first!
East of Denali is a 133 mile unpaved road know as the "Denali Highway" with views like this the whole way.
Swinging south during my 2,000 mile drive, I came to Valdez for a tour of Prince William Sound on the Lu-Lu Belle with Captain Fred, an
experience I highly recommend.
Of course one of the dominant forces that shapes the land in Alaska is glaciers. To convey a sense of its size I included
people in the foreground.
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SUPERSTITION WILDERNESS, Arizona
60 miles, 4 days
Just 20 miles east of Phoenix is a roadless area of 250 square miles, dramatically carved by four thousand foot peaks and remote
canyons harboring clear running streams. The name: Superstition Wilderness (federally designated in 1939)
Weavers Needle juts above cholla cactus (upper left). My route wound a giant 60 mile circle round this volcanic remnant, viewing it
from every angle - sometimes just a faint finger-like smudge in the far distance. I intended this trip to be strictly for hiking. Instead
of my usual load of photographic equipment I had only a P500 Nikon, weighing less than a pound. In fact my entire pack with everything
I needed for four days and nights weighed less than 20 pounds. Along the trail rising across Red Tanks Divide clouds closed in,
bringing snow flurries, but mostly the days were full of sunshine, not too hot – upper 60’s to low 70’s. Night-time temperatures
dropped into the 20’s. Perfect hiking weather. Long sections of trail showed no boot tracks. Very few hikers traversed some of the
inner areas of this Wilderness. Most radiated out from the trailheads on day-hikes. I sped along, trekking poles tapping and
pushing, feet churning, from one side of the Wilderness to the other and then back again. A realm of vast solitude. Rugged
country. Saguaro cactus. Fresh air. All this so close to one of America’s major cities.
SAN JACINTO WILDERNESS / JOSHUA TREE & DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARKS, California
5 days driving & backpacking 40 miles
When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 1982, Mount San Jacinto made a lasting
impression on me because of the low arid country I had been traveling through in southern California.
Suddenly the trail was ascending dramatically, rising nearly 8,000 vertical feet. Back in '82 there was no
signage or trail blazes atop the mountain; they were all buried under snow. 2013: I only had a couple of days
to get reacquainted. I could see the ground now. I visited the summit hut. I slept in the mountain forest
of Wellman's Divide. Then I was back in my rental car headed for Joshua Tree National Park. I wanted to see
"49 Palms Grove" and meander among the odd outcroppings of Hidden Valley. By 2:30PM the day after Joshua
Tree I was parked at Mahogany Flat in Death Valley National Park ready to hike up Telescope Peak. 5PM I was
sitting atop it, taking in views of Death Valley 11,331 feet below with one hundred mile vistas in every
direction. (Life just doesn’t get any better.)
Two inhabitants of Joshua Tree National Park (that I visited with)
Desert Cottontail Black-tailed Jackrabbit
COSTA RICA 10 days
Does Costa Rica live up to its reputation as an eco-tourist destination? To see for myself, I went on short tour with my wife &
10-year-old son, taking a 4-wheel-drive from the international airport near San Jose, heading northwest to the Arenal Volcano
National Park, then south to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, southeast to Manuel Antonio National Park, parking and going
by boat offshore to Cano Island, then back to San Jose. The roads lived up to their reputation: sharp football-size rocks cemented
into hard-packed earth that had us rattling & bouncing across miles of winding terrain. It's lush country. Lots of pasture land.
Lots of agriculture. Many preserved wild areas. As tourists, we did all the touristy things like zip-lining, going on guided nature
walks, horseback riding, swimming in waterfall pools, staying at the nicest accommodations my wife had found online. Around the
national parks eco-tourism really is well-developed. We saw most of the wild animals we had hoped to see. And we learned one
important thing about our son: he can go ten days without electronics and still be happy.
Photos from Manuel Antonio National Park: upper left - Howler Monkey, upper right - Squirrel Monkey, bottom - White-faced Monkeys
Photos from Selvatura Park near the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Reserve: upper left - Purple-throated Mountain Gem, upper
right - White-tailed Emerald, middle left - Green Violet-ear,
bottom - Coppery-headed Emerald. A cluster of hummingbird
feeders at Selvatura allow photographers to see hundreds of
these birds at once.
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Bob Kuhn retrospective & day hike
"King of the Road" Acrylic on Masonite 18 X 36 Bob Kuhn 1982
Within the genre of “wildlife art” Bob Kuhn stands alone as the acknowledge master (1920 – 2007).
The National Museum of Wildlife Art assembled a retrospective exhibition titled “Bob Kuhn: Drawing
on Instinct” in 2012, which went on tour to 3 other museums around America. I caught up with it in
Arizona at the Tucson Museum of Art. Most obvious was his joy of painting. As he often reminded
anyone who would listen: he was not a “slave to photographs” or details. His paintings exude creativity.
With a show such as this where paintings from the 1970’s are hanging with those done in the
1990’s & 2000’s, it becomes obvious how his sensitivity to (and playful interest in) color deepened over
three decades. Initially (with a background as illustrator of magazines, book covers and calendars) his
treatment featured bold rough brushwork (sometimes with simple umber shades) that gradually evolved
into more controlled paint application involving more fascinating (yet subtle) color schemes in later works.
The show was titled “Drawing on Instinct” because it included many of Kuhn’s never before seen
preliminary sketches, revealing an ability to draw that is unparalleled.
After two days of standing, staring, and contemplating I grabbed my pack and headed for the Pusch Ridge Wilderness on
the southern slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains just outside Tucson. I needed to clear my head with a day-long
“loop hike” up Bear Canyon to Thimble Peak, along Sycamore Canyon, then down Sabino Canyon, and back to the parking
lot. (About 20 miles, including the detour to Thimble Peak.) Kuhn moved to Tucson in his later years (from Connecticut).
It’s an area I’ve always enjoyed with its scenic mountains to the north & east, the Saguaro National Park to the west,
and the famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to the south.
60 miles, 3 days, hiking
Coyote Gulch. Walking the length of it my first day in Utah, I followed sandy shores, waded countless stream crossings, gazed up at
arches and marveled at how this canyon had been entirely carved by water. I was visiting the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase–Escalante
National Monument. This vast area in south central Utah is a mixture of barren sandstone, sagebrush country and scattered pines woods.
Coyote Gulch begins in the Monument and ends in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, traversing a length of about 20 miles. My
intention had been to spend the night somewhere along the watercourse, but the miles faded quickly behind me and by sunset I was
back at my rental car.
Looking out across Death Hollow (view from the “Old Boulder Mail Trail”)
My second day involved following a route marked by small piles of rocks - for 16 miles. Up until 1930 when better roads were built,
the U.S. mail was carried by mule through this area, connecting the tiny settlements of Escalante and Boulder. Rather than following
canyons (like most routes in this part of the country do) the Old Mail Trail “transects” them. Topography is dramatic here. More often
than not, solid sandstone is so steeply inclined that a route up or down is impossible without knowing exactly where to look. That’s where
the small piles of rocks come in handy.
I was reminded again while crossing this vast wilderness what it is that I like about hiking: the relentless movement. There’s
something purifying about it. Your world is reduced to its most elemental: thirst, physical exertion, wilderness. Always pushing forward.
It’s the only way to go from point A to point B, and in the process you gain something far greater than the miles achieved. I stopped only
once: to fill my canteen in the depths of a canyon before climbing hundreds of feet back up to the rim and continuing westward.
Escalante (the town) is home to a visitor center, guide services, and restaurants.
On the map you can see the reddish area spreading out southward. This is the 1.7
million acre National Monument.
The Boulder trail ends at the outskirts of Escalante where I turned left and headed
downstream along a river by the same name. As the sun set I finally came to a stop
and made camp among some sagebrush. For me “making camp” means finding a flat
spot of ground to lay my sleeping bag on the for the night. I never pitch a tarp or
tent unless rain-clouds look ominous. That way I can enjoy the stars later on and
anything else that might be happening. This evening while I ate a meal of rehydrated
freeze-dried food, I watched dozens of swallows swoop and maneuver along the high
canyon walls illuminated by the last rays of sunlight.
Next day I followed the course of the river through the canyon to the first road
crossing (15 or 16 miles away). Floods had swept clear any sign of a trail or route.
I simply followed the river, sometimes wading it, repeatedly crossing it, clambering up
embankments, picking my way through settled driftwood. From my point of view it
was another successful trip. I now had a new collection of photos and a better
appreciation for this part of the Utah.
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