Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peyto Lake & Glaciers

The first time I saw a photo of Peyto Lake, I was amazed. The color of the water and beautiful mountainous surroundings left me aching to go there. It was one of those places you have to go if you are in the area. The day was cloudy, and rainy, and sunny. Kind of a nice combination. If what you wanted to shoot was in direct sunlight you could wait a bit and a cloud would come by and diffuse the harsh light a bit. Conversely when something was shrouded in clouds, just by waiting a bit some sunlight would peek out and illuminate a portion of the scene. We began the day by driving north on the old frontage road to the Trans-Canadian Highway. We thought it was the most scenic route and it didn't dissapoint. There was an elk grazing on the side of the road, and some people getting dangerously close. Eventually we had to get onto the major highway, and stopped at all the pull outs to look at the glaciers. Another big reason we decided to visit Banff, was because of the quickly dissappearing glaciers. Call it what you will, global warming, climate change, Bush's fault, or whatever, the glaciers are quickly becoming extinct. There is no better place than Banff to see the effects. Peyto Lake has a large interprative sign with photos of the glacier. Now, cameras have been around only as long as a blink in geologic time. Within that time we, or the climate, have managed to melt them into oblivion. I wanted to be able to say that I've seen a Glacier in my life time. I don't have any kids or grandkids, so I'm not sure who I'll say those words to. At least I'll have had the pleasure of seeing them.

The parking lot there was divided between passenger cars and tour busses. Being on our own we parked in the lower lot and took the nature walk pathway. It offered intrepretive signs and plant life IDs. At the view point there is a huge wooden deck provided to take the typical snap shot of the lake. There are more intrepretive signs describing how the lake gets it's wild blue color. The glacial silt gets more and more pulverized to the point of the consistancy of flour. The combination of the emulsified silt and reflection of light gives it the light aqua color. Just as we approached the viewing platform a tour bus of young students arrived and it became an instant mob scene. I got a bit frustrated and wanted badly to get away from the people so I could have a little personal time with the view and compose a shot that was more than the typical platform view. Fortunately there was a trail that went down and to the left, eventually reaching the headwaters of the lake. We walked down the trail and detoured a couple of times to grab some views. There my blood pressure began to return to normal. We got to see a pika up close. Pikas are little mouse looking mammals that live in the rocks of high altitudes. They are so aclimated to the cold, that temperatures above the high 70s could cause them to die. They are usually very shy creatures, so hearing one peep is much more prevalant than seeing one. The image of the lake I was most happy with was taken after our little hike and off the main trail. I wanted the rocky foreground, but also wanted some sunlight dappling on the mountain and lake. I took many images, and finally the clouds broke a bit giving me the light I was looking for.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lake Louise and the Tea Houses

Only about 4 days prior in Waterton the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The morning we wanted to hike around Lake Louise it snowed. We were a bit trepidatious to what we would find when we got there, but it turned out to be a beautiful day. The trail started off at the hotel and we decided to take the route that headed up toward the Beehive and onward to the Lake Agnes Tea house. There was about an inch of snow on the ground when we started and as the day wore on it quickly melted off, leaving a bit of mud in selected places. We had a couple of false starts, having to deal with bathroom breaks, and cleaning up after our dogs. The trail proceeded up immediately and into the fir forest. We took a short detour to see Mirror Lake, which was little more than a pond, and circled around the base of The Beehive, which was a small peak that resembled the beehive you see on those Utah highway sign posts. Soon enough we arrived at a stair case that ascended to the first tea house at Lake Agnes. You don't get a feeling of how beautiful it is right until the top where you reach the tea house.

As you come around the corner you see Lake Agnes and the reflections of the peaks surrounding it. The tea house overlooks the lake on one side and Bow Valley on the other. Then there is the beautiful cascading water fall that flows out of Lake Agnes. It was a bit too early to grab some food at the tea house, so I decided to get a closer look at the water fall and try to get a good composition. I found one, and soon other people saw where I had gone and actually lined up on the precarious cliff edge to take their shot. Continuing on the trail we encountered another long stair way back down a bit. The trail then traversed the mountain, again through thick and green fir forests. At the trail curves around, you grab wonderful views high up on the Lake Louise valley. Slowly the trail gains altitude and heads toward the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. Set below (and safely away) from the glaciers that feed Lake Louise, the tea house offers sandwiches, soups, and cake all hand made from scratch. They receive supplies either by horse back, or by a beginning of the season air drop. All their trash is taken down by hand or horse. There is no running water or trash cans, you have to pack your own in and out here. The two story log cabin was built sometime in the 20s. Just as we arrived a bit of snow began to fall, so we had to put our raincoats on to cut the chill. It was quite busy up there, and we were quite lucky to get a table. Fortunately for us they took American currency, we didn't think to go to the bank before we headed out for the hike. Warm soup really hit the spot.

Photography in the Glacier Field
We would have liked to linger longer, but felt we needed to relinquish our table for the line of incoming guests. The hike down treated us to long valley views of the lake and hotel. The trail soon levels out to a flat easy stroll along Lake Louise. As we approached the hotel foot traffic elevated to super-highway style crowds. We passed some people rock climbing on the left, and stopped to watch for a bit. The hike took almost all day, and we didn't want it to end. I kept taking pictures and saw an opportunity to snap some pics of the red canoes that were for rent. We kept looking up the valley to the Six Glaciers, with a dreamy sparkle in our eyes.
Canadian Canoes

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Oak Creek Blackberries

Oak Creek Cascade

It was Sunday and I thought I would take the day off and do nothing. Really, I thought I would do nothing. Oh, and sleep in. I slept in to 8 o'clock, and by 10, was completely bored out of my mind. I found myself pacing. I guess it wasn't that I really didn't want to do anything, it was just that I hadn't planned on anything to do. Okay, I said to Kristi, lets go have a picnic up in the Aspens. It sounded fun. I then looked out the window to see the mountain covered in clouds. Then began the thunder and lightning. Nevermind. How about Oak Creek? Okay, it is lower in a canyon and probably won't get rain like in the higher elevations. Sure. We packed a picnic lunch, loaded up the car with our packs, wrangled the dog into the back and we were off. I brought my camera and tripod, after all, I didn't want to find myself pacing once we got there. We literally pulled off the first wide spot in the road and parked. Heading toward the sound of water we slipped down the steep slope to the large boulder like cobble stones that lined the creek bed. I stopped at the first cascade I saw and broke out the camera and tripod. Kristi, began exploring with the dog. At one point she stepped into the frame just as I tripped the shutter. She continued up the creek while I made a few more images. As soon as I was packed up again and moving up the creek I heard her say "Blackberries."

Oak Creek Blackberries

Just then I saw them. All luscious and shiny hanging there on the vine. A few more steps and there were whole bushes. We began shoveling them into our mouths. The dog even got in on the act. We finally had a plan for the day. Pick a few berries, make a few images, have a nice picnic by the creek, then go home and make cobbler. I dug through my pack, and she hers to come up with some bags to put the berries in. I then found a nice little intimate waterfall with berries hanging over it. I had to take a shot. Unfortunately I left my polarizer at home. I had to shoot at f22 to get the right shutter speed to smooth out the water a little bit. I'm not sure but if I did use the polarizer I wouldn't have had the catch-light reflecting off each of the berries. Wearing shorts and water sandals we gingerly waded through the bushes collecting all the ripe berries within easy reach. We sat down for our picnic, and slowly ate our lunch supplemented by fresh berries. The dog was begging for his portion, and we obliged. Our bellies happy, we laid back and looked up at the clouds floating by, and lazily held each other. The babbling creek, the trees in every shade of green, the berries, and the one I love all on a warm summer day. We were in heaven. Even the dog was content to dig a little bed and get a cat nap in. I guess sometimes the best laid plans are no plans at all. When we got home I went to work on processing the shots from the day, and Kristi went to work on the blackberry cobbler. We even ate the berries in the shot. Yum!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Banff National Park

 Banff National Park is a beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies, and the last stop on this epic photographic adventure. I'm writing this a year later, and the details have already begun to fade.

As you may or may not recall, the trip started out with Kristi. She had gotten her pink slip (or reduction in force - RIF notice) at the high school the 8th year in a row. And after 5 years of continuous home renovations, she was ready to split. She packed up the '76 VW bus and was headed to Canada, with or with out me. Now our relationship was entering the 11th year together, and we were fairly stable. She was experienced and street smart, so I wasn't worried at all. Just jealous that she could pick up and leave for 2 months. I wanted in on all the fun. We agreed to meet in Jackson, Wyoming and take two weeks to drive through 3 national parks and into Canada for Banff. I would then fly out of Calgary and back home. She took our two dogs, Max and Robin, and I would have a friend take care of our littlest dog Jester. The timing turned out to be perfect, as Max has just recently passed away. There is no way we could have known that he would be gone in less than a year. It goes to show you there is no time like the present.

  Trying to make the most out of our time we decided to set up camp at a campground between Banff and Lake Louise. We thought that it would make the driving faster with whatever we decided to do each day. A couple of things that surprised me about Banff was that the Trans-Canadian highway and railway went right through the middle of the park. The train horn could be heard echoing off the mountains. It immediately made me think of home, Flagstaff. It kind of put me off at first, but the trains didn't blow their horns at night, so sleeping wasn't an issue.

 I was just used to the wilderness feel that some national parks in the US have. It was a weird juxtaposition seeing beautiful mountain glaciers, and a freeway lined with light poles. A lot of my mountain shots were taken carefully, to avoid the ever present sign of man and progress.

I really didn't do much research on Banff, and we were at a bit of a loss on what we should do. Whenever we get to a new destination we find it helpful to stop at the visitor's center. There we learned about a dance at the center for performing arts. We also found the best pizza in Canada. Oh, don't forget the hot spring pool!

 The landscape photos I have seen of Banff were of the dominant peak Mount Rundle. I assumed it was miles away, but it was darn close to town. Something I like to do to get the 'lay of the land' photography wise is to look at the post cards in the gift shops. It tells you not only about the touristy photographic attractions, but what has been photographed and how. Storm Mountain was a popular subject, and one I have not seen. It so happened that we camped just below Storm Mountain and had easy access to photograph it.

 Banff is a neat town, much like other resort style towns. Gift shops, restaurants, hotels and art galleries all neatly lined the streets. The magic of Banff lies not in the town itself but in the beautiful surroundings. The Vermillion Lakes, Bow River, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain are all within rock throwing distance. Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake and the Ice Fields are within easy driving distance from town. I've already written about Moraine Lake, and soon I'll be writing about the others.