Parks Shutdown – a Look Back

american bison, grand teton national park

Bison and Teton Range : Prints Available

American Bison graze on Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park. The iconic Grand Teton backdrop is partially obscured in layers of morning clouds that are typical in Jackson Hole. 

Bison bison

Before I start this philisophical post, I’d like to thank the settlers of Kelly, Wyoming for locating the town in a corner of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) in the 1890’s. Back then the town was named Grovont, eventually chaged to Kelly to avoid confusion with another town in the area. For visitors in Jackson Hole during the government shutdown, the road to Kelly provided acccess to the edges of GTNP along Antelope Flats, and a route through the park to the Gros Ventre Valley while GTNP and YNP were officially closed. I’m still pissed at those that caused the whole shutdown debacle – we all know who they are, so there’s no need to mention them here. The common theme among photographers during that week was to focus on a much smaller area with gratitude for the few opportunities we had. It was a sort of Thoreauvian mindset of checking on the bison herd, the three moose along the Gros Ventre River, the pronghorn herd – still in rut and not migrating because of mild weather in Jackson Hole – and the Great gray owls on the edge of town. All of that and the lingering fall color seemed to keep everybody busy, and focused. The image on this post happened only because I wasn’t somewhere else at the time – there’s something to the concept of persistence and working the same area. But, these are our lands and we should never be denied access. There are a couple of lessons beyond beyond the obvious “make the best of your situation”: First, national parks have imaginary borders that wildlife don’t recognize; so explore the edges. Second, never miss a chance to be inspired or to inspire others. And finally, to those who would shut the gates and deny access to our national parks, our legacy, and the opportunity to inspire others, may your actions be repudiated harshly. May you rot in hell. A lot of folks were hurt across the country – that’s a damn shame that we won’t soon forget.

Ghost Of The Forest

great gray owl, ghost of the forest

Great Gray Autumn : Prints Available

A great gray owl hunts with a backdrop of gold in Jackson hole. Great grays are our largest owl, standing as tall as 27'. This 'ghost of the forest' loafed in an aspen stand in the afternoon and became very active at dusk. Although considered uncommon, great grays can be spotted throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

Strix nebulosa

Although both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks remain closed, two great gray owls made my recent trip to Jackson, Wyoming a lot more enjoyable. It’s common for great grays to show up for a few days to hunt in a general area before moving on. Quite a few photographers and birders were thrilled to view these magnificent birds at close range on the edge of forest and a ranch close to town. I was fortunate to photograph the owls with Tom Mangelsen, a legend of nature and conservation photography and heck of a nice guy. Great grays are often called “ghosts of the forest” for their ability to blend into the landscape – in spite of their size. They are noble, stealthy hunters with an appetite for small mammals, mostly at the ends of the day. Continue reading “Ghost Of The Forest”

Wake Of The Flood

Big Thompson Destruction

A curve on Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon gives a glimpse of the devastation from the September 2013 flood.

With so much devastation in the wake of our historic 1,000 year flood event in September, there are still many closed roads, standing water, and Front Range canyons are shut off, isolating rural communities. Fortunately, I was able to fly with LightHawk pilot John Feagin on September 30 to see first hand the scale of the flood around Greeley and the lower Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. Two weeks later, and after the news organizations have moved on, Colorado has a very long way to go as we recover. These images support the Platte Basin Timelapse story of a river that matters far beyond our relatively small geographic area. Continue reading “Wake Of The Flood”

National Parks Shutdown


Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park – which closed today.

I’m saddened and more than a little ticked off about today’s government shutdown, but I’ll skip my political take in favor of posting the following statement from the National Parks Conservation Association that spells out the impacts of this senseless result of non-governing:


October 1, 2013

Statement by: Theresa Pierno, Acting President, National Parks Conservation Association

Government Shutdown Closes National Parks Nationwide
Hurts Local Economies, Planned Family Vacations & America’s National Heritage

“The National Parks Conservation Association is deeply disappointed that Congress and the President have failed to reach agreement on a budget deal that consequently has forced the federal government and our 401 national parks to shut down indefinitely. The closure of America’s crown jewels threatens the livelihood of park businesses and gateway communities; the more than 21,000 National Park Service staff we expect to be furloughed; and countless American families and international visitors who rely on national parks being open for business to enjoy our national heritage.

“The government shutdown has forced the National Park Service to close park entrances, visitor centers, campgrounds, bathrooms, concession stands, and other park facilities. Education programs and special events have been canceled, permits issued for special activities rescinded, hotels and campgrounds emptied and entrances secured. Many national parks have also been forced to close during peak visitation season, including places such as Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains where people visit to enjoy the fall foliage or Civil War sites that attract school groups. Many people also visit places like the Grand Canyon and Death Valley this time of year to enjoy cooler weather. The loss of more than 750,000 daily visitors from around the world who typically visit national parks in October may cost local communities as much as $30 million each day the national parks are closed.

“Whether it’s a senseless government shutdown or a damaging set of budget cuts, national parks and the people who enjoy and depend on them continue to suffer from a failed budget process. After hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to the parks the last few years, we have two questions for Washington—when are you going to reopen the parks, and what will you do to repair the damage this budget process has already done? Our national parks should be open, and funding should be restored to provide visitors with safe and inspiring experiences.

“As we approach the centennial of our national parks in 2016, on behalf of our 800,000 members and supporters, and families and businesses throughout the nation, we call on Congress and the President to swiftly re-open our national parks to visitors, and to agree to a budget that ends these indiscriminate cuts to the National Park Service.”

Colorado Flood


Flooded home outside of Sterling, Colorado on 9/16/13.

We needed the moisture when it started raining. By the time it stopped, the damage was incalculable, access to Front Range canyons shut off, 200 people missing, towns and businesses closed. The town of Lyons won’t be habitable for six months after Saint Vrain Creek wreaked havoc when it exploded from the canyon. Unable to make photos in the canyons close to home, I headed east to photograph the flood as it crested on the South Platte River in Sterling, a wall of water marching east to Nebraska and the Missouri River. Most of my images show water flowing where it isn’t supposed to be, this image included; but here the residents appear to be snagging belongings in the swollen river, depositing them in plastic bags. It will take some time to calculate the financial loss, human and environmental impact long after the media leaves this story for the next one.

Marmot Curiosity

hibernate, yellow-bellied marmot

Marmot Curiosity : Prints Available

Curiosity gets the best of this adult yellow-bellied marmot, looking out from talus rocks above timberline. Sometimes called 'whistle pig' for their high-pitched warning call, marmots are common in high mountain rocky slopes. They eat green vegetation and hibernate through the winter months. This image shows the long digging claws that enable marmots to tunnel under rock piles. 

Marmota flaviventris

I turned my back and the curious mamrmot was chewing on my Lowepro pack straps to supplement his diet with salt:)


Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru!

siula grande, yerupaja

Siula In Clouds : Prints Available

The summit of Siula Grande (6344m) seems to float on clouds. On this particular morning, Siula was cloaked in clouds while Yerupaja and Jirishanca peeked in and out. The moment lasted just a few seconds. 

Where to go on the next big trip? We saved up and visited our mythical adventure places list many times over, mostly agreeing on the top five, and it came down to the Cordillera Huayhuash (whywash) in Peru, one of the top treks in the world. The Huayhuash is remote and high, and despite being only 30 km long, the range boasts six peaks over 6,000 meters and more than 600 glaciers. The infamous Huayhuash Trek circumnavigates the range clockwise, and generally takes 10-12 days to complete. It was an easy decision to contact Victor Sanchez, owner of Peru Mountain Explorers to arrange a custom trip. We had trekked with Victor in the Cordillera Blanca back in 2007 and told him that we’d come back to trek the Huayhuash. We set up the all-inclusive 17-day trip with Victor, with plans to add a climb of (17,555′) Diablo Mudo near the end of the trek. As we trained to be physically ready, we received the shocking news that Victor had been killed by an avalanche on Alpamayo while putting up a route for clients. Office Manager Edith assured us that Victor’s wife, Alicia is dedicated to running Peru Mountain Explorers in Victor’s honor and that our trip would be all set, Mrs. Haydee would meet us in Lima, everything is fine. We went to Peru. Continue reading “Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru!”

Earthworks Cover And The Frac Attack


On the cover of Earthworks Journal Summer, 2013. Deb Thomas in front of Crosby 25-3, the Windsor Energy rig that blew near Clark, Wyoming in 2006.

I’m proud to have this photo of Deb Thomas on the cover of Earthworks Journal, an issue that stands for reigning in the “Frac Attack” sweeping across America. Deb and her husband Dick were living the good life on their land along Line Creek in the shadow of the mighty Absaroka Mountains until Windsor Energy drilled Crosby 25-3 on the edge of the Shoshone National Forest. I met Deb in 2011 while working on an iLCP expedition with Greater Yellowstone Coalition on their Absaroka-Beartooth Front campaign. She described months of long, sleepless nights under the rig’s bright lights, a peaceful place forty miles from Yellowstone turned into an industrial zone. Heavy trucks endlessly passed on the narrow road to service the rig. Deb documented the well progression and showed me photos of chemicals piled up in bags and barrels – chemicals that would end up in the creek. Then one day the rig blew, it lost pressure, drilling fluids and gas bubbled up like mud pots on the road surface. Cancerous chemicals flowed in Line Creek. It’s the most spectacular drilling rig failure you’ve never heard of. Today, Windsor Energy is thankfully long gone, but their chemical signature lingers. Line Creek still has chemicals running on bedrock and there are reports of sick neighbors. Deb Thomas became an advocate with Powder River Resource Council and fights for landowners across Wyoming. From a catastrophic drilling disaster we gained a conservation champion, determined to make a difference. And just one more thing, I’d suggest you read this call to reign in dirty energy written by Deb’s husband Dick Bilodeau.Thank you, Deb and Dick for your advocacy work!

Four Pass Loop – Around The Bells

snowmass mountain, buckskin pass, four pass loop

On Buckskin : Prints Available

With a backdrop of Snowmass Mountain (14,092') and Capitol Peak (14,130'), Marla digs for the top of Buckskin Pass. Buckskin is one of the four passes over 12,000 feet that circumnavigate the Maroon Bells Massif. The Four-Pass Loop is widely considered one of the top backpacking trips in North America. 

Startled by a gnawing, scratching sound, I’m awakened from a dream of home in pitch darkness on a moonless night. I sit up and listen for a moment before realizing I’m in the tent next to my wife and we’re at Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. With that that straight in my head, I reach for my headlamp and am pretty sure I’ll see a porcupine, we have a history. There’s a smell in the air like rotting bacon fat, very weird. As the light hits the intruder, still scratching the ground where I took a leak an hour ago, he turns his head that seems too small for his body and reluctantly retreats just a few steps. I hold the light on him until he disappears in the forest, ending the first of two run-ins we’ll have with these peaceful, salt-seeking creatures of the night. It’s the first night of a six day trip over four 12,000 foot passes (we turned it into six passes). The Elk Mountains are so spectacularly rugged and beautiful, they draw us back every year. We failed on our first attempt of the Four Pass Loop; burdened with heavy packs while cajoling our chocolate lab Toby – who carried his own pack – we simply weren’t prepared. We still carried weird loads the second time around when we completed the loop in 2004. I wrote an article for Crested Butte Magazine (in ’04) about “Colorado’s Best Alpine Hike”, and we’ve wondered ever since whether it’s as good as we thought back then. My photo essay follows: Continue reading “Four Pass Loop – Around The Bells”

The West Is Flat (so we should drill, baby, drill)


Mule Deer On Winter Range and Gas Rig, Pinedale Anticline in Sublette County, Wyoming. The Pinedale mule deer herd has declined by 60% in a little over a decade of gas drilling. Drilling continues on critical winter (year round) range today.

There’s a shift in rhetoric from Big Energy and the drill, baby, drill crowd. Although domestic gas and oil production have increased dramatically under the Obama administration, we’re told that the gains are on private lands, due to technology advances, and all of the growth is in spite of Obama. Frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a conservationist who thinks Obama has been a good environmental president, but this industry whining is pure bullshit. In a recent FOX News piece, industry rep. Tim Wigley cites an average 230 days to get a permit on public lands vs: 15 or 45 days in in Texas, North Dakota, or Oklahoma. Then there’s the reference to so much federal land in the West, 30-70% of Western states in fact. So what? Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have a combined 75.6 million acres of public land. Remember when Mitt Romney famously asked “what is all that public land for?” It’s for people, and wildlife, recreation, and future generations sir. What’s my point? Fox, Tim Wigley, and other industry mouthpieces use the in spite of Obama talking point with gaudy statistics of public land acreage to make us all feel bad about the paultry amount of drilling that’s happening on the commons. They would have us believe the West is flat and we should just go get the energy that’s waiting for us to take it so we can get energy independent. If you’ve traveled anywhere in the West, you know that it’s far from flat and a lot of those public lands are mountainous, some are canyons, heck there’s even rivers. So subtract those places and gateway lands next to national parks – what’s left? Sagebrush. Fossil fuels often lie beneath sagebrush. Every Western creature, except marmots, mountain goats, ptarmigan, and pika (and maybe a few more) uses the sage sometime during the year. It’s where we live, work, hunt, fish, and recreate – recreation alone pumps $1 Trillion annually into the U.S. economy. Wildlife migrate, people roam, and endangered species live right in the sage. And what about those hard to get permits? The Thompson Divide permits expired and the BLM allowed an extension that will probably be purchased by you and me at an exhorbitant fee. Leases expire all the time in places like the Thompson Divide and northern Red Desert, where conservationists are fighting for the most ecologically important areas – the Jack Morrow Hills and Adobe Town. In the Fox piece, Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado spoke for Western conservation and developing sustainably: “And the interesting thing is that Westerners actually get that. A bipartisan poll that came out in the region just a couple of months ago shows deep and strong support for preserving our landscapes. They are economic drivers for tourism, outdoor recreation, industry, agricultural uses, clean water, you name it.” We already have seven mega-field developments in Colorado and Wyoming (with more coming), the Greater Sage-grouse ESA listing decision is pending, and conservationists are determined to protect our Western heritage. We’re not going anywhere, some places are too wild to drill, and the world isn’t flat.

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