It’s All About the Art

You really have to stick with me on this one to see that it is all about the art. But honestly, this is my memory of capturing some of my favorite hydrothermal images. I was in Yellowstone in late spring/early summer of 2022 and had just arrived at the trailhead for the Grand Prismatic Overlook near this geyser basin area. When I got to the trail to hike up to where you can see the entire spring, there was a ranger there turning people around because a sow grizzly and her two tiny cubs were just spotted crossing the trail. I was so bummed that I couldn’t hike and take photos as planned, but headed back to my car to eat a late lunch in the car. It was already looking a bit stormy when I arrived, but by the time I finished eating, a huge storm was coming in. The wind was 30-40 mph. I drive an old Suburban on my photography trips as it is set it up with a queen size mattress and this is how I live for a week at a time on my solo trips. The car is older – it has keys…not fobs. I jumped out to get my jacket and the door slammed shut on me. I did not have proper clothing for the weather, bear spray was now locked in the car and no phone (not the phone would have mattered because there is no service there).

While this is happening, everyone else is running to their cars and leaving because the rain has started and lightning is coming in. By the time I walked back to the trail hoping a ranger was still there (but wasn’t) and made it back to my car, almost all cars were gone from the lot. I was alone with a huge storm and grizzly bears somewhere nearby. This was one time I actually didn’t want to see grizzlies. My only brilliant ideas were 1) crawl under the suburban to avoid the incoming hail and lightning or 2) throw rocks at the side window to break in my car. I went and got a couple large rocks and then thought, “How am I going to camp with a huge broken window?” (not that I could have even broken it – apparently it is harder than it seems) As the rain started coming down, I walked to the main road and waited for a ranger to drive by. There was no point in stopping cars to help me because there is no cell coverage and no one could make a call for me. A little while later, I flagged down a ranger who radioed me a locksmith. Fortunately, the rain came and went so it wasn’t horrible the whole time. About 30 minutes later the guy shows up and starts to work on my car, but he cannot get it open. By this point I am soaking wet (as is the locksmith) and he is so frustrated with my car. Next, it starts hailing so he has me sit in his truck for ANOTHER 40 minutes! He could not get it open and I had to sit there and watch him get pelted by hail for about ten minutes and then more rain. Finally, he used air pressure to pull the door out far enough and uses a long hook thing to retrieve my keys (this worked on about the 5th or 6th try). I am forever grateful, pretty humiliated, and soaked to the bone. It stopped raining and the skies start to clear as I sat in his truck paying him a decent chunk of money. As he drove off,  all the plans I had for leaving and heading back to camp faded as I watched the soft light forming as the evening sun started to peak out behind storm clouds. I quickly grabbed my jacket and camera gear and headed out. I spent the next couple of hours here and got lost in photography.

The anxiety, stress and embarrassment of my recent situation was already slipping away as I captured images I knew instantly that I was in love with, as it was one of the most beautiful evenings I have had in the park. I left in time to catch the sunset over Lake Yellowstone, thankful for the crazy timing that ended up giving me the best conditions for photos that day. Sometimes our stories are adventerous or beautiful and we can share about the tranquility and peace of the day, or the intense hiking we had to do. Sometimes the story is something random, but that we will never forget. The ranger and the locksmith both did tell me this happens all day long in Yellowstone – so at least I am not the only one to let something so foolish happen.

Three of these images are in my Hydrothermal Series coming January 18, 2024.



The Art of Photography

I read a great Twitter thread this weekend on the digital art space, collecting and so much more. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as the collector shared about his own love of art and acquiring an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can. It led me down a path for hours thinking about photography, the first significant piece we purchased for our home, and why I am so passionate about this art form. 

After reading this post, I wanted to share my views regarding a piece of photography we collected that has been a part of our lives for almost 20 years now, and that expresses the value of photography as an art form to me. I am a nature photographer with a life-long passion for wildlife and conservation. I found a Thomas D. Mangelsen gallery in Park City, Utah, in the 1990s and instantly fell in love with his work. We purchased his work through calendars, photo cards, and posters and eventually bought our first two large signed, matted and framed pieces by Tom from his gallery in 2005. While they don’t compare to a Warhol, they were a large investment for us as we paid over $8,000 for the two pieces while also buying a home and raising two young boys. The larger of the two photographs, “Glacier Travellers,” has been a mainstay in our home for two decades. It is an Alaskan landscape image with mountains, a coastal inlet, wildflowers, a sow grizzly bear and her three cubs wandering by. To me, it is perfect. Tom captures stormy skies, incredible soft light, color, and a scene that I want to visit and witness every single day. A good photographer has to capture light perfectly, with the right conditions and the scene they envision all at the same time. It can take weeks or years to capture an image that we have been trying for. When we bought this piece, I had not seen a grizzly bear in the wild. It would only be a month later that we would watch a sow grizzly bear with her own three tiny cubs in Yellowstone National Park for the first time. It was magical – it was as if the photograph that just became part of our home came to life in front of my eyes. It was what I dreamed of. 

While art is very personal and comes in so many forms, the thing with photography for me (I am not discussing composites here) is that one can view the image and immediately know that it is possible to see a scene very close to what they are looking at, somewhere in the world, whether they ever choose to or not. It is real in such a pure sense and as we get pulled into a photo, we dream about what it would be like for us to get to witness this scene. There is a true possibility that you don’t have with many other art forms. 

©Brynn Alise Schmidt


I believe this is an incredibly unique aspect to the art of photography and hope that it becomes more and more appreciated as digital art continues to grow. Whether it is a street shot where a photographer captured an intimate moment between two people, a drone shot giving vantage points that we can’t see in a certain location, a portrait capturing a person in a moment in time, or an image from nature – the images pull us into something that is real. Something that we can hope in and dream about. I look at the large, framed photo, signed by my favorite wildlife and conservation photographer, every day.  Every day for 20 years it has brought me joy and peace in knowing that places and scenes like this are real and can be experienced. When you collect photography, you are getting more than a piece of art. You are getting a glimpse and a story of real life – a true experience that happened between the photographer and a moment in time. It is real and that is something we are losing more and more each year as technology advances at a rapid speed. I hope that more and more people see the value in this art form as we continue to see advancements in all forms of art. 

“Glacier Travellers” above our couch in two different homes for almost 20 years.

Labor of Love

On Easter morning, April 17, 2022, I woke up to photos of 399 and her cubs coming out of hibernation from my wildlife photography friends in the Tetons. We had plans that day and I had a busy week ahead of me, but around 8 p.m. that night, I decided that I had to go try and find her and the cubs – immediately. I wanted to get there before the crowds showed up so that I had a chance to see her with less people around and while she still had all four cubs with her. I packed up my car and left less than twelve hours later to try and capture this incredible family in the early spring season. She will soon leave her cubs to start their lives on their own, and photo opportunities will be gone forever. I had only seen the family twice before and not from a distance that I could capture any decent images. 

Grizzly bears are my favorite animal and my first choice for photography on any given day. They have also been my most frustrating aspect of photography as capturing them is never easy, and I feel like I am often five minutes late to every opportunity. It is also difficult because I live eight hours from the nearest grizzlies and I have another job in addition to photography so I can only travel to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem about four times a year. I worked so hard to capture this moment and finally, on this day, it paid off. I have been following this well-known grizzly bear for over a decade. I have seen her over the years, but only as a hump in thick foliage or a rump up on a mountainside.

When she came out of hibernation two years ago with a litter of quadruplets, I was determined to capture this majestic bear with her family. I started trying the summer they were born. Two years later, after six trips to Grand Teton National Park, lodging and camping costs, over 6,500 miles on my car – it all came together for about three minutes with famous grizzly sow #399 and her four adult cubs. The moment happened so fast as they appeared out of the trees, heading straight for the few of us that had parked in a small lot where someone had told us she might be headed. It was cloudy, 7:20 p.m. and the light wasn’t great.  I only had time to get out of the car and grab my camera with the 400mm/f2.8 heavy lens to take the shot. There was no time for a tripod and the shot is a little softer than I would have liked, but I captured this moment (cover image) that will be burned in my memory for the rest of my life. It may forever be my most magical and favorite photography experience.

399 with three of her four cubs, there is one that always goes his own way…

The bears came toward us and then turned slightly and continued on into the aspen trees. We had a few more minutes with them as the cubs played in the cover of the trees. One of the cubs was running around with a giant branch in its mouth while two other cubs chased it and they made the most adorable grizzly cub sounds ever as they played. It was difficult to get a clean shot, so I put my camera down and just enjoyed watching this family as they played together. It was a dream come true and an absolute labor of love to capture these photos. It made up for the two times I saw them from a distance, had other photographers show me their shots, and sat in my car and cried because I wanted this experience so badly. It may sound crazy to care so much about a certain photo you want to capture – the truth is that the photo is only the outcome that you get to keep forever. The experience of witnessing such an incredible scene in nature and having the memories of the sights, sounds and smells of the event are what make up the full experience for me. Even if I did not have a camera, I would choose to sit anywhere in nature where I could watch these bears.

By the time she took the cubs through the trees and onto one of the park roads, more cars showed up and people were blocking the bears in and getting dangerously close to the bears (as you can see in a photo below). I will not photograph bears when this human behavior is happening, as I want no part of it. I left the scene as crowds started to arrive and took one shot of the mayhem from a safe distance. This behavior puts all bears at risk because if they were to harm a human that walked up to them, the bear would be the one pay for it…

and there he is, at the back of the family 

You can see in the photos that two of the four cubs are collared. They were collared in the fall of 2021 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) to monitor their whereabouts as the family of bears started getting into beehives, livestock feed and even some trash around the Jackson Hole area when they left the park and headed south after their first year. It is an incredibly difficult task for this mother bear to keep herself and four growing cubs fed throughout the seasons, both before and after hibernation. Fortunately for this family, Grizzly 399 has become an ambassador for the park and so well-known that wildlife agencies must do their best to keep them safe. While grizzly bears are on the Endangered Species List under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the lower 48 states, there are many ranchers and hunters in Wyoming who would prefer to see them gone. These wild animals don’t have a voice, and we need to be their voice. It is imperative that the park and wildlife regulatory agencies work to protect these bears, and her famous status after 26 years in the park is helping that happen. As the cubs venture out on their own, we as wildlife photographers, play a key role in voicing our concern, creating and signing petitions and writing representatives to do all we can to protect these cubs we have come to love. We will continue to be their voice. Three years ago, I spent two days photographing 399’s daughter (610) with her two cubs. When they were left by mom at the appropriate age, they traveled south into the Jackson area over the following months and both bears were euthanized for finding trash,bird seed, compost, etc. They showed no signs of aggression and didn’t do anything wrong. Humans need to take more responsibility living in grizzly country. I am praying this doesn’t happen to these four cubs and we will continue to fight for their safety as they venture out on their own. If you ever get to watch grizzly bears, please stay at least 100 yards away from them, have bear spray ready and give them open paths to cross roads and trails.

*the morning after I wrote this blog, I found out 399 kicked the cubs out on the day I wrote this- most likely to protect them because a large boar wouldn’t leave her alone. We will see what happens next as they all go their separate ways.


Photo I purchased from my friend Daniel Lindhardt, after I got my own photos so I could have them both on the wall of my shed office together. 

Fight For Our Wolves Now, Response to Idaho SB1211

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species that we will never know — that our children will never see because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
– Pope Francis


Are you aware of the most recent attack on our wolves? Both the Idaho State Senate and House have passed SB1211 and it is now waiting for Governor Brad Little to pass or veto the bill. The bill would allow for killing up to 90% of the state’s wolves (reducing them from approximately 1,500 wolves to only 150) and would reallocate $190,000 more taxpayer dollars to the Idaho Wolf Control fund to pay for contract killing of wolves. If this bill passes, there will be no limit on wolf tags and they can be killed by aerial gunning, snaring/trapping, and running them over by ATV/snowmobile. These are incredibly inhumane ways of killing and once again confirm how little the states are prepared to manage their own wolf populations. We have seen similar laws and attempts in Wyoming and Montana and now across the upper midwest since wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in late October, 2020 by the Trump Administration. Please see the steps below the photo that you can take to make a difference before it is too late in Idaho.

“In Wisconsin, a 2012 state law requires an annual wolf hunt when the animals are not under federal protection. State wildlife officials had begun planning for a hunt next November, but were forced by a lawsuit from an out-of-state hunting group to hold one before the end of February. That hunt lasted only three days before state officials shut it down: Licensed hunters killed 216 wolves in that time, more than 80 percent over the allowed quota of 119, and nearly 20 percent of the state’s estimated 1,000-plus wolves.” – from .  In Wyoming, wolves are now classified as “Shoot-on-site-varmin” and can be killed any day of the year, without permits on over 85% of the state land. This is happening from CA, OR and WA to states like WI and MN. We are losing our wolves once again, and our voices are the only voice these magnificent creatures have.

I read two articles recently and saw photos about one of the packs in Yellowstone where the wolf pups keep moving the orange cones from the side of the road and are seen running around and playing with them like dogs do with their toys. Each morning when the rangers show up, they happily move the cones back to their designated spots after the wolves have their fun. These animals are so playful, intelligent and have strong family bonds within their packs. They are not a danger to humans and there are many simple practices that responsible ranchers have used to keep wolves away. One is called “fladry” and it is the use of colorful flags around herds of animals and the wolves leave the area completely alone. There is no part of me that understands this hatred and desire to kill them in such inhumane ways. Please help us protect them now.

Yellowstone wolf #778, known as “Big Brown” and the last of the Druid wolves – was killed when he moved outside park boundaries in 2016. He managed to survive a couple years in a pack outside the park in Jardine, near Gardiner, before being shot and killed. Photo by Brynn Alise Schmidt

The first thing you can do is call the Governor’s office and leave a message opposing this bill and asking that he veto it. The phone number For Governor Brad Little is 208-334-2100. Then, follow it up with an email to – Please read the talking points below and refer to them in your calls and emails. The following bulleted list is from

  • If you are from or currently live in Idaho, state your town. If you don’t have connections to Idaho, explain why you will not spend your tourism dollars in a state like Idaho that wantonly slaughters wildlife.
  • Over 76% of Idahoans believe wildlife belongs to all citizens and that management decisions should be made without political influence by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission – whose members oppose this bill 5-2.
  • Taking authority away from the Commission and the agency biologists that inform them is not science-based management and sets a dangerous precedent for the management of other wildlife.
  • Wolves cause less than 1% of cattle deaths and any depredation can be properly managed without this bill.
  • Killing wolves at this rate will only support decisions to relist them with Endangered Species Act protections.
  • Wolves alive and thriving bring value to Idaho in many forms, including ecosystem services and tourism dollars.
  • The majority of Idahoans and Americans support wolf recovery at levels where wolves can fulfill their ecological functions. Almost no one supports wasting tax dollars to recover wolves, just to exterminate them again.

Next, please sign the petition at as well.

Lastly, there are awesome organizations you can give to financially. Here are a few I recommend:

Wolves of the Rockies 

Center for Biological Diversity 

Endangered Species Coalition 

Advocates for the West

Western Environmental Law Center

We must act now to influence Governor Little’s action – let’s get him to VETO this bill! Thank you for your help in protecting these amazing animals.

Cover photo by Raphael Rivest, Shutterstock

How Do We Save the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?

“What’s absent, I mentioned to the students, is a chronicle of the seasonal migrations and movements of several other species, as in: bison, mule deer, pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep, and wolverines. All of these animals migrate, too, and they need spaces and habitat not fragmented or overrun by humans in order to keep doing it. Grizzlies and wolves peregrinate too, as do bald eagles, peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bobcats, lynx, and wild neotropical songbirds. Greater Yellowstone is a vast remnant symphony of wildlife whose movements are like the melody articulated by notes scrawled across a beautiful, complicated, harmonious masterpiece of sheet music. 
This is the reason why Greater Yellowstone warrants rough comparison to the other great wild ecosystem, the Serengeti, in East Africa. This is our still living, breathing version of that. Other regions can only dream of bringing back species that have been lost and some will spend millions of dollars trying to recover them and never succeed. Greater Yellowstone is the only one of its kind on the planet and it is every bit as valuable a national treasure as anything else in this country. Yet by neglect, indifference, lack of mass awareness of what we have right before our eyes—and add to that a fragmented way of thinking about it—we are losing this place.” – Todd Wilkinson, Mountain Journal  

The incredible growth and development happening around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the surrounding wilderness are astounding. Our family has been traveling to these national parks for the last 17 years regularly and we have seen it happening with our own eyes. We have spent weeks in winter there in the past where hardly anyone is around and now the park sees more and more people each winter, and our quiet places of solitude are getting more crowded as others discover the beauty of winter in Yellowstone. Summers are insane and it is hard to even maneuver through the park between breakfast and dinner hours. We rarely visit during the summer months anymore.  Mountain Journal has published some incredible articles and pieces on what is happening in the parks and the growing cities and areas surrounding this ecosystem such as Bozeman, MT, Jackson, WY, and the Teton Valley, ID region. The threats that this rapid population growth brings to this larger ecosystem are astonishing.  The purpose of this post is to mainly highlight what Mountain Journal is doing, so please see the articles I linked to at the end of this post. I would also encourage anyone who cares about, travels and/or photographs in these parks to please consider donating to this amazing non-profit organization. It is the only one I have found that is keeping us very informed of the urbanization and growth surrounding these still-pristine parks.

Bison in a February blizzard and -27 degrees

While protecting species within park boundaries is critical, one of the things we don’t hear as much about is the importance of wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are those open areas or small parcels of natural habitats that connect the larger ecosystems where our wildlife live. They provide a way through more developed areas and roads and highways for the animals to migrate through. Sometimes this is for migration from their winter grounds to summer locations, and for predators, it allows them to circulate and find their own territories with connection to their species for breeding as well. This is just my definition and I am sure there are much better ones if you would like to research more. Wildlife Corridors allow for wildlife to move from place to place and not get trapped in one wilderness area surrounded by growth and development.

Back in the day when I worked for environmental organizations, we focused on this issue quite a bit as we worked on how to allow for development while providing protection and corridors for endangered species in southern California. This issue has remained a very important one for me and when I read more about the migration paths and need to protect remaining corridors, I knew I wanted to share about it. Rather than trying to summarize all that I have read, please check out these article by Todd Wilkerson, founder of Mountain Journal, for everything related to the issues of wildlife corridors, crowding and development in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and how to save this “American Serengeti” that so many of us cherish. Let’s all educate ourselves more and determine how we can be a part of the solution in saving these incredible lands.

What’s Our Role in Saving Greater Yellowstone

Waiting For Elk To Disappear From ‘The Last Hundred Acres’

Unnatural Disaster: Will America’s Most Iconic Wild Ecosystem Be Lost To A Tidal Wave of People?

Bison in northern Yellowstone in a winter blizzard with -27 degrees temperature

A well-known sow grizzly in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Wolf Known as Big Brown, one of the last of the Druid pack
Trumpeter Swan on Lake Yellowstone
Bison trudging trough over a foot of fresh snow on a February morning

Know Before You Go

February is a time of year that many of us plan for summer. I know this is true for our family as we book campsites in national parks and start to plan for activities at our destination. This month, we are focusing on planning for your vacation and holiday travel with Nature First in mind. This article centers around the  Nature First principle – Educate yourself about the places you photograph. We have found there are many benefits both personally as well as for nature when we plan ahead.


““We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold


Why we should prepare for travel and nature photography?

Knowledge and education increases preservation. Each area we visit has unique features that require different levels of care and attention. By planning ahead, we start our travel equipped with information about the environments we visit. For example, the delicate alpine tundra should not be stepped on and we should stay on trails to not crush the fragile plant life. Along some coastlines, sand dunes should not walked on because it loosens the vegetation and damage the dunes that protects land from the ocean. If we visit a tropical location, we can learn ahead of time not to touch coral reefs and that we should only use certain sunscreens that don’t leave coral-destroying residue in the water. With a bit of education, we come prepared to our reduce impact on our natural world.



There are also a lot of personal benefits for us when we plan ahead. A few ways that some planning can help with your vacation/holiday include:

  • Better use of your time on holiday/vacation

  • Plan around crowds and avoid traffic, long lines, etc.

  • Enhance your overall travel experience

  • For busy destinations, set expectations so you aren’t disappointed

  • Provide for flexibility – plan for dealing with changing weather conditions and pack accordingly

  • Road/trail closures

How to prepare and do research ahead of time

  • Research the areas you will be in – protected areas, national parks and monuments, private land conservation areas, World Heritage sites, etc.

  • Contact parks or protected areas for information on reducing impact. Many of the places we travel to have very detailed and helpful information on their website.

  • Educate yourself about the type of environments you will visit – environmentally sensitive areas such as alpine tundra, fragile coastline or wetland, geothermal areas and features – how can you make sure you don’t add negative impact?

  • Call ahead and talk to rangers and protected area management – learn how to be responsible photographers in your travels . If you cannot talk to someone ahead of time, stop by the headquarters and visitor centers when you arrive.

  • Determine if permits are needed for parks, parking, camping etc. For example, a popular spot in the state of Colorado is Hanging Lake. However, you cannot hike to this lake without using a shuttle service and having a permit. They sell out fast in summer. With Covid, some national parks had, and may again have, permit systems for entering. Different places around the globe will have different permitting systems in place to protect nature and lessen crowds.

  • Consider traveling in off-season for better rates and less crowds and impact. We all know how effective this is when traveling in a busy European city. The same it true for the mountains, forests and seashores around the world.

  • Don’t just follow the crowd – research new and different places for photography instead of taking the same shot that everyone else has – be unique and create your own memories.

  • Look into volunteer opportunities to give back to places you visit – you can do this on your trip or before/after travel in some situations as well.

Hanging Lake, Colorado - only accessible with permit and use of shuttle system since 2019

Hanging Lake, Colorado – only accessible with permit and use of shuttle system since 2019

Unique take on Grand Prismatic Hot Springs area in Yellowstone

Unique take on Grand Prismatic Hot Springs area in Yellowstone



Resources to help with planning

  • Global Sustainable Tourism Council –

  • Bee Hive- nature focused hotels and bookings – encourage the protection and love of nature –

  • Local guidebooks

  • The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE)

  • Visit national park headquarters or protected area websites and visitor centers. They will have the best idea of the current problems that are happening in their area and how it can be avoided, or how you can make a difference

  • Environmental organizations in community or area

Make informed and environmentally friendly decisions once at your destination

  • Use your new knowledge to pick photography locations where you can leave no trace

  • If there is wildlife where you are going, keep recommended and legal distances at least

  • Create less impact on environmentally sensitive areas

  • Purchase locally sourced food and souvenirs when possible

  • Learn about the history/culture and natural significance of new places

  • Act like the destination is your home – bring reusable bags and your own water bottles to refill, don’t ask for new towels/sheets every day, etc



We believe this preparation can help all of us have a better experience and protect nature. I personally have found that we get a lot more out of our vacations when we choose to know about places before we go. It has helped prepare our expectations at crowded parks, led to new and unique photography experiences, hikes and beaches and even to new relationships and experiences we would not have found if planning wasn’t involved. One of our family’s favorite experiences was volunteering in a native plant nursery at Glacier National Park when our boys were young. A couple of my favorite photographs come from beaches and mountain areas that were far from the crowds, providing us with unique opportunities and experiences. We hope that you are inspired to think before you travel this summer.

written by Brynn Schmidt, staff member for Nature First

Recommendations for a Week of Adventure in Joshua Tree

There is nothing like the stillness and peace of the desert. Joshua Tree National Park grows on me each time I visit and is starting to make its way to the top of my favorite park list. I definitely recommend checking it out and I wanted to share some of what I love about this park and some recommendations for climbing, camping and other activities.

There is something about the desert. I’m pretty sure it is the solitude and peace that Edward Abby writes about in his memoir, Desert Solitaire. There are times when I am in Joshua Tree that I will stop on a hike or during photography and just absorb the utmost quiet. There is nowhere else that I have experienced this in the same way – it is one of the most unique desert areas to explore in the country. The landscape is covered with incredible boulder and rock formations, famous Joshua trees and surrounding mountains. It is peaceful, beautiful and magical toward sunset. During the day while climbing, it can be just as peaceful or a little busier with other climbers around your route and other climbing parties yelling back and forth to their belayers/climbers. The short hikes in the park get crowded but any moderate hike gets you out into the quiet.

“But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled, and I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great stillness – for there are a few sounds; the creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of my watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding, overwhelming peace. A suspension of time, a continuous present.” – Edward Abbey

We have spent the last three Thanksgivings in Joshua Tree National Park climbing. We get there the weekend before the holiday and then leave on Friday as the park gets really crowded for the long weekend. It is a beautiful time of year in the park and the weather can be perfect or somewhat cold. This year it was incredibly perfect with temperatures in the 70s almost all week and no wind. The climbing is awesome and the early morning and late afternoon light are perfect for photography. Pick up a climbing guide to the park if you intend to rock-climb and also make sure you know that Joshua Tree isn’t like some climbing areas. A guide book may tell you that a route is 5.7 and bolted so it sounds good, but when you get there the first bolt is 30 feet up and the climb starts from a place you scrambled to that is already 20 feet off the ground so a fall would be bad news. Do your research before climbing here. Also, there is no water in the park, so plan ahead and bring more than you need. For some general tips on traveling to Joshua Tree, check out another post I wrote here.

With over 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 bouldering problems and 8 campgrounds, there is plenty to choose from. For a head-start,  here are some of our favorites in Joshua Tree :

Moderate Rock Climbing

Sunset Photography

Camping – arrive early as most sites in the park are first-come first-served and fill up quickly. Another option if you want to be sure you have a place to stay and you aren’t living the van life is VRBO or Air B&B. We have rented a house before on VRBO that was near to the park and worked well as a base camp for all climbing.

Wildlife and Hiking

  • Barker Dam area and off toward the ruins of the old pink house from the same parking lot are great for short walks and looking for bighorn sheep and quail. The Hidden Valley loop is another nice and easy walk. There are so many great hikes in the park and the best place to start is on the hiking page at here and of course, on The Outbound. The NPS site also has information on everything you need to bring for hikes – remember this is the desert and the heat and sun can take a toll quickly.

Restaurants and Gear Shops

Are We Insta-Destroying Our Wild Places? The Importance of Conservation

Our national parks and public lands are suffering from reduced funding and a huge influx in traffic. Those of us who spend time in our national parks and nature in general need to advocate and learn to protect it for future generations. Learning more about conservation and practicing it is more important than ever – especially for those of us on social media.

I recently read a couple articles on this same subject, one was called “Is Social Media the End of Landscape Photograpy?” by Christian Hoiberg. The article discusses what our social media use, especially Instagram, is doing to our public lands. I highly recommend reading this article. It scared the crap out of me to be honest and has me evaluating my own social media behaviors. One statistic they shared in this article is that Horseshoe Bend a few years ago only saw a few thousand visitors a year. Last year they recorded over 1.5 million visitors. Areas like this that have become “the shot” for the Instagram community are not able to handle the amount of visitors.

The good news is we can still change things and I think part of that is providing more people with a conservation mind-set. The only way we can all work toward saving these places is by learning more about conservation and thinking about why we are going to the areas we want to see. If it is for adventure, travel and a place you think you would love, by all means, take a trip there. If it is a one-stop on your social media tour of attractions, think twice about going. If we continue to make it about the “likes” on Instagram, we are going to destroy our wilderness. Don’t get me wrong, I am on Instagram and Facebook and love to post photos from our trips. But, one of the things the article above suggests is to find new and unique places to visit and photograph and I am always trying to do that. Shouldn’t that be part of our journey anyway? I always love finding a new location to shoot where there is no one else around.

Below is one of my favorite spots in our local mountains, I am always the only one here – that is what I love most.

“Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.” – Yvon Chouinard, 180 South

This is one of my favorite quotes from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. It has always stuck with me because of the truth to it – if you don’t choose to learn and grow from experiences, you stay the same – and we find these same type of people in varying levels throughout some of our adventures and wilderness experiences (for example, the guy blasting music on his hike adding to your experience, only not in a wanted way). We have a choice to be better people and stewards of the land and grow from our experiences or to use and abuse our lands as a selfish act until we no longer have them.

I honestly believe it should be part of the adventure/explorer culture to have a basic background in conservation. As I read article after article on the hoards of people traveling to our national parks and wild places and the increase in travel due to social media, I am getting pretty bummed out. I majored in environmental studies and worked at an environmental law firm and for the County of Orange, CA Environmental Management Agency. So, I realize that the knowledge I have going back a lot of years is an advantage that many explorers and travelers don’t start out with. I still think there are ways to change this for people and one big one is education – picking up a book. That way we can work toward protecting the places we love most in nature. If you aren’t a reader, just pick one or two or listen on an audiobook. I have listed suggestions at the end of this story. The more we allow ourselves to learn, the more we grow into better people for our environment and the other people we interact with in nature.

The other article I read was basically about visiting an awesome spot in Mexico before it becomes “insta-ruined.” It had me thinking all week about, “What if everyone just knew more about conservation and even cared a little bit?” It is all of our responsibility to do this – especially those of us on social media. We have to set examples for others to witness and learn from. So, please, I beg you to follow park rules and Leave No Trace principles, visit the places for the shots you want but consider looking for more unique shots that don’t always tread on the same land. Consider learning just a little bit about conservation if it is a newer concept to you. I am currently evaluating my own behavior in the highly traveled areas as I am guilty of going to these spots as well.

Let me add a disclaimer here: I know so many of you reading this story already protect our lands and are activists and environmentalists and care deeply about protecting our lands. Awesome! Keep it up and educate others. I realized when I read this article though that I still need to be sure I am doing the right thing and treading lightly on our land – I think we can always use the reminder.

Here are 10 books I definitely recommend:

  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – book that pretty much started the environmental movement,
  2. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold – foundational book written in 1948 about conservation, policy and ethics
  3. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey – his memoir as a park ranger in Arches National Park
  4. Essential Muir – Selection of Essays – California Legacy Books – because, it’s John Muir
  5. Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner – the one book you should read on western water crisis
  6. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard -because Patagonia and an awesome founder who cares deeply about the environment as a “reluctant businessman”
  7. Decade of the Wolf, Douglas Smith and Gary Ferguson –  an account of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone by the scientists who were key to the success story
  8. 180 Degrees South- Conquerers of the Useless by Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Chris Malloy and Jeff Johnson – photo essay book based on the film with great behind-the-scenes look at film
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – only because there are positive & negatives to learn here
  10. Tools for Grassroots Activists by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers – great starter kit for becoming an activist

Recommendations for a winter trip to Yellowstone

There is so much to do in Yellowstone in winter and early spring. If you haven’t experienced this park in winter, you are definitely missing out. From cross-country skiing to the boiling river to snow coach tours and more – and with very low crowds. Check out these recommendations for a week in Yellowstone in my favorite season there, winter.

A lot of us have been to Yellowstone. For many of us it brings up thoughts of summer crowds, traffic, animal jams, long lines and too many people. The insane scenery, wildlife and hiking/camping opportunities make it so worth it though. Now take that scenery and wildlife (except for grizzlies during most of this time), add some very cold temperatures, snow and about 99% less people, and you have my favorite season in the park.

We have been traveling to Yellowstone in winter for about the past 8 years. It is our favorite time to go mainly because of the reduced crowds. Imagine walking on the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs and being the only ones there. Or skiing the terraces above and passing maybe 10 people.

It is incredible. Add in winter adventure activities, abundant ski trails and the best wolf watching of the year and it can’t be beat. Never mind that we have had a couple winters where temps have ranged from 0 to -29 in the park. Somehow that actually adds to the experience for me. We just don’t ski or snowshoe on the -29 days. We save that for days that are at least  -5 or warmer. Same goes for the boiling river since you have to walk back to your car soaking wet. During winter, temperatures can be fairly warm (30s, 40s) or drop really low. I have skied in Lamar Valley in a t-shirt one year and then worn everything I own on another day. Just plan ahead and bring tons of warm clothing.

The following are some ideas and recommendations for a week in Yellowstone in winter. These all are based on staying at the north entrance of the park. Either in Gardiner or Mammoth Hot Springs. While camping is actually available year round at Mammoth, I don’t recommend it unless you are way tougher than us or have a heater in the vehicle you sleep in. If you are a lover of freezing cold, winter camping – then totally go for it. Not my thing. The main season for winter is mid-December through early to mid-March. That is for lodges, snow coaches and restaurants. This part of the park is open year round and visiting through April feels like winter usually.

Ski/Snowshoe at Mammoth Terraces or Tower Road Area

Spend part of day walking around the lower terraces on the board walk and enjoy the hot springs and views – we usually have the board walk to ourselves. Then, drive up the road to the top of the Terraces and park at the top boardwalk area. From here, get out the skis or snowshoes and do an easy and really scenic 1.5 mile loop around the Upper Terraces. If skiing, there is one hill that is considered more difficult. For more details, visit Yellowstone Terrace Loop.

Another trail we love is what is actually Tower Road in the summer. In winter, the road is closed and only bison and elk use it. You can park near Roosevelt Lodge or right at the entrance to the closed road if there is room there to park. This is a bit of a popular spot on weekends. It still doesn’t have much traffic though. It is a 5 mile easy trail with beautiful views and ending at the falls. Bison frequent this area and sometimes we have to create our own path around them to keep the 25-yard distance required. The photo below shows us doing just that. Often, the bison just lie right on the road or paths. Check out more info at Tower Ski Trails. Also, check out this page on Yellowstone for more trails right in this area.

Photograph Wildlife

For more detailed information on wildlife photography in my favorite area, check out my Outbound adventure Photograph Wildlife in Lamar Valley. However, there is wildlife throughout the park on the road you can use from Gardiner all the way to Silver Gate at the northeast entrance. It is fairly easy to find bison, coyotes, bighorn, eagles, sometime fox and otters and even wolves. Grizzly boars come out in March, so be prepared and carry bear spray if you are there later in winter. Please be very careful of bison on the road. They are literally doing everything they can to just survive winter and often use roads instead of trudging through deep snow. Don’t make them run as it takes an incredible amount of their energy. Let them have the road and go very slowly to nudge them off the road if you must. Please respect the wildlife and how difficult it is to survive winter in Yellowstone. 

 Take a dip at the Boiling River

Just a couple miles inside the main entrance at Gardiner, MT, you will find the Boiling River. This is one of the only places you can take a soak in the park area. It is a .5 mile walk to the river opening where you can soak. Again, so few people in winter compared to summer. Just be prepared to quickly dry off and put all your warm gear back on to rush back to your car. There are 2 parking lots at the river area. Check out Mammoth Hot Springs Area Highlights for details and rules on using the river. After a soak, head to the K-Bar in Gardiner for pizza and beer. It is one of the places we enjoy hanging out at. They don’t have a web page, so check out this link for Visit Gardiner.

Visit the Historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

Check out the hotel and famous map room with bar at the hotel. Have a fine-dining experience at the Dining Hall for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you want to go for dinner, you need to have reservations in winter. Breakfast is my favorite meal here.

Watch Wolves and Learn More About Their Behavior

Winter and early spring are the best times to view wolves. They are more active in the snow and with less people around. One day, we saw over 35 wolves from 4 different packs – in a single day! That was the best day we ever had. It is actually pretty easy to find where wolves might be – look for the groups of cars and people with scopes. Have patience and use a scope or binoculars to view them. It is unbelievable how many we have seen most winters.

Snow Coach Tours

These tours are available through Yellowstone National Park and should be booked way in advance. These do fill up quickly. I had one booked for this trip that we took a couple weeks ago, but the park closed due to 2 feet of snow and my tour was canceled. I was definitely bummed. You can take tours to Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls area or Norris Geyser Basin. For more information check out Snowcoach Tours.

It is such a serene and peaceful time in the park. Here are a few more photos from this past trip we took:

Growing up in Paradise – Photography from Crystal Cove, California

I have been reminiscing a lot lately about my childhood and the nostalgia I feel for what is now Crystal Cove State Park in southern California. I grew up at a time when Crystal Cove was actually a private beach – where our dog roamed freely and horses with riders from the stables on the hills above traveled up and down the beach. We only lived fifteen minutes away from our very small cottage here at the cove, but it was like traveling to a distant paradise where nothing really existed for me, as a child, outside of life at the beach every day. The squeaking of the porch swing on the deck, the scent of geraniums that stays with me to this day and immediately take me back to my childhood, walks on the beach with my family, and my grandma who taught me the name of every sea shell as she helped me with my shell collection. The ice plant everywhere and the walks from the sand over the small bridge to our outdoor shower below the house. It seemed so far away from the ocean’s edge when I was little and had to go home. When I am there now, it is such a short walk, I always feel a bit disoriented as I still can feel what it was like as a child.

It was a magical place and I was the fourth generation of my family to live here.  According to my brother, we are referred to as “Covites” – the ones lucky enough to live here in community all summer. My dad stayed here every summer when he was growing up in the 40s and 50s. His family and others set up semi-permanent tents from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year on the beach. Then my great-grandparents leased a house that they named the Whistle-stop because my great-grandfather worked for Southern Pacific Railroad . The house they had when I was a baby is now where the Beachcomber Cafe sits. My grandma had a cottage here and then we had one as well. You could only lease these houses as the land had been owned for over a century by the Irvine Ranch, later the Irvine Company. In 1979, the company sold the land to the state of California and many years later, the cottages were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cottages were restored and are now for rent. You can learn more about the history from the Crystal Cove Conservancy. We have been fortunate enough to stay at several cottages over the past twelve years and so my boys have been raised here as well, making them the fifth-generation to experience life here.

In this photo you can see the restaurant that was my great-grandparents house, the brown house in the lower corner was our cottage and the turquoise building on the beach was once the snack shop where my dad worked as a teenager.

So many of my family memories are here. There is no other place in the world where I feel so at home. The photo above shows what the cove looks like currently, surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and 4 and 5-star hotels. When we grew up here, the hills where just open space with no houses. I wanted to share images I have taken in the last couple years since becoming a photographer and also a few from the past that are fun for me as well. Whenever I travel back home from Colorado, I make sure to spend time here, and I love the time that I have in the evenings to photograph and reminisce about such a special place. These are a few of my favorites from the past couple years:

I had to add this one because we called this “the toilet” growing up – the water would rush in and out of this pool as the waves came in and we would get washed in and out with it.

And here are some from my personal story. I am who I am today because of my time growing up here and the love my family poured into me when I was growing up here. I learned to feel God’s presence in nature here. I learned to love all forms of wilderness here. I learned about wildlife here – even though it isn’t the wildlife that I photograph now. I knew the name of every sea creature from the smallest chiton (which produced beautiful “butterfly shells” that washed up on the beach), to the starfish to the gray whale. I collected shells and sea glass and still have these displayed in my home today. Since it was a private beach back then, it was legal to collect these things. Now, we leave everything we see exactly where we find it. We roamed the beach freely as 70s kids and did things then that kids can only dream about today. One of my favorite memories is when the groundskeeper would take the bulldozer out in the mornings to clean up seaweed along the beach. Occasionally, he would give the few of us kids who lived there in summer a ride down the beach in the bucket of the bulldozer. It was incredible! Can you even imagine such a thing now? We also had our own fireworks and bonfires each summer and there was this awesome driftwood creation that Covites named, The Crystal Cove Yacht Club.

my grandma and dad at Crystal Cove during a summer camping at the Cove in the late 1940s.
Photo with my brother in some sweet 70s attire
Cleary 70s with my mom and dad – probably around 1977
I think I was in third grade here?
Family photo for Christmas card, around 1976
My boys during one of stays at the restored cottages
my boys in front of our old cottage – although it wasn’t this nice in the 70s
My dad and his grandkids at his grandparents old cottage, now the Beachcomber Cafe