Monday, November 30, 2015

Elk Buddies

Here's another image of the elk that greeted us at the entrance to Yellowstone yesterday.  They were the only two elk that we saw in that area and seemed to have a good relationship with each other.  It was easy to imagine that they were "buddies"!  

Yellowstone Elk - Official Park Greeters!

Yesterday we spent the entire day in the northeast section of Yellowstone National Park.  It was pretty cold when we left the hotel in Gardiner, about 5 degrees below zero.  We were hoping for a morning filled with wildlife sightings and right away we got off to a great start.  This pair of elk were hanging out right by the park's entrance station.  We were driving up to the station when these two buddies came walking up over the hill.  They posed nicely for us for several minutes then proceeded to walk towards town.  Our day was off to a great start!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bison Highway - You shall not pass!

We are now in the northeast section of Yellowstone National Park, the only area of the park with a road that is open all winter.  This afternoon we drove in as far as the Lamar Valley hoping to see wildlife.  We saw several elk, mule deer, antelope, a coyote and at least a few hundred bison!  Our favorite was this big guy which was walking right down the road towards us.  A "classic" Yellowstone image!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Morning at Earthquake Lake

On Thanksgiving morning I got up early to drive out to Earthquake Lake outside of West Yellowstone, Montana and (hopefully) catch some nice clouds and colors from the sunrise.  Things worked out quite nicely, as you can see!  It was a cold morning with the temperature hovering right around zero degrees, but the beautiful view was worth the cold.  Earthquake Lake is very unique.  It was formed from an earthquake on August 17, 1959 that caused a massive landslide which blocked the flow of the Madison River and created the lake.  The earthquake measured 7.3 - 7.5 on the Richter scale.  

Fearing that the pressure from the rising water would cause a flood, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a 250 foot wide and 14 foot deep channel into the slide.  By September 10th water was flowing through the slide.  To prevent more erosion another channel was cut, this one 50 feet wide and was completed on October 29th.  It is definitely one of the most unique features in the West Yellowstone area.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Montana!

Sunset light over the Gallatin River between Big Sky and West Yellowstone.  We are enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving Day here in Montana. I hope you are all having a wonderful day as well! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fiery Sunset over the Continental Divide

The other day after watching the moon rise over the Madison Range, we continued driving south back towards Highway 20 and West Yellowstone.  It had been a very gray afternoon with relatively thick cloud cover.  As sunset approached, however, there must have been a break in the clouds to the west.  We driving along when Jessica said "Ooooh, the sky is lighting up!"  Just moments later the sky was on fire with the reflected light from the sun setting behind the mountains.  We looked for the next available spot to pull over and enjoyed this amazing sunset from the side of the highway.  The mountains shown include Sawtell Peak, Mt. Jefferson and Nemesis Mountain.  The Continental Divide is in between Sawtell Peak in Idaho and Nemesis Mountain in Montana.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Moonrise over the Madison Range

Jessica and I are in West Yellowstone for the Yellowstone Ski Festival and some sightseeing. This afternoon after our morning ski we went for a drive around the Madison Range.  As we were driving south along the western side of the range we saw a beautiful moon rising over the mountains just before sunset.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

November Rainbow at High Falls

High Falls of the Pigeon River sure looks a lot different than it did a week ago!  In the past week we've received about 4 inches of rain which in turn has raised the Pigeon River water level about 5 feet.  The USGS maintains a monitoring station a couple of miles upstream from High Falls and according to that station the gauge height on the river went from 3 feet to 8 feet!  Yesterday morning I hiked up to the falls to see how it looked after the rain.  I was treated to an awesome view of the falls with high water levels, dark clouds overhead and just enough sunlight poking through the clouds behind me to produce a nice rainbow!

Below:  Here is a graph from the USGS monitoring station that shows the change in the water level.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November Snowfall, Minnesota's Tallest Waterfall

November snowfall at Minnesota's tallest waterfall, High Falls of the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park, MN.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

First Snow at High Falls

High Falls of the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park after the first snowfall of the winter.  Photo was made on November 13, 2015.  Shot with a Nikon D750 camera and Nikon 24-120mm lens.  Exposure length was 1 second with an aperture of f/16 at ISO 100.  I used a 6-stop ND filter to block enough light to get a slow enough exposure to blur the movement of the water.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Winter Highway Wonderland

I sure do love mornings where there is fresh snow coating all the trees on my drive to work!  I already have one of the prettiest commutes in the state of Minnesota, but the snow makes it even prettier.  This is Highway 61 just a couple of miles south of the Canadian border in Grand Portage, MN.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

November Snowfall

Yesterday I shared a photo of this same lake, only it was a zoomed-in view of the right side of the lake.  Today I decided to share the full view of the lake.  The fresh white snow contrasting against the beautiful blue of the water and the sky sure made for a beautiful sight on my way to work the other day!  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

First Snow at Teal Lake

Yesterday morning we woke up to a beautiful world of white!  It was the first measurable snowfall of the season near the Lake Superior shoreline in Grand Portage.  We had an inch or two of snow fall near the lake, with 3 to 4 inches or so further inland.  I stopped a few places on my way to work to make some pictures of the fresh snow, including this Highway 61 road-side stop that gives a view of Teal Lake just a few miles south of the Canadian border.  I don't recall ever seeing so much snow blanketing the trees while the lake was still a beautiful blue with no ice yet formed on its surface.  Most of this snow has already melted but hopefully we will have more soon!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Aurora Hunting Partner

Here's a fun shot from the last night that I spent out in search of the northern lights.  The lighting was so cool with the moonlight and aurora I wanted to set up a shot that showcased the vehicle that is my reliable partner in all my back roads adventures, our 2012 Ford F-150.  This truck is awesome and it takes me just about anywhere I care to go with no complaints.  We have an economical car too but the truck is my vehicle of choice when tromping around in the woods after dark.  It's high clearance and tough tires mean I don't have to worry about the road conditions when I'm chasing the aurora.  And, the V6 EcoBoost engine means I don't have to break the bank in fuel costs either.  I love how not only the aurora is reflecting in the bodywork of the truck, but also the stars!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Foggy Day on the Deer Trail

A photo I made during last week's fog while Jessica and I were out scouting the deer trails.  It was a very calm day without a lick of wind to blow the heavy fog away.  Quite the contrast to the way the weather has been since deer opener.  Since the season opened on Saturday morning the days have been characterized by mostly clear conditions and a lot of wind.  Today is nicer; it's partly sunny and mostly calm with mild temperatures.  It should be pretty nice tomorrow as well, but then the forecasters are calling for the weather to switch again, with highs in the upper 30's to low 40's and an 80 to 90% chance of rain mixed with snow.  You've got to love November, lots of variety in the weather!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Foggy Night under the Milky Way

Last week we had a lot of rainy weather and a lot of fog, which made for some pretty cool photo opportunities!  Especially after dark one evening when our neighbor's yard light was shining through the trees and fog.  I went out to make some photographs of the rays of light coming through the trees and while I was shooting the scene the fog started to clear out.  As the fog was dissipating I could see the stars appearing through the haze.  It only took about 5 minutes for the fog to completely burn off, so I had to work quickly in order to capture a good exposure that was as balanced as possible between the bright light on the bottom half of the photo and the dark sky above.  Using the graduated ND filter in Lightroom and the adjustment brush I was able to balance the exposure even more between the bottom and top of the photo, and bring out the brightness and detail of the stars a bit more.  I really like the end result, it's unlike anything I've ever captured before with a camera.  Definitely one of the most unique night sky photos I've captured!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Back Roads Moonlight, Superior National Forest

A beautiful star-filled sky complemented by the light of a half-moon while driving the back roads of Superior National Forest in northeast Minnesota.  Notice the constellation Orion in the sky in the upper right quarter of the photo. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

USCG Cutter "Alder" retrieving the Hat Point bell buoy

Last night as we were driving home after an afternoon in the woods we were treated to a rare sight.  The United States Coast Guard Cutter "Alder" was pulling the Hat Point Bell Buoy for the season.  Indeed, this happens every year, which doesn't exactly count as "rare", but usually they pull it in the 3rd week or so of October and usually during the day.  This time the sun had already set and they were retrieving the buoy during the "blue hour" that occurs after sunset.  It was cool to see the ship lit up not only with the navigational lights but also all the work lights as the crew pulled the buoy from the reef between Hat Point and Pete's Island.  

The ship was roughly a mile away so in order to make this shot I had to use my Tamron 150-600mm lens set to 600mm, not an easy feat in such low light conditions.  I mounted the lens on my tripod, set the camera to an ISO setting of 3200, set the aperture to f/8 in aperture-priority mode, set the timer to release the shutter 5 seconds after pressing the shutter button, then made this shot.  The exposure time was 2 seconds, and thankfully the conditions were calm enough that the boat did not move at all during those 2 seconds so I was able to get a nice, sharp image. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

November Lights over Kawishiwi Lake

And this is how my night ended in the early morning hours of November 3rd.  Clouds moving in from the west that soon covered the entire sky for the remainder of the night.  For a little while, though, I enjoyed a period of pristine calm conditions on Kawishiwi Lake in Superior National Forest.  The northern lights continued to glow in the northern sky but with a little less intensity and variety in color than what I had witnessed earlier in the night.  I enjoyed watching that gray cloud moving in from the left and its perfect reflection as it marched from west to east across the lake.  It was a beautiful end to an amazing night of photography and aurora watching!

The Majesty of the Minnesota Night Sky

This is how my night of shooting started out on November 3rd.  Taken just minutes after the new day began, this photo was made at 12:10 AM along the Sawbill Trail in Superior National Forest.  I had scoped out this location earlier in the summer, recognizing it as a potential good spot for some northern lights photography.  

Since the majority of the Sawbill Trail runs straight north, it's a good opportunity to watch the lights dancing in the sky as you're driving, provided they are active.  And active they were as I was cruising down the road that night.  I had to constantly remind myself to keep my eyes on the road and not get too distracted by the beautiful aurora that were sweeping across the sky directly ahead of me.  

When I arrived at this location with the trees, the activity had subsided and the lights were no longer dancing.  All I could see was a soft glow right above the horizon.  That didn't make the scene any less beautiful though!  I had the multi-colored hues of the aurora combined with the magical starlight of the Milky Way over the stand of trees.  Add just the right amount of clouds on the left that were illuminated by the rising half-moon behind me and I had a trifecta of night sky goodness!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Plouff Creek Lights

The Aurora Borealis paints an other-worldly palette of color in the northeast Minnesota sky over Plouff Creek in the Superior National Forest.  This photo was made at 3:30 this morning.  Shot with a Nikon D750 camera and Nikon 14-24mm lens.  Exposure length 20 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 2500.

November Night in the Superior National Forest

Last night was a good one for the northern lights!  I spent the entire night out photographing the lights in various locations.  Visiting multiple areas was kind of necessary due to cloud cover plaguing much of the region.  There was also heavy fog at my house when I headed out.  I was hopeful that the fog was only along the Lake Superior shoreline and it would clear up if I headed inland.  Thankfully, that plan worked!  As I drove down the shore the fog dissipated and eventually the cloud cover started breaking up as well.  I drove south to Tofte, MN and headed up the Sawbill Trail to try some new (for me) locations for photographing the aurora. 

I stopped at 4 different locations near the Sawbill Trail and each time I got lucky and had a clear sky long enough to make a few exposures of the lights.  After making a few images at each location the clouds moved back in and totally obscured the view of the sky, so I was off again in search of another spot with a clear view.  As I was making my circuit around the arrowhead region I saw a plethora of wildlife.  At least 40 to 50 deer (mostly along Highway 61), a dozen or more rabbits, two moose and a skunk.  It was a great night in many ways!  

As is my tendency, the first image that I'm going to share from last night's adventures is my favorite.  I arrived at this location just as the lights were flaring back up after a lull in their activity.  There were a lot of reds in the colors of the lights last night, which happens from time to time but is certainly not common.  Mostly we see green and purple.  Also, the red color is not always immediately apparent to the naked eye.  I had no idea that there was this much color in the sky until I made my first photograph and saw how much red there was.  I could just barely make out the color when looking at the sky, but the camera really picks up a lot more of it.  Look for another photo to be posted later today!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Late Autumn Sunset

Now that all the leaves have fallen the trees make for some nice silhouettes against the sky, especially at sunset.  I captured this image a few days ago while leaving work for the day at Grand Portage State Park.