Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog en-us (C) 2017 Dawn Wilson Photography dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:39:00 GMT Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:39:00 GMT https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/img/s/v-5/u45817337-o104775357-50.jpg Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog 120 63 17 in '17: My Favorite Photos of 2017 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Last year seemed to go faster than any other yet I did less travel in 2017 than in any of the prior five years. My goal for last year was to focus on writing, my business and editing a lot of the photos that I already have on my hard drives.

Did I accomplish my goals? Yes and no. I had an unexpected opportunity to spend the entire summer season in our RV in Estes Park. And that was a phenomenal experience. To wake up every morning, look west to see the Continental Divide and watch wildlife babies grow all summer was an experience I will never forget. 

But I do still love to travel so I mixed in a few trips over the course of the year—Alaska as always, South Dakota, New Jersey and a few destinations around my favorite home state of Colorado. 

So here are my top picks from 2017 out of the 37,714 images I captured. Enjoy the images and the brief stories associated with each, and to see more images from 2017, check out my annual video of images.

Moose_East_Portal_2017_1Moose_East_Portal_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) eats some leaves and branches from a bush in the campground in Estes Park, Colorado #17: Moose in Estes Park

During our last week at the campground in Estes Park, we worked on remodeling some campsites. I was out photographing the finished results when I heard something rustling near me. I looked up to see this big bull moose. A few minutes later a second one popped out from behind the trees. They roamed around the campground for about an hour before heading into the trees on the property next door. Seeing the wildlife all summer and fall just outside of the RV was one of the best things about being there. 

#16: Bighorn Sheep Ram Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) poses for a close up of his eye, ear and horn on a sunny afternoon in Waterton Canyon National Recreation Area near Littleton, Colorado

I am always looking for new perspectives on animals I have photographed a lot. The bighorn sheep are one of my favorite animals to photograph—it is in my logo after all—so I tried a few different angles this year during the rut. This is a close up of a ram's eye on a sunny afternoon where you can even see the mountains and setting sun in his eye. 

#15: Snowy Dream Lake

Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1A wish come true when an early fall snowstorm blanketed Dream Lake and Hallett Peak with snow three days into the fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. We have had very little snow this winter in Colorado but this past fall was a different story. One of the earliest snowfalls in recent memory was the morning of September 25. And it just happened to be my birthday. I couldn't miss the opportunity to capture a photo I have envisioned for several years of the snow covering the rocks thanks to the low water level typical in fall at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

#14: Northern Lights Over Denali Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above the Savage River Campground in Denali National Park, Alaska

Although I go to Alaska every year to photograph brown bears, I also add on additional destinations to mix it up each year. This past year was no exception with a camping trip into Denali National Park and Preserve. There was quite a bit of road construction happening on the first 15 miles. One night I needed to head to town to catch up on emails, purchase some supplies and make a few phone calls. By the time I headed back to the campground, the road was already closed with the exception of an hourly pilot car. The delay meant I didn't get back to the campsite until after midnight. But that delay meant I saw one of the best displays of Northern Lights I have ever experienced in Alaska. This view was directly over my campsite. It started as just one slight shiver of light in the sky, and then the colors kept getting brighter and the dancing kept getting stronger. Within about 30 minutes the entire sky was full of swaying curtains of purple and green.

Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Two bull moose (Alces alces) walk through the shallow water of the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado #13: Moose in Estes Park

I was playing a casual game of badminton in Stanley Park, just one and a half miles from downtown Estes Park, when someone yelled there were two moose in the lake. I said, "they are more likely elk." Elk wander all over Estes Park but moose are rarely seen in town. But sure enough, when I turned around there were two very young moose walking towards the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes. It was a hot July afternoon and the moose walked down to the water where they cooled off for a bit. Then they started walking towards the crowd that was gathering but sense overruled curiosity; the moose turned around and walked into the woods on one of the nearby mountains. 

  Pika_RMNP_2017_6Pika_RMNP_2017_6A pika (Ochotona princeps) holds a mouth fullful of flowers and plants as he stops on a rock on his way to add to his cache of food for the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #12: Pika on Trail Ridge Road

Another benefit of being in Estes Park for the summer was the ability to get up to Trail Ridge Road before sunrise without having to wake up in the middle of the night. Even from our RV it was a 45-minute drive to my favorite spot to photograph pika but it allowed me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with one of my favorite alpine critters last summer. It was hard to pick one of my shots of the pika but I settled on this iconic behavior of this small mammal, a member of the rabbit family. Pika spend most of the summer building caches of food called hay piles. These critters don't hibernate but rather live off of the hay piles during the winter months. 

Moose_Denali_2017_1Moose_Denali_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks towards a ridge and a foggy valley below the snow-capped Alaska Range in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska #11: Moose and the Alaska Range

A very different experience with a moose happened when I was in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. I traveled to the park during the peak of fall colors. My goal while there was to photograph caribou and moose in the fall colors. The weather didn't seem to be cooperating but, as I tell my photo students, you have to take what Mother Nature gives you because you can't change it. Embrace the weather because you never know what kind of feeling it can evoke in a photo. I missed this large bull moose crossing the road but as he walked off towards the Alaska Range the fog started to lift in the valley below. Composing the moose below the tall, snow-covered mountains gave a sense of scale to the scene. 

Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2A broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) sits on a nest hidden in the branches of a conifer tree in Estes Park, Colorado


#10: Hummingbird on Nest

I have photographed hummingbirds quite a bit around Colorado but I had never photographed one on the nest or feeding babies. I thought I had missed another season of opportunities as June rolled into July. Then an acquaintance in Estes Park mentioned he found a nest in his yard and gave me the opportunity one morning to photograph it. It was mid-July, late for a nesting bird, but I jumped at the chance. I am glad I did. My friend said the eggs were taken from the nest just a couple of days later by a predator bird. 

Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1An elk (Cervus elaphus) splashes around in Lake Estes on a sunny day in Estes Park, Colorado. #9: Splish Splash

Lake Estes in Estes Park is a favorite location of the urban elk in town. They cross it pretty frequently and spend time in the water during the hotter summer days. I was at the right place at the right time when this cow elk not only walked through the lake but started splashing around in the water like a little kid. 

Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Three golden-mantled ground squirrel babies (Spermophilius lateralis) sit on a log on a sunny afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.


#8: A Trio of Baby Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels

We went for a hike to look for American martens. Although we saw one—it crossed the road in front of us in the dark as we drove home after walking several miles to see one—we stopped and spent time at this great little spot that was home to yellow-bellied marmots and golden mantled ground squirrels. These three squirrel babies sat out on this log for a while watching us and the other hikers walking along the trail. I loved the soft green background that framed these adorable little babies. 

Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1A mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) walks through a thick field of grasses in the early evening in Estes Park, Colorado #7: Baby Deer in the Campground

We moved our RV into the campground in mid-May. Almost immediately we noticed there were several mule deer does hanging around the area. Two of the five were pregnant. We were excited about the potential opportunity to see the babies so we watched the does for any signs of giving birth. The day finally came in early June when we noticed one of the does was no longer pregnant. We saw her baby the next day in the field of flowers below our RV. A few days later the other pregnant doe revealed her twin fawns. And that was the beginning of watching these deer grow up all summer. At first they hid in the grasses and flowers. It was interesting to watch their mothers trust the fawns near us. Later in the summer the three fawns could be seen running and jumping together. One afternoon I came back to the RV to find one of the fawns peeking over our picnic table. We really enjoyed the opportunities the animals of the campground gave us to take a peek into their lives. 

Elk_calf_EP_2017_2Elk_calf_EP_2017_2An elk calf (Cervus elaphus) looks terrified as he rests after a scary attempt to cross the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado #6: Scary Day for the Elk Calf

Like the deer fawns, I was excited to be in Estes Park for the elk calving season. Although I had seen elk calves before in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had not witnessed the calves immediately after birth. Someone told me the cows start dropping calves around Memorial Day weekend. Not that animals have a calendar to follow but animals are very predictable when it comes to timing. Sure enough I saw my first elk calf the week of Memorial Day. First it was a calf with a very protective mother. Then there was a set of twins with a much more laid back mother. And then there were several calves running around Estes Park. I got a call one morning that a calf had been seen in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park. I ran down to the river to see a scary site of a calf in the center of the river trying to get back to the bank. Its mother was already on the other side eating grass. She didn't seem worried. It seemed like a very hard lesson about how to cross a river. The calf made it back to the bank on its own but its mother was still on the other side. The calf curled up in the rocks and rested. It must have been exhausted. It was only a few days old and had to deal with a river crossing in a river swollen with spring runoff. I snapped a few photos of the calf and then let it be. I returned later in the afternoon to find the cow nursing her calf. The next day the calf and cow were both gone. I saw them in the following weeks and the calf was doing great. It's not easy being an elk calf. 

Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) walks along a grassy ridge set against the snow falling on the distant ridges of the badlands in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. #5: Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands

My present to myself for Christmas was visiting a new national park as I work on my goal of visiting all of the national parks by my 50th birthday. One I had never visited was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I have been to parks all over the country yet I had never been to this one park just six hours from my home. As I did some research about the park, I discovered they have a decent size herd of bighorn sheep. During my short visit I was lucky to have a little bit of fresh snow and some very cooperative sheep. I kept capturing shots of sheep framed against the distant badlands landscape, and this one shot caught my eye with the ram walking along the ridge in front of the distant ridge. 

Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4A female mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) sits on a branch as snowflakes fall on a cold, cloudy day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #4: Mountain Bluebird in Snow

As with many shots, I look at weather and review animal patterns to get an idea of what is the best thing to photograph on a particular day during a particular season. In late winter and early spring, after the mountain bluebirds return, I look for bluebirds in snow. Bluebirds don't like snow, at least not when it is falling, but as soon as the snow stops they are out and about eating bugs and worms on the wet ground. Getting a photo of a bluebird in falling snow was a goal of mine. Although I am still envisioning a photo with a heavier snowfall, I was happy with the few photos I did capture last year of bluebirds in light snowfall. This particular image was captured in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4A black bear sow (Ursus americanus) stands up to get a better look in a forested area of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #3: Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last year marked my 20th anniversary of my first trip to Colorado, which included a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. (Read the blog post about those 20 years here.) It was the second national park I ever visited (after Grand Canyon) and was one of the reasons I fell in love with Colorado and moved here. In the summer of the 20th anniversary I found myself living literally within walking distance of the park. I loved it! But in those 20 years I also never saw a black bear in the park. I had seen bears in Colorado and even in New Jersey before I moved to Colorado but never in Rocky Mountain National Park, until last summer. This sow had two cubs in the tree above her, which I never was able to photograph, and had an elk nearby that I suspect had a calf she was protecting. Eventually the elk chased off the bear but I was happy for the moment I had with the bear. 

Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2A snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) sits on a sand dune on a windy day in early winter on Island Beach State Park in central New Jersey. #2: Snowy Owl on the Beach

I visited New Jersey in December for a quick trip to celebrate an early Christmas with my mom. I also spent a day photographing with Ashleigh Scully, a very talented photographer based in New Jersey. We both were excited to hear that snowy owls had been reported along the shore. An even better bonus was that snow was falling when I arrived in New Jersey that Friday night. I had to think but I couldn't remember a single time where I saw snow at the shore. Although my mom lives at the shore and I had spent a lot of time at various shore towns I couldn't remember actually seeing snow on the beach in New Jersey. And now I had an opportunity to photograph a snowy owl in the snow on the beach during an irruption year. It took two hours but our group finally found the owl. It was beautiful and a wonderful experience on many counts. 

Elk_RMNP_2017_26Elk_RMNP_2017_26A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) stops and bugles on a snowy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #1: Elk in Snow in the Fall

This photo more than any other from the elk rut had a lot of comments on Facebook from other photographers who said they always wanted to photograph elk bugling in falling snow in the fall. Why did it generate so many comments? Because this scene doesn't happen very often in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to photograph elk during their rut or mating season. In late August the bulls will start bugling after shedding the velvet from their antlers. The activity begins to pick up in September as larger bulls join the activity and the cows start to show signs of being interested in the bulls. Although snow in the high country can happen anytime of year, the elk perform their rut season in the lower meadows. Seeing a heavy, wet snow when the leaves are in fall colors and still on the trees is a rare occasion. To have a bull elk standing in a stand of aspens and give out his bellowing call was a moment that put a smile on my face. 

So those are the shots out of the more than 37,000 images I captured in 2017 that bring me the most joy for the memories I have, the stories behind them and the images that resulted. I have yet to take a single photo this year. I am not exactly sure why. One reason is because we haven't had any snow to peek my interest in finding wildlife in a typical winter scene. Another reason is because I have been searching for more difficult to find animals, such as a snowy owl that I never had luck finding. And partly because I have been very busy with other types of projects that I am hoping will be a good investment in my future as a writer and photographer. But as I type this the weather forecast on the news is saying it is snowing in the high country so maybe with a little luck tomorrow morning I'll find an animal to photograph that is willing to brave the cold and snow with me. 

Happy New Year! 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) 2017 2018 animal bear colorado elk happy new year nature nature photography photographer photography snowy owl travel wildlife year https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:39:11 GMT
Social Media and Your Photos https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Social media is a God send for photographers to market their business. But social media sites have dramatically changed the industry by providing an overabundance of photos to the market. Social media sites have also become a way to learn about some previously well-kept secret photo spots. 





I recently gave a presentation to the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club about how to get started utilizing social media sites, particularly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as part of your marketing plan. Here is a summary of that presentation. 

If you are interested in having me speak to your group about social media, wildlife photography, Colorado photography or travel photography, email me at dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com.

Social Media and Your Photos

The top five players in social media are:

- Facebook (now 2 billion+)
- YouTube
- Instagram
- Twitter
- Reddit


(graphic of the top 15 social media sites: https://www.dreamgrow.com/top-15-most-popular-social-networking-sites/)

Screen shot of a Facebook business page The best social media sites for photographers:
- Facebook
- Instagram
- 500 px
- Flickr
Why photos work on social media:
- Tweets with photos get 35% more retweets on average
- 74% of social media marketers use visual assets in their social media marketing, ahead of blogs (68%) and videos (60%)
- When people hear information, they're likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the info three days later.
(Source: Hubspot.com, 1/3/17, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy)

A screen shot of a post on Facebook. Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Be professional

- Refine your older photos — the Internet is forever but content can be reposted

- Your best will change over time

- Keep your content fresh

- Your posts are a reflection of your work

- Keep your brand in mind

- Keep photo subjects timely


Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- That means:

   • Tack sharp

   • Great backgrounds

   • Good composition

   • Interesting interaction

   • Tells a good story


Optimizing Your Photos

- Each social media site has their own set of specs

- Facebook (see image to right)

- For additional social media sites, visit



There is a wide variety of information about each social media site.


Click here for the complete presentation. 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) facebook instagram learn marketing nature photograph photos social media travel tutorial twitter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Sun, 05 Nov 2017 23:45:53 GMT
20 Years in Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1The clouds fill with warm color at sunset over Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Today marks twenty years since my first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

How do I know exactly what day it was? It was the day before the torrential rains started falling in Fort Collins that led to one of the worst flooding disasters in that Northern Colorado town. (Here is a little background about that flood.)

I was in town visiting Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine as I looked at my options for graduate school. I wound up going to Temple University for my MBA in marketing instead but moved to Fort Collins five years later after falling in love with the town that weekend.  Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Early morning light illuminates Hallett Peak above Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Par, Colorado

As I thought about the content I wanted to write for this blog post, I came to the realization that my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in July 1997 was my first to a national park on my own. It was the first park I chose to explore. 

During that weekend in 1997, I explored the park on horseback. My horse, a palomino paint, was named Clown. He was a sweet horse, even when he tripped on the trail, bumping me off the saddle and onto the rocky ground. 

I met Aeric two months after my trip to Colorado. He loved hiking and being outdoors, and when I met him the farthest he had traveled west was Pennsylvania. 

I couldn't stop telling him how much he would love Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk_RMNP_2016_19Elk_RMNP_2016_19Two bull elks (Cervus elaphus) practice their sparring techniques on a sunny morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado In 2000, we took a cross-country trip from our home in New Jersey and headed west. We would visit numerous national parks on that trip—Canyonlands, Mammoth Cave, Zion, Death Valley, Black Canyon of the Gunnison—but, like my visit a few years earlier, Aeric fell in love with Colorado when we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. He loved it so much that he returned to Rocky a month after we returned to New Jersey from our cross-country travels. 

We decided in the summer of 2000 that Colorado was where we wanted to be so when I finished graduate school in 2002, we sold the house, packed all of our belongings and headed west. 

Bluebird_LakeBluebird_LakeOuzel Peak overlooks Bluebird Lake on a cloudy afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado We rarely camped in Rocky but we visited often, exploring many of the trails throughout the park. 

The last hike Aeric and I took together was in Rocky—to Bluebird Lake.

Aeric died in October 2012.

After Aeric died, I found I went to the park at least once a month to photograph sunrise and wildlife.

The park, unknowingly, became my respite from a crazy, depressing world that enveloped me in 2012. It wasn't the only place I explored in Colorado and throughout the west at that time in my life but it was the most consistent. 

The park did and has continued to play a big part in my life.

Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1A moose (Alces alces) walks across the tundra at first light set against the Gore Range near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Rocky was where I fell in love with Colorado and initiated my ultimate move to the Centennial State. The park was where Aeric and I took our engagement photo.

And Rocky is where Richard and I met in 2015 when we were both living on the road visiting national parks, among other destinations, in our RVs.

Marmot_16Marmot_16A yellow-bellied marmot stops and stands with a mouth full of grasses on the alpine tundra at sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now I find myself living with Richard at the base of Rocky in the RV we bought together. It is wonderful to look out the window every morning and check the clouds and the Continental Divide to see what sunrise potential is brewing. It is wonderful to have elk, deer and turkeys walk right through the campground. 

Twenty years later I am still in love with Rocky as much as I was on that Saturday in 1997. 

The park has changed a lot in those 20 years—more from the perspective of number of visitors—but I still find a lot of solitude in this beautiful park.

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Unfortunately, my photos from that first visit to Rocky are packed away in a box deep in my storage unit as there isn't room in my RV for all of my prints and negatives from my film days. There are, however, plenty of digital photos I am sharing here from the more recent years in Rocky. Maybe it is an important sign that life has started over again for me. And there is Rocky still my constant companion through it all. 

Enjoy the memories you make in this beautiful national park straddling the Continental Divide in northern Colorado. If you haven't been, what is holding you back?

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) animal colorado death high country love memories national park foundation national park service nature nature photography partner photo photography rocky mountain national park rv travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Fri, 28 Jul 2017 00:07:04 GMT
RV Livin' #20: The Final Countdown https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia Today is my final night on the road as a full-time RVer. 

The plan, when I left the keys to my home in the hands of a new buyer and moved into an RV last September, was called a Year in an RV. The goal was to photograph as many mammals of North America as possible.

I actually made it 15 months and five days. I also did the year in not just one RV , but three RVs. I started in my Class C. Then I upgraded to a Class A motorhome. And now I have downsized to a travel trailer in preparation of becoming a weekend warrior, in a sense. 

This last week has actually been surprisingly crazy. I wanted to mark the final countdown with a tremendous trip to some new place. But fifteen months on the road has cost a few pennies and my body seems to have finally given in to me pushing it for so many sunrise and sunset photo shoots with some amazing animals. I came down with what I now think was the flu last Sunday, a day after I arrived In Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1A flock of snow and Ross's geese (Chen rossii, Chen caerulescens) take off from the roosting pond at sunrise in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I kept my last trip close to my home state of Colorado. I didn't get to visit Bosque last fall, and that was a bit of a disappointment - not for what I did instead but because Bosque really is a wildlife photographer's dream location for bird photography. 

Each November, thousands of greater and lesser sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Ross's geese converge on this 57,331-acre refuge along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. It turned out that the bird counts last year were pretty low so everything may have worked out in the long run. And this year I actually added a couple of new photos to my mammal inventory - a striped skunk and a javelina. Both great photo opportunities for my last week of this amazing adventure, even with suffering through an achy body and stuffy head.  Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1A collared peccary, also known as a javelina (Tayassu tajacu), stops to check out the clicking sound while crossing a trail in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I arrived back in Colorado on Thursday so that I could work on answering the big question I now have in front of me: Now what???

I pick up the keys to an apartment tomorrow morning. I have started outlining a revised business plan for my photography business, and I have started to consider what other career options might be out there in addition to photography. Maybe photography will continue to be full-time, maybe it won't. Too early to say at this point.  Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6A striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) walks along a pond embankment on a cloudy day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

All I know is that I think my critters will be very happy to stop being mobile. 

I winterized the trailer today. It was kind of a sad moment but it felt right. Timing is right too - the temperatures are supposed to dip into the negative digits in a couple of days here along the Front Range. Feels good too to wrap up this unbelievable year right here at home in a Colorado State Park. There really is no place like home. 

When I left Jackson, Wyoming in September after a visit to Grand Teton National Park, there was a sign in front of one of the businesses that really summed up my feelings about this project, this adventure, this wanderlust year: "Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened."

Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina I actually did smile when I read that sign because I thought that was the last drive back into Colorado on my yearlong adventure. I smiled because I was happy it happened. I made a dream a reality. 

It turned out I would get another two and a half months on the road and continue to add new places and new critters to my life list, such as Congaree National Park in South Carolina, an eastern spotted skunk along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and beautiful fall scenery in the Smoky Mountains.  Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1A myriad of fall leaves float on the murky water surrounded by reflections of sky and overhead leaves in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

So off I head to bed to dream about all of the beautiful places I have seen this year.

I hope to do it again someday because there were many big sections of the U.S. that I missed. I didn't get to New England. I didn't make it to Florida. I didn't make it to the northwest. I didn't make it to the upper midwest. Goes to prove just how big our country is and how much there really is out there to see. Take it one location at a time and enjoy the exploring.

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) takes off in soft morning light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico



dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Year Blue Ridge Parkway Bosque del Apache Colorado Congaree New Mexico RV RV Livin' Smoky Mountains dream big dreams final countdown goal goals home living the dream motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography road trailer travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:34:25 GMT
RV Livin' #19: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkways https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower Falls or Second Falls flows down through the vibrantly colored trees in Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina I took an unexpected trip back east to follow fall colors. Unfortunately this year turned out to be late on colors and the dry late summer caused the leaves to be very brown but it was still an amazing time and something that was on my Year in an RV List.

And when I found out that there are elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park I was extra excited. This was going to be a nice change of scenery for a Rocky Mountain favorite. Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Two bull ek (Cervus elaphus) spar in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

I had never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It would be park #41 on my list of parks I have visited and what better time of year than peak fall color. 

Because of the size of the campgrounds - or what we thought would be limiting - we brought the smaller trailer rather than the class A RV. The campgrounds certainly could have handled the larger RV but the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway may have been a different story. 

Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1A wild turkey tom (Meleagris gallopavo) stands in the afternoon sun in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee The trip started off in Cades Cove. My research showed this to be an excellent place to see black bears, turkeys and white-tailed deer. What I had not anticipated were the crowds. I knew Great Smoky Mountains N.P. is the most visited park in the country - they topped 11 million visitors in 2015 and expect to have more this year - but I was not prepared for the lines of people through Cades Cove. The road into the cove opens at sunrise but the people line up as much as an hour earlier. Thankfully the exit from the campground dumps right into the line and I could get there about 30 minutes before sunrise and still be about tenth in line - a helpful tip if you plan a visit. 

The traffic moved slowly once the gate opened and because the gate doesn't open until sunrise, getting to one of the good landscape spots before the harsh light hits was next to impossible.  Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

But I was here for white-tailed deer and bears. 

Although I don't feel like I walked away with any super fantastic shots of either from Cades Cove, I still enjoyed the visit. It was difficult to photograph deer with 20 photographers chasing and surrounding them. It made me appreciate the patience photographers have in Colorado to work together for shots. And although I saw a few bears, most were busy enjoying the acorns in the mountains. 

Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking Glass Falls cascades down a rock just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, North Carolina Next we headed off to various destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This too was a new place for me and it held up to all of the stories about its beauty in the fall. I photographed Mabry Mill, Linn Cove Viaduct, Looking Glass Falls, and many other iconic locations. This area actually has some of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the country, most easily accessible from the road and all surrounded by beautiful fall colors. 

I even found a few chipmunks to photograph. They were busy gathering those plentiful acorns and storing them away for winter. And on our last night on the parkway we had an unexpected and rare animal cross our path - an eastern spotted skunk.  Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2A chipmunk cleans her paws on a sunny morning along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

If you have followed this blog for a while you know the skunk continues to be one of the animals I have never photographed. I have seen them numerous times in various places but have yet to capture them with my camera - mostly because they are almost exclusively nocturnal, and if they are out during the day, you don't see them long. Those short little legs are surprisingly quick. I managed a few photos under the illumination of the truck lights at a high ISO so I still don't have a great photo - but baby steps right? Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

That little encounter made me miss photographing wildlife even more so after two weeks of working the landscape on the parkway, we headed back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find the elk. 

The fog, elk and beautiful landscape in fall colors made me happy but somber at the same time. Reality was setting in that this was going to be the last big trip and my last new destination for my year in an RV. 

But I put that aside for a few days as I focused on photographing the elk in Cattaloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys.  Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1A red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) sits on a rock and looks forward along the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

It has taken me several weeks to correctly spell the names of those valleys. I have yet to be able to master the pronunciation of the second valley. 

These elk were introduced to the valley about 15 years ago. The elk native to the Smoky Mountains have been extinct since the 1700s and the new elk were brought in from Canada, is what I was told by a volunteer. They have also done pretty well and now number about 200 in the eastern Smokeys.  Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1An incoming storm puts clouds in the sky over Simms Pond surrounded by fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

I also found several small mammals to photograph. Unexpectedly I seem to have developed a fascination for photographing the wide variety of squirrels I have seen on my travels. I grew up in New Jersey where eastern gray squirrels were abundant but I found I missed them once I moved to Colorado where we have a couple of different varieties. As one photographer told me, a great photo of a common animal is better than a bad photo of an uncommon animal. So I added shots of red squirrels and gray squirrels to my inventory while out east. I also found a cooperative woodchuck, another animal we don't have in Colorado, although we have their silly cousin the yellow-bellied marmot. 

But the calendar kept ticking away and it was time to leave this beautiful area. I have just a few weeks left to visit friends and family in New Jersey before heading back across the country for the last time on this adventure. There will be more adventures - I just don't yet know what they will look like.  Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1A woodchuck (Marmota monax) sits in a grassy field in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Blue Ridge Parkway Carolina Great Smoky Mountains National Park North RV RV living Tennessee animal elk fall fall colors full-time RVer nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography recreational trailer travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Sat, 05 Nov 2016 18:54:02 GMT
Photographing Wildlife in the Fall https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Moose_35Moose_35A bull moose (Alces aces) with shedding antlers stands in willows on a rainy day at Brainard Lake National Recreation Area, Colorado. Fall is a popular season for most nature photographers. The colors of the trees and plants from the east coast to the west coast, from the tundra of Alaska to the canyons of Zion National Park in Utah turn the landscapes into an artist's palette of vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and gold. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.

But fall is also a busy season for wildlife. Many of the large mammals go into their mating season. Starting in late July through December, the moose, bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep focus on finding mates and not much else. Birds migrate through on their way to their winter destinations. Bears begin their hyperphagia stage where they eat tens of thousands of calories a day to bulk up for their long winter nap. And the small mammals get very busy building cache piles of food or build up enough fat reserves to make it through the winter.

And all of this could be framed in photographs with beautiful fall color. 

But where do you start to photograph these activities and colors?

Elk_RMNP_2016_16Elk_RMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) starts a bugle call during the fall rut in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado First, be patient, very patient. Wildlife photography is about watching, observing, learning and being ready for the behaviors. Anticipating the behavior, such as a bugle from an elk as it is walking towards the camera or the horn clash of two large bighorn rams takes some understanding of why they do it. For example, bighorn rams will back up just prior to rearing up on their hind legs and then coming in for the clash. Focus on one of the rams and track with it through the clash so that your camera will not focus on the background in the space between the rams. 

Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4A black bear (Ursus americanus) sits in a scrub oak tree to eat the ripening acorns in Waterton Canyon near Littleton, Colorado

Next, show the beauty of the season. The vibrant color of leaves on trees will reflect in water. Try framing a colorful duck swimming through it. Meadows of grasses will turn into warm tones of golden color during the early fall season before it goes completely brown for the winter. Yellow leaves on trees will create a warm glow on an animal walking through a wooded area.

Mallard_duck_7Mallard_duck_7A pair of mallard ducks swim across Belmar Lake in the early morning steam after a spring snowstorm in Lakewood, Colorado.

‚ÄčAnother option for a photo setting is to predict weather patterns. I call this the clash of seasons. Especially in places like Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado, snow may fall on the colorful landscape. Fresh snow mixed across the colorful reds of the alpine tundra offers a nice feeling of the season. Fresh snow on yellow aspen trees as an elk walks by will also provide that feeling of clashing seasons. In many areas, the days remain warm yet the overnight temperatures drop significantly or weather patterns may bring in a cold front after a few warm days. These changes in temperature will create rising mist and fog from warm bodies of water in the cool morning temperatures.

Wood_duck_25Wood_duck_25A wood duck drake (Aix sponsa) swims through gold, red and yellow fall colors reflected on the water surface at Sterne Lake in Littleton, Colorado

The progression of fall starts early in parts of Alaska and the high country of the Rocky Mountains. Moose will begin to bulk up in late July and into August as they prepare to make it through the rut where they will burn off up to 20 percent of their body weight. Bison begin their rut with their grunts and battles for the cows in early August. The plants of the tundra begin to change into deep reds and vibrant oranges in August. The late salmon runs in Alaska in late August and early September bring out large quantities of brown bears looking to build up fat for hibernation. 

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The willows of Alaska turn into fields of red in late August and early September, providing great landscape scenery for rutting moose. Moose and elk will shed the velvet from their antlers in early September and be in full swing of their rut by late September. Pronghorn antelope bucks will thrash about in sage bushes to leave their scent markings as a warning to other bucks to stay away from their does during September. Black bears will be found in apple orchards, oak forests and berry patches bulking up on high-calorie foods for hibernation. As the elk rut winds down in mid October, the mule deer and white-tailed deer will start to bulk up for their rut in November and December. The bighorn sheep and mountain goats wind out the fall rut season in late November and early December with battle of their own over the females.

Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1An overweight golden-mantled ground squirrel stands on a rock begging for food along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Don't forget about the small mammals. They will also be busy building stock piles of food in preparation for long winter months without access to plants and bugs.

As the rut season winds down for each animal, consider whether it will be worth photographing them. Tines will break on bull moose and elk as well as deer bucks as a result of fighting. All of the males will get tired, thinner and potentially injured during the rut. 

Bighorn_Rams_EyeBighorn_Rams_EyeA bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) looks at the camera through the horn of another ram in the Shoshone National Forest near Cody, Wyoming

A final thought for photographing wildlife in the fall. Fall is hunting season. Primarily I mention this for your own safety. If you are out in an area where hunters may be located, be sure to wear hunter's orange, such as in a vest or hat. Check local regulations for safety attire. Another consideration is that animals may be more skittish and more difficult to photograph.

Enjoy the fall season. It is my favorite because of its beauty and the wide variety of photo opportunities.  Moose_GTNP_2015_1Moose_GTNP_2015_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks across the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska Colorado Rocky Mountains animal animals fall fall color nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:30:00 GMT
A Year on the Road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road
Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands in the morning sun near Logan Pass in Glacier National Par, Montana. Yesterday, September 1, 2016, marked one year since I sold my house and started my journey in an RV and living on the road. It took a couple of days to get everything settled into the RV and a few more to actually get on the road but September 1 was when I officially became a gypsy of the road. 
This week also marks the end of this phase of the adventure and the beginning of the next phase of my life. 
It has been an amazing year. It was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. I saw the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Alaska, parts of Canada, and 27 states. I traveled 58,007 miles, and fell in love. I also depleted my bank account, had two flat tires, obtained many cuts and bruises, and even twisted a knee that kept me from hiking for two months. I had surgery to treat a cancer scare. One of my dogs passed away on my journey. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California
I met many other travelers, some of whom I have continued to stay in touch, and even crossed paths with the couple visiting every national park in 52 weeks (#59in52). I got stuck on the wrong side of a mud slide in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and couldn't see Wonder Lake in Denali National Park because another mud slide blocked a road there.
I learned about gray and black water tanks, learned that you always wear gloves when emptying the tanks (and why), learned that RVs will always need repairs (even more so than a house), found that living in a small space is pretty comfortable, and that I still don't miss cutting a lawn. Spoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalSpoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalA roseate spoonbill flaps his wings as he comes in for a landing against the backlight morning sun at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana
I did my first canyon repel and hiked on top of a glacier. I saw the tallest mountain in North America, visited the newest national park, spent time in the oldest national park and experienced a small portion of the largest national park. I also saw 62 species of mammals, which is the goal of this adventure - to document the mammals of North America - but there are a lot more still to photograph. I lost count of the number of bird species I saw and I saw at least six different reptiles and amphibians.
Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2A collared pika (Ochotona collaris) eats an alpine flower at Hatcher Pass, Alaska I tried dozens of regional beers, tasted a few regional wines too, tried fireweed vodka (very yummy), drank way too much sweet tea to keep me up while driving and not enough water. I taste-tested a lot of gummie bears (my go-to snack while driving); in my opinion Sprouts sells the best ones.
I also saw a lot of Walmart parking lots - a lot - and staying in these lots humbled me in seeing how some people have to live - not choose to live like me and other RV travelers.
I missed many things about having a home - good Internet connection, baking, friends nearby, and familiarity. I also found out that I did not miss many things - surprisingly television was one of them. Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California
I loved every minute of my travels. I saw a lot of beautiful places. Some of which I know I will never have an opportunity to revisit; many will become regular destinations for me. But my list is very long and I feel I haven't skimmed the surface. I checked off 45 places on my Year in an RV List but the list still includes 407 destinations; more than 1,000 if you include the general notations to see all of the national parks, state parks and state wildlife management areas in Colorado, and all of the national wildlife refuges. I have accepted the fact that I will never see everything on my list because the list grows every time I go someplace. (And how sad would it be to not have any new place to look forward to seeing?)
Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1An arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) sits and poses on a sunny afternoon in Denali National Park, Alaska. I still have not seen a mountain lion in the wild and didn't get a photo of that lynx I saw in Denali National Park. Ocelots, fishers, wolverines, musk ox, nutrias, ringtails and short-tailed weasels still elude me. The Louisiana black bear is high on my goal list. And those silly little armadillos, which I saw all over the place in Louisiana, skunks, and pine martins have yet to be photographed by my camera. 
I hope to keep the travels going but I will need to rebuild the coffers for a while and work on some editing. I feel like this past year was a failure and a success all at the same time. I learned a lot about myself, about how I got to this point in my life, and why I needed to do this. It was a failure because I did only see 45 places on that list - that is less than one a week (but often the best photos come from really getting to know an area). I didn't do as much planning as I would have liked, I didn't have as much money as I should have when I started, and I didn't stay focused as much as I should have. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.
But I am being hard on myself because it was a tremendous success. It was a success because I did it. I left the security of a traditional life and took a big chance. And that chance is what is giving me the confidence that I can continue to pursue my dreams.
I have taken more than 61,000 photos while on the road, which is actually a much better ratio of clicks to time than I have done in the past. Only a few short years back I could take 10,000 frames in a week. I am down to just a few hundred per location now. [Thank you, Russ Burden, for the "Shoot before you edit" note that I keep in the truck.]
But for what I thought would be a six-month journey, has turned into a lifestyle I can't seem to walk away from - at least not today. So as we drive the RV back to Colorado I am looking forward to seeing what the next year holds in store for me - and feeling some anxiety all at the same time about where the road will take me. For once in my life I do not know what my next step will be. I only have two things on my calendar past the end of September - a brown bear workshop this time next year and an article due in March. It is time to market my work, schedule more workshops, plan more presentations, pitch more articles, work on getting assignments, find some sponsors, and discover what the next adventure looks like.
Here's to another fantastic 365 days!
Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fight over a fish at Anchor Point, Alaska.
dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Loving life RV RV living Walmart challenges dreams failure living living the dream nature nature photography photo photographer photography success travel wildlife work https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road Fri, 02 Sep 2016 16:49:24 GMT
24 Hours as a Traveling Wildlife Photographer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Midnight at Tern LakeMidnight on the summer solstice at Tern Lake, Alaska This is what midnight in Alaska looks like.

Not much sleep goes on up here unless you prepare your bedroom with heavy blackout shades and curtains. RVs are hard to seal all of the light out of so I am thankful I am a sound sleeper, but those curtains certainly help. 

I am more than halfway through spending the summer in Alaska. The nights have been getting darker since the solstice on June 21 when there was less than four hours between sunset and sunrise, but the skies never truly turned dark.

I prefer sunrise for my photography. I think the skies are clearer, the temperatures are cooler, there are fewer people out and about, and the animals seem more active. Yet, since being in Alaska, I find I am out until sunset every night, which occurs around 11:15 p.m. in mid-July. My body just doesn't want to shut down. As a result it can be really hard to get up when the alarm goes off at 3 a.m. to get to a sunrise location.  Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1An immature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sits on an old log at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

So we thought about investing in FitBit watches to see what our sleep patterns truly were like (Thank you, Richard, for the gift.) 

And that is what has inspired this blog post. I am now seeing in digital lights on my wrist and through the app on my phone that I exceed my step goals every day yet have only met my sleeping goals twice since tracking the information over a week ago. 

As a wildlife photographer, I walk a lot, which is great. I follow animals, look for animals and just explore new locations to see what animals might live in an area. I do all of this on my two feet. It is a wonderful thing to have a job where I walk rather than sitting behind a desk all the time. But it is a business and there are many hours behind the desk. 

Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1A gull flys in to try for a salmon that a sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) just pulled under with only his whiskers showing above water in Port Valdez, Alaska. So here is a glimpse into my day as a wildlife photographer on Monday, July 18, 2016.

12:00 a.m.: I just finished packing up my gear and settling it back into the truck. We were told a brown bear had been down at the fish weir at the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska the last three evenings. The first two nights he showed up around 7 p.m. The third night he didn't arrive until 11:30 p.m. The sun set long ago behind the distant mountains in the Talkeetna Range to the west but we thought we would stick it out and just watch him, even if it was too dark to shoot any photos. No luck. He was a no-show so we packed up the gear and headed back to the RV. 

1:30 a.m.: After downloading the photos (we did have an amazing few hours photographing sea lions fishing for salmon before the sun set), I walked my dog, Sage, and got ready for bed.  Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3A pod of steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) relaxes in the calm morning water at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

2:11 a.m.: My FitBit app tells me that I finally fell asleep at this crazy hour after I watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory". I find the laughter is always a great way to wrap up the day, and this hysterical show makes me laugh more than any other sitcom. It also keeps my mind off of the fact that I know I will have less than four hours before my alarm goes off for my morning shooting.

6:46 a.m.: After playing games with my snooze button for 46 minutes, I finally rolled out of bed and quickly dressed into my photo-shooting gear: hiking pants, Muck boots, long-sleeve t-shirt and my new Buff complete with permethrin in the fabric - an ensemble completely designed for a fashion plate in the magazine article about how to not get bit by the flies, gnats and mosquitos in Alaska.

Salmon_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Valdez_2016_1The pink salmon arrive in the milions in July to to return to the hatchery where they were born in Valdez, Alaska. 7:03 a.m.: I was on the beach with my camera backpack on and tripod with camera slung over my shoulder. It was low-tide in 18 minutes and I was hoping to photograph bald eagles on the beach and brown bears in the shallow water working on the fish left behind by the receding waters. Although I missed sunrise at 4:46 a.m., the light in Alaska stays really warm for several hours since it never truly rises directly overhead - it kind of moves on a pattern through the northern sky - so I still had some time with nice light. Unfortunately the bear was no where to be seen and the eagles didn't seem comfortable sharing the beach with visitors so I looked for other subjects. I found a pod of sea lions - 32 total when I finished counting each individual - wading in the shallow water. They were biding their time until high tide when their large bodies could swim through the deeper waters near the fish weir where thousands of pink salmon were bunched up at the mouth of the gulch. I had some great photo opportunities with these massive sea mammals, which are quite curious about photographers willing to sit in the water with them. 

9:20 a.m.: The tide was coming back in so I headed back to the truck. The long walk back was across a minefield of mussels, slimy sea plants and smelly, rotting fish carcasses. It also was a very low tide at -0.8 feet so the walk back to the parking lot was going to give me lots of steps towards my daily FitBit goal.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7A brown bear (Ursus arctos) peeks out from the thick alders in Valdez, Alaska. You never know what might be watching you!

10:15 a.m.: After a quick drive to Crooked Creek to check on a tip about black bears, I was back at the RV and at my computer. It was time to get to work and I had an important project I was working on finishing. A friend and fellow photographer asked me to produce a video of my photographs about the national parks. But this wasn't a video to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. This video was to help his 15-year-old niece experience each of the national parks. She has terminal cancer with an outlook of less than a year. Her dying wish is to see all of the national parks and her family is worried she may not have the opportunity. I was so flattered he asked me to be part of such a special gift.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2A brown bear (Ursus arctos) walks alon the rocky embankment near the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery on a sunny afternoon in Valdez, Alaska

5:30 p.m.: I worked all day on the video and unfortunately still have yet to finish it. The project is giving me proof that I need a serious overhaul on my filing system. Now granted I am traveling in an RV so I don't have the option of leaving my hard drives out all the time so I have to search for files on individual hard drives. I thought of going the route of keeping files stored on an online service but Internet connection can be so sporadic while traveling that I can't rely on that either if I want to have quick access while working. The project is also giving me the opportunity to look through many photos I haven't reviewed in a long time. But it was getting to be low-tide, and that meant bear time again. This is what I am here to do in Alaska - photograph the wildlife that calls this beautiful state home. So off we went to see what we could find. 

Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1A fisherman carefully brings in a salmon he caught at sunset in Port Valdez, Alaska


7:22 p.m.: There he was, the single brown bear finally made an appearance on the far side of the hatchery. No one spotted him coming down but he was there, in the cove fishing for salmon. He didn't stay long - my last photo was at 7:52 p.m. as he crossed the road and headed up the steep mountainside. There were just too many people and it was still quite warm for him to stay very long.


9:50 p.m.: After a bite to eat at a local burger joint that was way too slow and not very good food, we had a beer with another couple from Michigan who were also photographers before we returned to our RV boondocked on the side of a nearby road. It was an enjoyable conversation about this and that regarding photography, traveling, RV living and experiences in Alaska. But I had more work to do.


11:59 p.m.: At the end of the day I was still at my computer working on the video. But overall it was an amazing day traveling in an RV in Alaska. I saw sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, a brown bear, spent every moment with a great boyfriend, met new travelers (including a couple that lives in Valdez every summer, two couples driving VW buses from Argentina to Alaska, and a great couple from Michigan), and met my steps goal on my FitBit. Now if only I can figure out how to squeeze in the time sleeping time! Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1A steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubataus) catches a salmon in his mouth on a sunny afternoon in Port Valdez, Alaska.

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) 24 hours Alaska RV RV living Valdez animal animals brown bear day life nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sea lion travel wildlife work work on the road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Thu, 21 Jul 2016 19:14:13 GMT
RV Livin' #17: Discovering Louisiana Part Two https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1A reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a marsh on a cloudy day in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

My trip to Louisiana happened to coincide with the bird festival in Grand Isle.

This festival is held each year in mid-April during the peak of the spring bird migration. Grand Isle, which sits about two hours southeast of New Orleans, is one of the first stops on land after migratory birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico - if they don't try to keep flying north. 

I was not familiar with the location or the photography opportunities of the area but I heard it was well worth the visit so off we went with the RV. 

There happens to be a state park with a pretty nice campground at the south end of the island that had plenty of space for our large rig. Although the wind didn't cooperate at all during the course of the weekend, we managed to spot at least 70 different species of birds including scarlet tanagers and reddish egrets, new ones for my life list.

Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2A sanderling runs across the sand at the edge of the water along the beach at Grand Isle, Louisiana
The great thing about Grand Isle is that the area has several different types of habitats so a plethora of birds feed, nest and travel through the area. 

I started with shore birds at sunrise. What more could a photographer ask for than walking from her campsite, meeting an Audubon representative on the beach, and photographing a large flock of skimmers all at sunrise??? 

After photographing Wilson's plovers, common terns, and lots of sandpipers, I headed back to the campground to look for birds in a marshy environment.

Even in the campground and on the nearby trails there were dozens of birds to be found: baby mourning doves, clapper rails, great egrets, a sora, and lots of willets. 

Brown_Pelican_SeriesA brown pelican dives headfirst for his food while fishing in a bay on Grand Isle, Louisiana Later in the afternoon I joined my boyfriend and his mother for a nature walk to look for birds in the wooded neighborhoods. The Nature Conservancy sponsored the walk and had three very informative guides lead the way. The ultimate goal for most folks on the walk was to find a cerulean warbler. Although that certainly would have been pretty special to add that bird to my life list, our little trio was in search of a painted bunting.  Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) poses for a portrait on a sunny morning in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

This colorful little bird - I even heard one birder refer to it as the gaudy bird of the bird world - would be a new bird on all of our life lists and one we would certainly enjoy photographing. The little bird covered in an artist's palette of colors didn't make it easy for us. We went back to the tree - a mulberry tree with fresh, yummy berries - three times before we finally caught a glimpse of him as he dashed in and out of the shadows. The best shot I could capture was him sitting on a branch in the shadows, but the sighting counts towards my life list. 

In addition to the painted bunting we also came across a red-eyed vireo, indigo buntings, palm warblers, worm-eating warblers, rose-chested grosbeak, and an oven bird. 

Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1A semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) runs through the shallow water along the Gulf Coast at Grand Isle, Louuisiana

The next morning my goal was to photograph roseate spoonbills. Although I had seen these birds before in Florida, I didn't have any photos I liked. By the time I left Grand Isle I still didn't have any photos of roseate spoonbills that I liked but I was happy with the sightings of more than a dozen of them in the marshes and flying overhead. 

While looking for the spoonbills I discovered a wonderful marsh area not far from the campground. There were four or five spoonbills hanging out in a pond on the south end of the marsh but beyond that the grasses and shallow ponds were filled with other wading birds. There were dozens of snowy and cattle egrets, lots of willets, dowitches, tricolored herons, and black-necked stilts. Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016A flock of birds - terns, skimmers, gulls - take off en masse on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

One last tip we heard about was the beach near the bridge into Grand Isle. One of the local fisherman told us the fish were circling around the bay at the bridge because the easterly wind was preventing the tide from flowing back out to the Gulf. The brown pelicans had picked up on this little tidbit as well and were fishing non-stop. I would have spent hours upon hours watching the large birds dive for the fish but my pleasure and interest in observing and photographing wildlife can often be boring to others. Nonetheless I was able to capture several decent shots of pelicans just as they were breaking the water. 

So another successful photo outing to a new location thanks to life on the road in our RV. 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal animals bird bunting egret heron life list motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography recreational roseate spoonbill spoonbill tips tips for nature photographers travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Sat, 09 Jul 2016 17:59:42 GMT
RV Livin' #16: Discovering Louisiana Part One https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys against a sea of green at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana "Can you tell me where I can find the flamingos?" asked the woman driving with her husband around the oil fields on Grand Isle. 

"There are no wild flamingos in North America," we responded.

"Oh, okay," she replied and drove off looking for her pink birds.

And as quickly as I watched the dust settle from her car on the dirt road I realized that she was probably talking about the roseate spoonbills.

Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) pulls pieces of bark from a pine tree at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, Louisiana
As many as 18 had been reported in the area only a few days earlier. We saw 14 that morning. 
Spoonbills are tall, pink and white birds with a long beak with paddles at the end. Typically only found along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Texas and Florida, these birds consume a lot of crawfish, which are abundant in Louisiana. As a result, they are nicknamed Cajun flamingos because the red pigment from the crawfish gives the feathers of the spoonbills a darker hue. Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A mallard duck drake (Ana platyrhynchos) swims through a pond of lily pads on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

One of my goals while visiting Louisiana was to photograph roseate spoonbills. I had only seen them once before in my life and that was only a passing moment at an airport. But I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places I saw spoonbills near the Louisiana coast, and that search led me to several places where I saw dozens of other bird species including a few new ones for my life list. 

My first stop to explore in Louisiana was Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  Big_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoBig_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoA beautiful sunset with intense shades of orange and pink light up the sky behind silhouetted cypress trees at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

This refuge comprises several bayous, marshes, and waterways surrounded by cypress and hardwood forests. The variety of landscapes meant the opportunity to find several birds and reptiles, including a rare one I wanted to photograph called the red-cockaded woodpecker. 

For several mornings I watched the laughing gulls down on the old pilings along the marshes to Lake Ponchartrain. Although there were dozens of pilings it always seemed like the birds all wanted to sit on the same post. What was nice about this as a photographer was that it meant they were predictable. One gull would fly in, hover until he found a spot and then another would take off feeling a little cramped on the perch.  Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2A laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) comes in to land on a piling already occupied by another gull (non-breeding) in the morning sun at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Lacombe, Louisiana

The last thing that caught my eye at Big Branch Marsh were the wildflowers in peak bloom. The Louisiana wild iris were soft shades of purple set against the sea of green common throughout Louisiana. And the lily pads were also beginning to come into their glory. If you looked close enough or gave it a few minutes you would see ducks cruising through the pads and flowers.

Return for my next blog post about Louisiana featuring my trip down to Grand Isle for the Bird Festival. At least seventy different varieties of birds over a few days gave my shutter finger lots to keep busy photographing.  Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A wild iris set against a background of vivid green on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal bird laughing gulls motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography recreational red-cockaded woodpecker roseate spoonbill spoonbill travel vehicle wildflowers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Sun, 01 May 2016 23:54:06 GMT
RV Livin' #15: Bluebonnets of Texas https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Colors of sunrise illuminate the distant horizon above a field of bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas I enjoyed my time this week photographing bluebonnets in Texas. It was the first time I had seen the flowers, and due to my unfamiliarity with the little blue flowers, I had not realized they were in the same family as one of my favorite flowers of Colorado, the lupines.

Before going out on any photo shoot I do my research: What options are there for a scenic shot? What perspectives do I want to capture? What works and what doesn't? What are the best locations?

From this research I come up with my shot list. This might be a little more formal and organized than needed but it helps me ensure that I am making the most of my time and money (it gets costly to fill up that gas tank on my RV!).

But as organized as I am before heading out to the field, I also allow myself the opportunity to try new things and be open to what photographic possibilities develop when I am out shooting. Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1A horse feeds in a lush green meadow dotted with bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas

On this trip I wasn't getting a lot of what I had envisioned so I thought about ways I could mix up that shot list.

One way is to think about what equipment you have in your camera bag. Since I drive to every shoot now that I live on the road, I always have my full arsenal of gear with me. A little cumbersome for some but I love the convenience and accessibility. I decided to grab my flash and the color correction filters to see what that would do with the scene. I liked the look of the green color correction filter but not the orange. Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10A closeup of a bluebonnet from the top side near Ennis, Texas

Another tool in my arsenal that I do not get to use very often (being primarily a wildlife photographer) is my macro lens. This can be especially helpful with photographing flowers because you can get in close to the subject while obtaining a shallow depth of field at wide-open apertures.

Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1A single bluebonnet stands out amongst the field of flowers on a sunny morning near Ennis, Texas And then I thought about an article I recently read in Outdoor Photographer. The author, George Lepp, talked about keeping backgrounds clean when photographing wildflowers and avoiding distracting elements in the shot. The article provided some great reminders about improving wildflower photos.

One method for doing this is to use a longer focal length lens. Again, being a wildlife photographer, I had my 500mm lens with me. I grabbed that so I could really focus on a single flower while getting a wash of color behind it with a shallow depth of field.

Overall it was a great couple of days.

As the saying goes, "everything is big in Texas," including the state of Texas. The fields of flowers were huge with many perspective opportunities. I spent two days just within a 20-minute radius of the campground. I even had a big field of flowers behind the RV to photograph my husky, Sage in the flowers. And there are many other locations with good bluebonnet fields that I look forward to exploring in the future. Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage sat quietly in a field of wildflowers at Highview Campground at Lake Bardwell near Ennis, Texas

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Texas bluebonnets depth of field nature nature photography photo photography spring tips tips for nature photographers travel wildflowers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Sat, 09 Apr 2016 04:23:22 GMT
RV Livin': My favorite shots from my first six months https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months So today marks the official six month anniversary of when I took off down the road in my RV. 

In those six months I have taken 22,865 photos. Most of the subjects are wildlife but I have also been branching out to photograph more landscapes. Ideally I am seeking wildlife in the landscape, but those shots are some of the hardest to successfully obtain. 

So here is a list of my favorite 12 photos from my adventures in an RV. Roll over each image to read a little about the shot.

Thank you for sharing in my adventure with me. Feel free to forward the link to friends and family so they can also learn more about this beautiful country. 


Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) sits in the grass at sunset in Fontainbleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana. My goal for this trip is to photograph all the mammals of North America (with a complete understanding that I just may not get all of the squirrels, mice and voles that exist). Opossums were one of the animals I had never photographed. And since we do not have opossums in Colorado, this mammal was high on my list. This state park on Lake Ponchartrain is full of opossums but most come out after dark. This one, however, decided he wanted to see what the world looked like in the warm light of the setting sun.



Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) works on flipping a fish into his bill on a sunny morning at Salton Sea, California


Elk_RMNP_2015_10Elk_RMNP_2015_10A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) pauses while eating some dried flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This is what I was off photographing the morning I met Richard. Funny how some timing can work out.


Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8A close up of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) eats alpine plants on Mount Evans in Colorado. The road to the top was open quite a bit later this year because of some road construction earlier in the season. It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days up there in the fall colors thanks to the convenience of the RV.


Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2A desert bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis), which is a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, stands on a rocky ledge in the early morning light at Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado. This photo appeared as a full-page shot in the Coloradoan to accompany my article about Colorado National Monument. I have really enjoyed the ability to combine my interests in writing and photography to help keep the RV going down the road.


Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2The clouds of an approaching storm behind Chimney Rock light up in shades of pink, purple and orange at sunset in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado. I haven't had too many great sunrises or sunsets on this adventure. Some I have missed because I just needed the sleep. Many days have just been too clear or too cloudy. It is, however, making me appreciate the few days I have had the opportunity to photograph a perfect sunrise or sunset, such as this evening near Ridgway.


Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6A cross fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks through the snow on a sunny afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. This fox has had many, many photos taken of her. On a few days I actually left the area because of the volume of photographers but it was wonderful to spend a few hours with her over the course of a few days.


Bison_YNP_2016_5Bison_YNP_2016_5A bull bison (Bison bison) covered in ice walks towards the camera near Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. This bison was photographed on a morning when the temps had dipped to -33 degrees. I was in the park with a few friends to photograph a bobcat. We never saw the bobcat but I was very, very happy to get this shot of the bison walking towards me out of the foggy forest.


Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. Although this isn't one of the best photos of me by any means, it does remind me of how much I am happy to be traveling with my doggies. Nanook, the black and white husky in this photo, is not doing well. To be expected considering he is only 2 months shy of turning 15 years old. It has been wonderful to share this adventure with these crazy canines, especially in a place as beautiful as Yosemite National Park.


Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) comes up to his partner and gives her a peck on the nose on a snowy afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. These top three photos were hard to arrange in order. Fox are one of my favorite animals to photograph and this tender moment between this mating pair really captured my heart.


Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Clouds pass by the wall of El Capitan at sunset as the backlit water of Horsetail Fall lights up in what appears to be liquid gold in Yosemite National Park, California. This photo took four years in the making. I'll have a specific post in the coming weeks about the work behind this shot but just think of how Mother Nature delivers the elements you need for a perfect shot when you persevere, stay patient, and stay dedicated to your vision.


Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California. Richard and I spent four hours with this cat. As I mentioned on the image of the frosty bison, I have traveled to specific locations just to photograph bobcats. In the last six months I have seen a total six bobcats, four more than I had ever seen before heading out on the road. But this encounter with this feline was one of the most magical I had ever had with a wild animal. We watched him hunt, almost get pet by a tourist (I still can't believe how close that man thought was appropriate with a wild cat), get chased off by a family of deer, and relax in the shade of some trees. It was a very special day.


Feel free to email me at Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com if you are interested in purchasing prints of any of these photographs.



dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) RV Living animal best bobcat favorite motorhome nature nature photography photo photography top 12 top images top photos travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months Wed, 09 Mar 2016 19:00:54 GMT
Six Months on the Road: This is a love story https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story My Jeep and Thor Chateau on the road during my first destination after selling my home and moving onto the road full-time. So March 1, 2016 marked six months since I sold my house on September 1, 2015, and gave up a traditional home for life on the road. It took a week to get the final logistics arranged but on September 8, 2015, I finally drove the tires of the RV on the pavement away from my hometown of Fort Collins and started the exploring. 

Little did I know how much I would fall in love with many things when I left the hotel that morning. 




In these six months, I have:
- driven more than 20,000 miles
- visited 8 national parks, and visited 9 other locations in the national parks system 
- added photos of 7 new wildlife species to my inventory
- saw the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans plus the Gulf of Mexico 
- driven through 26 states 
- upgraded my RV already
- and have fallen in love - with the road and a new man in my life Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. I never felt alone with my critters by my side.

Yes, I hit the road alone. As alone as you want to think of it when I travel with two dogs and two cats, and meet tons of people everywhere I go. I brought only one wine glass - conserving extra weight meant thinking of only what I needed for just me. I only brought hiking pants, tshirts and sweatshirts - nothing fancy or dressy for nights out. It would be next to impossible to date on the road and no point in wasting the weight on clothes I had no need to wear. And in all honesty, I was enjoying the freedom of my own choices. 

And then one day, as I made a feeble attempt to level my RV in a campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, this handsome guy walks up and asks if I need help. 

At first I said no. I was a woman traveling alone so safety was always first on my mind. And I am a bit stubborn and independent; I could do this. But he had a very sincere look and sweet smile so I gave in to let someone help. 

After he very persistently but successfully wanted that RV perfectly level - it was one of the last spaces in the campground and had quite a pitch to it - we chatted for a while. 

Richards_TrailerRichard was traveling in a Forest River travel trailer towed by his Toyota Tundra

He was traveling alone too but in a travel trailer. He too had experienced some life altering events and decided to hit the road to discover where he wanted to be.  

We talked about all kinds of things as we stood in that campground. I was immediately comfortable with him. 

With all the people I have passed out my business card to with the hopes of selling a print or being hired for a photo assignment, this guy was the first I had hoped would see that phone number on the card for other reasons.

I wasn't looking for a relationship or to add a guy in my life. I hadn't been on a date in over a year. And I was quite comfortable with my simple life on the road.

But there was just something there with this man. 

Apparently he felt it too. 

He called a couple of days later. We talked every day for hours. 

We made plans to see each other again a few weeks later in Zion National Park. For a week we spent every day together there. 

He surprised me by showing up at my campsite at a state park in Colorado a couple of weeks after Zion.

Big BlueThis is the 39 foot Fleetwood Discovery we purchased together so we could hit the road on a new shared adventure.

But from there I was heading to NJ and he was going back home to Louisiana. His time on the road was coming to an end.

A week after thanksgiving I had altered my travel plans and was going to see him in Louisiana. 
We spent six weeks living together down there. By the end of that time we had bought a larger RV - a 39 foot 2005 fleet wood discovery. This monster of an RV would become our home as we started a life together on the road. 

There have certainly been ups and downs as with any relationship. Living in the small space of an RV is a definite challenge for even seasoned couples. As any nature photographer can attest, our crazy schedules of early rising, late evenings and sleeping midday so we can photograph in the golden hours of light on the cusps of the day can be tough on relationships. But it has been wonderful to share this adventure together. 

He takes care of the RV. I write and photograph. And on many occasions he has joined me as I venture into the field to shoot. 

In Zion, he didn't even know apertures, ISOs or how to adjust the shutter speed. Now he is taking some amazing photos and doing a great job of tracking wildlife with me. 

So you just never know what the road ahead has in store for you. Although the tragedies in my life taught me life is unexpected and unpredictable, the unexpected can also be amazing and beautiful.  Mr BobRichard's photography has been very impressive and very quickly.

Living life on the road has given me the opportunity to photograph the beautiful country and its interesting wildlife.

A couple of days before I ventured out on the road I got together for a beer and dinner with a friend. She asked me if I was scared. 

I believe I said something along the lines of I wasn't sure what to expect. 

She replied with, "give it six months before you make a decision."

She was right on target. 

I had planned the adventure up through seeing Yosemite in late February for the fire fall. After that I left the plans open. 

Looks like there was a reason. 

Here is to loving life on the road and to the next destination. 


Dawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn and Richard pose for a photo in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California



dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Full-time RV RV RV Living couple falling in love life love nature nature photography photo photography relationship road travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story Sat, 05 Mar 2016 18:03:10 GMT
RV Livin' #14: The Big C Word https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word "You may have cancer. You need surgery as soon as possible."

This was the news I received from my doctor's office literally the moment I was picking up the last pile of things out of my hotel the day I was heading out on the road full-time in my RV. That was September 9, 2015.

No one ever wants to hear the C-word delivered from their doctor. And not that there is a good time to hear this news, but the moment you are leaving the security of a brick-and-mortar building over your head (even if it was a hotel; I had sold my house a week earlier) to move into a roving home on wheels that you have sunk most of your savings into so you can continue to build your business is certainly not the ideal time. 

I fell to my knees.

Then I picked myself up and said I would deal with it later. I was not going to let that news put an end to my adventure before it ever began. 

But as I left the parking lot of the hotel in Fort Collins, and headed west to the mountains, the gravity of that news really started to hit me. 

"You may have cancer." 

I have been very quiet about this news the last few months. It has been scary and lonely and overwhelming but I wasn't willing to share the news. I wasn't prepared to hear the concern or questions about what I was going to do. I was going to travel, write and photograph. The whole reason I was doing this crazy lifestyle change was for exactly these types of situations - life is short and unpredictable and we need to grab it by the horns. 

To make matters worse, I discovered AFTER the initial tests that my doctor was not covered by my insurance plan. As a result of my moving - and it literally being within days of leaving the area of insurance coverage - I hadn't even yet thought about getting that changed. 

So after a long, unsuccessful battle with my insurance company I had to wait until the New Year when a new insurance plan could take effect. 

Two weeks ago Friday I had surgery to remove the cyst my doctor discovered last summer. I was petrified. I had never been through such a serious surgery. And I don't do well with being down. But I have a new companion by my side and he was phenomenal - even with my freaking out and yelling at him. 

It was strange to recover from surgery in an RV - and I kept that kind of news from my doctor. Not sure how she would handle me saying I was going to try to follow her orders to relax, rest and not lift more than 10 pounds from the cozy comfort of an RV parked at Horsetooth Reservoir. 

But it was very comfortable. And I am sure the fact of knowing I was still living my dream would help in my recovery. 

I had my follow up appointment with my doctor a week ago. This was the really scary appointment when I would hear the results of the pathology report about the cyst. 

"Good news. Cyst was non-cancerous."

I was relieved beyond all measure, and so happy I had not stopped my plans to travel, write and photograph. Life is short - grab it by the horns. 

So I am even more determined now to keep this plan on the road - literally. Plans have changed a bit. As I mentioned I am now traveling with a wonderful guy who takes great care of me and our pets. 

Off to West Yellowstone we went the day after my appointment with the doctor. I had made plans last September with a group of fellow photographers to look for and photograph a bobcat along the Madison River. I was not going to let that unwelcome surgery change that plan, even against the wishes of my doctor. 

We were not successful in photographing the bobcat but we did photograph several red fox, a raccoon, a coyote, several bison and a great blue heron. You have to always look at the bright side because there really is a bright side to everything.

I love my lifestyle and don't plan on giving it up anytime soon. I am very, very thankful I am given the opportunity to continue with this career and lifestyle path. We all know people who may not be so lucky with a cancer diagnosis; keep those folks in your hearts. And remember that when they feel a little down, stressed or beat up, give them a hug, hold their hand and tell them you love them. Let them take part in whatever activities they want and can do because life changes on us way too quickly. 



dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' cancer dreams goals healthy nature nature photography photo photography short sick surgery travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:38:36 GMT
RV Livin' #13: Technology https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology I am going to stray a bit from wildlife photos from my travels and bring up the topic of technology. 

Over the years I have come and gone on my reliance on the latest gizmo and gadget that is supposed to make our lives easier. I certainly have learned, as I have aged, that I do not need the latest product on the market or the latest update to my favorite product to keep up with technology...until now. 

Traveling on the road means I don't have my full office of binders, business cards, files, etc. around me. Don't get me wrong - I like my paper, binders and print outs, and have brought some of it with me, but there just isn't room in an RV to store it. 

So I am little by little learning to rely on technology a little bit more. 

I am an Apple fan - have been since I first learned desktop publishing in college at Rowan University School of Communications (it was Glassboro State College then). That was the original Apple Macintosh - with its tiny memory and tiny floppy disks.

I have had numerous products from Apple over the years. I now use on a daily basis a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and an iPad - only the laptop is the latest and greatest. 

I randomly use the devices for contacts. I sporadically used the devices for to-do lists. I occasionally found use for the calendar feature. 

That was until I tried having little slips of paper and hand-written to-do lists in the RV, my Jeep and in my purse. It wasn't working. 

So I am giving in. And the beauty of the Apple products is that they sync with each other. 

I now methodically put all of my due dates in the calendar - and set reminders when an article or photo submission is coming due. I am little by little putting in my contacts - business and personal - into my phone so I can get those Christmas cards out without having to dig through binders and binders full of papers looking for the latest address of my clients. And I am using the Reminders feature to keep up with my latest and lengthy list of what needs to be accomplished. 

My fear with technology is that a hard drive dies (it has happened to me - numerous times) but that is why we must back up and back up often. It can also be hard to keep things charged while on the road but I am getting better at finding solutions to those challenges. 

And best of all, I can now take my favorite HBO shows and photo magazines with me everywhere I go. So here is to breaking the addiction of carrying around piles of paper and going electronic.

Next to purchase - a WeBoost signal booster because no matter how much we think we are always connected to a cell signal, there are many places that do not have a strong enough signal to work. 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Apple MacBook Pro RV Livin' WeBoost computers iPad iPhone organization photography road signal boost technology travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology Wed, 27 Jan 2016 19:53:48 GMT
RV Livin' Post #12: Point Reyes National Seashore https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California After leaving the Malibu area, I headed north. My next destination was Point Reyes National Seashore about an hour north of San Francisco. 

This location had not even been on my Year in an RV list until I met another photographer during my fall colors trip in southern Colorado. Turns out he was from San Francisco and told me about these elk that live along the coast. I started having visions of elk on coastal ridges with waves lapping in the distance. It would be a very different setting for a photo compared to those of the elk I photograph in the Rocky Mountains. 

The drive through Oakland, San Francisco and the surrounding area was not the easiest in a 44 foot rig; not all drivers are very accommodating especially in rush hour traffic. And then I discovered that the roads up to Point Reyes were quite narrow and twisty on the Pacific Coast Highway - another lesson in better preparation and timing.

Elk_Tule_2015_1Elk_Tule_2015_1A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands in a hillside of brush changing into fall colors near the historic Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I arrived late in the evening - I think it was approaching midnight. Roads were dark, I had no reservation (only backpacking and tent camping are permitted in Point Reyes) and I was exhausted. I decided to head to the north end of Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to start my hike well before sunrise to find the elk so sleeping in the RV made much more sense. I never saw the sign for no overnight parking and the road was very rough and narrow out to the ranch - no turning around on that road. 

After sleeping for about three hours, I woke a couple of hours before sunrise to a foggy and cool morning with the sound of waves crashing in the distance. I was excited to get out on the three mile hike to Tomales Point, the location where I was told I would find the elk.  Elk_Tule_2015_2Elk_Tule_2015_2A tule cow elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California

Before heading up to Point Reyes I did a little research about these elk. It turns out these elk, called tule elk, are a subspecies of the elk found in the Rocky Mountains and can only be found in California. The difference with these elk is that they are the smallest elk found in North America. Typical Rocky Mountain elk bulls can range from 600-1,000 pounds; tule elk bulls range from 450 to 550 pounds. 

So off I set to find the elk. It took me five minutes before I found my first one. Turns out the elk had been roaming around the parking lot of the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. There were hoof prints all over in the sand and sure enough there was a small group of cows just off the trail munching on the bushes and one large bull elk in the distance. 

I considered ending the hike right then and there; there was a lot of ground to cover. But I was determined to get this coastal shot. To the point I went. 

Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1A black-tailed deer doe (Odocoileus hemionus) stands in the drying lilies found along the trail to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California It was a beautiful and pretty easy hike along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fog began to lift revealing a pretty landscape. Along the trail I saw black-tailed mule deer, hawks, California quail and American crows. But sure enough, after about two and a half miles, I came across the elk herd near a watering hole on the north end of Tomales Point. 

There were several bulls, all with pretty impressive racks. These males, especially from a distance looked just like the Rocky Mountain elk. But as you approached them you could see that the racks were smaller, the neck muscles less defined and their height a little shorter. 

Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides and Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I spent about two hours with the elk but the light was getting very harsh and the temperature was rising into the low 80s, even on this mid-afternoon day. So I started back to the parking lot. 

As I have discovered with many places I have visited, there is much to learn about an area. The best way to get to know the wildlife, the best locations to see them and to have the best opportunity to photograph wildlife in the best light is to have multiple days to explore. I regretted only budgeting one morning to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. I would have enjoyed photographing the elk at the Point in earlier light but I saw enough other wildlife along the trail to focus my attention. All in all the photography was successful; I now had my photo of tule elk set against the Pacific Ocean.

My camera was heavy this day but I was happy I had the long lens with me. After hiking with it for six miles, I was ready to head on to the next place - a visit to Muir Woods National Monument - where a shorter landscape lens and lighter tripod would do my body good. 

If interested in learning more about the tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/tule_elk.htmLittle_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1Little_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1A little brown sparrow sits on top of a green bush along the trail out to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) California Point Reyes National Seashore RV RV Living animal animals elk national park service nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel tule elk wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Wed, 20 Jan 2016 05:01:02 GMT
RV Livin' Post #11 - California: Part 2 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Boats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats sit docked in the Ventura Harbor on a sunny morning near Ventura, California

 After leaving the Malibu, Calif. area I headed a little further north to spend a day at Channel Islands National Park. 

This group of five islands sits just a few miles west of Ventura, Calif. in the Pacific Ocean. The only way to access the islands is by boat or plane. Once on the islands, the only accommodations are campgrounds. No pets are allowed on the islands. Since this limited my ability to bring my dogs, I decided to just do a day trip to Santa Cruz Island. 

Island_fox_CINP_2015_17Island_fox_CINP_2015_17An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) hunts for small mammals and bugs for a little bit of protein on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

My purpose for visiting this small archipelago is to find and photograph a fox that only lives on these islands called the island fox.

Because of the limited access to food, these fox have evolved into a fox much smaller than the more common red fox. The island fox only has birds and insects for protein so it survives mostly on plant-based foods.

I had heard these were smaller fox - about the size of a house cat - but it wasn't until I saw my first one did I really understand just how much smaller this fox is than its larger red fox cousin. 

The hour-long boat ride from Ventura went past a rookery of brown pelicans and a few buoys covered in sea lions. I arrived at the dock on Santa Cruz Island about 9 a.m. The sun was already bright and rising high in the sky so I knew lighting conditions would not be ideal and that the day would get hot quickly, even in October. 

After speaking with the volunteer host about the best trails to look for the fox, I headed out to hike around. 

Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) starts to come out from her hiding place in a bush in the campground on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

Several people told me some of the best places to look for the fox was near the old homestead and at the two campgrounds. So off I went on the trail for these areas. 

It took me three hours and several trips back and forth on the trail to find my first fox. It was a female who scavenged around the campground for handouts and leftovers. 

I was quite surprised by the small size but she was comfortable around people. I spent three hours watching and photographing her before she wandered up a hillside to presumably rest for the afternoon after she snacked on crumbs found in the campground and insects in the foliage. 

I also found two other fox. One had a hurt paw so I decided it was best to leave it to its own needs and not stress it by taking photos. The third fox was in the campground as well but seemed to be submissive to my model and didn't stay in the area for long.

Island_fox_CINP_2015_11Island_fox_CINP_2015_11An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) jumps off the top of a table in a campground where they look for food left behind by campers on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California


In addition to the island fox, Channel Islands National Park is also home to a few other animals found no where else in the world, including an island scrub jay. I spotted these beautiful blue birds at the beginning of the trail when I first arrived. Since I was on the first boat of the day to drop off day trippers and campers for a long weekend, there weren't many other people around. Once other boats started to arrive the birds disappeared deeper into the trees. 

Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1An island scrub jay (Aphelocoma insularis) hides in a thick bunch of trees on Santa Cruz Islands in Channel Islands National Park west of Ventura, California

I look forward to going back to Channel Islands National Park for some camping time there. This will provide an opportunity to maybe visit during denning season to see the cute little kits and to be on the island during the better times for light. The day trip is a great option to get to know an island but only offers the possibility to be there during the peak hours of sun - or if you are lucky you could have an overcast or cloudy day. 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) California Channel Islands National Park RV RV Livin animal fox island fox nature nature photography photo photography tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Wed, 30 Dec 2015 18:06:07 GMT
RV Livin' Post #10 - California: Part 1 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2A California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) eats some dried leaves on a cloudy morning in Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California So, time to do a little backtracking on my travels. When I arrived in California three weeks ago, I had a short list of wildlife I wanted to photograph – sea lions, sea otters, tule elk, island fox and bobcats. Two of those animals are only found in California (tule elk and island fox) and two others I was hoping to capture some better photos (bobcats and sea lions). Photographing sea otters in California would be a first for me; I have only photographed them in Alaska.  Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1A portrait of a Brandt's cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) as the warm light of sunrise lights up his chest and blue eyes near Malibu, California

I have found, with the expense of driving an RV, that staying targeted on a few things rather than trying to take it all in provides a better success rate on the photos. It is all about the quality rather than the quantity. So even though there are many places I want to visit and photograph in California I wanted to stay very focused on my target goals this trip. (The Yosemite visit was a definite departure from the targets but oh so worth it!)

After the Salton Sea (see post #8), the first place I visited was the Malibu area. I know, not really the first place that comes to mind for wildlife photography!

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) yawns really wide while resting on the rocks near Malibu, California

I camped at Malibu Creek State Park up the canyon from Pepperdine University. Nice park – at least during the week – but way too crowded and noisy on the weekend. The gates are also locked at 10 p.m. at night – no exceptions. I had to walk back to my campsite the first night. Nothing like walking through the dark in a new place and hearing critters moving across leaves and sticks along the road – not knowing what animal was making the noise.

Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1A fence lizard pauses for a brief moment as he crawled along the dirt in the campground at Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California

But it worked out and there was fun wildlife right in the campground. The obligatory campground animal made an appearance – the deer – and a few coyotes were barking one foggy morning. A lot of fence lizards were running around the fence posts. And my dogs enjoyed watching the dozens of ground squirrels that ran around.  

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) looks out into the ocean while sitting on the rocks near Malibu, California

The ground squirrels were actually California ground squirrels. Since it was a new critter for me I took quite a few photos. If you are ever interested in photographing these little creatures, photograph them from your car. They dart into their burrows quite frequently if you get close, and they won’t make an appearance during the busy weekends.

Even after staying quiet and still for 20 or 30 minutes, all I could get from the squirrels was a small and quick little peek out from the burrow.

During my trip to Malibu, I caught up with a fellow photographer friend, Klaus, who I met several years ago in Yellowstone. I have really found that photography is such a wonderful way to meet really interesting people from all over the world. Klaus is no exception as he is an amazing photographer from Argentina.

He showed me some of his favorite locations in the area and we captured some great photos, including sunset along the beach, cormorants along the cliffs and sea lions on the rocks.

It was a beautiful time in that area in California.  El_Matador_Beach_2015_1El_Matador_Beach_2015_1The waves crash around the rocks at sunset along the beach near Malibu, California

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) California California ground squirrel Malibu Pacific Ocean RV RV Living animal beach bird camping ocean park photography sea lions squirrel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 Wed, 11 Nov 2015 05:53:06 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #9: Yosemite National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Morning Light on El CapitanThe morning light illuminates the eastern face of El Capitan and reflects into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, California I just got back from visiting Yosemite National Park for the first time.

When I was recently interviewed for GoRVing.com, the writer asked me what was top on my bucket list for my travels.

It is an interesting question because this trip – adventure – isn’t supposed to be about my bucket list. This adventure is about building up my photo inventory, finding stories to tell about wildlife, and teaching others about photography, wildlife, and the importance of saving and treasuring our open spaces.

But I had to admit I did have a place I have always wanted to see for a variety of reasons – and surprisingly none of the reasons were to photograph wildlife. That place was Yosemite National Park.

This park is considered the crown jewel of the national park system. It was made famous by Ansel Adams, John Muir and countless other photographers, writers and naturalists who found peace in its granite peaks, babbling rivers, and serene meadows.

The last few days have been wearing on me. I love what I am doing but I do worry that as a business and career decision it may not be the wisest. I don’t fear the challenge, but living the reality is a different story.

That became evident when I stopped at a WalMart near Stockton, California.

I was recently reminded that if I keep paying for camping fees each night – no matter how cheap – it still adds up to be close to a mortgage payment – but like rent where there is no benefit of paying towards an asset. So I decided I would strive to boondock each night until I reached my next destination in six days.

Sequoia_and_DogwoodSequoia_and_DogwoodThe leaves of the western dogwood trees in the Tuolumne Grove bring some color in fall to the grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, California. I had not planned on being in Yosemite at this time of year so I was very pleasantly surprised to see the fall colors.
The first night I thought I could find a spot near Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to photograph tule elk at sunrise.

After frazzling my nerves by driving through narrow, old, curvy streets in Marin County in the RV in the dark and realizing this area was nowhere near acceptable for a wide RV, I pulled into the first remote yet large enough parking area I could find. Unfortunately it turned out to be posted (I still never saw a sign) that there was no overnight parking. I thankfully was honest with the ranger about being there for a while so he let me off with a warning rather than the $125 ticket, but the point had been made – it was cheaper to pay for camping than pay for a ticket.

So I looked to another option for the next night.I thought I would try a WalMart parking lot. They are always open for overnight parking as long as you follow the “implied” rule of purchasing something. I needed groceries anyway – and a new chock block (I have driven over and basically exploded two already).

After hiking, photographing and driving all day, I arrived late again to my destination. It was about 11:30 p.m. when I strolled into the WalMart outside of Stockton on a Friday night. I should have known this wasn’t going to be a good idea when I saw the car show going on in the lot at that time of night.

Golden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyGolden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyThe golden glow of the late afternoon sun on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. I added an extra day to the trip because there was a forecast of an approaching winter storm that was going to bring 19 inches of snow to the higher elevations. Although I couldn't stay long enough to see the storm clear I did think it would bring some nice clouds for sunset. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped but I was still very happy to get the extra time in this beautiful park.

I picked up my bananas, cereal, milk and chock block and headed for the line. Only two lanes were open and each lane had about four people already standing there. This wasn’t going to be fast.

Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2A coyote (Canis latrans) stops for a portrait while watching a bobcat behind him near the road in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. Although Yosemite is known more for its grand vistas than its wildlife, I had a few great encounters with some critters, such as this coyote and a bobcat. As I patiently waited, the guy who was two people ahead of me in line was declined on his card when he attempted to pay. He tried several more methods – all declined. Then he decided he would call his bank – all while we were standing there. He had the phone on speaker and the line on the other end just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I thought that was odd for a business. Even on a Friday night there would still be some sort of message.

His transaction was suspended while he fiddled with whatever he was trying to do or whomever he was trying to call. He kept asking for the receipt saying the bank would need it but the cashier wouldn’t give it to him. There must be some sort of scam where thieves steal the receipt so they can show the receipt on the way out of the door. Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2A curious mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) comes up over a ridge and pauses while walking through the woods in Yosemite National Park, California

The next person in line was a woman with an odd assortment of items – Christmas decorations, fuzzy sleepwear, a few t-shirts, knit hats, some make-up. She held cash in her hands and asked the cashier to start removing items because she didn’t have the money to cover it. She paid with her cash but was promptly asked to leave because one of the bills turned out to be a fake $100 bill. She didn’t put up an argument and quickly left the store.

Now I was getting nervous about what kind of area I decided to stop. I had planned on climbing into bed after purchasing my items but was now so nervous that I decided it would be best to avoid the area. The time had rolled on to 12:30 a.m.

There was another WalMart a littler further down the highway that seemed to be in a better neighborhood. I slept there for five hours and made an early morning purchase of cat food (which I forgot the night before) so that I honored the “parking lot for shopping center customers only” rule, and headed for the highway.

It is a reminder that moving around in a 44-foot rig is not easy. It is physically difficult to find parking lots large enough where I can turn around. It is difficult to be inconspicuous about wanting to just park and sleep for a few hours in the back of your RV. Pulling into an RV park or campground certainly seems easy enough, even if you are trying to keep your costs down, but even those can be tight, unknown locations because you can’t tell how big or easy it will be to maneuver through the sites in the dark. And there is always the safety factor of being a woman traveling on her own in areas she is unfamiliar.

So after two nights of boondocking, I was a nervous wreck about where I was going to wind up next. So I decided to head to Yosemite National Park as a last minute idea. Sleeping_on_El_CapitanSleeping_on_El_CapitanA climber hangs on the rock wall face of El Capitan in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California. Climbing is one outdoor adventure that has never peaked much of an interest for me. After seeing how small this person was even at 700mm as they hung on the wall in the setting sun (meaning that was their bed for the night) it convinced me I wasn't missing much. Hope they succeeded and safely made it back down.

Aeric went to Yosemite a year or two before he died. I was going to go with him but yet again I put work before time with him. That was my first regret about Yosemite. But over the last few years I have started plans to travel to Yosemite in February to photograph the firefall. Every year I have had to change my plans for one thing or another.

So when I started this adventure, I put the park on the list but only if I could spend a large amount of time in the park to really explore its potential.

So here I was, just a couple of hours away from Yosemite, and needed a place I felt would be accepting of an RV. What better place than a national park. So I went online to book a campsite. Sold out. Wait, what?? Sold out? It was the last weekend of October!

Ultimately I just pulled into the first place within a reasonable distance to Yosemite that had an RV sign. It wound up being Pine Mountain Lake Campground. It was early enough in the day that I could check it out in the light and not worry about getting myself stuck. (Remember Sylvan Lake State Park?) It was also early enough that I could get a site and take a much-needed nap. It was a very quiet park – only two other campers. That would probably be a nice thing from the hustle and bustle in a sold-out campground. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteI posed with my huskies for the obligatory tourist shot in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California

After my nap, I headed into the park, still a little stressed. But within minutes I could see why Ansel Adams conveyed such beauty in his photos from Yosemite and why John Muir wrote beautiful words about this area. It was serene, breathtaking, and inspiring.

My initial, but last minute, plan was to just spend one night in the area to photograph sunset and sunrise. I had not completed any research about where to go for either time of day or what locations were best for photography. I had not even looked at a map of the park.

For most of the national parks where I spend, or plan to spend, a significant amount of time I will pick up a book or two about the park – photo book with great captions detailing locations or a pure cheat book like the one I found for Yosemite.

In the bookstore was exactly what I needed – The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, by Michael Frye. I highly recommend this book especially if you will only be in the park for a few days. It saved a lot of time. And at $12.95, it was a lot cheaper than hiring a guide.

I left, after photographing the warm colors of sunset on El Capitan, feeling much more focused, optimistic and positive about the road ahead. I don’t regret coming to my top bucket list location on a whim, without any specific plans, and no research. It actually felt good.

So, to the original point of this entry, Yosemite is still top on my bucket list. There are still many locations and scenarios I want to photograph in the park. Ansel Adams made a career of it and I don’t know if he ever felt like he captured it all. But I am glad I allowed nature to invite me in and open her heart to soothe mine.  El_Capitan_in_FallEl_Capitan_in_FallFall colors flank the Merced River as the sun illuminates El Capitan in the late afternoon in Yosemite National Park, California

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) Ansel Adams California John Muir Merced River Michael Frye Yosemite National Park fall fall color nature nature photography photo photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Tue, 03 Nov 2015 18:26:25 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #8: Salton Sea https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea The Salton Sea

RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1My RV parked in the campground at sunset at the Salton Sea, California About 170 miles east of Los Angeles is a vast body of water where millions of birds spend the winter. October marks the beginning of their arrival, and thus my interest in visiting this oasis in the California desert for the first time. 

I had never heard of the Salton Sea until I read a blog post from a fellow female photographer and full-time RVer (Annie McKinnell, who travels with her husband) showcasing her dancing egret photo. What was this place with dancing birds? Where was it? What was the best time of year? What animals like the area? How do I get there? 

I came to California this month to photograph my cousin's wedding. (Beautiful wedding, couple, and day by the way.) I had initially planned to head to Tennessee immediately after the wedding to photograph black bears in fall colors - that is until reality set in about how much gas an RV consumes and how slow an RV travels. 

So I decided it would be better to stay in California before heading back to Colorado in mid November, and explore what this third-largest state in the U.S. has to offer in regards to wildlife photography. 

Salton Sea, which was almost directly east of where the wedding was located and is the largest lake in California, became my first stop on my tour of California.

I knew I only had one night/two days to visit since I had plans to meet a friend in Malibu. 

Since October is on the front end of the bird season at Salton Sea I decided to make this more of a scouting trip rather than a trip to photograph everything. I have to say that for a scouting trip, where I just picked up information and checked out what was near the campground, I was very pleased with what I found. I will definitely be back this winter to spend more time with the birds.  

So here is a short photo essay of the birds I saw within walking distance of the campground. Without even counting or doing a serious bird search I saw 16 species: American white pelicans, brown pelicans, snowy egrets, great egrets, green heron, black-necked stilts, great blue heron, great horned owl, roadrunner, eared grebe, coots, killdeer, California gull, western grebes, Caspian tern, and the new bird for me, the black-bellied plover.

Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2A black-bellied plover walks along a rocky ridge of salt along the shores of the Salton Sea, California.

Black-bellied plover

Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4A Caspian tern flys against the distant mountains at sunrise to hunt for fish in the Salton Sea, California Caspian tern

Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1A green heron sits on the dock near a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California Not the best of photos as I was shooting into the sun to prevent scaring off the bird - green heron

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A great egret (Ardea alba) stands in the morning sun as he fishes along the edge of the Salton Sea, California Great egret

Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2A brown pelican flys against a sky full of whte, fluffy clouds at Salton Sea, California Brown pelican

Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1A group of brown pelicans fly low across the water as the colors of sunset light up the sky above the Santa Rosa Mountains at the Salton Sea, California Brown pelicans at sunset

California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1A California gull flys through the air in the morning sunlight at the Salton Sea, California California gull

Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4A black-necked stilt wades in the shallow water along the shore of the Salton Sea in California. Black-necked stilt

American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) swims through the blue water on a sunny morning at the Salton Sea, California. American white pelican

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2A great egret (Ardea alba) chases off another egret at a fishing hold at the Salton Sea, California Great egrets

Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A snowy egret lands in the water along the edge of some rocks in a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California. Snowy egret

Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Areas of the beach at the Salton Sea can be covered with piles of dead fish. The salt content of the water increases each year as more and more run-off enters the lake with little fresh water inflow and no outlet for the water to escape. This high salinity level - the Salton Sea is 40 percent saltier than the ocean - causes the water to be unsustainable for many species of fish. As a result, hundreds of dead fish wash up on the shores each summer.

Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1The beach on the Salton Sea is made up of salt crystals and broken shells - rough on the feet but a beautiful white beach. The beach is covered in rough salt deposits and broken shells; wear shoes. 

dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com (Dawn Wilson Photography) California Salton Sea animal birding birds nature nature photography ocean photo photography sea tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea Wed, 28 Oct 2015 12:15:00 GMT