photography, wildlife

THE GREAT GRIZ AWAKENING

Just around this time of year, grizzly bears start to emerge from their winter hibernation in our little part of Wyoming.
I get so excited in the spring for this ritual of nature. My heart is breaking that I can’t be there yet, but we are hunkering down until the coronavirus outbreak calms down. So for now, I’ll reminisce over a few encounters from the last several years… I hope you enjoy!
Last year, I got to witness sow 793 with her two cubs. The cubs are both getting to the age where they are preparing to leave mama and venture out on their own. But there’s still important play and learning from mom that has to occur.
They follow her everywhere. But frequently break into play fights with each other when they get bored.
This was a large sow with two younger cubs that I found in Yellowstone several years back. She was gorgeous. And the cubs were so playful and curious.
It was a brief experience, as they moved out of sight only shortly after appearing near the road.
Then there is of course my favorite bear encounter of all time. The other many sightings of these incredible creatures are most often with dozens of other people. Usually on main park roads.
But this one, was just me and this young griz.
It was probably his first spring alone, judging by his relative small size.
I was driving down (what used to be) a little known, inner park dirt road one morning, when I spotted him digging in the wildflowers, looking for food. I slowly pulled up in my truck. He glanced over at me, took a sniff, and then got right back to business.
I likely watched him for around 30-45 minutes… just us. Toward the end of this magical experience, he got within 10 feet. Don’t worry, I was in my truck the whole time, and I never moved closer to him. He never really seemed bothered by my presence. 
Just before he moseyed off, he raised his head and allowed me to make a quick portrait.
I loved being able to capture the raw vulnerability of such a feared and powerful creature, out in his element, all by my lonesome. I will never forget any of my bear encounters, that’s for sure, but this one in particular, is one of my absolute most favorite moments of my entire life.
I don’t expect anything like it will ever happen again, but I pray that it will. 
— Andrew
P.S. Im in the initial stages of putting together a brown bear photography workshop in Finland for summer 2021. If you are interested, drop me a note so I can put you on the early notification list. More info here.

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national parks, photography, wildlife, workshop

PARK PEEK // BIG CYPRESS

I usually stick to National Parks here, but I just had to share this incredible swath of land with you all. It is technically run by the US Department of the Interior as well, so really the only major difference between a National Preserve and National Park is that more recreation is allowed, like hunting and ORV trails, as well as regulated resource extraction.

Now, it may just be a National Preserve, but Big Cypress down is south Florida is every bit as beautiful and important as the Everglades, in my opinion. Situated almost equidistant between Naples and Miami, it is also quite accessible.

The plant life is much the same. Incredibly lush and diverse.

There are some more back roads though, which is a huge plus for me. However, you need to have a special permit to drive them and most of the roads are ORV only. But anyone can walk or bike them.

Masses of birds call this area home, some seasonally, and others year round.

And just like the Everglades, alligators and many other reptiles thrive here.

 

The mangrove swamps are vast and accommodating… to the birds and alligators, at least.

It is the buffer between the Everglades proper and where the water starts to flow south in Lake Okeechobee. The importance of the health and proper management of Big Cypress cannot be overstated.

  

Flora and fauna alike abound here. The winters are mild and inviting, and the summers (basically the rest of the year), are buggy, hot, and humid. But manageably so, believe it or not.

It’s an explorers paradise and a nature lovers dream. It’s a tough landscape. To hike and photograph. It’s flat, but general under water.

It’s one of those last places that is still quiet, where one can find solitude. And it’s only a short distance from major cities.

I love sharing this area so much, and it is so rich with photographic opportunities, that in January/ February/ March of 2021 I plan to have two Everglades (based out of Miami) and two Big Cypress (based out of Naples) workshops. As of now, dates are tentative, and registration is not yet open. However, if you would like more information, please email me to express your interest, and I will add you to the list of first notified.

–Andrew


N O M A D  Magazine // Issue 1
Order your copy today and receive this 100 page full color travelgasm at your door!
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
INTO THE WINDS // BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE
GRAND TETON // FALL COLOR // LANDSCAPES + WILDLIFE
TELLURIDE // FALL COLOR // LUXE LANDSCAPES
I’m excited to announce The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
Andrew Slaton // Limited Edition Prints
Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2020
 

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nature, travel, wildlife

THE MOST DIFFICULT HIKE IN THE U.S.

Most people don’t think of Florida when they think of amazing hikes. The sunshine state is also, perhaps, not what hikers think of when they think of difficult hikes. True, Florida is mostly at sea level, so there’s not a ton of elevation gain and loss, and the air is quite thick and rich with oxygen. And true, it boasts temperate weather most of the year. But let me assure you, I completed the most difficult hike of my life, right here in Florida a few weeks ago.

Birds, and other fauna abound in the Big Cypress, a massive part of the Everglades ecosystem.

Ellen and I try to winter in Florida every year, like every other 65+ person in the U.S, because of course, we both appreciate the weather. She loves the Gulf beaches, and I love the abundance of critters, and challenging landscapes to photograph.

This year, I decided to make it a goal to section hike the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST or simply FT), a 1300 mile span of the entire state. I wanted to explore this diverse and beautiful state, and to get my hiking and wilderness fix, in spite of the season. I figured to do it quite passively, with no real end date in sight. We only spend a few months every few winters here, so I wanted to approach the task realistically. I wish I had read this article by Outside first, but alas, I only found it after while researching some info for this post.

If your hiking NOBO (northbound) on the Florida Trail, you start at the southern terminus, at the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. This is known as the most remote, most dangerous 31 mile section of the entire 1300 miles. Great way to “get your feet wet.” I would come to find that expression translates literally in this case.

It is recommended to take three days to do this section, so of course I decided to make it an overnighter. The first day I planned to do 17 miles from the start at US 41, and the second day, 14 miles, with Ellen picking me up at the end of my section, I-75 (Alligator Alley), at 5PM.

February is considered the “dry season,” however, I only found about 3-4 miles out of the 31 to be actual dry land. The rest of the hike, I was in 6-18 inches of water and muck.

The Big Cypress section of the FT is known as one of, if not the hardest hike in the U.S.

This is prime alligator and snake country. And with temps reaching 87 degrees during the day, it is not uncommon to come across reptiles in Big Cypress, even in February. Many dangerous and some venomous.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are just one of the venomous snakes commonly found throughout Big Cypress.

Thankfully, I only came in close contact with a water moccasin once. But the opportunities abound.

The orange blazes marked on the cypress and pines help to keep the hiker on trail, when the trail is not always so visible.

It is a truly haunting and beautiful landscape though. Vast cypress strands with bromeliads create hanging gardens to slosh beneath. Your eyes are constantly tilting down, watching the murky waters for danger, then glaring up to make sure you still see the orange blazes, on many stretches, the only indicators of your trail. To top it off, there is almost no shade on the entire hike.

Only a few miles in this realization hits… your exposure to the blazing sun is profound and inescapable. Even in winter.

The cypress swamps are beautiful gardens teeming with amazing plants and animals.

Lovely wildflowers dot the swampy landscape, even in winter.

After deciding to stop several times the first day well short of my 17 mile goal, I came across two guys hiking SOBO (southbound). They told me that if I could make it the 3-4 more miles to 13 Mile Camp (confusing, because if hiking NOBO, it’s actually 17 miles in) I would find dry land on which to comfortably camp and a large trail maintenance group that was giving out water.

I had underestimated how much water to bring, so this info came to me as the best motivator possible. Of course I brought my filter, but I can assure you I only wanted to drink the water I was sloshing though as a last resort. So I pushed on.

I reached 13 Mile Camp with a few hours of sunlight to spare. I started my hike a bit late that day at 10AM, and reached the 17 mile mark at 4:30PM. I won’t lie, I was completely exhausted. My feet were sore from the constant post-holing up and down through deep mud. My shoes never got dry on the entire hike.

But I made it.

It is not at all uncommon to stumble upon alligators on this section of the Florida Trail.

The trail crew could not have been nicer. They were camped only a quarter of a mile or so away. They gave me as much water as I wanted, and so I alleviated the symptoms of dehydration I was already showing. I stumbled back to my lonely camp and crashed. The anxiety for tomorrow, and the warnings for what lie ahead from the trail crew swirled in my thoughts. I had told them I made it this far in one day and that I planned to do the rest of this section tomorrow, and I saw the looks they gave one another. Their lack of confidence in me was palatable.

Trekking poles are a must if backpacking the Big Cypress section.

When I got reception for a moment the next morning, I called Ellen to tell her to plan on not picking me up today… I would need another night out and a half day to complete this section. I felt a bit defeated.

I’m comfortable tackling 15-20 miles at high elevations, carrying 50 lbs on my back. Here, I was at sea level, carrying only 35-40 lbs. How was it that Florida was kicking my butt already?

Yet, I pressed on. One step at a time.

That’s the “mantra” I use when a hike seems too difficult for me… “one step at a time, Andrew. Just one. Step. At. A. Time.” It’s become a lovely metaphor for life for me. When trials come, disaster hits, despair takes hold… “one step at a time, Andrew. Just one. Step. At. A. Time.”

I know it’s cliche, but hiking/ backpacking really is an uncanny metaphor for life. You have your mountaintops and moments where you are overwhelmed by all of the beauty, and then the long, seemingly never-ending uphill slog, when you feel like you can’t take it anymore. And all you have to do is put one proverbial foot in front of the other. And then again. And again. Until, eventually, you reach the mountaintop again, and take your rest.

The birds of Big Cypress are plentiful and fascinating.

Sunrise and sunset in Big Cypress are worth all of the pain and misery.

Birds (and water) are the only constant companions on this lonely section of trail.

Day two was a test of will. It was definitely more challenging than day one. The submerged swamp sections grew longer and more maze-like, the water deeper, the mud more viscus. I nearly fell several times, which could have been incredibly defeating. If you are considering hiking this section, and I do realize that’s unlikely after reading this post, may I suggest trekking poles. I would even venture to say that this hike wouldn’t be possible without them.

Even through several miles of being slowed to one mile per hour, I was actually making good time. I couldn’t believe it. My “one step at a time” mantra was working.

I got reception and hurried to call Ellen. I was already going to run out of water again if I stayed another night, and I was beginning to see the possibility of finishing as planned on day two. My will to finish was kicking in. The mosquitos, wet feet, and difficult steps were enough at this point to propel me forward to unending fresh water, my bed, and an escape from the bugs.

Starting at 8AM, I was able to make it to the finish line ahead of schedule, at 4:30PM.

I hit the pavement of the I-75 rest area, tossed my pack to the ground and immediately ripped my soaked, muddy shoes and socks off. It was one of the best feelings to know that I accomplished what I set out to do. Ellen pulled up with the pups only a half hour later, with a victory beer in a beachy coozie.

So I’m sure you are asking yourself “why?” Rightfully so. Ellen asked me several times before and after. And I think the best answer I could  muster was that sometimes the hard things, the things that haunt our dreams and cause us to worry… the things that we fear, the unknown… these are the things we must confront. For confidence in ourselves and our abilities, but also to force ourselves to rely on God for strength and protection. Tasks that just seem too tall for us to take on, are the best places for us to dig deep within ourselves to find strength we didn’t know we even had. And more than this, to look outside ourselves for help when we realize we don’t actually have the strength to go on.

The current level of comfort in our age betrays us.

When I get the “why” question, I often think of JFK’s speech about going to the moon. And I find it apropos as people look at me like I’m crazy when I place myself in challenging and difficult, and sometimes even dangerous situations.

How else can you measure a man, if not to put him to the test?

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” ~ JFK, 1962

When asked immediately after finishing by a tourist pulling up, “how was it?” I told him I wouldn’t recommend it.

But now, several days later, I actually might consider doing it again. And I actually would recommend it… only to the resilient… with eyes wide open.

–Andrew


N O M A D  Magazine // Issue 1
Order your copy today and receive this 100 page full color travelgasm at your door!
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
INTO THE WINDS // BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE
GRAND TETON // FALL COLOR // LANDSCAPES + WILDLIFE
TELLURIDE // FALL COLOR // LUXE LANDSCAPES
I’m excited to announce The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
Andrew Slaton // Limited Edition Prints
Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2020
 
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travel, wildlife, workshop

Totality // 5 Things I Learned Photographing An Eclipse

There was quite a bit of fervor leading up to the “Great American Eclipse” a few weeks ago, to say the least. The little town of 2,000 we call home in the summer and fall, Pinedale, Wyoming, was expecting to swell to nearly 10x its normal size.

And Jackson, WY, just at the center line of totality and home to Grand Teton National Park, expected nearly half a million people to flood in to the town of around 20,000! Knowing what the area was expecting, the hype seemed a bit overblown to me.

I was wrong.

I’ve never experienced, much less photographed, a full solar eclipse. I’ve seen and shot several full lunar eclipses, and I was comparing my expectations for this to those… WAY different. WAY cooler.

So, what did I learn as a photographer, shooting my first, full solar eclipse?

1. If you plan to shoot any portion of the eclipse other than totality, you really do need a solar filter. I initially thought this was nonsense… just another way to try to sell me something. I was wrong. Thankfully, I had a few good friends that joined us for the festivities of the day, and they were prepared enough to have extra filters. The reason you need them is pretty simple…. your lens acts like a magnifying glass and channels the sun’s light and heat straight into your sensor, potentially frying the cells. Just like when you were a kid and you used a magnifying glass to fry ants.

2. You’d better be quick on your feet if you want to get great shots. You really need to be super comfortable shooting in full manual. If you’re not, you will be thinking way too much and might miss the shots you want. Everything happens quite fast, and if you are frenzied or flustered, chances are, the moment will pass you by AND you won’t get any good shots!

3.  Shade your eyes every time you look in to your viewfinder. This was something that I would’ve never thought of. Your eclipse glasses will allow you to see nothing but the sun, so as a consequence, you will likely not wear them much as you are shooting. So that means you are very vulnerable to accidentally damaging your eyes. Every time you look through your viewfinder to reframe your shot, you are protected because of your solar filter, but it’s in the moments just before and after your eye contacts the eyecup on the back of your camera that you need to be careful. It sounds like overkill, but I promise it’s not. Just use your hand or a hat to shade the sun. Simple as that, but oh so important.

4. Have a second camera body and look around you just before, during, and after totality. Two bodies is not within reach for everyone, but for the professional, it is an absolute must. So, if there’s any way you can get your hands on two, it will be of supreme value. One camera can be set up on the tripod with a long lens… ready for the traditional, up close shots (this one will definitely need a solar filter!). But the second can be wrapped around your neck, with a wide angle lens, ready to capture the overall scene. Perhaps a unique landscape during totality, or even the onlookers reveling at the sight of it all. Which brings me to point 5…

5. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience! There really is nothing like this experience on earth. So be present, and enjoy the moment! It is possible to step out from behind the camera and take it all in…

The next full solar eclipse will be passing through my home state of Texas on April, 8, 2024. You can bet that we will be there, ready to take it all in. I hope you will too. Check out this great, interactive map to see where you can experience totality.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + THE ART OF SEEING // 2017 – ONLY 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // USA // 2017-18 – SEE IF I’M COMING TO YOUR CITY
EVERGLADES // LANDSCAPE + NATURE // 2018 – SNOW BIRDS UNITE!
SEE THE REST OF MY EXCITING DESTINATION WORKSHOPS
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton // prints from the road
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017
 
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travel, wildlife, workshop

10 Reasons To Love The Everglades

Often, people are surprised when I tell them one of my favorite places is south Florida’s Everglades. I immediately fell in love the first time I visited, over 15 years ago. And every visit since then, I find new reasons to love this unique ecosystem.

So, what makes the Everglades so special?

10. There is a magical quality to the light.

9. It is a haven for a plethora of bird species.

8. Wildlife abounds.

7. The sunsets and sunrises are routinely awe-inspiring.

6. There is no shortage of backroads to explore.

5. Even the smallest of details are stunning.

4. The ecosystem is unique and intensely diverse.

3. It is accessible, yet feels remote.

2. Beautiful beaches are only minutes away…

1. It’s a National Park for a reason, folks!

If I have piqued your interest, consider joining me this winter in Everglades National Park and the surrounding areas on my most diverse nature photography workshop!

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! Help us on our mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside by checking out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + THE ART OF SEEING // 2017 – ONLY 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // USA // 2017 – SEE IF I’M COMING TO YOUR CITY
EVERGLADES // LANDSCAPE + NATURE // 2017 – SNOW BIRDS UNITE!
SEE THE REST OF MY INCREDIBLE DESTINATION WORKSHOPS
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton // prints from the road
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017
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