Seasonal Transitions, White-tailed Jackrabbit

Sometimes I don’t have to go far for wildlife opportunities. I live in a city of almost a million people, yet native animals can be found right outside my door. Alberta’s white-tailed jackrabbits have suffered habitat loss due to farming on the prairies, but are thriving in the city limits where they have few predators and an abundance of food. As long as they watch for traffic, they have little to fear on the streets of Edmonton, even in the town’s most populated neighbourhoods.

In winter, these large hares are pristine white and blend in with the snow perfectly. In spring, just as the snow melts and muddy earth tones return, the rabbit’s fur changes along with it, gradually changing from winter white to brown.

White-tailed Jackrabbit in spring, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D750,  Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR , 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600)

White-tailed Jackrabbit in spring, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D750, Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600)

Why I Don't Own A Car...

How on earth can I be a photographer, especially a “travel” photographer,
and not own a vehicle?!

In the short time I had this car, it got me to lots of amazing places. Jasper National Park, Canada, Winter 2018.

In the short time I had this car, it got me to lots of amazing places. Jasper National Park, Canada, Winter 2018.

About 8 months ago, my wife and I drove our beloved 2016 Jeep Patriot through the Canadian Rockies and central British Columbia all the way down to Seattle, Washington. When we arrived in Seattle, we immediately sold our car to a dealership, absolving ourselves of a few more years of loan payments. We spent a couple days in downtown Seattle, then flew back home for a small fraction of the cost of gas to drive from Alberta to Washington. The drive down to the states took most of two days, but the flight back took 2 hours.

Why did we drive all the way to Seattle to sell a car when we live in Canada? Simple really. It was a U.S. car we bought when we still lived in the states. Once I got permanent resident status in Canada, I was required to “import” the car (even though it was already in Canada). This meant driving it back to the states and going through a complex and very expensive exporting/importing process, then having it registered in Canada. I estimated it would cost about $3,000 CDN in fees. It was also very possible we wouldn’t be able to import it at all because we still owed several thousand dollars on it. So, instead, we decided to sell it and settle our debt. The reason we sold it in Seattle is that a dealership there offered us a much better price than dealerships in Montana (the nearest state to where we live).

Originally, we thought we’d buy another car in Canada not long after selling ours. I thought not having a vehicle would hinder my photography work. I thought I’d miss the “freedom” of having my own wheels. What I discovered over the next several months of not owning a car is that it hasn’t affected my work much. Sure I can’t just drive to the rockies on a whim, but otherwise, I’m not missing out. Honestly, I don’t miss having a car much at all. Before we sold our car, it just sat in our parking lot most of the time, especially during winter. It seemed ridiculous to be making monthly payments, not to mention paying for insurance, gas, maintenance, etc, for a car that only gets used a couple times a month. That money could be spent in better ways.

Pros of not owning a car:

  • No car payments

  • No insurance payments

  • No registration/inspection fees

  • Never buying gas

  • We lessen our environmental impact

  • Never worrying about parking

  • No repairs/new tires/oil changes

  • We get more exercise by walking

  • Walking and public transit are statistically safer

  • No stressing about traffic

Cons of not owning a car:

  • Hard to haul things that are too big to carry

  • Walking in winter conditions is tough

  • Public transit is not exactly world-class in our city

So how do we get around? We can walk to 99% of the places we need to go. We are centrally located, my wife works only a few blocks away, and we’re surrounded by all the grocery stores, shops, restaurants and other conveniences we need. We live in a pedestrian-friendly city with limited, but decent, public transit (it’s also pretty bike-friendly, but we’re not bike people). If it’s too far to walk, we use the light rail. If the train doesn’t go there, we get an Uber. When I need to get out of the city and into nature, I rent a car. I added up all of our transportation costs for the last 8 months (including car rentals), and they pale in comparison to what we’d have spent owning a car. We’ve literally saved thousands.

I’m not saying I’ll never own a car again (or that this is a practical way to live for everyone). It has disadvantages, but the cost savings are just too good to pass up right now. We have very little debt, and I hate owing money. We’ve looked at cars and considered buying outright, but the thought of all that cash and savings going away makes me feel uneasy. I’d rather hoof it and use the savings for travel and other ventures instead of owning a car.

Winter in Canmore, Alberta

I never gave Canmore a chance before. It was always just a small area I stopped in to fill up the gas tank on my way to Banff. A couple weekends ago, I decided there had to be more to it. I booked an affordable last minute hotel in Canmore on booking.com deciding it was close enough to Banff to be a base for a long weekend photo trip/getaway for my wife and me. I was surprised to find that beyond the Trans-Canada Highway and behind the trees was a nice little mountain town nestled along the Bow River with all the necessities, and even a few good restaurants and decent shopping.

It was bloody cold. We had been experiencing an extended deep freeze up in Edmonton with high temps hovering around 0°F and below. The Rockies southwest of Edmonton are actually a bit warmer on average, but this weekend the temps in the Banff/Canmore areas dropped significantly below average. Each morning we went out for sunrise at -20°F or below with mid-day highs not much warmer. The sky was 100% cloudless the whole time. That might seem nice to most, but for photographers, it means almost colourless skies for sunrise and sunset. Of course, the temps rose back up into the 20s and 30s just after we left. My fingers froze with two pairs of insulated gloves on. My wife faired a bit better- she doesn’t have to take her hands out of the pockets of her parka to fiddle with cameras like I do. No frost-bite developed, though, I’m sure it came close.

The Problem with Canmore

I had a few locations I wanted to visit in and around town. Scouting them out on the first day, I found that, though Canmore is surrounded by beautiful dramatic mountain scenery (and has several large parks and lakes with mountain views), town planners had no interest in preserving the views. Every view of iconic peaks like Three Sisters and Ha Ling Peak along Canmore’s trails was blocked by crisscrossing power lines. It was frustrating; Banff and Jasper don’t really have this issue. I assume that’s why I don’t really see much landscape photography from the Canmore area despite it’s dramatic setting. Thankfully, you don’t have to go that far outside of the town’s boundaries to get to pristine natural areas.

One of the few views of Three Sisters (two of the three) in Canmore free of power lines. Shot from a bridge in town centre.

One of the few views of Three Sisters (two of the three) in Canmore free of power lines. Shot from a bridge in town centre.

Photographing Three Sisters

The best spot to shoot Canmore’s well-known mountains unobstructed is along Policeman Creek. It’s no secret. Though, it’s not the easiest location to get to, especially in deep winter in a couple feet of snow. This location is so frequented by photographers, however, that several trails had been worn into the snow already. Because most of the creeks and streams were frozen, it may have actually have been a bit easier to hike around in late winter than spring and summer.

The Peaks of Three Sisters at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

The Peaks of Three Sisters at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

This is not an official area with any sort of infrastructure for pedestrians. It’s not an official trail. You have to park at the small gravel lot for the off-leash dog area on the Bow Valley Trail (1A), walk across the road (often there’s lots of traffic), and then walk underneath the railroad tracks following the stream until you get to Policeman Creek and eventually the Bow River. The reward is unobstructed views of Three Sisters in a natural willow and evergreen forest. In winter at really low temps, mist rises off the Bow River and frosts the trees. It’s magical, but bitterly cold.

Mist rising from the Bow River at -30°F, Canmore, Alberta

Mist rising from the Bow River at -30°F, Canmore, Alberta

The snow was so tracked out it was difficult to find good foreground compositions, so I did my best framing tighter compositions to exclude human footprints. Had there been fresh snow, this would have been less of an issue.

Ha Ling Peak and the Bow River at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

Ha Ling Peak and the Bow River at Sunrise, Canmore, Alberta

Outside Canmore: Castle Mountain and Grotto Canyon

During our weekend in the Rockies the Bow Valley Parkway was closed for maintenance. It is one of my favourite drives in the Canadian Rockies, so it was unfortunate, but we were still able to visit Castle Junction near Banff for a sunset shoot. The light was good, but it was very windy on the Bow River. This was the coldest I’ve ever felt in my life! My hands have still not fully recovered.

Castle Mountain Sunset, Banff, Alberta

Castle Mountain Sunset, Banff, Alberta

Grotto Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Trail south of Canmore. It was a beautiful hike through dense snow covered evergreens that eventually opened up into a deep canyon with high vertical walls. The only issue is that there’s a magnesite plant located right next to the trail. For the first 1/2 hour of the hike, it’s loud and annoying. Once you reach the canyon, you can’t hear anything but nature- thank goodness. The best part of this hike for me was seeing the 500-1000 year old pictographs painted on the canyon walls. They’re eroding away with time and most aren’t easy to make out (people also like to rub them for good luck, or to posses shamanistic powers, or because they’re gluten free…I don’t know why people need to touch them…). A few are still pretty visible. Being alone in the canyon by the pictographs is like stepping back in time.

Pictographs in Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Pictographs in Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Close-up of 500-1000 year-old Pictograph, Grotto Canyon, Alberta

Close-up of 500-1000 year-old Pictograph, Grotto Canyon, Alberta

On our way farther down the Bow Valley Trail, we came across bighorn sheep grazing on a hillside with a dramatic mountain backdrop. There are few places to pull over on this road. We found a trailhead parking lot and managed to get close enough photograph the sheep (all female) with a long lens without disturbing them. I’m always hoping for a good wildlife encounter on these trips, so I’m glad I at least got to spend time watching these sheep.

Rocky Mountain Bighorns, Canmore, Alberta

Rocky Mountain Bighorns, Canmore, Alberta

A Photographer’s Gotta Eat

Despite nearly freezing to death each day, we did eat well and warm ourselves in some very cozy restaurants. My favourite thing about Canmore is actually the food. I’ve never been impressed with Banff’s pricey restaurants, and Jasper practically has none (I’m exaggerating…it has very few). We ate at the Famous Chinese Restaurant twice because it’s the best (American-style) Chinese we’ve had since moving to Canada. There are things on their menu I haven’t eaten since leaving the U.S. We loved it, and it’s cheap. We also enjoyed amazing bagel sandwiches and coffee at Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. After our frigid sunrise hike around Policeman Creek, we stuffed ourselves with a nice hot breakfast at Craig’s Way Station. Those pancakes sure hit the spot!

Overall it was an excellent weekend, and I came away with few decent images and ideas for summer and fall shoots. I plan on staying in Canmore again as an alternative to pricey and touristy Banff, if not for the nature, then for my new favourite restaurants.

B-Roll:

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Fine Art Prints Are Now Available!

I’m happy to announce that I finally have a selection of my work in the Saatchi Art store. Fine art prints of my photographs are now available in various canvas and print sizes. There are framing options available as well. I will be updating the portfolio frequently. Please take a moment to browse the current selection of images by clicking below!