Okay... so those of you who know me well will be absolutely shocked to hear this (might be pushing the legal limits of sarcasm there) but I've already fallen a little behind on this weekly photo series. My goal was to get out and photograph something, anything, at least once a week. "Even if it's just 20 minutes of taking pictures of dandelions in my backyard," I said. The problem is I've been so busy this summer, I can't even find twenty minutes to spare. Between shows (and show prep), travel, a second job, kind of a third job, my significantly increased role with Nature First, and time with my son- there just aren't enough hours in the day; or week, for that matter. I've been running on 3-4 hours of sleep a night for the past month and my exhaustion level feels borderline dangerous at times- especially during my morning and evening commutes. Something's had to give along the fine line of things I want to do, and need to do, and I have to extend myself a bit of grace in accepting that. I wasn't able to photograph anything and thus had nothing to post a couple of weeks ago (June 19-25) and I'll go ahead and confess that this past week (July 3-9) played out the same. However, I had a great trip to Montana with some quality (albeit brief) time behind the lens during that week between.
I worked a twelve hour shift June 29, clocked out and immediately hit the road. Heading back to Montana's Flathead Valley for the Whitefish Arts Festival and wanting to make the most of my time, I drove 5 hours that evening before stopping around 10:30 to set up camp outside of Stanley, Idaho. After another hour or so of replying to emails I set my alarm, trying my best not to do the math, and was at the trailhead the next morning before 4 am.
I'd visited this area a year ago and drew on that familiarity now, hiking a few miles through the dark into the Sawtooth Wilderness. I'd captured a few nice images then, and people really seem drawn to this particular scene when flipping through my print bin at shows, but I was never fully satisfied with those photos from 2021. Last summer's wildfire season was horrible- and though the smoke filtered the light and cast the mountains in a unique purple glow- I wanted to return for another try without the haze.
This year's visit brought crystal clear conditions. Almost too clear for the sake of photos- I would have loved to have some clouds to catch that wonderful sunrise light and compliment the alpenglow- but getting the chance to return again to this gorgeous setting, listen to the trickling water and the chorus of birds as I watched the darkened landscape take form and those distant mountains come aglow- you know I can't complain.
Though I could have happily sat here stream-side all day (maybe even snuck in a nap...) I couldn't stay long. I shot for an hour and hiked out, already planning my strategy for future visits. The Sawtooth's are incredible and I've just barely begun to explore here. It's a place I hope to get to know well.
Another nine hours behind the wheel and I found myself back "home" in Whitefish. I first came here in 2001- a buddy and I, having grown up in Iowa and deciding we wanted to experience life in the mountains, threw a few bags in our trucks and moved here, sight unseen. We couldn't have picked a better place; I ended up staying about nine years before reluctantly allowing life to call me elsewhere, but Northwest Montana will always be a significant part of my story, and hold a firm grip on my heart.
I had a great time in Whitefish. The show went well, I made new friends and got to spend time with old. I was even able to catch dinner with extended family (thanks again Renee and kids!) which marked the second year in a row I was able to visit with folks from back home in Iowa at this show. (Who's coming next year?!!) The only unfortunate thing though, between the show, morning Zoom meetings and the weather, I was only able to get out for one photo session while there. It meant waking up at 4 am on Saturday and driving over to Glacier- necessary both for catching the sunrise and getting in and out of the park before entrance permits are required- but it would go against every fiber of my being to come this far and not get my Glacier fix.
My original plan was to drive to one of the coves along Lake McDonald's east shore and find a quiet place to sit and wait for first light to come over the Divide. Overnight construction had the road closed until six though (and after, daily occupancy permits are required to be on the road) so I detoured to Apgar to try and photograph the boat dock there. It's a popular scene, certainly nothing original on my part, but one I've attempted a few times before and never had conditions come together quite right. This morning ended up being the closest yet...
I have a few versions of this that I'm still working through edits on, so this shot may or may not end up being "the one." The kicker in it all though is that one free boat anchored out in the lake. This scene works so well because of the way the docked boats line up to mimic the distant mountain valley when you look down the center of the row. (That, and it's just a spectacular view in a tranquil setting to begin with...) When I first arrived pre-dawn, the boat was well off to the side- over toward the buoy on the right. By the time the clouds lit up though, it had bobbed and floated it's way, turning completely around, to the position you see now (I stood watching it, and watching the sky, as if it was one race my luck helped destine the sunrise to lose... All I could do was shake my head the whole way.) I can't decide if it's too much of a distraction, or if I want to try using Photoshop to remove it (I very, very rarely resort to that with minor elements that disrupt a scene.) I may wait and do a trial print to decide.
I watched the ever-enchanting dance of light over the mountains, studying how second by second new elements of the landscape- new stretches of forest, slopes and valleys, merging ecosystems- are revealed. Glacier is my favorite national park, and one of my favorite places in the world. Every visit brings it's own unique reward, and it's a place I know I'll return time and again while always looking eagerly to the next, for as long as I have on this Earth.
Once again, I wasn't able to stay for as long as I would have liked- I had to get back over to Whitefish and get my booth opened up for the show. But I did stop at the old river bridge over the Middle Fork near West Glacier for a few parting shots on my way out.
I wanted to try and get back to Glacier, or take a hike up on Big Mountain Sunday evening after the art festival ended. Beargrass is in bloom right now and they're have a phenomenal year, so I really wanted to get out and see it. The weather was pretty iffy though, and I had to be up at three the next morning to drive to Utah and back to work the next day. But I don't think I've ever been able to leave Montana without feeling like I'm leaving a piece of my soul behind- and I know it's only a matter of time before it's calling me back again.