A Legacy of Smoke and Fire | Glacier National Park

This was not the scene I had been looking forward to photographing during my first visit to Glacier National Park, while on a road-trip ranging from the deserts of Arizona, up the coast of California, and inland through incredible terrain to reach these dramatic mountains; I had been anticipating lush green forest and beautiful valleys framed by the sharp outlines of enormous ancient peaks, with an excess of crisp late-summer sunlight and atmospheric landscape photography opportunities.

The scale of the landscape did not disappoint, but as we packed up our tent and camping gear from a forested campsite on the valley floor, readying for a scenic drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road, the acrid smoke of nearby wildfires began to settle through the trees. The sunlight had the burnt orange hue now well-known across the North American West as wildfires ravaged huge swaths of wilderness. Still, the park rangers indicated the road was open, and as it was our primary route to our next campsite we set out on a surreal, smokey, sobering drive.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

As Going-to-the-Sun Road led us up from the valley, the smoke could be seen rising in great grey plumes and settling across ridge-lines, creeping downslope, and filling the sky between mountains. Quickly the views became vast – glacier-carved, rugged, rocky slopes with the clearly defined striations of an ancient geologic prehistory, swaths of green forest punctuated by the first brilliant yellow leaves of fall, and across it all a blanket of heavy, shifting blue smoke.

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Hazy late summer on Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

My eyes stung as we descended through Logan Pass and the air became increasingly more difficult to breath. My husband had fond memories of a lovely forested trail just off the main road, with a tumbling creek passing beneath an arched bridge, and as we watched for likely candidates, the road crossed into a stark landscape of recently-burnt forest.

Signs of recent fire glimpsed beneath a bridge, Glacier National Park

We found the spot, easily accessed at Baring Creek, and decimated by fire in 2015; surrounded by skeletal trees and scorched rocky ground, set against smokey mountains, the creek ran clear and fast, but there was otherwise an eerie stillness to the scene. No rustling of wind through leafy trees, no birdsong, and an unsettling sense that the danger of active wildfires were only a few ridge-lines away.

Rushing water of Baring Creek, Glacier National Park

Having lived most of my life in California, fire season and its consequences are not new to me. I often observe recent fire scarring in familiar landscapes, and have nearly always see a shift in the species that take hold once vegetation starts to return. Seeing a forest in this state of blackened, skeletal remains was new to me – it is unclear whether the trees will ever recover, or if what was once a verdant forested mountain slope may now be destined to become a rocky, scrub-covered slope as the decaying trees eventually fall.

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Burnt trees after a forest fire, Glacier National Park

Much of our recent trip was shaped by fire; we could not take our planned route up the coast of Oregon due to evacuation orders along the highway, and even our inland detour was so choked with smoke that visibility became severely compromised and the sun disappeared in a cloud of orange-brown haze. We were lucky to drive along the Columbia River Gorge before it became a fiery inferno, and I am now wishing we hadn’t been on such a tight schedule and could have stopped to enjoy more of the old-growth forest before a carelessly-started wildfire stripped the landscape of green trees.

Even after leaving Glacier National Park and crossing through badlands to the open plains of Saskatchewan, we were greeted with news of fires further north in the province, and the smoke has been impacting us at home.

Fire is a necessary element in many ecosystems, but decades of overly aggressive wilderness fire suppression combined with extensive drought has made fire conditions exceptionally combustible. With time, many of these places will recover and life will return, but in so many instances the landscape will be irrevocably changed. I look forward to returning to Glacier National Park, Montana, to see how the landscape changes with the seasons, and hopefully I will be able to document the next phase of recovery from wildfires in this beautiful place.

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Smoke fills the sky between mountains and drifts through a canyon at Glacier National Park, Montana as viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Shifting Landscape of Time

Morning light and blowing snow across the rolling atmospheric landscape of Southern Alberta, February 2020⁠⁠

“Antipathy toward time clouds personal and collective thinking.” – Marcia Bjornerud⁠⁠

⁠⁠One year ago we were settling into a new, strange routine. I had already been working from home, and we already enjoyed the occasional convenience of delivered groceries. But now there were daily news briefings to watch, headlines to anxiously scan, family and friends around the world to check-in on with frequent urgency. Making sure the pantry and freezer were well-stocked and offering to help procure household goods for neighbours. Watching as future plans like concerts and travel were postponed, or cancelled altogether.⁠⁠
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Even though the content of my time did not seem to change dramatically, my sense of it shifted wildly from day to day, hour to hour. Soon a pattern emerged, with one relatively productive day of focus and work followed by several days of gnawing anxiety and distraction. We retreated into rewatching familiar funny TV shows, anything escapist we could binge watch. I read books and played countless video games. I digitized an entire library of 20+ years of film negatives.⁠ Then came spring gardening, a single summer escape for an isolated long weekend at the lake, the last warm sunroom days of autumn. And winter again, prolonged dark and cold with hope on the horizon.⁠⁠
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Limbo is a terrible place to be. We all encounter it in some form, at some point in our lives, but many of us are fortunate to have not had to make it our home until recently. It is exhausting to be at odds with time; resisting its relentless march while constantly baffled by how inconsistent our experiences of it can be. I know that a year ago I did not expect a swift solution to the pandemic, I sensed that we would have to linger in this crisis in order to overcome it, but I had no concept of how it would feel a year later. There is still a very long road ahead, and I think my relationship with time may be forever changed.⁠

Uncertain Road | Late Night Meditations

I woke last night in the darkness to the rumbling sound of a heavy train passing through the city, threading through the quiet neighbourhoods with its horn calling a long, keening wail.

I lay awake listening as the sound repeated, feeling anxious, sad, wishing that I might wake in the morning to a world no longer brought to its knees by an invisible but very real threat.

What a strange, uncertain time we find ourselves in, where the act of waiting quietly for danger to pass has suddenly become a collective endeavour. I have been wandering through my archives, in search of images that can adequately communicate the mood of the moment, and this recent photo from a roadtrip across Western Canada in early February keeps coming to mind.

Snow blows across the landscape and Crowsnest Highway in Southern Alberta, Canada

The trip was a spontaneous one and feels like it happened a lifetime ago now. The foothills and prairie of Southern Alberta were shrouded in blowing snow and quickly passing clouds, and the harsh landscape provided a beautiful contrast to the rugged forests, mountains, and coastal terrain of my destination in British Columbia. When the road was obscured and the weather uncertain, there was nothing to do but continue on to the next waypoint, and I am trying to keep that sensation in mind now as we all travel down an uncertain road together; eyes on the horizon – keeping a safe distance from each other of course – we have to believe that the way will clear eventually if we just stay the course.

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Summer Horizon | Big Sur, California

Having spent a couple of years on the Canadian prairie now, I realize that what I miss most about the California coast is not exactly the ocean itself, but rather the air; dense fog, constantly shifting breezes humid with sea mist, and the resulting ethereal quality in the light. I find that this image captures that sense of layered expanse very well, shot along the Big Sur coast where a stately line of trees delicately screen the distant horizon beneath a blanket of swirling fog. Blue and yellow-gold are the summer palette of my childhood, and I love how these colours become more vivid as the season progresses toward autumn.

Prints available here!

More moments like this can be found throughout my photography archives, especially in the California galleries, with stories and travel tips shared here on the blog:

Summer Prairie Skies

The sky is bigger on the prairie, and the sunsets some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen; constantly shifting weather, swirling clouds, and a golden hour that lasts forever…

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A stunning summer sunset fills the sky above the open Saskatchewan landscape

As I spend more time travelling across Saskatchewan and Manitoba my library of spectacularly surreal sunsets will continue to grow – find them all in my Land of the Living Skies gallery – prints and licensing available.

Moss Landing, California

Tucked between Highway 1 and the broad horizon of Monterey Bay on the California coast is the quaint, colorful, seaside fishing town of Moss Landing. On a whim one early spring day, I decided to explore the quiet streets and old storefronts of this weathered hamlet.

Tucked along the edges of Moss Landing Harbor and Elkhorn Slough, and extending up the banks of the Old Salinas River, many of the buildings in Moss Landing carry the sort of patina that only steady ocean winds and fog mixed with salt spray can create. Despite the aging, sometimes visibly decaying structures, bright colors are found all over town. Quirky, artful touches, an abundance of antiques, and endless textural contrasts make this spot an interesting place for photography.

On this particular day, the sky was a brilliant blue, with a constantly changing curtain of windswept white clouds blowing in from across the ocean. One of the classic Moss Landing postcard shots is of an old boat, at rest in a field, yet still somehow conjuring up a sea-faring spirit and salty resilience.

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An abandoned and colorful boat in a field, Moss Landing, on the California coast

There are some remarkable scientific operations based in Moss Landing as well, and a visit to these more modern sites of inquiry is especially worthwhile during one of their many open-house events. At any time however, in any weather, a brief detour into Moss Landing from the usual travel route North or South along California’s Highway 1 on the Central Coast, will reward off-the-beaten-path travellers with colorful character, an abundance of local restaurants to enjoy, and a lovely spot to spend a quiet afternoon with a camera.

To see my full set of Moss Landing photographs, or to purchase these images as Open Edition Prints, please visit the apkphotography.com

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California

Blustery, stormy skies and tempestuous crashing ocean waves are the perfect backdrop for a lighthouse and all of the history it represents. I’d driven past Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park dozens of times, passing by while driving the scenic and dramatic Highway 1 along the central coast of California. After years of admiring this picturesque spot from a distance, I decided on a rainy afternoon to pay a visit.

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Raindrops on the camera lens frame a stormy ocean horizon, Pigeon Point, California

The lighthouse was built in 1871 and is now a designated California Historical Landmark. The land on which it is built, and thusly the lighthouse station are named after a shipwrecked vessel, the Carrier Pigeon. The fresnel lantern is no longer in use, and is instead displayed in the visitor’s center, housed in the fog signal building.

The lighthouse itself is now closed to visitors due to structural concerns, and while attempts to fund restoration are underway, it could be decades before the view from the tower can again be enjoyed by the public.

The lighthouse keeper’s housing now serves as a youth hostel, offering a unique waypoint for travellers along the California coast. As with many such natural promontories in this part if the world, whale-watching and general wildlife viewing can be particularly accessible. In the spring, I have seen the surrounding shoreline covered in swaying meadows of yellow wildflowers, and in the winter passing storms paint the sky and ocean surface with moody colors and constantly shifting textures.

On any roadtrip along this stretch of coast, a stop at the Pigeon Point Light Station State Park is highly recommended. It is free, informative, and beautiful. On Saturday, November 18th 2017, a celebration of the 145th anniversary of the light station is being held, offering tours, music and various activities. For more information about the state park visit the California Parks & Recreation website and to see more of my photos from the lighthouse grounds, visit the archive at APK Photography.

On the road, West coast wandering

Currently on a roadtrip, camping and sight-seeing along the Pacific Northwest coast and then driving inland to explore states and mountains I’ve never seen with my own eyes. I will be posting snapshots when possible to @photoapk on Instagram, and when I return to the digital darkroom I’ll be sharing fresh travel photography here on the blog. Happy trails!

Road-trippin’

Big Sur bound, originally uploaded by A.p.K.

Having long believed that the journey is the destination, I am as much a fan of the act of traveling, as I am a fan of actually arriving in a new place.

Last weekend was a marathon roadtrip though, through a landscape altogether strange to me – Southern California – and I returned home with a mountain of images depicting an arid, hazy landscape dotted with bold and incongruous human developments. I am mesmerized by landscape photography in general, and many photographers have done an incredible job of cataloging the environments and horizons that shape our lives. In my own work, I am gradually exploring those familiar themes of human endeavour vs. an ever-changing geography. The landscapes of the American west, and California in particular, are close to my heart and I hope to further explore our relationship with the magnificent and daunting terrain here at the edge of a continent.

This weekend, I will be back on the road, this time to spend barely 36 hours in the high-mountain deserts of Southern California. Traveling from the soft hills and cool climate of the coast, across the vast Central Valley blanketed by orchards and agriculture, and then up to 4000 feet where the plants are all spiny and the rocks jagged, my camera will likely spend the entire trip in my lap, ready for any tantalizing cast of light across the passing landscape.

I have some very specific shots I’d like to attempt once I reach my destination, but even if they are complete failures, I’ll have immensely enjoyed the journey…

My collection of Roadtrip Photography can be found here, prints and licensing available.