Recently I found myself wanting to visit and photograph the Badlands. Just visiting South Dakota would be a first for me. It’s one of the few states I have never set foot in. Like many others during this pandemic, I feel more comfortable avoiding crowds, driving, staying in a tent, and doing my own cooking. So, into the truck went the camping gear and camera equipment and off I went on an odyssey to the Badlands of South Dakota!
Although many people across North America aren’t even thinking about this colorful season, and won’t for several months, here in Colorado it has already started. The tundra started turning red and gold a couple of weeks ago. The bull elk have started bugling outside of my door here in Estes Park. The weather forecast is showing some really cool temperatures for the first week of September, providing some nice opportunities for frost and fog in the meadows. And I have already started to see some pops of gold on the aspen trees.
As a nature photographer, one of my favorite things is showing someone a picture of a beautiful elk bull, and then asking them where it was taken. They usually guess the Rocky Mountains or somewhere out west. It’s fun to see their expression when I tell them no, it was taken in North Carolina!
Perhaps one of the most important things we do as nature photographers is educate and help bring awareness to the plight of animals in the wild. Equally important is highlighting the programs where thoughtful, patient intervention has helped ensure that these wild places remain wild for future generations. One such program is the United States National Park Service’s reintroduction of the majestic elk to the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s the why. But where are the best places to photograph elk and when are the best times?
It was my dream come true to have been the Artist in Residence as a photographer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for six weeks from September through November of 2016. I have been to the park many times and I would never have imagined having this opportunity. My background as a natural resource manager for 26 years along with my passion for photography helped to secure the chance to take photographs for an entire season in one of the most picturesque national parks. For me, it was about more than just taking photos. I wanted to take the time to gain a greater understanding of the park.