Road Trip | July 9, 2019

Today Sam and I left from Pequot Lakes, Minnesota to start a three-month road trip across the West in my 2011 Toyota RAV4. We have no firm end date, and we don’t know where we will end up. But we do have a Google Doc.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park | May 24-25, 2019

Earlier this month, the Great Sand Dunes National Park became an International Dark Sky Park and the sixth dark sky place in the state of Colorado. The designation notes the exceptional quality of its dark night skies…and they are exceptional. The dunes, which began as a national monument in 1932, officially became a national park in 2000.

Mountain Gorillas | November 27, 2018

The Hirwa group of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda has 19 individuals right now, including a set of twins (which is rare among mountain gorillas), the dominant silverback, Munyinga, and some really cute infants. Hirwa means “the lucky one” in Kinyarwanda.

In mid-November, the mountain gorilla (pictured) was upgraded from critically endangered to endangered. While the population is still very small, estimated at just about 1,000 individuals spread across three countries, it’s a major conservation success due to major conservation efforts. However, the Eastern gorilla species is still overall very endangered, specifically the Grauer’s gorilla (or Eastern lowland gorilla). Grauer’s gorillas only live in Democratic Republic of Congo, and 80 percent are thought to have been lost in the last 20 years. 

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International | November 26, 2018

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is working on a lot of exciting and meaningful projects, including creating the Ellen DeGeneres Campus, which will be the new home to the research center and will be closer to Volcanoes National Park; have housing for researchers and students; and will have traditional and living laboratories. I was able to return to the Karisoke Research Center in Musanze, Rwanda on November 26 and reconnect with my former co-workers and friends. While I was there, I captured some photos around the office and lead a photo training with staff.

Maasai Village | November 25, 2018

The Maasai people live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The society has a strong patriarchal structure and deep-rooted traditions. Up until ten years ago, Maasai warriors had to kill a lion as a rite of passage to get married. Now, many Maasai groups have moved away from that practice for conservation means. The Maasai place high value on their livestock and cattle, with their housing structures literally centered around their cows and goats. Cattle are the primary source of food, and nearly all of the animal, including its blood, are used. 

Nashulai Conservancy and Masai Mara | November 23-25, 2018

Masai Mara is exactly what you imagine when you think of a Kenyan safari: open savannah, a silhouetted acacia tree and the animals you immediately think of when you think of Africa (the big five perhaps). However, less is thought about the land directly surrounding the Mara. Much of it is made up of a network of conservancies and protected areas, intended to help wildlife and the regional Maasai population prosper.

One of those areas is the Nashulai Conservancy. The conservancy was founded in 2016. (The first conservancy started up in 1995.) The land, with a name meaning coexistence between human and wildlife, is about 5,000 acres and is owned by 71 different individuals. Nashulai was founded by and is run by the Maasai community.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy | November 21, 2018

Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to a few remarkable species. First, Ol Pejeta is home to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which opened in 1993. The 250-acre sanctuary was formed among the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Jane Goodall Institute and Ol Pejeta. Although chimpanzees are not native to Kenya, civil war outbreak in Burundi forced a sanctuary to close there, and that’s when Ol Pejeta opened its doors. Each chimpanzee has its own story; a chimp I saw named Julia was confiscated with five other chimps from a wooden box at Jomo International Airport in 2005.

Aside from chimps, the conservancy is notable because of its rhinos. It is home to many black rhinos, notably “Baraka,” a male rhino that is blind, and to the last two northern white rhinos in the world. The third, Sudan, died in March of 2018.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust | November 20, 2018

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust currently has about 18 orphaned elephants and three that were just reintroduced into the wild at Tsavo National Park. Keepers sleep in the nursery with baby orphans to ensure there is care available 24 hours per day. Each elephant has a different story. Enkesha, for example, had a snare wrapped around her trunk when she was rescued by DSWT. An elephant’s trunk has about 40,000 muscles. Repairing her wound was difficult because she kept popping out her stitches, and amputation was even considered. For Malkia, Ndiwa and Sana Sana, the three individuals now at Tsavo, in the weeks leading up to their move, truck stalls that they would later be transported to Tsavo in served as their evening feeding stations.

The Dawn Patrol at the Balloon Fiesta | October 6, 2018

Before the mass ascension of hot air balloons (nearly six-hundred taking off in two waves at 7 a.m.), there are about a dozen balloons deemed the “dawn patrol.” These pilots help gauge wind speed and provide a point of reference for others. Here is a time-lapse of the dawn patrol on Saturday, October 6, 2018. Music: “Can I Sit Next to You (Ad-Rock Remix)” by Spoon.

Balloon Fiesta | October 8, 2018

Nearly six-hundred balloons covered the sky in Albuquerque on Saturday, October 6, kicking off the 47th year of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The festival started as 13 balloons in 1972 and attracted 887,970 people in 2017, according to Albuquerque Business First.  The hot air balloons will continue to draw gawkers, like me, until October 14.

Time-lapse from Perseid Meteor Shower | September 29, 2018

The Perseid meteor shower peaked in Colorado over the August 12 weekend in 2018. The annual meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a stream of dust from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. This time-lapse was taken on August 11 in Florissant, Colo. About once a month, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument holds a Night Sky Program that allows visitors to stargaze with minimal light pollution.

Maroon Bells Drought | September 26, 2018

Aspen leaves turned early this year, in large part because of Colorado’s drought. That’s brought a lot of people (myself included) to leaf-gaping spots across the state, like Maroon Bells, earlier than usual. A few things you won’t get from looking at Instagram photos before heading to Maroon Bells: Yes, the leaves are beautiful and peaking (early) but 1. Crater Lake, the destination of a main hike in the area, is entirely dry and 2. the town of Aspen has been under a stage 2 mandatory water restriction (which has never happened) since August. According to figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 80 percent of the state is abnormally dry, compared to last year’s 35. Low amounts of precipitation, especially in early 2018, led to a bad wildfire season this summer (many are still burning), the lowest levels of the Colorado River in more than 30 years and now in fall it has meant that aspen stands didn't take in as much water to produce healthy leaves. I hope some other people learn about the state’s environmental condition while searching for that perfect photo opp.