Category: Landscape Nature Photography

Coke Oven Views

Funding Our National Parks

Funding our National Parks

by Steve Fullerton

Donna and I recently completed a 3-week trip to South Africa. For Donna, who is a professional artist/photographer, this was a bucket list trip and with the opportunity to visit several diverse areas of the country it provided a great experience and a lifetime of memories for us.  Since outdoor tourism and activities have become a focus of our hometown, Grand Junction, and for that matter dozens of towns and cities across the USA, I thought it appropriate to write about the cost of our National Parks and the debate over the NPS wanting to raise entrance and annual pass fees.  The increases are indeed warranted and needed to account for the cost of maintaining and repairing our parks, monuments, and memorials as we are truly loving them to death.

We had heard and saw first hand, that the South African National Parks have a multi-tiered system of fees with international travelers paying the highest cost. As international visitors we are charged R340 per day per person to enter Kruger. This is roughly $30-35 US per person per day depending on the currency exchange rate. And think about this: It is a park that is only open from dawn to dusk and it doesn’t matter what time of day you enter, you still pay the full rate. And do not be late leaving the park by the stated closing time as fine can be as high as $200 per person. It gets worse if they have to come find you.

Additionally, your visit to a SA park is almost entirely experienced from inside of your vehicle except for a few specific areas. There are very few opportunities to do anything remotely approaching a hike and nothing like the availability of trails we have here. This is of course a safety concern as there are lions, leopards, and other predators about, but at the same time we have bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and other predators in our own parks.

Other facilities we take for granted in our own parks were also limited and spartan at best: Picnic areas, camping, visitor centers, etc. were far and few between in most parks. By comparison, in the US we charge at most $25-30 per car load and most Parks include a 7 day use with an annual pass costing only $80 for two people but still good for a car load and includes entrance to over 400 NPS units. I explained this to guides and park employees and their wide eyed, open mouthed response was always: “How do your parks function charging so little?”

It is time for our National Parks to be properly funded legislatively as well as charging fair market value at the gate. We should adopt a multi-tiered systems of fees as well as looking at changing our fees for residents and regional visitors. I see no reason to not have a per person charge versus a vehicle charge. A car does little damage if people keep to the road and assigned parking areas versus people on foot, not staying the trail or other direct impacts related to their visit. And $80 for an annual pass is way too low in my opinion. By way of comparison the average family vacation for a week at Disney runs $3,500-10,000 with the average cost being $6,300 for travel, food, passes, and related expenses. (Source: Money May 15, 2017)

We have heard for years about the need for people “To Pay Their Fair Share”.  Our National Parks are a great place to start.

Kruger Photography Tour

Our Experience Using a

Professional Guide Service

As part of our South African vacation we spent an entire week in the Kruger National Park region. We rented a car in Johannesburg affectionally known as Jo’burg, and drove the 5 hours over with the intent of doing self-drive tours in the park in addition to using a professional Photography Tour. Trust me, to see all of Kruger(the size of Maryland) you will need several days. There are obvious reasons why one self drives:  save money, privacy, control of your schedule and where you stop, etc.  Those are all great reasons in stateside National Parks.  However, in Kruger it is a bit different and here are some reasons why using a guide service should be part of your planning for a visit:

  1. Obviously they know where to go and where the highest concentration of animals might be found.
  2. They are dialed in to spotting animals and can pick up wildlife that would be camouflaged by the bush to the average tourist.
  3. They don’t need maps so you are not spending precious time looking at a dirt road and trying to decide if it is the way you should go.
  4. In a vehicle set up for touring, you will be much higher off the ground than sitting a rental car,  and your viewing and picture taking will be better.  South Africa rental cars and most cars there are smaller. We save very few off-road vehicles.
  5. Your not allowed to get out of your car except in very specific areas.  Having control of your schedule and where you stop is a non-factor.


So while we self drove on two of our visits into Kruger, we did book an all day private photography safari with a small local tour company.  Two operative words here, private & small. Yes it cost more money but here are some reasons why we chose this route:

  1. We were not crowded into a truck with a dozen or more people all scrambling for space to take a picture or see animals.
  2. The guide was focused on our needs and not worried about trying to cram in as many viewing areas.
  3. With a group you will have to deal with people who may not want to sit still long enough to see what an animal may do next, or care about the animal you are interested in at all and want to quickly move on.
  4. We saw with the bigger operations, when one guide spots one of the Big 5 he will get on his radio and alert the other company guides.  In no time, you will have a dozen or more vehicles clogging the area and inevitably the animal will move on due to the crowds and noise.   The leopard or lion will move along.


Our guide was focused on our goals, what we had already seen, what we had not seen.  He asked us what we were looking to get out of the trip. He then made it his goal to accomplish them.  Our day started at 0500, well before sunrise.  We were at the gate when the park opened at 0600 and also at the gate when it closed so we had a full 12 hours with our guide.  Boy did we see the animals and birds!

We spotted a couple of gorgeous African Hawk Eagles, two Lilac-Breasted Rollers, Zebras, a Black Rhino, Leopards and Lions, one Leopard Tortoise, Helmeted Guineafowl and more on our Photography Tour.  The leopards were a special treat as you are lucky to see one during an entire visit. We saw 3 in one day!  The first sighting was of a mother who had dragged her Kudu kill up in a tree with a hyena nearby looking to steal some scraps.  In a neighboring tree was the leopard cub, separated from his mom and not happy about being trapped in an Umbrella Thorn tree. The second sighting was of a large male who was on the hunt and we watched him tracking Kudu and Impala for nearly 45 minutes.

Kruger National Park Plains Zebra

Pachyderms on Parade

There were so many elephants in Kruger. We spotted were some LARGE males, females and babies.  Watching the herds was so much fun with the the babies making an appearance here and there being pushed and pulled along.

It was late afternoon and we were headed to the gate when Arno, our guide with Kruger Private Safaris, spotted this Lioness.  We stopped and he started calling, loudly mimacing a lion. She was startled, confused and started returning his call.  She started calling to her young cub alerting him to a danger.  He’s like, “Yup, What’s up, Mom?” They were so sweet, albeit hard to see through the tall grass.  We hurried to the closing gate, pushing the time to its very limits.  You do not want to be late to exit Kruger.  The fine is like $200 or so depending on how late you arrive after closing time.

What is that?

What’s Up Mom?

Safe with mom.










We hurried to the closing gate, pushing the time to its very limits.  You do not want to be late to exit Kruger.  The fine is like $200 or so depending on how late you arrive after closing time.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park

Our First Day in Kruger and the

Hazyview Area of South Africa

Giraffes in Kruger national park

So many animals in Kruger!

We decided to make Kruger National Park our first stop in South Africa.  We drove from Johannesburg on Friday the 16th of March, checked in early to the Sabi River Sun Resort in Hazyview, South Africa.  On Saturday we couldn’t wait to get our feet wet before our tour with Kruger Private Safaris the next morning, so we headed to the Park. Be prepared as its not a $20 fee for a whole car load and a 7 day pass like it is here in the States. It was roughly $35 per person, per day, regardless of the time of entry, so plan wisely. We didnt give it a second thought as we had plenty of daylight and were we ever glad we did. We spent the first few hours driving around, mouths agape, loving every moment and animal we spotted. Oh, and a quick note of warning: DO NOT MISS the park closing times. There is a very high penalty per person if you are not out of the park by closing time.

A Visit To Bailey, Colorado

Our Short Visit To

Bailey, Colorado

In the foothills of the Rockies and close to Denver lies the town of Bailey.  We arrived in Bailey, Colorado after a long drive on the icy I-70 to visit our son Shane.  I was hoping to see some snow and we did.

We stayed at the Bailey Lodge.  The owner, Scott, was very friendly and helpful a great host with a cute collie named Bonnie who was as friendly as she was cute. She loves my son.

The Adventure Course

We drove over to see the new Adventure Course. I am really planning to return in the summer! The course looks amazing.  Here are some photos from our snowy day at the site. Click to image enlarge.

Look at these photos.  It’s like Swiss Family Robinson on Steriods and with snow. : )

Can you imagine building these ladders and stands in the winter?  I loved climing trees as a kid, but never with snow. Brrr…

Foxes, Gems and Food!

The next morning we drove into Bailey. There is an outdoor Museum with an old school house, railroad car and more.

While I was preoccupied with the schoolhouse, I was spotted by a fox, a black fox. It was my first encounter with one and it was a short meeting with no introductions.

After buying some worry stones at the Gem Store we headed on to Coney Island Boardwalk for a hotdog and fries.

The owner was quite friendly and Steve and Shane loved their lunches.

Steve had the polish sausage and Shane the Durango. The fries were the best part, that and the Black Cherry Soda.

Here is a popular place with a good selection of wine with an interesting name that covers all the bases.

Leaving Bailey we found this large statue along the highway.

This is the Christ the King Statue erected in 1933.  I got a shot of the 55 foot Christ at the turnout.

It is located on private property.

We plan to return to Bailey in the summer.  We definitely plan to try out the zipline!
Plane Contrail Crosscuts Lunar Moon

Lunar Eclipse of the Super Blood Moon

Lunar Eclipse of the

Super Blood Moon

January 31st

Steve and I headed out this morning west toward Utah’s unlit skies to see a phenomenal lunar spectacle.  For the first time since 1866, a blue supermoon will coincide with a lunar eclipse.  Today is also the finale of a rare trilogy of supermoons.
The La Sals in Utah with a Sunrise Glow during the Super Blood Moon
January 31 will serve up a phenomenal lunar spectacle. For the first time since 1866, a blue supermoon will coincide with a lunar eclipse. Also the finale of a rare trilogy of supermoons, this will be the last oversized moon until January next year.The Lunar Blood Moon in Utah with a plane flying under it.
Plane Contrail Crosscuts Lunar Moon
A plane appears, going along its flight path beyond the Lunar Blood Moon.
Pink Sunrise Glow along Hwy 70 in Utah.
I loved the pink and blue sky this morning.
Driving on Old 6&50 just over the border in Utah proved to be a nice shot for Landscape Photography.
Still looking for the moon, Steve drove onto Old 6&50.
This turned out to be my favorite shot of the day!

Death Valley Days

Death Valley National Park

From our First visit into Death Valley we fell in love with it’s unusual views and arid trails.  We say unusual because Steve and I grew up in wetter, greener locals.  The desert calls and we answer.  We’ve been back a few times for hiking, biking, canyoneering and photography.

Last Supper Sculpture

Goldwell Outdoor Museum just outside of Death Valley National Park is home to some very interesting sculptures. Click here is the website for the museum.

Leadfield Ghost Town in Death Valley National Park is home to many colors, the predominant one is rust.
One of many mine shafts in Death Valley National Park

Here are some Desert shots beginning with our trip in 2009

Gorgeous and colorful mountain views in Death Valley National Park.
Donna Fullerton in Death Valley National Park above Mosaic Canyon.
Sedona Red Rocks

Arizona in December

Arizona – Grand Canyon & Sedona

in December

Our trip to Arizona yielded beautiful sites in Sedona, Arizona and a Super Moon in the Grand Canyon.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon in the afternoon of December 2nd.  I was hoping for clear skies. We started the visit into the South Rim of the Canyon at the Watch Tower. There was a father & son sculpting duo that had some very nice pieces inside the watch tower.

Bull Elk by tree in the Grand Canyon

We were a little distracted on the drive for the sunset shot by these elk.  The bull elk was in the Watch Tower Parking lot area.  We watched a number of tourists going for selfies within 10 feet of this beast to the point where Steve finally cautioned a few of them.

He was shedding the velvet from its antlers.  It must really itch.  He kept at it for some time.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Driving over to find a good sunset spot, we stopped near Maricopa Point due to limited parking.  Tripod and Camera in hand I walked down the slight incline toward the Bright Angel Trail and the overlook.  I had no sooner started setting up my tripod when I spotted the moon peeking over the North Rim.

We spent the night at the Best Western -74 AZ-64, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023, after eating at Plaza Bonita which was a bit disappointing.

Next day we were up very early for the sunrise.  It was a bit chilly, but no snow. We spent a good amount of time talking to a Brazilian fellow traveling through the west on his way to NY.  I think he was surprised to find someone who(me) able to speak some portuguese. Junior was filming the sunrise, timelapse.  His journeys and photos can be found here.

Bird Watching

We headed over to Yavapai Point just to check it out. We hadn’t been to this point and it has a fantastic Geology Museum.

While Steve was talking to the NPS volunteers I headed out with the camera for views and birds.  I didn’t have to walk far to find a number of cuties drinking around a leaking water pipe. Click to enlarge image.

Sedona’s Red Rocks

We hurried on to our next stop, Sedona, mostly just to see the Red Rocks.  We were not disappointed. Click through the slideshow below.

All in all, it was a great trip to Arizona. We’ll be back later this year and I hope to get back to the Park.

Shooting with National Geographic’s Your Shot

Visiting Yellowstone with National Geographic’s Your Shot Team

Celebrating the National Park System’s 100th Anniversary in our first National Park.

Yellowstone, just the very name evokes a sense of wonder and mystery.  Established as the first national park in 1872, Yellowstone covers 2,219,791 acres and has been home to humans for 1000s of years.  Its hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots are a welcome respite for animals seeking refuge from the snow.

In February of 2015, I submitted a photo to an assignment on National Geographic’s Online Magazine, YourShot which was “favored” by the editors.  I have had a profile on YourShot since 2008.

There are Over 800,057+ photographers from 195 Countries submitting 7,132,490+ photos on this site.  They might publish one a day.  Because of that photo and my profile on National Geographic’s YouShot, I was invited by them along with 12 other photographers from Wyoming & Montana to two Photo Walks to help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service this past May.

Short notice or not, WE WENT!

We drove up to West Yellowstone staying the night at the Wagon Wheel RV and Campgrounds.  It was quite comfy and reasonable being one of the last rooms in town.

The first day we drove around Lake Yellowstone and by the Prismatic Springs shown in my YouTube video.  They are quite spectacular to see.

The next morning, we were to meet the group at Mammoth Hot Springs for our first photo walk. This first morning was met with introductions, laughs, and giveaways.

The Photographers

What a nice group of photograpers and Nat Geo Editors.  They even invited Steve to come on the walks, too.  I felt this most appropriate since we both share a passion for animals and the great outdoors.  Cementing this is our lifelong love for The National Geographic Magazine and their documentaries.

With nothing else to do but tag along and talk, Steve offered to carry the heavy, wooden Yellow Border which was quickly agreed to by Monica who had been carrying it.

National Geographic sent one of their staff photographers. Below is Charlie Hamilton James, a photographer, television cameraman and presenter, from England who specializes in wildlife subjects, especially Otters.  He is quite engaging and has many tales of travels, his love of otters and experiences with bacteria-eating flesh in the Amazon.

Charlie spent a month this past winter in Yellowstone, mostly in the Lake, and has many photos featured in the May Issue entitled “Yellowstone.”  He recently took 150,000 photos on assignment for National Geographic of otters near England.  Not one was chosen for the paper magazine he pointed out, laughing, looking at Matt Adams who is one of the editors that chooses the photos for the print magazine.  He was also available to give photography advice.

You can see the steam rising in the background from vents or fumaroles whose temperatures can be as high as 280F.  The Yellowstone Caldera or Yellowstone Super volcano it is sometimes referred to lies in the northwest corner of Wyoming.  Calderas form over hotspots in the earth’s crust. Yellowstone is one big hotspot. Travertine Terraces are formed from Limestone and the pretty colorful stripes from Thermophiles which are heat loving microscopic organisms.

These are the same Dead Trees we saw in 2010 on our first trip to Yellowstone. They are embedded in the Calcium Carbonate. It is one HOT Place!

After our 1st PhotoWalk, we drove next door to the Albright Visitor Center.  I wanted to postmark a letter to my 91-year-old Aunt Margaret in NC.  She loves to follow our travels and we have to keep her happy.

The Wildlife

At the Post Office in Mammoth Hot Springs, we were greeted by the following herd of at least 60 females and their calves.  The cows hang out together with their calves.  They usually only have one calf in the spring.  I was on the stairs watching this herd.  Much to the chagrin of the moms, the Park Rangers rounded them up and away from the lush grass (and tourists).

I love how you can always see wildlife in Yellowstone, even at the tourists’ sites. For example, this Elk was also at this visitor’s center in the fall of 2015.

We were turning around in the parking lot when the big fellow startled us by bugling loudly his interest to the nearby females. Good Grief, he was LOUD!  To me, the bugling male elks sound like ring wraiths from the Lord of the Rings for you Tolkien fans.

Moving Onward

From Mammoth Hot Springs we drove south. In my world, the job of map reading/directions falls to Steve. He keeps me OTOT. It isn’t that I get distracted easily. No, I just find so many things of interest on the road as you can see from these videos. The male bison can weigh as much as a ton and spend their time by themselves or together with other males.

One of the most impressive features is Yellowstone Lake. It is a natural lake and has a surface area of 132 square miles. It is the largest lake at high elevation in North America. (i.e., more than 7,000 ft.) It has Underwater geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles with the hottest spot in the lake found at Mary Bay where the temperature was recorded at 252° F 212 is the boiling point of water. But even so, during the winter ice can get as thick as 3 feet on Yellowstone Lake and ice may remain all the way to June.

As we continued our drive, we spotted this energetic calf and gave it the nickname “Taz”. It was a blast to watch, but its antics were sadly unappreciated by the other calves and moms who were a bit more docile.

While we are on the subject of bison, the next three slides are from last October and demonstrate how much change the calves go through over the course of a few months. I loved the fall colors. Here you can see the calves’ coats are a deeper brown, more like their parents.

Wednesday morning we headed back for the second day with National Geographic. It was pretty cloudy with rain and fog both days as we stopped at Gibbon Waterfalls near the West entrance.


At 8am, we met at the Old Faithful General Store where Charlie gave us our “assignment” for the morning’s walk. It was to find pops of color or the unusual in the dreary morning that met us. “Don’t carry a tripod, he said many times, or use a lens you would typically use,” he said as well. Charlie had an aversion to tripods. Think outside your norm. People are in the parks, he said. You cannot escape or edit out all of the human element. So why not add them, he asked. Steve went in for coffee at the Inn and I headed around the trail.  Below is a phone video he took of the that morning.

This was my contribution to the unusual and colorful. Umbrellas in hand, these tourists from Asia would not venture too close to Old Faithful.

I love the ingenious woman with the grocery bags tied over her shows. Who needs galoshes?  When it appeared as if it was about to erupt, they started a quick retreat.

Old Faithful

What trip to Yellowstone would be complete without shots of Old Faithful erupting?  Here I converted a lackluster color photo into a sepia.

This is my favorite shot of Old Faithful. I love b&w photography, grew up with it. I didn’t find much in the way of color that dreary morning, but I did manage to take this shot.

We said our goodbyes, promising to keep in touch. I have to say that Jeanne and I hit it off well and do keep in touch on Instagram. I still get goosebumps thinking about the trip.

As a kid, I was glued to the TV when Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom came on Sunday nights, AND I always wanted to work for National Geographic.

Ready to explore with our trusted dog, Lassie.

Below Charlie is holding the Yellow Border which not only frames the magazine but symbolizes their mission to inspire people to care about the planet. Steve and I were very fortunate to be able to experience America’s First National Park with them. The five editors were from Washington D.C., had never traveled west and were not expecting the cold spring with snow. Yet they all managed with upbeat personalities and smiles. They were kind, genuine, and a joy to be around, exactly as you would expect National Geographic employees to be.

Shown here in this group photo is NG Photographer Charlie Hamilton James with National Geographic editors Monica Concoran, Hannah Webb, Jeanne Modderman, Sara Chauhan, and Matt Adams, who all came to experience and celebrate the NPS’s 100th anniversary.