Our Family took an extended May Long Weekend to go to Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba. It just so happened to be only 2.5 hours from where we live so no big deal, even with the near 1 year old baby in tow. I brought along my Fuji Film XPro-2 and all three “Fuji Cron” lenses (23, 35, 50 ~ 35, 50, 76). But I shot the whole trip with only the 23mm (35mm) lens. Mainly because I am used to that focal length from my X100s fixed lens camera. But also because I believe that 35mm is the most versatile focal length for travel photography.
What makes Spruce Woods awesome is that it is a gorgeous sandy desert . . . that happens to have an incredible forest of Spruce, Aspen and Juniper trees growing out of it! As I surveyed the landscape, I was bombarded with “How can this place exist?” It seems like a twilight zone time warp walking around there! We took a Belgian horse drawn wagon tour which was really neat and then did some hiking the next day around the dunes. The two main natural attractions are the dunes and the little spring fed lake called “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” But the whole place truly is something to see.
Back to the Fuji kit. The XPro2 is my fav camera of all time. So compact and versatile in and of itself and when coupled with the little 23mm lens offers a perfect mix of portability and capability. I shot primarily in JPG as I always do with Fuji because the files are THAT good. I switched to RAW for a couple shots where I wanted extended dynamic range if I wanted to make a print later. But the JPGs are so brilliant I usually only shoot that format. There’s quite a bit of latitude for editing even the JPGs but I nearly never have to do anything to the files. They come out of camera so, so sweet. Colours are amazing. Detail is crisp and clear. What’s not to love?
So 35mm. It’s truly a versatile place to live when shooting travel (especially with kids in tow). It’s a ‘pretty wide’ way to the view the world without being toooooo wide, although if you were going for straight landscapes you’d want to be wider perhaps. I’d highly recommend this one lens/one focal length approach for your next trip. See what the restriction brings! 😎
Back in early December we took a family trip to Las Vegas. It was my in-laws’ 40th wedding anniversary and we commemorated the milestone by spending a few days in the wild metropolis of Las Vegas. It was an awesome trip!
Photographically it was the first chance I had to really concentrate on the X-Pro2. It never left my side and I shot it all day everyday. I brought the 18-55 “kit” lens (which, despite my lack of liking zooms, is a really versatile travel lens) and the 35mm. That’s it. Everything fit in a pocket. I didn’t carry around my bag at all. Couple of extra batteries and away you go. I really didn’t miss a full frame camera for other than a few instances in the dark where perhaps it would have been advantageous. I love that people don’t take you seriously when you shoot the X-Pro2. I shot photos inside the casinos and nobody once questioned me or harassed me because it didn’t look like a giant “professional” DSLR. That’s sweet. You can shoot incognito all day long. Also on this trip I concentrated on shooting street photography – a genre I have zero experience with as we don’t really have “street” in the small town I live in. It was a metric tonne of fun looking for light, colour and gesture on the streets.
Also, we took a day trip to the Grand Canyon which was really exciting. Most notably, my youngest sister in law got engaged at the Hoover Dam! It really made the trip 17% better! 😉
The kit lens was on the camera pretty much the whole time at the Grand Canyon giving the versatility of pretty wide to modest telephoto. I was very happy with the results of the photos when I got home and had the chance to look at them on the big screen. Of the 1554 shots I took, here’s around 70. Cheers!
2017 has been an amazing year of travel and travel photography opportunities! This last venture took us to Waskesiu to stay in Prince Albert National Park at the tail end of September. It’s Saskatchewan’s favourite park (read BUSIEST) and so it was great to go there and not have any crowds and enjoy minimal bugs! We stayed in an oTENTik – which was nice but severely overpriced. They wanted $120 a night for a tent with no bathroom or lights. A bit of a rip. But the location is worth the money. The fall colour peaked a few days before we arrived but it was still absolutely glorious! I brought along the big Nikon gear to sop it all up in the dynamic range of the D800. 24mm 1.8G lens & 85mm 1.8G are all I took. I was hoping to get some cool flash shots of the kids in the colour but it rained too much and put a kibosh on my off camera flash dreams.
The Elk rut was still on too which meant raspy bugles could be heard throughout the park. We managed to approach one bull and a harem of cows but they were hanging out on the golf course. It makes for pretty crappy wildlife photos to have them eating fairway grass! So we continued on our way and did a hike through the Boundary Bog. It was incredible! Tiny Tamarack trees were everywhere in a brilliant display of yellows and reds. I can only imagine how insane the mosquitos would be here during the summer months. Very glad to hit up the location in the fall!
We were able to do one more hike down by the Waskesiu River before the next big rain storm hit. It really hampered the photo opportunities but I was able to snag a few more shots along the boardwalk before having to head for the hills.
Our last night cleared off quite nicely and I was able to get some cool milky way shots through the trees in the campsite. That’s where the 1.8 lenses really shine. Prime Time baby! [cool]
We had a good time in Waskesiu, taking advantage of the Canada 150 no entrance fee perk. It was a great time to be in the north, dodging the crowds and the bugs. We could have probably stayed another couple of days which would have been great to maybe avoid the rain. But you get what you get and you don’t get upset! On to the next adventure!
2017 has been the year of the road trip! Not only did we do our big epic Waterton/Montana/Cypress Hills trip, we also did a few other smaller trips, including our inaugural visit to Grasslands National Park. For Canada’s 150th birthday, all the Federal Canadian parks have their
exorbitant entrance fees waved. We tried to take advantage of that as much as possible this year. I had been wanting to go to GNP for quite some time. But it’s a really different park experience. There is hardly any development in the park, let alone the region. We might associate things like playgrounds, swimming spots and beaches, ice cream stores and the like as “attractions” that will draw people to an area. Grasslands has none of these typical things. Instead, the park itself is the attraction.
The interesting (untold) history behind the creation of Grasslands is documented in the book “Dams of Contention” by Bill Redekop. The book centres around the creation of the Rafferty & Alameda Dams in South East Saskatchewan. The only reason I read the book is that I knew/know Ed and Harold Tetzlaff personally. I have a signed copy of the book in fact. As I read the book, Grasslands National Park was mentioned. In a convoluted and heavily political deal, GNP basically was created as a consolation prize for Saskatchewan after agreeing to translate Saskatchewan’s laws into French & appease/make a good impression for Quebec to sign the Canadian Constitution. This was all during the Mulroney days & the Meech Lake accord (p.131, 165). What a mouthful! When I went to Grasslands, I talked with one of the landowners who had sold their land to the government at the time of the creation of the park. She had no knowledge of this untold back story of the park’s creation.
Regardless of what actually took place in the park’s creation, it is one amazing place. For years it was a ranchers paradise. And by that, I mean it was a darn tough place to make a living. The land is dry and to sustain livestock you need a metric tonne of land. So the ranches in the area go on and on as far as the eye can see. Now the park does too. You feel about 2 inches tall walking around as the landscape is absolutely enormous and unruly. As you drive around and hike, the magnanimous quality of the area becomes abundantly clear.
The park exists in two blocks, West and East. The West has more development but the East is rapidly catching. The park has a very free quality about. Most National parks are tightly regulated. You can’t go off trails. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Grasslands is free-for-all. You can go hiking. You can go horseback riding. You can drive. You can go where you like. In fact many of the hikes aren’t on trails of any kind. You can blaze your own trail which is refreshing. It’s a glorious dark sky preserve as well with no light pollution to speak of. We had rain every night we were there though. No stars for us. But the blessings of this wild and untamed landscape are also a bit of a double edged sword. Development and services are very scarce. If you go to Val Marie, I STRONGLY SUGGEST you fill up your gas tank. On our way to the East block we though we could fill up at Wood Mountain. Nope. We were panicking on our way to Rock Glen to get fuel!
One of the hikes we did with the family was the 70 Mile Butte hike. What a glorious walk it was. Of course we were on high alert so that the children didn’t get eaten by rattlesnakes. But the scenery is fantastic and well worth it! It was ridiculously hot but as you climbed the butte trail, the winds picked up and it was excellent! Apparently the aboriginals used the top of 70 Mile Butte for get togethers rather than the valley where there is no wind and insects galore. I stitched a panorama together of the view from the top in Lightroom. The photos still don’t do the view justice.
For accommodations, we stayed in the oTENTiks that the park has. You can bring a tent or camper but we elected to stay in the permanent structure. Glad we did. A heinous storm with gale force wind hit that night. The whole time I had visions of the oTENTik being carried off like Dorothy to the magical land of Oz! With no trees on the horizon to slow down the wind, it comes at you with full force! The park also has Wigwams that you can rent and camp in as well. All the sites are primitive camping and you need to bring your own water.
Grasslands National Park is a photographer’s paradise. The landscapes are vast and the perfect place for ultra-wide lenses. But even they fail to capture it all. Also, the opportunities for wildlife photography are endless. There are many unique species of animals from Bison to Prairie Dogs to Ferrets to Rattlesnakes and many others. It’s almost like being on a foreign safari shooting photos in GNP. My gear of choice with the family in tow was just my Nikon Df camera and my 24mm f/1.8 AF-S lens and the 70-200 f/4 AF-S lens. That’s it. It was a simple kit but I wanted to be as light as possible and still use full frame. It did the job admirably. I probably could have brought the 16-35 f/4 though for some extra wide angle goodness.
On our last day we decided to head over to the East Block and check it out. As mentioned previously, FUEL UP when you can! Otherwise there is basically nothing along the way. This aspect of non-development is an obstacle that tourism Saskatchewan should really look at addressing in the near future. The East Block has a lot more badlands than does the West. It was more reminiscent to Big Muddy to us. There are many cool hikes we would have liked to pursue but will have to wait until our kids are a bit older. The Valley of 1000 Devils will definitely be a must see! Grasslands National Park truly is another Saskatchewan diamond in the rough. Get off the beaten trail and goto Grasslands. It’s scenery and landscape are one of a kind. They define the wild spirit of the Land of the Living Skies! 😎
Day 9 saw us travel home from our epic Road Trip. But first, we made one last stop in Eastend, Saskatchewan!
Day 8 saw us travel from West Glacier, Montana USA to Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan Canada. We got searched at the Canadian border (of course) but the border guard took one look at our vacation-smelling mini-van and let us go. LOL. 😎 (more…)
Day 7 was laden with awesome water-based adventure! It all began around 11:15AM with a scenic float down the flathead river, courtesy of Montana Raft Co! It involved one excited 7 year old jumping overboard to his heart’s delight!
Every day of this incredible road trip just got better and better. We thought we had seen the most incredible stuff the day before and then we encounter more mind-blowing scenery and unbelievable vistas. That was Day 6 in a nutshell!
Day 5 took us from West Glacier to Whitefish. Normally a winter tourism skiing snowboarding mecca, there is actually a lot to do there in the summer! (more…)
Day 4 was jam packed with awesome! After learning about the free shuttle on Day 3, we decided to get up early (around 5:30AM) and drive to the Apgar visitor centre so that we could get on the first express shuttle going to Logan’s Pass. This is basically the summit of the Going to the Sun Road and there is a parking lot and visitor centre up there as well. We were very, VERY thankful we got an early start!