Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Denali National Park

The Park bus slowly starts to make the climb up Stony Hill, all eye's scanning the hillside for signs of wildlife, binoculars in hand, cameras ready, suspense thick enough to cut with a knife. It's a crystal clear day, not a cloud in the ocean blue sky. The driver, a veteran of the park, has a smile on his face. The kind of smile someone has when he's concealing a secret only he knows.

The reason he comes back every year to drive this bus in the park, is part because he loves the outdoors and the wildlife, but also because of this exact moment that lies ahead, where he gets to share the experience of seeing the joy from those who come to the park. He glances up into the rear view mirror to witness the reactions on the visitors faces, just as the bus nears the crest of the hill.

Reaching the top, the largest mountain in North America, reveals itself from behind the hill like a curtain to the beginning of a show. One by one, each visitor lets out a gasp of amazement, as they view the massive 20,320 foot giant for the first time. Mt.Mckinley towers over the rest of the surrounding mountains, like some frozen granite cathedral, an Alaskan Taj Mahal.

Since I was young my parents have taken me up to Denali National Park to view Mt.Mckinley and it's animals. And in a few days I will be heading back there to take a friend who is visiting me, up to experience the park. To me it's more than just an amazing place to photograph and a great place to view Alaska's wildlife and beautiful scenery, it's spiritual.

My family and I back in the 80's, relaxing in the park, watching a grizzly bear mother and cub. I'm in the orange jacket looking through binoculars.

In 1907 Charles Sheldon a naturalist and hunter visited the area and was concerned about the future of the dall sheep and other large mammals from over hunting. After years of petitioning the US government to set aside this land, Mt.Mckinley National Park was formed in 1917. It wasn't till 1980 that the park boundaries were enlarged and it was renamed Denali National Park. Park officials over the years have maintained the hands off approach, to managing the wildlife, which has allowed natural up and down population cycles, that animals go through without human involvement.

The beauty of the park is not just the abundance of animals, it's the wide glacier eroded valleys, meandering river beds, and rolling hills covered in tundra. The park is the best place in north america and possibly the world to photograph wolves, massive bull moose with 70 plus inch antlers, and grizzly bears.

As I look forward to heading back up there, to photograph the parks animals and hike into the back country, a recent ruling eats at me. The elimination of a buffer zone that has helped to protect wolves that travel outside the invisible boundary of the park. Sadly, it's this abundance of trophy animals within the park, that has attracted man to suck from it like leaches. Trappers lay snares and traps along the park boundaries hoping to catch lynx, wolves, and any other animals that cross over the invisible line.

I eagerly wait to see if a pack of wolves that I spent a week photographing last fall, has survived the winter. Winter time is when trappers take the biggest toll on Denali's wildlife. The snow pack makes travel along the park boundary more easy. I have been told reports that trappers have taken many wolves this winter and one entire family. I fear my favorite wolf to photograph hasn't made it. A wolf that every morning when I hiked into the back country to photograph the pack, would walk right up to me and follow me like like a domesticated dog. One which laid down next to me one afternoon and we both took a nap during a snowy day last fall.

While I hunt myself and respect hunters and the revenue it brings to the state. I fully believe some places should be left alone. Set aside completely like a time capsule to preserve natures beauty from man's influence. Denali National Park is a treasure that you only fully appreciate after traveling the world like I have. I hope Alaskans will take pride in having Denali National Park in their state and fight to protect it in the future.

If you're interested in seeing photos of this wolf or other photos of Denali animals, visit my Alaskan Animals album by clicking on the Brian Montalbo photography website banner at the top or by copying and pasting this link

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Food Fights + Human Nature = La Tomantina

In elementary school during lunch period, a few friends and I would regularly chuck food at each other when the lunch duty turned her back. Our adolescent way of rebelling against regulation and control. Most of time nothing came of it but us getting caught or ratted out and having to clean the lunch room.
One day the most beautiful thing happened. We didn't stop throwing food when the lunch duty caught us, but rather increased it. We completely disregarded any rules and authority, ignored the consequences and punishment, and made our statement. But instead of it being an isolated event, one kid after another joined in on our food fight, until like popcorn almost every kid in that lunch room was throwing food at each other, laughing and having a grand old time. We were joined together in solidarity in one large rebellious statement. The lunch time duty was so overwhelmed to do anything about it, had to retreat for re enforcements.

I learned something valuable about human nature that day.

This video is an example of how one person breaking from the norm can influence others to follow.

When I found out about a festival where you were encouraged to throw food, I was attracted to La Tomantina like a dung beetle to a huge pile of elephant poop.

Located in Bunol Spain, near Valencia, this festival is home to the largest food fight in the world. Twenty five thousand people from around the world, throwing ninety thousand pounds of tomatoes at each other for just over an hour. Sound like fun?

Those of you who are stressed out from work, was always told not to play with your food and sick of it, or just want to have fun, make your way to La Tomantina. It's held on the last Wednesday of August every year.

Here's how it goes. Everyone gathers into one narrow street which has a wooden pole with a big chunk of ham at the top. The event doesn't start until someone gets the ham off the top. After many failed attempts, finally someone reaches the top and a rocket is shot off to symbolize the trucks full of tomatoes are on their way. Until the tomatoes arrive a huge t-shirt fight begins. It hurts! The street is very narrow so when the trucks come through, get ready to be packed in and make sure not to get run over. Five dump trucks make their way down the street, stopping only to dump their load of thousands of pounds of tomatoes. By the end of the fight, there is about 6 inches of tomatoes crushed under your feet. Enough to almost swim in it.

Tips. A lot of people where goggles because you get smacked in the eye a lot. I recommend it because I didn't wear them and I could barely see I had so many tomatoes in my face.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World Move over.

Funny College Application Letter

This is an actual essay written by a college applicant. The author, Hugh Gallagher, now attends NYU.

Essay: In order for the admissions staff of our college to get to know you, the applicant, better, we ask that you answer the following question: Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that have helped to define you as a person?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer, I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago, I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rafting the Nile

If you are ever in Uganda and looking to experience the Nile at it's best. Make your way to the head waters, just below Lake Victoria. Don't worry fishermen have killed all the hippos and crocodiles in this area, so you don't have to worry about them when you fall out. Though, how bad ass would that be if that was just another element to rafting it.
This part of the Nile actually has some vertical to it, unlike the lower sections, which creates some monster sections of rapids, including the largest commercial white water hole in the world. Just ask your guide to portage around the impassable class six rapids and put in just under them.
There is also a 3 meter waterfall that you can try your luck at. Other than that, enjoy paddling your ass off for most of it. It has long sections of flat water.
Try the bungee jump at the beginning. If you do it topless it's free. Who ever came up with that one is a genius. Cheers!

Adrift Rafting Company

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Photographing Alaska's Dall Sheep

Slowly making your way up the cliff face, you carefully test each foot and hand grip, one slip and it's most certainly the last mistake you make, one loose rock sent tumbling and your cover is blown. You stick to the rocks to conceal your advance and hide your silhouette. High in the mountains and above the treeline, the wind stings your face like bees. You mimic a snow leopard, staying low in the rocks, moving slow, and silently stalking your prey from above. For now you have the element of surprise.

You move into position, slowly peeking over the crest to eye the location of your subject. The ram is huge, eating away at the dwarf willows, unaware he is being watched and confident no predators could possible make it that far up the challenging terrain, goes about his lunch. You pull forward your camera and telephoto lens, pull off the lens cap, flip on the power, make sure the dials are set to the right setting, focus the image, and then wait for the perfect shot. You may only get one.

The ram's thick white coat is still thick from the winter, his massive full curl a dream to any trophy hunter. The ram stops eating for a second to look up and perform a mandatory search for any threats. As he moves his head towards you, you move you finger to the shutter, steady your hand, hold your breath, and time your heartbeat. You wait for the catch lights in his eyes and then you take your money shot.......Click!

This time the ram gets to live another day. You're not here to waste this old male's life, you are just capturing it's beauty for everyone to enjoy. He will provide more strong offspring for the future.

Alaska to me is the Africa of North America, wildlife is still abundant up here. Alaska has huge herds of caribou that compares to the wildebeest of the Serengeti, our predators the biggest on the planet, and terrain that rivals the Himalayas.
While I love photographing all types of Alaskan animals, I find photographing dall sheep to be one of the most challenging and most rewarding. To find them you have to make your way to the tallest and most rugged mountain peaks in Alaska. Dall sheep survive by staying high up in these rocky faces, out of the reach of most predators. They have amazing eye sight and are always on guard. Any alien sounds or movement and they are sent running. To photograph dall sheep you have to earn it. And if you miss your shot don't worry,just sit back and enjoy the amazing views, you deserve it.

See more photos of Rams and Alaskan Animals by visiting

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Quick , the Lucky, and the Gored!

The sound of the rocket exploding sends chills down your spine, instantly forcing people into shear panic. Most take off running like scared mice escaping down a half mile maze,cowardly fleeing for their lives. Those who welcome the challenge stand their ground, hopping up and down to prime their muscles. Your heart pounds to the roar of the crowd, thump thump thumping so hard it feels like it is trying to burst from your chest and save itself. Adrenaline pulsates through your muscles, forcing natural self preservation instincts of fight or flight.

The last rocket explodes causing even more panic,reality sets in. There is no doubt now they are on their way, 1600 pounds times 12, charging toward you at 18 miles per hour, and pissed off. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. You have been locked in, buildings keeping you tight, fences blocking every direction except one. You have two choices, to run like hell, or to dodge.

Those of you out there who love adrenaline packed adventures, love drinking at crazy festivals, love getting crammed in with thousands of other strangers, or just enjoy watching people getting badly injured, then the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, is the one stop shop for you. This festival made famous by the deadly "running of the bulls", begins every year on the 6th of July and runs till the 14th. A religious festival dating back to the 13th century, this event has drawn thousands of dare devils each year to push their luck, 26 people most recently last year, have been killed trying. Made world famous by Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" published back in 1926. Ok, enough of the history. You can look up more about it on your own. I'm here to share you an experience that you will never forget and one you have to do at least once.

The day I retired from professional sports and no longer had rules for what I could and could not do, I started checking things off my bucket list. I was already planning on traveling through Europe during the summer of 07, so I made sure I wasn't going to miss the running of the bulls. Like any other adrenaline experience your anxiety increases the closer you get to it, thanks to videos like this, you start to think of all the ways you could get injured.

The fun begins on the 6th, with people gathering in the city squares to await the mayor, who gives the official announcement that the festival has begin. After a quick speech and the lighting of a rocket, all hell breaks loose. Crammed into small squares the town celebrates like they just won the world cup. Sangria, beer, what ever else can be tossed, ends up in your eyes and all over your body. Songs and cheers break out as everyone becomes your best friend. If you really want to have fun make your way the square in front of city hall, where the mayor gives his speech, and get ready for the "big crunch." Wave after wave of people trying to squeeze the living shit out of you, big beach balls dropped to whack around, and locals throwing buckets of water down on you from the balcony. Make sure have enough alcohol to last for a few hours. You ain't going no where.

This video is from the year I was in this square.

After hours of feeling like an anaconda has wrapped it's body around you, even lifting girls off their feet, the crowd starts to pour out into the town and you can finally breath. Make sure you wear shoes to this, other wise your feet will get F@#ed. Trust me! Broken glass is everywhere. The rest of the day go get hammered, try out local restaurants and have a marry of a good time. Don't miss the idiots smashing themselves on the ground, trying to stage dive from the top of a fountain into the waiting arms of strangers. If you have grande pelotas, feel free to stay up all night partying your ass off. Those of you wanting to be able to make life saving decisions, without being hungover or drunk, sober up and get some rest. The next morning will blow your mind.

The next morning get up around 6 am and make your way into the bull run. Fight your way through the crowd still drunk and partying from the night before. I had to fight my ass off to make it through the crowd to get into the run, because I waited to long. Once in the run make your way as far up the course as possible. They start to put up the fences early to keep more people from entering the course. At about 7:30 a group of policia, form a line and and beat half the crowd down the course like riot police, trying to thin out the number of people in the run. If you have a camera hide it, if you are a girl cover your face, they will kick you out. Don't be a dumb ass like some guys I met and hold beer in your hand or look hammered the policia don't have the same rules that police over here have, you will get beaten.

At 8 am they release a rocket that scares the crap out of everyone because you know they have released the bulls. Six bulls and Six steers, charge out of the gate and down the course. Some people panic and run down the course without ever having any bulls pass them, entering the bull arena to the boos and whistles of disappointed fans. Don't be one of these pussies, they will throw stuff at you. Wait till you see the real panic on peoples eyes when the bulls come, it's a better experience. They are faster than you think, so make sure to run as fast as your can or jump out of the way and get in behind them and enjoy having them plow the course for you. I laughed my ass off running behind a group of four bulls, as they acted like a bulldozer smashing over people and causing me to leap bodies on the way down the course.

Here is a glimpse into the danger of the run.

If you're fast enough and or lucky enough to not have gotten gored, stay close enough to the bulls to make it into the arena before they shut the gates and lock you out, another challenge awaits you. Inside, if you really want to push your luck, line up near the back gate and squat down, make sure to duck your head..... Trust me you will thank me later. I won't tell you what happens but when it does you will shit your pants. Don't fall for the line and take a group picture prank like I did.

If you don't want to do this. Have fun playing run away from the crazy younger bulls, as they try to smash every single person in the area. I was completely worn out after about 30 minutes of trying to get run over and flipped. If you get run into, don't hold onto the horns if you do, you will get your butt kicked by the locals. It's disrespectful to touch the bulls, unless of course you have to pound on one like I had to save a poor older man who kept getting stomped on.

If you make it through this last test, which a lot don't, ( I watched as a guy broke his neck being flipped) then give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself. You made it! Enjoy standing in the middle of an arena packed with thousands of people and sing with the crowd. It's the closest you will ever get to felling what it must have been like to have been a gladiator in Rome. Good Luck!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Popping my Blog Cherry....I Hope It's Love?

I've finally jumped on the blogger band wagon and I have to admit for now, it's really exciting. After three underachieving years in professional baseball, then a few years of trying to find myself outside of sports, I feel like I am finally heading down a path that I was destined to do. It's hard to walk away from a career where you spent your whole life training for, had such high expectations for, and consumed your identity, but that's life. Things don't always work out for the best, so instead of dwelling in the past it's refreshing to start a new beginning.

I have always been passionate about living life to the highest possible level, but now having all the time and freedom to my disposal, I am even more motivated. I've always valued life experience, as one of the more important qualities in people. Sheltered ignorance is good for beer drinking buddies, politicians, and even half term governors, but not for understanding the bigger picture. Intelligence to me can be achieved by just reading and memorizing facts, then regurgitating them to sound smart. Wisdom comes from what you learn through life experiences and discovering things on your own.

My recent adventures have enriched my life with a better understanding of the world. The things I have seen along the way have matured me, inspired me, and definitely open my eyes in ways athletics never could have.

Just like other photographers and journalists, I am passionate about sharing experiences and stories from around the planet. We are driven by our own impulse to learn and absorb. Since I was young, I have always been an explorer, a story teller, and adrenaline junkie. Impulses driven by a euphoria addiction to the life less traveled. I believe adventure is in our soul. Why else would we hold explorers, astronauts, and adventurers to such a high level of respect both in history and in our dreams.

My blog is titled "Beyond Adventure, Photographing Life's Remaining Treasures," because I want my travel to be more than just adventure, but to photograph the serenity of earth's remaining treasure's before they disapear. Hopefully through this blog, I will inspire people to reach their inner soul and pursue things that they are passionate about. Life is too short to hold back. "Dream as if you life forever, live as if you will die today" James Dean