Carson wildlife photographer captures bears’ lives |

Carson wildlife photographer captures bears’ lives

Jill Lufrano

The black cattle glance up with sleepy eyes to see who has come to visit along the muddy path as they continue lazily chewing the grass on their Washoe Valley ranch.

Each of the 41 black Angus cattle has a name. Peanut – weighing in a 2,500 pounds – was just a baby when Carol Bailey started bottle-feeding him after his mom died. Then, there’s Chocolate, Liberty, Tiny Tenille and Dog, to name a few.

Bailey bought her ranch, a former lumbermill, in 1989. It overlooks a majestic vista of mountains and the valley floor, framed by a sprawling natural setting of wooden fences and meadow.

A lifelong love of animals has sparked adventure in the 61-year-old’s life in the past 30 years.

Bailey grew up in Lake Tahoe, graduating from Tahoe/Truckee High School. After taking photographs during a trip to Hawaii, she went to a meeting of the Reno Photo Club. The club was holding a slide competition. Being very competitive, Bailey thought “I can do that.”

“So I joined the club and won the contest,” Bailey, now club president, said. “And they haven’t gotten rid of me since.”

After joining the club in the early 1970s, Bailey paid her brother $5 to dig his old Argus C3 camera out of the trash. She learned most of her photographic skills from the club.

When not visiting remote natural areas in Alaska or Africa, Bailey often just takes walks and follows critter tracks around her ranch. She has names for the wildlife she finds, too.

“I like to be outside,” Bailey said. “I’m much more comfortable around animals than around people.”

As an accountant for the Nevada Department of Transportation, she didn’t think her supervisor would let her take time off during the busiest time of year for her first trip to Africa. But she asked anyway.

After a few days, he looked at her and kind of laughed.

“If you don’t go, I’ll fire you,” she remembers him saying.

Bailey bought a big lens to photograph animals in Africa, eventually leading tours to capture images of lions, elephants and other wildlife. Sometimes photographers would sit for five hours to wait for lions to wake up to hunt, she remembers.

Some of her memories include being charged by a matriarch elephant when the group was watching its baby. She has also been in the midst of 1,000 elephants shuffling by, which sounds like a thousand pairs of slippers, she said.

But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not many people wanted to go to Africa.

Now Bailey takes tour groups each summer to Katmai National Park in Alaska to photograph brown bears. She has recently published a calendar with her favorite shots.

The tour group takes a boat into a remote area, called the “Salad Bowl.” To keep tourists from invading the bears’ territory, Bailey said she doesn’t reveal the actual location of her favorite spot full of salmon-filled streams and meadows leading to the ocean.

She’s also named the bears the group sees regularly. One of the bears was named “Carol” after one tour group became attached to her. She has since had cubs that they try to see every year. “We climb onto a berm that overlooks tall grass that flattens like a big huge meadow,” Bailey said. “It’s gorgeous.”

n The Reno Photo Club meets at 7:30 p.m. every first and third Wednesday at the Classic Residence by Hyatt, 3201 Plumas St. For more information, call 827-1950.