Terra Galleria Photography

Stumbling into Alaska’s mining past in Nabesna, Wrangell-St Elias National Park

For something a bit different within our national parks, I visited the incredibly raw and well-preserved mining ghost town of Nabesna, a rare and off-limits find in the quiet northern corner of Wrangell-St Elias

Of the two roads that lead into Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Nabesna Road, which opens up the northern reaches of the park, is much less visited than McCarthy Road. It is situated in a more remote area and lacks the two big draws of Kennecott, the impressive mining buildings, and glaciers.

That the national parks preserve some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation make it easy to forget that they also feature many sites where one can learn about the nation’s history. Although I am drawn to the natural beauty, I am also intrigued by the lives of those who came there before. Often, the more remote the land, the best preserved and the artifacts. I had high hopes for the mines and ghost towns of Nabesna. The discoveries I made didn’t disappoint, and each of the three sites I visited offered something different.

The Rambler Mine

While the Nabesna Road is well graded, past the Devil’s Mountain Lodge it is no longer maintained, and it looked like a high-clearance 4WD vehicle would be necessary to traverse the deep ruts. I parked our car about 1/4 mile beyond the lodge, at a small gravel parking area. After 1/4 mile along the road, a uphill 1/2 mile tree-canopied trail leads to the Rambler Mine. We had initially planned to hike the Skookum Volcano, but in view of the weather, we were glad that we had changed our plans to visiting the mines. The abandoned buildings there have been stripped bare, but they provided a welcome shelter from the rain, and although the mines have been gated and locked by the NPS, we could peer into their openings to see wagons and rails.

As I noticed the rain easing off a bit, I led our group up a steep and rather unstable trail along a chute. We reached not only to another mine opening but also views over the Nabesna River Valley that were open, unlike those from the mine which were obscured by vegetation. All of the sudden a double rainbow appeared. It was such a transcendent moment because it had been raining most of the day so far. If you want to see a rainbow, you have to get out in the rain!

The Nabesna Mill

Back to the main road, after 1.5 miles from the Rambler Mine trail junction, a side road covered with toxic-looking tailings led to the main Nabesna mine mill. The rather large building is still full of machinery and hardware. The Kennecott mine has more big and impressive mill buildings, but the mill buildings in Nabesna are way more raw. In Kennecott, you get to see one of the best preserved ghost towns in America, yet the ruins are being partly restored and stabilized, and the buildings can be entered only on guided tours. By contrast you can wander around everywhere in Nabesna, make your own discoveries as if you were the first visitor happening into a lost world, and besides the removal of some heavy equipment, you can see what the mines looked like when they were closed. I avoided the second floors, though, as they did not look too stable.

While the Kennecott mine was a copper mine, gold was discovered in Nabesna near the end of the 19th century, and the Nabesna Mining Company was formed in 1929 by Carl Whitham. The present-day Nabesna road was built to provide access to the mining camp. During the Great Depression, some men walked more than 100 miles from the Richardson Highway just to ask for a job there. With more than 1/4 ounce of gold per ton – more than current active mines, the Nabesna mine was doing great, but in 1942 all the gold mines were closed to shift miners to copper and iron mines that supported directly the war effort. Whitham made plans to reopen the mine after the war, but they were scrapped after he died in 1947.

The Nabesna mining cabins

Back to the main road, after 1/4 mile, we saw on our right a group of cabins with busted doors that from the outside looked exactly like many others in the area. However, upon entering them, I was astonished by the amount of stuff scattered in there. Some of it appeared fairly recent, but there were plenty of historic artifacts related to mining, such as ore samples and mining documents, some of which dated from 1935. For a moment, I felt like I had gone back in time. The setting was the most undisturbed, artifact-rich ghost town that I’ve been privileged to explore.

Getting there

There is little published information about the Nabesna mines. They are not mentioned in any guidebooks. My main source was a blog post written in 2014 by photographer Adam Eliott. On the way, I also inquired at the Devil’s Mountain Lodge where a member of the Ellis family, who had been operating the lodge for three generations, kindly showed me a helpful map. The Devil’s Mountain Lodge is at the end of the 42-mile maintained portion of the Nabesna Road.

If you visit the area, exercise caution as structures are potentially unsafe, and be sure to leave everything as you found it so that future visitors can experience the same discoveries that you did. Note also that while the Rambler mine now belongs to the park, the Nabesna mine are still technically private property, and for this reason the NPS doesn’t encourage visitation. This makes the visit akin to “urbex”, urban exploration of abandoned buildings. Are you comfortable with that ?

More images from Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Best Photobooks 2016: the Meta-List

Here is this year’s meta-list of best photobooks. It started with the Aperture Photobook Awards 2016 shortlist, and continued with Olga’s compilation of lists at phot(O)lia, which I encourage you to visit to follow the links to those lists.

The methodology is the same as for my meta-lists of previous years (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), except that this year, I have counted the 25 individual 3-item lists from Photo-Eye. The total number of lists was 75.

(19 votes)

(15 votes)
Discordia MOISES SAMAN Self-published

(14 votes)

(12 votes)
Sugar Paper Theories JACK LATHAM Here Press

(11 votes)

(10 votes)
Wolfgang DAVID FATHI Skinnerboox
Provoke: Between Protest and Performance DIANE DUFOUR & MATTHEW WITKOVSKY (Eds) Steidl

(9 votes)
Shenasnameh AMAK MAHMOODIAN RRB Publishing

(7 votes)
In the beginning DIANE ARBUS Metropolitan Museum of Art

(6 votes)
Black Is the Day, Black Is the Night AMY ELKINS Self-published
Golden Days Before they End KLAUS PICHLER Patrick Frey
Negative Publicity: Artefacts Of Extraordinary Rendition EDMUND CLARK & CROFTON BLACK (Eds) Aperture
Snowflakes Dog Man HAJIME KIMURA Self-published

(5 votes)
Tokyo GERRY JOHANSSON Only photography

(4 votes)
1% privilege in a time of global inequity MYLES LITTLE (Ed) Hatje Cantz
Folklig Idrott MAXIMILIAN STEJSKAL Patrick Frey
Fuck it MICHELE SIBILONI Patrick Frey
Impasse Hotel Syria KRASS CLEMENT Glydendal
In flagrante two CHRIS KILLIP Steidl
Little North Road DANIEL TRAUB Kehrer Verlag
Matter / Burn Out DAISUKE YOKOTA Artbeat
New York in Photobooks HORACIO FERNANDEZ (Ed) RM
Shadows of Wormwood ARTHUR BONDAR Self-published
The House of Seven Women TITO MOURAZ Dewi Lewis

(3 votes)
(Un)expected PETER DEKENS The Eriskay Connection
Aeronautics in the Backyard XIAO XIAO XU The Eriskay Connection
Contains 3 books JASON FULFORD The Soon Institute
Estamos Buscando PAUL TUROUNET Self Published
Every night temo ser la dinner SOFÍA AYARZAGOITIA La frabrica
Fifteen Miles to K-Ville MARK STEINMETZ stanley/barker
Hometowns JOHN MACLEAN Self-published
Kitchen Table Series CARRIE MAE WEEMS Damiani
Portraits WILLIAM EGGLESTON Yale University
Radicalia PIERO MARTINELLO Self-published
Santa Barbara Return Jobs to the US. ALEJANDRO CARTAGENA Skinnerboox
Summer Days Staten Island CHRISTINE OSINSKI Damiani
The Difficulties of Nonsense ROBERT CUMMING Aperture
The Epic Love Story of a Warrior PETER PUKLUS SPBH
The Jungle Book YANN GROSS Aperture
The Narcissistic City TAKASHI HOMMA Mack
The Prospect of Immortality MURRAY BALLARD Gost
Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why? DAN BOARDMAN & ASPEN MAYS Houseboat Press/Conveyor Editions

(2 votes)
A House Without a Roof ADAM GOLFER Brooklyn
A Topical Times for these Times KEN GRANT Rrb publishing
All That Life Can Afford MATT STUART self-published
Another Girl Another Planet VALERIE PHILLIPS Rizzoli
Badly Repaired Cars RONNI CAMPANA Hoxton Mini Press
Bar Espagnol PABLO CASINO self-published
Barespagnol PABLO CASINO Dalpine
Cosmic Surgery ALMA HASER Self-published
Cucurrucucú CRISTINA DE MIDDEL Editorial RM
Dear Clark; Portrait of a Con Man SARA-LENA MAIERHOFER Drittel Books
Early Times VASANTHA YOGANANTHAN Chose Commune
Essential Elements EDWARD BURTYNSKY Thames & Hudson
Factory Andy Warhol STEPHEN SHORE Phaidon
Girl plays with snake CLAIRE STRAND Mack
Goodbye America BRAD FEUERHELM Yard Press
Highway Kind JUSTINE KURLAND Aperture
Home Around the World ELLIOTT ERWITT Aperture
Home Instruction Manual JAN MCCULLOUGH Verlag Kettler
Homes HARLEY WEIR Loose Joints
Invisible Man GORDON PARKS Steidl
Kids in Love OLIVIA BEE Aperture
Known and Strange Things TEJU COLE Penguin Random House
Lobismuller LAIA ABRIL Editorial RM/Images Vevey
Looking For Alice SIAN DAVEY Trolley Books
Matter MICHAEL LUNDGREN Radius Books
Mexico: Photographs MARK COHEN University of Texas
My Air Force VOJTĚCH VEŠKRNA Self-published
North Point HIROYASU NAKAI Roshin Books
OSC (Osaka Station City) ANTONY CAIRNS Self-published
Out of the Blue VIRGINIE REBETEZ by Meta/Books
Photographs ELLSWORTH KELLY Aperture
Picture Of My Life JUNPEI UEDA Self-published
Political Theatre MARK PETERSON Steidl
Poste Restante CHRISTER STRÖMHOLM Strömholm Estate (reprint)
Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers STEPHEN SHAMES & BOBBY SEALE Abrams
Provisional arrangement MARTIN KOLLAR Mack
Raised by Wolves, the bootleg JIM GOLDBERG Self-published
Recruit HIROSHI OKAMOTO Self-published
Revoir JH ENGSTRÖM Journal/Akio Nagasawa
Saints PANOS KEFALOS Fabrica
Sentimental Journey NOBUYOSHI ARAKI Kawade Shobo Shinsha (reprint)
Shinjuku Lost Child SEUNG WOO YANG Zen Foto
So Long China PATRICK ZACHMANN Xavier Barral
Stray PAUL GAFFNEY Self-published
Tear Sheets Publisher PACIFICO SILANO Silent Face; Dashwood Books
Thatcher’s Funeral JAMES O’JENKINS Self-published
The Democratic Forest WILLIAM EGGLESTON Steidl
The Modern Spirit is Vivisective FRANCESCA CATASTINI Anzenberger
The last son JIM GOLDBERG. Super Labo
Transparency is the new mystery MAYUMI HOSOKURA Mack
Valparaiso SERGIO LARRAIN Xavier Barral
While leaves are falling TAKAHIRO KANEYAMA Akaaka Publishing

Treasured Lands acclaimed by The New York Times and High Country News

I am honored that last December, Treasured Lands received superlative reviews from two diverse print publications, both of them ranking the book at the top of the National Park Service Centennial publications.

The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times has published a Sunday book review section since 1896, maybe the most influential in the U.S. The holiday 2016 edition includes the book round-up Great Outdoors: Landscapes, Both Natural and Created by Human Hands, by the influential writer and editor Dominique Browning. It opens with a review of Treasured Lands.

“The centennial of the National Park Service has been the occasion of […] many books. The most glorious of these is TREASURED LANDS . . . No one has captured the vast beauty of America’s landscape as comprehensively.”

High Country News

High Country News is the independent news organization for people who care about the American West’s environment and communities. The last issue of 2016 includes An inside look at the national parks, the most detailed review of Treasured Lands to date.

“Treasured Lands is the single-most monumental literary achievement during a year that brimmed with words and pictures dedicated to the centennial of the National Park Service . . . To be sure, it is a visual feast. But it’s much more than that, because of its geographic completeness and the attention to detail that only someone who has lived and breathed the parks for a long time could provide . . . Luong’s work stands out on the crowded shelves of national park tomes because of the generosity not just of his vision but of his accumulated wisdom.”

More reviews excerpts confirming that Treasured Lands is the photography book of the U.S. National Parks can be seen here, and the sentiment is also echoed by several Amazon customers.

Seasons Greetings

Wishing you Happy Holidays, or Merry Christmas, and a great time with family and friends, full of peace, love and joy.

May your year 2017 will be filled with health, success, and creativity!

Year 2016 in Review: Caves and Peaks, Treasured Lands and the National Parks Beyond

It felt like I spent half of the 2016 year in a cave, and this is reflected in the image choices for this post. Determined not to go on a single trip before the book was finished, I tried to get out Treasured Lands in time for the National Park Service Centennial. Even after completing the manuscript and image layout, I still had to keep in mind the publishing industry saying “writing the book is only 10% of the work, the rest is selling it.”

One would also think that after Treasured Lands, I would have wanted a break from the national parks. One would be wrong. Floating on the internet, there is this plot of “Knowledge versus Expertise”, showing that the more expertise one acquires, the more one realizes how much more there is to know. I’ve been called by Outdoor Photographer “an expert on photographing the national parks”. Writing the book only sharpened my awareness of how many experiences there are to be had, corners to explore, and photographs to be made in those treasured lands.

With that in mind, in June, for my first trip of the year, I returned to Zion National Park to continue canyonnering explorations. The Subway has become world-famous. The common way to visit the formation is via a hike from the bottom of the canyon, but this misses some of the most beautiful sections of the canyon that I saw by traveling the entire length of the Left Fork, including Das Boot.

In July, I thought that to celebrate the NPS Centennial, we should try a national park road trip as a family. We began with Great Basin National Park, where I revisited Lehnman Cave after a 20-year hiatus, putting to good use much more capable technology.

While the family was sleeping, I sneaked out of the campground in Great Teton National Park and located a single lush patch of wildflowers in otherwise past peak meadows. This small spot and time window was enough for an iconic photograph that had eluded me on several previous visits, but I was still yearning to get closer to the mountains.

At Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, the only constant is change. The area of Minerva Terraces that I photographed 20 years ago has dried out, and the activity had moved to Canary Springs. In the past family trips to national parks didn’t work out very well, though, and this trip turned out to be no exception.

In September, for Alaska I made an exception to my regular solo travel. The Root Glacier in Wrangell St Elias National Park delighted with unexpected features like canyons, and waterfalls, but the most unique experience was to scramble under the edge of the glacier into ice caves where we were underneath surreally blue ice.

Since this was my fourth visit to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, I didn’t expect much, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that in less than a decade, the glacier had retreated several hundreds yards and its terminus had changed dramatically. To approach it, we had to cross streams with swift, knee-depth, and frigid flow.

On the only sunny day of that week, I was pleased to go on an overnight backpacking trip and at least hike up a peak for the first time in the year, Tanalian Mountain in Lake Clark National Park. The trail climbed 3,200 feet for stunning views of Lake Clark, and on the way down I photographed the only colorful sunset of the whole trip.

Although in Katmai National Park we did not miss the bears nor the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, my favorite part of the trip was hiking up another peak, Dumpling Mountain, 2,400 feet above Brooks Camp, where besides the views that I had for myself on that rainy day, the tundra delighted with its mosaic of autumn colors.

In October, I launched Treasured Lands at the Vegas Valley Book Festival in conjunction with a showing of my exhibit at the Major’s Gallery. This was an appropriate venue since Las Vegas has more National Parks (18) within a day drive (500 mi radius) than any other city in the US. After the festival, I drove to Bryce Canyon National Park to stretch my legs on the 8-mile Fairlyland Loop trail where I greatly enjoyed the relative quiet and diversity of scenery.

On the way home, I stopped in Joshua Tree National Park, where thanks to Jeremy Long and Tim Schultze’s guide, I photographed a couple of rocks I wasn’t aware before. Always keep learning, be grateful for any unexpected gifts!

In November, on the eve of a presentation at UCSB Arts and Lectures in front of a 400+ audience, an improvised quick trip to Santa Cruz Island lead to beautiful discoveries and a new perspective on Channel Islands National Park via the waterline of a sea kayak

Despite my shortened travel year, I still visited twelve national parks in five different regions, and now have only two left to complete an unprecedented second round of visits to all 59 national parks. Although Treasured Lands begins to be recognized as “the” photography book of the National Park Service Centennial, my journey continues, and so does the fight for conservation. I am very grateful to all of you who have helped make the book a success. It is my hope that it will make you realize how much our national parks have to offer and to inspire you visit them, and that as result, you will demand of our leaders that they continue to preserve them, as well as other public lands, for future generations.

If you’ve made it so far, thanks again for looking and reading. I’d be interested to hear which image(s) you like most!

Visiting Kobuk Valley: the Crux of a 59 National Parks Adventure

Kobuk Valley National Park is the least visited of the 59 national parks, because it is arguably the most difficult to access. In this post, I discuss the logistics of visiting Kobuk Valley National Park, contrasting my approach with that of my fellow travelers who have visited the 59 national parks.

Getting there

Most Kobuk Valley National Park trips start in Kotzebue, situated just north of the Arctic circle, on the coast of the Bering sea in North-west Alaska. Although a typical bush town reached only by air or sea, it is the transportation and commerce center for this vast part of Alaska and is deserved daily by commercial jet from Alaska Airlines.

Flying into the park

Although less sculptural than other dune fields, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are such a curiosity in the Arctic that they are the park’s main landmark. The most popular way to visit Kobuk Valley National Park seems to get dropped directly on the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes by a bush plane equipped with tundra tires. The charter flight from Kotzebue to the Great Sand Dunes takes a bit less than an hour each way. In 2016, 59 in 59 paid $1,500 for the flight, including 45 minutes on the dunes, which seems a typical rate.

Many, such as 59 before 18, 59 National Parks, and Switchback Kids opt to continue the flight to the western end of Gates of the Artic National Park, which is less than an hour from the Great Sand Dunes, visiting the two remote Alaskan parks on a single outing. Because an overnight stay requires a drop-off and a pick-up by plane, therefore doubling the charter cost, most visitors spend between half an hour and one hour wandering on the dunes, fulfilling their goal of setting foot in the park. Seeking a more “immersive” experience, The Greatest Road Trip camped overnight near the dunes on a guided trip (considering “ill-advised” to visit “without hands-on guidance from those who know the region”), but despite “wanting to see as much as the park as possible”, they saw only the dunes and their immediate surroundings.

Traveling the Kobuk River

Those travelers overlook the most natural way of traveling Kobuk Valley National Park, which is along the Kobuk River. 59 before 18 writes of the park: “It is only reachable by foot, dogsled, snowmobile, and aircraft.” The Greatest Road Trip in their seemingly detailed “breakdown of ways to explore Kobuk”, also do not even mention the namesake river. Yet the river is the natural route into a roadless park, and navigating it is the way the native Eskimo, who still use the park for subsistence caribou hunting, have traveled the park for centuries.

Visiting from the river provides you with a more intimate experience of the park. It could be done like Our Vie on a day trip arranged from a lodge in both Ambler and Kiana, the two Eskimo villages respectively upstream and downstream. Although you get to experience the park more fully, that day trip can be a more expensive option than landing on the dunes, as the cost the guided excursion is $1,500 on top of a round-trip flight from Kotzebue to the village. It is also more demanding than landing on the dunes since the hike from the river to the Great Sand Dunes is much tougher than the 2-mile distance would indicate because of the boggy terrain with tussocks.

The one-way float

Since many of the park travelers cite budget limitations as the reason why they visited the park the way they did, it is interesting that they did not consider floating one-way from Ambler to Kiana. I certainly do not get any credit for originality in planning my visit this way. Long before Michael Joseph Oswald stated goal of encouraging park visitors to get off the road in his Your Guide to the National Parks, the mainstream and venerable National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the USA start their section “How to Visit” with “Take a combination river-hiking trip”, and in the main section: “A river trip through the park from Ambler to Kiana, with plenty of time for hiking, takes about a week”.

While a flight to the Great Sand Dunes has to be chartered, Ambler and Kiana are deserved by commuter, regularly scheduled flights which are much less expensive. In 2002, the year of my visit, Bering Air charged $140 per person for Kotzebue-Ambler and Kiana-Kotzebue was $80. There was a luggage charge of $0.70/lbs over 40lbs, but we ended up paying less than $100 in excess luggage weight. Your boat needs to be transported by plane. We did not own a suitable boat, so we rented a Soar 16, an inflatable hybrid canoe/kayak, that carries two people and a lot of gear directly from SOAR, paying $225 for two weeks. Since we flew to Kotzebue on Alaska Air miles, the transportation cost to visit Kobuk Valley National Park for my wife and I was $765. That’s $383 per person ($515 in 2016 dollars) for the most complicated national park to visit.

Our experience

It wasn’t the easiest way. To make the trip in a week, instead of a leisurely float, we had to paddle vigorously, as the wind would otherwise sometimes push us backward, and we were frequently soaked by rains. But we were rewarded by getting to spend a week seeing the entire width of the park along its main artery, including hiking excursions to Onion Portage and the Great Sand Dunes. Timing our trip for the autumn migration, we often spotted caribou swimming across the wide river. I am not going to say that one can embark on such an expedition casually, because you are traveling in the place that John McPhee called “the most isolated wilderness I would ever see” in Coming Into the Country. However in summer, there is a fair amount of native traffic along the Kobuk River, which mitigates the risk of the adventure.

Along the way we got the privilege to meet with the native Inupiaq Eskimo, starting from the moment a family gave us an “airport shuttle” ride in Ambler. Interacting with those exceptionally friendly and helpful people, and getting to see their traditional way of life was a highlight that we would have missed with a quicker trip. And although this was purely theoretical, I got the chance to photograph seven sunrises and seven sunsets in the park.

Although based on a single park, you can now see the difference between my 59 national parks project, and the documented ones by others. Due to its remoteness, Kobuk Valley is one of the two national parks I have visited the least. I took a single trip there, whereas in average I visited each national parks four to five times. I think this depth is reflected in Treasured Lands. All the landscape images in this blog post are included in the book.

10 who did the 59

While quite a few people have visited all the 59 national parks, fewer have done so with the main goal of sharing their adventures with others. This post features ten fellows I’ve become aware of, highlighting what makes each of the projects unique.

I am naturally intrigued by national park travel projects in which photography plays a role. A few of the travelers do not describe themselves as photographers nor do they make a living in photography. However, although video is growing in popularity, photography remains such an effective form of communication when it comes to actually sharing the beauty of the national parks, that it is invariably part of those endeavors. Besides checking out how others saw places I had photographed, when the details are available, I enjoy reading about what they’ve done there, how they reacted to the places, and how they traveled. I hope you will also enjoy traveling vicariously via those sites.

Stan Jorstad

Although he made a living in commercial photography, Stan Jorstad (1922-2013) was possibly the first photographer in the late 20th century who made a goal to photograph all the national parks. He was the first to do so when there were 54 national parks, the subject of his book Those Rare Lands. When there were 57 and 58 national parks it is unclear if he or I was the first – my inquiries were not answered. Completing the project in his late years, his travels were frequently facilitated by the help of his family who also helped circulate a well-traveled exhibit. Although old age prevented him from photographing #59, Pinnacles National Park, he amply deserves a mention in this list, as his son continued his legacy by doing so. Jorstad’s photography is distinguished by his masterful use of a 6×17 panoramic camera.

Jerry Ginsberg

Working over an extended period of time, traveling sometimes quite extensively in each of them, Jerry Ginsberg was the first person to photograph the 59 national parks using roll-film medium format cameras. He supported his travels with a technology job like I did for the first part of my own project. Besides the unusually large set of images on his website, he writes a series of articles about national parks for the North American Nature Photography Association.

Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas, a graphic designer and photographer, came all the way from Australia to run a marathon in Death Valley in 2007, and in the subsequent 8 years would return 16 times to the US, making him likely the first person living on a different continent to photograph the 59 national parks – a feat not accomplished by many leading American landscape photographers. He even included the 3 abolished national parks for good measure in his book The National Parks of the United States: A Photographic Journey, published just in time for the NPS Centennial.

Mark Burns, thenationalparksphotographyproject.com

Mark Burns, a commercial photographer from Texas, drove more than 150,000 miles in a Toyota FJ from 2011 to 2015 to photograph the 59 national parks. Using a medium format digital camera, he rendered the prints in timeless black and white for an exhibit that traveled to museums with a combined attendance in the hundreds of thousands during the NPS Centennial year.

Don and Shelly Hafner, 59nationalparks.com

Don and Shelly Hafner, both working professionals in their mid-50s, hit the road with a RV trailer to visit the 59 national parks in 59 weeks from April 2014 to July 2015, proving that it is never too late to follow your dreams. This was the first time such a trip was undertaken, though the idea would gain in popularity for the NPS Centennial as seen in the next entries. They chronicled their trip in a blog, are preparing a memoir, and are now trying to sell photos from the trip.

Goldstein family, 58beforebefore18.com

From 2009 to 2014, the Goldsteins visited the 59 national parks during vacations, their goal being to see all of them as a family before their two boys would turn 18. In the process, they created a blog with photos and a video episode for each visit, and its popularity has made it possible to start a business selling T-shirts. That’s the project I am jealous of, since my family visits cause marital problems.

Elizabeth and Cole Donelson, switchbackkids.com

From August 2015 to August 2016 (the NPS Centennial), Elizabeth and Cole Donelson, two married 26-year-olds, left their fledging careers for a year to visit the 59 national parks by engaging in various adventurous outdoor activities in each of them, all on a budget of $20,000 that they saved by working extra side jobs. A main goal of their trip is to share their experiences via their blog with iPhone photos and video to raise awareness of the parks among their generation, the Millenials.

Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp, 59in59.com

Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp, both in their early 30s, partnered to visit all 59 national parks in 59 weeks from June 2015 to August 2016, supporting their travels partly by crowdfunding. They traveled deep in the backcountry, often logging an impressive number of trail miles in a day, and even rafting the Grand Canyon on a private trip. The effort is documented in a beautiful and well-structured blog that recounts their adventures day-to-day.

Jonathan Irish and Stephanie Payne, thegreatestroadtrip.com

Jonathan Irish, a professional outdoor photographer and Stephanie Payne, a writer, are a husband and wife team on a National Geographic Traveler assignment to visit all 59 national parks during the year 2016. Unlike other NPS Centennial road-tripers, they are media professionals with abundant support (they travel in a Airstream towed by a 4WD SUV) working in the field rather than focusing on having fun experiences. This has resulted in the most content-rich and well-designed website of those projects, with multiple media and stories not only about their travels but also about the parks.

Conor Knighton, On the Trail

Conor Knighton, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent, produced and reported the series On the Trail consisting of stories about the national parks that aired every other week on CBS Sunday Morning during the year 2016. In the process, he spent the whole year visiting the 59 national parks and sang America the Beautiful in each of them.

Cees and Madison Hofman, ourvie.com

Cees and Madison Hofman, a newly married couple just graduated from school whose story started in a national park, are visiting the 59 national parks in 9 months, starting from April 2016. They drive a 1989 Toyota motorhome named Vie, go everywhere with a leashed kitty named Vladimir Kitten, often carry foldable Oru kayaks to various bodies of water large and small, and set up slacklines in odd locations. Besides the quirky blog with photos and videos, they’ve developed a following on Instagram and even found sponsors.

Do you know anybody else who shared their travels to the 59 national parks ?

Fall Color: Outdoor Photographer Magazine Feature by QT Luong and a few more

The Oct 2016 issue of Outdoor Photographer is a Fall Color special issue, and the opening feature is my article, with an introduction by William Sawalich, “Ten National Parks for Fall Foliage”.

Outdoor Photographer publishes material on the web one month after the printed magazine is out. The web version has photography tips that were left out in the print version, so even if you saw it in print, check it out!

The images in the article depict fall foliage as leaves on trees, but there is more than that to it, and I’ll share a few in this post. At northern latitudes, the ground cover takes on magnificent colors in autumn. Let start where the OP article ended, in Denali National Park, with an image quite appropriate for Thanksgiving, which should by now be familiar 🙂 although it was chosen for NOT being an iconic view.

Healy Ridge from Park Road, Denali National Park

The tundra colors near Savage River peak in early September. There are distant views of Denali, but on a rainy day, I chose instead a composition in the other direction, with a closer and lower mountain range in the background. Clouds enveloped the higher Alaska Range all day, but for a moment, they lifted off the Healy Ridge slightly. The soft light revealed the color palette of the tundra, whereas, on a sunny day, the contrast would have made everything one shade of red. A graduated neutral density held detail in the cloudy sky.

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

One doesn’t need to travel to Alaska to see similar ground color. It is found in patches on the mountains in the northern latitudes of the continental US, such as in Maine, Washington, and Montana. At lower latitudes, the fallen leaves provide ground color and can be just as evocative as those on the trees as illustrated by two images which initially caught Sawalich’s eye.

Maple leaves and weathered wood. Isle Royale National Park

For my first visit to Isle Royale National Park, I chose Windigo because it the park’s entry point closest to the mainland. A storm developed on Lake Superior, and because the ferry would not attempt the dangerous crossing back to the mainland, I was stranded on the wild island, together with the other visitors. The captain of the ferry cooked a large pasta pot for everybody. Afraid of missing a sudden departure, I limited my explorations to the nearby forest around Windego. The west side of the island supports maples that produce richer fall color than the trees on the east side, which is mainly covered with fir and birch. However, the views around Windego consist mostly of woodlands, rather than open views of shores or ridges. I looked for intimate forest scenes along the Windigo Nature Walk. Eliott Porter wrote “Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject.” I sought to photograph a microcosm of the island, by creating a composition with as many woodlands elements as I could include: undergrowth, fallen leaves, weathered wood, berries, mushrooms, moss. Even for those small forest scenes in overcast light, the polarizing filter made colors more vibrant by mitigating the glare from the leaves.

Spining leaves and cascade. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is known mostly for the views along the Skyline Drive, but below the crest, one will also find many streams and waterfalls. I combined visits of Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls on a loop (5 miles; 1,000-foot elevation gain) along the exceptionally beautiful Hogcamp Branch of the Rose River. The fast-flowing river creates hundreds of small cascades that offer more possibilities than the two waterfalls. I initially set out to photograph just the cascade, but then noticed a swirling motion in the pool. Since I was photographing on film, I was uncertain about the exposure length that would add the best sense of motion, so I tried a variety of shutter speeds by changing the aperture. Being in the national park doesn’t necessary mean photographing the grand scenic landscape. The small details can be as beautiful and evocative, and lead to more personal photographs. One would think that those small details can be photographed anywhere, without need to travel to a national park. While this is true, I have found that being in such an inspiring place as a national park puts me in a frame of mind where I look more carefully.

Since I have photographed fall color in 36 of the 59 national parks, you’ll find even more fall foliage images in Treasured Lands, where the seasons are discussed in detail for each national park.

Book review: A Sense of Yosemite

Yosemite, one the most popular and oldest national parks, has inspired photographers from its creation. Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams created some of their most important work in the park. More recently, photographers as different as Galen Rowell, William Neill and Michael Frye left their distinctive visual mark there. Having studied many photography books about Yosemite and even authored one (Spectacular Yosemite), I feel well qualified to assess a book’s unique contribution to the visual Yosemite litterature, so I was pleased to receive for review A Sense of Yosemite. The book is the latest production from the Yosemite Conservancy, an association that does a great job at helping preserve Yosemite, and has brought us many fine books about the park over the years.

Although it is a big challenge in a park with a such a long photographic history, Nancy Robbins, the photographer for the book, has managed to find plenty of new takes on familiar scenes. In “Redbud at Tunnel View” an unexpected patch of pink adds an element of surprise to the iconic scene. Likewise, in “A View of Nevada Falls”, a foreground of summer flowers provides an original touch to another classical view. Since she began to photograph extensively Yosemite after moving there in 2004, I assume the book was photographed with digital cameras. Their dynamic range enabled images such as the splendid “Yosemite Falls and Half-Dome” whereas their sensitivity – and the ease to make composite images opened the door to night photographs such as “Star Trails above Bridalveil Falls” and “Horsetail Fall, afterglow”. The photographer’s proximity to the park made it possible for her to capture elusive seasonal spectacles such as a rare cluster of twenty four snow plants (one would be lucky to see just a few!) or frazil ice flowing down Lower Yosemite Falls, a phenomenon that was mostly overlooked until a Yosemite Conservancy video brought it to wide attention. When the Meadow Fire broke, she was there on the first evening for a striking photograph, whereas I arrived on the second evening, when the fire’s intensity had been greatly reduced thanks to the firefighters efforts.

Its deservedly famous views of cliffs and waterfalls are among the most spectacular in the world, but Yosemite Valley’s vistas represents only a small fraction of the beauty the park has to offer. A Sense of Yosemite does a good job of giving a survey of the park, including at least an image of each major sight, and although the high country (which represents 95% of the park) isn’t very well represented, its most prominent locations and accessible locations are there too. On the other hand, Robbins shines in capturing the whole range of nature scenes, from spectacular light and atmospheric conditons (fog!) on the grand landscape, to the more intimate details which may be a natural outlet for her experience as a portrait photographer well acquainted with the place. “winter’s chill” superimposes patterns of frozen ice and fallen leaves to combine two seasons. A section of the book showcases the passing of the seasons, and at first I thought that the heading “Finter” was a typo. Upon reading the captions, I understood that Robbins was referring to the brief collision of Fall and Winter at the same time. Unlike in other landscape books (think Ansel Adams and his followers), wildlife makes a frequent appearance, and the animal portraits contribute to the overall joyfull tone. The image sequences of a coyote catching a prey in winter, and of “Twenty Minutes in the Life of a Ladybug” showcase it in a playful and cinematic way.

The choice of images, themes (which even include a “black and white” section), and sequencing in A Sense of Yosemite give a kaleidoscopic representation of Yosemite as a sum of many parts and viewpoints. The park appears as a collection of glimpses. The texts that accompany the images reinforce that impression. Robbins’ words consists of captions that mostly emphasize her own experience of the place as a photographer. The essays by David Mas Masumoto, as somehow expected from a farmer, are down to earth. They are each one page or less, and rather than focussing on natural history or conservation as is often the case, elaborate in a personal way on our relationship with the park via multiple approaches. Both form an accessible and rewarding dialog. After an essay by Mas Masumoto entitled “The Nature we hear”, a great spread contrasts Fern Springs – shot with a low viewpoint that emphasizes its waterfall-like appearance, with Upper Yosemite Fall from Fern Ledge, and in the captions Robbins evokes the “sweetest babble” of the former and the “thunderous” sound of the later. Overall, this beautiful coffee-table book lives up to its promise of giving us a “sense of Yosemite”.

Exploring the Channel Islands Sea Caves by Kayak

On the eve of my highest profile presentation to date, an improvised quick trip to Santa Cruz Island leads to beautiful discoveries and a new perspective on Channel Islands National Park.

Last Monday, after picking up the kids at 2:30pm, I found that my preparation for the multiple presentations to be given in Santa Barbara on Wednesday was essentially completed. I decided to use the extra day for a quick trip to the Channel Islands, since the Channel Islands Harbor in Ventura is just half-an-hour from Santa Barbara. With little time left, I looked on the internet for fifteen minutes before booking a trip with an outfitter, Santa Barbara Adventure Company for the next day. The cost of $179 is very reasonable considering that it includes Island Packers ferry transportation, use of the kayaks and services of a guide. I received a gear list by email and packed everything in one hour (including 50 copies of Treasured Lands), then drove five hours from San Jose to Ventura. The next morning, I noticed near the Island Packers office another outfitter even offering walk-in kayak tours. Embarking on a national parks adventure doesn’t necessarily require much advance planning!

Of all the islands, Santa Cruz is the best choice for a day trip. Because Anacapa is so small, the trips there are set up in a way that doesn’t leave much time on the island. The three other islands are just too far for a day trip. I had explored hiking trails on Santa Cruz island on a previous trip. On two occasions, on the return from an outer island, the Island Packers boat visited Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world. It was impressive to see the large vessel entering the sea cave, but the experience left me yearning for a more intimate exploration. I had read that one of the most remarkable features of the cost of Santa Cruz Island is the concentration of beautiful sea caves.

Having previously experienced calm waters on autumn scuba diving trips to the Channel Islands, I was surprised by the strong wind and swell on Tuesday. For the first time in several decades, I even got seasick towards the end of the crossing to Santa Cruz Island, which made for a rattling start to the day. The authorized outfitters have each a spot on the beach of Scorpion Anchorage where they store kayaks and gear, making the logistics simple. Santa Barbara Adventure Company provided everything which was needed, even some of the items on the packing list, such as water shoes, eyeglass straps, gloves, and sunscreen, so in fact you didn’t need to bring anything particular rather than a bathing suit to wear under their wetsuits, a water bottle, and a snack.

It was a beautiful day, quite balmy for November, but paddling upwind was tough, especially with the sit-on-top kayak not feeling very stable in the swell compared to the sit-inside kayaks I am used to. The possibility of flipping over at times didn’t seem so remote. We spent about four hours on the water, and paddled maybe a total of 2.5 miles, both to west and to the east of Scorpion Anchorage, where we launched the kayaks.

Within this distance, we visited four different sea caves. Most of them form a tunnel, which means that you enter via one end, and exit via a different end, which makes for a fun exploration. Sometimes, the tunnel was barely wide enough for a kayak.

Besides making paddling quite strenuous, the swell also preventing us from exploring a few sea caves, where the water was too turbulent. One of the caves we visited has normally exquisitely blue water, but that day, the color was hidden by whitewater! The swell made the photography challenging on two counts. First, I often had to keep the camera in the dry bag that I kept between my legs to prevent damage from water splashes. In retrospect, given the rough water conditions, I should have used a waterproof enclosure rather than a dry bag. Second, the kayak was often rocking, which required me to use a faster shutter speed, which combined with the dim light in the caves often resulted in a high ISO. And while snapping the pictures, I had to be careful not to hit rocks too hard!

An advantage of the mid-week, November trip is that the group was small. It was just two Canadians, our excellent guide Kyle, and me. Towards the end, I got quite tired and was glad to be standing on firm terrain again. However, it was a great experience that opened my eye to new possibilities. I had stood on top of the same cliffs, but did not suspect the beauty which could be seen by entering them from water level, a short distance below. I am already planning to come back earlier in the season, in August or September, when conditions are often more calm, traveling with friends or family for more flexibility.

On Wednesday, I delivered three different presentations about “Treasured Lands”. The first one took place at the Carpinteria High School, which serves a semi-rural community with a large Hispanic population.

Since I had been warned that the kids there can be quite rowdy, I was pleased to be able to hold their attention and try to inspire them to visit a national park. They are the future generation for which the parks are preserved, and the constituency that our parks will need as advocates in the future.

(photo by Cathy Oliverson)

Since I did not go to art school, nor did I receive any formal training as a photographer, I was honored to present and answer questions at the UCSB College of Creative Studies in the afternoon.

It was cool (and humbling) to see the announcement for my evening presentation next to Joan Baez in the UCSB Arts and Lectures season catalog.

Maybe due to the competition from the World Series final, Campbell Hall was only half-filled, but since the auditorium (largest on the UCSB campus) seats 800+, that was still a great turnout for me, and the 40+ people who came on stage to have their copy of Treasured Lands signed afterwards said they enjoyed the presentation.

(photo by Roman Baratiak)

I will be making arrangements for more events in 2017. If you have suggestions for venues, they would be most welcome!