Terra Galleria Photography

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!


  1. Russ Bishop says:

    This is a wonderfully varied and intimate collection, QT. The Root Glacier, Katmai and Channel Islands images are my favorites. Wishing you happy holidays and continued success in 2017!

  2. Beautiful selection. The cave and ice cave abstracts are fantastic!

  3. Great set of images, QT. All are really excellent. I love the Root Glacier and Joshua Tree images especially. Congrats on a great year and best wishes for 2017.

  4. My favorites are the tundra in Katmai NP and the ice cave in Alaska. Congrats for your great book this year and best wishes for 2017!

  5. Rachel Cohen says:

    A wonderful selection of images Tuan! My favorites are the ice cave, the tundra with all the beautiful colors, and Bryce Canyon!
    I bought Treasured Lands the second it was available and have been thoroughly enjoying in ever since! Congratulations on an amazing year!
    I wish all the best for you and your family in 2017! 🙂

  6. Beautiful set of images QT. Root Glacier and Zion would be at the top of my favourites. Have a great 2017!

  7. From these images it seems you had a fairly different year visually, QT. I really like your usual subtlety, but also with these many are going toward or already arrived at abstraction. That second to last one is a nice tribute to Galen Rowell, not too alike, but giving a hint of his famous image. Well done. My other favorites of these are the Cave and the one of Bryce. The light there in Bryce is spectacular and very different from anything I’ve seen before.

    • QT Luong says:

      Thanks for the observation David, not sure it reflects a trend rather than a particular edit, since for each of those year-end posts, I try to have a theme – while also “sampling” the year. I must say I didn’t think about the Mountain Light cover when photographing “heartbreak”.

  8. What a wonderful set of images, Tuan! I can’t really pick a favorite, although I like that you got into Das Boot with time to explore. I’ve been through the canyon, but my time was limited. The canyons of Zion, which a very small percentage of visitors get to see, are really a treasure and I’m glad it takes some work to get in there.

    I’ve begun looking at your Treasured Lands book and look forward to enjoying it even more as 2017 begins! Thanks for all you do by being a voice for our public lands!

    Cheers, and happy new year,

    • QT Luong says:

      Greg, I had to try to keep up with my non-photographer party, however at least I was able to set up a tripod a few times in Das Boot. Despite feeling rushed, you managed to capture wonderful green/blue hues that eluded me because sunlight reached into the canyon. Thanks for the wishes, and I wish you the same!

  9. QT wonderful set of year end photos. It’s always a pleasure to see your year end selections and as always I really appreciate your participation in my annual Best Photos of the Year blog project. I hope you and your family have a great 2017!

    • QT Luong says:

      Jim, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the work you are putting in organizing the Best Photos of the Year blog project. It’s a good motivation to get that post out, and an inspiration to see what others have photographed. Wishing you a great 2017 as well!

  10. Excellent collection of images QT! All the best to you this year!

  11. Cindy Wyatt says:

    Your work is amazing. It’s hard to say if I like the Zion or Channel Islands best. Both are so beautiful. Or maybe Joshua Tree. I love the light and the flight. I really like them all. Have a great 2017.

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