In 2015 I decided to move from Oakland, CA to New York City. Before I left the west coast, I promised myself I would see the Grand Canyon. This simple promise turned into a 2-week road-trip that included six national parks and sparked a personal quest to see and photograph every U.S. national park. Three years later, I’ve seen 14/60 parks. While this is a work in progress and will clearly be a lifelong pursuit, the Trump administration’s attack on federally-protected lands brings a sense of urgency to the project.
After a two day drive, I made it to the south rim of the Grand Canyon on a misty afternoon. Standing on the edge of this abyss is truly awe-inspiring. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 1 mile deep, and 18 miles across at its widest point. Drawing more than 6 million visitors annually, it is the second most visited national park.
The Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River, somewhere between 6 million and 70 million years ago. While it was initially protected in the late 19th century as a forest reserve and then a national monument, it was officially declared a U.S. National Park in 1919.
While the canyon itself is breathtaking, there is also a subtler beauty in the flora and fauna that call the canyon home.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Hiking down to the Colorado River along the Bright Angel Trail.
Sunrise over the Grand Canyon.
Declared a national park in 1919, Zion contains 229 square miles of red rock in Utah. The Virgin River is the centerpiece, winding through Zion Canyon’s dramatic red cliffs.
One of the most iconic, and unique, experiences at Zion is hiking The Narrows. As the name implies, this is the narrowest section of the canyon. Hikers walk up the Virgin River as the cathedral-like canyon walls tower more than 1,000 feet above.
Sunset over The Watchman Peak.
Bryce Canyon was declared a national park in 1928 and is known for it’s Dr. Seussian rock formations called hoodoos, which are formed through erosion caused by continual freezing and thawing cycles.
There is nothing quite as stunning as watching the sun rise over the desert horizon at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. Established in 1964, this southeastern Utah park is known for its dramatic desert landscape.
These subtle brushstrokes of delicate beauty stand in contrast to the harshness that dominates much of the landscape.
Island in the Sky is a mesa of sandstone cliffs that tower 1,000 feet about the surrounding terrain. It’s moon-like landscape was carved by tributaries of the Colorado River and serves as the dramatic centerpiece of Canyonlands National Park.
Arches was declared a national park in 1971 and is known for its more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches and unique rock formations.
Petroglyphs along the trail to Delicate Arch at Arches National Park.
After many short day hikes in Arizona and Utah parks, I was excited to spend several days backpacking through the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park. The park was established in 1929 and includes the Teton mountain range as well as Jackson Hole.
Our 4-day trip took us through Granite Canyon and along the Teton Crest Trail down into Alaska Basin.
The mirror-like Marion Lake
Wild chives growing in Alaska Basin
Phelps Lake served as our exit point from the Alaska Basin / Death Canyon Trail.
This 47,000 acre park was established in 1919 and comprises rocky shorelines, beaches, woodlands, and glaciated granite peaks. This is the first park I visited on the east coast and one afternoon was not nearly enough time here.
Seeing Shenandoah, you realize there is something special about the Blue Ridge Mountains. These mystical mountains boast a subtler beauty that stands in contrast to the dramatic peaks of western mountain ranges, but they are no less magnificent. Shenandoah, on the northern end of the blue ridge range was declared a national park in 1926. It’s neighbor to the south, Great Smoky Mountains was established 8 years later and is the most visited U.S. National Park.
Shenandoah’s Whiteoak Canyon Trail winds through shaded woodland, following the bends in the river as it drops through a series of six waterfalls.
The waterfalls drop into a series of pools, creating natural waterslides.
Milo spots a millipede
Brandywine Falls in winter. One of the few national parks in the midwest, Cuyhoga Valley was established in 2000. It is located in central Ohio along the Cuyhoga River and preserves much of the original towpath of the Erie Canal.
Fresh snow on the path to the lookout fr Brandywine Falls
While national parks see most visitors in the warm summer months, there is a beauty to the winter months.
Most of Cuyahoga Valley’s hiking trails wind around sandstone cliffs tha make great climbing routes in warmer months.
A windy day on the drive into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The steaming Kilauea Caldera sits at the center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, this park was established in 1919 and encompasses the Mauna Loa and Kilauea active volcanoes.
The Kilauea Iki Trail circumnavigates the smaller Kilauea Iki Crater.
Hiking across the barren Kilauea Iki Crater
In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, hikers can walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, an underground tunnel formed by ancient lava flows.
Not all of the park is a barren wasteland or smoldering cauldron. Many of the hiking trails are overhung with dense tropical foliage, a reminder that volcanic eruptions are the formation of earth and the start of new life.
Watching a new day begin from above the clouds at Haleakala National Park. Haleakala is the an eastern Maui volcano that makes up about 75% of the island. The volcano has been dormant for more than 400 years and the park was established in 1916.
Haleakala is Hawaiian for “House of the Sun,” which is appropriate given that visitors come from around the world on a daily basis to watch the sun rise from its 10,023 foot summit, Puʻu ʻUlaʻula.
Despite the 3am start, and standing around in the wind and cold, there is a majesty to the moment when the new day’s sun peeks over the clouds and drives away the darkness.
After sunrise, Haleakala offers miles of hiking trails. The Summit District bears the remains of ancient lava flows.
Haleakala National Park’s coastal side looks like a completely different park, with waterfalls, pools, and lush foliage. The Pipiwai Trail, accessed from the famous Hana Highway, leads hikers through bamboo forests and past giant banyan trees to Waimoku Falls.
Giant Banyan tree in Haleakala’s coastal region.
Established in 1978, Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits in western North Dakota, where the Great Plains meet the Badlands. The area is known for its painted canyons, is home to many bison, elk, prairie dogs, and wild horses, and was once home to the former president himself.
The 1,583 square mile Glacier National Park was established in 1910 in Montana’s Rocky Mountain range. It is known for its majestic glacier-carved granite peaks, valleys, and turquoise glacial lakes.
Morning fog still settled at Logan Pass, the top of Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road. This 6,646 foot summit is the trailhead for the Highline Trail that hugs the park’s Garden Wall.
Fluffy beargrass grows over much of the park.
The Garden Wall
Hiking up the Highline Trail. Glacier National Park boasts 700 miles of hiking trails, many of which cross the Continental Divide.
Towering granite peaks of the Garden Wall
Blue-green waters of Avalanche Lake.
Thimble berries, a favorite snack of grizzly bears.
The regionally famous huckleberry.
Swimming below St. Mary Falls
Much of Glacier National Park bears the scars of forest fires. These enormous blazes can damage property, but also keep the landscape healthy as they germinate seeds and clear out debris, making way for new growth.
Swiftcurrent Lake, the trailhead for the hike to Grinnell Glacier.
As you make the long and steep climb to Grinnell Glacier, the turquoise Lower Grinnell Lake is the first glimpse of the beauty at the top. The lake is formed by runoff water from Grinnell Glacier.
Lower Grinnell Lake from above.
Mountain goats roam much of Glacier National Park
Hiking up to Ptarmigan Tunnel
Canoes on the shore of Two-Medicine Lake, the trailhead for the hike to Cobalt Lake.
Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. Established in 1890 in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite was the second national park. The park is famous for its giant sequoias, granite peaks, and waterfalls.