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My Submissions for the 2018 #FindYourPark Photo Challenge

This annual photo challenge, organized by the good folks at Nature Tech Family, is an excellent excuse to look back over the year you’ve had in our national parks and public lands. It’s also a great way to see what others have done this year.

The rules are simple. For the last 10 days of the year, post a photo on twitter related to the topic of the day. Tagging the tweet with #findyourpark #parkchat and #publiclands will help others find your posts easier. Be sure to tag @naturetechfam in the tweet as well.

Here are the topics:

I’m posting each of my submissions here, in addition to twitter.

Day 1 Top Family/Friends Moment:
Roadtrip to Utah with my Dad


My dad and I hadn’t taken a trip together in a very long time—about 16 years, if I recall correctly. This seemed like a great year to change that. So I took him and his girlfriend Carol to a state they knew little about: Utah.

We managed to fit in quite a few stops, showing them the big popular sites like Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point, plus lesser known spots like Montezuma Canyon, Muley Point, and Coal Mine Canyon. Here’s the full itinerary

They were simply astounded at the landscapes and the archaeology we saw. They had no idea places like that existed, and certainly not within driving distance of Phoenix. It was a really special opportunity to spend some time with my dad.

Here’s the list of places we visited:

  • Sand Island petroglyphs
  • Montezuma Canyon ruins & rock art sites
  • Newspaper Rock SHP
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Rock art sites around Moab
  • Edge of the Cedars State Park
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Bears Ears National Monument
  • Moki Dugway & Muley Point
  • Valley of the Gods
  • Goosenecks State Park
  • Coal Mine Canyon

Day 2 Top Wildlife Encounter:
Snorkeling with Manatees in Florida


For some reason, swimming with manatees has always been on my wildlife bucket list, so I had a blast—in spite of the nasty cold I had picked up. If you’re ever in the Crystal Springs region of Florida, I definitely recommend a quick trip out to snorkel with manatees, even if it is a bit touristy.

Day 3 Top “Took My Breath Away” moment: Denali, The Great One

Denali canoe

My top “take my breath” moment was earlier this summer in Denali. We had heard so much about how rare it was to get a clear view of the mountain, and our visit to Denali State Park the evening before our shuttle dampened our already low expectations.

But the next day, we were treated to nearly an entire day’s worth of clear views. There wasn’t just one moment of the mountain that left you speechless—we were fortunate enough to get many.

One of those moments that stood out, however, was late in the day when this family, enjoying a paddle across the lake right as we passed by. It’s almost like I had photoshopped them in.

Day 4 – Top “holiday” moment: Finishing our US Territories quest during our Anniversary trip

Scott and Jen

My top “holiday” moment this year was 3 weeks ago when Jen & I finished our quest to visit all 50 states and all 5 major US territories.

It was our 1st “big” trip for our anniversary—which I consider my favorite holiday! Previously, we had always taken our larger “holiday” trip between Christmas and New Years, and instead done a shorter, less desirable road trip for our anniversary. This year, we decided that to make sure that the anniversary got top billing, and I’m really glad we did.

This is also the biggest travel quest I’ve completed to date, though the National Parks quest will jump to the top when I complete it this coming summer.

Day 5 Top #Bucketlist moment: Calving Glaciers in Kenai Fjords NP

calving glacier

One of my top #bucketlist moments of 2018 was definitely witnessing glaciers calving into the sea in Kenai Fjords this summer. This has long been a life travel goal for me, so it was pretty great to finally experience it—even though we were so cold standing out on the boat in the rain and wind to watch it.

Day 6 – Top Extreme Moment: Landing a bush plane between 3 wildfires in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

Yukon River
The Yukon River near Slaven’s Roadhouse. Smoke from three wildfires fills the river valley.

Smoke filled every valley as our bush plane neared the landing strip at Coal Creek in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, the result of three active wildfires forming a triangle around our destination. It didn’t look good for landing in this national park unit.

But our pilot impulsively pushed forward, breaking through the layer of smoke, and landed alongside firefighting helicopters and other equipment. We hopped out, took some quick photos, and beelined it for the historic mining camp a mile up the valley. We only had an hour on the ground. The camp had been commandeered by the interagency fire crew attempting to preserve park buildings from the fire, but it was also the site of passport stamps. And given our time crunch, it would be the only historic buildings we’d get to see here.

We wandered into a cabin, which was serving as the office for the fire crew.

“Who are you, and where did you come from?” one of them asked us, stunned that any tourists had shown up. Apparently, even their own fire crew pilots had refused to land that day.

We explained our national parks quest and why we had arrived amidst active wildfires. Impressed with our dedication, someone located the park stamps and we chatted a bit about our trip. When they found out that we didn’t have time to hike the 8-mile roundtrip to Slaven’s Roadhouse and to see the Yukon River, the incident commander piped up.

“You can’t get this close and not see it. I’ll drive you down there right now, and get you back in time,” she said.

It was an offer that we couldn’t refuse. She delegated wildfire responsibilities to two of the other staff members, and we quickly jumped in her side-by-side. Barreling down the rough gravel road, we passed the dredge and made it to the river. We explored the roadhouse—and collected another park stamp—before turning around and returning to the landing strip.

We took off without incident, but halfway through our flight back to Fairbanks, we encountered a gnarly storm. It was a rather tense hour as the pilot attempted to find a way around the worst of it, finally settling on a long circuitous route over some mountains and up a river valley. No one said a word until we landed.

As the pilot turned off the engine—his nervous wife already waiting for him on the tarmac—he let out a big sigh of relief and broke the silence.

“Well, I bet you are all happy to be back on the ground.”

Yes, we were.

Day 7 – Top most peaceful moment: The backroads of the North Rim

north rim
Not a bad campsite, eh? It was entirely free—both in terms of cost and crowds.

My most peaceful moments on public lands this year happened here, along the backroads of the Kaibab National Forest at the edge of the Grand Canyon—far from the crowds on the South Rim. Getting off the beaten path may take some additional time and effort, but it’s usually well worth it.

Day 8 – Top water/cave/unique feature moment: Swimming Across Samoa

to sua side
Just one of the half dozen amazing swimming destinations we visited in Samoa.

My top “water/cave/unique feature” moment of the year comes from our all-day swimming tour across Samoa—which included swims at secluded waterfalls, half submerged caves, ocean trenches, & coral reefs. Lots of photos at the link above!

Day 9 – Top Landscape Moment: the National Parks of the Western Arctic

I’ve spent many days out exploring our national parks and public lands, but it’s hard to top the day I spent exploring the National Parks of the Western Arctic by bush plane. Staggeringly large and desolate, there’s no better way to tour these places than from the air. And while it was the most expensive flight I’ve ever booked, it was completely worth the unforgettable experience.

Day 10 – My Ultimate #PublicLands Moment of 2018: ALL of them!


As always—there’s simply no way to choose from the amazing adventures I enjoyed on our public lands this year.

Each is special and I treasure them all.