Q&A with National Park Photographer Michael Quine
Michael Quine, a Maryland native, has accumulated countless national park memories during a year-long journey through America’s treasured places. What do these memories all have in common? Photography! By photographing the national parks, Michael has taken his passion to new heights (literally). We got the chance to speak with Michael about how national parks photography has impacted his life.
Where did you first find your park?
Isle Royale National Park: A 50+ mile stretch of unforgiving land in the northern limits of Michigan's Lake Superior is where I marked the beginning of my journey through the U.S. national parks. Simply reaching the island requires visitors to board seafaring vessels to ferry them across the vastness of the Great Lakes.
My aquatic steed was the Voyageur II. Un-navigable if based on looks alone, however, its steadfastness brought me and fellow adventurers, across the cold waters unscathed. For the next four days, I traversed the spans of rugged, mountains, and inspiring terrain from Windigo Port to Rock Harbor.
Along the way I was threatened by wildlife, water shortages (such a rookie back then!), fatigue, and seemingly insurmountable mental hurdles. However, with the unknowing aid of would-be friends, mystical spirit-animals (cookoo!), and an increasingly tempered resolve, I reached the east end of the island.
Before planning my trip, I had never heard of Isle Royale National Park. But for those four days, it became a place I could never forget. Pristine, untouched, and raw. The island is a gem in the middle of the Great Lake.
What is your best national park memory?
I’ve had too many national park memories to count. One memory that redefined my life, however, was when I reached the top of Igloo Mountain in Denali National Park and Preserve.
After two days of climbing in the rain I reached the top of this mountain and gazed out upon the vast, unscathed, and silent landscape. As far as my eyes could see were snow capped mountain ranges and an endless array of rippled terrain.
I made camp at the top of the wind-whipped summit and starred out into the vastness...dumbstruck.
A boy from the suburbs of Maryland and here I am...atop a craggy peak in the heart of Alaska with absolutely no guarantee of survival...only miles away from the tallest point on the entire continent. And still less than a month into my year long journey.
I struggled to process what I was feeling or thinking but it was here, after returning from stunned disbelief, where the realization of what I was embarking on really sank in.
It was THIS moment that mattered. Not my job or any sense of societal achievement. THIS moment alone, in the most indescribably unparalleled beauty was the reality check that made me realize what a "once in 10,000 lifetimes" journey I was now embarking on. Up to this point I already had so many great experiences on the journey but this simple, still moment redefined my life forever.
What is your favorite national park(s) you’ve visited so far?
Denali National Park and Preserve, Canyonlands National Park, Olympic National Park, Everglades National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Zion National Park, Acadia National Park, Yosemite National Park, etc.
How many national parks have you visited in total?
I have visited 50/59 national parks. I have been to all the parks in the lower 48 states and 3 from Alaska. And that’s not mentioning the other National Park Service sites to include historical sites and monuments.
What is the most unique experience you have had in a national park?
This question is nearly impossible to answer.
Do I go with the 100-mile solo canoe trip through the alligator-infested Everglades National Park, the 100-mile 4-wheel drive trek through Canyonlands National Park, the majestic hikes through Olympic National Park and Channel Islands National Park, the nearly going snowblind halfway through a 80-mile hike across Yosemite National Park's High Sierras, or climbing Acadia National Park's 7 tallest peaks in one day?
And that’s only scratching the surface. Simply too many to choose from.
What national park(s) are you most excited to visit in the future?
I am most excited to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The name alone raises expectations to be one of the most epic terrains this country (or the world) could offer. I am drawn to remoteness and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve likely provides such remoteness on an unprecedented level.
What tips do you have for planning a trip to or visiting national parks?
My advice would be to leave room for spontaneity. The awesomeness of the national parks cannot be fully realized until you arrive at the park so it’s important to leave room for surprise/unexpected side adventures. Live in the moment and let the park guide your plans...not the plans guide the park.
Do you have any tips for visiting national parks as a group or family?
Leave the phones, games, or any distracting technology in the car. They will be there when you get back. Even when with a group, the parks will inspire you on an individual level so don't let technological distraction rob you of that experience.
How did it feel to visit Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve, America’s largest national park? What are your must-see/must do recommendations for this national park?
Following countless eye-opening and world-expanding experiences in Kenai Fjords National Park, my Alaska journey continued in the state's unforgiving eastern regions of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Covering an area larger than the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, this park promised endless opportunities for adventure - and it did NOT disappoint.
Simply getting to Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve is a task in and of itself, requiring the determination to traverse the unforgiving McCarthy Road — a 60+ mile expanse of crater-like potholes.
Once inside the land dominated by the Wrangell and St. Elias Mountain Ranges, I found myself tracing copper mine history, ascending behemoth mountains, traversing glaciers in death-defying weather, finding human charity in unlikely places, and sleeping in a pool of rain water.
The park caters to all walks of life. Whether you want to relax in the Kennicott Glacier Lodge and marvel at the epic mountains and glaciers from a distance or whether you want to strap on some boots or grab your ice crampons and climb them yourself, Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve has it all.
If you are like me, the must-see/must dos while in Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve is to venture out into the backcountry and experience raw wilderness, strap on crampons and stretch your adventure-muscles on the mighty Root Glacier, and get your boots dirty and climb Bonanza Peak.
I have heard of others taking bush-pilot flights above the ranges which sounds like an unforgettable experience as well.
With endless options for adventure, the reward of gazing onto the iconic Kennecott Copper Mine, and stumbling upon unpicked remnants of rain-washed copper deposits, I cannot imagine anyone would be disappointed in taking the "off the beaten path" journey to Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve. Just be prepared for some much needed solitude.
What does “Find Your Park” mean to you?
Before diving right into answering this question I really sat and thought long and hard about what "Find Your Park" means to me.
I honestly believe that whether you have had the unique opportunity to visit 50 national parks or just one, these American landscapes have a way of transforming your perspective and having an irreversibly profound impact on your life.
Yosemite National Park may take you through a backpackers paradise, hiking from Ansel Adams' coveted Yosemite Valley Floor to the remote and unforgiving terrain of the park's High Sierras that drove John Muir's life-long obsession.
Everglades National Park may call you to unfold your nautical charts, grip your paddle, and launch a canoe out into the gator infested waters on a 100-mile solo trip through its Wilderness Waterway, where the only company you keep is with a flock of ivory egrets and swarms of mosquitoes.
Perhaps it’s Grand Canyon National Park's vast depths, Denali National Park's mighty and dominating peaks, the contrast of Death Valley National Park's inhospitably barren beauty, or the dwarfing sensation caused by the giant trees of Redwood National Park or Sequoia National Park.
Or maybe walking among the preserved timelessness of Petrified Forest National Park's remains, having your imagination ignited by the ever-so Seussical trees of Joshua Tree National Park, gazing into the emerald-like sparkle of Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park, listening to the wisdom shared through the historical and rolling mountains of Shenandoah National Park, or exploring the endless network of Mammoth Cave National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Wind Cave National Park.
Nobody can resist the life-altering effects that the red, martian-like terrain of southern Utah's Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, or Canyonlands National Park, or the lush greens of the Pacific Northwest's Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park can have on the human spirit. Adventurous or tame, my journey through the national parks has changed my life in a way I never before thought possible and I know I am not alone in experiencing such a transformation.
Now while reflecting on how all these amazing landscapes carved a new outlook on life for me, I was reminded of a quote that someone passed on to me while I was visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota early in my journey.
There was a gentleman I met while quietly sitting alone at the base of one of the park's many multi-colored buttes. Briefly, I mentioned to him that I felt personal guilt and shame for taking a lazy day off from backpacking to just sit and stare at the park's buttes, grasslands, and unique geological features.
Noticing I was focused too much of checking off miles and less on experiencing the natural miracle of the park itself, he told me one thing before disappearing into the darkness.
He said to me, "sometimes you have to let the park come to you." The quote resonated in my mind for the next 11+ months as a constant reminder to not lose sight of the need to stop and "find my park."