1

Arches National Park, Utah.

Arches National Park was reserved in 1923 as a national monument by President Hoover. It was not until 1971 that Congress expanded its boundaries and designated it as a national park. I stood on the rock outcrop that rests in the right of this image and looked across the canyon to view Delicate Arch. I was greeted with a wave of tranquility and solitude. The expanse of the canyon blocked out the noise of the visitors across the way.

2

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.

I explored the Black Canyon and ultimately this lesser-known national park was the defining adventure that changed my opinion of the western United States. Between 1853 and 1916, four expeditions explored the canyon, but it wasn’t until 1999 that the canyon became a national park. This park, overwhelmingly more so than anything I had experienced before, showed me the true grandeur of what exists in what I originally thought was a barren wasteland.

3

Chain O’Lakes State Park, Northeastern Illinois.

The greater Chicago area is spotted with a number of state parks and forest preserves. Chain O’Lakes State Park, in Northeastern Illinois, was one of the first parks I explored on my own. Nimbostratus clouds filled the sky and threatened rain the entire day. It combines a marshy lake system with smaller, naturally wooded areas that are excellent for both water and land-oriented activities. The park system in Illinois is great in that the majority of its parks have multiple trail systems, Chain O’Lakes, in particular, has four. The park started out as a conservation area in the 1930s then was incorporated into the state park system in the 1950s. It borders three natural lakes and connects with seven other lakes via the Fox River.

4

Verde Lakes, Weminuche Wilderness, Southern Colorado.

Several months after exploring San Juan Island I moved to Durango, Colorado to return to school and get a degree in adventure education. This allowed me to explore the Four Corners region for the first time. I took this shot in the Weminuche Wilderness, just north of Silverton, Colorado. We had just hiked the first one- to two-mile stretch that had an incline of about 2,000 feet total. Not particularly far, but remarkably steep. This last stretch sat at just under 13,000 feet above sea level. Outside of flying in an airplane, I had never been this close to the sun before, naturally, I got a sun burn. Later that evening, a friend and I climbed up a ridge to watch the sun set over the valley.

5

North President’s Court, Downtown Chicago, Illinois.

Green spaces in major cities have always surprised me. This one in the heart of Chicago, however, takes the cake. North President’s Court sits just south of Millennium Park in Chicago. It is a convenient green space with a statue of Abraham Lincoln that provides a nice respite from the towering skyscrapers and the buzz of an urban area. The seagulls offered a nice touch to the puddles that dabbled across the ground. While natural environments are hard to come by in any major metropolitan area, Chicago sure does a good job at helping create beauty.

6

Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island, Washington.

As luck would have it, I was able to explore a small portion of the Pacific Northwest with my family for a week. Lying on the western side of San Juan Island, Lime Kiln State Park is a small 36-acre park known for its whale watching and scenic vistas of Puget Sound. The island was originally mined for its limestone (hence the park's name) as early as the 1860s. The lime manufacturing benefited the local townspeople of Friday Harbor, a pleasant town incorporated in 1909. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the area was turned over to the states’ parks department and turned into a park.

7

International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Later that fall, my friends and I descended upon Albuquerque for the annual Balloon Fiesta. Unfortunately, we were late to the party and missed the early bird rise of the balloons. However, we were able to catch balloons rising and descending in the late morning. On the outskirts of the grounds, I caught this balloon having just touched down in an open field. I thought it fitting that the open plains in the background was supplanted with the New Mexican flag. Pro tip: Get to the grounds no later than 5 am if you want to see the balloons rise, traffic is crazy.