Hello everyone! My name is Kurt Atwell and I completed an Artistic & Creative Endeavor STEP project: National Park Photography. Over the past year, I had the opportunity to visit (in order) Yosemite NP, Canyonlands NP, and Glacier NP to observe and photograph the different landscapes, flora, and fauna that exist in each park. Both Yosemite and Glacier consisted of several day hikes and a backpacking trip, while Canyonlands consisted of mountain-biking the White Rim Trail (a 100 mile trail that follows the Colorado River). With the completion of this project, I now have hundreds of photos to show family, friends, and fellow students, in hopes that others will see the beauty our country offers and go visit some of the many national parks we have.
Oftentimes, I’ve found myself getting caught up in the hectic environments of work, school, relationships, etc. When I traveled to these national parks, I lost all communication with the outside world; there’s no cell phone tower 50 miles in any direction, and you’re left to be alone with nature. Being out in nature, I was able to let a lot of these worries go, and instead I appreciated what was around me. Such few people have the opportunity to go on hikes in these parks, but I found myself sitting on a log next to a clear blue mountain lake multiple times.
I also learned that there are several different forms of a beautiful landscape, and that no two landscapes are the same. For example, in Yosemite, there were hundreds of waterfalls. In Canyonlands, however, there were fast arid landscapes of rock that formed millions of years ago, and many of these rocks were still standing. Seeing these variety of landscapes changed how I define beauty, and I realized too that there is so much more out there for me to see. I guess you can say that visiting these national parks opened my eyes up to the beauty our country and world have to offer.
Each national park presented a different experience for me. In Yosemite, my dad and I were able to do the iconic Half Dome hike, where we went from hiking in 75 degree heat at the bottom to walking above 6 feet of snow at the top. Along the way, I was able to photograph the changing scenery and seasons (at the top of Half Dome it still looked like winter). Each photo I took presented something new, whether it be the Merced River flowing at a rapid pace or a squirrel scavanging for some mere scraps of berries scattered among the snow.
In Canyonlands, much of the landscape was arid, rocky, and lacked major color changes. However, for this park, I focused on golden hour photography. Over the three campsites I stayed at along the white rim trail, the sun rose and set in perfect locations that shined a beautiful orange onto many of the rocky peaks in the park. By waking up early, I was able to get some time lapse shots of the sunrise as it shined just over the horizon. These photographs showcased beauty in the form of orange, purple, and red tints as the sun hit the rock during the early hours of the day and last hours of the night. It was a wildly different park than Yosemite, and I’m thankful I was able to take part on the mountain bike journey of the White Rim Trail.
In Glacier, I had the opportunity to backpack for 4 days in the backcountry of the park, camping out in isolated locations next to lakes and mountain peaks. During this trip, I focused on extensive landscape portraits. Being that Glacier has over 100 lakes in the park, it wasn’t hard to find a still-lake that presented me a mirror image when I took the photos. The glistening of the water during a sunset perfectly added hues of orange and purple, reflecting the mountains all around the lake. Having read a little bit about golden hour photography before this trip, I can confidently say that some of the best photos I took occurred during this trip, again showing the beauty of being away from reality. Glacier NP was definitely my favorite park of the 3 I visited, and I would definitely go back to continue hiking in the backcountry.
Seeing beauty in nature has since opened me up to the appreciation of art in general. As a kid, I would usually be the one to blow through a museum in less than an hour. Since these trips occurred, I have been more appreciative of landscape photography as well as landscape paintings. I have incredible admiration for artists that were front-runners in their respective areas of art, such as Ansel Adams and Frederic Church. Along with appreciation of art, I now have a better eye of my own for good photography. I can oftentimes say “that would be a good photo,” then I take it and it ends up being a good photo after all. I definitely will continue to take photographs in my free time. I’m exceptionally excited for fall on campus, being that I’ll hopefully be able to get several photos of the foliage during the peak time.
Below I have linked a video I made for all the parks, showcasing ~110 photos over all 3 parks. My blog throughout the entire project can be found at http://u.osu.edu/atwellstep/.