If you’re doing the math, you’ve probably realized that photographing 59 national parks in 52 weeks is close to impossible, and you’d be right. But I was crazy enough to pitch it, and they were crazy enough to let me try to do it. Looking back, it was without a doubt one of the most challenging years of my life. I was out photographing every sunrise and sunset, I hiked all day, edited late into the night (when I wasn’t shooting astrophotography), and got very little sleep for the entire year.
I had so many blissful, “pinch-me-I’m-dreaming” moments as well. In a country as diverse and picturesque as the United States, the national parks represent the best of us. They are the places we hold most sacred, for their purity and jaw-dropping beauty.
Prior to this assignment, I had already visited about half of the U.S. national parks, either on my own or on assignment for various publications. The national parks are very special to me; they are where I fell in love with exploring the outdoors, and they played a big role in me becoming a photographer. For the centennial of the Park Service, I wanted to challenge myself and to give back to those places that had given me so much over my lifetime.
It’s very hard to distill an entire year of amazing national park scenery into a short list, but I’ve tried to share some of my favorite images and moments here. If you were to ask me tomorrow or next week to do the same exercise, I’d likely have a completely different list.
Sometimes during this project, I felt like it was completely unfair to take credit for any photos because it was truly nature that was doing all the heavy lifting.
If you were to ask your friends which of the national parks are their favorites, I doubt you would hear them mention Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It’s certainly one of the lesser-known among the likes of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Don’t count out those quieter parks though—Theodore Roosevelt is one of the great hidden gems in the park system. There, you can find badlands as impressive as those at namesake park Badlands National Park in neighboring South Dakota, as well as beautiful rivers, incredible wildlife such as coyotes, wild (feral) horses and massive herds of bison. I loved finding the off-the-beaten-path gems within the park system, and this park—named after the “Conservation President”—was one that blew me away.
See more of Jonathan Irish’s work at JonathanIrish.com.