Project Blog

Featured Photographer, QT Luong – Part 3: Alaska’s Wilderness

Unique landscapes and captivating vistas draw millions of visitors to America’s national parks each year. Here at MapQuest, we asked our featured photographer, QT Luong, of Terra Galleria Photography, if he would select a few favorites from the photos he shot while exploring all 58 national parks, as well as share some of the stories behind what he captured. Enjoy!

Corniche and view of glaciers and Mt. Blackburn range – Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Corniche and view of glaciers and Mt Blackburn range. Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Alaska

Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve is a park six times the size of Yellowstone.  Walking alone from Kennecott, AK, I navigated across the crevasses and streams of Root Glacier and climbed the steep scree slopes of Mt. Donohue to get a commanding view of the wide local glaciers and of the entire Wrangell range. Only from the top of this range did I believe the glacier’s enormous size would be revealed.

However, when I reached the top of Mt. Donohoe in late afternoon, the air was extremely hazy due to wildfires. Despite not carrying sleeping gear (I had set camp at the base of the mountain), I decided to spend the night on the top. I shivered a bit, but unplanned bivies were something I had already endured during my mountaineering days. The view in the morning was great.

The Maidens with fresh show and a thin veil of clouds – Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

The Maidens with fresh show and a thin veil of clouds - Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

When I embarked on the trek to the Arrigetch Peaks, in the heart of the Northern Brooks Range - one of the great wilderness areas of the world – it was the most remote place I had ever explored for the purpose of photography.

I flew to Fairbanks, AK, then on to the tiny town of Bettles by commuter plane, then to Circle Lake by chartered plane, then on to backpacking for a couple of days in trailless terrain with more than 65 lbs. of gear.

Yet, the peaks were nowhere to be seen for the first day, hidden by dense, low clouds.  When I saw a possible clearing, I gave up breakfast.  After hurrying to set up the camera with excitement, I waited. Half an hour later, the clouds lifted for five minutes.  It was just enough time for this composition. For the rest of my stay, the clouds did not lift again.

Beached translucent iceberg and Muir Inlet at dawn – Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

The Maidens with fresh show and a thin veil of clouds - Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska

In May 2001 we had paddled for a very full day in Glacier Bay National Park, starting in a light drizzle and stopping only shortly to cook dinner on a beach. We arrived at our first destination, a grassy flat near the mouth of McBride Inlet, at 2 a.m., and it took us an hour to set up camp.

I retreated to my tent, but did not fall asleep. I felt excited by possibilities — energized by the clear sky and the lingering half-light of the Alaskan summer. I could sense it getting brighter. The world felt so beautiful and just invited exploration. I wandered around the tidal flats until I saw this translucent iceberg, which was lying more than a hundred feet away in water. I knew the water was very shallow and that the tide was receding at a fast rate.  If I waited, it would be totally out of the water.

I immediately waded into the water with the large format camera mounted on a tripod, the loupe and darkcloth around the neck, and a film holder in my pocket. This image reminds me of the curious state of heightened awareness I found myself in after being awake for nearly 24 hours.

Photos © QT Luong, http://www.terragalleria.com

Project Yosemite: HD Time-Lapse Video in Yosemite National Park

From Half Dome to Yosemite Falls to the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular landscapes in America.  Project Yosemite, a collaboration of videographers Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty, has captured that beauty in a stunning time-lapse video, Yosemite HD.  We asked Sheldon and Colin about what went into this amazing project. 

MapQuest: What sparked the idea for Project Yosemite?

Colin and Sheldon:  We both wanted to shoot time-lapses from the summit of Half Dome, which to our knowledge had never been done before. After that first trip we decided to collaborate on a much bigger project. We wanted to capture more of Yosemite and consolidate our best work into one video.

How did the the two of you meet?

I contacted Sheldon after seeing his video ‘Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Whitney‘ through Vimeo. He answered some questions for me about carrying the Dynamic Perception motion time-lapse dolly into the backcountry. After going back and forth through email, we decided to plan a trip together.

What did your previous adventures in time-lapse video involve?

Sheldon: Before our idea of time-lapsing Yosemite came about, my original experiences with time-lapse photography began in its early stages with backpacking Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest. It started as a cool way to document my trips, but later turned into an outlet for sharing my adventures when I released my first time-lapse video ‘Cottonwood Lakes to Mount Whitney‘. It was shortly after that I met Colin on Vimeo, and then began our journey to create and share a film showcasing Yosemite National Park.  (My original inspiration for time-lapse photography began once I saw a film called ‘The Mountain’ by TSO Photography — now the most popular video on Vimeo.com today.

Colin: I started practicing time-lapse photography about a year before shooting Yosemite HD. I would normally capture time-lapses while out climbing. I think my obsession with landscape photography started the first time I brought a camera to Bishop, California.

How long did the video take to capture and create?  How many trips and overnights were involved?

We spent 19 non-consecutive days shooting Yosemite HD. We met in Yosemite two separate times, and made two to three trips on our own as well. We camped at Camp 4, but spent most nights out shooting.

How many individual photos did you take to create the time-lapse video?

The video is made up of 5,600 RAW photos, but if you include the time-lapses that weren’t in the video, the number would be doubled.

Was there any one favorite moment you experienced during the creation of the project?

The iconic moment of our trip was our first night at the summit of half-dome. We spent the night alone time-lapsing different viewpoints of Yosemite. We’ll never forget how awesome it was gazing at the stars and watching the moon rise above the horizon as shadows filled the valley.

How much equipment did you carry into the park each trip?

Our list of gear is endless, but our packs on average weighed roughly between 70-80 pounds — depending on what we had available to us.

What do you have in the works for people who want to see more?

Right now we’re in Yosemite working hard to collect more footage. You can follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/projectyose) or Facebook (facebook.com/projectyose) to get updates.

Yosemite HD by Project Yosemite on Vimeo

Featured Photographer, QT Luong – Part 2: Up and Down

Unique landscapes and captivating vistas draw millions of visitors to America’s national parks each year. Here at MapQuest, we asked our featured photographer, QT Luong, of Terra Galleria Photography, if he would select a few favorites from the photos he shot while exploring all 58 national parks, as well as share some of the stories behind what he captured. Enjoy!

Summit Ridge of Mount McKinley - Denali National Park, Alaska

Summit ridge of Mt McKinley. Denali, Alaska

So far, my greatest adventure was a solo climb of Mt. McKinley, on which I embarked on just a few months after arriving to live in California.

Mt. McKinley (20,320 feet, 6,200m) is the highest mountain in North America, but altitude is not everything: the vertical relief of the mountain is 18,000 feet (5,500 meters), and its latitude, just a few hundreds miles below the artic circle that can bring some of the coldest weather anywhere – especially during the fierce Alaskan storms with winds raging over 100mph and temperatures dropping to -40˚F. For these reasons and many others, climbing Mt. McKinley combines the challenges of a high-altitude climb with those of a polar expedition.

Each year, about one thousand climbers seek to summit of Mt. McKinley, the vast majority of them through the technically easy West Buttress route.  About half of these climbers succeed. In the spring of 1993, I set out to climb and traverse the summit solo by ascending the more technical West Rib. The picture is taken just below the summit.  It had taken two weeks to reach this point from the day I arrived at basecamp.

Colorado River and rock walls near Tapeats Creek.  Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

 Colorado River and rock walls near Tapeats Creek. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. - photo by QT Luong, http://terragalleria.com

Backpacking in Grand Canyon National Park from the North Rim to the river is reverse mountaineering. You descend first, but then have to climb back more than 5000 feet. Instead of contending with cold, you have to carry lots of water as it is found only in a few oases.  Combined with my large format camera equipment, this made for one of the heaviest backpacks I have ever carried.

At the bottom of the canyon, my SLR camera suddenly died for no apparent reason. The large format camera – all mechanical, all manual – is not subject to those caprices; however, I used the SLR to meter the exposures. This means that for the rest of the trip, I had to guess the exposures without a light meter.

This was the first image I exposed under those conditions. (Above)

Additional image from this trip:

 Red sandstone gorge carved by Deer Creek. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. - photo by QT Luong, http://terragalleria.com

It was easy enough to guess the exposure of the first image as it was sunny mid-day, but the second one (above) – nailed to 1/2 f-stop – was more tricky.

Photos © QT Luong, http://www.terragalleria.com

Recreating the WPA Park Posters: Interview with Doug Leen, Ranger Doug’s Enterprises

Yellowstone WPA Poster - courtesy of Library of CongressDigital scan of original Yellowstone National Park WPA poster. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Between 1938 and 1941, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) produced a series of serigraph posters for National Parks as part of the WPA’s Federal Art Project.  Of the 14 parks posters produced, very few survived the years.

Thanks to Doug Leen, who worked as a seasonal ranger at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station in Grand Teton National Park for seven years, many of these park posters have been faithfully recreated and new posters in the spirit of the WPA series have been introduced.  Ranger Doug’s Enterprises publishes over 40 park posters today.

We asked Doug, who resides in Kupreanof, Alaska, where he practices dentistry, about the history of the project and what inspired the recreation of the original posters as well as the new designs.

MapQuest: How many posters has Ranger Doug’s Enterprises recreated?  How many new posters have been created in the spirit of the WPA style?

Doug Leen: There were only 14 original parks that had posters made by the WPA artists (in Berkeley, Calif.).  To those 14, I found two additional park images created by the New York City WPA poster project (these are the two See America posters of Arches and Carlsbad Caverns).  I needed 16 images in order to create boxes of note cards of 8 each.   You will notice that some of the posters I now publish come in two colors.  The reason for this was that I was working only from black and white photographs and only knew the art design, not colors so I made them up.  After publishing my interpretations, many originals began to turn up and of course, they were different colors–so I now offer both in some instances.

On the heels of this project, parks began coming to me and asking if I could make them a poster that would fit into this WPA style, which resulted in Devils Tower.  From this poster, I learned that we could extend this idea to all park, so I hired an artist and began to approach all parks.  Today we’ve published 37 parks in total with plans to complete most major parks and monuments before the 2016 NPS Centennial.

How closely have you worked with the National Park Service and Library of Congress on the recreations and new posters?

Grand Teton National Park, Jenny Lake Museum - recreated by Ranger Doug
Recreation of the Jenny Lake Museum at Grand Teton National Park WPA Poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius

When I first published the Jenny Lake poster (Grand Teton National Park), they didn’t want to do a second edition, so I created an interpreted version of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful.  At that time I hadn’t found the 14 black and white photos.  Once discovering these photos, I tossed my interpretation and published the historic geyser, and the Grand Teton National Park poster sales also started to climb.  I learned from this that each park potentiated sales of others and a certain critical mass was needed, however the parks are set up in such a way that you have to sell each park individually.

So in the beginning, the parks were hard to convince, especially since I was screen printing these, which required about a $15,000 initial investment for each park.  I shouldered the risk at first.  Eventually, parks came to me. When I mentioned “posters” most parks said they didn’t do posters — thinking of a bear standing in a garbage can with the lid balanced on its head.  In fact, most parks had forgotten their history, including these wonderful posters, so I made it my mission to bring them back and re-educate parks to the WPA-CCC.

I sent two copies to the Library of Congress each time I published so 70 years from now, we would have copies stashed somewhere.  Interestingly, the Library of Congress had no park posters in their meager collection.

Then in 2005, a Los Angeles collector found nine original posters in a second-hand store and eventually these went on the auction block.  I bid on two of them — the bidding was fast and furious with the Grand Canyon poster selling for more $9,000!  He had purchased them for only $70 each.  At auction, it turns out I was bidding against the Library of Congress.  In all, we secured 7 of the 9.  I’ve now four in my private collection, and the Library and I hope to exhibit these for the 2016 NPS Centennial.

Finally, I do work with each park and usually submit preliminary designs.  I like to visit each park and specifically search through their archives and old brochures.  I work closely with another former ranger, Brian Maebius, who holds both geology and fine arts degrees, and is a computer whiz to boot. He is listed as co-artist on all our contemporary works.  In truth, I can’t draw a stick figure, but have good composition skills.  He makes sense out of all my vague ideas and we sometimes go back and forth with dozens of design changes before it looks right.  Each one presents special problems — some roll right off the presses and others present a serious struggle.

Do you have a favorite memory of visiting the national parks for this project?

Square Tower at Mesa Verde National Park by Ranger Doug in the style of the old WPA Posters.
Square Tower at Mesa Verde National Park by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius in the style of the old WPA Posters.

One of my most memorable ‘research’ trips was to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to make their centennial poster featuring Square Tower.  This tower is the tallest Ancient Puebloan structure in the Southwest, and has been off limits to the public since about 1940.  It also requires quite a series of steep ladder descents to reach it.  The park wanted Square Tower featured, so we made the trip down the cliffs and crawled around the old structures.  In the bottom of Square Tower, I saw an old corn cob — perhaps 700 years old!  It really made me realize how closely related these people were to us today.  After an experience such as this, one contemplates the abandonment of this unique culture and the subsequent discovery and pillaging of these areas.

Do you have a favorite of the posters that have been created?

They’re like your children — you love them all.

Grand Teton National Park (Jenny Lake Museum) was the first in this historic series and is very stylized with unique fonts.  Three original copies of this poster exist.  Bandelier was the last in 1941 and it was completely different, stylistically.

The two Yellowstone posters were derived from old Haynes postcards, which were hand-colored, black-and-white photos and were very crude designs — but the Geyser is our most popular.

For contemporary designs, I’d vote for Saguaro National Park in Arizona, General Grant (Kings Canyon National Park) in California, and Acadia National Park in Maine.

Are there any park posters coming soon that  visitors and enthusiasts should look for?

Absolutely!  Badlands just came off the drawing board (computer screen, rather) and should be out by early June.  I’ve designs in the works for Statue of Liberty, Dinosaur, Death Valley, Big Bend, Gettysburg, Mount Rushmore and many others.

Recreated and contemporary posters can be purchased from Ranger Doug’s Enterprises. Check out a few more of Ranger Doug’s recreations and new posters below!

Recreated Posters

Zion National Park PosterZion National Park. Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Petrified Forest National Monument, recreated by Ranger DougPetrified Forest National Monument. Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Grand Canyon WPA Poster, Recreated by Ranger DougGrand Canyon National Park. Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius 

Note: The following three posters have been recreated from black and white photographs of the original posters.  The colors used by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises are a best guess.  To this day, original posters have not surfaced.  If anyone has information on an original for any of these three, please let Ranger Doug’s Enterprises know!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Recreated by Ranger Doug's Enterprises / Brian MaebiusGreat Smoky Mountains National Park.  Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Yellowstone National Park, Lower Falls. Recreated by Ranger Doug's Enterprises / Brian MaebiuYellowstone National Park, Lower Falls. Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Wind Cave National Park poster.  Recreated by Ranger Doug's Enterprises / Brian MaebiusWind Cave National Park poster.  Recreated by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius

Contemporary Posters

General Grant (Kings Canyon) National Park Poster by Ranger DougGeneral Grant (Kings Canyon) National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprise’s / Brian Maebius
Acadia National Park poster by Ranger DougAcadia National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Badlands National Park poster by Ranger DougBadlands National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Poster by Ranger DougGreat Smoky Mountains National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Saguaro National Park poster by Ranger DougSaguaro National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Rocky Mountain National Park poster by Ranger DougRocky Mountain National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Poster by Ranger DougHawaii Volcanoes National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Glacier Bay National Park poster by Ranger DougGlacier Bay National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius
Mount McKinley (Denali) National Park poster by Ranger DougMount McKinley (Denali) National Park poster by Ranger Doug’s Enterprises / Brian Maebius

Featured Photographer, QT Luong – Part 1: Yosemite

Unique landscapes and captivating vistas draw millions of visitors to America’s national parks each year. Here at MapQuest, we asked our featured photographer, QT Luong, of Terra Galleria Photography, if he would select a few favorites from the photos he shot while exploring all 58 national parks, as well as share some of the stories behind what he captured. Enjoy!

Fog in valley and peaks lighted by sunset in winter – Yosemite National Park, California

Tunnel View at Sunset, Yosemite National Park - photo by QT Luong, http://www.terragalleria.com

Yosemite National Park is the place that drew me to California and the national park that I visited first and most often. Yet, it was more than a decade later that I eventually captured, on a winter sunset evening, the image that best sums up, for me, the valley’s magic and majesty. The Tunnel View is one of my favorite places to view Yosemite Valley, one to which I have returned dozens of times. Although the location is always stunning, it was on that cold winter evening that I happened to be in the right place at the right time, when the sun appeared from under the storm clouds to set the tops of the cliffs on fire for a brief moment.

Hiker looking down into Yosemite Valley from Taft Point at sunset, Yosemite National Park, California

Hiker looking down Yosemite Valley from Taft point at sunset. QT Loung, http://www.terragalleria.com

I came to this location for a landscape shot. Since it was so hazy, I asked my friend Tom to move over to the brink to make this image instead.  Since most of the time I work alone, I was lucky to have a friend along that day – a friend not afraid of heights. The silhouette may be small, but I feel that its perfect placement makes the picture. It focuses the interest, invites the viewer to imagine him or herself there and reflect on their place in the world.

Photos © QT Luong, http://www.terragalleria.com

Get Ready for National Park Week: April 21-29, 2012

Each year, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation join together and offer free admission to all of the national parks for an entire week!  This year, National Park Week is April 21-29.

MapQuest National Parks will be featuring several amazing projects and people centered around the National Parks.  Make sure to check out our National Park Week page for features as we add them and make your plans to visit your local National Park today!

Welcome to MapQuest National Parks

Here at MapQuest, our team is a collection of adventure seekers, backcountry hikers, photography enthusiasts and family road trippers. America’s national parks hold a dear place in our hearts as an amazing collection of destinations preserving some of our nation’s most treasured natural, cultural and historical resources. We want to share that passion with you in MapQuest National Parks.

As you explore this site, we hope you will experience the same awe and wonder at the incredible vistas, stunning natural features and incredibly preserved history that inspired us as we created this project. With park rangers as your guide, explore six of the most visited parks by video. And enjoy the feature photography by QT Luong, a world-renowned nature and adventure photographer who captured riveting images in all 58 national parks.

We hope this project will bring inspiration as you make your travel plans for summer and beyond. National Parks Week, coming up April 21-29, is a great opportunity to get out and experience the national parks around the country free of charge. We wish you happy and safe travels!