Yosemite-16In the 1970s, my consulting work took me to Alaska, doing projects for the State of Alaska government in the wake of the North Slope oil discovery.  And on several of those consulting trips, I ventured into the Alaska bush for a dramatic expansion of my definition of open space (wilderness areas the size of other States!), wildlife (particularly big brown bears at some of my favorite fishing spots) and mountains ranging over 20,000 feet.  I was drawn to Alaska’s primitive beauty and wildness.

And then came a life-changing Alaska experience.  With my family (two daughters, 7 & 9) and Alaskan friends, we decided one winter day that “next summer let’s re-create the Klondike Goldrush”.  After several months of planning, in July we boarded the Alaska State Ferry in Seattle’s Pioneer Square (where the Klondike Goldrushers had boarded in 1898) headed to Skagway, hiked the famed Chilkoot “Trail of ‘98” from Skagway over the coastal range to Lake Bennett in Canada, and canoed 400 miles from Lake Bennett to the Klondike Goldfields at Dawson City in the Yukon.  It was a month of exhilaration and exhaustion, but most importantly a month of connection among those of us on the trip and for each of us with the scenery and solitude of the land.  Around the campfires each evening, we started asking “could we make a career bringing this type of connected, wilderness experience to others”.  And within two years, I had left consulting and started the first of my nature-oriented travel companies in Alaska.

I have now founded and sold four travel companies offering different types of nature-oriented trips in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest – Alaska Travel Adventures (river rafting, kayaking, gold panning, and other nature-oriented shore excursions for cruise ship passengers), American Safari Cruises (luxury yachts to backcountry areas in Alaska’s Inside Passage), Mosquito Fleet (Orca and Gray whale watching in Seattle’s Puget Sound) and Alaska Unusual (upscale private travel on yachts and to lodges in Alaska’s wilderness areas).

Which leads me to the latest chapter of my story – National Parks Revealed.  After selling the last of my Alaska travel businesses, I decided to take two years to relax and wander the National Parks in the American West.  I had not visited the National Parks for decades, except those in Alaska and those close to home in California and Washington State.  So I began planning this two-year adventure, seeking ideas from friends in and out of the travel industry.  My friends shared their own National Parks experiences, unforgettable moments in magnificent places in the company of family or friends or those met along the way.  My excitement was building.  A common theme from all of my travel industry friends was “You should start another business doing custom travel to the National Parks!”

I was surprised.  The U.S. National Parks seemed like destinations that would have been ‘covered’ by other tour companies.  But, while there are many companies offering fixed departure travel by motor-coach, there were few offering any custom travel to the U.S. National Parks, and none who were specialists.  So as I traveled over a two-year period, I took the time to hike, river raft, horseback ride, fish, photograph wildlife and more with local private guides.  I stayed at and inspected hotels, inns, lodges, ranches and backcountry tented basecamps.  I sought out local experts in conservation, geology, history, flora and fauna of the each of the National Parks.  Also, local artists and ‘local characters’ that make each National Park unique.  And these folks have now joined me to help make our clients’ trips memorable.  I know that ‘who’ we meet on our travels stays with us a lot longer that ‘what’ we see.  And these locals have become the ‘the secret sauce in the success of the trips we create.

National Parks Revealed was born in 2010 after my two years of wonder and connection in the National Parks.  I feel so grateful for those two years and the opportunity to add the National Parks in the American West to the portfolio of travel companies I have founded.

I have cherished each of these five “babies”, and I have nurtured them from an idea around the campfire or in a casual conversation to small businesses that provide travel experiences for guests, mostly City-kids” themselves, who want to venture into the natural world to find connections and sometimes life-changing experiences.

A footnote:  While I was traveling in the National Parks doing the base work for National Parks Revealed, one of the guides with whom I hiked at North Cascades National Park mentioned a book “you have to read”.  It is called Last Child in the Wood, by Richard Louv, a naturalist-sociologist whose research clearly shows that young people are abandoning the natural world in favor of electronics.  This is manifest in the increasing average age of visitors to the National Parks since 1992, as use of the Internet began its exponential growth and families with children chose other vacations or maybe no vacation at all.  To help reverse this trend, National Parks Revealed specializes in family vacations to the National Parks, with a wide range of nature-based activities to engage children.  And the company made the decision to donate 1% of its revenues to Youth in Parks programs.