Should you tally up each nationwide park, land-based nationwide monument, and nationwide conservation land scattered throughout the USA, then account for crossover, you’ll find yourself with 478 distinct locations. And Scott Jones is probably going the one particular person to have visited all of them.
On August 26, Jones arrived at Montana’s Higher Missouri River Breaks Nationwide Monument to finish what he’s dubbed the Treasured Lands Quest, a virtually 15-year venture with roots that stretch again to the 1930s when his grandparents road-tripped to go to the nation’s small, however rising assortment of nationwide parks. Although he now lives in Phoenix, Jones grew up in Tucson, interrupted solely when his father’s job relocated the household to Detroit whereas he was in grade faculty. In an effort to discover their short-term new house, Jones’ mom purchased a state parks cross and collectively they ticked off each inside a day’s driving distance. “Holy crap—that was my first quest!” says Jones. “I hadn’t actually thought of that earlier than.”
By highschool, Jones was again within the desert, this time together with his personal automobile. He started climbing within the close by mountains; by faculty, he was venturing additional afield. Because it turned out, visiting nationwide parks and different public lands was a comparatively inexpensive trip technique for a school child, particularly one with an equally adventurous girlfriend. Echoing that childhood expertise in Michigan, he purchased a nationwide parks cross. “It’s like, yeah, we are able to afford to drive to Yosemite, eat pork and beans, camp, and see some cool stuff; we are able to’t afford to do a Vegas weekend,” he says. “Sooner or later all of it simply type of snowballed. We have been like, we would as nicely to go to all of them.”
Although he’s now freelance, even whereas working full-time for conservation nonprofits, Jones found out learn how to prioritize his mission. He doesn’t have any children or pets, he typically camps at fee-free places, he’s thrifty at house, and he has a keen accomplice (his girlfriend, Jen, though his ex-wife was additionally on board). They make each second depend. “Being within the lodge room, watching TV re-runs is the worst attainable hell to me as a result of I’d reasonably be out doing one thing else, even when it’s driving to the following place,” he says. “I’m actually bodily drained after we get again from journeys, however emotionally and spiritually, I’m actually reinvigorated.”
As you would possibly anticipate, Jones additionally returned from all of these journeys with loads of tales. There was his first time in Alaska, the place he hopped a bush airplane together with his buddy to go to Yukon-Charley Rivers Nationwide Protect. The one snag? A trio of wildfires just about surrounded the protect, a problem for his or her younger pilot who’d by no means been to the realm earlier than and was utilizing a GPS app on his telephone to navigate. Fortunately, they landed safely at a historic mining camp, a lot to everybody’s aid—and to the shock of firefighters staged within the space. “They’re like, ‘What are you doing right here?’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re right here for the [national parks] passport stamp,’” he laughs.
As a result of bush flights cost by the minute for floor time, Jones and his pal had solely an hour to discover the realm; when the fireplace commander heard about his quest, nonetheless, she insisted on reassigning firefight duties with a view to personally escort them to Slaven’s Roadhouse, a relic of the Klondike Gold Rush period they wouldn’t have been in a position to see in any other case. Again on the helicopter (with a scant minute of additional time on the bottom), they then flew instantly right into a storm. “We’re doing determine eights and I’m my GPS, and it’s like—this doesn’t look excellent. After which the pilot simply banks to at least one facet and weapons it for, like, 20 minutes,” says Jones. One other excellent touchdown—and a helluva reminiscence.
Then there was a go to to hardly ever visited Aniakchak Nationwide Monument and Protect, centered on a caldera positioned on the distant Aleutian Peninsula. The climate is risky, situation stories are exhausting to return by, and flights rely upon clear(ish) skies; Jones and his girlfriend waited 5 and a half of the six days they’d allotted, checking with pilots each two hours till they caught a break. After which the couple needed to run for it—that they had twenty minutes to fulfill the airplane. This time an innkeeper—one they’d simply negotiated a brand new room with, figuring they’d have to remain on the town a bit longer to go to the protect—took pity and provided them a experience.
With marginal situations, Jones wasn’t positive if the pilot was going to have the ability to land; the dream is perhaps on hiatus till he may save up sufficient cash for a return go to. However then the stunning blue waters of Shock Lake, tucked contained in the caldera, got here into view. “It was one of the crucial significant moments in my life. My girlfriend began crying as quickly as we hit the water,” says Jones. “It was actually triumphant and emotional, and all I had was Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions’ enjoying in my head.”
Jones would end the nationwide parks portion of his quest a couple of days later at Glacier Bay Nationwide Park and Protect, not solely within the firm of his girlfriend, but additionally some associates who’d gathered to shock him (Jen’s tears upon touchdown on the lake have been partially because of the overwhelming aid that they wouldn’t screw up everybody else’s journey plans by arriving late to Glacier Bay). However neither that have, nor his final one at Higher Missouri River Breaks signifies that Jones is completed. “It looks like a bizarre, arbitrary ending,” he says. “It’s an enormous accomplishment, however it’s not like I’m not going to maintain going to those locations.”
If there’s one factor that comes throughout when speaking with Jones, it’s that he’s not merely a collector; he’s grateful for the way these locations have formed him alongside the best way. He’s been a lot moved by lovely surroundings, for positive, however locations like Manzanar, a World Conflict II-era Japanese internment camp positioned in California’s dusty Owens Valley, and Topeka’s Brown V. Board of Training Historic Web site, which chronicles the struggle to finish faculty segregation, struck an equally deep chord. Jones remembers strolling down a hallway lined with video screens on the latter, surrounded by footage of individuals yelling racial epithets—the identical factor Linda Brown would have skilled whereas going to high school.
“As a white, male American dwelling in Phoenix, this isn’t one thing that I take care of each day,” he says. “Locations like which have actually modified how I view America, how I view my position in America, how I view the historical past of our nation. And I feel that’s one of many actual advantages of this for me.”
Although he started this venture as a private problem, it’s experiences just like the one in Topeka that helped Jones notice others would possibly profit from adopting their very own targets, whether or not or not they’re associated to public lands (though he definitely encourages individuals to go to as a lot of them as attainable). He’s at present creating the Questing App, which can assist individuals observe their very own journey targets, however Jones stresses that it’s not about ending; it’s nearly getting out to see belongings you won’t in any other case.
“I’m not a aggressive particular person, you understand,” he says. “I did all this not as a result of I used to be attempting to be the primary particular person, however as a result of I wished an instance that different individuals may see—Hey, this regular dude was in a position to pull this off. Meaning I can, too.”
Beneath, Jones shares a couple of extra particulars about his massive quest.
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to your public lands quest?
By way of sheer distance, I feel Conflict within the Pacific Nationwide Historic Park in Guam might be the furthest at about 6,500 miles. Nationwide Park of American Samoa might be about 5,000 miles away, too. Together with the “fly-in” parks within the Western Arctic in Alaska, these all positively felt whole worlds other than my each day life right here in Phoenix.
What was your shortest journey?
My shortest go to would in all probability be the 20 minutes or in order that I spent at what must be essentially the most obscure nationwide monument within the nation—the Army Working Canine Groups Nationwide Monument on Lackland AFB exterior San Antonio. It’s just a few bronze statues, an inscribed granite wall, and a water fountain surrounded by some landscaping. It’s mainly a memorial that occurred to be designated by the Antiquities Act. I had no concept that canine groups have been used a lot within the navy, so it was attention-grabbing to see, however it actually doesn’t take lengthy to go to.
Any thought how a lot cash you’ve invested into engaging in this quest?
Oh wow, the very last thing I wish to do is to whole up how a lot cash I’ve spent touring. It’s positively so much, particularly in the previous few years with a variety of costly journeys exterior the contiguous U.S.—however each penny of it was nicely spent.
What are a few of the locations which have turn out to be favorites, and is there one which tops all of them?
Oh, there’s completely no approach to decide on a single one. My prime 5 listing is not less than 30 lengthy. It’s simply unattainable. The “crown jewel” nationwide parks, like Yellowstone and Yosemite and Glacier and Grand Canyon are on that listing, as are some BLM nationwide monuments like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and Agua Fria. And there are additionally some lesser recognized locations that I merely cherished due to who I used to be touring with, or the particular expertise I had whereas there, or as a result of it fully modified how I view one thing. So a spot like Brown v Board of Training Nationwide Historic Web site in Topeka, Kansas, additionally makes that listing as a result of it made this boring factor I examine in a textbook into one thing actually shifting and opened my eyes to problems with race that I simply hadn’t really thought of earlier than.
You’ve clearly seen greater than most individuals ever will. We find out about locations like Yosemite and Yellowstone, however what do you suppose are the “hidden gems” of our federal public lands?
Each single one of many locations I’ve visited is a hidden gem to somebody. That’s an enormous cause why I really like journey quests a lot—they pressure you to go to so many locations that you just wouldn’t in any other case go. And in flip, you uncover these locations you had by no means even heard of earlier than or locations you didn’t suppose you’d take pleasure in. And bam, they turn out to be a spotlight of the journey. So for me, a lot of what I contemplate the hidden gems have been locations that both shocked me, or taught me one thing attention-grabbing, or in any other case provided an expertise I wasn’t anticipating. One of the best ways to search out hidden gems is easy: go to locations you don’t know a lot about with an open thoughts and see what’s there.
All pictures courtesy Scott Jones