See America First!
The weird and beautiful people and places seen while visiting 25 national parks in 3 years
A few years ago I came across a vintage campaign slogan—See America First—coined in the early 20th century by the railways and National Park Service for a joint advertising program designed to inspire Americans to plan their next vacation closer to home. The powerful slogan helped created the United States' first national tourism identity, and effectively defined the culture of traveling in the American West.
With the spirit of the original campaign at the forefront of my mind, I’ve spent the past three years driving over 15,000 miles to visit over two dozen national parks and monuments in the West. In this time I discovered what was once a frontier is now a highly saturated landscape sprinkled with scenic vistas, selfie sticks, and a joyful bounty of human curiosity. Still, travelers know that the national parks system is built for them—it's a touchstone for creating memories across multiple generations.
My routes retraced summer roadtrips from my childhood, as this project was steeped in the memories I have of my own father sharing these parks with me for the first time as a child. Surreal as it was to retrace that eye-widening journey I had with him so many years ago, it gave the opportunity to be witness to so many other traveling families experiencing our grand landscapes, often for the first time. In Arizona I met parents who traveled all the way from Sweden just so their kids could see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon in their lifetime. In Yellowstone, I met a retired couple who meet up every summer to bridge their long distance relationship for the few short weeks they can afford an RV together.
See America First! highlights the uniquely American experience that’s both familiar and slippery in all of its wonderfully exaggerated folklore. It celebrates the value of creating common ground in our own backyard and discovering the magnificent and diverse natural wonders nestled between our country's two opposing coasts. A fitting tribute to the National Parks Service, now in its centenntial year.