With a push from Robert Frost, nature photographer QT Luong took the road less traveled – resulting in a photo-forward book illustrating his visit to 22 land-based national monuments.
Luong, 57, best known for his award-winning book on the 63 U.S. national parks, explored America’s lesser-known monuments, especially the preserved wildlife areas that are threatened with being removed from the list by then-President Donald Trump in 2017.
Six that were on the chopping block are in California, and two of them are in the Inland Empire and one in the San Gabriel Valley. After receiving support from local groups and lawmakers, the monuments were left intact and are featured in Luong’s recently published book, “Our National Monuments: America’s Hidden Gems,” by Terra Galleria Press.
Three other monuments that were shrunk by Trump to allow for energy exploration – the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in Utah, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the coast of Cape Cod – were restored by President Joe Biden last month.
The threat of spoiling pristine lands with oil and gas extraction or mining prompted Luong to visit each monument under revision and tell their stories in pictures and essays. The unprecedented presidential review and the cutting of some established national monuments prompted Luong to write in the introduction to his book: “We can no longer take designations for granted.”
“America’s Hidden Gems” was released on November 9, and paired sweeping photographs with testimonies from key conservatives involved in each designation effort.
By pointing the camera lens at pink and orange sunsets over Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains with pine peaks, the San Gorgonio peaks and the rippling Cadiz dunes of the Mojave Trails, Luong worked to argue to keep these and others away. -the beaten path wild areas preserved forever.
“Some of the most daring acts of preservation in America came from the designation of national monuments, especially in the last few decades,” Luong said in a recent interview.
The author is a staunch defender of The Antiquities Act of 1906, used by 16 presidents to designate more than 100 national monuments as immovable.
“The legacy of the Antiquities Act was so much about protecting public spaces in America,” Luong said.
From Paris to America
Luong, who grew up in Paris, dipped his crampon in the sport of mountaineering while living in France. But his most daring climbing adventure began when he landed in Yosemite National Park and climbed El Capitan four times.
“When I came to America, I fell in love with the national parks … the most impressive part of this country to visit,” said Luong, who now lives in San Jose.
A wrist injury put an end to his mountaineering so he turned to photography. From 1993-2003 he went to all national parks, camera and tripod in tow. “Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks,” won 12 national and international book awards. Luong starred in Ken Burns’ documentary: “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
After hearing about the national monuments, he started photographing them. “I saw it as an extension of my work in the national parks,” he said. “I felt it would be good to visit public areas that are less well known.”
A national park is more developed with campsites and hotels. A national monument is more rural, simple and less crowded. They contain historically, ecologically and culturally significant landscapes and are usually under the direction of the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a hurry in national parks and open areas in general. Parks are often reserved months in advance, with day tourists greeted by long queues.
“But there are places, the monuments that are more adventurous, require more independence, more preparation, but they are as beautiful as the national parks,” Luong said, he discovered.
“What really surprised me was how big those mountains are. And how close they are to the cities,” Luong said of the San Gabriel Mountains. “They are seriously big and steep mountains.”
Luong described his first experience in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, 346,177 acres of existing federal woodland stretching in the woodlands from Santa Clarita to Upland. Inaugurated by President Barack Obama in 2014 during a rare personal visit to the edge of the San Dimas forest, the monument created by Obama’s pen is within 90 minutes of 17 million people.
Here, the Kizh nation still waits every winter for the sun to shine through a hole in Big Rock, part of a ceremonial ritual made possible by the recent discovery of rock art. Luong explored the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and listened to the gargle of running water surrounded by the shadows of dark gorges.
“There are gaps of a scale you rarely see,” he said.
On page 112 of the book, Bryan Matsumoto, program director for Nature For All, writes about how he never knew about the huge forest, now a monument preserved for all to see and touch until, after turning 17, despite of that he lived only a few miles. gone.
“Diversity is staggering,” he wrote. “Mountain peaks of snow with children sledding, spring cascades and rocky streams.”
On the same page, Daniel Rossman, California’s deputy director of The Wilderness Society, recalls the day the president preserved the federal states for the people of Southern California.
“I’m super excited that this talented artist drew attention not only to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, but other, recent monuments,” Rossman said in a recent interview.
A prayer was answered
In the section dedicated to the Sand to Snow monument, Jack Thompson, regional director of The Wildlands Conservancy, talks about a meeting with Home Secretary Sally Jewel, who wrote the foreword to Luong’s book. His prayer to the bighorn sheep that day was answered.
Jewel arrived late for their meeting because a ram had jumped in front of her vehicle. Jewel later told him, “I think Sand to Snow is a winner.”
One of the largest national monuments, the 154,000-acre conservation area, lies between the San Bernardino National Forest and Joshua Tree National Park and includes Mount San Gorgonio, at 11,500 feet, the highest peak in Southern California.
The monument covers the snow-capped peaks that tower over the valley below, to the Black Lava Butte, where Luong wandered “among typical Mojave desert plants and granite blocks (there) competed with those found in the nearby Joshua Tree National Park, but without the crowds . “
The stark contrast between the highest climbs and the lower desert landscapes of Whitewater, Mission Creek and the Big Morongo Canyon preserves blew his mind, he said.
“Big Morongo is actually very lush for a desert,” he added. “I was surprised. It’s actually like an oasis.”
Luong ran around the 1.6 million acres of the Mojave Trails National Monuments and enjoyed something he could never see in Europe: the desert ecosystem, illustrated in his book of photos of Cadiz’s pristine dunes captured in stunning colors.
“It’s pure desert,” Luong said. “Usually when you go into the dunes, you find them full of footprints in a national park. But here I was very glad that we were alone, my friend and I, and we saw no one else. It was pristine, except for the tracks of animals.
“It’s remarkable that you could have that kind of loneliness,” he added.
Even Route 66 lovers can enjoy this place.
The monument contains 105 miles of Mother Road, from Needles to Ludlow. Luong said it was so busy that he could take his time parking his rack in the middle of the highway.
Rossman said Luong’s book underscores the value of the Antiquities Act as a “conservation tool.” It also reminds Americans at this time, when getting outdoors has become an escape, that national monuments are treasures too.
“It’s really important for all Americans to connect with nature,” Rossman said, “and to feel a sense of pride in seeing these places preserved for future generations.”