See America First: Finding Common Ground in our Backyard

A few years ago I came across a vintage campaign slogan "See America First!" This slogan was coined by the railways and national park system when they teamed up in the early 20th century to inspire Americans to plan their next vacation closer to home. It also helped create our first national tourism identity and defined the culture of traveling in the American West.

See America First: Creating Common Ground In Our Own Backyard

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 over two dozen national parks and monuments. I discovered that what was once our frontier is now a highly saturated landscape sprinkled with scenic vistas, "selfie-sticks" and a joyful bounty of human curiosity.

See America First: Creating Common Ground In Our Own Backyard
See America First: Creating Common Ground In Our Own Backyard

My route retraced summer road trips from my childhood. Along which I photographed many travelers on their journey to See America. While I was in Arizona, I met couple who traveled all the way from Sweden just so their kids could see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetime. 

In Yellowstone, I met a retired couple who met up every summer to bridge their long distance relationship for the few short weeks they can afford an RV together. 

"Travelers know that the parks system is built for them. It is a touchstone for creating memories across multiple generations."

See America First: Creating Common Ground In Our Own Backyard

This project is steeped in the memories I have of my own father sharing these parks with me for the first time as a child. It is surreal to retrace that eye-widening journey I had with him, and also be witness to so many other traveling families experiencing our grand landscapes... often for the first time.

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See America First! highlights the uniquely American experience that's both familiar and slippery in all of it's wonderfully exaggerated folklore. It celebrates the value of creating common ground in our own backyard and discovering the magnificent natural wonders nestled between dry deserts and steep mountain peaks.

IMAGES COURTESY OF JENNIFER EMERLING