If you were to ask most second-graders what they want to be when they grow up, chances are, they might have a few ideas but they probably couldn’t give you a definitive, “that’s-my-final-answer-Regis” decision. Heck, most college seniors don’t even know what they want to do with their life. But when Christina Adele Warburg-Hon was asked about her dream job in the second grade, she drew a picture of herself in a green park ranger truck.
Today, the image has remained the same — it’s just no longer in crayon.
Having worked in Grand Teton, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Zion, Christina is now settled in Glacier, the national park where she and her husband decided to get married. It’s her dream job and her dream life — and luckily for us, she’s a talented photographer who documents it all through extraordinary imagery.
We caught up with Christina to discuss her relationship with the parks, her journey to Glacier, and the inspiration behind her photography. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you describe the moment that you fell in love with the U.S. National Parks?
I’m not sure there was one single “moment,” per se, but rather a combination of moments that led to me falling in love with, and subsequently moving into, the national parks. Watching a large elk herd in Yellowstone with my grandma when I was seven years old; getting lost in the fog and wildflowers of Mt. Rainier when I was 10 and having a deer wander right up to me; sitting high up on a hill and watching thunderstorms pass over Yellowstone Lake when I was 13; admiring a gorgeous sunset with my mom in Rocky Mountain National Park when I was 18 and waiting for my dad to catch the evening rise; visiting Yosemite when I was going through the most tumultuous time of my life at 20 years old and finally finding peace. It was a combination of all the special family moments, the healing moments, the wildlife sightings, the sunsets, the hikes, the wildflowers, the people, and — last, but certainly not least — the mountains that caused me to fall in love with our national parks.
You say in your profile that you “lived and worked in many beautiful parks before finally making the best one home.” Can you talk about the journey that brought you to Glacier, and why it has become your favorite?
I have a piece of artwork I made when I was in second grade that says: “When I grow up, I want to be park ranger.” It was accompanied by a drawing of me in a green truck chasing what appear to be elk, next to which I included a list of reasons why being a park ranger would be the best and most important job. (Spoiler alert: I still think it’s the best and most important job.) So, working in the parks was always a dream of mine.
In 2012, I had just been through the roughest time of my life. One of best friends had committed suicide, and I had just been through an awful, gut-wrenching breakup. I knew I needed to spend some serious time away in a park to heal — vacations just weren’t cutting it. I decided it was time to make my move to the parks and start pursuing that dream career, so I got involved with an organization called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP), and they placed me in Grand Teton. I stayed there for four years off and on and never thought I would leave for good. After a couple of years, I moved from working at the lodges to working with the National Park Service.
To be honest, when I was living in Grand Teton, I was obsessed with it. It was bordering on the edge of unhealthy. The Tetons had become such a major part of my identity that I didn’t know who I was away from the park. I thought that there was no way life could be sweeter or better than it was there. Then, in 2015, a series of traumatic events happened to me, beginning in February of that year and continuing until I left in October. After what had occurred, the park was sort of soiled for me. I couldn’t go back — not to live, at least. It has gotten better now, but the first few times I visited after leaving were very hard and emotional. It took a lot for me to get past all of that junk, and there are certain things I still struggle with to this day.
With Grand Teton no longer in the picture — that love ripped out of my life — I turned my sights elsewhere and just worked on developing my career and myself. I found my identity in who I was as a person, not in a particular park. As unfortunate as my experience in the Tetons was, it was something that needed to happen for me to grow. I worked in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Zion after that, meeting new friends, having incredible experiences, and making amazing memories. But I still never felt the same level of happiness and fulfillment as I had in Grand Teton.
In August of 2017, I made a trip with my then-boyfriend to Glacier National Park. I fell in love with a park all over again. I saw all of the things I had seen and loved about Grand Teton and more. It had the mountains, the alpine lakes, the wide-open spaces, the wildlife. Only it didn’t feel like a rich resort area reserved for tourists and the uber-wealthy, the way Jackson and the Tetons had at times. It just felt down to earth, like home, a place to make lifelong friends, build a life, and raise children. Sitting by Swiftcurrent Lake, watching an amazing sunset while tucked in each other’s arms, my boyfriend and I decided that one day we would get married in Glacier, and that someday in the future we would make this our home and be done with moving (at that point I had moved 21 times in five years). From that point on, Glacier became representative of my future, but I never thought it would come so soon. The day before our wedding, I was offered the permanent job I had dreamt of so desperately. It all came together so perfectly and I truly believe in my heart that it was all meant to be.
What are some of your favorite memories from your explorations in the national parks and other U.S. public lands?
The one memory that sticks out more than any other is October 16, 2016, in Yosemite. It had been a dry summer, as usual, and the waterfalls had all dried up and remained that way for months. But on that day, the rain came and brought the waterfalls back with it. Over the course of the day, I watched as the walls grew to a trickle before becoming a rushing torrent of water. The waterfalls were raging more than I had ever witnessed. I saw it as a metaphor: no matter how dry or sad your life may seem, in one instant, everything can change. That thought gave me hope.
Throughout the day, I was running around the Yosemite Valley with the guy I had just started dating, taking it all in. We discussed the metaphor, the hopes and dreams it brought about, and we remarked on the beauty and power of nature together. I fell deeply and madly in love with him that day. That man is now my husband. It wasn’t just the waterfalls that came back to life that October day; it was also my heart. I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true.
In your mind, what sets the U.S. National Parks apart from other landscapes around the world?
I think the main thing that sets them apart is their diversity — deserts, mountains, canyons, geysers, rainforests, beaches… No other country in the world features as many landscapes as our country and our parks.
What are you trying to capture in your photography?
To me, our parks are everything. They are my career, home, family, friends. They are so much more than a pretty place to vacation. All the important memories of my life are tied up in the parks. I want other people to see how special they are, I want other people to care about them the same way that I do, to be motivated to visit a park and develop their own connection to it, and in turn, to maybe work as hard at protecting the parks as I do. Maybe then, they will be around for my children’s children to experience the same way that I have. That’s why I started photography in the first place. I needed to show my friends why I left them behind in California, and why they needed to visit me. I needed to capture how special these places were, and that is what I’m aiming for every time I look through the lens of my camera.
Can’t get enough of U.S. National Parks? Check out our park-related guides and stories here!