Jesse Thorpe was lost.

It was 2 a.m. and pitch black. He drove aimlessly, unsure of where to park — it certainly didn’t help that he was unfamiliar with the winding roads of Joshua Tree National Park. But he was on a mission to photograph the Milky Way with the photography gear he’d purchased specifically for the occasion.


After an hour of driving, he pulled over in exasperation to set up his tripod and camera. He pressed the shutter and waited.

He can still recall the moment he saw the crystal-clear image of the Milky Way flash across his camera’s LCD screen. It was a shot that had eluded him until that moment. Elated, he leapt into the air. His fascination with both photography and the great outdoors took hold that night.

It was his first of many encounters with the U.S. National Parks — Jesse has now ticked eight off of his list and plans to visit 10 more in the coming year. He never tires of visiting these special places. He explains that he’s drawn to the universal quiet that they provide and the unique, jaw-dropping experiences that each offers — everything from climbing sand dunes to hiking trails with expansive vistas.

He never forgets to bring his camera along, though photographing the parks has become more about capturing moments of joy, solitude, and freedom than snapping shots of well-known landmarks.

Jesse’s connection to the parks runs deeper than a casual visit. Last year alone, he visited Joshua Tree 36 times to practice his photography and to hike, read, and reflect. In this way, the park became his second home, escape, and inspiration. This dedication to experiencing the National Parks is likely what makes his photos so special.

You can see more of Jesse’s work on Instagram.