The natural world is full of surprises, and the more time I spend there the more wonderful and interesting it all seems. I feel privileged to have had work that has allowed so many hours of observing nature’s processes and contemplating the many questions they pose. How does it all piece together? What are the relationships? Why is there so much beauty? What do I do with it all? The only compelling answer I can arrive at is to continue to explore, to spend more hours observing, and to share my gained knowledge with others. And so I guide.
I started as an Insect Zoo Technician for the San Francisco Zoo, sharing the lives of the world’s tiny hard-bodied animals with the public. But at the age of 23 I left the zoo. I had seen a documentary in which a wise man said that ‘nature is a reality independent of thought.’ It made me wonder, and I knew that I needed to broaden my horizons by leaving the city and living more in nature—more on its terms.
So I signed up for a position in Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne Meadows, arriving with little more than a guitar, backpack, and red high-top Chuck Taylor basketball sneakers. My new neighbor had to teach me how to cut wood and start a fire in the woodstove. The park paid me $35 a week to work full time, and every two weeks I hitched a ride with another Ranger for the hour-long drive to the nearest supermarket, where I spent my entire $70 check. It was the start of a magical life, one that I have never second-guessed. I was on my way to a deepening lifelong relationship with nature.
My time in the national parks was rich, and I spent the next ten years living in some of the best: Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mount Rainier National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park. I developed programs for public presentations that included wildflower walks, California lighthouse history, identification of seabirds, the wild and edible plants of Alaska, whale migration, and the life of John Muir. I led off-trail hikes into the wilderness, told stories at campgrounds, and shared dinner on a cruise ship with the Director of the National Parks in Alaska. I lived in the most beautiful places that America has to offer—remote, full of wildlife, and preserved in their natural state for posterity, and I never had to think about what I was going to wear to work!
Working as a park ranger led me easily into guiding. The transition was really about the quality of experience I could share with the visitor. As a guide I could spend more time with fewer people, and go into far more depth with my interpretation of place than I could as a park ranger. I could also work in many more places, which excited me.
I guided over 100 trips, working the shores of Southeast Alaska, paddling about 4000 miles with guests over the next ten years. I branched out into other parts of Alaska, guiding tundra hikes in Denali National Park and brown bear viewing in Katmai National Park and at Anan Wildlife Observatory. I wanted to know more about the big wild state of Alaska, and I continue to guide there every summer. I have now been going north to Alaska for 17 summers!
The public lands of the United States encompass some 600 million acres. It has been a great gift handed to me (and you) by Americans of the past. I have enormous gratitude for their vision and hard work in securing these places for our enjoyment and enrichment. And I am lucky to work for Mountain Travel Sobek, a company that provides opportunities for others to discover the magic of North America and Alaska. We are limited only in our own imagination as to how we choose to access this grand endowment, and it has been my great pleasure to help others find a way to explore and understand it.John Baston
Naturalist John Baston spent 10 years in the National Park Service in six parks—including Yosemite, Glacier Bay, and Kenai Fjords—before joining MTS as a guide. Nearly 17 years later, he has logged over 150 hiking and kayaking trips from the wild coastline of Alaska to the high deserts of the Southwest. Having guided in such a range of places gives John the versatility and perspective—and a new take on many an old story. In addition to being a world-class guide, John is also an avid photographer, and food and wine enthusiast. John was recently interviewed for Outside magazine as a National Park expert for their special centennial edition National Park edition, and will be leading three incredible National Park trips in 2016: Alaska Wildlife Explorer, New Mexico Explorer, and National Parks of the Southwest.