Introducing Jillian Swalwell

We have someone new to introduce!!

As many of you who follow along with Backcountry Journeys, whether it be on our webpage, emails, and/or the Backcountry Journeys Tribe, you’ll know that there has been quite a bit of growth over the past year-and-a-half, or so. But we haven’t had a new person to announce since last year.

Until now!

Please help me welcome Jillian Swalwell to the Backcountry Journeys team! As our new Photo Adventure Specialist, Jillian will be the friendly voice on the phone when you call the Backcountry Journeys offices. She’ll be the name signed at the bottom of emails, and the person making work well, a whole lot of what we have going on at Backcountry Journeys.

We sat down to talk a bit with Jillian so that we can all get to know a bit more about her.

Kenton: For starters, welcome to Backcountry Journeys, Jillian! We are all excited to have you on board. Thank you also for taking some time to talk a bit so that we can all get to know you a little bit more. We enjoy these Q&A style introductions so that the folks who work for Backcountry Journeys can be more than just a voice, or a name or even a photo on a computer screen. Why don’t we just get to it? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Jillian: I grew up on the east coast of Florida, in Fort Pierce. I went to college for business, and joined the hospitality industry – working in theme parks and hotels. At that point I had developed a penchant for travel, and it led me to really love helping people plan and enjoy their vacations. Perfecting an experience that someone has looked forward to all year, making it a beautiful memory for them….it’s so much fun. Eventually I moved to Italy to be an English teacher, met my now husband, moved to England with him, and came back to the US! We moved to Flagstaff to be close to friends and to see more of this gorgeous country. And I’m in love. I’ve always loved hiking, but the landscape of the western United States is just so different from anything I’ve ever seen. I just want to be out in it all the time!

Kenton: Isn’t Flagstaff just the best? It’s not only the launching point for the Grand Canyon National Park, in the middle of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world and home to amazing geology including the San Francisco Volcanic Field. It is also the Backcountry Journeys World Headquarters! Choosing to work for a photography based adventure travel company, is it safe to say that you enjoy both the outdoors as well as photography? Do you have a background in wildlife and/or landscape photography? Or, perhaps is your background in the outdoors? Or, both?

Jillian: I absolutely love both! My dad is probably the one to credit with the enthusiasm for the outdoors, he is a fisherman/hunter and spent every weekend out on the water or in the woods. He brought me along often, and our family took camping trips around the country, giving me a lot of knowledge about plant and wildlife, and how to live without indoor plumbing (I wish I was kidding!). Photography also came from him, we’ve got photo albums of his from the 70’s, of close-ups of flowers and other macro practicing in our yard. He had a camera in hand around the house, but mostly on vacation. Now, I would be lying if I said I’ve progressed a lot beyond Auto with my DSLR – I’ve used manual mode, but can never seem to get the right balance to match what my eyes see. That’s why I’m so excited Backcountry Journeys exists!

Kenton: That is awesome, Jillian! You can go through an assortment of Backcountry Journeys blog posts to learn quite a bit on how to take control of your DSLR camera. One of our photo guides, Chris Gheen, does a wonderful job breaking down the different details and aspects of the camera that can really take your photography to new heights. What specifically about photography do you love the most?

Jillian: Photography from a professional standpoint, I love how it is to intricately linked to travel. How a great photo of a place or destination can inspire others to want to add it to their travel bucket list. There have been so many times where a photo of an uncommon destination has caused a detour on one of my own trips. I can only hope that my photos can one day do the same. On a much more personal note, I think photos help us remember a feeling, a trip, a day. And I love being able to look back on my photos and remember.

Kenton: I really appreciate your perspective on how photographs can bring back wonderful memories. We often say around BCJ that the photographs we make while on our trips are important, but so also are the people we get to meet, the experiences shared, and the memories made. I think you really touched on something there that we hold in pretty high regard. How did you come to find Backcountry Journeys? What about the position is of most interest to you?

Jillian: I joined the team completely by happenstance! My first phone call with Russ was actually from the Grand Canyon, when I was taking a hike there. I’m so excited to be apart of a team who enjoy and respect the outdoors, and share my love of exploration. I feel like it’s a perfect intersection of my hospitality skills, business education, and personal interests. I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

Kenton: That is some pretty great “street cred” there, having had your interview on the phone while hiking in the Canyon. So, is hiking your thing? Any other hobbies or activities that make you happy?

Jillian: Hiking, traveling, and photography are my top three for sure. I enjoy reading, but does that count as a hobby? Hiking is the one I typically have the most time for, and I try to travel to one new place at least once a year. Last year I went to Thailand to witness the lantern festival of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, and it was such an awe-inspiring experience. In Florida I also excelled at water sports, being scuba-certified and going paddle-boarding.

Kenton: That is a nice range of hobbies. I think reading counts, no? As someone who has lived elsewhere, and travels frequently, I think you’ll have a nice perspective and good insight that will go a long to help anticipate our guests’ needs, and desires. With that, let’s get back to your new position quickly. What are you most excited about with regard to working for Backcountry Journeys?

Jillian: I think it’s just by luck that I’m this side of the curtain. Looking through our upcoming tours makes me drool, and I can share in our guest’s excitement when they book – I’m so sincerely excited when they get to join us on a trip, and love reading the trip reports to see what great unique opportunities they had while on the road. Plus I get to learn more about photography from the best!

Kenton: Awesome! It really sounds like you’ll be a great fit for this work. You share a common perspective on what this is all about, and seem to have a love of being involved with what it is Russ has put together here.

Thanks, again, Jillian for taking the time. We’re all excited to have you on the team. Now folks who call and email will know who is on the other end of those communications!

Kenton Krueger grew up and spent the first 33 years of his life in the corn country of Omaha, Nebraska. After studying aviation at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute, he “conned” his way into the newsroom at the award-winning Omaha World-Herald where for 3+ years he wrote and photographed news articles on a variety of topics such as community events, travel and even mixed martial arts for the sports department. Yet something was missing. While on backpacking trips to Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks in the mid-2000’s he was quick to realize that the wild lands of the western United States stoked a fire in his heart like nothing else could. This realization led to relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, and he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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