Please help us welcome another new member to our growing stable of talented Photography Guides here at Backcountry Journeys. We’d like to announce P.J. O’Malley as the newest member of the team, and extend to him a big WELCOME! We’re thrilled to have P.J., a long-time adventure guide, and photographer.
Let’s take a moment to meet P.J. -on paper, anyway. Those of you scheduled to travel to Glacier National Park next week will get to meet him ‘in real life,’ as he officially starts with us on that trip!
Hey there, P.J., thank you for taking the time today. We’re thrilled to have you on board here at Backcountry Journeys. I think our guests will really enjoy your experience, knowledge, and care while on tours with you. So, let’s learn a little bit about you. Like, where are you from originally?
I am from LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Another mid-western boy! Matt Meisenheimer lives in Wisconsin. Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I graduated in 1999 from Northern Arizona University where I studied psychology and business administration.
You live in Flagstaff, Arizona, now. Where is the most interesting place that you’ve lived and why?
I lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for 18 months while working at Phantom Ranch
Whoa! That certainly is an interesting place to call home! What was the most interesting part of living there?
Having semi-wild ringtail cats living in the Bunkhouse.
Is it true that hiking in-and-out of the Canyon to work is not only mandatory but also a part of the interview process?
What are some of your hobbies outside of photography? What might be your favorite and why?
I love music. Whether it’s playing my guitar or going to see live music. Music is like oxygen!
How many years have you been a guide?
I started guiding for National Geographic Expeditions at Grand Canyon in the summer of 2007.
Have you ever had anyone famous as a guest on a tour? If so, was he/she cool?
I’ve taken Greensky Bluegrass on a few tours at Grand Canyon. They are super cool!
Do you have a favorite story about a particular tour or guest?
The story of escaping a flash flood in Havasupai canyon is a good one to tell.
Hmm… Sounds like an interesting story. Could you expand?
Always leave them wanting more.. The story is much better in person.
Oh, well. I guess folks who want the story will need to find you on an upcoming tour in order to hear how it went. You’ve done this work for quite some time. What drives your passion for being a guide, or what is your favorite aspect of the work?
First of all, spending so much time in our wild and scenic public lands is a blessing. Our National Parks and National Monuments are such a treasure that everyone has access to. My passion is sharing these places with guests, and trying to connect them to these places through the interactive travel experience. If we want to continue to preserve and protect these magnificent places, we need people to care about them and stand up if they are ever threatened.
Tell us about a spot, anyplace where you’ve guided, that provides you the most joy when you share it with a group of guests, and why. What is the feeling that spot gives to you that makes it so special to share?
I’ve always enjoyed sharing Phantom Ranch with people. Before I worked there I guided many professional trips and took several personal trips down there. It’s an anomaly in this country. Rare are the times that you’ll find the creature comforts of a bed, shower, AC, and a steak dinner in the backcountry. It’s a great entry point for folks to get into the backcountry without having to carry 50 pounds of gear.
How long have you been interested in photography/shooting seriously?
I took a photojournalism class during my sophomore year of high school. That same year I received my first SLR and it was hard to separate me from it. The next year, I became the photo editor for the school yearbook and newspaper. In college, I was inspired by Arizona Highways Magazine and began taking landscape photos on my hikes and mountain biking excursions.
What is your equipment setup?
I’ve always been a Nikon man.
Do you have a favorite image that you’ve taken?
That’s a hard one. I’ve had the good fortune to snap a few good ones over the years that I really like. Some are landscapes, some are when I was shooting live concerts, and some are portraits of family and friends.
Would you consider yourself a landscape or wildlife guy?
Landscape guy. In Hollywood, the saying is “never work with children or animals.”
What is your favorite animal that you’ve photographed? Is there a critter that you’d label as the one you would most like to have the chance to shoot?
I really love the Rocky Mountain Elk. Especially bulls when they have their full rack in the fall. So Majestic and strong.
What is your favorite landscape that you’ve shot?
Photographing the Grand Canyon is always a challenge, but I’ve had the good fortune to spend a lot of time there and have captured some pretty good images there.
And then what would be your most highly sought after landscape to shoot?
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of shooting the Aurora Borealis. I’d love to do that some day.
Awesome! Backcountry Journeys runs multiple tours and extensions to photograph the Aurora in Alaska. I’d assume you’ll get your chance one of these days.
That being said, which Backcountry Journeys tour are you most excited about leading, and why?
I’m excited to be in Yosemite. I love that place and it’s so iconic, especially for landscape photography.
How did you get hooked up with Russ and BCJ?
I worked with both Russ and Crystal at an outdoor travel company. I pestered Russ until he hired me.
What is the number one thing that you feel you’ll bring to the Backcountry Journeys team?
My Adonis-like physique.
What are you looking forward to the most about leading photo tours for BCJ?
Connecting guests to these beautiful places and getting them good chances at capturing images that will remind them of those locations. I’m also really excited to be spending more time behind a camera in these areas.
When can guests look forward to meeting you out in the field on a BCJ tour? Do you know when you’re getting started?
I head to Glacier in August to get started. After that, I’ll be in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Yosemite.
Thanks, P.J. Looking forward to working with you in Glacier next week, and hopefully many more tours in your very bright Backcountry Journeys future!
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 as nothing else could. This realization led to a relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, and he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years 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, a 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.
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)