Plugging Into Nature

By Tom Clynes

One parent’s quest to raise analog kids in a digital age

Authors note: This essay first appeared in Issue 4 of Adventure Journal.

I was at the campfire, flipping pancakes, when 13-year-old Ethan came over and asked if he could use my phone.

“I want to show those guys a YouTube video,” he said, nodding toward his brother, Sam, and my sons, Charlie and Joe.

I looked up and arched an eyebrow. “Seriously, Ethan?” I said. “We all agreed this would be an electronics-free camping trip. Remember?”

“I know,” he said, “but it’s a video about camping.”

Before Ethan could fall further into the irony hole he was digging, I plopped a flapjack onto his plate and he rejoined the other boys. “I guess we’ll have to watch it when we get home,” he sighed.

Keeping kids connected with nature used to be simpler. For my own parents, it was mostly a matter of opening the back door and setting us loose in the neighborhood, where we’d find an orchard or a brush pile or some other semi-wild place to fool around.

But for 21st-century children, such improvised outdoors scenarios are increasingly rare. My parents’ generation didn’t use “parenting” as a verb, and what they called just kids being kids is now called free-range—a concept that alarms hyper-vigilant would-be advocates. Kids don’t have the same kind of license to run around outside, and even if they do there’s the ever-present draw of electronics. As smartphones and social media become ever more ubiquitous and embedded, the love of nature—what E.O. Wilson called biophilia—is morphing into videophilia, a love of electronic media.

“We’ve quickly gone from a place where the average child would choose active outside activities to one where kids choose sedentary activities involving computers and smartphones and video,” says conservation ecologist Patricia Zaradic. She and Oliver Pergams co-authored two studies that found that per-capita visits to national parks and forests, and other indicators of nature recreation, have declined in developed countries since the late 1980s, due in large part to the increase in the amount of time spent on electronic media.

The trends they’ve identified have alarmed conservationists, whose efforts to protect wilderness depend on the support of people who connected with nature during their formative years. A rising generation of adults with little experience with wild places and little understanding of their value may ultimately have a greater impact on biodiversity and ecosystem health than bulldozers, invasive species, or even greenhouse gas emissions, some think.

“If Pergams and Zaradic are right and these trends continue,” says Peter Kareiva, the former science director at the Nature Conservancy, “then the pervasive decline in nature recreation may well be the world’s greatest environmental threat.”

More immediately, the rapid shift from active outdoor activities to sedentary time with electronic devices has made today’s children the subjects of a vast, unplanned experiment—one whose effects are just beginning to be extensively studied and understood.

Of course, previous generations wrung their hands over the dangers of everything from comic books to rock n’ roll. Is this just the next thing for parents to fret and nag about?

“I’m entirely skeptical of those claims that every generation makes about how much worse things are now,” says Douglas Gentile, a child psychologist at Iowa State University. “But if you look at the data, it’s clear that there’s something going on now that’s entirely unprecedented.”

In the 1950s, the average adolescent spent about 55 hours per week sleeping, 30 to 35 hours in school, and another 15 eating and attending to personal care. That left 65 to 70 hours for everything else.

By 1980, TV had taken 14 hours of that free time. Television-watching doubled to 28 hours in 2000 and peaked at 31 hours in 2010. But by then video games were gobbling 13 hours and other computer time was taking 10.

“That leaves only 10 to 15 hours a week for anything else,” says Gentile. “And that’s the average, so half the kids have even less time.”

Until recently, much of the research on the effects of electronic entertainment focused on content. We know, for instance, that children who play violent video games tend to become more aggressive and less empathetic. The other side is what kids are not getting—the opportunity costs. “When children are spending 50-plus hours a week on a screen,” says Gentile, “that’s time not spent creating, exploring, running around outside.”

Though our understanding is still developing, a growing body of research from a variety of disciplines shows that digital technology has a measurable, negative impact on the human brain. Computers, video games, and smartphones—which, we may forget, did not exist 10 years ago—are tweaking our synapses in ways that affect our sleep, moods, concentration, memory, and learning. These effects are amplified in “digital natives”—younger people who started using technology during critical stages of brain development.

American teens are now smoking and drinking less, but are far more likely to be addicted to social media or video games. Many school counselors believe that social media is playing a major part in the spike in major episodes of teenage depression, which jumped by 37 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to a just-released study in the journal Pediatrics. Other recent research links technology overexposure in developing brains to cognitive delays, impaired learning, and attention deficits.

Sedentary kids who spend most of their time indoors are more likely to be obese and more likely to carry that extra weight into adulthood—boosting their risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Largely due to obesity, the current generation of children may be the first in modern human history in which a high percentage of individuals will not outlive their parents.

If exposure to digital technology has a demonstrated and measurable impact, so too does exposure to nature—and it seems to be almost wholly beneficial. Researchers have found that the ever-shrinking fraction of children who regularly connect with nature achieve more academically and are healthier physically, socially, and emotionally. Exposure to nature also contributes to faster stress recovery, improved self-esteem and cognitive functioning, and boosts in focus, self-discipline, problem-solving, and communication skills. Compared to digital junkies, they’re like the Six-Million-Dollar Man: smarter, faster, stronger, better in every way.

Beyond the evidence, I’m certain that helping my kids fall in love with the outdoors is critical to boosting their chances of having high-quality lives. I suspect that a species that loses touch with its habitat cannot be fully alive. When we can’t see a wild animal, stride over uneven ground, or sleep under the stars, we lose our connection to the original source of our values, and our imagination.

My own parents weren’t hikers or campers; it was my high school friends who opened up the backcountry for me. Later, I was able to build a career around traveling to wild, remote places. Today my job, like so many others, includes far too much screen time, to the point that the natural world can at times become a mere intellectual concept, severed from the joyful experience of the real thing. When that happens I feel less human; my life becomes less fun.

I desperately want to keep my children out of the traps I’ve fallen into. Back in 2003, a couple of years before Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the growing gap between children and the environment, my ex-wife and I moved our family from Brooklyn to Vermont. For the next seven years our sons’ world was forests and mountains, swimming holes and rope swings, sledding and skating and skiing. At times it seemed as if we were living in a Norman Rockwell painting, populated by like-minded rural progressives.

Divorce and its aftermath pulled us down from the Green Mountains and into the flatlands. We wound up in a Midwestern college town nearing the end of a long transition from countercultural oasis to could-be-anywhere suburb. My spirits drooped when I heard Charlie’s first-grade teacher gushing about new computers in the classroom (education researchers say that it’s clear that technology in lower-elementary classrooms impedes social development and learning); they fell even lower as I came to realize that no visit to a nearby park or “natural area” would ever be unaccompanied by the sound of motors.

When I saw a smart-phone-immersed parent at a restaurant, ignoring a child who was in turn ignoring her parent and the rest of the world as she poked away at a tablet, I’d cluck with disapproval. Before long, though, I’d catch myself sneaking glances at my own phone in restaurants, unable to resist a quick dopamine hit from a colleague’s comment, a dating-site match, a nugget of news or gossip. I didn’t need an expert to tell me that the behaviors we’re modeling for our kids are unhealthy. The more we attach to technology the more we detach from our children—who then attach to their own devices, often in addictive ways.

Even though my sons’ lives are less dominated by electronics than many of their friends, I’ve noticed that the more time they spend in the online world, the more distracted and irritable they seem. And I can’t resist comparing their childhoods to what I imagine I could give them if we could go back to a place where human-to-human connections are more valued, and where a four-season playground is as close as any door in the house.

But that’s probably not going to happen. With each passing year, electronics and all they bring are woven more deeply into our culture, and my dream of raising analog kids feels further away.

I know I’m not alone. “Parents often say that they feel out of control with technology, that they can’t have any impact,” says Gentile, the child psychologist. Gentile’s team studied 1,300 third- to fifth-graders over the course of a school year and found that when parents are involved in children’s use of electronics, the results are impressively positive. Kids whose parents set limits on media got more sleep, scored higher grades, exhibited more cooperative social behaviors, gained less weight, and were less aggressive with their peers.

“It’s clear that parents can have a big impact and that the ripple effects extend across several different areas of children’s lives, out into the future,” says Gentile.

We parents need to throttle back our own media use. And we need to insist that schools balance technology with outdoor classrooms and nature-based programming, and support novel and promising alternative programs like “forest kindergartens,” where much of the learning takes place in nature.

We also need to provide better outdoor alternatives for kids, or at least some communal oversight of them so other parents will feel comfortable letting their kids run wild—as Zaradic and her husband did when they moved their young family to a new neighborhood in Pennsylvania. “We made ourselves available to be outside and vaguely supervising the kids, so other parents could send their kids out to play,” the researcher says.

Within months, the presence of so many children playing outside actually began to attract more young families to the trend-bucking block.

“It became the neighborhood where the kids are always outside, creating their own fun,” says Zaradic. “It wasn’t fully intentional; we were just living out our values. But it created a cultural shift. All it takes is a couple of parents to say ‘I’ll be the one.'”

But there’s a big difference between domesticated, neighborhood nature and the Great Outdoors. It’s one thing to swing on a jungle gym; it’s another to camp in a real jungle.

When my sons and I spend more than two or three days away from houses and roads—whether we’re backpacking in the Grand Canyon, rock climbing at Joshua Tree, or caving in Kentucky—I begin to notice changes in my kids, and me. Away from electronics, we chill out and lose the insecurity of FOMO. My sons’ eyes, so used to looking down at two-dimensional screens, begin to brighten as they look up and around, taking in a world that’s infinitely richer than two dimensions could ever convey. Distracted by a jumping fish rather than the ping of an incoming message, the kids begin to pick up on details and cues with all their senses. I can see them regaining their equilibrium.

As they learn how to take care of themselves in the wild, their growing confidence is tangible. Freed from the captivity of to-do lists that don’t relate to survival or fun, we all begin to regain our footing, with the world and with each other. We operate together with an ease that’s harder to come by when we’re among the flat-screen distractions that we’ve somehow come to accept as real life.

I realize, though, that my dream of raising analog kids may not be possible, or even desirable. We’re not going back to the pre-internet days. And adolescents, wherever they grow up, need to be part of the social world of their peers. The surge in cyber-bullying notwithstanding, social networks help to connect kids when they’re not physically with each other. Portable tech has certainly made the outdoors more accessible to 21st century biophiles, helping us plan our adventures, guide us to trailheads, and remind us where we parked our cars. How many excursions has Google Earth inspired, how many expeditions has it made better, safer, more fully planned? How many more miles of running or vertical feel of cycling has Strava spurred into the world?

The answer, I realize, is not to think in terms of analog or digital, but to help kids (and maybe each other) develop what Louv calls “hybrid minds,” by balancing exposure and maximizing the skills that come from both the virtual and natural worlds.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart,” says Louv, who argues that the more tech-dependent we become, the more we’ll need nature to keep our senses.

That sort of duality seems worthy of embracing. If we can’t give our children simpler times, we can at least fortify them against the increasing stresses of society and help them learn how to keep themselves happy, healthy, and human.

Recently, my sons and I were looking at pictures—yep, on a computer—from summer backpacking trips. For the last few years we’d been tackling sections of Vermont’s Long Trail, which runs along the spine of the Green Mountains. I marveled at the transition from the days when the shy post-toddlers could walk just two or three miles a day and Dad carried everything and did everything. Now, they pack their own packs, set up tents, start fires, and laugh and learn from the thru-hikers we meet along the way.

And they jump off cliffs: We came across some shots we’d taken last year, right after our arrival at a campsite at a mountain lake rimmed by 30-foot-high rock ledges. It must have taken 25 minutes, maybe more, for Charlie and Joe to muster the courage to make the leap into the water, a feat that I recorded in a quick series of still photographs. Months later, gathered around the computer, we stitched the frames together and created a slow-motion moving image of their launch and long free-fall, followed by a splash and then two faces surfacing, elated and triumphant.

“We need to show this to Ethan,” Charlie said, laughing. It took me a moment, then I got it: We were finally watching that video about camping—and we’d made it ourselves.

Author, photojournalist and National Geographic speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment, education, and archaeology. His work appears in National GeographicThe New York TimesNature, Popular Science, The Atlantic, and other publications. As a keynote speaker, Tom works with organizations that want to catalyze creativity and engagement at their events, inspiring audiences and bringing them along on assignment to some of the world’s most intriguing places. To contact Tom and discover more about his memorable and inspiring programs, please email email

Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle

A vast, interconnected network of ancient cities was home to millions more people than previously thought.

By Tom Clynes

Author’s note: This story, which I reported in Guatemala and Mexico, attracted the world’s attention more than most. It garnered more than a million reads on the National Geographic website and was picked up by nearly every major media outlet. One of the more curious reactions came from some members of the Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who argued that the new discoveries affirmed the Book of Mormon’s  historical narrative.

In what’s being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.

Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in using digital technology for archaeological research.

Garrison is part of a consortium of researchers who are participating in the project, which was spearheaded by the PACUNAM Foundation, a Guatemalan nonprofit that fosters scientific research, sustainable development, and cultural heritage preservation. The project mapped more than 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala, producing the largest LiDAR data set ever obtained for archaeological research.

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

Read the entire story here.

Author, photojournalist and National Geographic speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment, education and archaeology. His work appears in National GeographicThe New York TimesNature, Popular Science, The Atlantic and other publications. As a keynote speaker, Tom works with organizations that want to catalyze creativity and engagement at their events, inspiring audiences with his stories and photos and bringing them along on assignment to fascinating locations around the globe. To contact Tom and find out more about his memorable and motivating programs, please email

Curiosity & Discovery … Your Dream Job?

A Q&A with Tom Clynes by Nicklaus Suino

[Nicklaus Suino is a writer, entrepreneur, reformed attorney, and martial arts expert. His passion is helping people transform themselves through the pursuit of mastery. You can learn more about his work at]

My readers and students know that I’m deeply committed to understanding the mastery process and helping people leverage it to accomplish great things. As part of my own exploration of expertise, I find myself asking acknowledged masters not just what they do for a living, but why they do it, and how they’ve been changed by the process. Their answers are always interesting and inspiring, and often provide impactful lessons for others on a growth trajectory.

So I feel very lucky to be able to interview writer and photographer Tom Clynes. Tom travels the world covering science, the environment and education for publications like National Geographic, Nature, The New York Times and Popular Science, where he’s a contributing editor. His writing and photos have also appeared in The Atlantic, Newsweek, Scientific American, The Sunday Times Magazine (London), and many other publications. He’s the author of two books that should be on everybody’s bookshelves, Wild Planet and The Boy Who Played With Fusion.

As an adventure keynote speaker, Tom brings audiences along to some of the most dramatic and intriguing places on Earth. His keynote presentations combine his authentic personality with extraordinary stories and photos. Listeners are captivated and inspired. Readers of this interview will also be inspired by Tom’s journey from where he once was to where he is today, and how he’s changed along the way.

The Questions

Tom, from my vantage point here in the foothills of obscurity, it’s pretty cool to be able to interview somebody who’s made a career out of exploring exotic places, compiling stories, taking photos, and getting published in high-profile outlets like National Geographic, Nature, Popular Science, and The New York Times. When did it first occur to you that you wanted to write for publications like these? Can you describe your state of mind and your aspirations at that time?

I was one of those super-curious kids who always wanted to know what was going on in the world. That obsessive curiosity was, I think, at least partly a defense mechanism to counter the boredom of growing up in a declining factory town in the Midwest. But mostly, I just wanted to find out for myself what was going on out there.

And I wanted to tell people about it! Chasing the dream of combining travel with writing and photography, l sold my car just after university graduation and bought a one-way ticket to London. I worked in the UK as a microbrewer and a bookstore clerk, then I just kept going—through Europe then Latin America and the south Pacific.

Every so often I’d come back to work and save enough money to hit the road again. I picked up gigs writing advertising copy and speeches for automotive executives. But journalism proved very tough to break into. I spent some very frustrating years banging my head against closed doors, and I considered giving up more than once. But I realized that I wasn’t going to improve the world (or any small part of it) if I kept spending my time helping to sell more Chryslers. So I dropped the business writing and committed full-time to journalism.

On the Snake River, Yukon Territory, Canada (Photo: Peter Mather)

And when did you know you could actually make a career out of writing and shooting photos for major magazines, that editors would actually answer your calls and assign you stories that bring you to places like central Africa or the Yukon or Komodo Island?

Well, no one was picking up the phone or sending me anyplace at first! The problem was partly that I didn’t know anyone in the industry—but mostly I just didn’t know what I was doing.

It took five years of mostly speculative work, writing and shooting stories for publications that paid almost nothing, before I started to master the craft and to build my reputation as a writer and photojournalist. Eventually, people began to take notice, and a few high-profile stories led to opportunities with more and more prestigious publications.

You’ve worked for National Geographic and other publications as both a professional writer and a professional photographer. Sometimes you shoot a story, sometimes you write it, sometimes you do both. How common is that combination?

It’s not common at all. That probably has less to do with any special talents I might have and more to do with the fact that trying to do both well can be incredibly nerve-wracking. At root they are both forms of storytelling. But a photographer needs to approach reporting in a very different way than a writer would.

In the field, a photojournalist needs to be “on” when the moment calls; if you miss it you may not have another chance. Writers of long-form journalism can often fill in some of the blanks before and after the fieldwork—in fact, it sometimes serves a story to be more laid back, to give relationships with sources time to develop.

Trying to get both words and pictures right—especially when you’re dealing with tight deadlines and challenging people or places—can really pushes the limits of cognitive capacity. And in some situations you literally don’t have enough hands to shoot and take notes at the same time. Teaming up with a top-notch writer or photographer can be a whole lot of fun.

Is it more appropriate to call you a “National Geographic photographer,” a “National Geographic writer,” a “National Geographic speaker,” or something else entirely?

I think of myself as roughly two-thirds writer, but it varies from year to year. I should mention that National Geographic photographers and writers work mainly on a freelance basis; we’re all independent. Likewise with National Geographic speakers. The days when magazines had photographers and writers on staff are mostly bygone.

Do you mind sharing how your journalistic endeavors evolved into your role as a National Geographic keynote speaker? I mean, there are a lot of writers and photographers who aren’t particularly good at public speaking. You must have had a moment in which you realized you were good at giving keynote presentations and liked it enough to keep at it. Could you talk about that evolution?

As a form of storytelling, the spoken word is the most immediately gratifying; it’s fantastic to see faces lighting up when you hit a note that really connects. But getting up in front of an audience didn’t come easily at first.

One thing that helped me get beyond my self-consciousness was that I have a pretty deep well of compelling stories and pictures to draw on. When I move the focus away from myself and just tell (and show) the story I can get into a sort of flow state that’s just amazing…and contagious. After my talks people will approach me and tell me that the presentation was a turning point that inspired them to take their lives in bold new directions. I’ve stayed in touch with several who are now doing some really important and impressive work.

I’ve read many of your stories, and you largely manage to keep yourself out of them…you’re a storyteller rather than a character in your own writing and keynote stories. But I have a deep curiosity about your experiences in traveling, taking photos, and writing. How do you balance what’s going on in your own interior landscape against the need to tell a story from a more detached point of view? Can you talk about that?

I don’t think my own story is nearly as interesting as the story of, say, the doctor who’s trying to stop an Ebola outbreak, or the conservationist who’s dodging bullets to save the animals in the Baghdad Zoo. Those sorts of stories are well suited to the style of reporting I’ve developed over the years, in which I set myself up as part participant, part fly on the wall. It’s definitely “immersion journalism,” but I’m most concerned with how and why an experience matters to the reader, not the writer. During Q&A sessions people usually want to know more about my own feelings and reactions, which I’m glad to share. But for the most part, it’s not about me.

You’re able to have experiences and create things that other people consider extraordinary. What’s the experience of expertise like for you? Does it feel ordinary because it’s just part of the life you’ve built, or are you sometimes able to appreciate the incredible progress you’ve made as a journalist, writer, and adventure speaker?

I have a life that’s rich in experience and non monetary rewards. Every major story is like starting a new career from scratch, and there’s tremendous freedom. Sometimes it feels quite ordinary, though, and sometimes I wish it could be more ordinary. There are moments when I’d love to have a job with health insurance and a guy with a ponytail to come down from IT and fix my computer.

Then again, my experience with getting into and out of challenging situations—say, negotiating through a roadblock staffed with skittish teenage soldiers—has given me a lot of confidence that I don’t think I’d be able to get in other ways. The frustrations can be pretty extravagant, but they’re balanced out by those “pinch me” moments when I feel like the luckiest guy on Earth. I had one recently in Guatemala, after I’d helicoptered into the middle of the jungle and was crawling around inside the ruins of a Mayan palace with the archaeologist who’d just discovered it. I don’t mind discomfort and deprivation if it allows me to experience something interesting or beautiful.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to build this kind of career, that I have this freedom, that I get to explore and discover things that matter to me and share them with the world through words and pictures.

May I ask if you work from passion, from discipline, or a mix of the two? Do you have any advice for others aspiring to excel, on either or both of those sources of accomplishment?

It always starts with passion. Then, if an idea is going to become more than just an idea, discipline has to come in. I hear older people advising young people to “Do what you love” and “Chase your dreams.” But they leave out the most important part: If you want to succeed at doing what you love and actually catch those dreams, you’re going to have to be incredibly rigorous and tenacious.

How does offering yourself to groups as a National Geographic photographer and keynote speaker work? What is it about you sharing your stories and photos in keynote presentations that helps these organizations thrive? If an organization brings in an adventure keynote speaker like you to inspire their team, where’s the payoff? How does the inspiration and energy turn into palpable benefits for them?

To me, the terms “motivational speaker” or “inspirational speaker” carry connotations of something cheesy and vacuous. Do my talks inspire? Yes! They also entertain and challenge and open up thinking—but in an authentic way. I use real stories and pictures to bring audiences along “on assignment” with me to exotic and intriguing places. They meet real people—explorers, conservationists, archaeologists, virus hunters, Ebola doctors—who shaped their lives into extraordinary, world-changing adventures. They discover how these heroic people did it, why they did it, and why the world needs all of us to pursue what we really care about.

The programs I’ve developed have proven particularly useful for organizations that want to catalyze creativity and stimulate engagement at the beginning of an important gathering. I work with my clients to customize a program that supports the event’s goals and moves their constituents forward into the rest of the meeting with an anything-is-possible mindset that can generate extraordinary results.

Is what drives you at this point in your career very different than what drove you in the beginning, when you were first falling in love with the possibilities of storytelling?

For me, it’s still fundamentally about curiosity. I’m curious about everything and everyone, and I think I’m stuck with that. No matter how much I read or see on a screen, I don’t think I’ll be truly well-informed if I’m seeing the world mainly through other people’s filters. I believe that it’s intrinsically worthwhile to venture out and discover, for myself, what’s happening out there.

Yukon: Canada’s Wild West

By Tom Clynes

Author’s Note: The Yukon, with its brawling, big-mountain physicality, is one of those places that tugs on adventurous imaginations. It’s also one of those places that tends to draw passionate people with passionate opinions. The debates that have overtaken Canada’s Far North are emblematic of the tension that runs through many of the world’s still-unspoiled places—between those who would keep it wild, and those whose success depends on digging it up.

As it turned out, this National Geographic feature would be one of the most rugged and most fun assignments I’ve ever experienced. Over three weeks I explored high ridges with gold prospectors, paddled through impossibly beautiful Arctic valleys with conservationists, and hunted caribou with some of the last hunter-gatherers on the continent. I came back with mountains of material—enough notes and photographs to fortify four magazine stories (including this one) and enliven plenty of keynote talks. As for the debate over the future of the northern wildlands, it is still far from settled.

Shawn Ryan recalls the hungry years, before his first big strike.

The prospector and his family were living in a metal shack on the outskirts of Dawson, the Klondike boomtown that had declined to a ghostly remnant of its glory days. They had less
than $300 and no running water or electricity. One night, as wind sneaked through gaps in the cladding, Ryan’s wife, Cathy Wood, worried aloud that their two children might even freeze to death.

Today the couple could buy—and heat—just about any house on Earth. Ryan’s discovery of what would eventually amount to billions of dollars’ worth of buried treasure has helped reinfect the Yukon with gold fever, and fortune seekers have stormed the Canadian territory in numbers not seen since the 1890s.

The minerals rush has reanimated Dawson’s weather-tilted bars and bunkhouses, whose facades glow in pastel hues during midsummer’s late-night sunset. The scene could be from more than a century ago, with bearded men bustling along wooden sidewalks and muddy streets, hooting and trading rumors of the latest strikes and price spikes. Inside Diamond Tooth Gerties casino, miners mingle with tourists and cancan girls, thronging four deep around beer taps and poker tables.

Read the entire story here. 

Author, photojournalist and adventure speaker Tom Clynes travels the world covering the adventurous sides of science, the environment and education. His work appears in publications such as National Geographic, The New York Times, Nature, Popular Science and The Atlantic. As a keynote speaker, Tom inspires audiences and brings them along on assignment to fascinating locations around the globe. Whether your group or organization is in search of adventure speakers, environmental speakers or your own in-house “National Geographic speaker series,” Tom’s presentations will earn high praise. To contact Tom and find out more about his memorable and inspiring programs, email