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Explorer Spotlight: Johnathan Valdez

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Name: Johnathan Valdez | Age: 30 | Location: Denver, CO.

What’s your day job?
I work as a design engineer for Siemens Building Technologies. Basically, I'm working to find ways to make our buildings smarter and more energy efficient.

What are your favorite things to do outside?
Pretty much everything! Camping, hiking, fishing, backpacking... you name it, if I'm outside then I'm happy. I'm always open to trying new things and broadening my horizons. If I had to choose, however, I'd say that hiking anywhere above tree line is my favorite. I'm a sucker for high alpine lakes.

What first drew you to the outdoors?
I grew up in a very rural part of Colorado on a farm, so we were always outside either working or playing. I joined the Boy Scouts in elementary and my interested in the outdoors just sky rocketed from there. We were always going on trips exploring nature, learning new skills, and seeing everything that the outdoors has to offer. There's so much to explore in Colorado, plus I feel most at home when I'm in nature, so I start to get cranky if I don't get outside on a regular basis. Nothing beats hitting the open road, putting your phone on airplane mode, and immersing yourself in wilderness; it's like a reset button for the stress of the modern world.

What’s your favorite hometown adventure? ...and, almost as important, where’s your favorite spot to get a beer after?
Hiking anywhere in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It's a short drive from Denver and, as I call it, the little brother to Rocky Mountain National Park. I love that there is rugged, untamed wilderness right in my backyard, so I keeping finding my way back. Any time we adventure in the IPW I make sure to stop at the Dark Horse in Boulder on the way back for a burger and a beer. Oh, and while you're at it, splurge on an order of hot wings, you've earned it!

What’s your essential gear that never gets left at home?
Other than my camera? I'd have to say my Bluetooth speaker. I'm a huge audiophile so I gotta have my jams for when the day is done and we're relaxing around the campfire with a beer or some whiskey. I don't listen to music on the trail, but I gotta have it when I'm ready to unwind.

What’s your favorite trail snack?
PB&J, gotta go with the classic staple. We won't get into the finer details of strawberry vs grape right now...

Any go-to soundtracks when you’re hitting the road?
* "Hells Bells" & "Thunderstruck" - AC/DC. Usually I'm up at 3 AM to hit the road for my adventure, so I need something to wake me up and get the blood pumping, both these tunes are the first to get played in the early morning.* When I'm camping my music definitely leans toward classic rock, but it's mostly Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, Steve Miller Band, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Cage the Elephant, Portugal. The Man, Tame Impala, and old school rap/hip hop.* Oh, and "Danger! High Voltage" by Electric Six. The video is definitely...odd, don't ask, but damnit the song is catchy. Just play it, you'll see what I mean.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened while you were adventuring? And/ or funniest?
Scariest would be during our camping trip to Lost Creek Wilderness this past season. It was early summer and we set out to a bluebird day with sunny skies. We reached our destination and set up camp in the evening. Shortly there after a thunderstorm quickly moved in on us and we soon found ourselves smack dab in an electric storm. It seemed like every 10 seconds there was another strike so it felt like we were in the middle of a light show. I always tell people that weather in Colorado can change on a dime, that day it was definitely true.

Funniest would be during a trip to Grand Teton with my girlfriend this past summer. We decided to ​​wake up early and watch the sunrise from the summit of Signal Mountain. Mind you, this was on our last day in the park so we were pretty tired after 5 solid days of driving and adventuring. In the 30 minutes it took to drive to the summit the commentary I heard from her in a half-asleep, sleep deprived stupor was comedic gold.

Who’s your number one adventure partner-in-crime? Who inspires you?
My girlfriend, Kayla. She's always up for an adventure and isn't afraid of getting dirty. We have checked off a lot of adventure items together and have our camping operations down to a science. Setting up and breaking down camp practically sounds like a NASA pre-flight check these days. I couldn't imagine setting out without her, she's fearless, has an adventurous spirit, and embraces my childlike wonderment of nature.

My family inspires me. My dad grew up on the trail herding sheep to the high mountain ranges in the San Juans and has stories for days, he's one of the toughest S.O.B.s I know. But the fact of the matter is everyone is my family has done so much with their lives and are all so successful; they drive me to make sure I'm not the slacker of the bunch!

What are your top destinations for adventure travel?
Patagonia, The Alps, New Zealand, and Iceland. All of these are on top of the bucket list, now it's just a question of which ones to check off first.

What’s on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?
A trip to the Canadian Rockies next summer, for sure. As for the more immediate future, snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Show us your most memorable photo, and tell us about it!
This is the sunrise from the trip to Grand Teton National Park that I mentioned earlier. This was last day in Wyoming and neither of us wanted to leave, but we wanted it to go out with a bang. I remember the drive out like it was yesterday because it was extremely foggy and cloudy, I was worried that perhaps we woke up for nothing. But as we continued up the mountain we rose above the inversion and I could see the Tetons poking out in the predawn light. I set up the camera while Kayla put out the camping chairs and we waited for the sun to come up. Watching the Tetons explode with colors from the alpenglow and the morning sun was something that I will always remember. It made our last day so memorable, but also bittersweet because while we were extremely happy that we got to witness something so beautiful, we both knew that soon we would have to leave it behind and return to the real world.

And last but not least…What’s your personal motto?
Tomorrow is not promised, take advantage of the time you have now and live each day to the fullest.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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