Map Of North America

Creative Concepts: Ecological Experiential Documentation

As I continue to travel the world—and spend more time exploring my own big backyard right here in North Carolina—I’ve come to realize that I can apply my academic training, professional experience, intelligence, and creative abilities in a combined effort over the next few decades to produce what I think and believe will be experiential documents worth consuming as materials for lifelong learning and understanding.  I am conceptualizing an ongoing series of experiential documentation, taking appropriate form over time as ebooks, print books, magazines, interactive apps, websites, and perhaps even videos.

This concept first came to me when I was looking at a map of the United States and thinking about the difference between national parks and national monuments.  Based on my personal experience onsite at various national monuments, coupled with my research and perusal of the maps of these monuments and the surrounding areas, I realized that I would love to commit to exploring and documenting a sense of place in each of these areas—demonstrating their importance as sacred spaces for maintaining the natural order of our relationship with the environment and all other species with which we share it.

So, to put a stake in the ground, I created a map of all the US National Monuments.  (Yes, there is at least one that does not appear in the image.)

Map of United States National Monuments
Map of United States National Monuments

Inspired by my recent trip to Helsinki, which included a stay at the hostel on Suomenlinna, I decided to add UNESCO World Heritage sites to the map.  I figured it would be interesting to see how many UNESCO sites in North America are within reasonable proximity to US National Monuments, thus allowing me to combine several locations into exploratory experiential documentation journeys of 1-3 months in duration.

Map Of North America
US National Monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North America

Then, I started thinking about my own backyard some more.  Essentially, I’m surrounded by national and state land.  Stone Mountain State Park, Bullhead State Natural Area, and the Blue Ridge Parkway (and Doughton Park) are within walking distance of my home.  I spend a lot of time walking around these enchanted lands.

Hiking several trails in Stone Mountain State Park

I know these lands well, and I continue to understand them more and more with each additional footstep.

With a quick internet search, I found that someone has put together a Google Map of all the North Carolina State Parks.

So I downloaded this map as a KML and quickly added it as a layer to my map.

Map of North America with US National Monuments, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and North Carolina State Parks
Close-up view of North Carolina and surrounding area

My intent is to combine my love, understanding, and appreciation of the complex ecological systems of our natural and built environments with my love for spending periods of varied duration alone in the wilderness, maintaining fitness and wellness through ample movement and meditation.  Documenting these experiences via my passions—natural photography, learning systems design, and writing for intellectual and creative expression—is how I hope to spend the rest of my life on this planet.

There will, of course, be the necessity of conducting regular contracted design and development work.  One must feed the monkey, at least enough to keep it alive.

Structuring the Experiential Documentation Document Experience Model

For each of the North Carolina State Parks, I intend to build a model for experiential documentation that is replicable and extensible for consumption and production beyond just myself.  If more people can join in my effort, iterations of these documents can be produced and consumed on a shorter timeline.

Here’s the basic idea for the structure of the experiential documentation, using Stone Mountain State Park as an example.

Interspersed with an ongoing narrative of my own personal experiences in these places, these documents will include detailed explorations and explanations of:

Physical/Chemical Systems and Cycles


Human Factors


Black Jack Ridge
Bridle Loop
Bridle Out-and-Back
Cedar Rock
Middle Falls and Lower Falls
Stone Mountain Loop
Widow’s Creek
Wolf Rock
Garden Creek
Bullhead Creek

Creeks and Rivers
Big Sandy Creek
Little Sandy Creek
Stone Mountain Creek
Rich Mountain Creek
Bullhead Creek
Horse Cove Branch
Widows Creek
Garden Creek
East Prong Roaring River
Harris Creek
Lovelace Creek

The documents will be components that can be combined as a singular volume (e.g., NC State Parks, Stone Mountain State Park, Winter in NC State Parks, Creeks and Rivers of NC State Parks, Geology of NC State Parks, Flora of NC State Parks, Flora of Stone Mountain State Park, etc.) or consumed individually, such as Big Sandy Creek.

In the Big Sandy Creek example—which holds true for every waterway in every state park—I intend to provide a beautiful and informative terrain map of the creek, as well as photographs of as many details of the creek and its surroundings over time and across seasons as possible, using an aesthetic similar to these shots I captured a few years ago.

Erlandson Photography: Big Sandy Creek, Stone Mountain State Park
Erlandson Photography: Big Sandy Creek, Stone Mountain State Park
Erlandson Photography: Big Sandy Creek, Stone Mountain State Park
Erlandson Photography: Big Sandy Creek, Stone Mountain State Park

To build the maps, I’ll use accurate projections based on data files pulled from Strava (or some other personal mapping application), imported into a shapefile data program such as qGIS, then imported through to a cartography program such as Ortelius.  Showcased on the Ortelius website are a couple examples which provide some level of approximation for the mapping aesthetic that I have in mind.

Obviously, these individual components would be continuously updated over time, as I spend more and more time on location.

I intend to apply a similar model for documenting US National Monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and any other area types to which this experiential documentation model can be applied.

Understanding The Experiential Documentation Artifact(s)

Providing an evolving sense of place over time, iterations of these experiential documentation artifacts will take the form of eBooks and printed books (or magazine-style documents), at the discretion of the reader—evolving to include an increasing level of interactivity through a publication-consumption experiential information platform that is currently in its conceptual stages.  Essentially, these hybrid print-digital book/document experiences will serve as evolving components in a human-systems interaction design process.

For now, this visual design framework (see the Lumina template) will give you a sense of how these more traditional print and eBook formats will manifest as artifacts of experiential documentation.

Visual examples from the "Lumina" magazine template
Visual examples from the “Lumina” magazine template

Here’s an interactive example of this template on ISSUU.

What Comes Next?

I’m in the process of creating some sample eBooks to test a digital download payment and delivery system (such as SendOwl) through my website.  Most likely the first two sample eBooks will be about my experiences along the hauntingly deserted coasts of Central California and the enchanting mountains and fjords of Lofoten, Norway.

Erlandson Photography: Coastlines &emdash;
Erlandson Photography: Marina State Beach, California
Erlandson Photography: Norway &emdash; Bunesfjorden, Moskenesøya
Erlandson Photography: Bunesfjorden, Moskenesøya

I’d like to offer these first few samples at extremely low (loss lead) prices to encourage people to test the payment system and get a deal for being early adopters.  As I generate interest and viability in the digital download system, I will also be choosing a suitable print-on-demand publishing service and establishing an initial level of reader interest for printed experiential documentation.

In addition to figuring out the viability of a subscription model versus pay-as-you-go for these digital documents, I’m not sure the best way to go about taking pre-orders for printed artifacts of these documents.  Most likely I’ll engage in some crowdfunding to generate interest and support offset print runs of initial iterations of each document.

I’m open to feedback and suggestions, of course.  What would you like to see first?  Stone Mountain?  Doughton Park?   Another North Carolina State Park?  Let me know. 🙂

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