Eric Leifer

Canyon Explorer

Young Explorers Grantee


Photograph courtesy Eric Leifer

Picture of Eric Leifer

Photograph by Eric Leifer

Birthplace: Anaheim, California

Current City: Hilo, Hawaii

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Growing up I was not very creative, honestly. I had fantasies of being a firefighter, astronaut, superhero, and so on. After receiving my first miniature mountain bike I was determined to travel around the world riding my bike. I joined the Boy Scouts shortly afterwards and the idea of being an adventurer and explorer quickly took over. It was a wild dream to begin with. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did you get started in your field of work?

The summer I graduated high school changed my life. Five friends and I set out on a 35-day venture down the Green River, taking it two hundred and something miles to its confluence with the great Colorado River. By the end of that trip I was hooked on expedition-style trips. I moved shortly afterwards to Flagstaff, Arizona, in search of higher education at the university; when in reality I ended up spending far more time reading the water of the rivers, studying the shifting sands of the canyons and pondering the endless vistas of the desert than I ever did in any classroom. By the time I graduated I had honed my skills as an adventurer down to a science. I went in seeking a B.S. in environmental science and graduated with masters in desert exploration.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to exploration?

The places I have chosen to explore and photograph are so incredibly unique it still amazes me every single day of my life. There exists no other on the planet quite like them; still pristine and untouched from the effects of human influence, these are some of the last places left in the world that are not, nor will they probably ever be, significantly affected or altered by humans. Too many people believe that all has been lost, that the world is just one big ball of concrete. I feel like it is a duty, a privilege, and an incredible honor to help show that there are some places that will never change. Bringing back photographs and stories of remote and rarely seen locations returns hope and inspiration to people's hearts. If I can change just a few people's perspectives then my life has been a perfect success.

What's a normal day like for you?

Ha, this answer seems to change from week to week for me. Every day is a new opportunity, every week another adventure.

Do you have a hero?

Edward Abbey, Jane Goodall, anyone who is deeply passionate about what they believe in will always inspire me.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

While exploring several technical slot canyons of Grand Canyon National Park, a few of them required the use of small, four-foot boats called pack rafts. They roll down to the size of a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad and weigh just a few pounds. In all my days adventuring there has been nothing quite like floating down the Grand Canyon, one of the most infamous stretches of river in the world, in a boat the size of a bathtub.

Most challenging? The hike back up to the rim with all of our gear! Many trips require significant elevation gain over a short distance on no trails. Add on a 50-plus-pound pack in 100-degree heat and it can be very unpleasant. Really makes you appreciate pavement.

What are your other passions?

I do have a somewhat artistic side, I love playing music and writing. I have been picking on my guitar and blowing in a harp for about eight years. Bikes have been a passion of mine for nearly a decade as well. A huge side hobby of mine is fixing and building old, broken-down bicycles and finding them new homes.

What do you do in your free time?

Relax! Downtime and resting days are cherished.

Be an Explorer

In Their Words

Too many people believe that all has been lost, that the world is just one big ball of concrete. I feel like it is a duty, a privilege, and an incredible honor to help show that there are some places that will never change.

—Eric Leifer

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