Travel Lens: Max Lowe’s World

Montana native Max Lowe is one of National Geographic’s Adventurists, exploring the planet outside his comfort zone with a camera in hand. 

Here’s a look at the world through his unique lens:

Megan Heltzel: You’re based in Bozeman, Montana. Why, out of every place on Earth, do you choose to make your home there?

Max Lowe: I was born in Bozeman and grew up in this small mountain community.

I think a hometown has a special place in your heart regardless of where you’re from, but many people leave their hometowns when their ambitions and dreams lead them elsewhere.

No matter how much I travel, Bozeman has always been the place I want to come home to. Its small-town feel, an amazing community of friends who love being outside, and the fact that I can leave my house and be skiing, fly fishing, or climbing inside a half an hour has made it a hard place to leave.

When someone comes to visit you in Bozeman, where’s the first place you take them?

Into the Paradise Valley and down to the east entrance to Yellowstone.

[I often take for granted the fact] that I live on the edge of one of the most beautifully diverse national parks in the [United States]. Taking a visitor there to see the terraced hot springs in Mammoth and the bison and elk wandering along the roadways followed by a dip in the boiling river—a spot where the hot springs flow into the Yellowstone River—are pretty good reminders.

What’s your favorite hometown quirk?

I love skiing; it’s definitely my passion sport, and nothing beats a powder day in a skier’s book.

On top of Hotel Baxter in downtown Bozeman—the tallest building in town—there’s a little blue light that starts blinking when Bridger Bowl gets more than six inches of snow.

Ever since I was a little kid, looking for the blue light through the wintery night skies, and knowing the next day would be a powder day, has been a beloved tradition for me.

Montana is a beautiful state, but it might not be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Why do you think it should be added? 

This state continues to captivate me and I’ve lived here all my life. Last summer, I took a trip across Montana for National Geographic Adventure, and the breadth of different landscapes and experiences on offer here is incredible.

I skied August snow, longboarded the highest highway in the Rocky Mountains, camped on pristine lakes amidst towering peaks, surfed on rivers, and climbed off the beaten path and largely alone amidst the beautiful landscape of Glacier National Park.

The breadth of largely still empty wild lands and the potential for escape is Montana’s biggest draw.

Coming from a long line of adventurers, I can only imagine the types of vacations you went on as a kid. Can you recall a childhood trip that changed your life? 

From as far back as I can remember I was exploring the world. My parents didn’t live a conventional life; they loved traveling and spending time outdoors. By the time I was eight, I’d traveled to Thailand, across Europe, and had slept in tents, cabins, and out under the stars.

I think the experience from my childhood that sits strongly in my memory is climbing Grand Teton just before my 12th birthday with my father, [famous mountaineer] Alex Lowe, and some family friends. I could never have known that it would be the last major adventure I would have with my dad, as he passed away in an avalanche in Tibet soon after that, but sharing in his passion for being in the mountains really hammered home my appreciation and love for being beyond the fringe of human comfort, and in the wilds.

Why is travel important? How has it changed you?

Travel has opened my eyes to how humans interact with their world. Seeing foreign cultures and how people live, in wealth and poverty, all over the planet has given me an appreciation for my own culture and history, as well as humility and gratitude for my place in life. I think [time spent] traveling—putting yourself in situations where you are completely out of your element and have to adapt to a foreign culture, language, or physical surroundings—is when you grow the most.

If you could recommend one place in the world to visit, what would that be?

I’ve been to so many amazing places, but if I had to recommend only one place to visit I think it would be Nepal. Besides Montana, it’s the place where I have traveled most extensively, and where I feel the most attachment to the landscape and people.

From the streets of Kathmandu, which feel so wild and foreign, to the beautiful and awe-inspiring peaks of the Himalaya, this country has me sold.

What’s the best travel advice anyone’s ever given you? Do you have any tips of your own?

To say “Yes” to things you wouldn’t normally consider. When you’re traveling, you’re presented with so many opportunities to do things that might be outside of your norms, but those usually turn out being the most memorable experiences.

My one piece of travel advice would be to try traveling by yourself at least a few times in life. When you travel solo, you are the only one at the helm, which means that you can do whatever strikes you as worthy without any exterior opinion. Being alone in your travels also allows you to hone your independence, which I think is of paramount importance. Having to make every decision on your own is a powerful thing.

Your writing and photography earned you a National Geographic Young Explorers grant. What made you want to start taking pictures?

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I think my passion for sharing experiences that are special to me and [the idea of] being able to capture the world from my own point of view is what made me want to become a photographer. I really enjoy the storytelling process.

You’ve done some pretty exciting work with National Geographic Adventure as the Adventurist. What are you working on right now?

I am currently doing post-production on my latest adventures with National Geographic, one involving a road trip with friends up the Pacific Northwest coast north of Seattle, and the other [involving] an off-the-beaten-path spring break trip to Baja California, in Mexico.

I am also working on a short film [that examines] water conservation in southwestern Montana as well as the sport of inland river surfing.

Since beginning your work with the Society, have you had any “National Geographic” moments? Can you tell us about one?

Since my work began with the Society I’ve had a handful of “National Geographic” moments, but one that comes to mind is swimming with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and photographing them on assignment for Nat Geo Adventure.

During the spring the huge sharks spend most every day feeding off the coast of La Paz, and the simple act of being in the water to document such beautiful and unique creatures was unbelievable. Taking an experience that many might have and then putting my own creative spin on it through images and words is the reason I became a photographer.

What’s your dream assignment, if the sky’s the limit?

To go on assignment alongside one of the National Geographic greats, past or present, such as Galen Rowell, David Allan Harvey, Jimmy Chin, or Paul Nicklen. Being able to learn from one of them, and share our mutual passion for outdoor adventure, would be an amazing experience.

Megan Heltzel is an associate producer on National Geographic Travel’s digital team. Follow her adventures in travel on Twitter @MeganHeltzel.

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