Vicarious Ventures: Virtually Transporting Adventurers To National Parks

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In 1916, the National Park Service was signed into existence by President Woodrow Wilson to coalesce the protection and management of national parks and monuments under a single federal organization. One hundred years later in 2016, Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp visited their 59th national park, the last stop on their journey to visit all 59 national parks in 59 weeks. Their adventure captured national attention along the way. “As I was on this trip, I was taking 360 degree photos and writing blog posts for fun. I never imagined how much news coverage I would be getting -- NPRPBSAmerican Airlines -- the whole nine yards,” says Darius, founder of Vicarious Ventures.

The media attention was stunning, but something else caught Darius’ eye and led to the creation of Vicarious Ventures. “I was posting my 360-degree photos on Google Earth as I was traveling. A couple of months later, I saw that one of these photos had been viewed 100,000 times. And I was just like, ‘Wait, what?’ I hadn’t told anyone or advertised these in any way, but these photos were getting more attention and traffic than my whole website at the time. So I saw that this was something people were craving and began thinking about what I could do to better connect parks with people.”

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Darius’ love for the national parks goes back generations in his family. It started with his grandfather: “He was there at the founding of Shenandoah National Park in 1935, though he was just a kid at the time,” Darius recalls. “I had my grandfather’s notebook from when he rafted the Grand Canyon in 1983 when I visited, so I’m drifting down the Colorado River, flipping through the pages and pointing out a spot along the river and saying, ‘Oh, that’s where my grandfather had lunch 32 years ago.’”

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That legacy was passed down to Darius’ father, who took Darius and his older brother Cyrus to parks whenever he could. “When I was a kid, my family always went to national parks. That’s what we did for spring break, summer break, sometimes even Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Darius recalls. “But when I was 3 years old, my father was diagnosed with skin cancer and was told he had 6 months to live. He still decided to take my brother and me out to national parks… I found out later that my dad had a catheter in the entire time we were traveling, and that was just… whoa. My dad was fighting cancer with a catheter in and dealing with two kids while taking them out to national parks. That’s insane.”

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Darius is working to bring all of his family’s history and love for the national parks to everyone.  “About 330 million people visit our national parks every year in person,” Darius states. “But that group of people has the time and finances to visit these places -- to be able to take time off from work and have the money to travel is a luxury many Americans don’t have. To me, this project is really about capturing the essence of the national parks. The national parks were created for the people to experience -- all the people. What I would love is to bring all of the national parks virtually to every one of the over 50 million K-12 students in the US. Instead of putting every kid in Yosemite, I want to bring Yosemite to every kid,” summing up his vision.

Darius has bigger plans for Vicarious Ventures beyond schools, however. “I don’t want a hundred thousand users. I want a billion users -- or more. I want 100% of the planet to visit Yosemite,” he says earnestly. “And even beyond the US, how about bringing Kruger National Park in South Africa or the national parks of India to the US and to the world? Let’s share these not just national, but worldly treasures with everyone in a way that, honestly, makes for a more sustainable world. If you can go visit Kruger virtually and not have to fly to South Africa and increase your carbon footprint, you can show your appreciation for the ecosystem of the park by protecting it with your actions,” he explains.

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Coming back to civilization after over a year has been tough in some ways for Darius. “I know now that I just have to go outside during the workday,” he says. “When I sit at a desk the entire day, I’m just dying inside. Sitting at a desk for 9 hours a day and not moving or going on adventures is just soul crushing for me. So I have to balance that time inside on a computer doing work with saying, ‘I’m going to get up at 4:30 and catch the sunrise, because that’ll just make my day.’”

“The other struggle I’ve had coming back to society,” Darius adds, “is that people always want to go to happy hour, or they want to get coffee and chit-chat, but… I just don’t. Instead, I’ll say, ‘Hey, there’s a meteor shower tonight, let’s go and check out the stars.’ Every day when I was out on the road, I was seeing something new, something crazy, something beautiful. And I feel now that the small talk, the ‘Oh, how was your day? Well, the traffic was pretty bad today’... I just can’t relate.” 

“When you’re at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you realize how small and insignificant you are. And that’s a really good feeling because all of the stresses in your life don’t even begin to compare to the vastness of the Grand Canyon,” Darius continues. “When something goes wrong in my day, it’s just whatever, no big deal. But most people don’t have that perspective. So how do I do that? How can I give them that experience? Those are the moments I live for,” Darius says, finishing his story. “For me, that’s the best kind of joy, giving people a new experience that just blows them away.” 

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Darius expands on his own entrepreneurship experiences through the lens of his exploration of the national parks. “I relate to my trip a lot when I think about entrepreneurship,” he says. “Sometimes, what it takes is getting up at 4 AM, driving for an hour, hiking four miles in the dark with a headlamp, and having a granola bar and cold coffee for breakfast to get that gorgeous sunrise. “All of that sucked -- except the sunrise, of course,” Darius recounts, laughing. “But I’m doing it because at the end, I get to give people a virtual tour of the Grand Canyon, and I’m going to blow their minds. And that’s why it’s worth it to me.”

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About The Founder

Darius Nabors graduated from the University of Virginia in 2007 with a B.A. in Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law. He has taught 4th grade and was a corps member with Teach for America. Darius has also worked extensively at the University of Virginia with the Office of Residence Life, the School of Nursing, most recently as an Admissions Coordinator at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Darius has been a lifelong supporter and visitor of the US national parks. 

Read more about the trip Darius Nabors and his friend Trevor Kemp undertook to see all 59 national parks in 59 weeks at http://59in59.com. You can follow Darius’ continued travels in the wilds and parks of America on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

All photos in this article were provided by Darius Nabors.

 

About the Author

Christopher Nelson is a rising second year at New York University in Shanghai, China. He has experience in business operations as well as legal research and contract work. Christopher is currently interning at the UVA Darden School of Business Innovation Lab this summer as an interviewer and journalist.