Barack Obama Reminisces About Visiting Wild Places with His Family and Spooking the Secret Service

The former president and his chief White House photographer recently got together to flip through photos of the Obamas' trips to national parks

One of the perks of being president of the United States has got to be getting to travel to some of the most spectacular places on earth. Perhaps even better is getting renowned photographer Pete Souza to document those trips with images of you and your family.

Barack Obama would know. The former commander-in-chief and executive producer and narrator of the new Netflix series Our Great National Parks is reminiscing in an accompanying video about some of the trips they made together, flipping through photos that his "buddy" Souza took of him, former First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, as chief photographer during the Obamas' eight years in the White House.

Below is a look at what President Obama and Souza had to say about visits to national parks at the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Yosemite, Patagonia and in Alaska, including why the Secret Service agents with them became "the most nervous they've ever been" in a couple places.

"We were so confined in the White House," Obama, 60, says in the video of their walk down memory lane. "Every time we had one of these trips and you suddenly could see reminders of what this planet has to offer and emotions that were stirred … I would always come back feeling different in a way that no other experiences gave me."

The five-episode series Our Great National Parks, now streaming on Netflix, takes viewers to a few of the world's most iconic national parks on five continents. From Kenya to California to Chile, the show zooms in on the parks' fascinating residents — like the adorable kodkod, the smallest wild cat species in the Americas, filmed at Chile's Laguna San Rafael National Park for the first time or one of the few remaining Super Tusker elephants roaming the vast wilderness of the Tsavo National Parks in Kenya.

Stepping into these remote places "reminds you that what you do is just a blink of time when it comes to the planet," Obama says in his chat with Souza. "In that humility, that sense that you're just a small part of a huge chain of life — hopefully that makes you a better steward of the planet and makes you feel a little more responsibility to preserve for future generations. Plus, it makes for some good pictures."

Obama — whose legacy includes establishing and expanding protections for more than 550 million acres of America's public lands and waters, more than any other president in history — and other conservation groups hope Our Great National Parks viewers will be just as inspired by the planet's magnificent wild places.

The Wild For All initiative encourages people to visit them, protect the species who live there and share experiences on social media using #WildForAll. Learn more about the campaign here.

Grand Canyon

"The park rangers and probably the secret service behind me they got quite nervous," Souza says in the video of the image of President Obama stepping close to a ledge at Grand Canyon National Park.

"I was getting a little too close, "Sorta like my mom was the first time I went to the Grand Canyon when I was 11," Obama says of "getting a little too close."

Carlsbad Caverns

"Those caves were remarkable," Obama says, looking at an image of a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with his wife and their girls. "I didn't expect them to be as massive as they were. One thing you always get an impression of is what it must have been like if you were one of the first people to really see these places and survey them — the amount of courage that would be involved."

Speaking of courage …

"There came a point when they turned out all the lights," the president recalls. "You could not see your hand in front of your face."

"It's the most nervous the secret service has ever been because they could not see you. You disappeared," Souza says. "That was pretty spooky."


Calling it "as breathtaking a landscape as I've ever seen," the former president remembers in the video walking "past these waterfalls" amid rainbows formed by mist and the whole Obama family getting wet during a visit to Yosemite National Park.

"Sasha always brings up this particular place and this particular trip as a place she always wants to go back to," Obama says of his daughter. "I'm sure at some point she'll do that, probably with her own kids."

Capturing on film the presidential chopper Marine One at sunset eclipsing Yosemite's iconic granite rock formation Half Dome was Souza's "best memory" of the trip, he says.

"That was spectacular to see that helicopter coming right in," he adds.


When Obama attempted to get his own shot of the "crystalline" glacier lakes surrounding the mountains of Patagonia in Argentina, Souza offered a pro tip.

"This is when I was trying to get you to turn the phone horizontal to get, you know, a wider landscape," the photographer recalls.

"You often gave me instructions on my photography," Obama replies.


Calling it "one of the best trips we ever took during my presidency," Obama describes Alaska as "big" and "wild," with "a sense of scale and majesty in just about every part of that state."

So wild, in fact, he had a close encounter with a fish.

"One of our most lasting memories was when I lifted a salmon that had been handed to me by a couple of fisherwomen," Obama says. "One of them apparently decided to spawn on my shoe. I still remember she said, 'They really like you.'"

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