2013 Dwight Patterson Alumnus of the Year Award
criteria: This award is presented to an alumna or alumnus who has achieved outstanding
success in his or her professional career. Service to Northern Arizona
University or the Alumni Association is not a requirement. Preference is given
to those who have earned degrees from Northern Arizona University.
Graduated: 1986 MS in Geology
Director of Expedition Photography, Lindblad Expeditions-National
Geographic, Sante Fe, New Mexico
Most influential figures: Dr. Larry Middleton, Dr. David Best, Dr. Ronald
memories: Field work at the Grand Canyon for his MS thesis on the Kaibab
Formation, the rimrock of the Grand Canyon, and the many field trips
around the southwest with the geology professors.
To explorer, photographer and author Ralph Hopkins, the landscape of
northern Arizona is picture perfect. A deep appreciation for the Grand Canyon
led Ralph to pursue a master’s degree in geology at NAU. Already a published
photographer, he captured images as a student that would later be published by Arizona Highways. Working as a
naturalist for an expedition company bloomed into the opportunity to create a
photo expedition program. On a winding ride not unlike the swelling motion of
the Colorado River, Ralph has journeyed the globe as a photographic adventure
For more than 20 years Ralph has photographed countless expeditions, touring
isolated areas and capturing stunning imagery of the natural world. During the 1990 Colorado River Expedition
with the U.S. Geological Survey, Ralph matched historical photos from the
1989-90 Stanton Expedition, which were published in a leading book, entitled Grand Canyon Geology. He is the author
and photographer of Hiking Colorado’s
Geology and Hiking the Southwest’s
Geology. Ralph’s newest work is Nature
Photography – Documenting the Wild World, a workbook which pushes the
creative and artistic side of photo making.
He is a regular contributor to National
Geographic, Nature’s Best, Outside, and Outdoor Photographer magazinesand is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Ralph’s concentration hinges on documenting conservation and environmental
issues in critical habitats, such as the Galápagos Islands, Baja
California and the Sea of Cortez, Mexico and the shrinking ice mass in the
Artic. Ralph shares his inspiration for photography through instructing others,
hosting photo adventure excursions for National Geographic Expeditions, Santa
Fe Photographic Workshops, and Arizona
Highways Photo Workshops. A guest
lecturer for National Geographic
Traveler’s Photography Seminars, he ventures the nation demonstrating best
practices for travel photography.
Ever the adventurer and trail-blazer, it’s not surprising that Ralph
encourages students to follow their passion and not accept “no” for an answer.
His application to the graduate geology program at NAU was initially denied,
but unnerved, he persisted and eventually convinced a professor to take him on
as an extra. His determination paid off, and he soon found himself conducting
field work at the Grand Canyon for his thesis. Ralph recalls that his NAU
experience gave him the confidence to follow his dreams.
He took full advantage of all the outdoors has to offer in northern Arizona,
participating in hiking, skiing and whitewater rafting as a student. Ralph’s
coursework in geology gave him the opportunity to gain an intimate
understanding of the Grand Canyon, a relationship which is renewed annually as
he leads photo expeditions along the Colorado River each May. An informative
and patient teacher, Ralph uses his photography and instruction to promote
conservation and appreciation of the natural wonders awaiting those who dare to
venture off the beaten path.
“Traveling with my camera helps me be in the moment, whether waiting for the
magic light along the rim of the Grand Canyon, or waiting for a polar bear to
jump out on the pack ice,” Ralph confides.
“After all, being in the moment is what life is about.”