The Wilderness Man of Newton County

by | Nov 1, 2012 | Features

Well-known Arkansas wilderness photographer Tim Ernst is a man who understands the storytelling power of a good photograph. The natural state native has spent most of his life outdoors hiking, exploring and taking wilderness photographs so visually stunning viewers can almost hear Mother Nature’s primordial call.
Ernst’s photographs have appeared in hundreds of top national, regional and local publications. His credits include National Geographic, Audubon, Backpacker, Outside, Outdoor Photographer, American Hiker, Natural History, Country, Chevy Outdoors, and Arkansas Times magazines, Hallmark and Sierra Club calendars, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service maps and brochures, Readers Digest Books, and The New York Times, according to his website

But Ernst is more than just a photographer; he is also a writer, teacher, lecturer and avid environmentalist. During his more than 30-year career, Ernst has written and published through his company Cloudland Publishing, dozens of guidebooks to scenic Arkansas destinations, more than 10 table- top books of his breathtaking photography, a memoir and continuing blog, and teaches workshops in the Buffalo National River park to all skill levels of photographers during the spring and fall.
Ernst is also known for his environmental work. He founded and served 28 years as President of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, an organization with members in 25 states and five foreign countries that built and maintains the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Hiking Trail. He has also received many awards for his volunteer service on behalf of wilderness environments including the Volunteer of the Year from the American Hiking Society; two Take Pride in America Awards, a Henry Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in Arkansas and an award from the U.S. Forest Service for his contribution of 15,000 hours of volunteer labor.
Whether Ernst is photographing, writing or volunteering, he is happiest in the wilderness. Growing up in Fayetteville, Ernst said he spent every free minute outside and much preferred hiking and exploring to studying at school.

“I didn’t like school much. It felt too confining for a freedom loving kid like me so I ran away to the woods every chance I got,” Ernst told students at Subiaco Academy earlier this year when he was presented with the academy’s 10 Annual Award for Literary Merit.
“I was kind of a rebel; I was basically antisocial and never liked being confined,” he told his rapt audience of students and faculty members.
As a youngster, Ernst said he wanted to work for the Forest Service or do something related to the outdoors and never planned to become a photographer or writer. But while attending the University of Arkansas in the mid 1970’s he answered an ad to take candid photographs at campus fraternity and sorority parties. Despite his antisocial tendencies, Ernst must have been good at it, because his business grew, and Ernst added sports team photography to his services. Before long he had up to 30 part- time employees and developed his services into a “pretty major” business.

“What was funny about this was that I really didn’t like people and crowds all that much and here I was going to parties all the time surrounded by large groups of sorority girls,” he told Subiaco students with a wry smile.
Eventually the silent call of the wilderness beckoned and Ernst’s “hermit-like” nature re-emerged, so in 1980 he sold the business to devote himself to his primary passions; hiking, exploring and doing nature photography.
He also built a wilderness sanctuary deep in the Buffalo River Wilderness near Pettigrew overlooking the headwaters of the Buffalo National River. He named the cabin ‘Cloudland’ and a year after he moved
there in 1996, he started a journalized blog describing the ups and downs of living off the grid. His blog become so popular he decided to publish his entries in a book, Cloudland Journal Book One, which he published in 1998.
In the introduction to the book Ernst says, “Even though I was not much of a writer and had no formal training, the words came easy for me that first year-there were so many new and exciting things going on here that it was natural just to sit down and talk about them.”
Ernst is also an engaging lecturer. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of Ernst’s slide shows you are missing a visual feast. Ernst’s 2012 program this fall will feature a brand new presentation with pictures from his new coffee table picture book ARKANSAS LANDSCAPES II. All programs are free and open to the public.

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