The National Forest Foundation is a founder and collaborative partner of the Sonoran Insiders program, a collaborative effort between social media ambassadors in Arizona and professional partners to promote and amplify good stewardship and responsible outdoor recreation in the Sonoran Desert and landscapes across Arizona.

Sonoran Insider partners host fun and informative Insider Experiences for program ambassadors that increase knowledge of and raise awareness for local environmental, conservation, and recreation topics. Ambassadors then share what they learn during these experiences on their platforms to encourage better stewardship and conservation action.

The program can also be a platform for ambassadors to share their passions and have their work recognized. Program ambassador Isaiah Ortiz (@isaiah.ortiz_) found himself in an exciting opportunity thanks to the program.

A century plant flower stalk meets the winter night skies over the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness on Brins Mesa near Sedona.

“I joined Sonoran Insiders in early 2020 to connect with a network of photographers dedicated to showcasing the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and to share messages of responsible recreation," said Ortiz. "I really liked Sonoran Insiders' messaging, and the conservation of the Sonoran Desert is something that I highly value."

"By the summer of 2021, I was starting to feel a pull towards making a career out of photography. Not knowing how to join the world of professional photography, I kept shooting photos for the love of it and shared them on Instagram, holding on to the hope that I would find some kind of opportunity to take my photography full-time."

Hundreds of stars shine over the Bulldog Cliffs on the Salt River east of Phoenix.

"One day, I checked my messages on Instagram and found one from an acquisitions editor at Falcon Guides who said they found my work on the Sonoran Insiders Instagram page. They asked if I would be willing to be an author and photographer for a new stargazing adventure guidebook for Arizona. This was everything I ever wanted, and it basically fell out of the sky and into my lap. 

I had no experience writing books, but I knew I was capable with several years of experience in astrophotography, camping, and writing. I felt those were enough feathers to stretch my wings and fly on, so I took the leap into the project."

A family of saguaro stand in the heavens at Margie's Cove in the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness at Sonoran Desert National Monument.

"I left my job working for the state to focus on the project full-time. I proceeded to plan and execute over 50 adventures under Arizona's night skies over the course of a year. Witnessing and photographing a sky full of stars behind Arizona's saguaros was an experience I will never forget.

Without the exposure I got through Sonoran Insiders, I don't think Falcon Guides would have ever found me and I would not have done the book. Now, I have the opportunity to share responsible recreation opportunities under Arizona's night skies with everyone.”

The crescent moon sets over Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Isaiah’s book, Starry Sky Adventures Arizona for Falcon Guides, is a stargazing adventure guide featuring camping, backpacking, night hiking, astrophotography, and other fun activities under Arizona's dark skies. The book is now available through Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group for pre-order and releases in July.

You can pre-order Starry Sky Adventures Arizona for Falcon Guides here.

Bringing people together has always been a superpower of the NFF. But we can’t do it without our supporters, and that includes you. Please consider making an unrestricted gift today so we can provide the absolute best collaborative services tomorrow. Simply click here. We – and all our partners – thank you!

National Forest Foundation