In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was passed on September 3, 1964, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has opened “Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places,” a photography exhibition that features juried selections from over 5,000 entries. These award-winning images reveal a rarely seen side of America: “wild, untouched, and free.” Through the vision of professional, amateur, and student photographers, viewers can journey to gorgeous vistas and the natural environments of the creatures who dwell in this beautiful land.
The Wilderness Act–a cornerstone of America’s conservation laws–established the National Wilderness Preservation System that represents America’s most wild and pristine federally protected lands. Today, these areas encompass 758 wilderness zones covering more than 109 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Together, they represent the largest, most highly protected body of wild lands in the country.
The exhibition will be on display at the Smithsonian through next summer. In the meantime, take a look at some of our favorite entries to the contest, below. Viewers are invited to vote for their favorite photos online in order to choose which image will be highlighted as that month’s winner.
Above: HONORABLE MENTION, WILDLIFE, PRO: Dee Ann Pederson (Houston, Texas)
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). Denali Wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
“After spending more than an hour watching these two rousting about, darting beneath and around the vibrant dwarf birch and tantalizing one another, it is easy to understand where the dance term ‘the fox trot’ originated.”
Photo and caption by Dee Ann Pederson / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN NATURE, AMATEUR: Thomas Haney (Kooskia, Idaho)
Smokejumpers, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
“For the next seven days, we slept near the fire, drank from a spring, and ate the dehydrated food that had been dropped to us, while working to contain the blaze with hand tools until there was no heat left.”
Photo and caption by Thomas Haney / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: Jarrod Castaing (Sydney, NSW, Australia)
Snowy Meadow, Mount Hood Wilderness in Oregon.
“As the sun began to rise and illuminate the lenticular cloud above, all thoughts of frostbite quickly vanished as I captured my very own winter wonderland.”
Photo and caption by Jarrod Castaing / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
WILDLIFE WINNER, PRO: David Bahr (Nederland, Colorado)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Glacier Bay Wilderness Area in Alaska.
“Progress was slow, but when the bird finally arrived at the rocky shore, it was able to hop out of the water carrying its lunch. Although stunned and soaking wet, the eagle had somehow managed to hang onto its meal.”
Photo and caption by David Bahr / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: Bill Lea (Franklin, North Carolina)
Bald Cypress Dome, Cardinal bromeliads (Tillandsia fasciculata Sw.). Cypress Swamp, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness in Florida.
“The stark quiet combined with the stoic tree trunks created a cathedral-like atmosphere–it was definitely a spiritual journey.”
Photo and caption by Bill Lea / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, AMATEUR: Samuel Feron (Noisy-le-Sec, France)
Mineral Aurora, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico.
“Due to the strong wind, these light holes were quick to move. It evoked an Aurora Borealis effect of moving lights.”
Photo and caption by Samuel Feron / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: William Patino (Wollongong, NSW, Australia)
Valley of Solace, Yosemite Wilderness in California
“At sunrise, I walked along the Merced River. I was delighted to see golden light spreading across the trees and glass-like water reflecting the monolithic mountains. All was silent except for the sound of trickling water.”
Photo and caption by William Patino / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
WILDLIFE WINNER, AMATEUR: Verdon Tomajko (Superior, Colorado)
Mountain Goat Kids (Oreamnos americanus). Mount Evans Wilderness, Colorado.
“I love to capture behaviors and personalities of wildlife, and this was one of the best shooting opportunities I’ve ever had.”
Photo and caption by Verdon Tomajko / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, AMATEUR: Richard Ansley (Salt Lake City, Utah)
White Pocket, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona.
“As the sun dipped lower, the reflected light I was hoping for revealed the many nooks and crannies in the twisted surface, creating the scene I wanted to capture.”
Photo and caption by Richard Ansley / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT, WINNER, PRO: Joe LeFevre (Oswego, New York)
Milky Way over Second Beach, Olympic Wilderness in Washington.
“It’s important to protect our dark sky wilderness areas, away from light pollution, so everyone can enjoy unobstructed views into the heavens.”
Photo and caption by Joe LeFevre / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
WINNER, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, STUDENT: Thomas Goebel, age 18 (Jensen Beach, Florida)
Proxy Falls, Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon
“This gem is one that you must see for yourself.”
Photo and caption by Thomas Goebel / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
WILDLIFE WINNER, STUDENT: Jenna Van Kley, age 16 (Powell, Ohio)
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness in Florida.
“I framed the alligator from the side to highlight its intense look, the leather-like texture of its skin, and the bony ridges on its back.”
Photo and caption by Jenna Van Kley / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
WINNER, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, AMATEUR: Dawn M. LaPointe (Hermantown, Minnesota)
Sunset Paddle, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota
“Mother Nature is the master artist; I am a messenger.”
Photo and caption by Dawn M. LaPointe / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN NATURE, PRO: Richard Hebhardt (Juneau, Alaska)
Solitary Hiker, Great Sand Dunes Wilderness in Colorado.
“The stark contrast between the hiker’s diminutiveness and the size of the dune was a scene I had to shoot.”
Photo and caption by Richard Hebhardt / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest
HONORABLE MENTION, WILDLIFE, AMATEUR: Robert Amoruso (Orlando, Florida)
Brown Bear Up Close (Ursus arctos). Katmai Wilderness, Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
“I created several images as the bear rose and then retreated to the far shore. This shot, with the bear gazing directly at me, was the best.”
Photo and caption by Robert Amoruso / Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Contest