The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has unveiled an epic photo exhibit called “Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places.” The exhibit features jury-selected images that perfectly capture the gripping beauty of America’s wildest natural spaces.

The exhibit celebrates the Wilderness Act, an integral element of the U.S.A’s conservation efforts that, since its adoption in 1964, has protected more than 109 million acres of American wilderness.

The exhibit was selected from more than 5,000 submissions from throughout the U.S. Many of the winning photos come from the stunning mountains and tundras of Alaska, the mossy mountain forests of the Pacific Coast, and the unique sandstone formations of the South-West – all regions worth exploring!

The exhibit will run through summer 2015. [28 photos total]

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“Mountain Goats, Colorado”. A herd of mountain goats huddle together on top of Mount Evans, Colorado during a lightning storm. (Photo by Verdon Tomajko/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Red fox, Alaska”. A Red Fox frolicking in the fall colors of Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. (Photo by Dee Ann Pederson/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“White Pocket, Arizona”. Colorful twisted petrified sand dunes of White Pocket tower over Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona. (Photo by Richard Ansley/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Proxy Falls, Oregon”. Proxy Falls cascade down towards the moss-covered forest of Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon. The photographer, Thomas Goebel, is 18 years old. (Photo by Thomas Goebel/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Brown bear, Alaska”. A brown bear found in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska holds a freshly caught salmon in its mouth. (Photo by Robert J. Amoruso/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Boundary Waters, Minnesota”. A lone paddler watches the sun set upon the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minn. (Photo by Dawn M. LaPointe/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Olympic peninsula, Washington”. An inviting path winds around the Aurora Ridge Trail in Sol Duc Valley, Olympic Wilderness, Wash. (Photo by Pablo McLoud/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Snowy owl, New York”. An adult male Snowy Owl, wide awake at the day’s first light in Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area, N.Y. (Photo by Scott Joshua Dere/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Alaska Range, Alaska”. Wintry peaks of the Alaska Range are reflected in a pristine pool of water in the high tundra. The photographer, Tim Aiken, is 18 years old. (Photo by Tim Aiken/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
“Milky Way, Oregon”. The Milky Way sparkles over Second Beach in the Olympic Wilderness, Wash. (Photo by Joe LeFevre/Smithsonian Wilderness Forever Photo Contest) #
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: Bald Cypress Dome, Cardinal bromeliads (Tillandsia fasciculata Sw.). Cypress Swamp, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness in Florida. By Bill Lea, Franklin, North Carolina: “The stark quiet combined with the stoic tree trunks created a cathedral-like atmosphere—it was definitely a spiritual journey.” (Bill Lea) #
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, AMATEUR: Mineral Aurora, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico. By Samuel Feron, Noisy-le Sec, France: “Due to the strong wind, these light holes were quick to move. It evoked an Aurora Borealis effect of moving lights.” (Samuel Feron) #
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, AMATEUR: Mt. Whitney Moonrise, John Muir Wilderness in California. By Nolan Nitschke, Bishop, California: “At 14,505 feet in elevation, the setting sun and the full moon created a unique combination of warm and cool tones.” (Nolan Nitschke) #
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: Snowy Meadow, Mount Hood Wilderness in Oregon. By Jarrod Castaing, Sydney, NSW, Australia: “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.” (Jarrod Castaing) #
HONORABLE MENTION, SCENIC LANDSCAPE, PRO: Valley of Solace, Yosemite Wilderness in California. By William Patino, Wollongong, NSW, Australia: “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.” (William Patino) #
WINNER, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, PRO: Yellow Poplar Trees, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness in North Carolina. By Bill Lea, Franklin, North Carolina: “Breathing in the fresh air, finding beautiful patches of large-flowered trilliums, and standing among 400-year-old giants never ceases to provide a thrill.” (Bill Lea) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, PRO: Keyhole on Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness in Colorado. By Ethan Welty, Boulder, Colorado: “People interacting with the landscapes of the wilderness provide an endless supply of new photographic opportunities.” (Ethan Welty) #
WINNER, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, AMATEUR: Sunset Paddle, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. By Dawn M. LaPointe, Hermantown, Minnesota: “Mother Nature is the master artist; I am a messenger.” (Dawn M. LaPointe) #
MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT, HONORABLE MENTION, PRO: Storm over Mt. Sneffels, Mt. Sneffels Wilderness in Colorado. By Phillip Noll, Los Alamos, New Mexico: “As the sun set, light rays pierced the clouds and lit up the falling rain and the tips of the mountain with a golden hue.” (Phillip Noll) #
MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT, HONORABLE MENTION, PRO: Climbing the Summit Pyramid of Sahale Mountain, Stephen Mather Wilderness in Washington. By Ethan Welty, Boulder, Colorado: “My friend Kevin, in the lead, tugged us forward through the soup. Suddenly the clouds parted, revealing a solitary rock spire.” (Ethan Welty) #
MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT, HONORABLE MENTION, PRO: Peak Fall Colors, Flatside Wilderness, Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. By Laura Vu, Fort Worth, Texas: “A wise person once told me, ‘You never know if you don’t go.’” (Laura Vu) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, PRO: Self-portrait, Mount Rainier Wilderness in Washington. By Adrian Klein, Portland, Oregon: “It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a scene that needed a hiker. I set up the timer and made my way into the composition.” (Adrian Klein) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN WILDERNESS, PRO: Lake Ann Reflection, Mount Baker Wilderness in Washington. By Ethan Welty, Boulder, Colorado: “Contrary to all appearances, my leaping friend Yoav—emboldened by the presence of a camera—made the jump to dry land.” (Ethan Welty) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN NATURE, AMATEUR: Fishing in the Alaskan Mist, Lake Clark Wilderness in Alaska. By Virginia Short, Scottsdale, Arizona: “I never did catch a fish, but I will have this beautiful memory forever.” (Virginia Short) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN NATURE, PRO: Solitary Hiker, Great Sand Dunes Wilderness in Colorado. By Richard Hebhardt, Juneau, Alaska: “The stark contrast between the hiker’s diminutiveness and the size of the dune was a scene I had to shoot.” (Richard Hebhardt) #
HONORABLE MENTION, PEOPLE IN NATURE, PRO: Fossil Cave, Lava Beds Wilderness in California. By David E. Bunnell, Angels Camp, California: “Just before I captured this image, a brilliant sunbeam pierced the small opening and produced the hotspot on the wall.” (David E. Bunnell) #
WILDLIFE WINNER, STUDENT: American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness in Florida. By Jenna Van Kley, age 16, Powell, Ohio: “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.” (Jenna Van Kley) #
WILDLIFE WINNER, PRO: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Glacier Bay Wilderness Area in Alaska. By David Bahr, Nederland, Colorado: “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.” (David Bahr) #

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