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The Winner of the 2010 National Historic Landmark Photo Contest May Surprise You


The winning photo: “Mount Rainier in the Morning," by Matthew Bell of Lost Delta Photography, Olympia, Washington. Image from the National Historic Landmark program

When we hear the term "historic landmark" many of us tend to think of man-made features or places where some notable event occurred, but the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program encompasses much more than buildings and battlefields. That variety was confirmed by the 2010 National Historic Landmark Photo Contest, because this year's winning entry was a photo of a famous… mountain.

The Secretary of the Interior designates National Historic Landmarks "because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. The National Park Service manages the National Historic Landmarks Program, which works with citizens throughout the nation in nominating new landmarks and providing assistance to existing landmarks."

The announcement of the winners of the recent photo contest illustrates the variety of the nearly 2,500 sites included in the program: "This year’s record-breaking response to the call for entries resulted in astonishing images of NHLs from coast to coast, including Alaska and Hawaii. The pictures took us from battlefields to mountaintops and celebrated the variety of NHLs, including sea-going vessels of various vintages, colorful interiors from architectural treasures, and historic structures framed by clouds, sunlight and star-pricked night."

This year's winning photo included one of those "mountaintops"—Mount Rainier. The peak and the park that bears its name are both widely known for superb scenery, but they also have an important historic role in the nation's conservation movement. According to the contest announcement,

This arresting image depicts Mount Rainier National Park. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, the park was the first fully developed product of the National Park Service (NPS) master planning process and remains the most complete product of this process. The initiation of NPS master planning at Mount Rainier in the late 1920s marked a major step in the design and management of scenic reservations in the 20th century.

“The selection of this year’s winner took some exciting outside-the-box thinking,” said NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. “When we look at the winning image, we see the natural world instead of one of the many historic buildings on the list of NHLs. Managed—not made—by humans, Mount Rainier National Park represents a landmark in conservation history.

“That said, the images that received honorable mentions—which feature structures, vessels, and other physical destinations that give evidence of human activity and fit our traditional idea of ‘historic’ sites—also dazzle us and keep us from forgetting our rich past. I commend the winners, judges, and administrators of the 2010 NHL Photo Contest, as well as all who participated.”

The winning image, “Mount Rainier in the Morning,” was taken by Matthew Bell of Lost Delta Photography, Olympia, Washington. "Under a sky of periwinkle blue and pastel pink, the bulk of Mount Rainer, with its gray face swathed in snow, slopes gently downward toward the lush meadow that occupies the middle-ground of the photograph. In the foreground, a waterfall’s “pale streams,” spectral and smoke-like, course down a wall of rock."

What does it take to win a photo contest at this level? You can view the winner, and all of the images receiving Honorable Mention honors, at this link.

The sites represented by the honorable mentions include the U. S. Air Force Academy Chapel, a battleship (the USS Texas), Kennecott Mines (Alaska), the U. S. Capitol and the Columbia River Highway (Oregon). A list of all of the sites included in the NHL program, organized by state and "other jurisdictions" (such as Virgin Islands and American Samoa), is available here.


What a breathtaking photograph. Interesting too, that sky of periwinkle blue.

Congratulations! We at are very proud of our park. We love to share its beauty and wealth of recreational opportunities with the world. Your photo says it all. Thank you for doing your part to capture the essence of everything that is magical and wondrous at Mt. Rainier National Park. We salute our forefathers for protecting this region for the generations to come. It is indeed a natural historic landmark to be re veered forever.

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