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Posted at 2:59 PM ET, 01/15/2008

Into the Great Wild Open

By Julia Beizer

The National Museum of Natural History -- a favorite of school kids and tourists alike -- isn't exactly known as a hip place to spend your weekend. But until April 27th, a special exhibition is worth a visit for us locals.

Large-scale photos of animals and natural landscapes line the walls of the Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards exhibition. The photographs represent the best of more than 17,000 images submitted to Nature's Best Photography magazine's annual contest. "Our mission is to celebrate nature and bring awareness to conservation issues," said magazine and contest founder Stephen B. Freligh. Professional and amateur photographers are invited to submit works for consideration, but only the top-notch photos make the magazine's annual awards issue and the Smithsonian exhibition.

Fifteen-year-old Eddie Schermerhorn won the Youth category with this photo of a Galapagos sea lion and pup. (Courtesy of Nature's Best Photography)

The works certainly are stunning. A stroll through the room reveals shots of cuddling sea lions, penguins marching across the Antarctic, a bee pestering a bear in a zoo and a human swimming with minnows and a Goliath grouper. Large-format photographs of the natural landscape -- pristine, raw and untouched -- seem almost unreal. We couldn't resist the simple beauty of these images so we're showcasing them in this online photo gallery. It's worth a look, but trust me on this one: your small screen won't do these photos justice. Go see the exhibit in person.

The museum is perhaps best known for its big elephant and the Hope Diamond, but there a ton of other treasures lurking in the old-school space. While you're there, here are a few other objects worth checking out:

1) The Logan Sapphire. I'm a girl. The Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals has always been my favorite display. I'm paricularly drawn to this blue gem, which clocks in at 423 carats. Before she donated the object, Mrs. Logan used the KitKat-sized precious stone (circled in 20 diamonds) as a "shoulder brooch."

2) Sea Turtles. The Ancient Seas section of the museum boasts some awesome fossils, but the detailed fingers and toes on this large hanging object are so cool.

3) Ray Fin Fish Fossils. Visitors to the fossil section of the museum are obviously drawn to the T-rex and stegosaurus skeletons, but it's worth a climb upstairs to see the detailed ray fin fossils along the wall. My favorite is the fossil of the larger fish who died shortly after swallowing a smaller one.

4) Climactichnites Track Marks. Upon entering the fossil space, visitors are confronted with a large slab detailed with what appear to be the tire treads from a golf cart. Not so. We know these marks were made more than 500 million years ago, but the jury's still out on what created them.

5) Hall of Mammals. The sometimes-silly, sometimes-violent animal displays are pretty standard as far as natural history exhibits go, but the best part of any visit is hearing kids scream "Wow!" when they enter the hall.


By Julia Beizer  | January 15, 2008; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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