Sunrise, bison, night skies, unusual beetles nestling in the bark of a tree — these are some of the scenes showcased in photographs that visitors to U.S. national parks and public lands took this year, then submitted to an annual contest called Share the Experience.

On Thursday, the National Park Foundation, the congressionally chartered fundraising arm of the National Park Service, announced the eleven winners, chosen from more than 11,000 entries. And they’re all amateurs!

The winning photograph, sunrise at Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Utah, was captured by Yang Lu of El Segundo, Calif., and will be featured on the annual Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

The contest was sponsored by the foundation in parternship with ACTIVE Network and Celestron.

Here are the winning images, with some reflections by the artists.


Yang Lu, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Ariz. and Utah. Share the Experience 2015, Grand Prize

Yang and his wife set out on a two-day backpacking trip in Glen Canyon. “My wife and I took three gallons of water,” he writes. “We did not see anybody for two days. There is no trail; we depended on my research. I wanted to go in the winter when the temperature and water levels were low. The curves and those formations, I have never seen anywhere.”


Koustubh Kulkarni, Joshua Tree National Park, Calif. Share the Experience 2015, Second Prize

“This picture was taken on the 49 Palms trail,” Kulkarni writes. “My wife first spotted the Big Horn sheep in the distance. Their perch could not have been better as it had a backdrop of the setting sun with the sky shaded in beautiful hues of orange, yellow, pink and blue. The magnificent backdrop was just perfect and in this picture it almost looks like the sheep stopped to pose for us.”


Sarah Gustafson, Death Valley National Park, Calif. Share the Experience 2015. Third Place

“This was my first visit to Death Valley, and while I’d seen many photos of the salt flats before, I really never understood how big the formations were!” Gustafson writes. “I was shooting with a tripod, and when the sun started to set behind the western mountains, I quickly jumped into the frame to provide some scale.”


Matthew Sorum, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., Mont. Share the Experience 2015, Fan Favorite

“I wanted to get a photo of a large Bull Bison and I happened on this one high up in a mountain pass,” Sorum writers. “Not only did I get the background I was looking for that captured the beauty of the environment we were in, I also captured the largest Bison I have ever seen. I will be back every year, hoping to see something I’ve never seen before.”


Heather Martin, Mt. Whitney, Inyo National Forest, Calif. Share the Experience 2015, Fan Favorite

“My brother and I attempted a Whitney summit over Memorial Day weekend, but due to heavy snow were unable to,” Martin writes. “On the way out, we stopped by Lone Pine Lake to enjoy some scenery. I turned around to take in one last view before we were engulfed by the trees, and the clouds had made it look like the mountain was floating. I grabbed my camera before it went away and captured this amazing shot.”


Steve Ancik, Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area, N.M. Share the Experience 2015. Seasons, Scenic, Landscapes winner

“Ah-shi-sle-pah is one of several ‘badlands’ in the San Juan Basin area of New Mexico and is filled with bizarre, multi-colored formations and fossils,” Ancik writes. “The King of Wings stands six feet tall and overhangs at least 12 feet! I took this photo at sunrise after driving 10 miles on rough dirt roads and hiking another three miles cross-country. The skeleton was already there and it turned out to be a beautiful sunrise with lots of colors.”

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Rebecca Wilks, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah, Ariz. Share the Experience 2015. Adventure and Outdoor Education winner.

“In a wet year, the entrance to this open-roofed cave would be completely submerged and when the water is lower, a houseboat can drive right in,” Wilks writes. “This level was perfect for kayaking, and my friend Barb was kind enough to pose and show what a good time we were having.”


David Regala, Cedar Mesa, Monument Valley, Utah. Share the Experience 2015, Historical and Cultural winner

“It wasn’t until our 3rd or 4th visit that we discovered the secret to the exact time and season when refracted sunlight transforms the alcove into a stunning jewel,” Regala writes. “The ceiling has spalled, and the exposed watermark is just another grace note that captures the eye of the camera.”


Erik Fremstad, Badlands National Park, S.D. Share the Experience 2015, winner, Night Skies

“Looking up at the great unknown of the Milky Way Galaxy, you wonder what the future may hold,” Fremstad writes. “The choices we make today will decide the fate of not only our National Parks but the quality of life for future generations.”


Brent Wauer, Saguaro National Park, Ariz. Share the Experience 2015. Winner, Wildlife

“Little over an inch long, this exceptional insect with its stunning color pattern and complex life cycle reminds me of the fragility of life,” Wauer writes. “Until an in-depth ecological education becomes a priority of every child’s life; until respect for the Earth becomes an integral part of all people’s lives, such tiny creatures will continue to vanish without notice.”

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Kimberly Hall, Virgin Islands National Park, Share the Experience 2015, Every kid in a Park winner.

“Relaxing at Maho Bay in Virgin Islands National Park,” Hall writes. ” These two little buddies are now pen pals and are planning their next adventure.”