Some locals travel to Yosemite or Yellowstone for their nature fix but there is a much easier option for these nature lovers: The Santa Monica Mountains.
They are only a hop skip and a jump from Pepperdine. And these days visitors are much more likely to see hikers with cameras thanks to the “Spirit of the Mountain” photography contest.
The contest which began in 2002 gives amateur photographers the opportunity to submit their photographs of these mountains in hopes of having their photography published in Outdoors Quarterly magazine.
Winners of the event which is run by the National Park Service will be announced in November and a special art show featuring the winning photos will run through January.
Santa Monica Mountains Park Ranger Sheila Braden said so far she has 85 entries but expects more than 100 before judging begins.
There are many reasons why the Santa Monica Mountain area appeals to photographers. With the impressive scenery and location as well as natural plants and animals that encompass the mountains photographers are bound to find inspiration.
“I’m constantly amazed by the unique things that people find to take pictures of in the Santa Monica Mountains because I’ve worked here for a long time Braden said. It’s (often) a place that I’ve been to but I didn’t have their photographic skill.”
Braden said photographers often find various types of animals or flowers to photograph in these mountains. “We’ve got great things here she said.
If you’re lucky you can see a bobcat or a deer said another park official, Lauren Newman. In the spring you can see flowers blooming.”
Braden praises the photography contest itself because of the interest in the mountains that it generates. Even among those who are not local to Santa Monica.
“We get some submissions from out of state added Newman.
It’s a way for people to share their knowledge of the Santa Monica Mountains with the general public to call people’s attention to the fact that we’ve got this wonderful resource here and most people don’t even know it.”
Newman had similar sentiments toward the contest.
“I know now it’s a way for people to share their experiences in the Santa Monica Mountains she said. It’s a chance for visitors to share their enthusiasm.”
Pepperdine students and others interested can view the submitted photographs at the National Park Service Visitors Center in Thousand Oaks located at 401 West Hillcrest Dr.
There were multiple opportunities for participating photographers to win including six categories of submissions and awards: plants animals scenic shots young photographers 12 years old and younger people in parklands and memories of the mountains depicting historic or family photos. This last category was created for the 30th anniversary of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area which is being celebrated this year.
In addition to being shown in the exhibit the winners will be published in Outdoors Quarterly with an average circulation of 20000.
“We try to use them as covers on the magazine Braden said of the first-place winners. We try to get the second or third place winners inside the magazine.”
Newman added: “It’s a tremendous opportunity to not only highlight some of the talent that exists from visitors in LA and in the Santa Monica Mountains.”
During the exhibits there is a “professional critique on what would have made that particular photograph stand out more Braden said.
We have a really amazing photographer coming in who gives a lecture then critiques each photo Newman said. We’re pretty excited about that. It’s sort of the capstone of our Spirit of the Mountains contest.”
Professional landscape photographer Tom Gamache is the critic for this year’s exhibit. He is known for his professional landscape photography and his photography in the Matthew Jaffe book “The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge.”
In addition to this notable exhibit there are many reasons for locals to visit the Santa Monica Mountains. “There are many wonderful and interesting things to do here Braden said. There’s a lot of hiking and photography. All of the things that are offered in the mountains are listed in our outdoor calendar.”
Another way to find sights worth seeing while in the Santa Monica Mountains is to come see the exhibited photographs. “When you come and you see the photographs that we have exhibited they’ll say where they were taken Braden said. Visitors can then go to these photographed spots and see the areas that were photographed.
It’s a way to highlight where some of these people are going and some of the forgotten tools you can stumble upon Newman said.
In addition to opportunities for sightseeing and events in the Santa Monica Mountains, the location gives it an advantage over other national parks.
It has a big advantage over places like Yellowstone and Yosemite Braden said. You can get here visit and go back home in half a day.”
Weather is also an advantage. “Because it doesn’t snow here the roads aren’t blocked Braden said. The mountains are available for year round trips for hikers and all lovers of nature.