This is what happens when you aim a camera at the sky in the Utah desert on a clear night.

On May 4, 2015, the United States Department of the Interior took a break from dam building and itemizing the fish in Lake Huron to post the following incredible picture to Instagram:

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"I like to see the sky the way our ancestors saw it," photographer Manish Mamtani told me via email, "without light pollution, where the sky was full of jewels called stars."

Mamtani took the photo in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah, one of America's most beautiful national parks.



The middle of nowhere? Or the middle of everywhere?

"I waited for two-three hours for the bright moon to set," Mamtani told me. "As soon as the moon set, the Milky Way was visible prominently. I enjoyed the beautiful sight for some time before taking [the picture]."

It's the kind of photo that reminds you just how gigantic and mysterious the universe is. It reminds you how spiritual ancient humans must have felt when they looked at the night sky.

But more importantly, it reminds you that...

America's national parks are spectacularly awesome.

The Grand Freakin' Canyon, folks.

And yet, for millions of people, the thought of visiting a national park conjures up an inexplicable cocktail of boredom, queasiness, and suppressed rage. And politicians know that, which is why they're always talking about cutting funding.

Why is that? Hard to say, but I have a guess.

When we think about national parks, we tend to think of this:

Each one of these people is desperately plotting escape.

When really, we should be thinking of this:


Or this:


Or this:


The Internet is chock full of these fantastic pictures. Please do yourself a favor and check out the rest of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Instagram. And also, the Share the Experience contest the National Parks Service is running. I promise you won't regret it.

You may even convince yourself to take a trip (one that doesn't involve nine-and-a-half hours of the license plate game).

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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