Win $10,000 in the 2010 National Geographic Photo Contest

National Geographic has launched their 2010 Photography Contest, giving one lucky shutterbug the chance to take home a prize that includes $10,000 in cash and a trip to Washington DC to attend the annual National Geographic Photography Seminar in January, 2011. But that’s not all, as the winning photograph will also be published in an upcoming issue of National Geographic magazine, which is a dream come true for many amateur and professional photographers.

Entries are being accepted in the categories of People, Places, and Nature, and all submissions must be in a digital format and uploaded from the contest’s homepage. You can enter as many photos as you would like, but there is an entry fee of $15 per image. The contest ends on November 30, 2010, so get to work on sorting through those photos.

In a few weeks time, the best submissions to date will begin to appear in web galleries online, and we’ll all be allowed to browse them and vote for our favorites. Some of the best entries will also be made into wallpapers that can be used as desktop backgrounds and some will be converted into online jigsaw puzzles as well.

For an idea of what you’re up against in this contest, check out a gallery of the best entries from last year by clicking here and then see who the overall winners were by clicking here. After perusing those galleries, I can see I have my work cut out for me.

Five essential Memorial Day destinations

Memorial Day marks the cultural beginning of summer, the start of the warm months. The picnics and the parties and the celebration of the impending summer have sort of become the point of Memorial Day for many, a kind of superimposition of recreation over the intention of the holiday.

We love beer and hot dogs as much as the next guy, but for those interested in the history and meaning (or, in destination 5 below, the traditional pageantry) of Memorial Day, here are five destinations for Monday that might prompt greater reflection on the holiday itself.

1. Charleston, South Carolina. Hampton Park in Charleston was once the site of the Washington Race Course, which served as prison camp for Union soldiers in the last year of the Civil War. Here, in 1865, former slaves provided a proper burial and commemoration of fallen Union soldiers, followed by sermons, prayer, and picnics, under the name of Decoration Day. Yale history professor David W. Blight has championed this event as the first ever Memorial Day celebration.

2. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. About five miles from State College, Boalsburg is one of a number of other locations claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Tiny Boalsburg is also home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum.

3. Waterloo, New York. Waterloo, in the Finger Lakes region, hosts the National Memorial Day Museum. Waterloo was recognized by the federal government as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, one hundred years after the city first celebrated the event.

4. Arlington, Virginia. Arlington National Cemetery is the arguably the best-known cemetery in the US. Administered by the Department of the Army, the cemetery hosts a National Memorial Day Observance open to the general public on a first-come first-seated basis. Admission is free.

5. Speedway, Indiana or Concord, North Carolina. While stock car racing can’t be tied to the history of Memorial Day, these two iconic races (the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway) have coincided with the holiday for decades, and have in turn become Memorial Day tradition. The Indianapolis 500 was first held on Memorial Day in 1911, and the Coca Cola 600 dates back to 1960.

The Steep Canyon Rangers are worth a road trip

My 200-mile list is a collection of musicians for whose concerts I am willing to travel up to 200 miles (and often farther, really). Traveling for music is a great way to discover small towns, eclectic venues, and meet cool people who share your interests.

I’m not talking about stadium headliners — nothing against these concerts or musicians, but with many of these shows, you might as well be watching on television at home. You’re so much more present when you’re part of a smaller group, which is why I especially love the folk scene, hosted by all the best coffee houses in America. All members of my 200-mile list are folk musicians. Of course, “folk” covers a lot of ground.

Near the top of my list is the Steep Canyon Rangers, a young bluegrass band from North Carolina. Winners of the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Awards’ Emerging Artist of the Year title, the Rangers are up for Album of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year at this year’s IBMA’s. Their sound is a solid mix of instrumentals, traditional and original bluegrass, and gospel, with lots of humor and fun thrown in.My favorite part of each Rangers show is a toss-up between their a capella gospel performance of Wade Mainer’s “I Can’t Sit Down” and their fan-favorite Nascar tune “Feelin’ Just a Little Like Dale.” Though I couldn’t care less about Nascar, I love how much fun the band has with this one — especially Nicky Sanders’ creative use of his fiddle to impersonate cars on the raceway and police sirens. In this song and all their others, the band has so much fun on stage, it spills into the audience and you can’t help but enjoy yourself (even if you hate Nascar).

In addition to great music, witty banter is a part of every show, and bass player Charles Humphrey will have you busting a gut. Check the Steep Canyon Rangers’ tour schedule to see if they’ll be coming within 200 miles of your hometown. If you want to say hi, you can find me at the Third Annual Mountain Song Festival, hosted by the Rangers themselves in Brevard, NC.

Below is a video of the Steep Canyon Rangers performing the title track from their latest album, Lovin’ Pretty Women.