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Photo Contest Winners: 10 Stunning Places In Our Country That Will Make You Proud to Be an American

We asked readers to share the places they hold closest to their hearts. Here, we present the winning photographs and six finalists from our Extraordinary America photo contest.

Courtesy Paul Rickman

Moraga Commons Skate Park

I have been skating about eight years. Growing up in a broken home, I found that the park was my one light in a lot of darkness. Every time I go to Moraga Commons Park, I create a new memory. I’ve learned to persevere through pain, to never get lazy, and to always be humble. I got this effect by using a long exposure and swinging a lit wad of steel wool in front of my camera to create a “light painting.” The hundreds of sparks spiraling out symbolize my infinite possibilities. —Paul Rickman, 18, Oakland, California

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Courtesy Caroline Milam

Radium Springs Grotto

My family immigrated to Georgia from Germany when I was a teenager. One of the most serene places I’ve found here is the cool-water Radium Springs. It used to be a casino resort before floods destroyed it in 1994. Now you can see where the river runs through it, and it takes your breath away. I’ve spent summer days on the deck here, contemplating how grateful I am to live in Georgia. —Caroline Milam, 48, Canton, Georgia

Courtesy Bill D'Ellis

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My wife, Elsa, and I first went to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico in 2004, when she was worn down from a long treatment for hepatitis C. It was miles from the nearest road, along the Rio Chama. We were there for almost a week, and at her request, the monks prayed for her. It was very significant and healing. We go there to unwind and recharge our batteries. It’s worth visiting just to listen to the chants. —Bill D’Ellis, 76, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Courtesy Angela Barnes

Creek in Ringgold City

This was last summer at the children’s park in Ringgold City, when my granddaughter, Emma, was four years old. We had just had our “pancakes in the park,” which has become a weekly ritual: We sit under the gazebo, she has a Happy Meal with pancakes and milk, and I have my coffee. When I saw her coming out of the creek, it took me back 40 years. Being carefree and innocent in that moment—that’s what I wanted to capture. —Angela Barnes, 51, Tunnel Hill, Georgia

Courtesy Judy Cook

Back Porch in Georgia

This is the view from the swing on my back porch, my favorite place to sit and relax. I like to come out here with a glass of iced tea and my little Shih Tzu, Andy, after I finish my work for the day. I took this photo on Flag Day. I love my flag: Even though our country is in trouble a lot these days, there’s still a lot of good out there. God bless America! —Judy Cook, 64, Dudley, Georgia

Courtesy Cameron Nunez

Underbelly Club in Jacksonville

Underbelly is a live music club right up the road from where I live. The night I took this picture, a band called Circa Survive was playing. The singer had a voice that was just insane, and everyone was screaming. Around here, we don’t have many places that stay open, but this one has. It’s somewhere you and your friends can go; it’s nice when you don’t have to jump from place to place. You start to feel more intimate. —Cameron Nunez, 24, Jacksonville, Florida

Courtesy Drew Shields

Dawn in Minnesota

For 19 years, I’ve taken an annual weeklong trip with my wife and parents to Lanesboro, Minnesota. One time, on our way back from town, I noticed this little old church on top of a hill—since then, I’ve spent a morning or two of the trip alone by the church, taking photos as the sun rises. I’m kind of in awe of that little church. As I stand in the middle of thousands of acres of rolling farmland, as the morning light brightens the sky, I feel closer to God than I often do in church. The peace is overwhelming! —Drew Shields, 41, Lanesboro, Minnesota

Courtesy Janell Donelly

Renewal in Colorado

In 2013, a massive fire tore through many parts of Colorado, including the Royal Gorge. While the Royal Gorge Bridge lost only 32 wooden planks, the surrounding areas suffered catastrophic damage to their forests, businesses, and homes. A year later, I decided to take a drive through the area, only to find acres upon acres of charred trees. After I’d had an eyeful of the destruction, I looked down and found a small green plant with a budding flower. This flower, which some may consider a weed, was thriving—proving that even through the worst, the best can still revitalize. —Janell Donnelly, 32, Parker, Colorado

Courtesy Emily Woolems

Baseball Diamond in Indiana

Since my husband started coaching the varsity baseball team at Loogootee High School last season, we’ve attended two or three ballgames a week on this field. Here he is with our four-year-old son, Tucker, after the team won its game that day. Tucker loves to watch the players—he sits in the dugout, goes to practices, and runs the bases after games. He wants to be a catcher when he grows up. —Emily Woolems, 30, French Lick, Indiana

Courtesy Lynn Carr

Wilderness in West Virginia

This forgotten church is located in Spanishburg, a small farming community in southern West Virginia. Its congregation outgrew this building and is now located nearby, but the grand old structure stands as a reminder of an era when the church was the center of the community. I drove past it for many years before I finally stopped to take this photo. The building just speaks to me—can you imagine the stories its walls could tell? —Lynn Carr, 65, Cool Ridge, West Virginia

Originally Published in Reader's Digest