Pop Culture's Secret Weapon? The Department of the Interior

By Katy Keane

What do Grammy Award-winning band U2, famed cartoon character Yogi Bear, and biographical drama Wild all have in common? The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

While DOI is not often considered synonymous with pop culture references, the Interior Museum seeks to prove us wrong with the "DOI Pop! On Air. On Screen. In Print." exhibit that opened on June 29. Each of these famed examples of pop culture -- in addition to hundreds of others -- are connected to one of the Department's various bureaus. Owning 20 percent of America's public lands, the Department of the Interior's protected parks, resources, and historic sites have been the backdrop of iconic cultural contributions since the early 1900s.

The exhibit, spearheaded by museum curator Tracy Baetz, shows visitors the extensive role DOI lands have played in hundreds of famous movies, books, magazines, radio shows and music videos. But in addition to these exciting examples, "DOI Pop!" also details the permitting process as well as environmental restrictions of certain locations.

"I hope people come away with an understanding of how the Department manages stewardship and entertainment," Baetz says.

Here is a closer look at some of the exhibit's more iconic examples of pop culture in which the DOI plays a supporting role.


A story centered around one woman's solo journey on 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, "Wild," featuring Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, is steeped in expansive and awe-inspiring natural sites. It should come as no surprise that Natural Park Service lands like the Mojave Desert and the Oregon Badlands play a key role as picturesque backdrops for the film.

But of the unique Oregon locations, filming at Crater Lake National Park, where Cheryl Strayed herself visited while on the trail, provided extra authenticity for the critically acclaimed hit. Witherspoon was so impressed by the site that she tweeted, "Crater Lake in Oregon. It took my breath away @CherylStrayed #AskWild"

"The Joshua Tree" album by U2

Featuring classic hits like "With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2's fifth studio album is known as one of the world's best-selling albums. Many fans understandably mistake the tree in the iconic cover art as coming from Joshua Tree National Park. While the beloved -- and now deceased -- tree is a Joshua tree, the photograph was taken by photographer Anton Corbijn just outside Death Valley National Park. The cover art featuring the band was also set in the National Park at Zabriskie Point.

"Star Trek: The Motion Picture"

The Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs with its geothermal activity, limestone structures, and a rock fracture system was producers' second choice for the first "Star Trek" film's Planet Vulcan set location. But with a limited budget, the filmmakers were unable to shoot at their first choice location--temples in Turkey--and the 1979 classic was finally shot at the Yellowstone National Park location.

"Misty of Chincoteague"

Written by Marguerite Henry and published in 1947, the story of Misty the pony set in the island town of Chincoteague, Virginia -- protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge -- has been read by generations of children. A Newbery Honor book in 1948, "Misty of Chincoteague" details the story of Chesapeake island siblings, Paul and Maureen, who dream of buying a wild pony at the annual Pony Penning and Auction.

Though the herds have been split into the Maryland herd (owned by the National Park Service) and the Virginia herd (owned by the Volunteer Fire Company of Chincoteague), this tradition continues today to benefit the ambulance and fire services.

The Brady Bunch: "Grand Canyon or Bust"

Arguably one of the best known natural treasures in the American landscape, Grand Canyon National Park has been featured in dozens of films and television shows in the 20th and 21st centuries. Also under the umbrella of the National Park Service, the park is 277 river miles long and up to 18 miles wide and has been featured in films like "Into the Wild," "Transformers," and "National Lampoons Vacation." In 1971, season 3 saw the Brady Bunch take a family vacation to the picturesque canyon.

NBC's "Parks and Recreation"

With political thrillers like "House of Cards" and "The West Wing" attracting massive audiences, the National Park Service's National Capital Region has continued to grow as an iconic tourist destination as well as a hub for movie and TV sets. Sitcom and mockumentary "Parks and Recreation" starring Amy Poehler filmed episodes of its final season at the National Mall and outside the DOI offices. Poehler's character ends the series being appointed to a high level position within the Interior.

"How Far" by Martina McBride

Released in 2004 by the American country artist and nominated for Female Video of the Year in the 2005 CMT Music Awards, the "How Far" music video is one in a long list of music videos and films shot in the world's largest gypsum dune field. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service and features 275 square miles of bright white sand.

In addition to McBride's hit, Puff Daddy's"Best Friend," Pink Floyd's "The End" and Sara Evans' "I Could Not Ask For More" have all been set at the iconic dune. But this site doesn't come without its challenges; artists need to be prepared for nearly 100-degree daytime summer temperatures and road floods during monsoon season.

Located at the Department of the Interior, the Interior Museum is opened from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and closed for all Federal holidays. Guests are required to present photo ID and pass through security upon entry. "DOI Pop!" will remain open until early spring of 2016. Check out the Interior Museum website for the latest updates.