Lisa

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The Getty Center – Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

A Futuristic Shrine to the Art of the Past

Masterpiece of famed architect Richard Meier, the 110-acre, six-building Getty Center was fourteen years and one billion dollars in the making, opening in 1997 as a modern Acropolis perched atop a Santa Monica mountain ridge and looking out over L.A. to the Pacific.

Designed to house the ever-expanding Getty collection of pre-20th-century art and a Iibrary of more than 1 million books on art history the hilltop citadel is a work of art itself, done in gleaming off white travertine marble and glass.

Luminous, sometimes soaring galleries rely heavily on natural light and are interspersed with courtyards, fountains, connecting walkways, and windows that frame views of the Robert lrwin-designed gardens and beyond.

Van Gogh’s lrises and five Cezannes (including his Still Life with Apples) are the Getty’s magnets to the masses, but the museum’s real strength remains its esoteric specialty collections, from Renaissance to Impressionism and 18th-century European decorative arts.

There is no more wonderful place to watch the sun set over the Pacific than from the wraparound terrace of the center’s restaurant whose cuisine of Californian, Asian, and Mediterranean flavors is attracting as much attention as the art.

The same innovative kitchen oversees a simpler menu at the popular cafe. Food is a big part of the Getty’s charms, exemplifying the attention the center devotes to atmosphere and all-around  experience.

Among the other museums that add art to L.A.’s pop culture identity are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Pasadena’s small but excellent Norton Simon Museum, San Marino’s Huntington Gardens and Galleries, and the Getty’s sister museum, the Getty Villa in Malibu.

This Pompeii inspired home was  commissioned from afar by the expatriate American oil billionaire John Paul Getty, ranked among the richest men of modern times. It was completed two years before his death in 1976, and although he never visited it, he chose to be buried there.

Today it is devoted to his estimable survey of Greek and Roman antiquities.

The Golden Door – Escondido, California, U.S.A.

The Spa of All Spas

Check your skepticism at the door and leave behind your eight-day weeks of cell phones, business dinners, nannies, deadlines, and insomnia.

Founded in 1958 by spa doyen Deborah Szekely of Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta spa, the Golden Door was the first wellness retreat to combine nascent American fitness concepts with European body treatments that have since become the gold standard.

Consistently rated among the finest spas in the land, the Golden Door’s 344 gorgeous acres accommodate just forty guests and are designed in a Japanese style, with meticulously trimmed greenery, meditative sand gardens, elevated wooden paths, and koi ponds.

Guests (women only except during four annual co-ed weeks and five for men only) spend almost all their time outdoors communing with nature while bliss­fully tuning out for the duration of their Sunday-to-Sunday stay.

All accommodations in the elegantly rustic ryokan-style Japanese inn are spare, serene, single occupancy to honor personal space. Four staff members to every guest ensure serious pampering.

Each guest is assigned a personal fitness trainer who tailors a daily schedule according to individual preferences and fitness and health needs. Begin your day with a sunrise hike or breakfast in bed, then relax at midafternoon with an hour-long mas­sage in your room.

A highlight of the week’s stay is the trailblazing cuisine. The Golden Door’s menu is low in fat and salt, yet sac­rifices nothing in flavor with most of its ingredients picked from their own organic garden.

Before you turn in, take a soak in a hot tub, followed by ki-atsu massage, the Golden Door’s own version of watsu.

Death Valley National Park – California, U.S.A.

As Low as You Can Get

Its fearsome name draws folks from all over the world, but what strikes them upon arrival is not just the area’s brutality, but its spectacular and varied beauty, with parched Deadman Pass and Dry Bone Canyon standing in contrast to the dra­matic hills and mountains, such as 11,000-foot Telescope Peak.

Under the desert sun, hun­dreds of species of plant and animal life are indigenous to this parched environment, forty of them found nowhere else on earth.

The Valley is actually not a valley at all, but a block of land that has been steadily dropping between two mountain ranges that are slowly rising and sliding apart. More than 10,000 years ago a vast fresh water lake once filled Death Valley to a depth of 600 feet.

Today, after thou­sands of years of dry, hot weather, only crusty salt flats remain. Within the long and narrow park confines (140 miles from one end to the other—about the size of Connecticut), one of the most popular sights is Artists Palette, where mineral deposits have caused swathes of red, pink, orange, purple, and green to color the hills.

Others are Zabriskie Point, with its views of wrinkled hills, and 14 square miles of per­fectly sculpted Sahara-like sand dunes. Find the dead-end road that leads to the mile-high (and aptly named) Dante’s View, from which you can see 360 degrees for 100 miles, taking in both the highest and lowest points in the Lower forty-eight: Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet, and Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level.

Air-conditioned cars and luxury inns have improved on the experience that led 19th-century pioneers to give the valley its name. Among the latter, the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn is a ver­itable oasis of natural springs and palm gardens, with a lush 18-hole golf course thrown into the bargain.

Built in 1927, the stone-and- adobe Mission-style inn is historic, and, with its less expensive motel-style ranch next door, a longtime favorite weekend getaway for weary Angelenos.

You’ll hear every language in the world around the spring-fed pool, a floating vantage from which to watch the changing colors of the Panamint Mountains in late after­noon. At night, gaze up in wonder as the desert sky is filled with a sea of brilliant stars.

What: site, hotel.
Death Valley National Park: at the California/Nevada border, 300 miles northeast of Los Angeles, 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Tel 760-786-3200; www.nps.gov/deva.
Cost: admission $10 per car.
Furnace Creek Inn: tel 760-786-2345, fax: 760-786-2423; www.furnacecreekresort.com
Cost: doubles from $155 (low season), from $265 (high season).
Best times: Oct- May; dawn and late afternoon for the visual power and play of light.

Canyon Ranch Health Resort – Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.

A World-Class Wellness Center

A pioneer among co-ed fitness resorts in the United States, Canyon Ranch opened in 1979 and has gone on to become one of North America’s most famous health and well-being meccas.

Set amid a gorgeous 150-acre spread of Sonoran Desert landscape in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains it consistently garners top ratings from travel and spa magazines.

The nonstop roster of complimentary (but optional) programs, classes, and pursuits can seem intimidating at first, until you figure out that, if you want, you can do nothing more than laze by any of the three outdoor pools all day.

Workouts are aimed at fitness of body, mind, and soul: In addition to more than fifty fitness classes daily, activities range from invigorating 6 A.M. 8-mile power hikes through saguaro-studded hills to evening discussions led by guest lecturers who explore an endless variety of topics.

Buff, traffic-stopping bodies are far outnumbered by more average types who come to escape high-stress lives and unhealthy habits.

Spa treatments are a paramount ingredient of the ranch’s all-around approach to good health-who can resist the massage with crushed pearls or deep moisturizing goat butter? – and the Southwest accented cuisine is memorable, with daily demos that prove you, too, can reproduce the chefs specialties.

In fact, the philosophy behind Canyon Ranch is that it provides guests with a vacation they can bring home with them-though that doesn’t stop many guests from coming back for a return visit.

For East Coasters who don’t want to go west, the spa also has a beautifully sited and equally Iauded sister facility in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts

What: hotel, experience
Where: 8600 E. Rockcliff Rd. (30 minutes from the Tucson airport). Tel 800-742-9000 or 520-749-9000, fax 520-749-7755; www.canyonranch.com.
Cost: high season 4-night minimum package

Red Rock Country – Sedona, Arizona, U.S.A.

An Enchanting High-Desert Terrain and Its Oasis of Luxury

Local tale spinner Zane Grey introduced the spectacular Red Rock Country as the show-off backdrop for his 1924 classic Call of the Canyon. Most visitors experience deja vu when they arrive thanks to more than eighty Westems that found their perfect cowboys and-lndians’  locations here-among them Johnny Guitar, Broken Arrow, and Tall in the Saddle.

It is of little wonder that the striated “layercake” terrain and sandstone skyscraper formations have drawn a community of artists (beginning with Max Ernst in the 1950s) to Sedona, where rock-watching and gallery hopping are both major pastimes.

New Agers gravitate here for the electromagnetic centers – vortexes from which healing powers and natural energies emanate, they say (think Machu Picchu and Stonehenge).

True or not, there’s no mistaking Sedona’s specialness: The Yavapai – Apache tribe consider this sacred ground their Garden of Eden, believing this is where the first woman mated with the sun to begin the human race.

The unique 70-acre Enchantment Resort has perfectly insinuated itself into this desert milieu, sitting at 4,500 feet (and so escaping the oven like summers) amid an ancient, peculiarly eroded landscape that varies from pink and orange to siena and vermillion, depending on the day’s mood and the sun’s position.

Strike out from the front door of your adobe-style casita for an early morning’s hike or an open-jeep tour into the fantastical Boynton Canyon, and be back within the hotel’s luxurious cocoon in time for a poolside barbecue.

Be a humble witness to some of the West’s most ravishing sunsets, whether from your private patio or from the open terrace of the resort’s excellent Yavapai Restaurant.

What: site, hotel.
Where: Sedona is 120 miles north of Phoenix and 110 miles south of the Grand Canyon.
Enchantment Resort: 525 Boynton Canyon Rd. Tel 800-826-4180 or 928-282-2900, fax 928-282-9249; info@enchantmentresort.com; www.enchantmentresort.com.
Cost: doubles from $195 (low season), from $375 (high season).
Best Times: many arts and music festivals take place Jun-Aug, though these are also the hottest months (if dry); Jazz Festival in Sept.

Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa – Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.

A Wrightian Legend

The only surviving hotel in the world in whose design Frank Lloyd Wright participated, the Arizona Biltmore is a historic temple to good times.

It’s one of America’s oldest resort hotels (it opened in 1929′ just minutes before the stock market crash), built by Albert Chase McArthur, an Oak Park apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, to whom its design is often erroneously credited.

In fact, Wright acted only as a consultant on the project, but the spirit of the master designer is so evident, and so powerful, that it no longer really matters who built it.

Set in 39 lush acres (groomed by some thirty full-time gardeners) and now surrounded by Phoenix sprawl, this historic hotel garners high marks with modern-day trend seekers. A large hotel that feels intimate, the Biltmore is luxury all the way, lying at the end of a palm-lined drive that breathes with unforced relaxation. The staff is a joy, too.

Wake-up calls are made by real human beings, and room service is delivered by a smiling attendant riding a three-wheel bicycle. Harpo Marx and his bride honey-mooned here; so did Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

And it’s not hard to imagine one-time guest Marilyn Monroe frolicking in the original Hollywood-esque cabana-lined Catalina Pool, built when Chicago chewing-gum king William Wrigley Jr. owned the place.

What: hotel.
Where: 2400 Missouri Ave. Tel 800-950-0086 or 602-955-6600. fax 602-381-7600; reservations@arizonabiltmore.com; www.arizonabiltmore.com.
Cost: doubles from $195 (low season), from $395 (high season).
Best Times: Sept-Apr for good weather.

Lake Powell – Page, Arizona, U.S.A.

A Grand Canyon Filled with Water

Imagine the best of the West-its gnarled buttes, red-rock walls, surreal spires, and otherworldly, erosion-sculpted landscapes-then add water.

That’s Lake Powell: a l86-mile-long artificial lake, created by construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, which was proposed in the 1920s, begun in the 1950s, and completed in the 1960s, though it wasn’t until 1980 that enough of the Colorado River’s glassy bluegreen water was trapped to fill the lake to capacity.

It’s the nation’s second largest artificial lake after Lake Mead, in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Named for Major John Wesley Powell, who first charted the area in 1869, the lake sprawls in a southwest-to-northeast crescent across the Arizona/Utah borderland, encompassing more than ninety offshoot canyons (some up to 10 miles wide) that together create a shoreline of almost 2,000 miles-longer than the entire Pacific coast of the United States.

It’s road-free along its zigzagging rim, so exploration by boat is not only the most rewarding and enjoyable, but also the only real way to experience the lake’s wealth, which includes countless isolated sandy coves where boaters can picnic or camp.

Boat tours and canyon cruises leave from three of the lake’s five marinas, and houseboats are rented easily – this is America’s houseboat heaven, with some 400 available, sleeping eight to twelve.

Much was submerged by the (still) controversial creation of the lake, but fortunately Glen Canyon’s most visited sight survived: Rainbow Bridge, called by the Navajo “The Rainbow Turned to Stone,” a massive but delicate stone arch 290 feet high and 275 feet wide, 50 lake miles from Wahweap Marina.

Now a national monument, it is the world’s tallest known natural stone bridge, and is but one of the lake’s myriad confirmations that nature creates the earth’s most sublime art.

What: site, experience.
Where: Lake Powell is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a 5-hour drive north of Phoenix; commuter flights connect Phoenix with Page, the area’s largest town. Wahweap Marina (7 miles north of Page) is the best equipped of the lake’s settlements. For houseboat rentals and other info, contact Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, tel 888-486-4665; www.lakepowell.com. Cost: 3-day rental, 6-person houseboats from $1,244 (low season), from $1,658 (high season). Larger boats and longer rental available.
Where To Stay: Lake Powell Resort, tel 888-486-4665 or 928-645-2433, fax 928-645-1031.
Cost: lake-view doubles from $96 (Iow season) from $160 (high season).
Best Times: Jun-Oct for water sports; Apr, Jun, and Oct-Nov for fishing. Hottest and busiest in Jul, Aug.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument – Arizona, U.S.A.

Sacred Outdoor Museum of the Navajo Nation

Though it can’t compare with the awesome immensity of the Grand Canyon, a four-hour drive away, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’Shay” and derived from the Navajo tsegi, “rock canyon”) serves as a showcase for 2,000 years of Native American history with a quiet magic and spirituality all its own.

Sheer sandstone walls tower 600 feet and more above the 130-square-mile canyon, whose shapes and colors change in degree of breathtaking beauty according to the day’s light.

The canyon is best known, though, for its multistoried cliffside dwellings made of sun-dried clay and stone and built by the Anasazi people between A.D. 700 and 1300. Mysteriously abandoned in the 1300s, they are the oldest houses in the United States.

The Navajo (one of fifteen tribes that live in Arizona) became full-time canyon residents in the 1700s, and a population of 500 or so still till the fields, tend their goats and sheep, and act as your tour guides, since unaccompanied or unauthorized visits of the canyon floor are prohibited.

Located in northeastern Arizona, the canyon is part of the vast Navajo Indian Reservation, the largest in North America. With a population of more than 200,000, it is considered a sovereign nation, where Navajo is still the native tongue.

Canyon de Chelly is one of the tribe’s holiest places, and despite the summer tourism, it is easy to find silence and solitude in this mysterious stone expanse. Some of America’s finest pictographs (rock art) grace the desert walls, left behind by the Navajo, the Anasazi, and, even earlier, the Basketmakers, whose presence in the canyon dates back to the 4th century A.D.

At the mouth of the canyon, the all-Navajo staff of the Thunderbird Lodge (on the grounds of an old trading post and the only accommodations officially within the park) offers Native American hospitality as well as open-jeep “Shake and Bake” tours that take their name from the bumpiness of the dirt roads and the summer heat.

The Inside Passage and Glacier Bay – Alaska, U.S.A.

Power and Beauty Beyond, Breathtaking

Southeastern Alaska is a kingdom of water and ice, a natural masterpiece in progress, “a solitude of ice and snow and newborn rocks, dim, dreary, mysterious,” as naturalist John Muir wrote during his visit in 1879.

Just 100 years before, the area was completely choked with ice, and now the massive glaciers continue to advance and recede at their leisure, and boats are still the main way of getting around. In this sea wilderness, the whale is king.

Schools of orcas and humpbacks feed here and mate before swimming thousands of miles to winter in the warm waters of Hawaii and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Seal pups frolic on passing iceberg bits and bears roam the shoreline and streams, hunting for salmon.

One third of visitors to Alaska come for the cruise on the 1,000-mile Inside Passage, a route through the narrow strip of mainland and islands that make up Alaska’s panhandle.

Almost twenty cruise lines sail these waters each summer, operating ships that range from small expedition vessels to floating cities that carry 2,000-plus passengers.

Departing generally from Vancouver, British Columbia, at the route’s southern end, Alaska’s easygoing capital city of Juneau at its northern end, or Seward on the GuIf of Alaska, they cruise the panhandle’s calm crystal waters and dramatic fjords, visiting touristy ports such as Ketchikan or (if you’re lucky enough to be on one of the small ships) untouristy ones such as Haines and Petersburg.

Sitka, known as the “Paris of the Pacific” during the 19th century, is still redolent of its days as trading outpost of the Russian empire.

The far-northern end of the lnside Passage is capped off by the beautiful Glacier Bay National Park, a branching 65-mile fiord that’s home to a dozen glaciers and abundant wildlife. It’s accessible by boat from the mainland town of Gustavus, which stands right at the head of the bay, where it meets lcy Strait.

ln such raw country the genteel and welcoming Gustavus Inn seems wonderfully incongruous and makes a great base from which to experience the Glacier Bay area, if you’re not the cruising type.

What: site, experience, hotel.
Cruises: small-ship lines (with vessels that carry 40-140 passengers) are the way to go in Alaska if you want to really experience the wilderness. Among them, the better operators are Lindblad Expeditions (tel 8OO-EXPEDITION or 212-765-7740; www.expeditions.com), Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises (tel 800-451-5952; www.glacierbay/cruiseline.com), and Cruise West (tel 800-580-0072; www.cruisewest.com). Radisson Seven Seas Cruises offers a much more luxurious experience on a midsize, 700-passenger vessel (tel 877-505-5370; www.rssc.com).
When: cruise season runs May-Sept. Cruise lengths are generally 7 nights.
Gustavus Inn: at the mouth of Glacier Bay. Tel 800649-5220 or 907-697-2254, fax 907-6972255; www.gustavusinn.com. Cost: $150 per person per night, double occupancy, includes all meals, airport transfers, afternoon nature walks, use of bikes and fishing poles.
When: open mid-May-mid-Sept.
Best Times: May and Jun get the least rain; Jul and Aug are warmest; Jun-Aug is whale mating season; snow in Sept is not uncommon.

The Iditarod – Alaska, U.S.A.

Mush, Balto, Mush! The Last Great Race

For the ultimate experience of the Last Frontier, show up for the lditarod, a grueling sled-dog race across the Alaskan wilderness from Anchorage all the way to Nome on the coast of the Bering Sea.

Dogsledding as transport was all but eclipsed by airplanes and snowmobiles when, in 1973, the first Iditarod was organized to resuscitate the tradition and commemorate such events as when, during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, twenty mushers and a sled team led by the legendary dog Balto crossed the frozen landscape to bring serum to the town.

Today an average of sixty-five mushers and their teams come from all over the country and from as far away as Japan and Russia to compete for a share of the $600,000 purse, traversing 1,149 miles in eight to fifteen days.

Nicknamed the “Mardi Gras of the Arctic,” the Iditarod has become the largest spectator event in Alaska, with crowds showing up for the pre-start party and camping out along the first few days’ worth of trail.

Along the way, entire towns turn out to cheer on the mushers and their teams. To get into the race yourself as an “Iditarider,” place a bid for a spot on one of the mushers’ sleds for the first 11 miles (the auction begins in November).

Or contact musher extraordinaire Raymie Redington, son of Iditarod founder Joe Redington. Three generations of the family have participated in the legendary race dozens of times, and today they offer half-hour (or longer) sled rides or overnight wilderness trips.

Raymie’s place is also home to hundreds of huskies, all of them seemingly as game as their owner.

The remote, fly-in Winterlake Lodge sits directly on the Iditarod Trail and becomes Dog Central when the first teams arrive on the race’s third or fourth day.

Guests who get the bug can take a ride on the trail on nonrace days with the lodge’s own team of twenty-four Alaskan huskies. The lodge’s three guest cabins offer a quintessential Alaskan wilderness experience, and the dinner menu is as remarkable as its wintry surroundings.

What: event, hotel.
Iditarod Headquarters: in Wasilla, 40 miles north of Anchorage. TeI: 907-376-5155; www.iditarod.com. The Iditariders Auction begins in Nov (minimum starting bid $500), tel 800-566-SLED.
When: early Mar.
Raymie and Barb Redington: Wasilla. Tel/fax: 907 -376-6730; redingtons@yahoo.com.
Cost: customized according to number of adults and children, hours or days requested.
When: beginning with 1st snow in Nov. In dry months the dogs are hitched to wheeled sleds
Winterlake Lodge: tel 907 -274-2710; alaskawild@gci.net; www.withinthewild.com.
When:  open year-round.
Cost: $1,090 per person for 2 days/2 nights includes 50-minute scenic flight.