Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.

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.

grand canyon arizona

The Grand Canyon – Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.A.

Nature’s Masterpiece

Few things in this world produce such awe as one’s first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. The mesmerized John Muir wrote, “It will seem as novel to you, as unearthly in color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture as if you had found it after death, on some other star.” It took nature more than 2 billion years to create the vast chasm-in some places 17 miles wide-through a combination of shifting uplift, erosion, and the relentless force of the roaring Colorado River, which runs 277 miles along its length, a mile beneath its towering rims.

Each year more than 4 million visitors flock to experience the wonder of its constantly changing pastel hues and unpredictable play of light and shadow, but 90 percent of them never make it past the visitor center, exhibits, museums, and gift shops at the popular (and congested) South Rim, at an elevation of 7,000 feet

Book at least a year in advance (or pray for last-minute cancellations) at the uniquely sited El Tovar Hotel, built here by Hopi workers in 1905 of native stone and ponderosa pine logs. It is considered the crown jewel of all the national park hotels, and guests will find out why during a quiet moment in a wicker rocking chair on its wide porch, with edge-of-the-world views.

Mule trips leave from the South Rim for one-day trips down to Plateau Point, about halfway to the canyon floor; overnight mule riders and hikers can check into the Phantom Ranch, a rustic, bare-bones former working ranch from the early 1900s, and the only accommodation below the canyon’s rim. From the South Rim it’s a scenic 235-mile drive through mighty impressive country to the more tranquil, remote North Rim. At an elevation of 8,000 feet, it is only open mid May through October. One of the most poetic ways to experience the canyon is to see it from the bottom up, white-water rafting the Colorado River, whether in kayaks, rafts, or motor-driven pontoon boats. One of America’s greatest adventures, it’s a guaranteed keeper on anyone’s short list.

What: site, hotel.
Grand Canyon: the South Rim is 230 miles north of Phoenix, 80 miles north of Flagstaff. The North Rim is 352 miles north of Phoenix, 210 miles north of Flagstaff. Tel 928-638-7888; www.nps.gov/grca
Cost: park admission $20 per car. El Tovar Hotel, Phantom Ranch, Mule Trips, And River Rafting: for all, contact Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, tel 303-297-2757, fax 303-297-3175; www.grandcanyonlodges.com.
Cost: El Tovar Hotel, doubles from $129 year round (3 canyon-view suites $289) – reservations are accepted 23 months in advance.
Phantom Ranch, $28 per person when arriving on foot, with accommodation in 10-person dorms. Mule trips $345 per person year-round, includes all meals and an overnight stay in a cabin. Easy 4-hour rafting trips $107 per person, includes lunch. Multiple Day Whitewater Rafting Trips: Wilderness River Adventures. tel 800992-8022.
When: Park, hotels, and treks year-round.
Best Times: May-Aug draw the greatest crowds, so consider Mar, Apr, Sept, or Oct. Off months of Nov-Feb have a beauty of their own.

Grand Canyon Panorama 2013” by Roger BolsiusOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


The Boulder Resort and Golden Door Spa – Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.A.

A High-Desert Resort Where Golf Rules

Arizona is a paradise for golfers, and among its more than 250 courses The Boulders is a true standout, with two 18-hole Jay Morrish-designed courses standing green against the dramatic high-desert terrain. House-size, 12-million-year-old granite boulders surround the property, with Flintstones-like buildings nestled ingeniously among them.

But it’s not all about golf and spectacular location: The Boulders is also one of the Southwest’s most lavish hotel resorts, and since its opening in 1985 has regularly been voted one of North America’s best. With the recent addition of the world renowned Golden Door Spa, guests can now be pampered and rejuvenated in its glorious 33,000 square-foot sanctuary. Awesome views fill the picture windows of the 160 onebedroom casitas that look over the cacti-studded Sonoran Desert.

Bridle trails that crisscross the hotel’s 1.300 acres of unspoiled terrain promise John Wayne outings. The hotel-located in the whimsically named town of Carefree (with street names like “Why Worry Lane”) – is tended to by a staff that is both warm and can-do efficient. In the evening, after the last hole is played, the good times continue with sunset balloon rides, excellent dining in eight different restaurants, and a chance to jump aboard a jeep tour with a local astronomer to view the stars as you’ve never seen them before-all amid the aroma of juniper branches being burned in open-air hearths. The silence of the desert is broken only by the occasional howl of a lone coyote.

What: hotel.
Where: 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr. (Carefree is 33 miles north of Phoenix and 13 miles north of Scottsdale). Tel 800-553-1717 or 480-488-9009, fax 480-488-4118; www.wyndham.com/boulders.
Cost: casitas from $139 (low season), $625 (high season).
Best Times: Jan-May, with a moonlight concert series Apr-Jun.

Kenai Peninsula

Nature Rules in This Microcosm of AIaska

The Kenai Peninsula is a nature-packed area about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire put together, where all of Alaska’s big-country wonders are available in microcosm: massive glaciers (Portage and Exit), a filigreed coastline of inlets perfect for kayaking, and prolific wildlife and marine life.

From Anchorage, it’s a scenic 125-mile drive on the Seward Highway to Resurrection Bay and the town of Seward, named for the secretary of state who in 1857 purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million (less than 2 cents an acre), a move derided as “Seward’s Folly” until gold was discovered thirty years later.

A fishing and timber town, it’s the jumping-off point for kayaking and sightseeing cruises of Kenai Fjords National Park, which abounds with whales, waterfalls, brown bears, and calving tidewater glaciers.

The highway ends 100 miles south at tiny Homer, a funky, artsy-craftsy town at the end of the peninsula. Sitting on a stunning 5-mile finger of land called “the Spit,” the little town fancies itself both a cultural hub and the “Halibut Capital of the World.” (Another fish town, Halibut Cove, is one of the peninsula’s prettiest corners, reachable only by boat.) Drop into Homer’s landmark Salty Dawg Saloon, an old trapper’s hut where tourists hoist their beers with local cannery workers and fishermen.

From here, a leisurely boat trip across gorgeous Kachemak Bay provides glimpses of terns, puffins, cormorants, and mischievous sea otters. On the bay’s distant shore is enchanting Kachemak Bay Wildemess Lodge, the ultimate escape-cum-classroom, where six luxurious private cabins blend with the landscape. Some guests come to fish, others to explore the wilderness in the company of the staff naturalists, others for the Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, oysters, salmon, and, of course, halibut, all prepared to perfection.

What: site, town, hotel.
Where: Kenai Peninsula Tourism, tel 907-283-3850; www kenaipeninsula.org.
Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge: tel: 907-235-8910, fax 907235-8910; www.alaskawildernesslodge.com. Cost: 3-night package from $1,800, all-inclusive (includes boat to/from Homer).
Best Times: May and Sept for smaller crowds.

Mount McKinley and Denali National Park

One of America’s Greatest Natural Wonders

The tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley and its regal reflection in the aptly named Wonder Lake are the primary attractions of Alaska’s Denali National Park, but they’re not the only draws. Visitors return from the 6-million-acre wildlife reserve (larger than the state of Massachusetts) with excited tales of sighting grizzlies, wolves, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, and golden eagles cruising the skies. And then there are the views, sweeping vistas of subarctic tundra and taiga, glaciers and deeply gouged valleys, and a good number of massive mountain peaks that almost-almost – compete with McKinley, which was named after the twenty-fifth U.S. president but is always referred to among Alaskans by its Athabascan Indian name: Denali, “the high one.”

Mount McKinley/Denali is often wreathed in clouds, but your best shot at a clear and close-up view is from a hillside in the very heart of the park, where you’ll find the rustic Camp Denali, founded by two female ferry pilots (and one of their husbands) in 1951 when they homesteaded land not yet designated national parkland. If you stay at the camp’s cluster of seventeen log cabins you’ll be one of forty happy campers who not only enjoy the wonderful and knowledgeable staff and excellent cooking, but the chance to experience the park on naturalist-guided hikes, or during evening educational programs, and explore wildlife-sighting possibilities at a relaxed pace. (Otherwise, touring and tent-camping are widely restricted to protect the park’s fragile ecology; there is only one 90-mile road, of which only the first 15 miles are paved, and it is closed to private vehicles.) Summer brings long northern days, with sixteen to twenty hours of light in which to take in the scenery

What: site, hotel.
Denali National Park: 237 miles north of Anchorage.
Tel: 907683-2294; www.nps.gov/dena.
Cost: $5.
When: park road closed Oct – late May due to snow; May-Sept access is by official bus, $17-$33 depending on destination within park.
Camp Denali: within the park, 89 miles from the entrance. Tel 907-683-2290, fax 907-683-1568; info@campdenali.com; www.campdenali.com.
Cost: $400 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive, with round-trip transfer to/from gate.
When: open early Jun – early Sept.
Best Times: Jun for wild flowers and birding; Jun 21 for the summer solstice, when almost-24-hour sunlight provides a unique wildlife-viewing experience; Aug-Sept for autumn foliage.

San Ignacio Lagoon – Baja Peninsula

Whale Watching in Baja

At San Ignacio Lagoon, a magical place halfway down the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula, whales regularly rise out of the sea to touch and be touched by humans. In one of the most remarkable annual migrations nature offers, Pacific gray whales make the 5,000-mile trip from the chilly feeding grounds of the Arctic to the safety of the warm, shallow waters of the Baja Peninsula for their breeding and calving season (the calves are about 15 feet long and weigh 1,500 pounds at birth).

Several thousand whales may visit San lgnacio every winter, and there are sometimes up to 400 in the lagoon at one time. Las amistosas (the friendly ones) is the local nickname of the whales, which regularly approach the small panga fishing boats to be stroked and touched by awed whale-watchers, in a genial gesture that has stumped scientists for more than twenty years, since it was first recorded. Nearly driven into extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, the gray whales now return in greater numbers every year and were removed from the endangered species list in 1994.

Baja’s Pacific lagoons and fifty uninhabited islands, often referred to as Mexico’s Galapagos, are renowned for their exceptional marine and bird life. Hundreds of dolphins accompany the gray whales, while humpbacks, finbacks, and Brydes whales make regular appearances along with blue whales, the largest animals on the planet.

What: experience.
How: Baja Expeditions in San Diego sets up a temporary safari-style camp and runs 5-day trips.
Tel: 800-843-6967 or 858-581-3311, fax 858-581-6542; travel@bajaex.com; www.bajaex.com.
Cost: $1,895 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive land/air from San Diego.
When: Iate Jan-Mar.