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Take a Heartland Road Trip!

By Debra Weiner
updated March 3, 2017
1205_Nebraska_Sandhills_Niobrara_river
Chuck Haney/Danita Delimont
Smack dab in the middle of America, this leisurely drive across Nebraska's Sandhills region includes winding rivers, gentle hills, and some fascinating folks.

His great-great-grandfather founded the town in the late 1880s. At its pre-WWII peak, the population of Nenzel, Nebraska, reached 125. Today, it’s got all of 13 people. But that hasn’t stopped Neal Nollette, a Roman Catholic priest, from launching an outfitting company, 2 the Ends of the Earth, which runs river trips down a cliff-lined stretch of the Niobrara that’s often short of—well, water.

SEE OUR HEARTLAND ROAD TRIP!

To bypass that inconvenient truth, Nollette invented the sport of “nyobrafting,” which he defines as navigating a waterway by any method necessary, though in practice it means repeatedly climbing out of your kayak and dragging it across the river’s many sandbars. As Father Neal says, “If you have a little bit of imagination and creativity, you can turn almost anything into a business.”

Welcome to the Sandhills, home to whooping cranes and prairie chickens, cowboys and cattle, plus some of the more ingenious tourism attractions either side of the Mississippi. Like much of the nation, these remote, sparsely settled grasslands—rolling some 19,000 square miles across north central Nebraska and reaching as high as 400 feet—have been hit by economic tough times. But the can-do spirit that built this country runs deep in these parts. Ever been to a 300-mile-long yard sale (known as the annual Junk Jaunt)? Or an art show that makes a stop at the Sinclair gas station in Dunning, where hand-crafted pottery shares the shelves with the Hamburger Helper and pickles? In a word: delicious.

DAY 1

Omaha to Burwell

193 miles

“Where the West begins and the East peters out,” reads the restaurant sign my son and I spy in Burwell, home to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. After a four-hour drive from Omaha, we’re ready for some cowpoke action. At the Northside Bar and Cafe, around the corner from the Dry Creek Western Wear store and saddle shop, a man in a white cowboy hat plays gin rummy with his buddies at a corner table (223 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-5474). We’ve dropped by to see the hundreds of photos, posters, and other memorabilia decorating the walls of the pub’s rodeo museum. Perhaps other picture galleries double as a saloon, but surely this is the only one serving bull calf testicles. “Last Friday, we sold a whole case,” says Tammy Miller, waitress, bartender, and occasional curator. “Breaded and deep fried.” Thankfully, my son is hankering for something sweet. We’re directed to the Sandstone Grill in the old tin-ceilinged Burwell Hotel, where two foodies—sisters who moved here from Seattle and Kansas City—serve a long list of salads (Caesar, Asian, “sweet blue,” etc.) along with Nebraskan classics like sour cream raisin pie, which we order à la mode (416 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4582, sandstonegrill.com).

Sunlight is starting to wane as we reach Calamus Outfitters, near Nebraska’s third-largest swimming hole, Calamus Reservoir. We toss our bags into our rustic lodge room on the grounds of the Switzer Ranch, then hightail it outside for a sunset Jeep tour of 12,000 acres of grazing cattle (83720 Valleyview Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4697, calamusoutfitters.com).

Lying on the central flyway of some 500,000 cranes and 10 million other migratory water fowl, these are the Sandhills at their prettiest, dipping and rising like a roller coaster, blanketed with bluestems and tall bunchgrasses. In spring, you can watch the sharp-tailed grouse strut their stuff during their elaborate predawn mating dance. In summertime, there’s tubing and horseback riding. In the morning when I ask what we can do to help around the ranch, we’re told to saddle up and spend the next several hours rounding up stray cattle.

DAY 2

Burwell to Mullen

112 miles

The late Charles “On the Road” Kuralt counted Highway 2, running alongside the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and a seemingly endless row of black-eyed susans and golden sunflowers, among America’s 10 most beautiful routes. We pick it up in Dunning and follow it west through what was once the Pawnee and Sioux tribes’ bison-hunting range. In Mullen, we have a date with Glidden Canoe Rental to go “tanking”—a popular Nebraskan sport that consists of floating down a river in a livestock watering tank. Some tanks come with picnic tables and lawn chairs. Ours is nine feet in diameter, made of galvanized tin, and outfitted with benches. Even with paddles, we’re at the Middle Loup River’s mercy. A red-tailed hawk soars overhead as the current crashes us into the bank, tangling us up in fallen branches. Eventually I learn it’s less jarring if I sit upright, not touching the sides of the tank. My son does just the opposite, naturally. Apparently what I call whiplash, he calls fun (Off Highway 2, Mullen, 308/546-2206, gliddencanoe rental.com).

Afterward, we grab a bite at the Rustic Tavern, in Mullen’s scruffy downtown. The kitchen is closed for remodeling, but the cook whips up a daily special in the smoker out back. This evening it’s BBQ brisket and the place is hopping with takers, many in boots and spurs (104 E. 1st St. Mullen, 308/546-2993). We order seconds before settling in for the night near Thedford at the Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House. There aren’t always animals, and most of the ranch is about 50 miles away, but what’s in a name? Besides, the two-bedroom place is comfy, all ours, and in the morning our host stops by with gooey cinnamon rolls (Highway 2, between Halsey and Thedford, 402/450-2268, middleloupriverranch.com).

DAY 3

Mullen to Nenzel

121 miles

North up Highway 83, the Sandhills take on a vast, rugged beauty, dotted with pristine lakes and spring-fed marshes and sweeping wide in every direction. In Valentine, we turn west for Nenzel and our 12-mile nyobrafting trip (402/389-2242, 2theendsoftheearth.com). It ends up taking all day, including the part where our shuttle van runs out of gas and we somehow land at Father Neal’s brother’s place to see his four-acre vineyard and the new pine-paneled wine-tasting room occupying the ground floor of his house. They don’t have a liquor license yet, nor do they have a name for their label. Still, Father Neal and his brother are optimistic that this venture (unlike the family’s erstwhile weekend cowboy cookouts) will soon be raking in the crowds. Watch out, Napa. Tiny Nenzel is on your tail!

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Inspiration

One-Tank Escapes From 8 American Cities

Shenandoah Valley, Va. 107 miles from Washington, D.C. A collection of 10 independent cities make up the Shenandoah Valley, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an idyllic watercolor landscape and outdoor adventure haven. SEE OUR SUMMER ROAD TRIPS! Shenandoah National Park is famous for its outdoor beauty, accessible via both easy and difficult hiking trails, some of which are part of the park's 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (540/999-3500, nps.gov/shen, $15 per vehicle, $8 per person). The Limberlost Trail takes you past lush mountain laurel; Old Rag Mountain offers panoramic vistas. To refuel, perch in the Pollock Dining Room's taproom at Skyland Resort Lodge and order a Prohibition Punch, featuring local (legal) moonshine ($7.50), and a slice of famous blackberry ice cream pie, made from scratch from the season's harvest (540/999-2212, visitshenandoah.com/dining/skyland-restaurant, Prohibition Punch $7.50, blackberry ice cream pie $6). Not outdoorsy? Stroll through downtown Winchester with a guided tour of the Patsy Cline Historic House, where the country star lived for five years (540/662-5555, celebratingpatsycline.org, $8), or pick your own flowers in the fragrant fields at White Oak Lavender farm in Harrisonburg (540/421-6345, whiteoaklavender.com, tours $5). WHERE TO STAY Instead of camping out with her hubby FDR in Shenandoah National Park in 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt opted for luxury in Luray: "Franklin, you can rough it if you want, but I'm staying at the Mimslyn," she allegedly told the president. Even today, the property has opulent touches like Doric columns, formal gardens, and fine dining courtesy in the hotel's "upscale Southern" Circa '31 restaurant—necktie recommended (800/296-5105, mimslyninn.com, from $160). DRIVING TIP I-81 runs the length of the valley and connects large towns like Winchester, Harrisonburg, and Stanton. Consider jumping onto Skyline Drive to take in some of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the U.S. Yountville, Calif. 56 miles from San Francisco A walkable mecca for wine and food enthusiasts, Yountville offers glasses of big California reds, award-winning bites, and lush Napa Valley scenery that's a refreshing change from San Francisco's cityscapes. To sample vino, hop the Napa Valley Wine Train that chugs through the heart of town: It serves meals onboard, and visits local wineries for tours (800/427-4124, winetrain.com, from $135). Or go rogue and create your own tasting of five wines at Cornerstone Cellars (707/945-0388, cornerstonecellars.com). Get Michelin-star-quality flavor for less at chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant by partaking in the evening family-style four-course menu (707/944-2487, adhocrestaurant.com, $45); also, make time to walk through Keller's French Laundry Garden, which nurtures fresh vegetables and fruits used at French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro—it's free and open to the public. On a weekend morning, stop by Bouchon Bakery for the somewhat elusive chocolate doughnut—brioche dough filled with decadent chocolate pastry cream and topped with chocolate frosting and chocolate-covered Rice Krispies. But go early (it opens at 7) to score one (707-944-2253, bouchonbakery.com/yountville). Then float above the horizon on a group hot air balloon ride for eight to 12 passengers or take a romantic trip à deux with Napa Valley Balloons (800/253-2224, napavalleyballoons.com, from $210). WHERE TO STAY For a French country feel, book a room at Maison Fleurie, a B&B with a morning breakfast buffet and complimentary wine, tea, and hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon. Borrow bicycles from the front desk and go for a leisurely ride when you tire of tippling (800/788-0369, maisonfleurienapa.com, from $145). DRIVING TIP The most direct route from San Francisco is I-80 East, over the Bay Bridge, to Highway 37 West and then Highway 29 through Napa Valley. New Braunfels, Tex. 175 miles from Houston If you visit New Braunfels and don't (a) eat German food or (b) get wet, you're doing something wrong. The town is well known for the innovative 65-acre Schlitterbahn Water Park, but its German history, food, and freshwater activities are equally compelling. Floating down the spring-fed Comal River on giant inflatable "toobs" is essential in New Braunfels. Rent one for the day or take a guided group trip at Rockin 'R' River Rides (830/629-9999, rockinr.com, call for a group trip quote). Quell your post-river appetite with one of 10 types of schnitzel, pan-fried bouletten (meatballs), or classic brats at Friesenhaus, one of the area's specialty German restaurants (830/625-1040, friesenhausnb.com, schnitzel from $15). No German meal is complete without a hearty dessert, so pop into Naegelin's Bakery, "the oldest bakery in Texas, since 1868," for a big hunk of apple streudel—a whole one is more than two feet long (830/625-5722, naegelins.com). WHERE TO STAY The 30-unit Greune Mansion Inn, right on the Guadalupe River, has a quiet, Victorian feel, with multiple historical buildings broken up into residences that guarantee each guest his or her own entrance and porch. Many of the units have river views (830/629-2641, gruenemansioninn.com, from $190). DRIVING TIP Take I-10 to I-46, making sure to avoid Houston rush hour if you can help it. Hood River, Ore. 62 miles from Portland Orchards, wineries, and outdoor recreation are all hallmarks of this Columbia River Gorge destination. Taking a drive on the whimsically named Fruit Loop steers you through 35 miles of orchards, vineyards, forests, and farmland (541/386-7697, hoodriverfruitloop.com). Sampling the area's up-and-coming viticulture is another must: Columbia Wine Tours shuttles from two to 24 people to four wineries in four hours and provides bottled waters and snacks along the way (541/380-1410, hoodrivertours.com, two-person tour $140). Or if you prefer hops to grapes, swing by the Full Sail Brewing Company Tasting Room & Pub for a sip (or three) of Full Sail Amber (541/386-2247, fullsailbrewing.com). Dubbed the "windsurfing capital of the world" by some, Hood River is an ideal place to test your mettle on the water: Hood River Waterplay offers five different levels of windsurfing classes, plus equipment rental if you need it (541/386-9463, hoodriverwaterplay.com, from $69). WHERE TO STAY Seven Oaks Bed and Breakfast describes itself as a "garden oasis," surrounded by two acres of flowering plant life and fenced in by Douglas firs. The four-unit house (plus separate cottage) provides storage for recreational equipment and serves organic eggs, jams, and pastries (541/386-7622, sevenoaksbb.com, $160). DRIVING TIP I-84—a.k.a. the Columbia River Highway—is a straight, gorgeous shot from Portland. Look for both mountains: Mount Hood and Mount Adams. Harbor Country, Mich. 26 miles from Chicago Hitting the beach in the heart of the Midwest is possible at Harbor Country, a group of eight towns on the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan. The southern beaches of New Buffalo and Warren Dunes State Park are biggest, but individual townships have access too (harborcountry.org). Charter a fishing boat in the New Buffalo Harbor with Cap'n D Charters to hunt down salmon, trout, bass, and blue gill (574/232-0436, capndcharters.com, $500 for up to four people for six hours) or try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding in New Buffalo or St. Joseph, assisted by Third Coast Surf Shop (269/932-4575, thirdcoastsurfshop.com, $75 for a 90-minute private lesson). Afterward, head to Three Oaks to the brand-new organic Journeyman Distillery, nestled in a former corset-making factory, and kick back in the tasting room for a sample of Featherbone Bourbon, a nod to the turkey feathers that the corsets were fashioned out of (269/820-2050, journeymandistillery.com). Soak up the booze at Skip's in New Buffalo, famous for its ultra-tender prime rib (269/469-3330, skipsrestaurantandcatering.info, from $22). WHERE TO STAY Directly across the road from its own private beach, the 31-room Lakeside Inn, built in the late 1800s, has a front porch filled with rocking chairs, plus an on-site café (269/469-0600, lakesideinns.com, from $80). DRIVING TIP Stick to highways 90 or 94. Creatively taking the back roads will only lead you into stop-and-go traffic. Clarksville, Tenn. 207 miles from Memphis How to describe Clarksville? "Think Carrie Bradshaw meets Dolly Parton," suggests the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce's website. With entertainment offerings just as diverse as those two pop culture icons, Clarksville manages to be a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. The tobacco trade—specifically stemmeries—brought in the big bucks in Clarksville in the late 1800s: Tour the Greek Revival/Italinata-style Smith-Trahern mansion, built in 1958 by a wealthy tobacconist - the slaves' quarters out back are still standing, as is an adjacent 1700s cemetery (931/648-5725, fceclarksville.org, $2). Continue exploring the past via the trails at Fort Defiance Civil War Park, between the Red and Cumberland rivers. The site was a Confederate fort that fell to Union soldiers in 1862; soon after, it served as a safe place for freed and runaway slaves (931/472-3351, fortdefianceclarksville.com). Or, hike one of three trails at Dunbar Cave State Park—the caves were once mined for gunpowder (931/648-5526, tn.gov/environment/parks/dunbarcave). Cool off afterward amid 1870s architecture downtown, at the Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, which makes its own beer onsite, including the signature Barnstormer Red Ale, made with Bavarian Hallertau hops. Pair it with one of the eatery's specialty pizzas, like the Whitehorse, a pie topped with alfredo sauce, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta, provolone, and mozzarella (931/552-3726, theblackhorsepub.net, from $15.50). WHERE TO STAY For an authentic 1800s experience, drive 15 miles southwest of Clarksville to Lylewood Inn Bed & Breakfast in Indian Mound, run by Mandy Williams. The rich antebellum décor—some rooms have claw-foot bathtubs—is matched in decadence only by the group meals: In addition to the requisite country breakfast, home-cooked dinners can include glazed pork loin, garlic cheese biscuits, and fresh berry cobbler (931/232-4203, lylewoodinn.com, from $75). DRIVING TIP Take Highway 40 to Highway 24, but don't fear the backroads. Visit the Tennessee Trails and Byways website for multiple mapped driving routes from different destinations - like the "Screaming Eagle" trail that begins in Nashville (tntrailsandbyways.com). Excelsior Springs, Mo. 28 miles from Kansas City, Mo. Soak up the late-18th and early-19th century history of Excelsior Springs, a Missouri town that boomed due to its wealth of pure, natural springwater. Early tourists came from miles around to bathe in the mineral-rich H2O and hopefully heal their ailments, and the city has preserved that craze via historic buildings and walking tours. Belly up to the world's longest water bar, housed in the Art Deco-style Hall of Waters and Cultural Museum, built in 1937, where you can taste the mineral waters that put Excelsior Springs on the map (816/637-2811, visitesprings.com). A few blocks down, stop into Oooey Gooey Chocolates for a chocolate-dipped Twinkie on a stick—your choice of either milk or white chocolate (816/630-9255, oooeygooey.com, $2.25). Or get away from it all at the 40-acre Knott Nature Sanctuary, which features education and recreation programs that include hiking, camping, and gardening and landscaping (816/630-2872). WHERE TO STAY Notorious characters Al Capone and Bugsy Malone reportedly threw their own bathtub gin and gambling parties at The Elms Resort and Spa, which reopened this year for its 100th anniversary after a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes a spa with a hydrotherapy grotto. The hotel is perhaps best known, though, for being the place Harry S. Truman found out he'd defeated Dewey for the presidency in 1948 (816/630-5500, elmshotelandspa.com, from $139). DRIVING TIP The quickest way to get to Excelsior Springs: Catch I-35 North from downtown Kansas City, then take Highway 69 to Excelsior. Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. 30 miles from New York City Indulge your love of literature, the arts, and lifestyles of the rich and famous in this storied region north of New York City. Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman live on (in spirit, anyway) in the Sleep Hollow Cemetery, which author Washington Irving name-checked in his 1820  story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Walk the grounds for free and visit cemetery residents including Irving himself, Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden, and William and J.D. Rockefeller, or take a two-hour, lantern-lit guided evening tour—if you dare (914/631-0081, sleepyhollowcemetery.org, guided tour $25). For a quick bite, select a hot "Fleetwood original" calzone (stuffed with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mozzarella, and tomato sauce) from Fleetwood Pizzeria, founded by the Guzzo family in 1965 (914/631-3267, fleetwoodpizza.com, $5.75). Drive two miles northwest, on Bedford Road, to Pocantico Hills to see how the other half lived at Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate. Drift through the main rooms of the six-story stone house, past the fountains and sculptures dotting the expansive gardens, and tour the underground art galleries, replete with works by Picasso and Warhol (914/631-8200, hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/kykuit/tours, from $23). WHERE TO STAY Venture eight miles north of Sleepy Hollow to bunk at the Alexander Hamilton House, an eight-unit Victorian B&B with an eight-foot-deep swimming pool and a giant lawn chess set in the backyard (914/271-6737, alexanderhamiltonhouse.com, from $135). DRIVING TIP Allow traveling time for New York City traffic—the 25-mile drive can take much longer than an hour, even during off-peak hours.

Inspiration

10 Most Sacred Spots on Earth

When we modern folks visit a beautiful natural site, the experience may evoke a sense of peace, a feeling of awe...or just the need to snap a million photos. For our ancient forbearers, though, these places were so much more. Throughout history, civilizations all over the globe have attached spiritual or religious importance to natural spots (ie. not man-made places) that played key roles in their respective cultures. From the mythological homes of powerhouse gods like Zeus and Shiva to the serene spot where the mortal Buddha achieved enlightenment, these are the places of legends. Some are still used for age-old rituals, others have been lost to time, but all crackle with a special energy and, if you're lucky, just a little bit of leftover magic. SEE THE SACRED PLACES! 1.ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK, AUSTRALIA  Located in Australia's Red Centre, in the heart of the continent, these two natural rock formations are the main attractions in the World Heritage Site Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. One of the country's more recognizable landmarks, Uluru is a flat-topped sandstone rock standing about 1,100 feet high and almost six miles around, with a soulful, deep-red hue that changes throughout the day. (The site is also known as Ayers Rock, so named by the colonial surveyor who "rediscovered" the place in 1873.) About 30 miles away, Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. The Olgas) is made of more than 30 domes of varying rock types, including granite, sandstone, and basalt; the tallest point is almost 1,800 feet high.  Both sites are sacred to the Anangu people of the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal tribe, who believe the rocks were built during the ancient creation period and are still inhabited by ancestor spirits. (Archeologist work suggests there were humans in this area over 20,000 years ago.) Owned by the Anangu and leased by the government, the park is open to the public, though tribespeople continue to perform rituals and ceremonies in various locations, such as the sacred "Dreamtime" track that runs near the modern hiking trail. The park also houses a Cultural Center and Aboriginal rock art sites, and ranger guided tours are available. Getting There: Visitors can drive or join a bus tour to the park from Alice Springs (280 miles away), or fly to Ayers Rock Airport/Connellan (AYQ); Qantas and Virgin Australia offer direct flights from several major domestic cities. There are only a few accommodation choices in the area, in different price ranges, and all are owned by Voyages Indigenous Tourism. (Camping is not allowed in the park.) Note that while hiking Uluru is not technically forbidden, the Anangu ask that visitors not climb the rock out of respect for its significance, and also ask that photos not be taken of certain sacred sites. Guests should also not pocket any rocks as souvenirs—those who have say it brings bad luck, and often mail the rocks back to the park. Admission is $25 for a three-day pass. 2. CENOTE SAGRADO, MEXICO  The ancient Maya revered water for its life-sustaining power, and worshiped Chac, the god of rain, because of this awe of H20. Many areas of Mexico are dotted with cenotes—natural underground sinkholes—and the Maya believed that some of these sites were visited by Chac himself. As a result, some cenotes were designated as "sacred" and kept for rituals, offerings and sacrifices, while others were set aside for bathing, drinking and crop water. One of the most notable of the sacred springs is Cenote Sagrado, located near the major Mayan archeological site Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. Created from a natural limestone cave, with steep sides stretching about 60 feet above the water line, this cenote was specifically used for ceremonies and occasional sacrifices; for the latter, men, women, and children were thrown in during drought times to appease the water gods. When archeologists dredged the spring in the 20th century, they found gold bells, masks, cups, rings, jade pieces, and more (many from the post-Spanish period) along with human bones. Getting There: One of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico, Chichen Itza can be reached by car or organized bus tours (typically about $35 per person) from nearby tourist hubs like Cancún or Cozumel, or via infrequent public bus service; the ride is about two-and-a-half hours from Cancún. The entry fee is about $8 and includes the evening light and sound show; headphone tours are $2. Cenote Sagrado is part of the Great North Platform section of the site. 3. MAHABODHI TREE, BODH GAYA, INDIA  According to Buddhist traditions, around 500 B.C., when the ascetic Prince Siddhartha was wandering through what's now the state of Bihar in India, he took rest under a native bodhi tree. After meditating there for three nights, the prince awoke with enlightenment, insight and the answers he had been seeking, which developed into the teachings he went on to spread to his disciples. Naturally, the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment is one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists, and has been a major pilgrimage destination for centuries. Today, a temple complex surrounds what is believed to be a direct descendant of the original majestic tree itself, which sits in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by protective carved panels. A beautiful Buddha statue under the tree marks the significant spot.   Getting There: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is in the Bodh Gaya area of Bihar, India. The site is about three miles from the Gaya Airport and about seven miles from Gaya City. Car service, public buses, and bus tours are also available from the holy city of Varanasi; public buses run about $8.   4. MOUNT KAILAS, TIBET  This black rock mountain in western Tibet is something of a holy hat trick, since it is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains and is thought to be the mythical Axis Mundi, the center of the universe. Hindus believe it is the residence of Lord Shiva and the land of eternal bliss, and have celebrated the mythical Kailas in temple carvings throughout India. Tantric Buddhists say the mountain is the home of Buddha Demchog, who represents supreme bliss, and that three key Bodhisattvas live in the surrounding hills, while Jains believe it is the site (which they call Mount Ashtapada) where the first Jain attained nirvana. The peak is part of the Gangdise Mountain range and is set near the source of some of the longest rivers in Asia, including the Sutlej, the Indus, and the Ghaghara (a tributary of the holy Ganges River). Nearby Lake Manasarovar, considered the source of purity, is another major pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. Getting There: Despite being such a mythical sacred site, Mount Kailas is also one of the least visited, due to its remote location in the Tibetan Himalayas. From Lhasa, it's about a four-night journey over the plateau to the small pilgrim outpost, where there are a few basic guesthouses. From this base, most pilgrims set out on foot, pony, or yak to circumnavigate the base of the mountain, a journey of about 32 miles. There is no record of anyone having attempted to climb Mount Kailas. 5. MOUNT SINAI, EGYPT  Some of the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs can be traced back to this mountain on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, for it was at the top of this peak that Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. Though there is not much archeological evidence confirming this as the exact place, and biblical scholars have theorized for years about the mythical mountain's location, early Christian monks believed this was the sacred site and established several monasteries in the area. Getting There: In the past, visitors could start at St. Catherine's Monastery at the base of the mountain, then climb to the summit, where there is the small Holy Trinity chapel and stunning views, especially at sunrise, however in September 2013, The Guardian reported that St. Catherine's Monastery was forced to close as a result of a shaky economy following the country's uprisings. The mountain can only be reached by road; Dahab and Nuweiba are both about two hours away by car, while it's about three hours from resort hub Sharm al-Sheikh. Most hotels on the peninsula can set you up on a bus tour, and many of these arrive at the base around 1 a.m., so visitors can be at the summit for sunrise. There are two ways to climb: by foot (which takes between 45 minutes and three hours, depending on your pace, or by camel, which is about three hours; note that if you choose the latter, you will still have to walk the final 750 steps up to the top. Guests are required to hire a local guide at the entrance for about $15 (the rate is negotiable.) Because of its peaceful silence, the mountain is also popular with visitors who practice yoga and meditation. 6. GLASTONBURY TOR, ENGLAND  Rising out of the middle of the Summerland Meadows in Somerset, England, is a hill that has long had magical connection. For centuries, Glastonbury Tor (Celtic for "hill") has been a source of myths: Some ancient Celtic civilizations considered it the entrance to the home of the Gwyn ap Nudd, alternately regarded as Lord of the Underworld and King of Fairies (a theory that resurfaced in the 19th century), while pagans may have used it for ceremonies celebrating the Goddess. Later, the site was considered a possibility for King Arthur's Avalon, since Arthur and Queen Guinevere's coffins were supposedly discovered at the top of the hill in the 12th century. And even more recently, theorists have linked the hill to the quest for the Holy Grail. To further add to all the speculation, archeologists have found remains of seven deep, symmetrical terraces on the hill's slopes, which could be anything from Middle Age crop land to a Neolithic labyrinth. Whatever the history, the hill is still thought to have spiritual energy, as visitors often report feeling more hopeful and positive after a walk on its slopes. Topped by the remains of the 15th century church of St. Michael, the hill is managed by the National Trust of the United Kingdom.  Getting There: The Tor is a short walk or bike ride from the center of Glastonbury, which is linked to London by frequent train service. The nearest station to the hill is Castle Cary. Admission is free. 7. CRATER LAKE, OREGON  Formed nearly 8,000 years ago after an alleged massive eruption caused Mount Mazama to collapse, this deep blue, freshwater caldera lake in south-central Oregon plunges nearly 2,000 feet below ground, making it the deepest in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. The Native American Klamath tribe has long considered the lake a sacred site: Their legends say a battle here between the Chief of the Above World and the Chief of the Below World led to the destruction of Mount Mazama. (Historians believe the Klamath people may have witnessed the actual implosion of the mountain.) The tribesmen used Crater Lake in their vision quests (tasks may have included scaling the crater walls), and it is still considered a spiritual spot. The lake is now part of Crater Lake National Park. Getting There: Crater Lake National Park is about 60 miles from the airport in Klamath Falls and 80 miles from the airport in Medford; cars can be rented in both locations. (There is no public transport service available.) The park is open year-round, but some areas may be inaccessible in winter. A seven-day pass is $10 for cars and $5 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcycles. Check the official park website for a list of official free days each year. 8. MOUNT PARNASSUS, GREECE  Towering above Delphi in central Greece, this limestone mountain looms large in Greek mythology. In addition to being sacred to the god Apollo, who often visited the nearby Oracle at Delphi, the mountain was thought to be the residence of the Muses and, as a result, the home of poetry and song. The three Corycian Nymphs, each of whom was romanced by a major god, were born of springs located on Parnassus, and the mountain was also the setting for many minor myths. Today, the only sacred activity takes place on the slopes: The mountain is topped by two popular ski centers and is dotted with scenic hiking trails. Getting There: Mount Parnassus is a winding, two-hour mountain drive from Athens. Day trips and overnight bus tours are also available (Key Tours offers Delphi tours from $120 per person). After exploring the slopes, don't miss a visit to the ancient ruins in Delphi, set in the shadow of the mountain. 9. LAKE ATITLÁN, GUATEMALA  Set up in the Guatemalan Central Highlands, and bordered by three volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America at 1,114 feet. Along with its natural beauty, the lake is famous for the Maya villages that ring its shores, many of which have been there for centuries. Ninth-century Panajachel, one of the largest, has been drawing tourists since the 1960s, while in Santiago Atitlán, residents are known for their worship of Maximo, a local idol that fuses Mayan gods, Catholic saints, and Spanish legends. Mayan ceremonies still take place at various sites around the lake, from caves to the top of an adjacent hill. The lake's shores are also strewn with archeological sites and ruins of pre-Spanish towns, including Chiutinamit, a mythological "underwater city." Getting There: Lake Atitlán is located in western Guatemala, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Guatemala City or Antigua. Companies like Transport Guatemala can arrange for bus or van service (from $25 per person from Guatemala City, from $15 per person from Antigua). There are a wide array of accommodations, from luxury to budget, in towns like Panajachel, along with tourist activities and dining options. 10. VORTEXES, ARIZONA  Sedona, Arizona, has long drawn people interested in healing, spirituality, mysticism, and metaphysics, who come for more than just the dramatic, red-rock beauty. The area is famous for its vortexes, powerful centers of kinetic energy that can have a deep effect on those who visit them; there are four main ones spread around town, including one near the airport. The ancient Native American Yavapai people knew about these centers, and celebrated this "Great Mother" energy with petroglyph paintings and sacred dwellings. Today, visitors can easily walk or hike to the four spots (the one in Boynton Canyon is among the most popular), and once there, can meditate or just soak up the good vibes. Many feel recharged and uplifted after visiting a vortex, and some guests even report having visions or deeper experiences while in town. Getting There: Sedona is a scenic two-hour drive from Phoenix, home to an international airport, and 45 minutes from the smaller commercial airport in Flagstaff. Maps highlighting the four vortexes are available at most hotels and online.

Inspiration

11 New Hotel Wonders

If the best architecture aims at eternity, to paraphrase famed English architect Christopher Wren, then these new hotels are bound to be immortal. The 11 hotels on our list all opened within the last four years, and each is an example of awe-inspiring design in its own right. You can stay in a wave-like skyscraper in Chicago, a stack of cantilevered cubes in Portugal, or a hotel tucked into the wild cliffs of an Australian island. And, even better, it won't cost a fortune to spend a night in these architectural wonders. Seven of the 11 are under $200 a night. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST AMAZING NEW HOTELS 1. BELLA SKY COMWELL  Copenhagen, DenmarkThe two structures that make up the Bella Sky each incline at a slightly different angle. Or as the architects sweetly put it, the towers are drawn to each other, "yet seem a little shy." In fact, the creative use of angles is employed both inside the property and out—geometric angles give the exterior a filigreed look, while inside the hotel there are rooms where there are no 90-degrees at all (there are over 200 different room shapes in the 812-room hotel). The location, in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Orestad five miles from the city center, actually inspired the leaning-tower design. The buildings are so close to the airport that height restrictions dictate that they must not exceed 246 feet. 011-45/3247-3000, bellaskycomwell.dk, from $155 per night. 2. JUMEIRAH AT ETIHAD TOWERS HOTEL  Abu DhabiQueensland architecture firm DBI Design won the World's Leading New Hotel Award for 2011 for this stunning $1 billion residential and retail center. The complex is made up of five towers on a beachside stretch on a peninsula in Abu Dhabi. Constructing the buildings that now dominate the modern skyline posed structural challenges. The towers all curve, meaning each floor slab is a different shape. The 382-room Jumeirah hotel takes up 66 stories of one of the towers. 888/645-5697, jumeirah.com, from $192 per night. 3. HOTEL CONSOLACIÓN  Teruel, SpainPerched atop a ridge, this collection of 10 freestanding, wood-clad modernist cubes, or "Kube" suites, opened in 2009. Located in the rural mountain town of Teruel (a three-hour drive from both Barcelona and Valencia), the sleek cubes create a beautiful juxtaposition with the groves of olive and almond trees that surround them. Each suite has a sliding glass wall that opens onto a private terrace, and, inside, sparse interiors combine slate, copper-treated pine, and metal sheeting. The hotel incorporates some classic elements as well: a converted 14th-century hermitage serves as a communal area for guests. 011-34-978/85-67-55, consolacion.com.es, from $185 per night. 4. SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE  Kangaroo Island, Australia Architect Max Pritchard designed this lodge to blend into the dramatic surroundings of Kangaroo Island. Tucked back behind cliffs, the hotel opened in 2008 and consists of 21 suites cascading down a windswept slope, following the natural curve of the land, each with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and sweeping views of the Southern Ocean. Suites were constructed from lightweight materials—steel screw piles, timber framing, iron cladding—that could be carried in to create minimal disturbance to nature, and which also could handle the challenge of building on precarious soil conditions (several feet of sand atop solid limestone). Inside are environmentally sound sandblasted limestone floors and recycled spotted-gum walls. The off-the-grid location led to innovations such as sculptural containers for collecting rainwater. 931/924-5253, southernoceanlodge.com.au, from $1,000 per person, per night with a two-night minimum. 5. MARINA BAY SANDS  SingaporeThis trio of 55-story towers opened in 2010 and hold an incredible 2,561 hotel rooms, plus a museum, casino, convention center, waterfront promenade, shops, and restaurants. Architect Moshe Safdie has said that his challenge "was to create a vital public place at the district-urban scale-in other words, to address the issue of megascale and invent an urban landscape that would work at the human scale." His way of dealing with that was to design the complex around two central axes to give a sense of orientation. The towers are connected at the top by the cantilevered, two-and-a-half-acre SkyPark, home to gardens, 250 trees, a public observatory and a 492-foot swimming pool—all perched high in the sky like a fantastical cruise ship forever suspended in midair. 011-65/6688-8868, marinabaysands.com, from $350 per night. 6. YAS VICEROY HOTEL  Abu Dhabi This 499-room hotel was the first to be built straddling a Formula 1 racetrack (it opened in 2009 and was renovated in 2011 to become a Viceroy). The structure consists of a pair of 12-story towers joined by a sweeping, 700-foot curvilinear skin of glass and steel—actually 5,800 pivoting, diamond-shaped glass panels that reflect the sky by day and are illuminated up by an LED system at night. The architects' aim was to reflect artistry and geometries associated with ancient Islamic art and craft traditions, and from a distance the panels create the appearance of a spectacular veil. 888/622-4567, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com; from about $210 per night. 7. RADISSON BLU WATERFRONT HOTEL  Stockholm, SwedenThe piece de resistance at this 414-room hotel of white polished stone and rough black stone is its attached conference center—a glass structure with an exterior made up of 13 miles of semi-transparent stainless steel rods. They reflect the sky and water, radically change the skyline, and are what architect Hans Forsmark describes as "a reminiscence of the Nordic Light." The interiors of the hotel, which opened in 2011, follow straight lines and geometric precision. 800/333-3333, radissonblu.com, from $155 per night. 8. AXIS VIANA HOTEL  Viana do Castelo, Portugal The 88-room Axis Viana Hotel was a striking addition to the folkloric village of Viana do Castelo when it opened in 2008. The exterior is made up of reflective aluminum, black glass, and green stone, and the cantilevered design changes the shape of the hotel depending upon your vantage point. The contrasting interior consists of white finishes and materials including wood and stone. It's all edged by a shimmering outdoor pool and surrounded by views of the Lima River and Mount St. Luzia. 011-351/258-802-000, axishoteis.com, from $100 per night. 9.HÔTEL AMERICANO  New York, New York The 10-story Americano sits on the site of a former parking garage in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neighbors were likely pleased with the swap when the hotel opened in 2011. The building looks like a massive metal sculpture—perfect for the gallery-filled neighborhood—with floors connected by catwalks and wrapped with stainless-steel mesh. The industrial façade holds 56 rooms plus two restaurants, a lobby café and two basement bars; for urban escape, there is a roof deck with a pool, bar, and peaceful garden terrace. 212/216-0000, hotel-americano.com, from $295 per night. 10. MIURA HOTEL  Celadná, Czech Republic Rising like a geometric spaceship in the Beskydy Mountains is this distinctive hotel made of concrete, sheet metal, violet glass, Corian, and stone. Miura opened in 2011 and is divided into three parts, one of which seems to levitate above the ground, plus two side wings containing the 44 rooms. The arrangement means that all of the rooms have views of the surrounding mountains. The striking hotel also has an impressive art collection, with works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Czech sculptor David Černý. Known for his large-scale installations, Černý's works here include an almost 30-foot-tall stainless-steel man pushing against the exterior of the hotel. 011-420/558-761-100, www.miura.cz, from $126 per night. 11. RADISSON BLU AQUA HOTEL  Chicago, Illinois Architect Jeanne Gang literally made waves in a city full of iconic skyscrapers with her showstopper building. The 82-story glass structure's exterior has undulating concrete balconies resembling the swirls and ripples of nearby Lake Michigan. Such a unique design brought with it a unique construction challenge—each floor plate is a different shape, which means a different concrete pour was required for every story. To manage it, the concrete was poured into a specially designed flexible metal edge that was reused over and over again—an important detail for green architecture. Much of the building is designated for private residences, but the 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua opened on 18 floors in November 2011. 312/565-5258, radissonbluchicago.com, from $175 per night.   SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 12 Elevators You Have to See to BelieveWorld's 16 Most Picturesque Villages15 International Food Etiquette Rules the Might Surprise You12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For

Inspiration

The 14 Most Beautiful Home and Garden Tours in America

You might think home and garden tours are merely a superficial pleasure (the kind Grandma might enjoy), but you're only half right. Sure, these estates offer their fair share of sensory pleasures—the scent of blossoming flowers, the gurgle of fountains, the warmth of the sunshine as you traverse the grounds—but their beauty is far from skin-deep. To make our list, a property had to be as interesting as it is beautiful, and the result is a collection of homes with real stories to tell. A Georgian Revival mansion that housed descendants of Abraham Lincoln, a palatial, Charles II-style mansion so striking that three classic Hollywood films were shot there—these are the kinds of places you'll still be talking about long after you've left. And then there are the gardens—romantic, Italian-inspired grounds, tropical forests, the gardening world's versions of the Mona Lisa and David. Yes, Grandma would like these places, but who wouldn't? Join us on a photo tour of the homes and gardens. 1. FILOLI, WOODSIDE, CALIFORNIA Husband-and-wife gold-mine owners built this Georgian-inspired 36,000-square-foot house between 1915 and 1917, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. But the property's star feature is the 16-acre English Renaissance garden, which was completed in 1929. The 654-acre Filoli estate is known for its bonsai and magnolia collections, as well as the largest heirloom orchard in private hands in the United States. Best time to visit: In February through August on the fourth Wednesday of every month (and the third Wednesday in September and October), Filoli hosts afternoon teas, where visitors snack on scones with fresh lemon curd and sip tea out of china cups. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays) until October 21 in 2012, 86 Cañada Rd., 650/364-8300, filoli.org, admission $15, tea $45 (including admission). 2. HILDENE, MANCHESTER, VERMONT  The 107-year-old Hildene is a must-see for presidential-history buffs: After all, it was built by Robert Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive into adulthood. Set on a promontory 300 feet above the Battenkill Valley in Vermont's southwest corner, the Georgian Revival mansion housed descendants of the president until 1975 and still contains Lincoln family heirlooms, such as a 1,000-pipe organ installed in 1908, as well as one of only three of the President's iconic stovepipe hats in existence today. Hildene's gardens are notable for their multi-colored flowers, including more than 1,000 peony blooms, planted to resemble a cathedral-style stained-glass window. Best time to visit: Mid-June marks the start of peony season; visit the Hoyt Garden to see Hildene's massive collection of the flowers (many from the original plantings) in bloom. Open daily (except for major holidays), 1005 Hildene Rd., 800/578-1788, hildene.org, admission $16. 3. VILLA TERRACE DECORATIVE ARTS MUSEUM, MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN  Built in 1923, the Villa Terrace was once owned by Lloyd Smith, president of the A.O. Smith Corporation, which made bicycle parts, hot water heaters, and later heavy munitions during World War II. The place now serves as a decorative arts museum, housing pieces from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including an extensive collection of artisan iron crafts. The estate's grounds, which overlook Lake Michigan, are known for the Renaissance Garden, which was modeled after 16th-century Tuscany and restored in 2002. Highlights include bushes that sprout culinary and medicinal herbs and the Scaletta d'Aqua, a water stairway that flows down past three terraces of crab apple trees into a fishpond.Best time to visit: Every year, on the first Sunday in June, the Renaissance Garden celebrates its official opening with free admission. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., 414/271-3656, villaterracemuseum.org, admission $5. 4. MONTICELLO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA  Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the neoclassical style, this plantation home sits on a mountaintop 70 miles northwest of Richmond. From oval flowerbeds to winding paths, Jefferson designed every fruit, vegetable, and flower garden over two centuries ago. Today, those gardens are planted up to three times per year to let seasonal flowers shine, including bee balm and calendula. Don't miss the home itself, where you can see Jefferson's 18th-century furniture, books, and gadgets such as the polygraph, a device which used pens and ink to make exact duplicates of his letters as he wrote them.Best time to visit: Spring and early summer bring the prettiest blossoms. Vibrant tulips reign late April; ornamental Sweet William and delicate Canterbury bells bloom in May. Open daily except Christmas, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $17-$24 (depending on the season). 5. BILTMORE ESTATE, ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA  Set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Vanderbilt's 250-room chateau-style estate ranks as the largest private home in America. The 75 acres of formal and informal gardens—from a tree-specked shrub garden with meandering paths to a manicured Italian garden dotted with pools—were designed by master landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for creating New York City's Central Park. There's also a conservatory filled with tropical plants and a rose garden, which houses more than 250 varieties of the flower.Best time to visit: During the annual Festival of Flowers (April 7-May 20), Biltmore's gardens burst with color as tulips and azaleas start to bloom. Open 365 days a year, 1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, admission varies by season and ranges from $35-$64. 6. BARTRAM'S GARDEN, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA  Located less than 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, this 45-acre farmstead's bucolic vibe belies its urban surroundings. Not only do the grounds hold native species of ferns, wildflowers, and trees, including America's oldest gingko, but they're also home to the country's oldest living botanical garden, which botanist John Bartram started in 1728. Best time to visit: In past springs, boats to Bartram's have departed from Philadelphia's Central City, though prices and dates have not been set for this year. After a cruise down the Schuylkill River, visitors are led on a tour of Bartram's grounds. Open year-round (except holidays), 54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., 215/729-5281, bartramsgarden.org, admission $10; boat tour tickets available at schuylkillbankstours.tix.com. 7. MAGNOLIA PLANTATION & GARDENS, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA  A former slave plantation established in 1679, Magnolia contains America's oldest public gardens. They were constructed in 1840 by John Grimké Drayton, the original estate owner's great-great grandson, and opened to visitors three decades later. Today, the English-style gardens feature winding paths lined with native azaleas (Grimké Drayton is said to have introduced the flower to the U.S.) and antique camellias, as well as a pre-Revolution-era plantation house and a petting zoo with African pygmy goats and whitetail deer.Best time to visit: Magnolia is known for its azalea collection—the biggest in the U.S.—so go in late March or early April when the flowers start to pop. Open year-round, 3550 Ashley River Rd., 800/367-3517, magnoliaplantation.com, admission $10. 8. VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS, MIAMI  Biscayne Bay glitters just beyond the 10 acres of European-inspired gardens and native forest at Vizcaya, an opulent, European-style villa built in 1916 as a winter home for agricultural industrialist James Deering. The mansion-turned-museum houses international antiques and art from the 15th through 19th centuries. But the real scene-stealer is the outdoor sculpture garden, which features artifacts like a Roman altar from the second century AD and the 290-year-old Sutri Fountain, imported from Italy especially by Deering.Best time to visit: Romantics will dig Vizcaya's moonlight garden tours, which offer live music and a chance to gaze at flowers under the stars and are scheduled around full moons. Check the website for dates. Open daily (except Tuesdays and Thanksgiving/Christmas), 3251 South Miami Ave., 305/250-9133, vizcayamuseum.org, admission $15. 9. NAUMKEAG, STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS  This Gilded-Age mansion in the Berkshires was completed in 1886 as a summer retreat for prominent New York attorney Joseph Choate and his family. The 44-room house—which contains the Choates' furniture and artwork from Europe and Asia—sits among 10 acres of terraced gardens designed by America's first Modernist landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. Of particular note are the Blue Steps, four tiers of fountain pools surrounded by a grove of white birches.Best time to visit: The fall foliage in the Berkshires is considered some of the most stunning anywhere in America. The leaves hit their peak in October so head to Naumkeag as close to the end of the season as possible to see the leaves beginning to turn. Open daily, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 5 Prospect Hill Rd., 413/298-3239, thetrustees.org, admission $15. 10. OLD WESTBURY GARDENS, OLD WESTBURY, NEW YORK Hollywood has made good use of this palatial, Charles II-style mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast: North By Northwest, The Age of Innocence, and Cruel Intentions were all shot here. The estate was built between 1904 and 1906 for financier and lawyer John S. Phipps, with elements borrowed from classic British country estates and the medieval Battle Abbey. The collections of English antiques, American furnishings, and Chinese porcelain were amassed over the family's 50-year residence. Westbury House sits on a 200-acre property that once held a number of Quaker farms, surrounded by eight formal gardens, plus wooded paths, ponds, and more than 100 species of trees.Best time to visit: Over 40 flower varieties (from lilacs to irises to tropical water lilies) bloom April through July, but leaf-peeping is a must in October, when Westbury's grounds burst with bold red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. Open daily (except Tuesdays), April 30 through October 31, 71 Old Westbury Rd., 516/333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org, admission $10. 11. HERMANN-GRIMA, NEW ORLEANS  Built in 1831 by a German-Jewish immigrant, who made his fortune in cotton, the pink-bricked Hermann-Grima house—which still includes its original mahogany dining table and hurricane shades—contains the only horse stable and functional outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Outside, the grounds include Versailles-inspired ornamental parterre filled with antique roses and citrus trees.Best time to visit: Every October, Hermann-Grima commemorates 19th-century Creole mourning rituals with a "celebration" called Sacred to the Memory. The house is draped in black crepe, and a coffin is stationed in its parlor. It's morbid, sure, but it also happens to be the house's most popular annual event—and the closest you'll get to reenacting a scene from 1800s New Orleans. Open Monday-Saturday, 820 Saint Louis St., 504/525-5661, hgghh.org, admission $12. 12. GREEN ANIMALS TOPIARY GARDEN, PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND  Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a teddy bear, or a reindeer, or a unicorn? You will at Green Animals Topiary Garden, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Here, more than 80 plants (including California privet, yew, and English boxwood) have been clipped to resemble mammals, birds, and geometric shapes. The garden, which sits on seven acres overlooking Naragansett Bay, shares its land with a rose arbor and fruit trees. The grounds also include a white clapboard house that cotton manufacturer Thomas Brayton bought in 1872—a charmingly meager counterpoint to the ostentatious mansions of Newport, about 10 miles south of here.Best time to visit: Summertime at Green Animals brings sensory overload: The herb gardens are fragrant, the on-site orchards brim with fruit, and Naragansett Bay is guaranteed to be a picturesque shade of blue. Open May 12-October 8, 380 Cory's Ln., 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, admission $14.50. 13. HISTORIC DEEPWOOD ESTATE, SALEM, OREGON  The 4.2 acres of formal English gardens and nature trails at Deepwood—a multi-gabled, Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894—were designed by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture team. The gardens, which are surrounded by the Rita Steiner Nature Trail, are full of romantic touches: gazebos, ivy-covered arbors, and fleur-de-lis-adorned gates.Best time to visit: TheDeepwood Wine & Jazz Fest takes place in the estate's gardens on June 30; for $10, guests can stroll among the flowers while jamming out to local musicians. Oregon wine and gourmet snacks are on hand, too. Open daily (except Tuesdays), May 1-October 15; open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, October 16-April 30, 1116 Mission St. SE, 503/363-1825, historicdeepwoodestate.org, admission $4, though access to the grounds is free. 14. TALIESIN WEST, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA  Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and studio, where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1959, sits at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. (The 550-acre property is now the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.) The house, considered to be one of the architect's masterpieces for touches like the cabaret theater and shaded pool, was constructed with native materials such as desert rocks, and its translucent roof and slanted windows let natural light flood in. Wright was so energized and reinvigorated by Taliesin's desert landscape that he designed some of his most renowned buildings, like New York's Guggenheim Museum, in the abode's drafting room. Outside, the grounds include a sculpture garden filled with bronze statues and desert plants.Best time to visit: The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Taliesin, and the milestone is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of symposiums, fundraisers, and concerts (check website for dates). If you want to skip the fanfare, sign up for the Night Lights tour, which runs Fridays from February through October. The two-hour trek starts at twilight and lets you experience Taliesin's grounds under the dusky desert sky. Open daily (except major holidays), 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480/627-5340, franklloydwright.org, admission varies by tour ($18-$60), Night Lights, $35. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap Secrets of the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports World's 16 Most Picturesque Villages How to Do America's Most Scenic Drive—Without the Traffic