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Canada's Natural Wonders Are Free in 2017

By Liza Weisstuch
June 30, 2017
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
Fritz Mueller/Courtesy Parks Canada
Canada turns 150 on July 1 and it's giving a birthday gift to the world all year long: See its countless national parks and historic sites without charge with the free Discovery Pass

Nature is a little bit like love: Poets and philosophers and songwriters have struggled to describe it since, it seems, the beginning of time. Its majesty, simply put, cannot be simply put. Perhaps one of the best portrayal came from the celebrated naturalist, John Muir when he wrote “This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

But enough of the sentimentality. The only real way to understand nature is to experience it for yourself. You’ve likely entertained the notion of visiting Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. Maybe you’ve already been. But on the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately learning about our mighty northern neighbor. When it comes to breathtaking nature, Canada’s got serious game. (No, really—those geese!). But all groaners aside, there are 46 national parks in the country and 171 national historic sites. Parks Canada, which was registered as a government agency under the National Parks Act of 1911, oversees all those national parks, the one urban national in Ottowa, and 125 national historic sites, the first of which, Fort Ann National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, was designated 100 years ago in 1917.

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We recently told you that 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canada and offered a rundown of its diverse offerings, from natural wonders to sports to cultural destinations. But here's the biggest news yet: on the occasion of the nation's birthday, Parks Canada is giving the world a gift. All year they’re giving out the Discovery Pass, which affords free entry to any park and historic site—148 in all—for a carload of up to seven people. The pass typically goes for $136 Canadian dollars. Little wonder, then, that as of early April, they’ve received 5.9 million orders for the pass, says Eric Magnan, media relations officer at Parks Canada. Additionally, boats get free lockage to the seven national sites, a fee that typically runs $8.80 per foot. (And take note: a small boat is 25 feet.)

“It’s a great opportunity to visit hidden gems,” Magnan says. Among the many suggestions he gave us is Rocky Mountain Historic Site, which is situated close to Banff National Park, offers a heritage camping experience of sleeping in teepees. Also, the Grasslands is still considered a somewhat undiscovered destination, especially for horse riders, he notes.  

“The diversity of activities and landscapes makes our national parks different and unique. In a few hours’ drive you can totally disconnect from urban life,” says Magnan. “For me, that feeling of being free in a national park, that’s really what thrills me.” 

So about those sites, Canada is home to some of the most superlative sites the planet has to offer—the biggest, highest, darkest of their class. Take, for instance, Kluane National Park and Reserve in the southwest Yukon. It’s where Mount Logan juts 5,959 meters into the sky, higher than any other peak in the nation. It’s also where you’ll find the country’s largest ice field, so it’s no surprise that it’s a destination for rafting-loving adventurers. The calving glaciers make for spectacular scenery on the water. 

Speaking of scenery on the water, the Bay of Fundy, part of Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, offers quite a spectacle: the world’s highest tides. At the head of the bay, waves can rise as high as 16 meters, which translates to about the height of a four-story building. Inland there's plenty of camping options, including yurts. For a different kind of extreme excursion to water, check out Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. This Ontario destination, often referred to an inland ocean, has long stunned people with its intense storms. It’s part of a National Marine Conservation area, soon to be recognized as one of the largest protected areas of fresh water in the world. And while we’re on the topic of fresh water, the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, features woodlands that offer bike trails, secluded campsites, waterfront cabins and hiking trails with unbeatable shoreline views.

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The Discover Pass also offers access to a huge range of awe-inspiring historical sites, including feats of industrial and manufacturing progress that man has been able to achieve over the years, each quite consummate in its own right and, of course, a wondrous sight to behold. What’s more, each embodies a moment of history, a turning point in the nation. Take, for instance, Red Bay National Historic Site in Newfoundland and Labrador, the world’s largest and most complete industrial-scale whaling station. With its large population of right and bowhead wales, the area drew multitudes of whalers from Spain’s Basque during the mid-16th century. They established a major whaling port that stands mightily today. Over in Ontario you’ll find the Peterborough Lift Lock at the Trent-Severn Waterway, the world’s highest hydraulic lift, which opened in 1904.

Elsewhere in Ontario, an industrial feat from later in the 20th century is on display at the HMCS Haida, the world’s only surviving tribal class destroyer. Known as "Canada's most fightingest ship," it tread waters during WWII, the Korean War and the Cold War and today it sits majestically in Hamilton’s gorgeously revived Bayfront Park.

This is merely a tiny sampling of Canada’s rich offerings. We’ll leave it up to you to head north and discover the rest. 

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Adventure

Travel 101: How to Raft the Grand Canyon

WHEN SHOULD I GO? Thanks to its desert location and dramatic changes in elevation, Grand Canyon National Park is a veritable climate roller coaster, with recorded temperatures spanning from winter lows of -22ºF to summer highs of 120ºF. Amazingly, these shifts have no impact on water temperature: Because the Colorado River is dam-released from the bottom of the country’s second-largest man-made reservoir, Lake Powell, waters remain at or near a brisk 46ºF, even during the blazing summers. While you’re welcome to raft year-round, keep in mind that each season offers a markedly different experience. May through September is the most crowded, when the summer sun offers a welcome respite from the chilling rapids. But consider the less crowded months of April and October, when you’ll practically have the river (and the limited campsites) all to yourself. Plus, spring and fall come with their own natural perks. April is peak wildflower season in the canyon, while October brings about the so-called “yellow” season, when golden plants all seem to miraculously blossom at the same time. You might say rafting the Colorado River is like Choose Your Own Adventure: It’s an infinitely customizable trip that you can cater to your skill level, stamina, and schedule. The easiest option is a half-day, “smooth water” raft trip with Colorado River Discovery (raftthecanyon.com, from $87 plus $6 river-use fee). You’ll start at the base of the 700-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam, near the town of Page, Ariz., and encounter no rapids along the way. The most hardcore trips, which require expertise and months to years of planning, are the 12- to 25-day self-guided journeys, which take rafters from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek—a whopping 225 miles. HOW EARLY SHOULD I START PLANNING? Your planning schedule will all depend on the length of your trip and whether or not it’s professionally guided. For quick day tours, you can book online, often at the last minute. But most other options require months to years of planning. For overnight self-guided trips, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service. Only two raft groups can disembark each day, so you should have a date in mind and pounce on the slot when it becomes available a year in advance. Longer guided trips can be booked with one of the park’s approved tour outfitters, and many fill up two years early. Finally, if you’re hoping to set out on a large-scale, self-guided river trip (12 to 25 days), it’s all about luck: To receive a permit, you’ll need to enter a weighted lottery system (nps.gov/grca). Names are drawn and launch dates are assigned each February, but keep in mind that it can take years to have your name selected, so be open to other types of trips as a backup plan. WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL OUTFITTER? Unless you have experience with whitewater rafting, you’ll definitely want to use one of the National Park Service’s approved tour vendors. While the river may look peaceful from up above, it can actually be rather treacherous for amateurs. The most intense rapids—labeled either Class V on a standard river scale or size 10 on the Grand Canyon’s unique ranking system—can include enormous waves, steep drops, waterfalls, and extremely narrow passageways between dangerous cliffs. But it’s notjust safety that makes outfitters so great: They also, quite simply, make planning infinitely easier. Most tour companies will provide rafts and oars (as well as auxiliary watercraft, such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards), helmets and life jackets, sleeping accommodations (such as sleeping bags, mattress pads, or tents), food, and, perhaps most importantly, bathroom accommodations. In addition, tour operators will shuttle guests down to the river, which can often be an adventure in its own right for travelers going it alone. WHAT ELSE WILL I DO ON THE TRIP? The river may be the focus of your rafting adventure, but it’s also a fantastic delivery device, connecting the canyon’s many diverse activities. During layover days and meal breaks, you might find yourself rock climbing, bird watching, swimming along the banks, cliff jumping, searching for hidden waterfalls and grottoes, or touring ancient Anasazi granaries and dwellings. Rafting offers a serious upper-body workout, so consider a hike to get your legs moving. By heading into one of the many narrow limestone slot canyons and going up in elevation, you’ll find a totally different view of the river—an outstanding perspective on how far you’ve traveled and how much river is still left to conquer. WHAT WILL I SEE ON THE JOURNEY? Bald eagles spend winters along the Colorado River, stocking up on trout.Bighorn sheep can be seen negotiating the steep cliffs leading down to the water.Eight species of bats live in the desert uplands, but feed on bugs right along the river.Arizona’s state mammal, the raccoon-like ringtail, is a nocturnal hunter, frequently seen scavenging around campsites.The rare California condor can often be glimpsed circling on thermal wind currents high overhead.WHAT SHOULD I PACK? L.L. Bean Neoprene Paddling Gloves: The Colorado River remains at or near a chilly 46°F, even in the summer. Neoprene gloves are a lifesaver, and these come with a Sharkskin grip so you won’t drop your paddle (llbean.com).Pelican iPhone Case: Professional photographers swear by Pelican’s heavy-duty camera cases, but you’ll love its water-resistant, crush-proof iPhone covers, which are O-ring sealed and include an attached carabiner (cabelas.com).Outdoor Research Bug Bivy: River banks can be notoriously buggy, so campers swear by this affordable sleeping sack that comes complete with a protective layer of mosquito netting (rei.com).

Adventure

3 Gorgeous Places to See Spring Flowers

Spring is on the way, we promise! And we don’t just love the longer days and the warm sun. Some of the world's best travel destinations are hotspots for beautiful spring flowers. We're here to show you some of the most beautiful places to see the most colorful blooms. 1. AMSTERDAM Step into a Technicolor wonderland! Keukenhof Gardens, outside Amsterdam, is one of the world’s most spectacular flower gardens in April when the tulips are in bloom. Take a guided tour, or rent a bike to go exploring. Or if you really want to indulge, book one of Avalon Waterway’s Tulip Time river cruises. The Netherlands is tulip-crazy all spring long, and Budget Travel loves Amsterdam for museums filled with Van Goghs and Vermeers, its charming canals, and affordable lodging. 2. DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA Sure, the name sounds bleak, but when winter rains water the California desert and the sun warms the land, wildflowers bloom in the spring. While not every year is categorized a “super-bloom” (a perfect storm of gentle rain, sun, and warm winds), it’s always a knockout, with Desert Gold, Evening Primrose, and Desert Dandelion putting on quite a show. 3. KAUAI, HAWAII It’s always prime time for flowers in Hawaii, but spring is affordable “shoulder season” here and the Hawaiian island of Kauai has a special treat: The new McBryde Gardens, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden network, which premiered in 2017. You’ll see Bird of Paradise, Hibiscus, and the Banana Shrub, which actually smells like a banana daiquiri!

Adventure

See What Happened When This American Couple Visited Iran

This article was written by Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. Before we set off to Iran there was fear. Not so much from within us, but certainly from our family and friends, those usually unequivocal in their support of our travels. During our pre-trip round of phone calls the night before our departure, the tone of some of the goodbyes seemed to imply some thought it just might be for good. Such was the response to us, an American couple, going to Iran. With the recent nuclear deal, interest in travel to Iran is again on the rise. And with this, questions arise: “What did it feel like to travel in Iran as Americans? Is it safe? And why make the effort to visit Iran anyway?” Traveling in Iran as Americans: Our experience, it surprises people—we sometimes think they don’t believe us when we tell them that Iran was the country where we felt most like rock stars. Truly. From the markets of Tehran, to the mosques of Shiraz, even in the dining car of a train across northern Iran to Turkey, we—the Americans—were the unwitting stars of the show.  Iranians are a curious lot. When we revealed that we were American, their excitement level would rise noticeably. They wanted their photos taken with us, invited us for tea, and even showed us off to friends, as if to say, “Look what I found!” Others in our group, Europeans and Australians among them, were welcomed warmly, but their nationalities didn’t seem to carry quite the same draw. Honestly, we were flattered. And sometimes embarrassed by the attention. Take, for example, our visit to the covered bazaar in Shiraz with another American woman in our group. An old man asked us where we were from and what we were looking for at the bazaar: “We’re Americans and are just curious.We don’t have markets like this in our country,” we said. He asked us to wait. After a few minutes, he returned with gift boxes of Iranian cookies and sweets for us to take home to our families. We were barely able to leave the bazaar for all the invitations—to tea and to people’s homes—in the city and halfway across the country. Related: Hot Springs of Iran: the Next Spa Lover’s Fantasy Only later, after returning to our hotel and turning on the television, did we learn the irony of our day: It happened to be the anniversary of Iran’s taking of the American hostages in 1979. International news channels were filled with scenes of demonstrations flush with dancing “Death to America” posters and flaming American flags.   It reminded us of the repeated message from ordinary Iranians we’d met on the street: “People are people, governments are governments. Please tell your friends about the real Iran.” So why travel to Iran? The country is culturally rich and visual varied. From the stone-carved grandeur of 2,500-year old Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia and the setting of the first verbal expression of universal human rights, to the dizzying bits of Islamic tile work in mosques throughout the country, the place is a formidable mountain of history. It’s no surprise that Iran boasts 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most of any country in the Middle East. Then there are the covered bazaars, some of which are over 800 years old, where you can get lost in miles of alleys filled with spice piles and warrens clogged with old men haggling over the fiber count of locally woven carpets. Teahouses, where friends gather for conversation, sweet tea and hookah pipes filled with fruit tobacco, give a taste and glimpse of the social pulse. Related: Solo + Woman + Iran = Insane? Our Writer Did It At the moment, in order for Americans (as well as Canadian and U.K. citizens) to obtain an Iranian tourist visa, they must either book an organized tour or travel with an authorized private guide. During our trip to Iran, we did both—a small-group tour with tour company G Adventures followed by a one-week trip on our own with a local Iranian guide. Even if you are an ardent independent traveler as we both are, don’t let this requirement deter you. We enjoyed ample time on our own to explore and engage, so that we might come away with our own story of Iran and its people.  WATCH: Avalanches, Death Threats, and No Lifts. Welcome to the World’s Most Dangerous Ski Race

Adventure

Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth!

In our modern world, we’re more connected by technology than ever before, but I can’t help but feel that we’re actually growing further apart. Travel is all about connection—that sense of belonging. So I decided to seek out travel advice from the people I met on a solo road trip across the U.S. We start on the California Coast. You ready? See the photos from my coast to coast road trip!  Days 1–3: Los Angeles, CA to Yuma, AZ The scenic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) just south of Los Angeles couldn’t have been a more inspiring start to my trip. Travel is a funny thing: No matter how seasoned you are, there’s nothing more encouraging than meeting an impossibly earnest person with a contagious spirit in the face of a long, unknown path ahead. Warm, lovely Allie Rose, working at a strawberry stand in Long Beach, reminded me why I decided to take this journey in the first place: I needed to look up from scrolling through my iPhone, put down my guidebook with its carefully dog-eared corners, and appreciate fleeting moments and enlightening people. I call them the “darlings” of the road, placed there seemingly on purpose. I bought two pints of ripe red strawberries from Allie for $4 before taking in the scene at Tamarack State Beach. So many cars were pulling over that I thought there must be a festival. Nope! The pre-sunset tides were so ideal that droves of surfers were racing to catch the perfect wave. I’m a surfer poseur, so after snapping shots of them suited up and expertly skimming the water, I sat on the beach and ate the fresh, sweet strawberries while looking out over the Pacific Ocean, at times seeing nothing but the heads of agile surfers bobbing up and down in the distance. As I dipped 24 miles south on the PCH, picturesque vignettes of the ocean kept appearing over my right shoulder, one after the other. I reached La Jolla Cove—famous for its hundreds of seals—just in time to catch the sunset. Daybreak at San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Natural Park came dressed in a mellow haze of light fog—peaceful weather ideal for yoga at dawn. I was soon back on the road, on Route 5, in search of a dish true to the area. A local truck driver’s recommendation? Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill. Less than five bucks bought me a hearty mahi mahi taco and a fresh-outta-the-sea flavor I’ll spend my whole life trying to find again. Turning onto I-8, I traced the Mexican border, weaving close to it, then skirting away when the highway leaned north. Coming from the coast, the ocean vistas twisted into a mountainous desert landscape, which transformed into hills seemingly made of tiny pebbles. The roadside flatlined into desert followed by fields. Just shy of Yuma, Arizona, the almost Moroccan-looking Algodones Dunes came into view, the sand’s curves resembling perfectly whipped chocolate meringue, the peaks folding into valleys again and again. Ten miles west of Yuma, I motored to Felicity, California, dubbed the Center of the World. The strange compound’s pyramid holds the “official” center-of-the-world plaque. A sun dial made of a bronze replica of God’s arm juts out from the ground, as does an original spiral staircase from the Eiffel Tower. I felt that pleasant disorientation that road tripping is all about. At Yuma Territorial Prison Museum, I met Louie, the kind of guy who refuses to take his sunglasses off for a portrait but will let you see into his big, open heart. As I left, he said, “Good luck on your trip. Don’t take any bullsh*t from anybody. If people try and tell you bullsh*t, just ignore them and go on your way. Keep holding true to your instincts.” Days 4–6: Tucson, AZ to El Paso, TX Green chiles and desert peaks: Check and double-check! The southwest, by way of southern Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, offered me spicy eats, cool drinks—and a pickup line that's so good you might want to write it down. After cruising past the unmistakable desert silhouette of Picacho Peak on I-10, I discovered my new favorite drink: kombucha on tap—literally pourable probiotics!—at “plant-based” (a.k.a. organic, locally sourced, and vegan-friendly) Food for Ascension Café in Tucson. While exploring the city center, I crossed paths more than once with a curious kid along East Congress Street. When we finally spoke. I thought I had just heard our generation’s latest pickup line (“You on Instagram?”), but it turned out he was a local filmmaker likely just interested in my heavy-duty camera and what I was shooting. A self-proclaimed Chuck Taylor sneaker enthusiast, José suggested I head to Fourth Avenue, a stretch of road saturated with hyper-local establishments and colorful characters, not technically downtown and not quite into University of Arizona territory. Fourth Avenue feels like it’s growing by the minute yet manages to maintain a humble, familiar energy—a nostalgia, even: the rare up-and-coming area that’s not trying too hard to be hip. Afterward, I hopped back on the road to Las Cruces, New Mexico, specifically the village of Mesilla. I’d gotten word that La Posta de Mesilla dishes out the “best green chiles in town,” so I pulled up a chair and ate next to a group of friendly folks who recommended I take Route 28 to El Paso. Reason being: It runs south through a string of pecan farms, with trees reaching out from either side of the road to form a gorgeous natural leafy archway that continues for miles and miles. Around the West Texas border, I noticed my “I’s” turning into “we’s.” My rented Prius (I’d named her Penn) and I had been through a lot: unexpectedly rugged terrain, shameless karaoke-worthy playlists, and eerie green skies in El Paso, where I feared flash floods and tornadoes that never appeared. Yes, I had formed a bond with an inanimate object. Penn was officially the Rocinante to my Don Quixote. My noble steed. Days 7–9: Marfa, TX to Lockhart, TX Take one nail-biting traffic stop and mix in wild animals and a barbeque joint, and you've got my first taste of the Lone Star State. Border police, if you're reading this, I vow never to mess with Texas again. Three hours southeast of El Paso, the artsy celebrity haunt Marfa, Texas, appeared like a mirage. I stumbled on the Food Shark Truck, where hipsters in combat boots, families, and in-the-know seniors were grabbing falafel sandwiches (“marfalafels”) and tacos. On advice from Laura in El Paso, I cruised to Big Bend Brewing Co. in Alpine, Texas, where I admired amber-hued ales and met hard-scrabble Randy. When I asked about his hat, he said, “A hat? This is a lid, kid. I was born with this thing on.” En route to San Antonio, I had my first—and only—run-in with the law. I had innocently taken a long-cut around Brackettville to avoid stirring up my fear of wind turbines (it’s a real thing called anemomenophobia!), which is a no-no: The route is often used by shady types to avoid the border patrol checkpoint on I-90. Two cops swiftly pulled me over. I told a very serious-looking officer about my windmill phobia, and they sent me on my way—after searching my car. The trouble was worth the beauty I saw next: five antelope with prominent spiral horns. After a stop at Pearl in San Antonio for some souvenir jewelry, this leg of my trip ended on a high note: Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. I eagerly dug into my pile of smokehouse meat served on butcher paper. Days 10–11: Austin, TX to Houston, TX I didn't have to look too hard to find exactly what keeps Austin weird (hint: peacocks and two-stepping play a major role) before heading east to Houston and eventually leaving my inner cowgirl behind. Next on the map? Austin. And the close wildlife encounters were just beginning: Back in Marfa, I received a true Keep Austin Weird–style suggestion to visit Mayfield Park, a “peacock park” that is not a zoo. The pretty beasts unfurled their plumage as I snapped them mid-mating dance. Later that night, I got my ultimate Texas experience at the Broken Spoke in Austin, a dance hall dubbed the “best honky-tonk in Texas,” where locals pay $12 to two-step to live music, sip beers, eat barbecued brisket and potato salad, and watch newcomers try their best to fit in. Soon after I arrived, an older amiable fellow in a cowboy hat, Levi’s, and leather boots named Polo, who says he comes every Saturday, introduced himself. He knew right away that I was a newbie—not because I was green to the scene, but because he seems to have met everyone who comes through the Spoke’s door. I was honored when he asked me to dance. That night, a legend was in the house: Dressed in a flashy red shirt studded with rhinestones, Broken Spoke founder James M. White made his way through the crowd, which treated him with deference and respect, as though he were a beloved local politician. A soothing punctuation mark to my Texas travelogue was a sunrise visit to artist James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace: a grass, concrete, stone, and steel structure with a rectangular window to the sky designed to function as a mind-bending play on color when the sun rises and sets. As I lay on the ground, I watched the colors of the sky change as the pavilion’s artificial light glowed around it, tricking the mind into thinking the sky is a different color than it is. You could call it an immersive, highbrow version of the “blue or white dress” debate. Visits are always free. Before I headed to Louisiana, I grabbed a bite in Houston at Local Foods, where Nina shared with me her favorite New Orleans staples from her days at Tulane, despite the long, long line of people waiting behind me: “When you are downtown, make sure to look at the antique shops on Royal Street and see some live music on Frenchman. New Orleans is my favorite city in the world... so far.” Days 12–13: New Orleans, LA to Tallahassee, FL A little-known beignet joint, a stroll down Frenchman Street, and a conversation with a New Orleanian who tried to beat me at my own game were all highlights of my journey through the Deep South. Swinging low from Baton Rouge to N’awlins and back up again to Slidell via I-10, I found myself deep in southern Louisiana. If you’ve been to NOLA, you probably know Cafe Du Monde’s beignets. Instead, on the advice of a photographer couple, I went north, toward Lake Ponchartrain, to Morning Call Coffee Stand, which serves beignets off the beaten track—and has fewer tourists waiting to steal your table. There, I met Robbie, exactly the kind of server you’d expect to find at a 24/7 coffee stand going on its 145th year of service in the south. Even though I only wanted to try one hand-rolled beignet, Robbie informed me, with an infectious grin and persuasive shrug, that I could get three for the same price. When I asked to take his portait, he said yes—but only if he could also take mine. Pretty clever, and a first on this trip! My beignets appeared on a white plate, plump and golden, a sugar shaker at the ready. After giving them a powdery coat, I bit into the first one. Bliss. Sugar State bliss. Days 14–15: Savannah, GA to Charleston, SC Is it over already? After two weeks of unique sights, good food, and unbeatable chats with locals, I pumped the brakes to settle into Georgia's slow southern pace, eventually winging my way up to South Carolina for one last sunset. Dusk in Savannah. As the sun melted like hot butter on the horizon, over the rooftop of my hotel, I plotted out my journey to the Olde Pink House for dinner the next day—the restaurant has a stellar reputation for shrimp and grits, specifically its “southern sushi,” smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori. Since my hotel was nearby, I stopped by to scout it out. While doing so, I met Jasmine, an effervescent young hostess who asked me if I would take her portrait—but quickly caught herself: “Tomorrow! Can you come back tomorrow? I’ll wear pink.” My second day in town, I hopscotched among Savannah’s 22 lush, grassy squares to iconic Forsyth Park, draped in the Spanish moss that's inseparable from the idea of Savannah as a city. After capturing the scene on camera and doing some serious people-watching and music- listening—musicians constantly play in the park—I meandered along the river, stopping at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple crisscrossed with ribbons of chocolate. One last state loomed large as I zoomed up I-17. Folly Beach, South Carolina, grabbed my attention with its classic Atlantic Coast vibe: locals eating ice cream, playing volleyball, and dipping their toes in the surf. I bellied up to the Folly Beach Crab Shack, ordered crab balls with rémoulade for less than 10 bucks, and set out for a marina between the beach and Charleston: the best place to watch the sun set, Bonnie at the crab shack shared. As the horizon shifted from orange to pink to navy, I let my mind drift back to the start of my trip, my thoughts running backward across the country, up and down the south’s peaks and valleys, past its ocean vistas, along the open road, accompanied by my camera, now filled with freeze-framed natural beauty and the faces of new friends.

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