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The best books to read in every state in America
As soon as coronavirus arrived in New York City last winter, my brain became a tangle of anxious thoughts, pounding down on my already overtaxed amygdala. I had one salvation: a three-by-two map of America hanging in my living room. While most of my friends set their sights on the Balis and Bermudas of the world, my only travel goal has long been to visit every state in America. Ostensibly, this map’s point was to be the canvas for a smattering of pins until I created a multi-hued distribution upon all 50 sates. In actuality, the point was to accomplish something, to wrangle up America into a palm of pastel thumbtacks, to live a life full of stories. Stories from a life of zigzagging our great terrain this past year, it turned out, would not be in the cards as travel restrictions and lockdowns made all too clear from the outset of this mess. But as I squinted once again at the pin-less sweep of real estate on my wall somewhere between Minnesota and Oregon early last spring, I realized I could still get to work on these travels, if I got a little creative. Thus, my 50 states book project was born, where I embarked on a challenge to read a tome set in every state in the union. I still met people and places and things and disasters and triumphs, but I didn’t rent a car, or hop on a plane, or even scour the internet high and low for Clorox wipes to sanitize my hotel room. Instead, I let William Least Heat-Moon, Bill Bryson, and Paul Theroux lead me on road trips, I hung out with that guy who walked across America, Peter Jenkins, I chased redbirds in Kentucky with Sharon Creech, listened to crawdads singing in North Carolina, and I went on one hell of a bender with Hunter S. Thompson in Vegas. I spent a grand total of $233.96 buying used books on Amazon—less than an average one-night hotel stay in Chicago, mind you. I read classic texts and obscure novels, fiction and nonfiction, humorous and heartbreaking, and it completely changed the way I think about travel. For one thing, given the titles I read, I can now unequivocally say the best adventures are the outdoors ones. My nationwide literary adventure had me walking around my own little nook of a park, Sutton Place Park in Midtown Manhattan, like I was a Thoreauvian naturalist (I’m not sure how he’d feel about the giant neon Pepsi Cola sign across the East River). In lockdowns, these books gave me inspiration to find meaning in the toughest of days knowing that This Too Shall Pass, and the road awaited me. It even helped me feel a little less pissed when my well-intentioned best friend would send me gorgeous mountain-y snapshots from her quarantine castle in the Hudson Valley. After all, I had just gotten back from a whirlwind stint in Iowa. Perhaps counterintuitively, surveying a book from every state in America blurred the lines of my much-loved pushpin map. Alaska was Alabama was Kentucky was Kansas. On page 18 of my Michigan selection, The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, A Family, and the Land That Healed Them by Dean Kuipers, I came across this passage: “The great American anarchist Edward Abbey is probably not a terrific role model for mature relatedness—by all reports, he had prickly relationships with other people and, like Henry David Thoreau, needed the solitude he so extolled. But in Desert Solitaire Abbey addressed that need to confront our position vis-à-vis the nonhuman world…” In a quick swoop of the pen, my Michigan author had referenced my Maine essayist and my Utah wordsmith. We’re all independent, yet linked. Separate, yet dependent. Alone in the woods, yet with your friends on the forest floor. Alaska is Alabama is Kentucky is Kansas. Alabama Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep Cep does a deep dive into Harper Lee’s true-crime book about reverend Willie Maxwell, an alleged serial murderer that never was finished and published. Her portrait of To Kill a Mockingbird’s scribe, Harper Lee, is just as fascinating as the unreal story of Maxwell. Alaska Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer There’s hardly a stretch of 10 pages in this book without creased corners and underlining, in this enthralling account of a renegade college grad who abandons the conventions of traditional life on Alaska’s harsh frontiers. Arizona Arizona Then and Now: People and Places by Karl Mondon By the time I got to my Arizona selection, my eyes had glazed over from so. much. text. Thankfully, this assortment of archival photos from the Jeremy Rowe Collection juxtaposed with modern-day photography from Mondon was exactly what I needed. Nothing will beat the heavenly Grand Canyon, but the main street photos of towns like Bisbee and Winslow really made me nostalgic for wandering a new teeny town’s downtown for the first time. Arkansas Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks by Jared M. Phillips Hippies of the Haight-Ashbury variety + backwoods hillbillies = “Hipbillies.” A fascinating perspective on this Southern counterculture from the 1960s and ‘70s, I was intrigued to learn about these back-to-the-landers’ incredible impact on the future of the Ozarks. California The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan Head to San Francisco in this award-winning gem from Tan that also brings you along to China in stories of immigrant Americans, the lives and pain they left behind, and the chapters they’ve built anew. Colorado The Voyeur's Motel by Gay Talese A journalist uncovers a heck of a world after receiving an anonymous letter from a peeping Tom who owns a hotel in Aurora and spies on unknowing guests. It’s creepy, it’s can’t-put-down, and it will definitely have you look around extra carefully after you check into a hotel room. Honorable mention: Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson by Juan Thompson Connecticut The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin Well, guess I need to see the 2004 movie starring Nicole Kidman now. Because, wow, what a book: When Joanna arrives in Fairfield County with her husband and kiddos from New York City an American horror classic ensues, from the same author as Rosemary’s Baby. Delaware And Never Let Her Go: Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer by Ann Rule This book has something for every kind of reader, true crime, politics, superb research, psychological nuances...the list goes on and on. You’ll stay up way past your bedtime finishing this one. Florida Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh Woman decamps from her busy life and heads to Captiva Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. Woman picks up various seashells and uses them as metaphors to reflect on life: work, relationships, struggles, joys. Turns out said woman is married to a Nazi (see: New Jersey), which ruins this poetic, rhythmic philosophical missive for me. Georgia Between Georgia Torn between two families, a husband and a best friend love interest, the tension is palpable in this Southern Drama with a capital D. As one reader referenced in the Amazon reviews, the saying "We don't hide crazy in this family. We sit it down on the front porch and give it a cocktail” was just made for this book. Hawaii The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings You know a book is that good, when the George Clooney movie version doesn’t even hold a candle to it. There’s a wife in a coma and her extramarital affair, a husband forced to reckon with raising his two daughters alone and being heir to a ton of primo real estate, and so much more that will leave you unable to think about anything else for a couple of days. Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich I’ll be the first to admit I picked this book up for the eye-catching floral design on the cover, but I couldn’t put it down for the pathos bleeding through every page. When a mother kills her child, so much more crumbles and is lost, but the beauty here is in all that is found, practically, philosophically, and otherwise. Illinois Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond When I was an editor at Men’s Journal in 2016, I sat in the cubicle next to Mr. Diamond (remember these things called offices) and this book encpatures so much of who he is: wise, writerly, idiosyncratic, and a touch grumpy. Enjoy the ride as he commences a quest for the filmmaker behind Home Alone, Sixteen Candles, and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Indiana The Fault In Our Stars by John Green I’m still crying, but to be fair, how could you not be crying after reading this novel about two kids who love like there are thousands of tomorrows despite the terminal cancer diagnoses with which they’re both reckoning. Iowa The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 1950s-era Iowa is brought to life in this oft humorous memoir from the beloved travel writer. It really made this New York City kid feel like she was missing out on a quintessential childhood experience by never having attended a county fair. Kansas In Cold Blood by Truman Capote A true crime classic that revolves around the brutal slaying of four family members in a small town in Western Kansas and the detective work that ensues. The book was praised for utilizing novelistic techniques to describe the characters and their feelings, a trailblazer for the nonfiction genre. Kentucky Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech Lockdowns have had me returning to tween books (don’t judge me), and I don’t regret the walk down memory lane in the least, especially in the company of the protagonist Zinny. The industrious youngster sets out into the woods and grapples with grief, blossoming love interests, and frustrating family dynamics along the way. Don’t we all? Louisiana Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa Step inside 1950s Louisiana in Komunyakaa’s hometown of rural Bogalusa in this harrowing collection of poems. Within, the talented poet tackles racism, sexuality, and economic inequalities with a swift, vivid hand. Maine The Maine Woods by Henry Thoreau What I would give to escape this city jungle and take a walk in the Maine woods right about now. Thankfully, Thoreau’s quintessential naturalist account of three trips into the rugged woods with philosophical musings intertwined with the detailed physical descriptions of all that Thoreau witnesses. Pretty foreboding for the mid1800s: “the mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest out of the country.” Maryland Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler Admittedly, I picked up this book because there was a tantalizing slice of pie on the cover. But I’m glad I did: Follow along for all that unfolds as one grieving Baltimore family learn about long-hidden truths and struggles to cope. Massachusetts Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom I mean, what can I say about Tuesdays with Morrie? In this blockbuster memoir-cum-biography, a journalist visits his beloved former college professor at home as he dies of ALS. A five-star book (albeit, with some four-star writing). A beautiful biography of a life well lived, and a workaholic writer who’s outlook is changed because of his inspiring teacher’s example. Michigan The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, A Family, and the Land That Healed Them by Dean Kuipers It was easy to fall in love with Kuipers’ elegant prose in a story about an estranged father and his three sons and what happens when said absent dad tries to make amends after buying 100 acres of hunting property in middle-of-nowhere Michigan. It’s a memoir I know I’ll be recommending for years to come. Minnesota Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich I had picked this book up because I was supposed to gather with a crowd of hundreds to see Erdrich speak at the 92nd Street Y this past month. Needless to say, that blessed packed auditorium never came to fruition, but I’m glad I still devoured this spooky, powerful account of a pregnant woman in a world where expecting mothers are held captive in hospitals. Honorable mentions: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; The Good Girl by Mary Kubica Mississippi The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner I did it. I read a full Faulkner book. And while I probably would have understood more about this Deep South family and Dilsey, their black servant, had I read the SparkNotes, if only for the occasional heart-stopping quote like “Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Missouri The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson This Missouri native and now Harvard professor captures the oft overlooked history of St. Louis, tracing the city from Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to modern times, with moving examples in each chapter. It’s a tough look at racism in our country from centuries past to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, but a look well worth taking. Montana A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean So far, I’ve lost one friend to Big Sky Country since lockdowns commenced, and I can now totally appreciate why. Penned by a retired English professor who commenced his fiction career at 70, this novella and accompanying short stories will have you eager to fly-cast and play cribbage amidst a backdrop of trout streams, drunkards, and whores (maybe not the whores). Nebraska The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert Venture to the 1898 Omaha World's Fair – filled with sinners and saints – as one ventriloquist stumbles upon a new love. The book has burlesque dancers, snake oil salesmen, and plenty of wild west drama and romance. In these strange times, what more could you want? Nevada Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson Like The Plot Against America (see: New Jersey) I didn’t think this stream of conscious book would be for me, so I was amazed that I polished it off in three evening reading sessions. Vegas is wild, life is wild, and it’s all gravy baby in this fast-paced (psychedelic) trip. New Hampshire Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving If this doesn’t make you want to traipse around New Hampshire (minus an accidental murder and an unfortunate sheriff), I don’t know what will. The inventive novel takes detours to Iowa, Vermont, and more, as you get to know three generations of men and a rotating cast of women and feel particularly drawn to say goodbye to your smartphone for a while and retreat to 1950s Coos County, New Hampshire. New Jersey The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth In this lengthy novel, Roth reimagines a world in which Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh is President, creating fantasized historical fiction that has striking parallels to today’s dystopian America. The book focuses on Philip’s upbringing in Newark in the 1940s in a tight-knit Jewish community, with a brother desperate to leave and a cousin returning home from World War II missing a leg. Overall, this book a nice reminder for me that reading beyond your typical wheelhouse pays dividends. Check out the miniseries on HBO Max after you’re done. Honorable mention: Shore Stories: An Anthology Of The Jersey Shore by Richard Youmans (Editor) New Mexico House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday After I told a friend in California about my little project, I was touched when this book arrived in my mailbox a few days later. This Pulitzer Prize novel by esteemed Kiowa journalist moved me in all the right ways during such a time of turmoil with the unforgettable Abel, a Native American man who returns to his reservation after fighting in World War II. New York The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger In a time when it was easy to forget New York City’s boisterous splendor, it was comfort food to cavort around famed landmarks and reconvene with old Phoebs, Holden, and even pimply Ackley. As for “those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South,” I’m pleased to report they appear to be COVID-free and frolicking about even as hell and temperatures freeze over. Honorable mentions: A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin; Here Is New York by E.B. White; Manhattan’45 by Jan Morris; An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena; The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America by Russell Shorto North Carolina Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens A haunting murder story with unforgettable characters, a moving love story, and evocative descriptions of nature’s wonders, all set in the marshlands of the Old North State. North Dakota The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown by Blaire Briody Part culture analysis, part travelogue, this book about the oil biz delivers on the premise of its title — especially on the wild front. Ohio Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance From page one to the end, try putting this book down as it simply yet poignantly captures the realities of growing up in a family riddled with addiction and drama. P.S. If you watched the stekkar new Netflix flick, you’ll definitely appreciate reading the original memoir. Oklahoma A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal Dubbed “a love letter to a classic American city,” this love story in a Tulsa that straddles the line between dusty and sparkling is unlike any other you’ve ever read. Oregon Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed Okay, so it also covers California and Washington, but since the author lives in Portland, we’ll give this unique, achingly beautiful memoir to her stomping grounds. Chronicling one woman’s quest to hike the PCT in the cradle of grief, this memoir will change your outlook on everything from nature to family. P.S. Reese Witherspoon stars in the 2014 movie adaptation. Pennsylvania Rabbit, Run by John Updike This was the first Updike book I read, but it won’t be the last. I think one Goodreads reviewer nailed it: “Have you ever seen something noted because it is a representation of a specific thing? For example, a building might be marked with a plaque as a perfect representation of a type of architecture. Well, this book should be marked with a plaque as a perfect prose example of America in the late 50s/early 60s.” It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t progressive in its treatment of women, but man was it enthralling. Rhode Island The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore Get to know Anthony, Joy, and Lu, three strangers whose lives become intertwined on Little Rhody’s picturesque Block Island. They may call it a summer beach read, but I call it cozy quarantine perfection. South Carolina The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank Set in Georgia and South Carolina, its a low-country love story that will leave you feeling Hallmark movie good. Also, the descriptions of towering trees, Sullivan’s Island, and Charleston restaurants, will help you indulge the armchair traveling spirit we all need right now. South Dakota Deadwood by Pete Dexter When the going gets tough, the tough head to Deadwood...at least in the 1870s if you’re Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane. Expect searing grit. Booze, sex, betrayal, and murder in an action-packed work of fiction you won’t soon forget. Tennessee Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver A searing fictional narrative that grapples with the effects of climate change and draws you into the world of a young woman living on a farm in an isolated sliver of Tennessee. If you’re a lover of the mystical monarch butterflies, this is definitely for you. Texas God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright Diverse chapters covering everything from hurricanes and guns to music and Texan heroes, get a taste of this big, beautiful, and oft contradictory state. (Which, by the way, is so much more than Austin) Utah Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey This best-seller reminded me of the understated, almost eerie grandeur of Utah (I once took a SUP yoga class in thermal waters within the Homestead Crater, a 10,000-year-old crater, about a half-hour outside of Park City, if that’s not enough trendy activities rolled int one) — and had me itching to return. Through Abbey’s elegiac prose, sourced from journals and reflections of his time spent as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, you’ll yearn for the day when you can visit all of the natural wonders he describes for yourself, and with new eyes. Vermont Stranger in the Kingdom by Frank Mosher It’s a real treat to get lost in fictional Kingdom County, Vermont, in this tale that centers around a small town, a murder, and life in New England. Dealing with difficult themes like racism, Mosher manages to weave in humor and moral lessons without being preachy. Virginia The Jezebel Remedy by Martin Clark What happens when a married couple who are partners in law in a small Virginia town encounter a mysterious death of their most eccentric clients will leave you surprised at each twist and turn. One of my first quarantine reads last spring, it’s a veritable page-turner and welcome distraction from the relentless news cycle. Washington Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Spoiler alert!) The last line of this courtroom drama regarding a case of a drowned fisherman on remote San Piedro Island was well worth slogging through the entire book for me: “Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.” West Virginia Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life by Chuck Kinder This Goodreads review just about summed it up: “At turns uproariously funny and break-my-goddamn-heart sad, Last Mountain Dancer started off good and ended even better, set in a world where Hank Williams occupies the same spiritual space as the ubiquitous Jaaaaaysus.” Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the day when I get to visit these country roads for myself. Wisconsin Population: 485 — Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry I’ve visited my fair share small towns in Wisconsin like outdoorsy Door County’s fly-speck gem, Sister Bay, and Elkhorn to see the Dave Matthews Band play the much-hyped amphitheater that is Alpine Valley, but I’ve never ventured to one quite like Perry’s hometown of New Auburn, rendered beautifully in this unforgettable memoir. Wyoming Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James I like Harlequin romance novels, so shoot me. Hippie vegetarian meets hunky cattle farmer in a raunchy stint at the ole Split Rock Ranch and Resort in this “Blacktop Cowboys” series mass market paperback hit. Now I definitely want to visit Wyoming for the, um, scenery.
We have plenty of love for the National Park System’s heavy hitters, but with 418 sites spanning more than 84 million acres across the country and its territories, there are a ton of lesser-known gems just begging to be explored. Here are 10 extraordinary protected lands that deserve a place on your bucket list. 1. Chaco Culture National Historical Park: New Mexico (Golasza/Dreamstime) From the mid-800s until the mid-1200s, the Chaco Canyon’s high-desert environs was a social and economic hub for the ancestral Pueblo culture that called it home. Chacoan architecture was particularly impressive, featuring huge, multi-floor, multi-room dwellings called great houses, built over the course of decades and incorporating canny design elements in the process. More than 3,000 of the massive stone structures have been preserved, and most of the cultural landmarks are open for self-guided exploration year-round. Take in the five major sites along the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive, sign up for a ranger-led tour of the great houses, or hike the backcountry trails for ancient petroglyphs and stunning vistas. For a special treat, visit at night, when the Milky Way puts on an unbeatable show. Designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2013, Chaco’s Night Sky program roster includes weekend lectures and telescope viewings at the observatory. Stargazers, mark your calendars: Biannual star parties are usually held in May and October, and an astronomy festival happens each September.7-day pass, $25 per car; nps.gov/chcu. 2. Glen Echo Park: Maryland With a children’s discovery museum, a dance hall, and a fully functional carousel dating to 1921, it’s safe to say Glen Echo Park, located about eight miles from Washington, D.C., is not your average federally protected land. Originally established in 1891 as a Chautauqua, a non-denominational Christian summer camp–like phenomenon, it became a proper Coney Island-style amusement park in 1911. During the next three decades, Echo Park added bumper cars, a pool with a capacity of 3,000 swimmers, the Spanish Ballroom, which hosted pop stars like Bill Haley and His Comets, and more. It closed in 1968, the National Park Service took over in 1971, and the historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Today, Glen Echo counts half a million annual guests for classes and performances, though few of its original attractions remain: Its entrance is still visible, but the pool itself is in ruins; the bumper-car pavilion remains intact, albeit without its steel floor; the carousel, fully restored, operates from May through September, and the ballroom can be rented out for special events. Pack a picnic lunch, go a few rounds on the carousel, and bask in the nostalgia.Park entry, free; carousel rides, $1.25; nps.gov/glec. 3. Effigy Mounds National Monument: Iowa Throughout the Upper Mississippi River Valley, in parts of what’s now Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, Native American earthen mounds of varying shapes and sizes dating to pre-Columbian times proliferate. You’ll find 206 of them in northeastern Iowa, from linear ceremonial mounds to more animal-shaped effigy mounds than anywhere else in the world. Just don’t expect to leave with a full understanding of these ancient structures: Archeologists speculate that they could be territorial markings, while tribal descendants say they’re sacred sites. Stop at the visitor’s center for a map of the park’s 31 bird and bear shapes, then wander its 14 miles of trails, including short accessible stretches and steeper hikes, to see how many you can spot.Free; nps.gov/efmo. 4. Manhattan Project National Historical Park: New Mexico, Washington, and Tennessee The world’s first atomic weapons were developed through a top-secret government project involving hundreds of thousands of scientists, mathematicians, and members of the military, spread across three massive sites: uranium-enrichment and plutonium plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; nuclear reactors and chemical separation plants in Hanford, Washington; and the remote complex at Los Alamos, in northern New Mexico, where Robert Oppenheimer notoriously led the team that designed and built the bombs. All three sites are open to visitors, though some areas of each remain under the Department of Energy’s purview and may not be accessible to the public. Still, there’s plenty to see: Walk through historic downtown Los Alamos on a self-guided tour, sign up for a free guided tour of the B Reactor in Hanford, or, for a small fee, book a bus tour through the Oak Ridge site with the Department of Energy.Park entry, free; nps.gov/mapr. 5. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park: Louisiana (Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime) From L.A. to New York, America boasts a dizzying array of jazz venues, but where better to get a feel for the form than the place it was born? At the New Orleans Jazz Museum in the city’s National Historic Park, near-daily concerts range from solo acts to traditional quartets to a band made up of park rangers and civilians alike. There are also ranger-led demonstrations and lectures on the history of jazz that often have a live-music component as well. But there’s more to the park than these performances. Drop in for a free yoga class and practice your downward dog as a park ranger provides the improvisational-piano soundtrack, take a self-guided audio tour of 11 historically significant sites around the city, or visit the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University to watch hundreds of oral histories from local musicians.For a schedule of park events, including concerts, talks, and ranger-led demonstrations, visit nps.gov/jazz. 6. Wind Cave National Park: South Dakota In the Black Hills of South Dakota, below a square acre of prairie and pine forest, there’s an extremely complex cave—one of the oldest and longest in the world. Wind Cave is so spacious it has its own internal air-pressure system, taking its name from the gusts emanating from its natural entrance: The Lakota referred to the cave as the “hole that breathes cool air,” and the brothers credited with its discovery in the 1880s were drawn to it by the sound of the wind across its mouth. Subterranean expeditions during the next 130-plus years revealed a staggering geological display, from cave formations like the commonly seen popcorn and frostwork to the much rarer boxwork—and there’s more of that here than in any other caves in the world combined. It’s free to explore the 33,851 acres of parkland above ground, but you’ll need to sign up for a guided tour to see the cave itself. Options range from easy (the Garden of Eden tour, which enters and exits via elevator) to extremely strenuous (the Wild Cave tour, which comes with a warning that crawling is involved). Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis; they go quickly during the peak summer season, and reservations are only available for specialty tours, so visit early to avoid a wait. Cave tours from $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and kids ages 6-16, and free for kids 5 and under; nps.gov/wica. 7. Manzanar National Historic Site: California (James Mattil/Dreamstime) Eastern California’s Owens Valley has seen its share of tragedy. In the early 1860s, 1,000 members of Paiute tribal groups were forcibly removed by the military after miners and homesteaders arrived on the scene. And almost 80 years later, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry—including natural-born citizens—and herded them into internment camps for the duration of the war. Manzanar was one of 10 relocation centers built in seven states, and it’s said to be the best preserved of the bunch. A National Historic Site established in part “to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties,” it offers visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the 11,070 Japanese Americans interned here from September 1942 until November 1945. The grounds feature exhibits, reconstructed barracks, and excavated gardens, ponds, and building foundations, which you can explore on foot or via a 3.2-mile self-guided drive.Free; nps.gov/manz. 8. Saguaro National Park: Arizona (Irina Kozhemyakina/Dreamstime) Flanking Tucson to the east and west, the two districts of Saguaro National Park are best known for their namesake plant: The saguaro is the largest cactus in the country, and it's been heavily protected here since 1933, when Herbert Hoover designated the area a national monument. Congress bumped it up to national-park status in 1994, and it’s been welcoming the cactus-curious ever since. There are more than 25 types of succulents on display, but the giant tree-sized saguaro is the star. Native to the Sonoran desert, it's an anchor for the area's diverse southwestern ecosystem, providing nesting space for birds and serving as food for bats, mammals, and reptiles too. Both park branches combined have more than 165 miles of hiking trails, from accessible walks to seriously strenuous treks; there’s also backcountry camping, cactus gardens in each district, and a petroglyph site boasting more than 200 of the prehistoric rock carvings. Visit from late April to early June to see the saguaro in bloom, and be sure to stay in the park to catch a sunset—between the vibrant sky and the stark desert landscape, it’s a spectacular show. 1-day pass, $20 per car; nps.gov/sagu. 9. Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina and Virginia Running 469 miles through the Appalachian countryside, the Blue Ridge Parkway links Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outcome of a Depression-era public works project that began in 1933, it’s the longest American road conceived as a single stretch. As a "museum of the managed American countryside," the meandering road juxtaposes mountain-top views with lush stretches of forests and streams, passing by rustic log cabins and millionaires’ vacation homes. Construction took decades—the majority wasn’t completed until 1966, and the last 7.7 miles finally opened in 1987. By design, it’s the ideal setting for a leisurely road trip: Speed limits top out at 45 miles per hour, and the route combines stunning natural beauty (alongside opportunities for hiking, kayaking, biking, and more) with history (a center devoted to the region’s traditional old-time music, a working early-1900s mill, a textile magnate’s grand estate) and whimsy (Dinosaur Land!). Check for road closures before you go, and bon voyage.Free; nps.gov/blri. 10. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve: Colorado Colorado is home to the tallest dunes on the continent, and people have been answering their siren song since nomadic Stone Age hunters and gatherers first made their way into the San Luis Valley 11,000 years ago. Modern Native American tribes like the Ute and the Navajo, Spanish and American explorers, Gold Rush hopefuls, homesteaders, and Buffalo soldiers followed in succession, before fears of destruction via mining and industry prompted President Hoover to declare it a national monument in 1932. In 2004, it was expanded into a national park and preserve, and the diverse activities on offer today are a big draw. There are two accessible areas at the edge of the dunes, and the visitors’ center has two sand wheelchairs available to loan. Most of the park and preserve is open for exploration on horseback, and you can sign up for a guided ride or bring your own animals. Rent sandsleds or sandboards from an area outfitter and take to the dunes or hit the road for a fat-bike ride; other options include, but are not limited to, swimming, fishing, hunting (in season), and four-wheel driving. Regardless of how you spend your day, stargazing is a required nighttime activity.7-day pass, $25 per car; nps.gov/grsa.
4 Authentic Small Towns of Lazio, Italy
Italy’s Lazio region includes Rome; but most travelers aren't aware that there's lots to do and see outside of the big city. We spent a week in the north of Lazio, to immerse ourselves in the culture and history of a little hill town, Soriano nel Cimino, and to explore some even smaller villages nearby. 1. Soriano nel Cimino Soriano nel Cimino sits atop a large hill on the foot of Monte Cimino (hence the town’s surname). The town’s hilltop castle was built in the 13th century; it boasts views of the valley and nearby Mount Cimino. One room houses a display of dozens of antique phonograph devices spanning the history of music reproduction - from Victrolas to jukeboxes. And they’re still working! A museum docent offers demonstrations of many of the devices. The display room is a former chapel; a statue of the Virgin Mary presides over a 1960s jukebox (while we were there, she watched as we listened to The Beatles). From the 1800s until just a few decades ago the castle was used as a prison, and one wing still retains the stark solitary-confinement cells. Mount Cimino is part of a vast UNESCO World Heritage site, an old-growth beech tree forest. The area is also covered by chestnut trees, and chestnuts are an important part of Soriano’s culture and cuisine - among the town’s frequent festivals is an annual chestnut festival, celebrating this staple food of the region. We happened to be in town for Carnevale (like Mardi Gras, the week before Lent), an afternoon of revelry including large amounts of confetti, silly string, and throngs of people of all ages in costumes of all types. One of the locals we met described the steep slopes and winding stairways in town: “In Soriano, you’re always either going up or going down.” The only flat spot in the entire town is its central piazza, a bustling center for socializing and daily business (and, as mentioned, confetti-fueled festivals). On one side of the square, the twin bell towers of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas ring out each hour; at 8 AM, noon, and 5 PM its bells compete with a wailing siren, a holdover from the town’s agrarian past. The cathedral holds relics of Pope John Paul II - a certificate shows that his blood was enshrined there in 2014, a point of religious pride to the locals ever since. Soriano has a population of around 10,000 people, which by our “Little Roads” standards is a big town. Some of its neighbors are even smaller villages, with many points of interest. 2. Vitorchiano The medieval walled town of Vitorchiano is flanked on two sides by sheer stone cliffs, which helped it resist superior military forces. The town prides itself on its historical devotion to Rome: In the face of opposition from hostile city states in the 13th century, Vitorchiano was singularly granted the right to bear the emblem “SPQR” - Senatus Populusque Romanus. The town’s gates and coats of arms still bear this emblem. The cliffs on which Vitorchiano are built are made of a volcanic stone called peperino. (Many towns in the region, including Soriano, are built on and from this stone.) This is the same type of stone from which the Moai statues of Easter Island are carved. In fact, thirty years ago a group of visitors from Easter Island visited Vitorchiano and carved a Moai statue, which today sits in a park overlooking the town’s western cliff. 3. Orte Orte, another medieval walled hill-town built in part with peperino, was an Etruscan city before being conquered by the Romans. Orte is famous for its ancient underground tunnels and caves, which were used through the ages for storage and irrigation, as a bath-house, and (in more recent history) as bomb shelters during WWII. 4. Bomarzo Perhaps the most evocative location in the area is the little hill town of Bomarzo. The historic town center is a silent maze of narrow stone streets, reminiscent of some medieval fantasy movie set. We were there on a perfect blue-sky day, and we saw only a single person. (We did, however, see a half-dozen cats, who followed us around for a few blocks, presumably to make sure we weren’t up to anything shady.) Just outside the town is the Bosco Sacro (“Sacred Woods”), more popularly known as the Parco dei Mostri - the Park of Monsters. This is an open-air museum of several acres of woods, in which are dozens of huge, Renaissance-era stone sculptures, carved from the ubiquitous peperino stone. Dragons, giants, lions, and other fantastic creatures sit among the trees, waiting for visitors to discover and delight in them. These are just a few of the locations near Soriano nel Cimino that we discovered on our trip; and this area is but one of many fascinating and beautiful parts of Lazio, accessible to anyone who’s willing to venture out of the bustle of Rome.
Thanks to constant innovation and development, the tech world moves fast, but we've captured the goods that'll make your gadget-loving day, from fun and frivolous to strictly business—all for the cost of two Benjamins or less. 1. Add to Your Camera Collection (Courtesy GoPro) Ringing in right under our $200 cap, the entry-level Hero7 White is a great way to dip a toe in the GoPro waters with minimal investment. This tough little camera is waterproof to 33 feet, and it shoots steady, non-jittery video in full HD (1080 pixels at 60 frames per second, albeit with a minor fish-eye effect), thanks to a stabilization feature that eliminates the shakes, even during the bumpiest activities. Outdoor enthusiasts will want to attach it to a helmet and activate the voice controls for hands-free photography and videography, or use it with a tripod or selfie stick for an everyday point of view. For optimal social-media sharing, we like to use the time-lapse or slow-mo options in 30-second bursts, then add music, effects, and more via the connected app.GoPro Hero7 White, $199; gopro.com. 2. Make It Pop (Courtesy Popsockets.com) Who says tech accessories have to be straitlaced? Show some personality with a PopSocket, a sticker-backed button that attaches to a phone case and expands or collapses as needed. It serves as both a handle and a stand, so you can pop it out and prop up your phone to watch videos, or use it to ease that death grip while texting, emailing, or scrolling the timelines. And with plenty of opportunities for personalization and customization, not to mention hundreds of designs, from sports-team logos to cartoon characters to holiday themes to planetary patterns (we particularly love the mini breakfast set seen above), you're bound to find one that suits.PopSockets, from $10; popsockets.com. 3. Keep Tabs on Your Bags (Courtesy Away) Hate letting your checked bags out of your sight? This mashup, courtesy of the chic luggage line Away and the Bluetooth tracking gurus at Tile, will soothe your separation anxiety. The sleek black leather tag conceals a 2.4-millimeter-thick device that, when paired with the Tile app, can locate your belongings within a hundred-foot range. And if your suitcase has wandered further afield, you can tap into the Tile's user network to crowd-source its last-known location. Yes, the odds of losing luggage are getting slimmer every day, but this is an excellent way to cover your bases, just in case.Away x Tile luggage tag, $30; awaytravel.com. 4. Increase Your Security Detail (Courtesy BASU.COM) For that fearless traveler who boldly ventures through dark alleys and dodgy neighborhoods—or bear-infested woods—in search of the next adventure, stay safe with an itty-bitty personal alarm. Barely three inches long and under an ounce, Basu’s battery-operated eAlarm+ comes with a carabiner and clips to a daypack or keychain so you'll always have it close at hand. It’s easy to use too: Pulling out the black pin at the end unleashes a 130-decibel siren that will sound for half an hour, or until the pin goes back in. A reliable companion for late-night city strolls, you can also use it with cords to set a tripwire perimeter around a campsite, or string it up on a hotel-room door for extra protection against intruders.Basu eAlarm+, $19; basu.com. 5. Keep in Touch (Courtesy goTenna) When you're wandering off the grid but still want to keep in contact, hook yourself up with the tools you need to create your own signal. These handy goTenna Mesh devices pair with phones so you can communicate sans cell service or WiFi, relaying text messages and GPS locations through your own personal network. The nodes transmit on UHF frequencies within a four-mile radius in open areas and half a mile in dense ones, but they'll link up with fellow Mesh users as well, tapping into a worldwide peer-to-peer network to extend that reach even further. They're the perfect thing for crowded events, backcountry hiking, or overseas travel without the roaming charges.goTenna Mesh, $179; amazon.com. 6. Light Your Way (Courtesy Kikkerland Design) Bring a note of whimsy to your most mundane tasks with this fun little USB-powered lamp from Kikkerland Design. With a spaceman reminiscent of a classic LEGO astronaut and a flexible, nearly foot-long neck that lets you shine its 12 lumens in any direction you choose, you’ll be reaching new heights in no time. Simply plug it in and flip back the visor to shed some light on the situation.Kikkerland Design USB Light + Astronaut, $20; amazon.com. 7. Get Ready for Your Close-up (Courtesy SIRUI USA) For casual photographers looking to improve their Instagram feed and make those smartphone shots really pop, we highly recommend Sirui’s 60mm lens, a quality clip-on attachment that sharpens the details on close-up shots and portraits alike. Available on its own, it also comes as part of this travel-friendly set, along with an 18mm wide-angle—ideal for capturing those sweeping vistas—and a 170-degree fisheye lens, plus a clip and a hard-shell case that’ll keep it protected in their kit.3 Lens Mobile Phone Kit, $190; siruiusa.com. 8. Boom or Bust (Courtesy Polk Audio) A run or a bike ride through unfamiliar territory can be a good way to get the lay of the land, but exercising on the road can also be a nervy proposition, especially if you're relying on noise-canceling headphones to provide the soundtrack. A light, wearable alternative, Polk’s Boom Bit is a Bluetooth speaker that clips to your clothes, supplying tunes without sacrificing an awareness of your surroundings. For such a tiny device, the sound quality is remarkable, and it even has an integrated microphone for hands-free calling. With mid-range volume levels, it should get about three hours of battery life, but when they do need to recharge, the whole unit plugs directly into a USB port—no extra cables necessary. (Note, though, that the on/off function requires a bit of dexterity, so it might not be optimal for those with hand-mobility issues.)Polk Boom Bit, $20; amazon.com. 9. Tie Up Loose Ends (Courtesy Nomad Lane) With great gear comes a great amount of paraphernalia, and a professional-level organizer will help you get it all together. This well-constructed vegan-leather version from Nomad Lane has a place for pretty much everything: Small elastic loops for things like cords, cables, and earbuds, big elastic loops for larger items like power banks, a removable pouch for adapters and reading glasses, and slim plastic pockets for flash drives and the like, plus room for a tablet like an iPad Mini, a Galaxy Tab, or a Kindle to fit snugly inside. You'll never lose a charger to the depths of your bag again.Tech organization case, $88; nomadlane.com. 10. Give Yourself a Boost (Courtesy Anker) When you're traveling with multiple USB-powered devices, bringing a plug for each one is a waste of precious carry-on space. Anker's universally compatible wall chargers help multitask with speed and ease, thanks to an assortment of ports that’ll get those gadgets to full capacity in a hurry. At two inches square, the PowerPort II 2 is the most compact of the bunch, but with two ports boasting 24 watts, it packs a solid punch. Need more juice? The 43.5-watt PowerPort Speed 4 offers a petite but powerful footprint, with one port for Qualcomm QuickCharge-compatible devices and three with Anker’s proprietary fast-charging technology, all in a tidy package less than three inches square and an inch thick. And if you're looking to leave those bulky MacBook or Nintendo Switch adapters at home, the PowerPort II with Power Delivery is the best bet. With 30 watts of USB-C output, it’ll charge a MacBook in two-and-a-half hours, and it has a regular USB port as well. All three feature foldable plugs and surge protection, for peak portability and peace of mind.PowerPort II 2, $15; PowerPort Speed 4, $28; PowerPort II with Power Delivery, $30; anker.com.
Just Back From: Cuba
Back in the fall, I was on a plane-ticket buying spree. Cheap airfare is my Achilles heel, and post-holiday flights are always irresistibly inexpensive; true to form, I couldn’t say no, booking tickets to San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, for two cross-country trips within less than a month of each other. (Irresponsible use of my credit cards? Perhaps. Proven method of combating SAD? Most definitely.) So when my oldest travel friend got in touch and invited me to crash her trip to Cuba, I was predisposed to politely decline—she would be traveling in between my two West Coast sojourns, and I’d already racked up enough debt to make my New Year’s resolution null and void before 2017 was even over. But true to form, I just couldn’t bring myself to say no, and that’s how I found myself skipping town the morning of a nor’easter and disembarking at José Martí International Airport a few hours later to bright sun, blue skies, and 90-degree weather. During the next five days, we wandered around Havana, lingering in plazas and browsing through museums and galleries, eating and drinking and taking in the rhythm of the city. (We also spent a day at the beach, because it was February and how could we not?) Here’s how it all went down. Day 1: Habana Vieja View from the Airbnb. (Maya Stanton) Our first two nights, we stayed in a casa particular (a room for rent in a private home) near Plaza Vieja, a square in Old Havana with eclectic architecture, bars with live music and towers of beer, and restaurants that cater to a tourist-heavy crowd. As we walked through the narrow streets in and around the square, we dodged groups of happy, noisy school children and peeked in the windows of all kinds of stores, from upscale chains to hole-in-the-wall souvenir shops. A gussied-up gin and tonic at O'Reilly 304. (Maya Stanton) We’d read that O'Reilly 304 (O’Reilly between Habana and Aguiar) was vegetarian-friendly, which suited the third member of our party—we expected to be inundated with pork and seafood during the next few days, so it seemed smart to start someplace that had options for all of us. The bar is known for its gin drinks, and my G&T was suitably over the top, with a smattering of fruit and peppercorns in the mix, and a spiral of lime peel and a pink-edged petal for garnish. Our non-meat-eater gave two thumbs up for her veggie tacos, while my friend and I tucked into plates of octopus (extremely tender), lobster (a bit overcooked), and grilled vegetables (copious but pretty plain). Fishing on the Malecón. (Maya Stanton) We rolled out of the restaurant and ambled over to the Paseo del Prado esplanade, pausing to watch a small ensemble performing traditional tunes as couples danced and visitors filmed. From there, we made our way up to the Malecón, the seawall that separates the road from the surf and serves as a meeting place, a fishing hole, and a WiFi hotspot all in one. We took in the ocean breeze for a bit, admiring Cuban sculptor Rafael San Juan’s Primavera, a 23-foot-high ballet-inspired bust of a woman, created from recycled steel for the 2015 Havana Biennial and installed in front of a bright-green building, then continued our walkabout. A colorful street in Habana Vieja. (Maya Stanton) We circled through the vibrant old town, its dusty streets teeming with people—tourists making the rounds, locals chatting with neighbors, running errands, and calling out from souvenir-shop doorways, sidewalk cafes, and pedicabs to earn some business. A woman with a baby strapped to her chest walked with us for a bit, asking for money, and as we wound our way through neighborhoods with dilapidated facades and sparse markets, dodging stray dogs and catcalls, the contrast between our fancy lunch and what we were seeing on the streets in front of us was striking. As the sun set and we grew closer to home, a nightcap seemed in order, so we made a quick stop at Siá Kará (facebook.com/siakaracafecuba), a café with cheap beer, good piña coladas, and a tempting menu, then made our way back to our casa particular. Day 2: Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, & Vedado Museo de Arte Colonial, Havana. (Maya Stanton) The next morning, we woke to the sounds of roosters crowing and breakfast sizzling. Most casas offer a homemade morning meal, and for CUC$5 per person, our host provided a generous spread of eggs, fruit, rolls, plantains, and coffee. Properly prepared for our first full day on the island, we started off to explore, heading first to the Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, a 16th-century square that faces the Havana Harbor. After a quick photo op, we swung over to Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a fort built in the 1500s that stands guard over the bay. We decided against visiting the navigation museum housed within, instead rambling a block south to Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in the city. A group of exuberant kids played a variation of Duck Duck Goose in front of the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the Cuban revolutionary who got the ball rolling on independence from Spain, as we looked around for the secondhand book market that’s reportedly there Monday through Saturday. But the vendors were nowhere to be found, so we consoled ourselves with a few minutes of eavesdropping on a guided tour, then moved on. Somehow resisting the siren call of baked goods from Panadería-Dulcería San-José (Obispo between Mercaderes and San Ignacio), we poked our heads into a store that carried a preponderance of white-linen dresses and guayaberas; a few steps further led us to their place of origin, an open-front workshop humming with sewing machines. As we wandered the cobblestone streets, lined with sherbet-hued buildings and dotted with shops and cafes, we stumbled upon Piscolabis (piscolabishabana.com), a boutique-cafe combo carrying unique apparel, accessories, and home decor, all made by Cuban artisans. I wanted to buy everything, then remembered my already-full suitcase, limited funds, and disinclination to carry shopping bags around the rest of the day, and left empty handed. Havana's Plaza de la Catedral. (Maya Stanton) Finally, we arrived at Plaza de la Catedral, an 18th-century square in the northeast corner of the city with an asymmetrical stone cathedral at its heart. The entrance to the Museo de Arte Colonial (San Ignacio 61) faces the plaza; we took a lap around the gift shop and snapped a few photos of the canary-yellow courtyard, but we still weren’t ready to commit to a museum visit. A wood-block printing mold in the making at Taller Experimental de Gráfica. (Maya Stanton) Instead, we headed for the other end of the plaza, where there's a narrow alley awash with restaurants and a gauntlet of touts who gather at the base of the street, attempting to reel in customers. Past the tables of diners with stray cats begging at their feet, you’ll find Taller Experimental de Gráfica (Callejón del Chorro 6), a very cool space where artists create and sell their work—everything from painted tiles to carved-wood-block prints. I fell in love with a pastel-hued, old-school-style travel poster of the Malecón, but at CUC$300, it was out of my price range, so I settled on a small 8"x10” print for CUC$40 instead. It was the smart choice, but even now, months later, I’m still thinking longingly of the one that got away. Librería Victoria on Calle Obispo. (Maya Stanton) Our afternoon agenda included a visit to the Museo de la Revolución (Avenida Bélgica; CUC$8) in Centro Habana, and to get there, we had to pass one of the other vegetarian-friendly restaurants on my list, so we figured it was time for lunch. Before we could get there though, we were lured into Librería Victoria (Obispo 366), a dimly lit bookstore on the main shopping drag, with great silk-screened posters advertising Cuban films, Rolling Stones concerts, and classics like Singin’ in the Rain; a birdcage swinging above the door; and plenty of dusty old tomes. We browsed the stacks until our stomachs were rumbling too much to ignore.Lobster salad at Ivan Chefs Justo. (Maya Stanton) Luckily, we were just few blocks away from Ivan Chefs Justo (facebook.com/IvanChefsJusto), a brightly painted yellow townhouse with an antiques-jammed interior, every bit of available wall space covered with framed prints, paintings, and photos of varying sizes. We decided to forgo the visually busy dining room in favor of the shady rooftop terrace, accessed via a narrow spiral staircase. After consulting the chalkboard menus, we ordered a bunch of plates to share: a bread basket with dips; a salad layered with lobster, fresh tomatoes, and thin-sliced onions and doused with olive oil, tiny basil leaves, and a shower of cheese; golf-ball sized fish croquettes with plantains and a smear of tzatziki; and mixed seafood on a chunky, risotto-like bed of corn and pumpkin. Stuffed and fighting the urge for a siesta, we ordered coffee and headed across the street to the museum. My cortado must’ve done the trick, because as we made our way through the former Presidential Palace and gawked at glittering chandeliers juxtaposed with bullet holes dating from a student-led (unsuccessful) attack on then-President Batista, I didn’t yawn once. We took in the propaganda-loaded history lesson (let’s just say the Kennedy administration isn’t painted in the most positive light), then stepped out front to find a ride to our next destination. We were hoping to hail one of the city's famously photogenic vintage cars to take us there, but the drivers we spoke with were looking for passengers who wanted to hire them for the day, not a single ride. The regular cabs were a bit pricey, so we ended up squeezing into the back of a coco taxi (a yellow helmet-shaped scooter that seats up to three behind the driver) and holding on for dear life as our driver peeled out into traffic. A short ride later, we pulled up in front of Cuba Libro (cubalibrohavana.com), an English-language bookstore/coffee shop/community hangout in Vedado, a sprawling residential neighborhood to the west of the old city. We whiled away an hour in the shady, hammock-laden front yard, shooing away mosquitos, sipping iced tea, and flipping through the pages of a street-style book as the Sirius station streamed perfect sunny-afternoon soul tunes. (We especially enjoyed the cleverly labeled reading material in the restroom.) From there, it wasn’t a far walk to El Cocinero (elcocinerocuba.com), a rooftop bar and restaurant in a former oil factory, with a trendy, too-cool-for-school vibe. We showed up without a reservation, but the hostess eventually cleared us to climb the winding stairs up to the terrace...which turned out to be practically empty before the dinner rush. We opted for cold bottles of domestic Cristal (CUC$2.50) instead of something from the cocktail list, then headed for our dinner reservation at Río Mar (facebook.com/restauranteriomar), a seafood-centric restaurant on a tiny peninsula on the north coast. After a wrong turn through a neighborhood that didn’t seem to get many tourists and a detour past a burned-out, apocalyptic-looking seafront high-rise, we finally found the place. We ordered a few tapas-style small plates: ropa vieja on soft corn cakes, stuffed piquillo peppers, and another round of veg tacos for our non-meat eater. We’d planned to swing back toward El Cocinero to see what was on next door at Fábrica de Arte Cubano (fac.cu), a hipster-sounding arts and entertainment venue, but we were wiped out and instead opted for a cab back to Habana Vieja, where we ventured up to the plaza for a few glasses of wine, then called it a night. Day 3: Varadero We’d booked a taxi to take us to the beach at 8 a.m., and our driver was right on time. (At CUC$10 per person, it would’ve been less expensive to take the bus, but a cab offered a more direct route and a more flexible schedule, and since we didn’t have unlimited time to spend in transit, we sucked it up and paid the $100 fare.) The resort town of Varadero is a few hours by car, so we made a pit stop at a thatched-roof roadside plaza for a breakfast of coffee and ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Even at that early hour, a four-piece band was warming up, providing a serene yet slightly surreal backdrop, especially for those of us more familiar with the chaos of rest stops on the I-95 corridor. A beachy beverage at Vernissage. (Maya Stanton) By 11 a.m., we’d checked into our centrally located casa particular and found our way to the patio of Vernissage (corner of Avenida Primera and Calle 36), a restaurant and snack bar conveniently situated between home and beach. After a round of piña coladas and a rib-sticking lunch of roast pork, rice and beans, seafood bisque, and vegetable lasagna, we were more than ready for an afternoon in the sun. A glorious day in Varadero. (Maya Stanton) We walked the block to the beach and stopped at the first place we found, Hotel Los Delfines (Avenida Primera and Calle 39), where we rented lounge chairs for a few CUC and spent the rest of the day swimming, reading, and sipping mojitos. After the beach, we rode the complimentary tourist bus to the end of the isthmus and back (don’t do this—it stops at every all-inclusive along the way, and it’s a long trip), then went in search of dinner. Our first choice, a Spanish spot, was permanently shuttered, so we settled for the next place we happened upon, an open-air joint called El Rancho, for an utterly forgettable meal. As we were paying the bill, we heard the music ramping up across the street at the Beatles Bar (Avenida Primera and Calle 59), and as a lifelong fan of the Fab Four—albeit one with an ingrained dislike of Beatles cover bands—I felt compelled to stop by and check out the show. A quartet of a so-bad-they’re-good sculptures greeted us as we entered, and as the band began cycling through an odd mix of Beatles tunes and random ‘90s hits from the likes of Shania Twain and the Offspring, we found seats in the back and watched the very enthusiastic crowd from a safe distance. A little went a long way and we'd soon had enough, making our way home to crash hard before our early-morning departure. Day 4: Matanzas & Havana Breakfast, casa particular–style. (Maya Stanton) With the help of our host, we arranged for a driver to take us back to the capital via Matanzas, about a 40-minute drive from Varadero, making a stop or two along the way. We just had time to finish our homemade breakfast before the cab arrived, and we were on the road by 8 a.m. Our first stop was Cueva de Saturno, a freshwater subterranean cave with a swimming hole and snorkeling gear for rent. Sadly, and contrary to the intel we’d gathered in the planning stages, it wasn’t open that early, so we hopped back in the car, rolled down the windows, and let the wind blow through our hair as our driver blasted the timba. Riverside in Matanzas. (Maya Stanton) Half an hour later, we pulled into the waterfront city of Matanzas, winding our way through town until we reached Ediciones Vigía, a small-batch publishing company with serious artistic bonafides. Its books, released in limited editions and beautifully crafted from handmade paper and found materials, have received international praise, featuring in collections from New York’s Museum of Modern Art to the Library of Congress. I could’ve lingered in the airy, plant-filled space for another hour, but we had things to do and places to be, so we made our selections (a notebook for me and a volume of poetry for our vegetarian friend) and got back on the road. An array of books from Ediciones Vigía. (Maya Stanton) Before long, we were hitting the outskirts of Havana. Our final casa was the best of the bunch, with high ceilings, a mini fridge with honor-system bottled water and cans of beer, and a great location a block or two from the Paseo del Prado. We dropped our suitcases and set out to cross a few things off our list. After a quick stop at Hotel Sevilla (hotelsevilla-cuba.com), where we grabbed cigars to take home for friends and spent a few minutes in the atrium listening to the band, we hailed a cab to take us back to Vedado for lunch. Arroz caldoso and Havana's best mojito at Decamerón. (Maya Stanton) Inside a nondescript townhouse on a high-traffic street is Decamerón (facebook.com/RestauranteDecameron), a privately owned paladar with a plain facade that belies a genteel, white-tableclothed interior and well-executed, vegetarian-friendly Cuban cuisine. (It also served the best mojito I had all week. The secret ingredient? A generous dose of bitters to cut through the customary sugar for a more balanced beverage.) We commandeered a corner table on the leafy terrace and proceeded to have a leisurely meal of green salads—our first in days—and, for me, a highly satisfying bowl of arroz caldoso, brothy rice with chicken, pork, and Catalan sausage. After lunch, we made a pilgrimage to Parque Lennon (not to be confused with Parque Lenin) for some quality time with my favorite ex-Beatle. Though his music was once banned in Cuba, John Lennon is now memorialized in bronze and patiently accepts visitors from his perch in the park. His glasses were missing, but other than that, the resemblance was uncanny. From there, we caught another cab, this time bound for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (bellasartes.co.cu). We started with the international collection, which was broad in scope and not super exciting, and took in José Manuel Fors’s Palimpsesto installation, but we spent the bulk of our time with the Cuban collection. I loved the ink-and-tempera illustrations from the 1930s, and the modern pieces on the second floor were stunning. Back in Havana. (Maya Stanton) With a few hours of daylight left, we spent the rest of the afternoon popping in and out of various galleries in and around the museum: The Merger (Monserrate 203), a studio directly across the street with contemporary sculptures and prints, and over on Obispo, the gallery of Ernesto Villanueva Morera (evillanueva.com), where I would’ve spent all of my money if only I'd had enough. On our way back to the casa to change for dinner, we came across a small collective in a gritty, ground-floor space just off the Paseo and spent a few minutes browsing and chatting with the artists. No matter where we looked, we seemed to find that creative spark. For dinner, it was back to the Plaza de la Catedral for a meal among the touts. We’d made a reservation at Paladar Doña Eutemia (donaeutimia.restaurantwebexperts.com), the alley’s initial attraction; when the restaurant became popular, others sprung up in its wake to vie for its overflow, but none of them have the cachet—or the quality—of the original. Our table was out front on the terrace, which was lovely...until it started to rain. Relocated to the cheery dining room, we dug into plates of picadillo and roast pork (and garbanzo-bean stew for our vegetarian friend). The pork was dry, but the picadillo—seasoned ground beef sautéed with raisins and olives—more than lived up to the billing. The rain was still coming down when we left, and the streets had emptied out a bit. We made an impromptu stop on the way home, drying off a few seats on the balcony at Esquina de Cuba (facebook.com/esquinadecuba) for a farewell round of piña coladas and fancified gin and tonics. Day 5: Homeward Bound Definitely not waffles. (Maya Stanton) Lured by the promise of waffles, we chose Cuban fashion designer Jacqueline Fumero’s Café del Angel (cafedelangeljf.com) for our final breakfast. Sadly, it was false promise and there were no waffles to be found, so we settled for a colorful spread of eggs, toast, mango juice, and coffee instead. With our flights scheduled to leave in just a few hours, we had time for one more stop: the Saturday art market on the Paseo. My friend bought a print, but my last CUCs were reserved for the taxi to the airport; if I’d budgeted enough, though, I would’ve found room in my suitcase for a tiny watercolor or two. Just off the Paseo del Prado in Havana. (Maya Stanton) Again, our host at the casa helped arrange our ride to the airport, and when we came downstairs, we were pleasantly surprised to find a vintage turquoise Plymouth waiting for us at the curb. I'd had mixed feelings about being one of those oblivious tourists gallivanting around in a classic car, and now that one had presented itself, it was like my internal dilemma had materialized before my eyes. I was still grappling with the disconnect between the cushy visitors’ experience and the poverty we were seeing on the streets; the two coexist in a way that’s troubling, to say the least. Though a recent survey puts the numbers slightly higher, Cuba’s National Office of Statistics reports that the average monthly salary is less than $30 per month—meaning many Cubans make less in a month than a visitor spends in a few days. They can’t eat at the same restaurants, take the same transportation, or spend the same currency, and the tourist restaurants get first crack at whatever produce is available, so food scarcity is a real problem. (More on this below.) Unsurprisingly, we felt some resentment during the course of our stay, but we also met people who welcomed us warmly and wanted to talk about everything from their day-to-day lives to their thoughts on America’s current political climate. As we slid into the Plymouth’s floral-upholstered backseat and passed through parts of the city most visitors only see through a cab window, I thought about the moments of beauty we'd experienced, the hospitality we’d received, and the creativity we’d witnessed, and let myself sit back and take in the ride. The Fine Print Though the U.S. State Department still forbids its citizens from traveling to Cuba strictly for tourism purposes, Americans can obtain visas under 12 categories of acceptable travel. You'll select one when you book your plane ticket, and then purchase and pick up the visa at the airport, so be sure to allow extra time before your departure. Americans will need enough cash to last for the duration of the trip—our ATM and credit cards don’t work there. The country has two forms of currency, one for locals (CUP, the Cuban peso) and one for tourists (CUC, the Cuban convertible peso). Though it didn’t happen to us, we heard stories of people paying in CUC and getting literally shortchanged with CUP, so pay attention when you hand over those bills. Safety-wise, we never felt threatened, but as women, we were subjected the most aggressive catcalling I’ve ever encountered—and I live in New York. Also, as Americans, we got a bit of a mixed response from the locals, though I do think the lukewarm reception was due at least in part to my subpar Spanish. If you want to get online, you’ll need a WiFi card, which should run around CUC$2 for an hour of access, and a hotspot, which probably won’t be well-marked. Your best bet is a property like the Hotel Sevilla, which sells cards at the front desk and has WiFi in the lobby. If you’d prefer an al fresco internet experience and you already have a card, try the Malecón, or just keep an eye out when you’re walking around—you’ll see clusters of people glued to their phones, which is usually the sign that you’ve found an access point. At night, it’s even easier: All you have to do is look for the glowing screens. Plan on buying bottled water while you’re there. The tap water isn’t potable, even for brushing your teeth. Accommodation in Cuba is a tricky thing. In November, the State Department declared 80-some properties with ties to the Cuban military off-limits for Americans, and all hotels there are majority-owned by the government—which, for my money, is even more reason to rent a room in a private residence. Known as casas particulares, these rooms vary in price and style, depending on the location and the owners themselves, but they’re not typically luxurious digs; they are fairly inexpensive by American standards, though, and while you might not be sleeping on high-thread-count sheets, you will be interacting with locals and getting a different perspective than a hotel would provide. Once upon a time, before smartphones and apps and Google Maps, the best way to book these casas was with a phone call or simply by showing up and ringing the doorbell, but it’s a bit easier these days: They’re all on Airbnb. Our favorite was Casa Meyly 2, which was centrally located with a wrap-around balcony and a private bathroom for just CUC$30 per night. Casa Meyly 2Consulado 203Havana, Cuba Finally, a word on the overall economic situation. While the Cuban economy relies heavily on tourism to bring in those dollars, euros, and yen, the influx of visitors is creating food shortages nationwide, with basic pantry staples and produce going to tourist restaurants and paladares instead of local markets. To say that it doesn't feel right to chow down on lobster sourced on the black market while citizens can't get enough to eat is an understatement. If you're going to visit, consider traveling with a volunteer organization, be mindful, and tip well (10% is standard, but more is welcome).
The Budget Traveler's Guide to Zion National Park
Zion National Park (nps.gov/zion), in southwest Utah, is one of the most extraordinary places in the American Southwest (and on earth!). It offers adventure surrounded by towering canyons, immense red-sandstone walls, and amazing hikes, such as the Narrows and Angel’s Landing Lookout, that every American must see. Here, how to do Zion on a budget. GETTING THERE McCarron International Airport, in Las Vegas, is the closest airport to Zion National Park, and you will have to rent a car for the 160-mile drive to the park. If you’ve never experienced Vegas before, stay here for a night or two, but keep in mind it is very difficult to do Las Vegas on the cheap. To avoid the siren’s call of spending money, rent a 4WD SUV at the airport and take off toward the mountains on I-15 for desert panoramas that will start to prepare you for the jaw-dropping Utah landscape you’re headed for. I recommend doing this drive during daylight, not just because you’ll want to take in the desert, but also because it has some winding roads. It’s also advisable to buy several gallons of water in Las Vegas to have on hand. ENTERING AND NAVIGATING THE PARK At the park entrance, you will pay $30 per car, which gives you access to the park for seven days. (For $80, you can upgrade to the “America The Beautiful” pass, which grants you access to all national parks. If you plan to go on from Zion to other nearby parks, such as Bryce or Canyonlands, I recommend this option.) Be aware that Zion, unlike most national parks, does not allow private cars on most of its roads. Instead, the park uses a bus system to shuttle visitors up the canyon to various stops, while providing a narrated tour of the incredible views you’re seeing. There is often a line to get on a shuttle, and on busy days, you may feel as if you’re standing in line for a ride at Walt Disney World. The closer to sunrise you get to the park, the shorter the line will be. CAMPING: THE ULTIMATE BARGAIN Tent camping is the least expensive way to experience Zion National Park. How does free sound? You can make camp anywhere on the BLM (public land) without a fee (this is something called “dispersed camping”), but I recommend this option only for travelers who are experienced campers. If you want to camp for free, make sure you have a map and give yourself plenty of daylight to find a campsite. If you’d prefer campsites with more amenities ($20/night, nps.gov/zion), plan early to book your site, as they book months in advance during the high season. Zion’s Watchman campground is right by the visitor’s center and is the busiest campground. For a little more privacy, you can stay at the Lava Point Campground, about an hour’s drive from the visitor’s station into the park. HOTELS ARE A SHORT, BEAUTIFUL DRIVE AWAY Affordable hotels can be found in Hurricane, Utah, about a 20-minute drive from the park. Prices can be as low as $30 in the low season, and $80 in the high season. The drive to and from the park is beautiful, so the it goes by quickly. STOCK UP ON FOOD IN ADVANCE To stay on budget, you’ll want to stock up on food and water at a grocery store before you leave Las Vegas (pick up a cooler and ice if you’re packing perishables, of course). There are also several reliable and affordable restaurants not far from the park, in Springdale. HIKING: ZION’S MAIN ATTRACTION Zion Canyon is world-renowned for its hiking. Whether you spend the day stomping through a river canyon or scaling the side of a mountain, there is no more rewarding way to spend a day. I highly recommend doing Angel’s Landing before the Narrows, as you'll get wet at the Narrows and waterlogged feet are softer and more prone to blister. Here, two of Zion’s must-hikes: Angel’s Landing. This is Zion’s most famous hike, which ends with a crawl across the spine of the canyon to a view meant for angels. If you’re afraid of heights (like me), stop on the trail at Scout’s Landing, which provides views almost as good as those farther on. This trail is incredibly steep and strenuous. It’s also often very crowded – by the end of the effort, you’ll be best friends with the people climbing the trail around you. Bring more water than you think you'll need – ideally everyone in your party should carry their own full water bladder. The Narrows. This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a hike! You can stomp up the Virgin River canyon as far as you want, swimming and climbing on rocks as you stare up at the high walls enclosing you. This hike is great for families and people who are sore from their strenuous Angel's Landing hike the day before. The trail is listed as “strenuous” because it involves climbing over rocks. Note that there is always a risk of flash flooding – keep your eye on the flooding forecast posted around the park, follow all rangers' instructions, and if you start to notice the water slowly rising on your hike, turn back. You can rent the gear you need, like walking sticks and water shoes, at Zion Outfitter (zionoutfitter.com), located just outside the park entrance. This package runs $24/person in the summer, and spending the money on this essential gear will greatly improve your experience. NEXT UP… BRYCE CANYON To continue on your Utah road trip, head east from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park, where you will see more of some of the most beautiful countryside in America.
More Places to go
Saint Croix Valley
St. Croix County is a county in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. As of the 2010 census, the population was 84,345. Its county seat is Hudson. The county was created in 1840 (then in the Wisconsin Territory) and organized in 1849.St. Croix County is part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area. Between 2000 and 2010, it was the fastest-growing county in Wisconsin.
Washburn County, Wisconsin is a hidden gem tucked away in beautiful Northwest Wisconsin.
Sandstone known as the "First City of the North Woods" is located in Pine County, Minnesota, United States, along the Kettle River. The population was 2,849 at the 2010 census.Interstate 35 and Minnesota State Highways 18 and 23 are three of the main routes in the community. Banning State Park is nearby.