We’ve now been on the road for two solid years. During that time we’ve visited 145 different locations in both North and Central America. Last year we highlighted Eight Favorite Destinations from our first year of travel. With another full year under our belts, it’s once again time to select the best from the last 365 days. Each of the following headlines links back to our original blog post about the destination.
If 200-foot, multi-colored sandstone cliffs along a lake of emerald-colored water isn’t how you imagine Michigan, it’s time for a pilgrimage to Pictured Rock National Lakeshore in the state’s Upper Peninsula. It absolutely blew us away with its striking similarities to one of our favorite excursions ever: rafting through the Grand Canyon.
Small and spectacular is one way we’d describe the mile-long trail though Watkins Glen canyon in the Finger Lakes region of New York. J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical Elven city of Rivendell is also an apt comparison. Who knew such natural wonders existed a mere 180 miles from where I grew up.
Probably more than any other place we visited, Great Sand Dunes National Park shocked us with its pure beauty. It’s a place I don’t think we had previously seen photographed and, therefore, it completely took us by surprise. So much so, we felt like we turned a corner and arrived in another country.
This is the place that popped our spelunking cherry. Prior to Mammoth we had only walked lighted, paved and hand-railed trails through subterranean realms. Their “Wild Caving” tour opened up for us a whole other way to explore these wonderfully varied palaces: in the dark on our hands and knees.
The North Dakota badlands are certainly spectacular, but what makes Teddy Roosevelt National Park a stand-out favorite for us is the park’s campground. More specifically, it is the herd of bison that frequently overrun the campground. Being surrounded on all sides by 2,000-pound horned animals is not an experience we’ll soon forget.
If we found the scenery of Theodore Roosevelt National Park stunning, and we did, it was just a warm-up for what we encountered in South Dakota’s Badlands. Both parks exhibit miles of twisting canyons dimpled with colorfully striated buttes; but whereas Teddy Roosevelt is mostly rounded and weathered, the Badlands remains sharp, jagged and forbidding. It is probably some of the most beautiful geology we’ve seen anywhere.
Looming over the Guatemalan jungle, Tikal stands as testament to the prowess of a once mighty civilization. At the height of its power, as many as 90,000 inhabitants once walked these streets. Of the many ancient Mayan sites we toured during our trip through Central America, Tikal is the Granddaddy of them all and a well deserved addition to any “best of” travel list.
The thrill of spelunking ATM Cave in Belize had nothing to do with the geologic formations or the challenges we faced traversing the cave system. What made this experience our favorite of the year was the compelling story of a desperate civilization told by the ancient artifacts they left behind. It also happens to be one of our favorite blog posts.