Encompassing mangrove forests, massive glaciers, active volcanoes and towering mountains, these protected areas provide adventurous visitors with a firsthand look at the unique beauty of the untouched American wild.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said, "There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people." If you have yet to explore "your" parks -- there are 401 of them -- then Veterans Day is just the excuse you need.
Tom Mangelsen savors the quiet fall. The renowned Jackson Hole wildlife photographer, who has traveled to every continent in search of remarkable animal imagery, considers the autumn mating ritual of North American elk to be among the greatest spectacles of nature.
When I am in Montana, mostly I simply embrace being in wide-open nature - just being, more than doing. With Montana's refreshing expanse of space and only the sound of the leaves and long, golden grasses moving with the breeze, my body responds strongly. I feel rejuvenated.
The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in June designated an ancient Native American complex known as Poverty Point, east of Monroe, as Louisiana's first World Heritage site.
I had read the reports and seen the PowerPoints. And now I have seen the faces. The faces of the on-the-ground experts as they rush into the vast woodlands of the Niassa National Reserve with intelligence on criminals who have slaughtered an elephant with an AK-47. The faces are fearless.
It has microbreweries, artists, a cowboy hat-fixing genius, solar-powered lofts, and huge summer street events, along with homeless people, addicts, and the occasional break-in or fatal stabbing in an alley.
It's hard to drive past The Smith Mansion on the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway and not wonder what the hell it is. It looks like the work of a madman-- each story of the 75 foot structure is precariously stacked, held up by what seem like impossibly unstable 2x4s nailed together by hand.
As the sun heads higher into the sky each passing day and daylight stretches into the evening hours, it's time to heed David Byrne's (Talking Heads) seminal call to action - "Take me to the river... drop me in the water."
As far as amazing places go, there's truly no place like home. After all, why fret about exorbitant airfare to far-flung locales when you can experience some of the world's most stunning sights right here in North America?
The rest of us don't need to have absolutes declared about nature. Is the predator absolutely the big force, or is the vegetation absolutely the big force? Wait a minute, maybe the hippos are the big force?