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Where to Go in Death Valley National Park

For such a supposedly barren landscape, Death Valley is absolutely full of places to go and things to see. The area’s long and interesting history has left behind a plethora of old mining towns and related locations to explore, and the isolation of Death Valley has given rise to some truly haunting phenomena. On the more natural side of things, its landscapes are incredibly unique and fascinating to experience.

Metals oxidizing on the volcanic rock of the Artist’s Palette in Death Valley, California.
The Artist’s Palette is a scenic viewpoint along Artist’s Drive. The colors are caused by the oxidizing of different metals on the volcanic rock. Photo © Joerg Hackemann/123rf.

Furnace Creek and the Amargosa Range

Iconic views, short hikes, and easy access make Furnace Creek and the Amargosa Range an excellent introduction to Death Valley. The village of Furnace Creek serves as the park headquarters, with a plethora of services—lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and even gas. The most popular sights are in this region, including Badwater Basin, Artist’s Drive, Devil’s Golf Course, and Natural Bridge.

The Amargosa Range provides opportunities for in-depth hiking, biking, and rock climbing. Dig into Death Valley’s mining past by traveling the West Side Road to the rugged canyons of the Panamint Range, the orchards of Hungry Bill’s Ranch, or the bubbling oases of Hanaupah Canyon. An easy two-hour drive to the park’s lightly visited Southeastern Corner yields scenic springs, ghost mines, and pristine dunes.

Sand dunes in Death Valley, California.
The Mesquite Flat sand dunes are just one of the attractions near Stovepipe Wells. Photo © Mariusz Jurgielewicz/123rf.

Stovepipe Wells and the Nevada Triangle

Stovepipe Wells and the Nevada Triangle are home to steep alluvial fans that lead to the wind-sculpted and colorful canyons of the Cottonwood and Grapevine Mountains, including Mosaic Canyon. The tiny visitor hub of Stovepipe Wells occupies a central location on Highway 190, with the scenic Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes within sight.

The Nevada Triangle serves as a jumping off point to the spectacular—and popular—Titus Canyon drive, as well as the haunting ghost town of Rhyolite. Nearby Beatty, Nevada, offers services in this tiny corner of the park.

Scotty’s Castle and the Eureka Valley

The Eureka Valley is the most lightly visited park region. There are no services, so a trip here means roughing it, but you’ll be rewarded with solitude and natural wonders. The exception is popular Scotty’s Castle; thousands of visitors come to this 1920s mansion tucked in the folds of the Grapevine Mountains.

Note: Scotty’s Castle is closed for repairs until 2020. Check nps.gov for updates.

The Eureka Dunes are the main draw in the Eureka Valley, towering more than 600 feet above the valley floor. In the secluded Racetrack Valley, hardy souls make the long, difficult drive to The Racetrack, a dry lake bed scattered with the mysterious trails of rocks that skate across its surface.

desert landscape with joshua trees
Lee Flat has the highest concentration of Joshua Trees in the park. Photo © Marcie Blough.

Panamint Springs and the Saline Valley

Panamint Springs and the Saline Valley are filled with creeks and springs, historic mining roads and camps. Old cabins and ghost towns, like Skidoo and Panamint City, are scattered through the wrinkled folds of the western Panamint Mountains, which are home to Telescope Peak, the highest peak in Death Valley. The village of Panamint Springs is the region’s hub, with lodging, a restaurant, and few services.

The Saline Valley brings it back to the basics with sheer quiet remoteness. The long washboard Saline Valley Road offers rough access to the Lee Flat Joshua Tree Forest, rarely visited Saline Valley Dunes, hot springs, and the remains of the Salt Tramway.


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Accessible Sights and Drives in Death Valley

Death Valley may be known for its ruggedness, but it is still possible to experience many of the park’s natural wonders and historical sites without going into rough backcountry or traveling on a trail that does not meet ADA standards. These recommended destinations include drives and sights easily seen from parking areas as well as two ADA-accessible trails.

A weathered, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk in Death Valley
A weathered, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk follows the miraculous Salt Creek, winding 0.5 mile toward pale, eroded mud hills through an expanse of pickleweed, a salt-resistant desert plant. Photo © Hilda Wege/123rf.

Access for Travelers with Disabilities

An Access Pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Passes can be obtained at a visitor center or ranger station in Death Valley. The pass is part of the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series and can be used to cover entrance fees at 2,000 other locations, including national forests and national wildlife refuges.

All museums, visitor centers, and contact stations within the park abide by ADA-compliant guidelines and are accessible to all visitors. Most developed campgrounds within the park have accessible sites and accessible restrooms, including Furnace Creek and Sunset Campgrounds in the Furnace Creek Area, Stovepipe Wells Campground, Emigrant Campground in the Panamint Springs area (which does not accommodate RVs or campers), and Mesquite Spring in the Scotty’s Castle area. For the most scenic and pleasant accessible camping, Mesquite Spring is the best bet. Most sites are paved, widely spaced, and flat—even those not designated as ADA compliant. There are accessible restrooms with flush toilets.

Throughout the park, accessible restrooms with flush toilets are located at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Stovepipe Wells General Store, Scotty’s Castle Visitor Center, Grapevine Ranger Station, and Emigrant Campground picnic area. Pit toilets, located at many sights and campgrounds throughout the park, are also accessible, including those at Badwater Basin and the Eureka Dunes.

There is only one accessible hiking trail in the park: the Salt Creek Trail in the Stovepipe Wells area. A small parking area leads to a boardwalk trail that covers a one-mile loop alongside Salt Creek. Outside the park boundaries, the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge has wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trails. Although accessible trails are limited in the area, there are many sights and drives available to visitors with physical disabilities.

Accessible Sights in Death Valley National Park

Roads are paved or graded dirt, and in most cases there are no formal parking spaces.

  • Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: Graded dirt roads throughout the refuge lead to wheelchair-accessible boardwalks through the Mojave’s largest remaining oasis. Roads should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.
  • Badwater Basin: A paved road leads to a paved parking area, where a wheelchair ramp allows access to the salt flats.
  • Devil’s Golf Course: A graded dirt road leads to a small parking area with close-up views of strange salt formations.
  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: A paved road to the parking area offers close-up views of these dunes.
  • Eureka Dunes: A graded dirt road leads to the foot of spectacular sand dunes.
  • Ubehebe Crater: A paved road leads to a small parking area at the edge of a colorful volcanic crater.
  • Trona Pinnacles: A graded dirt road leads to haunting tufa rock formations left over from an ancient lake bed.
  • Artist’s Drive: A short, scenic drive on a paved road with beautiful views of colorful hills.
  • Titus Canyon Road: This one-way, 27-mile road may not be appropriate for a van with a lowered floor. Carefully consider this drive, check road conditions, and proceed with caution.
  • Harmony Borax Works: A graded dirt road leads to a small parking area. The road should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.
  • Wildrose Charcoal Kilns: A graded dirt road leads to a parking area. The road should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.
  • Warm Springs Camp: A graded dirt road. Depending on road conditions, this drive may not be appropriate for a van with a lowered floor. Carefully consider this drive, check road conditions, and proceed with caution.
  • Goldfield: A paved road leads to the small Nevada mining town. There are dirt roads throughout the town.
  • Ballarat: A graded dirt road leads to the mostly abandoned mining town and a general store run by a caretaker. The road should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.
  • Rhyolite: A graded dirt road should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.
  • Salt Creek: A graded dirt road leads to a parking area; a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk traverses a one-mile loop along the banks of Salt Creek. The road should be accessible for any vehicle, including a van with a lowered floor; however, road conditions are always subject to change.

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Visiting Ghost Ranch in New Mexico

Ghost Ranch (U.S. 84, 505/685-1000), a 21,000-acre retreat owned by the Presbyterian Church, is best known because Georgia O’Keeffe owned a small parcel of the land and maintained a studio here. In the science world, it’s also known as the place where, in 1947, paleontologists combing the red hills discovered about a thousand skeletons of the dinosaur Coelophysis (“hollow form,” for its hollow, birdlike bones), the largest group discovered in the world.

labyrinth at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico
The labyrinth at Ghost Ranch. Photo © Adam Springer/iStock.

Visiting Ghost Ranch

The grounds are open to day visitors ($5 suggested donation) for hiking. The best trek, which takes about two hours round-trip, is to Chimney Rock, a towering landmark with panoramic views of the entire area. Don’t be daunted—the steepest part of the trail is at the start—but do slather on the sunscreen, as there’s no shade on this route. Box Canyon is an easier, shadier, all-level walk that’s about four miles round-trip. Kitchen Mesa Trail, which starts at the same point, is much more difficult, requiring some climbing to get up the cliffs at the end (though you could hike the easy first two-thirds, then turn around).

view of Pedernal Peak and cabin at Ghost Ranch.
Pedernal Peak, seen from Ghost Ranch. Photo © Zora O’Neill.

Travel map of the Santa Fe Metro Area in New Mexico
Santa Fe Metro Area
Visitors can also see the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology (both 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., 1pm-5pm Sun., $5), which display the local finds, including remnants of the prehistoric Gallina culture from the ridge above the valley and an eight-ton chunk of Coelophysis-filled siltstone in the process of being excavated. In summer, both museums are also open 1pm-5pm on Sunday.

Guided tours (various times, $25-35) of the ranch grounds run mid-March-November, on various topics, from local archaeology to movie settings. One walking tour visits O’Keeffe’s painting spot in the red Chinle hills behind the ranch. Horseback rides ($85) are another option, visiting various spots key to O’Keeffe’s painting life.


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Montréal Walking Tour: Centre-Ville Museums & Architecture

In busy downtown Montréal, there’s tons to see, shop, and snack on. This self-guided walking tour ends at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, which is closed on Monday but generally open 10am-5pm; it also heads along Ste-Catherine, a shopping strip—if you anticipate wanting to stop in at H&M or the Apple Store, you may want to allow yourself a little more time. Start the walk at avenue McGill College and rue Maisonneuve W.

Total Distance: 5 kilometers (3.1 miles)
Walking Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

front of the Redpath Museum in Montreal's Centre-ville neighborhood
The Redpath Museum, located on the McGill campus, is one of the only museums in the city open on Mondays. Photo © Will Keats-Osborn.

McGill and the Golden Square Mile

Walk north on the east side of the street. About halfway up the block, look to your right: This sculpture that almost looks like it’s made of butter is called The Illuminated Crowd, by Raymond Mason, which symbolizes the fragility of the human condition. Two blocks north, you’ll reach the gates to McGill University, Montréal’s oldest English-language university. Head through the gates and explore the campus by walking up toward the Redpath Museum of Natural History. At the top of the path, you’ll see one of McGill’s oldest structures, the Arts Building: The urn out front used to contain James McGill’s ashes. Turn left and head west in front of the Redpath Museum; walk until you reach rue McTavish. Take a right, then a left onto avenue du Docteur-Penfield.

This street forms the northern edge of the Golden Square Mile, home to the early houses of wealthy Montréal merchants. Walk five blocks west and take a right onto avenue du Musée: Immediately on your right is the former home of Colonel Herbert Molson, who owned Molson brewery; it is now the Russian consulate. Head south one block, turn left onto rue Sherbrooke, and continue for almost two blocks. Enter the Ritz-Carlton’s Palm Lobby and have a snack or a drink at the Dom Perignon bar. When you’re ready, reemerge onto Sherbrooke and head east four blocks to rue Peel.

Take a right at rue Peel and walk two and a half blocks to Dorchester Square, a bustling little spot of greenery featuring four stone monuments. Head to the kitty-corner of the park—boulevard René-Lévesque W. and rue Metcalfe—and look southwest.

outside of the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde in Montreal
Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, pictured here between the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel and the 1000 rue de la Gauchetere building. Photo © Will Keats-Osborn.

Art, Chocolate, and Religious Heritage

Across the street, you’ll see the gorgeous Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde. Take a few external pictures or head inside to check it out. Next, walk back through Dorchester Square, retracing your steps until you reach rue Peel and rue Ste-Catherine W. Turn left.

In almost eight blocks (you may want to stop for some shopping), you’ll reach Juliette et Chocolat—a great place to take a break and enjoy a brownie, a hot chocolate, or a crêpe. Exit and head west to rue St-Mathieu; take a left and head south one long block to boulevard René-Lévesque W.

Cross the street so you’re on the southern sidewalk of boulevard René-Lévesque W. and head one block west until you reach a strange park overlooking the highway: This is the unconventional sculpture garden of the Centre Canadien d’Architecture, designed by Melvin Charney. Charney was a professor and artist whose claims to fame include curating street art to be shown during the 1976 Olympics in Montréal.

Head back to the northeast corner of the park and cross the street onto rue St-Marc. Head six blocks north and then take a right onto rue Sherbrooke W. Head east about five blocks, until you reach Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, a large art museum home to a solid permanent collection as well as impressive traveling exhibitions.


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1-Hour Montréal Bike Ride Itinerary

Montréal is a very bikeable city—especially in the summer. Pick up a route map at a local bike shop or wherever you rent your bikes, and take some time to acquaint yourself with symbols and routes. Some designated bike routes share lanes with cars, others have painted lanes, and still others have separated bike lanes, which may be preferable if you’re a bit of a nervous rider or you’re riding with kids. This route is designed to let you soak up the sights in a fairly broad swath of Montréal, often right from your saddle.

Total Distance: 13 kilometers (8 miles)
Cycling Time: 1 hour

people on bikes with Montreal skyline in the background
Cycling along the Lachine Canal. Photo © Andrea Bennett.

Lachine Canal Bike Path

Start your trip at Marché Atwater in Saint-Henri. Atwater was a make-work project in Depression-era Montréal—one of many that saved workers and families while simultaneously coming close to bankrupting the city. On the south end of the market, across the street from the main market area, you’ll find ice cream shop Havre aux Glaces. You can roll right up to the window and fuel up on some dulce de leche before heading out.

Next, cross the pedestrian bridge and join the bike path on the opposite side of the canal. Head left (east) on the bike path. Keep an eye out for old industrial buildings—many have been turned into gorgeous loft apartments, and one has been converted into a climbing gym, complete with an outdoor route. In about 800 meters, when you reach the Ecluses Saint-Gabriel (Saint Gabriel Locks), stop and visit for a moment: these locks are what allowed the Lachine Canal to be used as a shipping route in Montréal’s industrial heyday. Now they are open to pleasure craft—if you’re lucky, you just might catch them in action.

Continue to follow the bike path as it curves along the canal. Eventually, you’ll reach the Bassins Peel, or Peel Basin: Ahead, you’ll see grain silos, and the first hint of the Farine Five Roses sign. Take a left and head under the Bonaventure highway to keep following the path. When you emerge from the underpass, look up and to your right: this is the best view you’ll get of Montréal’s iconic Farine Five Roses sign.

Keep following the bike path—you’ll head over a rattly old train trestle—and eventually, you’ll dip below a city street and then curve around onto a small bridge with a bike path. Follow it to cross to the northern shore of the canal, and then pick up the bike path on the other side. Navigate your way through the Old Port on the bike path, passing the Silo #5, Habitat 67, and the Montréal Science Centre. When you reach the Quai de L’Horloge, pause for a moment and turn to face the city: you’ll get a great view of both Marché Bonsecours, with its giant silver dome, and Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, where the giant Our Lady of the Harbour used to look out for sailors—and now looks out over the St. Lawrence River.

Take the bike path one more block east to rue Berri, and then, when the coast is clear, take a left and join rue Berri’s separated bike lane. Head seven city blocks north—and be ready to gear down a bit, because this part of the ride is a bit hilly. As you pass rue St-Catherine, look right and to the sky to see the bright spheres hovering over the Village. When you reach Maisonneuve, the block after St-Catherine, dismount and soak up the architectural wonder of La Grande Bibliothèque.

view of the fountain and lake in Parc Lafontaine in Montreal
Parc Lafontaine. Photo © Will Keats-Osborn.

A Bird’s-Eye View of Mile End and Petite-Italie

Rejoin the bike path and keep heading north three blocks. Take a right at rue Cherrier and join the separate bike lane on the north side of the street. Ride three blocks until you reach Avenue de la Parc Fontaine. Hang a left onto the bike lane and either cut your way through the park or keep to its eastern edge. Parc La Fontaine is one of the best and most well-loved parks in the city, so I’d suggest cutting through—you’ll see picnickers, a fountain, and a bunch of Canadian flora and fauna.

When you’re done exploring the park, head to rue Brebeuf on its northern edge (if you’ve stuck to the bike path, it’ll spit you out right where you need to be). Head north on rue Brebeuf for six blocks (for the entire sixth block, you’ll be on the eastern edge of Parc Sir Wilfred Laurier). Take a left at rue Gregoire, a right onto avenue Christophe-Columb, and hug left to stay in the separate bike lane. Continue to follow the bike lane as it curves left into Parc des Carriers, then take a left on rue Boyer. At the end of the street, cross the road and join the rail trail. Head right.

The rail trail makes quick work of an east-west stretch between Mile End and Little Italy—and it offers some great views. Follow the rail trail until it ends at rue Beaubien. When it’s safe, cross the street, jog east just a bit, and head north on rue St-Urbain two blocks until you reach avenue Beaumont. Head left for two blocks, then right on rue Marconi for one block, and right on avenue Mozart for one block. Head left on rue Waverly, and Dépanneur le Pick-Up will appear on your left. They have some of the best sandwiches—including a vegetarian “pulled tofu”—in town (opt for tortillas for a gluten-free option). Snack outside on the picnic tables, or take your sandwiches to go—your next stop is close.

Outside Dépanneur le Pick-Up, take a left on avenue Alexander and then a left onto rue Marconi. Follow rue Marconi until it curves around to meet rue Waverly. Take a right, then a right onto St-Zotique. A final, immediate right will bring you onto avenue l’Esplanade, where you’ll see Alexandraplatz Bar on your right. There’s plenty of bike parking in the parking lot, along with lots of delicious craft beers and cocktails inside.


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Things to Do in Fort Davis, Texas

Fort Davis (population 1,201) truly feels like the Old West. Nestled among the Davis Mountains—therefore dubbed “the highest town in Texas”—Fort Davis exhibits the charm of an authentic Western community, with wide windswept streets containing flat-faced and sun-faded buildings under an enormous sky.

Fort Davis was established in 1854 by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis as one of the key army posts in West Texas’s development and defense. The fort was briefly abandoned during the Civil War, allowing Native Americans to strip much of the buildings’ wood for fuel, but it was reoccupied in 1867 and by the mid-1880s was a major operation with more than 600 men and 60-plus adobe and stone structures.

During this time, Fort Davis was home to several regiments of Buffalo Soldiers, African Americans who earned distinction as brave fighters and served alongside Anglo soldiers, a rare case of desegregation in the late 1800s. As settlement increased in the area and native populations dispersed, the fort’s original purpose became obsolete, and it was abandoned in 1891.

The town’s remote and rugged location made it a difficult destination to reach, resulting in slow growth throughout the 1900s. These days, its mild climate and natural beauty draw thousands of visitors annually from Austin and other urban areas in search of a high-altitude respite from the grueling summer heat. Fort Davis’s intrigue lies in its proximity to attractions like the fascinating McDonald Observatory and breathtaking Davis Mountains State Park, as well as its refreshingly unspoiled allure, particularly compared to the “discovered” towns of Marfa and Alpine. Here is a quick guide to some of the best things to do in Fort Davis.

mountains rise into the sky around Fort Davis National Historic Site
Fort Davis sits surrounded by the Davis Mountains. Photo © zrfphoto/iStock.

Sights

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Be sure to set aside an hour or two for Fort Davis National Historic Site (on Hwy. 17 in Fort Davis, 432/426-3224, daily 8am-5pm, $7 ages 16 and older). Considered one of the country’s best remaining examples of a 19th-century frontier military post, Fort Davis draws visitors from across the country. Families and history buffs can spend as much time as they like on the self-guided tour, showcasing the post’s 20 buildings and more than 100 ruins. Of particular interest are the restored barrack buildings and officers’ quarters with period furnishings and military equipment, offering a slice of life on a frontier base in the late 1800s. Opened in 1854, Fort Davis played a key role in the history of the Southwest by protecting settlers, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The fort is especially notable for serving as the base for several regiments of African American troops known as Buffalo Soldiers, who helped maintain peaceful settlement in the region.

McDonald Observatory

Sitting high atop 6,791-foot-tall Mount Locke, the remarkable McDonald Observatory (on Hwy. 118, 16 miles west of Fort Davis, 432/426-3640, daily 10am-5:30pm, $8 adults, $7 children ages 6-12, additional charge for star parties) makes good use of its position approaching the heavens. Three large domes beckon visitors to the facility, which opened in 1939 with the world’s second-largest telescope and has served astronomers and visitors ever since. The observatory’s impressive equipment includes the massive Hobby-Eberly Telescope, with a 36-foot-wide mirror comprised of 91 laser-aligned segments, and two other telescopes to monitor the sun, stars, and planets. Visitors have the option of attending informative guided tours (11:30am and 2:30pm), solar viewings (30 minutes before the tours), and dramatic star parties (after dusk every Tues., Fri., and Sat.), but the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are reason alone to make the journey.

ocotillo plants in the desert of Texas
Chihuahuan Desert. Photo © aaronnystrom/iStock.

Other Sights

It’s worth the 38-mile drive north of Fort Davis to experience the spectacular scenery and distinctive allure of Balmorhea State Park (Hwy. 17, 432/375-2370, $7 ages 13 and older). If you have the time, book a night at the historic adobe motel, featuring spacious rooms with cable TV but no phones. The park’s centerpiece is San Solomon Springs, gushing up to 26 million gallons of refreshingly cool water daily into a large artificial swimming pool. The deep artesian springs offer an ideal spot for scuba diving, so it’s fairly common to see divers in the far corner of the pool exploring the unique aquatic life in the crystal-clear water. The springs also feed a fascinating desert wetland, providing a habitat and life source for scores of uncommon birds and plantlife. The viewing areas—a large wooden overlook and subsurface water window—are especially intriguing.

Overlooking the Fort Davis area’s signature red-hued outcroppings is Davis Mountains State Park (Hwy. 118, 432/426-3337, $6 ages 13 and older). The park boasts 1,000 feet of elevation change and is a popular destination for hikers and campers who relish the natural beauty and cooler temperatures. Considered one of Texas’s most scenic areas, the park showcases its namesake mountains, the most extensive range in the state. The park draws mountain bikers and hikers from across the state who marvel at the incredible views of the park’s picturesque canyon formed by Keesey Creek. Hard-core campers also appreciate the park’s Limpia Canyon Primitive Area, with 10 miles of backcountry hiking trails and primitive tent campsites. Other popular activities include bird-watching, stargazing, and cruising Skyline Drive, a paved road with two spectacular overlooks showcasing the Chinati Mountains, located 75 miles to the southwest. The park is also home to the famous Indian Lodge, a historic adobe hotel still in operation.

Check out the mystique of the region’s surroundings at the Chihuahuan Desert Visitor Center (43869 Hwy. 118, 432/364-2499, Mon.-Sat. 9am-5pm, $6 adults, children ages 12 and under free). Visitors can experience the wonders of the Chihuahuan Desert region firsthand by exploring the fairly strenuous Modesta Canyon Trail, a one-hour hike, and the scenic Clayton’s Overlook hike, offering amazing views of the area’s diverse topography. The center’s succulent greenhouse features more than 200 species of Chihuahuan Desert cacti as well as other attractions, like the 20-acre botanical garden, an interpretive center with indoor and outdoor educational exhibits, and educational programs.


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How to Spend 24 Hours in Montréal

Infinitely bikeable, walkable, and packed with picturesque alleys and parks, Montréal is the kind of place where you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Getting from point A to point B is easy with Bixi, the city-wide bikeshare system that has hundreds of stations throughout the city, and there are plenty of parks and public spaces to kick back and relax after a day on the go. Plus, with such a diverse restaurant scene, you can eat your way through several continents and cultures in one day. So, if you’ve got one day in Montréal, here’s how you should spend it.

Montreal storefront covered in plants and bird cages
Dragon Flowers, on avenue Bernard, is a Mile End icon. Photo © Andrea Bennett.

Morning

There’s no better way to start your day in Montréal than with a bagel (or two). Not to be confused with the New York-style specialty, Montréal bagels are smaller, denser, and sweeter, and at the iconic 24-hour St-Viateur Bagel Shop, each bagel is hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and cooked in a wood fired oven. Grab one of the classic sesame seed or poppy seed varieties and enjoy it as you stroll the surrounding neighborhood.

Window-shop the vintage stores on rue St-Viateur and avenue Bernard and browse for books and comics at Drawn & Quarterly. When you’re ready for a pick-me-up, get your caffeine fix at local institution Café Olimpico, which has kept the same espresso recipe since it opened in 1970. Strike up a conversation with the diverse clientele, watch a little soccer on the TV, or snack on cannoli on the lovely patio.

Afternoon

Hop on a Bixi and ride downtown to Qing Hua Dumpling, where you can get a veritable feast on the cheap. This hole-in-the wall eatery is unassuming, but the food speaks for itself. The dumplings come fried or steamed and stuffed with any combination imaginable—the pork and cabbage is especially popular. If you’re seeking a trendier ambience, dine on the colorful Japanese dishes at nearby Kazu instead.

Once you’ve had your fill, it’s a quick bike ride over to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. With over 7,000 works in the permanent collection, including pieces by some of the biggest names in Quebec art, the museum also hosts some truly boundary-pushing exhibits. Afterwards, head outside to the open-air courtyard of Place des Arts, the largest cultural and artistic complex in Canada, to rest your weary legs and people-watch.

view of the fountain and lake in Parc La Fontaine in Montreal
Take your picnic dinner to Parc Lafontaine. Photo © Will Keats-Osborn.

Evening

Find the nearest Bixi stand and ride over to Rotisserie Romados, a Portuguese restaurant where you can pick up a picnic meal of rotisserie chicken and poutine as well as authentic fare like Portuguese rolls and egg tarts (called natas). Grab a bottle of wine or some beer and head to Parc La Fontaine or Parc Jeanne Mance to enjoy your meal al fresco. You can hang out until 10pm enjoying buskers and the summer air, but don’t forget that if you want to wine, you have to dine—alcohol in the park must be accompanied with food.

For a more intimate, indoor dining experience in the area, try L’Express, which ranks among the best French bistros in the city. Exclusive and inviting all at once, the service is impeccable, the food is classic French bistro, and the ambience is perfect for a date.

At the end of the night, catch an up-and-coming band or dance the night away to the city’s most eclectic DJs at Casa del Popolo, a hip vegetarian café that moonlights as a music venue.


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Sights Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

If you ask an Icelander which tour you should take if you want a taste of Iceland outside of Reykjavík, you will most likely hear the “Golden Circle” tour. Encompassing the three most commonly visited sights in South Iceland, the Golden Circle gives you a slice of Icelandic history at Þingvellir, a view of Iceland’s bubbling geothermal activity at Geysir, and a peek of a roaring, powerful waterfall at Gullfoss. The sights are classically Icelandic, and postcard perfect, whether in summer or winter.

Because of the popularity of the sights, it’s pretty easy to get there. You can pre-book a tour through many tourism companies, or simply go to Reykjavík’s main bus terminal, BSÍ (Vatnsmýrarvegur 10, Reykjavík, tel. 354/562-1011), and buy a same-day ticket through Reykjavík Excursions (tel. 354/580-5400) for 10,900ISK for an eight-hour tour.

If you want to rent a car and view the sights independently,take Route 1 to Route 36 for Þingvellir. Continue on Route 36 then Routes 365, 37, and 35 to Geysir. From Geysir continue on Route 35 to Gullfoss, before looping back toward Reykjavík heading southwest on Routes 35 and 1. In total, the Golden Circle is an approximately 300-kilometer paved circular route, leaving from and returning to Reykjavík.

Campsite in Thingvellir National Park.
Campsite in Þingvellir National Park. Photo © 1tommas/Dreamstime.

Þingvellir National Park

[pullquote align=right]Historically, Geysir is the most famous of Iceland’s geysers; it’s actually the source of the word “geyser.”[/pullquote]The birth of Iceland as a nation began at Þingvellir. Literally translated to “Parliament Plains,” Þingvellir is the site of Iceland’s first general assembly, which was said to be established in the year 930, and the meeting place of the Icelandic parliament until 1798. Many significant sights are at Þingvellir, including Almannagjá (All Man’s Gorge) and Lögberg (Law Rock). Icelanders made sure that Þingvellir is a protected national park by establishing it as such in 1930.

Visitors also come to the area for its geological significance, as it is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake on the island, which has a surface area of 84 square kilometers. Visiting the park itself is free, but there’s a parking fee (500ISK).

water gushing from the Strokkur geyser
Visitors can watch the Strokkur geyser erupt every 7 minutes. Photo © Leonid Andronov/iStock.

Geysir

Iceland’s geysers are the most obvious demonstration of the island’s natural geothermal energy. A bubbling pool of hot water in clay-like earth erupts into a mountain of steam, delighting spectators.

Historically, Geysir is the most famous of Iceland’s geysers; it’s actually the source of the word “geyser.” Geologists theorized that in the 13th century earthquakes stirred the underground workings of the natural hot springs, causing them to gush, releasing pressure, steam, and water up to 20 meters into the air.

Visitors to the site today aren’t going to see Geysir erupt, as the geyser hasn’t blown since 2005; it’s been rendered dormant. But don’t fret, because Geysir’s nearby cousin, Strokkur (Churn), erupts every seven minutes or so, delighting tourists. The churning, gurgling pool of water turning out a rush of pressure is an impressive sight. Be sure to have your camera ready.

Crowds gather at Strokkur to watch the frequent eruptions. Please be careful and stay behind the ropes or you may get hit with hot spray.

After walking around the geothermal area, stop at the visitors center (9am-10pm daily). It has a short multimedia exhibition about the geology of the region, a small café serving refreshments, and a souvenir shop.

A sunny day at Gullfoss Falls in Iceland.
Gullfoss Falls. Photo © Kjersti Jorgensen/123rf.

Gullfoss

The thundering, roaring waterfall of Gullfoss epitomizes the raw beauty of Iceland. Gullfoss (Golden Falls) tumbles into the Hvíta (White) River, which is a perfect name given the turbulent white water. There are three levels of water at the falls, ranging from 11 meters to 21 meters, meeting at a 70-meter gorge. If you get too close, expect to get soaked.

Because of Iceland’s changing weather, you have a good chance to see a rainbow over the falls, making for a perfect snapshot of your visit. Plan to walk around the site, enjoying not only the wonder of the falls, but also the beautiful surrounding landscape. In the summer, there are miles of lush green grass and frequent rainbows on sunny/rainy days. Be careful; it could be slippery.

No matter what time of year, there are scores of tour buses and independent drivers visiting the falls, and that’s for a very good reason. It’s gorgeous.

There is currently a fight between landowners and the Icelandic government over whether to charge visitors a fee to visit the falls. At the time of writing, it was undecided and still in the courts.

An on-site café includes a souvenir shop and offers some brochures about the surrounding area.

Map of the Golden Circle Iceland
The Golden Circle

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Visit Snæfellsjökull National Park in Iceland

The Snæfellsjökull glacier became world famous after author Jules Verne described it in A Journey to the Center of the Earth as the starting point of the titular journey. There is plenty to explore inside Snæfellsjökull National Park. Take some time, wear comfortable yet sturdy footwear, and bring your camera. Plan at least two days in the region.

a path winds toward snaefellsjokul glacier in Iceland
The peak of Snæfellsjökull glacier reaches 1,446 meters. Photo © mabeljover/iStock.

Sights in Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snæfellsjökull Glacier

The Snæfellsjökull glacier lies on top of a volcano, situated in the center of the national park. The glacier’s peak reaches 1,446 meters, and it can be seen from Reykjavík on a clear day. The volcano is considered active, though the last eruption occurred 1,900 years ago.

It’s about 190 kilometers from Reykjavík to the Snæfellsjökull glacier; the drive takes about 2.5 hours. From Reykjavík, take Route 1 north through the town of Borgarnes and then turn left onto Route 54. Head west on Route 54 across the peninsula for about 98 kilometers, connecting to Route 574. Continue west on Route 574 for about 35 kilometers. You’ll find the road leading up to the volcano on the right-hand side, and signs are posted all the way up to a parking lot. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out and be advised that roads leading to the volcano are unpaved.

Djúpalónssandur Beach

Djúpalónssandur beach, on the southwestern edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, is one of the region’s highlights. The vast beach is covered by small black stones that were shaped by the force of the tides and whipping of the wind. Visitors love to wander among the frozen lava landscapes and the interesting rock formations. A short paved road through lava fields leads directly from Route 574 to Djúpalónssandur beach. The GPS coordinates are N 64.7493, W 23.9122.

Rock formations at Djúpalónssandur beach.
Rock formations at Djúpalónssandur beach. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.

Vatnshellir Lava Cave

The Vatnshellir lava cave, a site made available to the public in 2011, is another highlight. Scientists believe the 200-meter-long cave was created in an eruption between 6,000-8,000 years ago. The cave has two main sections. The upper section showcases unique lava formations that are curved on the sides of the lava tube. The lower part, which can be reached by a long and narrow but well-maintained staircase, takes tourists deep (about 35 meters) underground to a place hidden from the outside world for thousands of years. The cave is accessible only through a guided tour from Summit Guides (tel. 354/787-0001, 45-minute tours 3,250ISK adults, 2,600ISK students/seniors, free for children 3-11). Tourists are required to have hiking boots, gloves, and warm clothing. The tour guide provides helmets and flashlights. The Vatnshellir cave is located in the southern end of the park, near Route 574.

Hiking

Many Icelanders say the beauty of Snæfellsnes is unrivaled, calling the region their favorite place in the country. Why? Snæfellsnes has it all. There are mountains to climb, lava fields to explore, and glaciers to scale, all accessible by countless hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Specific information on trails can be found at the park’s visitors center.

Feel free to roam and take in the sights. Whether you head out alone, with a small group, or with a tour, always go out for a hike prepared: Check the weather forecast, bring proper gear and drinking water, and let people know your whereabouts.

Rauðhóll is a leisurely hike within the park where travelers can walk around a vast lava field with jagged earth and a treeless plain giving unobstructed views of the glacier looming in the distance. The 2.3-kilometer loop hike is easy, on relatively flat ground, and takes about 45 minutes. The landscape is filled with moss and lichen-covered lava stones and lava tubes, where lava once flowed out of the volcano. Coming from Hellissandur, you’ll find the hiking path down an unnumbered road off of Route 570 (which is unpaved but no longer an F road); look for a sign that says “Eysteinsdalur Snæfellsjökull” and turn left. On the south side of the road is a signpost for the Rauðhóll trail, and red stakes along the path mark the way.

Snæfellsjökull Glacier Hike

Snæfellsjökull, rising 1,446 meters from the western tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, offers gorgeous views during a challenging trek, on which you can embark with a guided tour (this hike isn’t recommended as an independent trek). The adventure starts and ends at the small fishing village of Arnarstapi, off Route 54 down Útnesvegur. Arctic Adventures (tel. 354/562-7000, Apr. 7.-Aug. 31, 34,990ISK) takes you to the Jökulháls pass, where you’ll start your hike toward the summit of the glacier. The first part of the hike is over volcanic rock, but as you climb, snow and ice become dominant, and crampons will be necessary near the top of the glacier. The hike is about 7-8 kilometers, with a total elevation gain of 760 meters, and it takes about 3-5 hours, depending on the conditions and weather.

Remember to bring warm outdoor clothing, a waterproof jacket and pants, a hat, and gloves. Good hiking shoes are essential on this tour. Waterproof outerwear and sturdy hiking shoes can be rented from the tour company with advance notice.

Guided Tours

If you’re after other structured, guided tours, some tour companies offer excursions. Check out Reykjavik Excursions (tel. 354/580-5400) for a list. It offers a 12-hour “Wonders of Snæfellsnes” tour year-round from Reykjavík that includes visits to the glacier, sandy beaches, craters, and fishing villages (21,000ISK adults, 10,500ISK children 12-15, free for children under 11).

Travel map of Akranes and Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Akranes and Snæfellsnes Peninsula

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Top 5 Sights in Peru’s Sacred Valley

Begin your trip to the Cusco area with the Sacred Valley, which the Inca considered paradise for its fertile earth. Up and down the valley, the Inca built a string of their most sacred sites, including temples and fortresses in Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Collected here are the top five sights in the Sacred Valley.

blue sky with fluffy white clouds over mountains and valleys in Peru
Agricultural terraces in Pisac. Photo © SL Photography/iStock.

Pisac Ruins

What’s unique about Pisac’s Inca ruins, apart from their extraordinary beauty, is their range. Here you will find not only religious architecture, but also residential, agricultural, and military structures.

Moray and Salineras

This six-hour downhill hike is a gorgeous introduction to the Sacred Valley. Start at Moray, a complex of concentric agricultural terraces, and then head downhill past Salineras, a centuries-old salt mine that is still in operation.

light gleams on the surface water of the salt mines in Peru
The Maras Salt Mines have been maintained and harvested by the residents of Maras for centuries, distilling pink or white salt from an underground reservoir. Photo © julian doporai/iStock.

Ollantaytambo Temple

Second in importance only to Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo includes some of the Inca’s best stonework, including a series of ceremonial baths, elegant trapezoidal doorways, and a sun temple that faces the rising sun.

Inca Granaries (Pinkuylluna)

This moderate, 1.5-hour hike offers a spectacular view of Ollantaytambo, its gleaming sun temple, and interesting grain storehouses, known in Quechua as colcas.

stone granaries built on the side of a mountain in Peru's Sacred Valley
The large buildings seen at Pinkuylluna were used for agricultural storehouses called colcas. Photo © rchphoto/iStock.

Pisac Market

The Pisac market begins every day at 9am when the first tour buses arrive from Cusco and winds down around 5pm when the last tourists leave. The town’s main square is filled with stalls selling the full range of Peruvian artesanía: carved gourds (mates burilados), ceramics, felt hats, alpaca sweaters and mittens, musical instruments, paintings, antiques, a huge variety of trinkets, and, most of all, weavings and jewelry.

Color travel map of The Sacred Valley in Peru
The Sacred Valley

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