It's listed on the American National Register of Historic Places. It's also known as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. And it's the world's largest single-aperture telescope. But you probably know it as "that huge-ass hidden dish in GoldenEye". And yes, while the Arecibo Observatory was the backdrop for 007 and 006's climactic battle, in the real world, its a center of research into radio astronomy, aeronomy, and radar astronomy. Measuring 1,000 feet in diameter, the Arecibo has been used for everything from determining the rotation rate of Mercury and discovering the first binary pulsar to sending out — and listening for — communications from extraterrestrial life. And there's a visitor center, too, thankfully free of hellbent ex-MI6 agents.
Like hot food? Then you're likely to enjoy a tour of The Chile Pepper Institue Garden. Located in the Fabian Garcia Landscape Garden and park, this garden has been involved in the Institute's program for over 15 years, and does its research in collaboration with the New Mexico State University Chile Breeding and Genetics Program. In total, the garden is home to over 150 varieties of chiles, including all the main species of Capsicum. Taking a self-led walk around the grounds is completely free — maps are available at the garden's edge — but if you'd like a guide to help you along, you need to pony up $25 — and schedule ahead.
Stunning architecture meets stunning natural beauty at the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre Pavilion. Located in Dovrefjell National Park, this Snøhetta-designed building features floor-to-ceiling windows — ideal for taking in views of Snøhetta mountain, Europe's last remaining wild reindeer herds, and other rare animals — a floating, wood-burning fireplace, and an organically-curved wooden seating area. A mile-long walk is required to get there, but it's well worth the effort.
It doesn't have any official markings, signs, or parks dedicated to it, so it's easy to drive right past the San Andreas Fault if you're not paying attention. Laid bare by a roadcut for Highway 14 just south of Palmdale, the nation's most infamous fault — or at least part of it — is visible to the naked eye, with weird wave-like formations marking the place where the Pacific and North American plates violently come together. If you'd like to get a better view than the one afforded by your car window, we recommend parking at nearby Pelona Vista Park and walking back to the cut.
When most people think of wilderness, they think of mountains, forests, and other foreboding terrain. But just because a place lacks peaks and trees doesn't mean it's not wild. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a great example. Located in the Flint Hills, this 11,000 acre preserve represents some — most, actually — of the last of the 170 million acres of prairie that once covered our continent, affording a unique opportunity to see the American Heartland as it once was. Complete with buffalo. Tallgrass is home to one of the last remaining pure-bred bison herds, and you can even walk amongst them — if you're brave.
The name might sound foreboding, but there are actually fewer lightning strikes at The Lightning Field than you'd expect. This massive work of land art — created by sculptor Walter De Maria in the late Seventies — is instead one of the more unique destinations in the southwest. It's made up of 400 stainless steel poles with heights varying based on the undulation of the 1 mile x 1 kilometer grid on which they sit, allowing the solid, pointed tips to form a plane level parallel to the ground. Meant to be experienced over a long period of time, the site is only open six months out of the year, and requires an advanced reservation for up to six people in the on-site cabin — so if you're wanting to make a visit next year, you'd best make your plans now.
It's been called the best driving road in the world — and while we're not ready to give it the crown, it's definitely in the conversation. The Stelvio Pass is the Eastern Alps' highest paved road at an elevation of over 9,000 feet, and also its most enjoyable. Originally constructed in the 1820's, this 15-mile stretch of pavement runs between Stilfs in South Tyrol and Bormio in the province of Sondrio, and features plenty of hairpin turns — 48 on the northern side alone — as well as amazing mountain views. Our recommendation? Make sure to rent something fun and Italian — a Ferrari, perhaps? — before hitting the road.
Going by the name alone, Desolation Peak doesn't really sound like the type of place you'd be jazzed to visit. But those who know their literary history know otherwise. Set 6,102 feet above sea level, this remote spot in North Cascades National Park played host to Jack Kerouac for 63 days in 1956, as the noted author served as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout and otherwise used his time to work on The Dharma Bums. Unfortunately for you, Kerouac's post/cabin/shanty isn't open to the public, but that doesn't mean you can't make the 23-or-so mile hike up yourself to take in the inspirational views of the surrounding peaks.
Canyonlands might not be as famous as its more grand sibling, but this National Park offers a trip every bit as amazing in the White Rim Road. This 100-mile trail takes between two and four days to traverse, depending on your method of transportation — either a four-wheel drive vehicle or mountain bike. One on the road, you'll have the opportunity to explore Shafer Trail, White Crack, Holeman Canyon, and other stunning natural vistas. Just remember to bring plenty of water, leave your pets at home, and be careful out there — if you break down, you're not going to like the bill you get from the towing service.
For a city as famous as Troy, it's amazing that it took so long for us to figure out exactly where it was. Finally "confirmed" as such around the turn of the century, The Ruins of Troy now welcome visitors who wish to explore this historic site. Located in current-day Turkey, the site actually contains ruins of several different cities, settled on the site between 3,000 BC and 500 AD — including Homeric Troy (the one from the Trojan War), which was occupied around 1,200 BC. Obviously the last 3200 years or so has taken its toll on the ancient structures, but for history buffs, it's a visit well worth making. [via]
Planning a trip along the old Oregon Trail? Even if you're not, you shouldn't pass by without stopping in at the Gothenburg Pony Express Station. Situated in Ehmen Park, this station was one of over a hundred that sat along the route, but seeing as how it's still open to the public — and lies in the self-proclaimed Pony Express Capital of the state, it's more interesting than most. Inside, you'll find artifacts from riders who traveled along with treacherous trail, including a replica saddle, but sadly no gravestones marking the end of weary travelers who succumbed to dysentery.
Okay, so you're unlikely to travel there just for this — more likely, you're in the area to check out the world's largest salt flat — but if you're already there, don't leave without seeing the Cementerio de Trenes (Train Cemetery). Located just a few kilometers outside town, this collection of vintage locomotives and rail cars were originally meant to move minerals out of the area, and thus bolster the economy. Instead, the rail line construction never fully got off the ground, the trains were used primarily by mining companies, and when that industry collapsed, they were abandoned here, becoming a unique monument to an unfulfilled dream. [via]