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Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, had a great love of her people. So when a garden was proposed to honor Hawaii’s early Japanese immigrants, she happily donated 30 acres of land to the project. Thanks to this gift, Lili’uokalani Gardens became the largest Edo-style garden outside of Japan.
In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed St. Louis, Missouri, to explore the West. This trip later inspired thousands of settlers to travel through St. Louis, giving it the nickname, “Gateway to the West.” In 1935, 82 acres were set aside to honor the impact of St. Louis on westward expansion, becoming the U.S.’s first National Historic Site.
Byodo-In Temple is part of Hawaii’s Valley of the Temples Memorial Park and is a smaller-scale concrete version of the wooden Byodo-in Temple in Uji, Japan. The replica in Hawaii was built to honor the centenary of the first Japanese immigrants to settle on the islands. It was dedicated in August 1968 and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
The legend of the Sleeping Bear Dunes comes from the Chippewa people. In their tale, a giant fire raged on the western shore of Lake Michigan. To escape the blaze, a mother bear and her two cubs jumped into the lake and began to swim to safety on the opposite shore. The swim was too much for the cubs, who became tired and drowned. The mother bear reached the shore and waited on the bluffs, but her cubs never arrived. The Great Spirit was impressed by the mother bear’s faith and created two islands (North and South Manitou Islands) to honor the cubs. Over time, wind covered the mother in sand, where she still waits for her cubs.
Rising tall above the sand dunes in the American Southwest, Joshua trees are dominating figures with twisted branches and sharp, spiky leaves. Found in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Joshua trees grow about three inches per year, which is fast for their climate. They are known to reach soaring heights, up to 49 feet. Unlike most trees, they do not have growth rings, so it is difficult to determine their age. Joshua trees can live for hundreds of years, but it is believed some have survived for a thousand. These trees were protected as part of a national monument in 1936 and were later upgraded to national park status in 1994.
Standing 26 feet tall, the Bethesda Fountain is one of the largest in New York City and was the only sculpture commissioned as part of Central Park’s original design. Its iconic statue is known as Angel of the Waters. It is an eight-foot-tall bronze angel holding a lily in one hand and blessing the waters with the other. Below the angel, four small cherubs represent health, purity, peace, and temperance. The statue’s symbolism is a reference to a gospel story of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda with healing abilities. The statue relates that tale to the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842, which provided the city with clean water for the first time.
Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert habitat in the US. The Rio Grande River runs through the park and marks the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Big Bend National Park is home to over 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The park is also the location of many extraordinary archaeological sites dating back almost 10,000 years of human history. Fossil and dinosaur bones have also been found in the area. At night, the skies of Big Bend National Park boast billions and billions of stars. In fact, the National Park Service determined Big Bend has the darkest skies in the continental United States.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful sights in the state. Rugged sandstone cliffs along the shoreline of Lake Superior are shaped by groundwater filtering through cracks in the rock. During winter, this water freezes and creates breathtaking displays called ice caves. There are many areas around the lake where ice caves can be found, but some of the most impressive are on Grand Island. To get inside a cave, visitors have to have a certain amount of luck. Due to the nature of the freeze-thaw cycle, entry points may have completely frozen over, making the interior of the caves inaccessible. With enough luck, visitors will be treated to stunning blue and white ice walls that you won’t find anywhere else.
The Castillo de San Marcos (St. Mark’s Castle) is the continental United States’ oldest masonry fort. It was designed by Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza and built on the western side of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, Florida. It took 23 years to construct and has stood for over 325 years since. It’s known for its masonry star shape and unusual coquina walls made of countless tiny shells held together by a special type of mineral. The Castillo de San Marcos is an enduring symbol of Spain’s part in US history.
Monument Valley is located on the Colorado Plateau, an area known for its huge sandstone buttes and red sand. It is most famous for its Mitten and Merrick Buttes, which featured in the background of several Hollywood blockbusters about the American West. Thousands of visitors travel to Monument Valley each year to take a tour through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the Navajo Nation equivalent of a national park. The harsh, yet beautiful landscape inspires countless photographers and artists to this day.
The Palace of Fine Arts was constructed during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and is the only such building still standing. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck and is a 162-foot-high open rotunda with a lagoon on one side and exhibition center on the other. It features impressive columns and archways and is a piece of architecture one might expect to see in a fantasy film. In fact, it has appeared in several movies over the years and continues to be used as a venue for important events, both public and private.
The Florida Everglades are one of the most famous natural areas of the southeastern United States. They begin near Orlando at the Kissimmee River, travel through Lake Okeechobee, and continue south before reaching the Florida Bay. The Everglades were designated a Wetland Area of Global Importance by UNESCO in the 1970s and have been part of extensive conservation efforts ever since. In total, the Everglades’ massive network of wetlands, forests, and rivers, are home to countless species, including 36 that are threatened or protected. This includes the Florida panther, American crocodile, and West Indian manatee. Of course, it’s also home to its most famous reptile, the American alligator.
The Great Smoky Mountains are located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and run from the Pigeon River to the Little Tennessee River. The range earned its name from the mist and fog that usually blankets the valleys and other lower elevations. This is due to the heavy annual rainfall the mountains receive and the relatively warm temperatures. Combined with sunrises and sunsets, the “smoke” makes for beautiful views visitors don’t soon forget. In fact, Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosts over 11 million visitors per year.