It’s a typical January day in Kansas and for an escape I’m reading William Least Heat-Moon’s latest collection of travel writings, Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road. Discovering and imagining Heat-Moon’s lifelong travels triggers remembrances of the places I’ve been, as well as those landscapes I’ve only seen photos of or read about that offer exceptional experiences and have become part of my travel wish list. This itinerary constantly evolves as my priorities and preferences change over time. But some places stick and never leave the list and those are the destinations that capture the imagination.
The sunny Hawaiian islands gushing with green vegetation and flowing lava seem irresistable right now, but looking up at a night sky illuminated by the aurora borealis is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Fairbanks, Alaska made Lonely Planet’s top 10 U.S. destinations for 2013, primarily because this year is the end of an 11-year solar cycle and it is one of the best places in the U.S. to see the northern lights. Bonus: Denali National Park and Preserve is just a two-hour drive south. Experiencing the interior of Alaska–just 200 miles from the Arctic Circle–has moved to the top of my list.
After seeing tens of thousands of sandhill cranes fly in, stage and roost along the Platte River in Nebraska during their extraordinary annual spring migration the past few years, and witnessing the arrival and departure of more than one million snow geese in one day at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge last February, I’m ready to experience migration on the East Coast.
Why there? The Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey is the place to go during the fall for the famous Hawk Watch where you can see hawks in great numbers on their flight south for winter. Winds and cold fronts can cause hawks and other migratory birds to stop and rest at this peninsula during their migration. In the spring, Cape May Point is promoted as a supreme spot to watch songbird and shorebird migrations, and in late summer monarchs and dragonflies migrate through the area. Big numbers, the intricacies of migration, and the expected coupled with the unexpected translates to an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience.
Signing up for a volunteer vacation is high on my list. It can be pricey and you’re often responsible for funding the trip expenses, but the opportunities to make a positive difference here and abroad are diverse and there’s something for everyone if you’re up for the challenge.
Crossing an ocean to help humanity or to complete a valued project isn’t required. Recently I watched a National Geographic production about the challenges and rewards of hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Curiosities led to research revealing there are various ways volunteers can help maintain the PCT for foot and equestrian traffic. While I enjoy day hikes in mountainous terrain, unless a drastic change occurs I will never become a thru hiker on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. But volunteering to work on a section of the trail would get me out there amidst the gorgeous scenery that I associate with “being on vacation.”
So, what’s on your 2013 travel wish list or your travel bucket list?
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