Rocks of Ages
Moab, Utah—The sandstone spires, balanced rocks, slot canyons and huge arches seem to call out to be explored. Or photographed. With its dramatic red rocks and perpetually blue skies, Arches National Park is about as photogenic as a place can be.
The surreal landscape of the 73,000-acre park is a testament to the power of the elements—and time. Like much of North America, the northeastern corner of Utah lay underwater 300 million years ago. The sea dried up and left a mile-thick layer of salt, which was eventually covered by windblown sand and other sediments, forming rocks. Salt oozed upward, splitting the rocks, and then water cracked them open further as it froze and thawed. Desert wind took care of the rest, hollowing out cliff-side caves until breaking through to create spectacular arches. There are more than 2,000 in the park, including Landscape Arch, the longest in the world at 306 feet. See it while you can. A 70-foot slab fell off the arch in 1991, and it looks fairly precarious today.
Winter is a great time to visit: temperatures drop below freezing most nights but warm up to an acceptable exploring temperature of 45 degrees or so during the day. The area can reach a pitiless 110 degrees between May and September, when pretty much the only shade in the park is underneath an arch.—Laura Helmuth
Where Eagles Feast
Haines, Alaska— Every winter, more than 3,000 bald eagles swoop down on the sandy flats of the Chilkat River, forming the world's largest gathering of regal raptors. They dive and jockey for position on the narrow shoals or perch by the dozens in bare cottonwood trees. In a feeding frenzy that lasts from October through February, the eagles feast on dead salmon.
How's that possible? The river here doesn't freeze, even in winter.
At the 48,000-acre Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, about 100 miles northwest of Juneau, runoff and snowmelt collect in an underground aquifer near the Chilkat River in spring and summer. As the Chilkat's flow lessens in winter, the warmer groundwater seeps into the river and its tributaries, which are some ten degrees warmer than surrounding waters.
As a result, salmon run later in the preserve than anywhere else in North America. Returning from the Pacific, they spawn in late fall or early winter and die. The eagles move in (some from as far away as Washington State) and devour the carcasses.
Prime viewing exists near a stretch of Haines Highway where a two-mile trail with 100 feet of boardwalk and two interpretive displays has been constructed.— Korry Keeker
Las Vegas—In the 1950s, tourists stood atop hotel roofs here to watch mushroom clouds rising from the Nevada Test Site (nts) 65 miles away. These days they'll have to settle for the Atomic Testing Museum just minutes from the Strip.
The museum's Ground Zero Theater replicates a test-site observation bunker, with concrete walls, wooden benches, red lights and a countdown clock. During a film of an actual nuclear test, a flash of white light and bursts of air fill the room as the floor vibrates.