9 Great Places to Experience American and Native Culture
North America is full of fascinating locales, rich in history, nature and visual beauty. So get out and explore this vast land and see how a mix of Native and American culture can be found in almost every region.
To help you plan your 2014 travels, here is a list that represents just a small fraction of many great places.
Experience the midnight sun and the northern lights while exploring Alaska’s history and culture. Visit the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
Surrounded by wild, dramatic nature including glaciers, Anchorage is close to hiking trails, ski areas and national parks. You can hike the popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or cast a line for salmon at Ship Creek.
Take a trip to Denali (Mt. McKinley) National Park and gaze in awe at the highest mountain in North America. You may see moose and grizzly bears.
Black Hills, South Dakota
The Lakota Sioux named this area of western South Dakota as Paha Sapa or Black Hills because a thick forest of pine and spruce trees covers the slopes.
Set amongst the sky piercing granite peaks is Mt. Rushmore, an American icon, with the Avenue of Flags leading to the enormous carving of four presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.
Nearby is the partially completed Crazy Horse Memorial, which shows that Natives also have important heroes. When complete it will be the largest mountain carving in the world.
The Black Hills offer hiking, rock climbing and spelunking.
Churchill, Manitoba, on the western rim of Hudson Bay is a nature-watching wonderland, and the stars are polar bears. In late fall, these mighty carnivores gather along the coast before moving onto the ice to catch seals.
Two caribou herds numbering almost 800,000 animals migrate each fall and spring in a thundering mass. And in the summer, the river estuary is dotted with 3000 Beluga whales, so gentle you can swim amongst them.
This year, the Eskimo Museum, which provides insight into the Inuit way of life, celebrates its 70th year.
At night, northern lights dance overhead in shimmering curtains of green light. The British-built Fort Prince of Wales and its rusting cannons lie in lonely isolation.
The Everglades in south Florida, an enormous tropical wetland, includes cypress swamps, estuarine mangrove forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland and marine environment.
The Seminole adapted to the area absorbing previous Native inhabitants. Their culture, and much information about the Everglades, can be viewed at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum.
In the 1987, UNESCO recognized the area as a globally significant wetland, spurring restoration from too many canals and farming.
Today, the Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres and offers insight to this unusual watery world and its vast array of birds and animals including alligators, flamingos and cottonmouth snakes.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon, one of the world’s top natural wonders, is glorious in early morning or late afternoon when shafts of light cast velvety shadows and highlight the pastel ramparts.
Far below the canyon is the Colorado River that, like a surgeon’s scalpel, has sliced an incision 1 mile deep, revealing over two billion years of planetary history.
The canyon has amazing ecological diversity. The rim, 7,200 feet above sea level, is a cool pinyon-juniper woodland. A descent passes through different biozones to reach the canyon bottom, a blazing Sonoran desert. Remains of 800-year Anasazi life are present.
Just south of Alaska’s panhandle, off British Columbia’s coast, lies a mystical place called Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).
The archipelago teems with whales, salmon, seals, sea lions, marine birds and such unique flora and fauna it is often called the Galapagos of the North.
The Haida First Nation flourished here, their history going back 10,000 years. Sadly, they were almost wiped out. Decaying totems in the forest in five locations are sad testaments to the past. The park at the southern end of the islands was nominated one of the best national parks in North America by National Geographic. Also visit the superb Haida Heritage Centre, which opened in 2009.
Monterey Bay has a rich marine environment, best enjoyed at the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium or by kayaking in the bay. The self-guiding Path of History passes Spanish-era buildings from the days when the city was California’s capital under both Spanish and Mexican rule.
The Carmel Mission is beautiful, serene and a popular pilgrimage site. North of Monterey, vast sand dunes and golden beaches attract sun-worshippers and surfers.
At Point Lobos State Park, to the south, the coast is wild and untamed. There are also wineries, whale watching, the Steinbeck Museum and superb golf courses.
The Monterey Museum of the American Indian is located in the Pacific House in the Monterey State Historic Park. On the upstairs floor of the House, there’s a display treasure trove of Indian artifacts from tribes as diverse as the Aleutians of Alaska to the Plains Indians of Kansas.
Portland is a funky, green city with great restaurants, numerous food carts, farmers markets, super tram transportation, the most breweries per capita in the world and a spate of urban wineries.
It also features Powell’s, the world’s largest bookstore; the Classical Chinese Gardens, a sanctuary of tranquil beauty; and a gloriously re-developed and walkable downtown (and no sales tax).
A wonderland surrounds the city including: the snow-capped Mount Hood with hiking and skiing; Multnomah Falls, where torrents of water tumble twice the height of Niagara Falls.
The Tamastslikt Museum in nearby Pendleton, Oregon is the only museum on the Oregon Trial that tells the story of western expansion from a tribal point of view.
In selecting Sedona as America’s most beautiful place in 2009, USA Weekend said: Sedona “looks like nowhere else...The area’s telegenic canyons, wind-shaped buttes and dramatic sandstone towers embody the rugged character of the west...People come for inspiration and renewal.”
Much of Sedona’s charm arises from a vibrant artists’ community. Sedona also has a reputation as a spiritual Mecca and vortexes of energy are said to flow from the distinctive red hills.
At nearby Palatki Ruins, dwellings set into the side of a sheer red cliff were once the home of the Sinagua, who lived here from about 1100 to 1300. Archaeologists discovered that a volcano desecrated that area nearly 1,000 years ago.
A by-product of the volcano was the hornito, which were cones of splattered lava built up around holes atop crusted-over tubes of flowing lava. The Sinagua people would place corn on the lip of a hornito. The corn would then be covered with lava, which made “corn rocks.”
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