Desert Heaven: Finding Paradise in the Nevada Wilderness

Out in Nevada, you can see the brightest stars of anywhere in the world—or so say the residents of one small town.

There's a lot more to Nevada than Las Vegas, Burning Man, and the Grand Canyon. In fact, the state is mostly an expanse of magnificent deserts and natural wonders. Largely left at the mercy of the weather for thousands and thousands of years, Nevada is full of entrancing rock formations, unblemished lakes, and lonely highways leading through mountain passes. Here are 10 natural wonders to see in the Sagebrush State.

1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Wikipedia

With its 3000-foot sandstone walls, Red Rock Canyon is a sight to see. Nevada's first conservation area stretches a total of 200,000 square miles and is popular with rock climbers, hikers, and nature-lovers of all stripes.

2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area

planetware.com

Rife with campgrounds, trails, and historic attractions, Lake Mead National Recreation Area sits at the border of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Its most popular attraction is Boulder Beach, a sunny, sandy attraction near the also-famous Hoover Dam, but the area offers endless natural wonders.

3. Great Basin National Park

Among the bristlecone pines, the alpine lakes, the rolling sagebrush, the ancient creosote bushes, and the deep limestone-cloaked caverns below ground, you might just find the peace and solitude you've been seeking in the Great Basin National Park. This place features some of the oldest trees in the world and is a hotbed of natural wonders, perfect for campers, stargazers, and anyone seeking total solitude.

4. Valley of Fire

Matadornetwork.com

Nevada's oldest state park is just an hour from Las Vegas, but it feels like an alien (or perhaps Seussian) landscape. The name "Valley of Fire" stems from the appearance of its many150-million-year-old sandstone formations, which sometimes resemble flames bursting up from the sand.

5. Mount Charleston and the Spring Mountains

lasvegasareatrails.com

Mount Charleston is a 12,000-foot-mountain, and ambitious hikers can treat themselves to a trek, campers can sleep under the stars, and luxury-seekers can crash in one of two nearby resorts. Mount Charleston's peaks offer magnificent views of wild Ponderosa pines and aspens, animals like desert tortoises and wild horses, dramatic waterfalls, and the aptly named Cathedral Rock.

6. The Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs

flickr.com

For a glimpse of the distant past, venture through the Mojave Desert to Laughlin County's Spirit Mountain. As you near the Grapevine Mountain's Christmas Tree Path, you'll pass by petroglyphs etched on cave walls and stones. Created between 1100 and 1900 AD, the meaning of the glyphs is unknown, but it's easy to imagine some sacred significance when looking at the spirals and matrix-like lines.

7. Tonopah Stargazing

tigoatours.com

The little town of Tonopah makes a big claim: It promises the best stargazing in the country. Townsfolk have created "star trails," specific pathways through the wilderness outside the town that allow visitors to experience unbelievable, crystal-clear views of the Milky Way and the galaxies beyond.

8. Jarbidge Wilderness

onlyinyourstate.com

This isolated, hidden gem is well off the beaten path, but if you're longing to escape the trappings of touristy parks, Jarbridge Wilderness in Elko County offers surreally beautiful vistas and natural wonders galore. With a wide variety of pine species and lush wildflowers like lupine that bloom in warmer months, Jarbridge is lonely and beautiful and entirely worth a stop. Fun fact: The word "Jarbridge" means "monster that lurks in the canyon" in Shoshane, and the hills are haunted according to some Indigenous tribes from the area—so perhaps think twice before actually visiting.

9. Fly Geyser

The continuous Fly Geyser of Fly Ranch is on private land in Nevada, USA Alamy

You might know Nevada's Black Rock desert as the location of Burning Man, but the infamous festival is just one of the desert's many very trippy attractions. In 2008, the Burning Man festival bought the then-privately-owned Fly Geyser, a magnificent and perpetually erupting clump of rock stained red and green by internal reserves of thermophilic algae. Today, it's open from April to October each year, and you can visit via private tours.

10. Spencer Highway Hot Springs

thedyrt.com

Just off the edge of "America's Loneliest Highway"—AKA Highway 50—is a secluded hot spring. Accessible by dirt road and cradled in the center of the lush Big Smoky valley, these are just one of the many isolated hot springs across Nevada.

"Nevada is located atop seismic fault zones where fissures in the earth bring the brimstone close to the desert's mantle," explains Nevada resident Howard Goldbaum, creator of a website that allows you to experience Nevada in VR. "Ten thousand feet below the ground, flowing water comes in contact with superheated rock, bringing to the surface steam vents, geysers, and hot springs. When I approach one of these thermal features, a surreal oasis interrupting the ordinary landscape, I feel connected to the inner warmth of life's cradle, a visitor to the world of geological time."

Or, in the words of geologist John McPhee, "A million years is a short time - the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth... If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever."

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5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany

Pexels

Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland

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The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy

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Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru

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Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico

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It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.



Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.

💀💀💀💀/5

Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.

💀💀💀💀/5

McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.

💀💀💀💀.5/5

Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.

💀💀💀💀💀/5

Every Hell House in America

realitypod

In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…

💀💀💀💀💀💀/5


Destinations

The 10 Best Ethically-Conscious Zoos Across America

From coast to coast, these zoos are doing their part to help wildlife.

With fall weather making us all eager to spend more time outdoors, it's the perfect time of year to pay a visit to the zoo.

Just about every major city has a zoo where visitors can get up close and personal with wild animals, but of course, not all zoos are created equal. Particularly if you've watched Tiger King, you probably already know that some zoos do much more harm than good.


Thankfully, there are also many zoos who are doing great work in conservation efforts and creating the best environment possible for their animals and the animal lovers who want to visit them. Below, we've rounded up just a few of the most ethical zoos in the United States.

San Diego Zoo

As one of the most popular zoos in the country, the San Diego Zoo specializes in endangered animals and focuses on saving them from extinction. They also partner with other zoos around the world to share their research in rehabilitation and conservation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct in the wild.

Austin Zoo

Located on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, the Austin Zoo started as a goat ranch and has gradually grown into one of the state's most animal-friendly zoos. Now boasting over 300 animals from over 100 species, the Austin Zoo operates with a mission to assist animals in need, taking in exotic animals that need to be rescued or rehomed due to a variety of reasons.

Indianapolis Zoo

With a strong commitment to conservation, the Indianapolis Zoo supports efforts around the world to save endangered animals and their land. They are home to over 1,400 animals in habitats that closely mimic those of the wild and have been adopting more eco-friendly practices in addition to their conservation efforts.

Woodland Park Zoo

Located in Seattle, Washington, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of the country's most ethical zoos. They focus on recreating their animals' natural habitats as closely as possible, and the zoo also has conservationist breeding programs on-site to help grow the populations of endangered species.

St. Louis Zoo

Not only is the St. Louis Zoo free to visit, but it's absolutely massive; here, you'll find 19,000 animals from 600 species over a sprawling 90 acres. According to their website, the zoo has "witnessed dozens of cheetah births, hatched and reared endangered Micronesian kingfishers and returned Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to ponds in their native homeland—to name only a few successes." The St. Louis Zoo also has a program called the WildCare Institute, which takes a holistic approach to healing troubled ecosystems.

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo might not be the first attraction you think of when it comes to New York City's outer boroughs, but it offers a much-needed slice of wildlife in the concrete jungle. This zoo is home to award-winning habitats that span over 265 acres. Outside of the city, the Bronx Zoo employs thousands of conservationists who work to protect endangered exotic animals in the world's most threatened environments.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

In addition to impressive worldwide conservation efforts, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium—located in Omaha, Nebraska—features the world's largest geodesic dome. This dome creates a realistic desert environment that acts as a home to countless animals and plants.

Columbus Zoo

Ohio's Columbus Zoo houses over 7000 animals from over 800 species. They've made great strides in breeding endangered animals, such as the three polar bear cubs who were born at the zoo in 2016. The Columbus Zoo also boasts a massive 100,000-gallon coral reef tank, and some of the country's best primate habitats.

Alaska Zoo

It should come as no surprise that the Alaska Zoo is a fantastic place to see your favorite arctic and subarctic animals. Located in the city of Anchorage, this zoo focuses on arctic creatures you won't find at your zoos in the continental United States. They especially focus on polar bear rescue.

Denver Zoo

Colorodans are known for their love of the great outdoors, and their appreciation for Mother Nature translates into the practices at the Denver Zoo. They were the first zoo in the country to go above and beyond usual conservation efforts by getting rid of traditional enclosures, creating realistic habitats for their 4,000 creatures from over 600 different species.