Off the Grid
By Chris Goodson
July 23, 2012
As technology has evolved into an integral part of the lives of much of the earth’s population, it has irrevocably changed the way that people interact with the world around them. However, while technological advances have unquestionably improved the lives of countless people around the planet, it has not been without cost.
In the spirit of summer, we’ve put together a travel guide to some natural, all-American destinations aimed at providing relief from some of the woes of the technological age, none of which require that you pack extra batteries.
Feel Small Again
Over the past two decades, the internet has been reshaping the way people share information and communicate with one another. Unfortunately, the ability to have any question answered and any person contacted in an instant has gradually made the world feel smaller and more manageable. As a result, it has lost much of the mystery and wonder it once held. There is something about experiencing something first-hand and realizing that things exist that are incomprehensible that cannot be reproduced by technology.
Fortunately, however, there are some places that technology will never rival and some mysteries that it will never be able to explain. Guaranteed to revive a sense of wonder and appreciate for how big the world is, these places must be experienced first-hand to be understood.
One of these places is the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. One of the largest natural formations in the world, the Grand Canyon is a 277 mile-long crevasse carved by the Colorado River in the middle of Arizona’s desert landscape. Reaching 18 miles wide and over a mile deep at its peaks, the sheer magnitude of the Canyon is dizzying and impossible fully comprehend, even when viewed first-hand. As a result, five million tourists from around the globe visit the park each year for a chance to have their breath taken away, making it one of the most famous tourist attractions on the planet.
On the other side of the country, however, Niagara Falls annually attracts more than 12 million tourists, dwarfing the Grand Canyon’s numbers. However, the most astonishing thing about the falls, and the reason so many people come, is the immense quantity of water that constantly pours over the falls. On average, the Niagara River dumps nearly 4 million cubic feet, 6 million at peak times, over the edge of the falls every minute, making it the most powerful waterfall in North America. To really get a feel for the size and power of the Falls, grab a rain jacket and a ticket for the “Ferry of the Mist,” one of the ferry tours that will take you as close as possible to the bottom of the falls, where visitors experience the power of an entire river crashing down from 167 feet above.
One of the biggest techno-trends of the last several years has been the explosion of new social technologies aimed at connecting people all over the world in an instant. Now, it is rare to be more than a moment away from any number of means to stay connected, and it is virtually impossible to truly be alone.
One place that you can still go to really get away from the world is Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Specifically, head to the park’s South-easternmost corner, called the Thorofare Region, where you’ll find yourself in the most remote spot in the continental United States. This portion of the park resides in the largest roadless area in the country and is at least 22 miles from any roads in all directions. You won’t be able to check email or get any work done here, but you will experience one of the last untainted landscapes in America.
Because of the extreme remoteness and inaccessibility of the area, the Thorofare region is not for everyone. For a place a bit closer to civilization try Jenny Lake, just a short drive away in Grand Teton National Park. Lying at the foot of Teewinot Mountain in the heart of the park, the lake’s blue waters provide a favorite spot of rest for the park’s visitors. Although the lake is easily accessible via several trails leading in to the area, simply bring a raft and float out onto its still waters to look up at the incredible mountain-scape surrounding it to like the only person in the world.
As the number of available TV channels continues to grow, there are now entire shows dedicated to various facets of the natural world, such as watching the sun rise in exotic places or animals living in their natural environments. This huge selection, coupled with the ability to watch it all in high-definition whenever desired, makes it seem like a waste of time to ever actually go and experience anything.
One place that shatters this perception is Sedona, Arizona. Made famous for the “Red Rocks of Sedona,” natural red sandstone formations that jut out of the landscape to create the area’s incredible natural skyline, it was recently named by USA Weekend as the most beautiful place in America. The area is at its most spectacular at either dawn or dusk, when light from the rising or setting sun hits the rocks and drenches everything in a startling red and orange glow that will make any plasma television look like an incredibly expensive night-light.
Another destination that is always better in person is Point Lobos State Reserve in California. Located between Monterrey and Big Sur on California’s Highway 1, Point Lobos has been described by landscape artist Francis McComas as, “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” Unique coastal formations around the area create unusual tidal effects, resulting in high levels of oxygen in the waters. This in turn attracts a wide variety of plants and animals to Point Lobos, ranging from tiny plankton to large mammals, such as the sea lions and otters that call the area home. Point Lobos offers a series of breathtaking hikes following mountainous trails along the edge of sheer cliffs that plunge down into the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Coast. If walking isn’t your thing, nearly half of the reserve is under water, offering a haven for SCUBA diving enthusiasts who come to see the Reserve’s varied aquatic life.
Re-discover the Stars
As urban sprawl continues to creep across the country’s landscape, one of the main caualities has been the visibility of the night sky. it has become increasingly difficult to get away from the lights of developments and strip malls and in many areas it has become impossible to see more than a few stars at night.
The remedy? Arches National Monument in Utah, the only place in the lower 48 states certified by the International Dark-Sky Association as a national light preserve. This means that, due to the park’s distance from city lights and the adherence of any nearby facilities to the IDSA’s strict light-emissions policies, the area holds claim to the biggest, clearest sky in the country and is the ideal place for star-gazing. For an added bonus, make a night of it by packing a sleeping bag and camping under the Milky Way amongst the park’s name-sake natural limestone arches.
See Something New
Another negative result that has come with the ease of access to information available through the internet is the sense that there is nothing new to see or discover in the world. To experience something wholly unique and otherworldly, bundle up and head to Fairbanks, Alaska to view the Aurora Borealis in the night sky. The Aurora, better known as the Northern Lights, is a natural colored light show caused by charged particles colliding with the earth’s magnetosphere that flows and dances in the sky and can only be seen in the extreme north. Several area tour groups offer special Aurora Borealis packages to see the phenomenon and suggest that the best time to plan a trip to see them is between December and March when the nights are longest and the sky the darkest.
If Alaska is too far of a drive, for another unique experience try going to Southeastern Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls State Park. On a clear night here, mist from the park’s name-sake falls rises from the water and is struck by the light of the moon, creating a phenomenon known as a ‘moonbow,’ the equivalent of a rainbow produced by moonbeams. Because of the very specific circumstances required for a moonbow to form, Cumberland Falls is promoted as the only place in the Western Hemisphere that one can be viewed.
Recharge Your Brain
Finally, one the most disturbing things that technology seems to be changing is the human brain. There is new evidence that suggests that, by changing the way that people are accustomed to receiving and sharing information, the internet is actually changing the way they think and process information.
In order to repair and rejuvenate your brain, why not take a cue from one America’s greatest writers? Leave your laptop at home, pack a few books and head to Key West Florida, former home of Ernest Hemingway. Having spent many years of his life in Key West’s quiet, tropical climate, it is popularly believed that Hemingway wrote up to 70 percent of his works, including ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ while he lived here. The area’s island pace provides a welcome respite from the constantly-moving world further inland and provides a much needed opportunity to live like people did before email and iPhones made the world more “convenient.” Do a crossword puzzle, read a book, relax; you can check your voicemail when you get back.