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The Dark Sky Island

By Linda Tancs

Less than an hour by sea from Jersey or Guernsey, Sark is the smallest of the four main Channel Islands. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in benefits. For instance, it’s Europe’s first International Dark Sky Community (a moniker bestowed by the International Dark-Sky Association), which means you can gaze at countless stars and admire the Milky Way, particularly when the sun sets early like this time of year. It also evokes a step back in time, being devoid of street lighting and cars (excepts tractors for farming). That means you get to take a charming horse-drawn carriage ride around the island or enjoy a five-mile scenic trek from the visitor center to the village. Garden lovers will adore La Seigneurie Gardens, one of the most enchanting gardens in the islands. Overall, its history and culture (like the old windmill, silver mines and Stonehenge-like Sark Henge) attract some 40,000 visitors each year.

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The World’s Smallest Park

By Linda Tancs

You’ll often hear people say “sneeze and you’ll miss it” if a destination is a bit off the beaten track. Well, you could literally sneeze and miss Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon. Dubbed “the world’s smallest park,” this particular stretch of the city’s greenway is about two feet in diameter, a circular plot located on a median in the middle of busy Naito Parkway. And yes, it really is an official municipal park (since 1976), one of about 200 in the city, originally an empty hole where a light pole was supposed to be installed. Inspired by the neglected hole, an Irish journalist in the 1940s wrote of it as the fantastical locale for a colony of leprechauns. Not surprisingly, it continues to be the site of St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

The Yellowstone of Russia

By Linda Tancs

Second to Yellowstone, Russia’s Valley of the Geysers is one of the largest geyser fields in the world. Located in the Kamchatka Peninsula, it’s the only geyser field in Eurasia. Carved by the Geyser River, the canyon is five miles long, over two miles wide in places and up to 1,300 feet deep, packed with over 40 geysers as well as boiling springs, hot lakes, mud volcanoes and caldrons, thermal platforms and steam jets. Still appealing to tourists since the landslide in 2007, this steaming, bubbling and boiling force of nature is accessible via helicopter tours.

America’s Ship of State

By Linda Tancs

USS Constitution is America’s ship of state and the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. Open free of charge to visitors throughout the year, it’s located inside Boston National Historical Park as part of the Charlestown Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and forms part of Boston’s Freedom Trail. It earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” when it routed British forces in a War of 1812 battle in the North Atlantic Ocean. During this historic battle, cannonballs fired at USS Constitution appeared to bounce off, causing one of her crew to remark that her sides were made of iron. It is, in fact, composed of a three-layer wooden sandwich of live oak and white oak from all across America, and its copper fastenings were constructed by Paul Revere. Visitors to this historic ship launched in 1797 are able to speak with active duty U.S. Navy sailors who are stationed at the ship as interpretative historians to help bring the frigate’s storied past to life. To round out the experience, visit the nearby USS Constitution Museum.

World’s End in Sri Lanka

By Linda Tancs

The Horton Plains are located on Sri Lanka’s highest plateau, providing the most extensive area of cloud forest still extant in the country. Designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1969, it became a national park in 1988. The biodiverse environment includes over 50 species of flora, more than 20 species of mammal and nearly 90 species of birds. Visitors ply the six-mile loop for enviable views, including features like the famous World’s End, a thrilling escarpment boasting a 3,700 foot sheer drop that offers fabulous views of the tea estates below. Best time for a visit is in the morning on a weekday. The whole country also basks in sunshine this time of year.

Sand and Solitude in Indiana

By Linda Tancs

There’s plenty of sand and opportunity for solitude at Indiana Dunes. Recently elevated to national park status, it’s Indiana’s first national park. Hiking is a prized activity, with over 50 miles of trails reaching dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers and forests. Lying at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, it benefits from its habitat with a wide variety of fish, birds and aquatic organisms. The park also ranks fourth in plant diversity among all the national parks. Visit this weekend for some maple tapping. Taking place at the historic homestead, Chellberg Farm, the free event is one of the park’s most popular activities. Bottled syrup will be offered for sale at both the main and Bailly/Chellberg visitor centers.

Drawing the Line in Ecuador

By Linda Tancs

Located about 14 miles north of Quito, Ecuador, Mitad del Mundo commemorates the site where 18th-century French explorer Charles-Marie de La Condamine once calculated the globe’s equatorial line. Of course, that calculation was made without the benefit of modern technology, which sadly reveals that the actual line dividing the planet into a Northern Hemisphere and a Southern Hemisphere is actually 262 yards or so away in the vicinity of the Intiñan Solar Museum. Well, why not make a day out of it and visit both locations. Take an elevator to the top of the trapezoidal monument at Mitad del Mundo for great views of the surrounding countryside and indulge in equator-related science experiments at the museum, where you’ll find a painted red line purportedly indicating the real middle of the world.

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