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NEW MEXICO Natural hot springs, scenic vistas await

TEXAS Good vibes, views and places to stay

ARIZONA Surreal landscapes, hiking trails beckon

Big Vistas Big Bend National Park, Texas

NEVADA Beyond the glitz, glam of neon city


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CONTENTS

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TEXAS & SOUTHWEST

LIVING HISTORY Native American guides and wellpreserved sacred sites bring tribal culture to life

Take the Navajo Culture Homestead Hike at Monument Valley, a redsand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border. GETTY IMAGES


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CONTENTS UP FRONT

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STAR POWER

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MAKE A SPLASH

This is a product of

Southwest skies provide magical backdrop to celestial marvels

EDITORIAL

Go big in Texas by cooling down at the state’s water parks, pools

DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council

THE REGION

jcouncil@usatoday.com

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TEXAS From exciting newcomers to perennial favorites, Austin’s hotel scene is hot

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The Dallas area serves up a sizzlin’ hot barbecue scene

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ARIZONA

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Fort Worth’s cultural district conveniently groups museums, shopping and restaurants

Winding hikes provide gorgeous views at every turn

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NEW MEXICO

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NEVADA

State’s natural mineral spas and pools offer relaxation

MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com

ISSUE EDITOR Sara Schwartz ISSUE DESIGNER Debra Moore EDITORS Amy Sinatra Ayres Tracy Scott Forson Harry Lister Debbie Williams DESIGNERS Hayleigh Corkey Amira Martin Gina Toole Saunders Lisa M. Zilka CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Jennifer Barger, Katherine Brodsky, Ellen Chang, Dawn Gilbertson, Ilene Jacobs, Roger Naylor, Nneka Okona, Rina Rapuano, Lisa Rabasca Roepe, Shelley Seale, Sarah Sekula, Cari Shane

FEATURES ADVERTISING Las Vegas ups the ante with exciting entertainment options

VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Vanessa Salvo | (703) 854-6499

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OKLAHOMA

vsalvo@usatoday.com

The crunchified goodness of chicken-fried steak

FINANCE

12 ON THE COVER: HISTORIC STRUCTURES IN THE COSTOLON SECTION OF BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS

WHITEWATER WONDERS Take on the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River

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UTAH Embrace your inner explorer while hiking amazing terrain at Zion National Park

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FULL HOUSE Casinos turn up the action with robust entertainment offerings

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Billing Coordinator Julie Marco

BRITT RUNYON

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WINNING THE LOTTERY Want to visit The Wave at the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area? It’s up to the luck of the draw.

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UP FRONT | EXPLORE

STARGAZING TIPS

Star Power

Here are six tips for do-it-yourself stargazing from Kevin Poe, owner of Dark Ranger Telescope Tours in Bryce, Utah.

Southwest’s dark skies provide majestic canvas for celestial marvels

✶ The best stargazing happens under clear skies. July and August are typically cloudy in the Southwest, so consider planning a stargazing trip in May, June, late August or September because the skies are usually more clear.

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe

I GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK Grand Canyon, Ariz. For easy stargazing, park at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and walk to Mather Point, says park ranger Rader Lane. Lipan Point, off Desert View Drive, is another good spot to take in the night skies. Visitors are welcome to bring telescopes, Lane says, and the park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Park rangers offer a number of nighttime walks.

MAGINE SEEING THE MILKY Way in all its glory over the

Grand Canyon or experiencing a meteor shower in the desert. The Southwest’s wide-open spaces are among the darkest places in America and offer some of the country’s best conditions for gazing at stars and planets. Here are three:

✶ Be sure to track the

LOWELL OBSERVATORY Flagstaff, Ariz. Novice stargazers will find this observatory particularly welcoming. Every weekday and Saturday evening, visitors can participate in a 30-minute guided constellation tour at 9 p.m. They can also view planets, the moon and star clusters through portable telescopes and the observatory’s historic Clark 24-inch refractor telescope. This October, Lowell plans to open the Giovale Open Deck Observatory, a 4,300-square-foot, elevated plaza with six stationary telescopes, says Kevin Schindler, public information officer for Lowell Observatory.

moon cycle because the light from a full moon makes it difficult to see constellations. For best stargazing visibility, plan your trip at least five days after the full moon appears.

✶ Don’t plan a summer trip if your goal is to see the Orion constellation, which is only visible November to February.

✶ Remember to dress warmly, even in the summer months. It might be 100 degrees during the day in the Southwest desert but the temperature will likely drop 40 to 50 degrees in the evening, even in summer, and especially at a higher elevation.

DARK SKIES TRAIL New Mexico Travel just a few miles outside of Santa Fe or Albuquerque and the skies come alive with constellations. “People get locked into thinking they have to go to an observatory to have a proper night sky experience, but, here in New Mexico, it’s not required. You can just use binoculars,” says Peter Lipscomb, park manager at Cerrillos Hills State Park. Five parks in New Mexico have been certified by the International Dark Sky Association as offering exceptional starry nights and comprise the Dark Skies Trail. Learn more at darksky.org.

✶ Leave the flashlight at home and bring a red headlamp to illuminate the area without impairing anyone’s night vision. Arrive at dusk to allow your eyesight to adjust to the darkness.

✶ A telescope isn’t Grand Canyon Star Party GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK; RAYMOND DAKE PHOTOGRAPHY/LOWELL OBSERVATORY; NEW MEXICO TOURISM DEPARTMENT

necessary for stargazing. Just bring a good pair of binoculars, a lawn chair, and download Celestron’s SkyPortal mobile app.


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UP FRONT | WATER PARKS

Make a Splash Go big in Texas by cooling down at the state’s many water parks and pools By Ellen Chang

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OR SLIPPERY ADVENTURES AND heart-pumping thrills, you can’t go wrong with these Texas water parks. Whether it’s high-speed slides and gut-wrenching rides or chilled-out lazy rivers, be sure to add these wet and wild attractions to your Texas to-do list.

AQUATICA SAN ANTONIO San Antonio At Aquatica San Antonio, visitors can soak up sun at the white sand beaches, float the river, relax in the wave pool or head to Stingray Falls to raft to an underwater grotto and see stingrays and tropical fish up close. The Ihu’s Breakaway Falls is a drop slide where you first climb almost 7 feet and step into breakaway boxes or face the plummet slide. If you’re fearless, check out the Taumata Racer, a high-speed waterslide where you can race downhill and headfirst on foam bodysurfing mats. The more calming Walhalla Wave tube ride sends swimmers to the top of a zero-gravity wall so they can feel the sensation of being weightless for a few moments.

AQUATICA SAN ANTONIO


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UP FRONT | WATER PARKS

GREAT WOLF LODGE Grapevine Escape the Texas heat and humidity by spending a few days at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, located on the outskirts of Dallas. A recent $12 million renovation updated the guest rooms and lobby of the resort, and the 80,000 square-foot indoor water park remains a big draw, maintaining a pleasant 84-degree temperature year-round. Adrenaline-seekers should steer toward Coyote Cannon, which features a 40-foot drop into a water-jet-fueled whirling basin where you can spin around the center several times. Pile the entire family into a raft at River Canyon Run and swirl, twist and glide through tubes. Teens will love the Howlin’ Tornado, which zips a raft built for four through a giant enclosed funnel before dropping six stories.

SIX FLAGS HURRICANE HARBOR Arlington Highlights include the Black Hole, which plunges riders 80 feet down a twisted tube into total darkness, and the Geronimo, a steep body slide ride that features a six-story free-fall drop. Any member of the family will delight on the Surf Rider that simulates surfing. The Mega Wedgie promises 23-mph drops, and the Dive Bomber will draw teens with its seven-story free-fall experience. Guests can also chill out on the Lazy River.

GREAT WOLF LODGE

JADEWATERS Dallas JadeWaters at the Hilton Anatole appeals to all ages. It not only features a heated, 4,000-squarefoot leisure pool with a swim-up bar but also a 7,000-square-foot, beach-entry family pool — complete with a pair of 180-foot-tall waterslides and a 630-foot-long lazy river. Additional amenities include luxury cabanas, daybeds and an outdoor bar and grill. Along with water activities, the resort dials up the enjoyment with lawn games, dive-in movies and a host of family-fun events.

VISIT ARLINGTON

SCHLITTERBAHN NEW BRAUNFELS New Braunfels More than 3 miles of tubing and seven kids’ areas complete this water park located between Austin and San Antonio. It sets itself apart with three uphill water slides (a novel concept invented by Schlitterbahn) as well as The Falls, a 3,600-foot-long lazy and not-so-lazy river: the world’s longest water park ride.

BARTON SPRINGS POOL Austin Man-made water sources are just fine, but Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park offers a different approach. It obtains its water from underground springs at the Edwards Aquifer, which means the average temperature stays at 68 to 70 degrees and can be ideal to swim in both warmer and cooler months. This pool is suitable for people of all ages and swimming abilities given that the depths range from shallow waters to 18 feet and is surrounded by trees and grassy areas for guests to hang out. Swimmers can use the diving board and bring their own floats to relax in.

HILTON ANATOLE

TRAVEL TEXAS

MIKIE FARIAS PHOTOGRAPHY


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Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River is a playground oof rapids By Cari Shane

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OR 20 YEARS, PARK ranger Michael Ryan has been maintaining the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River in Big Bend National Park, Texas, and has run it 80 to 100 times, he says. “The night sky is pristine.

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The Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River is 235 miles from the closest airport, Midland International Air & Space Port. There is no entry fee for the site but a $12 backcountry permit is required for river use.

Stay safe and have fun with advice from seasoned rafter Cheri Maitland:

1 “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,” Maitland says. So, pack items that dry quickly. Never wear cotton on the water. Remember: “cotton is rotten.” “It’s heavy and cold, and it will chill you and make you miserable,” Maitland says.

2 Rapids are strongest during the summer months.

There is zero pollution. It’s quiet, untrammeled. It’s just a beautiful section of river and countryside — it’s rugged and breathtaking.” This nearly 200-mile section of the world-famous river winds through vistas in the Chihuahuan Desert and into Big Bend National Park. It’s also so remote it’s third on the list of least-visited National Park Service sites, according to the National Parks Conservation Association; in 2018, only 330 people visited. While you can typically kayak or canoe the river year-round, July through September is best for rafting as water levels are higher. However, summers can be scorching. Daily temperatures in the Chihuahuan Desert can rise to more than 100 degrees. For that reason, October and November are Ryan’s favorite months to float the river. “The sun

is down at a lower angle. It rakes across the canyon rims, and you get some beautiful, beautiful sunsets,” he says. Birding is an all-season event, with more than 450 species recorded in the park. From the river, Ryan says you can also see deer, peccary, desert bighorn sheep and an exotic animal called aoudad, a goatlike creature brought to the area from North Africa after World War II. Greg Henington was drawn to the Rio Grande in 1976 and founded the Far Flung Outdoor Center, one of four commercial outfitters authorized by the Park Service to run the wild and scenic portion of the river. “You are staring into millions of acres of uninhabited land in Mexico and millions of acres of land in the southern part of Texas. There’s no people, no buildings, no wires, no

roads,” he says. “You don’t find that a lot anymore.” The Far Flung Outdoor Center runs guided trips from half days to overnights for those without their own equipment or who need help navigating the river. Henington suggests half-day trips for families with children younger than 5 who will be safer floating in a double canoe or kayak with their parents. Six-year-olds should be able to handle all-day trips, and for kids 8 and older, Henington recommends staying overnight — “when the real magic starts.” With a guide who cooks and sets up sleeping tents, overnights are spent on the side of the river in the canyon. Henington says it’ll run $369 per night for adults including

Wear a helmet and get water shoes, water sandals or neoprene booties. “Shoes are necessary,” she says. “There can be sharp rocks. You don’t know what’s underneath that water (while you’re rafting). If you do fall out, you want to go feet first.”

3 Maitland also suggests guides. “I would never recommend people coming in and taking a river with no experience, not knowing the river and (with) no guide. You can get lost in a river because you don’t know where to pull off, where the safe zones are,” she says.

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River Wild hether you feel called to the water or prefer to live vicariously through world-class athletes, you can enjoy a Southwest whitewater festival. The longest-running and most popular is the FIBArk, which stands for “First In Boating the Arkansas,” launched in 1949. Every Father’s Day weekend, thousands converge on the town of Salida, Colo., for the free family-friendly festival. River competitions include The Downriver Race, a 14-mile kayak race in class III-IV rapids for everyone from the novice to professional. The Hooligan Race “is a blast,” says Nick Burnel, production manager for the festival. “It’s our biggest point of turnout the he entire weekend. ek d. People pl line the riverbanks to watch that race,” which is open to any object that can float that’s not a boat. Stand-up paddleboard boxing is also popular. “Two people go toe-totoe with enormous boxing gloves on a giant stand-up paddleboard,” explains Burnel. Check fibark.com for the 2020 dates.

W Big Bend National Park

Cactus wren

Big Bend National Park offers calmer waters as well as rapids.

guide, meals, shuttle and equipment. For those who simply want to rent equipment and go out on their own, it’s about half that cost per day. While this is a growing market, the area does warrant some caution. “You can get in trouble out here big time, real fast because of the heat and the remoteness,” Henington says. “For me to rent you a canoe, you will need to demonstrate to us that you’ve got some experience.” A dry season can mean a low river, so there are no guarantees on the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic. Cheri Maitland and her family experienced this when they visited in 2014 — because there wasn’t enough water, they didn’t get a chance to raft or canoe. The Maitlands, who hail from Jackson, Mich., have rafted, canoed and kayaked on rivers throughout the country in their goal of being the first family to visit all 419 National Park

Service sites. Her husband, Jim, 16-year-old daughter Jamison and 15-year-old son Gerald embarked on the mission after watching the documentary America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. After eight years of traveling the country, Jamison and Gerald are the two youngest on record to have visited all 419 sites; only 62 people in the world can check that off their bucket lists, according to Craig Bailey, secretary of the National Park Travelers Club. “It’s amazing what this has done for our family,” Jim says. “A lot of people don’t think that our history is important, but it’s interesting. It shows us who we are.” The Maitlands are headed back to the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River at the end of the year, hoping to hit the water this time. “Paddles up,” Cheri says.

Here are other water festivals throughout the Southwest:

NEW MEXICO Gila River Festival Sept. 19-22, 2019 The 15th annual Gila River Festival, hosted by The Gila Conservation Coalition, takes place in Silver City, N.M., along the Gila River. The keynote speaker at this year’s event is climate activist Tim DeChristopher. Events include field trips in and around the wild river. ▶ gilariverfestival.org

OKLAHOMA The Oklahoma Regatta Festival Oct. 4-6, 2019 There are three competition categories for this

rowing and kayaking weekend on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City: juniors (for kids as young as 11), collegiate (teams from schools all over the country compete) and masters. This 15th anniversary of the Regatta Festival will also include the Thrive Outside Expo with a focus on teaching kids about playing outside. The Riversport OKC, housed in the Boathouse District, will be open for whitewater rafting and more. ▶ riversportokc.org/ events/oklahomaregatta-festival

NEW MEXICO Mother’s Day Whitewater Races May 8-10, 2020 The 63rd annual

Mother’s Day Whitewater Races in Pilar, N.M., include kayak, paddleboard and rafting competitions on the Rio Grande River. There are family races, clinics and even a dutch oven cook-off. ▶ adobewhitewater. org/mdr

OKLAHOMA Stars & Stripes River Festival June 27, 2020 The ninth annual Fourth of July-themed festival in Oklahoma City includes music, food, whitewater rafting and flatwater kayak competitions and fireworks. There’s a PaddleFest Dragon Boat Festival and a regatta. ▶ riversportokc.org/ events/stars-stripesriver-festivalp

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ING V I L

history NATIVE AMERICAN GUIDES AND WELL-PRESERVED SACRED SITES BRING TRIBAL CULTURE TO LIFE

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By Rina Rapuano

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e’ve all strolled the halls of museums dutifully glancing at placards describing colorful textiles, impressive headdresses and black-and-white photos depicting proud-looking Native American chiefs. But what if you could walk in the footsteps of these tribes — smelling the same earth, marveling at massive rocks reaching toward the sky, preparing (and eating!) the foods made on these lands for hundreds, maybe thousands of years? Luckily, tourists traveling throughout America’s Southwest have several opportunities to immerse themselves in the ways of these ancient civilizations — and their descendants are often happy to serve as guides. Here are five ways to bring some of the most beautiful natural monuments, lands and sites to life:


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ACOMA

NORTHWESTERN NEW MEXICO

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nce you amble (or take the bus) to the top of Acoma Pueblo, also known as Sky City, it’s easy to see why people decided to settle here thousands of years ago. The location atop a mesa offers excellent views of the surrounding valley, and the sandstone bluff likely made it easier to defend. Today, the residents of Acoma welcome visitors and sell their distinctive pottery and other native arts, offering tours almost daily (call or visit the website before heading out). The nearby casino and resort is run by the descendants of Acoma’s founders. Buses leaving from the Sky City Cultural Center now take tourists to the top, where they can immerse themselves in a city of earthen houses — a few of which are still inhabited year-round — while others await the return of tribal descendants for gatherings and special ceremonies. The 17th-century San Estevan del Rey Mission Church is a beautiful example of the melding of native and European architectural NEW MEXICO TOURISM styles. DEPARTMENT

SARA WINTER

NAVAJO CULTURE HOMESTEAD HIKE MONUMENT VALLEY, UTAH

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ven if you’ve already seen the ultra famous buttes that emerge from this otherworldly landscape, it’s likely you’ve never experienced what local Navajo guide Carol Talus offers through a partnership between the Utah Office of Tourism and Airbnb. Talus, a grandmother who grew up on a sheep camp in Monument Valley, starts the tour of her land by bringing guests to her family homestead, showing them her hogan (a Navajo home) and walking hikers down to the canyon floor — often alongside the family sheep. After a 2.5-mile hike through the canyon, everyone heads back to the hogan for a hands-on lesson in making Navajo tacos, including the shaping of blue corn fry bread that’s cooked over a fire. The meal might also include traditional tea and sides like beans. Talus loves sharing the ancient ways with the uninitiated through storytelling, games, pointing out useful plants, helping spot wild mustangs, answering questions and, of course, food.

TRAVEL TIP: Monument Valley in Utah is also run by the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation Department and is only about 90 miles from Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona — so you could easily hit two states in one trip.

SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK SAN ANTONIO

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VISIT SAN ANTONIO

enturies ago in San Antonio, Native Americans from various tribes helped build and inhabited five Spanish missions that are now designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Four of them are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and one became the Mission San Antonio de Valero (aka The Alamo). National Park Service (NPS) suggests hiking or biking the 6.5 miles between the northernmost mission (Mission Concepción) and the southernmost (Mission Espada), but you might also want to consider booking a tour through the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AITSCM), an organization run by descendants of Mission Indians. The group aims to teach what happened to the Mission Indians after the missions secularized, including the people’s contributions to the city and to Texas’ independence from Mexico. AITSCM infuses its tour with a distinct cultural perspective by sharing such native foods as nopales (cactus) salad, bison sweetmeat and prickly pear drinks, accompanied by songs and dances.

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CHRIS DIETRICH/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO

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ith more than 5,000 archaeological sites spread among 52,000 acres, there’s almost an overwhelming number of opportunities to immerse yourself in the ways of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived here for more than 750 years. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for what ancient pueblo life was like is to take a ranger-guided tour of one of three well-preserved cliff dwellings: Cliff Palace, which requires descending uneven stone steps and climbing ladders; Balcony House, an hourlong tour that will have you climbing ladders, crawling through tunnels and scaling an open cliff face; and Long House, an in-depth trek featuring a 2.25-mile hike. “In the hot summer months, that feeling of stepping into shade — at once cool and welcoming from the hot sun — makes you feel like one of the villagers living under the shadow of the cliff roof,” says Kelly Kirkpatrick, executive director of Mesa Verde Country Tourism Office. Just keep in mind that these options close for the season Oct. 20 and start up again in spring. Also, the well-known Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling has been closed due to the possibility of rockfalls, but can be seen from overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. Other worthwhile options in the area include hiking the Prater Ridge Trail, checking out the Petroglyph Point Trail or exploring Spruce Canyon.

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CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT CHINLE, ARIZ.

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anaged by the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation department and NPS, this sacred monument sits on 84,000 acres of tribal land in the heart of Navajo country. The wonders to be found include the 800-foot-tall Spider Rock, petroglyphs and pictographs lining sandstone walls, and ancient dwellings tucked in the seams of rock. Yet not everything is ancient. NPS estimates that some 40 Navajo families still live in the canyon, many making a living by taking visitors by vehicle, horseback or hiking excursions that are off limits without a Navajo guide. Free NPS ranger-led programs are available Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you’d rather explore on your own, hikers can take advantage of the public trail that leads to the White House ruins, one of the most popular ancient dwellings in the monument. Two self-guided driving tours will take you along either the north or south side of the canyon’s rim, offering vistas of notable ruins, caves and monuments. But if you do book a tour, keep in mind that the Navajo nation observes daylight saving time while the rest of Arizona does not.

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five  casinos  turn  up  the  action  with  robust  entertainment  offerings By Katherine Brodsky

elieve it or not, there’s more to casinos than just gambling. Sure, they offer high-stakes games, slot machines and betting action, but as these five casinos prove, you can get the high-roller experience without placing a single bet.

Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

There’s no shortage of New Mexican charm at Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel, located just north of Albuquerque. The Star emphasizes exceptional guest services, while providing all the slot machines and table game action you can handle. The Star’s Sportsbook — the state’s first — allows betting on NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball games. But the excitement goes beyond games and bets. The Stage is a top attraction in its own right, featuring comedians Doug Benson, Chingo Bling and Nikki Glaser, and musical groups like The Australian Bee Gees. Hungry? The Star’s newest restaurant, Juniper Steakhouse, will sate your appetite.

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Tulsa, Okla.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa invites guests to play hard, enticing them with some of the most popular electronic games as well as table games like blackjack and poker, traditional craps and roulette. It’s more than just about play though; here you’ll find a chance to unwind with a 18-hole golf course, luxury spa, resort-style pools, eight restaurants and four bars. But the property would not live up to its name if it didn’t offer world-class musical acts. Housed within, you’ll find several venues that over the next few months will welcome performances by the likes of Air Supply, The Charlie Daniels Band, and the Roy Orbison & Buddy Holly Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour — a hologram show that features a live band, backup singers and remastered audio of the musicians’ greatest hits. The venues include The Joint, a 2,700-seat theater; Riffs, which hosts live music four nights a week; and Track 5., which pays tribute to Oklahoma’s rich honky-tonk roots and includes a 1,200-square-foot wooden dance floor where guests can take part in country western, Texas 2 Step, waltz, and West Coast swing dance lessons on Wednesday nights.

Thackerville, Okla.

What started as a bingo hall in 1991 has grown into the world’s largest casino, with nine globally themed gaming plazas designed to represent major international cities, according to the Chickasaw Nation, which owns and operates the facility. WinStar World Casino & Resort houses the largest collection of electronic and table games in the U.S. and also features VIP ultra-high-stakes rooms, bingo and poker tournaments, craps and roulette tables. Head outside to play one of their two state-of-the-art 18-hole golf courses. When it comes to entertainment, WinStar also goes big. The casino offers a variety of entertainment, ranging from musical acts of all genres to top world-class comedians. In October, twist and shout with the Isley Brothers, or sing along with The Temptations. November gets more of a country twang with performances by Alabama and the legendary Willie Nelson. There are plenty of laughs, too. Audiences will be left in

stitches with an all-star lineup that includes Patton Oswalt, Trevor Noah, John Cleese and Jerry Seinfeld. In December, there’s even a bit of magic blended in with comedy, courtesy of Penn & Teller — the longest-running headlining act in Las Vegas history. For those looking to unwind less formally, there are drinks, dancing and live lounge entertainment at MIST, or enjoy jazzy live music at the chic Rotunda Bar.

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Las Vegas

This casino oozes elegance, with its skylit art- and floral-filled galleries. There’s luxurious high-limit salons, poolside gaming and a state-of-theart sportsbook. On Friday nights, Wynn Las Vegas puts on a show that was voted “Best Show in Las Vegas” seven years in a row by the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association. The acrobatic, aquatic spectacular Le Rêve — The Dream is an intensely beautiful world that mesmerizes guests in an intimate 12-row theater. The show spares no expense to dazzle and awe, including a multimillion-dollar fountain system, 16 fire-shooting devices and projection elements, and a 26-foot-deep pool. Other acts include rock ‘n’ roller Steve Miller, who takes the stage in October, as well as observational humorist Sebastian Maniscalco. In November, John Cleese kicks off with two nights of comedy, then John Fogerty takes over for a series of shows celebrating his iconic Woodstock performance, and the month closes with Nate Bargatze’s brand of high-brow humor.

Sportsbook

Le Rêve – The Dream

Chandler, Ariz.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with special events and promotions, Gila River’s Wild Horse Pass Vegas-style location offers visitors a large variety of high-energy gaming options including Spanish 21, Buster Blackjack, Electric Party Electronic Table Games, Pai Gow Poker Progressive, Crazy 4 Poker Progressing, and Push Your Luck. Keep your energy up by hitting the range of dining options including comfort food at Lone Butte Bar & Grille, or a 48-ounce porterhouse at Shula’s Steak House. Wild Horse Pass offers exciting entertainment options, closing out September with a multiplatinum rock band, Night Ranger, which sold more than 17 million albums worldwide and is known for songs like Sister Christian and Don’t Tell Me You Love Me. In October, former members of Creedence Clearwater Revival come together as Creedence Clearwater Revisited to perform beloved rock songs like Suzie Q and Born on the Bayou. And in November, audiences get a hit of stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong. Raising the temperature for December are heartthrob boy band 98 Degrees and country fiddle legend Charlie Daniels.

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THE REGION 45

ARIZONA

Kid-friendly trails will delight the entire family

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NEW MEXICO

Take a dip in rejuvenating hot springs

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Las Vegas delights with gambling alternatives

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OKLAHOMA

Great chicken-fried steaks will sate your appetite

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UTAH

Search for rare hoodoos at Zion National Park

33 HEAD TO TEXAS There’s plenty to see and do in Texas. We filter the options with profiles on tony Austin hotels, Fort Worth’s museums and delicious Dallas barbecue destinations. (And keep your eyes peeled for Texas longhorns!)

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TEXAS | AUSTIN

Stay a While From exciting newcomers to perennial favorites, Austin’s hotel scene is hot By Shelley Seale

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USTIN HAS BEEN GROWING

by leaps and bounds, and the hotel scene has been hopping to keep up with demand. USA TODAY’s 10Best picked their top hotels, with some of the city’s best restaurants and nightspots where locals and visitors alike gather for craft cocktails or the live music that Austin is famous for. The biggest decision will be choosing among these top-notch stays:

KIMPTON HOTEL VAN ZANDT Downtown In the middle of all the action in the Rainey Street District, Hotel Van Zandt is a refined riff on Austin’s music scene. From the local art throughout the hotel to the curated house music, Hotel Van Zandt exudes the classy, laid-back vibe that defines Austin cool. The 319 guest rooms are decked in dark woods and bronzes and fully teched with Bluetooth speakers and free high-speed Wi-Fi. On-site amenities include a pool and 24-hour fitness center, and the on-site restaurant Geraldine’s serves inspired cuisine firmly rooted in the classics. ▶ hotelvanzandt.com

KIMPTON

OMNI BARTON CREEK RESORT & SPA West Austin Nestled on 4,000 secluded acres of rolling hills outside Austin, this luxury resort offers outstanding accommodations, a full spa, four golf courses, pools, conference facilities and great dining. Whether it’s a day at the pool, a hike along a nature trail, a game of miniature golf or exploring the grounds, there’s no end to experiences you can share as a family. All of this is just a short drive from the city. The resort sits far enough away from the bustle of everyday life yet close enough to enjoy the convenience and world-class entertainment found in Austin. Let the day pass by while relaxing under the deft hands of trained masseuses, or pair up with friends and swing away on perfectly manicured greens across the on-site golf courses. Finish the day at one of Austin’s premier dining destinations. ▶ omnihotels.com/hotels/ austin-barton-creek

OMNI BARTON CREEK RESORT & SPA

FOUR SEASONS HOTEL AUSTIN Downtown On the green banks of Lady Bird Lake, Four Seasons Austin creates a resort with garden tranquility near the convention center and the renowned entertainment district. Enjoy legendary Texas hospitality, sophisticated dining, lakeside fitness, spacious quarters and Hill Country style. Ciclo restaurant pairs Texas grill favorites with Latin-inspired dishes. Live Oak, the hotel’s treetop lounge, features freshly shaken specialty cocktails, live music and an expansive deck overlooking the lake. ▶ fourseasons.com/austin

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TEXAS | AUSTIN

HOTEL ELLA Uptown/Arts District The historic 1900 Wooten mansion came under new ownership in 2013, undergoing an impressive multimilliondollar update to create a luxurious boutique hotel that retains its historic charm. Named after Ella Wooten, the home’s original mistress, Hotel Ella features 47 guest rooms, five of which are impressive suites. All guest rooms include complimentary Wi-Fi, a LED flat-screen TV, locally curated minibar, same-day valet laundry, luxury bed linens, custom skin and natural body care products, and overnight shoeshine service. The restaurant Goodall’s features classic American bistro fare and handcrafted cocktails. ▶ hotelella.com

W AUSTIN Downtown Setting the stage for contemporary luxury, W Austin amplifies the city’s electrifying eclecticism, headlining the vibrant 2nd Street District in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and pulsating with its spirit of creativity. Wine and dine at TRACE Austin restaurant, relax with a spa treatment at AWAY Spa Austin, take the plunge at WET or kick back with a cocktail in The Living Room. ▶ marriott.com

W AUSTIN

HOTEL ELLA

HEYWOOD HOTEL

HOTEL SAINT CECILIA Academy Drive Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin’s South Congress District is walking distance to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and shopping. Each of the five suites, six poolside bungalows and three studios embodies a love for the elegance of old world luxury and the irreverence of their muses — The Stones and Hunter S. Thompson among them. The grounds are open only to guests, offering privacy steps away from the heart of South Austin. ▶ hotelsaintcecilia.com

HOTEL SAINT CECILIA

THE DRISKILL — IN THE UNBOUND COLLECTION BY HYATT

East Side The Heywood Hotel embodies the intangible elements that define Austin: creative, easygoing, thoughtful and cool. Located in the middle of the hip East Austin neighborhood and surrounded by local restaurants, lounges and shops, this modern boutique hotel is an easy walk to downtown, Rainey Street, Sixth Street, the convention center and Lady Bird Lake. The modern bungalow architecture is filled with items from Austin’s creative scene, with locally made furniture, art and artisan crafts. Each of Heywood’s seven distinct guest rooms offers a custom experience. Included is a host of amenities, including in-room digital concierge systems, and free Wi-Fi, bicycles and parking. ▶ heywoodhotel.com

6th Street Built in 1886 as the showplace of a cattle baron, the centrally located Driskill remains a landmark of warm Southern hospitality. Its elegant lobby boasts marble floors, and its luxurious rooms include the Cattle Baron suite. Its fantastic central downtown location means you can simply walk out the door and onto Sixth Street to hear all the live music Austin has to offer. ▶ driskillhotel.com

THE DRISKILL

HEYWOOD HOTEL


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TEXAS | FORT WORTH

MAKE A TRIP OF IT If you visited Fort Worth and didn’t eat Tex-Mex, did you really go at all? Order your favorites at Joe T. Garcia’s, which has been serving enchiladas and handmade tortillas since 1935. (Note: It’s cash only.) 2201 N. Commerce St.; joetgarcias.com

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame NATIONAL COWGIRL MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME

Fort Worth on Foot The city’s cultural district groups museums, shopping and restaurants in one walkable area By Rina Rapuano

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N CASE YOU HADN’T noticed, Fort

Worth is a lot more than a name tacked on to the end of a Dallas airport. And while Fort Worth is a mere 40-minute drive west of the Big D, the city affectionately known as Cowtown feels worlds apart with its relaxed, salt-of-the-earth cowboy vibe.

That doesn’t mean Fort Worth lacks sophistication, as a visit to the city’s vibrant cultural district proves. The area is a walkable treasure chest of museums — including the Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

During a visit this spring, I fueled up for a day of exploration with breakfast at Righteous Foods, which serves virtuous acai bowls, hearty, meaty omelets, and excellent juices and coffees. This spot positions you nicely for a 15-minute walk southward to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame or the Fort CONTINUED

Aloft Fort Worth Downtown is within walking distance of several independent coffee shops; Salsa Limón for when you need an excellent taco fast; plus shopping and entertainment options found in nearby Sundance Square. 334 W. Third St.; marriott.com/ hotels/hotel-rooms/ dfwad-aloft-fortworth-downtown

Head down to the Stockyards National Historic District to catch a twice-daily cattle drive, then meander and shop at places like M.L. Leddy’s, where you can find a rainbow of custom cowboy boots made with many materials, including cow leather and stingray skin. 2455 N. Main St.; leddys.com


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TEXAS | FORT WORTH

Fort Worth has a relaxed, salt-of-theearth cowboy vibe, but that doesn’t mean it lacks sophistication, as a visit to the cultural district proves.

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth VISIT FORT WORTH

Joe T. Garcia’s VISIT FORT WORTH

M. L. Leddy’s custom boot shop VISIT FORT WORTH

Worth Museum of Science and History, situated next door to one another in the Will Rogers Memorial Complex. I opted to hit the cowgirl museum — and even though I was interested and optimistic, I was still pleasantly surprised by how fun this place is. From the moment you look up in the atrium and see the slowly moving mobile and realize some portions are actually screens that show videos, you know this is going to be an entertaining experience. The second floor reopened this spring after a $5.5 million renovation that focused on how horses, women and the West intersect in the areas of ranching, competing, healing, business and inspiration. Yes, there are the expected outfits and artifacts, but there’s also the Wonder Woman costume worn by Gal Gadot in the 2017 movie and a gorgeous collection of Hermès scarves with Native American motifs. This new space feels modern, cool and edgy. After walking a little more than 10 minutes north, you can step into the Kimbell Art Museum, a stunning modern building designed by renowned American architect Louis I. Kahn. This free gallery showcases a collection of masterpieces from Michelangelo’s first known painting to early 20th-century stars like Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse to abstract 1980s sculptures

dotting the lawn. From there, you can mosey across the street to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, housed in a light-bathed space thanks to soaring ceilings and windows to match. The permanent collection of nearly 2,600 objects — including some on the grounds — focuses on post-World War II art employing a variety of media. By now, you’re probably feeling a bit peckish, which means it’s time to head east to Crockett Row for a bite. If you’re not sure what you’re craving, try the Food Hall, which features 11 food-anddrink concepts ranging from Mexican street food to Hawaiian poke to Belgian waffles. Sushi fans might want to take the few extra steps beyond Crockett Row to indulge in fish and rice tucked into seaweed at Hatsuyuki Handroll Bar, which was named one of Yelp’s Top 100 Restaurants of the Year for 2019. As with any seafood spot, pay attention to the daily specials. There’s still plenty to explore in the cultural district after lunch, including the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Casa Mañana Theater and other museums, but it might be time to rest up for a visit to what claims to be the world’s largest honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas — because we all know culture doesn’t exist solely within the walls of museums.


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TEXAS | DALLAS

Heat of the Moment

By Ilene Jacobs

T

The Dallas area serves up a sizzlin’ hot barbecue scene

18TH AND VINE BBQ Oak Lawn This decidedly upscale meat palace not only specializes in Kansas City-style barbecue (think sweet-glazed ribs and crusty burnt ends), but it also serves up an assortment of chef specialties such as grilled salmon, smoked cauliflower steak and pepperoni flatbread. And it doesn’t stop there. Chow down on everything from burnt ends queso dip and brisket grilled cheese sandwiches to some of the best fried okra you’ll ever try. Pair it all with a spicy craft cocktail like the Mexicutioner, with Cimarron Tequila, mezcal, jalapeño and pineapple. Save space for the fried apple pies. ▶ 18thandvinebbq.com

SMOKEY JOHN’S BAR-B-QUE & HOME COOKING Love Field Back in action after a devastating fire in 2017, this family-owned joint has been doling out hickory smoked barbecue to legions of fans for more than 30 years. Tender, slow-cooked brisket and plump, juicy ribs are the most popular dishes, but you’ll also find a variety of housemade sausages, spit-roasted chicken, ham, turkey and sides like collard greens and loaded baked potatoes. Don’t overlook the fried catfish and old-fashioned burgers, either. Also worth seeking out are the daily specials, which include dishes like meatloaf, turkey and dressing. And for dessert? Three words: Butter Bomb cake. ▶ smokeyjohns.com

HERE’S NO DOUBT THAT barbecue

reigns in Texas, and if you haven’t experienced it firsthand, then you basically haven’t been living. But there’s no need to make a pilgrimage to Central Texas’ barbecue belt to get your fix when you can find some choice options right in the metroplex. Let USA TODAY’s 10Best be your guide to some of the area’s best spots.

HARD EIGHT BBQ Five suburban Dallas locations It’s always a good sign when you can smell a barbecue joint before you even get out of your car, and that is part of the draw of this sprawling family-run operation. The other part, of course, is the barbecue, which is ordered from the pits outside the door. Choose from brisket, ribs, sausage, kabobs, chicken, pulled pork and more. Then head inside to a cafeteria-style line to load up on sides like mac & cheese, fried okra and cornbread salad. And while the barbecue is terrific, the 16-ounce ribeye steak is also a solid choice. The free pinto beans for dine-in orders aren’t too shabby, either. ▶ hardeightbbq.com GETTY IMAGES; ILENE JACOBS; SMOKEY JOHN’S BAR-B-QUE; HARD EIGHT BBQ


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TEXAS | DALLAS THE SLOW BONE

ONE90 SMOKED MEATS

Dallas Design District This cafeteria-style lunch-only spot dishes up some serious barbecue, where options run the gamut from hickorysmoked chicken to sausages, pork ribs and brisket. And while Slow Bone might be best known for barbecue, you’d be remiss to pass up on some of the other specialties, like Frito pie and a smoked pork chop that takes three hree weeks to make. Sides are a big focus here, too, and the he Brussels sprouts-cauliflower au gratin in is a must. Oh, and did we mention they serve up some of the he best fried chicken in town? Whatever you order, don’tt skip the cornbread pudding. Expect a line, ine, and get there early before they run out. ▶ slowbone.com

East Dallas Named for the ideal internal temperature of a perfectly smoked brisket, this popular spot offers some of the best small-batch craft smoked meats in town. It’s received numerous accolades and has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. As for the goods: All proteins (salmon, brisket, duck, bison, sausages, chicken and more) are smoked with pecan and oak and served on traditional combo plates. Must-haves include brisket tacos and the DLT (duck, lettuce and tomato) sandwich with cherry jalapeño sauce. Bonus: One90 also sells smoked meat to go in vacuum-sealed pouches for easy preparation at home. ▶ one90smokedmeats.com

OFF THE BONE BARBEQUE

HUTCHINS BARBEQUE

South Dallas Set up in a former gas station on the south side of downtown, this family-run joint is a veritable place of pilgrimage for baby back rib devotees. Owner and pitmaster Dwight Harvey slow smokes them over pecan wood for about five hours and then cooks them an additional hour with a coating of sauce, resulting in deliciously tender ribs that fall off the bone. But it’s not only ribs that command attention; the brisket, coated in a sweet-spicy rub and pit-smoked for 14 hours, is a solid choice too. Go all out with one of the combo platters that include sides like blue cheese and bacon coleslaw, deep-fried corn on the cob and spicy charro beans. ▶ offthebonebarbeque.com

Frisco and McKinney Regardless of which location you visit, trying to get a table at this family-run smoked meat mecca usually involves a little patience. That’s the price you pay for visiting a place that ranks as one of the top barbecue joints in the state. The brisket might be the biggest seller here, but don’t sleep on their slow-smoked St. Louis-style spareribs, pulled pork and jalapeño sausages. Pair it all with stellar sides such as mac & cheese, fried okra and brisket laden pinto beans. Head there on the weekend when you can also chow down on their Texas Twinkies (jalapeños stuffed with brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon). ▶ hutchinsbbq.com

LOCKHART SMOKEHOUSE

PECAN LODGE

Bishop Arts District Named after the official barbecue capital of Texas, this smokehouse serves what many locals consider the most authentic Central Texas-style barbecue in town, which is no surprise to co-owner Jill Bergus. She happens to be a member of the family who owns the legendary Kreuz Market in Lockhart. In fact, several of Kreuz Market’s specialties show up on the menu here, including its famous sausages and a special cut of beef known as shoulder clod. Rounding out the offerings are spareribs, pork chops, smoked turkey, chicken and, of course, brisket. Not sure about what to order? No worries, they’ll let you sample the goods before you decide. ▶ lockhartsmokehouse.com

Deep Ellum Featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and Man Fire Food, this hot spot is as famous for its long lines as it is for its epic barbecue. But good things come to those who wait, and that includes house-made sausages, mesquite smoked brisket, mouthwatering ribs and more. Try it all by ordering The Trough, where for around $80 you and four of your pals can dig into beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork and sausage links. Other winning items include fried chicken and a brisket-and-chipotle-cream-cheesestuffed sweet potato dubbed the Hot Mess. And don’t get us started on the peach cobbler. ▶ pecanlodge.com GETTY IMAGES; ONE90 SMOKED MEATS; HUTCHINS BBQ; PECAN LODGE; LOCKHART SMOKEHOUSE; OFF THE BONE BARBEQUE; THE SLOW BONE


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ARIZONA | HIKES

Broken Arrow Trail

LAVA RIVER CAVE

Hit the Trail Family-friendly hikes provide gorgeous views By Roger Naylor

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RIZONA BURSTS WITH AWESOME

outdoor options: Sedona’s red rocks, the cool pines of Flagstaff, the picturesque White Mountains. And what better way to see these beauties than while on a hike? Here are six, with difficulty levels included:

BROKEN ARROW TRAIL Sedona With more than 300 miles of hiking trails weaving among Sedona’s red-rock formations, it’s tough to choose just one, but Broken Arrow has a few extra elements that kids might enjoy. Right away it crosses a rocky ledge, then brushes past a deep sinkhole — with a fence around it — known as the Devil’s Dining Room. Broken Arrow also is parallel to a jeep road and, in a few places, the vehicles make acrobatic climbs worthy of a video. Save the short side path to Submarine Rock for the return trip because you don’t

want to run out of energy before reaching the expansive plateau of Chicken Point, where the trail ends. It’s a beautiful setting, but there are drop-offs, so make sure to keep little ones away from the edge. Grown-ups will enjoy the spectacular views, and kids will like watching jeeps rumble out of the forest and park on a knob of stone. Of course, they may start clamoring for a jeep tour, but that’s also not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Difficulty: Easy Length: 3 miles round trip (3.5 miles if you go to Submarine Rock) ▶ fs.usda.gov/coconino

ROGER NAYLOR/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

Flagstaff Because footing can be tricky and it’s quite dark inside, Lava River Cave isn’t a good choice for wee ones, but older kids will love it. The mile-long lava tube was formed 700,000 years ago by a river of molten rock blasted from a volcanic vent in nearby Hart Prairie. The outer edges cooled first as lava continued to flow, leaving behind a hollow, rocky husk. Be prepared. Temperatures in the cave hover around 42 degrees. Carry at least two flashlights with good batteries, and make sure everyone has their own light source. The entrance is the trickiest part as you squeeze through a narrow opening. Then it’s a scramble over big boulders, one more low bridge before the chamber widens. While you’re able to walk upright the rest of the way, the floor can be uneven, so watch your step. About halfway back, the tunnel branches. Bear to the left. The right fork pinches down so that crawling is required. You encounter one more low ceiling, and finally the chamber ends, and you return the way you came. (After a couple of good scary giant spider stories, of course.) Difficulty: Moderate Length: 2 miles round trip ▶ fs.usda.gov/coconino

MICHAEL MCNAMARA/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC


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ARIZONA | HIKES

DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK Cottonwood This state park, perched on the Verde River, offers trails suitable for all ages. Start out at the River Day Use Area at the end of Owl Road, where you’ll find three trailheads. The Forest Loop makes a 0.6-mile circle through a mixed forest of cottonwood and mesquite. The surface of the path is dirt and mulched wood chips, providing a soft landing if little feet should stumble. The Canopy Trail is an ADA-accessible quarter-mile loop winding beneath the shade of massive cottonwood trees. This is a good one for strollers. Lizards scurry through the dried leaves, and wildlife sightings are common. At the far end of the trail, a couple of shaded picnic tables are surrounded by an array of birdfeeders. When the kids are ready to get wet, the Verde River Greenway is the third trail leaving from the parking lot. It traces the banks of the river through a heavy forest of cottonwoods and willows with a couple of graveled shallows along the way. There are also three lagoons at the eastern end of Dead Horse with gentle paths circling them. Difficulty: Easy Length: Varies ▶ azstateparks.com

ROGER NAYLOR/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

RED MOUNTAIN TRAIL Flagstaff Here’s a chance for kids to walk right into the heart of an ancient volcano. Red Mountain is one of several hundred cinder cones that dot the landscape around Flagstaff. This one happens to be missing a chunk of its side, allowing for an otherworldly adventure. The trail starts along an old road that winds through junipers and piñon pines, then dips into a wash. After a mile, the sandy stream bed squeezes between towers of black cinders. A ladder climbs over a stone wall and you’re engulfed in a wonderland of gnawed spires, twisted pillars and contorted walls bubbled with trapped gases. The amphitheater calls to mind a hobbit-size Bryce Canyon bristling with colorful hoodoos full of climbing and scrambling options. Difficulty: Easy Length: 3 miles round trip ▶ fs.usda.gov/coconino

ROGER NAYLOR/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

SPRINGS TRAIL Pinetop-Lakeside This trail makes a sweet rolling loop through sun-dappled pine forest while crisscrossing low-lying riparian areas. The terrain stays level and neither Billy Creek nor Thompson Creek presents a challenge. Keep an eye peeled for wildlife, drawn by the creeks and stock tanks in the pasture. The Springs Trail can become muddy during monsoon season. If there have been storms, head for Woodland Lake Park, which has picnic tables, grills, playgrounds, ball fields and a paved 1.25-mile path circling the lake. Difficulty: Easy Length: 3.6-mile loop ▶ trackswhitemountains.org

JUDI BASSETT/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC

PINE CREEK TRAIL Payson Standing 183 feet high and 150 feet wide, Tonto National Bridge is the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. But while the big span gets all the accolades, Pine Creek did all the hard work in forming it. The little waterway is a beautiful riparian corridor often overlooked by visitors. From the parking area, this short trail slips down through the woods to join the creek on the backside of the bridge. From there, just work your way downstream around the boulders past the series of pools. The splashy music of fountains and mini-cascades echoes through the trees. Look for small caves and alcoves along the bank. There is no clear pathway, but arrows are painted on some rocks to help with the easiest route. The trail ends at the 400-footlong tunnel beneath the bridge. You can return the way you came or climb out via the steep Anna Mae Trail. Swimming is permitted downstream from the bridge. Difficulty: Moderate Length: 0.5 mile one way ▶ azstateparks.com/tonto

MICHAEL MCNAMARA/THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC


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NEW MEXICO | HOT SPRINGS

Take the Plunge New Mexico’s natural mineral spas and pools bring relaxation

By Jennifer Barger

I

F YOU THINK ARSENIC is only something that Agatha Christie villains used to poison their victims in dusty libraries, you haven’t soaked in the balmy pools at New Mexico’s Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa (open daily for soaks, $25 to $45 per person), where arsenic, lithium and other minerals infuse the water, reputedly relieving ailments from arthritis to depression. (And no, you shouldn’t gulp that H20, but bathing in it is perfectly safe.) On a recent road trip across the Land of Enchantment, my husband, Callan, and I were looking to soothe our hiking-sore quads and citystressed minds. We checked into the resort in Ojo Caliente, about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and headed toward an adobe cottage, plopping in and out of its multiple on-site pools during our weekend stay. One day, we slipped into the gooey, dirty-but-fun Mud Pool, coating our bods with clay before baking ourselves in the sun (and

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then rinsing). “It’s just so physically relaxing sitting in a tub with views of all these orangey-red hills and pinyon trees,” says Blake Gordon, a Santa Fe therapist and frequent resort guest.

SEE FOR YOURSELF Hot springs have burst out of the ground for thousands of years in what’s now New Mexico, powered by geothermal energy. Native Americans believed they were a gift from the gods, and warring tribes even laid down their weapons to gather in the pools. When Spanish conquistadors came to these high deserts in the 1500s, one raved that “the greatest treasure that I found these strange people to possess are hot springs which burst out at the foot of a mountain.” And, presumably after discarding their heavy armor, they plonked in, too. Today, modern travelers can test the 100-plus degree waters at plush resorts like Caliente, simple mountain spas, historic 19th-century bathhouses or all-natural springs. The last one combines two things to love about New Mexico: hiking and soaking, because you generally have to trek a bit into the wilderness (from a few hundred yards to a few miles) to reach the naturally formed pools. But the name also hints at the fact that, in many cases, people go au naturel in the rock-framed soaking holes. GOING NATURAL On the way to our next plunge town, tiny Jemez Springs, Callan and I try the natural route at Spence Hot Springs, on the outskirts of the city. We knew enough to wear bathing suits under our hiking clothes for the brisk one-mile climb amid scrubby pines to a trio of boulder-ringed pools. Neck deep on a chilly day, it felt like tepid bathwater, not a steamy sauna. “There isn’t a lot of water in New Mexico. It’s a dry place, so soaks feel especially luxurious in the wild,” says Adam Tabet, an Albuquerque resident and frequenter of wild spas. “The further you get from the road, the more peaceful they are. You can even crosscountry ski to a few in the winter.” GO BACK IN TIME Dip in a bit more comfort in nearby Jemez (HAH-mez) Springs. In the shadow of rusty colored mountains, it emerged as a spa town in the 19th-century when, legend says, a geyser erupted, alerting locals to the hot springs beneath the red earth. Today, tin-roofed houses and a simple adobe church from the early 20th century keep company with two

Jemez Springs JAMES MCCUE

PROVIDED BY JEMEZ SPRINGS

The Otero family opened the Jemez Springs Bath House in 1872.

The Red Bath at Blackstone Hotsprings PROVIDED BY BLACKSTONE

commercial hot springs spas. The hippie-cool outdoor Jemez Hot Springs (soaks from $25 to $75) offers a quartet of 100- to 104-degree pools, including the jumbo Reflecting Pool with views of the mesa; and the steamy Meditation Pool, where you can hear the Jemez River burble by. And in the oldest structure in town, the 1870s Jemez Springs Bath House (soaks $15 to $20) provides massages and private rooms with squared-off, antique cement bathtubs. “Those tubs have been there forever, and I like to think about how many people have soaked in them before me,” says Jemez Springs Mayor Roger Sweet. “All these people coming in with an intention to relax, heal themselves or just get warm.”

In the southern part of the state, Truth or Consequences is another throwback spa town rich in hot springs, which in this case, are fed by the Rio Grande River. Backdropped by the Black Range Mountains and adjacent to the rugged Gila Wilderness, T-or-C (as the locals call it) got its name from a 1950s publicity stunt surrounding a TV game show. But its vintage motor court inns, bathhouses and cottages date as far back as the 1920s when vacationers came to do a 21-day soak reputed to cure all ills. That scene still bubbles here with several commercial hot springs in a range of settings; most offer drop-in rates by the half-hour or hour, and many have lodgings, too. Under a kitschy vintage sign that reads “Water Hole #1,” the

circa-1927 Indian Springs (baths from $5 a person) holds gravel-bottom indoor baths, and Riverbend Hot Springs (soaks $12 to $30) stars outdoor, riverside basins. Fancier choices include Blackstone Hotsprings (retro TV-themed guest rooms with private soaking tubs) and Sierra Grande (private soaks with complimentary spa treatments for hotel guests)— owned by Ted Turner — features in-room hot springs for some guests at the Southwest-chic locale. Nearby hiking trails and boat rentals at Elephant Butte State Park can turn a visit into a wellness weekend. All in all, the state’s hot springs culture proves a wet, and somewhat wild, chance to unwind. “There’s just something magical about the waters,” says Gordon.


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NEVADA | LAS VEGAS

Viva Las Vegas The Entertainment Capital of the World keeps adding fun reasons to visit

By Dawn Gilbertson

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OU DON’T HAVE TO gamble or hit the

nightclub scene on a Vegas vacation. There’s always something new to do in the desert city that never sleeps. Here are four attractions to check out:

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Thrill-seekers can “fly” 12 stories in 35 seconds on the FLY LINQ Zipline. FLY LINQ ZIPLINE AT THE LINQ PROMENADE


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FLY LINQ ZIPLINE AT THE LINQ PROMENADE

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FLY LINQ ZIPLINE

The first decision you have to make at Las Vegas’ newest zip line is a big one: How to fly. The FLY LINQ Zipline offers guests the option to fly backward, forward, seated or superhero style. I had only done seated zip lines in the past and was hesitant to try the prone position, but I channeled my inner child and picked superhero, a $10 upgrade that was affirmed by the ticket agent (“If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it”) and worker at the weigh station (“Oh, superhero, I love superhero.”) Only one employee called me crazy. The 35-second ride travels 12 stories above the bustling LINQ Promenade, past Brooklyn Bowl and Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips toward the towering High Roller Observation Wheel: It’s a little unnerving getting into position, and the landing is less than graceful, but I had no regrets about flying head first. FLY LINQ isn’t going to set any speed records or put other zip lines out of business. It’s a short, fairly leisurely ride, but you can leave saying you rode the first zip line on the Las Vegas Strip. Not the city’s only zip line, of course. There’s also the Rio Zipline at Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino just off the Strip, and Slotzilla at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas. ▶ caesars.com/linq/fly-linq

NEON MUSEUM

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HARD ROCK CAFE GUITAR AND TIM BURTON EXHIBIT AT THE NEON MUSEUM

The Neon Museum, a downtown Las Vegas gem where old Vegas signs go to retire, added another high-profile neon sign to its collection in March.

TIP: Look for discounted FLY LINQ tickets on deal sites like Groupon. Regular prices are $30 to $40 during the day for seated and $35 to $45 at night. I rode during the day but, like The High Roller, the views are probably best at night, when Vegas sparkles.

The giant guitar from Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, which closed in 2016 after a nearly 30-year run, is now on display. The sign’s owner, Young Electric Sign Company, donated the guitar to the museum, which launched a $350,000 fundraising campaign in 2017 to transport, restore and maintain the sign. The Hard Rock guitar was lit in a March 4 ceremony. An exhibition from director Tim Burton is coming this October and running into February 2020. The museum says it’s the first exhibit of his original fine art in nearly a decade. ▶ neonmuseum.org

CHRIS WESSLING

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THE UNDERGROUND AT THE MOB MUSEUM

There are no signs on the green side door outside The Mob Museum. Visitors push a buzzer and a narrow slot in the door opens to reveal a pair of dark eyes. “Baloney,” I say, and the door is unlocked. Inside, there’s a combination speakeasy, distillery and Prohibition exhibit called The Underground that, like the Mob Museum itself, is a must-see in downtown Las Vegas.

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The attraction, which opened in April 2018 in the basement of the museum, is a great stop on its own or after a tour of the exhibits. Tickets to the Mob Museum include admission to The Underground, or enter free through the side entrance during the day with the weekly password posted on Instagram (@mobmuseum_underground). The small distillery makes corn-mash moonshine, and you can get a TIP: Ask a free sample, buy bartender a bottle to take to let you home or order a peek into drink at the bar. (or reserve) The 30-minute The Fitting distillery tours are Room, a offered daily. hidden The speakeasy private serves food lounge and happy hour for 12. specials, as well as providing live music three days a week. But its specialty is Prohibition-era cocktails, suitably stiff drinks delivered, in some cases, in glass flasks hidden inside hollowed out books. That’s how The Marlow, a bourbon and sherry drink, arrived at my spot at the bar. “Raise a glass to the past, drink what they drank and remember — you were never here,” the cocktail menu says. ▶ themobmuseum.org/basement

BLOCK 16 URBAN FOOD HALL

It’s easy to call Block 16 a food court, as did the lady behind me on the escalator up to the new food hall at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas resort. But fast food isn’t on the menu at the latest addition to the chic hotel with the trademark crystal chandelier. The Block 16 takeout bags playfully scratch out “fast” in “fast TIP: Look at foodies.” all the offerThe collection KIRVIN DOAK COMMUNICATIONS ings before of food counters, ordering and next door to the bring friends Marquee nightclub, features niche restaurants beloved around so you can the country. The valet at Cosmopolitan says he was already a try a bunch frequent visitor, singling out Pok Pok Wing, featuring Vietnamese of options. fish sauce wings from James Beard Award-winning Chef Andy Ricker; and District, a New Orleans favorite known for its burgers, doughnuts and coffee, as his favorites. We recommend the pork belly gyro from Lardo, a Portland, Ore., sandwich shop, and hot chicken and fries from Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, a Nashville, Tenn., staple. For dessert, try a doughnut from District; the menu rotates, so visiting a few times might be in order. ▶ cosmopolitanlasvegas.com/block16


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OKLAHOMA | REGIONAL CUISINE

Comfort Food Taste the crunchified goodness of chicken-fried steak By Nneka Okona

BLACK BEAR DINER

I

’M A SOUTHERNER THROUGH and

through, which means that most of my favorite foods are fried. Fried okra, crispy, salty and fresh from hot grease. Smothered pork chops that began dredged through flour with specks of black pepper and seasoned salt, then dipped in buttermilk making for a crunchy coating. And my less talked-about favorite: chicken-fried steak. Although the exact origins of chicken-fried steak (or country-fried steak) are impossible to determine, it’s strikingly similar to schnitzel and was likely introduced by German immigrants to the Hill Country of Texas. It takes an inexpensive cut of meat and turns it into a working man’s staple. But no matter its origin, the state of Oklahoma has claimed it as its own. Sooners are so serious about their chicken-fried steak that in 1988 the state legislature included it in the official Oklahoma state meal along with fried okra, cornbread, blackeyed peas and pecan pie. The question of who makes the best chickenfried steak in Oklahoma is mighty subjective, but there are a few establishments that have gained rousing reputations for their versions. Find your favorites by visiting one (or more!) of these seven spots, based on USA TODAY’s 10Best readers’ picks.

Five locations The Bigfoot Chicken Fried Steak from Black Bear Diner is made with tender beef that’s breaded, deep-fried and covered in housemade country gravy. The steak comes with either soup or salad, as well as a freshly baked corn muffin, veggies or Italian green beans, and a choice of mashed potatoes, french fries, onion rings or a baked potato. ▶ blackbeardiner.com

THE PIONEER WOMAN MERCANTILE

THE PIONEER WOMAN MERCANTILE

BLACK BEAR DINER

CHEEVER’S CAFE

CHEEVER’S CAFE

Oklahoma City An OKC favorite for its contemporary comfort food, Cheever’s Cafe serves a stellar chicken-fried steak with jalapeño cream gravy and a side of garlic red-skinned mashed potatoes. ▶ cheeverscafe.com

CHARLESTON’S RESTAURANT

CHARLESTON’S RESTAURANT

THE RED B RESTAURANT

THE RED B RESTAURANT

Idabel An off-the-beaten-path gem in the town of Idabel, The Red B Restaurant is known for its hearty three-course meals of made-fromscratch food. The hand-cut, deep-fried chicken-fried steak is tender enough to cut with a fork. ▶ facebook. com/theredbrestaurant

Multiple locations The chicken-fried steak is a house specialty at Charleston’s Restaurant’s 10 locations across Oklahoma. The hand-breaded steak is fried up and served with black pepper chipotle gravy, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. ▶ charlestons.com

Pawhuska The chicken-fried steak at The Mercantile, helmed by food writer and Food Network personality Ree Drummond and her husband, Ladd, begins with a beef rib-eye, pounded, breaded and griddled. It’s topped with creamy gravy and served alongside mashed potatoes, a salad, freshly baked dinner rolls and the Pioneer Woman’s Cowboy Butter. Smaller appetites can order a half portion. ▶ themercantile.com

SAVOY RESTAURANT

SAVOY RESTAURANT

Tulsa The kitchen at Savoy Restaurant only uses USDA choice top round beef, cut and tenderized in-house, for its chicken-fried steak. Seasoned only with salt, the steak is cooked on the flattop and served with house-made gravy at lunch or with eggs and choice of hash browns, home fries or grits for breakfast. ▶ eatsavoy.com

SUNNYSIDE DINER

SUNNYSIDE DINER Oklahoma City Breakfast is the name of the game at Sunnyside Diner in Oklahoma City, where big appetites can feast on chicken-fried steak with eggs and two sides, or a la carte. ▶ eatatsunnyside.com


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UTAH | ZION NATIONAL PARK

PROVIDED BY SARAH SEKULA; KELLY SWIFT/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Natural Beauty Embrace your inner explorer while hiking amazing terrain at Zion National Park By Sarah Sekula

T

HE ROCK SPIRES KNOWN as

hoodoos transport me back to childhood, when I’d spend hours making drip castles in the sand. They have that same lumpy structure, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Likewise, walking amongst these giants, ranging from a few feet to 10 stories tall, makes me feel

quite small and very giddy. I’m on a hoodoo hunt at Zion National Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary as a national park this year. The crumbly spires have been here for 30 million to 40 million years, in fact. The hoodoos are especially brilliant before dawn or around sunset, glowing in shades of red, orange and tan. They are challenging to find here but one thing is certain: There are many ways to

explore the rest of the park. Hiking is highly recommended. Fullday excursions to Zion National Park will have you walking some seriously amazing terrain, including The Narrows, the slimmest section of Zion Canyon, where the walls rise 1,000 feet. A hike will have you trekking through zebrastriped slot canyons and wading in the Virgin River. Just ask Kim Menninger, a California

resident who has hiked The Narrows twice. “It was, hands down, the highlight of our trip,” she says. “There is nothing like hiking through a canyon with water rushing around you and natural beauty everywhere you look.” Her warning: “Even the most skilled hikers and guides can end up in the water,” she says. “Walking sticks and CONTI NUED


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UTAH | ZION NATIONAL PARK good water shoes make the world of a difference.” Another Narrows hiker, Jerrilyn Bogart, agrees. “The depth of the water surprised me a couple times,” she recalls. “It was a really nice September day, and I still got into chest-deep water a few times. It makes you understand the danger you face if a sudden rain shower comes through.” After a full day of exploring, it’s time to relax. If you prefer the luxe route, make your way to Red Mountain Resort (redmountainresort.com), a holistic retreat in St. George, Utah. A bit of a drive from Zion, it’s a solid choice for blissful exhaustion and restorative pampering (like cactus gel wraps, gentle yoga and sleep-tonic massages). Another way to soak up Zion’s grandeur is by glamping in an Under Canvas luxury tent on the park border (undercanvas.com/camps/zion). Choose from tents with adjacent tepees or suites that sleep five. At your fingertips: a wood-burning potbelly stove, comfy beds and private bathrooms. Days begin with a hearty breakfast, then it’s time for rock climbing, a hot air balloon ride or stand-up paddleboarding. For something a little more strenuous, try your hand at canyoneering (an epic combination of rappelling, scrambling, hiking and swimming). Basically, it’s impossible to be bored. Last but not least, try living the #vanlife by renting a teardrop camper or rooftop tent from Off the Grid Rentals (rentoffthegrid.com) in St. George. You’ll need a vehicle capable of towing the camper (or supporting the tent) and some food supplies. If you rent a teardrop camper, be sure your vehicle has a towing capacity of 2,500 pounds. For rooftop tents, the vehicle needs to have flat roof racks. Teardrop campers sleep up to five adults and offer storage space, a solar panel, a 12-volt battery, a propane stove and cooking utensils. Rooftop tents have a full-size memory oth are foam mattress that sleeps two. Both a step up from tent camping and make for a neat way to experience southern Utah’s national parks, state parks and national monuments.

HISTORY The first human inhabitants of the region are believed to have arrived about 10,000 years ago. The first European explorers, two Spanish priests, visited in 1776. Mormon settlers arrived in the mid-1800s.

WHEN VISITING Stop by the Zion National Park Visitor Center at 1101 Zion-Mount Carmel Highway in Hurricane, Utah. ▶ nps.gov/zion

OF NOTE With fewer visitors in the park, fall and winter are a great time to visit. Campsites and lodges have more availability and it tends to be more peaceful.

Author Sarah Sekula

PROVIDED BY SARAH SEKULA


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ARIZONA | THE WAVE

WIN THE LOTTERY The Paria CanyonVermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona and Utah is breathtaking in any direction. Deep canyons, striking slopes and broad plateaus adorn the 112,500-acre reserve. But one area in particular stands out — in the Vermilion Cliffs region is Coyote Buttes North, commonly known as The Wave for its gorgeously swirled stripes of reds and browns. The recreation area is so popular that to preserve the landscape and wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management offers a lottery to purchase a permit to visit. On average, 549 people apply daily for one of only 20 available daily permits. Your best bet? Try for a date in December or January. To learn more, visit blm.gov.

BOB WICK/BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT


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Profile for STUDIO Gannett

GO ESCAPE TEXAS/SOUTHWEST, Winter 2019  

GO ESCAPE TEXAS/SOUTHWEST, Winter 2019