Adventures of a Lifetime

It’s not hard to put together a list of classic encounters with the natural world: journeying across the Serengeti, swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro. But the adventures on our list go a step further, helping us discover our place on this planet. From the ancient hunting rituals of the Kalahari Bushmen to the migration trails of polar bears, these ten trips are sure to awe and inspire.

By Jeff Hull

Photo by Taylor Kennedy (Getty Images)

Time Travel Across America
National Parks in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

There’s no better way to witness the mythic grandeur of the Wild West than on a scenic train voyage. GrandLuxe Rail Tours takes you to iconic spots like Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, “the American Serengeti”; the slickrock canyons of southern Utah, home to the Anasazi culture’s ruins; or the Grand Canyon’s variegated spires and plunging ravines, symbols of an epochal geology. The tour captures the romance of a bygone era with  relaxing, luxurious rides that bridge the vast distances between these legendary landscapes. Fly into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and roam around Grand Teton National Park for a day, then head for Yellowstone. Watch Old Faithful blow, board the train for dinner and drinks, and wake up in Utah, on your way to the beautiful cliffs and rock formations of either Bryce Canyon (at left) or Zion national parks. The next day, visit the Valley of Fire State Park outside Las Vegas before heading to the Grand Canyon. Additional stops in Sedona, Arizona; Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Salt Lake City round out the ten-day itinerary. The train’s 21 cars include two diners, where gourmet meals are served nightly, two bars, and two observation areas. Pullman and other modified cars provide comfortable sleeping to the rocking of the rails. There’s a feel-good factor in this sit-back-and-relax option, too: Compared to flying, train travel emits about one-tenth the greenhouse gases.

Swim With the Sharks
Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia

Seven of the Tuamotus’ 78 mid-ocean atolls comprise a newly created UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, featuring one of the most fascinating and accessible marine ecosystems on the earth. These thin rings of land—formed on top of extinct volcanic cones that have long since subsided into the sea—surround warm, shallow basins of water in the vast South Pacific Ocean. Some of the best snorkeling in the world waits just beneath the calm surface of the lagoons, where sharks—mainly blacktip reef—cruise around by the dozens, providing long close-ups of  the ocean’s most fluid swimmers.
Ancient Polynesians believed sharks were agents of the gods, sometimes benevolent and sometimes vengeful. You’d be excused for fearing the latter. But here both ancient and popular myth melt away: Surrounded by a banquet of natural prey, Tuamotu sharks show precious little interest in snorkelers. After exploring the vivid coral beds, you can retire to the laid back Hôtel Maitai Fakarava for fresh mahimahi in vanilla sauce. Though not advertised as an eco lodge, the Maitai treads gently on its surroundings by virtue of its location inside reserve boundaries.

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Issue 25

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