5 Places in the US I Need to See Again, Differently

Two things came to mind when I opened a letter from Avis and read that I was being banned from renting any more cars for “abusing their unlimited mileage privilege.” First the obvious: what the heck does this mean? And second, who else has an unlimited plan?

I’ve driven almost two million miles since getting my license back in 1978. In addition to the rental car “abuse,” I’ve sent my own Camaro, Mustang, Explorer, Jetta and Rav 4 to the old folks home. Business travel, plus an obsession with seeing everything I could in my time off, has put me on blacktop and dirt roads around the U.S. 30-ish weeks a year, every year since 1988. There are a lot of places I want to see again, though, only differently the next time.

The Grand Canyon: Atop the Colorado River

Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Grand Canyon Skywalk. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

It truly deserves the name grand – a canyon simply overwhelming from every perspective.  It changes hourly as shadows shift and each switchback yields another oh-my moment. I’ve witnessed rain turn to snow as we hiked river to rim one March morning and watched turkey vultures circle a resting friend when he ran out of water on a hundred-degree summer afternoon. Hiking in from the North Rim, the South Rim, gawking through the glass-bridge 4,000 feet above the canyon floor or staring from inside a small plane a bit higher, the Grand Canyon always puts me in deep awe.

There remains one way I need to see the Grand Canyon, though: from atop an oar-powered whitewater raft, the way John Wesley Powell did in 1869. I do have one caveat: If I’m going to paddle 188 miles in a week atop 67 rated rapids and camp beneath the stars every night, I want to do it with a company that takes responsibility for all the gear and food. And one with guides who know the canyon’s history, wildlife and folklore as well as how to navigate those rapids. My 29-year old self would shriek at this pampering, but I’m twice that age now and happy to mellow a bit.

Alaska: In Winter

Alaska.
Alaska. Photo credit: @astrid_ontheroad.
Alaska.
Flying over Alaska. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

All 21 of my trips to the great white north have been in late spring, summer or early fall because, well, that’s when the hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, fishing and pretty much everything is best. Besides, there aren’t too many outfitters who want to operate in the long dark days of cold and ice. But that’s exactly what I want to do as dog sledding, ice fishing and watching the Aurora Borealis dance through the night are the side of Alaska I feel a need to experience.

Fairbanks is the best hub for all the above, with multiple flight options and a number of operators. I like that I could go mushing with Alaskan Huskies who have been raised humanely since they were puppies. I dig the thought of a deluxe cabin with a wood stove on atop a frozen lake with a line dangling for burbot, northern pike and trout two steps out the door. And the thought of watching the Aurora Borealis through the top of a geodesic igloo in the midst of the great white and wild north – alluring.

Utah: Adventures in Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo credit: John Fowler.

Utah’s bounty of slot canyons and enchanting rock formations are on display well beyond the borders of its five national parks. One of many poets, explorers and dreamers fascinated with the landscapes here was a precocious kid named Everett Reuss. Atop a horse, a burro or his own two feet Everett wandered about the four corners region, disappearing mysteriously in 1934, and still today – 86 years later – there isn’t a trace.

I do not expect to be the one who learns about Everett’s final days, but I’d sure love to base in Escalante and venture out on his last known route. There has been much speculation about his death. But I’m not concerned with how he died so much as how he lived and what he discovered in this fascinating land.

Cajun Country: Beyond New Orleans

Louisiana.
Louisiana.

There is no place in the whole U.S. quite like New Orleans. It’s a blend of food, music, festivals and culture distinct from every other urban area in the country. It’s one of those places I absolutely love to visit but could not image living. Whenever anywhere close to New Orleans, I am seduced into a visit. There’s no shortage of compelling places nearby, too, but the Vieux Carre, Frenchman Street and Garden Distract never let go of their hold and I rarely venture into the other 21 parishes that comprise Cajun Country.

Right now, I can hear the motors of the airboats loading for a gator tour, I can smell the kitchens in Lafayette preparing jambalaya and gumbo and I can feel the heat of the Tabasco plant calling out from Avery Island. I long to see where the Mississippi River concludes its long and winding journey into the Gulf of Mexico, hear more about the Cajuns exile from Nova Scotia and dance beneath a stage full of fiddles, accordions and guitars.

Puerto Rico: Beyond Old San Juan

Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico. Photo credit: John DeLeva.

When I turned 50 it felt like it was time to go to the adoption agency in Brooklyn and find out about my biological parents. The paperwork I received showed my mother was a single woman of Italian decent who met my biological father . . .  in Puerto Rico. Business brought me to the USA’s largest and most colorful territory; personal curiosity kept me there a few extra days.

Two years later – after meeting my biological mother for the first time – I learned the Puerto Rican story wasn’t true, she made it up to appease the  adoption agency after bio dad said he didn’t want anything to do with a baby. I had lost my just-found Puerto Rican heritage, but not the need to return to this beautiful Caribbean island and see much more than Old San Juan. The long list of want-to-dos begins with spotting pre-Columbia carvings, swimming in bioluminescent bays, exploring San Juan’s other colorful and charming neighborhoods, maybe even timing it to catch a Major League Baseball game when they play at historic Hiram Bighorn Stadium. And then there are those beaches, and forests and so much more calling for a return.


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