Sapphires – Birthstone of September – Part 2

Blue sapphire

Teardrop-shaped blue sapphire

Gemstone color can be described in terms of hue, saturation, and tone. Hue is commonly understood as the “color” of the gemstone. Saturation refers to the vividness or brightness of the hue, and tone is the lightness to darkness of the hue. Blue sapphire exists in various mixtures of its primary (blue) and secondary hues, various tonal levels (shades) and at various levels of saturation (vividness).

Blue sapphires are evaluated based upon the purity of their primary hue. Purple, violet, and green are the most common secondary hues found in blue sapphires. Violet and purple can contribute to the overall beauty of the color, while green is considered to be distinctly negative. Blue sapphires with up to 15% violet or purple are generally said to be of fine quality. Gray is the normal saturation modifier or mask found in blue sapphires. Gray reduces the saturation or brightness of the hue, and therefore has a distinctly negative effect.

The color of fine blue sapphires may be described as a vivid medium dark violet to purplish blue where the primary blue hue is at least 85% and the secondary hue no more than 15%, without the least admixture of a green secondary hue or a gray mask.

The 423-carat (84.6 g) Logan sapphire in the National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest faceted gem-quality blue sapphires in existence.

Sapphires of other colors

Sapphires in colors other than blue are called “fancy” or “parti colored” (multi-colored) sapphires.

Fancy sapphires are often found in yellow, orange, green, brown, purple and violet hues.

Multi-colored sapphires are those stones which exhibit two or more colors within a single stone. Australia is the largest source of multi-colored sapphires; they are not commonly used in mainstream jewelry and remain relatively unknown. Multi-colored sapphires cannot be created synthetically and only occur naturally.

Colorless sapphires have historically been used as diamond substitutes in jewelry.

Pink sapphires

Pink sapphire

Pink sapphires occur in shades from light to dark pink, and deepen in color as the quantity of chromium increases. The deeper the pink color, the higher their monetary value. In the United States, a minimum color saturation must be met to be called a ruby, otherwise the stone is referred to as a pink sapphire.

More about Sapphires in Part 3.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Sapphire – The Birthstone of September – Part 1

Sapphire is the birthstone for September and the gem of the 45th anniversary. A sapphire jubilee occurs after 65 years.

Sapphire is a precious gemstone, a variety of the mineral corundum, consisting of aluminum oxide (α-Al2O3) with trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium. It is typically blue, but natural “fancy” sapphires also occur in yellow, purple, orange, and green colors; “parti sapphires” show two or more colors. The only color corundum stone that the term sapphire is not used for is red, which is called a ruby. Pink colored corundum may be either classified as ruby or sapphire depending on locale. Commonly, natural sapphires are cut and polished into gemstones and worn in jewelry. They also may be created synthetically in laboratories for industrial or decorative purposes in large crystal boules. Because of the remarkable hardness of sapphires – 9 on the Mohs scale (the third hardest mineral, after diamond at 10 and moissanite at 9.5) – sapphires are also used in some non-ornamental applications, such as infrared optical components, high-durability windows, wristwatch crystals and movement bearings, and very thin electronic wafers, which are used as the insulating substrates of special-purpose solid-state electronics such as integrated circuits and GaN-based blue LEDs.

Natural sapphires

Sapphire is one of the two gem-varieties of corundum, the other being ruby (defined as corundum in a shade of red). Although blue is the best-known sapphire color, they occur in other colors, including gray and black, and they can be colorless. A pinkish orange variety of sapphire is called padparadscha.

Significant sapphire deposits are found in Eastern Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China (Shandong), Madagascar, East Africa, and in North America in a few locations, mostly in Montana. Sapphire and rubies are often found in the same geological setting.

Every sapphire mine produces a wide range of quality, and origin is not a guarantee of quality. For sapphire, Kashmir receives the highest premium, although Burma, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar also produce large quantities of fine quality gems.

The cost of natural sapphires varies depending on their color, clarity, size, cut, and overall quality. For gems of exceptional quality, an independent determination from a respected laboratory such as the GIA, AGL or Gubelin of origin often adds to value.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

More about Sapphires in Part 2 of this series.

Labor Day

Labor Day in the United States of America is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the development, growth, endurance, strength, security, prosperity, productivity, laws, sustainability, persistence, structure, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.

Canada’s Labor Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September. More than 80 countries celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 – the ancient European holiday of May Day.

Unofficial end of summer

Labor Day is called the “unofficial end of summer” because it marks the end of the cultural summer season. Many take their two-week vacations during the two weeks ending Labor Day weekend. Many fall activities, such as school and sports, begin about this time.

In the United States, many school districts resume classes around the Labor Day holiday weekend (see First day of school). Some begin the week before, making Labor Day weekend the first three-day weekend of the school calendar, while others return the Tuesday following Labor Day, allowing families one final vacation before the school year begins. Many districts across the Midwest are opting to begin school after Labor Day.

In the U.S. state of Virginia, the amusement park industry has successfully lobbied for legislation requiring most school districts in the state to have their first day of school after Labor Day, in order to give families another weekend to visit amusement parks in the state. The relevant statute has been nicknamed the “Kings Dominion law” after one such park.

In Minnesota the State Fair ends on Labor Day. Under state law public schools normally do not begin until after the holiday. Allowing time for school children to show 4-H projects at the Fair has been given as one reason for this timing.

In U.S. sports, Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of many fall sports. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams usually play their first games that weekend and the National Football League (NFL) traditionally play their kickoff game the Thursday following Labor Day. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race has been held on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina from 1950 to 2003 and since 2015. At Indianapolis Raceway Park, the National Hot Rod Association hold their finals of the NHRA U.S. Nationals drag race that weekend. Labor Day is the middle point between weeks one and two of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships held in Flushing Meadows, New York.

In fashion, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day when it is acceptable to wear white or seersucker.

In big cities, people try to go outside and enjoy beaches and barbecues over the Labor Day Weekend. There are also numerous events and activities organized in the cities.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Best Cities to Visit in USA – Part 10

Adirondacks

Whether you’re a lover of outdoor activities, sports history or just appreciate beautiful scenery, odds are you’ll adore northern New York’s Adirondacks region. Situated about 290 miles north of New York City, 250 miles northwest of Boston and 110 miles south of Montreal, the Adirondacks offer a welcome break from the area’s bustling metropolises. During the winter months, visitors can participate in an array of outdoor activities, including skiing, snowshoeing, bobsledding and dog sledding. Once summertime rolls around, travelers can go biking, fishing, hiking, canoeing and whitewater rafting. No matter what time of year it is, you’ll have your pick of stunning scenery to explore — like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake — thanks to more than 6 million acres spread across 12 regions.

For those looking to catch a break from the Adirondacks’ outdoor adventures, you’re in luck: This mountainous area also features plenty of historical treasures. In Lake Placid, travelers can experience all things Olympics while exploring the Olympic Jumping Complex, Olympic Sports Complex and Olympic Museum. And if sports history just isn’t your thing, there’s also John Brown Farm State Historic Site, which is the gravesite and former home of abolitionist John Brown. Additional offerings include a variety of seasonal events, boutique shops and Adirondacks-inspired gastropubs and fine dining eateries. And once you’re ready to retire for the evening, you’ll find a bevy of accommodation options, ranging from traditional campgrounds and quaint bed-and-breakfasts to luxurious cabins and upscale resorts.

Savannah

Savannah, with its Spanish moss, Southern accents and creepy graveyards, is a lot like Charleston, South Carolina. But this city about 100 miles to the south has an eccentric streak. Savannah College of Art and Design students mix with ghost hunters and preservationists, while Southern-fried restaurants share street blocks with edgy cafes and restored theaters. The quirky characters in the true crime story, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,”say it all. Yes, eccentricity is the name of the game, but if that’s not your “box of chocolates,” as Tom Hanks famously said in the Savannah-filmed “Forrest Gump,” maybe history or nightlife is Savannah’s antebellum past seeps from nearly every corner but “The Hostess City of the South” abandons its genteel behavior by nightfall to prove it also knows how to show visitors a good time.

(Information from US News & World Reports)

Best Cities to Visit in USA – Part 9

Las Vegas

Sin City, America’s Playground, the Entertainment Capital of the World … all worthy names for this Nevada hot spot. Think of Vegas as a theme park rather than a city – it can awe as much as it can overwhelm, and that’s part of the appeal. This is a city where inhibitions are not welcome: Every night, Las Vegas draws pleasure mongers to the brightly lit Strip like moths to a flame. While you may not want to go as far as to re-enact “The Hangover,” you certainly don’t want to leave without experiencing a bit of “Viva Las Vegas.”

Today, Las Vegas can provide any kind of vacation you can imagine. You can opt for the traditional high-roller getaway complete with all-nighters at the blackjack table or TAO Nightclub. Or you can make it all about luxury with visits to hotel spas, high-end boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Las Vegas is also a great jumping-off point for outdoor activities, such as hiking in Red Rock Canyon or visiting the Hoover Dam via a helicopter tour. You can even bring the kids along: Underage travelers will get a kick out of a Cirque du Soleil performance, the Bellagio Fountain show and the Neon Museum.

Charleston, SC

Centuries-old mansions, Spanish moss-draped trees, spooky cemeteries, cobblestone walks: in a word, Charleston. As you walk the gas lamp-lit streets at night, past horse-drawn carriages and the antebellum architecture, you just might think you’ve traveled back in time. But just because this South Carolina city is proud to celebrate its heritage doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past. Charleston boasts innovative restaurants, interesting shops, contemporary art galleries and the world-class Spoleto Festival USA. This is the place to experience the genteel South – after all, it was the home of suave “Gone with the Wind” character, Rhett Butler.

Savannah

History pervades almost every aspect of the Holy City, from the majestic homes-turned-museums to the landmarks that promote the city’s role in United States history. Civil War buffs should head to Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the War between the States was fired. Meanwhile, shopaholics looking for locally made goods should peruse the Charleston City Market. When you’re ready for a day at the beach, the city’s got you covered there, too. Several beach towns, including Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palm and Folly Beach, offer sun, sand and gentle waves.

Key West

Known for warm beaches and eccentric residents with a live–in–the–moment philosophy, Key West offers a relaxed yet unexpected seaside adventure. Do as the residents (known as Conchs) do and see where that free spirit might take you. Perhaps you’ll end up at a Duval Street bar, in a Mallory Square shop or even touring Ernest Hemingway’s old home.

Key West once threatened to go rogue (in 1982 with a mock secessionist movement to create “The Conch Republic”); so this is definitely the place to throw a firm itinerary out the window. Take a stroll, sip a margarita, spy a six–toed cat and set your own pace. While Hurricane Irma did impact the area in late 2017, Key West is definitely back in business, with almost all tourism sites ready for visitors.

Part 10 has more about the Best Cities in USA to Visit.

(Information from US News and World Reports)

Best Cities to Visit in USA – Part 8

Sedona

Sedona is regularly described as one of America’s most beautiful places. Nowhere else will you find a landscape as dramatically colorful. The towering red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes matched against an almost always blue sky have beckoned to professional and budding artists for years. And filmmakers have chosen these fiery rock formations in north-central Arizona as the backdrop for such box-office hits as “3:10 to Yuma,” “Broken Arrow” and “Midnight Run.”

But there’s more to Sedona than red rocks and good looks. Over the past few decades, spiritualists have flocked to the region to take advantage of the numerous New Age “vortexes” with supposed spirit-balancing powers found here. Still searching for a way to satisfy your yen? Book an afternoon at one of Sedona’s many spas. Traditional treatments with a local twist – such as red clay wraps and blue corn body scrubs – followed by a glass of local wine are great ways to relax after a long day spent on the trails. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots! Exploring the wilderness via a guided Jeep tour is another popular option.

Miami

Take a number of diverse cultures, add a strong dose of the arts and a splash of ocean water, and you have Miami. Looking at the fantastic art museums and the blossoming gastronomical scene, you might find it hard to believe that just a century ago, this colorful Floridian city was covered in swampland. Once developers rushed into the area, one of the most popular tourist destinations and spectacular city skylines in the country was born. Today, with South Beach before you and the Everglades behind you, you can walk through the bustling streets past historical homes with Spanish words and Caribbean music floating into your ears.

This mini melting pot has preserved multicultural neighborhoods like famous Little Havana as enclaves for unique traditions to thrive. United, they form an electric network — Miami. Its reputation for vibrant nightlife and extravagant parties is realized in Miami Beach, a barrier island to the east of the mainland. Meanwhile, the down-to-earth city proper cultivates an artsy vibe.

Outer Banks

History drips from the Outer Banks:Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kill Devil Hills), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke) and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (exactly where is anyone’s guess, but last seen on Roanoke Island near Manteo). But this chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina – affectionately dubbed OBX – isn’t just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing and wildlife watching attract adventurous types, not to mention the roughly 3,000 shipwrecks you can explore by snorkel and scuba diving. Families gravitate toward the beaches, mini-golf courses and the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

Each island has its own charm: The old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south coupled with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops in the north, all form a unique seaside destination. OBX is ideal for those looking to skip overly developed touristy towns and head straight for the unspoiled beaches. You won’t find big nightlife, but you will find an abundance of natural beauty. Beaches are more populated during the summer months, but with so many destinations spread out along the barrier islands, you likely won’t experience big crowds. 

More in Part 9 of this series!

(Information from US News & World Reports)

Best Places to Visit in USA – Part 7

Boston

Boston is not only a hub for baseball, brownstones and bookish collegiate types. It’s also home to America’s first large free municipal public library, the first subway system, the first public school and the first public park. To say the city is historic would be an understatement, but this wicked smart college town doesn’t linger in the past, either. A well-rounded trip to Boston integrates the classic with the contemporary: Split your time between cherished sites like the Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall and modern attractions like the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Venture to Beacon Hill and you’ll stumble upon the graceful mansions of yore juxtaposed with chic boutiques and innovative hotels. So, yes, come first for the history, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample the unmistakable Beantown flavor. 

The city’s darker side has garnered a rough-and-tumble reputation thanks to Hollywood appearances in gritty films like “Black Mass,” “American Hustle” and “The Town,” but Boston’s cool, cosmopolitan personality characterizes its trendy restaurants, urban parks and modern museums. Passionate residents are still rooting for their beloved Red Sox, but they’re also venturing to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway for a free yoga class or meandering to the edgy SoWa Open Market for some antique shopping. So, grab a stool and join them at their favorite pub to chow down on oyster shooters and New England clam chowder, or venture to Back Bay to sip a coffee as you stroll along the trendy Newbury Street. You’ll need more than a few days to experience the city’s wealth of cultural and historical offerings, but meandering along Boston’s cobblestone streets is a great way to start your exploration. 

Chicago

“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago – she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them,” wrote Mark Twain in “Life on the Mississippi.” Although Twain made up his mind about the Windy City before it even reached its 50th year, his impression of Chicago has proven long-lasting. America’s third-largest city has been described in a myriad of ways throughout its lifetime. When Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were competing for the right to use their forms of electricity to illuminate the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair), Chicago was known as a city of industry. When Prohibition set in, notorious mobsters like Al Capone transformed Chicagoland into their own dangerous playground. And intense immigration surges throughout the 20th century brought a host of new identities to the Windy City, including Greek, Polish, Italian, Irish and Jewish.

Today, Chicago remains just as diverse, boasting a thriving arts scene, various shopping districts and a cornucopia of eateries. First-time Chi-Town visitors are sure to have their eyes to the sky for at least a day or two. Chicago’s skyscrapers and public art are absolutely worth admiring: Tag along on a Chicago Architecture River Cruise or pass a few hours in Millennium Park and you’ll find yourself spending lots of time looking upward. For a bird’s-eye perspective, head to Willis Tower’s Skydeck Chicago or the John Hancock Center’s 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. After, dive headfirst into all the city has to offer – from exceptional museums to a thriving sports culture and deep-dish pizza that takes delicious to whole new depths.

Seattle

Seattle’s laid-back attitude and diverse neighborhoods more than make up for its consistently cloudy weather. Plus, it’s home to some of the country’s best coffee and a thriving arts scene, plenty of history, culture and – when the weather permits – some exciting outdoor activities. Surrounded by water (and resting between Puget Sound and Lake Washington), the city’s favorite outdoor pursuits include kayaking, hiking and camping. Not only that, but the nearby Olympic Mountains and the giant Mount Rainier are visible from many spots in the city; ski slopes are just a short drive away. And while travelers often bemoan the weather, there’s actually less annual precipitation here than in New York or Boston. Overcast skies rarely stop Seattleites from getting out and exploring the city – and it shouldn’t stop you either.

If you’re headed to the Emerald City and not up for strenuous outdoor activities, Seattle still offers plenty to do and see. Art lovers will appreciate the glass-blown pieces at Chihuly Garden and Glass as well as the works on display at the Seattle Art Museum. Maritime enthusiasts can explore the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and watch the ships putter by. Several of Seattle’s best boat tours even offer an inside look at how the locks operate. Make time to switch gears from boats to brews on a visit here, too. The city boasts dozens of craft breweries and food markets, making it one of the Best Foodie Destinations in the USA. 

More to come in Part 8.

(Information from US News & World Reports)

Best Places to Visit in USA – Part 6

San Diego

Consistently sunny weather and 70 miles of magnificent coastline are what draw active types and sun seekers alike to San Diego throughout the year: that and the mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, thriving nightlife and one of the country’s favorite zoos. And then there are the beaches: Retreat to Mission Beach to catch a wave, to La Jolla to soak up the sun and to Coronado for a leisurely seaside stroll. When you’re ready to ditch your flip-flops and board shorts for more formal attire, you’ll find pockets of vivacious nightlife throughout, especially near the historical Gaslamp Quarter.

Aspen

In terms of winter wonderland status, few destinations can compare to Aspen. This scenic mountain town is straight out of a snow globe, featuring picturesque mountain chalets hugged by the soaring Colorado Rockies. Of course, the main draw here is skiing and there are four premier ski areas nearby that cater to powder hounds of all levels. But there’s more to Aspen than winter sports: With high-end shopping, fascinating museums, funky galleries and fun festivals, it might be a struggle to make it to the slopes. No matter how you choose to spend your time here, it will be a vacation you’ll never forget.

For several decades now, this village has been the diamond in the Roaring Fork Valley, and we’re not just talking figuratively. This small ski town has long been a respite for the rich and famous, with high-end resorts like The Little Nell and Viceroy Snowmass luring celebs with the promise of luxurious privacy. But don’t let the possibility of sticker shock keep you away; instead, you can offset the high cost of deluxe lodging by simply enjoying your surroundings. Some of Aspen’s most popular sites – like Maroon Bells – come to us from Mother Earth, who doesn’t charge admirers a cent.

New Orleans

New Orleans is known for its European-style architecture, mouth-watering Creole cuisine and all-around good-time vibes. And as its backbone is music: Jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Zydeco tunes ooze from every city crevice. But for many, the main reason to visit is Mardi Gras, an over-the-top party with Carnival traits, such as masks, music, floats and merriment. Even if you don’t make it to Mardi Gras, you’ll still find a party year-round, with revelers pouring out of Bourbon Street clubs until the wee hours of the morning and a festival of some sort almost every weekend.

Despite past environmental disasters – namely the BP oil spill, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac – New Orleans continues to thrive. Over the past several years, major efforts have been made to restore the distinct districts. Today, the Crescent City looks almost as good as new. So start your visit with a walking tour through the French Quarter, where colonial heritage and ghost lore still survives. From here, you can explore the major architectural sites before enjoying a hearty plate of jambalaya and a rowdy evening out.

More in Part 7.

(Information from US News & World Reports)

Best Places to Visit in USA – Part 5

Grand Teton National Park

Towering above Jackson Hole Valley with jagged snow-topped peaks, Wyoming’s majestic Teton Mountains are in high relief at Grand Teton National Park. From the 13,770-foot Grand Teton to the glittering Jenny and Jackson lakes – which reflect the mountains in their depths – the photo ops are endless. But the park isn’t just for mountaineers and photographers. In the peak summer season, the area’s trails call to hikers of all abilities and reveal gems like hidden waterfalls and breathtaking views of the Tetons. Meanwhile, the Snake River appeals to kayakers, rafters and those that simply fancy a float, and historic districts like Menors Ferry and Mormon Row attract history buffs interested in the 19th-century past of this piece of Western Frontier. 

The nearly 500-square-mile park also contains a range of wildlife, including black bears, grizzlies, moose, antelope and bison, and for autumn visitors, the park lights up with golden aspens. Plus, travelers that want to tick off another national park on the same vacation can travel the few miles north to Yellowstone, which adjoins Grand Teton (you’ll save $10 on combined admission if you choose to visit both parks). 

Zion National Park

Named for the Hebrew word “refuge,” Zion National Park – nestled in Utah’s southwest corner – is no longer the quiet sanctuary it once was. In 2016, the park saw a record-breaking 4.3 million visitors, a 17 percent increase from its last record-breaking year in 2015. It’s as if travelers stumbled upon a secret and can’t get enough of the apricot-colored Zion Canyon, which they can view wading through its Virgin River or ascending Angels Landing, with each bend in the river or turn in the trail affording an even more breathtaking view. Plus, the blanket of stars that illuminates the night sky is a welcome nightcap to a day filled with active pursuits. And when it’s time to come back from the refuge to reality, the 166-mile drive from Las Vegas or the 308-mile drive from Salt Lake City is just about the right amount of time to process all the beauty you just experienced.

Kauai

Brilliant sunsets, pristine beaches, aquamarine skies – Kauai has mastered seduction. But the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain doesn’t have to resort to over-the-top luxury or tourist traps to entice; instead, it appeals to a no-muss, no-fuss type of traveler. You prefer rural to resplendent? Kauai’s your island – there are only two major highways, and some regions can only be explored on foot. Resorts are no taller than a coconut tree (literally).

Some would say that you need little more than a good pair of hiking boots, an umbrella and an adventurous spirit to visit. But we should warn you: You might also need a little cash. Kauai has put a premium on its natural beauty and prized hiking trails, and room rates during the winter can reach $500 a night. To get the most and save the most, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons. 

More about the Top Vacation Places to Visit in Part 6.

(Information from US News & World Reports)

Best Places to Visit in USA – Part 4

Jackson Hole

Sandwiched between Grand Teton National Park to the north and miles of national forest in every other direction, the Jackson Hole valley has remained relatively isolated from the burgeoning travel industry. Instead it has survived on local industries like logging, ranching and, during the 19th century, fur trading. But recently, Jackson Hole has encouraged the rise of tourism. Former blue-collar settlements like Jackson and Grand Teton now boast notable art and performance venues, and mega ski resorts have transformed the region into an up-and-coming winter wonderland. When planning an opulent getaway, many people don’t give western Wyoming a thought. To those travelers, we say: Think again.

Sure, you won’t encounter the glitz and glam of Aspen or Lake Tahoe, but the beauty and vastness of the Jackson Hole region has caught the attention of Hollywood celebs like Harrison Ford and politicos like former Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet, even with its fresh and luxurious upgrade, Jackson Hole remains first and foremost the heart of mountain country, with rugged trails and miles of open space that recall a time before the West was won.

Lake Tahoe

Incredible, extraordinary, mind-boggling … try as you might, you’ll have difficulty finding words that do justice to the sheer beauty of Lake Tahoe. Resting on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe has long been a favorite vacation spot, welcoming upward of 2.7 million people a year. Visitors are drawn here by the steep granite cliff sides and towering mountaintops, as well as the crystal-clear waters that have earned Lake Tahoe the reputation of being one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the United States. While the stunning blue lake alone is worth a trip, the surrounding area, also known as Lake Tahoe, boasts miles of hiking trails, dozens of picture-perfect vistas and some of the best skiing in North America.

But wait – there’s more. Lake Tahoe seems to have adopted the major traits of its neighbors. You’ll find San Francisco-style high-end shopping and dining along the lake’s north shore, while opportunities to test your luck reside in the south shore’s Reno-esque casinos. You’ll also find plenty of activities that Lake Tahoe is proud to take credit for, including mountain gondola rides, hot air balloon adventures and scenic cruises across the mirror-like water.

Juneau

Juneau is a pit stop for most travelers. Cruise ships pull into harbor, dump their passengers at the dock and allow them to wander around town for a few hours. However, the astute journeyman (or woman) will see Alaska’s capital city as a gateway to Mother Nature. While the seriously intrepid may venture to Glacier Bay National Park and Admiralty Island National Monument, less-experienced nature lovers will find incredible scenery right in Juneau’s backyard at Mendenhall Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord. This small town (with only about 30,000 residents) is no longer fueled by mining, fur trading and whaling; outdoor enthusiasts are the economic driving forces here. And now, the citizens of Juneau brandish cheap souvenirs rather than hunting equipment. But don’t take the bait: The best souvenirs will be the priceless photos you shoot with your own camera. Juneau’s majestic setting leaves many in utter awe.

More Best Places to Visit in USA in Part 5.

(Information from US News & World Reports)