10 Stunning U.S. Destinations For Your Bucket List Aerial America | Smithsonian Channel

10 Stunning U.S. Destinations For Your Bucket List  Aerial America | Smithsonian Channel

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- [Narrator] The calm waters of the Excelsior Crater seem to invite the unwary for a swim. But don't be fooled, that beautiful blue color means the water is so hot not even the hardiest bacteria can survive. This same deadly blue lies at the center of what is, without doubt, one of nature's most amazing sites. A place that alone lures thousands of people from around the world to Yellowstone. It's known as the Grand Prismatic Spring.

(light dramatic music) At the center of this state is an unusual gathering place in the foothills of the Ochoco Mountains. One that seems to breathe the air of Oregon's pioneering spirit. The appropriately named Crooked River twists and turns through steep slopes to the towering spires of Smith Rock. This castle of craggy peaks dates back to a catastrophic eruption nearly 20 million years ago. Hot ash, lava, and chunks of rock surged like an ancient oil gusher, eventually cooling in place and over time weathering into great stone pinnacles. In some cultures, places like this attract mystics.

In Oregon, it's a haven for adventurers. Welcome to one of the hottest spots for sport climbing in North America, challenging the best in the world to find new routes up its most demanding surfaces. The toughest one of all is a 300 foot high pillar that looms above the valley. It's called Monkey Face. For these hardcore sport climbers, it isn't just about reaching the top, it's about finding the toughest possible route up and down the peak.

Scaling near vertical walls, suspending from a single rope and repelling into the abyss. The ultimate achievement: to be the first to take on a newer harder route and earn the privilege of naming it. In 1992, Monkey Face became an international icon when French climber Jean-Baptiste Tribout made the first ascent up the overhanging east wall. It instantly eclipsed even the toughest climbs in North America. He named the route Just Do It.

Once climbers reach the top of Smith Rock, many take a moment to savor the view of one of America's most remarkable landscapes. During America's Gilded Age, Asheville was also a popular getaway spot for America's richest industrialists, including the Edisons, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. Some of whom built country homes here. One of them is the largest private house in the United States.

The Biltmore Estate was constructed in the 1890s by 26 year old George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous New York railroad tycoon. With virtually unlimited resources at his disposal, Vanderbilt's French renaissance style estate took more than six years to build and was such a massive undertaking it required its own brick making factory and a private railway for delivering materials. The finished 250 room mansion has 34 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms.

When it came to designing the Biltmore's grounds, George Vanderbilt hired the best of the best: Frederick Olmsted. The landscape architect who created New York's Central Park. Olmsted designed formal gardens close to the house, but he also regenerated forest areas around the estate by transplanting trees and encouraging new growth.

It was one of the country's very first forest conservation projects. During the Great Depression Asheville's tourist trade was in decline, so the Vanderbilt family agreed to open the Biltmore for public tours. Today, the estate is visited by more than a million people a year. (light music) While the Biltmore was under construction, George Vanderbilt began acquiring acreage around the property to use as a private hunting retreat. This is just one of the parcels he bought; Mount Pisgah.

Logging here had cut wide gashes into the landscape, but Vanderbilt hired foresters to manage the land and bring this forest back to life. One of these, German born Carl Schenck, went on to establish the Biltmore Forest School, the first of its kind in the United States. In 1914, the U.S. government bought 87,000 acres of this land from his estate and turned it into the Pisgah National Forest. It's best known as the home to Cold Mountain, the title of the best selling Civil War novel written by Asheville native Charles Frazier and later adapted into a film by Anthony Minghella. In these high altitude plains, building materials can be hard to come by.

And with temperatures that range from minus 50 to 122 degrees fahrenheit, building the right kind of house can be a matter of life and death. Now, an eco-visionary named Michael Reynolds thinks he's figured out the best way to do it. Outside Taos, Reynolds is pioneering the development of entire subdivisions of eco-friendly homes he calls earth ships. He's doing a lot of it with stuff he's scavenged. The load-bearing walls of these houses are built out of old tires packed with dirt, and spaces between the tires are filled in with recycled bottles and cans. Then the walls are plastered and finished.

To keep the houses as green as he can, Reynolds carefully situates them to allow passive solar heating and burrows them into the ground to keep them cool in the desert heat. Buyers can either choose a stock blueprint or work with Reynolds to create their own dream home. But no matter how whimsical the design they are all eminently practical. According to Reynolds, his earth ships cost no more than an ordinary house, making it possible for anyone to live well while leaving a light footprint on the desert land.

(light music) 80 million years ago, these rugged badlands in western Kansas were under a vast inland sea. Billions of creatures lived and died here, then left their bodies on the ocean floor in ancient layers of chalk. With the sea's retreat, erosion washed most of the chalk away, leaving beautiful and evocative towers behind. This group is known as Monument Rocks. Though too soft and unstable to attract climbers, these impressive monoliths tower over the plains as seemingly eternal reminders of the state's vast geological past. But they aren't as timeless as they seem.

(light dramatic music) This lonely out cropping was named Castle Rock in 1865 by frontier scout Julian Fitch. For over 150 years, stage drivers, pioneers and hikers used its towers to guide their path. Today, they might have trouble finding their way. Castle Rock and the rest of Kansas' chalk towers and canyons are slowly crumbling in the wind and rain. It's just a matter of time until flat Kansas prairie is all that's left here. A prairie made of chalk.

This is the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Maunakea. A dormant volcano so remote it's one of the best places on earth to study outer space.

11 nations have telescopes here where they've made key discoveries about the formation of stars and the origin of black holes. The volcano sits near the center of the Big Island, and on its southern end is the most active volcano in the world; Kilauea, part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's been emitting steam and lava since 1983 in what are called quiet eruptions, meaning gases escape slowly instead of in one violent burst. (light dramatic music) The natural forces at work here help scientists study how land masses may have been formed millions of years ago. And are still being formed today as cooling lava expands Hawaii's coastline bit by bit. (light music) Hawaii itself was born around 40 million years ago from sea volcanoes and the shifting earth, which helped mold this spectacular scenery on the Maui coast.

The eight islands were annexed by the United States after decades of fighting between native Hawaiians and American businessmen over who should govern them. The last monarch of the islands was overthrown in 1893, but many in congress opposed annexation until the Spanish American War in 1898, when the strategic importance of Pearl Harbor became clear. Two years later, Hawaii became a U.S. territory, and in 1959, it became a state. Over the years, its unique location thousands of miles from any continent has helped protect the diverse and stunning landscape.

(light music) It's hard to find the words to describe the forms that lie across this landscape; forests of stone, amphitheaters of rock. It's as if drip castles made of sand and water were dolloped here by giant children. But these red and pink spires do have a name; they're called hoodoos, which seems like the perfect word given that they could easily be at home in the movie "Return of the Jedi."

Years of rain and water lashed this landscape of limestone rocks, leaving these other worldly shapes. Imagine trying to raise animals here. That's what a Mormon pioneer named Ebenezer Bryce did. He was the first to settle in this area in 1875. Bryce tried to rear cattle among the hoodoos, and reportedly said that this canyon was one hell of a place to lose a cow. Now the cattle are gone and the thrilling canyon bears his name.

But despite its dry desert landscapes Utah is a land of endless surprises, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is one of them. Rivaling Arizona's Grand Canyon for sheer majesty, Utah's Glen Canyon leaves those who see it similarly speechless. Images of this landscape can look like those that rovers might send back to earth from distant planets. Except here there's lots of water, including these turquoise ribbons in a place called Moqui Canyon.

One of the most beautiful places in the entire state. Mount Rushmore. Today, thousands of bikers roar right through South Dakota's Black Hills during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. But in the early 20th century, there were very few good roads, which meant it was hard to get here at all. That's why South Dakota state historian Dwayne Robinson wanted to build a monument that could lure tourists to this wondrous landscape. When he saw this group of now famous granite spires, known as the Needles, he imagined using them to carve giant portraits of heroes of the American west, heroes like Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody, and the great Sioux chief Red Cloud, who had fought and died to keep the Black Hills off limits to miners, settlers, and even the kind of tourists Robinson hoped to attract.

But when Danish American sculptor Gutzon Borglum saw the Needles, he wasn't convinced they would be suitable for large scale carvings and told Robinson he feared they would end up looking like misplaced totem poles. But he soon found another location just a few miles away that he thought would be perfect. A giant wall of solid granite big enough for multiple carved portraits each up to six stories tall. There was, he declared, no piece of granite comparable to it in the United States. He also thought that a national tribute to U.S. presidents would be more appealing than heroes of the west.

"I want to create a monument so inspiring that people from all over America will be drawn to come and look and go home better citizens," he said. Soon, President Calvin Coolidge and others were helping secure federal funding. It took more than 14 years for Borglum, and 400 workers to blast and chisel this world famous quartet of former presidents. George Washington came first, his familiar profile emerging from the mountain in less than three years. In time for an especially patriotic dedication on July 4th, 1930. Thomas Jefferson followed in a spot to Washington's right but unstable stone there forced Borglum to dynamite his original Jefferson and moved the third president to Washington's left.

Jefferson's revised image received its dedication in 1936. Lincoln came next in a spot originally intended for a giant tablet inscribed with an inspirational text. Then all hands turned to adding Teddy Roosevelt to the group.

After Borglum died, his son Lincoln oversaw the carving of the final details. On October 31st, 1941, just 14 years after work began, the monument was declared complete. Today, evidence of the enormous effort it took to do the job can still be seen here. When all was said and done, 800 million pounds of rock had been removed from the fine chisel marks on the president's faces to the orderly lines of scars left on the surrounding stone by dynamite and drills to the enormous piles of rubble below. In 1959, the monument provided the setting for two of Hollywood's most infamous moments in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "North by Northwest". In one key scene, Hitch has icy blonde Eva Marie Saint pretend to shoot leading man Cary Grant in the visitor center.

Then he sends Grant, Saint and villain Martin Landau on a deadly chase across the president's faces. Hitchcock was planning to shoot the second scene on the monument itself, but a journalist spilled news of the planned chase and the national park service shut Hitchcock down, which is why the final scene was filmed on a Hollywood sound stage instead. Yellowstone has half of all the known geysers in the world, around 300 in all. Here, at the Clepsydra Geyser, cold water flows into tight crevices in Yellowstone's molten core and explodes into steam. Clepsydra has been erupting almost continuously since 1959.

Its plumes of water can reach up to 40 feet, making it one of Yellowstone's most reliable and photographed sites. But the meeting of water and hot stone here doesn't always bring such explosive results. (light dramatic music) Nearby, the calm waters of the Excelsior Crater seem to invite the unwary for a swim. But don't be fooled, that beautiful blue color means the water is so hot not even the hardiest bacteria can survive.

This same deadly blue lies at the center of what is, without doubt, one of nature's most amazing sites. A place that alone lures thousands of people from around the world to Yellowstone. It's known as the Grand Prismatic Spring.

(light dramatic music) This is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. Its blue core may be deadly, but the colorful cooler bands at its edges are evidence the Grand Prismatic is also home to plenty of life. Each band supports a unique bacteria or algae that creates a color of its own. When visitors on the boardwalk of the Grand Prismatic cross patterns that look like giant flames, they are stepping over descendants of some of the earliest forms of life on earth.

These microbes, called thermophiles, or heat lovers thrive in extreme environments like the waters of Grand Prismatic Spring. There are literally billions of these tiny orange colored microbes here, so many they create dramatic flame like patterns that look like a work of art that was painted by mother nature herself. Getting a chance to experience this colorful, steaming cauldron is why many come to Yellowstone in the first place. But there's nothing like seeing it all from the air. The Bagley Icefield, it's the largest non-polar ice field in North America.

The Bagley is essentially a giant bathtub of solid ice. It's 120 miles long, six miles wide, and in some places a half a mile thick. Ice fields are created at high elevations where it's too cold to rain. But as snowfall accumulates over time it gets compacted under new layers of snow and gradually turns to solid ice. Ice that will eventually be the source of glaciers.

It can be hard to see from above, but the ice in this giant bowl is actually flowing out into valleys between the surrounding mountains as glaciers. The Bagley is a giant in the world of ice, so it's not surprising that the glaciers it spawns are giants too. One of them is the largest and longest glacier in the world. The Bering. At its mouth, this one glacier is 10 miles wide. Every year it releases six and a half trillion gallons of water into the Gulf of Alaska.

There are few natural environments as forbidding to humans as the treacherous surface of giant glaciers. Flying across the Bering is the only way to peer down into the thousands of deep and shifting crevaces that make up this glacier. Just one of these could easily swallow people and even aircraft whole. At its highest reaches, there are pools of meltwater and deceptive narrow cracks into which even the most experienced adventurers could disappear without a trace. The reason Las Vegas is able to be so lush and green today is because of what happened here in the 1930s when thousands of workers from across America flocked to southern Nevada to build this; The Hoover Dam.

It lies just 25 miles east of the strip. If you were to peer down on this stretch of the Colorado River in the 1930s, you would've seen an army of workers below. They drilled holes for more than eight million pounds of dynamite, carved eight miles of tunnels through the canyon's walls and poured more concrete than had ever been poured on a single construction project anywhere in the world.

Close to 100 men died building the Hoover Dam, but it's still considered one of America's greatest engineering achievements. The mission of the dam was to generate hydroelectric power, control flooding in the Colorado River, and to provide water for irrigation. Once it was completed, the valley started filling up with the water that is now known as Lake Mead. Today it's a popular recreation area for residents of Las Vegas, a welcome watery oasis in a desert land. But this lake is also what enables Las Vegas to survive.

In the 1950s, pipelines started carrying water from Lake Mead into the Las Vegas valley, and with a plentiful and new source of water the valley's population could continue to grow. Today, there are two million residents in Clark County, seven times the number that lived here in 1970, and 90% of the water they use comes from Lake Mead. After water gets sucked out of the lake it's disinfected here before being pumped into the valley, But much of the water that's consumed inside homes and businesses in Las Vegas gets directed back to water treatment plants and is then used again.

This stream is actually waste water from across the valley. It's making its journey back to Lake Mead. As it does, millions of gallons of water are being pumped back out of the lake 24/7 to keep Las Vegas alive for another day. (light dramatic music)

2022-06-04 01:09

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