Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Organized Nature in a New Zealand Botanic Garden

Christchurch Botanic Gardens, New ZealandJust a couple of blocks from my hotel, I wandered into Christchurch Botanic Gardens to find out what ordered beauty looks like in New Zealand. I had already bounced around the country for three weeks, completely enthralled by its untamed and spectacular nature, from azure lakes and national parks to snow-capped mountains, unspoiled beaches, geothermal wonders, and caves both chunky and delicate. Now it was time to see what could be done with nature when Kiwis get their hands on it. Read more about it >


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Topeka’s Engaging Gage Park

Doran Rock Garden, Gage Park, Topeka, KansasI had spent enough time indoors in Topeka, Kansas, with visits to the wonderful Kansas Museum of History and to the neo-classic Great Overland Station, and an acrophobic climb up the spiral staircase to the outdoor observation platform at the state capitol, one of the top five capitols in the United States. Now it was time to head outdoors, and I hopped in my rental car to the city’s fantastic Gage Park, where Topekans and visitors of every age can enjoy an entire day outside. Read more about Gage Park >


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Go Take a Hike — in Arkansas

Petit Jean State Park, ArkansasFrom my hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I drove about 70 miles, mostly up Scenic Byway 7, a two-lane, curvy, hilly road flanked by trees that occasionally sweeps through a blink-and-you-miss-it town. My destination was Petit Jean State Park, the oldest state park in Arkansas and one filled with both natural beauty and some pleasant surprises, courtesy of the old Civilian Conservation Corps. Read more >


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Go Farther in the Dells

If you can get past the garish attractions and crass commercialism littering the small city of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin — the mini golf courses, the cheap motels, the haunted houses, the axe throwing, the world’s highest concentration of water parks — you’ll receive a handsome reward. Declared a State Natural Area in 1994, the Dells of the Wisconsin River is one of the most scenic and unspoiled spots in the entire state, and, ironically, the place that begat all that tourist tat to begin with. Read more >


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Three Days in the World’s First National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National ParkI had wisely chosen early autumn as the time of year to visit Yellowstone National Park. Post–Labor Day, the school year had begun a few weeks before, the summer crowds had dissipated, and the weather had cooled substantially — perfect conditions for spending three full days in the oldest and most diverse national park in the United States. Read more >


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A Day in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia

If I had known better, I would have dedicated more than one day in Stanley Park. But that’s in hindsight. In the present, however, I was marveling at everything about Vancouver’s first park, created in 1888 on lands used by indigenous peoples long before the British came and created the British Columbia colony. Sweeping views, nature in the heart of one of Canada’s largest cities, plenty of attractions — you will find it all here in the biggest park in the city and one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world. Read more about it >


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Lake-Hopping in the Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. This long range of dramatic peaks runs on both sides of the border of Alberta and British Columbia. Within their folds, I thrilled at the countless gems in their treasure trove — blissful mountain towns, waterfalls, rushing rivers, plenty of wildlife, canyons, historic hotels, glaciers, and more photo-worthy vistas than you can imagine. And, of course, there are the lakes — tremendously beautiful bodies of water of all shades of blue and green that hold unbeatable natural allure as well as a few secrets and mysteries. Read more >


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The Perfect Place for Your Afterlife to Begin (and Your Current Life to Be Enriched)

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New YorkBefore picnicking here was banned, it was the second most-visited tourist attraction in New York State, luring 500,000 people every year in the 1860s, a number rivaled solely by Niagara Falls. In the heart of Brooklyn, folks would gather to enjoy the pastoral setting of the lush 478 acres, flush with countless varieties of trees and flowering shrubs, ponds, valleys, winding lanes, and open vistas from the highest natural point in Brooklyn of the surrounding communities and as far away as Manhattan. A few of these people might have even been there to acknowledge this place’s primary objective: a chance to visit their deceased friends and relatives buried within its grounds. Now, 181 years after it was founded, Green-Wood Cemetery remains one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, and tourists still come to visit, whether or not they have ancestors resting here in peace. Read more >


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Earth, or Middle Earth? A Hike Through New Zealand’s Wonderfully Weird Landscape

Waimangu Volcanic Valley, New ZealandFrom Robertson House, my lovely bed and breakfast in the town of Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island, I drove for only about 20 minutes to the surreally beautiful Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Almost as soon as I began my 2½-mile hike here, I fully understood why Peter Jackson chose to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand. Clearly, this was what J.R.R. Tolkien had in mind when he was creating his world of Middle Earth back in the 1940s. Read more >


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Nature and Art Blend Perfectly at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MichiganI had spent a fair amount of time walking around Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the most beautiful historic districts in the United States, before heading downtown for a phenomenal dinner at San Chez Bistro. Over drinks with some locals, I was encouraged to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, only five miles away. The following day, I took their advice. I was extremely glad that I did. Read more >