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North America’s natural wonders with TAP

By Peter Amend, courtesy Visalia CVB

Sequoia National Park

Four of the world’s five largest sequoias grow in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. The largest, the General Sherman tree, stands 274.9 feet tall with a base measuring 102.6 feet in circumference. Although the coast redwoods tower between 300 and 350 feet tall, the General Sherman is the largest living tree because in sheer volume of wood, it has no equal. The Giant Forest is the most accessible of all giant sequoia groves and has more than 40 miles of hiking trails.

A side road winds down to Crystal Cave, a marble cavern. Groups must hike down a half-mile trail along Cascade Creek to the cave’s entrance. The Sequoia Natural History Association leads 45-minute guided tours. Special candlelight tours and the belly-crawling Wild Cave tour are visitor favorites.

At Moro Rock, a steep quarter-mile staircase climbs over 300 feet to the summit of that granite dome. From the top, spectacular views take in the western half of Sequoia National Park and the Great Western Divide.

Wuksachi Lodge offers fall astronomy programs that take advantage of the lodge’s 7,200-foot elevation. Shooting stars, mid-August meteor showers and the brightness of the planets, constellations and stars are remarkable. Special programming, including astronomy, takes place on Moro Rock.

The Daily Deluxe Tour introduces groups to the park’s “greatest hits.” It stops at the General Sherman Tree, the Giant Forest Museum, Round Meadow, Crescent Meadow and Moro Rock, with a lunch stop at the Wuksachi Lodge.

Manitou Beach
The resort village of Manitou Beach lies on Little Lake Manitou, a mineral-rich body of water in North America. It’s one of only three bodies of water in the world with a particularly high level of mineralization. The other two are Israel’s Dead Sea and the Czech Republic’s Karlovy.

The water contains 14 different minerals, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, silica, sulfur and oxide of iron. The minerals pamper the skin and have healing properties for the entire body. They also provide buoyancy, allowing visitors to float effortlessly.

“Our small resort community in the heart of the Canadian prairie is a place of total relaxation,” said Brendan Manz, community development officer at Watrous Manitou Marketing Group. “Groups will have a unique experience without needing to travel to a five-star European resort.”

Recently renovated, Manitou Springs Hotel and Mineral Spa is home to Canada’s largest indoor mineral spa. The same therapeutic water from the lake is pumped into the European-style facility and then filtered and heated. The hotel’s pool complex includes two main pools divided into three temperature zones that range from 94 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, providing a year-round experience. The day spa offers a full menu of massage and esthetic treatments using muds, oils and salts produced from the lake’s minerals and salt.

The area’s Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area, Canada’s oldest bird sanctuary, attracts birders because of its location on the migratory route. More than 280 species of birds have been recorded there, and hundreds of thousands of birds pass through annually.

Nature Saskatchewan operates the Last Mountain Bird Observatory, open during spring and fall migrations. Scientists, alongside volunteers and visitors, help monitor the number and species of migrating songbirds. Bird lovers will thrill to see many species up close and to observe catching, handling and banding techniques.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.