10 Eco-Destinations in North America to Add to Your Bucket List
In the 1950s, the world was crisscrossed by some 25 million annual tourists (i.e., overnight visitors). In 2014, according to the Center for Responsible Travel, that number ballooned to nearly 1.2 billion—about a 4,000 percent increase—contributing $7.6 trillion (almost 10 percent) to the world's GDP.
But the sad and inescapable fact is that all our flying, driving and trampling about has also contributed to the destruction of the environment, harming wildlife, historical sites and the livelihoods of indigenous societies around the globe.
As the largest global service industry, tourism can—and should—play a significant role in conservation and environmental sustainability. That was the message that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon delivered on World Tourism Day in 2012. “One of the world’s largest economic sectors, tourism is especially well‐placed to promote environmental sustainability, 'green' growth and our struggle against climate change through its relationship with energy," he said.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, was an early proponent of not only treading lightly when you travel, but also doing some good while you're there. In his last message before his death in 1941, Baden-Powell neatly summed up his philosophy: “Leave this world a little better than you found it.” It's a sentiment that anchored the "Leave No Trace" outdoor/camping ethos that took root in the 1960s and it can easily serve as a motto for ecotourists and ethical travelers alike.
Thinking about a travel destination in North America that shares your green philosophy? Here are 10 of the best to consider.
1. Earthship Rentals (Taos, New Mexico)
Taos, a desert town in the New Mexico high desert situated at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and known for its historic Native American adobe buildings and its artist colony, has long been a destination for eco-minded free spirits. It's also the location of a small collection of unique eco-friendly buildings called Earthships.
Constructed from natural and recycled materials, including tires packed with dirt, Earthships are passive solar houses, meaning their entire structures—including windows, walls and floors—are designed to collect solar energy. The first Earthship was designed in the 1970s by the architect and environmental activist Michael Reynolds, who calls his unique practice Earthship Biotecture.
Ecotourists can enjoy the sites of Taos while staying at Earthship Rentals, which offer a unique taste of sustainable, off-grid living, including growing your own food and using water provided by cisterns that collect rain and snow. Plus, they are dog-friendly, so bring Fido along. You can also enjoy the amenities of modern life, such as Wifi and TV. But why boob-tube it when you're surrounded by a gorgeous landscape that has attracted and inspired artists for over a century? Earthships can transport you while not moving at all—the perfect opportunity to unplug and recharge.
2. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (British Columbia)
Winston Churchill once said, "There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada." Unfortunately, the world's second largest nation hasn't been protecting that mighty expanse all that well. According to its 2015 annual report, the nonprofit Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) found that the nation is lagging on its commitment to protect at least 17 percent of its land and fresh water by 2020—and is behind the global average.
“Based on our assessment of progress since Canada endorsed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 10-year plan in 2010, it would take us 50 years from today, not five, to meet our commitment to protect at least 17 percent of our land and fresh water,” said Alison Woodley, nation director of CPAWS’ parks program.
One of the places that has been protected is an eco-resort tucked away in the remote wilderness of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, Canada. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort offers the best of both worlds, from river kayaking, horseback riding, hiking through old-growth forest and surfing on a secluded beach, to five-star dining, spa treatments and as its website notes, "great white tents with their fluffy duvets and antiques."
The all-inclusive, summer-only luxury resort isn’t just about pampering guests and offering great adventures in a pristine landscape—it's also playing an important role in the region’s sustainability and environmental stewardship. The resort has invested in the protection of the area's wild salmon, working with the nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy, based in neighboring Washington state, to protect the fish stocks against the threats of overfishing and climate change.
Clayoquot has also partnered with the Ahousaht First Nation to restore indigenous land, share the Ahousaht’s cultural legacy with visitors and build relationships that foster economic development within the local community.
The late Canadian artist and writer Emily Carr, who found creative inspiration in the indigenous people who lived along the Pacific Northwest coast, said, "It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw." Clayoquot offers that raw grandeur—just with fluffy duvets.
3. Sian Ka'an (Tulum, Mexico)
Located on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Sian Ka’an is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. The reserve is so pristine and biodiverse that, in 1986, it was designated Biosphere Reserve. And the following year, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which works with nations to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage. Sian Ka'an is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
There’s no shortage of eco-friendly activities here, from exploring Mayan ruins to diving in the deep cenotes (crystalline pools of freshwater connected by an intricate network of underground rivers) or simply enjoying the gorgeous white sand beaches and swimming in the Caribbean. You’d never guess that just two and half hours north is Cancun, a hyper-touristic spot that has been overrun by college students on spring break.
Sian Ka'an is committed to protecting its fragile ecosystem—and its esteemed World Heritage Site status. As it says on its website, "Sian Ka'an is one of the most spectacular and ecologically diverse places on Earth—and we want to keep it that way."
4. Nurture Through Nature (Denmark, Maine)
Located deep in the rugged heart of western Maine’s Lakes and Mountains region, Nurture Through Nature is the state's first green-certified, Earth-friendly retreat center and has been providing individuals, couples and groups an environmentally conscious getaway since 1999.
Visitors can explore the retreat's 33 forested acres nestled along the lower slopes of Pleasant Mountain along a maze of private hiking trails that lead to a spring-fed mountain brook and sweeping views of Mount Washington and the White Mountains. This is an ideal place to reconnect with nature.
Nurture Through Nature’s stated mission is to "offer a healing, Earth-friendly retreat space for reflection, contemplation and connection with your true self and the living Earth.” That connection is encouraged by yoga classes, guided meditation, a private sauna, massage therapy, healing arts classes and holistic life coaching—all within a green-certified off-the-grid getaway that uses solar power, compost, renewable heat sources and non-toxic cleaning products.
With 1.3 million residents, Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. And as far as states go, it's not that popular of a tourist destination, ranking 44th in a 2014 survey conducted by HotelsCombined, a hotel booking site. Still, for a state with a GDP at around $54 billion, tourism fuels a tenth of the economy, providing more than 94,000 jobs—about 14 percent of the state’s total employment. "Given that Maine’s economy pivots on 22 million tourists who spend as much as $6 billion a year, the state’s challenge is to balance one of its main sources of income with the preservation of its ecosystem," writes Kay Tang in USA Today. "Ecotourism could be Maine’s win-win solution to this dilemma."
5. The Stanford Inn by the Sea (Mendocino, California)
For many years, Mendocino County, located on California's north coast, has lured visitors to its lush redwood forests, breathtaking coastline and vineyards famous for producing some of the nation's best wine. That it has also become a top destination for travelers interested in environmentalism and sustainability is no surprise: In the 1970s, the county was a hippie magnet, attracting free spirits seeking independence, experimentation, communal living and a direct connection with nature.
Today, in the face of industrial logging, large-scale agriculture and urbanization—and a surging population that is expected to double by 2050—it's a challenge for the county to maintain its sustainable roots. One oasis from the area’s rapid growth is the Stanford Inn by the Sea, a pet-friendly eco-resort situated on Mendocino's coast that opened its doors to eco-conscious travelers more than three decades ago.
Guests can take advantage of a wide range of therapeutic, eco-friendly activities, from canoeing and biking to enjoying the cuisine of The Ravens, the inn’s vegan restaurant featuring local and organic food, including produce from the Stanford Inn’s own California-certified organic farm and wine from certified organic vineyards.
The inn also hosts wellness retreats, bringing in nutritionists, vegan chefs and health coaches to teach guests about healthy living. “Moving here in 1980, we were changed by the creative and healing energies of the land,” say founders Joan and Jeff Stanford, on their website. "The inn manifests our commitment to live mindfully so that all might live well."
6. Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, New York)
Since 1977, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies has been on a mission to "provide hope and healing for individuals and society through innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human spirit."
Famous for its yoga and meditation retreats—as well as workshops covering everything from creativity and mindfulness to sexuality and life coach certification—Omega Institute is dedicated to healthy, green living and sustainable lifestyles.
Spread across nearly 200 acres in the quiet town of Rhinebeck in upstate New York, Omega has a dining hall, café, bookstore, meditation hall and the Ram Dass Library, named after the famed spiritual teacher and author of the seminal 1971 book Be Here Now, who Omega notes has served as one of their “trusted guides.” The campus also includes the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, a solar-powered education center and water reclamation facility.
On its website, Omega calls itself “the nation's foremost educational retreat center.” Considering its history, as well as its growing list of of A-list speakers—which includes Al Gore, Maya Angelou, Jane Goodall and Thich Nhat Hanh, among many others—it’s a claim they have little problem backing up.
7. Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (Teton Village, Wyoming)
Nestled between the Teton Mountain Range and the Gros Ventre Range in Wyoming, Jackson Hole is a low-lying valley that was settled in the late 1800s by Native Americans, fur trappers and homesteaders. Later, dude ranches sparked tourism to the region. Today, ecotourism is taking hold. Eco-Tour Adventures offers wildlife tours in Grand Teton committed to the Leave No Trace ethic. The Grand Teton Lodge Company, an authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service, buys wind credits to offset its energy use and diverts half of its waste—including food waste, aluminum cans and even horse manure—into reuse and recycling.
One hotel that gets high marks on its eco-scorecard is Hotel Terra Jackson Hole in Teton Village, located at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
And while the first LEED-certified hotel in Wyoming gets the big things right—like offsetting energy use by purchasing solar, hydro and wind power and using native landscaping that needs no irrigation—Terra also considers the small things: its hot tubs use a natural substitute for chlorine, while every bathroom features countertops and soap dishes made of reclaimed glass and 100 percent organic linens.
Plus, what could feel better after a day hitting slopes and elk-watching than a detox organic blueberry body wrap in the hotel’s Chill Spa? It’s no wonder that last year, Gayot named Terra one of America's Top 10 Green Hotels.
8. Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge (Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska)
Located on a remote beach in Alaska's Kachemak Bay State Park, about 10 miles by boat from Homer (the "Bear Viewing Capital of the World"), Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge gives visitors a unique way to experience the wilderness lifestyle that only the Last Frontier state can offer.
Open year-round, Sadie Cove was transformed from a private home hand-built from driftwood into an eco-lodge in 1981, completely powered by hydro and wind power. With only five private guest cabins and accessible only by boat, helicopter or float plane, Sadie Cove gives new meaning to "getaway." As the owners Keith and Randi Iverson note on their website, “At Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge you can surround yourself in wilderness, not tourists.”
Hiking trails of Kachemak Bay State Park, kayaking, beach combing, clam-digging and fishing for salmon are some of the year-round activities for lodge guests. Bring your binoculars, because wildlife viewing here is a special treat, with whales, orcas, seals, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, moose and bears all making their home in the park's lush environs.
A National Historical Landmark known as much for its stunning granite facade as its beautiful interiors, Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee Hotel) is considered one of North America’s most distinctive luxury lodges. The site of the 123-room hotel was chosen for its stunning views of Glacier Point, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Completed in 1927 and designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Ahwanee is considered a masterpiece of "National Park Service rustic" (a.k.a "parkitecture"), a style of architecture developed in the first half of the 20th century through the National Park Service's efforts to create buildings that would exist in harmony with the natural environment.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel definitely takes advantage of its natural environment: One of the reasons the site was picked was to maximize sun exposure, which provides natural, fossil-free heating.
A member of the Green Hotels Association, Majestic Yosemite also participates in the GreenPath program, an environmental stewardship program ensuring that business decisions incorporate environmental considerations.
10. Jumbo Rocks Campground (Joshua Tree National Park, California)
This list has some pretty pricey eco-lodges that wouldn't look out of place on your bucket list. But it wouldn't be complete without a recommendation for roughing it in the great outdoors. And since we've covered Alaska—and you've either been to the Grand Canyon or it's already on your bucket list—Jumbo Rocks Campground in Southern California's mind-blowingly gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert gets the nod (not least because this pristine and primal landscape is less than a three-hour drive from Los Angeles).
Located near the aptly named Skull Rock by the park's western border, Jumbo Rocks features 124 campsites that include picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. Biking, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding are just some of the eco-friendly activities that will wear you out and get you ready for cowboy songs by the campfire, under the stars. Plus, there's a remarkable abundance of wildlife to watch (and avoid) in this dry place: bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes and black-tailed jackrabbits come out at night, while daytime widlife watchers can enjoy spotting birds, lizards and squirrels.
Reservations are not accepted, meaning it's first come, first served. And since it's pretty close to LA, you'll want to come early and preferably on a weekday to put up sticks before the weekenders arrive. Make a note that there's no potable water, so bring more than you think you'll need, especially if you're bringing your pet. And if you need camping essentials like a tent, sleeping bags, backpacks and hiking shoes, check out Inhabit's "Top Eco-Friendly Camping Gear for Conscientious Outdoor Enthusiasts."
No matter what your next travel destination is, getting there can be a big burden on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Consider more local and regional destinations that are accessible by bus or train. If you have to drive, use a fuel-efficient car, like a hybrid or an EV or find a carpool. And if you simply must fly, choose coach (yes, it's smaller, but less carbon-intensive than first or business class), select an efficient airline (check Atmosfair’s airline ranking) and consider reducing your air travel carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets, which are offered by most domestic airlines and many international carriers.
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"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal
This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.
Hard-Hit States Quickly Learned Value of Masks<p>As a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted mainly through droplets that leave the mouth and nose as a person talks, sneezes, coughs or exhales. It thrives in environments where there are lots of people in enclosed spaces – <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">especially if they are laughing, talking, singing</a> or otherwise coming into close contact. It thrives physically in the same settings where we thrive socially.</p><p>This is why the early hard-hit areas were able to crush the curve by closing businesses and implementing stay-at-home orders. Without significant close human interaction, the coronavirus couldn't spread.</p><p>While other states are now seeing hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, most of the Northeast is maintaining control of community spread as its economies reopen. The difference reflects, at least in part, each state's behavior expectations and the willingness of residents to keep up safety precautions like wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, maintaining social distance of at least six feet and staying isolated when they are ill or may have been exposed to the virus.</p>
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Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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