Q&A: America’s new COVID-19 rules for international travel


President Joe Biden waves as he walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to New York ahead of a United Nations General Assembly meeting. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Joe Biden waves as he walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to New York ahead of a United Nations General Assembly meeting. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

AP

The Biden administration is rolling out new international travel policies affecting Americans and noncitizens alike who want to fly into the U.S. The goal is to restore more normal air travel after 18 months of disruption caused by COVID-19.

The across-the-board rules, which will take effect in November, will replace a hodgepodge of confusioning restrictions. Some details of the plan announced Monday are being worked out, but here are some questions and answers about what to expect:

WHAT IS THE NEW POLICY IN A NUTSHELL?

All adult foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. will be required to be fully vaccinated before boarding their flight. This is in addition to the current requirement that travelers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to the U.S.

Once the vaccination requirement is put in place, the White House will ease all the country-specific restrictions on international travel that have prevented noncitizens who have been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa in the prior 14 days from entering the U.S.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT AMERICANS?

Fully vaccinated Americans will only need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to the U.S.

WHAT ABOUT UNVACCINATED AMERICANS?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are not fully vaccinated will still be able to fly to the U.S., but they will see tougher testing and contact tracing protocols. They will need to be tested within 24 hours of boarding a flight to the U.S., as well as undergo testing upon return to the country. It remains to be seen, though, how the federal government will enforce the testing requirement upon return.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT CHILDREN?

The new U.S. policy only requires adult foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated in order to enter the U.S. The White House did not immediately say whether unvaccinated children will face different testing protocols when flying into the country.

WHICH VACCINES ARE ACCEPTABLE?

The CDC says the U.S. will accept full vaccination of travelers with any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, including those from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson used in the U.S. Other vaccines are also approved by the WHO and used widely around the world, including from AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac, with varying degrees of effectiveness against COVID-19 and its more transmissible delta variant. The WHO is reviewing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine but hasn’t approved it.

HOW WILL THIS AFFECT AIR FARES?

Adit Damodaran, economist for the travel-research firm Hopper, predicted that growing demand is likely to cause higher airfares on flights from Europe, although the rush to book flights could be slowed by the delta variant and high COVID-19 rates in the U.S. If fares rise, it would mark a turnaround in prices since the start of the pandemic.

WILL AIRLINES COLLECT DATA ON PASSENGERS?

The CDC will require airlines to collect information about passengers and provide it to the health agency if it needs to conduct contact tracing. The airlines had resisted a similar change last year, when it was proposed by the CDC and eventually blocked by the Trump administration.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL OVER LAND BORDERS?

The administration’s restrictions on crossing land borders from Mexico and Canada into the U.S. are to remain unchanged for now. That means that in some cases fully vaccinated people from the two American neighbors will soon be able fly to the U.S., but may not be able to make the same journey by car.

HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY?

Analysts and industry officials think it will help. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said lifting the current restrictions on international travelers will contribute to a durable recovery for the U.S. economy. Before Monday, the U.S. was on pace to lose $175 billion in export income from international visitors this year, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

HOW HAVE THE CURRENT RESTRICTIONS AFFECTED INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL?

They have made it easier for Americans to visit Europe than the other way around. U.S. international travel in August was down 54% compared with two years ago, and arrivals by non-U.S. citizens were off 74%, according to Airlines for America.

HOW WILL THE CHANGES AFFECT BUSINESS TRAVEL?

There is pent-up demand among business travelers from Europe. Foreign executives who have been vaccinated will no longer have to prove that their travel to the United States serves the U.S. “national interest″ — a time-consuming process.





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Lesser-Known Areas In America’s National Parks


Every national park has its must-see areas. For Yosemite, it’s Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. For Yellowstone, it’s Old Faithful.

But if you’ve “been there and done that,” what else can you add to the trip to get a broader park experience? (Or at least claim bragging rights over others who’ve made a whirlwind tour but haven’t explored in depth.)

I compiled a list of the most popular national parks based on visitation. I limited it to NPS areas that have the “National Park” title. There are busier NPS areas that have been excluded because of this distinction, such as parkways, and recreation areas near urban areas. (Sorry, Blue Ridge Parkway, I still love you.)

I’m a retired park ranger, and, fortunately, work has taken me to many of the most popular national parks.  For this list, if I haven’t been there myself and needed a recommendation, I called co-workers who lived and worked in the park in question — including a couple of superintendents.

Also, I tried to pick lesser-known areas that don’t require an exceptional effort to access.

Cades Cove at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove (Dave Allen Photography / Shutterstock.com)

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On the must-see list of America’s most visited national park, is the winding Cades Cove loop drive.  It’s a magnificently serene green valley dotted with historic structures from the early 1800s — the heart and soul of the Smokies. The observation tower at Clingman’s Dome also has to be on the must-see list.

But once you’ve been there and done that, to broaden your visit, consider a trip to Cosby.

The Cosby area has everything you’d expect from a park experience, with fewer people. There’s a campground, a picnic area, and a choice of hiking trails from easy — to really, really strenuous. 

My other alternative may not be for everyone, but if you’re a boater, it’s for you: Fontana Lake. Rent a boat or bring your own. There’s fishing, water play, of course, or just use the lake to access remote areas of the park.   

A lot of people will visit the Smokies, but not a lot of them will do it by boat.

Trout Lake at Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake (Martina Sliger / Shutterstock.com)

2. Yellowstone National Park

So you’ve seen Old Faithful, walked the boardwalks through thermal features, driven both rims of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. What next?

Let’s try a lake. Not the popular Yellowstone Lake, or even Shoshone Lake, which is somewhat off the beaten path.

 My ultimate recommendation for a lesser-known area is to take the hike to Trout Lake.

To get there, you need to head to the lesser-traveled northeast area of the park.

The Trout Lake trail is a 1.2-mile lollipop loop, with a climb of only 150 feet through patches of Douglas fir and meadows. It should take you about 1 or 2 hours. Most of the climb is at the beginning, so don’t let it discourage you. This isn’t a sidewalk-like trail; there are lots of rocks and roots, so watch your step.

 The water is crystal clear, and wildlife, including otters, is abundant. It’s a great hike for a sunny day.

It’s Yellowstone. There could be bears. So follow park guidance for hiking in bear country. You may see some other people if you’re on the trail midday, but if you’re early, the lake just might be all yours.

It’s a gorgeous, little-visited lake with easy access in a lesser-visited area of the park.

Yes, there are lots and lots of places you can go to get further away from it all, but most of them will require more effort. Trout Lake makes solitude in Yellowstone achievable without the need for a backpack.

Taylor Creek in Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park
Taylor Creek (Layne V. Naylor / Shutterstock.com)

3. Zion National Park

If you go to Zion, Zion Canyon is the place to see. There are some trademark hikes: Angels Landing and The Narrows. But if you’re looking for a Zion experience that most others won’t have, make a trip to the Kolob Canyons section of the park off Interstate 15.

In Kolob Canyons, the Taylor Creek trail is one of the simplest and less traveled trails in the park. It’s in a valley with trees, so there’s shade in summer. It’s in the lowest area of the park, so it’s good hiking in most of winter. You hike up the trail next to and crossing the small creek. You turn around and hike back down, so you’re not going to get lost. What is required is good footwear and the ability to step on rocks to cross the shallow creek. I took our four-year-old on this trail several times.

A highlight of the hike is the Larson Cabin built in 1930 and later the subject of a homestead dispute with the new national park. It looks quite disheveled, but believe it or not, it has had a bit of restoration work done by the park service.

It’s 5 miles round trip, so figure 4-5 hours.

View of the Grand Canyon from Hermit Road
View of the Grand Canyon from Hermit Road (freisein / Shutterstock.com)

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon Village on the bustling South Rim is the place most visitors go to get their Grand Canyon ticket punched. There are visitor centers, museums, lodges, gift shops, and (I almost forgot) spectacular views of the canyon itself. South Rim visitors wanting to see a bit more will traditionally make the drive to Desert View, but that’s not lesser-known enough.

Neither is the North Rim. It’s at a higher elevation so it’s cooler (but closed in winter), and because it’s a bit more remote, it’s also less crowded. But that’s too easy a pick.

If you’re really out to do the unconventional, take a trip on the West Rim drive, aka, Hermit Road. First, there are no private vehicles allowed, and that’s why it makes the list. If you brought your bike, this is the place to enjoy it. No bike? No problem. There’s a free shuttle bus. Along the drive, you can stop at a number of vistas and viewpoints. The end of the line is Hermit’s Rest, with restrooms, snack bar, and a gift shop.  

Pro Tip: To make your trip about as exclusive as it gets. Take a trip back in time. Reserve the Hull Cabin, a mile outside the park in a stand of ponderosa pines in the Kaibab National Forest.

The Hull Cabin was built in 1889. It’s the oldest surviving cabin on the South Rim, a former sheep ranch, and former ranger station. It’s primitive, so read about the very limited amenities before you book.

The cabin only sleeps up to six, is only available by reservation on recreation.gov, and only available in summer, and usually only on weekends. All these “onlys” mean that relatively few people on this planet will ever experience a night in the Hull Cabin.

Lake Ozette at Olympic National Park
Lake Ozette (Scott Biales DitchTheMap / Shutterstock.com)

5. Olympic National Park

Must-see areas of Olympic include incredible views from Hurricane Ridge, the deep, dark, verdant Hoh rainforest, and pristine Lake Crescent.

But where can you go to set your trip apart? Lake Ozette. It’s on the north end of the coastal strip of the park, a portion of the park that is itself set apart from the large blob you’ll see on the map. Most visitors won’t make it to the coast, but most of those that do will visit Rialto Beach and Mora. When you tell the ranger at Hurricane Ridge that you just came from Lake Ozette, he or she will know you’re serious about your Olympic visit.

There’s hiking around the lake, there’s hiking on the beach, there’s canoeing — but only if you’re experienced.

This is a fairly remote corner of the park in a place known for cool weather and storms, so you need to read the park’s safety messages, including food storage requirements for camping, cold water warnings for kayaking, and tide warnings for beach hiking. COVID has closed some trails in and around the Ozette Indian Reservation (subject to change, so check before you go and always respect closures.

Badger Pass at Yosemite National Park
Badger Pass (Vivian Fung / Shutterstock.com)

6. Yosemite National Park

To repeat myself, Yosemite Valley is the primary destination of visitors to the park. The Tioga Pass road is less visited, and I’d recommend it if you’ve never seen Yosemite’s high country.

However, if you really want to do something that most Yosemite visitors will never do, visit Badger Pass in winter, and either take a snowshoe hike or go skiing.

Yes, there’s a ski area in Yosemite: Badger Pass.

Badger Pass was promoted as a site for the 1932 winter Olympics (it lost out to Lake Placid, NY) and offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and equipment rentals for those in need. If you’re not into winter driving, bus transportation is available from Yosemite Valley. 

If you’re not experienced in snowshoe travel, that’s fine. Only go as far as you want, turn around, and take the early bus back. If you’re in excellent aerobic shape and have cross-country skied or snowshoed before, then make the 7-mile round trip to Dewey Point for an overview of Yosemite Valley. If that’s not you, just go a quarter-mile and turn back, sit in the lodge, enjoy some cocoa, and savor a Yosemite experience that few others will know.

Check out these other ranger insider tips about our national parks:



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How one of America’s coolest, most unlikely putting greens came to life


three oaks putting green

Weter’s Folly, as the green is known, is patterned on the Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews.

Journeyman Distillery

If you build it, they will putt.

The village of Three Oaks, Mich. (pop. 1,622), is a sleepy destination in the southwest corner of the state, two miles from the Indiana border. Its terrain is largely flat and fringed with cornfields.

Rollicking linksland it is not.

But in the heart of Three Oaks, in the shadow of a renovated factory building, lies a rumpled plot of ground that could pass for a rugged patch of Scotland.

In fact, the home of golf was its inspiration.

It’s a 30,000-square-foot putting green, patterned on the Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews. It is believed to be the largest public-access putting green in the U.S. unaffiliated with a course.

It is called Welter’s Folly, and though there’s nothing the slightest bit absurd about it, its namesake, Bill Welter, readily concedes that he’s a fool for golf.

The green sits behind an abandoned factory that Bill Welter converted into a whiskey distillery.

Journeyman Distillery

Welter grew up in Indiana, where he learned the game at a young age before going on to play it at Missouri State. A four-year letterman, he could get it around nicely, but not so nicely that he harbored any Tour ambitions. What he dreamed of was golf and a guaranteed paycheck, in that order. And so, after graduation in 2000, he landed a U.K. work visa and lit out for St. Andrews.

It was there, while washing dishes at the Old Course Hotel by night and playing the Old Course itself by day, that Welter befriended an Aussie named Greg Ramsay, a fellow pilgrim with golf dreams of his own: Ramsay’s goal was to get involved in course development, something he wound up accomplishing a few years later when a coastal site he’d identified in his native Tasmania was transformed into Barnbougle Dunes.

Bill Welter converted an old factory into a whiskey distillery.

Rhino Media

“Greg was an inspiration to me from the beginning,” Welter says. “I like to think I followed in his footsteps, at least in my own small way.”

In 2001, Welter returned to Indiana, where he took a job at the small community bank that his family owned. When his family sold the bank, Welter went looking for something else to do.

What he did, in partnership with his father, was buy an abandoned factory in Three Oaks. The factory had a rich history; it was once used to make corsets and buggy whips.

Not anymore. Today, it produces whiskey and other spirits.

In 2011, Welter turned the old building into Journeyman Distillery.

One night, over drams of whiskey, Welter and Haltom got to talking. Over whiskey, a lot of things seem possible.

Whiskey was something Welter had fallen for in Scotland. But golf remained his first love, and the distillery had some extra acreage on it, and … you can probably see where this is headed.

As it happened, Welter had another golf-obsessed buddy, a friend from high school named Craig Haltom who’d gone on to a career as a course architect, shaper and construction manager. If you’ve been to Sand Valley, the Bandon Dunes of Wisconsin, you might recall that the hangout at the turn is called Craig’s Porch. As in, Craig Haltom, who discovered the land where Sand Valley sits.

One night, over drams of whiskey, Welter and Haltom got to talking. Over whiskey, a lot of things seem possible. Welter and Haltom asked themselves a question: Why not build a putting green at Journeyman, a community draw and distillery addition that would be made available to kids for free?

And so they did.

Welter’s Folly was completed in 2107. Its name is a cap-tip to the hotelier George Crump, whose dream project, Pine Valley, was referred to in its early goings as “Crump’s Folly.”

Welter’s Folly is free for children 12 and under. Adults can use the green all day for $9.

Journeyman Distillery

Like Pine Valley, Welter’s Folly turned out just fine.

Though it is smaller than the Himalayas, its contours mirror those of the famed St. Andrews venue. It is wild and buckled and tons of fun.

“It’s my own modest contribution to the remote golf trend,” Welter says.

Where Barnbougle Dunes and Sand Valley attract golf fiends from around the globe, the lure of Welter’s Folly is largely local, a magnet for Three Oaks residents of all ages. Shots for the adults. Putts for the kids and anyone who wants them.

For children 12 and under, Welter’s Folly remains free. For $9, grownups can use the green all day.

On most any given evening when the weather’s good, Welter’s Folly is the site of friendly putt-offs. This fall, it will stage a more serious contest: the Best Putter in the World Competition, a name that, unlike Welter’s Folly, might be slightly grandiose.

“If we were offering a million-dollar first prize, we’d probably get people from all over,” Welter says. “But I’m thinking we’re going to over quite a bit less.”

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Golf.com

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.



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5 Favorite Dog-Friendly VRBO’s In Tucson, AZ, America’s Most Dog-Welcoming City


Worried about leaving your pet behind when you go on vacation? Pets are a member of the family after all, leaving them behind doesn’t always seem fair. Don’t leave him or her at the kennel on your next vacation—take them along with you on a pet-friendly getaway with VRBO!

When you rent with VRBO, you can find a vacation home rental perfect for humans and pets! Why not look for a rental home in one of America’s most dog-friendly cities — Tucson, Arizona? With over 250 dog-friendly restaurants, plenty of dog parks, and even some dog-friendly shopping centers, you can explore the city with your pet by your side. Pack some treats in your suitcase and let VRBO help you plan a pet-friendly vacation you and your furry BFF will remember forever!

Quailette – Cozy Studio With Outdoor Space For Small Dogs

VRBO

This cozy and stylish rental offers a unique feature for a small space– a fenced-in backyard! If you’re looking for something to do with your dog, then take them to The Tucson Botanical Gardens. Located only 2 miles away from the rental, you’ll be happy to know that dogs are allowed entry in the Gardens all summer long with a $3 admission fee. The staff even provide water bowls and clean-up stations throughout the Gardens to help keep your visit stress-free! When you’re done exploring the Gardens, come back to your home away from home and relax in the comfy queen-size bed and watch some TV while your pet explores the backyard

Unique Retreat –  Remote Feeling Airstream

VRBO

Love RVing but hate the towing? Located in the Catalina Foothills, this 2006 Airstream Safari trailer offers beautiful views of the desert in every direction. Spending your days relaxing in an Airstream is truly a one-of-a-kind experience! The unique Airstream features skylights and lots of windows, a retractable awning for shade over the wood deck, a beautiful granite patio with an outdoor dining area, and a private sunset deck overlooking desert wildlife and twinkling city lights. With hiking trails just up the road and plenty of parks surrounding the property, nature-loving dog owners will enjoy everything this rental has to offer.

Desert Living at No Pants Ranch

VRBO

The hosts of this beautiful property boast that this home “invites a leisurely attitude towards such modern worries as pants”, hence the name “No Pants Ranch”. This colorful, two-story octagonal home is perfect for an adventurous family or travelers who want some privacy while being surrounded by stunning views and architecture. The cathedral ceiling with skylights provides refreshing natural light throughout the day and breathtaking views of the stars at night. Outdoors, the rental is encircled by a covered wrap-around porch, so you and your dog can lounge in the shade or the sun anytime. Make sure to keep your dog on a leash when outside though, there are plenty of desert wildlife that might pay you a visit!

Luxurious Mansion With 360 Views

VRBO

This is the perfect home away from home for either a large family or groups of friends vacationing together. You can spend your days cooling off in the beautiful and extravagant pool. The main yard area of the home is fenced in, so you can let your pup explore and do any doggie-doos while you relax and enjoy the sunset by the outdoor fire pit. Despite its private location, this home is just a few miles north of some fantastic dog-friendly restaurants! You can find some good eats with your dog at places like Le Buzz, a hip café with a continental vibe, or Taco Giro, a Mexican restaurant that provides delicious, authentic Mexican food. 

Wild West Cottage, Perfect For Winter Travel 

VRBO

Want to make like a snowbird and enjoy the warmth of Tuscon during the colder months? Originally built as a small winter cottage for a family from Connecticut, this Pueblo revival home is made from stabilized Adobe with walls that are more than two feet thick to keep out the desert heat and cold. Guests who stay at this home can have full access to the Starr Pass Golf Club and Resort which features beautiful pools including a lazy river. Just a few miles north of the property, La Encantada Shopping Center has plenty of shops for you and your pet to enjoy together!



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How Crowded Are America’s National Parks? See for Yourself.


Largely freed from domestic travel restrictions, Americans have been flocking to national parks in record numbers this spring and summer. Several parks — including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park — have already set monthly visitation records. Many sites are gearing up for their busiest years in history.

And so, in place of serenity, many visitors have instead found packed parking lots, congested trailheads, overrun campsites and interminable lines.

Hikers at Zion National Park, in Utah, have faced wait times of four hours to access certain trails. Visitors to Arches National Park, in the same state, are being turned away at the gate — “The park is currently full,” the Parks Service’s Twitter feed routinely announces — and asked to return at a later time.

To capture the crowds over the Fourth of July weekend, we sent photographers to four parks: Acadia National Park in Maine; Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; Joshua Tree National Park in California; and Yellowstone National Park, largely in Wyoming.

Here’s what they saw.


Maine • Visitors in 2020: 2.7 Million

With its panoramic vistas, Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain, above, is popular among visitors as a prime spot to watch the sunrise. On this July morning, the 4:53 a.m. timing did not deter the crowds.

To reduce overcrowding and protect the natural resources on the summit, the park instituted a reservation system between May 26 and Oct. 19 for all vehicles heading up to the mountain. The limitations have helped keep congestion somewhat in check, and have reduced illegal parking beyond the site’s 150 parking spots.

Jordan Pond, which overlooks the twin mountain peaks known as the Bubbles (North Bubble and South Bubble), serves as a launching point for hikers and bikers. Many visitors, however, just come for a brief glance — and, of course, for the renowned popovers served at Jordan Pond House.

Visitation numbers at Acadia have increased around 60 percent in the past decade. To limit traffic, the park actively encourages visitors to use alternative methods of transportation, including bicycles and the free Island Explorer bus.

The stretch of the 27-mile Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Otter Cliff — seen in the background, above — is one of the most heavily trafficked areas in Acadia National Park. Visitors park in small lots or along the roadway and walk to attractions like Thunder Hole, shown below.

There, under the right tidal conditions, waves crashing through a crevice and into a small cave can produce a thunderous sound and a dramatic spray of water — much to the delight, on July 5, of those on the heavily trafficked walkway.


Arizona • Visitors in 2020: 2.9 million

Cars lined up in the early-morning hours at the South Rim entrance of the Grand Canyon, above, one of the park’s three gated entrances.

By late morning, the wait to enter the park was about 30 minutes — and growing.

Grand Canyon National Park, which encompasses some of America’s most iconic scenery, is perennially among the list of the country’s most-visited national parks. In 2020 it drew 2.9 million visitors, down from 5.97 million in 2019.

Mather Point, seen above, offers many visitors their first view of the canyon — despite the crowded platform.

Masks are also required for unvaccinated visitors inside shared spaces, as well as outside in places where six feet of distance cannot be maintained from those outside one’s household.


California • Visitors in 2020: 2.4 million

Keys View, above, is a popular destination at sunset. On July 3, visitors spilled beyond the walkway to take in the breathtaking views of the San Andreas Fault, Mount San Jacinto, Mount San Gorgonio and the Salton Sea.

Hikers on the Hidden Valley trail, above, made their way along a one-mile loop that winds among massive boulders, through what is rumored to have been a cattle rustler’s hide-out.

After setting new attendance records each year between 2014 and 2019, visitation numbers at Joshua Tree dropped significantly last year, in part because of temporary closures in March, April and May. Still, the park drew 2.4 million visitors in 2020 and was No. 10 on the list of the country’s most-visited national parks.

Skull Rock is a granite rock formation with two depressions that resemble hollowed-out eye sockets. Its easy access — the site is just off the park’s main road — helps make it a heavily trafficked landmark.

The crowds here were not overwhelming, though visitors had to wait to take photographs, as seen above.


Wyoming, Montana, Idaho • Visitors in 2020: 3.8 million

Above, visitors await the eruption of Old Faithful, one of the park’s biggest draws, on July 6.

Yellowstone set visitation records this May, hosting 483,159 visitors, an 11 percent increase compared to May of 2019. (The park was closed for much of May last year.)

At Midway Geyser Basin, above, the last of the evening’s visitors walk on a crowded boardwalk next to the Grand Prismatic Spring.

June, July and August are typically the busiest months at Yellowstone.

Above, patriotically dressed visitors near Old Faithful.

The area around the geyser was most congested immediately after the eruption, as people departed the viewing platform. Then, the crowds were reminiscent of those at Disneyland.

Above, a crowded boardwalk that leads to Grand Prismatic Spring.

Within the park, the lines at places like the cafeteria and the visitor center were not very long, since the park staff was effectively shepherding the crowds.


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11 Alternatives To America’s Crowded National Parks


After being stuck at home for the past year, many Americans are craving the great outdoors. As a result, the country’s most popular national parks—from Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Canyon—are being deluged. According to the National Parks Service, 2021 is expected to break all kinds of records. “So far, in 2021, we have set monthly visitation records January through May,” a park ranger with Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park told NBC.

In fact, some parks are so crowded right now that they’re closing, turning away visitors or going to a lottery system where people have to compete to win a chance to enter. And if you haven’t already booked something? You might be out of luck. NPR recently reported that all the camping and lodging sites near Yellowstone are sold out; you’ll need to travel hours away to find a place to stay.

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But don’t despair if you want to get a breath of fresh air this summer. From lesser known parks to natural areas, there are some great alternatives across the country where you can get away from the crowds and find that much-needed serenity you’ve been craving. Check out these 11 great escapes.

Gates of the Arctic, Alaska

The Body Shop recently did a study of the best places to escape into nature by analyzing air quality, outdoor activities and green spaces. The state that come out on top: Alaska, which has over three million square feet of national and state parks, plus plenty of space to avoid the masses. Where to go in the Last Frontier? Check out Gates of the Arctic, which is the least visited national park in the country, attracting just 2,872 people annually. (Compare that to the most-visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, which welcomed more than 12 million people last year.) Gates of the Arctic is so remote, so natural that it doesn’t have any roads or trails.

Mendocino, California

Looking for an ideal escape to unplug and recharge in California? About two hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino County is known for its wine, waves and wilderness. From vintage lodges to classic cabins and plow-for-chow farms, Mendocino County is a safe haven for people who want to seek a reboot with Mother Nature. Think ancient redwoods, meandering streams, lambs, chickens and llamas. You’ll find 90 miles of Pacific coastline, 24 state and national parks and a wealth of off-the-grid getaway options like the Andiron Seaside inn & Cabins, which is set on five acres of meadows and woods. The 11 classic cabins have names like Nature and Nurture. Our favorite: Curious (Cabin #11), which is equipped with old telescopes, guides to the night sky, science kits and even a bird whistle.

Colorado National Monument at Rattlesnake Canyon, Colorado

In Grand Junction, Colorado, you’ll find two excellent alternatives to the national parks: Colorado National Monument (which is often called the state’s secret national park) and Rattlesnake Canyon. At Colorado National Monument—which is more than just a monument—you can check out red rock canyons, explore the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive and spy bighorn sheep and soaring eagles. Over at Rattlesnake Canyon, there are spectacular arches that are accessible only by a rough drive on a 4×4 track or a 15-mile round-trip trek from a trailhead west of Grand Junction. Travelers willing to make the journey are rewarded with one of Colorado’s most remarkable landscapes.

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Allegany County, Maryland

A lot of people don’t realize that the state of Maryland has a mountain side—and it’s called Allegany County. This outdoorsy region is about a two-hour drive west from Washington, D.C. or Baltimore. Out here, one in every four acres is public land just waiting to be explored. That makes “The Mountain Side of Maryland” a hiker’s and biker’s paradise. It’s home to a state forest, three state parks and one national park. This year the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is celebrating its 50th anniversary as part of the National Park Service. It’s one of the most visited national parks in the country, but you’d never know it. The park is actually a 184.5-mile towpath that follows the course of the Potomac River, starting in D.C. and ending in Allegany County. There’s always plenty of space for the hikers and bikers who travel the path to spread out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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Branson, Missouri

What drew the first visitors to Branson, Missouri more than 100 years ago was the wide open beauty of the Ozark Mountains. And that’s still a major part of the draw. Around here, even the town’s famed live entertainment takes place in nature’s arena. Though this destination has a reputation for unbeatable amounts of family fun, the mountains continue to provide a stunning backdrop for all the action. Outdoor adventure takes on a whole new meaning here, from ziplines with mountain views to Silver Dollar City theme park, which was literally built right into the Ozarks. In recent years, Branson has also earned itself a reputation among golfers, thanks to courses whose designs echo the magnificence of their mountain surroundings.

Cooperstown, New York

Instead of checking out a national park this summer, head to Cooperstown, New York, known as “America’s Most Perfect Village.” Cooperstown combines the best of all worlds, including nature and America’s favorite sport: baseball. Cooperstown is famously home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. It’s also known for Glimmerglass State Park, where you can go camping, fishing, biking, hiking and swimming on Otsego Lake. For amazing lake views, check out the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which has golf, paddle boarding, kayaking and more. 

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South County, Rhode Island

Another place to enjoy the great outdoors: South County, the southernmost part of Rhode Island. The area encompasses 11 towns, 100 miles of coastline and endless hiking and biking trails that lead to lush forests and wildlife preserves. You’ll find plenty of wide-open spaces and myriad chances for adventure, including hiking, fly-fishing, zip-lining, golf and more. The place to stay is the Preserve Sporting Club, which is spread across 3,500 acres and perfect for social distancing. Guests stay in free-standing cabins and can have a lovely packed picnic or a meal in an adorable hobbit house.

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Oconee, South Carolina

The Oconee region of South Carolina is a great uncrowded escape within the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Oconee” is a Cherokee word meaning “land beside the water,” and there’s plenty of that here. The region is home to 29 waterfalls, which can be accessed via hiking trails or by boat. Two state parks, Oconee and Devils Fork, offer stunning wide-open spaces. In Devils Fork, book a boat tour with Jocassee Lake Tours, who will get you right up close with many waterfalls. For a more dramatic water adventure, try rafting on the Chattooga River, one of just five federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the United States.

Winchester, Virginia

As an alternative to Shenandoah National Park, veer slightly north and end up in Winchester, Virginia, located at the uppermost tip of the Shenandoah Valley. It lives up to its nickname, “Uncommon to the Core,” a reference to both the region’s history of growing apples and the diversity of ideas, beliefs and backgrounds you’ll find here. Winchester is home to roadside markets, mom-and-pop shops and total serenity all within a short drive of major cities like Washington D.C., Baltimore and Charlotte. Highlights include family-run farms and wineries, outdoor pursuits from fishing to hiking to horseback riding, historic sites such as George Washington’s Office Museum, an Old Town with charming pedestrian mall and even a classic drive-in movie theater.

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Seattle NorthCountry, Washington

Here’s another way to escape the crowds: Head to Seattle NorthCountry. This 2,200-square-mile destination stretches from the peaks of the Cascade Mountains to the shores of Puget Sound. You can hike, kayak, raft or fish, then go whale watching, paddle boarding or stroll along secluded beaches. Take a scenic drive along the 95-mile Mountain Loop Highway, which follows a path carved by glaciers and rivers, passing through small towns like Granite Falls and Darrington. Best of all, Seattle NorthCountry is easy to access. You can fly directly into Everett’s Paine Field, which was just named one of the top 10 small airports in the country.

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Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

It’s the next best thing to Switzerland in the U.S: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Just like its namesake in Europe, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a gorgeous lake, from boat rentals to paddle boarding. You can also hike countless trails, head out on ziplining adventures and go hot air ballooning. One of the best places to stay is Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, which was named one of the top 10 resort hotels in the Midwest in Travel + Leisure’s 2020 World’s Best Awards. The hotel has championship golf courses, hiking, horseback riding and even scooters for rent, so that you can zip around the rustic roads and enjoy the great outdoors.

READ MORE:

• Ranked: The 10 Best Beaches In America, According To Dr. Beach

• Quit Your Job And Move To An Island: 15 Places So Cheap You Might Not Have To Work

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The pandemic gutted Latin America’s middle class. One man in Colombia is trying to claw back.


CARTAGENA, Colombia — Marlon Mendoza, Certified Cartagena Tour Guide, stopped in the shade of a Spanish-colonial balcony and scanned the old slave market for prospects.

“#Localcartagenatours. Nobody Does It Better Than the Locals,” the T-shirt on his back promised, although there were hardly any tourists left to look. Hundreds of miles away, American beach towns, chock-full of vaccines, were back in business. But here, the pandemic was only getting worse, evaporating the seas of sightseers in the bougainvillea-lined streets of Old Town.

The stocky 36-year-old sized up the slim pickings and zeroed in on a pale European couple.

He hesitated. He is a Black Colombian, and his market was African Americans. They’d filled his Afro-centric tours exposing the heroes of Colombia’s showcase city as slavers. But that was before the pandemic punched a hole in the developing world’s middle class, sending millions careening back down the social ladders they’d spent lifetimes climbing up.

If history were any guide, it would take a Black man in Latin America far longer to recover. And Mendoza was down deep. In the 15 months since Colombia’s first coronavirus case, he’d been evicted from his office and pulled his 7-year-old out of private school. He’d moved his family out of the city and back to the dirt-road village of his birth.

The rent was due in five days and he was still short $60. A day’s worth of tips before, a king’s ransom today.

Business card out, he approached the Europeans.

“It’s cool. I’m a winner, a builder, a creator,” he said, flashing a broad smile. “Better to laugh than cry. It gets you more clients.”

Only local people are seen on the busiest streets of Cartagena on May 20. Tourism is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post

Mendoza shows cards he had printed for his business, El Pescador de Barú, in his home village of Puerto Rey, Colombia, this month. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

A group of African American women hired Mendoza as a tour guide to one of the Rosario Islands, near Cartagena, on May 21. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

TOP: Only local people are seen on the busiest streets of Cartagena on May 20. Tourism is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post BOTTOM LEFT: Mendoza shows cards he had printed for his business, El Pescador de Barú, in his home village of Puerto Rey, Colombia, this month. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post) BOTTOM RIGHT: A group of African American women hired Mendoza as a tour guide to one of the Rosario Islands, near Cartagena, on May 21. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

The pandemic has pushed tens of millions of people worldwide into poverty. Fears are growing that worsening inequality — both within nations and between them — could be one of its longest-lasting effects.

“It will take years to reverse,” World Bank President David Malpass said.

Take Latin America, the region that has sustained the world’s sharpest economic blow.

In the past two decades, the number of people living in poverty in Latin America was almost halved. The commodities boom in the 2000s generated jobs in mining, oil and agriculture. But the middle class — a relative term, for people earning $13 to $70 a day — was still populated largely by the ranks of the self-employed, including small entrepreneurs and informal workers.

They were grocers, jewelers, street vendors and tour operators. Recent years of economic stagnation imperiled those gains, but they more or less held on. So much so that two years before the pandemic struck, one of the world’s most unequal regions achieved a milestone: For the first time in history, the middle class became its single largest income group.

For millions, the moment would prove fleeting. Factoring out Brazil, where temporary government aid skewed regional numbers, 12 million Latin Americans tumbled out of the middle class last year, knocking the region from its perch as a middle-class society, according to a World Bank study to be published next month.

The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the region’s lauded poverty-busting years. There is a continuing dearth of formal, salaried jobs. Wealth inequality persists, and tax laws still shield the rich. Safety-net programs remain limited, particularly for the middle class.

Some countries are already seeing stark inequality worsen because of the pandemic. And marginalized groups — people of color, women, lower-skilled workers — face some of the steepest roads to recovery.

Colombia, the world’s 13th-most unequal nation before the pandemic struck, offers a snapshot.

In a country of 50 million, the poorest fifth of the population lost 24.6 percent of their incomes, while the middle shed 15.6 percent. The richest lost a relatively light 10.1 percent.

Roughly 1.6 million Colombians fell out of the middle class. One was Mendoza.

“I feel like I’m starting from zero,” he said.

Colombia’s 4.7 million Blacks, already statistically poorer than the average Colombian, witnessed the steepest drops in labor income of any ethnic group in the second half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, according to Colombian government data. The pandemic’s punch stirred many to action. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest rising poverty and inequality. The protesters have disproportionately been people of color.

As the demonstrations rage on, dozens have died, with officials confirming at least three more deaths in the hard-hit city of Cali on Friday, the one month anniversary of the protests. That same day, President Iván Duque announced a “maximum deployment of military” to Cali, a move that could tip Colombia into broader violence and serve as a harbinger of social unrest in other nations where the seemingly endless pandemic is deepening economic despair.

The United States, with its vaccine abundance, is closing in on a full recovery. But in parts of the developing world plagued with vaccine shortages, the pandemic remains at or near its peak, with lockdowns and curfews still a way of life. Once the outbreak releases its grip on places like Colombia — still months away, at the earliest — the middle class, analysts say, should be poised for a rapid recovery.

But by then, many, like Mendoza, will have burned through life savings, accumulated more debt and lost professional momentum. Their children will have fallen behind in their educations. For those who have sunk back to the bottom, poverty feels like an inescapable chain. It takes a person born poor in Colombia on average 11 generations to break out.

For Afro-Colombians, facing systemic racism and less access to education, health care and the Internet, the chain feels even stronger.

“We’ve lost about a decade on average in terms of poverty gains as a country,” said Roberto Angulo, an analyst and adviser on poverty to the Colombian government. “But the Black population is going to lose even more than a decade, and be even more poor than before.”

‘I don’t sit and cry’

His professional name was the Fisherman of Barú, a nod to a lifetime spent by the sea. Mendoza’s wife liked to joke that he couldn’t cast a line to save his life. What he could do, she’d say with pride, was fish for opportunity.

One day this month he was pounding the cobblestones at noon but had struck out with everyone he’d pitched.

“Excuse me, would you like to know the real Cartagena?” he’d asked the Europeans, enunciating in hard-learned English.

They’d walked on as if he didn’t exist.

“It’s this,” he’d said, pointing to his ebony skin.

Multiple vendors, tour guides, palenqueras, bars and restaurants in Cartagena are still waiting for tourists to return. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

In Pasaje Badillo, a building in Cartagena’s historic center, Mendoza used to operate his tour-guide business. He was evicted from his office there and now is not allowed to enter the building. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

Mendoza holds a handicraft belonging to an artisan friend and remembers the time when he sold this kind of merchandise on the beach in Cartagena. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

TOP: Multiple vendors, tour guides, palenqueras, bars and restaurants in Cartagena are still waiting for tourists to return. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post) BOTTOM LEFT: In Pasaje Badillo, a building in Cartagena’s historic center, Mendoza used to operate his tour-guide business. He was evicted from his office there and now is not allowed to enter the building. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post) BOTTOM RIGHT: Mendoza holds a handicraft belonging to an artisan friend and remembers the time when he sold this kind of merchandise on the beach in Cartagena. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

He moved down Badilla Street now, commiserating with trinket vendors in a blur of bro hugs and fist bumps. Tourism in Cartagena had fallen 90 percent after the pandemic struck; it was still down by 70 percent. He breezed past vacant store fronts. More than 400 businesses in Cartagena had closed.

One of them was his.

A few months after tourism crashed, his landlord evicted him from his second-floor office in a mustard-colored colonial building. He’d proudly inaugurated it in 2017. He’d had two employees, now laid off.

“I still owe back pay,” he said.

He’d beaten the odds to get that far. The son of a security guard and a food worker, he was raised in a dirt-floor shack. Aa a child, he made a few pesos selling necklaces on the beach.

“My grandfather used to call me a marica” — a sissy — “for clinging to my books,” he said. But top marks, a tourism program and a scholarship at an English-language school had been his ticket out. Hotel concierges in Cartagena sometimes made him wait outside for his clients. They still did. “It’s because I’m black,” he said, and laughed. “But I pay no bother. I’m an optimist. I make things happen. I don’t sit and cry.”

By 2018, his website was bringing in business from black American clients for his trademark Afro-centric tours. He’d taken out a bank loan to build his dream: a bed-and-breakfast by the beach. He was clearing $1,600 a month, enough for a middle-class life. His wife made a few hundred more as a clerk in a hardware store. They’d show up in trash-strewn Puerto Rey, the village of his birth, brimming with gifts.

“They used to call me Santa Claus,” he said.

Now he’d lost his website, unable to pay the taxes on the domain. His motorbike was being held hostage by the $80 he owed the garage. The bank had called three times this week. He’d sent them to voice mail. “But it’s cool,” he said. His wife had lost her store clerk job in cutbacks, and he was pulling in scraps in Old Town Cartagena. But he’d rented a bar in Puerto Rey and had saved some cash by moving his family out of the city to a tiny apartment above the joint.

He’d buy beers in Cartagena on credit at 20 percent interest and jack up the price for sale in Puerto Rey. He cleared maybe $350 a month. When he fell short on rent, he’d pay what he could and put the rest on account. He’d take chances with small loans.

Hoping for a bigger payday, he’d hired a DJ for the upcoming Sunday.

“Now I’m poor again,” he said. “I’ve got to be creative. I’ve got to make it happen. Produce. Not for me — for my family.”

Slipping behind

Beyond the walled city, past rows of gleaming condos that seem transplanted from Miami Beach, the Italian-built highway becomes a potholed dirt road. Five miles out stands a cluster of ramshackle dwellings: Puerto Rey.

At a table in Mendoza’s small living room, his eldest son, Emmanuel Mendoza Gómez, 7, sat in a bright orange basketball shirt, cut denim shorts and dusty black crocs. He perched in a rocking chair, mouth agape, watching TV. It was small; not the 45-inch beauty he’d had back in Cartagena.

A year ago, Emmanuel would have been in class at his private school. It was too far now, and the $45 monthly tuition too much. Today, he had no classes and no homework. Public school teachers had been on strike for over a month. Even before then, the pandemic had closed the local school. They were paying a teacher’s aide in village to tutor him. But still he was slipping behind.

He pulled out an old assignment from his private school. He stumbled over the words as he tried to read.

In Colombia, literacy rates for Blacks are below the national average. That’s what worries his mother.

“He used to be able to read full sentences. Now he’s struggling just to read words,” Enger Carolina Gómez Rodríguez said, rocking her newborn in her arms. She couldn’t tend to the baby and teach Emmanuel. “We’re hoping to God he’s able to restart classes next year.”

In Puerto Rey, Emmanuel was bullied by village kids, who saw him as the “little rich boy.” Only he’s not rich anymore. He’d rather be back in Cartagena.

“I could play with my friends there,” he said. “It was good for us there.”

“I feel tired’

Mendoza’s 7-year-old son, Emmanuel Mendoza Gómez, looks out at the street from his home in Puerto Rey on May 23. (Photo by Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

Emmanuel studies at home May 21, with schools closed because of coronavirus restrictions. Lack of money forced his father to withdraw him from private school. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

Mendoza’s wife, Enger Carolina Gómez Rodríguez, who lost her job at a hardware store near the start of the pandemic, nurses her 4-month-old on May 23. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

TOP: Mendoza’s 7-year-old son, Emmanuel Mendoza Gómez, looks out at the street from his home in Puerto Rey on May 23. (Photo by Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post) BOTTOM LEFT: Emmanuel studies at home May 21, with schools closed because of coronavirus restrictions. Lack of money forced his father to withdraw him from private school. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post) BOTTOM RIGHT: Mendoza’s wife, Enger Carolina Gómez Rodríguez, who lost her job at a hardware store near the start of the pandemic, nurses her 4-month-old on May 23. (Fernanda Pineda for The Washington Post)

Mendoza walked the streets of Puerto Rey, drumming up business for his big beer party at El Tambo, the bar he was renting. He’d need an oversize payday to cover rent, food and the DJ. Because of coronavirus curfews, he’d opened early — at 10 a.m.

The day started slow, but as night began to fall, the bar was filling up. Then two cops arrived.

They produced his papers, but they ordered him to shut down early. One hour before curfew, his highest-volume hour.

An officer pulled him aside.

“Treat us right,” Mendoza said he’d been told.

They wanted their cut: 50,000 pesos, about $15.

He walked back toward the bar.

“I feel tired,” he said.

Ana Vanessa Herrero in Caracas, Venezuela, and Heloísa Traiano in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

Read more:

[Opinion: Colombia is fraying under the pressure of covid. Its neighbors could be next.]



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Travel news: England’s ‘oldest hotel’, America’s newest airline and cycling with Eddy Merckx


California A new airline is to begin flying on April 28, serving 11 destinations from Hollywood Burbank airport and with fares as low as $19. Avelo Airlines, founded by former United chief financial officer Andrew Levy, will only operate domestically, flying to smaller cities and to secondary airports near larger ones, such as Ogden-Hinckley near Salt Lake City and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway, south-east of Phoenix. It will launch with three Boeing 737-800s, with a high density 189-seat, single-class configuration, and plans to double its fleet by the end of the year. aveloair.com

Wiltshire The Old Bell in Malmesbury, which claims to be England’s oldest hotel, has been bought by a Texan hospitality company that promises a “refresh and restyle programme” for the property. The Grade 1-listed hotel traces its roots to 1220, when a hostelry was established beside Malmesbury Abbey. Guests have been welcomed there ever since, and there is a 13th-century stone fireplace in the brasserie, although the building has been altered and extended in subsequent centuries. The 34-bedroom hotel had been marketed by Knight Frank with a guide price of £3.75m and was bought by Kim and Whit Hanks, who run an events and wedding business and restaurant in Dripping Springs, Texas. The couple started visiting Malmesbury after Whit Hanks used an ancestry website to discover his forebears came from the town. “Whenever I landed in Malmesbury I felt this amazing sense of community and I thought, I could do business here,” said Kim Hanks in a video released via the hotel’s Facebook page. “I’m really looking forward to meeting the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker and seeing how we can work together.” oldbellhotel.co.uk

Belgian professional cyclist Eddy Merckx riding in the 1970s
Belgian professional cyclist Eddy Merckx riding in the 1970s © Alamy

Perthshire A new European cycling tour operator is offering long weekend trips that combine rides led by former professionals followed by meals cooked by star chefs. LeBlanq has been founded by Justin Clarke, an ex-professional who also set up the Taste of London festival, with former directeur sportif of Team Sky Sean Yates and Ashley Palmer-Watts, previously executive chef of The Fat Duck Group. Their first trip, to Perthshire in July, will be hosted by the six-time Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy. The second, to the French Champagne region in August will have food from Raymond Blanc, and the chance to ride alongside perhaps the most celebrated living cyclist, Eddy Merckx. Two-night trips cost from £1,895. leblanq.com

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America’s Most Beautiful National Parks, According to Photographer Chris Burkard




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‘America’s Most Wanted’ makes 1,187th capture after viewer tip


The Canadian Press

Australian envoy reportedly describes China as ‘vindictive’

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s ambassador to Beijing has reportedly described China as a “vindictive” and “unreliable” trading partner as Australian officials revealed steep declines in most exports to the nation’s most important market. Ambassador Graham Fletcher told a China-Australia business group in an online briefing from Beijing on Thursday he did not know if China was aware of the damage its trade practices were causing in Australia and internationally. “It’s been exposed as quite unreliable as a trading partner and even vindictive,” The Australian newspaper and Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday quoted Fletcher as saying. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not immediately comment on the accuracy of the media reports. A diplomatic rift between the free trade partners has worsened since Australia called for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. Australian exports of coal, wine, barley, cotton, lobsters and wood have either been blocked or severely disrupted, usually for unclear reasons. China is unlikely to disrupt trade in iron ore, Australia’s most lucrative export, while production in Australia’s main rival, Brazil, is compromised by the pandemic. Due to booming iron ore prices, Australian exports to China fell by only 2% in value in the last six months of 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier, foreign department officials told a Senate committee late Thursday. But with iron ore stripped out, Australian exports to China would have fallen by about 40%, department official Elly Lawson said. “We have seen quite significant drops in some commodities,” Lawson said. The officials did not place a dollar value on the exports. The pandemic had a negative impact on Australian exports, but exports had only declined by 22% to the rest of the world outside China, department economist Jennifer Gordon said. Forty ships carrying Australian coal remained stranded off the Chinese coast, some for “several months,” department secretary Frances Adamson said. Australian coal exports to India and Japan had “increased quite substantially,” limiting the fall in overall exports of coal — Australia’s second-most valuable commodity — to 8%, Gordon said. Trade Minister Dan Tehan wrote to his China’s new Commerce Minister Wang Wentao in January in a bid to establish lines of communication. But Wang had not responded, Lawson said. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s criticism, made in a speech in Brussels, of “China’s blatant economic coercion of Australia.” “We want to have a positive trading relationship with China and we’re obviously facing some difficult issues in that relationship and really appreciate the great support we’ve had from liberal democracies all around the world. None less so than the United States,” Morrison told reporters. “We’ve always been keen to work through these issues. But while we’re big on trade in Australia, we don’t trade away who we are and we don’t trade away our values: ever,” Morrison added. Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press



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