Wonderful places inspire and uplift the spirit… and remain etched on the memory for a lifetime.
I’d like to share 15 of my favourite landscapes with you… and I’d also love to hear about your special places…
Death Valley – California
This strange hot cauldron of a landscape with its rippling sand dunes, salt flats and heat haze grabs the visitor by the jugular and burns itself into your psyche.
Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest place on the planet, making it a landscape of extremes. Head to Furnace Creek to experience this first-hand. Temperatures often exceed 100 degrees but can also drop dramatically into the minus figures.
The weird flora and fauna also reflects the unusual climate including valley floor plants with roots that go down 10 times the height of a person. This is an amazing eco system which has succeeded in coping with everything nature can throw at it.
I was disappointed to miss seeing a desert tortoise but it was always unlikely as they live down burrows for most of the day.
Top tip: Expect excessive heat so dress to survive the extreme weather.
The Grand Canyon is king of the spectacular and awe-inspiring North American National Parks.
It’s hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the rock formations and the Colorado River snaking along the canyon’s valley bottom for mile upon mile.
Whether from the land, river or air the sheer scale of the landscape is guaranteed to make you swoon in awe and amazement.
When I stood on the edge of the canyon rim I was terrified. I remember craning my neck to see the sudden drop below whilst feeling extremely giddy and a little faint – but I couldn’t help leaning out a few inches further for a better view!
Top tip – Keep away from the edge if you suffer from vertigo! Thrill seekers can take a mule trip down to the bottom of the canyon or a helicopter ride for an aerial view. Those seeking solitude should head for the quieter but less accessible north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Utah is packed with spectacular scenery but Bryce Canyon scores highly for its orange-hued landscape covered by weathered sandstone rocks and strangely-shaped hoodoos which stretch as far as the eye can see.
The walking trails down through the hoodoos provide a genuine sense of the scale and power of this immense landscape.
Sunset Point provides great views across the horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre, spires, fins and slot canyons.
Early pioneers and settlers must have found this place both forbidding and awe-inspiring.
Top tip – Take one of the walks down through the hoodoos to get a true sense of place and space.
Wiltshire’s ‘green and pleasant land’
This gently rolling landscape epitomises the British countryside with its rolling chalk hills, postcard-perfect meadows and hedgerows. It’s the land that time almost forgot.
This lush landscape conjures images from William Blake’s Jerusalem with its “green and pleasant land” and echoes the pastoral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, who grew up in the West Country.
The white horse at Westbury lies on the side of a rounded hill which was once the site of an Iron Age fort.
Top tip – Climb to the top of the hill for panoramic views of the Wiltshire countryside. There’s a car park located at Bratton Downs off the B3098 in Wiltshire from which it’s a short walk to the top of the hill.
Columbia Ice Field – Canada
The majesty of Canada’s Rockies is hard to beat as a tourist destination but I’ve picked the Columbia Ice Field as my favourite landscape in this area of outstanding natural beauty.
As our glaciers continue to melt and retract, largely due to global warming, this feels like a landscape that might change and perhaps disappear one day. The weird moonscape of rocky moraines is evidence of the glacier’s continuing retreat over time.
Here’s an image of Tammy walking literally on thin ice at the Athabasca Glacier on a bus trip to the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.
Top tip – Book a big truck trip from the Icefield Visitor Centre on the main Icefields Parkway (at the edge of Banff and Jasper National Parks). Take a walk on the ice for a true feeling of exhilaration.
Solfatara – Italy
This wins the prize for the strangest landscape I’ve ever visited, partly because it’s a site of immense volcanic activity and volatility which changes by the hour.
Solfatara means ‘sulphur earth’ which is borne out by the weird landscape which takes in the crater of a dormant volcano.
When I visited 20 years ago the surface of the land was bubbling, pulsating and angry like a fermenting brew in the hottest of giant cauldrons.
Since then the area has experienced seismic activity including major tremors at nearby Pozzuoli which almost destroyed the historic Roman town.
Dubbed the ‘Stygian Fields’ after Hades in Virgin’s Aeneid – this bleak, uncompromising, steaming place is rather like a trip to Hell with its jets of steam, fumaroles, fired earth, bubbling activity and overpowering smell of sulphur.
Top tip – Keep your distance from the spurting water holes and don’t touch the earth in case you get scalded! There is a train service to Pozzuoli from Naples for those who’d like to risk life and skin.
Yellowstone – Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park has everything – geysers, stunning mountains, luminous lakes and rivers.
Bison, wolves, moose, elk and brown bears are just some of the many animals which can be seen from the routes through this enormous park.
Away from the throbbing noise of tourists and bison jams (proving that car and bison don’t mix), there are plenty of quieter retreats where there’s a good chance of a bear encounter so don’t forget your warning bells.
A sobering thought – this haunting and overwhelming landscape could explode in one volcanic meltdown anytime between now and 1,000 years time.
Top tip – Take a walking trek away from the main tourist trawl or head to some of the quieter geyser locations.
Western Sahara – Africa
My partner Tony has told me so much about his trip across the Sahara Desert in a Toyota Landcruiser that it feels like I’ve actually been there, so excuse me for including this location.
The disputed territory of Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco but is claimed by the Saharawis who mostly live in exile in Mali, making it an interesting place to travel through if not to stay.
This bleak, inhospitable place is sparcely populated and its searing heat makes it hard to linger long and take in the scenery. But it’s pretty sensational as a desert landscape.
Tony’s top tip – Petrol prices are amongst the cheapest in Africa – strange but true!
White Sands National Monument – New Mexico
A shimmering oasis of pure white sand dunes almost blinds your eyes in the mid-day heat.
Nearby military complexes and rocket sites are a stark reminder of the area’s history and atomic bomb testing during the Cold War.
Even more surreal is a giant graveyard for old jet planes and military aircraft next to one of the main highways. The aircraft have been mothballed in the desert to stop them rusting away.
Top tip – Take a floppy hat and plenty of drinking water. Tammy had to turn back with heat exhaustion.
Blue Mountains – Australia
Australia is a country of enormous landscapes and dramatic scenery from Ayers Rock and the Red Centre to the Seven Sisters on its south east coast and the dramatic mountains of the east.
The Blue Mountains are surprisingly lush, green and fertile with their striking sandstone plateaux and deep valleys.
A word of warning – this wins the award for one of the buggiest places ever. Now I know why the Aussies wear hats with corks hanging from them!
Great Salt Lake – Utah
Atmospheric and haunting the Great Salt Lake is part desolate, part awe-inspiring depending on how you catch the light. Early morning and sunset are the best times to capture the true essence of this strange environment.
Located a stone’s throw from Salt Lake City it’s surprising to find a wilderness so close to a major urban area. My favourite thing about this destination is its complete lack of commercialisation and the absence of burger bars & hotels.
Some early settlers and Indians thought the lake was inhabited by a giant sea monster with an enormous head, but it wasn’t to be seen on my visit.
Further north wildlife lovers can visit the Bear River Migratory Wildlife Reserve which runs seasonal trips to see the astonishing flocks of birds on the lake including black ibis, pelicans, American avocets, Western grebes and stilts.
I loved this place because I’m mad about birds but the visitor centre is well worth the trip for non-bird visitors too. Don’t forget your binoculars!
Top tip – Head for Antelope Island which is located on the lake and can be reached by a causeway. The eerily still salt water lake and meadow habitats are truly beautiful and abound with nature. Visitors lucky enough to stay overnight are likely to see a bison having breakfast outside their tent or RV.
Antelope Canyon – USA
Entering into the small crack in the rock to Antelope Canyon is like moving into a different world and time zone.
Long revered and by the Navajo peoples it’s a special meditative place (if you close one eye and blank out the tourists) with its radiant interplay of light and shadow on sculptured rocks. Magenta, brown, orange, yellow and red hues play on the rock surfaces as the light changes.
Top tip – Trips can only be arranged to Antelope Canyon in groups as the site is on Navajo territory. Although this is a bit restrictive, it does give you the chance to take a slightly insane ride on an open truck which bounces along at high speed along the rough terrain to the canyon.
Badlands – Alberta, Canada
The pockmarked landscape of Canada’s Badlands near Calgary is grim and uninviting, rather like its name.
On the face of it this rutted rocky plateau is drab and colourless, but look again and the shapes and contours of the land become fascinating.
Top tip – Take a good guide book along to make the most of the scenery. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in nearby Drumheller with excellent natural history and dinosaur displays.
Monument Valley – USA
Hollywood has etched this archetypal western landscape onto our consciousness through movies like Stagecoach and The Searchers.
My first glimpse of this grandiose landscape with its sandstone mesas, pinnacles and buttes provoked just one reaction – ‘wow’.
Naturally, I was half expecting a John Ford stagecoach to come bolting around the bend with Indians on Palomino horses chasing in pursuit. This stereotype is obviously a far cry from the truth but part of me couldn’t help thinking about those early pioneers and first peoples.
Top tip – Delve deeper into the real history and geology of Monument Valley.
Yosemite – California
California’s stunning Yosemite National Park boasts an abundance of habitats and scenery – mountains, crystal clear streams, waterfalls, lush meadows and ancient giant sequoias.
Ninety-five per cent of the park is a designated wilderness area.
Driving through the park the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic before you arrive at the sheer granite rock face of El Capitan which glowers over the Yosemite Valley.
Some of my favourite places in the park include Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point and the Tuolumne Meadows.
Yosemite is a great park for wildlife lovers who should look out for bears, deer, marmots and other critters.
Top tips: Once again there are many great walks in quieter areas of the park so head just off the main trawl.
Don’t expect to witness the cascading Yosemite Falls in full flow during the summer months.