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UNITED STATES

Compare Our Trips

Trip Itinerary

Preview the highlights of this journey through the civil rights battlegrounds of Mississippi and Alabama.

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11 DAYS FROM $3,095 • $ 282 / DAY
Grand Circle Tour

Trip Itinerary

Get more information about your detailed itinerary, like optional tours, exclusive Discovery Series events, and more.

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13 DAYS FROM $3,495 • $ 269 / DAY
Grand Circle Tour

Trip Itinerary

Take a look at the destinations you’ll discover in the National Parks of the Southwest.

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11 DAYS FROM $3,095 • $ 282 / DAY
Grand Circle Tour

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,295

PRE-TRIP EXTENSION

Memphis, Tennessee

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Visit the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived his final moments, now dedicated as a museum to his legacy

Learn about Memphis’ legendary place on the American music scene during a stop at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Experience the harrowing journey of escaped slaves during a stop at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,395

POST-TRIP EXTENSION

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Vibrant, diverse, and always welcoming, New Orleans is home to the oldest surviving black community in the United States. The bedrock traditions upon which the city is built—its music, cuisine, and Mardi Gras culture—are all built upon the African-American experience. Though life in the “Big Easy” has been anything but easy for the city’s African descendants, it has been colorful, resilient, and deeply inspiring. Come celebrate with us on this fitting coda to your civil rights tour.

5 NIGHTS FROM $1,595

PRE-TRIP EXTENSION

Yellowstone National Park & Montana

DAYS IN UNITED STATES
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Visit Yellowstone National Park and witness the famed Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful
Experience Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, once a native hunting ground with a unique past, now a beautiful UNESCO World heritage Site

4 NIGHTS FROM $1,295

POST-TRIP EXTENSION

Salt Lake City & Santa Fe

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Experience the lasting glory of the 2002 Olympics when you tour the site in Salt Lake City, complete with commemorative museums and the ice skating rink where history was made 
Take a walking tour of the enchanting city of Santa Fe and experience first hand the famed adobe architecture, unique art style, and irresistible red and green chile sauce

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,395

PRE-TRIP EXTENSION

Denver & the Rocky Mountains

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Enjoy the best view of the Rocky Mountains when you take a tour of the national park, glimpsing a bio-diverse array of plant and wildlife along the way
Tour the ever-changing and thriving city of Denver, known for its farm-fresh cuisine, 300 days of sunshine a year, and walkability

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,095

POST-TRIP EXTENSION

New Mexico: Santa Fe & Taos

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Explore the city of Santa Fe on a walking tour where you'll discover the Spanish Pueblo Revival architectural style of downtown and visit the famed Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Visit Taos Pueblo a UNESCO World Heritage site which features homes built up to a thousand years ago
Discover the Rio Grande Gorge and enjoy the unparalleled vistas of the 50-mile wide, 800 foot deep geological marvel

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable

Equitrekking: Wyoming

Saddle up and explore the American West the way it as meant to be seen—on horseback.

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United States: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

United States in May-June

In May through June, you find the most moderate temperatures, with wildlife active and flowers in bloom, but nights in the desert can be cold and even dip below freezing in Bryce Canyon. Mother animals begin to emerge with their babies in April and May.

Holidays & Events

  • May: Old West Days (Jackson Hole)
  • June: Outdoor Shakespeare performances and music festival season begin (nationwide)

Must See

National parks transform into wet wonderlands after the spring thaw, particularly upper Yellowstone. The melting snow translates into roaring waterfalls at maximum throttle, as well as rushing rivers and creeks. Lakes are at their fullest, yielding post-card perfect reflections in the water.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodos of Bryce Canyon and more.

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United States in July-August

Summer is the busiest and the warmest season, with temperatures peaking above 100 degrees in Zion. Other regions experience heavy rains. In Arches, for example, there can be flooding.

Holidays & Events

  • July 4: Independence Day is celebrated nationwide with fireworks and barbecues
  • August: Hot Air Balloon festivals take place throughout South Dakota
  • Late August-early September: Moab Music Festival (in mystifying red rock venues surrounding Moab, Utah)

Must See

Pretty much every town surrounding Yellowstone has a rodeo of some kind each year. The nearby family-owned Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo in Montana runs all summer, multiple times a week, with barrel races and bull riding. Cody Nite Rodeo runs every night from July through August for a fun introduction to bronco riding and more. July brings the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, to Wyoming, and the Last Stampede rodeo to Montana. Rodeos are a quintessentially-American experience linking the cowboy past to the agricultural communities of today.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodos of Bryce Canyon and more.

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United States in September-October

September through October generally means the start of cooler weather, but sometimes residents and travelers will receive the pleasant surprise of an extended summer. However, when the weather finally does begin to cool down, leaves change across the nation, turning a long drive down a freeway into a breathtaking display of gold, orange, and red hues. The scent of the air changes, letting Americans know it's time to start thinking about Halloween costume ideas. 

Holidays & Events

  • September: Grand Canyon Music Festival
  • October: Red Rocks Arts Festival (Moab), Great Northwest Oktoberfest

Must See

With cooler weather, kids back in school, and less crowds overall, this is the time of year to visit the National Parks. Wildlife is often visible (as it is elk-mating season) and the foliage can be spectacular, especially in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, accessible from Montana.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodos of Bryce Canyon and more.

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United States Interactive Map

Click on map markers below to view information about top United States experiences

*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Mount Rushmore

There’s no denying the impact of driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota and seeing Mount Rushmore rise into view. 60-foot faces stare into the horizon from an elevation of 5,300 feet. Clearly, it was an epic task, with Gutzon Borglum’s team of 400 women and men working for 14 years to pull it off. 90% of the work was done by dynamite alone, but the finer details were done by hand with jackhammers and chisels, yielding instantly recognizable portraits of four American leaders.

Borglum chose his subjects because he saw them as key players in our history. Washington was crucial for the birth of the nation, first by leading the revolution and then as our inaugural president. Jefferson shepherded our new land into existence, as primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and then grew it, overseeing the doubling of the nation’s size with the Louisiana Purchase. Roosevelt oversaw a period of rapid economic growth while being mindful to limit the effect of monopolies, and also committed to ecology by protecting our natural resources. Lincoln perhaps had the trickiest job of all: preserving the union when it was on the brink of splitting. Three million visitors come here every year to honor the contributions of these great leaders.

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Mesa Verde National Park

While many national parks have been set aside to preserve the environment, this is not so for Mesa Verde. Establishing the park in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed that he wanted to “preserve the works of man”: 4,700 archaeological sites built by the ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde from the sixth century until 1300. Some of the oldest and best-preserved dwellings in the United State are found here, including pueblos, masonry towers, pit houses, and farming structures perched on top of mesas.

Mesa Verde is best known for one of its “youngest” features—youngest meaning 800 years old. In the last hundred years of habitation, the Puebloans constructed and lived in dwellings carved into the cliff face or refined from natural alcoves in canyon walls. Surprisingly, within only two generations, they had abandoned their mesa communities entirely, leaving behind rocky ghost towns early in the 14th century. The sites have nonetheless endured and offer a portrait of life before America was called America.

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Arches National Park

Five miles north of Moab, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches demands your attention. A whopping 2,000-plus rock formations populate the nearly 77,000 acres, attracting visitors for at least the last 10,000 years (when early visitors left stone carvings to mark their presence). A million people visit the park each year now, delighted by the endless shapes, some whimsical and others majestic.

Deciding what each arch looks like is akin to finding shapes in clouds—it’s all in the eye of the beholder. One formation has been variously known as Schoolmarm Pants, Old Maid Bloomers, Cowboy Chaps, and (currently) Delicate Arch, a 46-foot high span framing a view of the mountains beyond. Another must-see is Balanced Rock, an egg-shaped stone the size of a house perched 128 feet high atop a natural pedestal. It used to have a companion—a boulder named Chip off the Old Block—but erosion took that neighbor down. Visitors flock to see Balanced Rock before it meets a similar fate. Of course, even if one formation loses it shape, there will be 2,000 more to discover.

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Grand Canyon

Cutting a mile-deep path through the baked rock landscape of northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is peerless in all of North America. What was once a series of small canyons 70 million years ago became a 277-mile-long wonder about six million years back, when the Colorado River forced its way through the rock. The Grand Canyon is a visible example of the Great Unconformity, in which rock layers differing in age by hundreds of millions of years are found lying atop one another. At the Grand Canyon’s Vishnu Basement Rocks, the layers skip from 1700-million-year-old rock to 550-million-year-old rock—making it some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth.

Humans have lived here since the Ice Age and the Havasupai people still do, in a canyon-floor reservation accessible only by pack mule. Spanish explorers reached the canyon in the 16th century and word spread rapidly. By 1893, the U.S. had declared it a forest reserve, and Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it a national monument in 1908, with it not formally becoming a national park until 1919. Roosevelt’s words still ring true today: “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

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Temple Square

Framed east and west by mountains, lovely Salt Lake City is Utah’s most-visited destination. It is famed as the seat of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). A truly American religion, founded in upstate New York and now approaching its bicentennial, the Mormon church had a rocky road to acceptance, initially facing hostility in the northeast and Midwest, before a westward trek that ended in Salt Lake. They knew immediately that they had found their home and marked a spot for the Mormon Tabernacle just days after arriving. The faithful spent the next 40 years building it, organizing the entire city around it in the meantime.

Known for its choir and 11,600-pipe organ (both of which benefit from the perfect acoustics), the Tabernacle is the city’s showpiece, but not its only attraction. The Family History Library here, originally created to aid with LDS searches for past family members, has become the world’s single largest genealogical resource. Temple Square charms with 35 acres of gardens, trees, and historic architecture. In recent years, the fine-dining scene has come into its own, and a younger, more liberal crowd has found its own niche at local yoga studios, coffee shops, and music venues.

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Yellowstone National Park

When John Colter, former Lewis & Clark expedition member, made a solo journey into the region we now call Yellowstone, he was dazzled, and he became something of an evangelist for the land. He told anyone who would listen about the canyons, waterfalls, and hot springs—descriptions so dramatic that no one believed him at first. Today, we know Colter was right to be in awe of the landscape, as Yellowstone is one of our greatest treasures.

Declared the first national park in the world by Ulysses S. Grant, its fame has gone global, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It boasts 10,000 hydro-thermal features, including hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and 500 geysers—half the active geysers on Earth. In a park bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, it has superlative after superlative, from most mammals concentrated in one place in North America (67 species, including buffalo, elk, and grizzly) to largest high-elevation lake (with a surface area of 131 miles). 258 species of birds take to the sky and 290 waterfalls plunge towards the earth in a true American wilderness.

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Mobile

Mobile is loved for its peaceful Gulf beaches and easygoing vibe. It’s also one of Alabama’s most culturally diverse cities, melding French, Spanish, British, Native American, African, Jewish, Irish, and Caribbean traditions. America’s first Mardi Gras celebration originated here, years before its counterpart in New Orleans. In the 19th century Mobile was an important port for the cotton and slave trades. That history figures in the story of Africatown, a community formed in 1860 by 32 escaped captives of an illegal slave ship. Africatown still exists today, and retains a vibrant cultural energy.

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Birmingham

Birmingham, Alabama is nicknamed the “Magic City,” after its explosive growth during the Industrial Revolution as a vital steel production center and railroad hub. Although the fires of industry have since gone cold, Birmingham remembers its history—the Sloss Furnaces, where much of America’s steel was made, are now a National Historic Landmark, honoring the city’s roots, while an iron statue of Vulcan, Roman god of the forge, watches over the city from his perch on Red Mountain.

Not all of Birmingham’s history is so cherished, however; the city also earned the nickname “Bombingham” during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when many black homes and churches—most notoriously the 16th Street Baptist Church—were bombed in a campaign of racially-motivated domestic terror.

Modern Birmingham is a city renewed, known for its cosmopolitan culture, innovative culinary scene, and a progressive culture that acknowledges its scarred past, and is dedicated to examining and learning from it.

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Jackson

Easygoing people who seem happy to see you, though you’ve never met before. Venues like the Iron Horse Bar & Grill, thumping with music. Recording studios that drew Aretha Franklin, Art Garfunkel, and Roberta Flack. The Fondren district, with its hipster art scene, minus the pretension. Jackson, Mississippi, the “city with soul,” has many soul-satisfying delights.

Jackson was also the setting of one of the civil rights movement’s most notorious tragedies—the assassination of Medgar Evers, an inspiring NAACP leader who was murdered in his driveway by a white supremacist, who was finally convicted of his crime in 1994. Evers’ home is now a National Historic Monument honoring his work. Jackson is also the location of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, opened in 1997, and the first of its kind to be sponsored by a state.

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Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee is a place of pilgrimage, whether you are a devotée of the blues, rock, or soul; a lover of barbecue; or a fan of the King, Elvis Presley, who you can honor at his Graceland home. All these American icons are deeply indebted to the cultural and political contributions made by generations of African-Americans who made Memphis one of the South’s most vibrant cities. It was also in Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived his final, impactful days here before his death at the Lorraine Motel. Today, the motel is adjoined by the National Civil Rights Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate whose artifacts and multimedia exhibits document five centuries of African-American struggle.

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Montgomery

Montgomery is one of the most important cities in the story of America’s civil rights movement. It was the first capital of the Confederacy, a dark dream that was supplanted by the dream of equality. This is the dream black veterans brought home to Montgomery after World War II, sparking the earliest civil rights efforts. A triumph occurred in 1956, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her city bus seat to a white man. It spurred the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by a young minister at Dexter Avenue Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, Montgomery remembers the civil rights heroes that transformed the nation, with museums and monuments dedicated to their legacy. And the Memorial for Peace and Justice, opened in April 2018, is dedicated to honoring the thousands of African-Americans who were attacked and killed between the end of slavery and the beginning of the civil rights movement.

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New Orleans

Vibrant, diverse, and always welcoming, New Orleans is home to the oldest surviving black community in the United States. The bedrock traditions upon which the city is built—its music, cuisine, and Mardi Gras culture—are all laid upon the African-American experience. Though life in the “Big Easy” has been anything but easy for the city’s African descendants, it has been colorful, resilient, and deeply inspiring.

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Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in the United States with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

Discover the story of Medgar Evers, the civil rights hero whose fight for freedom continued to change America long after his death in 1963.

ARTICLE

Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures: Learn how to make those pictures as perfect as possible.

RECIPE

Fry up some southwest comfort food with this recipe for Navajo Fry Bread.

ARTICLE

Learn about the perseverant spirit of the Navajo, and the trials they’ve faced over the years.

ARTICLE

Learn more about the people who blazed the trail toward establishing America’s first national park.

The Legacy of Medgar Evers

How the life and death of a civil rights hero changed America

by Bob Hammerling

In Mississippi, few names from the civil rights movement ring louder than Medgar Evers, whose short but impactful life left a lasting impression on all of America.

Early life: From veteran to visionary

Medgar Evers was thrust into greatness at a young age. Drafted out of high school to fight in World War II, he served in the invasion of Normandy at just 19 years old, and fought in France and Germany to help liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation.

But like so many other African-American veterans of the Greatest Generation, he returned home to find that the battle against oppression was not yet won. Evers came back to an America that denied him and those like him the right to vote, attend universities, sit at lunch counters, and enjoy other equal rights of citizenship based solely on their race.

In 1954, he applied to law school at the segregated University of Mississippi. When he was denied, he volunteered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to sue the university for its discriminatory practices. Although the lawsuit—represented by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall—was ultimately unsuccessful, it was the beginning of Evers’ rise through the ranks of the NAACP, and he would soon find himself as the organization’s first Mississippi state field secretary that same year.

Fighting segregation with the NAACP

Medgar Evers quickly used the powers of his office to set to work dismantling the machinery of segregation. He traveled the state in his Oldsmobile, coordinating voter registration in African-American communities, recruiting new members for the NAACP and building up local offices throughout Mississippi.

He also led boycotts against companies that practiced discrimination, and shined a light on the unequal application of justice toward African-Americans as both the victims and accused perpetrators of crimes. Evers famously led the NAACP investigation of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year old African-American boy who was brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Distrusting the segregated sheriff’s office to investigate the crime properly, Evers and his team helped find and protect witnesses to testify against Till’s assailants—and helped escort them to safety when the all-white jury acquitted the defendants after a mere hour of deliberation.

Poetically, Evers was also instrumental in desegregating the University of Mississippi in 1962—the same institution that denied him admission seven years earlier. After the Supreme Court ruled that the university couldn’t deny admission to James Meredith, a qualified African-American applicant, Evers—along with other NAACP members and an escort of soldiers and U.S. marshals—stood by Meredith’s side as he registered for classes, in defiance of the violent mob that had gathered to stop him.

Through his work, Evers quickly became the most visible face of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, and bore the brunt of the hostility that so often came with the job during this turbulent period of history. Medgar and his wife, Myrlie—a fellow activist, who would eventually become the NAACP’s national chairperson—knew that their work would make the family a target, and they took what precautions they could against it. The Evers’ home in Jackson was built without a front door, and the family drilled their three young children in how to protect themselves in the event of a shooting. Sadly, these drills were not mere paranoia, as many threats were made, and the house was even firebombed in 1963.

Medgar Evers was tragically murdered on June 12, 1963, shortly after midnight, and just hours after President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on TV to call for a legislative solution to the moral crisis of segregation. After parking his car in his driveway, Evers was fatally shot in the back by Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist acting on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan.

De La Beckwith was tried twice in high-profile courtroom proceedings—in the second trial, former state governor Ross Barnett even interrupted Myrlie Evers’ testimony to shake the defendant’s hand—but was twice let free on a mistrial after two all-white juries deadlocked and failed to return a verdict.

Although Medgar Evers was killed in 1963, his work was far from finished. His son, Darrell, recalled how he felt the night his father was murdered during an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1994:

“As I saw my father lying down in the driveway in a pool of blood … I had a deep spiritual experience. I felt a power of soul like I had never felt before ... it was undeniable. At that point, I knew my father wasn’t that body that everybody recognized as Medgar Evers. He was something else that was much bigger.”

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea”

Medgar Evers was laid to rest with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and the work that he began continued with a renewed intensity by his family, his colleagues, and the thousands of individuals who he inspired during his life. Although De La Beckwith initially escaped justice, the murder drew national attention and outrage that would help lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which formally banned racial segregation and employment discrimination.

After Medgar’s death, his post in the NAACP was quickly filled by his brother Charles, who carried on his work and quickly rose to prominence with his own political career. In 1969, Charles became the mayor of Fayette Mississippi, making him the first black mayor of a mixed-race town in the Deep South.

As for Byron De La Beckwith, justice came for him, too. Myrlie Evers never forgot or forgave his acts, and worked tirelessly for thirty years to search for new evidence and bring him to trial again. She finally got closure in 1994: After a series of legal proceedings to re-open the case, De La Beckwith was tried before a mixed-race jury, featuring testimony from multiple witnesses to whom he had boasted about his actions, and sentenced to life in prison.

The Evers’ former home in Jackson still stands, and was named a National Historic landmark in 2017—making it the first home of a civil rights leader to be given this distinction in Mississippi. The house is owned by Tougaloo College, which maintains a museum on the site (featured on Day 2 of Let Freedom Ring: A Civil Rights Journey). The college describes its purpose as:

“A celebration of the man he was and a memorial to the martyr he became. It is a place for learning and teaching—to use the lessons of history to continue to forge a more perfect union—to fulfill our dreams and the promises that all humankind will share the bounties of God’s earth, be free and live in peace.”

During his life, Medgar Evers famously declared, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea,” and although his work was tragically cut short, it helped turn the tide forever toward a more equal nation for all.

How the life and death of a civil rights hero changed America

Capturing Eden

A how-to guide for photographing the U.S. National Parks

by Julia Hudson & Christina Micek

The National Parks of the United States draw travelers by the millions every year, and it’s no wonder. These protected spaces are havens for wild animals, indigenous plants, and landscapes that range from the buttes of Montana to the chasms of the Grand Canyon.

The parks are a dream destination for professional and amateur photographers alike, but the best photography doesn’t happen in Photoshop—it happens right there when you click the shutter. To capture the spirit of these iconic locations, and get the most out of your visit, consider these helpful tips.

Know your filters

Managing glare in the daytime is a major challenge for many landscape photographers, so you’ll want to plan ahead and bring a filter for your camera lens. Filters come in a variety of functions, from protecting the lens from scratches, to blocking ultraviolet light—these invisible rays can end up affecting your final image, producing purple halos or a general haziness. Polarizing filters eliminate the brightness of reflective surfaces such as water, and heighten contrast; beyond these, there are filters for color adjustment, special effects, and graduated exposure (part of the filter is darker than the rest, which is particularly useful when shooting landscapes with sky above). Make sure you practice a bit at home first with your chosen filters, so you don’t spend precious travel time figuring them out!

Composition matters

In the National Parks, beautiful photographic subjects are easy to come by—everything from a flower to a canyon can feel particularly moving in the majestic environment of a park. But a photograph can seem flat without the right composition—so it’s important to consider how you organize your shot as much as what it contains.

The traditional guideline is known as the “rule of thirds.” Basically, the photographer mentally imposes a 3x3 grid on top of the image, and attempts to have something of interest in each of the nine squares. However, don’t let this supposed law control your shots; rather, experiment with different positioning and see what interests you. It might mean lying on the ground to get an eye-level photograph of an animal, or it may mean framing an image with a nearby plant, or climbing on a nearby rock. Just remember: In photography, as in travel, the goal is to find a new point of view.

Don’t poke the bear

The National Parks are rich habitats for so many animals, and there is nothing that compares with the thrill of spotting bison, mountain lions, or other iconic American creatures in the wild. But a word of caution: You won’t want to miss the sometimes quick glimpses of these creatures, so get very familiar with your camera settings and equipment beforehand!

Don’t come too physically close to these animals, since their protected status means they aren’t necessarily used to coming in contact with people. This is why a telephoto lens is a must, although exactly how long will depend on the skittishness of the animal. If you’re planning to travel with a long lens, you’ll want to think about bringing a tripod—or, since you’ll likely be doing some walking through the parks, a “monopod” that can double as a walking stick. For many travelers, a teleconverter is a good solution—these smaller and lighter lens options are easier to pack and carry.

Try alternating between close-ups of the animal, and wider shots that incorporate its environment. This may require swapping out narrow- and wide-angle lenses, but it’s worth it to have a variety of pictures to choose from later.

Capturing the big stuff

The National Parks are full of mountains and other massive subjects. It can be tricky to photograph these without losing some of their majesty, but a well-planned image can convey an impressive sense of grandeur—so it’s well worth the effort!

If you’re shooting from the base of a mountain, for example, you can emphasize height more dramatically with a portrait, or even a telephoto, lens, which will help you to compress the subject without too much distortion. If you’re further away from your subject, you can emphasize distance with a wide-angle lens—our photography team recommends trying a focal length of 20-30mm. A wide-angle lens increases the depth of field, or distance at which the image remains in focus, so your viewer can take in the full scale of the landscape.

Watch the light

Don’t forget to consider the angle of the light; if your subject is evenly lit from the front, it can flatten your image (filters will help a lot here, too). Try to take your pictures from the side, or at a time of day when you can see some shadows on the surface—a slightly sideways, or “raking,” light is ideal.

Capturing Eden

Recipe: Navajo Fry Bread

Also known as Indian Fry Bread, this southwestern dish has a somber origin. In 1864, the Navajo people were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their ancestral homelands in an exodus to New Mexico known as The Long Walk. Finding the land unsuitable for agriculture, the Navajo were required to invent new recipes out of their meager supplies. Needing little more than lard, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder, Fry Bread quickly became a staple.

Today, the bread holds a sacred place in the Navajo cultural identity, but has also gained widespread appeal throughout the southwest United States, where it’s served at state fairs, festivals, and cooked up at home as comfort food for all to enjoy.

Follow along with the recipe below and try it for yourself. With its crispy golden brown exterior and decadently soft, chewy center, it tastes great as a snack on its own, but it’s also commonly used as a base for Navajo Tacos. Top the bread with ground beef, beans, onions, green chili peppers, or whatever your favorite toppings may be, and enjoy a new take on taco night. Navajo Fry Bread also makes for an excellent dessert: Glaze it with honey, butter, cinnamon, or powdered sugar, and enjoy it as a light, sweet after-dinner treat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Vegetable oil for frying (you can also use Crisco or lard instead)

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, powdered milk, and baking powder. Pour the water into the mixture all at once and stir the dough with a fork until it begins to form one large lump. Cover the bowl with a towel or cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Powder your hands thoroughly with flour and hand-mix the dough into a ball. Mix the dough well, but don’t knead it, your goal is to keep the Fry Bread light as it cooks. Cut the dough into four pieces, then shape and lightly flatten each one into a disk of about 5 to 7 inches in diameter using your flour-covered hands.
  3. In a cast-iron skillet or deep, heavy pot, pour a 1-inch layer of vegetable oil and heat it on your stove top to about 350 degrees F. You can use a cooking thermometer to check on the temperature, or toss a small scrap of dough into the pot and see if it starts to sizzle.
  4. Using metal tongs, gently lower a piece of dough into the oil, taking care not to make a splash. Use the tongs to submerge the dough into the oil, and cook a few minutes until golden-brown, then flip and repeat for the opposite side. Remove the cooked bread onto a paper towel to soak the oil, and repeat the process for the remaining pieces of dough.
  5. Layer your choice of sweet or savory toppings on the bread and serve, or eat it plain as a light fried snack.

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time : 8 minutes

Servings: 4

Recipe: Navajo Fry Bread

The complex history of the Navajo

From the “long walk” to code talk

By Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle Travel

In 1864, General James H. Carleton sent a message to Manuelito, the last Navajo chief who had yet to surrender to the US Army. The message was simple: Surrender or face war. "My God and my mother live in the West, and I will not leave them," said Manuelito. "I shall remain. I have nothing to lose but my life."

A bloody and defiant past

Manuelito said these words during one of the most painful times in the history of the Navajo (also known as the Diné, which means "the people")—a period that included the infamous "Long Walk." American forces had killed or captured thousands of Navajo people, and forced the remaining members of the tribe (more than 9,000 people) to march the 300 miles from Window Rock, Arizona to Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. Starvation, bitter cold, disease, and exhaustion took its toll. Between 200 and 300 people died on the 18-day trek, and more than 2,000 died during the extended incarceration at Bosque Redondo.

Manuelito’s defiance was a reflection of Navajo sentiment at the time: anger at the continued takeover of their ancestral lands. The Navajo leader eventually surrendered in 1866—primarily because his people were starving—and was sent to Bosque Redondo where he endured the same terrible conditions as the rest of this people. His commitment to his people never wavered. In 1868, he traveled to Washington, DC and negotiated for a new reservation in his people’s traditional homeland. The treaty signed there established the Navajo as a sovereign nation.

Today, the Navajo Nation is one of the largest Native American tribes in the United States. Set on 27,000-square-miles of land stretching across New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, the Navajo reservation is home to more than 170,000 members of the tribe (the Nation itself has more than 300,000 registered members). The Navajo people are proud of their history—in particular an episode that included helping the very army that had caused them so much pain and grief.

Fighting for the future

It happened during World War II, when the US Army was looking for a form of battlefield communication that was effective yet undetectable by enemy forces. A man named Philip Johnston, who grew up on a Navajo reservation, had the idea to use the Navajo language as a code. As a complex, esoteric language (it was estimated that only 30 non-Navajo could understand the language at that time), Navajo would be undecipherable by enemy forces, Johnston contended. The army was skeptical at first, but eventually approved a pilot program that would include 29 Navajo men.

The program was started with 211 words that were commonly used in the military, which were translated into Navajo. The "code talkers" were drilled again and again on the code—even a minor mistake, after all, could mean the difference between life and death. After the code was in use for a while, it was expanded by an additional 200 words.

The code was used in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 in battles such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, and successfully befuddled the Japanese. They were unable to decipher what they were hearing, which made the code one of the most important secrets of the war. The code talkers were not officially recognized until 1968—when the program was declassified—but were eventually commended by President Ronald Reagan, who declared August 14, 1982 as "Navajo Code Talkers Day." In 2001, the living code talkers were presented with medals by President George W. Bush.

In his remarks, President Bush said that America was paying tribute to the code talkers and to the "tradition and community that produced such men, the great Navajo Nation." The story of those Navajos, he said, was "a story that all Americans should celebrate, and every American should know."

Like their long-ago leader Manuelito, the Navajo have remained in spite of the many difficulties they have faced—and their story continues to unfold.

 

The complex history of the Navajo

The Lesser-Known Names of Yellowstone

The people who helped make the world’s first National Park a reality

by Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle

The man most often associated with the founding of Yellowstone National Park is Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States. It’s understandable; after all, Grant was the man who signed Yellowstone into existence in March 1, 1872, enshrining this two-million-acre plot of land as a "public park … for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

That day marked the creation of the world’s first national park—and the beginning of a new era of conservation, wildlife protection, and tourism that has since taken root all over the world. It’s not hard to see why this place was chosen. Yellowstone is geologically fascinating: There are more than 10,000 thermal features in the park, including geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles (fissures that emit steam from under the Earth’s crust). The park is also home to scores of mammal species such as bears, bison, moose and mountain lions. And of course, it is a stunningly beautiful landscape of grasslands, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls that has left visitors in awe for more than 140 years.

And while Grant can certainly be credited with officially designating the wilderness as a protected natural playground, he is far from the only one responsible for making this first great American park a reality.

Paradise Found

After hundreds of years in which Native Americans were the sole visitors to this region, John Colter was the first person of European descent to explore it. Colter was a mountain man who was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and spent the winter of 1807-1808 discovering the area now known as Yellowstone on his own. In spite of brutal conditions (including temperatures that often dipped to 30 below zero), Colter made his way hundreds of miles through the unforgiving wilderness. When he returned to civilization, he told stories of geysers and gurgling cauldrons. Many dismissed his descriptions and playfully called the region "Colter’s Hell."

After the Civil War, interest in the American West grew, and other people began to see that the area Colter described was more paradise than purgatory. One of them was Nathaniel P. Langford. While he lived a fascinating life during which he was a tax collector and a Montana vigilante, Langford was better known as a member of the famed Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition to Yellowstone in 1870. He was an active proponent of the idea of national parks—so much so that he would say his first two initials stood for National Park. Langford was chosen the park’s first superintendent, and Mount Langford, in the park’s Absaroka Range, is named after him.

Establishing America’s first national park

While tales of the explorations of this region certainly piqued the interest of Americans, it is difficult to imagine Congress taking the unprecedented action of creating a national park without the members of the Hayden Geological Survey.

The survey’s leader was Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, a geologist and physician who served as an Army surgeon during the Civil War, eventually rising to be the chief medical officer of the Army of the Shenandoah. After the war, he was named the geologist-in-charge at the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, and in 1871 was assigned to do a survey of Yellowstone. Though dozens joined Hayden on the expedition, two men stood out (in addition to Hayden himself) for the impact they would have. They were not geologists, but artists: painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson.

Moran was an illustrator who was recommended to Hayden by the financier Jay Cooke, who spoke of the artist’s "rare genius." Moran joined the team and drew 30 different places along their route, which captured the true beauty of the region and later the admiration of Americans. His career took off: Today, one of Moran’s paintings, The Three Tetons, can be found in the Oval Office of the White House. The painter was forever linked with the park, and he embraced the connection: he even signed some of his paintings "TYM" for Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran.

Jackson was recruited by Hayden after he’d taken photographs of scenery along the Union Pacific Railroad. As an artist in a relatively new medium, in a place that hadn’t seen cameras before, Jackson was able to create stunning photographs of scenery most of the world had never seen. As it had with Moran, the Yellowstone expedition launched Jackson’s career—one that would continue for another 70 years until his death in 1942.

Hayden’s survey, along with Moran’s sketches and Jackson’s photography, captured the imagination of the nation and the attention of its legislators. It wasn’t long before Congress passed a law to make Yellowstone the first of many national parks, and for the bill to find its way to U.S. Grant’s presidential desk.

On that day in 1872, President Grant did indeed make history. But he was merely the last in a long line of intrepid men who helped make it happen.

The Lesser-Known Names of Yellowstone

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