INSPIRATION • April 2020
If, like us, the view outside your window is now embedded to memory, it’s time for some virtual escapism. Grab your best headphones, find the biggest screen you have and get set to join us on a unique journey across America’s wildest frontiers. Globetrotter Alex Briand is our guide
To start your adventures with a bang (albeit from an extremely safe distance), take a look at Google Arts & Culture’s marvellously hi-tech The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. There are five parks to choose from, but the Hawaii Volcanoes is certainly the most dramatic place to start. Kicking off in the thick of one of its vibrant ecosystems, listen to audio from a knowledgeable Park Ranger before moving with a click into a ‘lava tube’ – a miles-long passage carved through rock by molten lava. Learn how more than 500 acres of land have been added to Hawaii in the past 30 years alone, gaze out over volcanic cliffs and travel between the archipelago’s most fascinating sites in seconds.
Yosemite National Park – the 1,100 square miles straddling California’s Sierra Nevada mountains – contains more opportunities for wonder than you could shake a pair of crampons at. Take a virtual tour with Virtual Yosemite, a collection of 360° panoramas complete with tweeting birds and the whoosh of waterfalls. Start at Glacier Point looking out over the millions of sequoias sprawling over the valley or avoid what the site calls one of the park’s “most gruelling hikes” by clicking yourself to the top of the awe-inspiring Half Dome Summit. Alternatively, try this clever site for a window into the park’s last 24 hours (right now emptied of its millions of annual visitors), stitched together from its Yosemite Conservancy webcams.
Making up in majesty what its name lacks in imagination, Big Bend National Park is for some an intimidating prospect – a beautiful but untamed wilderness, where signs warn of bears or mountain lions if you take a wrong turn. Reduce that risk to zero by visiting virtually on Virtual Big Bend. Starting life as passion project by photography enthusiast David Locke, the site now allows users to dive into a trio of Big Bend locales – an atmospheric ghost town, the open planes of the Chihuahuan Desert or the rugged Chios Mountains. While away hours bouncing from vista to vista, sunrise to sunset and dig deep to discover ancient cave art and abandoned buildings.
Woodland wanders don’t come more serene than this: a virtual 90-minute stroll through the rainforests of Washington’s verdant Olympic National Park. Less than an hour’s drive from Forks, the town made famous by Twilight, the Hall of Mosses trail is a storybook scene of giant maple trees draped in lush green moss, and a favourite with the region’s elk. Ramp up the video to the highest definition your bandwidth can manage and lose yourself among the dense spruces. For more Washington State escapism, take a seat by the rushing Skagit River as it flows towards the Puget Sound.
This dramatic six-million-year-old landform is classic bucket-list stuff for a reason, but thus far that popularity has meant visitors often have to share this natural wonder of the world with hundreds of other sightseers. This virtual hike sets off at sunrise and barely passes a soul for 48 minutes, winding down into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail. The more you watch, the more detail of the canyon’s famous peaks, gorges and ravines comes to light. Just further north, a hike through Bryce Canyon is up for grabs in this virtual walk-a-long, showing off the National Park’s cinematic buttes and gorgeous orange hues.
In the words of the aptly-named VR Tour Guys, “The world is more than the size of a screen. It’s 360°.” The duo in question, Eric and Mark, are rightfully proud of their home country’s natural bounty and have compiled a range of viewpoints to show off their 360° tech. For a taste of the Rockies, take one of their virtual tours of Colorado to be immersed in the underrated state’s most scenic spots. Adams Falls takes you deep into the National Park, the Garden of the Gods transports you into Colorado Spring’s most incredible rock formations, while Pikes Peak – known as America’s Mountain – lets you revel in the view from more than 14,000 feet above sea level, without any of the altitude sickness.
Do you have a favourite travel webcam or virtual tour that's inspiring your wanderlust this month? If so, we want to know. Write in with yours to firstname.lastname@example.org