20 Mind-Expanding Sights Across the U.S.

Breathtaking natural wonders, inspiring man-made structures, and views from all over that are sure to boost your creative reserves.

By Laura J. Cole

20 Mind-Expanding Sights Across the U.S.

Breathtaking natural wonders, inspiring man-made structures, and views from all over that are sure to boost your creative reserves.

By Laura J. Cole

20 Mind-Expanding Sights Across the U.S.

Breathtaking natural wonders, inspiring man-made structures, and views from all over that are sure to boost your creative reserves.

By Laura J. Cole

20 Mind-Expanding Sights Across the U.S.

Breathtaking natural wonders, inspiring man-made structures, and views from all over that are sure to boost your creative reserves.

By Laura J. Cole

In September 2020, I took off from my home in Florida in search of anything to break up the monotony of quarantine life. While voyaging across the nation, I—along with a super-talented team—put to bed three issues of Pegasus magazine for the University of Central Florida, pushed out countless updates and stories related to the pandemic, and even helped celebrate four remote commencements. Then in May, as I was wrapping up my monthlong stay in Utah (my 18th state visited), my boss delivered the news that we all needed to return to the office. And after several anxiety-fueled and possibility-expanding nights, I made the difficult decision to quit a great job to light out on a new adventure: becoming a full-time freelancer.

Along the way, I’ve found the inspiration that is so necessary for creative endeavors and a well-balanced life. Here are my 20 favorite sights—so far—along with facts about each


Something Wicked This Way Comes

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

The largest-known natural entrance to Mammoth Cave allows you to descend into a collapsed sinkhole that leads to the longest labyrinth of underground caves in the world.


A (Former) Vision of Progress

World’s Fair Houses at Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

First displayed at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, five homes designed to inspire architectural and technological hope were moved by barge and now sit along the opposite shore of Lake Michigan, including my personal favorite: the delightfully pink Florida Tropical house.


Lady in Red

Fallingwater (Pennsylvania)

Fallingwater artfully blends the outside with the inside, but its current location above the waterfall is not what the Kaufmann family had in mind. They had planned a different spot for the home they commissioned with architect Frank Lloyd Wright—one that offered a view of the waterfall. They didn’t realize Wright had changed it until they arrived to see their completed vacation home in the wrong location.


Blue Velvet

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee)

The famous blue fog that blankets the Smokies is actually created by volatile organic compounds released by plants in the park that scatter blue light from the sky. The Cherokee called this phenomenon “blue smoke,” hence the mountains’ Cherokee name, Shaconge, which translates to “place of the blue smoke.”


Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (Mississippi)

Nestled among ancient oaks in Biloxi, Architect Frank Gehry’s metal masterpiece reminds me of an Airstream—and provides a stunning study in how the light changes throughout the day along the Gulf of Mexico.


Beyond the Void

White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

Unlike most inland sand, which is made of silica, the sand at White Sands is made almost entirely of gypsum, which is actually a clear substance that appears white to the human eye because of the way sunlight reflects off of it.


Reclaimed Lands

Coachella Valley (California)

A biennial exhibition spread across Coachella Valley, “Desert X 2021” leveraged the local landscape to celebrate the area and emerging artists, and to challenge the political, social, and cultural narratives that have defined the region.


Fissures in the Sun

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Among the most visited national parks in the United States, Grand Canyon National Park doesn’t actually include the entire canyon. But the part it does cover—1,904 square miles in total—is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.


Among the Ancient Ruins

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Considered the crowning jewel of American archaeology, Chaco dates back to 900 B.C. and served as a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the Four Corners area—unlike anything that existed before or since.


The Writing on the Wall

Across the Southwest

Spanning the Four Corners Region, petroglyphs stand in tribute to the artists who once called these lands home and tell stories, record significant events, mark trails, and showcase cultural and religious beliefs.


Castle in the Sky

Bishop Castle (Colorado)

Dubbed “the largest one-man project,” Bishop Castle has been the passion project of Jim Bishop for nearly 60 years, ever since he purchased the 2.5-acre parcel that lies 9,000 feet above sea level and decided to turn the rocks on his property into a one-room cabin. The result is as much a monument to perseverance as it is to the need for building codes.


Play in Your Sandbox

Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

The Great Sand Dunes look so out of place, it’s easy to imagine aliens or a giant celestial being had simply dumped tons of sand in front of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s so otherworldly that NASA uses the park to test its rovers, including the Viking spacecrafts that first landed on Mars.


Life on Mars


From the Big Five (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion) to sweeping state parks, Utah is home to some of the most breathtaking desert landscapes in the United States—and it’s the only state where a national forest is part of every county.


On the Edge

Horseshoe Bend (Arizona)

Nature is a master of making you realize how small you are—in a good way. That’s definitely the case standing along the rim of the canyon and looking 1,000 feet below at the ant-sized speedboats and kayaks puttering along the Colorado River below.


The Amazing Technicolor Dream Posts

Seven Magic Mountains (Nevada)

Artist Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains is composed of columns of colorful stacked boulders that punch through the flat expanse of desert and break up an otherwise monotonous drive with poetic bursts of color.


“The Noblest of the Noble Race”

Big Trees at Sequoia and Redwood National Parks (California)

Among the tallest trees on the planet, the giant sequoias and redwoods both require specific yet distinct climates to survive. The former thrives only in the high, dry elevation along the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ western slope, while the latter flourishes in the moist, foggy Pacific Coast in Northern California.


Into the Blue

Moraine Lake (Canada)

Nestled among the Valley of the Ten Peaks and more than a mile high, Moraine Lake is glacier-fed and gets its iconic turquoise color as a result of light refracting off the fine rock dust suspended in the water.


An Enchanted Sky

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (New Mexico)

Every October, the skies in Albuquerque become alive with color as more than 500 balloons light up and lift off from Balloon Fiesta Park each dawn and dusk.


Solitude Among the Pines

Anthony Chapel (Arkansas)

Complementing the pines and oak trees at Garvan Woodland Gardens, Anthony Chapel is the largest chapel designed by architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee and uses thin wood “branches” and large panes of glass to bring the outdoors inside and provoke mindful reflection.


There’s No Place Like Home


While not exactly a fact, the state of Florida—where I was born, have spent most of my life, and couldn’t wait to leave as a teenager—proves to be more beautiful each time I return home. It’s more than just theme parks and “Florida Man” (and Woman). It’s kayaking through crystal-clear blue springs thronging with manatees. It’s watching the sun set over an open expanse of wetlands. And it’s visiting glowing green sulphur springs tucked inside an ancient forest.

Laura J. Cole is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, and content strategist. She has previously worked as the editorial director at both the University of Central Florida and Rollins College, her alma mater.