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Destinations for Finding Awe in Nature

by Becca Hensley

The surest path to self-care is to immerse yourself in nature.

Einar Ólafur Matthíasson reaches out his hand. I don’t want to grab it (despite his distinct resemblance to a young, albeit more Icelandic, Sean Connery), but tentatively I take hold. He’s guiding me up Stakkholtsgjá, a canyon composed of inky metamorphic rock that tumbles down from Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that stopped world traffic with its outburst in 2010.

We’ve successfully forded a stream, and maneuvered a slippery path, but this last bit of the trail possesses a challenging incline. There’s not a foothold in sight. The rocky expanse soars like a spire to the sky. I don’t really need “Olie’s” help—I want to conquer it all by myself—but it feels good to accept it. “You’re doing it yourself,” he says, as I scramble up, as if reading my mind, as if he knows. “I’m just giving you confidence.”

In Iceland, on a customized Scott Dunn itinerary, I take the back roads to delve deeply into the island nation’s glorious nature. I love Reykjavik, Iceland’s hip capital, but all I want is to dance amid the evergreen trees, be poised over the edge of a craggy cliff, or to look upward in a meadow at night, searching the heavens for the kaleidoscopic Northern Lights. With Olie urging me on, I reach the zenith of the canyon at last. Alone, we sit mindfully and silently before a startling waterfall. As it murmurs and flows, it mimics a choir of fairies in concert.

Last year became my year of nature, though I’ve always been a child of the land. I’d spent the last months gluttonously regaled with glitz and glam, besotted by grandiose luxury and fueled by our world’s incessant overdose of mind-numbing technology, from texts to Twitter. When the new year hearkened, I knew I needed something far more ponderous than snapping a photo for Instagram or lounging beside a pool in a chaise longue. Simply put: nature called.

John Muir, the great Scottish-American naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, wrote: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” He’s been a kind of spirit guide for me these last few months, a beacon in the darkness, a quiet place to escape amid the noise. His prescient statement, written more than a century ago, resonates today—more loudly than ever. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

And, so I give you some quiet places, landscapes that don’t need modern accoutrements, such as zip lines or snowmobiles, to enhance their value. From mountains fringed by colossal trees to deserts rife with undiscovered dinosaur bones to ancient sites exuding mysterious and thundering seas, nature provides respite and offers answers to unspoken questions. All you have to do is be silent, open your heart, and listen.

Sequoia National Park, California

Awestruck by the grandeur and colossal size of the giant Sequoia groves in what was to become Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the southern Sierra Nevada region of California, John Muir called nature’s organic groupings of towering trees “not like places—like haunts.” In this moody expanse, marked by gaping canyons and pitted foothills, the biggest trees in the world grow and thrive. Hiking, resting and musing beneath them awakens the spirit. Stay in the park, surrounded by trees, domain to wildlife galore, at Wuksachi Lodge, open year-round. 

Paracas, Peru

South of Lima, the desert meets the sea at the Paracas National Reserve, a 5,600-square-mile swathe of lesser-traveled nature. Home to the Ballestas Islands, which harbor endangered sea turtles, Humboldt penguins and sea lions, the environs also contain the boundless, tawny sands of the Huacachina Desert (heart-stopping at sunset), and the mysterious, prehistoric geoglyphs, known as the Nazca Lines—which must be viewed from a small plane to see the shapes they comprise. Base at Hotel Paracas, A Luxury Collection Resort, and recharge with a Yucamani Stones Massage. 

Deplar Farm, Iceland

In the remote Fljot Valley, carved into the mountainous Troll Peninsula in northern Iceland, Eleven Experience’s Deplar Farm occupies an 18th-century, restored sheep estate. Authentically (and opulently) kitted out for immersive one-party rentals, perfect for family reunions, the 12-guest room resort includes personal guides (for heli-skiing, whale watching, horseback riding, fly fishing and more—in season) and staff. Meant to immerse guests into Iceland’s sensational, untouched terroir, the turf-roofed, all-inclusive farm hotel boasts a full service spa, including mind-altering, utterly silent, Cocoon Float Pods. 

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