Photograph by Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Photograph by Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
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How can you explore the wild safely this summer?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Last weekend I took a spectacular sunset hike. I saw forests of gnarly rhododendron, with downy buds not yet in bloom, grassy glades in the gloaming, and a handful of hikers enjoying the moment. The Craggy Pinnacle Trail, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is perfectly accessible from Asheville, North Carolina. Which means it’s just the kind of wilderness where urbanites seeking escape (such as myself) could easily forget that we are in a nation gripped by pandemic.

With trails opening, is it safe—or ethical—to go hiking this summer? Are well-meaning people bringing bad bugs from crowded spaces to rural places? These are the questions we track in our story about how some backcountry communities are bracing for increased coronavirus exposure as national parks and forests begin welcoming visitors.

“That’s especially true in native lands, like Navajo Nation, situated near popular recreation areas like Grand Canyon National Park,“ reports Miles Howard. “With 6,020 positive cases to date, Navajo Nation has one of America’s highest coronavirus infection rates, making it particularly vulnerable to an influx of tourists."

It's clear that COVID-19 is not going away—14 states just reported their highest number of cases over a seven-day period. At Yosemite National Park, for the first time in its history, day visitors need to make a reservation ahead of time online, a move that park officials say will keep summer crowds to half of normal to help with social distancing.

Balancing the interests of public health and economic stability does not have to be contentious. In fact, it does not have to be any more difficult than respecting other people’s safety and autonomy. To help you navigate, we have reported on the best practices for parks travelers, including expert-backed advice for when you are in a park and for when you are traveling to them.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” naturalist John Muir once wrote. That’s how I felt last weekend, as the sun melted into the horizon. I hope you find your own path—safely—to the great outdoors this summer.

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Today in a minute

New Zealand ends social distancing: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ended all remaining restrictions on people and businesses at midnight Monday, other than strict border controls to keep the virus out, Bloomberg News reports. The South Pacific nation earlier reported that the last of its coronavirus patients has recovered, making it one of the few countries in the world to have successfully eradicated the pathogen and the first among those that suffered a sizable outbreak.

Passport power: Until COVID-19, the blue U.S. passport conveyed an outsized importance and access throughout much of the world. These days, passengers from Slovenia, Latvia, and Lebanon may have an easier time entering Greece, for example, than a U.S. or British citizen, the Washington Post reports. It may affect from which nations the rich want to gain a second passport. One London-based consultancy says clients in South Africa and Asia are looking at Australian passports, while Cyprus and Malta are of growing interest for people seeking quick access to Europe.

Why no mask? Despite announced safety policies, many passengers on flights are not wearing masks—and flight attendants have been told not to confront them, the New York Times reports. Travelers say that on some flights, there are not even announcements about the mask-wearing policy. “Airlines have said follow the guidelines, but don’t enforce them, don’t tackle people to the ground and don’t turn flights around if they don’t listen,” the Times quoted Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, as saying. “That gets around to the public, then it’s, ‘I don’t have to do this. There are no consequences if I don’t do this.’ That, too, can lead to conflict, not just with the flight attendants, but with other passengers, who get angry and all of a sudden we have to break up a fight.”

Time out: Steve Fuller had traveled to every country recognized by the United Nations. Except one. The retired Kansas City judge was in Fiji in mid-February, preparing to board his flight to his last destination, Tonga, when he got the bad news. Travel would be delayed, for months it turned out, because of the spread of COVID-19. Fuller is among the roughly 1,400 members of the Travelers’ Century Club, a global organization for people who have ventured to 100 or more countries and territories. Bruce Wallin writes for Nat Geo about the (currently frustrating) world of competitive traveling.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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The great (and lonely) emancipator: The steps of the Lincoln Memorial have hosted momentous events in U.S. history, from Marian Anderson’s trail-blazing concert in 1939 to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 to recent protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Most days, the memorial is just crowded, crammed with tourists and school groups climbing to see the magisterial sculpture of a sitting Abraham Lincoln. But photographer Joshua Cogan caught a different scene, shared with a security guard, peering out at the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument at daybreak.

Listen: Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert

Photos: Washington’s other monuments

Travel on Instagram: Are you one of our 38 million followers? (If not, follow us now.)

The big takeaway

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Don’t read this if you’re hungry: They are among the best chefs in the South. As businesses reopen around them following a COVID-19 lockdown, they are reluctant to join in just yet. Georgia chef Hugh Acheson says he’s not ready to have employees come into face-to-face contact with the general public before the pandemic is quelled. He doesn’t want them “used as sacrificial lambs for an economic uptick that is far from guaranteed,” he says. While Acheson’s restaurants, including the Grey in Savannah (above) or the Five & Ten in Athens (below), remain closed, he and his crew have have been cooking and donating a staggering average of 700 meals a day, near 25,000 in the past three weeks alone, for people in need, Allison Glock reports for Nat Geo.

Overheard at Nat Geo

We’re serving piranha: Split it straight down and open it up, then grill it over the barbecue and finish it with some lemon on top, says chief Gordon Ramsay. That’s how he learned to butterfly black piranha in the jungles of Guyana for his National Geographic Channel travel series, which started its second season on Sunday. Ramsay said he and his son used the same technique recently on a sea bass in Cornwall. “No pots or pans, no olive oil, no zester, no chilies, and we got to spend the sunset enjoying this one bass in a different way,” Ramsay told Jill K. Robinson for Nat Geo.

Watch: Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted, at 10 p.m. EST on Sundays on the National Geographic Channel.

In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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Sweeping it all in: How do you convey the complexity of a city in one image? Double exposures AND long exposures. In this photograph, Nicolas Ruel uses an eight-second exposure to connect Hong Kong’s verdant Victoria Peak with the densely populated city’s high-rises. Ruel has used the same approach in scores of cities, capturing the canals of Amsterdam, Berlin’s Reichstag, and London’s dizzying Oxford Circus, writes Daniel Stone for National Geographic.

Subscriber exclusive: See many sides of a city in a single image

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!