What steps will we take to keep America beautiful?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

A journey is a powerful thing. Travel not only pushes people out into the world, it brings the world into peoples’ consciousness. Journeys near and far, past and future, actual or aspirational help create a landscape of the imagination that informs our thoughts, actions, and interactions. Journeys help explain our lives, even as they illuminate our paths forward.

A week ago we asked Americans what they love about this country. We discovered that curiosity and exploration play critical roles in shaping an important aspect of identity: home.

“My greatest appreciation of our nation came during my 1987 bicycle trip across the northern United States, when I was only 26. It was then that I grew to appreciate that its people are what make our nation great,” writes Kay Wert Minardi. “The Sierra Nevada mountains are a spectacular series of ever-rising massive jagged cliffs with a dramatic white color to them, with creases of gray interspersed,” writes Stephen Schuler, who climbed from the valley to Mount Whitney peak. “I was in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the white jagged cliffs and sequoias convinced me, at least, that this is my cathedral of the gods.” (Pictured above, Lone Pine Peak in the Sierra Nevadas.)

Credit for the breathtaking beauty of America goes to nature, but responsibility for conserving our environment falls to us. Two new National Geographic articles highlight what’s at stake in the coming years for wildlife and environmental protections. While these actions may not directly affect travelers, they seek to protect habitats that sustain communities of plants, animals, and people—the very things that inspire travelers.

“With Joe Biden declared president-elect, many advocates and conservationists are hopeful that animals in the U.S.—wild, captive, and farmed—may become better protected,” write Natasha Daly and Douglas Main. This could mean strengthened enforcement of the Endangered Species Act; increased federal protections for certain species (possibly including gray wolves and wolverines); and renewed enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Animal Welfare Act.

“President-elect Joe Biden campaigned for office pushing the most ambitious goals to address climate change proposed by any American president. He also vowed to restore environmental protections dismantled by President Donald Trump,” write Laura Parker and Alejandra Borunda. They surface some of the major areas where Biden could act without new legislation from Congress. These include: Promoting a green economy; rejoining the Paris climate accord; revoking the permit authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project; and reversing Trump-era policy rollbacks that opened some U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling and the Tongass National Forest to logging (pictured below, endangered northern spotted owls live in old-growth Pacific Northwest forests).

Home is not the only four-letter word we are revisiting in America. Hope is surging, as reader Marybeth Bland writes: “I have hope that change will come. I have hope that we will come together as one nation in liberty and justice for all. I have hope we will return to kindness. That is the American spirit.”

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Today in a minute

The hurricane season that never ends: Theta has become the 29th named storm, setting a record for “named storms” in the Atlantic hurricane season. Many Americans are convinced that climate change is behind the battering, or at least the warmer seas that have fueled storm intensity. “But when climate scientists are asked, many suggest that the explanation for this season’s activity isn’t so straightforward,” writes Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens, who witnessed Louisiana’s damage first-hand. “They caution against saying a single storm or even a single season is a sign of climate change.”

A presidential succession (of getaways): President Calvin Coolidge decamped to South Dakota to vacation, and worked at a nearby high school if he had to. Herbert Hoover had a fish camp in what is now Shenandoah National Park. Harry Truman, not fond of the White House, spent 11 presidential vacations in Key West. Now, many of these escapes are open to the public, Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever writes.

Famed bookstore wants you: It’s been a Paris fixture, in two iterations, for more than a century, a haven for Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin, Zadie Smith, and Ethan Hawke. Now, COVID-19 and a sharp drop in tourism have threatened Shakespeare and Company, Afar reports. After a new Paris lockdown last week, the bookstore on the Seine emailed customers encouraging them to buy online, and they have. Orders jumped from 100 to 5,000 in the past week, ranging from students to former French President François Hollande.

Not a hotel, but ... The COVID-19 pandemic has raised interest in farm stays, Paula Wolf reports for Nat Geo. An estimated 2,500 working farms and ranches in the U.S. now offer lodging; delivering social distancing, cultural immersion, and an earthy education all in one stop, writes Wolf, who focuses on Amish farm stays in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. The Amish are a key part of the county's $3 billion tourism industry.

Your Instagram photo of the day

Higher love: Photographer Chris Boyes had to have quite the vantage point to get his image of a hot-air balloon drifting above the plains of the Maasai Mara, Kenya, as morning begins to light up. Boyes treats this iconic landscape with respect. “This wilderness connects us to a time long past on so much of our planet,” Boyes tells us.

The big takeaway

Cacao comeback: In the 1800s, before plant disease and global market changes, Ecuador was the world’s chocolate powerhouse. The South American nation is still treasured for its single-origin chocolate, and its industry is growing via small farmers and a stunning variety of flavors. “We have 20 years of work ahead to understand the flavors alone,” Santiago Peralta, co-founder of the organic chocolate company Pacari, tells Nat Geo. (Pictured above, organic chocolate melting in a mold at a Pacari factory in Quito.)

Overheard at Nat Geo

Engulfed by a tornado: In decades of storm chasing, Anton Seimon had never seen a tornado that measured two-and-a-half miles wide. When he did, it was almost too late. It had winds up to 295 mph. Hail the size of volleyballs. Although he was three miles south of the tornado’s deadliest strike, Seimon’s Dodge Carvavan barely got him out. “Things began to deteriorate in a way that I was not familiar with,” the atmospheric scientist told Nat Geo’s Peter Gwin in our podcast, Overheard. Three tornado trackers were killed that 2013 day in central Oklahoma, including Seimon’s friend, National Geographic Explorer Tim Samaras. Seimon and other scientists are researching deadly storms, including better ways to measure them, with the goal of saving lives. (Pictured above, a tornadic supercell thunderstorm, more than 80 miles away, with a large tornado touching ground.)

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

Beyond potholes: The road that runs near Ellen Himelfarb’s London home is old—2,000 years old. As Himelfarb strolls her stretch of the thoroughfare, she knows to buy bananas from the Bengali grocery, an almond milk latte from the Italian barista, and the paper from the Egyptian newsagent. In its formative years, however, today’s A10 was all about extending Roman rule from London Bridge to Cambridge to settlements in Norfolk and Yorkshire, Himelfarb writes for Nat Geo.

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

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