White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
The American Southwest is full of otherworldly places, but White Sands National Monument, a massive field of pale sand dunes in southern New Mexico, is about as good as it gets for austere, alien majesty. Wander long enough through the endless hillocks of gypsum crystals, and you will start to feel like you’re in an altered state (though hopefully not because you’re dehydrated; be sure to bring lots of water). It’s easy to imagine one of the sandworms from Dune bursting up from below, or a UFO from nearby Roswell drifting across the shimmering sky. —Jesse Ashlock, features director
Virgin Islands National Park, St. John
The national park on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, features some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A quick drive north from the town of Cruz Bay will lead you right into the park. Along North Shore Road you’ll find multiple beaches, each more spectacular than the next. The most stunning one I saw was at Cinnamon Bay Campground. You can rent kayaks there and go out exploring.