Spotting wildlife in South Dakota's Custer State Park is a thrill year-round, but never more so than during the annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival in September. Crowds gather early in the morning to see, hear and feel the thundering of some 1,400 bison being driven in from the range. The prairie backdrop to this awesome sight is private land that The Nature Conservancy protected with a conservation easement in 2012. While you are in the area, visit two nearby memorials blasted out of Black Hills granite: the 60-foot-high presidential heads at Mount Rushmore and a still-in-progress—and much larger—depiction of the Native American warrior Crazy Horse.
The Rocky Mountains explode with color in July, when kaleidoscopic blooms blanket alpine meadows. The ski resort town of Crested Butte earns its moniker as the wildfl ower capital of Colorado with an annual festival, now in its 30th year, off ering guided hikes and photography and art workshops . The 11-mile trek between Crested Butte and Aspen, over the famed West Maroon Pass, is not to be missed. Head to nearby Gothic to see the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s visitors center, where you can learn about research on climate change and high-altitude ecosystems. (One of the study sites is Mexican Cut, a Nature Conservancy preserve established 50 years ago and used only for science.)
As if a single breaching humpback whale weren’t electrifying enough, imagine a group emerging in unison. In June and July, observe this unique behavior, called bubble net feeding, from a whale-
watching boat or even from the shore in Southeast Alaska. Treat yourself to a side trip to the Conservancy’s Gustavus Forelands Preserve, at the edge of Glacier Bay National Park.