10 Most Sacred Sites in the United States

There is a world of variety in what different belief systems find sacred, some have passages of rites, others have sites of worship or holy animals and without a doubt all have a list of defining principles to follow. Great thinkers have struggled with the definition of the truly sacred. But it should be safe to say that in the multicultural melting pot of the United States, there are places of impossible beauty that are undeniably sacred, no matter what your religious background is, these sites will instill a feeling of awe at being in the presence of a higher power. Whether man-made or a natural wonder, they can be considered sacred because of what history has unfolded there or simply the depth of faith their natural beauty displays.

10. Sakya Monastery -Seattle, Washington

Sakya, meaning “grey or pale earth”, is one of four major branches of Buddhism. The monastery was a Presbyterian Church from 1928 until converted in 1975. The name resonates with the original Sakya monastery now in China, built in the 13th century containing some of Tibet’s greatest art works. The saffron robes, beaming Buddhas and the gentle teachings give it an aura of peace. Its devotion to the preservation of Tibetan heritage and culture in the face of the overwhelming power of the Chinese government is striking. The Head Lama has reflected that “the changes in Tibet are an example of the true nature of human existence: all is impermanent, and everything changes” adding to the sense of being in the presence of a heavenly power far beyond anything a mere earthly superpower can muster.

Photo by: Wonderlane via Flickr
Photo by: Wonderlane via Flickr

9. Cahokia Mounds -St. Louis, Missouri

Over a millennium ago, Cahokia was a huge settlement cross the river from what is now St. Louis. With an estimated 40,000 people in and around it, it is believed by many to have been the largest city in the world at that time, certainly the biggest in North America before Columbus. The High Priest literally ruled over the center of Mississippian Native culture from Monk’s Mound (so named by Trappist monks centuries later) where the Sacred Fire burned. In shades of England’s Stonehenge Monk’s Mound and the burial site of the Ruler-Priest are aligned by the stars. In fact, a circle of wooden poles nicknamed Woodhenge was used as a solar calendar. There are dozens of mounds once used for ceremonies, burials, sacrifices and with them the tingling feeling that ancient spirits still roam over them.

Cahokia Mounds

8. Unity Temple -Chicago, Illinois

The renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built the Temple after the Unitarian Church of which he was a member was struck by lightning and reduced to ashes in 1905. Its replacement, too, appears to be an act of God, like no other church on the face of the earth with a complete absence of anything resembling tradition liturgical shapes and textures. Instead of soaring domes and gold leafed chapels there is a mesmerizing geometric precision. Wright saw it as a “democratic’ religious space for the worship of God and a “meeting place, in which to study man himself for his God’s sake.” Like a late Mozart symphony, it seems like a masterpiece that could only have been achieved with the help of the angels. Modern and unconventional it may be, but it still induces a powerful urge to fall on one’s knees in wonder. It is designated a National Historic Landmark and attracts visitors from around the world.

Photo by: Teemu008 via Flickr
Photo by: Teemu008 via Flickr

7. Crater Lake -Medford, Oregon

With a depth of 1,949 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest in the country and Top Ten worldwide. It is an underappreciated scenic gem with one-tenth the four plus million visitors the Grand Canyon gets. The Klamath nation still regards it as a sacred site, created long ago by a terrible battle between the Chiefs of the Above and Below Worlds that completely destroyed the mountain that stood there. Scientists believe that Mount Mazama imploded some 8,000 years ago after a series of cataclysmic eruptions to form a caldera or volcanic depression, which became the lake with an unforgettable shade of blue seen only here. New Age spiritual adherents believe that the lake is a major vortex site and the source of positive energy from the earth’s natural power grid.

Crater Lake

6. The Islamic Center -Washington, D.C.

The mosque and cultural center has been ensconced on Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown D.C. since 1957. It was one of the earliest mosques in the country and for a time was the largest in the Western hemisphere. The interior is lush and imposing, recalling the legendary works of the great Ottoman architect Sinan, called the Muslim Michelangelo. In happy historical coincidence, it was in fact built by an Italian architect. There is something about great mosques that are piously humbling but artistically uplifting. It was there that President George W. Bush read the Koran just six days after the terrorist attack of 9/11: “In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule”. As the place the President of the United States reached out to a shaken Muslim community, invoking the words of the Prophet and the souls of the victims, in the name of peace, this must forever be a hallowed, sacred place.

Islamic Center, Washington

5. Mount Shasta -Mt. Shasta, California

Part of the Cascade Range in northern California, Shasta is central to the Creation story for local Native Americans and remains a sacred place for them. They have lived there for 9,000 years and though their numbers have dwindled shockingly, descendants still conduct ceremonies in its honor. The towering extinct volcano, once an active part of the notorious Pacific Ring of Fire, stands over 14,000 feet. No other mountain on the continent has been ordained by so many groups with mystical significance. As with many Native American sacred sites, its spirituality has been adopted by contemporary belief systems. Buddhists built a monastery there with the belief that it is one of the Seven Sacred Mountains in the World. Many New Agers believe it to be a vortex emitting earth’s subterranean energy. More than a few believe it to be a refueling base for UFO’s. Some of it may seem sacrilegious, but in a way underline the beauty and power of a place whose beauty has been put here by a Creator for a higher purpose.

Mount Shasta, California

4. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary -Baltimore, Maryland

Maryland was founded as a safe haven for Catholics persecuted in England, but the pious Puritans took up the persecution in the New World to the point that in some places Catholics could be sentenced to death. It took 145 years after the Declaration of Independence to build this Cathedral in Baltimore, so when the Basilica opened its doors in 1821, it was a major landmark for the country. It is sublimely warm and welcoming inside. Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have blessed it. He called it “the worldwide symbol of religious freedom”. In a sense it can be said that people died for this to be realized and so remains a moving testament to their faith and conviction in the face of intolerance.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary -Baltimore, Maryland

3. Devil’s Tower -Crook County, Wyoming

It is as much as 70 million years old. A stunning geological formation, from a volcanic eruption, it has been shaped and scarred by a millennium of erosion. Known in contemporary culture from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, some twenty Indian tribes have said to had close and sacred encounters with this natural beauty for thousands of years. It is also known as Bear Lodge and Bear tipi. There are many different legends of how it was created by the Great Spirit Legend. The crevices down its side are said to have been left by a bear sliding down in futility after his erstwhile victims found refuge on top. It was the first site declared a National Monument in 1906 and is still a place for Sun Dances, vision quests and other ceremonial customs. Its commanding presence juts out of the Black Hills looking down on its domain- does it have a supernatural power and in its mystery lies the questions by the grace of whom?

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

2.  Touro Synagogue -Newport, Rhode Island

The English settled Jamestown in 1607 and the Puritans landed famously at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The first Jewish settlers found their way to New York in 1654 and to Newport Rhode Island in 1658, likely fleeing persecution (as their ancestors and descendants have) in the Caribbean. The community thrived and decided it was time for a synagogue in 1759, so they chose Peter Harrison, who was considered the colonies’ greatest architect of the 18th century. Its interior is exquisite like a small English palace. Intensely symbolic, it was built so that people inside face east to Jerusalem and the number 12 is a recurring theme honoring the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It too is a historic site, but moreover it is a symbol of the devotion of a tiny group who lit a torch of hope for their ill-treated people in the New World.

LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com
LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

1. Bighorn Medicine Wheel -Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming

They are scarce, with only a hundred or so remaining set in starkly, spectacular, settings. medicine wheel’s are intensely spiritual, places that were made for worship. The Bighorn is the grandfather of all medicine wheels, though its 10,000 foot elevation makes it a daunting destination. Its intricate celestial significance is captivating. It’s a circle with 28 spokes, the number of days in the lunar calendar and a sacred number to many tribes. The spokes point to the rising and setting places of stars near and distant, the Sun at summer solstice, Rigel in Orion, and Sirius, the Dog Star (whose apogee in August gave rise to The Dog Days of summer) in Canis Major. Medicine wheels are the New World’s Stonehenge. Despite their name, they were not used for medical purposes. They should more appropriately be called ‘sacred hoops’ honoring the gods and seeking divine wisdom to guide them in every facet of tribal life.

Photo by: The Cut via Flickr
Photo by: The Cut via Flickr

10 Awesome Aquariums Where You Can Spend the Night With Sharks

Imagine drifting off to sleep while a shark silently stalks above you, or a school of colorful fish dart in and out of coral, all while you are safely tucked into your warm sleeping bag, next to your kids, or a loved one. Aquariums around the world are taking experiences to a new level by offering a variety of overnight experiences. These sleepovers allow guests to explore the aquarium after dark, learn more about the marine life that lives there and have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and participate in feedings and cleanings. From Toronto to California to South Africa, here are 10 awesome overnight aquarium experiences.

10. Vancouver Aquarium (Vancouver, BC)

Spending a night at the Vancouver Aquarium is like no other in Canada, and offers visitors an exciting opportunity to go behind the scenes in their marine lab. Visitors on one of these sleepovers will have the opportunity to touch local invertebrates including live sea stars, anemones, sea urchins, and more. Visitors can choose from different sleepovers including a family night where participants embark on a variety of activities, presentations, and tours. They also offer an incredible Valentine’s night sleepover for the romantic couple that wants to create unique memories. A three-course plated dinner, a presentation on the sex lives of sea animals, and a behind-the-scenes tour is included with this sleepover. Fall asleep in the Arctic Canada underwater gallery to sights of the majestic beluga whales swimming right in front of your eyes in this awesome Canadian aquarium sleepover experience.

9. Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, GA)

Sleeping at the aquarium doesn’t have to be just for kids as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta offers adults-only nights, along with a variety of family-themed nights. The family nights are recommended for ages seven and up and include a variety of activities and behind-the-scenes tours, specifically focusing on whales and sharks. The adults-only sleepovers here are hugely popular and for good reason. The behind-the-scenes tours, gallery tours, activities, and events that the aquarium plans for adults give you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close and personal with the marine animals. Dinner, snacks, a 4-D movie, and more are all included here. Make sure to spend the next day talking in the dolphin show and exploring the aquarium during daytime hours.

8. Maui Ocean Center (Wailuku, HI)

The aquarium here is an exciting place to be after dark as the creatures that normally hide during daylight hours make their debut, while others seem to disappear right before your eyes. The sleep with the shark sleepover at the Maui Ocean Center offers a total hands-on experience complete with fun activities, education, crafts, and a movie. Watch as the shark’s behavior changes from day to night, learn more about the marine animals and even have the chance to help an ocean naturalist feed the turtles and rays. This sleepover program is offered to anyone ages six to 13, accompanied by an adult. When you are all tuckered out from a fun-filled night, curl up in your sleeping bag and watch the Open Ocean show of the mesmerizing Sea Jelly exhibit. This program is one of the most hands-on sleepovers and promises to delight visitors of all ages.

7. Two Oceans Aquarium (Cape Town, South Africa)

Not anyone can spend the night at this aquarium, but if you happen to be a member, part of an educational group, or want to hold your child’s birthday party here; you will have access to a pretty awesome sleepover aquarium experience. The aquarium closes to the public at 6 pm, which allows sleepover guests plenty of time to explore the aquarium after dark. A kid-friendly dinner, a ton of planned activities, movies, and more await guests here. Exhibits include the penguin exhibit, Indian Ocean gallery, touch pools, Atlantic Ocean gallery, predator exhibit, and more. Birthday parties are perhaps the most popular sleepovers here, an experience your child will never forget. They happen to be best for children aged eight to 12.

6. Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, CA)

Grab your sleeping bag and prepare for the ultimate family adventure at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California. This is one of the best sleepovers if you are looking for the most hands-on activities. Sleepover guests will embark on an awesome scavenger hunt with the whole family as well as have a pizza dinner, guaranteed to make every kid happy. Next, up guests are encouraged to pet marine animals such as sharks, sea stars, and sea jellies. You can even help participate in a fish feeding. A light snack before bed and the chance to paint your own souvenir t-shirt are also included with this experience. These themed overnights do fill up quickly and are normally offered in the summer, winter, and Halloween; all complete with a different theme. These sleepovers also happen to be one of the most budget friendly on our list.

5. Newport Aquarium (Newport, KY)

This awesome overnight experience is something not to miss if you are in the Newport Area. First up, children and adults of all ages are welcome although they do recommend children be at least 6 years old. Each group of children must be accompanied by an adult and there will be no shortage of fun activities to keep everyone entertained all night long. Along with backstage animal experiences and encounters, sleepover guests will get guided tours, help with tank feedings, and enjoy either a shark or penguin presentation. The sleeping areas include Shark Tunnel (our personal favorite), Jellyfish Gallery, or Coral Tunnel. An evening snack and breakfast are included, as is admission to the aquarium the next day. At just $49 per person, this is an amazing price to check out what happens after dark at this ultra-cool aquarium.

4. SeaWorld (San Diego, CA and San Antonio, TX)

For any animal lover ages four to 14, with an adult chaperone, a family sleepover at SeaWorld might just be the most unforgettable and exciting night of your life. Your event begins at 5:45 pm where guests will be invited to check-in and eat a delicious pasta dinner. Following that are a multitude of animal encounters and fun and educational activities. Bedtime ranges between 10 pm to midnight and sleepover guests are encouraged to explore SeaWorld the entire next day, as admission is included. Kids also love the fact that they get a souvenir SeaWorld sleepover t-shirt to take home. If you happen to take the kids to SeaWorld San Antonio, try to visit during the Christmas season and stay overnight at the South Pole with the penguin encounter. Nothing says Merry Christmas than waking up to these cheerful creatures. Whichever experience you decide to try, you won’t be disappointed at SeaWorld.

3. Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey Bay, CA)

Seashore sleepovers at this aquarium offer animal lovers the chance to experience the aquarium after hours, even choosing to sleep next to your favorite exhibit. Check-in begins at 6 pm and sleeping areas are first come first serve, which means you best come early to get the sleeping area you want. The doors close at 8 pm to the general public and that is truly when the adventure begins. Special programming throughout the night means you won’t ever be bored and participants can choose to explore the aquarium on their own or participate in one of the many activities. A light evening snack is offered and bedtime is between 10:30 pm and 11 pm. In the morning have a continental breakfast in the café and spend the rest of the day exploring the aquarium by daylight.

2. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (Toronto, ON)

Let’s talk facts; this aquarium features over 16,000 animals, North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel, and more than 100 interactive exhibits, including three touch exhibits featuring horseshoe crabs, sharks, and rays. What makes this aquarium even better, which we didn’t think was possible, is their shark sleepovers. Yes, we said shark sleepovers. Visitors are invited throughout the year to curl up under the famous shark tank and sleep under the watchful eyes of the scary sharks that swim overhead. Included in this experience is admission to the aquarium in the evening and the next day, a take-home activity in the classroom, and a late-night snack plus breakfast. The aquarium does remain open to the general public until 11 pm on the night of the sleepover but rest assured you will be the only ones that get to experience the overnight in the dangerous lagoon tunnel, packed full of sand tiger sharks, roughtail stingrays, and green sea turtles.

1. National Aquarium in Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)

It is no surprise that this impressive aquarium boasts two awesome sleepovers for anyone over the age of eight. Visitors here can choose to a sleepover with the dolphins or the sharks, each offering unique programming. For dolphin lovers, the evening begins with a talk from the marine mammal team where you will get to know the dolphins and discover how they learn and play. From there, a kid-friendly dinner is served and you are off to experience the 4-D immersion films, explore the aquarium after dark and discover the behind-the-scenes area with expert guides. Fall asleep in one of the underwater viewing areas and in the morning helps wake the dolphins up with an exclusive enrichment session. If you choose to sleep with the sharks, expect much of the same experiences; only substitute the dolphin with the shark. A once in a lifetime opportunity awaits you here at this awesome aquarium.

7 Most Beautiful and Underrated Cities and Towns in the U.S.

The family vacation is another one of America’s favorite pastimes. Every year, millions of citizens pack their bags and head out in search of fun and relaxation. Popular cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Orlando, become flooded with tourists. However, the struggling economy has caused many people to think outside the box. While not as popular, there are plenty of remarkable cities to visit in this country. Here is a list of seven of the most underrated towns and cities in the United States.

7. Lincoln, Nebraska

When most people think of the state of Nebraska, images of rolling hills and rugged landscapes come to mind. The city of Lincoln, however, has become a modern diamond in the rough. It has high-end shopping, quality museums, and a wide variety of nightclubs. There is also a wonderful exhibit showing the evolution of Nebraska over the past 100 years.
Lincoln Nebraska

6. Perdido Key, Florida

Perdido Key, also referred to as the “Lost Key,” is a small hidden gem actually located within the city of Pensacola. This town is the perfect spot for those who enjoy the beauty of nature. Beaches, parks, and wildlife preserves take up more than half of the area. Diving enthusiasts can also have an underwater adventure by exploring a sunken military ship.
Perdido Key Florida

5. Newport, Rhode Island

Unless you are a Rhode Island native or a history buff, you may not be familiar with the refined taste of this city. A formerly favored spot of the legendary Kennedy family, Newport is home to some of the most beautiful mansions and delicious seafood in the world. This city is also a popular location for sailing.
Mansion, Newport, Rhode Island

4. St. Petersburg, Florida

Although not as popular as Miami or Tampa, this city is the perfect example of why Florida is called the “Sunshine State.” The warm, clear weather lasts nearly year-round. True to its coastal nature, St. Petersburg has some of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Those in search of culture can also visit the Salvador Dali Museum, which holds the largest collection of his work in the western world.
St. Petersburg Florida

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach has miles and miles of extraordinary coastline. For avid surfers, these beaches also welcome large and abundant Atlantic Ocean waves. In the evenings, the boardwalks offer mouth-watering restaurants and peacefully romantic scenery. Vacationing families can enjoy the thrill and excitement of the Busch Gardens amusement park. Virginia Beach is also extremely close Jamestown, which is America’s oldest existing settlement.
Virginia Beach, Virginia

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is another beautifully historic costal town. Dating back as early as the 1600’s, there are plenty of authentic buildings and Civil War memorials. The quaint, lovely streets and “Gullah” traditions make visitors feel as if they have stepped out of a time machine. For the modern traveler, Charleston also has beautiful beaches, famous golf resorts, and plenty of art galleries.
Charleston South Carolina 1

1. Tunica, Mississippi

Tunica, also commonly known as “The Vegas of the South,” is a surprisingly fun city. Home to at least nine casinos, Tunica has a risk and spice of a typical gaming town. There is more to this little known spot than gambling, however. The city has 4-star golf courses, gorgeous hotels, and several popular nightclubs, including a variety of famous blues clubs.

Tunica Mississippi
Eugene Buchko / Shutterstock.com