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12 Places To Go in 2012

Don't Miss Spots in 2012

sunrise-badlands-110619-02

The sun rises over the Badlands of South Dakota.
(Image credit: NPS.)

The year 2012 is set to be an exciting one, full of historic anniversaries, international gatherings, and even a prophesy of doom. Read on for a list of 12 spots not to be missed in the coming 365 days.

The South Pole

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
(Image credit: Sven Lidstrom, National Science Foundation.)

A century ago, on Jan. 17, 1912, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott reached this desolate spot at the bottom of the world, only to find that Norwegian Roald Amundsen beat him to the prize a month earlier. Although Scott and his four companions died on the return trip, the British navy man's scientific efforts in Antarctica kicked off a strong tradition of research on the mysterious continent.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Scott's arrival at the South Pole, take a trip to the United States research station that bears his name.

Turks and Caicos Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands

Europeans first discovered these islands 500 years ago, much to the detriment of the local population.
(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.)

Unfamiliar to many Americans, the Turks and Caicos Islands are relatively close to United States' shores, lying north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. All the low-lying islands were built up over the millennia from coral reefs. After Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered the islands 500 years ago in 1512, the Spaniards progressively killed all the native Taino inhabitants until they were completely unpopulated and remained so until the early 1600s. The islands eventually came under British control, and remain so today a tropical paradise offering miles of pristine beaches and incomparable opportunities for diving, including a 7,000-foot vertical underwater wall just five minutes offshore.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Unlike the ones on TV, these presidential types may just help lower your blood pressure.
(Image credit: Ed Menard Ranger, National Park Service. )

Unless you have moved off the grid, you're probably painfully aware that 2012 is an election year. So why not visit some political heavy-hitters who can't yell at each other, all in the midst of nature's majesty? This national memorial in South Dakota's Black Hills is home to ponderosa pine forests, colorful wildflowers, and an interesting array of animals, from shaggy white mountain goats to turkey vultures.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Giant and Twin Domes, Carlsbad Cavern.
(Image credit: NPS Photo by Peter Jones.)

President Taft signed the paper that made New Mexico the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912. Celebrate the state's 100th anniversary by heading to an underground jewel Carlsbad Caverns National Park, home to more than 110 limestone caves. The vast network of caverns house massive and graceful geological formations, and scientists have found fossils of ice age animals everything from jaguars to camels to giant sloths near the entrances of some of the caves.

Sikhote-Alinsky Nature Reserve, Russia

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A Siberian, or Amur, tiger. These cats once teetered on the brink of extinction, and still face grave threats.
(Image credit: David Lawson / WWF-UK.)

Head to Russia's Far East to catch a coveted glimpse of one of the planet's most elusive and endangered animals an Amur tiger. Although 2012 itself isn't a significant year for these tigers, they are highly endangered, and opportunities to see them in the wild are dwindling with each passing year. According to some estimates, only about 350 of these tigers, the largest of the big cat species, survive in the wild. This nature preserve is large, about 1,500 square miles (4,000 square kilometers), and the chances of seeing an Amur tiger are small, but the natural beauty of its vast forests and mountainous terrain provide a feast for the eye.

London, England

Thames River, London, England

Spied by a satellite, the storied River Thames snakes through London.
(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.)

If you prefer more company on your travels, take a trip to London, where the 2012 Olympic Games kick off on Jul. 27. There's plenty to do in this metropolis for those who prefer natural beauty to human constructions. London is home to dozens of parks and nature reserves. In addition, the Zoological Society of London's Zoo, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew offer spectacular views of the planet's biological wonders, from teeny tortoises to bizarre plant life.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Swamp in New Orleans, Louisiana

A swamp scene in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
(Image credit: EPA.)

On April 30, 2012, Louisiana will celebrate the 200th anniversary of admission to the Union as the 18th state. Although the state has become a center of some of the most vibrant culture in the United States, centered on the music scene of New Orleans, it retains a great deal of its natural beauty. Visit Louisiana not only for the vibrancy of Bourbon Street, but to enjoy the quiet beauty of its unique wetlands.

Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda

Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda

The sun sets on a cool summer evening. The high elevation keeps summer evenings comfortable.
(Image credit: Nathan Mustain. )

A visit to this beautiful park in northern Uganda is an adventure only recently available. Until two years ago, the region was off-limits because of ongoing conflict and a two-decade civil war, but now peace has come to the area. This 550-square-mile (1,440-square-kilometer) park, near the border of Sudan, is home to a rich parade of African wildlife. Ostriches, elephants and zebras are just a few of the hundreds of animal species that roam the park's forests, grasslands and mountainous landscapes.

The Middle of the North Atlantic

Titanic Shipwreck

Ghostly ship: The rust encrusted bow of the Titanic, photographed by a remotely operated vehicle in 2004.
(Image credit: NOAA/IFE/URI.)

Some cruise lines are offering trips aboard modern-day ships that will retrace the journey of the doomed RMS Titanic, which sank a century ago, on April 15, 1912. The disaster killed 1,517 people. The ship's wreckage rests some 12,080 feet (3,680 meters) below the surface of the sea, off the coast of Canada's Newfoundland province.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Mount Cannon's snowy slopes loom over Lake McDonald.
(Image credit: David Restivo, NPS. )

This national park gets its name as much for its icy past (more than 10,000 years ago, the region was covered with thick ice) as for the glaciers that remain, but even those have been disappearing in recent years. In 1850, the park was home to 150 glaciers, but today it is home to just 26. Pay a visit in 2012 to catch a glimpse of these slow-moving rivers of alpine ice before they dwindle further.