The 5 Clearest Blue Skies in the U.S.
From epic sunsets to shimmering stars, the sky's natural displays of beauty can rival any fireworks show. Where's the best place to find an unpolluted blue view? We've compiled a list of the top five cleanest skies in America based on the American Lung Association's State of the Air Campaign (the findings are based on measurements of short-term particle pollution).
Take a bow, Tarheels — Asheville and Brevard take first place for the cleanest metropolitan area in the country for 24-hour particle pollution. The list of opportunities for breathing in all that clean air is deep and wide. Literally. Western North Carolina is home to nearly 50 named peaks above 6,000 feet. The Great Smoky Mountains are two hours away from Asheville and serve as a habitat for more than 60 species of mammals alone.
Once named by Rolling Stone as "the #1 College Music Scene in America," Athens features plenty to listen to besides booming firecrackers and high-pitched whistlers. Take a stroll to the University of Georgia (the first state-chartered school in the U.S.) and visit the UGArden, a student-run organization that practices sustainable food production.
"America's Favorite Playground" really can equal recess for the outdoor enthusiast. The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is a short 14 miles away from Atlantic City, and the Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge less than 8 miles after that. Their locations in one of the Atlantic Flyway's most active routes make them both great venues for migratory water bird-watching.
The only thing bigger than the true Texas town of Austin is its propensity for good tunes. Take a load off in the "Live Music Capital of the world" by enjoying its annual 300 days of sunshine and its average temperature of 68 degrees. You'll find Pedernales Falls State Park just 54 minutes west, where its layers of river limestone are roughly 300 million years old.
5. Bangor, Maine
Q: If a firework goes off and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
We were going to imagine a tree instead, but there's a good bet that the sheer accessibility to state parks and to the wildlife here means you'd hear at least one topple. Less than an hour away are both the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge and the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which together hold over 200 different bird species as well as 45 species of mammals. Up for a longer trip? Baxter State Park in Millinocket covers over a beautifully-whopping 200,000 acres of mountains, lakes, streams, and forests.
--images by iStockphoto/SeanPavonePhoto (3 images), istockphoto/Mlenny, iStockphoto/egearing, and iStockphoto/apelletr
Davis Jones is an editorial intern at Sierra. His love for the outdoors began when he stepped on a fish hook as a 12-year-old and cried, in a burst of epiphanic clarity, "I'm too young to die." He attends the University of San Diego and enjoys camping, hiking, backpacking, and other activities that more or less benefit the mosquito population.