Good morning, everybody! Today's travel news is all about the United States.
* OBAMA DESIGNATES TWO NEW NATIONAL MONUMENTS
President Barack Obama has set aside another 1.65 million acres for public use and future vacations by declaring them National Monuments.
Federal land surrounding Bears Ears Buttes (pictured above) in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte northeast of Las Vegas are desert areas that include crucial Native American petroglyphs of archeological and historic importance going back as far as 5,000 years, as well as wildlife habitats for hiking and hunting.
The move has been hailed by some members of Congress, the heads of the departments of Interior and Agriculture, and Native American groups (who consider some of the land sacred). Some conservatives have decried the President's action, however; one Republican politician called it "a travesty."
“The Antiquities Act gives the authority to create monuments and does not give explicit authority to undo them,” said Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, when asked about the designation by the New York Times. No president has unraveled his predecessor's designations since the Antiquities Act was put in place in 1906.
Bears Ears Buttes has been on the list for proposed National Monument protection since way back during the F.D.R. administration. This year, Obama set aside other pristine American areas for protection including Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine—qualifying it as one of our choices for the Best Places to Go in 2017.
* U.S. NOW ASKING FOREIGN VISITORS TO DIVULGE SOCIAL MEDIA INFO (Travel Weekly)
The United States government is now asking foreign visitors to supply links to their social media accounts when they arrive in the country.
The change applies to those entering the U.S. by way of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 38 nations to travel in the country for up to 90 days without a visa.
Those travelers can opt not to answer the question, but that hasn't forestalled strong criticism of the change from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
When the new question was proposed last summer, the latter organization argued in a statement that asking about visitors' social media presence would "invade individual privacy, burden free expression, and expose particular communities to the risk of undue surveillance or ideological exclusion."
Officials with Customs and Border Protection counter that collecting social media data will help the Department of Homeland Security better investigate threats and dangerous connections.
* BID FOR THE CHANCE TO RIDE IN ALASKA'S IDITAROD RACE (Chicago Tribune)
Finally, here's a winter travel idea for those of you with a sense of adventure: Until January 20, you can bid for the chance to ride in the basket of a musher's sled in the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska.
Winners of the auction will get an 11-mile ride at the ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage. That's just a tiny fraction of the full route, which stretches across more than 1,000 miles and usually takes teams at least nine days to cover.
Bids are currently in the $750-$900 range, but will probably go for quite a bit more than that. The race is scheduled to start on March 4.
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