MapQuest Unveils 10 Top Destinations of 2013

Las Vegas, Nashville and Orlando were the top three searched for cities on MapQuest in 2013. The results are a compilation of destinations searched for on both MapQuest’s website and its recently updated-and critically acclaimed-iPhone and Android apps. [Full disclosure: AOL owns both MapQuest and Gadling.]

Texas was the only state with two cities in MapQuest’s top 10 list: Houston was eighth and Dallas was ninth. Feel free to criticize these travelers for not going to Austin instead in the comments.
Here are MapQuest’s top 10 most-searched for destinations of 2013:

  1. Las Vegas, Nevada
  2. Nashville, Tennessee
  3. Orlando, Florida
  4. Atlanta, Georgia
  5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  6. Chicago, Illinois
  7. Denver, Colorado
  8. Houston, Texas
  9. Dallas, Texas
  10. St. Louis, Missouri

Tennessee Trails, Take Me Home

After a long, wet winter, I needed some dirt.

With the mountain bike trails around my Indiana home too muddy to ride, I picked up my buddy Jimmy and pointed the Forester south to Nashville. The temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than what we’d been suffering through this Hoosier farce of a spring, and from what I could tell from the Internet chatter, the Tennessee trails seemed to be in fairly decent shape. A little over four hours later, under overcast skies, we were rolling up to the Montgomery Bell State Park trailhead near Dickson, Tenn.

The plan was simple. Since this was our first trail ride of the season, we would stick to the two easier trail systems at first, easing our way up to the two harder levels by the end of the day. A couple of riders we encountered at the trailhead told us the 20-plus miles of trails were marked fairly well, so we knew there was no way for us to get lost. Just to be safe, I quickly took a snapshot of the trail map with my phone, then threw my leg over the Giant’s top tube and pedaled into the trees.

Jimmy was already in front of me, his tiny legs a blur on his new 650B rigid singlespeed. He knew my cautious nature on technical singletrack and was soon launching a few short attacks, trying to get me to breach my comfort zone. As he dipped beneath the horizon, I accelerated, determined to catch his wheel. The oak and hickory trees disappeared behind me as I picked up speed, catching him as he was powering up a short rise. He might be more fearless on the trail, but I had the benefit of 2X10 gearing and could easily catch him on the hills.One of the reasons we came to Tennessee was for the hills, and they did not disappoint. The trails didn’t flow in the same manner as the ones back home, and climbing felt like more of a chore at times. But it was dirt, it was new, and we were having fun.

My biggest flaw as a traveler and a cyclist is my inability to follow even the simplest of maps. If I were born five centuries ago, I would have been the hapless mariner piloting his vessel over the edge of the earth. So it shouldn’t have been a shock when we soon realized we’d ventured into the more difficult terrain we wanted to avoid at the start.

The Esses and Chain Reaction are great fun, with fast, bermed turns and some nice downhills, but by the third time we rode over them, my frustration was starting to show. The terrain wasn’t nearly as technical as we had feared, but we didn’t drive four-plus hours to ride the same section of trail multiple times. Finally, after studying the map harder than my 15-year-old self-examining a dog-eared Playboy, we were finally able to navigate our way onto new trail.

That’s when the sleet started.

The tree cover protected us from the brunt of the storm, but we were still pelted by the slushy hail. The weather motivated to throw caution to the wind and sprint back to the trailhead. Seconds after our tires hit the gravel trail leading to the parking lot, the skies cleared and the sleet stopped. We briefly considered riding back into the woods, but decided beers sounded better.

The next day would prove to be less cartographically challenging. Lock 4 Mountain Bike Park, located on the other side of Nashville in Gallatin, Tenn., is a wonderfully laid out, nine-plus mile trail system that offers a wealth of terrain, including a couple of short switchbacks that could stop you in your tracks if you don’t gear down fast enough. The trails were in great shape, save for one section of the trail that was taped off, the rains a week before making it a muddy mess.

Over all, Lock 4’s rooty singletrack was super fast, with well-marked bailouts before the most difficult technical sections. Being that rock gardens are my kryptonite as a rider, the only section that gave me any real difficulty was a narrow, stone-strewn climb that tested my nerve as much as my technical skills.

We did just a few laps at Lock 4, pausing near the top of one of the climbs to admire Old Hickory Lake, which surrounds the park on three sides. It was a beautiful day, and more than a few riders were on the trail on that Wednesday afternoon, playing hooky from work, just like us.

We were rained out the next day, and afterward it was time to break out the road bikes. But I’d gotten the dirt I needed, and that was enough.

So you want to ride the singletrack near Nashville? Find out trail conditions, get directions and trail maps at

4 U.S. cities that need a major theme park

A glance at a map of the United States makes my theme park-addicted mind flag the states and cities with theme parks. To me, the states without theme parks look like big holes in the map. I figured I’d list the cities that I feel could use a major theme park. I’m going to preface this list by admitting that I have a completely outsider’s view of these cities. I’m going mainly on the population, so feel free to inform me of any local issues or reasons why theme parks aren’t there. And by theme park, I mean a 100-acre or more amusement park with roller coasters, thrill rides, and the typical attractions people associate with these parks.

A theme park developer once told me during an interview that the U.S. market is already pretty saturated and that it was unlikely that we would see new large theme parks. I’m no theme park businessman, but I find that a little hard to believe. Here are the cities that I feel need a theme park.

4 – Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville was recently the center of what looks to be at worst a hoax, and at best a well-meaning, but unlikely new project. Last month a developer unveiled plans for a $750 million theme park in nearby Spring Hill, TN. Since the announcement a number of questions have arisen around the developers background. There are about 1.2 million people in the Nashville metro area and around 600,000 in the city itself. There are two great smaller parks, Holiday World and Dollywood, that are about 3 hours away, but I’d still like to see Nashville with its own major theme park.3 – Phoenix, Arizona
AZ Central recently recounted the proposed Phoenix area theme parks and attractions that for one reason or another haven’t made it off the ground. They included an indoor ski park, Decades Theme Park, and the Mesa Waveyard. Aside from the climate, AZ Central goes on to point out the competition area attractions would have. A theme park would have to compete with a little attraction known as the Grand Canyon and the area’s other natural points of interest. The latest proposed project is an indoor theme park that would include a ski area and a water park. With 1.4 million in the city and 4 million in the metro area, the city definitely has the population to support a major theme park.

2 – New Orleans, Louisianna
After Hurricane Katrina flooded Six Flags New Orleans in 2005, the park remained abandoned for years. There were a few plans to re-open the park, but they fell through. Even as recent as last summer, the park looked like it was left in such dissaray (see video) that you’d think an apocalyptic event had happened. Something that removed the patrons and workers, but left the rides to rot and merchandise to lay out in the streets. New Orleans has over a million people and no competing major parks that are relatively close. The new park should probably be placed further away from the coastline or lake, but New Orleans seems like a city where a theme park could thrive.

1 – Houston, Texas
With a population of 2.1 million people and a warm climate, I can’t imagine why there isn’t a major theme park in Houston. Since the city lost Six Flags AstroWorld back in 2005, theme park fans have had to trek to San Antonio or Dallas to visit a large theme park. An eco theme park, called EarthQuest Adventures has been planned for the Houston area for a few years now. According to news from last summer, the new park is slated to open in 2013 in New Caney, Texas about 25 miles north of Houston. However, I couldn’t find an official opening date on the park’s website.

What city would you say needs a theme park? Do you know a reason why one of these cities shouldn’t get a theme park?

Photo Credit: Intamin10

Renovated Opryland Hotel reopens with glitz, glam and a whole lot of country

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center reopens today following a $270 million face lift after the May 2010 flood that shut down the hotel and convention center for six months.

Most of what took place over the past six months is repairs from severe water damage after May’s devastating floods in the region. The famed Opryland Hotel reclaims its place in hotel history when it opens with five new restaurants, flat-screen TVs that line the marble wall space behind the check-in counters, renovated rooms and the hotel’s famous atriums.

From the lobby sofas to the business center to a large, museum-quality glass sculpture that now sits in one of the hotels’ lobby, everything in this hotel is brand new. According to the hotel, the Opryland Hotel already has 11,000 rooms booked for 2011.

To celebrate the rebirth of Nashville’s favorite attraction, Gaylord is putting on one hell of holiday splash: a three-day series of Christmas-themed events featuring the Rockettes, a playground made of ice, fireworks and free concerts. For some lucky guests, a private audience with Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow are among the perks of the hotel’s opening.

The hotel staff has been hard at work since July putting together the following touches to the holiday decorations. The Gaylord Opryland Resort will revive it’s annual “A Country Christmas” from Nov. 19, 2010 through Jan. 2, 2011. Nearly 1 million guests each year experience the family-friendly shows and activities and beautiful 2 million twinkling lights that are the hallmark of the world-famous A Country Christmas at Gaylord Opryland.

New York: best and worst city in schismatic survey

If you want to travel like a local, then it makes sense to know something about your destination … and isn’t the best city to live attractive? It’s the kind of place you’d want to explore and see why it’s so loved. And at the same time, you’d probably want to avoid the worst of the worst – who would want to go there?

Well, a new Harris Interactive poll makes this thinking hard to execute, USA Today reports. According to 2,620 Americans, the best and worst are exactly the same. Asked the city in or near which they’d most like to live, New York came out on top. This hasn’t changed (except once) since Harris began posing the question in 1997.

Now, the other side of the issue, what is the most loathed city in America? Well, it seems to be New York. San Francisco and Los Angeles also made both lists.

To see the top and bottom 10, take a look below:
Top of the heap:
1. New York
2. San Diego
3. Las Vegas
4. Seattle
5. San Francisco
6. Los Angeles
7. Nashville
7. Atlanta (a tie)
9. Denver
10. Boston

Bottom of the barrel
1. New York
2. Detroit
3. Los Angeles
4. Chicago
5. Houston
6. Miami
7. Washington
8.San Francisco
9. Dallas
10. Phoenix (tied with New Orleans)

[photo by Francisco Diez via Flickr]