Natural beauty on display at the Atlantis this summer

No, I’m not talking about the beaches and ocean and trees and such. This summer, the 2009 Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe pageants are being held on Paradise Island in the Bahamas this year – the former on July 31, 2009 and the later on August 23, 2009. So, if you think nature’s wonder comes in the female form, book your tickets immediately. The has put some packages together around these pageants so you can combine a great vacation with a rare opportunity to see in person what we know you DVR to watch twice at home.

Rates start at $299 a night for a three-night stay, but the perks stretch far beyond a relatively inexpensive stay at this hot resort. You’ll have access to special passes and tickets to both the preliminary presentations and finals for each pagent (i.e., you can get solid discounts). You can also pick up passes to a viewing party on the resort’s Royal Deck and the post-pageant Coronation Ball. Food, beverages and excitement are served up as part of these events. And, you may run into some of the contestants around the resort. For the Miss Teen USA package, you’ll have to travel between July 23 and August 4 (so, get moving!), while you have a bit more time to plan for the Miss Universe event (August 15 to August 31).

Tickets for the Miss Teen USA Presentation Show start at $30, with the finals starting at $50. The Miss Universe festivities are a bit pricier, which is to be expected. The presentation round are $50, with the finals $175. The viewing party is $165, and the coronation comes in at $125.

When the winners have been crowned, you can wander through waterslides, river rides and check out animals in 14 exhibit lagoons. Or, you can try your luck (at the casino, you gump). There are more than 100 table games where you can try to win big and impress the new Miss Universe. Good luck with that.

Tunnel of Nine Turns: Taroko Gorge

Reading Justin’s post about the world’s longest tunnels made me think of Taroko Gorge near Hualien, Taiwan. Taroko Gorge’s Tunnel of Nine Turns isn’t the longest in the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the curviest. The tunnel cuts through the rugged mountains of the middle of Taiwan that separates the eastern part of the island from the western part where most of the people live.

The tunnel is exactly what its name says. The ruggedness creates the curves and makes for an interesting walk. Because this section is only open to pedestrians, you don’t need to worry about getting mowed over by a truck careening around a corner. In a few spots you can look through natural windows to the marble and granite rock face and lush trees that cover the gorge. Just walk a few steps; you’ll figure out where the lushness comes from. It is HUMID!! Bring water and a bandana to wipe off sweat.

Besides walking through the tunnels, there are hiking trails to explore and some temples that offer a view when you get to them. Of all the places I went in Taiwan, Taroko Gorge is perhaps my favorite because I didn’t expect its beauty. The first time I went here I was on a bus that crossed the country from west to east. I remember I had to drink a Coke to settle my stomach. The second time we took a tour from Hualien. We got to Hualien from Hsinchu, the city where we lived, on the train. [photo: Morgan Calliope, Flickr]