Reader's Choice: 7 Wonders of the US

Last month, we launched Explore America, a series of six galleries designed to educate and inspire the country to see the beauty in their own backyard. Along with the help of the U.S. Travel Association and, we combed through the country, pulling out ten wonders in each of six different categories -- Natural, Wildlife, Unusual, Historical, Architectural, and Water -- and asked you, the reader, to vote on your favorites. Here, we've compiled the top seven wonders found stateside, according to number of votes, along with two honorable mentions. Read on to see which destinations took home top honors.

1. Coronado Performing Arts Center, Rockford, Illinois

An ornate movie palace and vaudeville hall, the Coronado Performing Arts Center was built in 1927. Recently restored, the Coronado is a delightful example of an "atmospheric-style" theater with gilded Spanish castles, Italian villas and Chinese dragons in relief on the sides of a starry false sky. While worth seeing for just its opulent interior, the Coronado is also host to high quality shows throughout the year, including broadway shows, symphony orchestra performances, and a wide variety of entertainment -- from comedians like Frank Caliendo to entertainers like famous illusionist David Copperfield. Tours of the theater are available by appointment.

The Wow Factor: The sides of the theater are adorned with plaster work simulating castle walls -- complete with balconies, domes and turrets -- and green stained-glass lamps add to the ambience. Visitors sit on red velvet seats, which give the feeling of sitting in a 1920s-era theater.

Cost: Visiting the theater is free, and tickets to performances vary.

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota

Above the dense forests and pristine streams of the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a national treasure. Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, and their invaluable contributions to the United States.

The Wow Factor: The figure of Thomas Jefferson was started on Washington's right side (instead of left side). After 18 months of carving, the figure of Jefferson had to be dynamited off the mountain and restarted on the left of Washington.

Cost: There is no admission to Mt. Rushmore, only a parking fee.

3. Government Bridge, Rock Island, Illinois

Designed by Ralph Modjeski and finished in 1896, the iron bridge has remained in service largely unchanged for over 100 years. The biggest change was the construction of Lock and Dam #15 in 1934, which was built around and under the swing span. The bridge is a twin deck structure that carries both rail (top level) and road traffic (bottom level). It is one of two bridges in the world that can turn 360 degrees in both directions in order to allow river traffic through.

The Wow Factor: The bridge originally built here in 1856 was the first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River.

Cost: None

4. Longaberger Home Office, Newark, Ohio

This building has been drawing the attention of design-conscious travelers, and world-wide media, since it's debut in 1997. The seven-story building is composed of stucco over a steel structure, giving it the appearance of a Longaberger medium market basket, only 160 times larger than the original.

The Wow Factor: The two Longaberger tags adorning the side of the building are adorned with gold leaf, weigh 725 pounds each, and measure 25-feet long.

Cost: None

5. Yellowstone National Park

Dating back to 1872, Yellowstone is America's first national park. Along with its natural bubbling geysers, a large range of animals call the park home, including grizzly bears, gray wolves, elk and bison. The area remains largely in the same natural state it was in more than 130 years ago, and is home to more than 60 species of mammals, more than 200 species of birds and a half-dozen game fish.

The Wow Factor: Get the unique experience of watching wolves in their natural habitats by heading to the Lamar Valley. Fewer visitors in spring and fall make for prime-time wildlife viewing, but the wolves are easiest to spot in winter.

Cost: $25 per private, noncommercial vehicle; $12 for each visitor 16 and older entering by foot.

6. Biltmore, Ashville, North Carolina

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore is a National Historic Landmark and America's largest home. Biltmore was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore is a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, exhibiting the Vanderbilt family's original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. Biltmore estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres including renowned gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Today, Biltmore has grown to include the new Antler Hill Village, which features the award-winning Winery and Antler Hill Farm; the four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate; Equestrian Center; numerous restaurants; event and meeting venues and Biltmore For Your Home, the company's licensed products division.

The Wow Factor: Biltmore's gardens were landscaped by the designer of New York's Central Park, America's foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. From the formal beauty of the Italian Garden to the breathtaking presence of ancient trees in America's first managed forests, Biltmore's lush landscape is a living tribute to Olmsted's genius. Horticultural experts continually work to preserve the original vision for the gardens and grounds, including the "All America Rose Garden," featuring more than 250 varieties.

Cost: Admission prices vary by season. Children nine and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Price for adult admission is $60.

7. Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri

The Arch is the tallest national monument in the United States at 630 feet; it is the city's best known landmark and a popular tourist attraction. Construction began February 12, 1963 and the last section of the Arch was put into place on October 28, 1965. The Arch is a structure known as a catenary curve, the shape a free-hanging chain takes when held at both ends, and considered the most structurally-sound arch shape.

The Wow Factor: The monument contains an egg-shaped tram that transports visitors from one base of the arch to another, rotating at a 5 degree angle during travel to ensure the tram stays upright during the 4 minute trip up one side and the 3 minute trip down the other.

Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children

Honorable Mentions:

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park preserves a spectacular landscape rich with majestic mountains, pristine lakes and extraordinary wildlife. The abrupt vertical rise of the jagged Teton Range contrasts with the horizontal sage-covered valley and glacial lakes at their base, creating world-renowned scenery that attracts nearly four million visitors per year.

The Wow Factor: The rocks that make up the instantly-recognizable mountain range date back to 2500 million years ago, and visitors to the area can view over 300 species of birds, including Bald Eagles.

Cost: $25 for a 7-day pass

Statue of Liberty, New York, New York

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and officially titled, Liberty Enlightening the World, in recognition of a friendship established during the American Revolution. Dedicated in front of thousands of spectators on October 28, 1886, for many years it was one of the first glimpses of the United States for millions of immigrants and visitors after ocean voyages from around the world. Over the years, the meanings of the Statue have grown until she has become an international icon of freedom and liberty, and the most recognizable symbol of democracy in the world.

The Wow Factor: Climb 354 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty and witness an unparalleled view of New York City and the surrounding areas.

Cost: There are no entrance fees, however there are fees for the statue and the Ellis Island ferry. $12 for adults (aged 13 and over), $10 for seniors (62 and over), $5 for children (aged 4-12)
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