Cuatro Ciénegas Valley, Mexico: Deep in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert in northeast Mexico lies the 200,000-acre Cuatro Ciénegas Valley. This striking landscape is characterized by hundreds of azure freshwater springs, desert gardens and white gypsum dunes surrounded by mountains rising to 10,000 feet. Beyond its almost surreal beauty, Cuatro Ciénegas is home to at least 77 species of plant and animal found nowhere else on Earth.Mined for decades, the 99%-pure gypsum dunes of Cuatro Ciénegas were on the verge of disappearing. Today, approximately 15% of the original dunes remain and further mining is forbidden.
Pez Maya & the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico: Just 90 miles south of Cancun lies Pez Maya, a postcard-perfect paradise and 64-acre gateway to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve on the Yucatán Peninsula. At 1.6 million acres, Sian Ka'an is Mexico's largest protected coastal wetland, providing refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals. Pez Maya's two miles of coastline comprise breeding grounds for least tern, osprey, American crocodile, manatee, and loggerhead and green sea turtles. Nourished by inland mangrove swamps, the coastal waters of Pez Maya harbor one of the world's most pristine coral formations and are renowned for their abundance of sport fish such as tarpon, bonefish, snook and permit.
Great Lakes, Tettegouche Lake, MN: The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the worlds fresh water, an increasingly vital resource, and support an astonishing array of plants and animals. The region is home to great beauty and great industrial strength. With 12 percent of the worlds annual gross domestic product coming from the Great Lakes region, the basins ecological health is the keystone to its long-term success. The Conservancys Great Lakes Program worked with more than 220 scientists and experts to develop its Conservation Blueprint for the Great Lakes a sweeping, yet practical plan for conserving and protecting the natural life of this region, where at least 185 globally rare plants, animals and natural communities are at risk.
Smoky Valley Ranch Kansas: On this land, you'll find a sight that has almost vanished from America-bison roaming a shortgrass prairie as they did hundreds of years ago. But Smoky Valley Ranch is more than prairie. Dramatic chalk bluffs overlook large expanses of grassland, rocky ravines and Smoky Hill River. Breaks along the upper reaches of the river represent a transition zone between mixed grass and shortgrass prairie environments.
Matheson Wetlands Preserve, Utah: The Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve is an oasis in the desert. This lush preserve is a stark contrast to the surrounding redrock cliffs and arid desert. To this oasis flock over 200 species of birds, amphibians, including the northern leopard frog, and aquatic mammals such as the beaver, muskrat and elusive river otter. This preserve is located in Moab, Utah along the banks of the Colorado River. Historically the area was, and still often is, referred to as the Moab Sloughs.
Great Salt Lake, Utah: The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve is a unique system of salt and fresh water marshes, ponds, pools, sloughs and mudflats. It is a rich feeding ground for tens of thousands of migrating birds, which use the Great Salt Lake as a resting point on their journeys from Canada to points in Central and South America. In fact, some of the largest gatherings of wildlife ever recorded on the Great Salt Lake have been observed here. Great Salt Lake fills the nadir of Utahs Great Basin. This inland sea is eight times as salty as sea water; Israels Dead Sea is the only body of water in the world with a higher salt content.
Juniper Hills, Oregon: Nestled between the Ochoco Mountains on the north and the Maury Mountains on the south, this remarkably diverse Central Oregon landscape is accented by ancient western juniper trees and features an exceptional array of John Day and Clarno "painted hills" formations. It serves as a vital migratory corridor for elk, antelope and other wildlife. Juniper Hills also hosts a wide variety of wildflowers and grasses.
Southmost Preserve, Texas: Southmost Preserve is located on a meandering bend of the Rio Grande at the southernmost part of Texas. As part of the Boscaje de la Palma region of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor, Southmost Preserve encompasses one of the last stands of native sabal palm trees in the country. This land has been called the "Jewel of the Rio Grande Valley" and many would argue that Southmost Preserve is one of the most ecologically important pieces of land remaining in the Valley.
Grandfather Mountain,North Carolina: Famous for its rocky summits, cliffs, and great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont, Grandfather Mountain is one of North Carolina's most biologically diverse mountains. Rock outcrops, spruce-fir forests, heath balds, and hardwood forests provide habitat for over 60 rare plant and animal species including the Carolina northern flying squirrel, Weller's salamander, and four endangered plants: spreading avens, Heller's blazing star, mountain bluet, and Blue Ridge goldenrod. Grandfather is near the southern end of the range of species such as the northern saw-whet owl, hermit thrush, and New England cottontail.