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Column: If you missed your vacation this year, you can still see some breathtaking views
Rudi Kiefer

If you had to cancel or postpone your vacation this year, consider taking an online one. Google Earth, first released almost 20 years ago, no longer requires downloading and installing an online app. A look at the new reveals 3-dimensional views from 100 miles up in space with a clarity that’s hard to believe. 

Typing “El Capitan” into the search box will fly you to one of the scariest mountain-climbing places in the USA. The summit rises 3,000 feet above the Merced River in Yosemite National Park. The rotating image (click to stop the movement) shows the vertical rise of El Capitan’s granite face. It’s a challenge for fearless climbers with professional rappelling gear. Topping this, alpinist legend Alex Honnold in 2017 climbed the mountain without ropes in less than 4 hours, using only his fingers and toes. The website documents this incredible feat.

Closer to home, a search for “Fontana Dam” takes you to a place 2 hours from Gainesville where you can take the high view without rock-climbing. This wall of concrete, the tallest east of the Mississippi, rises 480 feet in the Little Tennessee River Valley. The two black holes next to the Visitor’s Center are the intakes for water released from the dam. 

While you’re cruising Google Earth through North Carolina, type “Biltmore” into the search box. You’ll be treated to a colorful 3-D view of George Vanderbilt’s 1890’s replica of a French Palace. Inspiration came from the castles on the Loire in France. Enter “Chateau Chambord” into the search box, and the app takes you to a mega-version of Biltmore, with countless chimneys, spires, rooftops and ornaments.

My personal favorite is the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg (just type “Strasbourg Cathedral”). The hours I’ve spent at a street bistro in front of this gothic marvel, enjoying “un verre du rouge” and a “demi-douzaine d’escargots” were great. But in Google Earth, one can explore the single spire on the cathedral, rising endlessly platform by platform, until it tops out with a tiny room 466 feet above the square. Unlike Notre Dame in Paris, the second spire was never built, due to the instability of the Rhine sediments on which the city rests. Move eastward toward the Rhine River, and Google Earth will continue your amazing self-guided tour of France, then Germany and the Netherlands.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at