Spend the Day Conversing With the World's Smartest Apes
Destination: Great Ape Trust - Des Moines, Iowa
Apes in Iowa? There are actually 13 of them (seven bonobos and six orangutans, with plans to add a clan of gorillas) that live in this 230-acre preserve, and you can get to know them by name. It's the largest great-ape research facility in North America devoted to studying ape intelligence. Visit and see for yourself how bonobos can recognize nearly 400 abstract symbols, called lexigrams, on a touchscreen. Some apes can even comprehend spoken words. To tour the reserve and meet the apes, you must be a Great Ape Trust member ($50 for individuals, $100 for families). This also entitles you to special lectures.
Geek highlight: Meet resident whiz kid Kanzi, widely regarded as the world's smartest known ape.
Three Words: Subterranean Atom Smasher
Destination: Soudan Underground Laboratory - Mine State Park, Northeastern Minn.
Ride a miner's cage nearly 2,400 feet underground to tour the nation's foremost particle-physics lab. See the 6,000-ton tracking device that collects elusive subatomic particles broadcast from Fermilab, 457 miles away (the trip takes 2.5 thousandths of a second), and smashes them against atoms. Scientists study the collisions for rare atomic transformations. It's all located in a former iron mine, where few cosmic rays can penetrate, thus creating an ideal environment in which to search for dark matter. Daily tours cost $10.
Geek highlight: Join the search for WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), which, if found, could unlock the secrets of the universe.