A mule ride to push your travel limits

by Eliza Myers 18. December 2013 17:38



“This was all your idea,” said my mother for the second time to double check I had heard her.

It was indeed my suggestion we take the time-honored mule ride down the Grand Canyon this past spring. Although my mom was never a big fan of heights, I felt convinced the miraculous scenery of the canyon would distract her of that fact. We weren’t off to a good start.

I turned around to see my mother staring intently at the ground instead of the wide-sweeping vistas all around us. I reminded her that the whole point of the ride was to enjoy the scenery.

“I have to watch her feet so I know she won’t walk off the edge,” she said clutching the reins tighter.

Although I suggested that our sure-footed mules Jan and Leslie could walk down the dusty North Kaibab Trail in their sleep, the vertical drop into apparent nothingness at the next corner had my mom yanking on the reins to convince Leslie to turn early. The mule continued to plod around the outside edge of the trail as it had been trained and stiffly pivoted itself around the sharp switchback, causing my mother to scream in alarm.

Clearly, my mom was out of her comfort zone. I waited for her to stop imagining terror around every turn and to start looking around at the spectacular view of striped peaks, plunging cliffs and vast empty spaces.

You would have never guessed we were related watching my mother’s grimacing face and my grinning face on the ride down. I let Jan do all the navigating while I took a constant stream of pictures until my saddle started sliding sideways from leaning too far.

When we reached our turnaround point, I began to think I had failed my mother by bringing her on this adventure she could now tolerate, but not enjoy. However, when the mules started lumbering back uphill, the slow pace seemed to work magic on her mood. I caught her smiling and lifting her chin high enough to gaze at the immense grandeur surrounding us.

Travel often pushes our limits. Whether you are nervous of heights or insects, everyone knows something that makes them hesitate. Overcoming that fear can be a reward unto itself. On the trail that day, my mother earned not only bragging rights, but also a realization that maybe she was braver than she thought.

At the end of the trail, my mom even thanked me for talking her into the ride – a statement I had to hear twice to believe.

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Travel Thoughts

Kings Mountain National Military Park

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:45


Visitor Center Display

Less than an hour’s drive from Charlotte, N.C., King Mountain National Military Park tells the story of an early Revolutionary War battle, and the first that I visited. The South Carolina battle site occurred after American patriots were on the run after several losses in 1780. After hearing of these losses, a force of rugged Carolina and Virginia frontiersmen crossed the Appalachians looking for revenge. 

They continued east and met up with groups of patriot militia at both Quaker Meadows and Cowpens, as they headed for Kings Mountain. Here, British Major Patrick Ferguson and his army had taken up seemingly strategic positions at the top of the plateau. 

Arriving here on October 7 under cover of a rainstorm, the assembled patriot forces encircled the mountain and used the trees of the forested slopes to successfully protect themselves from a hail of musket fire as they advanced up the slopes. Soon the loyalists were surrounded and easy to spot against the treeless summit.

When Major Ferguson was mortally wounded in the saddle, his second in command ordered an immediate surrender, and the patriots had won a stunning victory. In just over an hour, British efforts to conquer the South had been dealt a significant blow, which became a major turning point in the war.              

What made this visit to Kings Mountain particularly special was fortuitously meeting a very friendly and interesting fellow traveler, Mike Dryden, an ecological specialist from Knoxville, Tennessee. Not only did we hit it off immediately, but I was soon fascinated to learn that one of Mike’s 18th-century (patriot) forebears had actually fought and lost his life in combat here. Mike’s goal in visiting the park was to see if he could find his relative’s name inscribed in one of the battle monuments on the site.

He seemed genuinely pleased when we did discover the name of 2nd Lieutenant Nathaniel Dryden on not one, but on two of the memorials. So Mike, if you get a chance to read this blog, it was really nice to be able to wander the battlefield at Kings Mountain with a family member of a true American patriot!


Trail leading to the U.S. Monument


Centennial Monument, dedicated in 1880


Name of 2nd Lieutenant Nathaniel Dryden inscribed on the Centennial Monument

Cowpens National Battlefields

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:42


Battle of Cowpens Monument

Cowpens Battlefield is named for the land used by Colonial settlers here to pasture their cattle. The park offers visitors a 1.25-mile Battlefield Trail walking tour, a 3-mile Loop Road for motorized vehicles, and a 2-mile Cowpens Nature Trail.  Also on site is the log Robert Scruggs House, which dates from the early 1800s.         

Major General Nathanael Greene set the Cowpens Battle in motion by splitting his army to send the exceptionally talented General Daniel Morgan to engage the British troops under the command of the hated Banastre Tarleton, renown for his butchery. Although outnumbered, Morgan was able to bolster his forces with a substantial number of local militiamen as well as backwoods veterans of Kings Mountain, whose skill with long rifles gave them a decided advantage.

On January 17, 1781, the assembled patriot troops met the enemy in a pitched battle on the fields of the Cow Pens.  After sharpshooters had halted a British advance and picked off two-third of their officers, a fierce and somewhat confused battle ensued which featured firing at point-blank range and a bayonet charge that left the British staggered. 

In less than an hour, the battle was over and Tarleton’s troops had suffered a crushing defeat, although Tarleton himself was able to escape. Along with Kings Mountain, this second major Southern victory for the patriots in less than four months surely helped pave the way for Cornwallis’ surrender of British forces at Yorktown later in the year.


Trails Through the Battlefield


Explaining the Battle Plan


Robert Scruggs House

Ninety Six National Historic Site

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:37


Battlefield Artifacts

Having spent last winter and early spring based in Greenville, South Carolina, I took advantage of the opportunity to re-visit all of the state’s National Park Service units, including the sites of three important Revolutionary War battles.

One of my favorite off-the-beaten path parks is Ninety Six National Historic Site. The beautiful site features a one-mile loop trail through pristine woods, past historic Colonial-era roadbeds, and along siege trenches that remain from the loyalist Star Fort. 

I also enjoyed the original Ninety Six town site, which reconstructs the 1781 Stockade Fort. The historic Logan Log House, however, is an authentic remnant of the 1700s.

Ninety Six provides an interesting example of siege warfare. The British had constructed a Star Fort and nearby stockade to heavily reinforce their position. When General Nathanael Greene arrived here with his army on May 28, 1781, it was quickly determined that a direct attack on the fort would be doomed to failure.

The only remaining strategy was to attempt to starve out their adversaries. With the assistance of the famed Polish military engineer, Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Continentals began building an extensive series of zigzag and parallel trenches to get in musket range of the fort. Forced into action by British troops coming to intervene, Greene had his men assault the fort on June 18.

Although the stockade was taken by the patriots, they were unsuccessful in breaching the Star Fort’s massive earthen walls. Consequently, Greene withdrew his troops from the area on July 20.  However, the aborted siege effort had at least served to weaken the rural stronghold enough the British retreated to a position closer to the coast.


Original Townsite of Ninety Six


Reconstruction of 1781 Stockade Fort


Bob tries out the stocks

Get in the Christmas spirit at the Galt House

by Herb Sparrow 22. November 2013 20:47



Although many people consider mid-November to be too early to usher in the Christmas season, it was impossible to be bah-humbug after my wife, Marcheta, and I attended a media weekend Nov. 15-17 in conjunction with the opening of Christmas at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, Ky.

Brightly colored larger-than-life luminaries created by talented Chinese artisans, restored vintage department store window displays, amusing animated stuffed animals, creative gingerbread houses, lessons in making paper snowflakes, a holiday dinner show with a talented cast of young singers belting out holiday favorites and even hotel bellmen dancing in toy soldier outfits made it hard not to catch the Christmas spirit.

Although Christmas at the Galt House Hotel has many features geared toward children, including an Express Kiddie Train in Candy Cane Forest and a Santa cam that allows parents to download videos of their kids talking with Santa, there is plenty for adults to enjoy and be amazed by. The signature feature of Christmas at the Galt House, an American Bus Association Top 100 Event in North America for groups, is KaLightoscope with its large luminaries that take you on a visit to the North Pole, where Santa is getting ready for the big night. When KaLightoscope debuted four years ago, it was the first time Chinese luminaries had been displayed in the United States on this scale and the first time luminaries had been used to create a non-Chinese Western theme.

Made with wire frames covered with silk and satins in bright reds, blues, yellows, whites, oranges, lavenders and greens and lit from within, the luminaries are an impressive display of craftsmanship and fun to boot. There is a candy house large enough to walk through, Santa frolicking on a snowboard, snowmen dancing on a frozen pond, giant-size toys and Santa and his reindeer flying overhead. The final scene is a Nativity rendered as a stain-glass window.



A new feature this year that was a hit at the media weekend is Santa’s sleigh in front of a green screen that allows you to download a video of yourself driving the sleigh over scenes from around Louisville and share it on social media.

One of our favorites was the window displays from the former Stewart Dry Goods Company store in downtown Louisville that were restored by Lou Nasti of Brooklyn, N.Y., who had helped make them in the 1960s. Marcheta and I have fond memories of standing in front of the windows at Christmas time when we were kids.

Candy Cane Forest also features 100 animated characters that are fun for all ages.

Another new feature this year is the dancing Toy Soldier Bellmen, who will perform at 5:00 p.m. each day in the Suite Tower lobby from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. After their dance, the bellmen will turn a page in a Countdown to Christmas book. They did a rehearsal in front of a large crowd on Saturday.

Christmas at the Galt House Hotel runs through Jan. 1, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Colors of the Season Holiday Dinner Show runs through Dec. 14, with evening shows on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and matinees on Dec. 7 and Dec. 12. It is also closed on Thanksgiving.

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Christmas Attractions

A source of hope and peace

by Brian Jewell 20. November 2013 23:23


Photo by Mac Lacy

In my 10 years of working in the world of travel journalism, I’ve been incredibly blessed to see some of the most amazing places on earth. And I’m happy to report that many of those places are right here in the United States.

One of my great joys in traveling this country from coast to coast has been visiting the iconic sites that are proudly and uniquely American. Along the way, I’ve been compiling an informal list of places every American should visit once, places such as the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Gulf Coast and the National Mall.

On a trip to New York in April, I added a new place to my list: the National September 11 Memorial.

I was a junior in college in the fall of 2001, and I remember the day the towers fell with alarming clarity, as I’m sure you do, too. The terrorist attacks and the events that followed shook us all and dominated the national conversation for years to come.

It took more than a year to clean up the mess at the World Trade Center site and several years more to decide on what should be built in the center’s place. The design, the deliberation and the construction were a slow and sometimes frustrating process. For a nation looking for closure, the crawling progress on completing the memorial was disheartening. I remember walking around the site in Lower Manhattan on a visit in 2006 and feeling disheartened that all I saw was a roped-off construction site.

In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the National September 11 Memorial officially opened to the public; my recent trip to New York afforded my first opportunity to see it in person. I was not disappointed.

It’s difficult to accurately describe the sense of impact, honor and remembrance that the memorial bestows on visitors. Unlike most memorials around the country that make a statement with large objects, the September 11 Memorial is all about absence, creating a sense of what we collectively lost in the attacks. No skyscraper has been built on top of the former World Trade Center tower sites. Instead, the memorial has two large pools recessed into the ground, with streams of water pouring in over the sides. The pools are constructed in such a way that you can’t see their bottoms, symbolizing the eternal absence left by towers that once stood there and the people who inhabited them.

I spent about an hour at the memorial reflecting on my memories of September 11 and hearing amazing stories from New York locals. It would be easy to spend much more time there. Construction of the official museum is now wrapping up; the museum, which will open next year, will tell the stories of the World Trade Center, September 11 and the national response from a variety of perspectives.

In the midst of all the tragedy of the past year, I found my visit to the September 11 Memorial to be a source of hope and peace.

I wish you and your groups hope and peace as well, both in New York and anywhere else the road takes you.

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Travel Thoughts

What is your favorite art memory?

by Eliza Myers 22. October 2013 01:03



Some works of art take people's breath away. They stick with you long past your short visit. Our staff relate pieces of art that spoke to them while on the road.

"The Pieta by Michelangelo leaves me without words. Housed in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, this marble sculpture does not speak to Jesus’ role as savior as much as it speaks to a mother’s loss of her son. 

The artist purposely distorted Jesus’ size as a full-grown man to illustrate that he was still Mary’s child and always would be. Her grief is human, not heavenly, which makes this sculpture all the more compelling for me."

— Mac Lacy, publisher


"As an artist myself, the expression of various artists has always fascinated me. But nothing compares to literally having my breath taken away upon seeing one of Monet’s many large water lily paintings on display at the Denver Museum of Art. I was in high school at the time, and the calming impact the painting had on me was astounding. I stood there looking at it for at least 20 minutes. It was so spellbinding, I didn’t want to leave the room. It was a moment I’ll never forget."

— Donia Simmons, creative director


"I’d studied Mark Rothko while I was an art student in college. Later, while in grad school at the University of Arizona, I fell in love with two of his paintings in their collection.

So, while visiting long-time friends in Houston, I made plans to see the Rothko Chapel. We entered the chapel with very different expectations. My friends were probably expecting to see pretty pictures of bucolic landscape or perhaps beautiful women or historic tableaus.

It quickly became clear that they weren’t expecting what we saw as we entered that large open room. I was immediately transported to that aesthetic region of my imagination by the large dark canvases. My friends — not so much. We stayed an hour or so, while I was absorbed by the power of Rothko’s work and my friends looked for something they recognized — anything they could call art.

They decided that I was seeing Elvis or perhaps Amelia Earhart — it was plain to them was that, clearly, I was seeing something they weren’t.

The moral to this story is that art is a personal thing. It is intensely personal for artists, and it is always a personal thing for us when we experience it. Even when we’re with people we love and share everything with, the experience of great art reaches places within us that only we and God know."

— David Brown, art director


"I have seen many famous paintings in my lifetime, but the one that stands out the most to me is “Washington Crossing the Delaware” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although I've seen this photo in many history books through the years, I was in awe of the shear enormity of this painting once I saw it in person. The painting stands over 12 feet tall and 21 feet wide!"

— Kelly Tyner, director of sales and marketing


"I encountered one of the most recognized works of art in the world when I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. I'll never forget my surprise at the small size of the portrait. Instead of being disappointed, I felt impressed such a small painting had inspired so many people and works of art."

— Eliza Myers, online editor

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Travel Thoughts

Transportation history at the Sloan Museum

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:04


Antique Buick with AC Spark Plug plant sign in background

Recently I attended a program by the fine Flint Symphony Orchestra, which performs in a concert hall located in the Flint Cultural Center. Those planning a visit to the popular, Bavarian-themed community of Frankenmuth nearby would be well advised to also consider making a stop at this excellent museum.

The museum tells the story of Flint as a center for the production of vehicles and equipment to meet the nation’s transportation needs. Beginning with log-hauling gear and wagons, area factories were soon producing large quantities of horse-drawn carriages, which ultimately led to the city playing a major role, arguably second only to Detroit, in the development of America’s automobile industry. Not only was General Motors founded here, but Flint was home to a number of historic car makes, including the Whitney, its much-better-known successor, the Chevrolet, as well as Buick and such closely-related products as Fisher Bodies and AC Spark Plugs.

Permanent displays and colorful dioramas link the founding and growth of the city and the daily lives of its residents with the factories and products which they made, and cover such other developments as the organization of labor, sit-down strikes, floods, racial tensions, plus the conversion of plants to the production of wartime materiel. Also featured are a variety of temporary exhibits. “Space, a Journey to our Future,” is scheduled from January 25 to May 4, 2014, in collaboration with NASA. 

The Buick Automotive Gallery maintains a rotating display of the museum’s collection of historic vehicles, and a special Truck & Bus Exhibit will run from October 26 through March 30, 2014.


Explaining the historic auto assembly process


"Return of the Dinosaurs" temporary exhibit


Sit-down striker exhibit

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Public gardens in Halifax

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:01


Flowers in bloom, bandstand in background

If you are heading to Atlantic Canada, don’t even think about missing the Halifax Public Gardens, which in my humble opinion constitute one of the most beautiful small parks anywhere in the world. Open free of charge, these are among the best remaining Victorian Gardens in the Americas. 

The gardens are a comfortable walk from either downtown Halifax or the cruise ship port. They lie just past the popular district of shops along Spring Garden Road, across the street from the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The first gardens on the site were planted by the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society beginning in 1836, while additional and adjacent gardens were established by the City of Halifax in 1866-67. Both plots, totaling 16 acres, were unified as the city’s Public Gardens in 1874.

In 1984, they were designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian government. Locally, they’ve even been voted as the best place in the city to read a book, but as a photographer, I’m much more inclined to keep my camera busy whenever I visit. I most recently enjoyed the beautiful gardens on a Norwegian Gem Canada and New England cruise in September.


 Beautiful dahlias


Magnificent landscaping


Fountain statuary

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Old Mission General Store

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 19:58


Antiques, pastries, old-time candies, etc.

On a recent trip to Michigan, I took an excellent scenic drive north of Traverse City past handsome wineries, cherry orchards, a lighthouse and palatial summer homes. For my money, the highlight of the entire trip was a stop at the Old Mission General Store, at 18250 Mission Road. 

Established as a trading post for the local tribe in 1839, the original building was moved from the beach to the present roadside location about 1870. Inside I found the most eclectic collection imaginable of antiques, memorabilia and products for sale, even a traditional pickle barrel. Picnic tables are available outside. I knew that this was the “real thing” when I spotted the 1905 ferry schedule posted on the wall!         

Since 1999, the General Store has been owned and operated by Jim Richards, formerly a professional actor, and his wife Marci, the store’s ninth owners. As he did for me and my friends Dave and Ginny Behn while we enjoyed a tasty meal on the front porch, Jim, a most erudite and entertaining fellow, will be happy to regale your group members with fascinating tales about the store’s history. He talked about Henry Ford’s recommendation of the facility as an ideal “combustion engine destination spot.” 

In addition to Ford, past customers have included John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and John Burroughs, as well as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. It’s a list that I was happy to be included in.


The pickle barrel


The "spirits" counter


An amazing array of unusual items for sale

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

pandorapandora braceletspandora charmspandora jewelrypandora beadspandora necklace

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