From the Capital Hotel to the River Market--A treat for the senses

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:39

Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Gretchen Hall, far left in doorway, and other Little Rock representatives welcomed delegates to the River Market event

Delegates to the Small Market Meetings Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, were treated to a wonderfully--executed destination dichotomy the second day of the event.   Following an afternoon of sightseeing, they were swept off their feet at a reception at this city's historic Capital Hotel.   This graceful old hotel has been meticulously renovated and delegates were enthralled by its approachable elegance. 

After an hour or more of drinks and hors d'oeurvres in its upstairs lobby and adjacent balcony, they barely had time to go to their rooms before a boisterous high school band met them head-on in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and marched them down the street a few blocks to this city's restored River Market.  This colorful old indoor market has a distinctly Mediterranean feel about it and dozens of small eateries and retail shops line its walls, creating the feel of a middle eastern bazaar. 

In this delightful juxtaposition of settings, delegates relaxed and danced to the sounds of a local blues band, feasted on more foods and had open bars throughout the complex for their enjoyment.  It was as if Little Rock wanted these meeting planners to experience everything it had to offer from A to Z in one afternoon and evening of mind-blowing entertainment.  And it worked!

Blues rifts filled the River Market while delegates enjoyed one of Little Rock's most eclectic downtown scenes

A few of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota delegation took in the fun at Little Rock's River Market

Small Market Meetings editor Vickie Mitchell, left, talked with SMM Conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello and Little Rock CVB CEO Gretchen Hall

A gorgeous afternoon on Little Rock's Big Dam Bridge

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:18

Little Rock's Big Dam Bridge is a huge draw for runners, walkers, bicyclists and nature enthusiasts

As delegates to our Small Market Meetings Conference enjoyed a fascinating tour of Little Rock's sights that wrapped up with a reception at the historic Capital Hotel, I took a couple of hours off and went for a walk at this city's favorite outdoor recreation spot, the Big Dam Bridge.  Opened in 2004, this mammoth bridge crosses the dam on the Arkansas River a few miles northwest of the city.  Another pedestrian bridge across the river in downtown Little Rock was to open the week of the Small Market Meetings Conference.  A 14-mile loop now exists between the two bridges for bicyclists and walkers.

The day I was there, dozens of bicyclists, runners and walkers crossed the bridge in both directions as I walked it.  A track team of maybe 20 young men and women from a nearby university ran across as well.  I followed the trail across the bridge and up into the woods that line this scenic river.

This was my second trip to Big Dam Bridge and this time I had enough time to really get the feel of this Arkansas outdoor icon.  At its zenith, it rises 90 feet above the river and features eight observation points.  Little Rock is a town filled with outdoor enthusiasts and they flock to Big Dam Bridge.  But they enjoy downtown nearly as much.  From my perch in the Peabody Hotel, each morning I could see many joggers and bicyclists getting their time in on the trails that line both sides of the the river in this scenic city.


A 14-mile loop trail connects downtown Little Rock with Big Dam Bridge

I watched as runners and bicyclists disappeared into the Arkansas countryside on this scenic trail

Looking westward on the bridge away from Little Rock, Arkansas's Ozark Mountains begin to rise in the distance

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2011 Small Market Meetings Conference

Small Market Meetings Conference opens at Clinton Presidential Library

by Mac Lacy 30. September 2011 01:02

A high school band and drum corps welcomed delegates to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library for the opening event of the 2011 Small Market Meetings Conference

A beautiful evening gave way to a spectacular event as the 2011 Small Market Meetings Conference got underway in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 26.  Roughly 225 delegates including more than 100 meeting planners from 23 states gathered for the second annual conference that is designed to highlight second and third-tier cities and distinctive smaller venues across America. 

Delegates were transported from their host hotel, the Peabody Hotel in downtown Little Rock, to the internationally-acclaimed William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library that sits prominently on the Arkansas River in this revitalized downtown.  Only three days later, the former President and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would be in Little Rock to observe the 20th anniversary  of his first announcement speech for his candidacy for President at the Old State House in this Arkansas capital city. 

Delegates toured the library and were treated to a rare privilege--almost all were photographed in the resplendent replica of the Oval Office that is housed at this impressive library.  Following an ornate reception, they dined in the facility's ballroom and were treated to a jazz concert and dancing.

A place setting in the library reflects the grandeur of a state dinner in the White House

Delegates poured over thousands of documents, photographs and other types of memorabilia from the Clinton Presidency

The event concluded with a surf and turf dinner and dancing to a jazz ensemble compliments of The Clinton Library, the Little Rock CVB and the Arkansas Dept. of Parks and Tourism

Face to face with Crazy Horse

by Brian Jewell 22. September 2011 01:09

Standing near the top of a 582-foot mountain carving, I enjoyed a view that few people ever get.

Most travelers to the Black Hills of South Dakota make time to visit Mount Rushmore, the famous mountain carving depicting the faces of four American presidents. Not far away, though, another mountain carving project is underway — at Crazy Horse memorial, a dedicated family has been working on a giant sculpture of Lakota Sioux chief Crazy Horse since 1947. As a journalist, I got a special trip to the top of the mountain, where I came face to face with the large granite head of Crazy Horse, and walked out along his arm to a breathtaking view of a Black Hills valley below.

Korczak Ziolkowski began carving this mountain more than 60 years ago, at the inviation of Lakota tribal elders, in order to memorialize the Native American traditions of the area. Since then, Korczak married his wife Ruth, had a gaggle of children, and passed away. Ruth and most of the children continue the slow work of mountain carving, now using controlled dynamite blasts to slowly chip away at the mountain. Today, Crazy Horse's face is finished, and his hand and oustretched arm are beginning to take shape. Someday, when the entire sculpture is finished, the mountain will depict the cheif from the waist up, mounted on horseback, with his hand pointing to the land "where my dead lie buried."

The memorial is a labor of love for the Ziolkowski family, who work on donations and have never taken a dollar of government funding. Though there's no telling how long it will take to finish the sculpture (the pace of the work depends soley on funding), the fact that the project has continued for so long is tribute in itself, both to the legacy of the Native Americans in South Dakota and to the family's embrace of their patriarch's passionate project.

Though the actual sculpture is a work in progress, there is still plenty for groups to do at the visitor center, which sits about a mile away from the mountain. An introductory video gives an overview of the project, and museums and galleries on the premises showcase some of the best Native American arts and crafts from around the area.

Pay a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial, and you can't help but to be moved by the honor of the Lakota people and the determination of the Ziolkowski family... even if you don't get a special opportunity to stand on the mountain itself.


The Crazy Horse Memorial slowly takes shape about a mile away from the visitors center.

A small model of Korczak's vision at the visitors center shows what the mountain scultupre will look like when finsihed.

Posing for picture at the end of the outstretched arm.

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The Soul of South Dakota

Trading at the Prairie's Edge

by Brian Jewell 20. September 2011 01:26

I once heard someone describe Rapid City, SD as "the place where the mountains meet the prairie." There's more to this place than the intersection of the Black Hills and the Great Plains, though — I'm finding that this region is also squarely in the middle of pioneer and Native American culture.

One of the best places to discover Native American heritage in Rapid City is Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries. Located in a historic building in the heart of downtown, this company preserves the tradition of the Indian trading post, while also presenting breathtaking fine art that communicates the Native American spirit.

When I first entered, the establishment seemed like a simple western-themed gift shop. But after exploring for a few minutes, I discovered the trading post area, where artists and others can still buy traditional materials such as buffalo hides, deer antlers, feathers and glass beads. Many area artisans come here to get their supplies for their fine art and tradition Indian crafts, many of which can be seen in the store's galleries.

Around the corner from the gift shop area, a large room holds hundreds of pieces of traditional Indian art, much of which featured intricate bead patterns and quillwork. Items range from dream catchers to spirit shirts, decorated bison skulls and woodcarvings. All of the artwork in the store is hand-made, much of it by artists who use traditional materials and techniques.

On a mezzanine overlooking this room, Prairie Edge displays what they bill as the world's largest collection of glass trading beads. Hundreds of jars of beads line the shelves of this exhibit, organized by color and glimmering like a glass rainbow beneath the display lights.

For me, the highlihgt of Praire's Edge was the fine art gallery on the top floor. This area features incredible museum-quality artwork depicting Native American themes and other images of the mountain Northwest. I was fascinated by a large, three-dimensional dioramama made entirely of sculpted paper; I also fell in love with ledger art, a style of painting taken up by tribesmen who used old business ledgers as a canvas once buffalo hides became scarce. The bold and colorful images seemed to leap off the page, contrasting against the straight lines and careful script of the ledgers. Like the rest of Prairie Edge and much of South Dakota, the artwork embodied the intermingling of white culture and Native American heritage.


Hand-made buffalo robe art featuring Native American materials and patterns.

Some of the thousands of glass trading beads on display at Prairie Edge.

An array of specialty beads prized by Indian artists.



Sand and water

by Eliza Myers 19. September 2011 22:58

I took a moment to catch my breath. The gigantic sand dune kept going straight up into the air and down below me the people were already looking like Polly Pocket dolls. But it was the challenge of the Wadi Rum desert that kept me climbing the sand dune. I figured Lawrence of Arabia hadn’t given up when he had crossed this desert to attack Aquaba for the Arab Revolt, so I wouldn’t stop climbing.

Once I reached the top, the view was worth it. The towering rock cliffs and wavy sand seemed to go on forever. With no vegetation or signs of civilization, it really made me wonder how Bedouins have lived in Wadi Rum for centuries. The preservation of water surely took on a new meaning here in the middle of the harsh, but magnificent desert. As I listened to my voice bounce around the desert canyons, I realized T. E. Lawrence had summed the place up well by calling it "vast, echoing and godlike."

When it was time to descend, the few who had made it to the overlook decided it was best to run back down the vertical sand dune. After seeing someone wipeout halfway down in a cloud of sand, I tempered my speed to a gentle gallop and enjoyed the freedom of the sand on my feet and the feeling of letting gravity do most of the work to get me back to the desert floor.

That evening at the Bedouin-style camp was truly remarkable and unforgettable. At the camp, I wasn’t just learning about Bedouin tradition, but living it. I watched as the camp staff dug up our dinner that had been cooking deep in the sand’s heat. The cuisine enjoyed in front of the campfire tasted better than many meals I’ve had in fancy restaurants. As the evening went on, the camp staff sang traditional Arabic songs and invited our group to dance around the fire with them in light-hearted fellowship. I wound down my evening by admiring the billions of stars visible in the middle of the desert.

After this memorable experience, I spent the last days of my tour enjoying Jordan’s Red Sea and Dead Sea beaches. In the Red Sea, the focus was on the colorful marine life that lived below the bright blue water. So many fish of every shape, size and color made it seem like God had been playing with crayons when he created this coral reef.

My last day at the Dead Sea focused on the water itself, since the 27% salt content of the Dead Sea makes it impossible to sink. I bobbed up and down in the water like a cork before trying out the skin-softening mud bath. The great variety of sites I saw in just these last days more than proved Jordan’s marvelous variety of top quality attractions. Already, I’m looking forward to returning one day to the peaceful and welcoming country.


Finding peace in Jordan

Petra treasures

by Eliza Myers 17. September 2011 19:12

After a walk through a shadowy, narrow gorge in the desert, a light appears through the sandstone mountain slits. There is where I got my first glimpse of the iconic Treasury. The elaborate tomb’s façade was carved by the mysterious Nabateans between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. This iconic structure is reason enough for many people to journey to Jordan.

I tried to imagine Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’s glee when he beheld the towering tomb for the first time in 1812. Prior to his discovery, Petra lay unknown to Europeans, since it was guarded by the locals who believed the place held a legendary treasure. This myth that the Treasury building was anything more than a tomb proved to be untrue. However, what the locals eventually came to realize after Burckhardt spread the word about a lost city carved into sandstone was that the treasure was there all along. People began traveling in droves to see the expansive ruins of Petra, which helped out the local economy more than anything else.

But the Treasury is just one of hundreds of decorative tombs influenced by Greek architecture. The Nabateans valued the afterlife over the current life, so even those not wealthy could sometimes afford a carved tomb into the mountains.

The ruins of Petra seemed to keep going on and on as I toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could easily see why this incredible city was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Swirls of vivid red, yellow and orange stone decorated the ruins better than any paint could have.

After lunch in Petra, I climbed up 800 or so steps to see the Monastery. This elaborate tomb impressed me even more than the others from its remoteness at the top of a mountain with views of Petra all around.

That evening, I sat down to a traditional Jordanian dinner that I had cooked myself (with a little help of course) at Petra Kitchen. Even now, I’m looking forward to attempting that meal’s delicious recipes for my husband. I’ll consider it a success if the food is even half as good.

Monastery Tomb

Petra Kitchen


Finding peace in Jordan

Down to the river to pray

by Eliza Myers 14. September 2011 00:48

Almost 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist baptized a man in the Jordan River who would change the world. I got to walk on the hallowed ground where this miracle occurred at Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. It is easy to picture this event, since the area has the same desert look that it had during the time of Jesus.

I basked in the peacefulness and authenticity of the site as I walked from John the Baptist's cave to Byzantine church ruins to the actual spot where archeologists have determined Jesus was baptized. It felt like I might see John the Baptist in his desert garbs and wild hair around any corner. Even the wild berries he lived on were hanging from bushes all over the site.

A little down river where baptisms often take place, I had the song “As I went down to the river to pray” playing in my head. I stood for a few moments and soaked up the quiet movement of the wind through the river’s reeds. It almost seemed like the plants were quietly whispering long-remembered secrets.

Later that day, I visited another Biblical site at Mount Nebo. The story of Moses looking over the promised land, but being unable to go because of one mistake always seemed unfair to me. It’s not as if his followers' faith remained solid as a rock throughout their 40 years in the desert. However, when I actually beheld the view from the top of Mount Nebo, the spectacular site of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains felt more hopeful and inspiring than anything else.

Jordan River

Mount Nebo where Moses died

St. George Greek Orthodox Church


Finding peace in Jordan

Touching the hand of Hercules

by Eliza Myers 12. September 2011 09:10

You might not think of Hercules when you think of Jordan. However, Hercules once stood atop the Citadel Hill in Jordan’s capital, Amman, during the Roman times. All that’s left of the once giant statue is little more than a piece of the hand, but that is enough to imagine the statue‘s former grandeur. Walking through the Stone Age, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim ruins, it is easy to see why this hill was occupied throughout Jordan’s history. The fantastic view reveals the seven hills of Amman and all its sprawling glory.

This city was my first introduction into Jordanian culture. Already, I have been amazed by the amount of archeological ruins that have survived the centuries. In Umm Qais (located in northern Jordan), the Roman city had been so well-preserved that the chariot dents into the stone streets were still present. This preserved archeological site featured rows of standing columns, shops from Roman streets and a view of Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights glowed next to the Sea of Galilee located in the valley below Umm Qais.

Nearby, Jerash is another Roman city which has even more remarkable remains, including a chariot racing arena, main street, Temple of Artemis and a large theater with seats so high, it almost made me dizzy to look straight down at the stage.

Even more moving is learning about the modern Jordanian life. Religion plays a huge part of the culture, which I have explored with a Baptist service, Melkite Catholic mass and a tour of a enormous Mosque whose dome covered the entire interior of the structure. The most inspiring part is the religious peace and tolerance that Jordan has maintained despite it’s location in a sometimes violent Middle East. One can only hope that other Middle Eastern countries can learn by their example in interfaith coexistence.

Umm Qais with the Golon Heights in the backdrop

Mosque in Amman

Jerash ruins


Finding peace in Jordan

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