Celebrating the Return of Tunica RiverPark

by Mac Lacy 23. March 2012 01:13

On Monday evening, March 19, the Tunica RiverPark welcomed more than 200 STS Spring Meeting delegates and guests for one of its earliest re-opening events since the devastating flood of last spring.  It has not been even a year since the Mississippi River extended its muddy grasp high into the Tunica shoreline and sent water, silt, sand and debris into casinos, restaurants and this new interpretive facility that claims a prominent place in this northern Mississippi region's tourism landscape.

A gorgeous evening welcomed travel industry members from a dozen southern states and speakers from across the country.  Many gathered on the facility's broad balcony overlooking the river, while others were drawn inside by a sumptuous array of Mississippi cuisine and the outstanding blue band that played throughout the evening.  The musicians were primarily college students from nearby Delta State University, which has a distinguished academic program for those studying music and in particular, the blues.

The Mississippi River Museum, which is part of this facility, is still being renovated after the flooding, but many delegates took the time to watch the multimedia presentation in its theater that showed dozens of fascinating photos of the flood's effects.  Bill Canter, a marketing official with the Tunica CVB, was personally involved in the cleanup for about six months on a daily basis, and entertained me and others with stories of endless days of cleaning up mud and sand from the park's landscaped grounds and building.  No one could have been happier than Bill to be standing in the RiverPark this sunlit evening enjoying good company and great entertainment after what he personally devoted to this cleanup effort.

The Tunica Queen was docked below us and is running again.  The park's adjoining ecotrail is also open.  Take it from me, when you hit a cold streak in the casino, and want to get outside to enjoy the weather, this beautiful river park is one of your first options.


The Tunica River Park is open again after months of cleanup and renovation


A barge eased southward on a sunlit evening as our group visited the park


Barbecue, gumbo, greens, fried catfish and an array of desserts were featured at the event


The terrace outside the structure made for a wonderful evening of networking in Tunica

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Multi-generational travel brings blessings

by Donia Simmons 20. March 2012 01:26

When my husband’s parents invited us to go on an Alaska cruise with them last May, it proved to be an opportunity of a lifetime!

For me, this was my first cruise, but his parents, who are seasoned cruise goers, were heading back to Alaska for the eighth time. They are both in their 80s and just celebrated 60 years of marriage this last December. Travel has always been a very important part of their lives, and we were overjoyed to share this time with them.

In the late 1940s my husband’s parents caught the travel bug while stationed over in Germany after World War II, and they have been traveling ever since. His mother has been to China, seen the Monarch butterfly migration to Mexico and visited the Taj Mahal. They have both been around Cape Horn, passed through the Panama Canal, cruised the Russian waterways, seen the Holy Lands and extensively traveled Europe, Canada and the United States.

I would have to say they’ve covered almost everything you could ever have on your bucket list.

The past few years, travel has proven to be much more difficult as his father’s Alzheimer’s progresses and his mother’s recent stroke and failing knees have begun to take their toll. Time is precious, and both of us realize it. That made this opportunity to cruise together such a blessing!

Our presence allowed his parents the security of knowing that plane departures would be met, boarding passes were already printed, wheelchairs or transportation would be waiting at the gates, and we were there to assist them when they got turned around on the cruise ship or at port.

Our children in turn got to spend precious time with their grandparents in a secure and fun environment. Meals were the highlight of all our days with waiters that entertained us with magic tricks and created napkin animals for the children to play with. Mr. Lyndon, our headwaiter, played a round of tic-tac-toe with our daughter every night — much to my husband's parents amusement — which culminated in a championship match on the last night of the cruise.

The grandparents enjoyed daily ice cream treats with the children, watched them swim and Grandmother read books to them at night as we watched whales and icebergs go by from the large window in our room.

I am confident that as the years go by that more breathtaking than the Tracy Arm Fjord, more captivating than the pristine views and more memorable than seeing our first humpback whale will be the treasured times we spent together with loved ones.

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Travel Thoughts

Pima Air and Space Museum

by Bob Hoelscher 2. March 2012 20:46

The extensive Pima Air and Space Museum, in my opinion, is among the top five collections of vintage aircraft in the country, and sure to be of interest to anyone fascinated by the history of flight. Since there are now over 300 airplanes, helicopters and spacecraft on display, in addition to other related exhibits, such as the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, I was surprised at how the museum has expanded since my last visit here in 1998. Not only are there a wide range of splendidly-restored craft to be viewed indoors in six hangers and other museum buildings, but that portion of the collection that is displayed outdoors is also in remarkably good condition, due primarily to being preserved in the area’s dry desert climate. 

It was also nice to touch base again with old friend Tim Vimmerstedt, now the Museum’s new Director of Operations and Community Affairs.  Tim will be happy to honor requests for additional information at (520) 574-0462 or tvimmerstedt@pimaair.org.

Splendid exhibits to be viewed here range from full-scale replicas of the original Wright Flyer and Goddard Rocket to a mockup of the X-15A-2 experimental rocket plane and the Apollo Command Module Trainer, also used extensively in the filming of the motion picture “Apollo 13.” There are superb restorations of many of America’s important World War II aircrafts, as well as British, German and Japanese craft. Examples of virtually every fighter and bomber used during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, as well as those that kept the peace during the “Cold War” are all on display. 

Here also are strange experimental aircraft, helicopters, tankers (for mid-air refueling), and one of two converted B-52s that released the experimental X-15 rocket planes for pioneering “edge of space” flights. Finally, some of the world’s rarest planes in the Museum include a pristine Convair B-36 “Peacemaker,” plus the oldest existing SR-71 “Blackbird,” the fastest jet aircraft ever built.

On weekdays, the Museum also offers unique guided motorcoach tours of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) facilities at adjacent Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Popularly known as the “Boneyard” for America’s military planes, helicopters and drones, this extensive outdoor storage complex contains some $30 billion worth of retired aircraft.

There are no military “secrets” on site, since nothing on the lot represents anything close to the latest technology. Since more than 30,000 military retirees reside in surrounding Pima County, tours are led by well-qualified veteran volunteers, such as the excellent Frank Davidson, who guided my “Boneyard” visit in early February.

TWA Lockheed 049 Constellation

U.S. Air Force Convair B-36 Long-Range Bomber

AMARG "Boneyard

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Traveling through Tucson

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

by Bob Hoelscher 2. March 2012 20:45

Although I am not a religious person myself, I always enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to explore all manner of cathedrals, churches, missions, synagogues, mosques, temples and shrines of various faiths, since the architecture, art and history represented therein tell fascinating and important stories about the existence and progression of humanity worldwide. As such, there are three Roman Catholic Missions, all still active, that are my favorites in the American West.

The Mission San Xavier del Bac, on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation is just south of Tucson. Founded by the famed Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, the present church was constructed between 1783 and 1797 by Franciscan missionaries. Although the Franciscans were forced to depart the reservation in 1828, they returned in 1911 and have continued to maintain the facility as the principal church and school of the Tohono O’odham people now for over a century. 

As one of the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture, its particularly beautiful carvings, murals, arches, domes and flying buttresses make it one of the most unique and impressive in the Southwest. Surely a Tucson “must,” the complete visit to San Xavier includes a museum, video presentation and self-guided tour.

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Traveling through Tucson

Saguaro National Park

by Bob Hoelscher 2. March 2012 20:41

Only a two-hour drive south of my (happily) snowless winter stopover in Phoenix and the “Valley of the Sun” is Tucson, the state’s second-largest city and home of the University of Arizona. Tucson holds one of three exceptional national park sites dedicated to great plants of the desert: Saguaro National Park.

The larger section of the park is at Rincon Mountain District, home to the park headquarters, a traditional visitor center and the scenic 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive. To the west is the Tucson Mountain District, which has a newer-style visitor center and 12 miles of paved roads, plus a number of Native American petroglyphs.

Drives and short hikes in both districts feature impressive stands of the majestic giant saguaro and other diverse vegetation native to the Sonoran Desert, as well as views of the surrounding mountains. The saguaro cactus itself grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet, occasionally even taller. It blossoms each year in late spring and can have a life span approaching 250 years.      

Although a single admission fee admits visitors to both districts of the park, most group tours will likely have time to visit only one. I would choose the specific site to include based on the other attractions that your group is planning to include in the Tucson area, or on the specific day that you plan to make your visit to the park.

The Eastern (Rincon Mountain) District is likely to be more convenient if you are arriving (or departing) the Tucson area via I-10 from (to) the east, or if you will be visiting Sabino Canyon, the Pima Air & Space Museum or Fort Lowell, or dining at Pinnacle Peak.  Alternately, the Western (Tucson Mountain) District will be the logical choice if you are arriving (or departing) the Tucson area via I-10 from (to) Phoenix or California, or visiting the adjacent Tucson Mountain Park, home to the great Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios, or the International Wildlife Museum or Mission San Xavier del Bac. 

Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America.  He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).

Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small.  He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see.  He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible.  His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”. 

Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at bobho52@aol.com or by calling (435) 590-1553.

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Traveling through Tucson

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