Five Favorites: Events

by Brian Jewell 14. December 2012 02:07

Courtesy CMA

If I had to choose, here are my five favorite events that I would recommend to anyone.

Fiesta San Antonio

During Fiesta, several large parades take place in locations throughout the city. There are flower parades, pet parades, the Fiesta Flambeau and more. My favorite memory of Fiesta is attending the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, a grand evening event that takes place on the beautiful San Antonio River Walk.

CMA Music Festival
Casual music fans can enjoy any given night in Nashville, Tennessee, but serious music-lovers come to town during the Country Music Association (CMA) Music Festival, which takes place over three days each June.

More than 100 country artists come to Nashville for the CMA festival, where they perform more than 40 hours of concerts. Some 60,000 music fans come out every year to enjoy the music and to meet their favorite artists during the Fan Fair.

Mardi Gras
The South punctuates winter with the celebration of Mardi Gras. Special Mardi Gras “krewes” celebrate with elaborate costumes, formal galas and lavish parades where they throw millions of plastic beads. The festivities are accompanied by plenty of fresh seafood and king cake, the traditional Mardi Gras dessert.

Mardi Gras is too big to be constrained to any one city. Although New Orleans is traditionally known as the capital of Fat Tuesday celebrations, I’ve been to great Mardi Gras parades in Shreveport, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama.

100 Miles of Lights
Virginia welcomes winter in style with 100 Miles of Lights, a coordinated series of holiday events that stretch from the Capitol in Richmond all the way through the Hampton Roads area to the Atlantic Coast.

Groups will find drive-through and walk-through light displays in parks, gardens and other public places. In Williamsburg, the colonial center of town is decked out in period Christmas trim, and the Grand Illumination celebration brings in Christmas with candlelight and fireworks.

Indianapolis 500 Festival
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most famous events in auto racing, and the community celebrates with the 500 Festival. Throughout May, a series of 50 smaller events and programs take place around Indianapolis.

Some 300,000 spectators fill the streets of Indianapolis for the 500 Festival Parade, which features floats, costumed characters, celebrities and giant helium balloons. The 33 starting drivers for the auto race serve as grand marshals of the parade. Among the other events are foot races, a community festival and “Breakfast at the Brickyard” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

by Bob Hoelscher 4. December 2012 00:45

Unfortunately, some extraordinary sites administered by our National Park Service are not very accessible. Among these is surely Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in northwestern Nebraska, even though it is not all that distant from South Dakota’s popular Black Hills resort region. 

The Monument was once part of the Agate Springs Ranch, purchased by James and Kate Cook from her parents in 1887. Strange “Devil’s Corkscrew” formations were first studied here by scientists soon thereafter, which were eventually identified as fossilized burrows of a prehistoric beaver-like creature that lived more like a prairie dog.

Here, around ancient waterholes, animals had apparently congregated and eventually died when supplies of the nearby grasses that they foraged, already drastically reduced by drought, were exhausted. The bones of hundreds and even thousands of several species were eventually covered under several feet of sediment. Mostly between 1904 and 1923, paleontologists from several renowned Eastern institutions worked these fossil beds, uncovering bones that are now found in outstanding museum collections around the globe. 

Today, in addition to displays explaining and exhibiting some of the fossilized bones, as well as complete replica skeletons, the Monument’s excellent visitor center also contains a video theatre and the Cook Collection of Indian Artifacts. Even by itself, the Cook family’s magnificent collection of Plains Indian cultural artifacts makes a trip to the Monument worthwhile. However two interpretive trails, the 2.7-mile round-trip Fossil Hill Trail to the University and Carnegie Hill dig sites, and the one-mile Daemonelix Trail, all contribute to a memorable visitor experience.

Red Cloud's ceremonial shirt in the Cook Collection of Indian Artifacts

Daemonelix in the "phone booth"

Mule deer viewed from the Daemonelix Trail

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Three lesser-known Midwest parks

Missouri National Recreational River

by Bob Hoelscher 4. December 2012 00:43

The Missouri, North America’s longest river, meanders from its headwaters in Montana and through the Dakotas, borders Nebraska and Kansas to the east, and Iowa and Missouri to the west, before crossing the “Show Me” State and joining the Mississippi just north of St. Louis.  Although it became an important commercial waterway as the U.S. expanded westward during the second half of the 19th century, the river remained treacherous going for steamboats of the era.

However, after a series of particularly devastating floods in the early 1940s, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1944, a provision of which eventually resulted in six dams being built, massive reservoirs being filled and the end of regular seasonal flood destruction. But there are still two historic, free-flowing stretches of the Missouri along the Nebraska/South Dakota border that were preserved by Congress in 1978 and 1991 as the Missouri National Recreational River. The 39-Mile-District, downstream from Fort Randall Dam as far as Running Water (SD), offers visitor centers at both the dam itself and Niobrara State Park (NE), while the 59-Mile District, downstream from the Gavins Point Dam to Ponca State Park (NE), has a visitor center in the state park, as well as the major Lewis and Clark Visitor Center at the dam. 

In addition to splendid views of the river and Gavins Point Dam, the latter facility has numerous exhibits, a video theatre and a bookstore. Both districts offer a wealth of opportunities for water sports, fishing, hiking and picnicking.

Park facilities along the Missouri River

Lewis and Clark Visitor Center

Missouri River model in the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center

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Three lesser-known Midwest parks

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

by Bob Hoelscher 4. December 2012 00:38

A unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge makes a wonderful tour stop for groups traveling in Nebraska. Only about five miles off of I-29, DeSoto is one of over 500 refuges protected and managed nationally. However, DeSoto is much more than just a place to view spectacular flights of ducks, geese and bald eagles along a traditional flyway route. The refuge also offers beautiful indoor galleries overlooking DeSoto Lake during the spring and fall months.

The visitor center not only houses the galleries, but it is also the home of one of the most unusual historic collections in the country, the Steamboat Bertrand Collection.  Due to the numerous perils of traveling the Missouri, the river’s hazards exacted a heavy toll on early ships, with over 400 steamboats sunk or stranded between St. Louis and Fort Benton, Montana.  Among these was the Bertrand, which sank here in April, 1865 and was quickly covered completely by thick river mud. 

This time capsule of Civil War-era goods destined for the Montana Territory rested undiscovered for over a century, finally being unearthed in 1969. Unfortunately, during the summer of 2011, the rising waters of a major Missouri River flood threatened both the fabulous Steamboat Bertrand Collection as well as the DeSoto Visitor Center itself. As a result, the entire collection of artifacts was quickly shipped to a warehouse in Omaha as a precautionary measure.  A complete cataloging and re-cleaning of all items is now being completed in the Omaha facility. 

Happily, the collection will gradually be returned to and reinstalled at DeSoto beginning in early 2013, and the entire move is expected to be completed by next fall.  If you plan a visit, which I highly recommend, make sure to say ‘hello’ to Ken Block, the amiable, highly experienced and knowledgeable USFWS (and former NPS) ranger who helped make my visit in early November (I had last been here in 1984) a particular pleasure.

Wildlife exhibit

Historic artifacts from the Steamboat Bertrand Collection

Ranger Ken Block assists visitors

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Three lesser-known Midwest parks

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