Katrina who?

by Brian Jewell 20. February 2012 20:41

When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in 2005, it made its mark on Mississippi's gulf coast. In Gulfport and Biloxi, the storm destroyed casinos, museums, homes and other structures; the nearby town of Bay St. Louis suffered incredible damage. But in the years since, the towns along the Mississippi coastline have rebuilt and renewed themselves, making the most of the story and welcoming visitors to learn about it.

I toured Bay St. Louis and parts of Biloxi today, seeing both evidence of the storm and the rebuilding that has taken place since then. We began in Bay St. Louis, the town that was hit the hardest. Though much of town has been rebuilt, several historic structures further inland survived. These include the Depot, a historic train station that now serves as a visitors center, and St. Rose de Lima Church. Another survivor is 100 Men DBA Hall, a historic music venue that was part of the "Chitlin Circuit" of blues joints throughout Mississippi in the early 20th century. Today the building is preserved as a historic site that groups can visit to learn about the rich African American cultural history of the area.

Downtown, Bay St. Louis has been almost completely rebuilt. Visitors will find numerous art galleries, craft shops and antique stores, which make an afternoon downtown a colorful event. The area also has a number of restaurants that serve seafood fresh from the Gulf, as well as other Southern specialties.

In Biloxi, several landmarks along the coast symbolize the city's resilience and recovery. During the storm, a surge of saltwater flooded inland areas, and many of the area's live oak trees died as a result of soaking in saltwater for eight hours or more. Rather than uproot these trees, locals fired up their chainsaws and carved them into beautiful outdoor sculptures, which both decorate the area and serve to memorialize the events of 2005.

Another symolic structure is the 1848 lighthouse that stands outside of Biloxi's visitors center. This white metal lighthouse has been an icon of the city for years, and locals and visitors alike were thrilled to see that the lighthouse survived the storm. Today, groups can take a tour of the small lighthouse, clmibing the circular stairway to the top for a look at the historic lamp and magnification lens, as well as a great view of Biloxi and the coastline.

Groups should also make time to visit Biloxi's Hurricane Katrina Memorial. Constructed by the crew of TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," this monument combines a colletion of items found scattered around town after the storm with a stately monument honoring those who lost their lives in the hurricane. The monument also has live oak that was masterfully carved and painted to create a tribute sculpture.

A tour of the Katrina sites in the area gives visitors an understanding of the storm and the damage it created in the community. But more moving than that lesson in history is the beauty of the communities that have reemerged, stronger and prouder than ever.


100 Men DBA Hall is part of Mississippi's Blues Trail

Clay Creations is one of sevral art galleries in Bay St. Louis

A colorful gift shop in downtown Bay St. Louis

Biloxi's 1848 lighthouse

Found objects on display at Biloxi's Hurricane Katrina Memorial

Rafting on the Kenai River

by Brian Jewell 13. July 2011 22:05

Glaciers have made quite a mark on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, carving out many of the mountain passes and rocky formations that make this area so scenic. But these behemoths of ice aren't just a thing of the past; dozens of glaciers linger in the mountinas around here, and their melting run-off trickles down into the Kenai Lake and Kenai River.

Today, I took a float trip down the Kenai River, along with Cruises and Tours Worldwide and their visiting group from First State Community Bank in Missouri. It was an adventure from the beginning. Arriving at Alaska Wilderness Adventures, we enjoyed a delicious salmon bake along the river, and then went through the commical proccess of outfitting around 50 people in river wear: rubber boots, waterproff overalls and rain slikers. From there, we broke up into groups of eight and loaded into large rubber rafts for a leisurely float down the river.

Though it's been cloudy and rainy here for a few days, the sun and blue skies broke through during our afternoon float trip, treating us to wonderful views of the electric blue water color that is the signature of glacial run-off. Our river guide Gus explained that this color comes from fine particles of silt that the glacier picks up as it slowly scrapes alongside a mountain. Gus also spent much of the 90-minute trip pointing out some of the various birds and small animals that live along the river, and telling us about the salmon run that will happen here nextt week. We passed a few fly fishermen along the way, but Gus said that next week, when tens of thousands of salmon return to these waters to spawn, sections of the riverbank will be packed with anglers elbow-to-elbow, creating an event known locally as "combat fishing."

At the end of the day, I was both sun-soaked and bone dry, and full of wonder after seeing some of America's most pristine natural areas from water level.


Outfitting for the trip

The grandeur of the Kenai River dwarfs raft passengers.

River guide Gus

The closest thing you'll to a rapid on the peaceful Kenai River

Sitka spruce trees tower beside the river banks.


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at www.cruises-toursworldwide.com.

A hike to remember

by Brian Jewell 12. July 2011 22:27

Sometimes I do my best thinking while hiking down a mountain.

It's a cloudy day atop Mt. Alyeska, a ski area about an hour's drive south of Anchorage. Now in mid-summer, there is no skiing, as the temperatures hover around 60 degrees. Instead, Alyeska turns into a nature lovers paradise, with many miles of hiking trails leading from the Alyeska Hotel at the bottom to upper tram station near the top of the mountain. Braver souls can hike up the 2,300-foot incline; since I had limited time before dinner, I decided to ride the aerial tram to the top, and then hike down on the 2.5 mile North Face trail.

From the top of the mountiain, I enjoyed wonderful views of Turnagain Arm, an extension of the Cook Inlet, as well as the incredible greenery of the valley below me. Thick white clouds loomed low overhead, although instead of obscuring the view, they somehow seemed to tuck me in, creating a sealed-off wonderland of steep mountainside and lush color. Though trams passed by from time to time, the valley was nearly empty; as I set out on my hike, I had the whole mountain to myselt.

I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed, as the path went from steep and rock to gentle and muddy, then finally wide and well worn. As I descended, I discoveded new plant life at about every 100 feet in elevation. The colors and shapes of these leaves and flowes mezmerized me. Although I don't know what they are called or where else they grow, I enjoyed stopping to study them along the way, marveling at their intricate structures and the way that the colorful petals stood out from the green background.

The hike down was peaceful and leisurely. I made sure to make some noise along the way, to scare off any bears that might cross my path. And I took plenty of time to ponder the beauty of this corner of Alaska -- one of the most beautiful states in the country -- and to ponder my place in such a magnificent world.


Alyeska's aerial tramway


About to bloom


Beautiful buds

Deep blue "somethings"


Raindrops and wild flowers


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at www.cruises-toursworldwide.com.

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