Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2012

              Each early October the skies around Albuquerque, New Mexico are painted with hundreds of balloons as they lift off from Fiesta Park.  This is the world’s largest hot-air balloon rally.  It is an early start the morning of the Opening Ceremonies when you can go see the “mass ascension” of the many different shaped balloons as they lift off at sunrise.  Plus you can wander the 80 acre launch field and even chat with some of the pilots before liftoff.  The Fiesta began in 1972 with 13 balloons and now has more than 600.
            This is a trip to do as a tour if you are able to.  You can go individually but there are so many people there (usually more than 80,000), the roads can become gridlock.  So, it’s better to be on a motor coach if you can.  Plus after the “mass ascension”, you can then participate in a city tour of Albuquerque with a local guide.
            Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico located against the Sandia Mountains.  The population is approximately 600.000 and it sits at 5,000 feet, just shy of a mile.  1/3rd of all New Mexicans live here.  The University has 24,000 students and is famous for its geology, anthropology and metorite museums.  Sandia National Labs employs over 7,000 and there are other research and development firms in the area.  There is a mixture of Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures and this is reflected in the city’s architecture and art.  It is real a fun place to visit with a laid back atmosphere.
            El Camino Real (“The Royal Road”) ran from Mexico City all the way to Santa Fe about an hour north.  Because the early explorers came through this area, Old Town, the heart of the early city is located here and is a great place to spend some time.  Lots of shops and restaurants line the plaza and if you get here make sure you visit the San Felipe De Neri church built in 1706.  It is amazing to think that there was a thriving community here before we even had fought the Revolutionary War!
            Another great side trip for getting“high,” is the Sandia Peak Tram which at 2.7 miles long is known as the world’s largest tramway.  The tramway goes 10,378 feet up to the top of the Sandia Mountains.  And, oh, what a terrific panoramic view of northern New Mexico!  At the top you can hike or just enjoy a meal at the High Finance Restaurant and Tavern.
                But the evening after the “mass ascension”, get ready for a real treat….the Balloon Glow.  Just before dusk, the burners of nearly 500 balloons are ignited and the night sky is filled with a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors.  And, the evening is topped off with a wonderful fireworks display.
            Some of the other things you can do while in the area is go to Bandelier National Monument which contains displays of the daily life of the Pueblo people and their traditions.  Or a little further afield is White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo.  The snow colored dues cover 275 square miles in the Chihuahua Desert.  And some of the dunes rise up over 60 feet, and are constantly changing because of the winds blowing in the area.  You can bike through the area, but even more fun is to take a dune buggy ride.  I did this once and it was a real treat.  The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how the driver knew where he was and how he would get us back to the visitor center.
            Finally, a “must” to do while here is a trip to Santa Fe, the highest capitol (in elevation) in the US– 6,989 feet.  It is only about 50 miles between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but all uphill.  The historic central plaza is a square in the city center.  On the north side of the plaza sits the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually occupied public building in the US, dating from 1610.  Native American artisans from 41 tribes sit outside selling local crafts like turquoise and silver jewelry, paintings, sculptures, weavings and pottery.  The architecture is the typical pueblo style you expect to see there and many rich and famous live here, which naturally pushes property values up.  Also, a stop at the Loretto Chapel which contains a staircase that is famous for no visible support as well as many old churches are also worth a visit.
            So many places to see and things to do in the Land of Enchantment, which is New Mexico.  Why not start at Albuquerque?

Read Full Post »

“Galveston, oh Galveston.  I can hear your sea winds blowing…” as the words of Glen Campbell’s song goes… “on the beach where we used to roam.”
And the beach has been tied totally to Galveston’s history.  You may not know this but Galveston is an island, actually a barrier island, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, TX. 
Galveston is part Southern, park Texas blooming with towering oleanders of every color and has more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. Part of the charm of Galveston is that it is so much a town in its own right, and it always has been. Even today, many residents refer to the city as “The Republic of Galveston Island” because it is so unlike the rest of Texas.
In 1528, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the Island and lived among the Indians for several years as a medicine man and slave. In the late 1600’s, the French explorer Robert Cavelier La Salle claimed this area for King Louis.  However, the island was named for Bernardo de Gálvez, a Spanish colonial governor and general.  Gálvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas coast to New Orleans, and on July 23, 1786, de Evia named the waters Galveston Bay. Later, the island and city took the same name.  Bernardo de Gálvez died the same year, never setting foot on his namesake island.
How can you resist the charm of this 32 mile island (only 2 miles wide at its widest) whose first known European settler was a pirate? The cultured and debonair pirate Jean Lafitte established the colony of Campeche on Galveston Island in 1817, numbering about 1,000 people at its peak. Lafitte was eventually forced to leave by the US Navy who didn’t appreciate his pirateering.  As he was forced off the island, Lafitte burned his town behind him and literally sailed into history. No one knows what happened to him and if interested in learning more look into joining the Lafitte society. Many theories abound, including settling in Alton, IL and continuing his dynasty.  Personally I think a storm overtook him and sank his ship somewhere off the Yucutan Peninsula.
However, Galveston, as we know it, was officially founded by Michel Menard and Samuel May Williams, among others in the 1830’s. The homes of these early island pioneers are still standing and tours are offered.
Everything is bigger in Texas and in the nineteenth century, everything in Texas was done first in Galveston. Incorporated in 1839, Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in the state. This exciting and sophisticated city built the state’s first post office, first opera house, first hospital, first golf course, first country club…the list goes on and on.
But everything changed on September 8, 1900.  Back then hurricanes had no names but this one was so bad it was dubbed “The Great Storm.” Most estimates put the deaths at 6,000 and some say there were another 6,000 people who went missing.  Over 1/3rdof the city’s population was wiped out by that tragedy.  The problem was the next spring, 1901 the first gusher came in at Spindletop, not far from the island.  But since the city was so devastated from the hurricane, the money went to Houston, since people deemed that area safer in hurricanes.  Consequently, Galveston never again attained the glory it had before the hurricane.
Although devastated, the citizens were strong and rallied.  They built a 16 foot seawall.  It took 60 years to complete all 10.4 miles of it.  Then the remaining structures were jacked up and sand pumped in raising the island 6-8 feet.  But it was definitely worth the effort.  In 1915 another hurricane with the same intensity as the Great Storm hit.  90% of the structures outside the seawall were destroyed but only 8 people died (and another 300 not behind the seawall).
In the 1920’s, Galveston found a new source of income.  There had always been prostitution and gambling due to all the sailors stationed there, but with Prohibition, bootlegging was added to the list. Eventually 2 brothers, the Maceo’s, took controlIn the swinging 40’s & 50’s, the Balinese Room was legendary along the Gulf Coast.  Some of the famous performers were Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Sophie Tucker, the Marx Brothers, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Mel Torme and so many others. Frank Sinatra sang there in 1950 (he was in decline at the time & didn’t get back on top until his role in From here To Eternity got him an Oscar nod) and he asked for his meals to be included as part of his pay.
The Texas Rangers tried to raid the place several times, but a call was always placed to Maceo and by the time they walked the long pier, the gaming tables had been converted to backgammon and the slot machines folded into the walls. The chips were stashed in the kitchen and one suitcase full was inadvertently roasted in the oven once. One time the sheriff was asked why he didn’t close the place down.  He replied, “Shucks, I am not a member so I can’t get in.” In the late 1950’s, after the brothers died, someone in a boat under the pier saw the machines folded into the walls and after reporting this to the law, the Texas Rangers were able to close gambling down then.   
There are two historic hotels in Galveston.  The Tremont House is down on the Strand.  The owner, George Mitchell, brought Mardi Gras to the island in the 1980’s and it continues as a big 10 day celebration to this day.  The other hotel is the Hotel Galvez across from the seawall.    Phil Harris married Alice Faye in 1940 and spent his honeymoon in the penthouse.  And, Dan Rather gained national fame sitting in the Galvez reporting as Hurricane Carla came to Galveston in 1960.  From this recognition he got a news job reporting in the Kennedy White House and the rest they say is history. 
The Galvez was known as the “Queen of the Gulf” on the day she opened in 1911. For nearly a century, this charming hotel built in a Spanish Mission style, has been the choice for guests as  diverse as Franklin Roosevelt and Howard Hughes, as well as the famous stars mentioned above.  Palm trees line a stretch of grass in front of the property’s double doors.  Mahogany beams cross the ceiling of the expansive lobby and down a long hallway known as the Loggia, the veranda (where Dan Rather reported from), overlooks the formal gardens and the hotel’s outdoor tropical pool.  And, of course, the famed Balinese Room used to be right across the street.
Currently more than 2,000 buildings in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Strand, once known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, has dozens of Victorian Office Buildings with antique stores, art galleries and gift shops.  It’s a fun place to roam around and the cruise ship terminal is only a block away.  Several ships now call Galveston home which has definitely stimulated the economy.
There are so many things to do on the island.  There are several Victorian homes and churches you can tour.  Climb aboard the tall sailing ship The Elissa, check out the Railroad Museum,or take in the movie, The Great Storm, at the Seaport Museum.  The downtown area (which many people don’t realize is there because they only go to the beaches and seawall area) is known as the Strand.  It was once called “the Wall Street of the South” and has many wonderful Victorian buildings that have been converted into shops and restaurants and is a fun place to explore.  This area is the heart of Mardi Gras in the spring as well as the Christmas festival, “Dickens on the Strand.”
Naturally the biggest attraction is the sandy beaches but besides that you can gorge yourself on freshly caught seafood, especially shrimp, at a number of restaurants all over the island.
Tragedy struck once again September 13, 2008, as Hurricane Ike made landfall on the east end of Galveston Island, leaving behind the damage of 100 mph winds and a storm surge estimated between 17 and 20 feet. Today the Island continues its journey of recovery and rediscovery since the hurricane. 
I am not sure what it is about this island but it constantly calls to me.  I try and visit at least once a year.  I used to live there awhile back and maybe I will be able to again sometime. Hopefully the sea breeze will call you to this wonderful romantic Victorian Island.

Read Full Post »

#2-SoSome people like the ocean and beach; others like to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
me people like the ocean and beach; others like to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
There are 5 different entrances to the park but the best way, if you can do it, is to enter from the south. The reason: Jackson Hole & the Tetons. Jackson Hole is a cowboy town that still boasts wooden sidewalks. Sandra Bullock & Harrison Ford have homes in Jackson, WY where there is less than 60 frost free days a year. There is an elk refuge right outside town that has thousands of elk that winter there. But the best thing about Jackson Hole is the view as you leave going north when you get your first glimpse of the Tetons. Sometimes people actually gasp when they see the mountains the first time.
A hole is a French word for valley and the hole runs about 40 miles with no foothills up to the mountain, which helps give the area such a dramatic aspect. As you look at the Tetons you can understand why the Arapaho say it is “the place where the makers work is not yet finished.” The mountains are still rising! And where did they get their name? Well the story goes some sex-starved Frenchmen came into the hole the first time & thought they looked like breasts…thus the word Tetons.
One time I was having breakfast out along the Snake River and one of my travelers said “that sure is beautiful wallpaper.” What a neat way to describe the view. And if you go there and are by the Snake, don’t forget a rafting trip. One time a moose actually walked right in front of our raft and we were too much in awe to realize how dangerous the situation might have been.
A stop at the Chapel of Transfiguration, Jenny Lake, Coulter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge are also a must as you make your way along the road that leads into Yellowstone. Although it is less than 90 miles between Jackson & Yellowstone, you can easily spend most of the day getting there due to all the wonderful stops along the way; that is if you don’t make any overnight stops on the way.
Next up: The Granddaddy—Yellowstone.
– V#2– Vacation Destinations:
Some people like the ocean and beach; others like to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
There are 5 different entrances to the park but the best way, if you can do it, is to enter from the south. The reason: Jackson Hole & the Tetons. Jackson Hole is a cowboy town that still boasts wooden sidewalks. Sandra Bullock & Harrison Ford have homes in Jackson, WY where there is less than 60 frost free days a year. There is an elk refuge right outside town that has thousands of elk that winter there. But the best thing about Jackson Hole is the view as you leave going north when you get your first glimpse of the Tetons. Sometimes people actually gasp when they see the mountains the first time.
A hole is a French word for valley and the hole runs about 40 miles with no foothills up to the mountain, which helps give the area such a dramatic aspect. As you look at the Tetons you can understand why the Arapaho say it is “the place where the makers work is not yet finished.” The mountains are still rising! And where did they get their name? Well the story goes some sex-starved Frenchmen came into the hole the first time & thought they looked like breasts…thus the word Tetons.
One time I was having breakfast out along the Snake River and one of my travelers said “that sure is beautiful wallpaper.” What a neat way to describe the view. And if you go there and are by the Snake, don’t forget a rafting trip. One time a moose actually walked right in front of our raft and we were too much in awe to realize how dangerous the situation might have been.
A stop at the Chapel of Transfiguration, Jenny Lake, Coulter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge are also a must as you make your way along the road that leads into Yellowstone. Although it is less than 90 miles between Jackson & Yellowstone, you can easily spend most of the day getting there due to all the wonderful stops along the way; that is if you don’t make any overnight stops on the way.
Next up: The Granddaddy—Yellowstone.
acation Destinations:
Some people like the ocean and beach; others like#2– Vacation Destinations:
Some people like the ocean and beach; others like to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
There are 5 different entrances to the park but the best way, if you can do it, is to enter from the south. The reason: Jackson Hole & the Tetons. Jackson Hole is a cowboy town that still boasts wooden sidewalks. Sandra Bullock & Harrison Ford have homes in Jackson, WY where there is less than 60 frost free days a year. There is an elk refuge right outside town that has thousands of elk that winter there. But the best thing about Jackson Hole is the view as you leave going north when you get your first glimpse of the Tetons. Sometimes people actually gasp when they see the mountains the first time.
A hole is a French word for valley and the hole runs about 40 miles with no foothills up to the mountain, which helps give the area such a dramatic aspect. As you look at the Tetons you can understand why the Arapaho say it is “the place where the makers work is not yet finished.” The mountains are still rising! And where did they get their name? Well the story goes some sex-starved Frenchmen came into the hole the first time & thought they looked like breasts…thus the word Tetons.
One time I was having breakfast out along the Snake River and one of my travelers said “that sure is beautiful wallpaper.” What a neat way to describe the view. And if you go there and are by the Snake, don’t forget a rafting trip. One time a moose actually walked right in front of#2– Vacation Destinations:
Some people like the ocean and beach; others like to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
There are 5 different entrances to the park but the best way, if you can do it, is to enter from the south. The reason: Jackson Hole & the Tetons. Jackson Hole is a cowboy town that still boasts wooden sidewalks. Sandra Bullock & Harrison Ford have homes in Jackson, WY where there is less than 60 frost free days a year. There is an elk refuge right outside town that has thousands of elk that winter there. But the best thing about Jackson Hole is the view as you leave going north when you get your first glimpse of the Tetons. Sometimes people actually gasp when they see the mountains the first time.
A hole is a French word for valley and the hole runs about 40 miles with no foothills up to the mountain, which helps give the area such a dramatic aspect. As you look at the Tetons you can understand why the Arapaho say it is “the place where the makers work is not yet finished.” The mountains are still rising! And where did they get their name? Well the story goes some sex-starved Frenchmen came into the hole the first time & thought they looked like breasts…thus the word Tetons.
One time I was having breakfast out along the Snake River and one of my travelers said “that sure is beautiful wallpaper.” What a neat way to describe the view. And if you go there and are by the Snake, don’t forget a rafting trip. One time a moose actually walked right in front of our raft and we were too much in awe to realize how dangerous the situation might have been.
A stop at the Chapel of Transfiguration, Jenny Lake, Coulter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge are also a must as you make your way along the road that leads into Yellowstone. Although it is less than 90 miles between Jackson & Yellowstone, you can easily spend most of the day getting there due to all the wonderful stops along the way; that is if you don’t make any overnight stops on the way.
Next up: The Granddaddy—Yellowstone.
our raft and we were too much in awe to realize how dangerous the situation might have been.
A stop at the Chapel of Transfiguration, Jenny Lake, Coulter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge are also a must as you make your way along the road that leads into Yellowstone. Although it is less than 90 miles between Jackson & Yellowstone, you can easily spend most of the day getting there due to all the wonderful stops along the way; that is if you don’t make any overnight stops on the way.
Next up: The Granddaddy—Yellowstone.
to travel to the mountains. Some go by car, train, plane, or cruise ship. No matter how you get there, going on vacation is something almost everyone looks forward to.
Last week we looked at Seattle & the Pacific Northwest. This week let’s look at a couple of national parks. Although Smoky Nat’l Park is the most visited, which makes sense due to its location, the granddaddy of them all & America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be pretty near the top of anyone’s list.
There are 5 different entrances to the park but the best way, if you can do it, is to enter from the south. The reason: Jackson Hole & the Tetons. Jackson Hole is a cowboy town that still boasts wooden sidewalks. Sandra Bullock & Harrison Ford have homes in Jackson, WY where there is less than 60 frost free days a year. There is an elk refuge right outside town that has thousands of elk that winter there. But the best thing about Jackson Hole is the view as you leave going north when you get your first glimpse of the Tetons. Sometimes people actually gasp when they see the mountains the first time.
A hole is a French word for valley and the hole runs about 40 miles with no foothills up to the mountain, which helps give the area such a dramatic aspect. As you look at the Tetons you can understand why the Arapaho say it is “the place where the makers work is not yet finished.” The mountains are still rising! And where did they get their name? Well the story goes some sex-starved Frenchmen came into the hole the first time & thought they looked like breasts…thus the word Tetons.
One time I was having breakfast out along the Snake River and one of my travelers said “that sure is beautiful wallpaper.” What a neat way to describe the view. And if you go there and are by the Snake, don’t forget a rafting trip. One time a moose actually walked right in front of our raft and we were too much in awe to realize how dangerous the situation might have been.
A stop at the Chapel of Transfiguration, Jenny Lake, Coulter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge are also a must as you make your way along the road that leads into Yellowstone. Although it is less than 90 miles between Jackson & Yellowstone, you can easily spend most of the day getting there due to all the wonderful stops along the way; that is if you don’t make any overnight stops on the way.
Next up: The Granddaddy—Yellowstone.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever heard of the New River Train?  This special train only runs 4 days–Sat & Sun of 2 fall weekends in October.  This is a great trip either to take as an escorted tour or on your own.

You board the train in Huntington, WV.  You may remember Huntington from the tragic plane crash that killed most of their football team on November 14, 1970.  It was the only chartered flight that year since most of the schools they played were in easy driving distance.  Seventy-five people died in the crash.  Many boosters and prominent citizens were on that plane as well as thirty-seven team members & eight coaches.  Seventy children lost one parent in that crash and eighteen were left orphaned.  Today as you drive through the campus, there is such a peaceful look, you would never know the tragedy that struck the town .  Perhaps you even saw the movie with Matthew McConaughey that came out in 2006 called “We Are Marshall.”
Huntington is a pretty little town, near the Ohio and Kentucky borders on the Ohio River with a population just under 50,000.  Eleven miles of floodwalls protect the city.  The town was founded in 1871 by the president of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railiroad and is a busy industrial area with the railroad contributing greatly to its growth.
Since 1968, the New River Train has been taking travelers on an annual fall excursion through the scenic New River Gorge in West Virginia to view the beautiful autumn foliage. The round-trip train runs from Huntington, WV to Hinton, WV and back with a 65 mile long stretch through the New River Gorge.  The New River Gorge folows the Kanawha River and is one of our newest National Parks, often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the East.”  Much of this stretch of the New River Gorge is inaccessible by car, making the trip an excellent opportunity to view ghost towns and old coal mining sites tucked deep into the Gorge. Guides onboard each car point out the various sites still visible along the route of the railroad.  If you are on an escorted tour, we only take the train one way to Hinton and the motorcoach catches up with us there.  But whether you go one way or roundtrip there is a stop in Hinton (3 hours if you are going back on the train) where Railroad Day festivities include food, arts and crafts, and entertainment.  The festival is small–only 2 blocks long– but lots of food booths pack both sides of the street.  The train borrows old railroad cars from many midwest train towns, so you are riding in vintage cars on this journey and it’s a leisurely way to see some beautiful sites in the Mountain State.
Next up on tour is the town of Beckley, W.V.; a town of less than 20,000 in the heart of West Virginia’s coal mining region.  You can tour a coal mine which is really quite fascinating.  But a must stop is definitely Tamarack.     You can see artisans at work making quilts, pottery, glass and woodworks and crafts native to West Virginia.  I like to stop here for a dinner stop, too.  The restaurant is set up cafeteria style and is very reasonable.  They train the chefs here for one of my favorite places, The Greenbriar and so the food is always exceptional.
The Greenbriar Resort,  A National Historic landmark in White Sulphur Springs, is a definite favorite of mine.  I think I like it better than the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.  Dorothy Draper decorated the place in the 1920s and you find room after room to marvel at as you walk throught the place.  Even the public bathrooms are awesome!  For most of its history, the hotel was owned by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and the Duke of Windsor with Wallis Simpson, members of the Kennedy family, Bing Crosby, several presidents and vice presidents and foreign dignitaries such as Nehru, Gandhi, & Prince Rainier & Princess Grace of Monaco have all stayed there.  There are wonderful restaurants and a championship golf club, Sam Snead was connected to.  But, one of the most fun things about the resort is the Bunker.  The Bunker was built under one of the hotel’s wings in secret.  It was built during the Cold War & was designed to house members of Congress in case of nuclear attack.  It was never used, although it was stocked with supplies for thirty years.  In the 1990’s a reporter from the Washington Post broke the story, thus compromising the place.  Today you can do the Bunker Tour, which is fascinating.  It makes me wonder where the new Top Secret place for Congress is now located after touring here.

Read Full Post »