Posts Tagged ‘autumn foliage’

With Fall just around the corner here is a great place to visit during that time of the year.
I was once playing a trivia game and the question was, “What state is called The Mountain State?”  Naturally I started thinking Wyoming or Colorado, but I was wrong.  The correct answer which shocked me was…West Virginia.
The state is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains which are the oldest mountain chain in North America.  Because of that you don’t see a lot of tall mountains.  The average is probably 3,000-5,000 feet with a few over 6,000.
But what makes West Virginia “The Mountain State”?   They say they have more mountains in their state than any other state east of the Mississippi.  This state has had its share of troubles from Civil War battles, mountain feuds, and coal mining labor disputes.
But today its scenic beauty, especially in the fall, has made it a haven for skiers, white-water rafters, hikers and anyone who loves the outdoors.  There are covered bridges, caves, and an extensive railway system that was once used for transporting lumber and now carries passengers who want to enjoy the state’s scenic wonders.
And that is the reason I am writing this article.  I wrote a previous piece on West Virginia Autumn Foliage and that is truly a wonderful time to visit the state.  But our new tour, with Mayflower Tours, runs both in the summer and fall.
The tour is called “West Virginia Mountain Rails and Trails” and you are treated to four different train rides in the state on this seven day adventure.  You fly into Pittsburgh which is another Eastern city that has made a turn around and is quite beautiful.
From there you transfer to your hotel in Morgantown.  We ride a prototype people mover around Don Knott’s hometown and see all the sights where he grew up.
Later that day we have dinner aboard the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad.   This excursion follows the South Branch of the Potomac River through a scenic valley and steep mountains filled with evergreens.  You may even spot a bald eagle along this journey.
The next day is on to the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area and later we board the Cass Scenic Railroad for a journey up the mountain to Whittaker Station and a logging camp.  Old steam Shay or Heisler locomotives, that once hauled the logging trains, will take us on this adventure.
The Greenbriar with the Bunker is one of my favorite places to visit.  This stop awaits us the next day.  I wrote about this place extensively in my other West Virginia article if you would like to read more about this stop.
We continue on to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine where we travel underground in authentic mining cars.  The New River Gorge, one of America’s newest National Parks, is our next stop.  We even ride a covered jetboat on the river.
Finally our last day is full of adventure.  First up we ride the steam-powered Durbin Rocket along the Greenbriar River.  A Climax 1910 steam locomotive takes us on a 10 & ½ mile 2 hour journey with both scenic mountain, as well as river views.
Next up have a hobo lunch while we climb Cheat Mountain aboard the Salamander and finish the day with dinner at the Railyard Restaurant and ending with an evening of live entertainment at the American Mountain Theater.  At the theater we are treated to a mixture of country, gospel, bluegrass, pop, and patriotic music.
There is definitely a lot of adventure on this tour as well as scenic beauty that will take your breath away.  Whether you take an escorted tour or make up your own with Fall nearly here you may want to definitely consider visiting the “The Mountain State.”


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I recently did a “food tour” of Virginia Beach, Virginia. But before we arrived we made a couple of other stops. If you visit you will find a lot of history in this area. We had so little time, we were not able to see much of the historic places. However if you visit plan to stop at the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg while you are there.
On Day Two we did a 3 hour whirlwind tour of DC. Since it was late Sunday afternoon the roads seemed to magically open for us. We walked by the White House, Capitol, and into the WWII monument. We then drove the tidal basin & even had time to walk into the Lincoln & Korean Memorials. On the way out of town we zipped by Arlington National Cemetery & the Iwo Jima Memorial. If you ever do the Iwo Jima Monument make sure you drive the whole circle. It’s an optical illusion but it looks like the flag is raising and lowering as you drive around.
The next morning we had 3 hours to kill so I contacted the Convention Visitor Bureau in Hampton, Virginia. The man who helped me there awesome! They have the most wonderful History Museum in that town. It covers 400 years of history in several galleries. He organized guides for us and split the group in threes for our tour. We also saw St. John’s Church before “Bruce” jumped on our coach and did a little city tour on our way to lunch and shopping. For those of you interested there is a big Bass Pro Shop on a little lake with restaurants and a Coldstone Creamery behind the store. I haven’t even touched on all the neat things to do in this town, including some great shopping areas and restaurants.
Then we headed to Virginia Beach. The population is approximately440,000 and it is the most populous city in the state. However the area is very spread out so it is not a city with big skyscraper type buildings. As we drove in we saw many hotels several stories tall facing the ocean, with the required tourist souvenir shops nearby. The way they were built most rooms had ocean views. Our hotel had every room with balconies facing the boardwalk and ocean.
The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Naturally due to the location it is a resort city with miles of beaches and hundreds of hotels, motels, condos and restaurants along the oceanfront. The boardwalk is also neat. There is a separate paved bike path so you don’t run into pedestrians and the famed King Neptune Statue is a must stop.
The city is home to many state parks, several long-protected beach areas, three military bases, a number of large corporations, two universities, International headquarters and site of the television broadcast studios for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), and Edgar Cayce’s Hospital for Research and Enlightenment which was established in 1928 with 60 beds.
Cayce was a very famous psychic in his time who claimed healing abilities and made prophesies. He is known as the father of the “New Age” movement of the 1960s. He lived in Virginia Beach until he died on January 3, 1945. His followers are still very active in the area and many people all over the world still study his prophesies.
An interesting historic fact is near the point where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Cape Henry was the site of the first landing of the English colonists, who eventually settled in Jamestown in1607.
One of our dinners was at the Chesapeake Grill, the only restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We had wonderful Barbeque there as we gazed at the beautiful water views. I just wished we had time to stay long enough to see the sunset. I am sure it would have been spectacular. But even if you don’t stop you need to drive over the bridge. It is four lanes and has two tunnels. The entire bridge and tunnels span twenty miles!
 Naturally seafood was the highlight of our tour. We had She Crab soup, fish sandwiches, crab cake, BBQ shrimp, grilled shrimp, oysters Rockafellar, clams provencal, and fish tacos. And homemade desserts–little chocolate cookies, key lime pie, piled high strawberry shortcake and famous Bundt cakes from Rowena’s in Norfolk. Did I mention cheese and sausage at our wine tasting?

And I have to tell you as I tell my travelers–when you are on vacation there is no calories in the food you eat!

The third day of our stay was a lot about peanuts and ham. We went to Smithville and had Brunswick stew, a ham sandwich on a sweet potato roll, and a Virginian reuben, which is actually made of turkey. After all this food we visited a famous Ham Country Store where we learned about curing and how hams are stored and preserved. The only problem we had was when everyone got off the bus at the end of the day they smelled like they had been in a fire!

There was a little time late that afternoon and evening to enjoy the beach and our hotel. The next day sadly we left for our overnight stay in Pittsburgh before heading back to Chicago.

There are so many great towns in the area like Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and Hampton that when you think about your next vacation, put the Eastern shore of Virginia high on your list. I know you won’t be sorry. However if you want to escape the hoards of beachgoers I would suggest a visit in the spring or fall.

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This last February my brother and I took the train to Yosemite National Park (well sort of…).  We got on the Pacific Surfliner
at 8:00 a.m. from Oceanside, California to L.A.   The ride from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was awesome.  We followed the Pacific Ocean sometimes high up on bluffs and other times right down next to the beach.  We saw a lot of surfers with pelicans circling around them

San Juan Capistrano was a mission established in 1776 and the swallows used to come back every year on March 19th on their migration from Argentina.   Unfortunately since 2009 the swallows now migrate a little further north.

After the train stopped at Capistrano, we headed inland towards L.A.   There we boarded our thruway bus to Bakersfield.  Then it was another train, the San Joaquin, up to Merced, the gateway to Yosemite.   We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rent a car before going to our hotel for the next two nights.

The next morning we were up early because we had a lot of miles to cover.   The area we stayed in is referred to as the Valley and many of
California’s fruits and vegetables are raised in this area.  The land is very flat and we drove the long way south to Madera before cutting over towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Yosemite is located.

Our plan, in order to see as much of the park as possible, was to drive in the south entrance and drive out the west entrance.  Yosemite’s elevations start at just under 3,000 feet and are as high as 13,000 feet so we had a steep climb from the valley floor to get there.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, beautiful meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.   Over 95% of the park is wilderness with the main part of the action in Yosemite Valley where hotels and campsites are located.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its geographic and biological diversity.  Most of the trees are the Western Red Cedars (the Sequoias) and Ponderosa Pines.  The Ponderosas were so round and tall I thought they were 200 years old (since they tend to grow a foot a year in most areas) but a ranger told me they were 300 hundred years old.  There are not many places left in the U.S. today that you can see old growth forests like we saw in Yosemite.  There are also two rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, that begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley.

For tens of thousands of years humans have lived in this area. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many of these early travelers who came by horseback or stagecoach.   By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation.  Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold.  And, today 3.5 million people enter the park every year to explore.

John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.  He was also instrumental in getting Sequoia and the Grand Canyon named as National Parks.   In 1869, Muir landed a job as a shepherd which gave him the opportunity to study the flora and fauna.  When he saw that the grazing sheep were destroying the area, he lobbied for a National Park.

Yosemite was also a favorite place for photos by Ansel Adams and you may want to read more about both Adams and Muir since space here is limited.  A third person important to the area if you would like to read more is Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park idea in important new directions when he saw how poorly the parks looked in 1914.  He even hired staff to help him and paid them out of his own pocket.

When you arrive in the valley area you see El Capitan, the 3,000 foot monolith and it is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers.   You can only climb up because it is way too dangerous to go back down so the trail must be taken.  And right by El Capitan you can gaze upon the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.  Across from El Capitan there are some other granite monolith rocks, like Half Dome.  These rocks were carved out by the glaciers that came through the area.   But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

We drove for almost an hour after we entered the south entrance and it truly was wilderness.  The only bad thing was it was February and we were over 5,000 feet and there was no snow!  That does not bode well for this summer’s fire season.  Finally we entered a tunnel.  The tunnel was constructed by the WPA in 1933 but as people came out of the tunnel there were so many accidents and the Overlook was a very dangerous place to pull over.  So the Tunnel View Overlook was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.

The Tunnel View scenic overlook is a historic site, and has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. Both the Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary designs.  The overlook is such a popular site that there is an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people who visit every day during the
height of the tourist season.  But even more special to us when we pulled off onto the Overlook was the sun was positioned in such a way it created a huge rainbow on the distant Bridalveil Falls that was an incredible site to behold.

If you ever get to a National Park there is a book about the great lodges of the West.  I have written about the lodges at both Yellowstone and Glacier.  Whenever I get to a new Park, I always try to visit the famous lodge built there.

The lodge in Yosemite is called the Ahwahnee and is quite unique since it was Mather who lobbied for it to be developed.  Many of the
other famous lodges were built with materials found in their areas.  But all natural resources in National Parks are protected now and building materials cannot be used from the parks any more.  Since the lodge was not built until 1926, trucks had to haul all the building materials in over primitive roads seven days a week.  The lodges in Glacier and Yellowstone used existing timber and stone but that can no longer happen.  The primary building materials were steel, granite and concrete and then the outside of the granite and concrete was stained to look like redwood.

There is a central tower several stories tall and three separate wings with huge fireplaces.  The west wing has a dining room that seats 350 people.  The room is 130 feet long, over 51 feet wide and the ceiling reaches 34 feet.    It is a massive room and very beautiful.   During World War II, the Ahwahnee was a rest and relaxation hospital for the Navy.  Over 90,000 troops rested there and almost 7,000 patients were treated at the lodge.

Not too far from the Ahwahnee is Curry Village where you can rents tents and Yosemite Lodge where you can also stay.  There are also little towns just outside the park with lots of hotels and motels so you have a lot of choices when visiting the park.

As the sun was setting we drove down out of the park and back to our hotel in the Valley.  The next day we headed home and that also turned into an adventure.  Our Amtrak train was late; almost an hour by the time we got to Bakersfield.  We were rushed onto out thruway bus to LA.  Our driver was excellent and took several back roads in LA to avoid rush hour.  We actually made our train back to Oceanside with ten minutes to spare!


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Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall–anytime is a good time to visit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

My company has a bus tour out of Chicago to Myrtle Beach in the spring and fall.  Did you know that Myrtle Beach is referred to as the “Branson of the East Coast”?    Although the population is low at under 30,000, because of the way it is situated on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, the area known as “The Grand Strand” tends to not get direct hits from hurricanes.  It also helps that the Gulf Stream is about 40 miles offshore which contributes to the temperate climate.

The Grand Strand runs along the ocean in a crescent shape for over 60 miles.  To say it is a major tourist area is an understatement.  The German word for Strand means beach and that is why the area is called that.  Myrtle Beach is the biggest city along the Grand Strand area.    The city began as a year round golfing resort in 1927 and by the 1970’s it had become a premier golfing destination.  And they are also known to have more minature golf courses than anywhere else.

There are many resort hotels and high rise condos along the beach with a Boardwalk and Promenade that runs a little over a mile.  This has truly become a family destination (or you may want to take the grandkids) with many restaurants serving a smorgasbord of buffets with lots of fish, including crab legs and shrimp and everything in between.  For breakfast or lunch you can try the food at one of the many pancake houses in the area.

Also right downtown is the Family Kingdom Amusement Park which is reminiscent of old time amusement parks with a wooden roller coaster, ferris wheel and carousel.

And, the shopping…. There are 2 Tanger outlets very close to each other as well as my favorite place, Broadway at the Beach.  This is a fun place to stroll around with over 100 shops and 30 restaurants.  You can follow the Boardwalk through several different themed villages and
there are 3 bridges you can use to walk across the man made lake.   Besides shopping for the adults, there is plenty for the kids to do, too, including the Ripley’s Aquarium.  We took our travelers there and you walk through a tube with sharks swimming all around you.  Truly awesome.  And if you get tired out from all the walking, there is an IMAX theater so you can sit and recharge while watching a movie.

And, did I mention theaters?   There is a variety theater called, The Carolina Opry, Legends in Concert, featuring Elvis, of course, Medevial Theater, Good Vibrations, Big Laughs Theater, Alabama Theater, The House of Blues, Pirates Voyage Dinner Attraction, and The Palace Theater where you can see anything from magicians to Irish dancers.  I heard a couple of years ago that Pat Boone was looking at building a theater in the area, but then I guess that is still on the back burner   However there is certainly no scarcity of shows and music for you to choose from.

If you want to take in some other attractions outside the city, to the north is another shopping area called Barefoot Landing.  To the south is Brookgreen Gardens, a National Historic Landmark with a large outside collection of fugurative sculptures by American artists.  Not far from Brookgreen Gardens is Pawley’s Island, one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast.  The rice plantation owners brought their familes here to escape inland heat in the summer. You can still buy the rope hammocks hand made by the locals.  The island has been termed “arrogantly shabby” with its shoeless laid back lifestyle.

On our tour we also took a day trip up to Wilmington, North Carolina.  This town along the Cape Fear River was the last Atlantic port opened to blockade runners during the Civil War.  It has one of the largest historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was founded more than 250 years ago.  Great pine plantations lined the river and produced rice, indigo and cotton which contributed to its wealth.  The battleship North Carolina resides here and the city has been refered to as Hollywood East for the many movies made as well as the television shows, “Dawson Creek” and “Matlock”.

If you do nothing more than take advantage of the beaches it is worth the trip.  And if you come from the Midwest, you get to travel through the Smoky Mountains–one of my favorite drives in the U.S.   Meanwhile back in Myrtle Beach, I hear “Crabby Mike’s” calling me for dinner and after that a little rock n roll at the Legends Theater!!!!!!!

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Summer is almost upon us and with the brutal winter many had to endure, the thoughts of vacations, can’t be too far away.

Do you know the most visited National Park? … Great Smoky National Park.  Why is this true?  50% of the U.S. population lives within a 500 mile radius of that park so it is easy to get to and there are no entrance fees. But the granddaddy of them all and America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be on many bucket lists.

If you have read my previous articles you know how much I love Glacier National Park.  I have written articles about that Park including about the lodges there.  Realistically, since it is so remote, most travelers will go to Yellowstone before Glacier.  Therefore an article about the accommodations you will encounter there should be useful.  

There are several towns around Yellowstone and if you don’t want to overnight in the Park, you may want to read my previous articles about the area for other ideas. 

Remember, however, when you are in Yellowstone you do not realize how remote you are.  There are five areas for hotel and camping accommodations and the road makes a big loop to get to these regions.
Even though that is where all the action is, the areas surrounding the road and villages only comprises 10% of the park.  So if you are not into hiking the back country, you will miss 90% of this vast wilderness.  It is a huge area that stays untouched by humans for the most part, which adds to its mystique. 

Before we begin–a tip: always make an advanced reservation.  However for your informtion all the big tour companies reserve a certain amount of rooms every year in advance so if  you are told they are sold out and you can wait, you might still get a room.  Tour companies have to release their unsold rooms at least two weeks in advance or pay for them.  And some even give them up earlier than that.  So it doesn’t hurt to call once or twice a week ahead of time and see if any vacancies have come up. 

Yellowstone is divided into five regions for hotel accommodations.  Most people want to stay in the Geyser Country by Old Faithful and that is a great area with several  choices but those rooms fill up the fastest.  There is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in the early 1900’s.  If something happens to this place (fire almost took it out in the 1980’s), it could never be replaced with the environmental laws we have today.  They would not be able to cut down the trees to rebuild.  It would have to be constructed with other materials. 

Even if you don’t stay at the Inn, go and see the structure and if you have time take the tour that runs twice daily and is free.  Dinner is reservation only but you can always eat lunch there. There are also cabins available.  Next is Snow Lodge and cabins.  Snow Lodge is a favorite place of mine to stay and one of the few places where dinner is first come, first serve with no reservation required.

They also have the log cabin style of rooms (like the Inn) that have that wonderful rustic look.  Finally, there is the Old Faithful Lodge and cafeteria where you can eat sandwiches, salads and regular entrees.   Don’t confuse the Old Faithful Lodge with the Old Faithful Inn.  These are two separate places and Snow Lodge makes three.  All are situated around the Old Faithful geyser.

If you are traveling and come into Yellowstone on the Northern route, you enter the Mammoth area.  The elevation is not as high here so the weather is warmer.  This is the park headquarters because the weather is not as severe in the winter.  The Hot Springs Hotel and cabins can be found here and the hotel is opened year round.  There is both a dining room and a grill and no reservations needed.  And most of the time, the elk are lounging about the grassy areas during the warm summer months.

Continuing south from Mammoth along the east side of the park are two more areas with lodging.  The Roosevelt area has cabins some with baths and some without.  In the summer this area has cookouts that you travel to either by horse or by wagon.  Or you can continue south to the Canyon area. When here, you are close to the lower falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  There are both lodge rooms and cabins with a dining room, cafeteria and deli.

Finally you come to the Lake area.  The easiest way to get to this areas is from Cody to the East or Jackson Hole from the South.  You will come to Grant Village first coming from Jackson Hole.  There are 6 two story buildings with fifty rooms in each building.  

Grant Village is situated on the Southwestern shore of Yellowstone Lake about twenty miles from Old Faithful.  There is a gift shop, general store, and a lounge located in the dining room. The dining room overlooks the lake, and the Lake House with pub style dining, can be found down on the shore of the lake.  If you want dinner in the dining room you definitely need reservations.

Lastly, a place I hope to stay at some day is Lake Yellowstone Hotel and cabins.  This classic hotel is painted a bright yellow and sits right next to the lake on its northern side.  It has been restored to its 1920’s grandeur.  I could sit in the lobby half the day watching the world go by with the awesome views.  There is a dining room where reservations are definitely recommended.  The whole place has the feel of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island or the Greenbriar in West Virginia but on a smaller scale.  Maybe, just maybe someday I will get a chance to stay there.

As for winter only Snow Lodge at Old Faithful and the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs are opened. Since the roads are closed you can only get in by the big Snow Coaches– reservation only– or snowmobile.

Hopefully, you are now well informed and realize you have several choices where to stay in the Park.  As long as you make reservations in advance, you should be able to find accommodations.

And don’t think you can get in without reservations in the fall.  That is when the tour buses roll in with all the seniors traveling since the kids are back in school.  And, weather wise, early to mid September can be very nice in the Park.


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      Did you know there are only 7 bridges in a 750 mile section of the Colorado River?  This is because the terrain is so harsh.  After 9/11 they started building another bridge next to the Hoover Dam (but far enough away so a large vehicle would not contain a bomb and blow up the dam).  They started in 2002 and finished in 2012.  That gives you an idea how hard it is to build in the area even with today’s technology.
       Everyone knows about the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead that backs up to it.  But farther north is Page, AZ and there the Glen Canyon Dam (only 16 feet shorter than Hoover Dam) backs up Lake Powell.  Lake Powell was named after John Wesley Powell, a one-arm Civil War soldier who was the first known white man to boat down the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon.
        The Colorado River is extremely important in the desert Southwest.  It supplies much of the water to Arizona and California.  Therefore they have built the dams for water supply and flood control, and down by my son’s home in Yuma, AZ irrigation makes Yuma the winter vegetable capitol of the US.
        It took years to fill Lake Mead and Lake Powell and they are several hundred feet deep.  Obviously the depth depends on the Colorado winter snows and is crucial for providing water to the desert areas.
         A lesser know dam is the Davis Dam, backed up by Lake Mohave, which is just south of Las Vegas.  This is where the town (if you can call it a town) of Laughlin, NV sits and across the river its sister city Bullhead City, AZ (often called the hot spot of the nation–because of the summer heat).
          One more “dam” fact.  If you continue south you will get to Lake Havasu which was created by the Parker Dam.  Lake Havasu is not only a great recreational area but is also famous for London Bridge.  Yes, they brought London Bridge here and assembled it piece by piece in 1964.  And there is even a quaint English village with shops and restaurants found under part of the bridge.
          All of these areas including Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu have rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and blue/green water.  It is perfect for boating, swimming, hiking and all types of recreational pleasures.
          I recently drove from Wisconsin to Arizona and made a stop in Laughlin to meet my brother.  There are several large casinos that sit along the banks of the river– some with over a thousand rooms.  I think they wanted the area to become a mini Vegas but that was only a dream when Don Laughlin started the Riverside Casino back in 1964. — You can read a history of Don Laughlin and his casino if you goggle him.–
          Laughlin started out serving chicken dinners for ninety eight cents and the rest is history.  Due to the recreational activities in the area the town has survived.  They were badly hurt when Indian gaming started in Arizona and California but today they have reasonably priced entertainment–Jay and the Americans were there when I was– and during the week you can get rooms for $20 and not much more on weekends.  (I paid $21.00 for Harrah’s on a Sunday night).
           There are quite a few places to visit when you are in the area.  You don’t want to miss London Bridge or the town of Oatman, an historic gold mining town.  There is a classic car collection at the Riverside Casino and you are a hop, skip and jump from Kingman, which is on Route 66.  You can follow Route 66 east (actually along I-40) up to Williams and either drive or take the train to the Grand Canyon.  In the winter the train runs a Polar Express to see Santa with cookies and hot chocolate provided as well as the reading of the Chris Van Allsburg classic story of the North Pole.  The amazing thing in this area is you can go from winter snow to warm desert in just a few hours.
             As you continue back towards Kingman don’t forget to stop for lunch in Seligman, AZ.   I stopped on tour with my motorcoach once.  We had a great lunch at “The Roadkill Café.”  Oh so much to see and do in this area.

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       Continuing with my series on cities, I have always been intrigued by Salt Lake City, or abbreviated as SLC.  The first time I visited this city back in the 1980’s, I could feel the history as I walked down the streets.

The Mormon pioneers came here and worked hard to turn the desert into productive farm country, giving the state the nickname “The Beehive State”.  This stands for industriousness and hard working.  There was not a single indigenous tree in the Salt Lake City Valley when the pioneers arrived and now it is a lush valley irrigated by the melting snow in the mountains.

The southern half of Utah has terrain carved by water and wind into surreal shapes arrayed in dramatic vistas and red rock canyons.  There are a dozen national parks & monuments in that area.  It is a beautiful area to visit but the northern part of the state where SLC is located has a lot of beauty in a different way.

I have written an article about the National Parks of the Southwest you can read if interested in southern Utah but this article is about SLC, and that is where I want to focus.  As you come out of the Wasatch Mountains on the western side of the Rockies, you can see desert stretched out for miles and miles all the way into Nevada..

To understand this city, you need to know a little background on Mormonism.
When Brigham Young came out of those mountains with the first hardy pioneers (after traveling from the Omaha area), he looked down and said “This is the place” and I am sure those first 148 settlers thought he was crazy.  But they quickly begin building irrigation paths from the mountains and the snow up there helped bring water to the valleys.

The city was founded on July 24, 1847 by Mormon pioneers (members of the Church of Latter-day Saints—LDS Church).   They wanted to practice their religion free of hostile mobs and persecution since they had left New England and had been driven out of Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.

On the very first day of arrival, they began tilling the soil and planting crops, turning the desert and sagebrush area into a green valley in just a few months.  In 1848 more emigrants came to the valley but a late frost, drought, and a plague of grasshoppers almost destroyed the harvest.  One bright sunny day millions of grasshoppers darkened the sky & descended the fields devouring everything in their path.  Then a miracle… First one and then in pairs, flocks of seagulls flew down and ate all the grasshoppers.  A statue to commemorate this event is inside Temple Square and the Seagull is Utah’s sate bird.

Construction on the temple started in 1853 and took 40 years to build.  The granite blocks

were hauled by oxen and wagon to the site until the railroad came through.  SLC and Provo are only about 50% Mormon.  When silver and gold were discovered in the mountains north of those cities, immigrants with great fortunes, who were not LDS, moved into the bigger cities.  But the other areas in the state, especially the farming communities, are 90-100% Mormon and the LDS church controls the politics.

By the 1960’s the suburbs were becoming the place to live, as happened all over the U.S.,  so the LDS church invested $40 million to develop the ZCMI Center Mall downtown—Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution.  This was a retail store started in 1868 and it was the first department store in the country.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s many buildings were restored & expanded such as the Salt Palace Convention Center & Delta Center.  Before hosting the Olympic winter games in 2002, the state did more face lifting and it is a beautiful city today where you can sense the history as you walk the streets.

Since SLC is the major base for the LDS Church, Mormons from all over the world come to visit the city.  Because of that everything downtown is free to get into and even the buses and light rail in the downtown area are free. And, did I mention the flowers in planters and baskets everywhere?  Truly beautiful.

So much to see and do here…  First up Temple Square.  Oxen hauled granite blocks fifteen miles down a canyon and across the valley to the building site.  Since hardwood was not available, they painted the Tabernacle wall panels by hand to resemble oak, which they had learned from their New England days.  The walls are 16 feet thick & 16 feet deep.  The highest spire is 210 feet & is topped by a 12 ½ foot copper with gold leaf statue of the Angel Moroni, who according to Mormon doctrine, appeared to Joseph Smith, the Church founder.

In Temple Square there is the Temple (which only Mormons of good standing can go into), a couple of visitor centers, Assembly Hall, and the Tabernacle which took twelve years to build and seats 6,500.  Legend says Young came up with the unusual design after seeing an egg shell cracked lengthwise.  He wanted the roof to be self supporting without pillars or posts to obstruct views.  The domed roof was created by using steam to bend massive beams like a bridge.  The organ has 11,000 golden pipes made from hand carved Utah lumber and ten pipes from the original organ still work.  The acoustics are remarkable.  You can sit in the back & hear a pin drop from the podium.  This, of course, is where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs.

Don’t worry about trying to get yourself around.  When you go into the Square there are tours going on throughout the day to guide you to the important areas.  And also in the Temple Square area is the Joseph Smith Building (the old Hotel Utah) where many presidents stayed.  There is a rooftop restaurant and if you go up to the top, there are picture windows overlooking Temple Square that you can take pictures from.

There is a very nice History Museum building and, of course, Beehive House which was one of Brigham Young’s homes.  The Church of the Madeline, Catholic, near the Square has awesome stain glass windows, and don’t forget the Capitol, one of the more beautiful ones in the country. There is an interesting pioneer women’s museum.  The woman all brought a good pair of shoes with them on their journey so they would have a nice pair to wear after they got to their destination.  However, after the long trek on foot, none of the ladies could fit into the shoes and they are now on display in this museum near the Capitol.

Since SLC lies on an earthquake fault a lot has been done around the city to shore up buildings and 16 feet walls will help the Temple survive a major quake.  There are also several new or redone malls in the downtown area with lots of places to eat.  If you go farther afield, there is the University, where many of the Olympic venues took place, Fort Douglas, and “This is the Place” Heritage Park.

I could go into detail about a lot of these things but I would be writing for pages.  And if you have a car, Park City is not far away where skiing is the thing and more Olympic venues were held.  And don’t forget a trip out to the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats or the Kennecott Copper Mine south of the city.  Bet you didn’t know there are only three man-made places that can be seen from space of which the copper mine is one.  The other two are the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China.

As I said before, so much to see and do here in SLC, one of my favorite cities to visit in the US, no matter what your religious persuasion.   And the mountains are close by, beckoning you to Jackson, Tetons and Yellowstone if you desire or Highway 50, dubbed “the loneliest highway in America” taking you west to Reno and Lake Tahoe.

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