Tag Archives: Hospitality

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Chiricahua National Monument: The land of standing rocks

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It was a beautiful morning, so Diane suggested we take a day trip to the Chiricahua National Forest about 90 miles to our east.

The forest includes a National Monument, with the greater part a wilderness untouched since the early 1400s, when the Chiricahua Apaches made it their home.

We left our coach mid-morning, traveling down to Benson on the back road along the Dragoon Mountains where we connected with Interstate 10 east to Willcox. The interstate rises several thousand feet above the San Pedro Valley to cross the Dragoon at Texas Canyon, a beautiful and colorful area of very large boulders at the summit.

The many rock formations always remind me of my youth watching black and white western movies. Even now the “kid” in me yearns to stop and climb some of the big boulders — just for the hell of it.

They call this area Texas Canyon because in the late 1800s, a small group of Texans settled just below the peaks and created a cattle ranch. People in the valley near Benson would refer to the ranchers as “the folks up in Texas Canyon.”

Our first stop — that is, after we cross the Willcox Playa — was Apple Annie’s. Playa in Spanish means “beach.”

The Willcox Playa is a play on words. the landscape is 10 miles of soft dirt and wind-beaten sand. When the wind gushes to 60 mph, it is difficult to see the road on foot or horseback.

It can and is a very dangerous piece of land. Willcox is a little western town that earns a living being next to the interstate. There are a couple places of interest and enjoyment, and Apple Annie’s is one.

The building once belonged to Stroud’s, an apple grower north of Willcox. One would die for their apple pie, and to this day, we have never nor since eaten apple pie like the ones made fresh at Stroud’s.

We wanted to try Apple Annie’s stopping for coffee and pie. The special of the day was crumb apple.

Immediately, we noticed the slice was smaller than Stroud’s, and not as high with apples. The waitress warmed the pie before serving it, and it was very tasty with a strong apple flavor and not an overwhelming amount of sugary sauce. Overall, I would stop again; I would give it a three and half out of five. Stroud’s was always a five out of five.

Leaving Willcox, we drove south on Arizona 186, a narrow country road that quickly puts you into cattle country and miles and miles of golden grassland. The road twists and turns with many sharp inclines; one feels he is on a roller coaster ride at times.

Suddenly, the road straightens out and is as flat as a pancake, and you can see for miles around you. This area is referred to as the Sulfur Springs Valley. The valley is enormous, running north to the Pinaleno Mountains and south to Agua Prieta in Mexico.

It was from this valley that the great war chief Cochise led his people into a defensive stronghold among the rocky cliffs. It was throughout this valley that Geronimo fought so valiantly and was determined to keep and hold the land from the intruding white man and their cattle.

This beautiful land was all Apache land. They never owned it, just lived upon it without causing damage. One of the four main tribes, the Chokonen, lived in and around the National Monument.

The Apaches were basically nomadic people, something like me. For the most part, they hunted wildlife and gathered edible plants and roots.

The men were superb warriors, feared and respected by their enemies. One of my interests in travel is to learn a little more on each trip about the native tribes that lived on the land before the white settler arrived.

It is now that I understand why they fought so valiantly and fearlessly. They were not savage; they were noble, gallant people living a simple life defending their homeland.

The entrance to the Chiricahua National Monument begins on the valley floor, a land of evergreens and waist-high grass. It is not unusual to see white-tailed deer, javelina and coatimundi among the Parry Agave and Manzanita bushes.

While on our drive to Massai Point we stumbled upon many Mexican jays. They were just flying from one juniper to the next. They are a beautiful bird with a pleasant sound.

The meadowlands are dotted with prickly pear cacti and mesquite. Mesquite will soon be giving off a perfume aroma that fills the air with a delightful flowery scent.

Rising from the Visitor Center, we begin to see the many rock pinnacles looming, towering over the road, like guardians of the mountain. The Apaches called these pinnacles and columns “standing up rocks.”

We find it awesome the way one large rock is balanced against another. The mountainside is teeming with spires, balanced rocks and “hoodoos” of all shapes. The longer you linger, the more alive the formations seem.

This is our third visit. The first was late in the spring when the snowy peaks were shedding their winter coats and the streams were flowing creating a wonderland of beauty and sound.

We just love to stop and sit beside a flowing stream. The sound of the water is so comforting and relaxing to the spirit. Today, the streams are bone-dry. There is just a bed of stones and sand, yet beauty to be found.

The road to Massai Point climbs to 6,870 feet; it is like being on a mountain island in the sky. The road is safe, but one must drive carefully, it is a long way down on one side with few guardrails to protect you.

The view from Massai Point and Sugarloaf are incredible on a clear day. On our day, there was a slight haze caused by terrible 60 mph winds the day before, with dust still lingering in the air. We were told the road was closed due to fallen trees and small rocks upon the pavement.

Our return trip took us south on AZ 181 and 191 until we reached the cross roads to Gleeson. We were pleasantly surprised the road; some 27 miles had been completely paved, allowing for smooth travel into Tombstone.

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Hotels vs. vacation rentals: Pros and cons

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Ever since Airbnb and its competitors sprung onto the market, travelers have benefited from a wider variety of choices about where to stay while they’re on vacation. But if you have never opted to stay in a short-term vacation rental property before, you might be skeptical about it.

Can an Airbnb compare with the luxury of a hotel? Is the price difference really worth it? Is it safe?

The truth is that there are pros and cons to both hotels and vacation rental properties. Making the right choice really depends on your preferences and priorities as a traveler.

Vacation Rentals: Pros

The No. 1 reason to choose a vacation rental property is to save money. You can often find a better deal on Airbnb than you can in a hotel room.

This is particularly true if you have a family with several kids or if you are traveling in a group. One condo with beds for six people on Airbnb is often comparable to the price of a hotel room with one or two beds.

Another reason many people prefer vacation rentals is because the experience is more authentic to the place they want to visit. Your host can often recommend food and fun off the beaten path if you don’t want to fill up your trip with exclusively tourist attractions. It’s also often easier (and less expensive) to stay near a city center when you book a vacation rental property.

If you have a good host who keeps their rental property “sparkling clean” and attends to your needs as a guest, you can still feel just as luxurious as you would have in a hotel room.

Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that there are far more vacation rental properties that allow pets than hotels willing to accommodate them. So, if you have to bring a furry friend along on your trip, a vacation rental is probably your best bet.

Vacation Rentals: Cons

One of the biggest downsides to vacation rentals is the lack of privacy. In some Airbnb properties, you have the whole condo to yourself.

But in others, you are sharing space with your host family. If you are a people person, this might be a plus. If you crave the relaxation of alone time, it’s definitely a con.

Another issue that can arise with vacation rentals is cleanliness. If you choose a property with an experienced Airbnb “superhost,” it is unlikely that your rental will be anything less than pristine. But it is important to keep in mind that part of what makes vacation rentals cost effective is the lack of professional staff. There is no maid service for a short-term rental property, only your host.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes Airbnb properties aren’t actually the best deal if you are traveling single or as a couple. Using discount hotel websites, you can usually find a room for two people at a comparable price to most vacation rentals. The money saving is most noticeable if you are traveling with a larger group of four people or more.

Hotels: Pros

The comfort of staying in a hotel is that there is staff ready to attend to your every need. If something isn’t right in your room, there is always someone around who can be accountable. If your room isn’t clean, a concierge can simply get you another one.

Hotels also tend to have additional perks, like room service, pools, fitness centers, and spas. They always have plenty of parking, which is normally free. They usually have business centers just in case you need to print out a boarding pass or take care of a work emergency.

Hotels can also sometimes be just as affordable as vacation rental properties if you are traveling as a group of three or less people. Check websites like Booking.com, Expedia, and Trivago and compare the prices to Airbnb.

Hotels: Cons

If you can’t find a great deal for your vacation dates or you are traveling with a larger group, hotels definitely aren’t the most affordable choice. They also tend to be cramped. Four people sharing two queen beds and one bathroom is considerably less comfortable than four people sharing a whole condo.

If you are bringing a pet with you, your options for hotels are severely limited and increasingly expensive. Even if you do find an affordable hotel that allows pets, your animal won’t have very much space to move around. While vacation rentals sometimes have enclosed backyards, hotels typically do not have any pet-friendly outdoor spaces.

The Breakdown

Here are some of the key takeaways for vacation rentals and hotels.

Vacation Rentals

  • Most cost effective for large parties of four or more.
  • Offer more space and versatility.
  • Introduce you to local people and places (not just tourist attractions).
  • Can be sparkling clean depending on the host.
  • Can force you to sacrifice privacy if you stay on property with your host family.

Hotels

  • Full staff and maid service available for your whole trip.
  • Extra perks like room service, pools, fitness centers.
  • Guaranteed access to a computer and a printer.
  • Sometimes better pricing for smaller parties of three or less.
  • Less space.
  • Less pet-friendly.

Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals: Which Is Right for You?

In the great debate of hotels vs. vacation rentals, the bottom line is that it depends on the traveler.

Before you book a hotel or an Airbnb for your next vacation, decide what your key priorities are and compare them to the key attributes of each type of property. This will help you make the best decision for you and your family or friends.

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Up, up and away at 6 top hot air balloon festivals

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Few man-made sights are as colossal and colorful as hundreds of hot air balloons ascending from a picturesque natural setting into a clear blue sky.

It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle that draws millions of attendees to hot air balloon festivals across the United States each year.

Balloons may be the big attraction — but these festivals offer plenty more, including live music, food and other forms of family entertainment. So, if you’re ready for a truly uplifting experience — check out one or more of these top-notch hot air balloon festivals.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

You really have to see it to believe it. The world’s largest balloon celebration features more than 500 multicolored balloons rising in a vibrant tapestry against the rugged natural beauty of New Mexico’s high-desert landscape.

In addition to the twilight balloon glows, mass ascensions and special-shape rodeos made famous over the 48-year history of this nine-day event, visitors can enjoy a host of other activities including laser shows, chainsaw carving events, and music spectaculars that have hosted the likes of Three Dog Night, the Marshall Tucker Band and Justin Moore. Always in October, this year’s event started Oct. 5 and runs through Oct. 13.

www.balloonfiesta.com

National Balloon Classic, Iowa

For nine days every summer, the skies above Indianola, Iowa come alive with as many as 120 hot air balloons painting the horizon in a kaleidoscopic blaze of color. For nearly fifty years, talented pilots have competed for prizes at dawn and again at dusk at the National Balloon Classic, all the while dazzling thousands of guests below.

Fireworks, a gala parade, music events, a cornucopia of fattening foods and balloon rides combine to make this one of Iowa’s most popular summer events. 2020 dates: July 24 to Aug. 1.

www.nationalballoonclassic.com

Great Reno Balloon Race, Nevada

One of the best things about the Great Reno Balloon Race is that it’s completely free. Throughout the three-day event, festivalgoers at San Raphael Regional Park, just a few miles from downtown Reno, can enjoy the spectacle of a hundred or more vividly decorated balloons levitating above the city skyline.

This is, in fact, the world’s largest free hot air ballooning event. It all began in 1982 as an event designed to keep visitors in town between the Nevada State Fair and the famous Reno Air Races — and 38 years later it has become a nationally recognized event and a beloved community tradition. The visual drama of ballooning competitions, combined with plenty of food and family-oriented entertainment, has led to numerous awards, including “Best Special Event in Northern Nevada.” 2020 dates: September 11-13.

www.renoballoon.com

Teton Valley Balloon Rally, Idaho

The dramatic peaks of the Tetons make quite a backdrop for this four-day balloon fest — now in its 39th year — staged over the July 4 weekend at the Teton County Fairgrounds in Diggs. This is one of those location-location-location situations, what with Diggs being situated in the midst of a scenic and recreation paradise just minutes from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Visitors experience the usual roster of ballooning events (early morning launches are the thing here), but also a fiddling contest, an Independence Day parade and public balloon rides. On-site RV camping is available. 2020 dates: July 2-5.

www.tetonvalleyballoonrally.com

QuickChek Festival of Ballooning, New Jersey

Billed as the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America, the QuickChek Festival of Ballooning has been taking to the skies over Readington, New Jersey, for the last 38 years.

Featuring more than 100 balloons of all shapes and colors and big-name entertainment (like the Beach Boys and The Band Perry in 2019), the event also has been designated a ‘’Top 100 Festival in North America’’ for the sixth consecutive year by the American Bus Association. In addition to ballooning and music, QuickCheck’s 175,000 annual visitors can take part in a non-stop roster of activities, ranging from a 5K run to a fireworks spectacular.

FYI, QuickChek is a New Jersey-based convenience store chain that sponsors the event. 2020 dates: July 24-26.

www.balloonfestival.com

Adirondack Balloon Festival, New York

Hot air balloonists from across the country and around the world have assembled each September in Glens Falls and the Lake George area of upper New York State for 47 years. The reason is obvious — a once-a-year opportunity to float high above the majestic Adirondack Mountains just as autumn colors emerge.

The main events of the festival take place on Saturday and Sunday at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport, beginning with a Big Balloon Breakfast in the airport hangar. Dawn and dusk lift-offs showcase the various shapes and colors of nearly 100 balloons — and that’s just part of the show.

Tethered balloon flights, kite flying, live music, dozens of food vendors and a big craft show featuring more than 40 artists round out this popular fall festival. Free admission is a bonus. 2020 dates: TBD.

www.adirondackballoonfest.org

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Infographic: Solving the growing problem of employee turnover

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Turnover is a major challenge for business leaders, and with historically low unemployment, it’s only getting worse. The high demand for talent has led to “ghosting” from candidates who accept a job and then never show up after they get a better offer somewhere else.

Employee turnover is time-consuming and expensive, but you may have a secret weapon: benefits. Learn how the right mix of benefits can improve turnover by up to 138%.

Infographic courtesy NowSourcing

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The wonder of morning walks

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Hiking during the day is great. Exploring the trails, enjoying the views, and getting exercise are all great reasons to hike at any time of the day.

However, I have found morning walks to be more satisfying. Here are my reasons.

The Light

Photographers call it the golden hour for good reason. The light makes everything softer and with deeper colors versus the glare of the day.

Frequently there is a morning mist, which makes it more mysterious. I always bring my phone with me and take pictures of particularly gorgeous views. Even without taking pictures, I enjoy the views better in the soft light than the harsh sun during the day.

Birds and Animals

Morning is the time where many animals are more active and visible. The nocturnal animals are heading to bed while the diurnal (day) animals are just waking up. Birding can be better in the morning, and the birds are certainly noisier as they wake up and talk to each other.

Many animals find a hiding place to sleep during the hot day. Normal animals I’ve seen on morning walks include the rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and deer. More exotic animals and birds I’ve seen have included gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, alligators, bald eagles, and feral pigs.

FYI, many times I bring along a stick to break morning spiderwebs on a path. If I was ever threatened by an animal (and I haven’t been), I figure that stick might help me.

I will mention that deer can actually be scary. I’ve scared (and been scared by) deer that were hidden along the path. That sudden noise as they run away woke me up those mornings!

Even the remains of an old liquor container still look better in the morning at Skidaway Island State Park, Georgia.

Cooler

Depending on the weather, hiking in the cooler morning may be a better time. Day hikes can be sweaty and difficult during the heat.

Morning hikes are cooler, allowing you to enjoy the hike more. In the desert, the air is crisp. For places like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, morning walks are better much of the year. If it’s too cool where you are, just add a jacket!

The Quiet and Solitude

Day hikes can seem to bring a line of hikers traveling the trail. Mornings are quieter, with fewer people on the trails. You can take in a view without a crowd.

The world is different in the morning. Did you know barges and ships pull over along the shore of the Mississippi River at night? Mornings are quiet while daytime along the river can sound like a highway with these barges passing.

Sometimes it may seem to be too lonely. I’ve pulled a muscle on a hike and was once followed by a bobcat. For the pulled muscle, I gave my husband a call to meet me at the next trailhead. The bobcat ran off. You realize that you can survive on your own, even if it is only for a short morning walk.

Meditation or Time to Think

Morning walks give me time to think through the issues of the day, or the meaning of life or of nothing except “being.” The downside of this is when I’ve gotten lost as my mind wandered, but each time I found a new thing to see as I made my way back to the RV.

Obviously, I am a morning person. But the wonder of walking in the morning is something that anyone can enjoy.

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How Hurricane Dorian affected tourism in the Bahamas, Florida and the Carolinas

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Last month, Hurricane Dorian stalled for 36 hours over the Bahamas, injuring and killing many. The rampant destruction caused by the Category 5 hurricane had a huge, destructive impact on the tourism industry in the Bahamas.

Organizations and members of the travel community are actively working together to revive businesses on the islands and bring tourists back. In a recent broadcast, travel leaders and government officials in the country announced that it was safe to travel to the Bahamas. They also mentioned how tourists could help the islands get back on their feet.

Travel dollars will go a long way to help in the reconstruction effort that will take years and could cost approximately $2 billion. Tourism constitutes 60% of the country’s $9 billion economy, which shows how important the industry is for the nation’s survival.

Dorian stripped out about 20% of the tourism business in the Bahamas. As a result, the tourism industry has launched a renewed marketing campaign aimed at promoteing holiday travel to the nation’s islands. To do so, they Bahamian officials are partnering with global travel agents to attract tourists from all over the world.

The capital of Nassau accounted for 2.6 million visitors in the first six months of 2019. The next two popular destinations were Grand Bahama and Abaco, which account for 734,000 visitor footfalls between them. The latter two have been severely affected by the hurricane.

Industry leaders have stated that the whole of the Bahamas was not devastated, as may have been reported on global news. The majority of the islands, including Nassau and Paradise Island, were relatively unaffected and tourism revenue for these islands could be used to get the rest of the country back on its feet.

Cruise lines to the Bahamas have also joined the campaign to revive tourism. Along with resorts across the country, they have seen a significant decline in bookings since the storm hit.

Dorian also affected tourism in Florida and the Carolinas. One of the most popular destinations in South Carolina, Charleston’s tourism industry was hit by the storm. Closures during the hurricane cost the Holy City $58.6 million, according to a College of Charleston analysis.

Florida officials issued warnings for tourists as the storm approached, which immediately affected bookings. It was also disturbing to get reports of prices for necessities being hiked up, which is illegal in states like Florida during emergencies.

Hospitality and tourism businesses have always suffered from severe weather conditions, even when they do not cause much physical damage. Lingering perception of danger keeps tourists away and creates a drop in bookings, which has a long-term effect on the economy. That is why industry leaders in these regions have banded together to help revive the tourism business.

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The loneliest road in America

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Our stay in Provo, Utah, at the lake was very relaxing; we enjoy being among the Mormon people, as they are very friendly and outgoing. While in Provo, a phone call led to a wonderful afternoon meeting with a glass of wine, sociable conversation, and a renewed friendship with Orem residents Dr. Lou Jensen and Tamaree Littlefield.

After many years, we are heading back to California for a visit. Our destination is the east side of the Sierra Nevadas: Tahoe, Mono Lake, Yosemite, and Stanislaus Forest. But first we must cross the vast desert land called Nevada.

We have selected the “Loneliest Road in America” — Highway 50 — as our travel companion, a distance of about 600 miles from Provo to the California border below Carson City. U.S. 50 is an incredible road, and a driver should be prepared for long distances between towns, high mountain passes, and winding narrow roads with many hairpin turns and no shoulders or guardrails.

There is just wild, beautiful high desert country. If you prefer speed, we suggest taking I-80 from Salt Lake City.

With a full tank of gas and extra drinking water, we headed south on I-15 connecting with Utah 6, which took us through Eureka and Silver City into ranch country. Here there is tall grass, wire fences, grazing cattle and pick-up trucks.

The road stretched endlessly on, straight ahead across the wind-blown Sevier River Valley and the Little Sahara National Recreation Area. It is here that a plentiful sand source and strong prevailing winds have combined to create Little Sahara, one of the largest dune fields found in Utah. Most of the sand at Little Sahara is the result of deposits left by the Sevier River, which once flowed into ancient Lake Bonneville some 15,000 years ago.

A popsicle break on U.S. 50.

After the lake receded, the southwesterly winds that blew across the Sevier Desert picked up the exposed sand. Sand Mountain, in the middle of the dune field, deflected the wind upward, causing it to slow and drop its capacity of sand.

Sand particles, composed mostly of quartz, fell downwind among the sagebrush and Juniper surrounding Sand Mountain, ultimately creating a 124 square-mile system of giant free-moving sand dunes. It is quite a sandbox for kids of all ages.

Traveling south, the landscape is brown in all directions from lack of water; however, to our surprise as we approach the tiny village of Lynndyl, a green valley opens before us, a valley of farmers and ranchers.

It’s a wonder what a little water can do; without water life ends. Several miles further south, we pass the source of this vegetation, the blue waters of the DMAD Reservoir.

Beyond Hinckley looms a mountain range and Skull Rock Pass. Twisting and turning, we climb to an elevation of 5,246 feet. The pass is named after a large boulder to the south with indentations similar to that of a human skull. Gypsy rolls over the summit with no effort and we begin our glide down into a long grey brown valley towards a place called “Nevada” and the Great Basin National Park.

Nevada comes from the Spanish word “snow-capped” and most easterners pronounce it wrong. The people of Nevada pronounce the name using the “ae” vowel while “foreigners” pronounce it with a “a” sound as in “father.” Nevada lies within the Great Basin and is largely desert and semiarid countryside.

Officially, it is called the Silver State due to the importance of silver to the economy and the checkered history of the state. This harsh land was the home of the Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone tribes.

Today, 86% of the land is owned by various government agencies, including federal gun ranges for our military. Over two-thirds of Nevada’s people live in Clark County, which contains the Las Vegas metropolitan area where the state’s three largest incorporated cities are located. Nevada legalized gambling many years ago, it is a tourist haven, and the only state in the union where prostitution is legal.

In the town of Delta, a small community of about 4,000 people, we connect with U.S. 50, which stretches from Sacramento, California, all the way to Ocean City, Maryland. A few miles outside of Delta, we got our first glimpse of the enormity of the land we were venturing in for the next 500-plus miles.

We are interested in the Nevada section known as the “Loneliest Road in America.” It is here we begin our new journey — the westward wagons on the Pony Express trail. Riders rode southwest into Nevada near Deep Creek Station and the Great Basin.

The Pony Express has fascinated Americans since its first rider hit the saddle in April 1860. The legend of the pony-rider may overshadow its brief history, but the bold founders and brave riders help spread important news and bound the east with the west, a nation torn apart by slavery and states’ rights.

Mark Twain admired these courageous men and said, “The pony-rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful of spirit and endurance.” The loneliest road in America is the same road brave pony riders followed alone on a fast horse. Driving along the route in my motor home, I could only marvel at the fearlessness and determination of those young riders back in 1860.

We entered Nevada and our first community was Ely, near the Visitor Center of the Great Basin. Wheeler Peak stands bold and unmovable at 13,063 feet. Beyond it is 77 miles of desolate, uninhabited, bleak, barren land.

There is nothing but an unwelcoming and harsh desert. The desert of central Nevada is, for the most part, unforgiving and remote yet has a silent grace, a peacefulness that remains unbroken but for historical sites and a two-lane highway that goes on and on.

Highway 50 crosses the center of Nevada through some very forsaken areas and towering mountain passes exceeding 7,000 feet over lonely empty valleys. At the time we crossed the state, the road had little or no civilization or services and cellphone connections were far and few between.

We realized we had no services of any kind for many miles and there was not a house to be seen. Yet along the way we found historic sites, alpine forests, dry desert valleys with very hot temperatures, and ghost towns where mines have gone bust.

We are traveling just south of the Pony Express route, crossing one ridge after another until we enter the tiny community of Eureka, a well-preserved old mining town that includes a newspaper publishing house and an unbelievable beautiful opera house. We rest among the townsmen and enjoy a hot meal.

Tomorrow is another day, another day of exploration and adventure; but for now, we rest.

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State fairs: More than just funnel cakes and Ferris wheels

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Beginning in 1841 in Syracuse, New York, state fairs have convened largely to showcase and celebrate livestock and agriculture. Over the years, these fairs evolved into carnivals, notable for their “step right up!” revelry, rickety rides, freak shows, unhealthy foods and unwinnable games.

Today’s modern state fairs retain some of those elements but on a much, much grander scale. And with many of them now in their second century of existence, there’s plenty of history and tradition to celebrate.

For most folks, attending a state fair is a fun and inexpensive outing that offers something sure to interest and entertain the entire family. For the 4-H types, there are exhibits and competitions focused on agriculture and livestock.

Midway rides, games and musical events provide nonstop entertainment. And yes, there is funnel cake — along with just about anything else that can be rolled in batter, dipped in oil, deep fried and served on a stick.

Fairs across the country seem to be vying for most outrageous honors when it comes to sinful new food offerings. For example: fried Jell-O, chicken-fried bacon, hot-beef sundaes, deep-fried butter balls — and a Texas State Fair specialty — the funnel cake bacon queso burger.

Waistlines may suffer, but it’s all in good fun — so start making plans to visit at least one of our five favorite American state fairs.

Minnesota State Fair

Recently named by USA Today readers as America’s best state fair, “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” staged each August in St. Paul, is also the nation’s largest state fair based on average daily attendance.

In 2018, 2.05 million guests hit the turnstiles during the 12-day event, posting a record daily attendance of 270,426. This fair is world-renowned for serving the least healthy food ever fried by man. Of course, there are the midway rides, big-name entertainment and ubiquitous livestock competitions, but many fairgoers come here simply to feed their faces.

Among 31 new dishes this year: cheesy sriracha funnel cake bites, Turkish pizza and deep-fried avocado. 2020 dates: Aug. 29 – Sept. 7 (Labor Day).

www.mnstatefair.org, 651-288-4400

Great New York State Fair

America’s fourth largest state fair also holds the distinction of being the oldest. The nation’s first state fair was held in 1841 in Syracuse and it lends credence to the fact that such fairs aren’t exclusive to America’s heartland. Both the event and its venue have undergone a huge transformation over the years, most recently in 2015 with a $50 million restoration of the fairgrounds on the shores of Onondaga Lake.

An amazing schedule of activities and events, ranging from an exhibit featuring an 800-pound butter sculpture to piglet races to birds of prey demonstrations, routinely attracts more than a million visitors annually. Foodies flock to the fair for the Taste New York Food Truck Competition that hosts 40 of the state’s top food trucks. 2020 dates: Aug. 26 Sept. 7 (Labor Day).

www.nysfair.com, 315-487-7711

The Eastern States Exposition (The Big E)

Billed as “the biggest event on the East Coast,” the Big E Fair brings all of New England together (that’s six states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) for this annual festival staged in West Springfield, Massachusetts. All things being equal, the fair’s Avenue of States features full-sized replicas of all six original state houses.

Each state house serves ambassadorial duty with exhibits and demonstrations keyed to its history, industry and culture — and tasty samples of its favorite foods.

Grab a bite of lobster or baked potato at Maine House or perhaps some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or maple candy at Vermont House. You get the picture. 2019 dates: September 13-29.

www.thebige.com, 413-737-2443

Iowa State Fair

The state fair is Iowa’s biggest event — and it was ever more so in 2019 when a record 1.17 million visitors and a couple dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls congregated in Des Moines for a festival of fried foods, carnival rides, farm animals and campaign speeches. In addition to its quadrennial significance as a campaign stop, the Iowa State Fair is famous as home (since 1911) to its now-iconic butter cow sculpture, and for having more food vendors (200) than any fair in the country.

While there’s plenty of big-name entertainment — Toby Keith, Zac Brown Band and Hootie & the Blowfish among those performing in 2019 — the real emphasis here in Iowa is on the food — and serving it on a stick. More than 50 items are available in stick form, including apple pie, sausage and waffles, bacon-wrapped riblets and deep-fried brownies. 2020 dates: Aug. 13-23.

www.iowastatefair.org, 515-262-3111

The Texas Star Ferris wheel was the nation’s largest until recently.

State Fair of Texas

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the state fair is certainly no exception. It is the largest and most widely acclaimed fair in America, a massive enterprise attracting more than 2.2 million visitors annually and generating some $50 million for the Dallas-area economy.

Symbolic of the 24-day extravaganza is “Big Tex,” the instantly recognizable 55-foot-tall cowboy statue that serves as the event mascot. He is (you guessed it) the world’s tallest cowboy. Fair Park was home to the nation’s tallest Ferris wheel (212 feet) as well — until it was recently displaced by taller wheels in Orlando and Las Vegas.

Fair-related festivities include a parade in downtown Dallas, an auto show, an exhausting roster of agricultural and livestock shows and exhibits and the traditional “Red River Rivalry” college football game between Oklahoma and Texas.

The fair has long been a pioneer in the development of deep-fried foods and some recent additions include fried banana splits, chicken-fried bacon, deep-fried chicken noodle soup and deep-fried Fruit Loops. 2019 dates: September 27 – October 20.

www.bigtex.com, 214-565-9931

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A look at Disney parks around the world

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When most of us picture a Disney park, we associate it with the sunny skies and palm trees of Florida or California.

But in the last few decades, Disney has reached across the globe to open new resort locations in Europe and Asia. Disney’s six total parks are located in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

You might mistakenly believe that once you’ve seen a single Disney park, you’ve seen them all. But each Disney park actually has very different rides, attractions, scenery, and even food. Here is a list of all the Disney parks around the world and some of the key differences that set them apart.

Disneyland

The Disney parks phenomenon started out relatively small with the construction of Disneyland in the 1950s. Disneyland is the only park built and completed under Walt Disney’s direct supervision.

What began as one simple amusement park blossomed into a fully-fledged resort throughout the 20th century. Aside from being the original, what sets Disneyland apart from its numerous duplicates across the world is its California Adventure park.

Walt Disney World

Disney World is the largest resort, boasting four enormous theme parks. All diehard Disney fans need to put Disney World at the top of their bucket list!

Magic Kingdom, one of the first parks ever built, is similar to the original Disneyland and has most of the same rides. But Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios are three of the most unique Disney parks worldwide.

Disney’s four parks outside the U.S. are sometimes forgotten by American tourists.

Tokyo Disneyland

Location: Urayasu, Chiba, Japan

Opening Year: 1983

Parks: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo Disneyland matches up to the original pretty closely. But one of the most unique parks in the Disney universe is Tokyo DisneySea.

The park is surrounded with water, and each section of the park is themed after a different port instead of a piece of American landscape. One area of the park is set on a “Mysterious Island” and features an enormous volcanic mountain that encompasses several attractions.

Some of the most noteworthy rides include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — an underwater voyage in mini submarines, Monster’s Inc. Ride and Go Seek — an interactive ride where guests search for monsters using flashlight contraptions, and Journey to the Center of the Earth — a discovery expedition filled with both fast thrills and chances to glide through beautiful caverns.

Disneyland Paris

Location: Paris, France

Opening Year: 1992

Parks: Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney Studios Park

One of the most obvious differences in Disneyland Paris is the central castle. It has very different architecture from its American and Japanese counterparts, with curved lines and circular windows.

Most noticeably, underneath the castle is a sleeping dragon in his dungeon. He “wakes up” every few minutes to blow puffs of green smoke at passerby.

Another interesting feature inside the original Disneyland Park is Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. This elaborate hedge maze is full of lovely fountains and unique Disney touches. At the secondary park Walt Disney Studios, you won’t want to miss the Ratatouille: The Adventure ride or the Mickey and the Magician show.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Location: Lantau Island, Hong Kong, China

Opening Year: 2005

Parks: Hong Kong Disneyland

At first glance, a map of Hong Kong Disneyland seems to match up with the park in California. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find one of the most intriguing differences: the addition of Mystic Point.

This additional land features several attractions, most notably Mystic Manor. This slightly spooky ride is similar to Disney classic The Haunted Mansion but with a whole new style and background story.

Hong Kong is also one of the first parks where Disney has begun to incorporate Marvel characters. Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle and the Iron Man Experience have quickly become two of the most popular rides in the park.

Shanghai Disneyland

Location: Shanghai, China

Opening Year: 2016

Parks: Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland looks strikingly different from older versions of the park. Mainstreet USA is replaced by subtler Mickey Ave. The castle architecture is not themed after one particular Disney princess like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, and it’s the largest castle at any Disney park.

Inside the castle walls is an actual ride, Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. This water ride features beautiful scenes from favorite Disney movies.

One of the most famous rides at Shanghai Disneyland is Tron Lightcycle Power Run. This futuristic coaster seats riders on a bike contraption that includes leg restraints rather than a seatbelt.

Last but certainly not least, one of the most distinctive elements in the Shanghai park is Camp Discovery Challenge Trails. The elaborate ropes course is on the side of a man-made mountain complete with a rushing waterfall.

Each of the worldwide Disney parks has its own unique architecture, rides, food, and set of experiences. Next time you start planning a family vacation to Disney, consider taking it international.

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The perfect campground shower

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Even though I have a shower in my RV, I prefer to use the campground showers. Normally, there is more room, and I don’t have to worry about how much fresh water we have and what space is left in the gray water tank.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of different campground showers. Some have been gorgeous while others leave something to be desired. I am continuously amazed at the variation in what is provided. Here’s my description of the perfect shower.

1. Free

This reminds me of the old pay toilets. I have already paid for the campsite. I don’t care if you only charge a quarter for three minutes of time; it is the principle of the thing.

I don’t want to pay for a shower. This is one of the few times that I use the RV shower, which still means the campground is providing the electricity to heat the water along with the clean water and the dump station space.

Then I put that campground on the list of ones I don’t want to visit again.

2. Clean

The second most important thing is a clean shower area. In most cases that means the park staff cleans at least once a day. I certainly don’t want to see the same mess from another camper day after day.

Also, while I understand this is the great outdoors, attempt to brush down those spider webs in the corners and the ceiling a few times a year! Tiled floors and walls are great, but if they are full of mold, I’d prefer clean painted concrete.

3. Hot Water

I don’t spend a lot of time in the shower, but I do want hot water for the length of the shower. This also includes having controls that are easy to understand so I’m not turning the knob right and left trying to figure out where the hot water is located.

As long as we are talking about perfect, I don’t want to awkwardly wait naked outside the shower for minutes until the hot water gets to the shower head.

I also hate those push button showers where you must push every 10 seconds (I count!). I’ve had ones that go three minutes. I always feel bad hitting those buttons again for the last few seconds of rinsing. The ones that go about 45 seconds work best for me.

These are the showers on display at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. They don’t make them like this anymore!

4. Private Space

I’ve showered in a large open area with no privacy at all. That was the worst, since this isn’t high school gym class. Other campgrounds have had group changing areas but private showers.

The perfect shower has a private section for changing and a section for the shower. Preferably, the walls go to the floor (I don’t like to see my neighbor searching for their lost soap) and the two sections have curtains or doors for both privacy and so my clothes don’t get wet from the shower.

5. Lots of Hooks

I’ve seen gorgeous tiled showers that are clean with plenty of room and hot water but nowhere to put my clothes. I end up putting things in a far corner or over the door.

I like having plenty of hooks for my shower bag, my towel, and several for my dirty clothes and my clean clothes. While having a bench is nice, the stuff laying on it can get wet and garbage from previous campers tends to accumulate here. Give me hooks anytime.

Have I missed something? What is your perfect shower?

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