Tag Archives: Leisure

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How to follow the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln on your travels

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Abraham Lincoln is listed in many polls by scholars and the general public as one of the best U.S. presidents in history.

His story of being born into a poor family and working his way up to become president is inspiring. He is immortalized at many of the places he lived with museums and parks.

These sites make fascinating places to visit. You can learn more about his life and what American life was like during this time period at these places.

Hodgenville, Kentucky

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He grew up in what was then the frontier. Hodgenville is still a small town.

In a rather surreal yet appropriate setting in the midst of the trees is a large memorial for Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. Walk up the 56 steps (one for each year of his life) to see the symbolic one-room birth cabin inside.

The logs and dimensions of this cabin have their own story and are not original. Ten miles away from the main park is his boyhood home at Knob Creek, Kentucky, where he lived from 2.5 to 7 years old.

Lincoln City, Indiana

After legal disputes involving property titles, Lincoln’s father brought the family to what is now Lincoln City, Indiana, where Abraham lived from age 7 to 21 years of age.

Lincoln State Park has campgrounds and several hikes, including one to a cemetery where Abraham’s older sister is buried. Visitors place a Lincoln penny on her gravestone as a remembrance.

Bronzed remains of Lincoln’s cabin.

Across the street is the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. This side of the road includes the grave of Lincoln’s mother (who died when Abraham was 9 years old) along with plenty of split rail fences to remind visitors of Lincoln’s skill with an ax during this time period.

Make sure you visit the bronzed cabin remains. What little of what remained of Lincoln’s cabin here was shipped to Germany during the 1940s.

Bronze castings were made of the wood and some of the stones. The story is that the design of the bronze fireplace is a German design, not an American version, but it is still an interesting site.

Lincoln in his 20s

When Abraham Lincoln was 21 years old, the Lincoln family moved to Macon County, Illinois. The Lincoln Trail State Park and Memorial marks the location of their cabin.

After a year of poor luck for the entire family, Abraham Lincoln left to go to New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site is a reconstruction of the village.

While at New Salem, he took goods by flatboat to New Orleans, volunteered in the short Black Hawk War, was a general store owner, the New Salem postmaster, the county surveyor, and was elected to the Illinois General Assembly. During this time, he studied law on his own and passed the bar.

Springfield, Illinois

At age 29, he moved to Springfield where he started his law career. The town is extremely proud of him and preserved his home, where he lived from 1844-61 with his wife and four sons.

This was the period of time where he was elected to the House of Representatives and elected president. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site includes his home along with four blocks surrounding the home.

President Lincoln’s remains are in Oak Ridge Cemetery in a granite tomb, along with the remains of his wife and three of their sons.

A more complete story of his life can be found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It is overseen by the state, not the federal government. The museum is listed as the No. 1 thing to do in Springfield on TripAdvisor and combines books, historical items, displays, life-size models, and even a holographic show.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Memorial

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lincoln is best known for freeing slaves and keeping the United States together by means of the Civil War. The battle in July 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, had more casualties than any other during this war.

The cemetery was dedicated later that year in November. President Lincoln’s speech took only three minutes and was derided at the time; yet this is the speech that schoolchildren remember and is considered one of the most famous speeches of all time.

Visit the different battle sites at Gettysburg National Military Park but also be sure to stop to see the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Memorial at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Washington, D.C.

As president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln lived at the White House which, of course, must be seen during any trip to Washington, D.C. A less visited location is President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home National Monument.

This was a getaway for Lincoln during the town’s hot summers. It was also used by Presidents Rutherford Hayes and Arthur Chester. The one-hour tour is highly regarded.

The bed where President Lincoln died.

But the spot that means more for Lincoln buffs is Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, along with the Petersen House across the street where he died the next day. The two buildings are run by the national park system as Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.

While you are in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Monument is a must-see at the National Mall. Both the size of the statue and his words inscribed in the walls are awe-inspiring. The view of the mall is also rather impressive!

Keystone, South Dakota

Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore National Memorial memorizes four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The artist selected these presidents to represent the most important events in the history of the United States. President Lincoln was chosen to represent the preservation of the nation.

Abraham Lincoln was important to our country. Visiting spots like these allows us to learn more about him and brings back his memory.

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Lessons learned from pronghorn hunting

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If you’ve never hunted pronghorn before, they’re a really fun animal to pursue. and those hunts certainly provide a very different experience from hunting whitetail deer out of a tree stand.

Pronghorn have incredible eyesight and can cover ground faster than any other North American mammal. These reasons, along with the fact that they usually live in relatively open country, mean that finding pronghorn is usually much easier than getting close enough to take a shot at one though.

However, extreme long-range shooting is not required to hunt pronghorn and it’s still possible to get within shooting range of even the wiliest pronghorn buck if you keep a few things in mind. I just returned from a successful pronghorn hunt on public land up in Colorado and here are a few important lessons learned from that trip.

First, don’t be afraid to get down on your belly and crawl. In fact, you might even call crawling an essential part of spot and stalk pronghorn hunting. Even though pronghorn often live in open terrain, there’s usually a little vegetation, a shallow depression, or a low ridge nearby that can screen your movements if you crawl.

Additionally, while pronghorn will quickly associate the silhouette of a standing human with danger during hunting season, they often aren’t as fast to react with suspicion or fear to the sight of a crawling human. Indeed, pronghorn are also curious animals and will sometimes even come in closer to investigate an unknown object and thus help close the distance for you.

Pronghorn country is often filled with cactus and other thorny plants though, so I recommend wearing some leather gloves and knee pads to protect yourself from those hazards while you’re crawling.

Next, be aggressive when you get a good opportunity to close the distance with a pronghorn. If the animal is focused on something else or if there’s something blocking your movements from its view (like a hill), close the distance as quickly as possible, even by running if necessary.

That brings me to my next point though: don’t push a bad situation or try to move forward if the animal is looking directly at you. If that happens, hold in place and stay perfectly still until the pronghorn loses interest.

This might take a long time and I’ve had pronghorn stare me down for upwards of 20 minutes on several occasions before they finally lost interest and I could start moving forward again.

Sometimes they don’t lose interest though and spooking pronghorn is just a part of the game. Following up a spooked buck does pay off sometimes, but it’s not always wise though.

The good news is that pronghorn are pretty territorial. As long as you don’t spook a buck too badly, there’s a good chance he’ll find his way back to his home turf and you could very well find that same buck close to the same spot again later in the hunt. So, seriously consider giving a spooked pronghorn some space while he calms down and heads back to his territory before you take another crack at a stalk.

By the same token, if you spot a group of pronghorn in a particular area late in the day, consider just watching them from afar until the sun goes down. If you do that, the odds are very good they’ll be right there the next morning after the sun rises.

Above all things though, remain persistent and have fun while you’re afield. Things won’t always go as planned and pronghorn can be a notoriously frustrating animal to hunt. However, the odds are still in your favor if you keep plugging away, and it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling when everything comes together on a pronghorn hunt.

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Travel2020: As global travel booms, inbound US travel bombs

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While people around the globe may be traveling more than ever, tourism to the U.S. is taking a dive, according to reports from the World Tourism Organization and the U.S. Travel Association (USTA). The number of international tourist arrivals around the world reached 1.4 billion last year — a 6% increase and a bar reached two years ahead of forecasts. The organizations predicted that number would grow by an additional 3 or 4% this year.

The U.S., however, is not seeing a similar rosy picture on the tourism horizon.

Rather, in a condition often tabbed the “Trump slump” by various media reports, the U.S. market share of world tourism has been dropping steadily in light of regular gun massacre incidents, economic affronts aimed at China, offensive international diplomacy policies and continued strength of the dollar.

International inbound travel to the U.S. contracted once again in July, falling by 1.2%. The decline follows a disappointing June performance which saw the sector’s six-month trend fall below zero for the first time since September 2015.

The Leading Travel Index (LTI), the predictive component of the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trend Index (TTI), projects international inbound travel growth will remain negative over the next six months (-0.4%).

The worrying outlook for international inbound travel is consistent with U.S. Travel’s forecast, which projects America’s share of the global long-haul travel market will fall from its current 11.7% to below 10.9% by 2022, despite a projected annual increase in volume of inbound visitors to the United States.

The USTA believes that policy changes such as the long-term reauthorization of the Brand USA destination marketing organization, expanding the Visa Waiver Program to include more qualified countries, and improving customs wait times can help reverse the decline.

“The solid performance of the domestic leisure and business segments, which together account for 86% of the travel economy in the U.S., have kept the travel expansion on track through the first seven months of 2019 and have acted as a bulwark against the stagnant state of international inbound travel,” said U.S. Travel Senior Vice President of Research David Huether.

The TTI’s bright spot is domestic travel’s 3.8% expansion, which kept travel’s overall growth afloat. Domestic leisure travel surpassed its six-month average, increasing a robust 4.2%. Domestic business travel recovered from its -0.2% decline in June, rallying with 2.2% July growth.

Top Spots on the Inbound U.S. Bucket List

Annual visitation to the U.S. began to decline in 2016 — and has yet to stop. Concurrently, Americans are traveling less frequently as well and are returning to in-country attractions less and less — often in search of something new and welcoming.

The results of PGAV’s fourth-annual Voice of the Visitor: Outlook on the Attractions Industry*, which tracks Americans’ travel behavior and forecasts future plans, revealed a dramatic shift in the demographics of attraction visitors and a deep desire to visit places that make them feel welcome and relaxed.

PGAV is a St. Louis-based planning and design firm specializing in worldwide attractions and is responsible for such destination designs as the Space Shuttle Atlantis experience at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Grand Canyon, Biltmore Estate, the Hoover Dam, and SeaWorld Adventure Parks.

The PGAV report revealed how travelers from Canada, Mexico, China, the United Kingdom, and Japan plan their trips to America, where they want to visit and what motivates them to do so, and why many have considered a visit to the states — but are holding off until later. Some 68% of respondents had visited the United States before; but with the exception of Canada, the other four countries have more than a third of their population reporting they have never visited the U.S.

Walt Disney World is the No. 1 spot that inspires a visit to America, said the PGAV survey. Image: Disney

Over 85% of international guests noted their key priority when visiting America is finding a safe and welcoming place that has a variety of activities and attractions. They visit more than two towns on average with each visit.

“Over the last several years, from the U.S. Council of Mayors to the American Alliance of Museums to the Southeast Tourism Society and beyond, we’ve heard impassioned requests for insights into what international visitors think and what they’re doing when they enter ‘The Melting Pot;’ and to date, we couldn’t find a precedent,” said PGAV Principal and Chair Mike Konzen.

“These visitors represent an immense contribution to our economy and share of the tourism industry — and in turn represent America when they return home through their stories and photographs — and it’s imperative we strive to better understand – and welcome – these guests.”

America is on track to become “minority white” country by 2045, with a Hispanic population projected to make up a quarter of the population, blacks at 13%, Asians at 8%, and multiracial families at 3.8%. However, compared to the current racial majority, these groups are eight percentage points less likely to travel for leisure, seven percentage points less satisfied with their last attraction experience, 11 percentage points less likely to recommend that attraction to friends or family, and are five percentage points less likely to travel in 2019.

When Americans travel, trends suggest that they are seeking more peaceful time with friends and family to relax. Compared to five years ago, Americans note that they are “relaxing and chilling out” 27% more, playing video games 10% less, spending time outdoors 16% more, and hanging out with friends 5% less.

With more options for entertainment, consumers’ tolerance for bad service and low-fidelity experiences continues to decline, fueling dissatisfaction with staff and offerings at many attractions.

*Conducted by H2R Market Research, Voice of the Visitor interviewed 1,500 American respondents who either visited an attraction in 2018 or plan to do so in 2019, providing a margin of error of +/-2.5% at a 95% confidence interval. Welcome! surveyed 985 travelers who have visited America, are considering visiting America, or who live in America, providing a margin of error of +/-3.6% at a confidence interval of 95%.

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Why law enforcement must keep an eye on using legal CBD products

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The rise of CBD products has been a huge trend in 2019. People are using CBD to alleviate pain, sleeplessness and relaxation, among other ailments.

However, it seems not everyone is free to use them. Federal employees, state employees, law enforcement officers, and those with security clearances have all been warned against CBD use. Even though CBD has been made legal, CBD products could have THC in them. If officers test positive, their jobs could be at risk.

One Arizona police officer landed in trouble when a CBD vape was found in his car. He was cleared later but not before he went through the trauma that he could lose his job.

A federal law enforcement officer was not so lucky. This now-former officer purchased a CBD oil to treat severe back pain. When he was randomly selected for a drug test at work, he tested positive for THC.

When he bought the product, he was told that it contained no THC, which is the psychoactive compound in marijuana, and was perfectly safe and legal to use. CBD, like marijuana, comes from the cannabis plant but has a different cannabinoid that does not make users high.

Hemp-derived CBD containing trace amounts of THC is legal, but the federal laws are ambiguous, which is creating a lot of confusion within law enforcement agencies.

To ensure that more innocent officers do not lose their jobs, the state of Virginia is investing in a new test that can distinguish marijuana from CBD. Unlike the existing, commonly used field tests in the U.S., this new test can make the distinction and will be a big boon to agencies looking to address this issue.

The testing industry will evolve to deal with the rise in the use of CBD, where it will have the technology to look for the metabolites of CBD and not just the metabolite of THC.

Federal employees have thus been unilaterally warned against CBD usage. The memo stated that only a few FDA-approved drugs could stand as acceptable explanations for a marijuana-positive test result.

In all other cases, even a case as innocent as using CBD oil for pain relief will be verboten. Some departments, like the Department of Defense, have been very stringent in prohibiting CBD use — even though Congress passed a law at the end of last year approving it for everyone else.

It is clear that, along with new and improved testing procedures, the law surrounding hemp-derived CBD products needs to change as well.

CBD-product manufacturers claim the hemp extract CBD can offer medical benefits without getting you high, but there’s little oversight of their claims. The CBD industry is mostly unregulated, which means that we are never 100% sure of the ingredients in a product.

The laws need to take these instances into account so more innocent offices don’t get caught. At a time when we are witnessing officer shortages, agencies may find it harder to hire good candidates or end up losing good and dedicated employees because of these ambiguities.

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Have a spooktacular RV Halloween by decorating your campsite

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The month of ghosts, goblins, chilly nights and warm campfires is now upon us. Whether you are a full-timer, seasonal camper or one who camps only for the holidays, you have tons of options when it comes to decorating your campsite for a spooktacular RV Halloween!

There are numerous ideas for turning your RV site into a Halloween party. The first that comes to mind is one I saw in Ohio. It used a hearse and coffins. As you walked by the coffins, you got the scare of your life.

Another was in Alabama, where the prize-winning site was one where the theme was wiener dogs. The site had a giant inflatable dachshund on display and the family’s traveling pups were dressed up as well. It was the cutest thing I ever saw.

They also had human snacks and dog treats in the shape of dog bones to hand out to the trick-or-treaters. I’ve made them myself. Here is therecipe that is safe for people and pets.

I loved taking my children trick-or-treating. Now, my grandchild trick-or-treats at campgrounds because they are decked out with witches, skeletons and cobwebs. Many people use inflatables, which are perfect for camp because they are small to tote or store.

Amazon has several to choose from, like a six-foot-long black cat or a witch’s brewing cauldron. These inflatables provide the “wow” factor you’re likely going for when creating that spooktacular RV site.

This year, I plan to make my campsite kid-friendly because I’ll be taking my 3-year-old grandson camping with me. This will be his first Halloween campout. We plan to make a “Toy Story”-themed campsite because my grandson’s name is Andy and his grandpa’s name is Woody.

Kid-Friendly Ideas

It all begins with the pumpkins when it comes to kids. You can carve out RV designs and turn those pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. I love the templates from Hamilton’s RV.

But if carving every pumpkin isn’t your thing, you can use them as ice buckets for juice bottles. Instructions on how to do so can be found below.

When creating your kid-friendly RV site, make it all about the kids; involve them in the whole process from brainstorming to actual setup. This will bring out the creative side of your children or grandchildren. Think about what they are interested in. A sports theme is usually popular.

We cannot forget the food for the festivities. I have a sweet tooth for candy corn and fudge. There is a recipe that combines my two favorite sweets — candy corn fudge. And here is a creepy, crawly treat easy enough a kid can make it: Oreo spiders. Just be sure to make enough to share.

My toddler loves to play in dirt, so we plan to use a child-size pool, add sand/dirt, and toss in fake snakes, worms and dinosaurs. This makes for a great decoration and keeps them busy for hours.

What if you find yourself kid-free this Halloween? I say break out the wine, werewolves and witches’ brew.

Adult-Rated Ideas

Decorating is in the details, and here is an idea sure to please your 21-and-over guests. Cut the top off a pumpkin, hollow it out, and place ice and your favorite cold adult beverage in it. Feel free to invite your guests to bring their own pumpkin cooler to the party.

Looking to get your hands dirty? Then you’ll love the idea of making bloody handprints and displaying them on your RV windows. If you have a motor home with a large front window, trick-or-treaters will walk up to a gory scene.

Let’s not forget about using fog machines and playing Halloween music, such as “I Put A Spell on You,” “Monster Mash,” and “Thriller.” Click here for the best Halloween songs of all time.

Family Fun Ideas

The whole family can get in on a family-friendly haunted house featuring live characters. Pick a theme, work together to build it, and take your place in the haunted house.

One idea is designing a haunted house around a movie like “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” While it is not scary, it is a classic. “Harry Potter,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Monsters Inc” and “Hocus Pocus” are a few other themes appropriate for the season.

Conclusion

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How one decorates their RV site for Halloween is just that — there is no right or wrong way. But if done right, you might just win a prize or at least leave a legacy that leaves your fellow campers screaming in terror.

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Texas’ fishing quirks on display with 2 recent news stories

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Texas is a very large state with a unique and colorful heritage. The gigantic state also offers hunters and anglers some incredibly diverse hunting and fishing opportunities. Not surprisingly, there are some especially interesting hunting and fishing stories that emerge from various parts of the state from time to time.

Today, we’ll talk about two particularly noteworthy stories involving fish and fishermen in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metropolitan areas that recently made the news.

First, a man was doing a little bass fishing at Lake Arlington between Fort Worth and Dallas on Sept. 7 when he reeled in something unexpected: a rifle. The exact circumstances of the catch aren’t 100% clear, but it’s possible that he was targeting bass hanging out in deep water with something like a deep diving crank or jig.

However, instead of hooking a lunker bass that was trying to escape the heat, the man snagged a Galil ACE rifle instead. Based loosely on the Kalashnikov series of rifles, the Galil ACE has served with military and police forces all over the world, most notably in Colombia and Chile.

Though it’s not quite as heavy as the original Galil or the AK-47, the Galil ACE still weighs around 7-8 pounds, so that angler probably initially thought he’d hooked a really nice bass at first.

That initial enthusiasm likely turned to dismay when it became obvious he was reeling in an object that wasn’t fighting back before turning into confusion and possibly even apprehension when he eventually landed the rifle. The man called the Fort Worth Police Department to report his unusual catch and the police have taken possession of the rifle.

There’s no word at this time on what the rifle was doing in the lake in the first place, how long it had been there, or if the police are investigating the rifle in connection with a crime. Regardless of those details though, I think it’s pretty unlikely that this particular angler expected to reel in any type of firearm on that fishing trip.

We head down to Houston for the next story.

On Sept. 19, cameras for Houston ABC affiliate KTRK-TV captured footage of a local man stranded by high water at a Whataburger near the intersection of Cross Timbers and Interstate 45. The man was eating a burger and waiting for flooding caused by Tropical Depression Imelda to recede when he spotted a fish flopping on the I-45 feeder road a short distance away.

Multiple onlookers watched as the man, still holding the partially eaten burger in one hand, retrieved what turned out to be a four-pound largemouth bass from the subsiding flood waters. He then declared to the camera man that the bass was heading straight for his fish fryer when he got home.

When life gives you lemons, sometimes the best thing you can do is make lemonade out of them.

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Travel2020: Saudi Arabia tourism visa represents a final frontier for travelers

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Much as a woman in a niqab may show her face for a flash before veiling under the dark of her robes, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been exposing slivers of tourism possibilities to the west and then masking them again in a play of calculated flirtation — until now.

Travelers have long held the Kingdom as a bucket list destination. But, until now, Saudi Arabia remained off-limits for all but the most hardened travelers.

All that changed in September, when Saudi officials announced that, for the first time ever, an official tourist visa will be available through offices of the Kingdom and citizens of 49 countries will be able obtain visas online and on arrival.

Applications for the visa can now be made at Saudi Embassies and Consulates across the world and, at the same time, citizens from 49 countries, including the United States, will also be able to apply for an e-visa online or get a visa on arrival into Saudi Arabia. A dedicated online portal at visitsaudi.com has been launched and electronic kiosks are available at airports.

The following are the 49 countries that will be eligible to apply for e-visas and visas on arrival:

The tourist visa allows for a stay of up to three months or 90 days per entry, and is valid for one year, with multiple entries. The cost of applying for an e-visa or a visa on arrival is $117 plus VAT. Saudi Arabia intends to extend the e-visa scheme to other countries in due course.

Wary of western influence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is entrenched in a world of its own.

But under the Kingdom’s National Transformation Plan, the centerpiece of “Vision 2030,” the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage (SCTH) is currently investing some $7 billion on tourism-focused initiatives around the country.

Saudi Arabia and Vision 2030

Opening Saudi Arabia to tourism is a key milestone in the implementation of Vision 2030, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia expects to achieve 100 million international and domestic overnight visits a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating up to a million jobs. By 2030, the aim is for tourism to contribute up to 10% of the country’s GDP, compared to just 3% today.

Saudi-style Experiences

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia offers a plethora of (currently) unexplored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and breathtaking natural beauty. Places of interest include:

  • Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a staggering 10,000 recorded sites of historical interest.
  • 13 regions, each with a distinctive cultural history and culinary tradition.
  • A contemporary culture scene that includes the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran, sculpture parks, art galleries, fashion shows, literary events and the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in March 2020.
  • A surprisingly diverse range of landscapes, including the green mountains of Asir, the crystal waters of the Red Sea, the snow-covered winter plains of Tabuk and the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter.
  • A number of new destinations under construction, including the futuristic city of NEOM, the Qiddiyah entertainment city near Riyadh and a range of luxury destinations by the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia’s New Oil

A robust sector development strategy underpins the launch of the new tourist visa. In the first phase of the program, from 2019 to 2022, the focus will be on attracting first-time visitors to “discover Saudi.”

The second phase of the program, from 2022 onwards, will focus on enticing visitors to “experience Saudi.” As part of phase one, over 20 new tourist sites will be developed, dramatically expanding choice and opportunity for visitors to discover the country’s hidden treasures.

As part of phase two, the full development of Saudi’s mega projects will come on stream, including NEOM, Amaala, the Red Sea Project, Al-Ula, Qiddiyah and Ad-Diriyah.

Underpinning Saudi’s approach are a range of enabling initiatives including:

  • The development of a comprehensive legislative, licensing & inspection framework for the tourism sector.
  • A drive to facilitate the recruitment and training of staff in sector’s key job families.
  • A private sector engagement program to foster partnerships to deliver a richer and more varied visitor experience.
  • The expansion of air connectivity bilateral agreements and the launch of new international routes to link Saudi with target countries.

“Until now, those wishing to visit the inward Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had to prove their ties with Islam or get special dispensation,” said His Excellency Ahmad Al-Khateeb, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage.

“For the first time, we are opening our country to tourists from all over the world. To those thinking of visiting Saudi Arabia, you won’t find a warmer welcome anywhere in the world. And you won’t find a people prouder to share the riches of their land with you. Make no mistake, this is Vision 2030 in action. We are delivering — supercharging a non-oil sector that will drive growth and diversify our economy for decades to come.”

What it Takes

However, if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking these initiatives a bit further and opening up for leisure or group tourism, few operators have been informed. Few western companies have been running scheduled departures into Saudi Arabia in recent years.

“It’s been very difficult to do tourism-focused business in Saudi Arabia,” said one U.S. tour operator from Universal Travel Services, a California-based company that facilitates travel in difficult regions.

“You can still go if you are a corporate traveler and can prove you have business there, however, even if this is so if you try to go through a consulate to get your visa you will find yourself getting very frustrated and making repeated trips back to the consulate offices. They are very, very strict. For instance, they may demand to see proof that you are married through an official marriage certificate when you have been married for several decades and might not have this document at your fingertips.” This comment was made prior to the recent announcement.

One U.S.-based tour company that has worked with Saudi Arabia for many years, providing pricey tours through a long-standing and hard-wrought relationship with the Kingdom is Mountain Travel Sobek. Those trips have involved small groups of 10 or so participants four-wheeling into the deserts and Empty Quarter to visit treasures protected over the millennia through dry air and a dearth of visitors.

Madain Saleh (Image: Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage)

Into the Desert

One amazing take-in is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site at Madain Saleh, where some 140 monumental tombs as intricate and magnificent as the Treasury at Petra in Jordan, spread out over 10 miles over burning sandstone. The most imposing of the tombs is Qasr Al Farid, carved from a single sandstone monolith, originally discovered by Charles Doughty, a British explorer who came upon it in 1876.

For travelers from the U.S. who may already be headed to Saudi Arabia for meetings or corporate matters, the Kingdom is wide open (excluding Mecca and Medina) for visiting and touring. As a rare guest within these boundaries, travelers should set out to target the top wonders of the country knowing it could be difficult to come this way again. Arrangements can usually be made through international hotels.

1. Madain Saleh: a necropopolis carved from stone in Biblican times by ancient Nabateans.

2. Najran: A colorful city of Najran on the Yemeni border with history, architecture and culture that blends in with the neighboring Yemen. (May be closed due to current military conflicts).

3. Farasan Islands: Jacques Cousteau loved to dive in the waters of Farasan Islands. It is a favorite for bird watchers with numerous historical sites on the main island.

4. Empty Quarter: Deep, quiet, vast.

5. Al Soudah: The Asir National Park and the Al-Soudah area near Abha for trekking, camping, outdoor sightseeing, interesting architecture.

6. Wahba Crater: 500 miles from Riyadh find amazing scenery including lava fields, an oasis and salt pans.

7. Al Lith: A small town near Jeddah, it is the port for diving the Farasan Banks eco system with incredibly clear waters and amazing wrecks.

8. Edge of the World: Spectacular views here along the 500-mile Jebel Tuwaiq Escarpment.

9. Taif: A mountain city famous for its roses and rosewater.

10. Qassim: Find the northern towns of Buraidah and Unaizah here for cultural heritage and history, and a magnificent traditional marketplace.

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World Mountain Ungulates Conference shows concerns, hope

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“What the heck is a mountain ungulate?”

An Instagram follower asked this after I posted about attending the 7th World Mountain Ungulates Conference in Bozeman, Montana.

It is a good question.

Ungulate, after all, is sort of a strange word.

The quick explanation is an ungulate is an animal with hooves and a “mountain ungulate” is any of the variety of sheep, goats, deer and antelope that inhabit the hills and highlands of the world.

And from Sept. 10-13, the Wild Sheep Foundation, along with partners like Safari Club International Foundation, brought together researchers from throughout North America and around the world to report on the latest findings and ponder questions of mountain ungulate management.

Researchers and managers from Mexico spoke of forward-thinking and effective desert bighorn sheep restoration in the state of Sonora. The Sierra El Alamo project spearheaded by landowner Javier Artee and family and The Wild Sheep Foundation has seen nearly 100 bighorns restored in a former hotbed for the species.

Tayler Lasharr from the University of Wyoming detailed a study on the issue on whether current harvest practices for bighorns are evolutionarily sustainable.

It was a hot topic of the event and was touched on in several presentations.

This particular study concluded that “…While harvest regimes are an important consideration, horn growth of harvested male mountain sheep has remained largely stable, indicating that evolutionary changes are an unlikely consequence of harvest in most of North America.”

Manzoor Qureshi of Gilgit, Pakistant presented “Trophy Hunting As Sustainable Use And Conservation Tool” and dealt specifically with markhor, which are highly prized by hunters around the world.

It was noted hunters have paid upwards of $100,000 for markhor there and the country was also looking to build non-consumptive wildlife-based tourism from the presence of snow leopards and other wildlife.

The hunter’s claim that money from hunting goes back into local communities was questioned by some of the presenters during Q&A sessions.

And while no definitive answers were given, as to actual percentages that stay in villages and rural communities, anecdotally most conceded that hunter dollars were a boon to conservation and a barrier between wildlife and poachers.

Questions on equitable dispensation of hunter dollars remained.

Not all presenters dealt with hunting-centric issues.

Tal Halevy of Ben Gurion University of the Negeve in Israel, for example, spoke on Nubian ibex moving into cities and villages and becoming accustomed to people.

It was surprising to hear that more than half of the Nubian ibex population dwells in Israel and that these typically shy cliff-dwellers were showing an ability to adapt to populated areas.

Predation was a hot topic with an opening address focusing on changing behavior in North American wolves and their impact on wildlife and presentations addressing cougar and snow leopard predation on ungulates.

As would be expected, opinions in the room differed on predators but tempers never flared, although they might have sparkled a time or two.

Recapping the whole conference would be a foolish endeavor as it was simply too detailed and in-depth to give justice here.

My mission is to give my perspective as a wildlife journalist who is equally be at home with a rifle (or bow) in my hands as he is reporting on mountain ungulate management.

The following are my takeaways:

Mountain sheep hunters in particular are serious about getting management right. They have no problem questioning management from a scientific level and are willing to adjust if necessary.

On the same token, mountain sheep (and goat) hunters and related conservation organizations are the ones funding the vast majority of management of these species. There is little money in North American fish and wildlife departments to fund these initiatives, much less in poorer Asian countries. The current global hunting system is not perfect, but if it falls because of political pressure, mountain ungulate populations will suffer in many areas-greatly.

Predator management in relation to ungulates will likely be the single greatest challenge facing the North American wildlife community. With the scandal that came with the “Cecil The Lion” story and a genuine ignorance on predators by the American public, dealing with increasing wolf numbers and cougars in particular will be a monumental challenge going forward.

Genetics is opening a new level of understanding of these magnificent creatures. And it may very well be a key to saving them. An attempt in Washington to create a strain of domestic sheep free from diseases communicable to bighorns could help ease some conflicts between federal land grazers and wild sheep managers.

The 7th World Mountain Ungulates Conference was a remarkable event that brought together scientists, wildlife managers, landowners, conservationists, hunters and non-hunters.

It was a gathering that shows while there are many differences when it comes to wildlife of the highlands, there are talented people doing great things to us conserve them.

Seeing that long was worth the trip from Texas to Montana but of course seeing a grizzly sow with cubs in Yellowstone before the conference began wasn’t bad either.

Both inspired me to report more on the creatures that live in and around the mountains of the world.

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What you should know about Texas’ newest gun laws

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Sept. 1 was the effective date for most of the new pieces of legislation passed by the Texas Legislature in its most recent session. Among other changes, hunters no longer need to possess a valid hunting license to shoot feral hogs on private property with landowner permission.

But there are also several new gun laws that just went into effect that you need to be aware of.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding any of these new laws, I recommend contacting an attorney specializing in firearms law licensed to practice in the State of Texas.

Firearms on School Grounds

First up is House Bill 1143, which allows people with a valid License to Carry a Handgun (LTC) to store a firearm or ammunition in their vehicle on school grounds. The exact text of the new law is below.

A school district or open-enrollment charter school may not prohibit a person, including a school employee, who holds a license to carry a handgun under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code, from transporting or storing a handgun or other firearm or ammunition in a locked, privately owned or leased motor vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area provided by the district or charter school and may not regulate the manner in which the handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored in the vehicle, provided that the handgun, firearm, or ammunition is not in plain view.

Note that the new law does not permit concealed carry within any buildings on school grounds, just that a person with an LTC license can transport or store a firearm in a locked motor vehicle in a parking area.

It’s also important to note that the firearm or ammunition must not be in plain view. Finally, it only applies to a person who holds an LTC license, not the general public.

Rental Properties & Homeowner Associations

Now let’s talk about House Bill 302 (exact text below), which prohibits landlords from prohibiting tenants from possessing firearms or ammunition within a rental property.

House Bill 302 amends the Penal Code and Property Code to prohibit the owner or landlord of an applicable condominium or rental property, a tenant or guest of such an owner or landlord, or a guest of a tenant from being prohibited from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting, or storing a firearm, any part of a firearm, or firearm ammunition in the applicable property, in a vehicle located in the property’s parking area, or certain other locations unless prohibited by state or federal law. The bill establishes related defenses to prosecution for the offenses of criminal trespass, trespass by a handgun license holder with a concealed handgun, and trespass by a handgun license holder with an openly carried handgun.

Basically, this law is aimed at preventing property owners from establishing a “no firearms” clause in a residential lease. Senate Bill 741 (text below) is similar but is aimed at preventing homeowner associations from enacting covenants that restrict the possession of firearms or ammunition.

Both of these new laws only apply to homeowners and tenants who are otherwise behaving in a lawful manner.

A property owners’ association may not include or enforce a provision in a dedicatory instrument that prohibits, restricts, or has the effect of prohibiting or restricting any person who is otherwise authorized from lawfully possessing, transporting, or storing a firearm, any part of a firearm, or firearm ammunition, as well as the otherwise lawful discharge of a firearm.

Concealed Carry in Places of Worship

Finally, we have Senate Bill 535 (text below), which removes language from the Texas Penal Code and makes it clear that a person with a LTC permit is allowed to carry a handgun within a place of worship.

Senate Bill 535 amends the Penal Code to remove the premises of a church, synagogue, or other established place of religious worship from the premises on which the intentional, knowing, or reckless carrying of a handgun by a license holder constitutes an offense.

Even with this change to state law, you should be aware that, just like any other private property, churches and other places of religious worship can still prohibit LTC holders from carrying firearms by providing notice. Knowingly carrying a firearm in on private property after receiving such notice is a crime and violators are subject to arrest and prosecution.

Finally, these are not the only changes to firearm law in the state of Texas. Especially if you possess a License to Carry a Handgun, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the current regulations, especially with regards to where you are now allowed to carry a handgun, so that you do not inadvertently break the law.

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Sightseeing around Michigan’s Blue Water Area

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Michigan is known for many things, including the Blue Water Bridge that leads to Canada. I recently visited Michigan and got to see the beautiful Blue Water Area along Michigan’s eastern shores.

St. Clair

While in Michigan we stayed at St. Clair’s Encore Resort, an affiliate of Passport America. It is located near Interstate 94, which means it has easy access for RVs. The main facilities, amenities and friendly staff are worth overlooking a few ruts in the road around the resort.

In St. Clair, we visited Palmer Park.Walking the boardwalk there was one of my favorite things to do in Michigan. This was one of the places you find the majestic blue waters of Michigan.

Palmer Park offers a one-quarter mile walkway that lends an up close and personal view of the freighters passing by. They seem so close that you feel like you can touch them.

You can swim in the blue waters here, but while we were there it was too cold. I hope to plan a trip back to enjoy that experience, though.

There are port-o-lets available here, a food truck for a quick bite, and free Wi-Fi. As we walked the boardwalk, we met a veteran who was fishing, and he was more than happy to talk to us. There is so much to do here: have a picnic, take pictures, smell the tulips, talk to the locals, swim, fish, or let the blue waters wash your cares away.

Downtown New Baltimore

The next day we met up with our Michigan-born friends who took us sightseeing. We visited the local farmers market in downtown New Baltimore where we ordered a venison pasty. A pasty is a Michigan meat hand pie.

We visited boutiques and sampled sweets at the local ice cream shop. Everything was within walking distance to the Walter and Mary Burke Park.

The water here is beautiful and calm and offers swimming and fishing. We watched the local waterfowl fly high into the sky, scan the lake and then dive in to retrieve their tasty treat of fish.

It was quite comical, so much so that we kept taking videos. While the beach is small, there are plenty of other things to do here.

There is a playground for children, pavilions for picnics and plenty of docks to fish from. I highly recommend visiting this area. There is no fee to park or play here.

Many places we found did charge, and if you were a tourist, the cost was higher. This is something new to this Ohio girl. Some parks charged as little as ten dollars during season.

Coastal Drive

On another day, we decided to drive the coast. It is always exciting to get in your vehicle and just drive with no destination in mind. I find you discover more by doing this than looking at a map and planning your day trip.

We drove, and every time we saw a pull off area, we did. We found lighthouses, several fishing spots, many locals and tourists to talk to, and the Great Lakes Maritime Center/Vantage Point Maritime Center.

At first, we were not sure if there was a fee or what exactly we had stumbled into. I am glad we took the chance.

The staff was friendly, the museum was free and the experience priceless. The center offers ship watching and education. This is one place that RV parking is plentiful.

There is a small café located inside for a cost. The food was the only thing we found here that had a cost associated with it. It seems if you have a group larger than six you must make reservations seven days in advance.

The view was amazing. You could see Canada and freighters passed by often. Each time a freighter came by, a staff member would come over the speaker and explain in detail about each one. Outside are shade tents, a walking trail and, on specific dates, a farmer’s market.

If you need to rent a meeting room, they offer that, too. However, while we were there the tour guide explained that, behind closed doors a private meeting between the United States EPA, the Canadian environment ministry and a Michigan Indian tribe was being held.

Port Huron

On up the coast, we came to Port Huron and the access point that allows you to cross the Blue Water Bridge to Canada. The water here was as clear blue as it was at Palmer Park.

It was windy as it usually is when you are on a lake, but it did not stop the fishermen. You could see their fishing poles lined up and down the water rails, but not a fisherman in sight. Where could they be? They were in their vehicles “car fishing.” I have “car fished” when at Lake Erie in Ohio. They tell me this area is known for its walleye and perch.

Conclusion

Michigan is a beautiful state. I could spend the whole summer there and not see everything. It is a destination that will capture your heart with its authenticity, scenic views and clear blue waters. You can swim, fish, bike and kayak here.

There is no need to catch a plane and fly to the Caribbean when you have Michigan!

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