Tag Archives: Leisure

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Oklahoma City’s First Americans Museum: A celebration of native culture

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The rhythmic sounds of drumming, shaking and chanting of ruffled and beaded Chickasaw dancers echoed off the looming glass and steel edifice of Oklahoma City’s dazzling new $175 million First Americans Museum on Sept. 18 – signaling the opening of a repository uniquely designed to tell history through the lens of the region’s tribal peoples.

As the Chickasaw dancers demonstrated their stomp dance, a Cherokee storyteller related a creation tale, a Kaw Nation contingent shared its tribe’s history and visitors followed teachers’ directions for weaving baskets and making cornhusk dolls.

Established to promote the history, cultures, contributions and resilience of the First American Nations in Oklahoma, the museum has finally become a reality after more than three decades of planning, funding problems and construction delays.

Welcoming visitors to the gala ceremony, James Pepper Henry, executive director of the museum and vice-chairman of the Kaw Nation, noted, “We have accomplished something that has never been done on this scale, to take full authority over the content, development and interpretation of our First American histories and cultural materials.”

Complicating the planning, says Henry, “was how to devise a way to show the collective histories of 39 tribes and the common circumstances that brought those tribes here to Oklahoma.”

Making things even more challenging is the fact that only a few tribal nations were indigenous to the region. Most came as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, when more than 100,000 Native Americans were forced from their ancestral homelands to Indian Territory – or what is now Oklahoma. The state’s name comes from two Choctaw words – “Okla” and “Homma,” meaning “Red People.”

During this migration, called the Trail of Tears, more than 15,000 men, women and children perished of disease, starvation and exposure to the elements. By the time Oklahoma entered the union in 1907, it was home to a patchwork of native peoples from across the country.

“Oklahoma, or Indian Territory, was originally meant to be a giant internment camp,” said Henry. “It’s a brutal history and we haven’t shied away from telling those stories. But it also is a story of perseverance – a story of survival. We’ve overcome a lot of those challenges, and now we’re reclaiming our cultural life ways. We are not relics of the past. We are still here and we’re moving forward into the future. This museum celebrates that.”

The museum opens with two inaugural exhibits. OKLA HOMMA (those Choctaw words that later became the state’s name) is an original, mixed media interactive exhibition that highlights the stories of tribal peoples who lived in the area now known as Oklahoma. The second exhibit, WINIKO: Life of an Object – a captivating collection of objects on a 10-year loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC – showcases 144 everyday cultural objects collected in the late19th century from tribes in Oklahoma.

“There are a total of 29 short films between both exhibitions, and there are lots of interactive exhibits too,” says Shoshana Wasserman, deputy director of the museum, and a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, “It’s not just walking through and seeing a bunch of cultural material in cases.”

The two buildings making up the museum campus – the 4,000-square-foot FAM Center that serves as an educational resource center, and the 175,000-square-foot museum – are nearly as much a part of the story as what’s inside them.

Viewed from above, the buildings are organized around a theme of concentric circles: the buildings appear as arcs, all parts making up the whole. A circular courtyard occupies the center and there’s a 90-foot-tall arched glass half-circle (or dome) known as the Hall of the People that takes its inspiration from grass houses typical of the Caddo and Wichita peoples. Beyond a massive plaza sits a man-made mound that pays homage to the pre-Columbian Mound Builder cultures common to the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The First Americans Museum is prominently situated on a 40-acre tract along the southern bank of the Oklahoma River near the intersection of Interstates 40 and 35.

Visitor amenities include a full-service restaurant and a café/coffee shop that offer menu items inspired by authentic Native recipes and tribe-specific dishes. And, of course, there’s a Museum Store, offering handmade jewelry, basketry, ceramics, weavings, clothing and artworks created by Oklahoma Native artists.

Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Tuesday. Adult admission is $15; $10 for tribal members, seniors (62 and older), military members and students (13 and older) and $5 for youngsters (4-12). Children 3 and younger are admitted free.

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America’s favorite lakes for family fun

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It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a summer day than by splashing about in a refreshing lake. America is home to thousands of them, of course, including about 200 major lakes. Checking out possibilities across the country, we’ve come up with seven particularly splendid lakes for family vacation fun. So, grab your floaty and join the sun squad at one of these shimmering gems.

Lake Tahoe, California

Statistics speak for themselves in describing one of the world’s most impressive lakes: Situated on the California-Nevada border at 6225 ft., Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America – and the largest in volume after the five Great Lakes. Lake Tahoe also is the nation’s second deepest lake at 1,645 ft., just behind Oregon’s Crater Lake, at 1,949 ft. Notable too is the quality of Tahoe’s water, rated among the world’s purest lake waters at 99.994% pure — nearly that of distilled water.

A day-long drive around the lake makes for a scenic summer adventure and there are numerous beaches and marinas (Timber Cove and Tahoe Keys Marinas are the largest) from which to enjoy a host of watersports and to rent pontoon boats, paddleboards, kayaks, jet skies, sail boats and power craft of all sizes. Boat tours of the lake are available by the dozen, and leading the flotilla is the massive sternwheeler M.S. Dixie II. The Nevada side of the lake features an array of resorts and casinos, and there’s an efficient fleet of shuttle busses operating between the lake and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Lake Chelan, Washington

A favored getaway spot for Seattleites, Lake Chelan is a sinewy 55-mile long lake, hemmed in on both sides by Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest mountain range. Glacial runoff from the mountains feeds into the Chelan River that broadens to form the 33,340-acre lake.

While there are plenty of lakeside activities in the town of Chelan – where there’s a popular farmer’s market – and the smaller village of Manson, Lake Chelan is a definite draw for nature lovers and active outdoor types. Hiking, biking and boating lead the list of things to do – and anglers find the fishing is good for such species as rainbow and lake trout, sockeye salmon and smallmouth bass. Manson is a gateway to the region’s more than 30 wineries and fruit orchards, so wine-tasting is another popular option for visitors.

A highlight of a trip to Chelan is the Lady of the Lake boat trip that visits Rainbow Falls, a stunning 321-foot cataract fed by dozens of glaciers.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah

Even though stricken by drought-driven declining water levels, Lake Powell remains one of the world’s most amazingly beautiful bodies of water. Its colorfully striated cliff walls and canyons are simply mesmerizing. One writer described it as looking like a flooded Grand Canyon. Powell is a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Arizona and Utah. It was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon from Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1966.

Lake Powell is 186 miles long and has nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline – longer than the entire west coast of the United States. It features 96 major side canyons, some of which are 15-20 miles in length. Although there are some good views of the lake from Hwy 89 near Page, AZ, Powell is boater’s lake. You can bring your own or rent every kind of watercraft imaginable at one of the marinas. Available for rent are houseboats (ranging from 45 to 75 feet), powerboats, jet skis, water skis, wakeboards, paddleboards, tubes and kayaks. Powell is the most popular lake in America for houseboating by a wide margin.

Low water levels have forced the closure of some launch ramps for the summer of 2021. Those currently available include Wahweap Main Launch Ramp, Bullfrog North Launch Ramp and Halls Crossing Launch Ramp. For an up-to-the-minute report on boating conditions, call 888-896-3829.

Flathead Lake, Montana

Aptly named, this lake does appear to be strikingly flat, stretching across nearly 200 square miles of northwestern Montana. One of the nation’s largest natural freshwater lakes, it was once described by 19th century British-Canadian explorer David Thompson as a “fine sheet of water.”

This region of Big Sky Country is perfect for nature lovers and wildlife watchers. The lake is home to several islands that shelter an incredible variety of birds and animals. Boat out to Bird Island and you’re virtually guaranteed to see herons, eagles, geese and osprey. On Wild Horse Island you can hike forested trails and open meadows with a good chance of spotting deer, bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep and sometimes even a namesake wild horse. The island is a two-mile paddle by kayak from Dayton Yacht Harbor.

Flathead is great for fishing as well with nice catches recorded for brown, rainbow and brook trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and yellow perch. The lake also boasts plenty of motels, cabins and campsites, especially around the town of Bigfork, a bustling resort town with a growing art scene and shops and eateries galore. Summer visitors should be sure to visit one of the region’s many roadside fruit stands to sample the sweet, tasty and justifiably famous Flathead cherries.

Lake Travis, Texas

It almost goes without saying – that everything is oversized in Texas. That certainly applies to Lake Travis, near Austin. It’s an enormous body of water – 63.75 miles long with more than 271 miles of shoreline and covering 18,829 acres. As the “Crown Jewel” of the central Texas highland lakes, Lake Travis is the most visited freshwater recreational destination in the state.

Oddly enough, the lake’s bottom may be its most unique feature. Travis’ bottom is solid limestone (no mud!), resulting in crystal clear blue waters that make it a freshwater haven for watersports enthusiasts of all kinds.

There are numerous access points around the lake hosting a variety of lodging options, RV parks, campgrounds, marinas and restaurants. By far the most popular restaurant is the multi-level Oasis, idyllically situated atop a 450-foot bluff overlooking the lake. A number of lakeside parks provide facilities for picnicking, grilling, hiking, swimming and boat ramp access. There also are more than 20 marinas, offering an abundance of watercraft rental options, including houseboats, party barges, pontoon boats, jet skis, wave runners, sailboats, kayaks and paddleboards.

Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

Arkansas’s largest lake, Lake Ouachita (pronounced “Wash-ah-taw”), offers more than 40,000 acres of crystal clear water surrounded by 1.8 million acres of verdant Ouachita National Forest. Man-made, Ouachita was formed by completion of the Blakely Mountain Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1954 for purposes of flood control, hydropower, fish and wildlife management and recreational use.

Although situated just minutes away from the popular tourist town of Hot Springs, Ouachita has a remote feel to it – enhanced by the fact that no private homes are allowed along its rustic 600-mile shoreline. There’s a lot to do here, however, with an abundance of water activities, including kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. Hiking and mountain biking are the leading land-based recreational pursuits.

Fishing is particularly good and anglers come from all across the country to cast for Ouachita’s lunker catfish, striped bass, crappie, bream, walleye and largemouth bass. With a total of nearly 100 campsites positioned along the shore and throughout the national forest, there are plenty of tent and RV sites, plus fully equipped cabins for those who don’t choose to rough it.

Lake Lanier, Georgia

Another Corps of Engineers creation, Lake Sydney Lanier – better known as simply Lake Lanier – stretches over 38,000 acres with 692 miles of shoreline along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia. It was formed in the 1950s by constructing Buford Dam and impounding the Chattahoochee River. The lake began filling in 1956 and reached its normal elevation of 1071 feet in 1959.

Lake Sydney Lanier is named after the renowned Georgia poet who died in 1881. Strategically located less than an hour northeast of Atlanta, the lake serves as a prime residential location and vacation destination. The Corps operates 46 park areas, 70 boat launch ramps, 20 swimming and snorkeling areas, eight campgrounds and hundreds of picnic sites around the lake. There also are numerous private marinas with boat launch ramps, houseboat, powerboat and water toy rentals, fuel, pump-out facilities, restaurants and supplies.

More than 100 islands dot the surface of Lake Lanier, ranging from tiny islets to 148-acre Three Sisters Island, and they provide popular boating destinations for hiking, wildlife viewing, swimming, picnicking and geocaching. Anglers flock to the lake for its excellent bass fishing. Species found here include black, spotted and largemouth bass plus hard-fighting striped bass that are stocked annually.

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The thrill behind the wheel: A lifelong inventory of automotive ownership

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I’ve celebrated more than 60 years of existence thus far, and during this time my taste in vehicles has changed considerably. The first car that really moved me – and ultimately jumpstarted my interest in fine automobiles was a certain 1972 Porsche 911. When I was 12, my father’s boss would drop by on occasion with his black-over-orange Targa to give my dad a lift to work.

But I grew up in the sixties and seventies when muscle cars roamed my neighborhood like rolling thunder. On my block alone, there was enough hardware to keep my imagination active through high school graduation. Most of them belonged to the older kids – the guys I looked up to and envied. They were the brothers (and sister in one case) of the friends with whom I hung out.

The inventory was vast and vivid. Assuming you’re interested, it included a midnight blue 1970 Chevelle SS, a 1970 Firebird Trans AM in a similar color, a hugger orange 1969 Camaro SS, a black 1968 Mustang, an orange 1973 Barracuda and another Camaro – a yellow 1973 Z28 with black racing stripes. And that was just the machinery I could see (and hear) from the family driveway.

My first investment was a broken-down 1965 Mustang. I was schooled on this car – got it running and applied literally pounds of Bondo on the body panels. I paid my buddy’s brother fifty bucks to paint it. The finished product wasn’t perfect, but my father let me drive it to high school my senior year. And that meant as much to me as graduation.

That Mustang, a 1970 Torino GT and a 1974 Camaro were the only vehicles I owned that I could ever claim as muscle cars, and they all pushed the definition for one reason or another. But the oil embargo of the early seventies jacked the cost of vehicle ownership, and the trickle-down effect became apparent as sports cars infiltrated the neighborhood.

My friends and I were not as fortunate as our older siblings in that we hadn’t established ourselves in the world. But we were a resourceful bunch nonetheless. This collection featured a ’70 MGB, a ’73 Fiat X19, a ’66 Austin Healey Sprite and a ’69 Fiat Spider. All were in sorry condition when they were purchased, but every one of them became roadworthy – at least for a while.

As my friends and I departed for college and moved on into the world, we carried our automotive palates with us. Almost overnight, the sports cars disappeared as Japanese manufacturers presented more affordable alternatives. Toyota, Honda and Datsun (Nissan) arrived by the hundreds of thousands – and their presence never declined.

Domestic car manufacturers struggled to provide efficient and reliable alternatives, so compact foreign imports dominated. And they outperformed their American counterparts in nearly all categories – most notably, quality. No one I knew then or now considered the Ford Pinto, Chevy Vega or AMC Gremlin as worthwhile contenders.

This persisted into the nineties, and Detroit stopped competing with their rivals. Instead they developed partnerships and mergers, marketing their cars with domestic emblems. For better or worse, this became the framework of a new industry blueprint – vehicles cooperatively built and distributed in various configurations all around the world.

As we entered the third millennium, I briefly returned to the American market with the somewhat reluctant purchase of a minivan – something the U.S. manufacturers actually produced quite well. But by this time, I’d also paid off my college debt and had started a new job. The change of circumstances permitted the addition of a serious sports sedan: a 2003 BMW 325xi.

This was a game-changer for me. The design was classically striking; the drivetrain remarkably strong and durable. It was also our first dip into the all-wheel-drive pool. The doors closed with a CHUNK and the overall quality was faultless. I flogged it around a parking lot with a terrified salesman onboard and realized in that moment this was what driving was meant to be.

The 325xi was acquired on a lease, so three years and 30,000 miles later we walked away from the financial commitment. I was now driving upwards of 20,000 miles a year, so this type of financing no longer made sense for us. Two Hyundai Sonata sedans followed – actually very comfortable and affordable cars, but I felt like I was captaining my grandfather’s Buick.

They also bored me out of my mind. I couldn’t detect an intrinsic connection to the road. The Sonata floated like a snorkeler in a Caribbean lagoon. There was no discernable difference between driving and watching TV on my sofa. Not saying that I held a grudge against Hyundai. The Sonata had been designed and built to compete with other highway cruisers.

Thankfully, this didn’t last very long. When real estate and the economy tanked in 2008, car manufacturers dropped prices and raised incentives for their products. And the brand that sparked my interest in exceptional cars in the first place, finally found its way into my garage. I flipped the second Sonata on my first Porsche a 2009 Cayman – and started taking the train to work.

The Cayman was the first car that kept me from looking for my next one. I made some minor modifications, but it was basically stock and it remained that way. Well past the warranty, I felt like I was gambling with the inevitable. So, with 75,000 miles on the odometer, I traded it on a Porsche Macan. And then back to another Cayman two years later.

The pandemic triggered a realization I’d known was coming anyway. I am now inching toward retirement and as much fun as these cars have been, I wanted a certain amount of sensibility without losing the essence of driving altogether. Porsche doesn’t produce an affordable sports sedan, so with some trepidation I dealt my 718 (and our Honda HRV) on a 2021 BMW M440i.

The M440i is the younger cousin of the M4, but is certainly no slouch. Technically a coupe, it is genuinely fun – 382hp and ridiculously powerful. It’s as comfortable cruising on the interstate as it is slicing up a country road. My wife loved it so much she ordered a BMW 330e. It’s a plugin hybrid that subsidizes the planet, and provides her a sporty sedan simultaneously.

These two recent purchases are numbers 30 and 31 in my lifelong inventory of automotive ownership. So, you can see my taste in vehicles has been all over the proverbial map. I liked muscle cars for their brutish authority, and sports cars for the amazing grip and power to weight ratio. Porsche expertly combined these features, and BMW refined them in their sedans and SUVs.

Funny thing is, I’ve enjoyed driving every one of them – even the minivan. They all bring something to the table, whatever their area of proficiency. Some were admittedly utilitarian, and a few were well beyond that. But all were acquired to satisfy the needs of my family at a point in time. And those requirements continuously changed.

But although my contentment, perspective and interests have fluctuated over these many years, there has always been a common thread – a bond that tied together all of my 31 acquisitions. It was the fundamental thrill of getting behind the wheel and pointing it down the road for the next adventure. That aspect won’t change no matter what resides in my garage.

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Global tourism recovery gets boost from industry leaders at WTTC 2021

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The world’s tourism leaders gathered for the 2021 World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit on April 26 to get a shared perspective on how to handle the ongoing crisis in world tourism numbers — a global condition of the 2020 pandemic that has seen the disappearance of more than 60 million jobs.

“The impact of Covid in the travel and tourism sector had an impact 18 times stronger than the impact of the global financial crisis that occurred in 2008. This is why the event is so important, because it is the global platform for recovery,” said Gloria Guevara Manzo, CEO and President of the WTTC.

The summit, held in Cancun, marks the first onsite, face-to-face meeting for global travel industry leaders since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

“Tourism is currently facing its greatest challenge in history to overcome the adverse situation left in its wake by the health emergency caused by COVID-19. And this great challenge also requires a team effort, also unprecedented, that allows us to overcome adversity,” Guevara Manzo told the audience during the opening remarks.

However, the timing of the event had a hopeful side as the president of the European Commission went on record in late April to say that American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to visit European Union locations over the summer. The region has been shut down for non-essential travel for more than a year.

As the United States has ramped up its vaccination process, talks continue to progress between authorities over how to use vaccine certificates as acceptable proof of immunity for visitors wanting to cross borders. A streamlined policy would see trans-Atlantic leisure travel restored.

However, some controversy remains as at least 1 in 4 Americans is still hesitant about getting a COVID vaccine and other large swaths of the U.S. population simply refuse, often for political reasons. In a separate side of the controversy, leaders from various countries at the summit noted their concern that many populations are being left behind from lack of access to vaccines.

Juan Manuel Santos

“We are seeing a great success in the time that the world took to discover the vaccines. That was a tremendous achievement that was due to the cooperation of the scientific world and to the huge investment, public investment that many countries made. But what is happening right now,” said former Colombian president and 2016 Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos, a speaker and participant at the Summit, “is 86 percent of vaccines have been accumulated in a very few rich countries, and only 14 percent for the rest of the world. Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. And it is illogical, doesn’t have any sense to accumulate vaccines in one part of the world, and leave the rest without vaccines.”

International travel to Europe from the U.S. would be a needed shot in the arm for airlines, which are still experience a 60 to 80% percent lag in international bookings compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

“Long-haul international flying represents a significant opportunity for United,” Andrew Nocella, the chief commercial officer for United Airlines, told investors recently. “We have seen in recent weeks that immediately after a country provides access with proof of a vaccine, leisure demand returns to the level of 2019 quickly.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) commented publicly on the European Commission’s position to grant unrestricted access to vaccinated travelers from the US.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. “It gives hope to people for so many reasons — to travel, to reunite with loved ones, to develop business opportunities or to get back to work. To fulfill that hope, details of the EC’s intentions are essential. To be fully prepared, it is imperative that the EC works with the industry so that airlines can plan within the public health benchmarks and timelines that will enable unconditional travel for those vaccinated, not just from the US but from all countries using vaccines that are approved by the European Medicines Association. Equally critical will be clear, simple and secure digital processes for vaccination certificates. The IATA Travel Pass can help industry and governments manage and verify vaccination status, as it does with testing certificates. But we are still awaiting the development of globally recognized standards for digital vaccine certificates.” He added that a vital first step should be the adoption of the European Green Certificate.

European countries, such as Greece and Iceland, have already announced their plans on opening to proven vaccinated travelers, regardless of the type of pass used.

At the conference, held in a large auditorium with spaced seating, focus was on job loss, recovery and finding ways to move forward in spite of the virus, which is abating in some areas and surging in others with aggressive and changing variants in play. As countries, destinations, regions, industries have been left to battle these challenges alone, the summit represents a chance for the tourism to work together toward a robust and creative healing.

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National Scenic Byways get a boost from Congress

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Just in time for an expected onrush of road trips this summer, the Federal Highway Administration has unveiled 34 new National Scenic Byways (NSB) and 15 new All-American Roads (AAR) across 28 states — bringing the total number of byways to 184 in 48 states.

The flurry of new byway designations came in February, following passage by Congress of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act, aimed at bringing new jobs, tourism, and other benefits to communities along these scenic routes, many of which are well off the beaten path and in serious need of additional resources.

The new designees — which constitute the largest single addition to the National Scenic Byways Program since its inception in 1991, and its first new routes since 2009 — range from Maine’s Bold Coast Scenic Byway to California’s historic Route 66 Needles to Barstow Scenic Byway.

To be considered for the designation, the route must meet a few prerequisites. It must already be a state scenic byway, possess regional importance and exhibit one (National Scenic Byway) or two (All-American Road) of six “intrinsic qualities.” Those qualities include natural, cultural, historical, recreational, archaeological and scenic. Most byways feature several or more of these characteristics.

So, let’s put the pandemic in the rearview mirror and check out a few of the new routes from the class of 2021.

Newfound Gap Road Byway, located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spans 31 stunning miles and connects Tennessee and North Carolina.

Newfound Gap Road Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Since Tennessee boasts the most new byways (five) we’ll lead the list with the Volunteer State’s first AAR. This outrageously scenic 31-mile route in Great Smoky Mountains National Park connects Gatlinburg (one of the most fun towns in the entire Southeast) with Cherokee, North Carolina. Some of its features include Clingman’s Dome, the park’s highest point (6,644 feet) and Newfound Gap, where President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the national park in 1940.

Great River Road National Scenic Byway, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana

The longest and one of the oldest of America’s scenic byways, the GRR was built in the late 1930s and traces the mighty Mississippi for 3,000 miles, coursing through ten states between the river’s headwaters in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park to Venice, Louisiana.

Missouri and Mississippi sections of the route were designated All-American Roads in 2000 — so it only made sense to upgrade sections in the remaining eight states to AAR status. As one writer put it, “If Mark Twain were alive to update “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” surely he would swap out the boy’s raft for a sporty red convertible.”

30A at sunset.

This 24-mile, two-lane blacktop, now a NSB, hugs the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida’s Walton County, linking Inlet Beach and Dune Allen. No cities here, only small towns, most of them with “sea” or “beach” in their names (Rosemary Beach, Seacrest, Seaside, Grayton Beach). These are no ordinary beaches either — in fact, beach-rater “Dr. Beach” has repeatedly named these pearly white sand beaches the most beautiful in America. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park features lovely sand dunes and rare coastal dune lakes.

Pine Barrens Byway, New Jersey

Designated a New Jersey Scenic Byway in 2005, and granted NSB status in 2021, this 130-mile route between Tuckertown and Port Elizabeth leads visitors through Pineland National Preserve — the nation’s largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem.

And big it is, stretching across more than a million acres and seven New Jersey counties. Far from what one would consider barren, the Pinelands are an amazingly diverse landscape and the byway is the best way to explore its pine forests, salt marshes, wetlands and rivers as well as a number of charming villages and important historical sites.

Boom or Bust Byway, Louisiana

One of the country’s most unusual byways, this 137-mile route between Lisbon and Vivian — not far from the borders of Texas and Arkansas — follows Highway 2 for much of its length. It is a route lined with landmarks reflecting fortunes made and lost over the years in such Louisiana industries as oil and gas, lumber and agriculture.

Abandoned oil derricks stand as ghostly reminders of the state’s longtime ties to the energy industry — a history well presented at the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum in (where else?) Oil City. Stretches of the byway are actually quite scenic, featuring rolling hills, pine forests, lakes and bayous. Just to the south, Shreveport and Bossier City offer casinos, live entertainment and some notable restaurants.

Trail of the Ancients features some of the most picturesque scenery in the Southwest.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico

This amazing byway covers more than 400 rugged miles in northwestern New Mexico, presenting a mesmerizing mix of colorful landscapes carved into shapes of every kind by wind and water. The trail’s volcanic features and sandstone buttes and canyons appear to be right out of a John Wayne western.

Beginning at Chaco Culture National Historical Park and ending at Aztec Ruins National Monument, the route offers glimpses into the lives and cultures of human occupants from ancient Paleolithic societies to ancestral Puebloans to present day Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute and Apache peoples.

The highlight of the route is Chaco Canyon, a remarkably well-preserved archaeological site that from roughly 850 to 1250 A.D. served as the region’s ceremonial center and whose influence was felt for hundreds of miles. Nearly as impressive are the Aztec Ruins near Farmington — that, in fact, served as an outlier of the all-important Chaco center. Other key sites along the trail are the El Morro National Monument, a massive butte that resembles a huge ocean liner on the horizon, and El Malpais National Monument, an expansive volcanic feature formed about 3,000 years ago by lava flows.

Note: For a complete list of new scenic byways, go to www.scenic.org.

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A German car heritage, now electrified

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If you traced the family tree on my mother’s side, you would find only Irish decedents. There are virtually no citizens from other countries (that any of her family will admit to). On my father’s side there’s far more diversity — though that may just prove that I’m a mutt. On this list are random nationalities such as Swedish and French-Canadian, but most definitely German.

Although by definition I am only fractionally so, I believe that I can claim in a court of law that I am German by birthright. Because like DNA, a smidgen of ancestral evidence is all I need to prove my case. And if percentage of vehicle ownership means anything to anyone, I am fully one-third German. For some pedigrees, that fact alone makes me a thoroughbred.

Ten of my 31 total vehicle purchases are from Germany. Fourteen came from Japan or Korea, and seven were built right here in the USA. And I won’t apologize for my deficiency in American vehicle ownership — my acquisition history began in 1974 and progressed through the ‘80s — not the most impressive period for domestic automobiles.

Interestingly, and for reasons that are too complicated to justify, I have in the last six months acquired and sold more cars than in the previous 10 years. The most recent transaction happened last December, sending my 2017 718 Porsche Cayman and our 2016 Honda HRV into dealer inventory for a new 2021 BMW M440i and a player to be named later.

This left us with the M440i and my wife’s Audi Q3 — a very respectable (also German), but rather utilitarian SUV. That’s really the only variety of car she’s been driving since the late ‘90s. But when the weather finally turned and she got behind the wheel of my BMW, I saw her face light up with the same radiance as her first drive in our 2003 BMW 325xi.

It therefore shouldn’t have surprised me when she recently announced that she’d rather have a sportier sedan. After all, I’ve foolishly assumed that because her daily vehicle was also the weekend warrior, that’s what she liked driving. But after 20-some years of SUVs and one minivan, it was time for her to change things up.

Ecology has also been on her mind of late, so a hybrid or full electric would be an appropriate option. BMW (it turns out) makes a 3-series model, the 330e. It is a plug-in hybrid — one of only a handful in this class. A very intriguing possibility as it easily charges from a 110-outlet in a few hours. Just perfect for her daily commute to work.

And it looks every bit like the base 330i sedan — very little would reveal the fusion of the two propulsion sources if you didn’t actually know the honest truth. The all-wheel drive variant (BMW’s xDrive) is the one that interests us both and is rated at 67 MPGe (miles per gallon with electric) — astounding for a sporty sedan with surprising power.

The 181-hp turbocharged motor is paired with an electric plant, which together produce 288 horsepower. How much gas is actually used versus battery consumption is completely dependent on driving approach. But what is most remarkable is the fact that after a full overnight charge, it can take her to the office and back on electric alone if she behaves sensibly.

There are lots of other technical goodies that come standard. Like BMW XtraBoost — a feature available in Sport Mode that provides a 40-horsepower boost when the pedal is fully mashed. Also, you can travel at interstate speeds without the gas motor kicking in at all in that electric mode. These factors make the BMW 330e a very fun, yet sensible sedan.

But how satisfying is this to the person who will be behind the wheel every day? Remember when I told you about my wife’s reaction to driving my M440i? Her response was comparable (with a significant dose of perplexity). I’m not saying the 330e performs in the same stratosphere. But this is a very nice car that is a sporty, economical and environmentally friendly option.

Our friends at BMW of Devon sold me the M440i just a few months ago (see my previous article), and naturally we turned to them for a test drive of both the petrol and hybrid variations. They weren’t able to locate the exact mixture of options and frankly, we weren’t prepared to compromise. So, we immediately ordered it and left them with the Audi Q3.

The M-Sport package is a must-have and is also remarkably rare on their plug-in hybrid. But the aerodynamic package makes the car look mean, and the steering wheel is worth the price of admission alone. She selected Mineral Grey with a Mocha interior — nearly identical to my M440i. A few other goodies were added to round out the deal.

And now the anticipation for the arrival of a new addition to our German family begins – soon to be a BMW only household. My M440i now looks rather abandoned in an otherwise empty garage. Ordering versus a purchase from inventory is a double-edged sword. You get what you want, but you also have to wait for it. And the delay is interminable.

BMW provides a convenient way to track the building process online if you set up an account, and why wouldn’t you? As of this writing, the build has been completed and is waiting for carrier assignment. But this feature is also torturous. As you can imagine, we check it daily — OK, sometimes hourly.

I’ll provide a more comprehensive review when it arrives in early summer (assuming I get a chance to drive it). By then I’ll be able to report on important things like performance, comfort and real-world mileage. It will certainly be a welcome addition to our family as well as our German heritage. But for now you will have to wait — just as we are.

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4 myths of front sight focus

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There are a ton of myths floating around about using a front sight focus on a self-defense pistol…myths like:

  1. You must always use a front sight focus.
  2. You definitely won’t be able to see your front sight in a high-stress situation, so you shouldn’t waste your time practicing with your front sight.
  3. Front-sight focus is too slow.
  4. I am focusing on the front sight!”

Let’s take a quick look at them.

Myth No. 1: You MUST always use a front sight focus.

I agree with this for bullseye shooting, 4H shooting, hunting non-dangerous game, and other specific situations. I also think it’s critical to practice front sight focus during every practice session and at the end of every string of fire (red dots are the possible/probable exception).

Because of the way the brain conserves resources, it is next to impossible to practice a simple version of a skill (unsighted shooting) and conjure up the ability to do a more complicated version of that same skill (sighted shooting) under stress.

The brain will default to the simpler version of the skill unless you have trained the more complicated version. And, it’s worth noting that if you practice both, you will have a much greater chance of being able to actually do both under stress.

But to bust the myth of allfront sight, all the time, I’ll bring up a couple of examples…

  1. You have a gun in your hand while an attacker is striking you.
  2. Following No. 1, you create 2-3 feet of distance and determine that the attacker is still a threat.

A front sight focus will most likely be a bad thing in both of these situations.

But that leaves A LOT of room between close contact shooting and shooting at 10-30 feet with/without sights.

Myth No. 2: You DEFINITELY won’t be able to see your front sight in a high stress situation, so you shouldn’t waste your time practicing with your front sight.

If you don’t actually practice using your front sight, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t see your front sight in a high stress situation. (See No. 4 in a minute.)

The argument here has a few valid origins, despite the fact that there are hundreds of firsthand accounts supporting both sides of this argument. When that happens, it’s worth digging into why different people experienced different realities.

Part of the stress response is that your pupils dilate and it becomes more difficult to focus on things up close. As you know, everyone’s stress response AND their level of response to the same situation is different.

In addition, the less trained someone is, the more likely that they’ll experience focus-lock on the threat they are facing. That’s normal.

But just because you may not be able to see your front sight perfectly clear doesn’t mean you can’t see it and use it while it’s blurry.

Similarly, just because you don’t think you’ll use your front sight in a high-stress situation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice with it.

To begin with, what if the shooting situation you’re fed requires more precision than you’re capable of without using your sights? It could be a mythical hostage situation or, more likely, a slightly longer shot, or a shot where the threat is mostly behind cover and you only have a foot, knee, elbow, or shoulder visible.

There’s a bigger reason to use your front sights, even if you think you never will in real life…

When people shoot without sights with a laser pistol, with sim rounds, airsoft, other visible projectiles, or on targets/backstops where hits are obvious, they generally correct their aim based on where they see their prior round impacting.

It’s a self-correcting loop that allows people to shoot very well without sights in a very short period of time.

But it’s a highly perishable skill that requires the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems to be integrated and calibrated.

And in a real-world self-defense situation, it’s incredibly likely that you won’t get the feedback you need to correct your aim.

Unless you have the ability to use your sights to call your shots and correct aim based on where your sights are aligned.

Which brings us to No. 3…

Myth No. 3: Front sight focus is too slow.

When you are focused on a threat and realize that it needs shooting, if you want to shift your focus to the front sight, it takes time. A minimum of .10-.15 seconds.

Your brain transitions what you’re aware of from the “before” image of the target to the “after” image of your front sight without showing the transition, but during that transition period, you are not aware (visually) of what is happening. When people try to flick their focus back and forth between the front sight and target, this blindness happens every time and is why you’re better off focusing on the front sight and letting the target blur.

This “blindness” is longer for some people than others. For some people, the muscles that change the shape of the eye aren’t used to shifting focus quickly…it’s like a 60-year-old who was a sprinter in high school who can’t sprint anymore. Tactical vision training can improve this. For others, the eyes move at different speeds and there is visual confusion until they get on the same page.

For others, their brain has a tendency to “overshoot” the focal length that they want when they shift focus. If the threat is 11 feet away and their front sight is 18″ away, their focus may go from 11 feet (overshoot 18″) and focus on 12″, then (overshoot 18″ again) and focus on 24″, and then finally settle on 18″.

The well-trained eye can shift focus from any distance to the distance of the front sight. This can be improved with tactical vision training or, in some cases, by wearing prism lenses occasionally.

When the visual system is working as it was designed, it’s common to see people making cold, sighted, first-shot hits (only hits count) quicker than they’re able to make hits with unsighted shooting. (Warmed up is another matter altogether. Once a shooter is warmed up and their senses are calibrated and integrated, point shooting is almost always faster and almost as accurate as sighted shooting…but there’s usually not a warmup period before a self-defense shooting.)

This is why it’s so, SO important to know how you perform cold in addition to how you perform when warmed up.

There are a few ways to handle this…pre-aiming is one. Another is to blend unsighted and sighted shooting together. The situation you’re fed may demand a shot faster than you can get focused on the front sight AND the backstop/surroundings/situation may support you making an unsighted shot or a shot where you’re aware of the sights and/or muzzle alignment, but can’t get the front sight in focus until after the first or second shot.

In any case, the speed that you can get the front sight in focus shouldn’t determine whether or not you use your front sight in practice…just HOW you use your front sight in practice.

Myth No. 4: “I AM focusing on the front sight!”

Oftentimes, when people think and say that they’re focusing on the front sight, they aren’t. They are mostly aware of where their front sight is in space, but they’re really focusing on their target or at a point between their front sight and the target.

All three focuses are fine…target focus, midpoint focus, and front sight focus…IF your targets are telling you that you’re making your hits. Ideally, you want to be able to do all three…but front sight focus is the base-level skill that makes the other two happen easily and quickly.

The problem comes in when people refuse to focus on the front sight because the target gets blurry when they do. So, they try to shift their eyes back and forth quick enough to get both in focus at the same time, not realizing that the whole .10-.15 seconds of blindness happens each time they shift their focus.

And then, when they miss or shoot large groups, they may not know why…or just guess. If a shooter doesn’t know where their sights were aimed as they pressed the trigger, then how do they know whether the miss was because of an aiming error, a trigger press error, or a gun problem?

I was a little slow figuring this out. I had to have shooters do dry fire into cameras and have shooters aim completely inert blue guns at my eye to see it. This is not possible with live fire and most instructors haven’t had the opportunity to experience this in a high enough volume to appreciate it. But when they do, they see that when most people THINK they’re focusing on the front sight, they aren’t.

Busting this myth and getting a shooter to actually focus on their front sight oftentimes causes big jumps in performance, very quickly.

In addition, a front sight focus is one of the most effective ways to eliminate variables and figure out why you’re not making the hits you want. It’s a diagnostic tool. A fundamental shooting skill. And it’s something you can always come back to if/when you miss with other sighting methods or when the demands of the shot are beyond what’s possible for you without using your sights.

And it’s one of the reasons why, a few years ago, I started experimenting with targets that draw focus and aim into the bullseye better than traditional designs — so that shooters could finally focus on the front sight long enough to get the benefits that front sight focus provides.

But I had no idea how big of an impact a simple target design would have.

Once I started seeing the change in shooters on the line and hearing back from shooters who were using the target at home for dry fire, I knew I had to create a splatter target version. You can check it out here now.

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6 of America’s funkiest art towns

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According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Travel Association, nearly half of all vacationers visit an art museum or gallery during their travels. While one would expect to find art on prominent display in large cities such as New York and San Francisco or in artsy hot spots like Santa Fe or Sedona, there are a number of small, offbeat and under-the-radar towns where you’ll find some of America’s most avant-garde and inspirational art.

As writer Jay Gentile from Thrillist put it, “Art thrives on the fringes and blossoms wherever the hell it wants.” So, if you’re ready for some oddball ingenuity and cosmic craziness, let’s check out this select list of America’s funkiest art towns.

Salton Sea, California

In spite of the apocalyptic appearance of much of its sparsely settled shoreline, Salton Sea can boast a glamorous history. It’s a boom-and-bust story, the latest chapter of which finds the scrappy desert community located 60 miles south of Palm Springs emerging as an internationally renowned stage for large-scale outdoor art.

Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when a massive flood of the Colorado River swamped the Imperial Valley, which sits more than 200 feet below sea level. The emergence of the lake brought resorts, expensive homes, bars and restaurants and even Beach Boys concerts. The area became known as the “Salton Riviera” and throughout the 1950s it netted more annual visitors than Yosemite.

By the 1970s, however, the lake — accidentally formed with no overflow or outlet — began drying up and the water became saltier than sea water, killing all the fish and driving away most wildlife and vacationers alike.

While there’s no hope of restoring the lake, a few hundred souls, many of them artists, occupy Salton’s parched shores — which they’ve turned into a larger than life art gallery.

While not nearly as high-tech as Nevada’s annual Burning Man festival, the theme is similar. It’s a weird desert aesthetic that features a number of captivating installations including “The Bombay Beach Drive-In,” consisting of rusted cars facing a blank screen, “Lodestar,” a crashed plane that resembles a carnival ride, and “The Open House,” a large door that leads nowhere. Down on the beach, among the fish bones, there’s a swingset out in the water. This is “The Water Ain’t That Bad, It’s Just Salty.” Dry mouth? Slip into the no-frills Ski Inn, lowest bar in the Western Hemisphere, for a cold beer.

Downtown Bisbee offers beautiful architecture and a mountain backdrop.

Bisbee, Arizona

Sedona usually gets the nod as Arizona’s art capital, but it’s way too slick and snooty for us. We like to head down south to the wee burg of Bisbee — just 11 miles from the Mexican border. The vibes are absolutely cosmic in this hippy hamlet, once a major copper mining center, that’s been attracting artists and counterculture types since the 1960s.

The free-spirit mentality is unmistakable as one strolls through Bisbee’s historic Victorian downtown to discover curious nuggets and colorful splashes of psychedelic art, galleries buzzing with artists at work, trippy “art cars” and creative junk collections displayed as “lawn art.” Cap off an art tour with a craft beer and tasty bar food at Old Bisbee Brewing Company.

Madrid, New Mexico

New Mexico is a very artsy place. Much of the creative inspiration can be ascribed to the vivid landscapes here in the Land of Enchantment. Contributing too is a multicultural mix of Hispanic, Native American and “gringo” heritage, each with its own traditional styles of artistic expression.

While Santa Fe and Taos have become legendary outposts of the art world, a case could be made that just about any town in New Mexico could qualify as an art town. But the state’s most up-and-coming art scene can be found in tiny Madrid (pop. 240), located on the Turquoise Trail (Hwy 14) between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Nearly abandoned following a 19th century mining boom, Madrid began gentrifying as an art village in the 1970s and today it hosts more than 40 businesses — art galleries for the most part, mixed with curio shops, bars and cafes.

Any stroll of gallery row should include a stop at Roadrunner Studio & Gallery to view paintings sculptures and photography. Starshine Gallery features jewelry, upcycled clothing and spiritual healing. The owner is a spirit medium and Reiki master. And the Tapestry Gallery, a weaving studio representing local handweavers and fiber artists is worth a visit. At some point, most visitors find their way to the Mine Shaft Tavern for local microbrews and one of New Mexico’s famous green chile cheeseburgers.

Located three hours from El Paso and almost six from San Antonio, rural Marfa has become an unlikely — but must-see — art destination in recent years.

Marfa, Texas

This speck of a town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua Desert in West Texas is a most unlikely location for what has become one of the must-see attractions for the art world. Founded in the 1880s as a railroad water stop, Marfa never really came to life until the Army built an airfield there to train its pilots during World War II. Many residents left when the base closed and most who remained took up ranching.

Things changed in 1971 when the well-established minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City. He bought up and restored abandoned buildings — airplane hangars and massive brick artillery sheds — at the base and filled them with his large-scale works, including his signature milled aluminum boxes and some notable neon light installations by Dan Flavin. A stroll through a scrubby pasture leads to a scattering of large concrete boxes — 15 of them — as resolute and remote as the landscape.

In 1976, Judd bought 400 acres of nearby ranchland where he built his home along with more permanent art spaces. Since his death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy and his 400-acre property: the Chianti Foundation and the Judd Foundation. The Chianti Foundation occupies more than 30 buildings in Marfa and has permanent displays of the work of 13 artists.

In recent years, a new wave of artists has moved to Marfa to live and work. As a result, a slew of new gallery spaces has opened in the downtown area — along with new shops, bars and restaurants. Hard to miss is Marfa’s favorite food truck — the omnipresent and world-famous Food Shark — serving up “Mediterranean-by-way-of-West-Texas” grub. Popular too is the Lost Horse Saloon, a genuine cowboy bar offering pool, cold beer and A/C.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, Eureka Springs attracts plenty of visitors with its hot springs, wide-ranging entertainment venues, shopping and dozens of art galleries and studios. In this town of 2,000, more than 300 are working artists.

The town is a work of art in itself, thanks to its gorgeous Victorian architecture and winding up-and-down streets and lanes. The entire city limits of about two square miles have been designated a National Historic District.

The best of Eureka Springs’ Victorian architecture can be seen on Bathhouse Row where the landmark 1886 Crescent Hotel, the Palace Bath House and Basin Park Hotel are built around the town’s natural hot springs.

While some galleries lean toward touristy crafts, there’s quite a variety of excellent artwork on display. For example, instrument maker Ron Lutz strums on a tenor ukulele he’s crafted from a vintage cedar cigar box. At Fantasy & Stone you will find whimsical clay masks, stained glass creations, hand-forged steel, turned wood, rare jasper spheres and crystals. Upscale Quicksilver Gallery exhibits the talents of more than 100 local, regional and national artists creating works including wildlife watercolors, functional and decorative ceramics, jewelry and blown glass.

Chelsea’s Corner Café — a classy dive bar with live music and tasty pizza — is a popular hangout for locals and visitors alike.

Hamilton, New Jersey

Visitors to Hamilton Township, tucked away between Trenton and Princeton, are greeted by sculptures. They are scattered here and there. But they’re just a taste of what’s in store for anyone venturing onto the Grounds for Sculpture. Formerly the local fairgrounds, this 42-acre sculpture park houses more than 270 sculptures in a leafy garden-like setting — complete with roaming peacocks.

The park features work ranging from wildly abstract to ultra-realistic — the latter style embodied in an extensive collection of bronzes by the park’s founder John Seward Johnson II, grandson of Robert Wood Johnson, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson. He is famous around the world for his life-size and very much lifelike tromp-l’oeil painted bronze statues of human characters. A whimsical example of his work in Hamilton reveals a group of bronze figures casually dining beside a psychedelically adorned pond.

Van Gogh Café at the Grounds offers French-inspired baked goods, coffee and other drinks. Rat’s Restaurant, named for the famed “The Wind in the Willows” character, serves country French cuisine for lunch and dinner — or you can picnic in the park with takeout from Rat’s.

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Are you ready to plug in?

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If predictions from auto industry experts are right, your next set of wheels could well be powered by electricity.

According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roads is projected to reach almost 20 million by 2030 — up from just 1 million in 2018. There is no question the future of electric transportation is evolving at a breakneck pace.

Tesla leads the world’s production of EVs with its fleet of three all-electric models pouring off assembly lines at the rate of 500,000 per year. Second place Volkswagen Group is fast closing ground, however, with global production of five EV models approaching 232,000 in 2020 — and industry insiders say VW will top Tesla within a year or two.

General Motors plans to completely phase out internal combustion powered vehicles (gas and diesel) by 2035. Bettering GM, Volvo has committed to sell only electric vehicles by 2030. Volkswagen hasn’t confirmed as much, but has hinted its conversion might happen sooner than that.

Incentivizing the adoption of EVs in the U.S. is a federal tax credit for most electric vehicles for up to $7,500. That is, except for Tesla and GM, whose output has exceeded the credit’s cutoff of 200,000 vehicles sold. A number of states, led by California, also offer tax credits for the purchase or lease of EVs.

Among the crop of new EVs still eligible for the federal tax break, there are three that we think rate as best buys based on performance, driving agility and comfort, interior design and driving range.

First and most exciting is Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E. It’s a crossover (an SUV built on a car-based platform) that offers Tesla Model Y-like performance, including impressive driving dynamics, acceleration (0-60 in 5.1 seconds) and versatility.

Roughly the same size as a Ford Escape, the Mach-E blends typical SUV proportions with some characteristic Mustang styling features. It is the first Ford vehicle to be designed specifically as an electric vehicle. Test reports suggest the driving experience is exciting enough for the Mach-E to earn the Mustang badge. Driving range with the standard battery is 230 miles, but there’s an optional 98.8 kWh battery pack that should provide 300 miles on a charge. MSRP range is $43,895 to $59,300 (for a forthcoming GT Performance version).

Tops in the luxury family sedan category is the classy Volvo XC40 Recharge. Based on the company’s highly regarded gasoline-powered XC40 SUV, this buggy is as fashionable as it is peppy and practical. Keys to its appeal: an upscale interior with plenty of legroom for five, advanced safety features and a voice-controlled infotainment system.

The Recharge is Volvo’s answer to the Mercedes Benz EQC and Tesla’s Model Y. Its 75 kWh battery powers a dual-motor powertrain with a total of 402 horsepower transferred through a standard all-wheel drive system. It is super-fast for such a heavy vehicle (4,740 lbs.), easily recording sub-5-second zero to 60 times. Range for Volvo’s first plug-in EV is a modest 208 miles, but its MPGe rating is impressive at 85 city/72 highway. Prices start at about $55,000 — but remember, with the tax break that figure drops to $47,500.

Those seeking an affordable electric subcompact SUV need look no further than the Hyundai Kona EV. Comparative reviews show it to be competitive with the much more expensive Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4. It’s a stylish crossover SUV that offers exceptional fuel economy (132 MPGe/city and 108 MPGe/highway) and many standard features including a bevy of active safety assists.

The Kona’s sporty handling and 201-horsepower electric motor powered by a 64 kWh battery pack make it fun to drive throughout its 258-mile range. With a 0 to 60 time of 6.4 seconds, the Kona EV is a bit quicker than its gasoline-powered counterpart, and its top speed of 104 mph indicates that it should have no problem keeping up with traffic on the interstate.

Some rivals are more spacious, but Kona’s great blend of attributes for such a modest price makes it a top choice in its class. Prices start at $37,390.

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10 ways to vacation lavishly during the pandemic

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As the world slowly starts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers are beginnings to set their eyes on luxury travel in 2021. After all, so many of us are overdue for lavish experiences and some much-deserved relaxation.

While luxury travel during the pandemic is possible, it is important to remember to follow CDC guidelines to ensure your health and safety. Experts continue to recommend social distancing, wearing masks, taking viral tests before and after traveling, and following local guidelines.

In our guide below, we have listed the top 10 travel tips during COVID to ensure you have the safe and lavish vacation you have been dreaming of.

1. Reserve a Pedigree Flight Experience

The first step in planning a regal vacation involves booking a private jet charter. When you fly on a private jet, you will experience a tailored flight that will exceed your every expectation.

Request the chef to whip up your favorite meal or hire a massage therapist to help you get into a vacation state of mind. Whatever you want, your flight crew is always one step ahead of you.

2. Pick Your Preferred Aircraft

When you fly on a private jet, you get to choose the aircraft with all the finest amenities you desire. Private jets provide the ultimate comfort and the latest in technology, ensuring your flight experience is out of this world.

Pick a jet with a private bedroom or tricked-out entertainment system and lounge area. Whether you want a small and intimate light aircraft or a spacious heavy jet, the choice is yours when you fly private.

3. Choose a Place Where You Can Socially Distance

When it comes to luxury travel in 2021, skip the crowded cityscapes. Instead, pick an inviting destination where you can indulge without interacting with the masses. Maybe that means an exclusive island or ritzy chateau in the mountains. Whether you go for a secluded ranch setting or a glitzy glamping experience, you are in for an epic treat.

4. Consider Eco-Tourism or Nature Escapes

Who said nature cannot be lavish? Not us! Book a nature-inspired retreat where you can revel in the great outdoors. Or, book a private eco-tour in the desert or reserve an elite meditation adventure in the jungle.

Nothing is more rejuvenating than some fresh air and sunshine. And the best part? You may learn something about the ecosystem and yourself along the way.

5. Look for Destinations with Low COVID Cases

Some destinations are more fortunate than others when it comes to their current COVID rates. When looking for a fantastic destination for your next grand vacation, look into places that have the lowest COVID cases.

For instance, destinations like Fiji, the British Virgin Islands, Laos, and The Solomon Islands are reporting far fewer cases than the rest of the world. That said, be sure to look into travel restrictions and guidelines, as some destinations may be limiting visitors at this time.

6. Reserve Your Own Space

Now is not the time to cram into an over-crowded hotel. And why would you want to? If you are really going for an opulent experience, pick a place to stay and avoid the masses all at once.

Look into a villa or spacious mansion where you have the entire place to yourself. Or choose a hotel where you can book the entire floor and use a private elevator. There are plenty of dazzling places to stay that you can make your safe haven.

7. Travel with a Small Pose

When it comes to planning your high-class getaway, skip the big entourage. While you may have loved traveling with your ten closest friends or your extended family in the past, now is the time to go small. Book a romantic retreat for two or plan a great adventure with your best friend. Better yet, take that solo vacation you have been dreaming of for years.

Health experts still recommend social distancing with people who are outside your household unit, so it is best to travel in groups with those who have already been tested for the virus or received their vaccinations.

8. Take Private Transportation

One major travel tip during COVID is to book private transportation during your extravagant travels. Hiring your own private SUV or limousine driver will provide you with a safer, fancier experience.

During your trip, you will want to avoid crowded situations, which includes city buses and trains. What is more, when you have your private driver, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Private transportation gives you the freedom to explore your vacation destination on your terms.

9. Focus on R&R

In the past, you may have wanted to see and be seen on your lavish vacations. Perhaps that meant getting access into the hottest clubs in Miami or scoring front-row tickets to a sold-out concert in Brazil.

However, luxury travel in 2021 may include more secluded activities and “me time.” That might mean booking outdoor facials and massages under a palm-tree canopy or booking a villa with a private hot tub for soaking. Given the stress of the last year, more travelers are turning toward vacations that are focused on rest and rejuvenation.

10. Enjoy Longer, Less Frequent Vacations

While many experts are still urging people to stay home during the pandemic, for those who do decide to travel, they’re choosing longer, more intimate vacations over shorter, more frequent trips. In fact, many believe this will be the new way of travel in 2021 and beyond.

If you plan to travel during the pandemic, consider booking one long vacation that may span a few weeks. Not only will this give you the opportunity to fully unwind and relax, but it will also allow you to get more familiar with the destination. After all, it can be tricky to see and do everything when you’re jamming everything into a few days.

Ready to jet set off your fabulous vacation? Start by reserving your private jet today.

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