Four Favorite Frank Lloyd Wright Destinations

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, Taliesin, Taliesin West and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are just a few of the places to see Wright’s all-American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been having a big year. Sixty years after his death in 1959, both his life and his architecture continue to fascinate, influence and inspire.  So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named a group of his great works World Heritage Sites.* Spanning 50 years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, these buildings represent the first modern architecture designation in the U.S. on the prestigious list.  

Here, I cover one of my favorite Wright sites, the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas, and three of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the UNESCO list —Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   The prolific architect built more than 400 buildings so you can find examples of his work all across the country.  There’s even a fantastic Wright-designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend a little reading to”find Mr. Wright” before you visit his buildings.

Reading the Wright Stuff

Even if you’re not an architecture buff or a design maven, you should add a Frank Lloyd Wright site to your itinerary when you’e traveling—for two reasons.  First, Wright’s Prairie Style is considered the first uniquely American style of architecture.  Before Wright, prominent American architects followed the more ornate style of European designers, like the Beaux-Arts style that dominated the “White City” buildings and monuments at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Wright hated that. Instead of piling on the classical embellishments, he sought to make buildings blend with the landscape. 

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita, Kansas

If your house has an open floor plan, wide expanses of windows or an attached garage, you can thank Frank.  These are his among many ideas that were considered radical at the time but are common now.  Wright embraced new technologies, designs and materials ,to push the boundaries of architecture, sometimes resulting in failure or really expensive repairs for those trying to maintain his buildings. If you talk to people who live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you’ll seldom hear stories of cozy comfort.  They’re drafty.  And take a look some of the angular furniture and you’ll see why form doesn’t always follow function.  Nonetheless, he had a huge impact that continues today. and most of the currently trendy mid-century modern style bears a remarkable resemblance to Wright’s designs. To better understand his design philosophy see, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine.

The second reason to visit Wright buildings isn’t quite so intellectual.  He was simply a fascinating character.  Not exactly a paragon of virtue, he left his first wife and six children for Mamah Borthwick, the spouse of a client.  That tragic story is the subject of Nancy Horan’s fictionalized work, Loving Frank.  Even his fans admit he was an arrogant self-promoter and a flawed genius.  I suggest Meryle Secrest’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest for the whole story.   for the whole story.  

Now for some exploration:

Allen House, Wichita, Kansas

exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita Kansas

At the Allen House, located in Wichita’s historic College Hill neighborhood, you’ll find all the traits of Wright’s Prairie Style residential architecture in one lovely home . Named after its first owners, newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife, Elsie, it was the last of Wright’s famous Prairie Houses.  Outside you’ll see Wright’s distinctive long, low horizontal lines with low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows.  Explore a bit of the area around Wichita and you that see how that horizontal theme and earth tones of the house match the landscape.

Said Wright, “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,”…“The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” The Allen house is one of the best examples I’ve seen in which spaces open to the outdoors.  And it retains.more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass and several new-for-their-time innovations, such as wall-hung toilets and an attached garage.

Taliesin—Spring Green Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin

As a child Wright spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the rolling farmland of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.  There he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature that came to influence his work.  He returned to this valley to build his home and studio called Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”) on an 800-acre estate outside Spring Green.  Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” 

A view of the valley from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Strolling outside Wright’s home, with its dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand how his architectural philosophy developed.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin as described in Loving Frank.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people including Borthwick and her children, and set the house on fire. 

Taliesin West—Scottsdale, Arizona

Angles on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

The rugged desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a stark to the lush rolling hills of Wisconsin.   Yet, after several bouts of illness, Wright built Taliesin West for greater winter comfort.  He called it his desert laboratory with buildings that were largely experimental and always changing and expanding.  Taliesin West grew to include a drafting studio, dining facilities, two theaters, a workshop, Wright’s office and private living quarters, and residences for apprentices and staff.   Each building is connected through a series of walkways, terraces, pools and gardens that meld with the surroundings. 

Still experimenting with geometric shapes and volumes, Wright designed much of the interior furniture and decorations.  He convinced young architecture students to not only pay for a Taliesin apprenticeship but also to build some of the furniture and appear in plays in the Taliesin West theater.  Taliesin West is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin where you can see students at their drafting tables..

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—New York City

exterior of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s last building celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.  It opened in 1959, the year he died.  It’s a complete departure from his Prairie Style days  of the Allen House and shows the evolution his thinking over a long career.  With the Guggenheim, the low-slung buildings with sharp angles and earth tones are gone, replaced by soaring circular white spaces. At the time, critical opinions varied from “the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” to “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After a three-year restoration of its interior, the Guggenheim reopened to great acclaim. Now  the entire Wright building is open to the public for the first time with spaces that had been used for storage and offices converted into galleries. As a capper to his long career, it seems just fine that the Guggenheim is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright and his “unconventional life.”

The circular interior of the Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work at the Allen House. (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

* The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritiage Sites are Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL), Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, IL), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, CA), Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, WI), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY).

A Road Trip Through The Flint Hills of Kansas: Part Two

The second half of a road trip through the Flint Hills of Kansas reveals more about modern life on the prairie and the pioneer spirit of the ranchers, entrepreneurs and artists who make the Flint Hills their home.

In my previous article, I covered a few of the surprises that await travelers to the Flint Hills if they leave the freeway and explore the tallgrass prairie of Kansas. But, the fun of a road trip here in the center of America is as much about meeting the people as seeing the unique environment of the prairie. 

They’re the people bestselling Kansas author Sarah Smarsh wrote about in a New York Times op-ed “Something Special is Happening in Rural America” where she reported “a prairie trend of young people, drawn by family ties and affordable entrepreneurship, returning to rural and small-town homes” and bringing new life to the region. 

Says Smarsh, “From where I sit, they are heroes of the American odyssey — seeing value where others see lack, returning with the elixir of hard-won social capital to help solve the troubles of home.” Some are young, yes, but you’ll also meet people staking a claim in the Flint Hills as a second career. They’re all pioneers, re-settling parts of this region that have emptied out. Like their forebears, they’re ready to take risks and pack with them an outsized dose of imagination and optimism. The newcomers are joining Flint Hills folks who have stayed for generations. They’re happy to share their ranching heritage whether you’re putting down stakes or just passing through.

Where the Deer and the Antelope and the Symphony Play

the audience at Symphony in the Flint Hills,
The massive audience enjoys the Symphony in the Flint Hills, which presents the Kansas City Symphony annually in spectacular prairie settings. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Tourism)

For imagination and optimism, you can’t beat The Symphony in the Flint Hills. Who would think of hauling gigantic pieces of sound equipment, generators, huge tents, stages, and the musicians of the Kansas City Symphony to a location in the wild tallgrass prairie? That’s while working to protect the delicate terrain below the feet of the 7,000-plus people who attend the annual event.  And gutsy? Consider the likelihood of the Kansas weather holding out for an outdoor event in this land of twisters.

The Symphony in the Flint Hills debuted in June 2006 and has moved every year to different Flint Hills sites. The event also features educational activities and speakers who explore a variety of topics including the ecology, the people and the future of the region.  It gained followers, plenty of press, and drew people in to experience the area’s small towns, activities, and art…until last year.

In 2019, storms slammed the concert venue with howling winds that shredded the huge tents and saturated the ground so completely it made parking in the pastures impossible.  The event was cancelled and that left Symphony in the Flint Hills with huge bills to pay. Yet, with true prairie gumption,  they’ve sprung back and plan to hold the next big event in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, on June 13, 2020.

New Life in Small Towns

Bill McBride is a Chicago architect turned prairie sculptor and conservationist in Matfield Green, Kansas.

Bill McBride loves the prairie. You have to have an overwhelming passion for open spaces, nature and trains, too, to trade Chicago for tiny Matfield Green which sits adjacent to the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and the BNSF railroad. McBride, a Harvard-trained architect ran a successful firm in Chicago and designed prize-winning buildings until he chucked it all and moved to Matfield Green about 13 years ago.  Once a small  town of 350 with shops, a post office and a school of its own, the village almost vanished into the prairie like a tumbleweed until a small band of artists, writers and musicians came here lured by the beauty of the prairie and and affordable real estate.  They’ve upped the population to around 60.  

Artist Bill McBride stands aside his work, “Timber Arches,” on the PrairyArt Path in Matfield Green, Kansas.

Now McBride concentrates on sculpture.  Our journey with Prairie Earth Tours stopped to see his work along the PrairyArt Path. It makes a great place to take in McBride’s large sculpture installations while strolling through prairie grass and flowers, over a stone arch bridge, and through the remnants of Matfield Green’s historic cattle pens.  Also on the property: old railroad bunkhouses that once housed workers for the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad.  They’re among the very few such bunkhouses left in the country and lasted only because they were used as storage.  McBride and friends restored the bunkhouses and turned them into guest casitas now called Matfield Station, and you can rent them on Airbnb.  

For a more posh place to rest your head, check into the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion, Kansas, where you’ll meet other modern-day prairie pioneers.  Wichita natives, Jeremy and Tammy Ensey operate the Elgin which was built in 1886 and billed as “a monument to Marion’s glory and a common pride to citizens.” The hotel offered 42 rooms and shared bathrooms. From those glory days, it gradually collapsed into disrepair before it was renovated and re-opened in 2009.

Tammy Ensey greets guests at the door of the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion, Kansas.
salad at Elgin Hotel
A colorful salad at the Historic Elgin Hotel’s restaurant, Parlour 1886.

Guests of the Elgin’s shared-bathroom days in the 1800s would be astonished to see its 12 plush suites with bathrooms equipped with jacuzzi tubs and spa showers. The Enseys took over the property three years ago and added a restaurant, Parlour 1886, and imported executive chef Michael Trimboli from New York City. 

Back at the Ranch

A good portion of the Flint Hills lies in Chase County, or simply “the county,” to many locals. In his book PrairyErth, William Least Heat-Moon describes Chase County as the most easterly piece of the American West.  The county, he says, “looks much the way visitors want rural western America to look.” Drive the backroads here—with vast open spaces, cattle ranches and wild mustangs—and you’ll see just what he’s talking about.

The county looks much the way visitors want rural western America to look.

We stopped by Pioneer Bluffs Center for Ranching Heritage,  a 12-acre homestead that is now a National Historic District.  Their mission is to preserve the heritage of the Flint Hills and to educate the public about ranching in history and how it’s practiced today. You can tour Pioneer Bluff’s classic 1908 farm house and log cabin.  They’ve also amassed vintage film clips and filmed a series of interviews with Flint Hills ranchers and cowhands that are great to watch.  It’s especially interesting to hear the pride everyone takes in their long family connection to the land, something few people experience.

Kristen Cloud and her dogs help drive cattle and guide guests on horseback at the Flying W ranch.

For an extra dose of cowboy and cowgirl culture, we spent the night at the Flying W, where fifth generation cattle ranchers Josh and Gwen Hoy run cattle and entertain guests on their 7,000 acre ranch.  I was delighted to learn that Josh Hoy is related renowned plainsman Charles Goodnight, who was the inspiration for the  Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove. See more about Goodnight in my article about Amarillo, Texas

The “calaboose” in one of many guest accommodations at Flying W ranch.

After a chuckwagon dinner, we saddled up for a sunset horseback ride, ride, posse-style–no boring nose-to-tail riding here.  Guests may also participate in cattle drives, go hiking or simply put their boots up and relax in accommodations that include a large lodge, a bunkhouse, and smaller cabins, all appropriately western and rustic.

Mosey Into town

With its old brick streets and vintage buildings, the town of Cottonwood Falls in Chase County looks like a great watering hole for not only the cowboys of the 1850s, but also modern-day cowhands and girls in search of a weekend getaway, too.  Read about the historic red-roofed Chase County Courthouse that crowns Broadway street in my post about the jail there.   Stroll the Broadway’s three-block span and you’ll find art galleries (including the lovely Symphony in the Flint Hills shop/gallery), boutiques, Metamorphosis Day Spa, restaurants and antique stores with merchandise that would please HGTV “Fixer Upper” fans.

The Chase County Courthouse sits at the end of Cottonwood Falls’ main street, Broadway.

After living in southern California for over 20 years, Kris and Pat Larkin settled in Cottonwood Falls to pursue what seems like a very ambitious “second act” in life.  They bought and renovated numerous historic properties (including a church) around town and in neighboring Strong City and turned them into guest houses.  They also opened the popular eatery, Ad Astra.   “We love it here,” says Pat. “The values, affordable entrepreneurialism, and especially the people.”

You can kick back with Flint Hills residents at Emma Chase Friday Night Music. These free jam sessions take place indoors at the Prairie PastTimes artist cooperative. Or, in summer, bring your lawn chair and plunk it down right in the street for a concert in front of the Symphony in the Flint Hills gallery. Depending on the Friday, you’ll hear local musicians perform bluegrass, country and gospel music. 

You may not want to move from your home in the city to put down roots here on the tallgrass prairie. But for a short time, even visitors can tune into the Americana vibe that is part of life in the Flint Hills.



The Old jail, cottonwood falls, Kansas

rectangles and squares formed by metal slats in the old jail in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
Heavy metal slats are riveted together to form a grid of squares and rectangles in the old jail of the Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

Tucked inside the beautiful Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, you’ll find the nastiest, roughest little jail you’ve ever seen. It seems like one night here would be enough to set anyone on the straight and narrow. Still, judging from the names repeatedly scrawled on the walls, there were several inmates who just couldn’t stay away.

Unlike other old jails I’ve seen where cells are enclosed by bars, the cells here are made from crossed slats of heavy metal. They form a pattern of rectangles and squares that creates a dreary feeling, impenetrable and unforgiving. Nonetheless, it’s fun to see if you’re only there for a visit. You get there through the jury room adjacent to the imposing courtroom.

With its red mansard roof, the Chase County courthouse is a Kansas landmark

The ugliness of the jail contrasts with the beauty of the rest of the building which was built in the French Renaissance style. Completed in 1873 the Chase County Courthouse is the older Kansas courthouse still in use. It’s constructed constructed of walnut and limestone, topped with a red mansard roof that stands high over this Flint Hills prairie town.

The courthouse is characterized by the distinctive shape of the roof.  Standing 113-feet tall, you can see the courthouse and its red mansard roof from vantage points throughout the county on most days. 

While you’re at the courthouse, be sure to look for more shapes in the architecture.

Look up from the bottom of the spiral staircase Chase County courthouse
more shapes to see in the staircase at the chase county courthouse
Looking down from the third floor of the Chase County courthouse

Spirituality and Travel

cover of book Near the Exit offthebeatenpagetravel.com

Death and travel don’t seem the happiest pairing for a travel book.  Honestly, that’s not a trip I’m eager to take any time soon.  Yet travel writer Lori Erickson weaves those topics together in her new book Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper with surprisingly upbeat results.  

cover of book Holy Rover offthebeatenpagetravel.com

She’s a deacon in the Episcopal church so, it’s not surprising that Lori’s travels have a spiritual direction.  Her previous book,  Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God, is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world. 

Now, partly as a result of her brother’s unexpected death and her mother’s move to a memory care facility, Near the Exit takes a slightly different approach to travel. She investigates how cultures confront death, from the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, to Mayan temples in Mexico, to Maori communities in New Zealand, and to plenty of more commonplace sites such as nursing homes and graveyards.  It’s a very readable, wise and, yes, funny book that will certainly inspire me to appreciate many of the places I travel in a new light, hopefully with the Grim Reaper on another bus.

Here Lori answers my questions about travel inspiration and our ultimate destination:

photo of Lori Erickson author of book Near the Exit www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Author Lori Erickson

How and when did you decide to combine spirituality and travel?

I’ve been interested in these two topics for much of my adult life. About 15 years ago I realized that I could actually combine them–in fact, pilgrimage is almost certainly the oldest form of travel, and is still of major interest to millions of people today. So at that point I decided I wanted to specialize in the intersection of travel and spirituality, which I define very broadly. While I’m Christian, I’ve wandered a lot in my faith journey and draw inspiration from many other traditions, especially Buddhism.

Your book focuses on mortality as well as travel.  Would you briefly discuss a couple of places you’ve been where the culture offers exemplary ways to deal with our own mortality?  Can such cultural travel help ease the fear of death or the loss of loved ones?

In my book I write about the small Colorado town of Crestone, which has the nation’s only non-denominational, open-air cremation site. While I didn’t see a cremation there, I talked to a variety of residents about what it means to have this option in town, and what it’s like to see their neighbors’ remains go up in smoke. It’s clearly a powerful experience and a profound teaching in impermanence. They also do the preparation for death very well, with strong community support and communal rituals that help ease the transition, both for dying people and for their loved ones. Crestone has a lot to teach us about dying well.

sign pointing to the cremation grounds near Crestone, Colorado
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Near the town of Crestone, Colorado which has America’s only non-denominational, open-air cremation site. (Photo: Bob Sessions)

The other place that I found to have a very healthy attitude toward mortality was the Day of the Dead Festival I attended at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. On November 1-2 in Mexican communities, the dead are said to return for a visit. People create altars that honor their loved ones with photos, mementoes, and their favorite foods, and picnic on their graves. I like the idea that the dead come back for those days, and then leave again. It’s a very healthy response to death, I think. You don’t focus on it all the time, but you know that for those two days, you can remember and grieve and celebrate, all at the same time.

I  focus on literary travel; you target spiritual/religious locales.  Your interest has certainly taken you to some unusual places—grave yards, cremation grounds, pyramids. In what ways does having a particular focus or field of interest enhance your travel? For example does it offer a way to go beyond routine tourism and to interact with the people who live in your destination?  Do you have other suggestions for subjects/interests around which to organize a trip?

angel weeping on a tomb in Rome www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
An angel in Rome’s protestant cemetery. (Photo: Bob Sessions)

I love all kinds of travel, but I think having some kind of focus for trips deeply enriches the experience. It might be gardens or art or food or beaches or a wide variety of other topics. The point is that you’re able to focus on certain things and ignore others, which can deepen your understanding and enjoyment. Travel can sometimes feel like a firehose of impressions. Having a sense for what’s most important to you can help you deal with that rush of too much information and too many new experiences. Pretty much anything can be a focus for travel. People should think about what gives them pleasure and what they’re curious about.

I loved the story about your New Age travel companions in Mexico who constantly reported having past-life experiences and spoke “galactic.”  One in particular said she had received a message from the Egyptian god Thoth.  OMG. I think it would be difficult to travel with a group like that and it sounds like they drove your husband, Bob, a philosophy professor, a little nuts.  We’ve all been in trips and tours with travel companions who were a tad irritating.  Any suggestions for how to deal with all this? Lessons learned?

Well, all the best travel stories involve misery, don’t they? Or if not misery, at least trials and irritations. It’s helpful to remember that travel and travail share the same root. It also helps to keep your sense of humor and realize there are times on nearly every trip when you’re going to be irritated or miserable. Just accept that and know that these moments almost always pass pretty quickly. And you can be grateful that those problematic traveling companions won’t follow you home, unless they’re a family member.

I know you strive to meditate and be a contemplative person.  The way travel can be nowadays—airport lines and cancellations, overcrowded tourist sights, rushing from place to place—it seems more like wearing a hair shirt than a soul-satisfying experience.  How do you maintain your lovely, composed self? Maybe you rip off your clerical collar and yell at people, but I don’t think so.

Hah! That’s funny. I have my moments, believe me. But it helps that I grew up on a dairy farm and never went anywhere growing up. I try never to lose sight of the fact that I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities and experiences that I do. And as I said, even the hard parts make for interesting stories and rich writing material. 

Six ways to to Explore Las Cruces, New Mexico

Add Las Cruces, New Mexico, to your list of U. S. travel destinations.  You’ll find farms and food, history, “doggone” friendly folks, fossils and the great outdoors.

Looking for more on New Mexico? See my previous posts:

Roswell New Mexico and Space Aliens, Kimo Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico Chiles, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

giant roadrunner statue in New Mexico
This 20-foot tall roadrunner perches at the rest stop on I-10 near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The roadrunner is New Mexico’s state bird.
closeup of roadrunner statue made of trash in New Mexico
Look up close and you’ll see this roadrunner is made from discarded junk such as old tennis shoe soles.

Located about 45 miles northwest of El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces has long been a destination for more modern travelers and traders. In the late 1500s, explorer Don Juan de Oñate trekked into what is now New Mexico in search of gold on behalf of the king of Spain. On a route that was later known as the Camino Real, his group worked their way through the great Pass of the North (modern-day El Paso) and then north to what would become Santa Fe. Las Cruces makes a great destination for modern travelers following that route to Albuquerque and Santa Fe or on the route my husband and I followed on an RV trip westward to San Diego. Here are some tips to explore the area.

Farms and Farmers Markets 

sheep at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Sheep–shorn and unshorn–at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

For such dry country, the Las Cruces area offers remarkable agricultural bounty.  As you drive around you’ll see fields of chile plants, nut trees, vegetables and livestock. For an up-close look, visit the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.   It’s an outstanding, interactive museum with indoor exhibits, and outdoor demonstrations about all aspects of New Mexico Farm life and  plenty of live farm animals to see.  

blacksmith at New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum Las Cruces, New Mexico www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Find out about iron working and blacksmithing from Billy Provence.
white horse at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Horses and many other farm animals are at home at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

The bounty of those farms and ranches is on display at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces, typically on Saturdays & Wednesdays, 8:30 am to1 pm. You’ll find nearly 300 local merchants, goods and growers lined up along seven city blocks on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces.

baked goods vendor at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Pick up a loaf of bread to take home.
New Mexico State Students teaching nutrition www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Friendly students from New Mexico State University were on hand to teach about good nutrition.
painted gourds at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
You’ll find fantastic crafts and homemade products.
selling honey at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Luchador Food Truck at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
The Luchador food truck is one of several at the market. Be sure to try their fabulous breakfast torta.
Rio Grand Theater Las Cruces
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While you stroll Main Street you can drop in at several of the city’s museums and check out the tile work at the Rio Grande Theater

Wine & Dine

Las Cruces is proud of its wine production, too.  We sampled wine and ate dinner at the Lescombes Winery & Bistro (formerly called St. Clair Winery) where you can also purchase a variety of New Mexico wines.

counter with wine and food menu at NM Vintage www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Friendly greeting at NM Vintage in Mesilla, near Las Cruces.

Another day we visited the tiny town of Mesilla, just outside Las Cruces. We hunkered down at a little bistro called NM Vintage to share a wine flight and a few snacks.

menu and snack food at NM Vintage
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man sipping wine at NM Vintage
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Relaxing on the patio at NM Vintage.

Mesilla is also one of my favorite stops in the area for dining. Not surprisingly, the area abounds with great Mexican food.  At ¡Ándele! Dog House! adjacent to the fancier IAndele! restaurant, we drank craft beer and ate tacos and enormous burrito plates on the covered patio where we could take our dog.

A Bit of History–and Shopping!

statue of Virgin Mary and exterior of Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com'
The Basilica of San Albino graces the main plaza in Mesilla, new Las Cruces.

Mesilla reminds me of how Santa Fe must have looked before it was discovered by all the tourists. Many cultural and historical activities take place on the plaza. At the north end, rises the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley, originally established in 1852 to give religious support to refugees from Mexico. Another Mesilla building was the site where Western Legend Billy the Kid once stood trial for murder.

In Mesilla, you’ll also find gift shops, galleries and Native American jewelry shops. Nambe, the design company that creates contemporary serveware, barware, home décor and gift items, has a terrific outlet on the plaza.

Dog-Friendly Destination

family patting golden retriever at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
At the Las Cruces farmers market.

We often travel with our dog, Duffy, so I was particularly happy to find that the Las Cruces area prides itself on being dog-friendly. Canines are great at breaking the ice with strangers and that was doubly true in Las Cruces. You can hardly get through the farmers market without chatting with everyone who wants to see your dog, hear about where you’re from and offer advice on places to visit in the area.

golden retriever at COAS books in Las Cruces www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Dogs are welcome at COAS books in Las Cruces….
Chihuahua looking out of doorway in Mesillia, NM www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
and may welcome you at Mesilla Book Center.
inside Mesilla Book Center www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Buffalo and books at the Mesilla Book Center.

On a long RV road trip, it’s great to stay in a hotel once in a while. In Las Cruces we checked into TownPlace Suites, a dog-friendly Marriott brand where the staff offered a friendly greeting to the dog owners, too.

two women greeting golden retriever at TownPlace Suites Las Cruces offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Our greeting at TownPlace Suites.

Get Outdoors in Las Cruces

view of Organ Mountains Las Cruces New Mexico www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Watch out for fossils while hiking in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Finally, New Mexico is an outdoor-lover’s paradise and Las Cruces is no exception. Sadly, howling dust storms kept us away from White Sands National Monument about an hour from Las Cruces.  It was amazing to see how the wind whipped up a giant white cloud of gypsum dust from the monument, which made it impossible for hiking, let alone the photography I had hoped for. Next time.

However, other outdoorsy possibilities abound. We headed for the Dripping Springs Natural Area located about 10 miles east of Las Cruces, on the west side of the Organ Mountains. It features easy trails that show off desert scrub and low elevation pinon-juniper and oak woodlands and sometimes wildlife viewing, including rattlesnakes.

warming sign on trail in Organ Mountains www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com

Be careful. It seems like hikers regularly stumble over fossils around Las Cruces. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures have wandered around New Mexico, for millennia and this dry and rocky Chihuahuan desert ecosystem provides the perfect conditions to preserve ancient fossils. That’s why they’re still around for trip over. I love these stories!

For example,  in 2017, a nine-year-old boy named Jude Sparks stumbled over the remains of a rare stegomastodon while hiking with his family in the nearby Organ Mountains.  The boy told the ABC-TV affiliate in El Paso, that his older brother told him it was “just a big fat rotten cow”  but it was actually a fantastic a find for the world of paleontology.  In 2014, a bachelor party also stumbled over a stegomastadon.  So, watch your step. Or, head to the hallways of New Mexico State University where the Zuhl Museum contains a large number of fossils of invertebrate and vertebrate animals from all over the world, including trilobites, corals, ammonites, insects, and fishes.

Tour of Seattle : What to Read and do

glass flowers at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle
Giant glass flowers in the conservatory at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

As U.S. cities go, Seattle surely tops the list of “places with the most diverse activities in the smallest geographic area.” My book,  Off The Beaten Page Travel: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways features a chapter on Seattle with an essay, reading list and an itinerary. It’s a great tool to start planning your Seattle adventure. And see my previous posts about the Seattle area “All is Not Grey” and “Bainbridge Island/Snow Falling on Cedars”  before planning your trip.

I hadn’t returned to the Emerald City since researching the book, but I just spent a week in the Seattle area and sampled a batch of Seattle activities and adventures. Here are some of my favorite ideas for Seattle travel, or to enjoy as a reader.

Author Maria Semple’s Seattle
First, I heartily recommend author Maria Semple as your Seattle traveling companion. I can’t imagine a more fun person to travel with –via her books set in Seattle, most famously Where’d You Go Bernadette which was recently made into a movie with Kate Blanchette.

On my way home from Seattle, I read her most recent book Today Will Be Different. If you liked Bernadette, you’ll enjoy Today Will Be Different. Both feature women struggling with motherhood, middle age, and “finding themselves.” They’re both hilarious, rather improbable and take readers on a fun tour of Seattle landmarks and neighborhoods.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

One of many colorful exhibits inside at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.
Colorful Chihuly art outside where the gardens are as gorgeous as the glass.

Seattle salutes famed Pacific Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a stunning gallery and garden (and restaurant!), Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, right under the iconic Space Needle. If you love art, gardens, or simply eye-popping color, this is the place for you.

Olympic Sculpture Park

You can see the famous Space Needle through Alexander Calder’s sculpture “The Eagle” in Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington
View of the Seattle waterfront from the Olympic Sculpture Park

Just a short walk down the hill from Seattle Center, you’ll find the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space. Sit amidst giant works such as Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” (see above) with a view of Seattle Center and the Space Needle in back of you and the waterfront and Olympic mountains in front. It doesn’t get much better.

Capitol Hill

Local author section at Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle’s most hip and edgy neighborhood? For most people, the answer is Capitol Hill. Here, you’ll find one of my favorite bookstores, Elliott Bay Book Company, where I happily spent an hour admiring the store and gathering books from their list of staff picks and book club ideas.

For ice cream, don’t miss Seattle classic, Molly Moon Ice Cream –Honey Lavender! Salted Carmel! Melted Chocolate! Along with a cone, I bought their cookbook to make my own Molly Moon at home.

Also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, you’ll find the uber-cool Starbucks Roastery and tasting room. There’s hardly a place in the entire world that doesn’t have a Starbucks outpost. But, in Seattle coffee lovers can make a pilgrimage to the first Starbucks, at Pike Place Market. Caffeine fiends will also enjoy a visit to the Roastery, a Disneyland for coffee lovers. Grab some java (and pizza, pastry, and much more) and watch them roast the beans. It’s one of just a few such Starbucks in the world; others are in New York City, Milan and Shanghai.

Reserve ahead for dinner at a neighborhood favorite, the award-winning Sitka and Spruce at the Melrose Market. Peer in the old auto shop’s windows and and see, as Seattle magazine said, “a brick wood-burning oven anchors the open kitchen—nothing sits between diners perched at the long, wooden communal table and the band of bearded chefs busily working nearby.” Super-creative food from the Northwest.

Farther up the hill, we found another side of Capitol Hill–a leafy neighborhood of huge historic homes, quite different the the commercial end of the Hill. We visited Volunteer Park with its lovely conservatory and great views from top of the old brick water tower.

Lake Union for Kayaking

Take advantage of a beautiful day in Seattle by kayaking on Lake Union.

Seattlites are an outdoorsy bunch and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to join them for outside action, especially on the water. We rented kayaks at Agua Verde Paddle Club, not far from the University of Washington. It’s a great way to see Seattle’s famous houseboats (ala the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”), fishing and pleasure boats, parks and the Seattle skyline from the water.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Sure, it’s touristy, but for flowers, food and flying fish, Pike Place Market is fun, no matter how many times you’ve been there. In summer, go early before it gets too crowded to walk through.

Stunning flowers abound at Pike Place Market.
So ugly but so much fun! This fish also spouts water on unsuspecting customers at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

We dined near the market at the Pink Door, in the historic Post Alley. Sitting outside offers a great view of the waterfront, inside an elcletic batch of entertainment (trapeze artists to hot club jazz) and you’ll find great Italian-influenced food anywhere you sit.

Where We Stayed

Downtown: The Hyatt Olive 8. The Olive 8 is eco friendly and just plain friendly. We received one of the most cordial greetings there I’ve ever had at a hotel. It makes a great location to explore downtown, with a short walk to Pike Place Market, great shopping neighborhoods, and it’s close to the Monorail that goes to Seattle Center—anything to avoid driving and parking in Seattle! It’s easy and inexpensive to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown’s Westlake stop and walk a couple of block to the hotel.

Capitol Hill: Gaslight Inn. Housed in and old mansion, this B&B offers a great contrast to big downtown hotels. Super friendly owner Stephen Bennett makes a yummy breakfast and is happy to offer directions to Capitol Hill hot spots. Too hot? There’s a cool pool in back.

The 200th Birthday of Mary Shelley’s Monster, Frankenstein

477px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)2018 is a big year for Mary Shelley as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus.  Frankenstein’s birthday has spawned a new movie about her life, a reissue of the original book,  a host of special events, new analysis of her work and new respect as well.  

It’s hard to grasp the impact the story that Mary Shelley wrote at 18 has had and
continues to have.  Frankenstein is part of our culture and consciousness.  Whether or not you’ve read the book you know Frankenstein (the name of his creator, Victor Frankenstein, not the monster who is nameless) from the old Boris Karloff movie, TV’s Herman Munster or my favorite, Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein.”  He’s in our cereal (Frankenberry), our vocabulary (Frankenfoods) and in our metaphors—”He’s created a monster!”

“I busied myself to think of a story…one which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature.. and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

New Editions, New Analysis

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It’s time to put Frankenstein on your reading list whether its Shelley’s novel or the many new books about Mary Shelley and the cultural impact of her creation. One mark of an enduring classic is that so many people find meaning in it and from so many angles.   Scholars consider it the first work of horror writing, the first work of science fiction and first modern myth.   Fiona Sampson’s new biography In Search of Mary Shelley looks at Shelly’s younger years and how such a young person could create one of the most enduring horror stories in history.

Shelley wrote the book in a time of fascination with electricity and the notion of re-animating the dead.  The 41-oD5gb+iL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_issues surrounding ethics and the dangers of science and technology–gene editing, designer offspring, even social media–are more relevant than ever.  Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of All Kinds examines the moral issues, pitfalls and hubris that may arise in science.  For more reading on the big guy, be sure to take a look at Frankenreads, an international celebration of the Frankenstein’s anniversary for Halloween, organized by the Keats-Shelly Association of America.

Finding Mary Shelley

This year, literary travelers will find events celebrating Mary Shelly and her homely offspring all over the world from the Keats Shelley Museum in Rome to universities, libraries and museums across the U.S.

If you’re in Minneapolis, be sure to visit one of my favorite hidden gems, the Bakken Museum on lovely Lake Harriet.  The museum focuses on the history and nature of electricity and magnetism.  It’s founder, Earl Bakken, created one of the world’s first battery-powered cardiac pacemakers and was also one of the founders of Medtronic which is now the world’s largest medical technology company.  He was fascinated with electricity and its many medical uses. And, with this museum, he sought to inspire others to enjoy and pursue the science surrounding electricity.

The Bakken Museum has a terrific section devoted to Mary Shelley and her story. It includes examples of phantasmagoria (scary slide shows of the time), and many explanations of how the science of the era inspired Shelly’s fiction.  A theater in the exhibit offers a spooky 12-minute show that brings to life the tale the over-reaching scientist, Victor Frankenstein.

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Frankenstein’s laboratory at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

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