Category Archives: United States

Find the Texas of Your Imagination in Amarillo

If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.  The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.

But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.   

Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S.
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Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.  In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.  Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).  Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche.  In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.  The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.  At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.  The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934. 

History Behind the Texas Tales

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A statue of Molly Goodnight and buffalo at the Goodnight Historical Center
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You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.

To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.  It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.  Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time.  Like guns?  They have an immense collection.

Saddle Up

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Phyllis Nickum of Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West

Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.  There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.  Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.

From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.  “This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche.  History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”  She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west. 

Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.  You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.  

Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66. 

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Serving up a 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan

Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains the Route 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.  It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.  Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.  Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.  Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.  

There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.  A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.  Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.

Yellowstone National Park, One of My Favorite Places

 

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Ever since I worked as a waitress in Yellowstone National Park in college it’s been one of my favorite places in the world. A couple of years ago I went there with my family in winter which made it even more special. Very few people, just animals, geysers and solitude.

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Milwaukee Travel — Beyond the Beer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is best known for its German beer culture, its waterfront festivals, and for those of a certain age, TV’s Laverne and Shirley.  Yet, scratch the surface and you’ll find a host of interesting and personal ways to interact with MKE.  Here are a few of my Milwaukee travel favorites.

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Browsing at Bozwell Books

Bozwell Books, of Course

Book lovers in particular should put Bozwell Books, Milwaukee’s famous independent bookseller, at the top of their list. Bozwell, named after James Boswell, the eighteenth-century British biographer, offers friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff and sponsors scads of author readings, signings and events.  It’s the kind of bookstore where you want to wander, browse and then settle in for a while.  You can’t leave without chatting about books and buying several.

Pfister Hotel Literature and Art

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Join the Pfister Hotel’s literary activities.

Speaking of literature, I discovered that the gorgeous Pfister Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, offers art experiences that showcase Milwaukee’s own talent. The Pfister Narrator, a literary artist in residence, hosts seasonal mini-events with book themes, a modern take on a book club, and story prompts for guests and the entire community.   There’s a new narrator every year.  The current narrator, Nicole Mattke, shares her experiences on the narrator blog.

The Pfister exhibits its extensive Victorian art collection – the largest of its kind of any

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Fashion designer Stephanie Schultz is the Pfister’s current artist in residence.

hotel in the world – throughout the hotel.  And, they host a popular Artist-in-Residence program currently featuring fashion designer Stephanie Schultz.  She specializes in historically-inspired couture, a natural fit amidst the hotel’s Victorian art.  Watch and interact with her in a working studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and the public.  

 

Radio Milwaukee 88.9

Radio Milwaukee, an on-air, online, onsite public radio station, uses music as a bridge to bring together the city’s diverse citizens.  Jordan Lee, describes the station as “a town square.”  For visitors to Milwaukee, Thursday is the big day at Radio Milwaukee because they offer building tours at 4:30 and live concerts from local and visiting musicians. The tour starts in the performance space and include the building’s Green Roof which offers views of the Hoan Bridge, Marcus Amphitheater, Walker’s Point and downtown Milwaukee.  After the tour you’ll enjoy live performances at 6:00 and hit the Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee Cafe for coffee, wine and beer and food.

Museums and Motorcycles

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Art in Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Two more well-known Milwaukee destinations are must-dos. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum is my favorite place in the city.  Burke Brise Soleil (the “wings”) opens at 10 a.m., flap at noon, and close when the Museum closes, as weather permits.  The museum is known for modern art, and outstanding collections of folk  and Haitian art.  I was recently there for that museum’s Art in Bloom, which made the snow- in spring weather bearable.  

Finally, tour the Harley-Davidson Museum, with its rows of historic motorcycles for a full throttle experience.  Even if you’re not a “hog” afficianado, it’s a fascinating view of Harley history and motorcycle culture in the U.S.   Look for special events and activities this year as Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary Labor Day weekend.

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The Harley-Davidson Museum is paradise of motorcycle fan and history buffs alike.  Above, an early Harley and a red one that Elvis owned.

The Honolulu Fish Auction

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Wholesalers bid on tuna, opah, snapper and more, fresh off the boat, at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

A Visual Fish Tale

All that goes on behind the scenes at the Honolulu Fish Auction in Honolulu, Hawaii, makes a fairly complex story .  Yet, this photo delivers the gist of it.

It’s around 4:30 a.m.  Fishing boats have arrived in port through the night and unloaded their ocean catch at Pier 38 on Honolulu Harbor.  Auction workers have set out the ice-covered pallets of fish in the damp and extra-cold air of the market building.

Wholesale buyers arrive around 5:00 or earlier to examine the fish–thousands of pounds of tuna, marlin swordfish, snapper, opah and many others–and carefully evaluate it for freshness, fat content and other qualities. At about 5:30, a bell rings and they gather in a competitive scrum around the auctioneer who quickly takes their bids.

These are valuable fish and it’s serious business. A single fish may go for upwards of $1000.  Each fish is tagged with the name of the winning bidder and sent off to the buyer’s wholesale or retail operations, in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Visitors may tour the market.  Afterward, head over to Nico’s restaurant on Pier 38 for breakfast or shop at their market. You can’t get any fresher tuna for sushi or poke than right here.

 

New Orleans at 300

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 There’s nowhere like NOLA.

“New Orleans isn’t like other cities.” That’s what Stella Kowalski said in Tennessee Williams’ most well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire. So true, Stella, so true.

New Orleans Tricentennial

This crazy and fabulous city celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to visit, though I must say, just about any time is fine to visit New Orleans. They’re planning all sorts of events for the celebration including a visit from some Tall Ships.

Over 300 years, New Orleans has evolved, as Stella says, to become very different from other U.S cities.  Tricentennial events aside, the city constantly features such a variety of unusual experiences–parades of second line marchers, drinking everywhere, cemeteries above ground, and the phrase “who dat?,” to name a few–that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how it came to be that way.

New Orleans Literature

Naturally, I look to writers for explanation. One of the great places to do that is the annual Tennesee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival held every March, with authors, playwrights musicians and more. It ends with the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which simply furthers the city’s fun and zany reputation.

“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, New Orleans Mon Amour. John Kennedy Toole’s captures much of the oddnicity of New Orleans in his quirky classic th-2Confederacy of Dunces. Yet, the city is so unusual and has such a reputation for its party atmosphere that it’s easy to pass New Orleans off too simply, as just one big raunchy party on Bourbon Street.

“That’s not the whole picture,” New Orleans author Chris Wiltz told me. “It’s a city of amazing contradictions. People in New Orleans will party until down on Fat Tuesday, but it’s a city of extremely devout Catholics who show up with ashes on their foreheads the next day.  This is a city where Desire Street runs parallel to Piety Street.”

So, head for New Orleans and figure it out for yourself. But read up before you go to best appreciate the city’s many layers and historic complexity. Here’s a brief reading list. Booklovers, while you’re in New Orleans, check out the Garden District Book
Shop and Faulkner House Books.  For more, see my book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.

Fiction:
French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia—Joshua Clark ed.
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza (about Hurricane Katrina)th-1
The Feast of All Saints–Anne Rice, about New Orleans free people of color. And, sample one of her vampire novels before visiting a New Orleans cemetery.
Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole
A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams
All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren

Non-Fiction
Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans—Roy Blount
The Last Madam: A LIfe in the New Orleans Underworld—Christine Wiltz
Zeitoun—Dave Eggers
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill

Silence of a Ghost Town—Grafton, Utah

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Farm buildings, Grafton, Utah

Silence. No people, just empty buildings and cobwebs gathering in the windows.

Aside from the occasional door creaking in the breeze, there’s no place more silent than a ghost town. Travel down a rough dirt road from Utah Highway 9 to find one such place, the desolate Grafton, Utah.

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Grafton’s silent graveyard tells its story.

Beautiful But Brutal

This ghost town was a Mormon settlement located near what is now Zion National Park. Grafton was established in 1859 on beautiful and fertile land in the Virgin River floodplain. (The Virgin River is the one that carved out the spectacular canyon that contains what is now Zion National Park and its the location of one of the world’s most famous hikes, The Narrows.)

Grafton was pretty yes, but not a top-notch place to live. These farmers experienced floods (no surprise in a floodplain) and Indian attacks as well as brutal weather in both summer and winter. Before long, most residents packed up their wagons and headed to nearby Rockville, though the last of them didn’t leave until 1944.

 

Serene Yet Haunting

Now, visitors may stroll around the five buildings that remain from the town’s 30-some structures. Peak into the schoolhouse/church, walk inside a home, wander around farm buildings and the old cemetery. The Grafton Heritage Partnership has restored them.  The surrounding farmland and orchards are still used, but you’ll probably be the only person there.

Enjoy the silence.

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Horses and cattle are the only inhabitants.

 

Arches National Park, Utah

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Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah

The WordPress photo challenge this week is “rounded” which immediately brought to mind my recent trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.  Sculpted by wind, water and time southern Utah is like a geological Disneyland.  It’s no wonder there are five national parks in the region (and some stunning state parks), each quite different but equally amazing.

In Arches, giant rounded rock forms have emerged over thousands of years as potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.

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Park ranger Victoria Coraci was our guide on Arches’s aptly named hike, The Fiery Furnace.

We arrived in Moab during the heat of August, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees.  “Dry” heat or not, that hot!  Consequently, we ducked into a few shops in the afternoon to get out of the heat. One was a terrific bookstore on Main Street in Moab, Back of Beyond Books.  There I discovered the work of the revered environmental writer Edward Abbey. Desert-SolitaireIn Desert Solitaire, which I highly recommend for anyone planning a visit to Arches.

Regarded as one of the finest in American literature, the book recounts his time as a park ranger in Arches and his opinions of the crowds that flock to national parks.  He’d be apoplectic is he could see the throngs now in many parks.  Still, if you go at the right time of year and early or late in the day, you too can experience “desert solitaire.”

We trekked out into Arches at night with Moab photographer Dan Norris for a little starlight photography.  Here’s Dan’s amazing photo of the the Milky Way:

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A photo of rock “fins’ and the Milky Way in Arches National Park.  See more of Dan Norris’s photography and his photo tours see his web site.

 

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities–a New Book

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities coverfrontHot off the press!  My new book Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities is arriving in bookstores and online.  Yay!  It took a lot of really fun dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul to research that book and its finally here.

The Twin Cities boast one of the country’s most vibrant culinary scenes. Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities offers a tasty tour, from downtown fine dining destinations to dive bars, food trucks and the beloved Minnesota State Fair.

Order it online or in Twin Cities book stores and gift shops.  And, to stay in touch with the ever-changing Twin Cities restaurant scene, follow uniqueeatstwincities on Instagram.

A Visit to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City

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The National World War I Museum and Memorial is an iconic landmark in Kansas City.

The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.  No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today.  That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.

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Displays explain the complex chain reaction that brought so many countries into World War I.

The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006.  Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies.  You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.

Not familiar with World War I history?  Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend:  The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.

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The World War I Museum has a Renault FT17 tank, one of five left in the world that saw combat.  

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Posters from World War I encouraged citizens to buy war bonds, enlist in the military and also served in influence public opinion.

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From atop the memorial’s tower, visitors get a perfect view downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

KiMo Theater, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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KiMo Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The KiMo Theater opened on what was then Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque in 1927.   The big new theater was a source of civic pride and boosters held a contest to name the theater. The governor of Isleta Pueblo,  Pablo Abeita, won a prize of $50, a huge sum for the time, for the KiMo name. According to theater history, “it is a combination of  two Tiwa words meaning “mountain lion” but liberally interpreted as ‘king of its kind’.”

It certainly is king of its kind, built in the the “pueblo deco” architectural style. If you think the outside is interesting, you should see the decor on the inside.  Understated it is not. Here are a few scenes from the interior.

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