Sunday, April 6, 2014

Elvis's Graceland… Gotta Do It

          Graceland.  It’s not your standard mansion tour. You travel to Graceland not to ooh and aah over opulence or to be impressed by material wealth, as tourists do when visiting the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.  
          No, you go to Graceland so you can walk where Elvis walked, so you can be where Elvis was, so you can see where Elvis lived—and where he died.  You go to Graceland to immerse yourself in the legend that was Elvis.


Elvis purchased this large house on 13 acres of land for ~$100,000 in 1957.
Now, $100,000 buys little more than a fixer-upper in a bad part of town.
Actually, Graceland is in a bad part of town; the area of Memphis
surrounding the estate has fallen into sad disrepair.
         Does grandeur exist in the home Elvis purchased at the age of 22?  Oh sure—stained glass panels and a grand piano in the stunning all-white living room, a crystal chandelier in the dining room, intricately hand-carved furniture in the family/music room.  But the home also appears much as it must have on August 16, 1977—aging appliances in the kitchen, shag carpet in the family room, a rusted swing set in the back yard. 

          Lisa Marie narrates part of the audio tour and—with reminiscence exclusive to a nine-year-old's memory—her voice radiates pride and wonder as she relates tales of a home overflowing with the presence of her famous father, a place teeming with music and merriment.

Lisa Marie remembers her father entertaining guests in the living room, and she remembers lively "jam" sessions around the piano.

Elvis's final resting place.

         The tour’s final stop is Elvis’s gravesite in the side yard by the pool.  Elvis died at the age of 42.  At the time I thought he was impossibly old.  But now it seems so tragically young.
          The next time you’re in Memphis take a few hours to visit Graceland and absorb the aura of this near mythical entertainer.  You’ll gain a new appreciation for Elvis and his music, and for the high price of fame.
          Graceland.  Gotta do it.  And I’m glad I did.


After the tour, you can add your dollars to the Presley estate by purchasing souvenirs in the gift shop.  I picked up a key chain and a few post cards, shown above.  As per the card in the upper left corner, Elvis was known for his love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Here's a quick quiz:  Can you name one single favorite sandwich of any popular entertainer today?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome, Spring!

          Today, at 12:57 p.m. Eastern Standard Time we mark the Vernal Equinox, the beginning of spring.  But we don't need the calendar to tell us what we can already see and feel—lengthening days,  greening landscapes, warming sunshine.

          It's that time of year when we plan both gardens and summer vacations.  And, for me, it's also time to change the header photo on my blog.  While picking a header for spring, I've decided to use this post to showcase all my header photographs.  Click on any picture to enlarge.  Click on the links to view previous posts.  Enjoy!

A pair of Sandhill Cranes fly across the marsh in
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

The "Holy Ghost" panel, artwork from The Ancients.
The Great Gallery, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. 

A group of Convict Tang swims by, off the waters
of Kauai, Hawaii.

A day at the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Cathedral Valley Overlook, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Fisher Towers trail silhouette, near Moab, Utah.

The  mountains of Southwestern Colorado, near Lake City.
This was my original banner photo.

In addition to travel, Tim and I enjoy gardening.
These pictures are a montage of several year's worth of
jack-o-lanterns carved from our garden's pumpkins.

The San Juan Mountains in Winter,  near Lake City, Colorado.

Snowshoeing is a great winter activity in and around Lake City, Colorado.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Ides of March at the Ed Ball Lodge, Wakulla Springs State Park, Florida

                                      “Beware the Ides of March”
                                                                    William Shakespeare,  from Julius Caesar, 1601


                 Until Shakespeare penned that line warning Julius Caesar of his impending death, the Ides—a day on or about the middle of the month—was not necessarily an ominous date.  For a woman traveling alone, however, any day has the potential to turn dangerous.  I frequently travel alone and am ever vigilant regarding untoward, unseemly, or unsafe circumstances.  

               The date:      March 15, 2007, The Ides of March.  
               The setting:  Ed Ball Lodge, an imposing 75 year-old structure in Wakulla Springs State Park, Florida.

               The story:     I didn't sleep well last night in this lonely place and woke with a sore back and a stuffy nose.  I entered the dining room for breakfast and noticed only a few other solitary travelers sharing the cavernous space with me.  Sitting by the window, I watched the mullet jumping in the Wakulla River, wishing them a better meal than the mediocre fare offered here.

      After paying the bill I wandered into the lobby to look at old pictures on the wall and to read about the history of the lodge.   A well-dressed, well-groomed middle-aged man left breakfast shortly after I did.  Although he didn't seem suspicious I noticed that he, too, lingered in the lobby, perusing the photographs and paintings.  He seemed to be watching me from the corners of his eyes.  I felt a pang of unease.  And for some reason this thought occurred to me:  
     “ This man is waiting for me to go upstairs and he's going to follow me.” 
      From the lobby a set of stairs led to a large landing; from there a left turn led to another set of stairs and our rooms on the second floor.  At the top of the stairs you could turn right to access a hallway of rooms, or left to enter a perpendicular hallway and more rooms.  My room was on the perpendicular hallway (the top of the “T”).  Two alcoves off this hallway—one to the right of the "T" junction and one to the left—provided seating areas with windows overlooking the river.  
      I decided to wait for the man to go upstairs first, and after several more minutes of shuffling around in the lobby he did indeed ascend the staircase.  But then this thought occurred to me:  
     “He’s going to be waiting for me upstairs.” 
      And so I waited too.  Five minutes later another diner, a woman, left the dining hall and walked upstairs.  I had now been in the lobby for 20 minutes and wanted to get back to my room, check out of the hotel and be on my way.  And so, 30 seconds after the woman had gone up the stairs I followed in her footsteps. 
       When I turned left at the top of the stairs, entered the perpendicular hallway to my room and passed the alcove off the left arm of the "T" there he was, just as I knew he would be.   Again that feeling of something being not quite right came over me.  My heart quickened.
      "But where is the other woman", I wondered, "She should be just ahead of me." 
       This mysterious man, obviously waiting for me to appear, approached me from the alcove and said:  
       “Excuse me, I’m supposed to be meeting a Rachel Norville here today.  Are you her?  Do you know anything about that?”   
        At that exact moment the woman I had followed up the stairs appeared from the alcove on the right arm of the "T" and strode down the hall toward her room.  As she passed us I told the man, loud enough for the woman to hear:  
      “No, I’m not Rachael and I don’t know anything about it, or your supposed meeting– I'm sorry!”   
       And…. the man, seeming flustered, left and walked down the hall toward his room.  I had been counting on the fact that the woman I followed up the stairs would still be in the hallway when I got there, and luckily she stepped out from the alcove at the time the man confronted me to ask if I knew anything about “a Rachel or a meeting”.  Who knows what may have occurred, had I been alone in the hallway?  If he truly was supposed to be meeting someone at this hotel and he thought I might be that person why didn’t he ask me at breakfast, or when we were both downstairs in the lobby? 
                  Was this, potentially, one of those unsafe circumstances?  My intuition told me it could have been, and that's good enough for me.   As I said, a woman alone has to be mindful of anything out of the ordinary, and I did considered this situation worthy of that designation.  No, I didn't hear anything later on about criminal activity occurring at or near Wakulla Springs State Park, and I suppose this story would have more clout if I had.  But I offer this report as a cautionary tale to women travelers to beware.  And to be careful out there.

   To read about a delightful experience at Wakulla Springs State Park, visit this account of my wildlife-spotting boat ride, the evening of March 14:

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Winter Tour of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Refuge: n.  a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger or trouble.

          It may seem incompatible with the above definition, but during certain seasons hunting is permitted at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.  Thankfully the refuge is managed for hunters and non-hunters alike with almost 80,000 acres of habitat, and a 12 mile auto tour route.

         Bear River is accessible year-round but spring and summer can be buggy—we’re talking swarms of bugs—and fall is sometimes shared with the aforementioned hunters.  What’s a birder to do?  How about winter, when the crowds are gone and Tundra Swans congregate by the thousands at the refuge.  

         Enjoy the bird life and scenery of Bear River during winter, as captured in the following photos: 

White pelicans in flight.

A Western Grebe family.  Notice one fuzzy head peeking from the back of
the daddy grebe (top).  The other chick is trailing behind its parents.

A flock of Common Goldeneyes graces the water.

As we watched the flock, two Goldeneyes took flight.
Note the reflection of the near bird in the icy blue water.

Pie-billed Grebes navigate among the ice floes.

The honks and hoots of tens of thousands of Tundra Swans
fill the air on a winter's day.

          Ultimately, the major threat to the refuge will come not from hunters, but from a burgeoning human population in need of water.  Visit this magical place before the Bear River is diverted for residential and agricultural use.

Sunset.  The refuge and its residents are at rest and safe—for now.

March 8th is Swan Day at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City, Utah.  Learn more about it by visiting their website:

If you enjoy bird-watching as much as I do, you don't want to miss this:
Bald Eagles have taken up residence on the campus of Berry College in Georgia and, last Saturday—February 22nd, 2014—a brand new eaglet was hatched!  The eagle cam provides a live, 24/7 look into the fascinating life of this eagle family.   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic Dreams in Stowe, Vermont

        Olympic moments; they’re timeless.   So today, while you’re enjoying the games from Sochi, Russia let us journey back exactly 20 years ago, to February 18, 1994 and the Lillehammer, Norway games—inspiration for a women’s cross-country ski trip to Stowe, Vermont.  
        Weary after the 10 hour drive from Pennsylvania, our adventurous group arrives at Ten Acres Lodge ready to lounge by the television and watch the XVII Winter Olympic games. 

Posing in front of Ten Acres Lodge, a classic Vermont country inn.

          American speed skater Bonnie Blair races across the ice as if jet-propelled.  Should we rent skates and give it a try?  Nah, we tried that last winter and our ankles held up for only a couple loops around the pond.  Cross-country skiing is what we came for, and watching the performance of Italian skier Manuela Di Centa— who medaled in all five nordic events—motivates the seven of us to tackle the ski trails at Trapp Family Lodge.  

Skiing part of the 100 kilometer trail network at The Trapp Family Lodge.

          The following morning we’re ready for the 2.8 mile trail to “The Cabin” at an elevation of 2100 feet.  It’s a long climb to the top, but when you arrive at The Cabin you’re rewarded with a crackling fire, homemade soup and hot chocolate—a most welcome place to take a break.
          Seasoned mountaineers are often quoted as saying that getting up the mountain is the easy part, the hard part is getting down.  Keeping that aphorism in mind we leave The Cabin to face a series of steep and winding hills.  It’s a thrilling ride down the mountain, maybe too thrilling as evidenced by my one, spectacular, cartwheeling fall.  I’m still in one piece though, and ready for another evening of relaxation in our rental cottage.

The Cabin is a popular place to chill during a day of strenuous skiing.

          For dinner we feast on homemade lasagna, then it’s time to start a blazing fire and tune in to the Olympics once again.  As we watch the skiers kick-gliding across the snow and racing effortlessly down the hills, we realize our performances today were poor imitations of these highly trained athletes.  But we’re happy with our efforts.  After all, every aspiring Olympian knows the effort is its own reward.  We turn in with dreams of, if not Olympic glory, then another memorable day on the ski trails tomorrow. 


         This weekend, after having watched the XXII Winter Olympics, dust off those skis, sharpen those blades, get out there and play on the snow and the ice.  The Winter Olympics: what better opportunity to rekindle an old passion—or to ignite a new one—for winter sports? 

         I’m happy to report that both the Ten Acres Lodge and the Trapp Family Lodge are still providing vacationers with unforgettable winter experiences.  Visit their websites for more information:

Sometimes it's nice to not have to traverse the snow
under your own power.  We're enjoying a horse-powered afternoon
of fun during a sleigh ride at The Trapp Family Lodge.

          Readers, do you have any Olympic moments—winter or summer—which inspired you to try a new sport?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter Adventures in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

         Cabin fever got you down?  Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is the definitive cure for this common winter malady.  At an elevation of 8000 to 9000 feet, Bryce Canyon's rim is typically snow-covered from December to March and opportunities for winter fun abound.

Welcome to Bryce.  Tim and I arrived on January 30 and were greeted
with 50 degree temperatures and little snow.  An overnight snowfall
produced this welcoming sight on the 31st.

            If the snow is deep strap on your snowshoes to hike into the canyon and among the hoodoos—those fantastical rock formations for which Bryce is known.  Even in years of scant snowfall (this year, for instance) the Queen's Garden trail is walkable in hiking boots with good tread.  Ruby's Inn Nordic Center provides groomed cross-country ski trails near the park's northern entrance.  The trails are free and open to the public.

The layer-cake hoodoos of Bryce Canyon on a January day.

        Not the adventurous type?  You can still enjoy the scenery from Bryce's many viewpoints.  After a day spent enjoying Bryce Canyon's many offerings, I guarantee you'll never again dread the coming of our coldest season.
       Cabin fever?  Take the cure and visit Bryce Canyon now.  Doctor's orders.

       Enjoy these photos from last weekend's trip to Bryce:

                                                       Snowshoeing from Bryce Point

Our snowshoes are lined up and ready to go.

I'm peeking through the branches of a fallen Ponderosa Pine.

Dashing through the snow…  beneath Bryce Point viewpoint.


You may snowshoe from any park viewpoint, just don't venture too close to the rim—see photo below.

Looking back along the rim toward Fairview Point.


                                                  Cross-country skiing Ruby's Inn trail

Ruby's Inn's trails are groomed for both classic and skate cross-country skiing.


                                                            Queen's Garden Trail

A bench provides the perfect rest stop on the descent
into Bryce Canyon along the Queen's Garden trail.

Members of the Castle Country Canyoneers—our hiking club—on their
way to the arch (left) on the Queen's Garden trail.

To read about and view pictures from previous trips to Bryce Canyon National Park, visit this blog post:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Wedge Overlook Recreation Area in the San Rafael Swell Desert, Utah

        Followers of this blog know of my love for outdoor activities, so it may seem strange to read that I live within an hour's drive of 2000 square miles of public land but don't recreate there often.

        What is it about the San Rafael Swell that keeps me away?  For one thing, most of the time I drive right on by while venturing to the more well-known national parks of southeastern Utah.  And, "Tom's Canyoneering Guide" describes The Swell as: "Rugged, desolate, dry, hot, wild. This is the kind of area that has little appeal to those who are not charmed by the desert. Oases of human-friendly environments are few and far between.  One of those corners of the world lost to civilization…"

The endless canyons of the San Rafael Swell.
The ribbon of white at the bottom of the canyon is the iced-over
San Rafael River.

        It's true that much of the area is either steep-walled canyon or open, inhospitable desert.  And summer can be brutally hot or buggy.  January, however, proved an ideal month to hike this arid environment.
        On an unseasonably warm winter morning Tim, our dog Annie and I arrive at the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell to hike the rim trail.  The trail is 17 miles long and open only to mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders.  On this cloudless day our view from the canyon's rim stretches from horizon to horizon.  When Annie ventures onto the rocks at rim's edge I call her back from the 1000 foot drop-off.

It may not look like it, but there's a 1000 foot drop-off
several feet behind us!

The rim trail veers away from the river canyon.
Tim and Annie pose along one of the side canyons to the San Rafael River.

        After hiking a couple of miles we turn to retrace our steps on this out-and-back trail.  We've enjoyed solitude on today's trek, but halfway back to the trailhead Annie goes on alert.  Something has her attention.  We hear voices and try to call our dog back but she rushes off and returns, leading fellow hikers who turn out to be friends from our hiking club—The Castle Country Canyoneers.   Pete and Kathryn have also brought their dog—and Annie's best friend—Lucinda, along.  We laugh at the coincidence of this unplanned meeting, literally in the middle of nowhere, and extend our hike another mile or so, giving the dogs plenty of time to frolic in patches of snow dotting the trailside.

        After the hike we drive to a secluded spot on the rim for our picnic lunch.  Fourteen years ago, on our first trip to The Wedge, we camped along the overlook drive.  The rim is now closed to camping due to human-caused damage; a designated campground is situated in the pinions and junipers, about a half mile from the rim.

Many areas of the San Rafael Swell have been abused by illegal use
of off-road vehicles.  This large Pinion Pine—in an area closed to
motorized use—is evidence of a healthy desert environment.

Lunch on the edge.  Tim relaxes with a sandwich on a
blue-sky January day.

      This corner of the world that's been "lost to civilization" is 20 miles from where I now make my home.  And after this successful January trek in the San Rafael Swell, I'll try to remember not to overlook the 1,280,000 acres of public land in my backyard.

      To learn more about Utah's San Rafael Desert, visit this website:
      You may read of four more adventures in The San Rafael Swell by visiting these previous blog posts:
      Llama trekking in the San Rafael Swell
      Annie's First Desert Hike
      Wildflowers of Horsethief Canyon
      Little Wildhorse Canyon
      Little Wildhorse Canyon is located just inside the boundary of the San Rafael Swell Desert,  near Goblin Valley State Park.  For a fantastic experience, combine this hike with a stay at the park.

Map of the San Rafael Swell Desert,
courtesy of Weber State University and Emery Maps.