Monthly Archives: November 2020

Mighty Rhode Island

Rhode Island is by far the smallest of the 50 states. You would expect it to be the state with the least number of counties, but you would be wrong. Rhode Island has 5 of them, but Delaware has only 3. You would also expect Rhode Island to have the least number of National Park facilities. Again you would be wrong. That state is North Dakota with only 3 National Park service sites. There are 45 National Historic Landmarks in Rhode Island, but there are no National Parks in this state. In fact, to see a National Park Rhode Islanders have to go north to Maine.

Rhode island had a rather controversial beginning. It was founded by Roger Williams, a Puritan leader who was forced to leave Massachusetts to create a refuge for the free practice of religion. He established a colony called Rhode Island where religious freedom was the norm. Williams founded and named the city of Providence in 1636 when he created a completely free colony south of Massachusetts. He named his settlement Providence to thank God for his protection.

One of the 45 National Historical Sites in Rhode Island today is the United State’s 1st enclosed shopping mall. It was called Arcade. Among the other national historic places here are almost 25 houses including the Vanderbilt Mansion in Newport, 4 historic districts, some churches, 2 carousels, one casino, and a single lighthouse.

There may be 45, but lists only 5 truly significant sites–the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, the John H. Chafee National Heritage Corridor, the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, which is a National Historical Trail, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, the oldest in North America and still active are 4 of them. The 5th is perhaps the most important of them all, the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence. It has a visitor center, a walking path for a self-guided tour, and programs for visitors. Four of the 45 NP sites in Rhode Island are part of the Blackstone River National Historical Park. The famous Appalachian Trail avoids Rhode Island in favor of western Massachusetts. Rhode Island is the only New England state that The Trail bypasses.

None of the above state landmarks include a National Park. The 10 least attention-getting National Parks include two of my favorites, Congaree in South Carolina and North Cascades, a less visited facility due to its northern location in my own state of Washington and the rare National Park with 2 parts like Arizona’s Saguaro. Both Congaree and North Cascades, seen just above, deserve more visitors.


The World’s Best Beach

FlightNetwork asked 600 travel writers to name the best beach in the world. Grace Bay in the Caribbean’s Turks and Caicos won the draw, but I suspect that there could have been 600 opinions about the best beach. Picking the best beach is often determined by your latest trip, and I thought it would be easy to name the last 5 beaches I was on. It was not. I would have been wrong if I had trusted my memory.

Beaches, like mountains, are natural landmarks. Whether or not you like a beach often depends on when you were last on it since many humans do beach time while traveling. Ruth and I have been on some spectacular beach real estate. I was surprised and pleased to learn that one we were on fairly recently, Rhossili, is considered among the top 40 beaches in the world. So is Whitehaven in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, but Ruth and I are far more familiar with Manly, Coogee, and Bondi near Sydney. In fact, we have walked from Coogee to Bondi, a very popular and fun activity. We have probably spent more beach time in Australia than any other place in the world. I thought that the endangered Australian sea lion beach on Kangaroo Island would be among our 5 most recent beach experiences. Not even close! The negative side about the beaches Down Under is the fear factor. Many of them are dangerous and off-limits for many months each year. Who wants to die from a jelly fish sting?

Many countries like Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, and even Croatia are associated with great beaches, and we have been to beaches in all of them. However, Zlatni Rat Beach in Croatia and Thailand’s Railay Beach are usually listed as among the world’s best. I don’t even know where Zlatni Rat is in this gorgeous country. The State of Washington’s rocky and sandy Ruby Beach on the Olympic Peninsula is often on lists of the world’s best too, but again I have not been on it much. The same goes for Oregon, which has wonderful beaches like Cannon where we won a sand castle building competition. Oregon beaches unfortunately suffer from very cold water and waves that sweep beachgoers off rocks regularly. Among our states Hawaii probably has the best basking beaches on all its islands, but Miami’s South Beach has seen us frolicking in the water far more often than Waikiki, where Ruth & I watched ambulance after ambulance treating stung swimmers.

So what are our 5 most recent beach experiences? In reverse order they include Canada’s Gulf islands, Dune Peninsula, Aruba, Pacific Palisades, and Rhossili. The beaches on Salt Spring Island were small and pebbly. Dune Peninsula is a new park near Tacoma. Aruba’s beaches were hot and many scary creatures inhabited its waters. The famous Malibu Beach at Pacific Palisades was kind of dirty and deserted but gently curving and pretty to look at. Rhossili was in an unlikely place, Wales on the tip of the Gower Peninsula. It deserves its reputation for beauty, was locally popular and only one hour west of Swansea, but no one was in the water.

I hope I’m never asked to rate my favorite beaches.


More Majestic Mountains

As Icelandic writer Olaf Olafsson says in his 2019 novel The Sacrament, “For mountains to stand out there must be plains”. Plains can be rather dull for travelers to cross. Remember central Illinois and eastern Nebraska? I recall a real sense of enduring these plains because I knew there were mountains at their end. Mountains appeal to travelers, even those who don’t ski. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog called “Mountains Matter” about some of the high elevation places that have meant something to me. Travelers like me love to go to mountains.

Mountains have been historically important too. Elephants from North Africa crossed mountains to attack the Roman Empire. Lewis and Clark’s adventures while exploring the newly bought Louisiana Territory for President Jefferson involved crossing and conquering many mountains. In fact, when they reached the end of this Purchase they finally had to abandon their winter retreat in the weather-exposed north coastal mountains just beyond the Astoria-Megler Bridge pictured at the top to spend the winter on the South Coast at slightly inland Fort Clatsop. I love crossing the Megler Bridge!

Other mountains that have personal meaning for me are in Idaho, British Columbia, and Colorado. We went to northern Idaho to see spectacular Priest Lake because a friend of Ruth’s spent childhood summers there. That’s Idaho but not Priest Lake just above. The Uncle of the man we stayed with at the Vatican made a career out of painting all of the Colorado mountains more than 14,000 feet tall. That’s Independence Pass mentioned in “Mountains Matter” pictured above the old-fashioned train above, and the source of the Columbia River in the mountains of eastern British Columbia just below.

If you want to see some of the most gorgeous mountains in the world go to the Kootenay region of this Canadian Province and explore outstanding mountain majesty. Don’t miss the towns of Fernie and Nelson, and go west to Whistler.


Alabama Roots Abound

Someone who knew that Ruth & I visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, said that we missed one of the great drives in the United States by not going from Cody to Yellowstone National Park via Highway 14-20. He called it one of the most scenic highways in North America and a real heart stopper of a road. This may be true, but the fact is I have driven this road. However, it has been a few years and I don’t remember this highway as being especially beautiful. That’s not to say it isn’t. It’s just that, at the time, I was not prepared to fall in love with this road

I do have a history of favoring certain drives. The one from Harrodsburg, KY to Lexington via Shakertown has always been one of my favorites and is part of our family tradition. I loved the drive from Raceland, LA to Grand Isle that Ruth & I did a couple of years ago. I especially liked the road food. I favor crossing Nebraska from Grand Island to Alliance via State Highway 2 with a long stop in Broken Bow, one of my favorite American towns. Ruth & I had been planning a return drive on California’s Highway One after many years via Big Sur when COVID interfered. But I think that my favorite all-time drive is the Natchez Trace Parkway experience, a pulse-slowing, diverse 444 mile drive through 3 states–Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. But If I were to do it again, and I might, I’d do it differently.

We did some side trips as we moved ever closer to Nashville. I loved seeing Helen Keller’s Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, AL and Elvis Presley’s humble childhood home in Tupelo, MS. But if I did it again, I’d get off The Trace and spend even more time in Tuscumbia by going to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

As it turns out, Alabama has been called home by an inordinate number of genuine celebrities. This state also justifiably has a Jazz Hall of Fame in Birmingham. Movie & TV stars like Channing Tatum, Courteney Cox of Friends fame, Octavia Spencer, and Louis Fletcher, who won an Academy Award for playing the original Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were all born in Alabama. Names historically but loosely associated with jazz or some types of popular music over time include Nat King Cole who is currently undergoing a kind of Renaissance, Lionel Hampton, W.C. Handy, and Dinah Washington. All 4 hailed from Alabama. Country & Western stars with Alabama roots include Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, and the group called Alabama. Then there’s Lionel Richie, Jim Nabors, Emmylou Harris….

What’s your favorite American drive?


Mountains Matter

I grew up in the Midwest where there are no high mountains. When I was 17 or so, I went to Colorado for the first time and saw real mountains. With 2 buddies I went to the top of Pike’s Peak and fell in love with elevation. When I became an adult and married, Ruth and I often built trips around mountains like most people do and I began to photograph them a lot. When we had opportunity to move, we chose a mountainous locale.

I saw a video on Mount Revelstoke this week and realized that it was one of the 1st mountains I really fell in love with. This grand peak in British Columbia’s gorgeous mountains near Canada’s own Glacier National Park is not especially tall at 7,300 feet, but it’s incredibly beautiful and has its own National Park. The quiet city of Revelstoke is at its base and contains about 7,500 very lucky Canadians. Containing one of the 1st major ski areas in North America and a road to its summit, Mount Revelstoke is a place I must go back to eventually. I didn’t realize until I saw the video that Revelstoke is criss-crossed with many easy hiking trails to enjoy. It definitely is a must-see-again place.

Ruth and I can now sometimes see Mount St. Helens from our property. We didn’t live near it until it lost it head in 1980. We hope it’s quiet for a long time now. We saw it up close for the 1st time shortly after it erupted, and I am still amazed at how quickly the land around it recovered. We have been on it several times since that time because it’s a popular destination for visitors.

Another mountain we have become very familiar with is Oregon’s Mount Hood. On clear days we can see it wonderfully framed by Highway 14 near our house, and we often take visitors to the historic Lodge near its summit for root beer and stunning views. Again, like all the mountains near us, Mount Hood is always a potential eruption candidate. I love photographing it from the air. It seems like many flights out of Portland cruise near this summit.

One year I found myself in Aspen, CO by myself. I had not planned to go there so had no place to stay. The closest accommodations were in Leadville on the other side of Independence Pass, so I got used to driving over to Leadville late at night. Closed completely in the winter and sometimes one lane, this very high road that traverses a 12,093 feet pass is not for the timid. Since doing this drive several times, Ruth and I have experienced Independence Pass again and again and have learned its colorful history.

I have not been back to Pike’s Peak since that first time and was pleased when I learned recently that our son recently approached its summit. Now living in Denver, he will probably have an opportunity to do this again. I also hope to repeat this experience with Ruth when we visit him.