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Hot Springs

Arkansas

natural hot springs

My husband and I just visited Hot Springs for the first time. We have driven past the exit to Hot Springs on I-30 dozens of times going to visit family in Tennessee and Mississippi but never actually stopped there. It was finally time to check it out.

Lookout Point Lakeside Inn – lake view

I researched hotels and rentals before finding the perfect place for us. Reviews for the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn caught my attention and ended up being a fantastic place to stay! They are ranked the #1 Hotel in Hot Springs (Trip Advisor), #2 Most Romantic Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), #3 Small Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), one of the Top Ten Most Romantic Hotels in the U.S. (NBC Today Show), a Top Ten Best Lakeside Hotels (Good Morning America) and #9 Hotel for Service in the U.S. (Trip Advisor). It didn’t take too long for us to see why this beautiful inn had received all these accolades. The service, staff, location, amenities, design, food, rooms, gardens, and views were all exceptional.

our balcony view at the inn

My husband and I particularly enjoyed the gourmet breakfasts in the beautiful dining room and the fresh gluten-free cookies brought to our room each day. Our second floor room and balcony looked out over the manicured gardens, waterfalls, bird feeders, grassy labyrinth, fire pit, boat dock and lake. It was perfect for relaxing. We had a paddleboat, canoe and kayaks for our personal use. The inn also provided us with bug spray, beach towels, DVD movies, hammocks, emergency flashlights, soft drinks, cookies & chocolates, and a Keurig for coffee/tea/hot chocolates. The kitchen was open each day until 7:00 p.m. for snacks, meals, cocktails or wine. The staff was friendly, attentive, and very professional. We had a wonderful stay and I highly recommend this charming, quiet and well-decorated inn.

Our first full day was set aside to explore the Hot Springs National Park. This is an urban park located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs and is surrounded by shops, diners, busy roads, gangster museums and tourist attractions. The bathhouses lined up on Bathhouse Row seem to be the park’s most popular attraction. The grand architecture of these eight bathhouses and the stories of the healing waters continue to attract curious visitors as they have since the early 1900s. The therapeutic spas, ancient thermal springs, mountain views, unusual geology, forested hiking trails, and abundant creeks all make this “park” quite unique.

We stopped by the Fordyce Bathhouse which houses the National Park Visitor Center and toured the museum. The three-story bathhouse has informative exhibits, original spa rooms (with equipment) and a short film about the history of the area and Bathhouse Row. We got a more detailed glimpse into the history, grandeur and attraction of this special place. Afterwards, we joined a 45-minute tour led by a National Park Ranger.

the beginning of Bathhouse Row

Ranger Lisa was great! She was a Hot Springs native and her walking tour was both interesting and entertaining. We learned about the geology of the area, tasted the 140 degree water, walked the Grand Promenade (on the hill behind Bathhouse Row) and saw a momma groundhog and her baby. We were told that the thermal waters contain potassium, magnesium and sodium – these were the medicinal properties that prior generations found to be so “healing” (today we just take a multivitamin!). Generations ago, most people had poor diets and dirty drinking water. Regular bathing was labor intensive due to large amounts of water having to be carried from the source and then heated. It was quite obvious what was so appealing about these natural springs with clear, clean, nutritious, and heated water just bubbling out of the ground.

the Hot Water Cascade

Only two bathhouses along Bathhouse Row are currently operational. One of the bathhouses, Superior Bathhouse is now a restaurant and brewery. This is the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water to create craft beers. We chose this as our lunch spot and it didn’t disappoint! The other bathhouses currently function as a hotel, a park store, a cultural center, and office building.

After lunch, we continued touring the park and drove up the winding Mountain Tower Road and West Mountain Road. Both drives provided scenic forested drives and great mountain lookouts. We had clear, beautiful views of Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains. For the more adventurous, there are almost 30 miles of hiking trails within the park boundaries that wind up, down and around these mountains overlooking the city. We decided to bypass hiking this time and just enjoyed the scenery from the comfort of our air-conditioned car (it was a humid 97 degrees in late September!).

view from the West Mountain of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Day Two – we decided to beat the heat, get an early start and canoe from our inn’s dock on Lake Hamilton. After another wonderful breakfast, we grabbed lifejackets, paddles and loaded up in a canoe. It was a beautiful day and the water was clear and calm. We explored the part of the lake and small islands scattered just off the shore from our inn. It was fun!

A couple of hours later, we were off to Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 200-acre botanical garden that is sponsored by the University of Arkansas. It was a short drive away and we got there early to beat the heat and the crowds.

Garvan Woodland Gardens was most enjoyable. The paved pathways through the flower gardens, waterfalls, dense ferns, towering pine canopy, rocky inclines, koi pond and the wooded shoreline provided beautiful sights at every turn. There are 4 miles of trails covering this entire garden so wear comfy shoes! We didn’t see every nook and cranny but hit all the major points. It was a fun spending the day outdoors.

I particularly enjoyed viewing the Anthony Chapel (just didn’t care for the two snakes that greeted us on the way there!). This stunning chapel appears to “be one” with the forest. The lofty pine columns, high ceiling, tall glass windows and oversize skylights all are designed to blend in with the surrounding pine trees. It was quite impressive – both inside and out. I could only imagine how beautiful a wedding ceremony would be here and certainly understood the popularity of this venue.

One of my favorite parts of any trip is the food! We began each day with a great breakfast at the inn. We had one lunch at Superior Brewery where I had a delicious Sweet Potato Salad and a Root Beer Float (with house-made root beer). Another enjoyable lunch was at Rolando’s Restaurante (near Bathhouse Row) where we enjoyed Ecuadorian food and flavored margaritas. Yum!

We found a couple of very good dinner spots in Hot Springs. The Vault (my favorite) was located in an old bank building near downtown Hot Springs. It was classy, dark and well-decorated. The menus had a backlight, which I thought was ingenious! David and I thoroughly enjoyed a delicious steak dinner here. The ambiance, service and food were all topnotch. A dinner at 501 Prime was also a standout. This restaurant and bar (known for its bourbon) served some great oyster dishes and we had exceptional service. A very special “treat” was a cupcake from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe. I knew of this bakery from the Food Network Cupcake Wars competition. There were dozens of flavors to choose from and it was very difficult picking out just one. Decisions, decisions. Ooey Gooey Butter Cake was my final choice. OMG, it was good!

a backlit menu – so cool!

Hot Springs was a great weekend get-away for us. I really enjoyed seeing and learning about the bathhouses, the natural springs and the history of the park. Without a doubt, I would stay at the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn again. Heck, I would even drive three hours again for one of those cupcakes!

Happy travels!


Glacier National Park

Montana

view at Logan Pass

I have an unhealthy fear of bears. The grizzly bear attack in the book/movie “The Revenant” still haunts me to this day. With that being said, why in the world did I choose Glacier National Park as a vacation destination? This is the one park where your chances of running into a grizzly bear or black bear on a trail, on the road, or in a parking lot are well above zero. Bear spray is a necessity at all times. Just great. What had I gotten myself in to?

I planned an itinerary, booked a cabin and rental car, got our park passes, purchased our vehicle registration, reserved our park road permits, booked flights to Kalispell, and my husband and I were off to great adventures. Montana, here we come. A canister of bear spray would become my newest and most valuable accessory.

West Glacier entrance

Why did we choose to visit Glacier National Park in spite of the bear population? Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful of the US national parks and is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent.” The park encompasses over one-million acres of glacier-carved peaks and valleys, two mountain ranges, pristine turquoise lakes and streams, meadows full of wildflowers, numerous waterfalls and ancient evergreen forests. It was established as a national park in 1910 after the Blackfeet tribe ceded the area to the government. Glacier National Park is the 10th most visited park (3.1 million annual visitors) making it not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.

Grinnell Lake in Many Glacier

More park visitors over the last couple of years caused restrictions to be put in place that prevent overcrowding within the park, hence purchasing vehicle passes/registrations was necessary prior to our trip. We appreciated that the crowds were very manageable throughout our visit and we never had long lines or traffic problems.

tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road

There is one main highway that cuts through the center of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTSR). The scenic GTTSR connects the west entrance to the park with the east entrance (50 miles/2 hours drive time). We drove it easily and without any access issues due to the pre-purchased passes that were required for each vehicle driving within the park boundaries.

our cozy little cabin

I found us a great little Vrbo rental in Essex, Montana that bordered the southern edge of the park, perfectly located about halfway between the west and east entrances to the park. The cabin was clean, cozy, comfortable and well-stocked. We cooked breakfast each morning, packed up our picnic lunch, went on our daily adventure, and returned each evening to cook/grill our dinner. A large mule deer welcomed us on our very first morning and a mink and chipmunks scampered around near our firepit each day. We had found a great little “home away from home.”

behind Lake McDonald Lodge
the beautiful lobby at Lake McDonald Lodge

Day #1 – We drove through the West Glacier entrance that morning and headed to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. We explored the historic Lake McDonald Lodge (built in 1914) and grounds before taking a boat ride on the beautiful lake. After a picnic lunch, we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stopped at several turn-outs to view McDonald Creek and the amazing scenery along the way. Mid-afternoon, we parked and hiked The Trail of the Cedars. This was one of our favorite hikes! The trail was a raised boardwalk or gravel trail that winds its way through a thick forest of towering cedar trees. The highlight for us was the view of Avalanche Gorge from the trail with its turquoise water tumbling down colorful moss-covered rocks. The damp weather made it feel like we were exploring a rainforest. Even though it was a drizzly afternoon, nothing could take away from the beauty of this trail. We loved it!

Avalanche Gorge as seen from the Trail of the Cedars
hiking the Trail of the Cedars

Walking back to our parked car after our hike, we heard our names being yelled from the parked car at the crosswalk. Really?! The people in the car were actually close friends from our hometown in Texas. One million acres of national park, 1749.5 miles away from home, and we happened to be at the exact same place at the exact same time. It was just plain weird! All you math geniuses can figure out those odds – it hurts my head just to think about it.

Mick & Lisa Tune, our friends from Rockwall, Texas
McDonald Creek along the GTTSR

Day #2 – We got an early start and drove east to the park’s St. Mary’s entrance. We had a morning boat ride scheduled on beautiful St. Mary’s Lake that included a hike to a waterfall. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed our morning adventures. David and I found a little restaurant nearby in the park and had a great lunch (huckleberry pulled pork stuffed baked potatoes!) and continued our drive on The Going-to-the Sun Road with a few scenic stops along the way. We found ourselves at Logan Pass that afternoon, the highest point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (6646 feet) and located along the Continental Divide. The road in this area had only opened 4 days prior to our visit due to the difficulty of snowplowing such late, heavy snows. The scenery at this high elevation was amazing! We parked and hiked the Hidden Lake Trail as far as we could but it was quite difficult with the packed, icy snow underfoot. Seeing all the snow, the jagged mountains, fields of wildflowers, waterfalls, marmots, ground squirrels, and big horn sheep made for a very memorable afternoon and gave us some great photo ops!

ready for our St. Mary’s Lake boat ride
selfie at Logan Pass
Bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Day #3 – David and I ventured to Two Medicine, a less-popular part of the park that we entered not far from East Glacier that feels off-the-beaten-path. This day actually turned out to be one of our favorites. The drive in had beautiful views and the crowds were sparse. We hiked to Running Eagle Falls, a sacred Native American burial site that celebrates an infamous female warrior and tribal leader. It was easy to feel the spirituality of this place. The double falls were very unusual and we spent quite a bit of time here. We hiked for a bit on a nature trail and soon decided it was lunch time. We drove a short distance to Two Medicine Lake and found a table at the General Store overlooking the picturesque lake with Sinopah Mountain towering in the background. Good food, great views.

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine
Two Medicine Lake and Mount Sinopah

After our picnic lunch and a cold huckleberry soda, we were ready for our next hike. We parked at a trailhead and headed up to Apikuni Falls. This was a tough hike for me due to the incline and it was very hot and humid. There were very few people on this trail and we were on a constant lookout for bears. Luckily, we made it to the falls and back without getting eaten. By late afternoon, we headed back out of Two Medicine admiring the scenery and the colorful wildflowers that lined the road and meadows in this scenic valley that is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation.

hiking at Two Medicine

We stopped for huckleberry bear claws near East Glacier when we saw our first bear! It appeared to be a younger bear and we spotted it running through a pasture near some horses. The horses seemed a little nervous at first but soon went back to grazing. The bear found a pizza box in the pasture that fully captured his/her attention for quite a while. This is exactly how I wanted to see a bear – from a distance and from the safety of my car!

bear near East Glacier

Day #4 – This was the day we ventured to Many Glacier, located on the farthest side of Glacier National Park from our cabin. Many Glacier is on the northeast side of the park and was the most difficult to get to. With that being said, I felt it was the most scenic part of the park. We arrived at Many Glacier early in the morning to secure a parking place, which worked in our favor. We spent the morning exploring the historic hotel and grounds and enjoyed a coffee while waiting for our scheduled boat tour.

Many Glacier Hotel from Swiftcurrent Lake

The Many Glacier boat tour was a “two-parter.” The tour began on the shores of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake. We cruised across the lake, docked, disembarked and then walked 0.2 mile (over a steep hill) to the shores of Lake Josephine. We then boarded another small boat and cruised to the head of Lake Josephine. We disembarked there to do a self-guided hike to Grinnell Lake. This was a beautiful trail that led us through wooded areas, over streams, along narrow hillsides and over a swinging bridge before we arrived on the shoreline. Grinnell Lake had beautiful turquoise waters and was surrounded on three sides by towering mountains and snowy glaciers. It was breathtaking! David and I sat and ate a picnic lunch on a fallen log and took in all the beauty around us. We were even lucky enough to spot a grizzly bear loping through snowfields on the opposite side of the lake before it disappeared into a valley on the far side of the lake. Bear sighting number two….check! We also saw a huge bull moose standing waist-deep in Lake Josephine on our return boat trip. Wildlife abounds!

selfie at Lake Josephine
Lake Josephine with Salamander Glacier and Grinnell Glacier in background

We returned to the Many Glacier Hotel later that afternoon after an amazing day. We located the bar and treated ourselves to a Huckleberry Margarita, a snack, and a short rest before the long ride back to our cabin. Another unforgettable day was in the books.

hiking to Grinnell Lake from Josephine Lake

Day #5 – We woke to another cloudy, drizzly day but decided not to let it stop our exploring. We headed back to West Glacier and spent the day at Apgar Village on the shores of Lake McDonald. We walked the shoreline, snapped a few iconic “colored rock” photos, hiked a wooded trail, shopped in the gift stores, and enjoyed coffee/lunch/huckleberry ice cream during the hours we spent there. It was a very relaxing day. On the way back to our cabin, we stopped at the Goat Lick overlook to see a herd of mountain goats that hang out on some rocky cliffs. We saw several of them!

the iconic “rock photo” at Lake McDonald
baby mountain goat

We then returned to the cabin, cleaned up, and drove back to West Glacier where we had dinner reservations. David and I wanted a nice meal on our final night and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Belton Chalet Restaurant. It was delicious and made for a great ending to a great trip. We returned our unused bear spray, packed up, and left for home the following morning.

We made memories that will last a lifetime. GNP, thanks for an unforgettable trip!

See you on the trails!

cloudy morning on Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald selfie
near the entrance to St. Mary’s
on the Trail of the Cedars
McDonald Creek from the GTTSR

West Glacier entry

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Glen Rose, TX

One day, a long time ago, a family of plant-eating longnecks was walking along the muddy water’s edge grazing on yummy plants and ferns. Unbeknownst to them, a herd of hungry meat-eaters was hot on their trail. Let’s just say the day ended quite poorly for the plant-eaters.

What we are left with today at Dinosaur Valley State Park is the fossilized footprint evidence of this journey and the encounter. The round, elephant-like footprints were the plant-eaters and the three-toed prints were the meat-eaters. Over 100 million years ago, many types of animals lived in this shallow Mesozoic sea area. Tidal pools and coastal swamps covered what is now the state of Texas. Today, these lower Cretaceous rocks are where we find the Paluxy River and its shoreline containing hundreds of dinosaur prints.

One area within the park contains so many preserved footprints that it is named “The Ballroom” due to hundreds of tracks moving in all directions – as if they were all dancing (or trying to keep from being eaten!). Some of the prints are on the dry limestone creek beds, some are in shallow water, and some have (unfortunately) eroded over time. The park provides detailed maps showing all the track sites.

When I stood looking at some of these well-preserved footprints, I could barely wrap my head around seeing something from 105 million years ago. How is that even possible? It was the highlight of my trip, for sure.

Besides seeing the dinosaur prints in the park, my husband and I did quite a bit of hiking with our yorkie “trail dog.” There are over 20 miles of hiking trails running all through the park and the beautiful Paluxy River Valley. Trails lead into and along the river, up over limestone ridges, through shady cedar brakes, and beside grassy prairie lands. I really enjoyed our walks alongside the clear, shallow river spotting unusual rocks, dinosaur tracks, crawfish, and fish. We also saw lots of lizards, animal tracks, and beautiful wildflowers along the grassy and wooded trails.

A few of the trailheads start near the popular and more crowded attractions within the park. The Blue Hole (definitely green) looked like a family-friendly swimming area, as there were quite a few people there. The Main Track Site had the most visitors with ample parking and easy access to prints on dry land for close-up viewing. When we ventured off on many of the other trails, there were fewer people.

I suggest wearing good hiking shoes for all the varying terrain (rocks, dirt, roots, gravel) and bringing a pair of water shoes to get up close and personal to some of the tracks in shallow water and for river crossings on some trails. Pack a picnic lunch, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the park and all it has to offer!

Reservations are highly recommended as the park limits the numbers of visitors per day. The cost for a one-day pass is $7 per car. Overnight camping is also available with reservations.

See you on the trail!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose County, CO

Another Covid-19 vacation is in the books! My family is vaccinated but we are still trying to avoid crowds when traveling. We have spent the past year renting homes/cabins and cooking most of our meals when out of town. This rural southwest part of Colorado seemed like the perfect place to check out a National Park and visit with our adult children for a few days. It turned out to be a great trip.

We took a morning flight from DFW to Montrose. The direct flight was only an hour and thirty-eight minutes – quick trip! The Montrose airport was small (4 gates) and very easy to navigate. Getting our rental Jeep was a breeze. Our Vrbo house actually ended up being a convenient ten minute drive from the airport. So far, so good! We were ready to explore the area.

The first excursion to check off our list: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This area has only had National Park status since 1999 and I was not that familiar with it prior to our trip. After seeing a few pics on a National Park social media page recently, it got on my radar. Though not as popular as the Grand Canyon, it certainly seemed less crowded and had some spectacular views with towering walls, spiky peaks, narrow openings and startling depths. I put in a little bit of research, found out how to get there, and off we went!

The Black Canyon National Park entrance was only twenty minutes from downtown Montrose and the drive up to the park was quite scenic as our elevation changed (and ears popped!). This route took us to the park’s visitor center that featured cool displays, info on the canyon, picnic areas, restrooms, a gift shop, campgrounds, a nature trail and a great observation platform. It was well worth a stop. I got a map, a walking stick and went on my merry way.

The route through the park along the South Rim Road was easy to drive and well-marked. It allowed us beautiful views of the Black Canyon from many overlooks, most of which only required short walks. I loved seeing all the different landscapes, plants and trees along the way. Hiking there can be as simple as strolling to the various viewpoints and overlooks or as challenging as a 2,700 foot descent down into the inner-canyon to the Gunnison River, which we didn’t do (because we are sane people!).

The Black Canyon itself was breathtakingly beautiful with its dark, solid granite canyon walls that tower almost 3,000 feet above the greenish river snaking far, far below. The canyon gets its name due to the fact that certain parts of the gorge only get thirty total minutes of sunlight per day. The walls literally look black due to the shadows. It is very, very narrow and very deep! For you geology nerds, the canyon has some of the world’s oldest exposed rock that dates back two billion years to the Precambrian era. Today the impenetrable, steep cliffs provide homes and protection to the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon.

We enjoyed many of the twelve lookout points along the rim with Pulpit Rock, the Painted Wall and Dragon Point being my favorites. The Painted Wall is the highest cliff (tallest vertical wall) in Colorado. From the rim down to the river, it stands 2250 feet high and as my daughter described it, “it looks like a big ole slab of marbled steak.” It is a huge, dark granite wall with wide, white “marble” streaks running through it. The size is somewhere in the neighborhood of ginormous!

At Dragon Point, the Painted Wall was across the gorge from us and far below was the Gunnison River. The river actually looked very curvy and small from our vantage spot so high above. Our view was quite deceiving. The Gunnison River actually drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, which is six times more than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – just to put it in perspective.

If we had more time, I would have liked to experience the canyon from the bottom up. There is a road at the park entrance that follows a steep, switch-back route into the canyon’s depths. This would certainly be a memorable day for hiking, fishing, kayaking or rock climbing. I would have loved to have seen the mighty river up close and personal. Maybe next time…

The Ute Tribe that inhabited these tribal lands for thousands of years referred to this area as “much rocks, big water.” I don’t think anyone could have said it any better.

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Immersive Van Gogh

Dallas, TX

I am a Commercial Art major and have loved Van Gogh since my days sitting in art history classes dissecting each of his paintings. When I learned that the Van Gogh exhibits were coming to Dallas, I bought tickets to both “dueling” exhibitions. My husband and I attended the first one, the original Immersive Van Gogh, this past weekend.

This exhibit is being shown in the iconic Masonic Temple known as The Lighthouse and is located on Harwood Street. It is very close to the Dallas Farmer’s Market and parking is scattered throughout the area. We paid to park in a lot just catty-cornered from the exhibit since we were not lucky enough to get nearby metered street parking.

The Lighthouse has a pretty impressive entrance and the towering steps are decorated with large pots of sunflowers and decorative lettering. Friendly staff members are stationed inside and outside to take photos of you and your group, if you like. Once you enter on the ground floor (masks are required), there are restrooms, a snack bar and gift shop. From there, attendants direct you up to the third floor where instructions are given and the show is projected.

The instructions were simple. There are three large rooms where the thirty-five minute loop plays simultaneously in each room. Walk through the rooms until you find a place to sit (chairs, benches, or the floor). Follow social distancing guidelines (this was easy to follow since fluorescent circles are marked on the theatre floors). You may take photos but without flash. Stay as long as you like. Watch the video once, twice, or until closing time. Your choice!

Once I settled in and sat down, I was taken to another world. All four walls and the floor come alive with Van Gogh’s art work. It is a sensory overload with bright, swirling colors and accompanying music and sounds. But don’t expect to see a video depicting his most famous paintings as they hang in museums today. Simply sit and watch as bold lines are drawn, windmills turn, water ripples, and roots push their way up through the earth and morph into beautiful blue irises. There are beautiful colors, brilliant lights and mesmerizing music. It all works together to create a very unique experience.

When watching the visuals unfold, I felt like there was some sort of a story being told. While researching this blog, I read two different accounts describing how the video plays out. One version said we are seeing the scenes as Van Gogh first saw them, full of movement and life-like colors as he began painting. Another version said the video illustrates how Van Gogh may have visualized his body of work at the end of his life. Regardless of what the narrative was, the show was full of beautiful, graphic images that took you to another place.

I had several favorite scenes during the night. Van Gogh’s cherry blossoms that dance and float across all four walls was one such moment. Another was the moon and stars that move across the dark skies and cause us to be transported into the swirls of Starry Night. At one point, dark brushstrokes morph into birds and fly up into the heavily textured sky. It was all a feast for the eyes.

After arriving on the exhibit floor, we had chosen the second theatre room (the largest) since we found a couple of available chairs there. We were very comfortable and had great views. On our way out, we noticed the third room had interesting mirrored spires in the middle of the sitting space. The reflections gave the video a totally different look. I would have chosen that room if I had only known!

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. I went in with zero expectations and was really blown away by the creativity and technology that was necessary to make this show a success. My one regret – that the video was not longer. We could have stayed and watched the loop two or three times, but once I had seen it and taken it all in first time, I felt like I had gotten the full “experience.” We got up, moved on out, and let others who were waiting have our seats.

We exited the exhibit and enjoyed looking around the gift shop where one could buy a Van Gogh painting image on just about any item you could think of. Starry Night ties and socks – check. Cherry Blossom face mask – check. Smoking Skull water flask – check. Sunflower glasses case – check. Self portrait backpack, umbrella, key chain and mouse pad – check, check, check!

I hope all of you art lovers get to experience Immersive Van Gogh firsthand because it is a little difficult to fully describe. The images were truly breathtaking. The words of Don McLean’s Starry Night sum this exhibition up perfectly and played in my head all night:

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain

Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Rest in peace, Vincent. ❤

Cheesemaking Class

Dallas, TX

I made cheese!

Evidently, you CAN teach an old dog a new trick! I recently learned how to make fresh ricotta, mozzarella, a mozzarella & olive roll and string cheese. The Mozzarella Company, located in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district, has Saturday afternoon classes where you can learn to make these same cheeses. It was a very fun and informative class!


My husband and I took this class along with friends a couple of weeks ago to help celebrate my husband’s birthday. We donned our “closed toe shoes,” arrived at our assigned time and were given aprons and lovely hairnets. After snapping a few selfies of our “lunch lady” look, phones were put away, hands were washed, and instructions were given.

The class started with us being told the history of The Mozzarella Company (begun in 1982 by Paula Lambert). We were also given a behind-the-scenes tour of the working kitchen and facility. Afterwards, we broke into couples, manned a workstation, and began our cheesemaking endeavor. The cheesemaking process starts with raw milk (cow or goat) being pasteurized and cultures being added. This mixture turns into curds and whey. The curds are used to make the mozzarella and the whey becomes the ricotta.

We began the hands-on part of the class with each person stepping up to the industrial-sized cooker and scooping out a ladle full of watery ricotta. We placed each scoopful into a plastic basket where this cottage cheese-looking mass cooled and dried. This became the freshly-made ricotta that we got to take home. Yum!

Next up, we were shown how to make mozzarella balls by stirring curds in hot water, draining, and stretching until it became a “satiny mass.” We were instructed to then push the cheese up through your fists (think lightbulb shape), pinch it off, and toss into cold water to firm it up. Viola! Now we had a bucket full of fresh mozzarella balls to take home as well.

We were successful so far and were ready for the next task – making string cheese. Each couple made string cheese by using the same technique. This time instead of forming a ball shape, we continued pulling and stretching the mozzarella until lumps were out and the cheese was like taffy – in a long, narrow, ribbon-like strip. We then salted the “ribbon” and squeezed fresh lime juice over its length before rolling it up like a ball of yarn. Now we had a string cheese ball, or Queso Oaxaca, to add to our water bucket.

Lastly, we made a mozzarella roll stuffed with olives. We began with the same technique but patted this cheese out flat, like a pizza dough. We then spread a layer of chopped olives evenly over the cheese before rolling the cheese into a tight “log” form. This was wrapped tight in plastic wrap and chilled for us to take home later. I must confess, it was delicious!

After each couple in the class had made the assigned cheeses, we were treated to a Wine and Cheese Tasting! In a small room off the kitchen, there were pre-made plates of The Mozzarella Company’s specialty award-winning, fresh and aged cheeses along with some breads and wines. This cheese plate was delicious! We tried Queso Menonina, Queso Blanco, Hoja Santa (wrapped in a leaf that gives it a mint & sassafras taste), Herb Goat Cheese Log, Deep Ellum Blue (a favorite, for sure!), Dolce Habanero (apricot & habanero…hot!) and Caciotta la Cocina (with all types of colorful herbs from “the kitchen”) and several other types that I have forgotten. At this point of the evening, I was busy stuffing my mouth with delicious cheese samples and not paying attention to our instructor. What a fun and enjoyable experience this had been!

Before we collected our cheeses, gathered up our belongings and said our goodbyes – we were asked to pose for a class photo while wearing our aprons and hairnets. We gladly obliged. And what did we all emphatically shout out prior to getting our photo taken?

CHEESE!! 🙂

fruits of our labor!
graffiti in Deep Ellum
Max and David (the birthday boy)
some of my purchases!

The Vampire Grave

Lafayette, CO

My daughter at the Vampire Grave

Want to hear about a vampire grave in Colorado? Cool! This is how the story goes.

In the early 1900s in Lafayette, Colorado (near Boulder) a pale, lanky man living in the area was pretty much a loner with no friends or family. No one knew much about him other than his name, Fodor Glava. When he died in 1918, townspeople took notice of his headstone at his gravesite. It was discovered that he was from Transylvania. Rumors spread through the town like wild fire that he was, of course, a vampire!

No one had ever seen him much during the day when he was alive. He had always been very pale. He was originally from Transylvania. The facts were undeniable.

Several townspeople dug up Glava’s grave and found blood by his mouth, his teeth seeming bigger than normal, and his nails long, pointed and still growing. The frightened and superstitious settlers drove a wooden stake through his heart and reburied him.

Of course, we now know that all of these physical changes are natural for a decaying body.

Shortly after his second burial, a tree “unlike any other in the area” grew straight up through the grave plot. Folklore claims it “grew from the wooden stake in his heart.” Red rose bushes suddenly sprang up around his grave. These wild roses were thought to be growing from his fingernails. They knew roses had some importance in his life since the word was on his gravestone. It was black magic at its best!

Back to present day:

My adult children live in Colorado. They always have fun things planned for us to see and do when we visit. Our most recent visit a couple of months ago was no exception. The first day there, we were off to see the Vampire Grave in Lafayette. My daughter and son-in-law had been given a book by a family member regarding “odd and interesting” places to visit in the state. We found ourselves marching through a wet cemetery in the rain to find this unusual tombstone. The folklore story is actually much more interesting than the actual gravesite.

Now for the truth: Theodore “Fodor” Glava was a very pale, tall and lanky Transylvanian immigrant who came to America for a better life. He lived a very quiet and modest life as a coal miner before dying from the Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic that ravaged Colorado. He was buried in the poorest section of the local Lafayette cemetery in a pauper’s grave. It wasn’t until after his death that he gained his notoriety.

Glava’s headstone was carved/chiseled by a stonemason with his personal info, birthplace, and year of death. Among the inscription is the word “trandofir” which is the Romanian word for “rose.” Not much was known about Glava’s life in this area during this time, but the mention of his birthplace on his headstone actually sparked the rumors that he was a vampire. Many locals knew that Transylvania was home to Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, therefore he must also be a “creature of the night.”

The truth is most likely that this is the gravestone for Fodor Glava and his wife Trandatir (Rose). Both probably died from the influenza around the same time. He was from Transylvania (part of Romania today) and Rose was from Bucovina (part of the Ukraine and Romania today). They were both very poor and he worked as a miner, probably another reason he was so pale. He could also have been sickly and/or had a poor diet.

Unfortunately, Glava was an easy target for these uneducated settlers who tried to explain away natural happenings with superstition.

Rumors of this vampire still exist to this day. Local residents have claimed for many years that they have seen a mysterious figure walking near the gravesite late at night. Yikes!! If you do plan a visit to the Vampire Grave, go in the day time. It is also a sign of respect that you take and leave a small gift – a coin, rock, token or a bouquet of roses.

No garlic, please.

Note: This is what is actually engraved on the headstone. A vertical line divides the sections. The right side reads –

FODOR GLAVA, BORN IN TRANSYLVANIA, a small cross, AUSTRO-UNGARIA (should read Austro-Hungarian, which Transylvania was a part of), DIED DECEMBER 1918

The left side (that people seem to ignore) reads – + 2 ROMANION (two Romanians buried here), TRANDATIR (Rose), BORN IN PAR-HAUTIBOCVINA (from Parhauti Village in Bocvina, an area also in Austro-Hungary).

May they both rest in peace.

Rosini Vineyards

Rockwall, TX

Rosini Vineyards

It is time to raise your glass – your wine glass that is. Napa Valley has come to Rockwall, Texas!

My husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Rosini Vineyard’s Grand Opening this past weekend. This beautiful vineyard had caught my eye several times while driving by on my way to and from Terrell. The perfectly-spaced grape vines out front and the gorgeous Italian-inspired building are quite impressive and certainly set the tone for a wonderful escape to Napa, Sonoma, or Tuscany. Let the night begin!

We entered the huge wooden doors and stepped into a large open, beautifully-decorated room and were immediately met by the owner, Greg Rosini. We appreciated his personal greeting and talked for several minutes. We were certainly made to feel welcome and learned a lot about Greg, his wife, and their vision for Rosini Vineyards. This was customer service at its best and something the staff here did very well the entire evening. Kudos!

A brief overview: Located on Hwy 205 between Rockwall and Terrell, Rosini Vineyards is the brainchild of Greg and Carol Rosini. Greg was originally in the restaurant equipment business and Carol worked in the commercial printing industry. They both closed this chapter of their life and decided on a new adventure – a winery it will be! In 2018 they bought the Double D Ranch, a rural 25-acre property in Rockwall County (east of Dallas) that came with ponds, barns, a house and a pool. It took 6 months to renovate the property that now functions as a Airbnb and VRBO rental. The new construction of the Italian-styled building began on the front of the property in the summer of 2020. It is now nearing completion. The entrance gate and a covered arbor in back were still under construction when we were there.

The main bulk of Rosini’s grapes are grown in other regions of Texas, many from east Texas, central Texas and the High Plains (Lubbock and Amarillo). Their first wines in 2019 were made from 19 tons of grapes at a “custom crush” facility in Nacogdoches. Greg and Carol are involved in every step of the winemaking. From the very second the grapes arrive through the crushing, tasting, bottling and label designs – they are 100% hands on.

The first harvest wines in 2019 were a Blanc du Bois (dry and semisweet), Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Viognier, and a sweet Red Blend. Rosini wines were entered in the Lone Star International Wine Competition in 2020 and won a silver medal for their Blanc du Bois (dry version) and their Cabernet Sauvignon. I have tasted both and fully agree with the accolades bestowed upon them!

The Grand Opening we attended awarded us the chance to try these delicious wines along with a fabulous four-course “tasting meal” (think tapas) with wine pairings. We were welcomed with a tasty glass of champagne upon arrival and were given a coupon for a drink of our choice following the meal. Beautiful charcuterie boards were made available to us after our tasting meal so that we could graze, drink, and mingle with the other guests. The lovely sitting area inside the winery and the beautiful views from the back patio had all of us enjoying the food, drink and company. It was a most enjoyable evening!

Rosini Vineyards will soon be open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Stop in and visit their beautiful new grounds and have a glass of their award-winning wines. They will offer a limited food menu as well.

I may see you there. Look for the lady sitting contently with a glass of frozen blueberry/pomegranate/wine drink with a big ole smile on her face!

Cheers!!

Orange Beach Eateries

Orange Beach, AL

My husband and I just returned from another trip to the Orange Beach area and I readily admit, one of my favorite reasons for visiting the gulf coast is the food. In addition to the gorgeous white sand beaches and warm blue-green water, the fresh seafood definitely makes this vacation spot a win-win in my book!

A favorite breakfast or brunch spot for my family is ANOTHER BROKEN EGG CAFE. This restaurant has a great menu full of Southern fare offerings. It is located in a little strip center and can be quite crowded during peak times. The Biscuit Beignets, Biscuits & Gravy, Blueberry Bread French Toast, Biscuit Sandwiches, Crab Cake Benedict and City Grits are just a few of my favorite menu items. You can wash all this goodness down with coffee, a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary. Service comes with a smile and the food is always delicious. Very Southern – very good.

Another great brunch place is the BRICK & SPOON RESTAURANT. Don’t let the crowds dissuade you – the food will be worth the wait! This restaurant serves a Cajun-Creole breakfast and brunch fare. They are well-known for their “Build Your Own Bloody Mary” with an extensive list of vodkas, veggies, herbs & seasonings, eggs, meats and cheeses to construct one that suits your own special taste buds. I saw a few of these specialty concoctions on nearby tables and they were towering works of art! The food menu is quite extensive. One of the standout brunch menu items for me was their Brioche French Toast. Delish! Whether you choose Cafe Beignets, Breakfast Tacos, Breakfast Shrimp & Grits or a Crab & Pepper Scrambler – there should be something on the menu for everyone.

If you want a quick and more casual breakfast, head on over to BUZZCATZ COFFEE & SWEETS. Drop in and pick up a specialty coffee, baked good or a weekly breakfast special item. You can take away their food & drinks or dine on-site. My husband and I stopped in here on a rainy morning and enjoyed dining on the patio. We watched all the “comings and goings” while eating a delicious Buzz Bowl and drinking chai tea. Our Buzz Bowls consisted of grits or potatoes topped with grilled onions & peppers, two over-easy eggs and cheese. You can also add bacon, ham or Conecuh sausage (similar to smoked sausage – yum!). The bakery cases are filled with Hollah breads, flavored biscuits, cinnamon rolls, quiches, muffins, sandwiches, salads, and cookies. I don’t think there are any bad choices here!

My favorite mealtime is dinner, or as we say in the South – supper! There are many restaurants along the Alabama Gulf Coast where you can have a great evening meal. I will share a few of my top picks. First and foremost is COSMOS. I have eaten here several times in the past few years and always have a great meal and dining experience.

COSMOS RESTAURANT & BAR almost always has a wait time, so just be prepared. This is a colorful, art-filled restaurant with outdoor tables, a full bar, indoor dining areas, live music, a pet-centered gift shop, and a wine shop all on the premises. There is a lively atmosphere with a celebration of some type always going on! The food is what I would call “eclectic Southern.” There are standard seafood and comfort foods on the menu with many having an artistic, global flare. I have always had delicious meals here. Be sure to stop in at the bar and have one of Cosmos’s specialty cocktails, a glass of wine, or local brew while you wait on a table. I highly recommend the BBQ Crab Claws for an appetizer (simply the best!). The Chicken Roulade and Banana Leaf Wrapped Sea Bass were the latest standout entrees we enjoyed. The food and service are always top-notch. I always leave here wondering when I can return – and it is never soon enough.

Another favorite dinner spot is COBALT, THE RESTAURANT. This restaurant gets extra points for location, location, location. This upscale dining venue is located under the Perdido Bay Bridge and next to the waterfront, which gives diners a bay view. When my husband and I dined here recently, we were lucky enough to get a patio table and had perfect weather with spectacular sunset views. We sat and watched waterfowl, pleasure boats, fisherman, yachts, tour boats, and floating tiki bars (gotta try one of these next time!) while enjoying delicious cocktails, entrees and dessert. Our appetizer, Garlic Parmesan Chargrilled Oysters, were outstanding and at one point I wished that I had ordered a double order for my meal. The Bronzed Gulf Grouper and the Gulf Shrimp and Grits were both delicious entrees. Add top shelf margaritas and a Bushwacker (alcoholic ice cream dessert) and we had an exceptionable meal overall. Food, location, atmosphere – check, check, check.

A more casual dining spot in the area is DOC’S SEAFOOD & STEAKS. Doc’s has several locations and is popular with locals and tourists alike. The fried shrimp is award-winning (according to all the billboards!) but we prefer the grilled shrimp and grilled fish. There is nothing fancy here, just good old-fashioned seafood, hushpuppies, and cole slaw.

COTTON’S RESTAURANT is another popular seafood restaurant on the coast but with more “upscale” prices. Cotton’s is located in an old wood-paneled 1950s beach house with several floors. They serve prime rib, steaks, lobsters, and all types of seafood and seafood platters. Many of the popular seafood dishes have been elevated (just a notch) to separate this restaurant from all the more casual fish & shrimp “shacks.” Service is very friendly and you may just feel like you have stepped back in time when dining here. Like most popular eateries on the coast, there is almost always a wait for a table.

On the final night of our visit to the coast, we had had a very long and tiring day. Instead of cleaning ourselves up, changing clothes or dining out, we decided to order in. My husband called in an order to MOE’S, picked it up, and we ate in the hotel room. It was delicious! Moe’s is a little BBQ beach shack serving up Alabama-style smoked meats, fried shrimp and catfish, and barbecue platters. We ordered Pimento Cheese ‘n Chips and Moe Nachos. Both orders were huge servings and absolutely delicious. Their white BBQ sauce is a “must!” Loved it.

There are so many more great eateries in this area and I have never had enough time to try them all! Hopefully if you are heading down to the Alabama coast in the near future, this will give you some ideas on where to dine. I have certainly made myself hungry typing up this blog! Now I get to search through all my food pics, which will just elevate my hunger even more.

Grilled shrimp tonight, anyone?

Bluebonnet Trail

Ennis, TX

For all of us Texans still dealing with the outcome of the devastating arctic blast, there is a positive. The freeze that wiped out many of our trees, shrubs and flowers and spelled disaster to our state’s infrastructure, spared the bluebonnets and wildflowers.

It seems that all the snow we received in Texas actually acted as an insulator and saved many of the wildflowers and their root systems from the low surface temperatures. The bluebonnets weathered the winter quite nicely and they are currently in full bloom throughout many parts of the state.

Now more than ever during this pandemic, Texans are looking for fun outdoor activities to get us out of the house and the Texas Bluebonnet Trail is a perfect opportunity. My husband and I packed a picnic lunch this past weekend and drove down to Ennis, the Bluebonnet City of Texas. I wanted to see the state flower of Texas in all its glory!

Located off Hwy 45 and south of the Dallas metroplex, the Ennis Bluebonnet Trail is the oldest in the state and has over 40 miles of viewing opportunities. The best way to follow the trail is in your car because trails are mainly on paved or gravel roads and in park areas. The rule of thumb is that you can pull off on the side of any road as long as you do not block roadways, driveways or fire hydrants. Everyone is also asked to take photos – not flowers!

I downloaded a driving map off the Ennis Garden Club website (which is updated frequently) and we headed off. Our map told us the North Trail and West Trail had “peaked” so we headed to the suggested South Trail. It was rural, uncrowded and had acres of gorgeous bluebonnets as well as other colorful Texas wildflowers. We had some great photo ops!

We also visited the Meadow View Nature Area (and had a picnic lunch near Lake Bardwell), scenic Bluebonnet Park and the Ennis Veterans Memorial Park. The Veterans Park had acreage off to the side of the park with a large “natural” area that we really enjoyed.

The pastures, roadsides, meadows and yards along the marked routes are bursting with color! We noticed sapphire blues, fiery oranges, citrusy yellows, dainty pinks, scarlet reds, and deep purples all adding to Mother Nature’s spring palette. Most bluebonnets range in color from a light sky blue to a deep, dark navy blue – and all shades in between. We read that slight genetic modifications can occur and render the flowers white, pink or maroon as well but they usually don’t last long in the wild. I only saw blue, blue, and more blue!

A word of warning – bluebonnet fields are usually in rural areas and can be so dense that they provide shelter to animals and reptiles, especially snakes! Be cautious when moving around and through these areas. Bluebonnets are also toxic to humans and animals if ingested so keep an eye on your kids or pets when taking photos in or walking through the fields. This past weekend was late in the bluebonnet season and luckily for us, there were well-worn paths through most of the fields and no unwanted varmints were encountered.

April is the best month for viewing the bluebonnets but it looks as though they will still have at least another couple of weeks of peak season left. If you haven’t driven the Bluebonnet Trail yet, make plans quickly before they have lost their vibrant colors and healthy blooms. Kingsland, Marble Falls, Burnet, Brenham and Austin also have bluebonnet tours so pick your favorite spot and plan a trip SOON! Become a part of this incredible Texas tradition.