Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rose Capital of America celebrates annual festival in October

Rose Season is well under way in Tyler, Texas. During the entire month of October, Tyler offers activities and workshops, all leading up to the renowned Texas Rose Festival, October 19-22.
Rose Season is celebrated throughout the month with a variety of events for the whole family to enjoy. Some of those events include arts and craft fairs, historic home and rose tours, festivals, concerts, and more. For a list of Rose Season activities go to
History of the Texas Rose Festival
In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, a group of Tyler civic and community leaders created a festival to showcase Tyler’s rose industry.  Thanks to the Oil Boom, Tyler had been somewhat insulated from the reality much of the rest of the country was experiencing. 
Tyler had real cause to celebrate, so the Texas Rose Festival was born, known in the beginning as the Tyler Rose Festival.  The annual festivities were quickly adopted and word of the elaborate gowns and awe-inspiring roses spread statewide. 
As the years progressed, The Texas Rose Festival played host to multiple dignitaries and gained significant national attention.  Today, tourists come from all over to be a part of Texas history and participate in this annual celebration. Even though gardens filled with beautiful roses of every variety draw visitors to Tyler in October, the flower displays are popular throughout the year.
Texas Rose Festival
Rose Season would not be complete without the Texas Rose Festival. This year the Texas Rose Festival will be celebrating with elaborate displays of roses and activities including the Rose Show, the Coronation, Queen’s Tea, and of course, the popular Texas Rose Festival Parade.
In 2016, approximately 46,000 visitors from out of town attended the Rose Season festivities, which resulted in a $2.5 million estimated economic impact on the local community. That’s even more reason for Tyler citizens to be proud of their rose gardens and surrounding landscaping. For more information about the Texas Rose Festival, visit
Information courtesy of Holli Fourniquet, Vice President, Marketing, Texas Rose Festival
Photos from Beverly Burmeier and free sources

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Texas tales of haunted places

Need to ramp up the fright factor of Halloween? Austin, Texas has more than 40 locations where ghosts and spirits have been reported. But the otherworldly figures don’t just surface around Halloween; they spook folks year round Here are a few of the city’s notable haunted spots.
Famously haunted Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas
The DriskillHotel, probably the most haunted site in the city, still feels the presence of numerous ghostly figures. The scent of cigar smoke from namesake Jesse Lincoln Driskill lingers despite renovations. The apparition of a little girl, daughter of a former U. S. Senator, chases a bouncing ball down the front staircase—an event that reportedly led to her death. Some even say the ghost of LBJ (former president Lyndon Baines Johnson) roams the rooms. If you’re brave, stay in Room 29, reportedly the scene of a bathtub suicide of a women who stayed there just a few decades ago.

Less than a block from the Driskill is Buffalo Billiards, original site of the Missouri Hotel, Austin’s first boarding house and a questionable entertainment spot for cowboys in the 1860s. Ghost sightings have startled a cleaning woman and night bartender. Occasional ghosts still drift through the crowds at this popular night spot on trendy and hip 6th Street.
Neil-Cochran House and Museum in Austin
The Neil-CochranHouse on San Gabriel Street served as a hospital for Union prisoners. A former owner, Colonel Andrew Neill has been seen riding his horse around the mansion and having tea on the front porch with the ghost of Robert E. Lee. Ghost sightings are common here.

Strange things happen in Austin's Paramount Theater.
Employees of downtown Paramount Theater frequently report moving props, strange lights, and unseen hands engaging in unexplained activity at this historic venue that has produced vaudeville, silent movies, music, dance, and Broadway shows for more than 90 years. Theater patrons accept these strange occurrences good-naturedly, even searching out new reports.
Teachers working late by the gum at Crockett High School report hearing a little girl crying and walking up and down the hall. It is said that she is searching for her family.

University of Texas Tower
People who remember the infamous observation tower shooting rampage of Charles Whitman in 1966 won’t be too surprised to learn that Whitman is said to still haunt the Universityof Texas Tower and campus.
Want to know more? Paranormal researcher Fiona Broome recounts some of the most familiar tales in her book The Ghosts of Austin, Texas: Who They Are and Where to Find Them.

Photos from free sources.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Misty magic of the Faroe Islands

I once read a quote from Dalai Lama that perfectly expressed how I feel about travel: “Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.” It’s inspiring to know such a laudable person shares my life philosophy—at least on this point.
A fishing village nestled on the coast of the Faroe Islands
Last summer, I managed to visit several places I had never been before, but among the most unusual was Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 small islands (17 inhabited) in the North Atlantic.

The history of the Faroes began when Irish monks came more than 200 years before Norse settlers arrived in 850 A.D. Vikings later drove them out, and Norwegians ruled until Denmark took over.
The Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark, although the islands became autonomous in 1948 after World War II. Cultural and financial connections to Denmark are strong. For example, every citizen receives an annual stipend from the Danish government, and they use Danish coins but have their own paper bills.
Ancient volcanic activity left its mark on the landscape of Faroe Islands
I was amazed at how green and lush the countryside was. At first glance, that is. As we drove north from the capital city of Torshavn, the landscape revealed its volcanic origins. Created 65 million years ago from tremendous upheavals, the islands are marked by deep crevices, giant clefts, and rough ridges. No trees grow in the inhospitable rock, which makes the soil almost impossible to cultivate. In fact, the only crop is grass, which is dried and bundled into hay to feed livestock, mostly sheep (Faroe means “sheep,” which outnumber people here).

Deep clefts on the mountain side make the land mostly unusable.
No volcanic activity has been recorded in modern times, however, so I felt safe. The day was chilly, windy, and foggy (normal, in other words). Because of the rugged terrain and blustery winters, numerous tunnels have been cut through the mountains—two also go under the sea—to provide year-round passage.

If you’re getting the picture that the Faroe Islands are a difficult place to live, you are right. Often young people leave the islands to study and work—and many (especially women) don’t come back.
A squiggly road traverses the mountain on its way to the village.
But I was delighted to experience tunnels, seaside villages, and vast expanses of green grassy pastures. On the way to the island of Eystuoy, we drove up a mountain along a thoroughly squiggedly road until we came to a viewpoint overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean—a postcard perfect scene of cloud-shrouded hillside guarding a remote fishing settlement.
Fishing for cod, haddock, and mackerel and salmon farming (the ring)
are important to the economy of the Faroe Islands.
The fish industry is the economic mainstay of the Faroe Islands, and that includes salmon farming which has grown to 40% of the total export value. Fortunately, fishing can be done year round because the Gulf Stream rims the Faroe Islands and keeps the climate milder than you might expect from its northern oceanic location.
Gorgeous cliffs at the village of Eioi on the island of Eystuoy.
Our journey continued on to Eioi, a tiny village with only 30 permanent inhabitants. Eioi means “cliff,” which is appropriate since tall, craggy cliffs guard a very narrow channel into open water. In recent years, people have begun to build summer houses here. Call them tourists, if you like, but they respect tradition and maintain the custom of using grass for roofs, a good means of insulation.

Grass roofs utilize a commodity that is native to the islands.
Throughout our travels from Torshavn, tiny clusters of homes dotted the coastline, while sparkling waterfalls tumbled down hillsides on their way to the ocean. Knowing that the idyllic setting belies the adverse living condition of the Faroe Islands, I cherish the memories of hazy mist drifting over verdant hillsides even more.
Waterfalls take a circuitous path down the mountains.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Visiting Maui? Take a day trip to Lanai

Maui brings visions of beaches shaded by tall palm trees, sunsets glistening on ocean waves, and hikes to beautiful waterfalls. All of that is reason enough to visit this popular Hawaiian island.
Near the beach there are trails to follow, many with volcanic rock
creating stunning views--and rocky paths.
After experiencing all these things on previous visits—and again when we returned—my husband and I decided to venture to Lanai. We had not been to this lesser-known island but had heard about great snorkeling and unspoiled beaches. Lanai is the smallest publicly accessible island of the Hawaiian chain and is also called the Pineapple Island because of its past as an island-wide plantation. Because most roads on the island require four-wheel drive, arriving by boat seemed like a good way to check it out.

Lounging on the trampoline, enjoying the
sail to Lanai
So we booked a full day excursion with Sail Maui on a catamaran called Paragon. Our group of eight had the most fantastic crew led by Captain Ray and Lacey. I highly recommend them—and no, I do not receive any compensation for mentioning this company.
The April day could not have been more perfect—sunny but not too hot with dainty white clouds in the sky and sparkling blue water for contrast. Most of us settled in on the trampoline—the netted area at the front of the catamaran—to enjoy the pleasant ride. Breakfast breads, fresh fruits, yogurt, and drinks filled our tummies once we embarked on the journey to Lanai.

Dolphins can often be found in these waters.
While we expected to see fish while snorkeling, the biggest surprise—and an awesome bonus to the trip—was spotting a pod of dolphins. Literally hundreds of the magnificent animals followed our boat, jumping in and out of the water in groups of two, three, or four at a time. Although Lacey said the pod seemed sleepy and not as active as on some days, we were thoroughly delighted with the show.
And we did stop to snorkel, with the crew providing top notch gear. The water was cool, especially over deep areas, the best places to see many varieties of coral and fish. As usual, we spent a good bit of time snapping photos of the moving targets with our waterproof cameras.

Larry enjoys lunch with the sandy beach
in the background.
At Manele Harbor we disembarked the catamaran for almost two hours of free time. Sail Maui provided each guest with a cooler containing lunch: sandwiches in the variety that we had pre-selected, fresh pasta salad, chips, and cookie plus bottled water. Larry and I took our bags and walked to the beach where we found a picnic table in the shade.
Exploring the rugged coastline of Lanai
Getting to Lanai on your own isn’t easy, although a ferry does take people there. As expected the beach was not crowded—mostly locals wandering on the smooth sand or snorkeling around the rocky shore further down.

The upper cliff as it extends over the water is called Sweetheart Rock.
While there we chose to hike to Sweetheart Rock, an enormous cliff with expansive views of the ocean. This took all our remaining time, partly because we just had water sandals on, not shoes more appropriate for trekking over the rocky path. But the climb was well worth the effort, even if we did have to jog to return to the boat on time.
One last dive into the sea
Back on the catamaran, Lacy served a platter of fresh vegetables and dip to snack on as we sipped adult drinks and soaked up sun and scenery. Soft brownies and more drinks later made sure we didn’t go hungry. As the boat neared shore, Ray stopped so we could have a final dip in the ocean before returning to the dock at Lahaina. It was a long day but one of the best.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Saturday, September 30, 2017

Volcano by bike--down the mountain

In my previous post, Volcano by Bike, Getting There, I described how my husband and I left our hotel at 2:00 a.m. to drive up Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii, to watch the sun rise and then ride bicycles 38 miles down the mountain to the coast.

Watch sunrise at Haleakala National Park.
Back to business

Each person in our group was observed biking around the parking lot to determine riding position.  The entire group could only go as fast as the slowest rider, who would be at the front of our single-file line (not me, thankfully).

Our guide showed us hand signals to indicate such things as “move off the road” and “stop,” necessary because we were riding down Hwy. 37, the same road we had used to ascend the mountain in the van.  I never saw these signals, however, because of my intense concentration on the treacherous (at least to me) road itself. 
The yellow rain suits helped keep us warm and dry.
There are no guardrails on the rim; miss a curve or skid, and you disappear down the rocky mountainside. Fear of embarrassment, should this happen to me, was more a deterrent for carelessness than any possible fear of injuries.

The code of the mountain for bike tours is “first up, first down.” Groups leave at 20-minute intervals to prevent overcrowding on the road.  Since we were the second van up, we left soon after sunrise.  (Later arrivals sometimes don’t get off the summit until almost noon.)  Breakfast at the historic cowboy town of Makawao was planned for approximately 8:30 a.m., and we didn’t want to be late.

According to our guide, riding speeds would reach 34 miles per hour, but I thought, Not me! I couldn’t imagine pedaling at that speed, especially on a curving mountain road. What I didn’t realize was that because it’s all downhill you never have to pedal, and you still pick up speed. Men, generally heavier than women, were in the rear, and many literally rode the super heavy-duty brakes on their Schwinns the entire trip. 

Being a lightweight, I had trouble keeping the pace, since the only way to gain speed should a break occur between myself and the person ahead was to lean forward in a racing stance and hope the aerodynamics would provide a sufficient boost to close the gap. Often it didn’t. I missed some gorgeous scenery while hunched over the handlebars of my bike, viewing only the upper edge of my helmet resting on my sunglasses.
A little crazy posing for Larry and me
Morning mist shrouded the early ride, as our bikes careened along the zig-zagging road. Negotiating tight turns, we swooshed along, passing through moist clouds, and again appreciated the cumbersome rain suits. 

After riding about 14 miles, we took a rest stop, a welcome opportunity to shed the bulky helmet temporarily and look beyond my eyebrows to the gorgeous scenery I was missing. Sunshine glimmered on the billowy sea beyond Haleakala’s rim.  Distant islands danced on undulating ocean waters. I breathed deeply of the clean, crisp air that grazed my face and sighed with relief. Half way there, and I haven’t tumbled off the path.  Realizing that the hardest part of the journey was now behind us, I was ready to continue riding.
Rainbows are a common sight as you come down the mountain.
The road became more level with fewer sharp turns as we continued our descent.  Despite warmer air, intermittent rain showers convinced us to keep wearing rain suits.  Eucalyptus forests, pineapple fields, and plantation towns passed as we made our way towards the sea.

Nine hours after leaving, we were returned to our resort at Kaanapali, weary but ecstatic.  I had done what I set out to do: complete the challenging journey and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It’s an accomplishment that I still recall when obstacles threaten my path. 

Note: Newer regulations at Haleakala National Park do not allow riders to start from the same elevation that we did—it’s more like 9700 feet. But the thrills are the same!
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Friday, September 22, 2017

Volcano by bike--getting there

Our day began in the middle of a nighttime yawn.  The van was due at our resort at 2:00 a.m. to take my husband, me, and 12 other questionably sane visitors on Maui, Hawaii, to the top of Mt. Haleakala to watch the sunrise and then bike 38 miles back to the sea.

Startled out of sleep by my subconscious alarm at 1:50 a.m. (in his excitement my husband inadvertently set the clock alarm for 2:00 p.m.), we jumped into prearranged layers of clothing and sped out to meet the van. 

Ready to roll

After loading all its passengers, the van headed for the town of Paia where we picked up a guide and trailer full of bicycles, helmets, and other necessary equipment for our sojourn down the mountain.  While our group rode bicycles, the van would follow in case of accident or mechanical problems.
The large crater of Haleakala  before sunrise
Rising above 10,000 feet, Haleakala (meaning “House of the Sun”) is the highest peak on Maui and the world’s largest dormant volcano.  It features a crater seven miles long and two miles wide that was formed when eruptions filled two existing valleys carved by erosion from the summit.  I felt safe from lava flows since the last eruption was 400 years ago. 

Outstanding views of Maui’s neighboring islands can be seen from the rim together with its rust and purple interior of sliding sands and meadows. That’s good reason Haleakala National Park has become one of Maui’s most popular destinations.

After an hour and a half of winding uphill on Haleakala Hwy. 37, the only road to the summit and one reputed for climbing the most altitude in the shortest distance (thank goodness it was dark), we arrived at the summit.  Although we had been forewarned of temperature drops and strong winds on top of Haleakala, the wind chill factor below freezing was still unexpected. After all, this was Hawaii in June.
The sun begins to peek over clouds and mountain peaks.
Our driver offered everyone muffins and juice and questioned each of us on our expertise with bicycles. In other words, how long since we had last ridden a bike? My answer was somewhat misleading about my skill as I rode frequently but on the flat prairie land of coastal Texas, very different from the terrain we were about to tackle.  I’m totally unprepared for this, I thought as butterflies fluttered in my stomach.

Each rider was issued a rubber rain suit, heavy and bulky but definitely capable of keeping out wind and water. Looking like a gaggle of blue and yellow aliens, we ambled outside to await the sunrise.

Bright, full sun at daybreak!
What a spectacular moment that is.  As 5:20 a.m. approached, locals joined visitors in trying to secure the perfect picture spot. Folks from sixteen bike tours and others who had driven to the top of the volcano just for this sight crowded together.  Wrapped in coats and blankets as protection from the chill, all were there to witness the miracle of light rising over the clouds.

Day arrives.

A faint glow draped the edge of distant mountains, gleaming through the foggy mist and resembling reflections on water more than the beginnings of a sunrise. Suddenly the sun burst over the mountaintops, shattering night in an explosion of light and warmth. 

In minutes the temperature rose 20 degrees. Only the clicking of cameras broke hushed “oohs” and “aahs” as spectators attempted to record a scene impossible to convey by mechanical means.
The crater is bathed in a red glow after sunrise.
With the sunrise still gleaming in our brains it was time to shift focus and get ready to ride down the mountain. I’ll describe that experience in my next post.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Saturday, September 16, 2017

New ways to celebrate winter ski season in Colorado

Colorado is heading into a winter filled with new offerings, and visitors who love the excitement of soaring down mountains in the state’s many ski areas will enjoy exploring these fun opportunities.

Colorado Welcomes Winter Olympic Experiences: Colorado welcomes the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with several Olympic experiences. Attend ski and snowboard Olympic qualifiers at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge (December 14-17, 2017) and the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain (December 6-10, 2017) and Aspen (January 10-14, 2018), visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, train where Olympians train at Woodward at Copper, experience Steamboat's 2018 Olympic Send-Off Celebration (January 27, 2018) and more.

Snowmass Ski Area Celebrates 50 Years: This winter season marks the 50th anniversary of the Snowmass Ski Area. The season-long celebration includes vintage, 1967 lift ticket pricing of $6.50 on Friday, December 15 as well as a festive weekend of anniversary activities December 15-17 such as a retro party at Elk Camp restaurant, fireworks display, the return of Banana Days, an on-mountain celebration at Spider Sabich Picnic arena and more. Additionally, throughout the season, the celebration continues with new gold signs that mark the original ski trails, monthly fireworks displays over Fanny Hill, a new mural in Base Village commemorating the history of Snowmass, and more.

Arapahoe Basin Expands Terrain: For the 2017-18 season, Arapahoe Basin will add 468 acres to its inbounds skiable terrain, bringing its total acreage to over 1,400 acres. Construction on the new terrain began this summer, with patrolled and maintained hike-back skiing available starting in the 2017-18 season. There will be 339 acres of lift-served skiing in The Beavers, including intermediate and advanced open bowl and tree skiing. The Steep Gullies will remain hike-back terrain and will be some of the most technical and challenging in-bounds terrain at Arapahoe Basin.

Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s New Ski Patrol Ski Along: Get the ultimate insider's guide to Powderhorn with the new Ski Patrol Ski Along. Ski with a professional Ski Patroller and learn some of the tools of the trade such as safety, transporting and caring for guests on the mountain. The ski along is open to all ages and starts at $75 per person.

Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail Offers Back Bowls Ski Tour Program: Vail’s seven legendary back bowls span 3,000 acres of Vail Mountain’s backside. Vast and open, the bowls provide advanced skiers some of the most breathtaking views around. Enjoy an exclusive tour of these bowls with a local celebrity such as Pete Seibert, the son of one of the founders of Vail, as he weaves in and around the back bowls and tells stories about the founding days of Vail. To complement this full-day experience, take a break to refuel with a chef-curated picnic lunch at Blue Sky Basin.
Groomed trails in Telluride
Hotel Telluride’s 'Sled & Soak, Ski & Sip' Winter Alpine Package: This 3-night package includes champagne upon arrival at The Hotel Telluride, a full day backcountry snowmobiling trip to Dunton Hot Springs, gourmet lunch at Dunton Hot Springs, soak in the hot springs in Dunton and, upon return to The Hotel Telluride, enjoy wine and charcuterie by the fireplace. The package also includes a full day lift ticket for two to Telluride Ski Resort and a champagne pairing dinner upon return to The Hotel Telluride. This package is available from November  23, 2017 to April 8,  2018.

Information courtesy of Carly Holbrook, Colorado Tourism Office
All photos courtesy of Colorado Tourism Office, credit to Matt Inden/Miles

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ephesus, Turkey, features Biblical and historical sites

Kusadasi, a lovely port town on the coast of Turkey that many cruise ships dock at, is the gateway for visitors to Ephesus, largest city in ancient Asia Minor. Located 3.6 miles from the Aegean Sea, the governor of Rome resided in Ephesus. Geography was as important to its history as were politics and religion.
Temple ruins in Ephesus, Turkey
For more than 3,000 years, people have been making pilgrimages to the Temple of Artemis, Greek goddess of motherhood and protector of flora and fauna. Other sacred sites included Cave of the Seven Sleepers and House of the Virgin.

The stadium where sporting events were held and where St, Paul preached.
For Christians, touring Ephesus is an important adventure. As Christians, our walk through Ephesus, with a guide identifying specific landmarks, was almost surreal. It was mind-boggling to think about all the Biblical activities that had transpired at the very place and in the same streets as we were walking centuries later.
Visitors entering Mary's house near Ephesus.
Saint Paul, the Apostle, lived and preached here. The disciple John brought Jesus’ mother Mary here to live in peace after the crucifixion. We visited her home on a hill near the city, sipped holy water from a nearby spring, and added our wishes to the prayer wall.

Sipping holy water
Ephesus is also where John wrote his gospel, now part of the New Testament. During the Roman era, Christianity was legalized, and a beautiful church, Basilica of St. John, was eventually built over John’s tomb.
Ephesus was an important archeological site since it contains the largest collection of Roman ruins, many quite identifiable. These have been pieced together to provide a good picture of life in ancient times. About 250,000 people lived in Ephesus during its heyday. It was a gathering place for skilled artisans and rich merchants.

Some statues are very well preserved.
The city was destroyed in 263 A.D. and later rebuilt. But over several centuries the harbor filled with silt, which halted trade and eventually led to abandonment of the city.
More ruins the have been restored in Ephesus.
Excavation began a century ago, and restoration has been under way for almost two decades. Walking the dusty streets of ancient Ephesus, we admired this historical treasure and marveled at the well-preserved remains from the city.

Entrance to stadium at Ephesus.

Among the most notable were the stadium where sporting events were held, the baths and pool on well-delineated Harbour Street, the marble road leading away from the great theater of the city (where Paul preached to thousands of people), Temple of Hadrian, public toilets and brothel, Church of St. Mary, and numerous fountains statues, columns, gates, and houses.
Library of Celsus is one of the best preserved sites in Ephesus.
The Library of Celsus is one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus. Built in 117 A.D., it was a monumental tomb for Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, governor of the province of Asia. The grave of Celsus was under the ground floor, and a statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was near the entrance.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, September 8, 2017

Turks and Caicos--great place if you love beaches and water

Note: I wrote this post before Hurricane Irma slashed through the Caribbean.  I sincerely hope all the islands affected are able to recover quickly and again welcome tourists. If you are planning a winter or spring trip in the Caribbean, please consider these islands. Tourism dollars till go a long way towards helping in recovery.
Snorkeling is fun at Turks and Caicos Islands
If you love being in, on, or near the ocean, you’ll love Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. Beautiful water, splendid beaches, and historic sites make this a world-class destination for tourists and especially for cruise ships, which is how we arrived there.

Shopping and dining are convenient.
Grand Turk is the largest and political capital of the islands. The cruise center there is a world-class beachfront facility of 14 landscaped acres. Opened in 2006, the $50 million center consists of a pier, recreational area that includes one of the largest swimming pools in the Caribbean, and 1100 feet of beachfront for sunbathing and snorkeling at the foot of the cruise pier. There’s also plenty of shopping, restaurants, and bars, so cruise passengers can enjoy the island without taking an additional excursion.
Lots of fish around The Wall at Cotton Bay.
We chose to go a half mile offshore on a catamaran to Cotton Bay. After sailing across crystal clear turquoise water we arrived at an area known as The Wall, a favorite place for scuba divers as well as snorkelers since the water drops off to 7,000 feet deep. We snorkeled at an underwater coral reef which hosted many varieties of colorful tropical fish including plentiful white and yellow striped fish and a small barracuda.

After snorkeling we headed to the soft, champagne-colored sand of the beach.  We waded ashore from the catamaran (after sampling the crew’s rum punch) and spent a lovely time basking on the pristine beach and soaking up the warm Caribbean sun.
This is the life! Beautiful beach and a drink in hand
Turks and Caicos is part of the Lesser Antiles—smaller islands that are actually tops of undersea mountains. Vikings discovered the islands 200 years before Columbus. History was made there 500 years later as John Glen landed on Grand Turk when returning from his landmark space adventure. There is a statue and museum commemorating that event, which is of interest to Americans, too.

Larry posed beside the statue of John Glen.
Whether Turks and Caicos is a cruise port stop or you decide to spend more time there, you’ll find relaxing easy and water activities among the best in the Caribbean.
Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Good news if you love America's national parks

Majestic mountains of Grand Teton National Park
Visit national parks for free

You probably remember that the National Park Service turned 100 years old in 2016 and many parks hosted special events and celebrations. But every year there are several designated days when fees to visit national parks that have a charge (many national park sites are always free) are waived.

Hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
The next fee-free day is September 30, and the last one for 2017 is Veterans Day Weekend on November 11-12. There’s no better time to enjoy our country’s history and natural beauty.

National parks have been called America’s Best Idea for good reason. Fee-free days make parks accessible to more people and provide a great opportunity to visit a new place or return to an old favorite, especially if your favorite park is one that normally charges an entrance fee. It’s good to note that only 118 of 417 National Park Service sites have an entrance fee.
Glorious colors of Grand Canyon National Park
In addition, any fourth grade student can get a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program, and active duty military and citizens with a permanent disability can also get free passes. For more information about discounted passes, visit America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Yellowstone National Park geysers
The noted fee waivers in September and November include entrance fees (which normally range from $3 to $30), commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Senior passes are golden

If you are age 62 or older, the best travel bargain you can find is the lifetime national park senior pass, even though the cost increased in August 2017 from $10 to $80. That’s for a lifetime pass, or you can purchase an annual senior pass, good for all national park sites, for $20.

While that may seem like a large increase, your traveling companions can also enter parks for free, up to four adults (Children under age 16 are always admitted free). Many sites also offer discounts on amenities like camping, swimming, boating, tours, or shopping with the senior pass.
Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
If you already have a lifetime pass, it is still valid; but if you lose it and have to replace it, you’ll pay the higher fee. 

Hiking in Zion National Park
The price increase is a result of Centennial Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2016. If you love our national parks as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that funds from all Senior Passes purchased in a national park will go to a National Park Foundation Endowment and a National Park Centennial Challenge Fund.
You can also purchase Senior Passes online or through the mail with an added $10 processing fee. Contact

What are you waiting for? Buy that Senior Pass or go on fee-free days--just take time to explore your national parks!
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier