Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wildflowers are peeking out in central Texas

April means wildflowers in central Texas.  For many locals that calls for a day trip into the countryside following routes noted for spectacular sightings. But just as folks go to Washington D.C. in the spring to see pink cherry blossoms and journey to New England for autumn leaf peeping, intrepid travelers head south to see the annual burst of bloom along Texas roadways.

Bluebonnets, the state flower, dominate landscapes in an endless sea of royal beauty.  Unbroken fields of flowers transform rocky soil dotted with cacti into an absolute wonderland of color.  Throughout the hills and valleys a large variety of wildflowers emerge: pink spiderwort and evening primrose, red Indian paintbrush, burgundy claret cup, purple prairie verbena, yellow daisy, and white prickly poppy. Indian blanket, coneflowers, and Mexican hat add yellow-tipped red petals while Texas lantana grows wild in a rainbow of hues.

While Mother Nature is the main force behind this awesome treat, today many of the wildflower meadows are manmade—seeds are sown and allowed to grow undisturbed in fields.  The Texas Department of Transportation, encouraged by former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, broadcasts bluebonnet seeds along numerous highways.  Still, flower displays are at the mercy of the weather, determined by temperatures and rain during the fall. All the conditions were just right in 2010 for the most outstanding show in a decade.

Here’s a recap of our wildflower drive from last year that provided many glorious sightings and gorgeous photos. Prime color is still a few weeks away for 2011, but this route won’t disappoint. From Austin, we headed west via State Highway 71, passing the communities of Bee Cave and Spicewood on the way to Marble Falls. We veered off onto Hwy 2147 to Lake LBJ, one of the Highland lakes, and Horseshoe Bay, where lovely fields of yellow flowers surround huge oak trees. 

Then we backtracked to Marble Falls. If it had been lunch time, we would have stopped at the Bluebonnet Cafe, famous since 1929 for its yummy homemade pies and home-cooked meals. We parked just before the city limits to marvel at a gorgeous conglomerate of flowers right beside the road.

Next, we headed towards Burnet on SH 281 but turned off on Park Road 4 to Longhorn Caverns, another spot that rewarded us with plentiful blooms dominated by bluebonnets.  If you’re into caves, this is a cool one to visit.

Back on our wildflower drive, we took RR 2341 toward Canyon of the Eagles on the shores of Lake Buchanan, and then returned to Hwy 29, which goes through Llano, where you can get some of the best old-time pit barbeque ever at Cooper’s.  Then we headed south on 2323, stopping often to hop out of the car and stoop low for the best photos.  Halfway to the German community of Fredericksburg we detoured at the old Prairie Mountain schoolhouse for more dazzling pictures of wildflower fields.  By the time we arrived in Fredericksburg it was too dark for photos, so we grabbed a quick meal and headed back to Austin on State Highway 290.

Other spots known for wildflower displays include Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and nearby Willow City Loop (through private property, so stopping is discouraged), FM 1980 to Sweet Berry Farm, RM 1431 on the north side of Austin, and Hwy 290 south towards Brenham. Daily wildflower sightings are noted at several web sites including and www./

Contrary to popular belief, it is not against the law to pick bluebonnets—but it is against the law to trespass, so tread carefully.  Wherever you decide to drive, take time to enjoy the beauty that only Nature can provide.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories by Beverly at Striped Pot andAustin Adventure Travel 
Also read Texas Hill Country in Spring by Elizabeth Rose.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When visiting Washington state, take a jaunt to the San Juan Islands

Today's blog is a guest post by Tacoma, Washington writer Heather Larson.

Imagine a group of islands with almost all the same characteristics as a tropical paradise, with the water a smidgeon cooler. Now you can start forming a picture of the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

Beautiful, warm, friendly and full of whatever you want. Whether you desire to suspend your hectic life for a moment to just rest and relax or you’re eyeing the destination as a place to shop or explore, you won’t be disappointed.

The three main islands in this archipelago on the Salish Sea are San Juan, Orcas and Lopez. Today I’ll give you a glimpse of San Juan Island, which is the most populated with about 7,300 people.

“Getting there is half the fun,” says the San Juan Island Visitor’s Bureau website ( Unlike some of our islands which can be driven to, usually via a bridge, you must take a boat, ferry or small plane to reach the San Juans.

Riding the ferry from the town of Anacortes, the most popular way to go, is enchanting and has also been known to lower blood pressures. Sit back, have coffee and enjoy the journey. After landing in the town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, it’s just a short jaunt to boutique gift shops, stellar art galleries, incredible bookstores, adorable hotels and gourmet restaurants.

Pelindaba Lavender has all things lavender
If you get off the ferry hungry, march up to Market Chef and enjoy soup, a salad or sandwich or all three. I heartily recommend the salmon chowder and curried egg salad vinaigrette, if available.

For dessert, pop into Pelindaba Lavender and sample their chocolate lavender ice cream, which is more like a smooth, creamy gelato. Survey all the possibilities with lavender as an ingredient and I’m sure you’ll find something you’d like to try.

Walk off all that tasty food browsing in the many shops that sell crafts from local artisans or hike up to The Whale Museum. It's the best place to gain some insight into Puget Sound's orca population. With your first step into the museum, you enter the orcas' world through interactive exhibits and displays. You will leave with an appreciation for these breathtaking animals and the challenges they face to survive.

Guests enjoy Bird Rock Hotel
After all that, you’re ready to find lodging. The “reimagined” Bird Rock Hotel is delightfully quaint. Each room is named after a different San Juan Island. If you can get one like “The Speiden” you can use some of those new lavender bath products you just purchased in the gigantic jetted tub. The hotel also includes a continental breakfast with your room and bicycles for you to use to roam around the island.

I may just schedule my own taste of island life this summer. See you there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Exercise while traveling to arrive at your destination pain-free

Traveling to far-away destinations can wreak havoc on your body.  Sure, it’s fun to visit family and friends or experience new places on vacation, but whether you go by car, bus, train, or plane, sitting for long periods of time can leave you feeling tired, stiff, and sore—not a good way to start the fun.

Stretching is a must when traveling for
a long time.
Advice from a chiropractor: Prepare for traveling the same way you’d prepare for an athletic event. Stretch muscles before your trip at home or in an airport--don’t be embarrassed to swing your arms or do a forward bend.  Then cool-down with a brisk walk after arriving at your destination.

If you’re driving try these tips:
  • Move the seat so you’re close to the steering wheel with knees slightly higher than hips.
  • Use a support behind your back to reduce strain, pain, or injury.  Place the widest part of the support between the bottom of ribs and waist.
  • Exercise your legs while driving by opening toes wide and holding to the count of 10. Tighten calf muscles, hold for five counts, then release.  Do the same for thighs and glutes. 
  • Roll shoulders up and back.  Make sure head isn’t leaning too far forward.
  • Tighten and loosen grip on the steering to improve hand circulation and decrease arm and hand fatigue.
  • Take rest breaks every 2-3 hours.  Find a roadside park and walk a while.
Long international flights can take a toll on your body.
Photo: Larry Burmeier

If you’re flying, these tips will help keep muscles flexible:

  • Place pillows or blankets just above the beltline to maintain the normal “S” curve of your spine.
  • Put another pillow in the gap between your neck and the headrest.
  • Check bags heavier than 5-10 percent of your body weight. 
  • Do not lift bags over your head or turn or twist your head and neck in the process.
  • Vary position frequently while seated to improve circulation and avoid cramps.  Move knees up and down; massage legs and calves. Reach arms over the seat back. Do in-seat spinal twists and ear-to-shoulder neck exercises.
  • For long flights, get up and walk along the aisles every two hours or so.
  • Avoid sitting directly under air controls, as this could cause tension in neck and shoulder muscles.
Read more travel stories by Beverly at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plan a vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando

Spring break has come and gone, and now many families are thinking about summer vacation.  To get the most from your travel dollars, expect to spend time researching your preferred destination. 

Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom
One of the most popular destinations, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is on our agenda for this summer.  We’re taking a granddaughter for her first visit and have discovered that WDW has changed considerably since our last visit more than 10 years ago. 

I started planning by gathering information online at .  The Internet provides a quick resource for options and ways to trim costs.  I keep a pencil handy to take notes and compare prices. 

My first forays online produced a plethora of choices for accommodations, both in the park and out.  We consider price and location and decide the conveniences attached to staying at a Disney property onsite are worth the extra cost.  Not only is transportation provided from hotel to park via monorail or shuttle but transportation is provided to and from the airport (if you’re flying in) with luggage delivered straight to your room.

Then there were dining options, not just reservations for specific restaurants but meal packages for the entire stay. And special dinner shows. And meals with Disney characters.  It quickly became apparent that meals are a major expenditure, so if you want to lower costs a pre-paid package might be your best option (2 meals and 2 snacks per person per day and a refillable mug).

Minnie Mouse at the parade
Admission tickets are also a big expense, and you need to decide how many days to visit, whether you want the park-hopper option (to visit more than one park on a given day), if you want to include water parks, or if you plan to do extras like play golf.  Yes, there’s an additional charge for these options.

Then we had to select the exact dates for our visit and check airfares (which can be booked as part of a vacation package or separately).  If you arrive early or depart late, you can have extra days to explore in the parks without paying for so many nights.  In that case, consider increasing the length of your admission ticket to take advantage of the extra time.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot
It’s impossible to cover all the offerings at WDW without suffering from total overload, so we tried to choose what is most important to see and do—and not worry about what we might miss.  Because clicking back and forth on web sites can be confusing, I bought a guide book, The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation 2011 (there are many others), to help sort through all the options. During this planning phase, I bookmarked pages, highlighted pertinent information, and compared features of hotels, rides, shows, and activities. Once I had a better idea of what suited our trio’s interests, I printed out maps to help keep locations in perspective.  

Contemporary Resort Hotel and monorail
I compared costs of individual components to the composite packages offered on the web site—air, room, dining, admission, and special activities.  Unless you don’t need certain elements, a package will usually be a better buy. Then I called a Disney vacation planner and talked with a live person on the phone.  Our discussion affirmed the choices I had made.  Painlessly (except for the whack to my wallet), she booked everything just as I had planned, took my deposit and previously booked flight information, and in minutes it was a done deal.

To have the vacation of your dreams, don’t skimp on preparation time. Take advantage of all available resources—Internet, books, friends’ recommendations, and phone calls.  Take notes, ask questions, and compare prices and amenities to decide what best fits your family’s needs and budget. Maintain a little flexibility as you relax and enjoy your well-planned getaway!

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Escape to Barbados on new non-stop flight from DFW

American Airlines has made a Caribbean escape easier than ever with new non-stop service from Dallas-Fort Worth to Barbados and introductory round-trip airfare starting at just $298*.
Volcanic rocks decorate some beaches
Book on through March 30, 2011 to receive this special fare between DFW nonstop to Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport. Flights from DFW to Barbados operate every Monday, Thursday and Saturday with returning flights every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Scene from a high point on the north shore
For an even more affordable vacation, travelers can now book the limited time ‘Take me to Barbados’ package offering vacationers’ big savings on hotels, attractions, car rentals and dining options throughout the island. The ‘Take me to Barbados’ offer is bookable now through March 25, 2011 for travel April 25 – December 14, 2011. 
Barbados has something for everyone from adventure seekers to sun-worshippers and offers travelers a destination rich in history, culture, food, music, and a passion for living life to its fullest.  It's a beautiful island with scenery encompassing beaches, rolling hills, and farmland.
Dune buggies are a fun way to explore Barbados
For more information and to book, visit or  Another good source for information is this new travel guide: can also call the Barbados Tourism Authority at 1(800) 221-9831.

*For full terms and conditions on American Airlines flights visit
Photo credit: Larry  and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cruise ships cancel stops at Mazatlan, Mexico

A year ago we cruised along the Mexican Riviera stopping at multiple ports along the Pacific coast of Mexico including Mazatlan, the busiest port between Los Angeles and the Panama Canal. It has been a favorite stop for cruise ships as well as tourists looking for an authentic Mexican destination. From Stone Island (really a peninsula), we boated to nearby Goat Island and kayaked around Kaktus Island.  Sunshine, golden beaches, and calm blue water made this a very pleasant excursion.

So, it was disheartening to learn that, for safety reasons, ships in the Holland American Line have recently  discontinued stops at Mazatlan for the remainder of the spring 2011 season.  HAL isn't the first cruise line to cancel port calls to Mazatlan, a decision that has resulted from shootings in the tourist zone of the city.  Disney canceled 27 ports of call in Mazatlan for 2011, and Carnival is considering a similar move. "There have been recent security incidents that have made cruise lines concerned about the safety of their guests," Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher said.

Last year 526,000 passengers visited the port without incident, but crime concerns are hard to overcome. It's a shame that drug-related violence is negatively affecting tourism, an important economic factor for the city and country. Still, Port Director Gil Diaz claims the port of Mazatlan is safe and  incidents such as stealing a passenger's necklace are minor things outside the terminal.  But you can't blame cruise lines for not wanting to take chances.

As for HAL, some sailings will now feature two days with an overnight in Puerto Vallarta or extra time in Cabo San Lucas. Hopefully, discussions with local authorities will enable ships to resume calling at Mazatlan in the near future.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

High Country Orchard in Palisade, Colorado

Scott High is a man of his word. Before marrying Theresa he told her, “I won’t promise you a rose garden, but I will promise you a vineyard.”

High Country Orchard is located in a gorgeous valley
First, however, came the peach orchard. That was fine with Theresa, who remembered an old Italian saying, “Where peaches grow is a great place for a vineyard.”

Before they ventured into vineyards on their perfectly situated plot of land near Palisade, Colorado, they got a bit distracted. The peaches were too good to give up, so they continued growing peach trees and learning more about the business. “This is truly farming,” Theresa says. “We prune, thin, plant—it’s all part of the agriculture cycle.”

They now grow award-winning fruit that was sampled by Michelle Obama and her girls when the trio visited High Country Orchard during President Obama’s 2008 campaign stop in Grand Junction. But every year hundreds of people, visitors from far and near, come for tours and shopping during July and August (Tours by appointment at other times).

Theresa and Scott High in their peach orchard
The Highs bought their first peach orchard in 1999 intending to turn the 10 acres into their starter vineyard. But when they tasted the peaches growing there, they knew the trees would have to stay. From that first land purchase, their facility has grown to 126 acres—now planted with 15 varieties of tree-ripened peaches, 3 varieties of sweet cherries, red and white wine grapes, and fresh garden vegetables.

With Scott’s background in agriculture and Theresa’s knowledge of marketing, they have the perfect combination of skills for operating a successful orchard. But they have taken working efficiently and putting out the best possible product to a new level. It starts with their growing technique and ends with their specialized high-tech equipment for analyzing, sorting, and packing peaches.

“We thin aggressively, pinching off 90 percent of blossoms in the spring,” Scott says. “That gives us quality rather than quantity. Later we only pick ripe fruit, and only from sunrise to noon, when it is juicier. If you pick a peach at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. it’s a little flat,” he adds. Picked peaches are immediately pre-chilled; the Highs do not wash, wax, or brush the fuzz away.

Boxes of peaches are shipped all over the country
Photos by Beverly Burmeier
Packing occurs from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. each day during the season, after which trucks arrive to haul pallets to distributors. High Country Orchard peaches, which are all from three to three and a half inches in diameter, are on the shelves of Colorado stores like Whole Foods and Kroger within 24 hours of picking.

How can they get as many as 2000 boxes (40 items per box) of tree-ripened peaches ready to ship every afternoon? The solution lies in their customized packing line. Designed by Scott, engineered in France, and fabricated in California, the technology involves using two high-speed digital cameras that take seven spherical pictures of every peach as it passes along the conveyor belt. In 0.6 seconds the computer notes size, weight, color, and any imperfections and uses the calculations to determine which of nine foam-cushioned packaging lines to drop it down into. Six to 10 minutes after the peach leaves the pre-chiller, it is ready to be loaded onto the truck.

The machine also weeds out any bad peaches that may have escaped the sorters, and Theresa uses these to make delicious preserves, salsas, and grilling sauces in her commercial kitchen. These are sold on-site and through mail order.

About that vineyard Scott promised Theresa: The first bottles of cabernet sauvignon from grapes grown on their farm hit shelves to rave reviews in 2010.

High Country Orchard
3548 E 1/2 Rd.
Palisade, CO 81526

Connect with Beverly at: Striped Pot  Austin Adventure Travel  Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cruising with a group in the Western Caribbean

Hubby and I recently returned from a cruise on Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas, sailing from Galveston to three ports in the Western Caribbean.  Although we’ve cruised many times, this was our first experience as part of a large group from our home community. 

We’re fairly independent travelers and have learned what activities we especially enjoy onboard and in port, so we weren’t really sure how it would all work out. While relaxing is certainly prime on our itinerary, we also relish the opportunity to explore new places and try new adventures.  Still, we know what each person or couple wants from a cruise is different, so everyone was free to set their own pace. Actually, we enjoyed sharing tips with cruise newbies and helping friends become acquainted with the ship once onboard.

Our group of 31 people decided to get together at the Schooner Bar (which became our default meeting spot) right after the required muster drill on the first day.  As always, showing up was optional, but it was fun meeting up with friends on the ship and sharing details of everyone’s daily activities. 

We also split for dining--some preferred early seating, others chose late, and a few opted for flexible dining times.  We dined each night with one specific couple, but even so we shared a larger table allowing us to meet a variety of interesting people from many different states.
Some of the group attended the evening shows—comedian, song and dance reviews, ventriloquist, ice show, and more—while others chose to stroll along the Promenade, sing karaoke, or try their luck in the casino.  With such a large group, freedom of choice was the only way to go.

Beverly holds a sting ray
At Cozumel, our first port, some of our friends decided to shop and then meet for drinks at a scenic restaurant near the beach—a fun afternoon spent sharing stories and laughs over salsa, guacamole, and Mexican beer.  On the other hand, we had a marvelous time observing coral and fish on a Three Reef Snorkel Tour. 

Although we had been to Sting Ray City from Grand Cayman two other times, we had so much fun that we went back—adding snorkeling and a visit to Seven Mile Beach to the tour.  A few couples pooled their resources and hired a van and driver for an island tour.

This cruise was our first time to stop at Montego Bay in Jamaica, the third port. Our sense of adventure led us on Jamaica's most popular  excursion,a must-do adventure at Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios. At this spectacular spot we braved the flowing current of water and climbed over slippery boulders to the top.  Sharing the beauty and excitement with another couple in our group made the experience even better.

During sea days, we enjoyed games of ping-pong and miniature golf with friends, lounged by the pool, and chatted with folks from home.  I couldn’t convince others to join us climbing the rock wall and ice skating, but we have pictures to document the activities. 

Seeing familiar faces along the way always made me smile, and the best part is we got to know some of our neighbors better.  The memories we all share will be a lasting bond of friendship.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travelstories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel