Sunday, August 30, 2015

The lowdown on chilling out in Texas caves this summer

Natural Bridge Caverns at New Braunfels, Texas

Summer heat got your down? Instead of looking for relief at a lake, river or beach, head underground.
Longhorn Cavern near Burnet, Texas

More than 3,000 caves are scattered throughout Texas, including many that are wild or undeveloped. But for experiences everyone can enjoy, the best options are Texas's popular "show" caves: Natural Bridge Caverns, Longhorn Cavern, Inner Space Cavern, Cascade Caverns, Caverns of Sonora, Wonder World Park, and Cave without a Name.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Heady view of an eerie landscape

"It's 4 a.m. and totally dark outside when the van rolls up to our hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey. We head to the launch spot for our hot-air balloon ride, and the sun is just peeking above the mountains when we arrive."
As many as 150 balloons fly daily over the lunar-like landscape
of Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by Beverly Burmeier

Read the complete article in the Dallas Morning News about our hot air balloon ride over the remarkable, rocky landscape of this National Heritage site.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Free your inner child at Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota

It was the huge, green polka-dotted frog that caught our attention.
Then we noticed a 12-foot tall stack of old radios and more funky-looking metal and wood sculptures that we couldn’t really identify. What is this place? We passed it during a drive though Franconia, Minnesota, and were intrigued enough to stop on our return and see what it was all about.

We found out that despite some of the weird-looking installations, the outdoor sculpture park was created with a serious purpose. Located in the scenic St. Croix River Valley, Franconia Sculpture Park is a nonprofit arts organization with an active artist residency and community arts scene.
The 43-acre park was founded in 1996 by a small group of professional artists, including current Artistic Director/CEO John Hock, who envisioned a supportive artists’ community and open-air sculpture space that would inspire creativity from the artists and still be accessible to everyone. Through fellowships it supports emerging and mid-career artists and sculptors (40 in 2015) and provides display space for their creations.

Franconia Sculpture Park is definitely accessible: It’s free to the public and open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. Visitors can wander over 43 acres of mowed land and gravel paths (or ride in a golf cart) and explore more than 100 ever-changing large-scale sculptures.
With only about 45 minutes to explore the park, we covered as much of the open space as we could—and wished we had a couple of hours to dally among the fanciful creations. Many families were enjoying the sculptures on that summer Saturday, especially since a lot of the pieces are kid-friendly--meaning it’s okay to touch, climb, and slide on them. Adults are also encouraged to find their inner child and have a bit of fun exploring the premises and art works.

Other interesting two-and three-dimensional sculptures included surveyors’ tripods with antennas going up and down (I couldn’t detect a pattern although there might have been one); a colorful Jungle Gym-type apparatus painted pink, yellow, and blue; wooden tower with a ladder (and door to peek inside); metal sculptures made from found items, an assemblage of large pipes, and much more.
Surprisingly, more than 100,000 visitors find their way to Franconia each year. Visitors often interact with resident artists in special programs or participate in artist-led tours of exhibitions which are held between late April and early November. For the special 60-minute walking tour, the charge is $3 per person. Picnic tables are available, and dogs on leash are welcome.

Additional works from resident artists are also displayed at Franconia in the City @ Casket Gallery in Northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Be happy-- plan an adventure

Go ahead—take that vacation! It’s the healthy thing to do.
The personal benefits of travel have been widely studied, but Americans get the least amount of vacation time among countries in the industrialized world, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. There are several reasons why additional vacation time can help you live longer and happier.
Using a redwood tree for yoga pose in
Humboldt State Park in California

Direct health benefit: Research shows that an annualvacation can cut a person’s risk of heart attack by 50 percent. Even a short holiday can bring down blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. Active leisure time directly contributes to higher levels of physical and mental health—with a bonus that travelers sleep better.

Bicycling in Yosemite National
Park is good exercise and fun.
Anticipation factor: Other research has shown that the path to happiness is paved with planning and waiting for an event to happen.  For some people, planning a trip or adventure is almost as much fun as actually going. It puts your brain in overdrive with anticipation. Some people might even hold off on an experience so they can savor thinking about it longer.

Enjoyment factor: A study from Cornell University shows that people who spend discretionary income on experiences such as travel are happier than when buying material goods. Then there’s the pleasure of reviewing and sharing the experience afterwards.
Researchers found that thinking about or waiting in line to make a purchase for an experience (for example, ski passes or concert tickets) is generally more pleasant than for those spending money on things.  Think how happy society as a whole could be if people focused on getting away more.

Beautiful scenery and a cool river to
splash in--such a happy place.
Life satisfaction: Even the anticipation of vacation travel generates an increase in positive feelings about one’s life, family, economic situation, and health. It often opens up a person for conversation and can help lift depression of people dealing with emotional traumas.
So, there you have it. Get out the travel guide, and start planning your next adventure. You’ll be healthier and happier if you do.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Spend a day--or a week--at Mall of America in Minnesota

Don’t let the word “mall” fool you into thinking it's just a place to buy new shoes.
Nickelodeon Universe is the nation's largest indoor amusement park.
Sure, you can shop at Mall of America—it has more than 520 stores (How many can you browse in a day?)

But that’s just one of the many reasons visitors from all over the world come to this megalith. Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, Mall of America is close to the MSP airport (free shuttle service if you have a long layover or the Mall is your primary destination). Since it is just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Mall of America is a major tourist destination for the region.
More than 50 restaurants throughout the Mall of America will
tempt you to stop and eat. And there's a Food Court, too.
In addition to more shopping venues that you can check out in a week, there are 50 restaurants and dozens of special attractions vying for your vacation dollars.

When we were in Minneapolis recently to visit family, we went straight from the airport to Mall of America. We entered the mall at Nickelodeon Universe, the country’s largest indoor theme park, which was filled with rides for all ages. A roller coaster soared to the ceiling, twisting and turning riders as it looped up and down over faux hills. Zip lines carried riders over other attractions like upside down airplane rides. Occasional happy screams from excited teens reverberated through the air, while bumper cars and a merry-go-round gave little ones their thrills. An all-day pass for adults is $30.99.
The glass roof allows light and warmth in, especially in summer when air conditioning is needed for cooling. The report we heard is that no additional heat is needed in winter (and it gets really cold there) because the micro-climate created under the glass keeps air inside warm.

The Lego display is a favorite of visitors.
Plenty of raised beds with real flowers and greenery gave a sense of being outdoors in a fun amusement park even though it’s all enclosed. If you lived in Minnesota in the winter you’d know that outdoor activities are limited to snow and ice—and cabin fever can be a serious affliction. Mall of America is the perfect cure.
Sea Life is another fun family attraction. This aquarium is located on the lower level in the same general area and requires a separate ticket, although you can see large tanks with sting rays from the main level. Charge for adults is $25.25, and for kids 3-12 it is $17.25.
If you’re into Legos, you can find amazing gigantic figures created from the little plastic blocks on display. There are also tables set up for building to your heart’s content, so plan to stay awhile at this exhibit. If your little darlings are into American Girl, get ready with the pocketbook, as Mall of American has one of the world’s largest stores.

There’s also a House of Comedy, Moose Mountain Adventure Golf ($8.99), and movie theater. Special exhibits include Star Trek, Barbie the Dreamhouse Adventure, Universe of Light, and Amazing Mirror Maze.
Yes, this robot is constructed of
millions of little plastic Legos.
How long do you think it took to
build this figure?
After marveling at all these attractions, we set out to do some shopping. Since we had a 16-year-old granddaughter with us, we hit some of the youth-oriented stores. But almost any store you can imagine has a presence in the Mall; some actually have two stores located at opposite ends of the Mall.

You thought you could walk through the entire mall? No way, unless you’re training for a major marathon.
Actually, all that trekking zapped our energy, so we took a break with burgers at Johnny Rocket’s in the food court. Maybe because our feet hurt after hours of walking around, but the only things we bought were new shoes for each of us—even better when we found out that there’s no sales tax on clothing or shoes.

More than 50 hotels are located within 10 minutes of Mall of America, which is good thing because most of the shoppers appeared to be from out of town. Many hotels offer special packages and rates for tourists, which you can check out at
If you’re in the area, Mall of America is a great place for a one-time visit. Maybe in 20 years you’ll want to return to see what’s new.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier