Saturday, August 22, 2020

Stars, stones, and dark sky in Ireland

Combining a tour of the famous BeaghmoreStones Circles with some spectacular stargazing in Northern Ireland’s only designated dark sky area can only mean one thing – an unforgettable experience.

Experience the mystery of ancient formations at night.
From the mysterious Bronze Age formations at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains, to the twinkling blanket of night sky above Davagh Forest, a Stars and Stones experience is a unique chance to embrace the giant spirit of Northern Ireland and connect with land and sky, past and present, long held facts and eternal mysteries.

The experience centres around the prehistoric Beaghmore Stone Circles and the brand new OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory in County Tyrone, both just a short walk from each other under some of the darkest skies on the island of Ireland.

What makes the stone monuments so important is their sheer scale. Featuring seven low stone circles of varying sizes, six of which are paired, there are also 12 cairns and 10 megalithic rows integrated into the overall layout. One of the circles is highly unusual – with 800 smaller stones placed upright inside its perimeter it has come to be known as the ‘Dragon’s Teeth Circle’.

While a local storyteller recounts enduring tales connected with the stones, you will be lured back thousands of years, when people marked time by the sun, stars and planets.

Feel the connections to ancient Ireland, ponder over timeless mysteries and discover myths and legends before heading to the OM observatory to learn about the night sky from an astronomer.  
Marvel at the stars in Ireland's only dark sky destination.
Featuring state-of-the-art tech, the purpose-built stargazing facility, named after the sound of the universe, offers exceptionally clear views of the night sky – just as it would have been seen in Ireland centuries ago.

From holographic installations and virtual reality headsets, to colourful, accessible interpretation panels and hands-on activities, night sky watchers will also be able to explore the solar system here at will.

As evening falls, the observatory’s sophisticated telescope is used to observe the heavens via a retractable roof, with images transmitted to large screens around the centre.

From sharp detail of the moon's surface to distant planets, stunning pictures of objects will be captured and the observatory will transform into a magical lightshow.

All the while, feel the links between the digital age, the Bronze Age and the natural surroundings, and enjoy a true immersion in this mystical Northern Irish region.

Finish your experience around a campfire under the dark sky, or head to one of the glass-roofed glamping pods situated only metres away from the intriguing stone circles and observatory. 
The dark sky observatory features a brilliant lightshow at night.
  Information and photos courtesy of Tourism Ireland, 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Door County, Wisconsin has something for everyone

With temperature in Texas blazing past 100 degrees daily, it's no wonder my thoughts turned to Door County, Wisconsin. Bounded by the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, this peninsula offered a treasure trove of surprises when Larry and I visited several years ago. It could be your perfect summer getaway or a cool destination for a fall road trip
Small towns and peaceful bay waters make an ideal retreat.
 Here are some highlights of several fun, historic, and scenic places to explore when touring the rural communities of this eastern Wisconsin extension.
Charming Cana Island Lighthouse

Climb the Cana Island Lighthouse tower. Built in 1869, you’ll have a stunning view of the windswept shore. Historic exhibits tell about storms and maritime dramas witnessed from the lighthouse near Baileys Harbor, one of the most photographed along the Great Lakes.
Bike or hike on trails in the county's many parks.
Explore the coast. Door County has 337 miles of shoreline, five state parks, and 19 county parks.  Bike the Sunset Trail in popular Peninsula State Park, or hike on Eagle Trail where you can climb Eagle Tower for incredible views of limestone formations and caves carved by glacier water and erosion. Or visit Whitefish Dunes State Park with the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.

The explosion can easily catch you off guard!
Go to an authentic fish boil. The traditional dinner experience—found only in Door County—features whitefish freshly caught by local fishermen and cooked outside over an open fire just as it was by early Scandinavian settlers. A spectacular ending to the cooking process involves a “boil-over” as the fire explodes in shooting flames to expel oils from the fish, which leaves it mild-tasting and delicious.

Get adventurous. For an active day, try zip lining through the woods. Or stay close to the ground on a Segway ride winding along wooded paths. Challenge yourself at one of the golf courses scattered throughout the peninsula. 
Zip lining is a fun activity for all ages.

Artists are attracted to and inspired by this region.
 Admire the visual arts. Studios and galleries throughout the county feature work by many Wisconsin artists. Look for high-quality jewelry, sculpture, paintings, home furnishings, leather goods, hand-made rugs, stoneware, and pottery.

Cherry French toast--yummy!
Sample everything cherry. Take a tour of the 60-year-old cherry orchard and cider mill at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market in the town of Fish Creek. See how the fruit is picked and packaged, sample pies hot from the oven, and then buy some scrumptious cherry jam, dried cherries, or cherry wines to take home.

Fun family entertainment 
Savor tranquility. Stroll along the shore, soak up a scenic sunset, pick cherries in summer or apple in fall, taste award-winning wines, or ride the trolley. Shop small boutiques and purchase one-of-a-kind items for friends and family. Sample a double scoop at Wilson’s old time soda shop.

You can't miss ice cream at Wilson's--it's a tradition.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sightseeing on a glider in Hawaii

When visiting Oahu I satisfied an adventurous desire to soar in a glider and feel the sensation of floating in air while drifting casually toward earth—yet enveloped by a protective cocoon.

“It’s the most exciting adventure many people have on the island,” Bill Star, co-owner of The Original Glider Rides, the oldest and largest soaring operation in Hawaii, told me when we arrived at its location on the North Shore of Oahu, a 50-minute drive from Waikiki on the South Shore. 

Getting ready to board the glider
Riders may go alone (weight limit per person is 270 pounds) or in pairs (combined weight under 340 pounds).  But if you’re flying with a companion--my adult daughter and I shared a ride--be sure it’s someone you don’t mind cozying up with in the compact rear seat.

While twosomes ride in the back, a single can opt for the front—and the opportunity to take control of the glider in a mini-flying lesson, an option my husband Larry chose.  The FAA certified pilot gave instructions from the rear seat--and fortunately had duplicate controls since Larry was too busy savoring glorious scenery, as well as snapping one picture after another, to be bothered with flying the glider, too. Distraction comes easily.

Larry flew as a single--and got a brief flying lesson in the air.
Because a glider has no engine and cannot become airborne on its own, it must be towed into the skies by another plane.  How high you go depends on the length of the ride and wind currents.  Guest rides generally ascend to 2,500 feet, cover a five to six mile radius, and last about 20 minutes.        

After assuring that my daughter and I were properly snug, our pilot physically maneuvered the lightweight craft into position, tethered it to a small plane, and hopped in just before we started skimming the runway.  Takeoff felt like being pulled in a sled or wagon, except that suddenly the glider’s wheels were off the ground, and it was kept on course by a rope stretched between the two aircraft. 

Then, ever so quietly when we reached the desired altitude, the tether was dropped, and the host plane flew away.  There we were—floating in air, awed by the spectacular beauty of Hawaii’s coastline.

Row after row of waves rolled to shore, breaking silently against the sand, and retreating into the ocean.  Coral shone beneath the clear blue water. I caught glimpses of cattle and horse trails along rugged volcanic mountains of the Waianae range, and the vegetation seemed greener from our vantage point.  Blocks of sugar cane fields from Waialua Plantation drifted beneath me.  Sunlight cast long shadows over mountains, surf, and sea—and we could even see the shadow of our glider on the ground.
View from the glider of waves on Oahu"s coastline.
 It was eerily quiet.  Being motorless, the glider floats silently through air, with only the sound of wind and our clicking cameras to break the reverie.  With 30-40 miles of visibility, the view from our bubble-topped sailplane was breathtaking. 

A rush of air spontaneously lifted us higher; then a downdraft plunged the craft.  Although winds may buffet the craft with up and down movement, the ride is still reasonably smooth—unless you have an adventurous pilot bent on giving you a thrilling ride. 

Gliders stay airborne from air flowing over the wings that creates low pressure on top of the wings.  Because this low pressure only partially supports the weight of the glider, it gradually descends. By maneuvering the glider to catch thermals or updrafts, the pilot keeps the aircraft aloft and can actually climb higher.  If you’re game, the pilot can achieve a roller coaster effect—or not--if your stomach rebels to extra motion. 

Our trio was fine with floating gracefully through the air, enjoying panoramic vistas as the glider slowly drifted downward.  As we saw the horizon approaching we wished the ride could last longer.  

The pilot takes over after the tow plane has dropped the tether. He's on
his own for the landing.
With a slight bump, wheels touched the runway, and the glider wobbled gently to a stop.  The pilot jumped out to align the craft properly and move it to the edge of the runway. “Absolutely fantastic,” my daughter exclaimed, and I agreed.

When you go, allow enough time, either before your ride or after, to enjoy the many beaches and pipeline waves (if you’re lucky) for which the North Shore is famous. Rent scooters or kayaks at Waimea Bay, to extend your adventure either on shore or in the water. Also factor in time for sampling shaved ice and sightseeing at Haleiwa, a quaint historic town and surfer mecca with abundant shopping and dining opportunities. 

Book online at Videos made with cameras in the glider and outside and a microphone to record your comments are also available for purchase.     

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier      

Sunday, August 2, 2020

You want it--they've got it

If you’ve been bitten by the yard sale bug, always on the lookout for a bargain, the World’s Longest YardSale is positively paradise.

Sightseers and shoppers, sellers and schleppers—all mingle in an immense mass of goods salvaged from attics, barns, and back porches. Snaking for 600 miles through six states, this yard sale is junkster’s nirvana.

And it’s happening in August.

Starting in Gadsden, Alabama, on top of Lookout Mountain, the 127 Yard Sale is, in reality, an incredible marketing strategy.  Organized in 1987 by local chambers of commerce, this extended yard sale was an attempt to bring people off the interstate system onto the less traveled mountain roads. Rural communities embraced the concept, and it grew steadily in popularity. Through Alabama, into Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, the train of tables extends along the Hwy. 127 corridor (hence the name), offering a leisurely tour of rural America in addition to bargain hunting.

Campers to computers.  Purses to puppies.  Unused windows, lawn mower parts, a smattering of “antiques” and honest-to-goodness craft items.  Everything imaginable, including the kitchen sink, is strewn along the roadside in this sale.  People from all over the country plan vacations encompassing this haggling heaven, whether they are sellers or buyers.

But my husband and I happened upon this event several years ago by accident.  Gadsden was an overnight stop on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains.

“Did you come for the yard sale?” asked the manager of our hotel when we checked in.  Although we were clueless, other guests knew just which way to head out in the morning.

Stopping to ask directions to Nocalula State Park in Gadsden—we wanted to see the fabled Indian falls there—provided the first clue about what we would encounter.  The service station clerk warned us about crowds of sellers and shoppers crammed into the park (the sale’s starting point), yet the mass was still navigable, and the park provided a welcome refuge from traveling in the car. 

Still unaware of the event’s magnitude, we headed for Lookout Mountain Parkway, a recommended scenic drive according to our guidebook.

What unfolded along this road, also known in the Gadsden area as Tabor Road, became more fascinating with each passing mile.  Actually, the miles merely crept along in a swarm of people, autos, and goods.  Roadsides teemed with tables, tents, and tourists.  Cars lurched as drivers scoped out their next stop. 

Toys, hubcaps, dishes, or baby cribs.  Vintage jewelry, farm-fresh vegetables, and fishing lures.  It’s all there for the haggling. Nobody missed an opportunity to make a buck or find a bargain.
Shoppers can jump into the longest yard sale at either end or somewhere in the middle.  This year the sale is scheduled for August 5-8, time enough to cover the whole route, if you have a mission, by selectively choosing stops.

People all along the route embrace this marketing ploy, whether they live in towns or in rural areas connected only by ribbons of two-lane road. Wares are spread on tables, blankets, or bare ground and faithfully tended in village parking lots, private front yards, and open fields.

As miles of hilly farmland planted in corn and beans rolled by, yard sales thinned but never disappeared for long.  “Got Milk—and Butter, Fresh Churned,” proclaimed one farm house sign.  Boiled peanuts, watermelon, lemonade, and hot dogs were offered to tempt tourists off the road and to keep their stamina strong for the next round of deal making.

Thousands of vendors participate, and locals often rent cabins and campsites to those who follow the craft fair circuit.  Some homeowners also rent space in their yards for sellers to set up shop.   Sellers come in old school buses, campers, or trucks loaded with new, or almost new, and often obviously used goods hoping to catch the fancy of passing motorists. Roadsides become outdoor malls swarming with super shoppers.

Following the trail takes the traveler through beautiful mountain scenery, forests, and rolling hills, with several state parks and recreation areas along the way for moments of relaxation.  It was definitely a scenic route with enormous appeal for a variety of reasons. 

Success of this free event relies on coordination from each community, and many towns plan special activities to take advantage of the influx of tourists. Hotels and restaurants along the way fill with the curious and the committed, a sign that the strategy to entice people into the mountain communities is working.  
It’s an incredible experience, a little tacky and wacky, but truly fun for those who love to shop until they drop—and take home plenty of goods as proof.
Dates for 2021 are August 5-8. Find printable or interactive route map at  More information at

Photos from free sources