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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Kentucky Dam Village and the Land Between the Lakes

Hiking trail
We fell in love with the Kentucky Lake and Land Between the Lakes area. Last month we attended an outdoor writers' conference (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) and spent much of the time wondering why we hadn't found this jewel before. We stayed at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park where every room overlooked the lake.

Walking into the lobby and looking out the two-story windows was a treat in itself. It's a great place to dine or just hang out. I had trouble working on my computer because I kept getting lost in the view.

Break time
While I'm not sure of the weather year round, this September seemed perfect. There had been enough rain to keep everything green and beautiful. In addition to the resort with the fishing, boat rides and golfing, a short ride across Kentucky Dam takes you into the Land Between the Lakes.

Mother and child
I loved the seclusion - the feeling that you're almost alone with nature. A two-lane highway runs between the two lakes through western Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky Lakes borders the west and Barkley Lake the east. Lots of scenic overlooks, picnic areas and trails give access to nature's bounty.

Whether you hike, bike, fish, hunt or search for photo ops, you won't run out of opportunities. I spent one morning taking photos of a herd of bison in the Elk and Bison Prairie. Although I didn't see elk, the herd of bison meandered across the road in front of me for a good thirty minutes.

All was fine with each bison checking out the car until one close face too many set Luke (our Bichon) into protective mode. It definitely made that bison even more curious. I missed a great photo op because I had my hand over Luke's mouth!
On the lake

We visited several small towns and resorts to sample restaurants and shopping. We spent a morning on the lake in a beautiful houseboat. I can definitely picture myself vacationing in such luxury.

Do I plan to return? You betcha!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Great food in Columbia, Missouri

Menu at Ernie's
I ate my way through Columbia, Missouri's famous restaurants. If you're visiting the area, take time to sample them. Anyone who attended Mizzou will already have them on their favorites list.

Try Ernie's for breakfast! Chester Gould, the creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip, loved it so much that he gave the restaurant an original drawing about his favorite menu item, the Chopped Cow.

From the crowds, I have to think Columbia residents enjoy Ernie's as much as the visitors.

Booches' sports memorabilia
Booches is another college hangout. Famous for their burgers and the pool tables in the back, it was another standing room-only crowd. The burgers, while tasty, are small so you might want to order two. Be prepared to check out the sports memorabilia on the walls.

Shakespeare's Pizza just might spoil your taste for other pizza. It's as delicious and lives up to its reputation. I loved their salad, too.
Shakespeare's Pizza
Blufftop Bistro

The Flat Branch Pub and Brewing boasts the largest bar in Columbia. Like all the other places I visited, it was packed and the food was excellent. (I didn't get a photo from the Flat Branch).

Les Bourgeois Vineyards' Blufftop Bistro sets high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Visitors enjoy the food and the view.
Sparky's Ice Cream

No visit to Columbia would be complete without a stop at Sparky's homemade ice cream. Samples are free and you'll have a tough time making choices.

Wherever you go, it's worth the wait. Whatever your taste, you can probably find it in Columbia.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A book worth reading

Occasionally one happens upon a book that changes the way she views the world. Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall is such a book. It has the power to open your thinking beyond the fray of political parties.

Since the beginning of time, humankind has either accepted or rejected responsibility for the wildlife that shares our world.

Today, an issue that has become a political hot tomato is impacting the many species that make their home along the borderlands between the United States and Mexico.

In Continental Divide, author Krista Schlyer rises above the political furor to showcase the many forms of life that are being impacted by the newly constructed Border Wall.

Schlyer has spent most of her career photographing and writing about wildlife in the Southwest. Continental Divide, five years in the making, studies the impact the border wall is having on many threatened and endangered species. Through her beautiful photography, she tells the story of the everyday struggle for survival they face.

In 2007, she observed a rare wild herd of bison that journeyed back and forth across the border daily in their search for food and water. The wall threatens their survival as well as the lives of ocelots and other animals.

She led an expedition of the International League of Conservation Photographers to document what is happening. Many people who advocate a wall to divide the two countries have little or no knowledge of the ecological diversity of the region. Schlyer hopes to educate Americans to the real cost of the wall – a cost much higher than the billions of dollars spent on its construction and maintenance.

One has only to look at the photographs to gain an appreciation of the border states. Her eloquence with the written word provides a resounding argument of our responsibility to preserve our natural world. She calls for immigration reform that encompasses both the political and the environmental issues.

Continental Divide should be read by every thinking and caring American. Schlyer has given us an overview of a world whose future depends on intelligent conservation policies.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wine, Food and the Katy Trail

A sampling of Les Bourgeois wines

Do you think of Mizzou (the University of Missouri) when someone mentions Columbia, MO? The town has much more to offer.

Just a short drive west of Columbia, the town of Rocheport is home to the Katy Trail State Park, Les Bourgeois Winery, antique shops, the Lewis and Clark Trail and a beautiful landscape. The tour through the working winery gave us a comprehensive overview of the wine-making process, including the differences in processing red and white wines.  We learned that the oak barrels used for aging the wine can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500 each.

Oak barrels

Afterward we enjoyed a wine tasting. I found a white and a red that I really like. Then we drove past the vineyard to Les Bourgeois Bistro, where we ate a delicious lunch.

The bistro sets atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and offers a great view - inside and out.

Les Bourgeois Bistro
Following lunch, we visited the Katy Trail and learned about the old stone tunnel, Lewis and Clark, and the history of the trail. The blistering hot day kept us from spending much time on the trail but it's definitely on our agenda for a cooler day. We stopped to shop at a couple of fabulous antique shops in downtown Rocheport (about a block long).

Antique Store in Rocheport

Dinner took us to the Flat Branch Pub and Brewery in downtown Columbia, a hopping restaurant that was filled to capacity. Good food and great company.

Looking forward to another day in Columbia tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Route 66 in Kansas

Mater, from Cars

Although only 13 miles of the original Route 66 winds through Kansas, it offers plenty of history and is home to a fascinating man named Dean "Crazy Legs" Walker.

Labor Day Weekend proved to be a popular time for the short stretch of highway. If you travel west a few miles you reach Miami, Oklahoma; to the east it's only a hop, skip and a jump to Joplin, Missouri.

Kan-O-Tex Station

The sun was shining down from the bright blue sky and the summer heat was turned up high. My brother and sister-in-law had found an interesting Mexican restaurant in Galena and we decided to drive there from their home in Pittsburg, Kansas.


On Main Street, Mi Torito is in a brightly colored building that makes you want to stop and visit. The restaurant is charming, the food is good and the staff is friendly - a hard-to-believe combination is a tiny little Kansas town.

After lunch, I headed out with camera in hand. When I stopped at the Kan-O-Tex Station, I met a guy who, with several of his buddies, was on a motorcycle tour of part of the Route 66 route. As we looked at the old trucks, he told me that the station and the one old truck was the inspiration for Mater in the movie, Cars. I later discovered that Galena played a major role in the movie.

I took photos of an old bordello across the street from the station. Although Galena, in its mining days, was home to about 30,000, today's population is only
Galena mural
10% of that. After finding more photo ops, 
we drove on to Baxter Springs where a tornado ripped through the downtown area last spring. 

The town is still rebuilding and the Route 66 history is still alive. When I stopped at another station to take pictures, a man drove up and asked if I'd like to see the inside. The building houses a museum filled to the brim with Route 66 information and memorabilia.
Museum in Baxter Springs

The man, Dean "Crazy Legs" Walker, was the inspiration for the Mater character. You may have seen him on the Jay Leno Show a few years ago. Dean is the official Route 66 ambassador in Kansas. If you want information, he's the man to see.

Besides being the inspiration for Mater, Dean has another claim to fame. He can turn his feet around backwards. An Internet article said he can walk backwards but I didn't get to witness that feat - no pun intended.

When I returned home, I checked him out on the Internet and found I was lucky to run into him. His stories are still rolling around in my head. If you want information on Kansas and the route west, he knows it.

Kansas takes pride in its stretch of the famous highway. Don't dismiss it as just a few short miles because it offers a lot of history, interesting buildings and fun facts.

Why he's called Crazy Legs
Dean Crazy Legs Walker

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Missouri in September

I love September in Missouri! Not only is it the beginning of fantastic color and cooler days, it's also a month of conferences for me.

Next week, we'll visit Columbia, Missouri, for the Missouri Outdoor Communicators Conference. I'm looking forward to spending some time on the Katy Trail, visiting the MU campus, sampling some well-known restaurants including Shakespeare's Pizza, seeing other outdoor writers and learning something new.

My fingers itch for my camera just thinking about the opportunities I'll have. A high point of the conference will be a photography workshop by well-known outdoor photographer, Ron Kruger. I plan to soak up some pointers.

A couple of my pre-conference photos will have to do for now. Did I mention I love Missouri?

Last year's conference was in Hannibal and we had a marvelous time. Among other activities, we fished on Mark Twain Lake, ate at some enjoyable restaurants and visited Clemens Field (you guessed it, so named for Mark Twain). During WWII, the field served as a prisoner-of-war camp and today is host to a collegiate league team.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lake of the Woods "Pay It Forward" Event for Veterans at Walleye Fest

I want to share this press release. Many communities, outdoor associations and businesses actively support our veterans. Thank you, Lake of the Woods, for hosting this event. I love the smile on this veteran's face. 

Photo courtesy of Lake of the Woods MN press release

Baudette, MN  (August 26, 2014)  More than 45 injured veterans spent the weekend at Lake of the Woods as the first annual “Pay It Forward” event took place at Border View Lodge and Rainy River Resort.  This three night, two day fishing extravaganza had veterans, celebrities and many volunteers enjoying the world class fishing on charter boats.

Veterans with a variety of physical and mental disabilities enjoyed catching good numbers of walleyes and saugers, with some pike, bass and perch mixed in.  Many anglers caught their personal best walleye.  For others, it was their first walleye.

“We feel so honored to have had these men and women from the military join us for the weekend.  These folks have sacrificed so much, both physically and mentally.  Their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.  They certainly deserved the red carpet treatment they received.  We take so much for granted.  We are so grateful.” explains Joe Henry, Executive Director of Tourism for Lake of the Woods MN.

Some well know celebrities participated in the event, including Ron Schara, “Tackle” Terry Tuma, Jim Zumbo and former MN Viking, “Benchwarmer” Bob Lurtsema.  “Our special guests were very accommodating and really added a lot to the experience for the veterans.” explains Henry.  “Ron Schara actually was up on stage singing with the band.  Bob Lurtsema told the group about dumping water on former announcer Howard Cosell and watching his toupee slide back.  Our celebrity guests were wonderful.”

“One important element that really makes an event like this successful is the community working together.  We so appreciate the City of Baudette, Whitetails Unlimited, the VFW, the American Legion, Border View Lodge, Rainy River Resort, Fishing For Life, Midwest Outdoors Unlimited and everyone else who donated or volunteered for this event.  The teamwork was excellent.”

The organizers of “Pay It Forward” plan on having a second annual event in 2015.  If you are interested in participating, being a sponsor, donating to the event or being a volunteer,  contact Joe Henry at or at(218) 634-1174.

For more info on “Pay It Forward” or WalleyeFest, go to (218) 634-1174.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ed Slater, Korean War POW

Ed Slater changed my life twice. The first time began in a library in Lee's Summit, MO (a suburb of Kansas City). After viewing his Korean War display and visiting with him, he asked me to write his story. I told him I was the wrong person - I knew little about the military or about the Korean War. When I left, he said, "I'll mail you some stuff."

Over the next six months, he mailed his handwritten story and numerous documents. Each time I told him I wasn't the one but my resistance weakened. Finally I said yes and set out on a course that changed and broadened my view of life and the world.

I entered the world of ex-prisoners of war, heard their stories, shed tears with them, and took them into my heart. The first book, They Came Home: Korean POWs, included Ed's story.

Ed invited me to the American Ex-Prisoners of War conventions in Missouri. He was always full of ideas for my next project, who I should talk to, what I should learn, etc. I visited him at the Kansas City VA Hospital and met his friends.

While I attended a book festival in St. Louis, I met Joyce Faulkner. We joined forces and when Ed began to hear from other Sunchon Tunnel Massacre survivors, Ed invited us to write the whole story of the massacre. We invited them all to a reunion in Branson and the city brought out the red carpet. The city and the entertainers treated them like royalty and gave their story the attention it deserved.

In researching for the book, I spent days in the Eisenhower and Truman Libraries looking for documentation of a largely undocumented event. Joyce researched online sources. As we wrote the book, I faced horrors I could never comprehend. I always had trouble meshing the fun-loving, joke-cracking Ed Slater I knew with the boy who suffered through a long death march from Taejon, South Korea to Pyongyang, North Korea, before he was put on a train and faced an execution-style massacre.

When Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors was completed and published, we brought the survivors together again in Branson. Ed glowed with pride. The survivors joked and argued with each other while they charmed everyone they met.

Last week, on July 22, my life again changed. Ed left this world to rejoin his wife, Phyllis. I had been thinking every day that I needed to call him and meet him for lunch when I was in Kansas City. I will always wish I'd made that call.

Life will go on and I will meet other veterans. I will write other stories but Ed will be part of each one. I will feel him looking over my shoulder and chiding me, "Cookie, quit sugar-coating what we went through. Tell it like it really was."

Ed's obituary is online at:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Take time for the sweet life in Fond du Lac, WI

Will you be visiting Fond du Lac this summer? There's no better place than a candy store or an ice cream store.

Confections by Joel is a treasure - a gourmet candy store owned and operated by an amazing blind man. His candy is delicious, his displays attractive and he's the best at customer service. He creates specialty candies and knows the placement of every item in his store. While chocolate is his specialty, he also offers toffees and other candies.

His shop, where he also sells ice cream, is in an old general store with tin ceilings. Joel's is located in nearby Theresa, WI.

Who doesn't want to visit an old-fashioned creamery and sample premium ice cream during the summer - or any time? Kelley's Country Creamery is the place. This 200-acre dairy has been in the Kelley family for more than 150 years. Enjoy the countryside, watch ice cream being made and sample favorite flavors to your heart's content.

Monday, June 23, 2014

All things chocolate in Hershey, PA

Hershey Kisses streetlights
Chocolate lovers, plan your visit to Hershey, the home of - you guessed it - Hershey Chocolate, Kisses, Hershey Candy Bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It takes advantage of its history with its logo, "the sweetest place on earth."

Celebrate chocolate throughout the town - from the streetlights to getting a Masters in Chocolate Tasting - I have a diploma.

Overview from monorail
Hershey Park boasts 12 roller coasters that seem to twist and turn around each other for miles. It's a large park so visit their website to plan your trip. I like the way the park is in town. Take time to ride the monorail and/or the Kissing Tower to get an overview
Wooden Roller coaster
. It's no surprise that rides have chocolate names.

The Hershey Story Museum showcases the history of Milton
Hershey, his company and the town. Hershey's Chocolate World is free but some of the activities carry a charge. Of the many attractions, I experienced two. Visitors can experience chocolate production in Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour or earn a Masters in Chocolate Tasting (a paid attraction). Did you know that a milk chocolate snap sounds different than dark chocolate?

A huge shopping experience awaits with all things Hershey. Kids of all ages love the free candy throughout.

Wherever you stay, take time to visit the original Hershey Hotel, opened back in the 1930s. Built during the Great Depression, Milton Hershey kept town residents employed with its construction. Modeled after a Mediterranean hotel, it features an indoor fountain, a Spanish patio and furniture from the era. The spa is famous for its chocolate-infused products.

We were hap[y with all the restaurants we visited but our favorite was the Fenicci's Italian menu.

Hershey's is a short drive from Harrisburg, in eastern Pennsylvania.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Scout in Kansas City

The Scout overlooks Kansas City
Have you visited the Scout in Kansas City, Missouri?

Like the rest of the country, the city owes much of its heritage to the Native Americans. This statue, created in 1915 by Cyrus E. Dallin, depicts a Sioux Indian on horseback surveying the landscape. More than 10 feet tall, it stands on a bluff overlooking the city. I first saw it in the 1970s. I wish I'd taken pictures of the city then to compare to today.

Dallin first exhibited the statue (and won a gold medal) at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Expo in San Francisco. A temporary exhibit in Kansas City created enough enthusiasm that local residents raised $15,000 to purchase it through "The Kids of Kansas City" campaign. The campaign raised the money through nickel and dime contributions.

The statue is located in Penn Valley Park between Southwest Trafficway and Broadway, just north of 31st. The Scout overlooks a fantastic view of the city.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rescued Big Cats Live a Good Life at Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory

Sissy, a white Bengal Tiger
I love it when I find an unexpected jewel in a city I think I know. Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory and Education Center is truly Kansas City’s best-kept secret.

Most people respond to the grace, power and beauty of big cats. I’m a prime example. I marvel at their intelligent faces and observing eyes, their lean and lithe bodies, their stealth control and their innate ability to stretch and totally relax.

Today at Cedar Cover Feline Conservatory in Louisburg, Kansas, (just a short drive south of Kansas City on Hwy 69 and east on Hwy 68 at the Louisburg exit), sunshine and seemingly contented cats set me into a photo-taking frenzy.

Outside fences protect all of the animals’ areas. I’m not sure if that’s to protect visitors from the cats or to protect the cats from the visitors. The tour guides spend a lot of the tour physically interacting with the cats – from outside their cages. The cats each have their own area plus they share a multi-acre playground. The staff opens the area to only one cat at a time because they are solitary and territorial.

“It’s funny that most of the cats prefer to be in their cages rather than out in the playground,” Sierra Emberson, our tour guide, said. “Most people expect it to be the opposite.”
Voodoo is ticklish

Sierra introduced us to the cats, gave us their history and some interesting tidbits about each of their individual habits (for example, Voodoo, the African leopard, has ticklish paws).

Sissy, a 17-year-old white Bengal tiger ignored us as she enjoyed a pleasant afternoon. Her lazy stretches provided opportunity to see her beautiful markings.

Rajah, a Bengal tiger
“We feed her every three days,” Sierra told us. “She eats only meat – about fifteen pounds each meal. She explained that cats get hungry in the wild and then hunt. The staff tries to replicate that natural cycle.

Kimar, a white Bengal male, was on the prowl. Three orange Bengals share the area with the whites. Rajah entertained us as he rolled on the ground.

“Here’s my special pet,” Sierra introduced us to Ariel, a white female kept in a separate area. “She’s had some aggression issues with the other cats but she responds to me.”

“Do the cats have favorite people?” I asked.
Ariel, enjoying Sierra's touch
“Sure. Some, like Ariel, respond to me and some don’t. We all have our favorites.” Ariel appeared to enjoy Sierra’s touch and cozied up to her. The tigers are shedding their winter coats and with the petting, little wisps of white fur floated in the air.

We saw many other cats (cougars, a caracal, bobcats, small Asian leopard cats, an African leopard, an orange African leopard, a black African leopard and lions) as well as two wolves.

They are all rescue animals. It’s apparent that the volunteers love spending time with them. The conservatory is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. Groups can arrange private tours during the week.

Give yourself a treat and support this worthy nonprofit organization. Plan a visit soon or visit their website to make a donation. For more information, visit or call 913.837.5515. You can follow them on Facebook at .

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental asylum

Traverse City MI is a gem that for me remained undiscovered until I attended an AGLOW (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) event there several years ago.
Former Asylum, Traverse City MI

We stayed in the Grand Traverse Resort, visited interesting restaurants (I even kissed the moose in one of them), ate lots of cherry treats, toured the wineries, fished on Lake Michigan and had a wonderful time. However, we did not have the time to visit the old mental asylum. A couple of days ago I received the following information from Mike Norton at  Traverse City Tourism. I want to go back for many reasons - and this is one of them.

For over a decade, one of the star attractions in this popular resort community has been the Village at Grand Traverse Commons --  a former mental asylum whose stately buildings are being transformed into a bustling residential and entertainment district.

More recently, though, the former asylum is attracting visitors who want to get a last look at its eerie halls, tunnels and garrets before they’ve all been turned into ritzy condos, restaurants and boutiques. Guided tours through the site’s unrestored buildings are now a hot ticket at The Commons, says spokeswoman Tricia Phelps.

“The word has gradually been getting out, and now tourists are starting to find out about this chance to go behind the scenes,” she says. “People have always been interested in exploring these old buildings, and this not only gives them a chance to do it -- without breaking the law -- it gives them an idea about the history of the hospital and the nuts and bolts of the restoration process that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Set in a 500-acre expanse of forest and meadow, the tall castle-like buildings of the hospital complex date back to the 1880s, when state officials chose Traverse City as the site of a new asylum ,in the belief that fresh air and beautiful surroundings could ease the sufferings of the mentally ill. The hospital became a huge park filled with Victorian-Italianate buildings of golden brick and planted with exotic trees collected from around the world. It was also a small, self-sufficient city in its own right, with a population that reached as high as 3,500 – larger than that of the city itself.

The centerpiece of the Commons is Building 50, a massive structure topped with ornate scarlet-tipped turrets. Three stories tall and a quarter of a mile from end to end, it is undergoing a gradual makeover that is nearly 60 percent complete. Its garrets and lofts are condominiums and apartments; its lower floors hold offices and businesses, while its former cellar is now The Mercato, a subterranean shopping mall of trendy galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

Other buildings in the huge redevelopment area have also been turned to new uses. The asylum’s former fire station is now an organic bakery; another old brick building is a restaurant, while the former laundry houses a winery and tasting room. Meanwhile, the property’s wide tree-shaded lawns have become a prime space for public events and festivals.

And the pace of development shows no sign of slowing down, especially now that a new system of roads and sidewalks now links the once isolated asylum campus to the rest of the town. The Mercato continues to extend itself northward, while  the 13,000-square-foot former chapel at the center of Building 50 has emerged from a $3 million facelift as a multi-purpose event and meeting space. There is talk of a microbrewery/brewpub, and of a boutique hotel and conference center in several “cottage” buildings on the periphery of the campus.

Meanwhile, a set of huge “cathedral barns” that once belonged the the asylum’s self-sufficient farm are being readied for a $1.5 million renewal that will make them into indoor spaces for concerts, farm markets and weddings  -- and the headquarters of the 26-acre the Botanic Garden of Northwest Michigan.

But visitors are still curious about the secret, spooky places in those lovely old buildings, and they’ve been so insistent that a year ago the folks at the Commons began conducting  guided historic tours into those areas. According to Phelps, the staff conducts five tours per week in the off--season, and 10 per week in the summer and fall. Tours last two hours and are limited to groups of 15 or less.

The tour will take guests through an unrenovated cottage to see the state of the buildings left to decay after the hospital closed in 1989, then proceeds to a “work-in-progress” renovation and an exploration of  the asylum’s underground tunnel system. Finally, the group is led to a renovated hallway within Building 50 to see first-hand the details of the renovation work.

Along the way, the tour guide discusses the history of mental illness in the U.S., the history and architecture of the Traverse City State Hospital, and the ongoing renovation project.

“The cool thing is that the tour is always changing as we finish with each part of the restoration,” says Phelps. “We have people calling us regularly who’ve been on five tours already, and they want to see what’s coming up for number six.”

Tickets for the Guided Historic Tour are $25 and can be purchased on line at 231-941-1900.