Given its size, history, varied cultural influences and more than numerous vacation destinations, it's no wonder that the United States receives tens of millions visitors every year. North to south and east to west the country offers up everything from golden beaches to rugged mountains, lush old growth forests to windswept deserts, and bustling megacities to quaint villages on the edges of rolling countryside. The culture of America truly is a global one with pockets of communities peppered throughout the nation, each representing any one of a number of Latin American, Asian and African cultures and societies. This means a seemingly endless stream of foods, events and festivals for visitors and locals alike to experience and enjoy. There are many uniquely American stops of course, far too many to mention here to say the least. Most major cities - including but not limited to New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Seattle, Chicago and Washington D.C - boast lengthy checklists of visitor musts. And when you look at them together with the rest of the country's gems - manmade and natural both - you see that America has more than a lifetime's worth of things to offer up, so make sure you know what you want to see and do before you get here, to maximize your visit. For those entering the country, particularly those entering by air, it would be prudent to remember that security remains a top concern in all U.S. airports. Joking about things like terrorism and bombs is never funny, but doing so in an airport in post-9/11 America can land you in jail and/or see you banned from the country for life. ~ WBB Staff Writer
Prior to my recent visit to Topeka, Kansas, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about the place, other than it was the capital of a state that was smack dab in the middle of the country. All I knew of Kansas was that it had plenty of cornfields and tornados, and was the fictitious home of Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” Oh, and I also recalled that there is a Kansas City in Kansas and one of the same name with greater fame in Missouri, right across the border. These paltry facts pretty much summed up the extent of my knowledge of number 34th in the United States of America. In a matter of just a few days, however, I gained new insight into a destination that to many outsiders is often erroneously perceived as flat and boring.
The orange rolls are reason enough to visit Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge in southern Oregon. These sweet, melt-in-your-mouth dinner muffins are reminiscent of cinnamon buns, but with an orange twist. They’re addictive, making it impossible to eat just one. And don’t try asking for the recipe; it’s a closely guarded secret, known to only a few insiders. One of the lodge’s former owners, Elaine Hanten, is credited with their creation. Though she is no longer alive, her orange rolls - as well as a number of her other delectable dishes - continue to be served at the lodge today.
Located sixteen miles downstream from Grants Pass on the banks of the famed Rogue River, Morrison’s is an authentic log lodge with individual cottages interspersed among groves of evergreen maple and oak trees. Built in 1945 by river guide and lumber mill worker Lloyd Morrison, the lodge has grown over the years along with its clientele, which includes fishermen, rafters, gold panners, rock hounds and active outdoor-lovers of all ages. It’s also become a well-known destination for weddings, family reunions and other special events due to its picturesque setting, rustic charm and gracious hospitality. I stayed at Morrison’s last summer when I booked a lodge-to-lodge rafting trip with Rogue River Raft Trips. It was the “lodge-to-lodge” description that hooked me from the start. The idea of rafting during the day and then retreating to a warm bed and home-cooked meal at night greatly appealed to me. Accustomed to camping-only raft trips, where setting up your own tent each evening is par for the course, I was thrilled at the possibility of being tent-free for once. It’s not that I mind sleeping in a tent. Actually, I like it. It’s the setting-up and taking-down process that gets old.
The United States come in all shapes and sizes, as we know, from the thousands of curving inlets and islands of Maryland and Virginia to the swampy, sodden earth of Louisiana. However, as you continue out west, it becomes clear that the construction of the boundaries between the newly purchased (or conquered, depending on who you ask) became increasingly lackadaisical. A lot of the western states look like big squares, and some, like North and South Dakota, are essentially the same size and shape, one just hovering above the other.
While American imagination and ambition may seem limitless and all encompassing, the unusually uncreative division between the states in the west is a stark contrast to that ideal. This is the nation that created the Model T, the airplane and the submarine, and yet we have states, little bite sized nuggets of the nation, that are essentially identical as if they just came off a giant factory assembly line. Make that a massive assembly line, as these states are enormous, all right angles and monotonous on a massive scale.
Perhaps nowhere is this phenomena more focused than where the four states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah come together at a single point, their upper right, upper left, lower right and lower left corners - all right angles - touching at a single point of geometric and geographic continuity. This place, perhaps shying away from the imaginative naming of things in the west (towns such as Dead Horse and Bumblebee come to mind) is known simply as the 'Four Corners', and it attracts tourists to this empty place in the desert like moths to a flame on a pitch black summer night.
Did I say that right? The name Dade County may take you by surprise, but I still believe this place is definitely a top summer vacation destination. My last summer was supposed to be filled with exciting international travel adventures. Fortunately, however, I was home in Miami for a couple of months instead, and was able to enjoy both nature and a dynamic city life at the same time.
When I moved back to Miami in 2007 fleeing the cold of Chicago, I temporarily moved in with my cousins. While relaxing by the pool, I contemplated their orchard filled with delicious fruits. The mangoes, avocados, limonsillos or mamonsillos, Dominican cherries, cuajuilitos (miniature Dominican fruit that tastes like watermelon) are not only enjoyed by family, friends and neighbors; birds, raccoons and squirrels also bite into these sweet treasures. The neighbors may have had horses, but my cousins have all the other animals native to South Florida. Staying with them for a few months was the perfect way to adjust to my new Floridian life and see what a truly great spot we're in.
“That was awesome!” doesn't even begin to cut it for an experience that truly defies description, and yet, it was the one our group of adventurers found ourselves using over and over again as an expression for our epic journey. To an outsider, it might have sounded trite, but to us, those three words held a world of meaning and seemed to sum up the range of emotions we all felt during a magical and memorable seven-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.
There were 25 of us who came together to do this trip of a lifetime. Our group was comprised of fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, good friends, husbands and wives, solo travelers and colleagues. And though we hailed from different places and backgrounds, we all had one thing in common – a shared desire to do the mother of all rafting trips through one of the most heralded natural wonders in the world. Each of us, however, had our own personal motivations for wanting to embark on this amazing experience. So, what is it that drives people to explore the Grand Canyon from the seat of a raft?