New Buffalo, MI

Ryan Gerard, owner of Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Mich., teaches a stand-up paddle-boarding class on the banks of the Galien River in Michigan’s Harbor Country.


At Warren Dunes State Park in Berrien County, Mich., deeply wooded hiking trails give way to sugary sand dunes that tower hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan

The Round Barn Winery in southwest Michigan is one of many on the Lake Michigan Wine Trail which take advantage of climate and soil conditions similar to regions in France and Germany.

Lake Michigan is chilly in October, but the surfing is great!

Ready and Willing to Surf Icy Lake Michigan

“Are you ready?” asked surf instructor Ryan Gerard as he pointed me toward the beach ahead of an approaching wave.

“No, but I’m willing!” I called back over the sound of rushing wind and whitewater.

It was mid-October, and as I approached a landmark birthday I found myself surfing for the first time. But from atop my long board, I wasn’t gazing at palm trees and tropical beaches; I was swooshing toward western Michigan’s shores, ablaze in the reds and golds that were a harbinger of the soon-approaching snow.

Despite losing feeling in three cold toes, the rest of my body was toasty warm in a wet suit provided by Gerard’s Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Mich., where I’d come for a much-appreciated break from my usual routine. In an attempt to step out of my box, I’d signed up for a surfing class with this small shop that had been named after the Great Lakes’ shores.

“There are more than 10,000 miles of shoreline on the Great Lakes,” Gerard told me. “That’s more than the East and West coasts combined.”

He went on to explain that the windy days of autumn are perfect for surfing because of the wind movement down Lake Michigan. But autumn isn’t the only surfing season. In New Buffalo, they surf every month of the year — sometimes even dodging ice sheets in hooded and bootied wet suits to catch a wave.

“We can’t use dry suits,” Gerard said when asked how surfers stay warm in the frigid water. “They don’t allow as much flexibility as wet suits and could be dangerous in cold water if compromised.”

Lake water is a bit less buoyant than salty ocean water, but it’s also a little easier to swallow in the occasional unanticipated gulp. And if the waves are less predictable, they are also more forgiving and an excellent place for a beginner to learn how to ride. People in my class ranged in age from 20s to 70s, and no matter what their skill level, they left the beach with beaming faces and well-earned bragging rights.

Third Coast also provides wet suits to their stand-up paddling students. Sometimes called “SUP,” as in “whassup,” the activity is becoming popular across the country because it can be done by almost anyone on almost any kind of water. Lakes, rivers, oceans and bays are all excellent places to paddle.

“Paddle-boarding is more approachable for more people,” said Gerard. “If you can kayak, then you can probably paddle-board.”

How could I resist? I whipped on another wet suit and spent an afternoon tackling this new outdoor water sport. After learning how to maneuver the paddle and use core muscles to balance on the 32-inch-wide board, I headed out to SUP the Galien River with my fellow adventurers. My upper body was still sore from powering a surfboard through beating waves, so the gentle motion of quiet paddling was a welcome change. Instructors Jack Nordgren and Chris Peterson joined Gerard to guide us down the lazy stream toward Lake Michigan. Each dip of my paddle swirled orange and brown leaves that had drifted from the vibrant trees along the shoreline. It was an unusually magical way to be immersed in Michigan’s autumn glory that would soon be hidden beneath a thick blanket of snow.

A hike through Warren Dunes State Park offered another way to soak up the natural beauty of Michigan’s southwest coast. More than a million people annually take advantage of the 1,952-acre park for camping, hiking, sledding, astronomy, snowshoeing, sand-boarding and swimming, and I got to explore its six miles of hiking trails with new water-loving friends who were ready to have a day on terra firma. The canopy of color above our heads was a natural cathedral from which we emerged atop a 260-foot dune of sugary sand to find a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan and the faint outline of Chicago’s skyline hovering on the horizon.

The dunes along this and other Great Lakes are the result of complex wind and erosion patterns and differ from desert dunes in that they are often covered with vegetation that stabilizes them and adds to their beauty.

Our guide, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment Park Ranger Matt Porter, said that the park’s diversity draws year-round day trippers and campers.

“This is a fun park,” he said of Warren Dunes. “It’s an extremely mayhem kind of park.”

The part of my psyche that was re-energized by a connection with nature was ready to get in balance with the parts of my body that were a touch sore from physical exertion. At Revive Spa, Lithuanian native Alma Zastarskiene relaxed and warmed my aching muscles with an all-organic massage in a dimly lit and lightly fragranced room.

After being relaxed by Zastarskiene, it seemed the perfect time to explore a few of southwest Michigan’s wineries which have taken advantage of soil and climate that mimic some French and German regions. Not surprisingly, their common theme seemed to echo the easy-going creativity that I found in the Third Coast Surf Shop.

“California wineries don’t have the same pressures that we do here in Michigan,” explained Tabor Hill’s vice president and general manager, Paul Landek, of the state’s varied climate and shorter growing season.

I got the same message from Hickory Creek’s winemaker and manager, Michael de Schaaf, who has embraced those challenges, too. Instead of trying to manipulate his grapes to produce equivalent wines every year, he lets the rain and sun determine the best outcome for every vintage.

“Big guys have schedules to meet. I don’t have to worry about that, so I wait for the grapes,” he told me.

De Schaaf’s easy manner was typical of everyone I met in Harbor Country, and it was that attitude that has motivated me to plan a quick return to southwest Michigan.


Getting there: New Buffalo, Mich., a 90-minute drive from Chicago, is easily accessible from South Bend, Ind., and Grand Rapids, Mich., airports. New Buffalo’s Amtrak station is located in the center of town and is an easy walk to nearby hotels.

Where to stay: Both the Marina Grand, and Harbor Grand,, resorts boast indoor pools and harbor views and are walking distance to downtown New Buffalo.

Outdoor adventuring: Third Coast Surf Shop: 269-932-4575 or; begin_of_the_skype_highlightingWarren Dunes State Park:

Time for you: Revive Spa: 269-469-9111 or

Wine touring:;

Dining: Cozy up by the fire at The Stray Dog,, or savor luscious plum or blueberry preserves after lunch at the Retro Cafe, 269-469-1800. For a gourmet dinner with a local flair, visit the Bentwood Tavern at the Marina Grand Resort or enjoy the cosmopolitan quality of Copper Rock Steakhouse at the Four Winds Casino Resort,

Night life: Find live entertainment, drama, comedy and music at the Acorn Theater,, in Three Oaks, or try your luck at the Four Winds Casino Resort,, where kids and adults can find enticing activities.

Life of Travel

My first rush of travel adrenaline hit me on the St. Louis airport tarmac in an airplane headed to Indiana.  My mother had sent me at age 14 to visit my father for spring break.  She had told me how exciting it was to feel the press of one’s body into the seat when an airplane accelerated and leapt from the ground into the great unknown, and she was right.

Before boarding the plane, I had passed through a cluster of orange-robed Hare Krishnas who provided a book that eventually set me on a 15-year course of vegetarianism. Their exuberance was captivating to a young girl, and “A Higher Taste” was just the right length book for my trip.  I boarded the plane in Missouri loving burgers and stepped off with a certainty that I’d never touch one again.

The following year, Mom and I packed our things and moved to London for a semester abroad.  She wanted me to see what life was like in other places and to look back at my own country through a foreign lens.  Although our address was in a swanky neighborhood, we shared a house with 25 college kids stacked two to a room. On weekends, we traveled to museums and theaters in London or to nearby countries.  We celebrated Halloween in Paris, walked quietly through Anne Frank’s secret home in Amsterdam and wandered flower-covered hills in Aviemore, Scotland.

On a trip to visit a friend of my mother’s in Marseille, France, I met her younger brother, who was only a few years older than I.  As we strolled around a double-decker carousel in the city made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ “Count of Monte Cristo,” it became clear that Raoul and I were relating as if language wasn’t a barrier for us.  We were tight friends by the end of the weekend despite not having a single common word.

Another excursion took us across the English Channel on a tour that had been arranged for a group of young businessmen but had a few extra seats available.  Mom and I were the last two people on the coach, and I plopped down next to a lanky music lover named Lee with whom I quickly struck up a camaraderie. On the ferry to Belgium I stood at the bow of the boat awash in sea spray and laughed with him and his friends.  In the weeks after the trip, Lee brought local color to our lives.  One evening, he brought a car to Hyde Park and taught me to drive from the “wrong” side of the car on the “wrong” side of the road. Another time he took me to an ice-skating rink where I quickly learned that the major difference between ice- and roller-skating is that ice makes for a wet bottom on anyone who sits and laughs after falling.

Our friendship didn’t end there. After Mom and I returned to the United States and moved to California, Lee showed up on our doorstep with his brother and friends as they toured this country.  And when I went to work in Greece for a college summer, I stopped through London on my way to and from Athens to meet up with Lee for a curry.  He continued to introduce me to his friends, and some have become as close as family.

Two years ago, Mom and I returned to England to visit with those friends at their North Sea cottage for Easter.  From the couple’s children I learned that the Easter Bunny delivers oversized chocolate eggs to English children in lieu of the bunnies to which I am accustomed.  And from me they learned to dye eggs – something they had never done. I had brought a dye kit from home and was initially worried that we could only find brown eggs at the market.  Fortunately, the dark eggs yielded rich jewel tones when dyed. And they tasted just as delicious after I taught the kids how to bash the eggs in contest on Easter morning and then make them into a wicked new creation that made everyone howl in delight – deviled eggs.

My summer in Greece included the expected pilgrimage to the Acropolis and a surprise appreciation for the best tomatoes on Earth, but it was richer and more interesting because of the people I met there.  I worked for a concert promoter in Athens and went around the city and country touting the upcoming performances of music icons Nikos Karvelas and Anna Vissi.  In between tour dates, my local co-workers became my friends and tour guides.  They coaxed me to join them topless on a Greek beach – something the locals don’t consider risqué – and taught me how to speak basic Greek phrases and read words written in capital letters – the only alphabet I was able to master.

After a late night on the town in Athens, my new friend, Marina, insisted that we go to an underground club for after-hours celebrating.  I was surprised when we actually went underground and found ourselves in the basement of an office building where Greek folk music was played on traditional instruments.  Marina and I joined the other women in the room to dance on paper-covered dining tables while our dark-haired companions bought pie tins filled with carnation heads whose petals they broke apart and tossed over us in appreciation.

More recently, I took a trip to the Cook Islands to celebrate a landmark birthday.  I went as a travel writer and was joined by four other writers and a tourism representative whom I met on the airplane to the South Pacific.  Two days after we all met, we flew to the tiny island of Aitutaki, where we snorkeled in a cerulean lagoon with turtles, fish and coral.  We lunched on grilled bananas, fresh papaya and seared ahi, and we got to know each other’s life stories.  That night, we sat on the balcony of my beachside bungalow listening to classics like Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” telling tall tales, and watching a tropical rain fall.  When the shower moved offshore and the moon began to rise behind us, we noticed a gentle white arc appear over the ocean.  It was a moonbow – something none of us had ever experienced before. We all agreed that the best way to savor the moment was to wade into the warm sea toward it, laughing and sharing the chance event.

I still feel my mom’s identifiable rush of adrenaline when an airplane roars down the runway and pushes me into my seat as it takes me off to new adventures, but when I look back I realize that the most special memories I have had aren’t tied into where I was, but with whom. It is people who have added color and texture to who I am and what I do. Leaving home does shed the baggage of daily life for a brief period, but I always return with exotic new bags in tow.  These are in the form of the new relationships I’ve created with the people I’ve met. It doesn’t matter if I’m learning a different diet in St. Louis, being blessed by a medicine man in Rarotonga or laughing with friends on my front porch, at the end of the day, it’s the people who make life colorful, interesting, challenging, different and memorable.  I don’t need to grab my passport and head out of town to find the best that world travel has to offer, I just need to phone a friend.


Personal Wellness Vacations

Are you good with numbers?  You might not have considered this one:  By the time you reach retirement age, you could easily have been at work for 80,000 hours.  This seems like a pretty good reason to heal your soul and quiet your mind with a personal wellness vacation.  There are many ways to achieve this objective; it is just a matter of how you perceive calm, bliss and relaxation.


At the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, Calif., <> Western and Eastern medicines blend with daily meditation, yoga, education and massage to release tension and allow guests to reconvene with a healthy inner spirit.  Drs. Deepak Chopra and David Simon opened the center in 1996 as a place where people can learn how to balance their stresses and strengths and return to life completely capable of maintaining their renewed stability.

“What we teach at the center is Ayurveda, which is a 5,000-year tradition of healing from India that focuses on the relationship between mind and body,” explains Erika DeSimone of the Chopra Center.  “We teach something called inner pharmacy.  [Your wellness] is already in your body or as close as your kitchen.”

Special multiple-day programs run at the center throughout the year and target the needs of any visitor in search of serenity.  The most popular one, Perfect Health, runs almost constantly and is just the thing for a person who is handling any kind of adjustment.

Says DeSimone, “Our guests range in age from their 40s through their 70s, and a common thread that runs through them all is that they are going through some kind of change in life.  It could be menopause, divorce, the death of a loved one or retirement, but they are all experiencing change.”

At the center, every guest is carefully evaluated, and the spa tailors each treatment to fit specific needs.  Warm, scented oils, soothing background sounds and a serene environment enhance massages, steam therapy, herbal wraps and other treatments to purify the weary soul.


For some people, the best way to find inner peace and a sense of rejuvenation after great change is to forgo the internal search and instead follow their wanderlust and explore the planet.  Elder Hostel <> has organized tours for the mature traveler since 1975.  With more than 8,000 trips per year in as many as 90 countries, the focus of this nonprofit company is on cost-efficient travel with an emphasis on education and cultural experiences to feed the hungry mind.  Feel the hot sand on your feet as you walk among the pyramids, take in the view of Athens from the Acropolis, breathe exceptionally clean air in Australia or watch the light change in Giverny.

Accommodations and most meals are included in the very reasonable cost of each Elder Hostel experience, and some programs are arranged to include another traveler from a different generation.  If you find your bliss in seeing the world through the eyes of your child or grandchild, you can take them along to share your passion for travel and education.

Retired elementary school teacher Shirley Olson is a veteran globetrotter.  She especially enjoys the Elder Hostel programs because they provide an opportunity for her to interact with her grandchildren in a way they will always remember.

“I think it’s probably the neatest thing to take a grandchild to swim right with the whales,” says Olson of the intergenerational programs.  “They are so well planned, and yet they still provide free time to do things, too.  It’s the best way to relax and just enjoy a vacation.”


If your budget doesn’t allow for spa-style introspection or international travel, don’t think you must rule out a wellness vacation experience.  You can create an oasis of calm and serenity for your rejuvenation right in your own home.  The real draw of leaving town is that the phone, mail, to-do lists and chores are left behind.  So, unplug your phone, stop your mail, get the house in shape and turn off the buzz in your head.  Pick a week that will be your vacation week, and make a concerted effort to have things clean and organized before it arrives.  It might be just the incentive you need to find the bottom of the pile on your desk.

In her Simple Living website newsletter  <>, Janet Luhr suggests, “Pretend you really are going away and that you have a housesitter coming to care for your house while you are away.  Imagine that you don’t want to have this housesitter see all of your mess, so you need to get busy cleaning it up before your ‘departure’ date.”

When the date of your virtual departure arrives, that’s it.  Light gently scented candles, play soft music, prepare a bubble bath and sip your favorite wine, knowing that the world is on hold until you choose to plug back into it.  Read, relax and transport yourself to a place where you are the king and inner peace is the goal.  You made your nest just as you like it, now really enjoy living in the space you created.  Perhaps this is the ultimate vacation destination, and you might find that when your virtual return date arrives you keep a candle burning, soft music playing and a sense of serenity with you indefinitely.


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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

The 19th century pirate Fermin Mundaca pledged his elaborate home and gardens on Isla Mujeres to unsuccessfully win the love of a local teenager, La Triguena.

Sand on toes feels good in the bright island sunshine.













Children love La Tortugranja, the turtle farm where they can feed endangered green turtles and white loggerhead turtles that have been rescued, hatched and raised to be released into the ocean.












Lovesick pirate Fermin Mundaca's grave is nestled among others that brightly celebrate the lives of the people whose remains are placed in the Isla Mujeres cemetery.












Refreshments served from a beach-side palapa make the tropical experience complete on Isla Mujeres.











In hopes of a healthy pregnancy, Mayan women came to Isla Mujeres to honor the goddess Ixchel hundreds of years ago.














Isla Mujeres boasts a public market where freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and grapefruit juices are sold along with vegetables, meats and tortillas.












Nothing is more appealing on a short, cold winter day than the idea of a vacation to somewhere sunny and warm.   My friends and I had decided on Cancun until we discovered a near-by tropical gem, Isla Mujeres.  While Cancun has been providing beauty, rest and opulence for almost 50 years, the “Island of Women,” three miles off its coast, has been the real draw for centuries.

We found a base for our explorations with a woman who rents her island residence to weary travelers in search of a comfortable ocean-side setting for a tropical vacation.  Aptly named Xanadu after the mythical garden of Kubla Kahn, the property is peaceful and serene.   Swinging on a hammock under a roof-top palapa with the sound of the surf crashing in the distance was exactly what we had in mind when we left the snow and ice behind us.

Evenings, as I stood barefoot in the kitchen making tacos with shells still warm from a tortillaria, fresh sea breezes blew gently into the dining, living and bedrooms.  Fresh pico de gallo with vegetables and cilantro from a neighborhood market, and candles flickering in glass holders made our home-made Mexican feasts into celebrations of island colors, flavors, sounds and smells.

When it came time to discover Isla Mujeres, we found the locals warm and inviting.  In search of limes for our first island dinner, we unsuccessfully poked into several vividly painted shops.  Finally, a store owner listened patiently as I explained our problem in my meager Spanish.  She called over her shoulder to her husband, and he brought five limes to sell from their own kitchen.

In the town square, families gathered to enjoy a pop-jet fountain and watch children playing chase and tossing balls to each other.  Vendors offered tacos, drinks and warm pastries from push-carts.  Narrow cobblestone streets were lined with shops that offered jewelry, souvenirs and necessities.  Cigars were sold alongside dresses, bracelets and colorful pottery, and shop owners were eager to help us find exactly what we wanted to bring home as a memory of the island.

Tucked deep in the corner of town was a public market.  Four little sidewalk restaurants made meals with fresh vegetables and the combination of spices that make Mexican food unique and savory.  Other shops sold T-shirts, dresses and wood furniture, but the real prize at this market was tucked quietly behind the tables and trinkets.  Through iron gates we found a dark building that opened into bright stalls of grocers and butchers where the warm scent of steaming, fresh tortillas wafted through the air.  There we met Rafael who became our friend as we visited him frequently for fresh orange, tangerine or grapefruit juice that he squeezed daily and sold cheaply by the liter.

Isla Mujeres is 4.5 miles long, and to explore the farther reaches, it is necessary to rent a golf cart.  A set of wheels allowed us to visit an aquarium where sea turtles are hatched and raised in incrementally larger tanks until they are large enough to be released back into the ocean.  Children tossed pellets of food to hungry white and green turtles of varying sizes, and signs around the property explained the threats and possibilities for the endangered species.

Just down the road from the turtle farm is a legendary hacienda called Vista Alegre that was built in the mid-1800s.  The story says that a pirate named Fermin Mundaca came to the island and began building an estate that eventually covered almost half of Isla Mujeres with elaborate gardens, wells, orchards and livestock.  Eventually Mundaca fell in love with a local teenager known as “La Triguena” (the brunette) and pledged his home and property to woo her affection, but without success.  Now open for public tour, the gardens are home to monkeys, snakes, iguanas and other small animals for tourists to enjoy.

Back in town the tale continues with a visit to Mundaca’s grave.  La Triguena, it is said, married a local boy, and Mundaca soon died of a broken heart.  The pirate’s above-ground tomb is marked with words of lost love that he carved along with a skull and crossbones before his death: “As you are, I was.  As I am, you will be.” The burial place is tucked among dozens of brightly decorated graves that honor and celebrate the people entombed within.  Colorful flowers, photographs and candles drew me in, and I spent an hour absorbing the physical and emotional warmth of love displayed there.

On the other end of the island, life had been celebrated in another way centuries before Mundaca came to Isla.  More than 500 years ago, the Mayans honored Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, childbirth and medicine.  The southern tip of Isla Mujeres is also the eastern-most point of Mexico.  On this promontory a Myan ruin stands in proud honor of Ixchel, and the name of the island comes from the idols and statues of the goddess that Spanish explorer Fernando de Cordoba found on the island in 1514.  He discerned that women came to the island to honor this powerful “Lady Rainbow” when they desired healthy pregnancies.

Now people come to the island to enjoy the white sand beaches, brilliant blue water, myriad dining establishments and a relaxing pace of life.  Just a short ferry ride away is the bustling city of Cancun where fine dining, spa treatments and activities abound.  It was fun to look across the bay at the glamorous and energetic young city, but I had found my bliss in my comfortable chair on an ancient beach where I read my book in peace, sipped Rafael’s fresh tangerine juice and listened to the sounds of tropical music drifting over the rhythm of the dazzling teal waves.

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If you go

Getting to the island:

Taxi from Cancun International airport to Puerto Juarez:  Expect to pay about $42.

UltraMar Ferry from Puerto Juarez leaves every 30 minutes and costs about $7 round-trip.


Getting around on the island:  Golf carts are the safest form of independent transportation and rent for about $60 for a 24-hour period.  Alternatives include bike rentals for about $10/day or moped rentals for about $40/day.  Taxis are another inexpensive option.


House rental:  Several companies list private residences on Isla Mujeres.  Visit or  to find private homes available for rent.  Prices vary by season.  Expect to spend at least $200/night for a two-bedroom oceanfront home.


Hotel rental:   Hotel rooms can be found from $25-250 USD per night on the island.  (

*Recent hurricanes have deposited sand from the eastern side of the island to the northwest corner which is now the best beach in town.

*Most of the restaurants, activities and shops are on the north end of Isla Mujeres, so it will be a long jaunt to town if you opt for a southern hotel.

*Downtown hotels are near the beaches but don’t have beach views.  Also, they are bustling with nightlife and not as serene as some of the beachside hotels.


Snorkeling: Isla Mujeres is an attractive snorkeling destination.  Captain Tony is well known on the island for his snorkel tours to El Farolito reef for less than $20/person.


Scuba:  There are many scuba centers on Isla Mujeres that cater to SSI, Padi and Naui certifications.  Bring your certification card along, and only dive with a company that seems concerned to reference your experience level.  Dives cost roughly $60 per two-tank dive. , and


Swim with the dolphins: If it has been your life-long dream to swim with dolphins, this is your chance.   Varying packages allow for touching, snorkeling among and being towed by dolphins.  The encounters cost up to $100.


Garrafon Park:  On the southwestern shore of Isla Mujeres, Garrafon Park offers an all-inclusive day of snacks and drinks with water toys, snorkeling reefs and interesting caves to explore for $50/day.  For an additional $5, snap into a zip line and whiz over the teal blue sea.


Tipping:  Customary tips in Mexico run 10 percent to 15 percent.


Helpful hint:  Stop in to Digame phone service on the island for an extremely informative and user-friendly map of Isla Mujeres for $8 or order one on line before you travel at

Crooked Road, VA

Toes on the autumn ridges of Virginia's Crooked Road











Mabry Mill on the Blueridge Parkway is the most photographed side on the limited-access highway in Virginia and an excellent place to pick up some local music during weekend jam sessions.















The Blue Ridge Mountains are alive with the pickin’, grinnin’ and stompin’ of feet that has been happening for centuries in Virginia.












Just off the Blueridge Parkway and very near The Crooked Road, Chateau Morissette is a dog-friendly winery that takes advantage of local Virginia grapes to make their many award-winning wines.












It was at the second of 26 wayside exhibits along The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, that I met Cheryl Chrzanowski. I’d stopped in to learn about Appalachian music history at the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum, and she happened to join me in a gallery dedicated to early local musicians. On learning that she was from the area, I asked if the old music was still a part of daily life.

Oh, sure. Music is alive in Virginia. We’ll throw a pig roast or a picnic, and every time there’s pickin’ and grinnin’ goin’ on,” she told me.

I was hooked and eager to hear more about something that sounded so fun. What I learned was that Appalachian folk music is the first truly American sound. Europeans brought their fiddles to the new world, and in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, their melodies blended with the banjos played by African slaves. The bluegrass music that emerged in Colonial times is still played today and passed down from generation to generation. The instruments they use are handmade, and that art form is also passed down through families. Violins, banjos, guitars, harmonicas and sometimes a stand-up bass come together for jamborees.

I veered off The Crooked Road and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, a stretch of limited-access highway constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps where grassy shoulders are made for picnicking and the driving speed is limited to 45 miles per hour. I came when the leaves were alive with the reds, oranges and golds of fall, but it was clear that the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains along this drive would be spectacular at any time of year.

Rounding a busy bend, I spotted a familiar water wheel at Mabry Mill that my artist grandfather had oil painted when I was a child. I stopped in for a closer look, but it was my ears that got the real feast. I heard some of that pickin’ and grinnin’ going on and dashed up a small hill to find a gathering of musicians along the edge of a wooden dance floor where feet were flying to the rhythm of the songs. At the first break, I asked a woman if she would show me how it was done. She and her husband showed me some steps and said I was a natural. They said they enjoy dancing at many local places, and at the end of the song they sent me on my way with hugs and well-wishes.

Not far from the mill is Chateau Morissette, a hobby winery that the owners say got out of hand as their family winemaking evolved into a facility that produces 19 wines from grapes grown onsite or from other local vineyards. I relaxed by a stone fireplace with a glass of bubbly Star Dog after brunch and then wandered out along a wide deck toward the wine production facility and tasting room. On my way there I paused in the sunshine with other patrons and their pets – this is a dog-friendly winery – to enjoy the music of another local band.

Back on The Crooked Road as I drove away from the Chateau and the Blue Ridge Parkway, I found myself in Floyd, Va. A banjo suspended above a sign that read “Loitering Allowed” invited me to explore the Floyd Country Store. I thought it might be a place where I could pick up a CD of the music to which I had been dancing, but I found more than I’d expected. I could hear the sounds of pickin’ and grinnin’ spilling out the open store door and was slipping my backpack off to join the dancers before I could even see them in the back of the room. There, at least 50 people had gathered to hear an impromptu jam session. Some were sitting and tapping their toes. Others had taken up the dance in the corner. The woman next to me told me that there is a scheduled Friday night jamboree every week but that people come back on Sundays for whatever music they can pick up. She told me that she has taps on her suede-soled shoes to add to the rhythm of the music, and she gave me tips on my dancing.

“Most of the movement is from the waist down, but anything you do is right,” she said. “There is no incorrect step.”

This folk dance reminded me of Irish step dancing, and I could see how these steps, too, had been passed from generation to generation just as the music and the instruments had been.

The Crooked Road Music Trail winds through Franklin County, headquarters of the secretive – and formerly lucrative – moonshine business. Strict laws don’t allow locals to possess the ingredients needed to make moonshine anymore or to know anyone who does, so that source of income is gone from the area. But Chrzanowski and her husband shared memories of days gone by when their kin would soak fruit in the liquor for months before eating it – a true fruit cocktail. I asked if moonshine had been a drink to throw back like whiskey, and they laughingly said no.

“Not if you want to stand up afterward!” Chrzanowski’s husband teased.

Another financial hit came to this area of Virginia when important textile jobs moved overseas. As a result of these losses, the arts have blossomed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Not far from Floyd is the town of Rocky Mount, the easternmost point on The Crooked Road Music Trail and the location of its first wayside exhibit. In this town, Carolyn Rogers is the gaffer at the Rocky Mount Center of the Arts. That means she is the head glass blower who works with three apprentices in a non-profit art center that her family has opened to showcase local talent. In addition to glass-blowing classes and demonstrations, there are painters, potters, weavers, spinners, quilters, woodworkers, photographers and jewelers who rent space in their studios. I was captivated by watching Rogers and her apprentice, Darrin Gendron, move together rolling the hot glass, holding it in the fiery “glory hole,” and adding color and texture to their work.

What had started out as a day to enjoy fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway had become a trip into American history and an appreciation for the folk traditions deeply rooted there. Virginia artists, winemakers, musicians and dancers are proud of their history and warmly welcome anyone who wants to take part. Even now, I have my bluegrass tunes turned on, and as my feet tap to the music, I feel that Appalachian grinnin’ comin’ on.


When You Go


Getting There

The Roanoke airport is served by connecting flights operated by Allegiant Air, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways.


Where to Stay

Cambria Suites is very near the Roanoke Star and downtown area;

For a more intimate stay, The Inn on Campbell is an upscale bed and breakfast worth consideration;


Dining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Homestead Creamery takes advantage of local dairy and offers savory lunches and ice creams;

Chateau Morisette offers full meals by cozy fireplaces in their restaurant and winery that sits on a peak of the  Blue Ridge Mountains;


Along the Crooked Road

Mount Center for the Arts is a great place to gather souvenirs and participate in local art;

The Blue Ridge Institute, the second stop along The Crooked Road, is a great place to learn more about the music, culture and history of the  Blue Ridge Mountains; www. Blue

Floyd Country Store has weekly jamborees and jam sessions that are open to any visitors who are ready to join in;


Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The  Blue Ridge Parkway’s Explore Park and Visitors Center offers hiking trails, informational video and museum exhibits about the creation of the limited-access highway;

Mabry Mill is a restored gristmill along the Blue Ridge Parkway that attracts many visitors to its restaurant and seasonal activities;

Paws Up, Montana

Toes on the river outside a luxurious glamping tent at Paws Up in Montana.











Camping Butler Wesley Parks helps a young glamper prepare a perfect s’more along the banks of the Blackfoot River at Paws Up resort in Montana.














My daughter and I were strapped into harnesses and facing each other inside a giant beach ball atop a grassy, tree-lined hill in Montana. Our guide called out to hang on tight and then gave a shove. We bounced, rolled, screamed and laughed as we tumbled down the hill to a meadow below. It was 50 seconds of jolting chaos and then utter stillness as our ball finally came to a rest. We giggled with relief and dangled from our straps as we waited for someone to release us.

My daughter had picked this activity when we decided to go on a long “glamping” weekend together. The inflated ball, known as a Zorb, comes to the United States from Australia. I had imagined that we would get in the ball and wander around the prairies of Montana by walking within it. I hadn’t pictured a break-neck roller-coaster ride, and I was sure one try was enough to call myself a Zorbinaut, but my 10-year-old disagreed.

“You can’t say you really did it, Mom, if you don’t go twice!” she challenged.

So in we went again to plummet head over heels down the hill, laughing twice as hard the second time.

Our other activities were more in keeping with what I expected from a Montana dude ranch. We took a trail ride with two young wranglers whose sense of humor and knowledge made my daughter and me feel comfortable on our mounts and free to enjoy the woodsy smell, dappled sunlight and snow-capped mountain views. When the ride was over, we offered to help put the horses away, but this was where the glamping kicked in.

In glamour camping, the guest is queen (or king). If a trail ride is on offer, the horses are saddled and ready to go when the riders arrive and are then cared for after they leave. If a Zorb ball is to be tackled, the ball is ready at the top of the hill and returned there after each ride for guests who want to take multiple tumbles. If a canoe trip sounds fun, guides portage the canoes and paddle guests who prefer not to break a sweat.

I’m a do-it-myself kind of traveler, but the result of being pampered at every turn was an awareness of my surroundings that is often missed when I’m busy lugging gear, cleaning up messes, setting up tents or figuring out the next meal. With people assigned to handle those issues, I was able to play with my daughter, look for geocaching spots in the woods and really sink into the vacation. I especially enjoyed being handed a cold huckleberry lemonade every time I looked a bit parched.

On one afternoon my daughter went to a Kids Camp yurt, where she had lunch with guides who specialized in entertaining children. They helped her find arrowheads and make them into necklaces, and they all painted their faces before heading out on a hike where the saw an elk and two wolves. They returned to the yurt’s petting zoo and romped away the rest of the afternoon.

While she was being entertained, I slipped off to Spa Town to pamper my saddle-sore body with a massage. In a white canvas room I slipped out of grubby trail clothes and into a fluffy white robe. Eric Nygard ushered me into another small tent where I stretched out for my massage. Before he began, Nygard opened the tent’s flaps like a curtain, and I found myself with an unimpeded view across a vast meadow and up into a purple mountain. Strong rains had produced a babbling brook behind our tent that mingled with birdsongs, cricket chirps and the rush of wind through tall grass. As Nygard worked, the pitter-patter of rain began on the canvas and a distant roll of thunder sounded across the valley. The closeness to nature enhanced and relaxed me entirely.

Mealtimes, too, were handed over to guides and wranglers who entertained and cared for us. Christi and Steve Fraker are fifth-generation horse teamsters. They drove two wagons full of glampers down to the banks of the Blackfoot River, where a chuckwagon dinner of baked beans and corn on the cob from cast-iron kettles, meat roasted over an open fire and a steaming Dutch oven filled with cobbler was being prepared. While the adults enjoyed a full bar and a campfire, the kids went with the Frakers to dip their hands in paint and decorate a gentle white horse with a rainbow of handprints and hearts. Later, leathery cowboy Mike Doud taught the children to rope a mock steer head that had been attached to a hay bale.

More than anything else, the overnight accommodations elevated took the vacation to the luxurious level of glamorous camping. Our resort boasted some posh houses with huge kitchens, hot tubs and enough room for an extended family reunion, but it was the camp site where we stayed that finally drove home what it meant to go glamping.

When we arrived, our camping butler, Wesley Parks, greeted us with a smile, took our bags and led us on a leisurely stroll around Pinnacle Camp, one of three camp sites at our resort. Five large canvas tents were scattered around a wood and stone pavilion, where Parks showed us we could have a made-to-order breakfast each morning and a gourmet dinner any evening. We wandered on to our tent where we found wood floors, custom-made beds and a bathroom with a heated floor. A wall of twigs separated the tent into two rooms.

Once we were settled, Parks suggested a hike before dinner was served at the pavilion. He pointed us in the direction of a riverside trail and reminded us to make a lot of noise.

“Interpersonal communication is strongly encouraged here,” he laughed. “If a bear hears you coming, he’ll stay out of your way.”

As my daughter and I walked along the river we talked like magpies. We launched pinecones into the rushing brown flow and tried to imagine it as the clear fishing creek it usually is. We found a tall rock where we laid on our stomachs and tossed pebbles into the frothy water.

“This is a whole new kind of Top of the Rock,” she said to me. “In New York City, it’s surrounded by glitz and glamour, and here it’s just nature and beauty.”

When we got back to camp, the pavilion’s heavy brown and ivory striped curtains were pulled back to let a warm sunset shine on the heavy wood tables where our seared marlin appetizers awaited. My daughter charmed Parks into making another of his “perfect” cocoas, and I enjoyed an equally lovely margarita. We made new friends over dinner and then wandered to a nearby campfire. I snuggled into a chair to listen to a historian who had come to teach us about Louis and Clark and show us artifacts from the area’s history. Without a word, Parks delivered a coffee with just the right amount of cream and a sweet, golden roasted marshmallow he had made with the children. I folded it into a s’more and knew camping would never be the same again.

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Where to go: Glamping experiences are springing up all over the United States. We fell in love with Paws Up in Montana,, but there are other options to explore based on individual interests and desired location: Glayoquot Wilderness Resort in Vancouver,; Costanoa Resort in Northern California,; Storm Creek Outfitters in Idaho, Other glamping ideas can be found at and


How to plan: Paws Up recommends that guests contact a pre-arrival concierge two to three weeks before their visit ranch to discuss activities and create a schedule. Activities can last all day, but most are half-day events that can be separated by a lunch of smoked trout salad and sweet potato fries at the Trough restaurant.


Who will enjoy it:  There are glamping and kids’ camp activities for every age, but remember to ask about specifics for kids under 12.  Zorb, for example, is not meant for the smaller set.


When to go: Paws Up operates in every season. We enjoyed lush, green springtime, but activities continue throughout the summer and into winter. Paws Up celebrates Christmas with sleigh rides, ski trails, snowmobiles and snowy horseback adventures.


How to get there: Paws Up is a half-hour drive out of Missoula, Mont., which is served by several major airlines. A ride to the resort is provided by knowledgeable resort employees who explain the area’s mining and ranching history en route.


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Roanoke, VA

“Suicide Sally” sculpture perches on a railing of The Taubman Museum of Art, situated very near the O.Winston Link Museum and historic Hotel Roanoke in downtown Roanoke, Va.

Roanoke, Va., is situated in the breadbasket of the South and has sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround it.


Toes overlooking Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountain's











The sun sets over Virginia Mountain Vineyards in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

A tribute to the black workers on the Norfolk & Western Railway can be found in the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Va., where a recreation of the original Big Lick train station and other interactive exhibits honor the history of transportation in Virginia.
















The Roanoke Star was built to herald Christmas in 1949, but it remains a much-loved city symbol.













“Where the he– is Roanoke?” read the sunglasses band I was handed at Go Outside, the second annual festival for outdoor activities in that city. The man who offered it to me laughingly said he gets that question a lot at conventions. He has embraced the common question and made it into his logo, but it did give me a question to answer: Where IS Roanoke?

It is in the breadbasket of the south, the heart of the Confederacy, the launching point for a nation and an increasingly interesting place for visitors to explore. In the few days I was there, I learned American history, astronomy, viniculture and art.

On my first night in town, I looked out my hotel window to see the Star City’s namesake glowing bright white on Mill Mountain, and in the morning I headed up to take a closer look. The giant star was built to celebrate the Christmas season in 1949 and stayed on to become the city’s symbol. From the star I could see across the city of Roanoke and up into the Appalachian Mountains that surround it. When I was there, the trees were aflame in color, but the vista would be spectacular any time of year. And a night view from the star is equally magical; the city below twinkles like its own universe.

Virginia Mountain Vineyards, just north of Roanoke, provided another opportunity for me to enjoy the stars, but this time they were the celestial kind. The vineyard occasionally invites musicians to entertain guests who come up the curvy mountain roads to enjoy a casual dinner and wine, and for six years they have had an annual October event that includes stargazing. John Goss, vice president of the Astronomical League, a national federation of more than 270 clubs and 15,000 members, was the vineyard’s guide to the stars. He set up several telescopes in the dark vineyard where guests could wander out with glasses of wine to see the stars more clearly than they could in a light-filled city.

From his telescopes, I saw closely the craters of the moon and the stars of Cassiopeia that pointed to the Andromeda galaxy. A 9-year-old astronomer and his dad took me under their wings to point out the galaxy first through binoculars and then, when I had the location figured out, with my naked eye. They directed me to a telescope for a closer look and were as thrilled as I was with my discovery.

In town the next day, I learned more about Roanoke’s history. Originally called Big Lick, the city was developed at a crossroads of trails used by animals that came to lick the naturally salty soil and hunters who tracked them. When trains began to weave a web of tracks through the nation, developers changed the city’s name to Roanoke, the Algonquian word for shells that were used as money.

I had traditional peanut soup and rich, succulent spoon bread for lunch at the grand Roanoke Hotel, one of the first structures built to welcome the new railroads to Roanoke in 1889 by the original Norfolk & Western Railway Co. It was expected to house an increasing stream of visitors as the railway grew its Roanoke headquarters. In its 123 years, the hotel has hosted presidents, endured fire, celebrated special occasions, withstood six years of closure that almost led to its demise and is now, again, a grand hotel that is both a destination and a neighborhood haunt. A pool table in the Pine Room Pub is the regular meeting place for a group of good-natured businessmen who pick up a game and unwind at the end of the week.

To learn more about the trains that helped to establish the town, I went to the nearby Virginia Museum of Transportation. Housed in an original freight station, the museum is home to the only surviving steam engine of its size in the world. The huge engine was built in Roanoke and now retires there. Another exhibit invites people to walk through a vintage passenger car under restoration, and in one corner of the museum a touching display addresses the role of skin color in railways. Photos of black railroad employees line the walls, and a video shows interviews the workers as they discuss the ways in which color affected their jobs. One man remembers a curtain that was hung in the dining car when the train crossed from the North into the South to separate the black and white diners.

From that museum I walked a half-mile along the Railwalk to the O. Winston Link Museum and was entertained by an interactive display. I pushed buttons that illuminated lights like those used on real railroads, flipped a switch that lowered a mock train guard, clanged a bell and blew a train whistle. I also read plaques that detailed the railroad’s history and showed vintage photos of the city as it grew around its railroad arteries.

The O. Winston Link museum is housed in the former Norfolk & Western Railway passenger station, an appropriate location for a photographer famous for photographing trains at night. Although not a photographer by trade, Link used his engineering skills to make light the key element of his photographs. He did this by winding trails of wire to flash bulbs so that only the points in a photograph that he wanted to emphasize were illuminated. It was his opinion that light was the only thing he could really control, and his photographs are an impressive nod to the bygone days of steam engines.

Across the tracks is the Taubman Museum of Art. The collections in this museum are small but interesting. I enjoyed an exhibit of Faberge artifacts and a room full of sparkling Judith Lieber handbags. A traveling collection of dramatic photographs by Edward Burtynsky made me appreciate how vast and far-reaching the life cycle of oil is. But my favorite sculpture was that of a woman with her hands in her lap and her head bowed. She had no official plaque or information, but I learned that her artist was Mark Jenkins. He offers no title for her, but locals call the sculpture “Suicide Sally” because she sits on an upstairs balcony ledge that overlooks a busy road. She used to be positioned with her legs hanging toward the road, but several passersby called 911 to report a potential suicide. Now she is positioned with her legs facing in toward the balcony, and she looks a bit more like a “Texting Theresa” to me.

Back at the Go Outside festival, conveniently across the street from my hotel, I spent an evening listening to bands and meeting locals by a fire pit. Hillary, it turns out, works at the Taubman Museum of Art, and her husband told me secrets about Virginia moonshine history. I thought of the pool players who talked to me about their town, the father and son who taught me to see the stars, and the winemaker who showed me the tools of her trade in a back room. There is a lot to do in Roanoke, but the real stars remain the people who stand side by side in welcoming newcomers to town without affectation.

A man at the wine and stars night had explained it when he slung his arm around the man next to him and said, “I’m a river guide, and this fella’s an astronomy professor, but we sit on the porch and talk. No one cares what you do. This is a place where life slows down, and you are who you are.”


When You Go

Getting There

The Roanoke airport is served by connecting flights operated by Allegiant Air, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways.


Where to Stay

Cambria Suites is very near the Roanoke Star and downtown area;

For a more intimate stay, The Inn on Campbell is an upscale bed and breakfast worth consideration;

The Historic Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is located downtown and very near museums, restaurants and activities;


Dining in Roanoke

Breakfast at the Roanoker has been a tradition of southern hospitality in Roanoke since the restaurant opened in 1941;

Farm to table cuisine is emphasized in the colorful and creative dishes at Firefly Fare in Roanoke, Va.;

For a truly Southern meal, visit the Homeplace Restaurant where dinner is served family style and visitors wait for tables on front porch rockers or leaning on fence posts in the yard;


Toasting in the Blue Ridge

Virginia Mountain Vineyards;

Blue Ridge Vineyard; www. Blue


What to do in Roanoke

Roanoke Star, Mill Mountain Zoo and the Discovery Center;

Taubman Museum of Art;

Virginia Museum of Transportation;

O.Winston Link Museum;