A Short History of Laughlin, Nevada

 

 
The Southern California “drive market” is the number one tourist magnet for Las Vegas. Planning a road-trip there? For a surprising treat, Turn East at Barstow and head to Laughlin instead. It’s on the Colorado River only 90 miles south of Las Vegas. Don Laughlin’s dream began in 1964 as an alternate gambling destination. Over the years nine casinos have been built but it still retains its laid-back, casual atmosphere. It has grown up, though, in terms of activities, events, water sports and, especially, food. Interestingly, Laughlin is one of the top five RV destinations in the US.

Sleep Well: The Tropicana Express Hotel & Casino is located in the middle of town. It offers spacious, recently renovated, quiet rooms with flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi in public areas. There are seven restaurants, a pool and, of course, a casino. Logon to www.tropicanax.com for reservations and promotions.
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Good Eats & Drinks: The old saying is “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” If true, here are two doozies for creative menus and huge portions; the Colorado Belle’s Loading Dock and Bumbleberry Flats in the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall (purchase a jar of their bumbleberry jam). Trust me, you will want to skip lunch. Cocktail time overlooking the Colorado River at the Aquarius Casino Resort’s Cove Bar Lounge is a treat; sophisticated ambience, excellent drinks and creative small plates. For fun times, a super Happy Hour and raucous live music, head to the Tropicana’s Caboose Lounge (no cover, no minimum). Both the Riverside Resort’s Gourmet Room and The Steakhouse at the Tropicana are outstanding; fine dining at its best. The Steakhouse has been voted the “Best Steakhouse” in Laughlin 12 years in a row.

Travel Notes/Out & About: For a relaxing mini-getaway, drive to Laughlin Ranch, www.laughlinranch.com, for a round of golf, a massage in their beautiful spa and lunch in the Grill. The USS Riverside’s boat tour features an interesting narration of the history of the Colorado River and the region, plus an up-close view of the picturesque Davis Dam.
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Plan a visit around the schedule of big-time entertainers at the new, multi-million dollar Laughlin Event Center. For information go to www.laughlineventcenter.com. The Outlet Center, www.laughlinoutletcenter.com, has over 50 stores and a nine screen cinema. In town, stroll along Riverwalk, which meanders behind most of the casinos along the Colorado River.Take scenic hike: head to the Pedestrian Bridge to the North Reach Trail, Bridge Trailhead and/or the Riverwalk Exploration Trail. They will lead to fishing spots, a day-use park and an up-close look at Davis Dam. The go to place for all Laughlin information is www.visitlaughlin.com.

Looking back, I had a bucket list before there was the term bucket list. High upon it was a scenic and comfortable train travel through the highly touted Canadian Rocky Mountains from Banff to Vancouver. It’s no longer on my bucket list as I recently experience a near flawless journey.

Often you get what you pay for, and this was evident in booking the highest of three levels of service of Rocky Mountaineer travel. Gold-Leaf Service is the best, with Silver-Leaf and Red Leaf Service following close by. With the Gold-Leaf Service, the experienced traveler receives a private double decker rail car with a minimum of 4 attendants for the 60 passenger car: two devoted to your observation deck requests of continuous open bar beverage services, and two on the first level serving two open seating’s per day of full breakfasts and lunches, on a two day trip.
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The open seating dining, invites you to meet and discover more about your fellow congenial passengers. My four different dining companions with their varied histories, added reality and spice to the variety of scenery passing by the picture windows.

While the dining service was fast and efficient, I never felt rush to finish dining and conversations, so that the dining level could be prepared for the next service. How the chef does all that he does in an abbreviated kitchen with a few accomplished helpers is a marvel. It’s almost as impressive as the sight of the towering Canadian Rockies, as the 400 passenger train snakes its way through passes and tunnels, over bridges and besides thunderous rivers. I enjoyed the Beef Short ribs, the Cedar Planked Salmon, the Untraditional Fish and Chips, Pancakes and Eggs Benedict. Bloody Marys’ may be requested for breakfast and 4 wines are offered at afternoon lunches, and throughout the afternoons viewing from your observation deck assigned seat.
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Photography aficionados will have no problem filling their days with expansive and majestic scenery, either from their double domed Gold-Leaf Service car, or from the outside open air observation vestibule, which offers fresh air views from either side of the train. Guests may want to bring along a good book, or knitting, or just leave the worldly cares behind and let the Canadian Rocky Mountains waft over them, as informative crew intermittently describe the history of the passing landscape.

Also with Gold-Leaf Service you can be assigned the best of hotel accommodations in Banff, and Vancouver, before and after your trip and the overnight lodgings half way through the journey at Kamloops. While up the mountain side from Banff the Rimrock Hotel and Vancouver’s city centered Sheraton Wall hotel both offered me upscale accommodations. At Kamloops the new contemporary Sandman Signature Hotel was a surprising treat of an accommodation. With Gold-Leaf Service your luggage arrives at your hotel room before you do, making the transition from travel to overnight stays a more lux experience. I booked an extra night on the start of my trip in Banff and an extra day in Vancouver before returning home. I highly recommend this, after traveling so long and far to these attraction packed cities.
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Thanks to Discover Banff tours I booked a day tour over to Lake Louise – an iconic image of the Canadian Rockies not to be missed. There are strenuous high mountain hiking trails to test your endurance, or you may want to just stroll lake level, or pause and take in the meeting of lake and mountain. I topped off my day with a late afternoon meal at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louse patio dining, with beverage and meal. Hard to discern whether it was the amazing view or the delicious food and drink that was so enjoyable. In any case a most pleasurable memory to place in my bucket. I only wish I had booked an additional day in Banff so I could have taken the full day tour up to the ice fields, and mountain lakes with wildlife viewing possibilities. But I was so glad I did get to experience part of Lake Louise.
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I had an extra planned day in Vancouver and booked a Sea to Sky Gondola tour at a mountain site by Howe sound about 45 miles north of Vancouver. Again a congenial guide took us to Horseshoe Lake for a brief stop before a stop at Shannon Falls, a lunch break at the top of the Gondola (again views not to be missed and a high altitude hamburger – one of the best), with accompanying suspension bridge and then a tour of the old Britannia mineral mine. An unexpected bump in my travels was when United cancelled my return flight from Vancouver, and I had a 12 hour delay before the next available Red Eye flight. Making lemonade out of these lemons I stored my luggage for a fee and took the airport train back into downtown Vancouver for my own walking tour using the very busy hop on hop off bus. I visited the art museum with a lunch, the observation deck at Top of Vancouver, and then to Granville Island where I imbibed and toured the Liberty Distillery, learning and tasting how top shelf Gin and Vodka are made. Then off to the harbor again with their active water taxis, before taking the train back to the airport to wait for my return flight.
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It seems when you check one activity off your bucket list, it gets replaced with another one. In my case, Rocky Mountaineer has more routes other than the “First Passage to the West,” which I took. They also have connections to Jasper, Lake Louise, Whistler and Seattle and from 2 day trips to Circle Journeys of 9 days. I found that one of those trips slipped into my bucket.

For detailed information and booking look at:

www.rockymountaineer.com/en_CA_BC/ and www.banfftours.com/specials and www.viator.com/tours/Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky-Highway-Day-Trip-from-Vancouver-Shannon-Falls-Britannia-Mine-and-Gondola-Ride/d616-3914SEASKY and http://thelibertydistillery.com/

Heels down. Toes out. Squeeze with calves, not knees. Lighten up on the reins. Sink your butt into the saddle. So began my first riding lesson at the Arizona Cowboy College in Scottsdale which was followed by instructions in grooming, shoeing, advanced riding techniques and roping. And this was just a one-day primer to what other “city slickers” channeling Billy Crystal experience in their six-day cattle drive at the College — but more on that later.

First, despite the city’s admonition of 300 days of sunshine, it was cold and rainy when we were there. And for my story, I had my cowboy shirt, hat and boots all on for the requisite photo op but ended up ensconced in multiple layers instead, including winter jacket, wool cap and gloves borrowed from the ranch. Wasn’t exactly the fashion statement I was going for.

The day began with some initial instruction from ranch manager and Jigger Boss Elaine Pawlowski, whose main goal seemed to be to keep us from falling off the horse and to avoid getting kicked when not on it.

My experience up to then had been an occasional trail ride where the horse was presented to me all spruced up and saddled and all I was expected to do was mount it. Not so here. Prior to even thinking about actually riding the animal, I was taught how to groom and brush her — Billie, a brown mare — and how to do so safely. I had never been this close to a horse from all sides, responsible for the behind-the-scenes handling. Elaine showed me how to pick up Billie’s hooves and clean out the bottom of the horseshoe with a pick, removing the excess dirt, pebbles or nails before taking her out. My first thought was, “You want me to do what?” As I was cleaning out one of her hoofs, I couldn’t help thinking there’s 1200 pounds of horse flesh here that with one thrust of the hoof I’m holding can flatten me. Fortunately, Billie was no so inclined.
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During Saddling 101, my status as first-rate tenderfoot was further confirmed when I tried to pick up the saddle — and collapsed under its weight. The idea that I was actually supposed to get it atop the horse was ludicrous. I had absolutely no clue how much work went into just getting the animal ready to be ridden, much less the intricacies involved in actually riding one in the desert.
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Riding a horse in the desert is a very different terrain than what most riders are used to and that in part is what brought Bob and Carol Skinner, local race horse owners and my cohorts at the ranch, to the College.

Bob, who has been around a lot of very different race horse disciplines all his life, claimed that each discipline thinks its methods are the right ones in terms of training and expertise. Always looking to learn something new, Bob says he came to Cowboy College to see how the cowboys do it as opposed to racers. Might be something he can incorporate into his own horse-related efforts. That much I understood. What came as a surprise was that as much as Bob knew about horses on the ground, he did not really ride. And while Carol did, her expertise was with racehorses; cowboy steeds were still a mystery.

To begin with, racers ride Eastern saddles which carry with them very proscribed rules of posture and deportment much more regimented than the more relaxed rules of Western riding. For starters, two-handed split reins vs. one-handed neck rein — after all, in the West, one hand must be free to shoot rattlesnakes and rope steers. Amazing how much of how you and your horse interact is determined by how you hold the reins.
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Prior to heading out on our ride, we hunkered down to the bunkhouse for chow. The fact that it was bologna,ham and cheese on white bread with mayo seemed perfectly fitting. And the To Do list I spied on a bench near the stalls was slightly different than that found in most homes: Fix stalls 3,4, and 11; arrange tack rooms; cut off screws on saddle racks; clean out coops.

And then we headed out — me on Billie, a Quarterhorse, Carol on a Mustang, Bob on a Paint. Bob commented that just squeezing with his calves as opposed to his knees made an immediate difference. In the East, most trail rides are through woods; here we loped through sand and rocks and sagebrush, past cactus as tall as small buildings over a monochromatic panorama of gray and tan and muted greens. Did I say trail? Nope, no trail — just feeling our way over, around and through the rocky wasteland.
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As we rested our horses atop a mesa in the Tonto National Forest, I looked out admiringly at the wide expanse of desert below, poetic mountains in the distance and a sky the color of every shade of blue found in even the largest box of Crayola crayons. This alone was worth the pain I expected to feel later in the day.

As we continued our ride, punctuated by an unending array of rocky inclines and descents, Bob and Carol became increasingly dismayed. Apparently, the uneven landscape and Western style of riding were alien to the two racehorse owners. The idea of riding horses over such a threatening terrain was a foreign concept, much less at a speed sufficient to maintain the momentum necessary to scale the crest of the embankment. Elaine kept reassuring them that, indeed, the horses were fine with it. She also kept reminding Carol, accustomed to riding English where proper posture is so important, to stay low in the saddle and resist the temptation to ride “two point.”

When I finally dismounted Billie, my legs were so wobbly I could barely make it to the corral. And we weren’t done yet — it was now time for our roping lesson. Fortunately, no actual calves were involved.
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For those signed up for the complete Cowboy College program, this would have been just Day 1. Day 2 would be a more intense immersion into the cowboy’s world — this time actually involving cows — before heading out to the cattle ranch about 25 miles to the north. Once there, the next four days are spent doing whatever needs to be done — rounding up the cows, moving cattle from one pasture to another, finding missing steer, branding and castrating, vaccinating, separating the mamas from the calves, fixing fences and checking water supplies, or helping other ranchers. That’s the life of the cowboy and the wanna-bes act accordingly.

According to Elaine, “Participants range from novices to more experienced riders but no matter what the level of expertise, after riding 5-6 hours a day and being immersed in cowboy training, they’re pretty comfortable and ready for the trail experience.”

Okay, so I wasn’t ready to go on a multi-day cattle round-up but I sure did have a whole new respect for anyone who does. The plus for me? Considering the difficulty I had walking the next day, I was glad that — unlike those participating in the whole program — I did not have to get back up on a horse. For more information, visit cowboycollege.com.

If You Go

To extend my immersion in everything cowboy, I stayed in the Wild West Suite, one of six theme suites, at the Inn of Eagle Mountain where a saddle on a stand doubles as a night table, the lamp bases are made of horseshoes and the furniture is decked out in western decor. The Inn itself, in Fountain Hills, is a beautiful boutique establishment terraced in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert. Visit innateaglemountain.com

Since the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village and formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. African-American residents began to arrive en masse in 1905, with numbers fed by the Great Migration. In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem were the focus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic work without precedent in the American black community. However, with job losses in the time of the Great Depression and the deindustrialization of New York City after World War II, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly.
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Since New York City’s revival in the late 20th century, Harlem has been experiencing social and economic gentrification. Harlem’s black population peaked in the 1950s. In 2008, the Census found that for the first time Harlem’s population was no longer only a black majority, with a mixture of white and Latinos. Harlem as a neighborhood has no fixed boundaries; it may generally be said to lie between 155th Street on the north, and Harlem rivers on the east, 96th Street (east of Central Park) and 110th Street Cathedral Parkway (north and west of Central Park) on the south, and the Hudson River on the west.

As of 2000, Central Harlem had a black community comprising 77% of the population, the largest indigenous African American community by percentage in New York City. The majority of African Americans moved out as more and more foreigners began to move in. Central Harlem is the most famous section of Harlem and thus is commonly referred to simply as Harlem. West Harlem, consisting of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and Hamilton Heights is predominately Hispanic. African Americans make up about a quarter of the West Harlem population. Morningside Heights has a large number of White Americans and is home to Columbia University (my alma mater), Barnard College, and New York Theological Seminary. East Harlem was originally formed as a predominately Italian American neighborhood, but it is now predominately Hispanic. Italian Harlem was formed when Southern Italian immigration began in the late 19th century. The area began its transition from Italian Harlem to Spanish Harlem when Puerto Rican migration began after World War II. In recent decades, many Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants have also settled in East Harlem, which is also known as El Barrio. The area is also home to over 400 churches.
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At a recent Harlem Week seminar I was intrigued with the discussion about the gourmet renaissance in Harlem. In the past two years at least twenty new restaurants opened there. I have eaten at Melba’s, Billie’s Black, Harlem Tavern, Hudson River Café, Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too, Café Lucienne, Red Rooster and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It was at that Harlem Week seminar that I was told about Taste Harlem and Jacqueline Orange.

Since 2007, Jacqueline Orange has been the founder, owner and operator of Taste Harlem, introducing visitors and New Yorkers alike to the culinary delights, lively art scene and rich history and architecture of Harlem. A major bank merger in 2005 took Orange away from corporate life and inspired her to step away from a desk job and pursue a dream of owning and operating her own tour company. On an early visit to New York, this Chicago native had discovered Harlem and fell in love with the diversity and vibrant energy of the neighborhood. “With the creation of Taste Harlem, I felt as if I’ve been able to incorporate all my past business experience into researching the latest happenings in Harlem. I am spending time with people, sharing something I love- great food, inspiring music art, and a living history.”
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On a beautifully sunny Saturday morning (10AM) our group of 6 met at Sylvia’s Restaurant on 126th Street & Lenox Ave. Sylvia Woods, the “Queen of Soul Food,” founded the restaurant in 1962. Her 4 children now operate the family-owned businesses after her passing in 2012. Besides the restaurant and catering hall there is a nationwide line of Sylvia’s food products and two cookbooks. www.sylviasrestaurant.com.
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This was a walking tour. Private tours have the option to tour by bus or trolley with artists, historians, architects and actors as tour guides at Taste Harlem Tours. In addition to the food stops we stopped by The Sol Studio, a local art gallery, where they were setting up a new art exhibit and a privately owned brownstone with a beautiful garden and art collection. We were lucky and found Samuel Hargress at his jazz, blues and R&B club- Paris Blues (founded in 1969). Other stops were at Make My Cake Bakery and Serengeti Teas, Coffees & Spices where we were able to sample several of their exotic concoctions. www.thesolstudio.com, www.parisbluesharlem.com, www.makemycake.com, www.serengetiteaandspices.com
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Back to the food visits- www.patisseriedesambassades.com- Les Ambassades is a Senegalese café and bakery. Tropical Grill Restaurant (no web site) features Caribbean/Spanish food and was jammed when we arrived. The great part about this tour is there is a table waiting for us at every stop. Each restaurant has samples of their specialties and no on leaves the tour hungry. After the first stop I realized I should not have had breakfast. The walking helped me regain my appetite.

There was a short stop at the tiny Le Lee’s Baked Goods “home of the world’s most outrageously delicious rugelach.” Prior to entering the bakery they mentioned the ingredients that included nuts (I am allergic to all nuts). There was a moment of panic when I mindlessly grabbed it and had eaten part of the rugelach, Luckily I only had a slight allergic reaction. www.leeleesrugelach.com.

On the way to our last stop we stopped at the world famous Apollo Theater (Opened on 125th Street in 1934) and were allowed into the lobby to view a montage of celebrities that had performed in this theater. We walked along 125th Street past the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. NY State Office Building. www.apollotheater.org

Our last stop was at Jacob Restaurant- soul food & salad bar. He is a great businessman who closes the restaurant on Thanksgiving so he can give away food all day without any restrictions. After his first 6 months he was able to open open two additional restaurants in Harlem. His thought behind this was “if you give it will come back to you.” www.jacobrestaurant.com.

This was a great tour. Prices range from $65 to $95 per person. Groups of 4 or more are $75 and 12 or more-$65. One could not duplicate the food for this price. Having Jacqueline lead the tour- priceless. For a listing of her other tours go to www.tasteharlem.com.

Oxford, Mississippi, the home of Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) since 1848 is also the home of William Faulkner, winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, and of one of the most popular novelists today, John Grisham. This is a wonderful stop over if you are traveling between Memphis, TN, and Birmingham, AL. As English majors in college, and since I taught literature, Bonnie and I had long wanted to travel to this historic town of the South. We were not disappointed.
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The town square encompassing the classic Courthouse is beautifully restored to a much earlier era and has many unique shops and stores, as well as historic statues and landmarks. Several downtown restaurants feature Southern cuisine, and as several residents told us, “You can’t go wrong with any of them!” We selected Ajax for delicious New Orleans style Cajun fare.
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Square Books (160 Courthouse Sq, Oxford, MS 38655, (662) 236-2262) is a wonderful place for bibliophiles to lose themselves. It contains several floors of volumes including autographed copies and first editions from Faulkner, Grisham, and Alice Walker, Salman Rushdie, and others. If you are interested in collectible rare editions, this is the place to peruse. Faulkner did not sign many works, so these are especially rare. When Grisham is in town he is often here for signing.

Hosts at the Visitor Center, on South Lamar a couple of blocks off the square, were very helpful with suggestions and brochures to guide us in planning our two day stay to get the most possible from our trip. Many of the places visitors want to see are closed on Mondays, but you can take the historic walking tour any day to see the gorgeous Ante-bellum mansions restored or built just after the Civil War. These mansions are still homes today and residents don’t seem to mind tourists gawking at the beautiful edifices and stopping to take photos. The very helpful brochure from the Visitor Center describes each home, tells the address and has a good drawing of it, and tells how each plays a part in one of Faulkner’s novels.

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William Falkner, after finding no success as a writer in Hollywood, returned to his roots where he found inspiration for places and characters to fill all his many novels and short stories for the rest of his life. His characters, always fictitious, were derived from his ancestors and from people he knew and saw most of his days and the imaginary places in the books were described based on many of the mansions we saw on the lovely walking tour. We were fortunate to be there in April when dogwoods, azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and pansies were in full array of color, setting off the South in a movie-screen picturesque way.
Rowan Oak (which means place of peace and inspiration) is the last home of Falkner himself, his wife and daughter and two step children. He restored an Ante-Bellum mansion which has fallen into disrepair. It is in a huge grove of giant cedars.The self-guided tour reveals his home, furnishings, and library just as they were at his death. Many signs and displays explain much about the great author. Out buildings include the historic stable, smoke-house, tenant quarters, and kitchen and barn of the period before Falkner bought it.
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Our days there in Oxford were quite memorable and well worth the detour. Nearby is Sardis Lake, known to be one of the best crappie fishing places in the South, along with your literary education you can have some laid-back family recreation.

For More Information:

http://visitoxfordms.com/

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-bio.html

http://www.rowanoak.com/

To many people, Monticello and Charlottesville, Virginia are synonymous. Indeed, even more than his famous home, the presence of Thomas Jefferson the Man can be felt throughout the quiet college town, about a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C.

For any history buff, a tour of Monticello is heaven, but even those less historically inclined will be enthralled by fascinating displays of Jefferson the Creative Homeowner. In fact, Jefferson — governor, ambassador to France, secretary of state, and the third president of the United States — when asked his profession, replied: “I’m a farmer.” Indeed, gardening and architecture, two of his life-long passions, are reflected throughout his beloved home and grounds.
Few homes anywhere more accurately reflect the personality of their owners than does Monticello. From the time his vision began as a young bachelor to his death as a widower with 12 grandchildren, Monticello remained at the center of Jefferson’s heart. He was responsible for almost every detail of its design, construction, furnishings and remodeling, a process that spanned over 40 years.

The fact that about 75 percent of the furnishings are original helps bring to life the sense of Jefferson the Private Citizen. For example, handsomely adorning a wall of the front entrance are several sets of antlers that Lewis and Clark brought back as personal souvenirs from their famous Louisiana Purchase expedition — no easy task considering the travel conditions of the time — commissioned by then-president Jefferson in the early 1800s.

Many innovations designed by Jefferson, influenced by his years in Paris, were ahead of their time. Doors that automatically open continue to operate today, 190 years later. A seven-day wall clock which indicates both day and hour still chimes. Jefferson introduced dumb waiters, first seen in a Paris cafe, to Virginian society, as he did skylights, twelve of which shed light throughout the mansion. And a desk constructed to display five open books at a time attests to Jefferson’s renowned literary prowess.
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Even the dinners he served, prepared by a slave who was trained by a French chef, reflected Jefferson’s cosmopolitan tastes. A list of guests reads like a Who’s Who of early American history. The statesmen, politicos and socialites who walked here before you — among them James Monroe, James Madison, Daniel Webster and, of course, the Marquis de Lafayette — wrote many a chapter in our country’s history over coffee and brandy.
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Interestingly enough, the many political positions he held meant little to Jefferson. Writing his own epitaph, he focused instead upon three accomplishments: Author of the Declaration of Independence; Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. The latter becomes more than self-evident — to borrow a favorite Jeffersonian phrase – once you get there.

A visit to the University of Virginia brings you back to modern times — but only for a moment. Jefferson’s vision of his “Academical Village” became reality during 1817-1826 and the University continues to function much as its founder intended. Welcome back to the 1800s.

In addition to offering arguably the finest education among public institutions available to capable students “regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstances” — producing more Rhodes Scholars than any other state university — UVA maintains a tradition of student self-governance, including a student-run Honor System (that, unlike some, actually works – at least most of the time…).

Although the University has expanded since Jefferson’s time — the initial student population of 40 has grown to over 20,000 — Jefferson’s original buildings remain much as they were. The Rotunda, a scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome, was designed to maintain architectural balance in harmony with the five Pavilions on either side, which house classrooms and faculty residences. The original library it housed was considered a temple to knowledge rather than religion.
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Jefferson envisioned a scholarly community where students and professors live in close proximity to share knowledge and together nurture a life-long commitment to education. To help achieve that goal, he intermingled students’ rooms among the Pavilions, connecting them with low colonnaded walkways.

The expansive Lawn between the two rows of buildings and the serpentine walled-gardens weaving in, out and around the Pavilions provide quiet space for personal reflection and personal connections between teacher and student. This was a radical approach to education at the time.
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Jefferson’s “outdoor classroom” afforded both students and faculty the opportunity to experience first hand examples of classical architecture not readily familiar to the American public. The stately columns forming the Pavilion’s facade reflect Ionic, Doric and Corinthian models of Greek and Roman temples. Attesting to the durability of Jefferson’s forward-thinking aesthetics, the American Institute of Architects has proclaimed the Academical Village the most significant architectural achievement in the nation’s first 200 years.

The 54 student rooms along the Lawn are astonishingly unchanged since the University opened. The 15-foot-square rooms contain a wooden bed, an old-fashioned secretary’s desk, fireplace and a small free-standing wooden closet which contains a sink. Other plumbing facilities — minor amenities such as showers and toilets — are located a bracing winter’s walk away.

Upon first viewing, I assumed they were just another historical attraction that recreates living conditions — in this case, of students — in the early 1800s. Imagine my surprise to find that students today actually vie for the honor of living there! A select few fourth-year students who have made substantial contributions to the University are chosen for the opportunity to closely approximate the lifestyle of the scholars of the day who lived and studied in these same rooms.
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It is not surprising that Jefferson invested so much heart and soul into his final triumph. The University embodies Jefferson’s three greatest passions: his vision as an educator, his talent as an architect, and his skill as a gardener. Even more so than at Monticello.

The very essence of his dream — the interactive student/faculty community, the student-run University governance, the personal code of ethics — still permeates how campus residents think and act today. Thomas Jefferson is alive and well and still attending the University of Virginia.

As he is throughout the rest of the area. Walking tours trod streets upon which Jefferson no doubt frequently strolled, past businesses, taverns and other local establishments he patronized. It is with good reason that Charlottesville and environs are often so lovingly referred to as Mr. Jefferson’s Country.

If You Go

A stay at the venerable Boar’s Head Inn, built in 1965 with a restaurant dating back to 1834 and now owned by the University, continues the connection with Jefferson. Famous for his healthy lifestyle, Jefferson studied the healing properties of many herbs and botanicals – and these same plants are currently being incorporated into spa treatments designed to treat specific ailments. As promoted by the resort: “Where the past combines with the present to make a healthier future – while making your experience historic.” Jefferson still lives at Monticello, studies at UVA and relaxes at the Boar’s Head Spa… For more information, go to visitcharlottesville.org or boarsheadinn.com.

Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge cascades in endless curtains of white. I sat mesmerized in the cooling mist and relished the sight of it being whipped sideways by a wild wind. While I could have lingered in this amphitheater of yellow lichen and green moss, there was far more to see and my New England Hiking Holiday companions and I had to go.

The hike here had taken us on a narrow ledge overlooking the impressive Columbia River dotted with islands. Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery was known to have camped on one of them directly below.
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The muscular Columbia River flows more than 1,200 miles from the base of the Canadian Rockies to the coast of Oregon. Being dammed in eleven places today makes it a tamed house cat compared to the raging torrent it was when early explorers arrived. The Columbia River Gorge was declared a national scenic area in 1986 and spans 292,000 acres of wildness. Train rails on both sides of the river transport goods from the interior to the coast, and Highway 84 on the Oregon side is a busy thoroughfare with access to numerous foot trails leading to over forty waterfalls. Yes, you can read one of the numerous hiking guide books for the region, but having a seasoned guide who has tried them all and knows the special treats in store on each one is a wonderful thing. New England Hiking Holidays is staffed with competent guides who are sensitive to the varying degrees of hiking abilities of their guests and able to select the perfect experience guaranteed to leave you smiling.
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Our shakedown run took us up canyon through towering Douglas fir and stands of alder. The song of the well-hidden feathered set kept us company on the ascent overlooking a creek carving a path through luxuriant foliage. Tender meadow rue and the sweet white blooms of Miners Lettuce and trillium lined the path. In the distance, the rumble of a great fall pulled us onward and upward over sometimes rocky terrain. The lush coolness of the forest glens soothed and refreshed. I loved hiking in the deepening silence of the trees and away from the rushing traffic falling behind us.

The mean age of our group of twelve was about 50. Most of these experienced hikers had traveled with NEHH before at various locations around the U.S. and Europe. This is not a competitive event. “Easy-peasy” options are given at the onset of each outing. I scored about a five on the one-to-ten fitness scale in our group of hikers, preferring to dawdle behind taking snaps and smelling the profusion of wild blooms. One of the guests, a young man from Phoenix who was used to climbing in the slot canyons of Arizona, wanted to experience Oneonta Gorge that required swimming—yes swimming!—to reach the base of a thundering cascade. A special outing was arranged for him so he would not go home disappointed.
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After a day of exploring, we crossed over the Bridge of the Gods to the Washington side of the Columbia to our digs overlooking the Cascade Range. Stately Skamania Lodge boasts gourmet cuisine, zip lines, an 18-hole golf course, and four miles of hiking trails. I couldn’t wait to slip into the outdoor spa and listen to the wind stirring the trees under pure blue skies. With the tension melted from my body followed by a swim in the Olympic-sized pool, I felt born again.

No trip to the Gorge is complete without a hike up popular Eagle Creek. The moment you enter the well-groomed path, you are swallowed in green. Chatty smaller streams join the run through the majestic forest. The drop-off naturally becomes more precipitous as you climb up canyon. Often the trail narrows to a ledge with a well-placed handrail to steady your nerves. Sprays of pink and white flowers nestled in ferns cling to the basalt canyon walls, and around each bend is another stunning view of the deepening chasm. Devils Punchbowl is the first of three falls along the way to High Bridge, our lunch destination. Rock walls deep in the canyon are matted with mosses, ferns, and lichens. With abundant life all about, I felt refreshed, soothed, restored, and deliriously happy to be here. Four-miles in, we crossed over a heart-catching cleft in basalt walls with black water flowing far below. At our lunch stop I shed my boots and dangled my dogs in the tingling water while our guides laid out a delicious spread.
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Not to be outdone by the beauty of the Gorge, Washington’s majestic, white-caped Mt. Hood towers over nearby Hood River Valley. A serene walk around Lost Lake garnered a shot of the icon reflected in still waters. While other hikers did the more dramatic Lost Lake Butte hike with even more stunning panoramas, I fended off scrappy chipmunks threatening to invade our picnic table.
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Before heading back to civilization, a brisk walk along the banks of the rushing Salmon River was in order. We could see the rocks on the bottom of the clear river where rainbow trout lurked. It was raining in earnest on this walk, but the canopy of the old growth forest took the brunt of the weather. The limbs of the monster trees sheathed in moss and draped in old man’s beard, are twisted into alien forms. We puddle-jumped up the soggy trail and got quite lost in the fecund smells of this wet world. It is an undulating track that leaves your mind free to wonder at the bizarre formations of the trees and makes you glad to know they have been spared the logger’s axe. The trees were witness to the native peoples fishing for salmon on the shores of these bountiful waters, and the early explorers and homesteaders who struggled to survive the Oregon Trail to make this place their home. Happily, they are with us still and can been enjoyed by moderns wanting to reconnect with nature and their own primal yearnings.

New Orleans is synonyous as a party town. And it’s true, as there is almost a festival or event to celebrate every week in New Orleans. I recently visited the “Big Easy” during its New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, known as NOWFE. The event spotlights the city’s legendary restaurants along with fine wines. More than 250 wineries are typically represented during the five day festival at a series of indoor and outdoor events. Each year tickets are available for a variety of food and wine dinners and pairings in intimate dining rooms or at the massive convention center. Besides taking in favorite New Orleans dining haunts, such as the John Besh Steakhouse, and charming Court of Two Sisters, I enjoyed several informative and delicious NOWFE events as well.
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A surprising dinner held upstairs at famed Galatoire’s, featuring Barefoot Wines, was educational and thirst quenching. The surprise was not in the elegant food and atmosphere but the diversity of Barefoot Wines, which were paired with each course. The fun and affordable wines are offered in a plethora of styles including: Barefoot Bubble Prosecco (honey and lemon flavors), California Chardonnay (easy drinking), Refresh Crisp Red (a pino-like wine on the rocks), California Merlot (a classic paired with beef), among many wine fusions. My favorite was the Barefoot Bubbly Tropical Fusion (with hints of pineapple, island mango and papaya).
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Another food and wine paring was held at the Hotel Mazarin where five Souverain wines were the center piece of the multi course dinner. Their Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is simple and uncomplicated but fresh and fruity. Their 2011 north coast Chardonnay has flavors of crème Brule and their 2012 Merlot with hints of blueberry is easy drinking. The Tenderloin of Beef was paired with my evening’s favorite of the 2010 Souverain Alexander Valley Cabernet Reserve.
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But the topper of the NOWFE week is the Royal Street Stroll, where with your arm banded entrance; you can sample many wines and morsels, set up in the middle of antique famous Royal Street. You can pick and choose which undiscovered wines you’d like to explore, while at the same time visiting welcoming antique dealers. The best and over the top is the M.S. Rau Antiques, where they offer several floors and galleries of old world antiques of silver, paintings, sculptures and furniture, accented by wine and desert tastings, if you venture to its farthest galleries. This decadent experience of sipping wines and imbibing morsels while strolling the eye candy antiques, is only available once a year during Royal Street Stroll.
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It is almost imperative that you stay at one of the French Quartet hotels, where you are within easy walking distance of the events and you are filled with authentic 21st century French Quarter experiences. I split up my 4 day stay with 2 nights at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel with its upscale large hotel amenities and the Dauphine Orleans Hotel where the compound divide by Dauphine street, both gave a relaxed and quite respite. At both properties I sent email requests for a quiet room, something of a rarity in the middle of the French quarter, but each property delivered the perfect room locale. Each has accessibility to a bar: ghost filled May Baileys’ Place, at The Dauphine Orleans Hotel, and the Bourbon O Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It’s always entertaining to visit a variety of bars, where each has its own ambience and quality of beverages.
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May Baily’s Place, offered a congenial hostess, with quick service and impeccable mixes within an historic atmosphere. While the street entrance is on Dauphine it could be easily missed, and it is a boon that it’s connected to the courtyard of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel. Both properties are part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection which also includes the properties of: Audubon Cottages, Hotel Le Marais, Hotel Mazarin, Crown Plaza Airport, and the Whitney Boutique Hotel. Each has summer special rates which include breakfast, free parking and free Wi-Fi. Also included is a complimentary drink upon check in, and connections to airport shuttles.

And for a real southern Louisiana experience an overnight stay at picturesque Oak Alley and the garden landscaped Houmas House are easily arranged. Subscribe for free to Real Travel Adventures and get details on these two plantation lodgings, in upcoming articles.
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Anytime is a great time to celebrate in New Orleans, as there is almost a festival every weekend. So if you can’t make the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, then check out the other festivals at: http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/festivals/

And before you go: www.neworleanshotelcollection.com www.souverain.com

www.barefootwine.com

www.nowfe.com

www.chefjohnbesh.com/restaurants/besh-steak/

The narrow paved road leading to Monticello appeared to be exactly as it would have been 200 years ago, without the asphalt of course! The trees were still standing as sentinels guarding the quaint and quiet path that leads to the home of our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. Monticello stands atop the majestic hill as a beacon of hope and an invitation to all nations and visitors to come and visit a small part of American history. As my wife and I turned the corner in our car and drove through the threshold of Monticello’s parking lot it was as if we had instantly timed wrapped back to the present as we entered the visitor center’s grounds. The modern buildings and paved parking lots reminded us that we still lived in the 21st century. I was saddened and happy at the same time. I couldn’t imagine living during Jefferson’s time period from a wheelchair! However, I had the opportunity to experience it for a day.
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Eighteen years ago I fell from a barn. It left me paralyzed from the waist down, shattering my dreams of playing college football, but since then I have played wheelchair basketball, for the very nation Jefferson helped establish, in the 2004 Athens Greece Paralympic games. I have also traveled the world helping other wheelchair users adapt and thrive. I haven’t let my wheelchair slow me down. With that said, some parts of the world are not that accessible for people like myself.

I parked my car in the handicap parking stall. Since we were ones of the first to arrive, there were more than a dozen empty stalls to choose from. The first tour began at 9:00 am so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to be there.

The visitor center’s modern buildings were very inviting to all visitors including those of us with disabilities. After the United States of America passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the 1970’s, people with physical disabilities were able to explore more because of the access which was made available to the very same nation Thomas Jefferson helped establish. I’m not sure Jefferson could have envisioned how far reaching and impactful his writing of the Declaration of Independence would have for the people of this nation. I was feeling those very freedoms as I prepared to enter the premises.

The visitor center was 100% accessible for all ages and abilities. It was very family friendly and clean. Whenever I travel to new and unfamiliar places I presume that, if I can do it from a wheelchair, anyone and everyone else can do it standing up! I hope this presumption holds true when you decide to come to Monticello. I hope I can give all readers and potential visitors some clarity to help improve their own visits to Monticello. I really believe that if you can see it you can achieve it.

Emily and I entered through the east doors by the Griffin Children’s Center, where a well-informed employee was waiting to greet all who came through those doors. I wondered if we were related to Jefferson or where the connection of the name ‘Griffin’ came from. We continued past the friendly staff and entered the elevator doors that lead directly to the ticket counter. The entrance fee, in my opinion, is a very fair and reasonable and is good for all day. You can go up and down the hill to Monticello as often as you’d like throughout the day. We only spent half the day there ourselves. And even though we only spent a few hours on the grounds of Monticello it was well worth the time spent.
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We were so anxious to spend the majority of our time at Jefferson’s house and homestead that we saved the movie for later, which is played every 20 minutes. We continued past the interactive displays of the museum, and went straight to the shuttle bus stop so we could to his house. There was a steady stream of shuttle busses consistently carrying eager site-seers to and fro the Jefferson home. They had a fleet of clean and accessible busses that kept our wait to a minimal. If by chance there was a long line at the shuttle stop you could do other things while you waited. One could talk to the bright and friendly staff or take your picture with Thomas Jefferson himself. There is a life size bronze statue of him holding a spyglass in his left hand – there is always something to do while one visits Monticello.

During our visit at Monticello we discovered that Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Mary Jefferson Randolph moved in with her own family to play host for his numerous parties and to help entertain the number of guests that came to visit Monticello. Our host for the day happened to be Lois Sandy. Lois is one of about 65 hosts and workers that do the modern day duties of Mary Jefferson Randolph. She entertained and informed our group of 25 visitors. She did it with energy and enthusiasm. You felt the love she had for the place and the history of Monticello. We began our guided tour at the east end of the estate near the steps of Monticello.

A light-brown sandy gravel pathway was professionally maintained to welcome all guests who came to Jefferson’s house. As we got out of the shuttle and approached the house we were pleasantly surprised with the 71 degree temperature. In July we expected it to be much hotter and even more miserable. It is well known that Jefferson picked this valley partly because it was protected from the weather. It was fitting and fun to learn that the topic of weather was another passion and love of Thomas Jefferson.

As we approached Jefferson’s front door his thermometer, barometer, compass, and clocks were pointed out as something that Jefferson had built into the architecture of his home. His passion for building, learning, and constructing ideas can be seen throughout the entire house. In fact, he loved learning so much that he had his home laid out and built so he could have his study on the south side of his home to read and study as long as he possibly could before the sun went down. He could only read and write during the visible hours of the day so he planned accordingly. He cherished his time so much and didn’t want to waste it that he even had a clock put in every room, except for one; the guest room so they wouldn’t be pressured with time!
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Stepping through the front door of Jefferson’s house was like stepping into a friend’s home. We were welcomed warmly and the first and lower floors of the house were accessible and inviting to all. The second and third floors were not accessible but even the view from a wheelchair wasn’t a problem because one could see the paintings and other artifacts Jefferson collected from his travels. One didn’t need to go to the other floors because they could see most everything from down below. One would be pleasantly surprised that Jefferson built his house in a way that would accommodate all visitors, even those in wheelchairs.

The green painted floor in the entryway invited the natural beauty from outside to within. The other clock on the inside of the house was spectacular. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It not only tells the time but also indicates what day of the week it is. It was unusual to see cast iron balls hanging from the clock but the cast iron balls played a duel role for this particular clock. First, it helped with the moving of the gears to tell and keep the time and second, it was used as a weekly calendar marker as it hung next to the days that were written on the walls. Because Jefferson’s walls weren’t tall enough, holes were cut in the floor and Saturday went under the first floor! The hallways were tight but not too narrow to keep someone from a wheelchair from seeing each room in the house. I was able to see everything that the typical guest could see.

Jefferson’s library of books was filled from corner to corner and covered the entire wall from the floor to the ceiling. His study and sleeping quarters were unique because it was divided by a bed built in the wall. It was accessible from both sides allowing him to enter and exit the bed from either room or side. At the foot of the bed was another clock mounted on the wall. Jefferson truly believed that there should be no wasted sun light. He would get up out of bed and ready for the day as soon as he could see the hands of the clock. Speaking of the day there was much to see that day. There were many more special surprises that could be mentioned at this time. I invite you to come and experience the rest of Monticello for yourself. One can see the secret passageways, tiny elevators, and futuristic inventions! The paintings and portraits will rival any museum in Washington.

Our guided tour ended above the water cisterns on the north end of the deck. This final destination was ideal to share Thomas Jefferson’s ‘ideals’! He wanted to be remembered by three things and nothing more. He didn’t even want to be remembered as the President of the United States. They were so important to Jefferson that he had them inscribed on this tombstone. The end of the guided tour was not really the end. Even though this location was a perfect place to end the guided tour and ponder what one had just experienced and seen, it wasn’t really the end but a new beginning place to discover and explore the rest of the estate.
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One could wander down below to the servants’ quarters and stroll around the flower and vegetable gardens if you desired. They were both very accessible! If one chooses to take a break and get a drink or buy a souvenir, there is a gift shop underneath Jefferson’s daughter and son-in-law’s house found on the north end of the grounds. The gift shop has bottled water and other cold beverages to purchase. It also has some very affordable souvenirs for you and the little ones! My wife and I purchased a copy of the Declaration of Independence, for our oldest son that came with a quill and an ink bottle. We also had to buy two homemade cookies in the clear glass cookie jars near the cash registers. No matter what one decides, you can’t leave without eating the lemon cookie, which was my favorite of the three!

If you’re like my wife and like to hear the history behind the displays, such as the plants and slave quarters, Monticello has additional guided tours if you’re interested. If you’re like myself and like to go explore on your own you can do that too. You can pop in uninvited with a tour already in progress if you would like as well. We did just that as the plant specialist was explaining our new favorite plant. We called it “the sensitive plant”. This particular plant folds its leaves together to protect itself when you touch it. We stayed and played with it the longest.

Our time at Monticello was up and we had to get back. With those who have accessibility concerns Monticello is there to help. I was told when I finished my time on top I could go back where I was first dropped off and call an accessible shuttle to take me to the graveyard, which can be found half way down the hill, or back to the visitor center. On our way up the hill I saw that they had a walking path that went right past the cemetery so I asked my wife if she was up for another adventure. She was! So we headed down the path that leads to the family cemetery. It was quite steep but fairly flat! The dirt path turned into a path of pavers. It was very smooth, considering the material that was used. I am fairly active and athletic so the uneven walkway wasn’t a problem for me so I wheelied down the majority of the steep embankment. I’m glad I took this path because we were able to see where the coal sheds that heated Monticello up during the winter would have been.

The paved path ended at a flight of eleven steps; thus the instructions down below to call for a shuttle made more sense. For an average wheelchair user it would have been an exhausting climb back up to the top. Even for me it would have been a challenge but fortunately I spotted an alternative route. The solution was south of the steps in the form of the grassy cut field. I’m sure Monticello wouldn’t want to make it permanent even if there were more adventurous wheelchair users like myself! But out of necessity I went around the steps and made it to the family cemetery. The cemetery was one of my favorite places. It wasn’t spooky or scary but quite the opposite. It was very peaceful and inviting. Jefferson’s three ‘ideals’ were chiseled into the stone as a reminder that an ordinary man can do extraordinary things as long as they set their mind to it. What are the three ‘ideals’ you ask? Come to Monticello and discover for yourself!

I could have jumped on a shuttle bus at this point of my adventure but I wanted to finish what I started and continued down the path. The path along the cemetery was the narrowest but still passable. The final .35 miles of the trail was tranquil and beautiful. Strolling down and along the sandy dirt path it felt like I had gone back in time again. The canopy of the trees was a natural umbrella from the modern world and it protected us from the beating sun making the journey a little more pleasant. The chorus of bugs and birds accompanied the cadence of our steps and encouraged us forward. It was a perfect way to end our stay at Monticello.

There were a few more steps at the bottom of the trail but I spotted a service vehicle path off to our left which made the final decent adequately accessible to arrive at the visitor center safe and satisfied. My stomach was talking to me and the food service center was calling our names. They had tables both in and out of the shade to both enjoy the scenery and savor ones meal. After our walk and visit to Monticello we were ready to sit and take a break from the heat and adventure. The 20 minute film was a perfect way to rest, relax, and be reminded of all that Thomas Jefferson had dreamed and accomplished during his life.

I wanted to be more like Jefferson when I left that day. I wanted to be a builder like him. Not a builder of hammer and nails but perhaps with values and goals to improve and rebuild our own community. I left Monticello wanting to be better at discovering truth and standing up for it. I left the founding father’s estate wanting to be a better father of my own estate! I left recharged and refocused to what was most important to me – my faith, my family, and my freedom! My visit to Monticello ended similar to how it started. I was introduced to a little piece of the past providing clearer and increased vision to help me fulfill my future. My visit to Monticello has sparked a renewed passion from within and I rediscovered the greatness of who I can be. You too can discover greatness at Monticello!