Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hawaiian Big Island – Aloha Spoken Here

The spirit and energy of creation surrounds you everywhere on Hawaiian Big Island. Polynesian legend claims the goddess Pele gave volcanic birth to the Islands of Aloha. The Big Island of Hawai’i is her latest and greatest creation. One island. Still warm from its fiery birth. Larger twice than its sisters combined and growing every day as its active volcano, Kilauea, sends new land to a steamy meeting with the ocean 4.000 feet below. Countless waterfalls feeding rain forests of botanical wonder add a fantasy flavor to the landscape. Massive black lava fields hint at the islands’ relative youth. And multitudes of uncrowned beaches let you catch your breath under the watchful eye of a snow-capped mountain. It’s thrilling.
The best way to glimpse Hawaiian Big Island is in small pieces. Each area has its own character, and often a distinct climate. Let’s go for a drive and see what the island has to offer.
Well begin in the island’s capital city of Hilo. Hilo has one stately foot rooted in its plantation past and the other in the present. The rains here have the courtesy to wait mostly for evening and are responsible for the rich greenery that colors everything. Check out the Suisan Fish Auction early each morning down by the bay or the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
The Hamakua Coast starts north of Hilo. Vertical cliffs adorned with wispy waterfalls are broken by a series of deep valleys. At the end of the Hamakua Coast Highway is Waipi’o, the only valley accessible by road, if not by car. Hike in. The beauty is worth every step.
From Waipi’o, drive upland to the cool, country town of Waimea. You’ll find Parker Ranch, the largest single-owner-ship cattle ranch in the country. As you might expect, there’s a cowboy feel to the town complete with a 4th of July Rodeo.
Approach Mauna Kea from Waimea or Hilo via the Saddle Road. At 13.796 feet, you’ll be on top of the world and probably very cold unless you brought warm clothing. Mauna Kea means “white mountain” for the snow that paints the summit with its array of power-full observatories.
Down the hill from Waimea is the North Kohala Coast, the Big Island’s sumptuous playground. This shore, always sunny, boasts numerous white sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling. Lush, green golf courses carved from black lava present a beautiful, unearthly contrast.
Down the coast is the lively harbor town of Kailua-Kona with its labyrinth of shops, restaurants, hotels and condominiums. Leave from here on deep-sea fishing charters or stroll along the shore and watch the action. In October, Kailua-Kona welcomes world-class athletes here for the Ironman Triathlon.
Drive south from Kailua-Kona and you’ll be in coffee country where small plantations produce the world’s best coffee beans. Many growers host visitor centers and offer samples of the delicious brew. Stop in at the Kona Historical Society in Kealakekua to learn more about the region’s history. Kealakekua Bay was the site of Captain Cook’s death in 1779. Today, the bay is a marine preserve and one of the best snorkeling sites on this part of the island. One of the Big Island’s most sacred sites is preserved at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, where you can walk among the heiau that served as a place of refuge for Hawaiians.
Continuing south to the Kau district is Ka Lae, or South Point. This is likely the spot where the voyaging Polynesians first landed in Hawai’i about 1.500 years ago. Indeed, it’s the southernmost point in the United States. Gaze out at the Pacific’s vastness from here. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of the first Hawaiians who sighted these shores after months at sea in a canoe.
Bordering Kau, at Kilauea Volcano, is the Puna district. The lava flow has claimed a town or two and covered some beaches, but life goes on for the orchid and flower growers in this chiefly green and forested part of the Big Island. In Puna, you can soak in a volcano-heated thermal pool. Find them at Ahalanui Beach Park and Isaac Hale Beach Park located near the colorful town of Pahoa.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Indian Territory, Nevada

Between 10.000 and 12.000 years ago, various hunter-gatherer cultures flourished in Nevada. Prehistoric Lake Lahontan, an ancient inland sea that covered much of Northern Nevada and Utah, provided abundant fish, and the land was home to mammoth, bison and other game. While these prehistoric peoples left behind few clues about their lives, they did carve the mysterious “petroglyphs”, or rock writings that are found throughout Nevada and the Western United States. No one is certain of the meaning of these stone etchings, which depict a variety of shapes and designs as well as human stick figures, big horn sheep, and lizards. Some of the state’s best are found along US Highway 50 at Grimes Point, east of Fallon; Hickison Summit, east of Austin; and Valley of Fire State Park, northeast of Las Vegas.
As Nevada gradually grew drier and large game animals became extinct, the native Great Basin people adapted to the environmental changes. Massive Lake Lahontan receded into two smaller lakes, Pyramid and Walker, and their shores became the home of the Northern Paiute people. Meanwhile in Southern Nevada, the Southern Paiutes clustered near the springs of the Las Vegas Valley and the tributaries of the Colorado River. Other tribes, including the Western Shoshone and the Washo, found homes in Nevada’s many mountain ranges, which provided water, small game, and pine nuts.
In contemporary Nevada, many of the descendents of the state’s original settlers continue to occupy portions of their ancestral lands. For example, Pyramid Lake, located north of Reno, is located within the boundaries of a Northern Paiute Indian reservation. Reflecting the magnificent natural beauty of the region, Pyramid Lake Rd has been designated a National Scenic Byway, the only federal scenic byway located entirely within the boundaries of an Indian reservation. Pyramid Lake is a special place. It offers some of the best fishing in the state and the Pyramid Lake Visitor Center is home to a fascinating museum devoted to the lake’s natural history and the culture of the native people.
To the south, parts of Walker Lake and the community of Schurz are located within the Walker Lake Indian Reservation. Walker Lake also boasts trophy fishing, dramatic high desert landscapes, and plenty of wide-open space for exploring. Interestingly, while the present native tribes have been in Nevada for many thousands of years, they were preceded by a culture that has become known as the “Anasazi” or ancient ones. These prehistoric people constructed large and elaborate adobe villages along the Muddy and Virgin Rivers, which feed into the Colorado River. Today, the best place to learn more about the Anasazi is the Lost City Museum in Overton, which is northeast of Las Vegas. It houses Anasazi artifacts that have been found in the area as well as reconstructions of the adobe buildings and pit houses used by these ancient Nevadans.
Additionally, the Nevada State Museum in Carson City has an extensive display of native Nevadan artifacts, as well as dioramas showing daily life before the arrival of the white settlers. The Stewart Indian Cultural Center, south of Carlson City, was a federal boarding school for Indians until 1980. Today, it houses exhibits on the history of the school.
These days, Nevada’s tribes are involved in a variety of business enterprises ranging from native craft shops to smoke shops. The Las Vegas Paiute Resort, owned and operated by the Southern Paiutes, includes two championship golf courses located 20 miles northwest of Las Vegas, in the shadow of the 11.918 foot Charleston Peak.
A powwow is a gathering of Native peoples. Traditionally, it has been highlighted by dancing, which often takes the form of “fancy” dancing or traditional dancing (each refers to the dress and dance style). Tribes add their own variations to the dancing, based on their heritage and traditions. In Nevada, visitors are encouraged to attend powwows to learn about tribal culture and traditions, enjoy the dancing, purchase crafts, or sample native foods.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Las Vegas, part two

An attraction of another sort can be found near the quiet, shaded community of Boulder City, located southeast of Las Vegas. Boulder City is the gateway to Hoover Dam, a 726-foot-high concrete structure that creates Lake Mead. The dam, considered one of the seven manmade wonders of the world, offers tours of its electricity-producing system, which was completed in 1935. Tours begin at the Visitors Center which offers fabulous views of the dam from the observation level.
Lake Mead is the largest manmade lake in the Western Hemisphere. Both it and Lake Mohave to the south are part of the Lake Mead National Recreational Area, which is operated by the National Park Service. The recreational area offers five developed beaches and marinas, campgrounds, and other services. Boat and Jet Ski rentals are available at several points on the lake, and sightseeing boats, including the Desert Princess sternwheeler, also ply its waters. On the northeast side of Lake Mead, about 55 miles from Las Vegas, a State Scenic Byway leads travelers through the Valley of Fire State Park. Valley of Fire earned its name because of its bright red sandstone mountains and valleys. In places, the wind has sculpted the sandstone into hauntingly beautiful shapes that seem to mutate with the changing light of day. The park also has several fine examples of prehistoric Indian petro glyphs.
The nearby Lost City Museum at Overton is a storehouse of artifacts from the Anasazi or “Ancient Ones”, a prehistoric tribe that lived in the area thousands of years ago. The exhibits include a full-size replica of the type of adobe dwelling inhabited by those ancient people.
Mesquite, located north-east of Las Vegas on the Virgin River, is a rapidly developing resort town with golf and spa packages, horseback riding, trap shooting and all the indoor activities for which Nevada is famous. Mesquite is conveniently located for side trips to nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.
Approaching the Nevada state line from Southern California, drivers are greeted by the bright lights of Primm and Jean. Once lonely highway outposts, the towns are now major resort areas with golf, a designer outlet mall and unique hotel-casinos that boast several amusement rides, including The Desperado, one of the tallest roller coasters in the world.
In the extreme southern tip of Nevada on the Colorado River is the community of Laughlin. In 1966, Laughlin consisted of a small motel and restaurant that catered to local fishermen. While the fishing remains great, Laughlin has been transformed into a lively resort town of world-class hotels offering big-name entertainment and first-class accommodations. Right on the river, visitors can water-ski, swim, boat or relax on the many beaches. A popular attraction is the water taxis, taking passengers from Arizona to Nevada and back.
Halfway between Laughlin and Las Vegas is the former mining town of Searchlight. Visitors will find a fine, small museum as well as picturesque mining head-frames on the hills around the town.
From the neon lights and fabulous hotel resorts of the Las Vegas Strip to the peaceful hiking trails of Mount Charleston and Valley of Fire, the Las Vegas Territory offers an endless supply of fun and excitement.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Las Vegas, part one

There’s no place on earth like Las Vegas. The city thrives on superlatives – biggest, brightest, longest, and tallest – so it’s no surprise that the “Entertainment Capital of the World” is home to 18 of the 20 largest hotels in the country. Visitors will find an unlimited variety of entertainment, sightseeing, special events, shopping and dining, among many other activities. Las Vegas boasts more neon and light than any other city, and themed megaresorts that conjure nearly any fantasy imaginable. On the famed Las Vegas Strip, visitors can view a spirited pirate ship battle, an exploding volcano, or a spectacular laser light water show. They can visit resorts that capture the essence of ancient Egypt, an Arthurian kingdom, Rome, Venice, New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and a host of various tropical paradises.
They can enjoy the excitement of 24-hour gaming, gourmet restaurants operated by the world’s most famous chefs, and star-studded entertainment. And if that’s not enough, downtown Las Vegas is enclosed by a massive canopy of lights that covers five blocks. Called the Freemont Street Experience, the canopy comes alive every evening with senses-pounding light and sound shows that add to the excitement of a place often known as Glitter Gulch.
For those venturing outside of the casinos, Las Vegas offers shoppers an amazing array of options including mega-malls, unique boutiques, upscale stores, and sprawling outlet malls filled with shops selling designer name goods, fine clothing, jewelry, and other items. Perhaps less well-known is that Las Vegas is a veritable jackpot of history and art. Visitors will find a number of quality art museums featuring changing exhibits of national and regional contemporary artists as well as permanent collections. The city’s historic museums range from archaeological and anthropological exhibits of the original Native Americans to the memorabilia of the legendary entertainer Liberace.
For the adventurous, there are amusement parks and theme rides that offer thrill for the kid in everyone. Recreation enthusiasts will find a multitude of activities to choose from including golf, boating, hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, car racing, and even snow skiing.
Long before the glass pyramids and manmade volcanoes, nature created her own landmarks in Southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Territory is a region with startlingly diverse mountain and desert landscapes that can produce as much admiration as the biggest and brightest neon sign.
For instance, just 20 miles west of downtown Las Vegas is the magnificent Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Wildlife, including bighorn sheep and wild burros, abounds in this region. Whether you hike, bike or rock climb internationally known rock faces, this geologic wonderland is worth the visit. Nearby is Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, once owned by billionaire Howard Hughes. Now a shady retreat, visitors can enjoy outdoor concerts and performances in the summertime.
About a half hour north of Las Vegas is Mount Charleston. At nearly 12.000 feet, Mount Charleston has been described as “a garden island in a sea of desert”. In the summer, it is the place in Southern Nevada where visitors can stay cool without air conditioning. In the winter, it’s the only place in Southern Nevada for skiing and other snow sports. There are campgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails.