Tower of Babel, Education Center, Planned Near Kentucky’s Ark Encounter

During the height of the 2020 COVID pandemic, we decided to travel from Texas to D.C. as a personal quest to celebrate American freedom, heritage and healthy living.

Among the highlights was a day visit to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky. It was awesome.

Jack & Dodie Dennis at Ark Encounter

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Now we learn that the organization behind the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum (nearby) is moving forward with plans to build a Tower of Babel AND expand their faith-based school for kids ages 5-17.

Answers in Genesis recently purchased the former Toyota North American engineering and manufacturing headquarters in Northern Kentucky for more than $31 million. 

The 205,000-square-foot facility will house 450-500 K-12 students as well as be the location for the general staff of Answers in Genesis and their Answers.TV streaming service.

“The purchase of this building will save the ministry many tens of millions of dollars for several planned future projects and allow them to be implemented much more quickly, instead of years down the road,” CEO Ken Ham said in a press release. “Overall, this facility will provide a home for Answers Academy without having to build a major school complex.”

Tower of Babel diorama at Ark

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Earlier this year, the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum welcomed its 10 millionth guest. 
 
“As Answers in Genesis continues to grow in many of its outreaches, including welcoming large crowds at our two attractions, the ministry will have an even larger economic impact on the region,” Ham said. 

🔹The Ark Encounter opened in 2016 in Williamstown, Kentucky, and was built according to the instructions God gave Noah in Genesis 6.

🔹The 10-story-high vessel features larger-than-life exhibits that bring museum visitors face to face with the story of biblical proportions. 

“We all know that God’s the Great Designer. He’s the Great Engineer,” said Patrick Kanewske, the attraction’s media and ministry relations director. “It’s the perfect dimensions for seaworthiness, weight distribution, smoothness of ride.”

While Dodie and I were there in 2020, it was even more special to learn the Ark Encounter was named the “Best Religious Museum” by USA Today.

The Ark’s sister institution, the Creation Museum also finished second that year in the national poll of museums selected by a panel of top travel experts.

A few weeks ago, the ministry organization announced new plans to build a replica of the ancient Tower of Babel adjacent to the Ark.

“The Bible provides us with the true history of humanity. What people classify today as racial differences are rightly explained by the Babel event. Noah’s descendants scattered from Babel in family groups and settled new lands. Separated from one another, the various groups began to express distinct traits. No group is more “evolved” than any other.”

“We will proclaim the only solution to racism and every other sin that besets mankind: the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the statement continued. 

Noah’s descendants scattered from Babel in family groups and settled new lands. Separated from one another, the various groups began to express distinct traits.

“No group is more ‘evolved’ than any other,” their literature states. “Some people may have achieved greater advancements in agriculture, industry, or technology due to having a greater number of skilled trades people when the language division occurred, but this does not mean they are ‘more human’ than others. Instead, all people today descended from Noah and are members of the one human race (we’re all of ‘one blood,’ per Acts 17:26).”

“All people are descendants of Adam, and we are all made in God’s image. Our true problem is sin, which includes prejudice and racism, and the solution is the same for all of us—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironically, critical race theory is also the exact opposite of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin,” the Answers in Genesis website notes. 

The ministry says the goal of the Tower of Babel project is to confront racist, ethnocentric philosophies with the truth of humanity’s origins according to God’s Word, 

“Most importantly, we will proclaim the only solution to racism and every other sin that besets mankind: the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the Answers in Genesis website states. 

The project is expected to take about three years to complete and will be located near the Ark Encounter. 

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CLICK: PARK LANE by Rebecca Taylor

The Legendary Camels of Camp Verde, Texas

Nestled snugly in the Texas Hill Country, between Kerrville and the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” Bandera, is the delightful Camp Verde Store and Restaurant.

Today, near our home, Dodie and I enjoy passing through historical Bandera Pass to see bison, zebra and exotic wildlife on our way to dine at the site of the old fort, situated on Camp Verde Creek.

Known far and wide as Old Camp Verde, it was here, on July 8, 1856, the noted camel post was established by the U.S. government.

War Department records explained the camp was located “On the north bank of Rio Verde, or Verde Creek, a branch of the Guadalupe River, half a mile west of old Johnson Road, leading from San Antonio to Fort Terret; about four miles from Fort Ives; about 55 miles, direct course, northwest of San Antonio, but about 65 miles leading from San Antonio, through Fredericksburg to Forts Mason, McCavett, and Concho.”

When the camels first arrived from overseas, they entered in Indianola, Texas. The herd was driven to San Antonio grazing along the route, in about 14 days.

They were kept in the “headwaters of San Pedro” creek for a few days and then moved out to the ranch of Major Howard on the Medina River, twelve miles from San Antonio, where they were kept until they moved to their permanent home in Camp Verde on August 26 and 27, 1856.

Old Spanish maps identified this as “Verde Arroyo” (Green Creek). Before the thirty-three camels arrived in 1856, a sketch had been drawn of an Eastern caravansary in Asia Minor. This drawing was used to construct a detailed reproduction at Camp Verde.

The camels were used to transport supplies and dispatched to Forts Martin Scott, Concho, Griffen, Phantom Hill, Inge, Clark, Lancaster, Hudson, Stockton, Davis, Quitman, Bliss and other forts in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

What was formerly the officers’ barracks is where the store and restaurant is. On March 26, 1910, the headquarters abode was destroyed by fire, which took the life of Tom Blair.

The camp was continuously garrisoned until March 7, 1861, when U.S. troops surrendered the post to the Confederates, and withdrew. After the Civil War, the post was reoccupied by Federal troops on November 30, 1866, and finally abandoned on November 30, 1869.

It was rebuilt by W.H. Bonnell as an exact replica using the stone structure that survived the fire.

History shows that camels roamed the Bandera hills and many pioneers in this area actually herded them.

🔹Amasa Clark, who died at his home near Bandera at age 102, herded camels. Among his possessions was a pair of pillows made from camel’s hair, which he sheared from the animals he tended.

🔹Jim Walker, who died in 1945, owned a bell worn by the lead camel at his time working there during the Civil War.

🔹Andy Jones, a pioneer citizen of Bandera who died in the mid 1940s, often saw droves of camels miles away from the old fort. When Camp Verde was handed back to the Federal Government after the Civil War, the original 32 camels had grown to a herd of over 100, under the care of the Confederate troops.

“When I was a boy on my father’s ranch, the government kept a lot of camels at Camp Verde,” Jones said. One day we hobbled three of our horses and turned them loose near the house, and fourteen of those old camels came lumbering along.”

“The horses took fright at the sight of them, and we did not see those horses for many days,” he continued. “My brother and I penned the camels, all of them being gentle except for one.”

“We roped the wild one, but never wanted to rope another,” he recalled. “For the old humpbacked villain slobbered all over us, and the slobber made us deathly sick. However, we had a jolly time with those camels, when we got rid of the foul, sickening slobber, and we often rode broncos and wild steers, we rode camels too…They could easily travel one hundred miles a day. The Indians seemed to be afraid of the camels, and of course never attempted to steal any of them.”

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The Misguided Investment of Mark Twain’s Samuel Clemens

Like so many writers, one of my early literary influences was Samuel Clemens, the guy who successfully branded himself as Mark Twain and gained unprecedented worldwide recognition as an author.

So inspired by him, that on my only two visits to Connecticut, I made certain to visit The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

The museum was the author’s home, where his family lived from 1874 to 1891. Twain wrote his most important works during the years he lived there, including Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

One of my favorite bloggers, Phil Strawn from Granbury, Texas, who reminds me of a cross between Clemmons and the founder of Luchenbach, Texas, an old Hill Country storyteller of yesteryear that I met in the ’70s. Strawn’s observations in TALES FROM THE CACTUS PATCH have a Mark Twain from Baby Boomer Texas type feel to his posts.

Anyway, I digress. Clemmons was driven to financial dissolution in a bid to develop an efficient mechanical typesetting machine.

It was called a Paige Compositor and was designed to eliminate the need for human intervention while typesetting.

The result? It was a debacle and the only working model with 18,000 separate parts. It ended up as a museum piece in the Twain House.

Clemens’ career included a stint as a journeyman printer and compositor. He clearly understood the potential of the machine. From the moment Clemens encountered the typesetting machine in James Paige’s workshop, he was dazzled by the possibilities and convinced that this revolutionary device represented a golden financial opportunity.

While the Paige Compositor was truly an engineering marvel, and could successfully and precisely set and distribute type, Paige was fixated on enhancing the machine so it could create justified lines of type.

His insistence on including this complex feature (that he could never get to work reliably) fatally delayed its release. A simpler machine from Linotype grabbed the market.

In the meantime, Clemens’ investments in the project topped $170,000 by the close of the 1880s, leaving him in deep financial straits, exacerbated by other bad investments.

To pay off creditors and restore his financial equilibrium, the 60-year old Clemens, his wife Olivia, and daughter Clara set off on a five-year tour, dubbed the “Round-the-World Comedy Tour” by author Richard Zacks, delivering stage performances to welcoming audiences in India, South Africa, Australia, and other countries.

The tour, however, was capped by tragedy upon the family’s return to London: the death of daughter Susy at the family home in Hartford, CT during their absence.

With long time friend John Lewis, who inspired “Jim” in Tom Sawyer

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Clemens recorded in his notebook, “The cloud is permanent now,” and Olivia, exhausted from the travel, was traumatized to the point that she would never return to their Hartford home and never fully regained her health.

Clemens did not forget the role Paige played in his misfortunes, and wrote in his autobiography: “Paige and I always meet on effusively affectionate terms; and yet he knows perfectly well that if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap till he died.”

With the proceeds from his round-the-world tour and the release of a book of his collected works, Clemens successfully turned the corner on his financial woes. He died, debt free, in Redding, Connecticut in 1910.

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Jack Dennis often reports on politics, crime, history, travel, nostalgia, entertainment, immigration, drugs, gang activities, and human trafficking. Please support our efforts to provide truth and news that corporate media will not. 🔹Dodie Dennis, retired RN and health instructor, writes about health, nutrition, Big Pharma, nature, travel and everyday hacks-tips-hints.

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Elvis Presley’s Texas Home During Basic Training in 1958 Still Visited by Fans

In 2020, defying lockdowns and wearing masks, we took a 32 day roadtrip from the Texas Hill Country to Washington DC and back.

Our first stop was near Fort Hood in a central Killeen Texas neighborhood. If the walls of the circa 1950 ranch-style house at 605 Oakhill Drive could talk, they’d sing!

Photo by Loralyn ‘Dodie’ Dennis

It’s a nice house but doesn’t have any visual features that dramatically set it apart from the other homes in the area not far from Conder Park. It’s a one-story, brick home with a rather large mailbox out front.

As big Elvis Presley fans, we thought there might be a landmark sign designating it as the house the most famous entertainer in history lived while going through Army training.

At the height of his early fame, the Army drafted Elvis in 1958, and at the Memphis induction center, he received his shots, his buzz cut, and his orders. On March 28, he and others were sent by military bus to Fort Hood, the Second Armored Division, General George S. Patton’s “Hell on Wheels” wild bunch.

Enroute the new troops stopped for a restaurant lunch break in Hillsboro causing “a small riot” when teenage customers recognized him. 

Elvis didn’t want any special treatment offered. His desire was to be just another G.I. His fellow soldiers saw that in him and Elvis became one of the guys.

Private Simon Vega recalled, “I thought he was gonna get special treatment but he did KP, guard duty, everything, just like us.” 

When basic training was completed, the Army allowed soldiers to live off base as long as they had dependents living in the area. It was not long before Elvis’ parents, grandmother, and a friend traveled to Killeen where they found a three-bedroom home to rent from Chester Crawford, an attorney who charged an outrageous $700 a month.

Soon crowds began showing up on Oakhill Drive to catch a glimpse of Elvis. It was common for him to stand outside and talk to fans for hours. Occasionally, he detoured through neighbors’ backyards to avoid the crowds, and according to neighbor Janie Sullivan, the clothesline in their yard once caught Elvis and the dog bit him. 

Elvis with friend Red West (far right)

Not everyone was thrilled by Elvis’ presence in the neighborhood. Some Oak Hill residents called the police to complain about the clouds of dust stirred up by the cars and the carnival-like atmosphere.

While completing an additional ten weeks of advanced tank training, Elvis had to take emergency leave to fly to Memphis to be with his mother, Gladys, who had returned home to be hospitalized. She died two days later on August 14.

After his mother’s funeral, Elvis returned and put in long days at Fort Hood learning to be a tanker. During his final days at Fort Hood, large crowds gathered outside his house, and some nights a hundred people kept vigil. The last night, on September 19, 1958, Elvis and his gang gathered at the home to make the drive to the troop train that would take him and 1,360 other G.I.s to Brooklyn to sail for Germany.


Biographers and friends reported that Elvis’ time at Fort Hood and in the Army was among the happiest of his life. For a time, he was almost “just another soldier.” Everyone agreed that Elvis was a good soldier, one of the best in the company.

His longtime girlfriend, Anita Wood, said, “he had finally found himself.”

Elvis said later, “I learned a lot about people in the Army. I never lived with other people before and had a chance to find out how they think.” 

In 1958, longtime Killeen resident Edith Carlile lived four doors down from the house Pvt. Elvis Presley lived in with his parents, Vernon and Gladys. Presley rented the home for seven months from a local lawyer when he was stationed at Fort Hood.

“The street was extremely crowded with cars going by,” said Carlile, who lived next door to the house Presley lived in before she passed away a few years ago. “People were standing in the yard, wanting to touch him, kiss him.”

Carlile was a mother of four at the time, and wasn’t really into the rock ’n’ roll music that Presley is famous for.

“I’m not a fan of music of that age,” Carlile told a local news reporter, adding she was more into the tunes of the big band era.

Her children did get autographs from Presley, but Carlile said she threw the signed pieces of paper away years later.

She said the rock ’n’ roll king dated a few of the local girls when he was here, and his presence made a big impact, especially in the Oakhill Drive neighborhood, which in 1958 was home to lawyers, business owners and other upper-middle class families.

More than 64 years later, the house is still standing, and although it’s aged, the outside doesn’t look dramatically different from when Presley lived there.

Surprisingly, more recent owners of the Presley’s rental house indicated they didn’t even know the house had once been lived in by Presley when they bought it some years ago.

To this day Elvis fans regularly pop by the house to take a video, some puctures or inquire about the former home of the King.

On display at Graceland complex in Memphis, Tennessee

Some drive hundreds of miles to do so. Others want to peep inside or look at the backyard.

Although there has been updated renovations (exterior windows and roof) owners are reluctant to offer details.

In November 2006, the 2,400-square-foot house was placed for purchase on eBay.

The owner at the time, Myka Allen-Johnson, a sales representative for CenTex Homes, said she wanted to sell the home to someone who would understand the historical significance.

“I didn’t buy the house with the intention of selling it on eBay,” Allen-Johnson told the Killeen Daily Herald in 2006. “I just don’t want people to forget that he lived here in Killeen.”

Ft. Hood front gate 1958

Penny Love was 3 or 4 years old and lived around the corner in 1958. She recalls her family seeing Presley sneak through her backyard to avoid the crowd that waited out front. She said she would sometimes sit on Presley’s father, Vernon’s lap on the front porch.

The community has missed out on any significant tourism and marketing opportunities over the years. In August 1958, Presley fans petitioned the Killeen City Council to change the name of Oakhill Drive to Presley Drive, bringing nationwide publicity to the area. Today, however, Oakhill is still the name of the street.

The owner said she allows Presley fans to take a quick picture of the front of the house. But those who try to pry closer are not totally welcome.

The backyard has a steep incline, she said, which can be dangerous, and a German shepherd patrols back there, too.

Favorite Fan Photos

Elvis Presley, The Rockin’ Motorcycle King in Photos

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2021/07/04/elvis-presley-the-rockin-motorcycle-king-in-photos/embed/#?secret=mCsDyQTdl8

More Rare or Unseen Elvis Presley Pictures From the 60s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/more-rare-or-unseen-elvis-presley-pictures-from-the-60s/embed/#?secret=OrH73oXJB4

25 MORE Rare Photos of Elvis Presley in the Army

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/09/16/25-more-rare-photos-of-elvis-presley-in-the-army/embed/#?secret=QM7UuXuv5W

20 Rare Photos of Elvis Presley in the U.S. Army

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/20-rate-photos-of-elvis-presley-in-the-u-s-army/embed/#?secret=aoCYSwtQ3k

20 Elvis Presley Photos You May Have Never Seen From The 1960s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/20-elvis-presley-photos-you-may-have-never-seen-from-the-1960s/embed/#?secret=dQQFfwxfNP

Elvis Presley: Rare Shots From the 1970s

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/elvis-presley-rare-shots-from-the-1970s/embed/#?secret=4h7ZdpV2LL

Elvis Presley Movies Ranked

https://cleverjourneys.wordpress.com/2020/05/26/elvis-presley-movies-ranked/embed/#?secret=4IUVI49WXl

10 Rare Elvis Presley Photos in the 1950s

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Visit Graceland

What’s New at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee?

We stopped by Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee back in 2020 knowing it is one of the most-visited attractions in that area. Although it was open, we elected not to go in because of limitations due from the pandemic.

It is definitely on our bucket list to go back to what looks to be a world-class theme park. We heard from locals that we made a good decision at the time, but “come back again because they are always making good improvements and introducing something new.”

For 2022, Dollywood officially opened to the general public on March 12th, with season passholders getting a sneak peak on March 11. Dolly Parton was there, her first time at the park since 2019, to greet everyone back.

Dollywood didn’t waste much time with planning exciting updates with a a variety of projects. Here are some of the changes and additions:

🔹The Emporium, a very popular shop with visitors, was updated aesthetically.

🔹Victoria’s Pizza received a kitchen renovation to improve efficiency and help with visitors getting meals faster. An enlarged seating area has also improved the dining experience.

One change that will really benefit the guest experience are the wider walkways and more space for guests to spread out. Congestion has always been a struggle at Dollywood, but now the park is taking steps toward improvement! The park is creating wider walkways and better utilizing spaces throughout the park. Recently crews removed an old mine tunnel near the tracks for the Dollywood Express. This creates more space for visitors to walk, or stop and watch as the train rolls by.

The Flower & Food Festival has quickly become a fan-favorite festival at Dollywood. Now they have expanded it with new iconic Mosaiculture displays that visitors will love, and hundreds of thousands of blooms throughout the park. The culinary team has created a menu full of items that highlights the tastes of spring in the Smokie Mountains.

Another popular festival is the Summer Celebration. In 2022, Dollywood is expanding the Summer Nights drone and fireworks show with even more drones. The show features hundreds of drones flying high above the park, telling a story with 3D animations and a symphony of light.

Dollywood express train

Hoot Owl Hollow

Hoot Owl Hollow is a new area coming to life for Dollywood’s Harvest Festival. It’s located in Craftsman’s Valley and features a number of owl-themed displays in the park and suspended in the trees. The festival has thousands of carved pumpkins, performances from talented artists and Great Pumpkin LumiNights

Dollywood is introducing a brand new season pass structure (Silver, Gold and Diamond) that provides more for guests.

Here’s what to expect with the passes:

🔹Silver – With the Silver Season Pass, visitors get unlimited entries to Dollywood during the 2022 season, 2 Bring-A-Friend Free tickets and a $5 discount on single day tickets. Adult Silver Passes are priced at $149.

🔹Gold – The Gold Season Pass includes access to all-new Golden Hours and Events, unlimited visits to the park, 4 Bring-A-Friend Free tickets, a $10 discount on single day tickets, free parking, and 15% off select food and merchandise. Adult Gold Passes are $204.

🔹Diamond – With the Diamond Season Pass, visitors receive access to Golden Hours and Events, unlimited visits to Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country, free parking, 20% off select food and merchandise, 6 Bring-A-Friend Free tickets and a $15 discount on single day tickets. These passes are priced at $314 for adults.

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Goettle HVAC and Plumbing services are located in Phoenix, Tucson, San Antonio, Austin, Las Vegas areas as well as regions in Southern California.

10 Clever Facts We Learned at WonderWorks in Branson, Missouri

We passed up going to WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and I instantly regretted it after we left.

Driving away toward the Great Smokies National Park, I suddenly remembered a Facebook post from a friend, Janie Buys, a few years ago mentioning the attraction. It seems she had doubts about visiting it with husband Phil and son Phil Jr., but after she went in, it didn’t take her long to enjoy it.

A couple of weeks later into our month long roadtrip, Dodie and I were pleasantly surprised to see a WonderWorks in Branson, Missouri.

Dodie navigating through a kaleidoscope tunnel.

Dodie, a retired nurse, has always enjoyed science and the attraction bills itself as “a science focused indoor amusement park, combines education and entertainment. With over 100 hands-on exhibits – there is something unique and challenging for all ages.”

The building is enticing enough to spur anyone’s interest. It looks like a giant four story venue turned upside down. As soon as we walked in, the floor was the ceiling and the ceiling was the floor.

The WonderWorks entrance.

It was fun to experience the power of 84mph hurricane–force winds in the Hurricane Shack. Some chose to make huge, life–sized bubbles in the Bubble Lab.

I enjoyed the NASA Space area but we elected not to get strapped into the Astronaut Training Gyro to “experience zero gravity.” We also passed lying on the death–defying Bed of Nails.

Astronaut Jack.

Here’s the Top 10 Things I Learned at WonderWorks:

1. You can’t see your ears without a mirror.

2. You can’t count your hair.

3. You can’t breath through your nose with your tounge out.

4. You just tried No. 3.

6. When you tried No. 3 you realized that it is possible, but you looked like a dog.

7. You are smiling right now, because you were fooled.

8. You skipped No. 5.

9. You just checked to see if there is a No. 5.

10. Share this with your friends so they can have fun too.

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Las Vegas Reopens: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Las Vegas, Nevada casinos statewide are riding a tourism surge and seeing monthly winnings records. This has caused hotel room rates to rebound with visitors now approaching pre-pandemic levels.

In 2020, at the peak of pandemic and lockdowns, we didn’t stay home. Instead, we went on a summer roadtrip that covered 15 states from Texas to Washington D.C. and back. This included stops in crowded tourist spots like Graceland in Memphis, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Andy Griffith Museum in North Carolina, Ark Encounter in Kentucky, and Branson, Missouri.

This year, we are currently on our second roadtrip of 2021 out West visiting Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada. In May, we traveled to the Royal Gorge and Garden of the Gods in Colorado, Carlsbad Caverns and International UFO Museum in New Mexico.

On our current trip, we’ve enjoyed a day at the Southwest Sonaran Outdoor Desert Museum near Tucson, Phoenix and are in Las Vegas as I write this. (Note: Old Tucson Movie Studios is closed. Pima County is trying to decide what to do with it.)

If you are interested in getting away from home, TV, news propaganda and mandates, consider doing what thousands of Americans are doing: Travel.

Those planning to visit Las Vegas should check the Nevada Health Response for updates on state and county requirement changes. We didn’t bother because we are not that concerned about restrictions and enjoy being free spirits. Visitors could check directly with resorts, attractions and other experiences for full details around operations. We had few problems.

In Vegas, these are our general thoughts after being here four days:

Dining

We found some of our favorite restaurants closed, so we sought out opportunities to discover new ones. In the LINQs Promenade area you can take a trip to Flavortown at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. The celebrity chef brings you his big, bold flavors and tasty twists on comfort food. It’s a good place to bring your appetite. They have everything from a Tatted-Up Turkey Burger to Jack Daniels steak to a giant, over-the-top cheesecake dessert. There is also a good view of the Vegas Strip from their 6,500 square-foot outdoor patio.

TRASH TALK

One of Fieri’s signatures is his Trash Can Nachos. It’s as over-the-top as the Food Network personality who created it. The nachos are literally presented in a mini trash can and feature a tower of corn tortilla chips, house-smoked pork, cheese, black beans, jalapenos, sour cream, pickled onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and chipotle barbecue sauce.

Nearby is Hot Diggity Dog.

Person holding a hotdog with bbq meat and arugula topping.

HOT DIGGITY DOG

One of the favorites is The Gold Standard, featuring smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato confit, baby arugula and garlic-chive aioli. Another is the Billionaire Dog, complete with a Kobe beef frank, foie gras torchon, port onion marmalade and truffle mayo.

At New York-New York Hotel, we found all restaurants opened. We elected to go to one of my favorites, America. They’ve never let me down. It’s not overly noisy like some eateries can be in Vegas.

My biggest disappointment was the gutting of the House of Blues restaurant at Mandalay Bay. They totally destroyed the peaceful blues vibed –with tree– bayou scenery and replaced it with a large and loud, concrete and steel, industrial manufacturing plant type eatery. No acoustics and wide open to the ambient noise of the slot machinery, it will be the last time I will ever eat there. We heard other diners complaining about it too.

House of Blues, before
HOB, after

We noticed Rice, our favorite restaurant at the Luxor next door, is closed down. Eventually we noticed many higher end establishments (including steak houses, seafood, sushi, Italian and more) have shuttered their doors at Westgate, Bally’s, Paris, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Venetian, Excalibur and Luxor too.

(During our visit, hundreds of Culinary union workers in red shirts marched in protest on the Strip about their pay, working conditions and vaccine mandates.)

Like gasoline, about 3.55 a gallon now, the costs for buffet meals have increased since I was here a couple of years ago. They tend to be in the $23-$45 range weekdays and $29-59 on weekends.

🔹At the back, left hand corner of the Luxor casino, is a reasonably priced (at Vegas standards) quick to order grill called Backstage Deli. We had breakfast and coffee at $26 total, with tip, for two.

🔹At Hard Rock Cafe, just north of MGM resort on the Strip, Dodie had the “most delicious steak salad ever,” for $20. I enjoyed their Smokehouse Combo (Ribs and pulled pork, fries, coleslaw and baked beans for $27).

🔹Our most expensive splurge was fourth row seats for Dodie’s first ever Cirque du Solevil show, “O” at Bellagio. Note: The Conservatory there is a must see free attraction. It changes with the seasons and holidays.

🔹Instead of taking a Lyft, Uber, or cab to the different venues, we bought a Monorail pass at $13 for 24 hours. It was long enough for us to enjoy most of the east side of the Strip from MGM south to Westgate, north. We also deboarded at Bally’s to walk across Las Vegas Blvd. to Bellagio where “O” plays.

🔹My favorite daytime (afternoon entertainment) is The Mac King Comedy Magic Show, now at Excalibur.

🔹The most fun we had for the best bargain was the Ultimate 4-D Experience at Excalibur.

For $14 a person, we enjoyed 15 minute versions of two action packed films of Wonder Woman and San Andreas with 3-D glasses, moving seats and special effects (water mists, bubbles, lighting enhancements and other special effects).

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey
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When in Cancun, Mexico Visit Chichen Itza

“Make sure to take a side trip to Chichen Itza,” friends repeatedly told me when I made preparations for my first trip to Cancun, Mexico.

Dodie & I both love the Cancun area…and each other.

I was so mesmerized by the magical waters of the beach, there was little time for secondary excursions. Whew, did I make a mistake. Besides the enchanting Xcaret theme park, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, an early morning excursion to Chichen Itza is highly recommended.

Xcaret

On a return trip to Cancun, I realized why this ancient Mayan site is highly recommended. Chichen Itza is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the top excursions in Cancun.

Chichen Itza is home to a number of architectural and natural wonders, including El Castillo, the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, the Sacred Cenote, and more. 

Interesting Facts About Chichen Itza

🔹The term Chichen Itza means ‘the mouth at the well of Itza’. It is believed Itza means ‘water magicians’, deriving from the Mayan Itz for ‘magic’ and á for ‘water’.

🔹Believed by archaeologists to have been a powerful economic city around 600 AD, the fall of Chichen Itza is thought to have been approximately 1000 AD.

Ferry to Cozumel

🔹Located on the north side of the Kukulkan Pyramid is a platform dedicated to the planet Venus. The Mayans were devoted astronomers and the movements of Venus held special meaning to them, with it influencing the architecture of the ancient Mayan city Uxmal.

🔹Historians have analyzed the building and found that there are variety of material in this pyramid that are not found in Mexico. One of these materials is mica, which was used by the Mayans during construction to insulate their buildings, but there is one strange thing. Mica is found 2,000 miles away from the pyramids in Brazil, and scientists are baffled as to how it was transported without vehicles.

🔹Pyramid has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Mayan science. Incredibly, during the Spring (20th of March) and Autumn Equinox (22nd September), sunrays create a shadow across the Kukulkan Pyramid that gives the appearance of a serpent slithering down the staircase.

🔹Many of the sites in Chichen Itza are known for their unusual sounds. If you clap once from one end of the Ball Court, it produces nine echoes in the middle of the court. Additionally, a clap in front of the Kukulkan Pyramid creates an echo resembling the serpent’s chirp.

🔹Chichén Itzá was more than a religious and ceremonial site. It was also a sophisticated urban center and hub of regional trade. But after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures like the Toltecs, the city met a mysterious end.

Jack on Cancun beach.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

10 Most Interesting Facts About UFO Crash From Roswell

Dodie and I have spent the past two weeks traveling the American Southwest with stops in Arizona and  Colorado.

Thursday and Friday (May 27-28, 2021) we visited southeastern New Mexico to learn what we could about the famous Roswell UFO Incident of July 8, 1947.

If any UFO related event has garnered the highest number of headlines and people’s attention in history, it was here.

Driving in Roswell reveals much evidence around town that the community embraces their UFO history.

From storefronts with cartoonish aliens to alien street light lamps to a variety of alien-inspired attractions and museums, this definitely is a Mecca for UFO enthusiasts.

Allegedly, an alien spacecraft crashed in a ranch northwest of Roswell and was actually covered by both the local newspaper and Air Force news.

The news was blasted across the globe but was rapidly covered up by the US military and federal government. Over the years official statements alleged the crash was a weather balloon. In the 1990s it was identified as “radar targets”.

However, there are many secrets of the Roswell alien and UFO story that point toward the fact that what had crashed was nothing but an alien spacecraft.

(1) The Roswell Army Air Field or the RAAF had initially released a press release based on the Roswell Daily Record newspaper with the headlines ‘RAAF captures flying saucer on ranch in Roswell region’. The news however got changed to the crashed object being a weather balloon by the next morning.

RAAF Roswell Daily Record newspaper

(2) On July 2. 1947, a UFO was seen flying northwest in the skies above Roswell, New Mexico, but what happened to that UFO was not known to anyone. It is believed that it is the same UFO that had crashed a few days later.

2nd July, 1947, UFO Roswell

(3) Rancher Mac Brazel, whose ranch was the crashing ground for the unidentified flying object had reported that the crash had happened in the first week of July, however the cover-up story said that the weather balloon had crashed on 14 June 1947. Such a timing gap certainly reveals a lot about the probable cover-up attempts by the officials.

What Truth Covered By US Military After Roswell 1947 UFO Crash

(4) In 1989, a young local mortician, Glenn Dennis, claimed that his friend, who worked as a nurse at the Roswell Army Air Field, entered one of the examination rooms to discover that the doctors were bent over and examining the bodies of three creatures. As per the description of the nurse, the creatures had big bald heads, small bodies and long arms.

Dennis was working at Ballard Funeral Home when he received some curious calls one afternoon from the Roswell Air Force morgue. The base’s mortuary officer was needing small, hermetically sealed coffins and also wanted to know how to preserve bodies that had been exposed to the elements for a few days and avoid contaminating the tissue.

Dennis later said that evening he drove to the base hospital, where he saw large pieces of wreckage with strange engravings on one of the pieces sticking out of the back of a military ambulance. He entered the hospital and was visiting with the nurse he knew when suddenly he was threatened by military police and forced to leave.

The next day, Dennis met with the nurse, who told him about bodies discovered with the wreckage and drew pictures of them on a prescription pad. Within a few days she was transferred to England; her whereabouts remain unknown.

(5) Many witnesses reported seeing a blazing aircraft high up in the sky moments before it crashed onto the ground. As per the witnesses, what crashed down certainly did not look like a weather balloon of any type.

witnesses UFO Roswell

(6) As per witness rancher Mac Brazel and Major Jesse Marcel, the debris of the crash site contained small beams that were about ¾ or ½ inch square with some sort of hieroglyphics on them that was completely undecipherable, rubber strips, tin foils and a type of tough paper with sticks and many more unidentifiable objects. The debris that was shown to the press later on did not have any of these things.

(7) If a weather balloon would have crashed in reality, there should have been long strings that would have connected the 700 feet long Project Mogul weather balloon, but in reality there was nothing like that observed in the wreck that was shown to the press, leaving the question burning that was it actually a weather balloon that had crashed in the fields of Roswell.

crash fields of Roswell

(8) The RAAF officials had given testimonials that the spread of the debris was nothing beyond 200 yards, whereas the reality is that the debris of the crash had a spread of ¾ mile long and around 500 feet wide.

Truth Of Roswell 1947 UFO Crash

(9) The wreckage of the object that had crashed in Roswell was loaded on a B-29 fighter plane and flown to Wright Field, which later was renamed Wright Patterson Air force base and served as a storage ground for all UFO related contents.

Roswell crash debris B-29 fighter plane

(10) Apart from the crash at Roswell, there was another crash site in an area known as Plains of San Agustin that lay west of Socorro in New Mexico. A damaged metallic craft was recovered, and allegedly dead alien bodies were discovered. This news was completely suppressed by the Air Force according to locals.

In early July, the 2021 Roswell UFO Museum Ufologist Invasion, featuring some of the most renown UFO researchers, authors and actual close encounter witnesses will be on hand for a four day event.

Flagstaff, Arizona Through Dust Storm to Meteor Crater

Sedona, Arizona, was extremely busy and has grown since my last visit in 2016. Always beautiful, we stopped briefly to live in the moment of this enchanting destination, but elected to move on. That took a while as we endured the traffic jams.

I will seriously think twice about going through again and thought it sad that one of my favorite places ever has become far too popular.

It was melancholic realizing future generations will never experience the magic many of us did.

Commercialized and extensively developed, Sedona is well on her way to a busy future.

Flagstaff, Arizona

We drove on north to the mountain town of Flagstaff, a truly charming place to stop for a while. We spent the night on May 20th. Dodie’s favorite hotel there is Little America, but we didn’t make reservations this time.

We will be back, perhaps this fall, in our camping van to explore the historic downtown area, where various art galleries, enticing boutiques, Native American shops, outdoor outfitters, eateries, and microbreweries dwell amid the 19th-century streets.

Dodie’s son, Jackson, graduated from Northern Arizona University there, so she is familar with university’s museum, the intriguing Lowell Observatory, and the turn-of-the-20th-century Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.

There are three national monuments located within 7.5 to 33 miles of Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument. We’ll be back.

Meteor Crater

Almost 50,000 years ago a giant fireball streaked across the North American sky from east to west before it struck the Earth with a force 150 times bigger than the atomic bomb.

The last time I visited Meteor Crater was in June 1979. My, it is a far better experience seeing and learning from it as a man in my 60s (vs 20s).

We discovered, through their museum, two quick movies and visitor center, that the impact “generated immensely powerful shock waves in the meteorite, the rock and the surrounding atmosphere. In the air, shock waves swept across the level plain devastating all in their path for a radius of several miles. In the ground, as the meteorite penetrated the rocky plain, pressures rose to over 20 million pounds per square inch, and both iron and rock experienced limited vaporization and extensive melting. Beyond the melted region, an enormous volume of rock underwent complete fragmentation and ejection.”

Dodie sought protection and stability from the high winds within the Meteor Crater complex.

“The result of these violent conditions was the excavation of a giant bowl-shaped cavity. In seconds, a crater 700 feet deep, over 4,000 feet across, and 2.4 miles in circumference was carved into this once-flat rocky plain. During its formation, over 175 million tons of limestone and sandstone were abruptly thrown out to form a continuous blanket of debris surrounding the crater for a distance of over a mile.”

Before we drove east on IH-40 (old Route 66) to visit the Crater, we ate breakfast at IHOP. As I walked out the front door, I heard a loud crack-pop burst. I thought it was lightning.

The winds were so hard it popped the top third of a 40 foot Juniper tree in two. We were parked less than 30 feet from it.

Highway warning signs advised of hard winds and dark dust storms ahead. The five mile drive from the highway to the Crater Visitor Center was surreal as if we were on Mars. I could barely stay on the two lane road with red dirt and heavy gusts fighting me all the way.

When Dodie took Mr. Beefy to the visitor center’s dog kennel, I went to purchase tickets. Again, I heard a loud crash and whirling noise as I was about to enter. I held the door open for a man who was exiting and he yelled, “Oh my God!”

He saw the front windshield blow out of his truck and watched it fly over 400 feet away–luckily, away from the parking area into an empty pasture.

Roland, an employee, told us the reported winds were 45-55 mph with gusts into the 90s. Before we proceeded into the museum, a young couple drove up and the front grill and bumper blew off their car. Roland remained busy filling out incident reports that afternoon.

For us, it was a long day on Route 66.

New Mexico’s Sand Dunes and Giant Cavern

New Mexico is a beautiful state with two of our top favorite natural attractions in the Southwest.

Whit e sands 2339408d ast65gbh

White Sands National Park

Lose yourself among the rolling white sand dunes of a true American treasure and descend into the depths of an ancient cavern with more than 300 stunning limestone caves.

Welcome to White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, two of the Southwest’s more remarkable natural wonders. Covering 275 square miles, the gypsum dune field at White Sands is the largest of its kind in the world.

Hike, bike, or ride horseback through this unique landscape, or follow the 16-mile Driving Dunes Drive to take in the scenery from your car. You can even camp among the dunes in one of the primitive backcountry campsites. Stay the night and you’ll wake up to a view that few get to enjoy.

Jack & Dodie rented a sand slide. It was fun sliding down but the trek back up was tough.

For some time out of the sun, find your way into the subterranean wonderland that is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Called “the Grand Canyon with a roof over it” by actor and comedian Will Rogers, the park has two trails you can meander along by yourself.

The 1.25-mile Big Room Trail is a flat path that yields amazing views of formations large and small, as well as a rope ladder used by early explorers in the 1920’s.

There’s also the Natural Entrance Trail, a winding 1.25-mile path that descends a quad-burning 750 feet, a journey that passes notable formations like the Devil’s Spring and Iceberg Rock.

Back on the surface, you’ll find 11 hiking trails like the 100-mile-long Guadalupe Ridge Trail, a pathway ideal for backcountry hikers looking to get away from it all.

Tucked away in the farthest reaches of southeast New Mexico, White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are two of the country’s top natural wonders. As remote as they are, both parks are about two hours away from El Paso, making them ideal daytrip destinations from the Sun City.

Palo Duro Canyon is a True Texas Natural Wonder

Travel deep into the heart of the Texas Panhandle and you’ll find a true natural wonder. Canyon walls gleaming orange in bright sunshine, otherworldly rock formations, and scenic trails lined with mesquite and juniper trees await at Palo Duro Canyon.

About 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, and with a depth of roughly 800 feet, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the country. Formed over millions of years, the canyon is a majestic showcase of nature’s power. Descend into its depths and you’ll see vibrant layers of rock in the canyon walls that tell a story 250 million years in the making.

I first traveled to Palo Duro while RVing with two sons, ages 8 and 9, in 2005. They were enchanted and loved the remoteness. Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs was their favorite on this particular trip, but Palo Duro Canyon was a highly rated second place.

I suppose some people naturally compare it to the Grand Canyon. If you’ve been there, how can you measure any place against the Grand Canyon? To do so may disappoint. For their young eyes–who had never been to Arizona–Palo Duro was spectacular and offered a spirit of adventure.

We only stayed two nights, but could have easily stayed more. My journalism professor at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State), Jeff Henderson, told me about a show there back in the late 1970s. It remained on my bucket list for 30 years before I was able to experience it.

We enjoyed a great Chuck Wagon meal prior to the event just outside the entry of the Pioneer Ampitheater.

It’s beautifully carved out of and nestled into a natural basin in the state park. Summer 2021 the spectacular TEXAS OUTDOOR MUSICAL Palo Duro Canyon comes alive once again for the 55th season  of the Official Play of the State of Texas.

It reminded me of a Seven Brides For Seven Brothers Broadway musical type play but set against an authentic tapestry of history. The show’s fictional characters bring to life the stories, struggles and triumphs of the settlers of the Texas Panhandle in the 1800’s. Song and dance abound – and a generous helping of good ol’ Texas humor too – with spellbinding lighting, special effects and fireworks.

For a dad with his two sons, one of the best ways we experienced the canyon was by tying on hiking shoes and exploring the CCC Trail, one of more than 30 miles of trails.

If a strenuous, yet rewarding, hike is what you’re after, traverse either the Upper Comanche or the Lower Comanche trails. The former takes you across a river and deep through Comanche territory to an overlook halfway up the canyon wall. The latter meanders beneath Fortress Cliff and past spring-fed streams and Rocky Mountain junipers. Meanwhile, the Juniper/Cliffside trail offers a more easygoing stroll past percolation caves carved by moving water over time.

The Lighthouse

A favorite for many visitors (it was the middle of June, hot, so we elected not to try it–almost 6 mile round trip) to Palo Duro Canyon hike to the Lighthouse, the park’s iconic rock formation. If you decide to trek to Lighthouse trail to see it for yourself, make sure to bring plenty of water.

Of course, there are other ways to uncover Palo Duro Canyon’s many wonders. Ride horseback on the canyon floor on a guided tour with Old West Stables or find your way along many of the trails on your mountain bike.

The canyon’s lush landscapes and variety of terrain makes it a veritable hotspot for birdwatching. Golden-fronted woodpeckers are among the many birds you can see throughout the year, while summer welcomes such colorful species as painted buntings and Bullock’s orioles.

Keep a keen eye and you may even see bobcats, coyotes, and wild turkeys, as well as members of the official State Longhorn Herd (descendants of cattle brought by the Spanish in the 1500s).