Saturday, October 29, 2011

Charlevoix Biosphere Expedition

Since November 3, 2011, is International Day for Biosphere Reserves, I thought it would be a good time to write about a Biosphere Reserve I visited recently in the Canadian province of Quebec. It is called the Charlevoix Biosphere, and this photograph shows its northern border, the St. Lawrence River.

The Charlevoix Biosphere is made up of agricultural areas, river ecosystems, estuarine tidal marshes/flats, coniferous and mixed forests, stunted vegetation, and mountain tundra ecosystems. Every year, six species of migrating whales, along with seals, rendezvous with visitors at the junction of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers.

One way the Charlevoix Biosphere is unique is that it is inhabited by approximately 30,000 people, whereas many biospheres do not have human beings living in them. This photo shows the lovely Fairmont Le Manoir Richelier ( , which served as my "campsite" during my visit to this beautiful part of Canada.

The hotel has the nickname "Castle on the Cliff" due to its scenic location on a high bluff above the St. Lawrence River. Its location near the water, means that the early morning often finds it cloaked in a misty fog, until the sun comes out to burn away the shroud.

The grounds of the hotel are immaculately maintained, and provide miles of enjoyment to visitors who want to stroll the property, and take in the views.

Seeing this elegant lodging property may make one curious as to what exactly IS a "Biosphere Reserve"??!! According to the website of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization ( ), it is defined as a learning site established by countries, and recognized under UNESCO'S Man & Biosphere program, to promote sustainable development; this development is to be based on local community efforts and sound science. There are currently 580 sites in 114 countries, and you can click on their website to find out the location of other biospheres around the world.

The UNESCO designation does not mean that the United Nations comes in and "takes over" the management of a UNESCO-designated sight. Rather, the site is still completely controlled by the government of the country where it is located.

The key phrase in an inhabited biosphere such as Charlevoix, is "sustainable". The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu actively participates in ecological measures of sustainability. It has a rich history and tradition that it wants to "sustain" for generations to come.

As I relished my time exploring the St. Lawrence River section of Charlevoix, I was able to take in some remarkable sunrises and sunsets over the river. It brought to mind the verse "From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised." Psalm 113:3 I was doing LOTS of praising when I was in this remarkable area of Quebec! If you would like to learn more about all there is to see and do in this year-round, vacation playground, visit and start preparing for miles of praise-filled smiles!!

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St. Louis Cardinals Celebrate 2011 World Series Victory!

There is going to be a new addition----2011---- to the year markers shown on the top of this Busch Stadium scoreboard, thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals winning the 2011 World Series of Baseball! And even if you were not able to be physically present in the stadium last night for Game 7, there is a good chance that you could be present in Busch Stadium for the Victory ceremony to be held there on Sunday evening, October 30. Tickets to the event are only $5 and go on sale at 2 PM, Saturday, October 29. Just click on to make your purchase. Even if you don't get to buy a ticket, you can attend the Victory Parade, which will be held in downtown St. Louis, starting at 4 PM on Sunday, October 30. The famous horses known as the Budweiser Clydesdales will be leading the procession of Cardinals team members, Fredbird, the Rally Squirrel, and several marching bands from area schools. The parade will conclude with the ceremony on the field at Busch Stadium. Fireworks will top off the celebration, and will be visible to both those inside, as well as those outside, the stadium.

One thing that makes the field of Busch Stadium so unique is that one can see the famous Gateway Arch in the green turf of the outfield, as well as in the skyline to the east of the stadium! (See photo) If you cannot be at the Victory Celebration tomorrow in St. Louis, you can still have the opportunity to see the magnificent prize given to the winning team----the famous World Series Trophy. That is because it will be on display inside the stadium, and all those taking a tour of the stadium throughout the year, get a chance to see the trophy and photograph it. Stadium tours are a very enjoyable activity, and cost ten dollars or less, depending on your age and group size. To find out about the Busch Stadium tours, click on . I wrote about these tours and put photos on a previous blog post (June 22, 2009), and found the tour extremely worthwhile. You are probably going to need a place to stay in St. Louis, and you can find out everything you need to plan your "VV" (Victory Visit!) to St. Louis at Of course, any talk about a prize trophy brings to mind the familiar verse that says "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heaven-ward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14 And that is what our beloved St. Louis Cardinals did---They forgot that they had already won ten World Series, and they forgot the less-than-stellar season they had before the World Series started. Nope, they pressed on to win the prize their fans had called them to---the 2011 World Series!! Congratulations Cardinal Nation for a job well done!!! Miles of smiles! Tricia

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dogwood Canyon Autumn Transitions

Dogwood Canyon is a 2200 acre nature park that sprawls across the Missouri/Arkansas border, a few miles outside Branson, Missouri. There are numerous activities that one can do there, such as hiking, bicycle riding, fishing, horseback riding, ATV & Segway rentals, tram tours, dining, picnicking and even lodging!

There is a segment of the population that would like to get outside and enjoy nature, but various obstacles limit their ability to do so. Dogwood Canyon was Taylor-made for these folks: The hiking trails are paved, making them smooth riding for those in wheel chairs, or those with other forms of mobility restrictions. It is also suitable for single travelers, who might not feel comfortable going into the woods to hike by themselves.

The paved hiking/biking trails will take you past numerous geological formations associated with the Ozarks, such as the moss-covered limestone bluffs, shown in this photograph.

There are waterfalls in the park that create reflecting pools where you can sit and do some "reflecting" or meditating at your leisure.

My son and I took advantage of the area that Dogwood Canyon had decorated up for their autumn chuck wagon dinners, to pose for a family photo (thank goodness for the "automatic, self-timer" setting on my camera!)

Since the park has numerous water features, there are numerous bridges throughout. Each one seems designed to enhance its natural surroundings. This "stonebridge" built of native Ozark rock, produces an oval frame for the water it spans. The irregular lines of its masonry seem to transition the eye up to the horizontal lines of the limestone bluff behind it.

This bridge transitions the visitor from an open meadow to a path along the ridge line, and its low design does not cover up the beauty of the overhanging bluffs it leads to.

The gentle curve design of this bridge transitions the visitor from a lower part of the park to a section of slightly higher elevation.

And who doesn't love the warm feelings of nostalgia that a covered bridge can provide, as the traveler transitions from one side, across a swirling river, safely to the other side. It can be a reminder that God is our cover, as we transition from one period of life, to the next. Remembering that autumn is the time of year that we transition from one SEASON to the next, I thought of the verse that says "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) One definition of transition is that it is a movement or development from one form or stage to another. I am hoping that this blog post will TRANSITION you out of inactivity and into God's great outdoors! Enjoy the scenery as the landscape transitions from one season to the next! You can learn about a wonderful place to do this in the Ozarks by clicking on . Wishing you additional, transitional smiles! Tricia

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Lost Valley Expedition

This autumn would be a fantastic time to visit the Lost Valley Hiking Trail, located within the boundaries of the Buffalo National River ( ), in Newton County, Arkansas. The trees, shrubs, and bushes in that area of the state put on a magnificent display of color each autumn, as shown in these photographs. As the newly-fallen leaves carpet the forest floor, they form a colorful mosaic pattern, prettier than any you will see at a store selling artificial floor coverings! (top photo). The bright red leaves shown in the bottom two photos are from the sweet gum tree that is abundant throughout the trail area, and is accompanied by the bright oranges of hickory trees, burgundy colors from dogwoods and red buds, yellows from wild black walnut trees, and the rusty orange provided by the numerous oak trees. The area also contains a beech tree stand.

The top photo of this collage shows some of the hikers from the Mountain Home Audubon chapter, that made a field trip to Lost Valley this week to hike the trail and do some birding. The trail is rated as "easy to moderate", and there are spots along the way where one can sit to rest or meditate, if so desired (bottom photo).

This photo shows that the trail is a great hike for families with children, as it can be hiked in 2 1/2 hours, with a total distance of 2.3 miles.

The trail will lead you to a beautiful limestone bluff shelter, where one can imagine what it would have been like for the early Native Americans that might have used this space as their living quarters. I heard the comments the children in this photo were making to their parents, and their imaginations were providing vivid scenarios of bluff dwellers from bygone days.

Lost Valley has a natural bridge, a waterfall, and a small cave. As is the case for most waterfalls in this area, Eden Falls is best viewed after heavy rains. The Park Service recommends not going into the cave unless one has the proper equipment, so the family is this photograph decided to save their spelunking adventure for another time when they were better prepared.

Since there are some very high bluffs near the end of the trail, the park service has signs warning of potential dangers. Although serious accidents are rare here, when I was a kid, a young man fell to his death after he wandered away from the group he was with, to climb to the top of the waterfall. However, I am happy to report there were no accidents on the day I visited Lost Valley!

The top photo of this collage pictures the National Park Ranger showing our group the photo album of how Lost Valley looked after heavy flooding that occurred there a while back. She said that since Lost Valley is one of the most popular hiking areas in the entire park, there has been a massive effort to seek out funding to save the Lost Valley trail for future generations. She told us we would see workers along the trail (bottom photo) who were laboring to repair washed out areas and downed trees. When I heard her use that phrase---to seek and to save the lost---it reminded me of the Bible verse that says "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Luke 19:10 If prompted me to ask myself if I am being a diligent worker along the trail of life, "to seek and to save what was lost"? I discovered there is even a very worthwhile website by that name ( ), which I found very inspirational.

Regardless of which highways you use to get to Lost Valley, your eyes will be in for a feast! I took Highway 43 West out of Harrison, stopping at the overlook on top of Gaither Mountain (top photo) to snap this photo of the Crooked Creek Valley, with Boat Mountain on the horizon. Following Hiway 43 will bring you to the tiny village of Ponca, built along a scenic creek (middle photo). It is in Ponca that you will see the ever-busy Buffalo Outdoor Center. I spent some quality time in Ponca and the B.O.C. decades ago, attending photography workshops put on there by photographers Matt Bradley, Kenneth Smith, and B.O.C. owner, Mike Mills. On the day I visited, I was a little surprised to see Mike Mills behind the counter there, talking to a multitude of customers (both on the phone and in person) and employees, in this beehive of activity, he describes as being in "the middle of nowhere"! You can learn more about all they offer, including their new canopy tour, by clicking on . A short distance past the Buffalo Outdoor Center, you will pass the Elk Education Center, also a worthwhile place to visit. Continuing westward, you will pass the Boxley Valley Historic District, with its explanatory placards and historic buildings. Depending on the time of day you are there, you may even get to see elk grazing in the meadow! Follow the signs, and you will see the paved road off to the right that will take you to the Lost Valley Campgroud and Trail (bottom photo). Hopefully, I have stirred your interest in including a trip to Lost Valley in your "fall foilage finding" adventures, where you will encounter scenery that will give you miles of smiles! Tricia

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Austin Live! with Project 11 Band

It seems every tourism publication I see about Austin, Texas, gives heavy emphasis to the "live music scene" one encounters in that city. In the research I did before visiting, it seemed the topic of music came up more often than the mention that Austin is the state capitol of Texas! These research findings were reinforced as I stepped out of the plane, and into the airport terminal, upon my arrival there last week. At the luggage claim area where travelers pick up their checked bags, there are huge (and beautifully painted) works of art in the shape of guitars (top two photos of collage) that have been sponsored by various entities of the city. The one that I liked best was the bright yellow guitar, with a bicycler giving the victory salute. (No surprise----it was sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Austin is considered Lance Armstrong's home town, and perhaps for that reason, bicycle advertisements/signs are almost as prevalent as guitars!) In addition to the works of art in the shape of guitars, there is a huge LED screen on one wall of the airport (middle photo of collage), reminding visitors that Austin is "keeping it live". As I was photographing the "work of art" guitars at the luggage claim area, another traveler got out her camera, and started taking photos as well. To do this, she had temporarily laid down the guitar she was carrying on top of her luggage (lower right photo). Obviously, I was not yet part of the "in" crowd, because I was not carrying a guitar. However, my anxiety soon eased, whenever my ride came to pick me up, and there were two guitars in the back of their van. So "guitar separation anxiety" is apparently a condition a lot of people in Austin have to deal with! I even saw one homeless man (or "urban camper") downtown who had his guitar and his bedroll strapped on his back.

The photo of the wall mural in the upper left shows that the city boasts that it is the "Live Music Capitol of the WORLD!". The reminder of the photos in this collage show why I am tending to agree with their claim. There was live music in the Austin City Limits retail store, in the Waterloo Records store, in the main terminal of the airport, and in the worship services (middle photo). The lower left photo even shows a guitar-strumming granny, while the lower right shows that there is even music (in the form of bagpipes!) out on the football field for a "Friday Night Lights" experience in the Austin area! In one local newspaper, I counted approximately 200 separate venues that were offering live music performances for the weekend I was there! These included everything from a Whole Foods Market grocery store, a barber shop, numerous retail establishments, dozens of food establishments and bars, theaters, and Costco (ok, so the Costco music was just supplied by random customers who wanted to try their hand at the numerous electronic musical instruments for sale there!)

So with the background I have written in the previous paragraphs, you can imagine how delighted I was to realize the dream of doing an interview with one of the up and coming bands in the Austin area---Project 11. Their website on Facebook lists their genre of music as "hybrid" and also lists the four members ( Brandon Raschke, lead guitar; Colin Tompkins, Drums & Ukulele; Thomas Cochran, guitar-vocals-mixer/producer & keyboard; and his brother Ryan Cochran, Guitar & Vocals) that comprise the band. The two that I was able to interview for this article were the Cochran brothers, and are pictured in this photo collage in their recording studio, known as "204 Underground Productions".

Their sound booth (upper left photo of collage) helps set the mellow mood for whoever is doing the vocals for a particular recording. The abundant supply of guitars of all types (upper right photo) provides inspiration for musicians specializing in strings. And so much electronics!! They don't call Austin "Silicon Hills" for nothing! There were several different kinds of microphones, keyboards, computers, mobile devices, and dual screen monitors for music software applications! All the electronics I saw made me better understand the advertisement for AMD that I heard on the Austin City Limits ( ) show, that said "Technology designed to amplify the creative genius of musicians!". There is plenty of creative genius going on with the musicians at the "204 Underground Productions" studio!

This photo shows younger brother Thomas Cochran working on new releases/song ideas in the studio. It seems that throughout the time I visited with him, he always had something music-related either in his hands, or somewhere in a pocket of his clothing!

Lest the reader think that Project 11 band members, are one-sided with no other interests, I included a photo of older Cochran brother, Ryan, at his high school football game (photo on left), AND baking up a delicious panini sandwich for the interviewer! In addition, both brothers are active on their debate team at school.

The Cochran brothers tried to help provide material for my article about Austin by giving me a tour of various highlights of the area, especially around the campus of the University of Texas. It seems sympbols of Longhorns are everywhere there---from bronzed sculptures, to bus stops, to store fronts, to street signs, to coffee advertisements, and even in the form of crochet!! Since the author was "born and bred" in Razorback country, all these Longhorn symbols brought back many memoires of days gone by, when the Longhorns and Razorbacks were in the same college football league----what a rivalry we had!!!

Addendum:  The photo below shows the Main Building ( also known locally as "The Tower") at the University of Texas in Austin.  The tower rises to 307 feet, and has 30 floors.  It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the University and the city of Austin.  The fa├žade of this building has the inscription "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free."  The Bible quote is from John 8:32, and is one of the memory verses for my First Place 4 Health class ( )  I am using this image as the "visual aid" to help me remember that verse.

I am thankful that the rivalry between Texas family members and Arkansas family members  only extends to the sports arenas!
 Likewise, rivalry was not seen between members of the Project 11 Band! I had the opportunity to not only hear some of them play their instruments "live" (pronounced with a long ' i ' ), but also spend time with them where they "live" (pronounced with a short ' i ' ). They were a wonderful example of the truth of the verse in Psalms 133:1 that says "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!" If you would like to follow the careers of these guys, you can check out their Facebook information. If you would like to plan you very own trip to experience the live music scene in Austin, just log onto . Miles of musical smiles! Tricia

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Expedition to "The Smokies"

The "Old Mill" shown in this photograph is often used as the image to be synonymous with the town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Part of the reason is that the mill has been around about the same amount of time as the town itself (it is the only structure in Pigeon Forge listed on the National Register of Historic Places). . The Pigeon Forge Mill was once part of a small industrial complex that included the iron forge for which the city was named, since it is located along the North Fork of the Little Pigeon River. After the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few miles to the south in 1934, Pigeon Forge gradually evolved into a tourist boom town, and the mill became a popular stop for passing tourists.

The mill was originally used to grind grain, and still does. Shoppers can go inside the mill and take a tour of the grinding processes, as well as buy a package of the products produced there (upper left photo). A variety of shopping experiences have been added to the area around the mill in recent years. This includes a pottery store, complete with potters working at their wheels (upper right hand photo), as well as a great place to spend your candy "calorie allowance", on delicious homemade treats, that you were able to watch being created. The mill area is also the headquarters for the excellent public transportation system that traverses the area, in the form of colorful, old-fashioned style trolleys (lower photo). For a mere 25 cents, one can ride the trolley for miles and miles along their designated routes!

You may not think something from the Middle East would be seen in the center of the USA, but you would be wrong! In front of The Miracle Theater along the Pigeon Forge main highway, one can take a camel ride!! And when you get inside the theater, you may recognize the very camel that you rode---up on the stage, being a part of a Broadway-style production about the life of Jesus!

In a town that has the word "pigeon" in its name, it is not surprising to see that there are plenty of pigeons flying around, eager to eat out of the hand of any tourist with the patience to stand still for a flock of the birds to descend upon them (top photo). The food also supports a healthy population of ducks that provides hours of entertainment to young and old alike (bottom photos), along the Little Pigeon River.

There is never a bad time to visit The Smokies, but fall is especially popular because of the beauty of the leaves changing color, and the numerous harvest festivals in surrounding communities. For details, you can click on to start planning your trip to this incredibly scenic area.

Autumn is also a wonderful time to explore the numerous hiking trails located throughout the national park. This photo collage shows that you can even complete a section of the famous Appalachian Trail during your visit . Near the location where these photos were taken, is a spot where you can have one foot in North Carolina, and one foot in Tennessee. When you are back home, you can brag to your friends that you walked from Tennessee to North Carolina, while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Hiking trail maps (as well as loads of other helpful information) are available at .

Located adjacent to the Tennessee entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the small town of Gatlinburg. As this photograph shows, the city does a terrific job of displaying seasonal harvest themes throughout the town. Gatlinburg has been greatly influenced by the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the park opened in 1934, it was a community of about 600 individuals. But in 1935, an estimated 500,000 visitors had passed through the city. From 1940 to 1950, the cost of land in Gatlinburg increased from $50 to $8,000 per acre. Those trends continue today, and the area must consistently re-adapt to accommodate the growing number of tourists. The town of Gatlinburg has the only snow ski park in Tennessee, making the area a four-season tourist destination.

One of the shops in downtown Gatlinburg caught my eye, because of its name. The phrase "God's Corner" challenged me to examine my life to ask myself if I only give God a "corner" of the"rooms" of my life, or is he located "throughout the house" of my life. It reminded me to actually live the mission statement verse of the healthy living classes I participate in ( ) that says "Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33 . Hope you will use this beautiful fall season to get outside and explore God's amazing creation that is surrounding you. Miles of smiles! Tricia

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