America’s Best Road Trip States – California, Colorado, & Tennessee!

Millions of Americans are planning summer vacations this year yet the economic situation has led travelers to seek vacations that are exciting but also easy on the wallet. One way to do this is to plan for a road trip vacation that weaves low cost yet high visually rewarding scenic drives into an area with a good network of local attractions. By traveling to these scenery and attraction concentrated areas, you’ll be cutting down on the travel, lodging, & food costs by pegging your fun & excitement meter in less overall travel days. There are three US states that standout among the crowd for their ability to offer travelers both beauty and amenities – Colorado, California, & Tennessee.

It is no secret that California is viewed by many to be the ultimate vacation state as it combines an almost endless array of tourist attractions sprinkled throughout what is widely viewed as one of the most scenically endowed of all US States. No matter what your age or your interests are, there are attractions that will satisfy just about everyone. Traditional amusement parks abound in this state to include Disneyland, Sea World, and Lego Land as well as the Hollywood movie theme focused Universal Studios Theme Park. If roller coasters and large crowds are not on your wish list, there are more eclectic attractions such as the William Hurst Castle, Alcatraz prison, and the Carmel Mission.

Adults will especially enjoy the wineries of Napa Valley and Sonoma, the cosmopolitan Mecca of San Francisco, and the shops and restaurants in Monterey’s Cannery Row. If natural beauty is high on your list, wonderful coastal scenery is available all along California’s Pacific Coast from the many free public beaches. For a unique coastal experience, take a boat to Catalina Island just off the coast of LA. Or if you want to sample the wide diversity of California’s coastline, start in the south near San Diego or LA and travel north. You’ll start out with Southern California’s tame sandy beaches and culminate in the dramatic rocky shorelines indicative of Northern California. While traveling this coastline, you’ll be traveling potentially the most famous scenic drive in the world – Highway 1 Along the California coast. When you are done with the ocean scenery tour, head inland and take in Redwood forests areas, or the alpine mountain scenery of Lake Tahoe, or the famous collection of waterfalls at the incredible Yosemite National Park. The list and possibilities go on and on in The Golden State.

If you are looking for a vacation to provide you with some cherished mountain memories, Colorado is an ideal choice. It is host to an expansive share of the US Rock Mountains; approximately half the state is comprised of mountain country. And, it is blessed with a particularly inspiring tract of the Rocky Mountains as a large number of its peaks extend past the vaunted 14,000 ft altitude mark… “fourteeners,” as mountain climbers refer to them are an elite group of peaks found in only four US states – Alaska, California, Colorado and Washington. And, if you use the number of “fourteeners” as an objective way of measuring a mountain state’s level of “mountain majesty,” then Colorado is the hands down king as it is home of 54 of the US’s 88 peaks rising past this milestone.

In the non-winter months, you can travel the mountain areas and take in the world class Rocky Mountain National Park, see the plummeting topography of the Royal Gorge, become part of the club of hikers that have climbed famous Pikes Peak, try your hand (and oar) at whitewater rafting, enjoy world class mountain biking, travel through the mountains in a vintage steam driven locomotive, and the list goes on and on. In the winter months, of course you can enjoy arguably the best downhill skiing slopes in the world, as well as mountain country snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and even good old fashioned sledding… with the assistance of ski-lifts to get you to the top again. There is no shortage of possibilities in the “Centennial State”, and if you are looking for a state with a good mix of awe inspiring scenic drive possibilities along with a robust selection of tourist attractions, Colorado should rank high on your list of candidate states.

Lastly, the US state east of the Mississippi river that has the most to offer travelers looking for both a smorgasbord of scenic miles as well as large array of interesting attractions is Tennessee. The dominant scenic feature of Tennessee is the majestic Appalachian mountain range that characterizes the eastern portion of the state. Within this area you can visit a gem of the US national park system – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This premier US national park encompasses over 500,000 acres of pristine Appalachian mountain country and offers all the amenities of a top shelf national park to include -camping, hiking, horseback riding, nature workshops and a wonderful collection of roads that snake through the mountain valleys as well as over the top of high rising fertile peaks. If you desire more of the outdoors, in Tennessee you can also find robust white-water rafting areas, ATV riding areas, and of course hunting and fishing spots.

Aside from the rural mountain areas, the state also is host to some cities that are favorites among many tourists. Nashville Tennessee is known as Music City and has a vast collection of museums and cultural centers as well as a healthy nightlife scene. Near Knoxville Tennessee and conveniently positioned near the entrance to The Great Smokey Mountain National park is the tourist magnet Gatlinburg Tennessee. This town is packed to the gills with things to do and see for the kids as well as adults. Attractions such as the 400 shop “Mountain Mall,” live entertainment, and all the kids favorites such as miniature golf, go-cart tracks, arcades, bungee jumping, and water parks. Additionally, it has a very robust network of lodging facilities that range from traditional large corporate hotels, smaller mom & pop motels, bed & breakfasts, & a host of diverse artesian lodges modeled after ski chalets, Indian teepees, and quaint log cabins. There is no doubt about it, in the eastern half of the US, Tennessee, like its many mountain peaks, rises above the crowd in vacation and road trip options.

Soul Food: How to Make It Healthier and Where Did It Come From

Collard greens, blackeyed peas, pigfeet, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, chitterlings (Chitt’lins), neckbones, and the list goes on and on. Recognize any of these foods? Of course you would because many of us eat them regularly or our parents or grandparents prepared them every Sunday and/or holidays. These foods are endearingly called Soul food. But did your elders ever explained to you where soul food originated from?

Let’s deal with definition and history of soul food. According to The African American Registry, Soul food is defined as “a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States”, and it can be traced as far back as the 14th century during American slavery times.

When they were captured and brought to the New World so were many of their crops. The crops were to feed the many Africans on their long and arduous journey. Food such as yams, okra, rice, black-eyed peas, cassava, peanuts(which originated from South America), kidney and lima beans. Plus watermelon, millet, sorghum, guinea melon, liquorices, and sesame were all eaten with the attempt to sustain adults and children alike. When the captured Africans landed on American soil, many planted and harvested their own gardens, (after working 14-16 hours in the field),to add-on their family’s and occasionally their owners’ meal.

American culture and flavoring… they were creating unique savory dishes that were passed down. Other foods that were eaten by them were foods that were passed down or thrown out by their owners; mostly foods that derived from parts of the animal that the Europeans considered to be waste, so they were forced to create meals from a little of nothing. And to supplement the little they had they hunted wild game; e.g. possum, rabbit, raccoon and fished to feed the family. Through this process the women and men were creating a style and culture of cooking. The women were frying, baking and boiling, while the men were grilling meats over the outside fire, (hence barbequing).

Because they were never allowed to read and write the great food that was created was not captured on paper but passed on from family to family verbally. Even today we speak of a pinch of this, and a dash of that, a little of this and a heaping of that and so on. In 1881 the first cook book can be attributed to Abby Fisher who wrote “What Mrs. Fisher knows about Old Southern Cooking” and then numerous books were published after that.

The title Soul Food was used sparingly for years, but was coined in the 1960’s to emphasize the Southern cooking style by Black African Americans as a result of the roots in American slavery. During the Civil Rights era we began to discover our blackness and everything that went along with it including our cuisines. Now it is common knowledge that soul food is an African American thing even though history shows that Appalachians and American Indians alike ate some of the same foods and prepare it similarly, but that is a whole different story.

We indulge in soul food because it taste so good. But for so many of us it is not healthy either, especially if we are continuing to cook it the old traditional way. According to the African American Registry;”soul food has been cooked and seasoned with pork products and fried dishes cooked with trans fat, such as shortening or lard for centuries. Consequently this leads to disproportionately high occurrences of hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes among African Americans.

Experts suggest that we change the way we prepare our dishes. When frying use Canola or Olive oil. Instead of seasoning vegetables and beans with pork products use smoked turkey, use wheat flour for baking, various herbal spices instead of salt, I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter” versus margarine or real butter, baked chicken and fish versus pork and beef, and a lot less sugar.

Soul food has a rich and tasty history, and with a few modifications can to be passed on and cherished. This history should not be lost throughout generations, but neither should we allow for it to make us sick. Make a few healthy changes and begin creating your own cuisines while celebrating an extremely rich history.

Top Ten Black Bear Safety Tips

I was graduating from college and my senior thesis that I had chosen was to hike the Appalachian Trail for one week. The plan was to document the people we would meet along the way. Also, the wildlife and the adventures we were to encounter. I had planned this for over one year and hiked regularly to prepare while wearing backpacks. The planning was intense along with the research and knowledge gained during the preparation of this hike. To start the trip up to the main trail we had selected the Goshen Prong Trail. This trail is 7.7 miles long with an elevation starting at 2,600 hundred feet ascending to 5,800 hundred feet. Our goal was to visit Clingmans Dome on the 2nd day.

The first day was wonderful with the sounds of the creek running beside the trail. A gradual hike in elevation but the biggest mistake that I could have made was to be over excited about seeing black bears during this hike. I wanted to get pictures and as close as possible to observe and document.

Our first encounter was walking along side the creek with a slight wind in our face. Along with the noise from the creek this created a unique situation. All of a sudden 100 feet in front of us, a black bear came on the trail at a 45 degree angle and never looked back at us. Can you imagine a black bear walking the trail right in front of us? Wow, this was my opportunity of a lifetime to get the pictures. Suddenly, the bear looked back at us as I was reaching for the camera and the bear darted off along side the creek in thick brush.

I approached the brush wishing to get the perfect picture. As I entered, the bear stood straight up in front of me while standing on its hind legs staring me right in the face only two feet away. I slowly, and I mean slowly, reached for my pepper spray. The bear quickly darted down the creek. The entire experience was under 15 seconds but seemed much longer. Looking back this was a very stupid stunt on my part. Thus the article’s intent is to avoid bear, not reach out and touch them.

Below are some valuable lessons that I should have known beforehand to protect myself, fellow hikers and the bear.

If you come this close with bears, below are some tips on what to do:

  1. Stop, stay calm and quiet, and make no sudden moves.
  2. Break eye contact – do not stare in the bear’s eyes, this can be a sign of aggression.
  3. Stand your ground – do not turn your back on the bear.
  4. Be ready to utilize pepper spray or bear deterrent spray.
  5. Back away slowly.
  6. Keep cool, calm and collective.
  7. Be aware of recent bear activity that park rangers have documented.
  8. Be careful with food. Never cook close to camp. Store all foods in plastic at least 14 feet up a tree hung five feet away from the trunk.
  9. Watch for fresh bear signs on the trail or near possible camp sites.
  10. If possible, make plenty of noise on the trail, especially on blind curves, in dense vegetation or areas with limited vision.

If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away. Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, whatever you can find. Do not let the bear get any food. They have a very keen sense of smell and coming around the campsite can be a very dangerous experience. Always hike during daylight hours and stay on the trail.

Happy hiking,

Ken