History comes alive at The Sixth Floor Museum

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Building ExteriorPhotos are courtesy of The Sixth Floor Museum.On November 22nd, 1963, history changed in a split second. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, while his motorcade passed through the city’s central business sector as part of a two-day Texas tour in preparation for the 1964 presidential campaign.

I don’t remember much of this event, as I was a young child at the time, but I do recall my mother audibly weeping as she sat in front of the T.V. watching the news unfold. She was shocked and horrified upon learning that the President she adored had been murdered, and like the rest of the nation, she tensely waited to hear who was responsible for such a tragedy.

For many days, life in my family’s house was chaotic, with the television on 24-7, and my parents in a constant state of agitation and grief. There was a sense of despair and hopelessness that permeated our typically happy, cozy domicile. I noted, in my childlike perception, that the world around me grew heavier and darker during this period. In ensuing years, my understanding of the event and how it affected our nation grew in substance and clarity, and I marked it as the moment when America lost its innocence.

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There’s a reason, actually several, why Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa consistently receives accolades from numerous publications, as well as from the hundreds and thousands of visitors who make their way to this secluded refuge in North

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Kiva-hiThere’s a reason, actually several, why Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa consistently receives accolades from numerous publications, as well as from the hundreds and thousands of visitors who make their way to this secluded refuge in Northern New Mexico. First and foremost, its historic roots provide a sense of authenticity that so many other destination spas lack.

The property, which was opened to the public in 1868, is one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country, but use of its fabled waters date back even further – thousands of years - to the earliest human migrations in the region. Ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes built their villages overlooking the springs. They deemed the area as sacred and believed that the waters had curative powers.

When the Spaniards discovered the place in the 1500s, they named the hallowed springs, Ojo Caliente,” which literally translated means “warm eye.” Westward expansion in the 19th century proved to be the catalyst for this unique site to emerge from its ancient origins. Once the first bathhouse was built on the property, folks came by the droves for the healing effects of the waters and they began to spread stories of their miraculous cures.

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‘Silent brothers’ make ideal hiking companions

  • Written by Deborah Stone

llama1Photo by Bob StoneAmong those I have taken to lunch over the years, I can now add a llama to my list. My dining companion, K-2, was one of six llamas that accompanied our small group on a recent day trek with Wild Earth Llama Adventures in Northern New Mexico. A handsome blonde and statuesque creature with plenty of personality, K-2 was ever-alert and curious as we hiked the trails in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I led my trusted wooly friend through the dense woods, over bridges and into the gentle creeks within this picturesque and unspoiled wilderness. With his leather padded, two-toed feet and natural agility, he walked with a self-possessed air, exuding confidence as he navigated the terrain without faltering, while carrying a load of gear.

“Llamas are the perfect low-impact, high altitude pack animal,” says Stuart Wilde, owner and head wilderness guide of Wild Earth Llama Adventures. ‘They are sure-footed because they have the perfect ‘mountain moccasins’ - like mountain goats - and they have little impact on fragile wilderness trails. They exemplify the ‘leave no trace’ ethic we practice and teach out here.”

Wilde, who started leading wilderness trips in this area 22 years ago, notes that llamas make great hiking companions, adding, “The word ‘llama’ in Spanish is pronounced ‘yama’ and means ‘silent brother.’ Who else would carry your stuff for miles without saying a word?” He explains that llamas are very intelligent and gentle creatures and adds that like humans, they are equally excited about being out and about in the mountains. They walk at a comfortable pace for hikers at all levels and their keen sense of smell, hearing and sight will often spot a distant herd of deer or elk. They are also extremely lovable animals and bond with people well.

llama2Photo by Bob StoneWilde continues to explain that the llama is a member of the camel family and is one of the oldest domesticated animals with a history of helping people carry their wares for thousands of years. Those that are well-trained will eagerly follow adults and kids alike, which enables outfitters to facilitate wilderness experiences with a wide range of individuals. Wilde currently has nearly forty llamas at his ranch that he has rescued from unwanted, neglected and often abandoned situations. He receives calls and emails on a regular basis from people and municipalities throughout the Southwest asking him to pick up the creatures and give them a new home.

He says, “Many folks get these animals as an exotic pet or breeding investment and sadly, the novelty wears off in a few years or the llama market didn’t meet their expectations. Most of the llamas are already adults by the time we get the call and they have usually never been haltered, handled or groomed. Often they are feral and the majority is just plain scared.”

Wilde’s aim is not to breed or sell the llamas, but simply to provide them with a good home where they can live out the rest of their lives. He adds, “We actually stopped needing more llamas for our trekking operation when we reached sixteen. We do this out of our love for the animals and as a way to give back to them for what they have given our family and to the thousands of people who have trekked with us.”

On my adventure, there were eight of us, including two children, plus Wilde, along with the llamas – all males or “machos.” K-2 was joined by his buddies Picchu, Rio, Raja, Diego and Zephyr. As we hiked, Wilde kept us entertained and educated with information about the environment. He pointed out the native flora and fauna, as well as a number of edible and medicinal plants, while providing some details about the natural and regional history of the area.

llama3Photo by Bob StoneThe pace was relaxed and non-competitive and the emphasis was on simply enjoying the backcountry. Lunch was in a lush meadow on the bank of the Columbine Creek, where we tethered the llamas so they could munch to their hearts’ content on the grass and nearby bushes.

Meanwhile, we humans watched in amazement as Wilde unloaded a foldout table, stadium style seats, coolers and an assortment of supplies from the packs on the llamas. He proceeded to assemble a tasty, gourmet lunch with all the trimmings, which we heartily devoured. Perhaps my wooly companions would disagree, but I felt that our sumptuous spread far outranked their “green” buffet.

Afterwards, we headed back down the trail with K-2 and I assuming the lead. It quickly became very obvious that my hiking pal was eager to get home. He inched increasingly closer to me and soon I could smell his alfalfa-scented breath on my neck. As I picked up my pace to get a bit more distance between us, he followed suit, practically stepping on my heels in the process and almost breaking out into a trot. We made quite an amusing spectacle and just as I was ready to call, “uncle!” Wilde stepped in and facilitated a llama swap for the remainder of the journey.

My new companion, Rio, proved to be less interested in reaching the trailhead and more keen on eating whatever and whenever he could along the way. “These guys are total goofballs,” comments Wilde. “They are very playful and can be real characters, which is why they’re so much fun!” He adds, “I love being around them and I get great satisfaction from seeing people interact with them for the first time.” For Wilde, being a wilderness guide has both professional and personal rewards. He takes pleasure in giving people the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world and do things they might not otherwise get to do, while being able to spend most of his days in the wilderness doing what he enjoys most.

“You can’t get better than this for an office!” he says. Wilde has taken thousands of people from around the world on llama treks. Many come for a day hike the first time and then return for a multi-day experience the following year. He adds, “My hope is that leading unique and memorable wilderness experiences will help to foster a greater sense of stewardship and promote conservation of our public wild lands.”

If you go:

Wild Earth Llama Adventures offers single-day escapes and multi-day wilderness adventures in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Rio Grande Gorge near Taos and Santa Fe, NM. Small group and custom-designed private tours are available. For more information: or 800-758-5262.

To complete your experience, spend the night in Taos before and/or after your trek at the fabled Historic Taos Inn ( and make sure to have dinner at the legendary and award-winning Doc Martin’s Restaurant on site. It’s a happening spot with live music in the lounge, killer margaritas and inventive Southwestern cuisine.

Sleeping Lady is a heavenly retreat

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Sleeping LadyCourtesy photo. Guest room cluster at Sleeping Lady.Sleeping Lady works its magic on you almost instantaneously. The 67-acre resort, which is nestled in a forest on the banks of Icicle Creek near the town of Leavenworth, is a bucolic retreat and ideal escape from the whirling dervish existence of daily life. As soon as you set foot on the property, your heart rate slows and your stress level takes a nose dive.

It has to do with the exquisite natural setting of the place and the sense of peace it provides for those looking to unwind and recharge.

Named for the adjacent mountain’s stunning profile, Sleeping Lady is the work of noted philanthropist and ardent environmentalist Harriet Bullitt, whose family headed up Seattle’s KING broadcasting empire.

In 1991, Bullitt, owner of neighboring property across Icicle Creek, bought the land, which used to be the home of a Catholic summer camp. She wanted to preserve the space and save it from developers. Her plan involved creating an environmentally friendly conference facility and mountain retreat, which subsequently opened in 1995 with the first Icicle Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Guest rooms, 58 in total, are arranged in clusters and take their names from nearby natural features that give them their unique character. Each is well-appointed and features décor that reflects the rustic mountain elegance of the property’s architecture.

Those looking for an aquatic scene will want to head over to the Woodland Rock Pools which are picturesquely perched above the resort in the shadow of the mountain.

The swimming pool is open seasonally, but the adjoining hot pool is heated year-round. Soaking in the latter is guaranteed to soothe sore muscles and tired bodies. If you aren’t fully relaxed after that, then make your way to the Solstice Spa for a heavenly massage or body treatment.

Though most visitors opt to engage in one of the many outdoor activities available (hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, snow-shoeing, skiing, etc.) the resort also has a fitness room for gym rats who prefer to use cardio machines and weights for their workouts.

Venturing further off property, there’s always the charming Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where you’ll discover eclectic shops and an assortment of cafes and bakeries lining the picturesque old world streets.

Kids will delight in the PlayBarn with its small stage to act out puppet shows and plays or view movies.

There’s also an area for arts and crafts, as well as billiards and table tennis, so the whole family can get in on the fun.

One of my favorite activities at Sleeping Lady is the self-guided art walk.

The resort is a veritable museum of creative expression, from bronze and stone sculptures to prints and paintings of all kinds.

This extensive collection is comprised of works by professional artists, as well as local craftspeople.

Of particular note is Dale Chihuly’s "Chihuly Icicles," which sparkles amid its wooded setting. The sculpture contains 1,060 parts in the shape of icicles and is almost nine feet tall.

Another beloved work is Richard Beyer’s "Shaman Salmon." Known for his quirky creations, including the well-known "Waiting for the Interurban" near the Fremont Bridge in Seattle, Beyer admits that "Shaman Salmon" is his personal favorite, as it "depicts humanity captured by the magic of nature."

Down in Kingfisher Meadow by Icicle Creek you’ll find the colorful "Soul Salmon."

The fiberglass sculptures were created as part of a larger Puget Sound project to raise awareness of the importance of wild salmon to our ecosystem. On your walk, you’ll most likely come upon the resort’s two-acre organic garden, which provides produce, herbs and fresh flowers to the dining facilities on site, including the Kingfisher Restaurant and Wine Bar, the Grotto and O’Grady’s Pantry and Mercantile.

The main establishment, Kingfisher, serves breakfast and dinner daily and features a broad spectrum of Northwest cuisine. The focus is on fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients, which are highlighted in noted Executive Chef Ken MacDonald’s creative menus. If a big dinner is not your style, the Grotto, an intimate pub with petroglyph-laced rock walls, serves tapas, along with local wine, microbrews and specialty drinks.

And over at O’Grady’s Pantry and Mercantile, you can enjoy soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, espresso drinks and a good selection of beer, wine and spirits in a casual, laid back atmosphere.

All bases are covered at Sleeping Lady, whether it’s recreation, relaxation or food.

Just don’t expect to watch your favorite reality shows, as there are no televisions in the rooms.

Not to worry —you won’t miss them one bit!

If you go: Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort is a year-round destination property located in Leavenworth, Wash. For more information, call (800) 574-2123 or visit

Savannah charms, enchants and stirs the soul

  • Written by Deborah Stone

It’s easy to fall in love with Savannah. She woos you with her beguiling charms while seducing you with promises of rich and varied experiences. She’s the consummate Southern belle, the hostess with the mostest, whose popularity has consistently put her on the list of the “Top 10 Places to Visit” by world-renowned travel publications and websites.

Everyone adores Savannah and they flock to this vibrant coastal haven at all times of the year. It’s amour at first sight for most newcomers, who are drawn like a magnet to the city’s beauty and its historic, but hip, classic, yet cool vibes.

Savannah is known for its squares – 22 in total – that dot the Historic District of town. These verdant and lush park-like areas date from 1733 to the mid-1800s. They were designed by the city’s founder, General James Edward Oglethorpe, who is attributed to creating America’s first pre-planned city. The squares were established to serve the populace as communal gathering places and working centers. Most are named in honor or in memory of a person or historical event and many have monuments, markers, memorials, statues, plaques and other tributes located within them. Some sit like oases amid busy commercial sectors and others are situated in quiet, residential neighborhoods.

Savannah 013Columbia Square is centered by an impressive cast iron fountain imported from the historical Wormsloe Plantation. Photo by Deborah Stone.Columbia Square is particularly lovely, as it is shaded by four giant live oaks and centered by an impressive cast iron fountain imported from the historic Wormsloe Plantation. Another, Chippewa Square, with its imposing statue of General Oglethorpe, was made famous in modern days by the bench upon which Forest Gump sat on in the movie of the same name. One of the most photographed statues, that of Reverend John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, is located in oft-visited Reynolds Square. Named for John Reynolds, the first colonial governor of Georgia, this square was once the center of colonial government and held the House of Assembly, where the first reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Georgia.

In addition to Savannah’s squares, the city is recognized for its gardens and array of flora that are known to elicit audible oohs and ahhs from ardent admirers. It’s a floral wonderland with colorful azaleas and an assortment of rainbow-hued Cape Myrtles, gardenias and camellias. Then there are the stately magnolias whose white blossoms infuse the air with an intoxicating lemon-sugar scent. And let’s not forget the Spanish moss that hangs like tinsel from the tall live oak trees, lending a moody, Gothic ambiance to the city’s urban cover.

Savannah 020Many of Savannah’s historical homes are adorned with handsome ironwork. Photo by Deborah Stone.Savannah’s beauty also extends to its architectural treasures. Wonderful examples of most of America’s 18th and 19th century prevailing architectural styles can be found in the Historic District. They range from simple Colonial structures to Medieval-influenced cathedrals and gingerbread-accented Victorians. Many are adorned with handsome ironwork that appears on cast-iron balconies, gates, stair railings and window guards, as well as on monuments and fountains within the squares. Some of the homes display various unique designs such as iron storks that serve as newels, iron dolphins as waterspouts and iron griffins as foot scrapers.

The architecture helps to reveal the city’s fascinating history, which is another significant aspect of Savannah that people are keen to learn more about when they visit. Touring the numerous historical homes, houses of worship, cemeteries, forts, museums and other such sites that are open to the public is an excellent way to form a picture of the events and people that shaped Savannah over the years.

One of my favorite historical homes is Juliette Gordon Low’s Birthplace, the home of the founder of the Girl Scouts and the city’s first designated National Historic Landmark. Another, the Owens-Thomas House, boasts an impressive collection of American and European objects dating from 1750-1830, as well as an original carriage house containing one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South. The pre-Civil War designed Mercer-Williams House Museum is also of special note, as it was the home of General Hugh Weedon Mercer, great-grandfather of the songwriter Johnny Mercer (“Moon River,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” “Jeepers Creepers!”). It was also the scene of the shooting death of Danny Hansford, assistant to local restorationist Jim Williams; a story that is retold in John Berendt’s popular 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

For a glimpse of African American roots in Savannah, take a tour of the First African Baptist Church, the “Oldest Black Church in North America.” Constituted in 1777, the building contains original pews made by slaves that are nailed into the floors and inscribed with markings written in the African dialect known as “Cursive Hebrew.” The ceiling is in the design of a “Nine Patch Quilt,” which signaled that the church was a safe house for slaves. Such quilts also served as maps and helped to guide people on where to go next or what to look out for during their journey. Beneath the lower auditorium is another finished subfloor that was actually used in the Underground Railroad as a tunnel for slaves who were on their way north.

Savannah 032Hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery with its spectacular moss-draped oaks is part natural cathedral, part sculpture garden. Photo by Deborah StoneA visit to Bonaventure Cemetery is a must for history buffs. Though it is not Savannah’s oldest graveyard, it is certainly the city’s most famous. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it is part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, with a hauntingly beautiful setting that reflects the Victorian era’s romanticized view of death. The place has captured the imaginations of authors, poets, photographers and filmmakers for over 150 years. Among those buried at Bonaventure include several military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia’s first governor, Edward Telfair.

Fans of historic lighthouses will particularly enjoy nearby Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The lighthouse has been a guiding force for mariners to gain safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years and it is one of the most intact light stations in the country, having all of its historic support buildings on site. The 178-stair climb is definitely worth the effort, as at the top, you are treated to a picturesque panoramic view of the area.

Another reason to love this winsome city is the food. Savannah is a mecca of classic southern heritage delights such as shrimp and stone ground grits, fried chicken, collards with ham, hush puppies, creamed corn, fried green tomatoes and biscuits and gravy. There’s plenty of pit barbecue and fresh seafood, too; the latter which is predominantly featured in low country dishes like She Crab Soup. This oh, so rich, cream-based concoction is made with fresh Atlantic blue crab and often served with a dose of sherry on the side.

Desserts reign supreme in Savannah, which is a problem because by the time you’ve finished with your ample-portioned meal, you won’t have much room for the sweets. But, you will be tempted, then compelled to try just a bite or two of one of the amazing pies, like pecan, lemon chess or sweet potato. Or perhaps you’ll go for the coconut layer cake or maybe the peach cobbler. Before you know, you’re scraping the dish to get every last crumb. And of course, you’re going to wash everything down with sweet tea, the ever-popular elixir that was once referred to as “hummingbird water” by the field hands. They dubbed it so as the drink helped energize and revive them as they worked. Don’t worry if you’re seeking something besides classic southern fare, as the city offers a variety of cuisines to satisfy all tastes from Mediterranean and Moroccan to Italian and pan-Asian.

Walk off your dinner with an evening stroll or a ghost tour…if you dare! According to The American Institute of Parapsychology, Savannah has been coined as “American’s Most Haunted City.” Many residents take pride in this recognition and as a result, there are a number of ghost tours to introduce visitors to the spirits that have earned the town this reputation. On a Ghost Talk/Ghost Walk tour, for example, you’ll hear of the many apparitions, ghosts and paranormal experiences that have been reported at various locales around Savannah. You’ll learn that two wars, four major fires, an earthquake and outbreaks of disease caused much death and destruction in the city and left thousands of bodies behind. These catastrophes, both natural and not, gave the place its creepy, unsettling underpinnings.

Your guide will tell you about B. Matthews, the country’s oldest bar, where the spirits of slaves still roam at night, causing playful and malicious happenings to occur. You’ll visit 17Hundred 90 Inn & Restaurant, where the apparition of an African American woman who once worked in the kitchen haunts the place. Employees tell of hearing the jingles from the bracelets she wore on her feet and of being pushed and shoved when they are working in the kitchen. At Kehoe House, now an upscale B&B, Mr. Kehoe’s benevolent spirit is said to manifests itself via a glowing globe in the office, while Mrs. Kehoe’s lavender and rosewater perfumes permeate the air. The couple had ten children and guests occasionally report hearing children’s voices in the house when there aren’t any kids in the vicinity. These and other tales have intrigued visitors and the media for years, and they’ve been featured on The History Channel, The Learning Channel, The Travel Channel and the popular SciFi Channel show, “Ghost Hunters.”

If the arts are your thing, you won’t be disappointed in Savannah’s cultural offerings. There’s plenty to experience in this eclectic, cultural town. From live concerts to art exhibits, theatrical productions and festivals galore, the place brims with activities to stimulate the mind, body and the senses. It’s a culturally rich mecca with more art galleries per capita than New York City, as well as the home to the flagship campus of the illustrious Savannah College of Art and Design.

There are many reasons to love Savannah, but perhaps it’s the city’s hospitality that visitors find most endearing. You’ll find Savannahians to be some of the most polite, gracious and genteel folks. They aim to please and they strive to ensure you have a good time during your stay so that y’all come back soon.

If you go:

Accommodations: There is an array of accommodations in Savannah, from quaint B&Bs and cozy inns to elegant boutique hotels and nationally known hotel chains. I stayed at East Bay Inn (, a charming, historic inn near the Savannah River. It was well-situated and walking distance to most attractions and sights.

Tours: There are numerous walking, carriage and trolley tours of the area, which showcase architecture, history, local food, hauntings and film locations. For a more customized approach, I recommend Personalized Tours of Savannah ( Savannah native and professional guide Harriet Meyerhoff will tailor tours to her audience’s special interests.

Restaurants: Choices abound, but two must-try establishments are the venerable and historic Olde Pink House ( and Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House (, a true Southern eatery in the family-style tradition.

For detailed information about Savannah, including lodging, dining, activities, events, transportation, tours, sights and attractions and more: