Charleston woos visitors with its sultry Southern charms

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Charleston Carriage Deborah
Horse or mule-drawn carriage ride tours take visitors back in history through some of Charleston’s oldest neighborhoods. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
It’s impossible to be immune to the allure of Charleston.

The city oozes and drips charm, overwhelming your senses with its intoxicating ambiance, gracious Southern hospitality, colorful history and rich culture.

I was prepared to like Charleston before my mid-May visit, purely based on the continuous travel pub awards it receives for “America’s Prettiest Place,” “America’s Most Mannered City” and #1 U.S. City.

But, I was taken aback at the school girl infatuation I felt once I got there. To say I was besotted and smitten with the place would be an understatement. My attraction to the atmosphere and environment was instant and magnetic.

Charleston woos visitors with the rustle of Palmetto fronds in the ocean air and the delicious fragrance of Magnolia trees. It’s a city set in a garden full of cinnamon crepe myrtles and Lady Banks rose vines with stately antebellum homes that sit behind wrought iron gates and meticulously tended flower boxes.

Built in 1825, the Edmonston-Alston House is a stunning mansion on High Battery with a sweeping view of Charleston’s historic Harbor. Courtesy of
History seeps from the city’s cobblestone streets and the nearly 4,000 pre-Civil War dwellings that are preserved and cherished by local residents. The best way to get a handle on Charleston’s past is to take Bulldog Tours’ Charleston Stroll, an informative and entertaining walking tour, given from the point of view of a local who will make the town’s history come alive. Your guide will regale you with stories dating from 1670 through the Civil War or the “War of Northern Aggression,” as it is commonly referred to in the South, to the present day. It’s an adventure into the past where you’ll learn about the many events that shaped this fascinating city.

Founded as a colony by eight Englishmen who were given the land by Charles II in appreciation for helping him get back on the throne, Charleston was initially dubbed Oyster Point due to being built on an oyster bank.

In the early years, fear of Spanish invasion caused residents to build a wall around the city for protection. The medieval fortress-like structure lasted for one hundred years before it was finally taken down. Different groups of people were drawn to Charleston, such as the French and the British, and each brought their cultural traditions along with them when they arrived. There were also pirates and sailors who made their way to this coastal settlement, adding a rough and rogue element to the scene. And of course the Africans joined this eclectic mix, via the slave trade.

Landowners at the time viewed the slaves as essential due to the area’s dependence on an agricultural economy – an economy that made Charleston the wealthiest city in the region. Over time, the town became the Sodom and Gomorrah of the South with a reputation for being “party central.”

The art of making sweetgrass baskets is handed down through generations of the Gullah people, descendants of plantation slaves in South Carolina and Georgia. Staff photo/Deborah Stone.
Today, Charlestonians will tell you that their city is still a lively place that needs no excuse for festivity. For those who wish to get their dose of local lore via non-ambulatory means, there’s also the ever-popular, horse-drawn Palmetto Carriage Tour, where you’ll clip clop along the main streets, taking in the sights of those “Gone with the Wind” times in bygone style.

Among the many buildings of interest in this historical mecca are a number of homes available to tour, such as the Edmonston-Alston House, circa 1825, with incredible views of the Charleston Harbor. It was from this place that General P.T. Beauregard watched the bombardment of Ft. Sumter, which signaled the start of the Civil War. One of the home’s more notable antiquities is an original print of the Ordinance of Secession. The Heyward-Washington House, “Charleston’s Revolutionary War House,” was owned by Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and features a lovely formal garden with plants popular in the late 18th century.

Beautifully manicured gardens are some of Charleston’s most prized possessions. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
One of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings is the Nathanial Russell House. Built in 1808, the home is adorned with elaborate plaster ornamentation and has a stunning free-flying staircase, as well as a joggling board.

This uniquely Charleston invention has been a part of Lowcountry life since the early 1800s and can still be seen on porches, piazzas and in gardens around the area. It’s similar to a rocking chair, but in the shape of a bench, and was supposedly created for a woman suffering from rheumatism. There’s also the old Dock Street Theatre, America’s First Theatre; the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, one of the three most historically significant buildings of colonial America; and the Powder Magazine, the oldest public building in the Carolinas, which once stored the firepower crucial for defending Charleston. You’ll notice a plethora of churches, as well as hear their bells, as you meander through town, which explains another one of Charleston’s monikers –  “The Holy City.”

On famed Meeting Street, there’s St. Michael’s Church, the oldest church in Charleston. The ground floor consists of private pews that must be bought by a family to sit within, complete with door. It’s akin to having box seats at an opera. On the second floor, there are open pews for those of more modest means. St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, on Church Street, has had an active congregation since the founding of Charleston, and the French Huguenot Church, also with an active congregation, has an annual service conducted in French.

A visit to Middleton Place, one of the area’s most fabled plantations, is a colonial era Lowcountry experience that provides a glimpse into the lifestyle of the land barons and their belles. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
At the historic Circular Congregation Church, visitors can experience the sounds that define Charleston, including gospel, Gershwin, jazz, Civil War camp songs and light classics in the noted production, “The Sound of Charleston.”

If you’re a museum-goer, you might want to pop into the Old Slave Mart Museum or the Postal Museum. Make City Hall one of your stops if only to take a peek inside the council chambers where portraits of famous folks line the walls, including one of George Washington that’ll make you chuckle upon closer examination.

Spend some time ambling along The Battery, where antique cannons line up and face out to sea, as if ready to defend Charleston at a moment’s notice. Created as the first line of the city’s defense, The Battery is now a popular riverfront park. Its seawall promenade offers great views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney and Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, as well as some of the most lavish houses in the entire city. These architectural gems with their massive columns and spacious verandas were built by 18th century plantation owners as summer retreats from the oppressive inland heat.

You’ll notice some of the historic houses have finials on their walls, which are actually the ends of earthquake bolts that run through the building. They were put in after the 1886 earthquake, which destroyed half of downtown Charleston. The bolts are there to keep the house together, ready for the next seismic eruption.

Other homes display the Charleston Single House style of architecture, distinctive for being one-room-wide and having the narrow end of the building facing the street. Two-story verandas, called “piazzas” stretch down the long side. Such residences were well-suited to the hot, humid local climate, as they offered welcome cross-ventilation in the days before air conditioning.

You’ll also notice that some of the houses in Charleston are painted a specific shade of blue, called “Haint Blue,” to confuse evil spirits or “haints’ and keep them at bay.

One of the most photographed streets in town is Rainbow Row, dubbed as such for the exterior pastel colors of the houses. The cotton candy hues are said to have represented the items sold in the ground floor stores and warehouses of the late 1800s style buildings. Pink was for pork, green was for veggies, yellow for grains and blue signified seafood. It’s a virtual rainbow that elicits the well-deserved oohs and aahs from the many lookie-loos.

Another point of interest for visitors is the City Market, the oldest public market in the country. Originally a meat market, the mostly open air venue is now home to an array of artisans selling unique Lowcountry crafts such as sweetgrass baskets made by the Gullah people, descendants of plantation slaves in South Carolina and Georgia. These beautifully crafted coiled baskets are an example of African cultural heritage transported across the Atlantic by enslaved Africans, who used them during the planting and harvesting of rice and cotton.

The craft is handed down from generation to generation and usually learned during childhood. It requires enormous patience and creativity, as there are no set patterns, requiring each artist to develop his/her own style. You can watch the Gullah women and men weave the baskets as you walk through the market. Most are open to answering questions about their handiwork or culture.

When you’ve shopped till you drop and your stomach reminds you that it needs nourishment, you’ll be in for a treat. Food takes star billing in Charleston, a city with over 150 restaurants and numerous award-winning chefs.

It can be overwhelming, however, when it comes to narrowing down this unrivaled selection. Just know that you really can’t go wrong no matter where you go. Seafood reigns supreme in the Lowcountry, from steam ’em and eat ’em shrimp to Carolina crab prepared a dozen different ways. And if you’re an oyster lover, you’re in good company, as they are found on practically every menu in one form or another.

Lunch at Dixie Supply Bakery & Café, a hole-in-the-wall eatery featured in Southern Living, is known for its tomato pie, creamy stone ground grits, bacon bourbon pecan pie and sweet potato cornbread.

Charleston Crab House, another favorite dining establishment and watering hole, has been serving local seafood for twenty years. Their Lowcountry shrimp, collard greens, Carolina lump crab cakes, grits and melt-in-your-mouth hush puppies are just a few of the restaurant’s favorite dishes.

Fleet Landing is also popular. The building it is housed in used to be the home of the Cooper River Ferry before being taken over by the U.S. Navy. In 2003, it became a restaurant with prime waterfront location, serving shrimp and grits with Andouille sausage, fresh yellowfin tuna, okra fries, seafood gumbo, fried oysters with Southern Comfort BBQ sauce and crispy whole fried Southern flounder with apricot glaze. For your meal’s finale, try the key lime pie or decadent white chocolate bread pudding.

One of the best meals I had during my stay was at Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar, a casually hip place serving up such specialties as She Crab soup with sherry, pan roasted wreckfish, popcorn rice, shrimp corndogs and fried green tomatoes, along with an extensive selection of chilled seafood cocktails.

For an overview of Charleston’s food scene, I’d recommend taking Bulldog Tours’ Savor the Flavors Tour, which will introduce you to the area’s varied culinary influences, from Gullah and Native American to French, African and British.

You’ll walk, talk and taste your way through the city, sampling tasty specialties from local restaurants, markets, bakeries and other culinary landmarks, as your guide explains the evolution of Charleston’s cuisine over the past 300 plus years.

No need for lunch if you take this tour, as you’ll get plenty of goodies to nosh on along the way. And your sweet tooth will definitely be satisfied, too, with opportunities to try pralines, Charleston Benne wafers and, of course, the proverbial sweet tea that so many Southerners can’t live without.

No trip to Charleston is complete without a visit to one of the area’s fabled plantations: Middleton Place, Magnolia or Drayton Hall. It’s a colonial era Lowcountry experience that gives you a glimpse into the lifestyle of the land barons and their belles.

Middleton Place, for example, is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. Known as one of South Carolina’s most enduring icons, these enchanting and graceful gardens or garden “rooms” are laid out with precise symmetry and balance, leading to a climactic view of the well-known Butterfly Lakes and the winding Ashley River beyond.

Owner Henry Middleton served as the second president of the First Continental Congress and his son Arthur was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is a museum of rare family furniture and portraits, while the stable yards are full of craftspeople demonstrating the skills performed by slaves. Throughout your stay in this sultry gem of a city, you’ll find yourself continually embraced by the hospitality of its residents.

Charlestonians are genteel folks who are proud of their history and culture, and they are always more than happy to share it with visitors. And if you ask politely, you might just get them to tell you the secrets of their slow, congenial lifestyle.

If you go:

For all things Charleston, contact the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at: 800-774-0006 or

Bulldog Tours (Charleston Stroll, Savor the Flavors and other walking tours): 843-722-8687 or

Accommodations range from cozy B&Bs and historic inns to nationwide chain hotels.

I stayed at Courtyard by Marriott Charleston Historic District, which was prominently situated and walking distance to all the city’s major sights, restaurants and shopping areas: 843-805-7900 or

Release your inner child on a Wenatchee River raft trip

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Wenatchee two courtesy
People from all over come to the Wenatchee River, one of the most popular and accessible rafting adventures in the country. Courtesy photo.
How do you get six adults to do the Hokey Pokey while balancing on the edges of a raft in the middle of the Wenatchee River?

Simply tell them to do it — and they will. That’s “guide power” for you.

It happens the minute you hop in the boat when you relinquish all control to the man or woman at the helm.

You and your fellow rafters are a team now and your job is to obey the commands of your guide, without question.

And, yes, this might include taking part in water fights with other boats, hanging Titanic-style off the front of the raft as you approach a formidable wall of water or standing in the middle of the raft clutching a rope as you spin in circles of churning water, in mechanical bull-riding fashion.

You might think only kids get a rush out of such experiences, but surprisingly enough, adults revel in it, too.

I’ve seen it time and time again on every raft trip I’ve taken, from the Salmon River in Idaho to the mighty Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

There’s just something about being on the river, away from it all, that brings out the inner child in everyone. Even when civilization is in stone-tossing distance, like it is on the Wenatchee, you still feel removed from the daily trappings of society.

Surrounding you on your 12-mile journey from Leavenworth to Cashmere are verdant forests, fertile orchards and the majestic, snow-capped Cascades.

Mother Nature is at her best and Kodak moments abound. People from all over the state and elsewhere come to the Wenatchee, as it is one of the most popular and accessible rafting adventures in the country.

With its headwaters in the heart of the central Cascades and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, the river has the largest volume of raftable whitewater in Washington.

In the late spring and early summer, it’s considered a class III-IV river. This is big water season and notorious for providing the most thrills and chills.

On my early June trip on the Wenatchee, the water was moving at 13,000 cubic feet per second, which is slightly above the average flow of around 10,000 cubic feet. And it was cold — hypothermia inducing cold — to the tune of somewhere around 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Later in the season, however, the water temperature warms up, along with the increase in air temperature.

The river is then rated a class II-III and is much tamer, making it suitable for younger children and families.

During high season, wetsuits, spray jackets and booties (provided by the company) help with insulation, but know you will get wet and that initial icy spray is just a harbinger of what’s to come further down the river when you hit the major rapids.

Safety is the primary concern for most, if not all rafting companies.

At River Riders, the outfitter I chose for my Wenatchee trip, the guides will remind you that safety is paramount to the fun factor.

The company, which has been in operation since 1974, has an excellent reputation in the industry.

It’s known for having a fleet of veteran guides, who delight in sharing their passion for rafting with others. They will regale you with tales of the area and provide interesting facts about its geological formations and history.

They’ll also entertain you with their own style of stand-up comedy and, of course, they’ll do their best to bring out your inner child.

The river meanders, twists and turns through the valley. It has a good mix of calm, leisurely stretches and crazy, roller-coaster waves that leave you exhilarated and pumped with adrenaline.

Some of the more hellacious rapids on the Wenatchee have been dubbed with amusing monikers such as “Rock n’ Roll,” “Indigestion,” “Gorilla Falls,” “Drunkard’s Drop,” “Snowblind” and “Granny’s Panties.”

You’ll hear their roar before you see them and it only ratchets up the anticipation, as you get in “ready” mode and prepare to ride the  wild wave train.

As each boat makes it through, rafters raise their paddles high in celebration of their accomplishment. On my trip, there was added excitement when two rafts flipped over.

Fortunately, they were comprised of mostly of guides-in-training and rookie guides, who were out practicing on the river.

In true emergency form, however, those in nearby rafts pulled out the “swimmers” and helped grab errant rafts and paddles.

The entire procedure and operation was performed quickly and smoothly, minimizing any issues that might have had a chance to develop.

It was an impressive display of teamwork and skill that hammered home the emphasis on safety first and foremost.

Two and a half high-octane hours later, we arrived in Cashmere, hopped on a bus and headed back to the company’s site in Leavenworth, where a hearty BBQ lunch awaited us.

While chowing down on veggies and dip, grilled chicken, hot dogs and fresh fruit, we entertained each other with memorable high notes of our trip.

And no, there wasn’t a food fight, nor did anyone dance on the picnic tables.

We were once again on terra firma and our inner child had retreated.

If you go:
There are a number of outfitters that offer rafting trips on the Wenatchee.
River Riders, with their 30-plus years of experience, state-of-the-art gear and attention to detail and safety, are one of the more established and reputable companies in the business. They also do trips on all of the other major rivers in Washington, including the Tieton, Yakima, Methow, White Salmon, Nooksack, Skykomish and Klickitat.
For more information: 800-448-7238 or
All of Washington State’s Best Rivers
· Professional, Friendly, Entertaining River Guides
· 30+ years of Experience
· Our Famous Attention to Detail and Safety
· State-of-the-Art Rafting and Safety gear
· Longtime Reputation for Leadership and Excellence
· Great and Famous Riverside BBQ

Surprises await those who take a chance on Topeka

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Topeka One
Each spring, tulips take center stage at Topeka’s Old Prairie Town, a pioneer village located on the Ward-Meade Historic Site.
Prior to my recent visit to Topeka, Kansas, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about the place, other than it was the capitol of a state that was smack dab in the middle of the country.

All I knew of Kansas was that it had plenty of cornfields and tornados, and was the fictitious home of Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” Oh, and I also recalled that there is a Kansas City in Kansas and one of the same name with greater fame in Missouri, right across the border.

These paltry facts pretty much summed up the extent of my knowledge of our 34th state. In a matter of just a few days, however, I gained new insight into a destination that to many outsiders is often erroneously perceived as flat and boring.

“Expect the unexpected” became my mantra during an April stay in the city of Topeka, where I discovered the hidden gems that await visitors to this vibrant town. For history lovers, it’s a mecca of significant sites and momentous events. Dominating the area’s landscape is the Kansas State Capitol, considered one of the ten most impressive capitols in the country.

It’s an impressive building that measures 304 feet from the ground to the top of its dome and is characteristic of a Neo-classical/Renaissance design with a Greek cross plan. Construction of the monument began in 1866 and took 37 years to complete at a cost of $3.2 million.

Topeka friendly strange people
Topekans are some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet.
Made of Kansas limestone and copper sheeting with elaborate marble wainscoting and copper and bronze columns, the building is well-known for its dramatic array of art, architecture and colorful Kansas history. Notable features include rotunda murals created by David H. Overmyer, depicting memorable events and prominent individuals in the state’s past. Additional murals painted by well-known artist John Steuart Curry represent some of the finest public art in the country. “Tragic Prelude,” an interpretation of John Brown and the antislavery movement in Kansas Territory before the Civil War is considered one of the artist’s best works, while “Kansas Pastoral” is an attempt at showing the more romantic side of the state’s agricultural features. Statues of famous Kansans can be found throughout the building. Some visitors might be surprised to discover Dwight D. Eisenhower and Amelia Earhart among them. Outside, on the capitol’s spacious 20-acre site, are Robert Merrell Gage’s noted sculptures, “Pioneer Woman” and “Seated Lincoln.” The best way to experience this special building is via a free tour, with a guide who can help make the state’s history come alive.

Topeka Brown v Board of Ed.
Visitors can gain a more in-depth understanding of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed America forever at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site & Museum.
Other not-to-be missed historical sites along  what is designated as Topeka’s “Freedom’s Pathway” include the John Ritchie House, Topeka’s oldest dwelling, and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site & Museum. At the Ritchie House, a simple, two-story stone vernacular building circa 1856, you’ll learn about ardent abolitionist figure John Ritchie, a friend of John Brown. Ritchie and his wife Mary Jane moved to Topeka to support the Free State movement during the pre-Civil War days that became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” The couple collaborated with other Free State advocates to insure that Kansas would enter the Union free of slavery. They used their house as a station along the Underground Railroad to help runaway slaves seeking freedom in the Northern states and Canada. The Monroe School, once one of four all-black elementary schools in Topeka, is the location of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site & Museum. The school was a focal point in the district court desegregation case that led to the monumental 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Today, it is a fascinating, interactive museum full of displays, films, photos and other interpretive media aimed at examining the barriers African Americans faced while trying to receive a formal education from the early 19th century to the mid-1950s.

Additional exhibits relate to the civil rights movement that followed in the wake of the landmark decision. Visiting this museum is an invaluable educational experience that elicits a powerful emotional response.

Train buffs with an appreciation for railroad yesteryear might want to head to Great Overland Station, formerly home to the Union Pacific Station. Today, the 1927 Neo-classically designed building is a museum and event center dedicated to bringing Topeka’s railroad heritage to life through guided tours and special displays. Kids and adults alike will also enjoy Old Prairie Town, located on the Ward-Meade Historic Site, where they can explore a pioneer village. Among the places of interest include both a physician’s and dentist’s office done in the style of the 1880s, complete with original instruments that are more akin to barbaric tools of torture. There’s a one-room schoolhouse, an old depot and caboose, an 1870s prairie mansion and even an old-fashioned, working soda fountain at the Potwin Drug Store. History isn’t the only area where Topeka shines. The city has a thriving arts scene and if you happen to be visiting on a Friday, make sure you take part in the First Friday ArtWalk for an opportunity to meet local artists.

Topeka Ritchie House
The Ritchie House, Topeka’s oldest home, belonged to ardent abolitionists John and Mary Jane Ritchie, who played an essential role in helping slaves find their way to freedom by turning their residence into a stop along the Underground Railroad.
Then make a beeline to the North Topeka Arts District or NOTO, a hip, newly renovated area featuring some of the town’s most historic buildings, which have been transformed into studios for local entrepreneurial artists. And when the great outdoors beckons and you want to commune with nature, Topekans will be happy to direct you to some of their favorite wide open spaces. Of note are Gage Park, a 160-acre playground and home to the Topeka Zoo, and Lake Shawnee, an expansive recreational area that prides itself on its spectacular, well-tended gardens and unique landscaping features. The place bursts with color in spring when thousands of tulips bloom and folks come in droves to see this eye-popping display. All this fresh air is going to make you hungry and if you’re smart, you’ll ask a Topekan for some restaurant recommendations. They’ll probably inquire as to what type of food you want because you can get just about anything and everything in this town. BBQ reigns supreme, however, and the Blind Tiger Brewery gets high marks in this category with its award-winning lip-smacking barbequed meats and handcrafted beers. For the health conscious, there’s Blue Planet Café, where owner Linda Carson, locally known as Mama Linda, uses fresh, wholesome ingredients and ecological practices to keep green-friendly minds at peace. Topekans love their breakfast and it’s easy to see why Hanover Pancake House is always bustling. The portions are hearty and comfort food is the name of the game. One of the best meals I ate during my stay was at the RowHouse Restaurant, an upscale establishment that occupies an 1876 stone building, which is on the National Historic Register. Owner and Chef Greg Fox prepares creative six-course prix fixe menus with an emphasis on healthy, fresh and unexpected. He grows many of the ingredients and seasonings in his garden out back, infusing salads, entrees and desserts with just the right blends. The ambiance is cozy, the wine selection is extensive and all one has to do is sit back, relax and prepare to be dazzled by Fox’s culinary magic. Leave room for the trio of melt-in-your-mouth, miniature desserts like Lemon Cupcakes with Berry Puree and Cream Cheese, Crème Brulee with Pistachio Brittle and Mint Chocolate Truffle Cookies. If you need more of a sweet-tooth fix, you’ll want to stop in at Hazel Hill, a family-owned and operated candy company that has an arsenal of treats guaranteed to make you drool with pleasure. The staff is used to the euphoric stupors on customers’ faces and they’re very patient while you agonize over your purchase. And as with most Topekans, they’ll probably strike up a conversation with you. After all, this is Kansas, folks, where everyone’s friendly and down-to-earth.

Dominating Topeka’s landscape is the Kansas State Capitol, one of the ten most impressive capitols in the nation.

If you go:

Alaska Airlines recently added nonstop service from Seattle to Kansas City, MO. From there, it’s roughly an hour’s drive to Topeka.

For all things Topeka:

Mighty and magical Rogue is a rafter’s paradise

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Photo by Deborah Stone
The orange rolls are reason enough to visit Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge in southern Oregon.

These sweet, melt-in-your-mouth dinner muffins are reminiscent of cinnamon buns, but with an orange twist.

They’re addictive, making it impossible to eat just one. And don’t try asking for the recipe. It’s a closely guarded secret, known to only a few insiders.

One of the lodge’s former owners, Elaine Hanten, is credited with their creation. Though she is no longer alive, Hanten’s orange rolls, as well as a number of her other delectable dishes, continue to be served at the lodge today.

Located 16 miles downstream from Grants Pass on the banks of the famed Rogue River, Morrison’s is an authentic log lodge with individual cottages interspersed among groves of evergreen, maple and oak trees.

Built in 1945 by river guide and lumber mill worker Lloyd Morrison, the lodge has grown over the years along with its clientele, which include fishermen, rafters, gold panners, rock hounds and active outdoor-lovers of all ages.

It’s also become a well-known destination for weddings, family reunions and other special events due to its picturesque setting, rustic charm and gracious hospitality. I stayed at Morrison’s last summer when I booked a lodge-to-lodge rafting trip with Rogue River Raft Trips.

It was the “lodge-to-lodge” description that hooked me from the start. The idea of rafting during the day and then retreating to a warm bed and home-cooked meal at night greatly appealed to me. Accustomed to camping-only raft trips, where setting up your own tent each evening is par for the course, I thrilled at the possibility of being tent-free for once.

It’s not that I mind sleeping in a tent. Actually, I like it. It’s the setting-up and taking-down process that gets old.

On a 3-day lodge-to-lodge Rogue River raft trip, the adventure begins at Morrison’s where close proximity to the river allows for a convenient “put in” place.

When they’re not at the head of their boats navigating the rapids with calm assurance, you’ll find your rafting guides preparing gourmet lunches, leading group walks and later in the evening, strumming their guitars and making sweet music together. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Your group will get a safety briefing and trip prep talk the night before your departure and the next morning, after one of Morrison’s tasty breakfasts, you’ll be on your way.

Within minutes of paddling away from the banks, you’ll be transported to another world that sets its clocks by “river time.” Nature, not technology, dictates your actions. You slip quickly into a wilderness of renowned rapids, verdant gorges and golden hillsides with historical sites around every bend and some of the best wildlife viewing of all the rivers in the west. Many actually liken the experience of rafting the river as “floating through a zoo” due to the plentiful bald eagles, osprey, deer, bear, salmon and steelhead that make their home here.

The Rogue is a legendary waterway and its unique qualities were recognized in 1968 when it became one of the initial eight rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

This area was first inhabited by Native Americans, followed by trappers and fur traders who arrived in the 1800s. Story has it that the waterway was named “River of the Rogues” after the Native Americans, who refused to give up their homes without a fight.

In 1851, gold was discovered, bringing more settlers, who eventually farmed the rich valley. The river, which originates in the Cascade Range’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness within Crater Lake National Park, flows for 215 miles and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. Before it converges with the ocean, it flows through the Coast Range, creating some of its most unforgettable rapids such as Rainie Falls, Upper and Lower Black Bar Falls, Coffee Pot and the illustrious Blossom Bar.

The Rogue is a perfect river for families to raft with 34 miles of Class II and III rapids, long flat stretches for swimming and a few exciting thrills and chills along the way.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even paddle your own kayak down the river. Photo by Deborah Stone.
What’s ideal about this type of trip is that you can adapt the experience to meet your needs by determining your own participation level. You can sit back in your raft and enjoy the scenery, keeping one eye out for wildlife, while listening to your guide wax poetic about the area’s geology and natural history. Or you can be an active paddler in the process, responding to commands like “easy paddle,” “paddle,” “paddle hard” and “paddle or die!”

You can even try navigating the river on your own in an inflatable kayak. And if it gets too hot for you, simply climb out of the boat (after securing your guide’s permission) and let the rapids carry you downstream. The pace is leisurely, leaving plenty of time to take hikes to inspiring views, side creeks, cascading waterfalls and hidden swimming pools, as well as to historical sites such as author Zane Grey’s cabin and the Rogue River Ranch Museum.

The guides, several who have been coming down this river for many years, enjoy sharing their knowledge of the Rogue’s lore. The more senior helmsmen, like Larry, John and Stitch, call themselves the “Rogue Elders,” signifying their “fossil” status on the river.

They dispense their commentary in an entertaining manner, always managing to insert a few tall tales and jokes in the mix.

Their love and respect for the river is apparent and the length of their tenure as guides is testament to the fact that they truly cherish their work and this special environment. When they’re not at the head of their boats navigating the rapids with calm assurance, you’ll find these multi-talented men preparing gourmet lunches, leading group walks and later in the evening, strumming their guitars and making sweet music together.

Each brings his/her own colorful personality and perspective to the job, while helping to establish camaraderie within the group.

They also have a mischievous side, inciting water wars among boats and even encouraging their crews to do doughnuts in an eddy.

And yes, we all follow along, dutifully obeying orders as we gleefully act like kids, abandoning all adult propriety, while shedding the stress of our everyday lives.

The rustic lodges along the Rogue are welcome beacons to river-goers and are known for their good old fashioned hospitality and hearty grub. Photo by Deborah Stone.
At the end of the day, you’ll find yourself at one of the rustic lodges on the river that accommodates hikers, rafters and fishermen. Black Bar, for example, was built in 1935 and originally catered to miners and packers who moved up and down the Rogue in the 1940s. It was named after gold miner William Black, who was murdered near the property, put into his boat and shoved off down the river.

Marial Lodge was built by Tom Billings and his daughter Marial ran it for many years before selling the place to Ted Camp in the 60s.

Today, it’s owned and run by Camp’s daughter Lori and her husband Pat Cameron. These lodges and others along the Rogue are welcome beacons to river-goers and are known for their good old fashioned hospitality and hearty grub.

At each, our group was given a warm welcome and treated like family. Sitting at long, wooden tables, we chowed down on biscuits and huckleberry jam, savory pot roast, fresh veggies from the garden and peach crisp with homemade ice cream for dessert.

Our bellies full, we moved outside to watch deer frolicking in the meadow, curled up with a good book on a porch swing or joined the guides in a sing-a-long. Sleep was never an issue, as the combination of fresh air and activity, along with the soothing sound of the river nearby, proved to be ideal sedatives.

All too soon, the final day rolled around and with it came wondrous Mule Creek Canyon and one of the most technical of all the rapids – Blossom Bar. A class IV-V rapid, Blossom Bar has the biggest drop of the trip with several different lines at varying water levels. It’s known for wrapping boats on the right side in the notorious “Picket Fence.”

Boaters are always grateful when they transit this rapid without issue. With our experienced Rogue River Raft guides leading the way, we navigated the rocky, churning stretch like pros and raised our paddles high to celebrate our success.

Then, just before we came to the “take-out” place, we spotted a bear cub climbing up the steep hillside. We chuckled at his tumbling skills and although we didn’t spy Mama Bear, we knew she probably wasn’t too far away.

Watching the little tyke’s antics made for a perfect ending to our grand adventure on the mighty and magical Rogue.

If you go:

Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge is a premier destination resort offering full-day and multi-day rafting and fishing packages. Options include camping only, lodge-to-lodge and a mix of camping/lodging trips. Also available are raft-supported hiking trips along the Rogue River Trail and specialty whitewater gourmet packages hosted by professional cheese makers and chocolatiers.

For more information:

Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge: 800-826-1963 or

Rogue River Raft Trips: 800-826-1963 or

Travel with a purpose opens eyes, widens world perspectives

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Nepal Market
Kathmandu, Nepal’s crazy, chaotic capitol city, is full of temples, holy sites, bustling outdoor markets, motorbikes and millions of people. Photo by Deborah Stone.
We take so many things for granted in America, from our creature comforts to our freedom of speech. We expect transportation to operate efficiently, technology to be readily accessible and emergency personnel to respond quickly in times of distress. We assume there will always be electricity, plumbing and clean drinking water. And we don’t give a second thought to the fact that our children’s public education is free and that citizens 18 and older have the right to vote. We nonchalantly presume that these “givens” will always be there and it is only when we leave the U.S. and travel somewhere else that we realize our good fortune.

I had the opportunity last fall to visit Nepal, a place coveted for its magnificent mountains, age-old cultures, adventure and spirituality. For many travelers, this country at the top of the world with its mystical allure is paradise on earth.

Look beyond the scenic grandeur and the beautifully adorned temples, however, and you will see that Nepal is a developing country with numerous economic, political and societal challenges. It quickly becomes very clear that the Nepalese don’t take anything in their lives for granted. Not food, power, employment, education … or even libraries.

Twenty years ago, such meccas of literacy were foreign to the majority of the population, 80 percent of which live in rural areas. It was a time in the country’s history marked by failed projects, hospitals without doctors, little to no infrastructure, dilapidated schools and a 30 percent literacy rate. Education among rural villages in particular was severely lacking and books were almost nonexistent.

Nepal Newspaper readers
READ centers go beyond filling the traditional library role. They are catalysts for change, where people are provided with the opportunity to learn and use the information and knowledge they gain to enhance their own quality of life. Photo by Deborah Stone.
One woman was about to change this situation. Dr. Antonia (Toni) Neubauer, a former language professor and educational researcher, first came to Nepal in 1984. Prior to her trip, she had thought she was a worldly individual, but it didn’t take long before she quickly realized the truth.

“Going to Nepal was like going scuba diving for the first time and finding out there’s a whole other world down in the ocean below us,” she says. “It blew me away.”

Neubauer fell in love with the country and its people and made many return visits in the ensuing years. In 1988, she formed Myths and Mountains, a custom adventure tour company specializing in providing clients with personalized cultural and educational experiences.

Neubauer’s life-changing epiphany occurred during a trek in the Himalayas when she asked her friend and trekking guide, Ang Domi Lama, what he would want if he could have anything for his village. His wish, a library, caused a light bulb to go off in her head. She returned to the U.S. and began planting the seed for a vision that would slowly become reality. In 1991, Neubauer founded Rural Education and Development (READ), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping “inspire rural prosperity.”

That same year, eight porters carried 900 books over a 12,000-foot pass down into the tiny village of Junbesi to open the very first READ Community Library and Resource Center (CLRC).

Flash forward to the present. Today, there are 49 libraries in 38 districts in the country. READ Nepal partners with the communities to build the CLRCs, however, the projects are conceived, initiated and owned by the community and sustained by income-generating projects. Such projects include microfinance programs, store front rentals, ambulances, rice mills, radio stations and agricultural cooperatives among others. These businesses not only support the libraries, but also help fund other projects in the village, such as bridges, pre-schools, medical clinics, health education and women’s empowerment programs. During my memorable “Mountains, Monkeys & Books: READ Nepal Library Trip” this past fall, I was fortunate to travel with Dr. Neubauer and Myths & Mountains on the 20th anniversary of READ.

We were a group of seven who began our journey in Kathmandu, Nepal’s crazy, chaotic, colorful capital city. Full of temples and holy world heritage sites, bustling street markets, noisy motorbikes and several million people on the move, Kathmandu, though fascinating, assaults the senses for the first time visitor, who is usually more than ready to leave after a few days. Our group was eager to get on with our trip and head to the countryside to see READ’s work in action. In the town of Syangia, near the base of some of Nepal’s most famous mountains – Machapuchare, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri – the library is a thriving center that is sustained by a successful radio station serving 500,000 people within six districts.

Nepal villagers and reading lady
Villagers, honored by Dr. Antonia Neubauer’s presence, line up to greet her as she treks into their town. Photo by Deborah Stone.
There I met Basanti, a young woman intently studying to prepare for a public service exam. She explained to me that there are thousands of people competing for one position. She comes to the library because it has the materials she needs to read for the exam. Without the library, Basanti notes that she wouldn’t be able to take the test because the necessary books are too expensive for her to buy. The library has a reading area, a media center, a section devoted solely to women and a children’s room. Women’s groups use the center for their meetings and it is also a community gathering place for various organizations.

A flight to Jomson up north, followed by a picturesque half-day trek amid the jagged Annapurna peaks, led us to the small town of Tukche in the Lower Mustang Valley. Here, the library is one of the most successful of all of the projects. Built in 1998, it is well-run and well-used, sustained by a furniture factory where the men use wood from a local forest to create hand-made furnishings. Profits from the factory not only sustain the operations of the library, but have also helped to build a bridge over the nearby Kali Gandaki River, enabling children access to school on the other side of the river. Villagers are very intent on education and there is a K-12 school that even has a boarding hostel for those who come to the school from surrounding towns. There’s also a clinic and a Red Cross station. We spent some time with Kalpana, an intelligent and articulate 72-year-old woman, who serves as a role model for other women in the community. Though her husband is deceased, Kalpana continues to live independently in her 200-plus-year-old home, where she runs the family’s apple distillery, producing apple, carrot, cherry and apricot brandy that has quite the kick, I might say! She is actively involved in the library and was also instrumental in helping to build the Red Cross station. Her actions are proof that Nepalese women, who have always been repressed and held back by a patriarchal society, can be empowered to take control of their own lives and play an integral role in their communities. Back in Jomson, a town where many ethnic Thakalis live, the vivacious women’s committee serves dinner to our group in the library and then we all dance together to a mixture of local folk and pop music. We become whirling dervishes, caught up in the moment, united by the common language of music and fellowship.

Dr. Antonia Neubauer founded READ in an effort to inspire rural prosperity in the villages of Nepal. Photo by Deborah Stone.
At each place we visit, we are met by throngs of villagers who adorn us with traditional garlands of marigolds and white scarves. They are delighted with our presence and deeply honored by Toni’s visit. They emanate warmth with their “Namaste” greetings and kind, open-armed hospitality, never hesitating to share what little they do have with others. The final library we visit is in Jhuwani, a village on the edge of Chitwan National Park in the tropical lowlands of south-central Nepal. Built in 2000, this library is a model for other centers, with an ambulance as its sustaining project. “People love the library,” says Sita Adhikari, president of the women’s cooperative in Jhuwani. She continues to explain that initially women in the town were too shy to come to the library when it was first built. Many thought that it was designated solely for men. Others felt they needed to dress nicely and wear shoes in order to go into the library, or that they had to be smart to gain entrance. Slowly, over time, with Adhikari’s efforts to create programs specifically targeted to mothers and their children, the women of the village began to come. “Today we have 500 women in the women’s cooperative,” notes Adhikari. “We have a savings and credit program and we’ve issued $65,000 in micro loans in the past year to women who want to start their own businesses.” Resident Indira Chaudhary, for example, took advantage of the center’s livelihood skills training in mushroom farming and received a loan from the women’s savings and credit cooperative to begin her own mushroom business. Her husband Somlal, after participating in similar training, started a beekeeping and honey production business. With the profits from their successful businesses, the couple was able to purchase their own new home. Another woman, who Adhikari introduces us to, used to spend her days chewing betel nut. Her life changed after she was inspired through the center to learn more about biogas. With training, she eventually became a biogas technician and installed 50 units in the village to make cooking easier for the women. Jhuwani’s library began as a modest single-story facility.


Today, it is a three-story building with community meeting space, a children’s room, reading and reference library, offices and music area. It’s a hub of activity and serves as a stimulus for community development. It’s clear the residents of Jhuwani have chosen not to “settle,” but rather to continue to dream big and through dedication and hard work, they are slowly making their dreams reality. Though each of the READ libraries we visited was unique in its own way, it was evident that they all went beyond filling the traditional library role. The centers are catalysts for change, where people are provided with the opportunity to learn and use the information and knowledge they gain to enhance their own quality of life. They are transformative vehicles with the power to exert influence on not only literacy, but also on economic and social development in Nepal. Sheri Woods-Green, a consultant for READ, once told Toni, “You’re not building a library. You’re building a village.”

The truth of these words resonated with Neubauer back then and they continue to do so today. “That’s really what it’s all about,” she says. “READ helps to create communities by bringing people together in pursuit of making their village a viable place to live and work.” Neubauer is proud of the organization she inspired and built from the ground up.

The READ center in the village of Jhuwani began as a modest single-story facility. Today, it is a three-story building with community meeting space, a children’s room, reading and reference library, music room and offices. Photo by Deborah Stone.
It has been the recipient of three Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awards and grants, including an Access to Learning Award in 2006, a replication grant in 2007, which has enabled the organization to replicate its model in countries outside of Nepal (currently, Bhutan and India),  and most recently, a sustainability and capacity building grant. The nonprofit parent organization, READ Global, of which READ Nepal, READ Bhutan and READ India are a part of, continues to shed light in rural communities within Asia. To date, there are 57 READ centers serving 125 villages worldwide, providing access to 1.8 million people and according to Tina Sciabica, READ Global’s executive director, the organization is committed to building 30 new READ centers in the next five years. There have been many challenges for Dr. Antonia Neubauer along the way and when others would ask “why?” she would always counter with “why not?” as she persevered through countless obstacles, continuing to prove the skeptics and naysayers wrong. What has kept her motivated throughout the years has been the positive impact she sees on the communities READ has helped. “Witnessing this first-hand impact has fed and nourished me in so many different ways,” she comments.


It is Neubauer’s hope that in the next 20 years, READ Global and READ Nepal will become household names such as Save the Children or other well-known organizations.

Knowing this committed visionary and dynamic woman and having had the special honor of getting an up-close and personal view of her in action, there is no doubt in my mind that whatever goal she sets will be achieved.

If you go: Myths and Mountains is an acclaimed travel company offering luxury, custom adventure and cultural immersive tours to Asia, Southeast Asia and South America. It is continuously listed as one of the “Top Ten Best Adventure Travel Companies” by National Geographic Adventure with several of its trips touted as “Best Tour of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler. The company also offers travel with a purpose experiences through its READ trips to Nepal, Bhutan and India.

For more information: or 800-670-MYTH.