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The indefinable magic that is Cuba

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Any reason is a good reason to visit Cuba. Maybe it’s the island’s legendary music that’s the allure. Perhaps it’s the colonial architecture and wonderfully preserved history that offers the appeal. Or possibly, the country’s political situation is of great interest to you. Then, of course, there are the people. Comprised of a colorful melting pot of cultures from Spain, Africa, Asia and elsewhere, they represent diversity at its finest.

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The Three R’s of Kaua’i: Rebalance, Replenish, and Revive

  • Written by Deborah Stone

At one point during my blissful lomi lomi massage, I actually nodded off and awoke to drool inching down my chin. When I embarrassedly made a comment about it, my therapist Connie kindly complimented me on my ability to drift off, saying that it was a sign of complete relaxation or “malie” in Hawaiian. I, in turn, returned the compliment, noting the expertise of her magic fingers. The tension seemed to just melt away as she worked wonders on all of my body’s knots. That, combined with being in a semi-open air treatment room where I could hear the rustling of the palms and smell the perfumed scent of the flowers, made for a heavenly experience. It was one of many I would have during a memorable stay on the Island of Kaua’i.

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Family-friendly Kaua’i is a kid magnet

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Choosing family vacation destinations can be challenging, especially when you have kids of varying ages and interests. It’s hard to please everyone and invariably someone will complain – loudly and frequently – causing everyone else to suffer. Often the dissatisfaction is due to the fact that there are just not enough activities available or those that do exist are not geared towards children. On the Island of Kaua’i, however, boredom is not a state of mind your kids will ever experience.

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Cloudcroft, NM – 9,000 feet above stress level

  • Written by and photos by Deborah Stone

IMG 3232If things go bump in the night during your stay at The Lodge Resort & Spa, not to worry. It’s most likely Rebecca, the friendly and mischievous ghost that wanders the hall of this historic hotel in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. She’s a popular legend in these parts, whose tale is one of passion, betrayal and unrequited love. A beautiful young chambermaid with striking blue eyes and long red tresses, Rebecca mysteriously disappeared from her quarters after her jealous and enraged lumberjack boyfriend found her in the arms of another. That was a century ago, yet there are those who vow that Rebecca’s spirit is still present in the hotel today. Some have seen her apparition in mirrors; others note such unexplained incidents as ashtrays sliding across tables unassisted, doors opening and closing for no apparent reason, lights turning on and off by themselves and even fires that have spontaneously ignited in the lobby fireplace. Over the years, both guests and employees attribute these odd happenings to Rebecca’s ghost, who many believe is in search of a new lover or friend who might appreciate her playful and flirtatious nature.

IMG 3166Rebecca is not the only famous person attributed to The Lodge. Among the notables who have stayed at this grand dame of a property include Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Pancho Villa and every New Mexico governor since 1901. Originally built in 1899 as a residential hotel for timber cutters working for the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, the property opened to the public in 1906 and became known as the “Queen of the Mountain.” It was subsequently destroyed by fired and rebuilt five years later at its current location, where it has since been in business as an upscale, mountaintop lodge, complete with its own observation tower.

Though the property has been refurbished inside and out, it still retains its historical bones and is a testament to a bygone era. Old photos, newspaper clippings and various factoids line the walls, giving visitors a snapshot of the hotel’s storied past. Each of the resort’s 47 rooms are decorated with a unique Victorian flair. There are several types of accommodations, including romantic Parlor Suites, family-friendly Guest Rooms and even a Honeymoon Suite that’s a treat for lovers of all ages. And of course, there’s the famed Governor’s Suite, fit for royalty with its four-poster bed, intimate sitting area and elegant foyer. Nearby, the Lodge also offers its Pavilion Bed & Breakfast Rooms - ten cozy rooms with knotty pine walls that provide rustic, yet quaint quarters. Then there’s also The Retreat Suites, which house four private luxury suites that share a common area with kitchen and conference facilities, making it the ideal setting for small company meetings or family reunions.

IMG 3229A massive copper fireplace is the focal point of The Lodge’s spacious lobby. Folks often congregate here in the evening before or after eating a sumptuous meal in the hotel’s restaurant, which is named in honor of its resident ghost. Serving some of the finest Southwestern and classic continental cuisine, Rebecca’s is considered a Cloudcroft favorite and is popular not only with guests, but with the locals, too. You’ll wax poetic while you sit amid spectacular views of the Tularosa Basin and White Sands, and dine on such specialties as Savory Blackened Chicken Cheesecake, tableside-prepared Classic Caesar, Roasted Jalapeno & Sweet Potato Bisque and Red Chile Crusted Rack of Lamb. Carnivores will swoon over the bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon, while seafood aficionados will enjoy the Seared Ruby Red Trout and Pecan Crusted Atlantic King Salmon. Rebecca’s Signature Selection is Chateaubriand for two, a six-course extravaganza that is an experience in itself. For dessert, there’s an array of delectable house-baked sweets along with several flambéed concoctions like Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee. Have your after-dinner libation in the adjoining lounge, with its bar that was once owned by Al Capone – I kid you not.

You’ll never lack for activity at The Lodge. Amenities include a fitness room, swimming pool, full-service spa, sauna and hot tub, onsite hiking trails and a variety of lawn games for some old-fashioned fun. There’s also the resort’s popular golf course, a premier attraction of the Southwest. Built in 1899, the course was designed with Scottish roots in mind. It’s governed by the Scottish tradition of playing different tees and separate flags on each hole. When played twice, it becomes a challenging 18-hole round. And at 9,000 feet above sea level it’s one of the highest courses in North American.

The Lodge enjoys a heavy repeat business, with couples and families who continue to make this southeastern New Mexico oasis their annual vacation destination. They return year after year because they appreciate the personalized service, consistency of staff and warm hospitality. A stay at the hotel takes them back in time, but without sacrificing modern comforts. Conference-goers also give the place high marks, as they have plenty of room to spread out within the property’s 11,000 square feet of meeting space. And it’s also a mecca for weddings, with its indoor-outdoor ceremony and reception capabilities. A charming gazebo sets the stage for a memorable affair…or a summer concert.

IMG 3157In and around Cloudcroft, you’ll find numerous recreation options from fishing and hiking to camping and horseback riding, as the town is surrounded by over 200,000 acres of the Lincoln National Forest. Take your pick of dozens of trails, some that lead to picture-pretty streams and waterfalls and others that offer views of the old wooden trestles that once took trains to the timber forests and later carried tourists up the mountain to the new hamlet of Cloudcroft. Though the railroad line was abandoned in 1948, vestiges of its trestles and bridges remain. In the winter, with Mother Nature’s cooperation, Cloudcroft is a magnet for skiers, snowboarders and tubers.

IMG 3215For history buffs, the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum & Pioneer Village helps bring the past alive by providing a view of what life was like in this region a hundred years ago. Kids will particularly enjoy seeing the antique fire trucks, caboose, blacksmith shop, one-room school, barbershop and an outhouse built for two. Shoppers will enjoy pedestrian-friendly Burro Street, Cloudcroft’s main drag, with its assortment of stores and galleries, offering an eclectic fare. Many talented artists and craftspeople reside in the area and you’ll be surprised by the range and quality of goods, from fine jewelry and aromatherapy products to local art, pottery and unique clothing. For literary-inclined folks, Imaginary Books is a must. And if wine and cheese is your thing, make sure to visit Noisy Water. The store features some great made-in-New Mexico wines and cheeses, along with a selection of exquisitely-nuanced balsamic vinegars and olive oils. And yes, you can sample and taste to your heart’s content.

When you’ve shopped till you drop and need some sustenance, know that you won’t have to go far for a good meal. The Western Café, a 100-year-old Cloudcroft institution with plenty of character, is known for its Mexican food, as well as its burgers, not to mention its ample portions. This historical establishment is on New Mexico’s famed Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a designation that comes with plenty of bragging rights. And it’s also a popular watering hole in town, offering live music and dancing on the weekends. When you walk in, the first thing you’ll notice is the unique décor – thousands of dollar bills that have been affixed to the building’s walls and ceilings. Customers “donate” a bill, by signing it with their names in permanent marker, and then stapling it to a spot of their choice. It’s just one of the many traditions at the Western Cafe.

Barbecue is also big in Cloudcroft, and Big Daddy’s is the place to chow down on all your favorite cowboy grub. Dave’s Café specializes in burgers and sandwiches, and for killer homemade pies, head over to the Front Porch Bistro.

There are a number of attractions near Cloudcroft that deserve mention such as Sunspot, one of the largest solar observatories in the world, with a visitor and learning center focusing on solar activity observation. Down the mountain in Alamogordo, you’ll find Eagle Ranch Pistachio Farm, a family owned and operated business that offers free tours of its facility and operations plant. There’s also the International Space Hall of Fame, the Tombaugh Omnimax Space Theater and Planetarium, the Astronaut Memorial Garden, Air and Space Park and a Shuttle Camp – all features of the city’s well-known Space Center.

IMG 3189A highlight of any stay in the Cloudcroft area, however, is a trip to White Sands National Monument, one of the world’s great natural wonders. Massive wave-like dunes of gypsum sand cover nearly 300 square miles of desert, creating the largest gypsum dune field on the planet. The brilliant, white dunes are ever-changing. They grow, crest, then slump, but always advance. Slowly, but relentlessly, the sand, with the help of strong southwest winds, covers everything in its path. Only a few species of plants have adapted successfully to the harsh environmental conditions. They are able to survive by growing rapidly in order to fend off burial by the moving dunes, while the small animals in existence have evolved white colorations to camouflage them in the gypsum sand.

IMG 3200Most visitors to White Sands stop at the historic adobe visitor center to get their bearings. There is a good orientation film, along with several exhibits to peruse. You can also purchase a disc sled in the gift shop if you plan on sliding down the dunes. Make sure you also get some wax to help make your descent easier. The Dunes Drive leads from the visitor center eight miles into the heart of the dunes. Wayside exhibits interpret the geology and natural history of the sands. Make sure to get out of your car and hike one of the several marked trails to explore the dunes on foot. You also have the option of taking a ranger-led walk. And if you’ve timed your visit during a full moon, you’ll be able to participate in a variety of special programs including full moon hikes and bike rides through the monument (registration necessary), along with opportunities to listen to live music while you sit back and enjoy the unique beauty of this magical environment.

If you go:

www.TheLodgeResort.com

www.cloudcroft.com

White Sands National Monument: www.nps.gov/whsa

Antarctica – Beyond Expectations

  • Written by and photos by Deborah Stone

I didn’t think the day could get any better as we witnessed a pod of magnificent Orcas gliding by our ship along with dozens of Painted Petrels riding the waves amid ice sculptures that could have been made by the likes of Michelangelo himself. But, it did as soon as we stepped foot on land and were greeted by a welcome committee of thousands of Adelie penguins dressed in their finest tuxes. The creatures paraded all around us as they headed to and from their nests on the rocks to the sea on a well-trafficked path, commonly referred to as the “penguin highway.” Most waddled in perfect linear formation, one after another, though occasionally a few would opt to slide down the hills in an effort to take a short cut to their destination. Consummate entertainers, they provided endless amusement and Kodak moments for their enthralled human audience.

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