Thursday, March 29, 2007

by Barbara Barton Sloane

When you hear the words Park City, Utah, chances are your thoughts go immediately to skiing. And why not? It’s a winter paradise with wonderful slopes, tobogganing, ice skating, snow shoeing, dog sledding, sleigh rides.

But I’m not going to extol the winter offerings of Park City. Hey, it’s spring! Summer’s just around the corner. And when we think summer, we think vacations! Park City in summer is chock full of excitement with a host of activities, festivals and concerts. The sheer, soaring beauty of the place – purple mountains, verdant valleys, pine forests – make this a very good choice for a summer family vacation.

Many of the activities available are sure to excite. For starters, you’re not wearing 15lbs.of heavy clothing and shivering in the wind. For some of us who prefer warmth, summer in Park City has it all over winter!

A brief history of Park City:
40,000 B.C. – saber-toothed tigers hunt bison
1600 A.D. – Indian bands travel the high alpine valleys in search of game
1847 – Brigham Young and the Mormon settlers pass near the north end of this city on their way to Salt Lake
1995 – Salt Lake City is awarded the 2002 Winter Olympic Games; 40% of the events are held in Park City

Fast forward to now:
Just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, Park City is located in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain Range. Seven thousand residents live here year round, and each January the population swells to 80,000 when the Sundance Film Festival comes to town.

No Bedtimes Here

Park City’s historic Main Street is lined with great art galleries and a very lively world-class restaurant scene. Here you’ll find some of the best mountain biking and road cycling available. If you’re craving excitement, consider the Xtreme Zip zipline! It’s a thrilling activity at the Park City Mountain Resort offering an exhilarating 60 second ride that suspends you 100 feet off the ground, and reaches speeds up to 45 mph. There’s rock climbing, hot air ballooning, hiking – something for everyone. Just about now, you’re probably thinking – get me to a spa! And Park City can do that. There are several luxurious spas, a welcome retreat after biking or hiking some of the 325 miles of this city’s trails. After dinner, you may want to wind down with an evening of jazz or at one of the local dance clubs. Park City boasts “There are no bedtimes here!”

The town hosts a spectacular bevy of summer festivals. There’s the Sundance Institute Outdoor Film Festival (July 9-August 17) with free outdoor screenings appropriate for all ages and held just after sunset on the grass in City Park. Over 6,000 film watchers bring blankets and picnics, enjoying films under the stars.

The Park City Jazz Festival is held this year on August 24, 25 and 26. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, attendees can bring food and beverage and it becomes not just a festival but a genuine happening.

The 2007 Deer Valley Music Festival (July 21-August 18) has planned a Saturday Pops concert including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Friends on July 28 and Tony Bennett with the Utah Symphony Orchestra on August 4. There will be a comic opera weekend, classical concerts and chamber music. This is the only place in the world where you can wear shorts and sandals while gazing at the Rockies and listening to a great live performance. Gourmet picnics and wine sipping are the norm.

The Big Stars, Bright Nights Summer Concert Series performers this year include Lyle Lovett with k.d.lang, Judy Collins, Amy Grant, and Vince Gill to name just a few. This series takes place from July 14 through Labor Day weekend.

For art lovers, the 38th Annual Kimball Art Center Festival, the first weekend in August, elevates the art scene at 7,000 feet! All of the galleries are open to the public free of charge, and visitors can enjoy art exhibits, events and education at the Kimball Art Center. Here are some fun facts: The Kimball Art Festival is showcasing 220 artists, 3 beer gardens, 30 live bands, dozens of arts and crafts at the Kimball Kids’ Corner, and finally, the longest running arts festival in the west!

Olympic Museum, at the Olympic Park is a fun place to visit. On the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, this museum is home to the Ski Hall of Fame, the Winter Games Museum, attractive retail shops and it highlights the history of all skiing disciplines through touch-screen displays, videos, and the virtual reality ski theatre. Something here for the whole family.

Rising to the Challenge

There is a place in Park City that, in its own way, may just leave you as breathless as when you stumbled off the Ziprider. It is called the National Ability Center. A non-profit organization, it is committed to the development of lifetime skills for individuals of all ages with orthopedic, spinal cord, neuromuscular, visual and hearing impairments. Its summer programs include water skiing, cycling, canoeing, river rafting and horseback riding.

Meeche White, a woman with a vision to build self- esteem for the handicapped, founded the National Ability Center 20 years ago. In 1997, she was given the Utah Woman of Achievement Award, and is recognized and lauded by the International Paralympics Committee for her determination to help make athletes of all abilities achieve their best. In May of 2006, she took Iraqi veterans who suffered catastrophic injuries rafting through the Grand Canyon. A visit to the National Ability Center, to see some of the participants involved in their programs, and perhaps have the chance to meet Meeche White herself, is an experience at once inspiring and profoundly moving.

Park City, Utah – a little city packing a wallop. A neat place to vacation!

If You Go:
The Canyons Grand Resort Hotel;; Tel: 866-604-4170
Goldener Hirsch Inn;; Tel: 800-252-3373
Park City Marriott;; Tel: 800-754-3279

Olympic Park;; Tel:435-658-4200
National Ability Center;; Tel: 435-649-3991

Kimball Art Center;; Tel: 435-649-8882
Big Stars, Bright Nights;; Tel: 435-655-3114
Utah Symphony & Opera’s Deer Valley Music Festival; Tel: 801-869-9021
Sundance Institute;; Tel: 435-658-3456
Park City Jazz Festival;; Tel: 435-940-1362

Photo Credits:
Man & Woman
Mark Maziarz, Courtesy of The Park City Chamber/Visitors Bureau

Boy on Climbing Wall
Courtesy of The National Ability Center

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Lights, Camera, Louisiana!"

-by Barbara Barton Sloane

Bet you didn’t know that the State of Louisiana is now a major venue for film makers. New Orleans has always been a favorite spot for filming, but after Katrina, film makers had to stop production on their films and seek other sites. Welcome Hollywood on the Bayou! Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Clinton - all have welcomed film makers and they, in turn, have benefited from the lucrative tax incentives, low cost of living, and high quality of life, and the ability of these cities to look like “Every Town USA”. To date, 12 films have wrapped in Shreveport, including “The Guardian” with Kevin Costner, “Factory Girl” with Sienna Miller, and “Premonition” with Sandra Bullock. Many more are planned. Filming right now: “The Cleaner” with Samuel L. Jackson, and a Steven King thriller, “The Mist”.

For these cities, film production has proved very lucrative. In Shreveport, in 2006 alone, $75,000,000 has been added to the local economy from films made there - a win-win deal all around. So don’t be surprised,
as you tour Louisiana, if you come across one of your favorite Hollywood stars casually lounging on a park bench, taking a break from the action.

I recently traveled the state from Shreveport in Northern Louisiana to Natchitoches and on to the state capitol, Baton Rouge. One of the many surprises on this journey: these cities are filled with culture, history, and fun activities for the whole family. They are good vacation choices for any one wanting to experience fine art, visit well-preserved plantations, bop into a casino – if so inclined, relax in one of the many beautiful state parks and enjoy great food. Oh yes, the food. No trip to Louisiana would be complete without sampling traditional dishes: red beans and rice, Jambalaya, shrimp Creole, gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. Yes!

Something else you may not know: Elvis made his very first professional singing appearance at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport and on October 16 of this year, the Auditorium will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his appearance, as a member of the Louisiana Hayride. As a tribute, a statue of Elvis, guitar in hand, stands front and center as you approach the site.

The Municipal Auditorium is a must-see. It was completed in 1929, embodies intricate art deco design, and is equal in square footage to 6 football fields. Take a tour of their Museum to learn of its rich musical
heritage. Memorabilia from the famous that have appeared on its vast stage, from Johnny Cash, Faron Young, Kris Kristofferson to Eleanor
Roosevelt brings a haunting nostalgia to the experience. One can almost hear Hank Williams calling “Hey Good Lookin’” down the long corridors.

In Shreveport, the Fairfield Place Bed & Breakfast offers comfortable lodging. The property is made up of two adjoining homes built circa 1870 with over an acre of gardens and patios. A highlight of this B&B is the Breakfast! Your host, Mark Faser, makes a memorable breakfast – fresh baked muffins, croissants, baked apple French toast, and caramelized bacon are just a few of his specialties.

Before leaving Shreveport, pay a visit to the Logan Mansion. This home was built in 1897, and is one of the finest remaining Queen Anne Victorian houses in the city. The owner, Vicki LeBrun, will give you a tour and has a few stories of supernatural encounters in the house to add to her description of Shreveport life and culture in the early 1900s.

If you have a sweet tooth, stop in The Chocolate Crocodile for one of their huge chocolate/caramel-covered apples. It may just last you all day.

Municipal Auditorium, 705 Elvis Presley Ave, Shreveport
Tel: 318-220-9434
Fairfield Place Bed & Breakfast, 2221 Fairfield Ave, Shreveport
Tel: 318-222-0048
Logan Mansion Home Tour, 725 Austin Place, Shreveport
Tel: 318-459-2285
The Chocolate Crocodile, 460 Boardwalk Blvd, Bossier City (part of Shreveport)
Tel: 318-742-3316

An hour’s drive from Shreveport lies the city of Natchitoches (pronounced NAK-a-tish), a National Historic Landmark District. It is the oldest permanent settlement of the Louisiana Purchase Territory. More than 70 communities associated with Louisiana Creole culture are found in this area. In case you’re wondering – Creoles are known as a people of mixed French, African, Spanish and Native American ancestry. This culture began as an offspring of the Old World and the New when this country was still being colonized. Creoles have lived their lives being somewhat misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted. Rejected by both black and white society, Creoles had a strong bond with one another, were self-sufficient and had to create their own world and culture. And this wonderful world is still there, waiting for you to come and experience.

Here you will find the Cane River National Heritage area known for its historic plantations, Creole architecture and a multi-cultural legacy. This 116,000 acre national heritage area includes the National Park, three State Parks, seven historic landmarks, and several plantations, all of which are open to the public.

For an authentic Creole experience, plan to lunch at The Creole Rose in Natchez, a 15 minute drive from Natchitoches. You’ll be greeted by the owner/chef, Janet, who makes a mean meat pie, a delicious jambalaya and a to- die- for bread pudding with wine sauce. She is also a font of Creole legends and history. Just get her started!

Fifty years ago, a servant at Melrose Plantation took a brush and some discarded paints and tried her hand at painting. What she referred to as “making a picture” began the career of Clementine Hunter, who ultimately gained worldwide acclaim as one of the finest painters of folk art. She is frequently referred to as the “Black Grandma Moses”. Her work- colorful panels telling the story of plantation life at Melrose, is installed at African House, a building on the plantation. Clementine Hunter documented vibrant memories of the past: cotton-picking, harvesting, fish fries, card playing and dancing. The paintings are vivid and joyous and establish her as a most remarkable woman of the 20th Century.

Melrose, itself, is a unique plantation, established by the Metoyers, a family of gens de couleur libre (free people of color). A short 15 minute ride from the center of Natchitoches, it is well worth a visit.

Cane River National Historical Park
Laura Gates,Tel: 318 352 0383

Natchitoches Convention & Visitors Bureau
Iris Harper,Tel:-800-259-1714; 318-352-8072

Creole Rose Restaurant
3798 Highway 119, Natchez
Tel:318-357-0384 (reservations required)

Melrose Plantation
3533 Highway 119, Melrose
Tel: 318-379-0055

Baton Rouge, the state capitol, is a three hour drive south. There you’ll find the Louisiana State Museum. If you like Mardi Gras and Rhythm and Blues, you will connect with this museum. Step into exhibits that are so alive and vibrant, you’ll swear you’re standing on the parade route at Mardi Gras, begging the floats to throw beads. Surround yourself with the sounds and memorabilia of Fats Domino, Buddy Guy and Aaron Neville and be carried away. Of course, if you’re into Louisiana history, industry and culture, you’ll find plenty of that, as well.

On to Vacherie, an hour from Baton Rouge, and discover two plantations vastly different from one another, and both replete with fascinating histories.

Laura Plantation, an historic sugar plantation, was built in 1805. Named by Lonely Planet Travel as the “Best History Tour in the U.S.,” your one hour tour is given by Norman Marmillion who is integral to making this visit come alive and a lot of fun.

If your idea of a Southern plantation is rolling lawns, sweeping live oaks, tall white pillars fronting an antebellum mansion, you’ll find all this and more at Oak Alley Plantation. Located on the Mississippi River, Oak Alley has been called “The Grande Dame of the Great River Road.” The setting is spectacular: you approach the mansion through a quarter mile of impressive 300 year-old live oak trees. Really good news: Oak Alley Plantation is also a Bed & Breakfast. Several century-old plantation cottages are located on the grounds, and it’s guaranteed that your respite will be quiet and peaceful. A nice touch: each cottage has a full kitchen and dining room. Oak Alley has a restaurant on-site serving delicious home-cooked Louisiana specialties.

You may want to continue your tour of Louisiana by ending in New Orleans, an hour’s drive from Vacherie. The tourist areas of that city are pretty much back to pre-Katrina days. The restaurants are still divine, the cultural offerings still top-notch, and they, like all of Louisiana, want you to know they’re Open for Business and ready to welcome you. So, come on down, y’all!

Louisiana State Museum
660 4th Street
Tel: 225-342-5414

Laura Plantation
2247 Highway 18, Vacherie
Tel: 888-799-7690

Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Highway 18, Vacherie
Tel: 225-265-2151