Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Perfect book for history and horse lovers April 20, 2017

PerfectHorsebookI’ve been addicted to fiction books lately, as it’s sometimes nice to escape to new worlds and other ‘people’s’ stories. But when I was walking through the library the other day, a nonfiction book cover caught my eye and made me pause in the aisle. Many of you know that I’m a major horse lover so when I saw the cover for “The Perfect Horse,” with the beautiful head of a white horse along with military troops, I was intrigued. I’m happy I was!

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If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy the book as it takes place during World War II. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy this book as it tells the story of a daring rescue mission to protect some of the world’s priceless, purebred horses from the Nazis.

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“The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Betts is a true story of how Hitler sought to breed the perfect military horse by gathering some of the world’s finest purebreds. The book tells the tale of U.S. Army troops who took huge risks to rescue these horses at the end of the war, before the Russians, refugees or others could slaughter these horses for food or other.

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I found the book fascinating from the start. You learn about the different horse farms in Germany, Poland and Austria that bred Arabians and Lippizzaners. I loved learning about the prestigious and historic Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which has practiced classical equitation for nearly 450 years. The book also shares the history of the U.S. cavalry and their role in military actions.

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As much as I’m a horse lover, it was also horrifying to read how the Nazis looked the other way as millions of people were murdered while horses were treated with kindness and warmth at farms not far from concentration camps. It’s sickening to read how the Germans wanted purebred horses as much as purebred humans and would stop at nothing to accomplish this. I also was fascinated by the loyalty and duty many of the veterinarians, grooms, riders and farm managers felt for these horses, as they considered the horses national treasures. The book chronicles the decisions and challenges the farm directors faced while the war raged around the farms and the Germans began to lose.

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The book shares the stories of the many American troops who played a significant role in rescuing these horses from the Germans and before others could harm or kill the animals. These horses were among the finest purebreds in the world so it ultimately was important to try to rescue them as the war ended. To do this, Americans, Germans, Polish and other countrymen worked together to protect the stallions, mares and foals. Overall, this was a well-told story and interesting book.

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Adventure Saturday: Visiting Detroit’s Belle Isle park January 25, 2016

belleisleaquarium

Awesome buildings in the sun.

It was a sunny, brisk day when my sister and I decided to head to Detroit for lunch and to tour Belle Isle Park, a 987-acre island located between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. I visited Belle Isle on school field trips and family outings when I was a child but I couldn’t remember the last time I visited as an adult. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a while so I thought it would be a nice outing for Adventure Saturday!

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My sister and I decided to stop for lunch on the way so HopCat in Detroit was our decision. It was fairly busy but our wait was only about 15 minutes. I had yummy quesadillas and Kim had mac n’ cheese with bacon. HopCat has an extensive craft beer menu so we sampled some good beer too!

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Belle Isle has a rich history connected with the city of Detroit. It became a city park in the late 1800’s. Visitors first had to take a ferry to visit. The current 2,193-foot vehicle bridge was built in 1923 (after the original bridge burned in 1915) to connect the island to mainland Detroit. In 2013, Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park (Detroit still owns the property). Since the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took over the management of the island, many updates have occurred. The Belle Isle Conservancy also does a lot to raise funds and renovate many of the attractions, including the aquarium and conservatory.

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Lots of pretty plants!

Belle Isle has five miles of shoreline, offering a spectacular view of the skylines of Detroit and Windsor, the Ambassador bridge and freighter traffic along the Detroit River. There are so many attractions and beautiful structures on the island. We drove the entire island looking at various structures, including the police station and old horse stables.

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The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory’s 85-foot dome can be seen from a distance. The conservatory was designed by Albert Kahn and modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The temperature inside the conservatory was balmy in the low 80s. There are five areas to explore – the Palm House, the Fernery, Cactus House, Tropical House, and Showroom. I loved wandering through paths outlined by diverse plants. We chuckled at some of the names of the plants and marveled at the size and shapes of many others. It’s fascinating to see so many different plants that hail from all over the world.

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seahorse

Big belly seahorse

The Belle Isle Aquarium is also an Albert Kahn-designed building. It opened in 1904 as the third largest aquarium in the world and operated until 2005. The Belle Isle Conservancy re-opened the aquarium in 2012 and has been doing renovations. The tanks inside contain fresh and saltwater fish – some really large and exotic! Most eye-catching is the arched ceiling with gorgeous green tiles. A lot of work has been occurring to repair and replace broken tiles damaged from water and time passing.

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The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a driving range, Nature Zoo (formerly the nature center), and much more is on the island. I was impressed with the numerous updates and work done on the island over the past few years. I can’t wait to return to Belle Isle in the warmer spring to walk the island and explore more of the attractions. My sister and I decided Belle Isle would be a fun location for one of our weekly Sunday family dinners (there are so many great picnic spots!).

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A Michigan Recreation Pass is required for vehicle entry onto the island (pedestrians and bikers can access the island for free). There is no charge to visit the aquarium, zoo and conservancy. Check hours for the attractions before going as they vary for each location.

 

Fall colors paint the trails at Wolcott Mill park October 26, 2015

WolcottMill_trees_blogIt was another beautiful fall day in Michigan when I ventured to my next hiking destination. Wolcott Mill is part of the Huron-Clinton Metropark system. Located in Ray Township in north Macomb County, the 2,625-acre park has much to offer visitors. In addition to the amazing beauty of the colorful fall leaves, Wolcott Mill has a late 20th century working farm, historic mill, golf course, event facilities, equestrian trails, fishing opportunities, and nature trails.

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I met up with a small group from my outdoor club for the hike. I’ve been trying to get more involved in the Meetup groups I joined years ago. It’s nice to participate in activities, such as hiking, with people who enjoy the outdoors too, plus I like meeting new friends. We met at Wolcott Mill’s Camp Rotary. This area offers a camping space for scout and youth groups, but also a large activity building and pavilion that are available for day/evening rental use.

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From Camp Rotary’s parking lot, we crossed a wooden suspension bridge over the Clinton River to the woods and trails. A short hike led us to the historic Wolcott Mill, one of the few remaining grist mills in Michigan. Built in 1847, the mill was once known for producing high-quality flour. Many of the buildings are original, including the barn which now serves as a museum.

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WolcottMill_blogAfter exploring the mill area, our group set off for the trails. The individual nature trails aren’t very long (the Settler’s Trail is 2 miles) so we combined a few trails for a nice hike. We all kept ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahing’ over the beautiful tree colors we encountered. The trails are well-groomed and easy to follow. There are wooden markers along the trails too. There is very little elevation gain. Some parts of the Settler’s Trail go along the river, which is very pretty. However, some areas have a drop off so use caution when hiking there, especially with young children.

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The equestrian trails combine to form 10 miles. Use caution and respect if hiking with horses, please. While pedestrians have the right of way, you can still be courteous by not making loud or sudden movements around a horse (especially the rear end). As someone who has experience riding a horse on trails with an occasional walker, I thank you on behalf of riders for your thoughtfulness.

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The 250-acre farm center provides another nice visitor spot. The dairy barn offers opportunities to watch the cows getting milked, a sheep barn houses sheep, goats and pigs, the chicken coop is home to many different small animals (chickens, ducks, rabbits, quail and more). The farm also includes a greenhouse, a barn that houses the draft horses, and a farmhouse that serves as the park office and a location of classrooms and exhibits.

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WolcottMill_trailmarker_blogLots of activities occur throughout the year at the farm center – an annual sheep shearing event occurs in the spring, hay rides in the fall, holiday events, and more. Check the park’s website for event information and schedules.

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I enjoyed visiting another great Michigan park and look forward to returning to hike and attend some events in the future. You can still catch the beautiful fall colors on the trees but hurry!

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Wolcott Mill is located in Ray Township, Mich. There is a vehicle entrance fee (daily or annual pass). Check the hours before heading out.

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What’s your favorite local park?

 

Go back in time at the Michigan Renaissance Festival September 25, 2015

festivalKids may be back in school and Fall officially started, but there is still plenty to do outside in Michigan’s beautiful weather! And we’re still in the midst of Michigan’s busy festival season. In my quest to be outdoors as much as Mother Nature shares this nice weather, my husband and I decided to check out the Michigan Renaissance Festival this past weekend.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival started in 1979 in Clarkston, Mich., but has been hosted in Holly for the past 37 years. Each year the festival welcomes attendees to travel back in time to the 16th century to experience life during this time. A 17-acre village showcases reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns and a castle. More than 300 artisans display their work. Ongoing entertainment, including full-contact armored jousting, comedy, music, games and more, occur throughout the event days.

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I haven’t been to the festival years so when I received some free admission tickets, I thought it would be a fun outing. So my husband and I headed north to Holly. The weekend’s theme was Harvest Huzzah, which was perfect for the kickoff of the fall season. Parking is free, which is nice since it’s a bit costly to get into the festival. We were stunned at the size of the crowd! It was much more crowded than either of us remember from the past so it’s obviously gained in popularity. Some people get really into the Renaissance theme – dressing in full costumes from the time period. There are some beautiful, detailed costumes worn by some. We also saw some zombies and a few random people who used the opportunity to dress in outrageous costumes not at all related to the time period. It was entertaining!

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festivaljoustThere is so much happening throughout the day! With 17 stages, there is ongoing music and entertainment. There are also entertainers wandering through the ‘village,’ including jugglers and people playing period games. A full-armor jousting contest drew a large crowd. There are games, such as archery, toss tomatoes at the insulting jesters, and knife throwing. There is a children’s area filled with age-appropriate games and activities. The marketplace was bustling with activity too. There are many clothing and costume vendors, as well as pretty jewelry, musical instruments, and fun toys for sale. You won’t go hungry, as there are tons of food and drink vendors (including the famous big turkey drumsticks!). You may go broke though, as there are many items to purchase. Plus, we noticed that many (maybe all?) performers pass baskets around to collect ‘donations’ from the crowd.

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Overall, it was an interesting afternoon. Frankly, it was a bit too crowded for us to really enjoy as we couldn’t wander through the village without being bumped. I’m not sure I’d recommend for small children. I’m glad we experienced it after many years away and it was nice to see so many people having a festive time. It was a beautiful day to spend outdoors with my husband. We ended the adventure with a delicious meal at the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, which serves great barbecue food! We waited about an hour for a table, but the restaurant opened an upstairs bar for waiting patrons. I love their wood smoked pizza.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival ends Oct. 4, 2015. That weekend’s theme is Sweet Endings, featuring free samples at the Chocolate Festival, cupcake baking contest, craft beer tasting, many activities for kids and adults, and more.

 

Check out these Michigan festivals July 3, 2015

MI Festivals

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The summer season is upon us in Michigan. With it comes many opportunities for fun adventures in our great state. Summer festivals are an integral part of the season. There are so many options to choose from that I think the hardest part will be deciding which festival to attend…maybe all? I collected a few that I’ve attended in the past and some that sounded interesting enough for me to mark on my calendar. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Oakland County Fair (Davisburg), July 3-12. A carnival, fireworks, road derby, rodeo, and monster trucks are just a few of the attractions at this annual festival. With something for every age, this fair is a great destination. Visit their website and click on the list of activities for each day.

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Art in the Park (Plymouth), July 10-12. This annual event brings together more than 400 artists to display works of ceramic, woodwork, jewelry, paintings, sculptures and more. Kids’ activities make this a family friendly event.

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American Polish Festival & Craft Show (Sterling Heights), July 10-12. I didn’t know that Michigan is home to the third largest Polish population (after New York and Illinois), and most of Michigan’s Polish American population is concentrated in Macomb County. The Polish Festival offers live music and dancing (with polka music, of course), a pierogi eating challenge (who can eat the most potato and cheese pierogis in 10 minutes?!), lots of food to sample, a beer tent, and craft show.

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Ann Arbor Street Art Fair (Ann Arbor), July 15-18. This popular art fair started in 1960 and has been named the top art fair in the country by AmericanStyle magazine readers. Along with several hundred artists, there is also multiple activity and demonstration areas. I’ve been to this fair and loved so much of the art available. The only downside is there are so many talented artists that it makes it difficult to choose what to purchase!

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Annual Blueberry Festival (Imlay City), July 24-25. I’m a huge blueberry fan so simply love the idea of celebrating this healthy fruit! There are a lot of family friendly activities (many free), including children’s activities, entertainment and contests.

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Traverse City Film Festival (Traverse City), July 28-Aug. 2. This annual film festival is one of the largest in the Midwest and located in one of my favorite northern Michigan cities. Patrons can enjoy a variety of films, including foreign films, independent American movies, and documentaries. Classic movies are also shown free of charge on a screen overlooking Grand Traverse Bay at dusk.

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Detroit Annual Highland Games (Livonia), July 31-Aug. 2. Scotland is on my wish list of travel destinations so this festival brings it a little closer to me until I can make it across the waters. The Highland Games, hosted by St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit, are the oldest continuous games in North America. There are a multitude of events, such as the stone put, hammer throw and weight throw. Even the border collies get into the action with a demo of duck and sheep herding (we grew up with a Shetland Sheepdog so I have some experience with this herding instinct). There are lots of entertainment, food and drinks. And what sounds the coolest to me….a tug o’ war contest! Did you know tug o’ war was part of the Olympics in Ancient Greece? There are even tug o’ war leagues in Scotland and Ireland. By the way, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have teams participating this year. Awesome.

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Michigan Honey Festival (Frankenmuth), Aug. 1. This sounded like a sweet festival to include (bad joke?). Seriously though, according to the festival organizers, we could lose 1/3 of our food supply without honeybees and the work they do. The event focuses on the role the honeybee plays in our environment. You’ll learn the benefits of honeybees, what to plant for pollinators, what you need to start your own hive, and more. You can also sample honey, plus purchase supplies, lotions, and soaps, and even sample mead.

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Milford Memories Summer Festival (Milford), Aug. 7-9. More than 300 artists participate in this juried show hosted in downtown Milford (I love this town). There are other activities to participate in or observe (early morning fitness, cold butt euchre or blind canoe race, anyone?).

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Clawson Down on Main Street Classic Car Show (Clawson), Aug. 8. Sponsored by the Clawson Lions Club, this annual car show brings hundreds of people to my favorite ‘little’ town. There are usually more than 400 cars, ranging from classics to street rods, muscle cars, trucks, choppers, antique campers and bikes. Admission is free, but this is a fundraiser for the Leader Dogs for the Blind and other local charities so don’t forget to participate in their 50/50 and other activities.

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Armada Fair (Armada), Aug. 17-23. This 143rd annual fair brings it all – music (Joe Nichols), demolition derby, truck pull, and rodeo. There’s more – add a carnival and livestock, plus the Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance!

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Michigan Renaissance Festival (Holly), Aug. 22-Oct. 4 (weekends and Labor day). Step back in time to the 16th century to wander through a 17-acre replica of a Renaissance village. You’ll see shops, taverns and a castle, as well as jousting, comedy skits, games, music and more. Each weekend has a different theme so check out the schedule to see which will pull you back in time.

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Michigan Peach Festival (Romeo), Sept. 3-7. This Labor Day weekend festival includes a car show, craft show, children’s parade, 5K/10K run and more.

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Michigan State Fair (Novi), Sept. 4-7. This time-honored tradition brings lots of carnival rides and games, farm fresh produce and fruit, lots of vendors, livestock and demonstrations. Plus, I read this year there is a new equestrian pavilion with classes and competitions. No worries, the butter cow will return!

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Arts, Beats, and Eats (Royal Oak), Sept. 4-7. This four-day festival brings more than 200 performances (including children’s musicians) on nine stages, great food from local restaurants and a juried art show to downtown Royal Oak. The annual events brings in quite a crowd so check out the parking tips.

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Arts & Apples Festival (Rochester), Sept. 11-13. Hosted by the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, this annual festival brings hundreds of artists and vendors, as well as a variety of entertainers, to Rochester. I always have luck finding items to purchase!

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Oktoberfest (Frankenmuth), Sept. 17-20. In honor of my mom’s heritage, I share this festival that brings German food, dance and drink to Frankenmuth. And you won’t want to miss the wiener dog race and parade. Seriously.

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Troy Family Daze Festival (Troy), Sept. 17-20. I haven’t attended this festival since high school but it continues to host a full schedule of fun for families. There’s carnival rides, games, food, entertainment and contests (and free parking).

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Made in Michigan Festival (St. Clair Shores), Sept. 18-19. What a great opportunity to check out vendors featuring handmade Michigan products. There’s also a 5K, children’s activities, and a BBQ pork ribs competition.

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Another great aspect of summer is the fabulous locally grown fresh fruit and produce available from Michigan growers. Many communities host farmer’s markets on the weekends, including Royal Oak, Rochester and Birmingham. Clawson’s Farmer Market opens July 19.

 

Photography exhibit lets you explore the world October 7, 2014

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 11:03 pm
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Having fun in an exhibit

Having fun in an exhibit

I love taking pictures. I love capturing moments and memories. I love seeing others’ pictures to view a scene as they do and glimpse their lives. So I was very excited when my husband and I planned a date night that included a visit to Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills. A new exhibit, Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment, focuses on the amazing work of 11 award-winning female photojournalists from National Geographic.

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It happened that the evening we chose to visit was the first Friday of the month, which meant museum admission is free from 5-10pm. We wandered through the main halls of the institute to explore and play in the exhibits. Unfortunately the outside sky was cloudy and drizzling so we couldn’t look at the stars or planets. The Institute replaced their telescope and upgraded the observatory area last year. The technology involved in the operations is very cool so I highly recommend visiting on a clear evening.

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Down in the lower level, the exhibit, “The Science of Sight, Light and Illusion,” provided some fun interactive items. Several kiosks highlighted techniques used in the entertainment industry to manipulate light and motion (using a green screen caused lots of laughs with Justin and me!). The stations on sight looked at both human and animal eyesight, which was pretty fascinating. Other stations looked at color from the human eye.

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CISJustinpictureThe Women of Vision exhibit is also in the lower level and contains more than 100 images and multimedia from these 11 influential female photojournalists. The photos were taken from around the world, featuring animals, landscape, war, society and life. Each photographer has her own section of the exhibit with a short background on her and top photos.  This was truly a fantastic exhibit. I found myself going back to certain photos to look a bit longer at the details and absorb the impact the photos had on the story trying to be told to viewers. I loved the photos of the African animals and landscapes around the world. I couldn’t pull away from the images of child brides in the Middle East and worn torn Iraq. The images of people in the Arctic fascinated me and the moments of teenage life touched me. Justin and I both agreed this exhibit is very well-done and worth seeing. I’m so happy we checked it out.

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After Cranbrook, we headed to Griffin Claw Brewing Company in Birmingham. The restaurant/brewery opened several months ago but it’s always been packed when we’ve driven by so we hoped it would be less crowded at 10pm. It was still busy but we easily found seats amongst their communal seating (not my favorite type of seating). The decor and ambiance are relaxing and low-key, however, the noise level is fairly loud. I tried a flight of four beers – their wheat beer is very light (for a wheat) and I liked the Screamin’ Pumpkin. Justin tried their Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout – a little light in flavor. Our next stop (hey it was a Friday!) was at Black Lotus in Clawson. I was at first disappointed they had no wheat beers on tap but I tried their pumpkin ale, which was surprisingly tasty (I say this because I don’t usually like pumpkin). Justin enjoyed their Octoberfest beer. Overall, a very enjoyable date night with my husband. I can’t wait for the next one!

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The Women of Vision exhibit is open through Dec. 30, 2014 and is free with museum admission.

 

Preserving nature in Las Vegas (Part 3) March 11, 2014

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 3:39 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
Lots to see in the desert!

Lots to see in the desert!

Las Vegas, Nevada is certainly well-known for the casinos, glitzy nightlife, excessive wants and expensive lifestyle. Did you know that Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish? It was named this by explorers who found the springs and meadows surrounding the area. Not too far off the famous Strip are quiet parks, nature preserves and neighborhoods. Justin and I decided we needed some quiet spaces and time together in nature so we got in our rental car and headed off to explore.

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Our first stop was the Clark County Wetlands Park. The park includes 2,900 acres along the Las Vegas Wash. This waterway is considered an “urban river” comprised of water from urban runoff, shallow groundwater, reclaimed water, and storm water. An exhibit sign describes wetlands “as “kidneys” of the environment, cleaning the water that runs through them, filtering out harmful residues from fertilizers, oils, and other harmful contaminants” found on roadways and in surrounding areas.

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The Wetlands Park nature preserve is 210 acres with a 112 acre mitigation pond that is home to much native wildlife and migratory birds. A nature center welcomes visitors to the area. The building is LEED certified and is a beautiful, energy-efficient area. An auditorium shows an orientation film for the Wetlands Park, highlighting various areas of the land. The nature center gallery area contains interactive exhibits, dioramas with life-size wildlife and vegetation exhibits, a model of the surrounding land, and a gift shop. Justin and I both enjoyed exploring the nature center and stayed busy with the interactive exhibits. I highly recommend checking out the nature center and film before heading outside to the trails.

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Walking through the Wetlands Park is certainly different from our parks and trail systems in Michigan. The vegetation is different and most of where you look is dry, rocky areas. The Las Vegas Wash made for an interesting contrast. You also learn how precious a resource, such as water, is

Having fun at the nature center

Having fun at the nature center

and how easy it is to take it for granted until you are scrambling to revive it. And you want to be smart when walking through any park or trail system – bring water, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen (and use all of them!). I liked that there were many hiking trails where bikes weren’t allowed so you could enjoy a quiet, relaxing walk. We also found some geocaches while wandering through this nature preserve. We encountered two women looking for the same cache so enjoyed a conversation about interesting finds.

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Our adventures next took us to the Springs Preserve, off of Valley View Blvd near US95. The 180-acre preserve offers much for visitors to enjoy – museums, botanical gardens and interpretive trails through wetlands and desert lands. You can very easily forget that the hustle and bustle of the casinos and restaurants is not too far away. Many events and classes are held here, and special events such as weddings can be hosted in the gardens or building. The botanical gardens boast 110 acres of gardens and wildlife habitats, including the largest collection of Mojave Desert cacti. I loved wandering through the gardens; the grounds are well-designed and laid out for an enjoyable visit and, even in the desert’s winter, the gardens looked beautiful. If we lived closer I would definitely purchase a membership and take advantage of some of the classes offered – how to grow tomatoes in the desert, picking the right soil for planting, attracting wildlife to your gardens and  more. There is a big children’s area that welcomes families to play and explore. The Sustainability Gallery lets visitors discover an eco-friendly lifestyle by wandering through a sustainable house, learning about compost and alternative energy, and testing your knowledge on water conservation and recycling through interactive video games. The exhibit designers did a great job of presenting the information in a fun, interactive, easy to understand way.

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In the middle of the gardens is DesertSol, the award-winning sustainable living home model built by UNLV students (it won a national competition and took second place in a global competition). This 743-square feet home demonstrates how to use solar energy as the only fuel source and how to live simply and eco-friendly (in a very cool looking house). Also on the property is the Origen Museum, which has many exhibits detailing life in the desert. An exhibit on Leonardo di Vinci: Machines on Motion, on display until May 4, shows blueprints and designs from the famous inventor. The Nevada State Museum also sits on the Spring Preserve’s property. It shares the history of the area, from the westward migration for settlements to the first casinos to the area’s expansion.

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There are almost four miles of trails on the Springs Preserve property that meander through desert plants and historical settings. There is little coverage from the sun though, so bring sunscreen, a hat, water and sunglasses (this should be common hiking essentials in the desert!). For those who want to see the area but not walk, a train travels along the exterior trail (about 20 minutes). Biking is also allowed on these trails.

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As you’ve hopefully realized, there is much to see and do surrounding the Las Vegas Strip. It is an area rich with history and full of fascinating wildlife, plants and resources. The trick for these desert communities is to ensure these resources are well taken care of for many generations to come. Although that is the trick for all of our communities, isn’t it?

View of the Springs Preserve hiking trails

View of the Springs Preserve hiking trails

 

 
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