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Where America’s Sun Sets

By Linda Tancs

In the heart of Polynesia, America’s sun sets.  And no, it isn’t Hawaii (although America’s 50th state does constitute one of three points of the Polynesian triangle).  It’s American Samoa, an island territory in the South Pacific comprising five volcanic islands and two atolls.  Its national park is one of the most remote in the United States.  Covering three of the islands, the predominate land mass of the park is rainforest, promising lush views amid long, unhurried hikes.  This is a must-see for the ecotourist seeking an unspoiled, uncrowded destination.

Historic Mount Holly

By Linda Tancs

Revolutionary War history abounds in New Jersey, even in a small town like Mount Holly in Burlington County.  It was there that a diversionary tactic was executed that resulted in a reduction of enemy forces in Trenton, enabling George Washington to capture the state’s capital city.  Known as the Battle of Iron Works Hill, it’s just one of several sites in town with ties to the war.  Another notable is The Old School House, used by the British army as a temporary stable for their horses during their retreat from Philadelphia in 1778.  The Friends Meeting House, used by the British as a commissary in 1778, is where the New Jersey State Legislature met in 1779.  A private residence, the Stephen Girard House is where the Girard family resided and operated a business during the war.  Girard later became a prominent financier and philanthropist, funding the government’s battle during the War of 1812.  In 2006, he was ranked the fourth wealthiest person in United States history.

One Happy Island

By Linda Tancs

The southern Caribbean island of Aruba considers itself to be one happy place.  And why not?  With a daily temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, consistently sunny skies, enviable gastronomy, family-friendly fun and some of the world’s top beaches, there’s a lot to smile about. So c’mon, get happy!

Boonie Stomping

By Linda Tancs

Imagine hiking through the untamed wilderness of the western Pacific, devouring sights like a coral table reef, rocky cliff lines, mangroves, lush jungles and scores of waterfalls.  That’s what boonie stomping (better known as hiking to the rest of us) in Guam is all about.  Guam Boonie Stompers offers Saturday hikes for a nominal fee to places including beaches, waterfalls, mountains, caves and World War II sites.  The island is loaded with sawgrass, so wear reinforced gloves on your trek.

Free Haven

By Linda Tancs

Black history abounds in the tiny borough of Lawnside in Camden County, New Jersey.  Both freedman and escaped slaves settled there when Philadelphia abolitionist Ralph Smith purchased land in the 1800s and sold it in lots to blacks at reduced prices, earning the place the moniker Free Haven.  Not surprisingly, the locale was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Later, the hamlet now known as Lawnside became the only black-governed town north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The predominately black community’s heritage is represented on the borough’s seal.

The Most Stolen Artwork in the World

By Linda Tancs

The world’s first major oil painting is Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  Also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, it’s a 15th century early Flemish polyptych panel painting of the history of Christianity located at St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium.  It’s also one of the most stolen pieces of artwork in the world, having been sold various times and looted during both world wars.  In fact, eight of the looted panels were returned to Belgium after World War II thanks to the efforts of the Monuments Men.  Of its twelve panels, only one–the Just Judges–remains lost from an unsolved heist in 1934.  A copy by the Belgian painter and restorer Jef Van der Veken takes its place.

Where Two Deserts Meet

By Linda Tancs

Two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California. Tourists come together there this time of year for the wildflower viewing, so popular that park staff and volunteers compile wildflower viewing reports to aid the curious. A recent report shows the presence of desert globe mallow and mistletoe flowers, star-vine, creosote bush and desert lavender. More blooms will appear in March and April. And, of course, there’s the park’s namesake, the Joshua tree. Its creamy white candle-like blossoms can be seen from February to late March. And how did the tree gets its name? According to legend, Mormon pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure Joshua, believing that its branches resembled the upstretched arms of Joshua leading the Israelites to the promised land.

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