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Dance Hall Days

By Linda Tancs

If the dance floor boards at Gruene Hall could talk, then imagine the stories they’d tell. Built in 1878, Gruene Hall is Texas’ oldest continually operating dance hall, boasting an original layout of 6,000 square feet and a tin roof. In the early days, it hosted dance parties as well as badger fights. These days, you’re just as likely to find working songwriters trying out new material there or maybe you’ll enjoy a performance by Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville or another well-known artist. In fact, this year marks the venue’s 40th anniversary of the best live music in Texas.

A Maze in San Jose

By Linda Tancs

The Winchester Mystery House is undoubtedly one of the world’s oddest mansions. Located in San Jose, California, it sports miles of twisting hallways and secret passageways in the walls. Once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, the house grew–literally–out of her belief that the spirits of those killed by a Winchester rifle were summoning her to build a haven for them to roam as a sort of penance for the damage wrought by the family business. The story goes that so long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that the spirits would not exact revenge on her. The unrelenting construction over 38 years resulted in a sprawling Victorian mansion containing 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms and six kitchens. A 65-minute tour through 110 of the 160 rooms will expose its bizarre attributes, such as a window built into the floor, staircases leading to nowhere, a chimney that rises four floors, doors that open onto blank walls and upside down posts.

The Largest Colosseum in North Africa

By Linda Tancs

Few amphitheaters match the grandeur of the Colosseum in Rome except for the ruins at El Djem in Tunisia. The largest colosseum in North Africa, this testament to imperial Rome built during the third century could have seated as many as 60,000 spectators, all awaiting the gruesome play among prisoners, animals and gladiators. The games are long gone, but tourism remains high in this sleepy agricultural village thanks to its architectural wonder as well as stunning mosaics housed in a nearby museum.

A Great House in Des Moines

By Linda Tancs

In the early 1920s, cosmetics king Carl Weeks commissioned the building of a signature home in Des Moines, Iowa. Known as Salisbury House, it was inspired by a 15th century manor in Salisbury, England, known as Kings House. Comprising 22,500 square feet on four floors, the 42-room mansion originally included 17 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms. Weeks was fascinated by English homes and Tudor architecture, incorporating 17th century tile from Lord Nelson’s Trafalgar estate in parts of the roofing and adding 16th century English oak paneling and floors to the interior. Family-occupied until 1954, the home is now a house museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with the gorgeous architecture and 11 acres of woodland, tourists are drawn to the property for its extensive collection of antique furniture, tapestries, fine art, rare books and artifacts.

A Time Capsule in Mississippi

By Linda Tancs

The USS Cairo was sunk by a Confederate torpedo on December 12, 1862, in the Yazoo River, 13 miles north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. One of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers, it bolstered Northern hopes of regaining control of the lower Mississippi River and splitting the Confederacy in two. After its sinking, it remained engulfed in sand and silt until it was located and identified in 1956 and raised on December 12, 1964. Restored for display in Vicksburg National Military Park, its treasure trove of artifacts includes weapons, munitions, naval stores and personal gear of the sailors who served on board. The gunboat and its artifacts can now be seen along the tour road at the USS Cairo Museum.

The White Sands of New Mexico

By Linda Tancs

Rising from the heart of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin 14 miles west of Alamogordo is a sea of glistening white sands dating to the end of the last Ice Age, a prized gypsum dunefield known as White Sands National Monument. Although many dunefields exist around the world, most comprise typical brown quartz and other minerals. Only a handful of gypsum dunefields exist, White Sands being the world’s largest at 275 square miles. Even some of the animals living there are as white as their surroundings. In fact, three species of lizards, one pocket mouse and numerous species of insects have evolved a white coloration for survival in the white sands. Like every animal in the white sands, they make tracks on the varied dunes (four different types) during their nocturnal movements. Even the dunes themselves move as much as 30 feet per year. Park hours vary by season due to missile testing at the nearby range or inclement weather.

Wall to Wall in Paducah

By Linda Tancs

Designated a City of Crafts and Folk Art by UNESCO, Paducah, Kentucky, is graced with a floodwall that protects its historic downtown from surges of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. But as you might suspect, this isn’t just an ordinary floodwall. Like Portsmouth to the north, it includes a number of painted murals. In fact, three city blocks (at Water, Jefferson and Washington) boast more than 50 life-sized panoramic murals by renowned artist Robert Dafford and his team, representing such crowning moments of the city’s history as its role in the riverboat trade and the day in 1803 when the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery passed by Paducah on their trek to find the Northwest Passage. Guided tours are given on request.


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