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Racing in New York

By Linda Tancs

The history of automobile racing in New York State goes back to 1896 when six cars competed in the state’s first auto race, covering the distance round-trip between New York City and Irvington-on-Hudson. The sport’s vast history in the state (and elsewhere) is recalled at Saratoga Automobile Museum in the heart of historic Saratoga Springs, New York. The facility is equally as interesting as the exhibition of automobiles and automotive artifacts—it occupies the restored and renovated Saratoga Bottling Plant, a beautiful neo-classic structure built in 1934. The museum is prized for its public programs designed for both car enthusiasts and lifelong learners, including children’s programming featuring hands-on restoration projects.

Big Susie of the Lake

By Linda Tancs

Jutting out of Lake Superior (the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area and the third largest by volume) are 13 small, rocky islands known as the Susie Islands. The largest of those islands (at 145 acres) is nicknamed Big Susie, located just off Minnesota’s north shore near Grand Portage. Glaciers of the Great Ice Age scoured the sedimentary rocks of this archipelago many times over the last 2 million years, but the Susie Islands only emerged about 5,000 years ago. The plants that thrive there (many of them Arctic and sub-Arctic species) disappeared from the rest of Minnesota after the glaciers receded. The area’s sheer cliffs and rocks don’t support much other plant life besides a variety of lichens and mosses. Due to the delicacy of the native plant community, public access to Big Susie is rarely granted, but a good view of the island can be found along Highway 61 between Rose Mountain and the U.S./Canadian customs station. Long managed and held by The Nature Conservancy, ownership of Big Susie is reverting to the Grand Portage Band of the Ojibway Tribe, who own the other 12 islands.

Tallest Deck in California

By Linda Tancs

OUE Skyspace LA is home to California’s tallest open-air observation deck, perched nearly 1,000 feet above downtown Los Angeles in the U.S. Bank Tower. As if stunning panoramic views weren’t enough enticement, Skyspace also lures in daredevils seeking a different kind of view thanks to the Skyslide. That’s a glass tube on the outside of the skyscraper spanning 45 feet from the 70th to the 69th floor. Dispensed like a human cannonball, gliders maneuver their way down the glass on a mat to what is hoped will be a smooth landing. Fingers crossed.

Ice Boating in Erie

By Linda Tancs

Winter play abounds at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. Presque Isle is French for “almost an island.” Well…almost. Presque Isle actually has been an island many times over its 11,000-year history as storm waves broke through the neck to isolate the main section of the recurving sand spit. Jutting into Lake Erie, this migrating peninsula (still growing eastward at Gull Point) delights visitors during winter. For instance, the ice dunes are pretty formidable, built by the combination of lake ice, wave surge and freezing spray. And then there’s the ice boating with ice boats provided by the local yacht club. Ice skating? Sure thing. Got a kite? Then add wind skating to the list. And cross-country skiing, hiking and ice fishing, too. Now bundle up and get going.

Missouri’s Picturesque River Town

By Linda Tancs

Approximately 85 miles north of St. Louis is the quaint river town of Louisiana, Missouri. Located on the banks of the Mississippi and smack-dab in the middle of a national scenic byway, it boasts not only great river views but also soaring rock cliffs, rolling hills, architectural charm and a vibrant arts community. In fact, it’s particularly prized for its antebellum homes and what the Department of Natural Resources calls “the most intact Victorian streetscape in the state of Missouri.” The first residence was built in 1817, and many of the town’s 4,000 or so inhabitants are descendants of the early settlers. Louisiana is also one of three communities forming the 50 Miles of Art corridor. Together with Clarksville and Hannibal, the community is home to artisans who create one-of-a-kind masterpieces and host twice-yearly gallery and studio tours.

Bamboo Luck

By Linda Tancs

When a new year rings in, the Japanese faithful visit shrines or temples to pray for good luck. Local merchants and business owners in particular pray for prosperity at the Toka Ebisu Festival this month. Osaka’s Imamiya Ebisu Shrine is especially popular during the three-day event highlighting Ebisu, the patron deity of business. Jan. 10 marks the main event every year, when lucky goods are doled out to visitors during the star-studded good luck parade by fuku-musume (good luck girls specially auditioned for the big day). Lucky charms include a good luck bamboo branch, Daruma dolls and maneki-neko (the beckoning cat).

The Original Sin City

By Linda Tancs

It may be hard to fathom the Bluegrass State’s fair city of Newport as a precursor to Las Vegas’s baptism as Sin City. But so it was. In the 1920s and 1930s, the mob ruled locales like Newport, Kentucky, making millions in casinos, bootlegging and other illicit activities and earning the area’s designation as Sin City. Even the gangsters’ weapon of choice, the Tommy Gun, was invented by a Newport native, John T. Thompson—much to his chagrin, of course, having been developed for use by the military during World War I but delivered too late to be of value then. His historic home, Thompson House, is now an entertainment venue.

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