Friday, April 5, 2019

Enjoy National Beer Day (April 7th) in the Town that Makes the Most Beer in the World – Golden, Colorado


View of Golden, Colorado from South Table Mountain
There’s no better place to spend “national beer day” than in the little town that produces more beer than anywhere else in the world, Golden, Colorado.  This historic mountain town along the banks of Clear Creek, just 12 miles west of Denver, makes on average a staggering 11.8 million bottles of beer a day.  

Coors Brewery from Clear Creek in downtown Golden
That’s because Coors Brewery -- the world’s largest single site brewery – has been making beer here since 1872.  That’s when German brewer Adolph Coors was hiking along Clear Creek and found some nearby natural springs and decided to open a brewery.
Today, Coors uses that same Rocky Mountain spring water to produce 13 million barrels of beer a year.   That translates into 4.3 billion bottles  – or about 221,000 bottles of beer for every resident in Golden. 

And Coors isn’t the only brewery in town.  There are five other award-winning craft breweries, as well as two distilleries.  The legendary Western scout and showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, would be so proud.   Buffalo Bill was known to have a fondness for beer and alcohol, and today his grave on top of Lookout Mountain overlooks Coors and the pretty town of Golden down below. 
But there’s more to do in Golden than stop and smell the hops. 

Downtown Golden

The quaint Western-looking town, is a major recreation center known for biking, hiking, rock climbing, fly fishing, and kayaking, and is just minutes from the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  The first T-Rex and many other dinosaurs were discovered here and Golden is also home to America’s only mountaineering museum and Colorado’s largest narrow gauge railroad collection.   And of course, the “Wild West” lives again at the Buffalo Bill Museum.
But it’s beer that put Golden on the map and here’s some ways to celebrate National Beer Day in this little town where the slogan is, “Where the West lives.”

Golden, Colorado from the Lariat Loop Trail 
Since 2009, National Beer Day has been celebrated on April 7, marking the day that the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect in 1933, ending prohibition for the production of beer.  Upon signing the legislation, Roosevelt said, "I think this would be a good time for a beer."  The act eventually led to the Eighteenth Amendment being repealed on December 5, 1933, with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  April 6, the day prior to National Beer Day, is known as New Beer's Eve.  In 2019, New Beer’s Eve and National Beer Day fall on a Saturday-Sunday, making it a perfect time to celebrate man’s oldest food.

How to Celebrate in Golden:

Coors Brewery in downtown Golden
Tour Coors
Well, of course you have to start here.  The brewery has a 30-minute, self-paced tour of the malting, brewing and packaging of Coors Beer.  You get to explore a room of giant copper kettles and then stop in the packaging room, where thousands of cans and bottles whirl by, marching one-by-one on tread mills to be filled with beer and slotted into six packs.  After the tour, those 21 and over can sample three free glasses of beer.  If you already know how beer is made, ask for the “short tour,” which is no tour at all.   They’ll direct you straight to the free tasting room and gift shop.  Tours are $5 for Colorado residents and $10 for out-of-state visitors and include three free beers and a free souvenir glass.

Savoir Some Samplers at Craft Breweries
The way to drink at the five craft breweries in Golden is by ordering a tray of samplers – usually six different four-ounce beers that let you taste a variety of handmade brews, from lagers and pale ales to India Pale Ales, porters, stouts and sours. 
Golden’s craft breweries don’t serve food, so you can bring your own food in or order from rotating food trucks that park directly outside.  Because there’s no kitchen, dogs are allowed on the patios and it’s a rare day when there aren’t a half dozen dogs or more enjoying the Colorado sun at these outdoor beer gardens.   Here are the choices:

Statue of Adolph Coors in downtown Golden

Golden City Brewery was founded in 1993 by two geologists, Charlie and Janine Sturdavant.  The unusual thing was they founded the brewery in their own house.  The beer garden is their backyard.   In winter there’s always an outdoor fire; in summer, there are often musicians playing.  Order a beer through the Dutch door of the carriage house, find a table, and relax in Charlie and Janine’s backyard (they still live here).  Their specialty is the Clear Creek Gold Pale Ale, an award-winning, traditional German Kolschbier hopped with Czech Saaz for a pleasant floral finish.
Sampler tray in Golden City  Brewery
Barrels & Bottles is a friendly brewery that believes in equality:  there are 24 craft beers on tap (a half dozen of their own and great guest beers from across the country) and just to be equal, 24 tap wines.  If you’re not familiar with tap wines, it’s a growing trend and the freshest way to enjoy wine right from the barrel, including wines produced in Colorado.  Barrels & Bottles has one of only four beer infusion machines in the nation (one of only two in Colorado).  These science fiction looking machines add tasty flavors like coffee or chocolate to beer, after it’s been brewed. Stop by and say hi to the owner’s two dogs and warm up with a Hint of Mint Brown Porter, a complex, malty dark beer with a lightly burnt character.  

Cannonball Creek

MountainToad is the quintessential Colorado brewery with big windows that open to the outdoors, an outdoor patio with food trucks, a beer garden, and 6-12 craft beers on tap.  Check out the chalkboard to see what beers have been added to the menu.  Dogs are always welcome and mingle with guests on the large tree-shaded patio, which is filled with picnic tables. 

·         CannonballCreek Brewing  In its first year, this young brewery took two prestigious silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and in 2016 they were the only Colorado brewery to win two gold medals, winning another gold in 2018.  They usually have between 6-12 craft beers on tap, as well as offering gorgeous views of the buttes and mountains surrounding Golden.

Barrels & Bottles Brewery
New Terrain.  Located high on the east side of North Table Mountain with views down into Clear Creek Valley, the brewery, like its name says, is exploring new ways to make traditional beers.  Their motto is not, “this is how it is done,” but rather, “what if we try it this way?”    Couldn’t be more fitting, because among the many things you can see from their  outdoor patio is massive and traditional Coors Brewery in the valley below.

New Terrain

·         Holidaily       This one-of-a-kind brewery is dedicated to making delicious tasting gluten-free beers.  Try a Buckwit Belgian, a thirst quenching light brew with a mix of coriander and orange peel.  Or let your hair down with a Ponytail Pale Ale – a single hop variety pale ale brewed specially for Collaboration Fest 2017.

For more information on other activities in Golden, visit:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Surrenders, Part II

How America’s Two Largest Surrenders in the Civil War Turned Out to be Victories – For Both Sides.

To read:  Part I: 

Part II

Shortly after 10 p.m., on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth walked up the back stairs of the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C. and entered the private box overlooking the stage.  There was no guard.  As an actor, Booth knew the play being performed, a comedy from England called “Our American Cousin.”  There was a particular line in act three, scene two, that always drew laughter.  Thinking the laughter would conceal the sound of a shot, Booth waited for the line, then as the audience howled, he walked up, placed a .44 single shot derringer pistol behind the head of President Abraham Lincoln, and squeezed the trigger, changing all history.

Bennett Place where the largest surrender in American history took place looks unchanged from April 1865.

We’ll never know, of course, what would have happened had Lincoln lived, but it’s easy to see the immediate effect his death had on the great Civil War and the surrender of the remaining Confederate armies.  It caused havoc. 

You can visit the site where this second, post-assassination surrender (the largest surrender in American history) happened at Bennett PlaceState Historic Site, Durham, North Carolina, and relive the tense few days where the end of the Civil War hung in the balance.  It’s a quiet place today, re-creating exactly what the homestead looked like in 1865.  But the story told in the museum here is quite suspenseful.  But for the thoughtful and brave actions of a few men, the American Civil War might have broken up into guerilla warfare and, like other civil wars, lasted for decades.

Bennett Place near Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Most people mistakenly think the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.  But there were, in fact, still 90,000 armed Confederate troops in the field and Confederate President Jefferson Davis wanted them to keep fighting. 

The Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnson, did not.  Johnson had been a classmate of Robert E. Lee at West Point and had fought with distinction in the Mexican and Seminole wars.  He was against both slavery and secession, but as a Virginian, he felt honor bound to fight for the South. However, Johnson disagreed greatly with President Davis on strategy.  Davis wanted the South to hold territory and aggressively attack the Union army.  
An exhibit in the museum at Bennett Place
Johnson, realizing the South had much fewer resources, wanted to follow the strategy George Washington had used against the British in the revolution – that is to avoid pitched battles, retreat when necessary, and outlast the enemy. 

By the end of the war, Johnson’s military career had been mixed.  He had won some battles, lost many others and had been relieved of command several times, both by wounds and by presidential orders.  But in 1865 with the South in ruins and facing its final crisis, Davis had no one else to turn to, and he re-appointed Johnson to command the last great Confederate army. 
William Tecumseh Sherman

Facing Johnson was his old adversary, William Tecumseh Sherman.   Sherman had fought and defeated Johnson in the battles leading up to Atlanta, and had become, after Grant, the most famous and well known general in the Union Army.  Once accused by the press of being insane, the volatile red-haired Sherman had recovered public esteem and won brilliant victories at Atlanta and on his March to the Sea campaign.  His main strategy – eliminate the South’s ability to wage war by destroying their farms, railroads and factories – is often credited with ultimately winning the war, but also credited as the first “total war” waged by armies on civilians in modern times.

By April 1865, both Sherman and Johnson realized the war was over and they both wanted peace.  To continue it, Johnson wrote, would be “murder.”  Johnson asked for a truce and it was agreed the two generals would meet on April 15.   However, on his way to the meeting, Sherman got one of the biggest shocks of his life.  A coded telegram arrived stating that not only had Lincoln been assassinated, but Secretary of State William Henry Seward had also been attacked by an assassin with a knife, and though Seward lived, in the hysteria surrounding Washington, it was believed there would be further assassination attempts made on Grant’s life, and even on Sherman’s.

Johnson and Sherman meet on the Hillsboro Road, with the Bennett House in the background. By artist Dan Nance
Fearing what his troops would do when they heard the news, Sherman swore the telegraph operator to secrecy.   He then continued under a flag of truce to meet Johnson on the Hillsboro Road.  After introductions on horseback, Sherman asked, “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”  Johnson said he had just passed a small farmhouse.   And thus an obscure frame farmhouse belonging to James and Nancy Bennett was to become one of the most important sites in American history.

Bennett Place today is a walk back in time to an 1865 homestead
The original cabin burned down, but today, a home from the same era that looks just like it was placed on the foundation.  The chimney is original.   The surrounding Bennett Place park, like Appomattox, puts cars way off to one side so that once you enter the historic area, you can get the maximum time capsule effect of going back to a different era.  There are a dozen structures and barns lining the original country dirt road.   It’s difficult to imagine the shock of the Bennett family in this remote rural area when Generals Sherman and Johnson tied up their horses, knocked on the farmhouse door and asked if they could use their house for a few minutes.

A reproduction of how the table was set up for their meeting in Bennett's house. 

As soon as the two generals were alone, Sherman handed Johnson the telegram.  He wrote later, “I showed him the dispatch announcing Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, and watched him closely.  The perspiration came out in large drops on his forehead, and he did not attempt to conceal his distress.”

Realizing now the importance of ending the war immediately before the north took vengeance for Lincoln’s death, Johnson proposed that rather than just surrendering his 90,000 men, what if he could surrender all Confederate forces throughout the South?  It would be a brilliant stroke ending all potential fighting at once.  Sherman and Johnson agreed to go back to their commanders with the proposal and meet at Bennett Place the following day. 

There, on April 16, after hours of discussion back and forth, they hammered out surrender terms, which they both signed.  An interesting anecdote was that Johnson brought along John C. Breckenridge, a former U.S. Vice President and now a Confederate Major General.  Breckenridge was a lawyer and it was thought he could help with the language.  

At the start of the meeting, Sherman went to his saddlebags, brought out a bottle of whiskey, and allowed everyone to pour a large glass.  He put the bottle back in the saddlebags. 
At some point in the meeting, Sherman, heavily distracted and without thinking, went over to the saddlebags, poured himself another large glass of whiskey, and put the bottle back without offering any to the Confederates.  Breckenridge, a Kentuckian, never forgot that and later told Johnson. “General Sherman is a hog.  Yes, sir, a hog.  Did you see him take that drink by himself? No Kentucky gentleman would ever have taken away that bottle.”

The table and chairs from the meeting in the museum.  The milk jug was on the table during the meeting.
Meanwhile, in Washington, there was total chaos with Lincoln’s funeral, unimaginable grief, a new president and fear of future assassinations.  But that was nothing compared to the reaction when Sherman’s surrender terms finally made it to Washington.  Back in March 1865, Sherman and Grant had met with Lincoln to discuss surrender terms, and Lincoln had told both his generals that he wanted to go easy on the Confederates and unite the country and his only concern for a military surrender was that the rebel troops lay down their arms, go home and obey the laws of the United States.

Sherman either didn’t understand this, or was bamboozled by the Confederate officers in his haste to end the war.  But at any rate, his surrender terms went far beyond military matters and offered pardons to all Confederates, government and military, and allowed the soldiers to take their weapons back to arsenals in their own states.   In the vengeful attitude that had seized Washington after Lincoln’s assassination, this was tantamount to treason.  The surrender terms were rejected, Sherman was blasted as a traitor (or a fool) in the press, and Grant was ordered to go to Raleigh, take control of the army and force the Confederates to accept the same terms as Lee, or the truce would end and the war would start again in 48 hours.

A cannon that was silenced, but would go to war again if Davis had his way.

Two courageous things happened that saved the country from future bloodshed.  One took place because of the great friendship that existed between Grant and Sherman.  Rather than embarrass his friend, Grant charted a private boat and train and traveled to Sherman in secrecy.  In Raleigh, Grant explained the situation, and left it up to Sherman to handle.  No one in either army at the time ever knew that Grant was there.  He came and left in secrecy and by doing so, saved Sherman’s career and reputation.

When Sherman told Johnson the surrender terms had been rejected, Johnson conferred with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  Davis exploded.  He ordered Johnson to send him all the cavalry troops and to break the infantry up into small bands that could fight on their own, or later be brought back together as an army.  The war was to continue.
Grant traveled secretly to Raleigh to save his friend Sherman's reputation and command.

It was here that the second courageous act happened.  Joe Johnson blatantly disobeyed his orders and on his own authority surrendered his forces under the same terms given to General Lee.  The final, third meeting of Johnson and Sherman and this last surrender also took place in the Bennett farmhouse.  The war, for all practical purposes, was over.

Strangely, Johnson and Sherman, who had never met before Bennett farm, became good friends and remained so for life.  When Sherman died on Feb. 4, 1891, Johnson traveled north to be an honorary pallbearer.  It was a cold rainy day and Johnson was repeatedly begged to put on a hat or go inside, but he said of Sherman, “If the positions were reversed, he would not do so.”   

Joe Johnson died one month later from pneumonia that he caught at the funeral of his friend.


One of the great things about visiting Bennett Place is that you can stay nearby in Chapel Hill, one of the most beautiful college towns of America.  Home to the University of North Carolina, the downtown is a long main street lined with bars, breweries, bookstores (with cats napping in the window), coffee shops, church steeples, restaurants and grand spreading shade trees that lead off into a picture book campus of lawns and historic buildings.  

Somethings not to miss:
The Carolina Inn
Carolina Inn.  Located on the campus, the 185-room inn dates back to 1924 and offers the ultimate in Southern hospitality in a gorgeous setting.   Afternoon tea is served 2:30-4:30, Thursday-Sunday, or stop by their outdoor patio for a cocktail after strolling through the pretty, tree-shaded campus.  

Chapel Hill has eight breweries 

Top of the Hill Restaurant,Brewery, Distillery  North Carolina’s growing reputation for craft beer is exemplified here with outdoor rooftop decks, great food, and a very attractive bar.  There are eight breweries and countless bars in Chapel Hill, but this is the one not to miss.

Silent Sam.  Erected in 1913, this statue of a Confederate soldier faces Franklin Street from the UNC campus, and has been controversial almost from the start.  It was put up either as a memorial to dead Confederate soldiers, or as monument to white supremacy, depending on who you talk to.  Campus legend says that if a virgin walks by, he’ll shoot off his rifle…thus he is “Silent Sam.”  
Silent Sam on the University of North Carolina campus

Following the riots and violence over a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA, there were demonstrations in front of Silent Sam also calling for its removal.  By state law, it would take an act of the North Carolina Legislature to remove a historic monument, and no bill has yet been introduced. 

Carrboro:  This funky, quirky, artsy little town is where the railroad came to Chapel Hill.  It’s more of a neighborhood then a separate community, being only about a 10-15 minute walk from the campus along Franklin Street to Main Street.   It’s an entertaining walk of bars, restaurants, the Carr Mill Mall (built in an 1898 cotton mill) and the famous Cat’s Cradle nightclub, known for 40 years of live music.  The town’s motto is:  “Feel free.”  Enough said.
The Ayr Mount Historic Site in Hillsborough has 256 acres of grounds, including the beautiful Poet's Walk
HistoricHillsboroughThis is a charming small town America type of place that looks almost New Englandish, which is appropriate since it dates back to the American Revolution.  The downtown backstreets are lined with wonderful historic homes and gardens.  
The historic back streets of Hillsborough go back to the Revolution

The town is justly proud of its River Park, which has paths following the scenic Eno River, as well as a reconstructed Occaneechi Indian Village, showing native life from the 17th century.  Nearby, the Ayr Mount Historic Site is the big attraction for the area with a sprawling 265 acres of grounds surrounding a powerful 1815 Federal-style plantation home. 

Johnston County:  Interstates 40 and 90 intersect in Johnston County, making it an important stop for people crossing the state in any direction.  Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site is here, marking the last full-scale action of the Civil War on March 19-21, 1865.  Once you get off the main highways, Johnston County is deep North Carolina, filled with great food, drink and Southern hospitality.
Jeremy Norris at Broadslab Distillery

Broadslab Distillery has a fun tour where owner Jeremy Norris will pour you samples of their authentic “moonshine,” which is a distilled corn whiskey made the same way four generations of his family have made it – many of them illegally in the days of prohibition or late at night under the moon to avoid paying taxes. 

The Redneck BBQ Lab in Benson offers pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ribs, chicken, green beans, collards and cornbread, all prepared by members of the Redneck Scientific competition BBQ team.  Why is it called a lab?  Visit it and find out, but go hungry. 

Johnston County has a “Beer, Wine & Shine Trail” that will guide you to deep South breweries, moonshine distilleries and wineries.   

Very fun is Hinnant Family Vineyards, which has a series of wines honoring the most famous local daughter of the region, Ava Gardner.  
Ava's Allure

There’s also a museum devoted to Ava in Smithfield that is definitely worth a visit.  Ava Gardner grew up in this area, and although she was one of the most glamourous of Hollywood stars and lived for years in Spain and London, she chose to be buried back here close to the place of her childhood in nearby Sunset Memorial Park.  

The museum has costumes, photos and mementos from her amazing 50-year career, which included three marriages:  to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Mickey Rooney; to one of the big band swing era’s most famous musicians, Artie Shaw; and to one of the world’s most famous crooners, Frank Sinatra.  But she always maintained she was a North Carolina country girl at heart.

Go hungry to the Redneck BBQ Lab in Johnson County, home to incredible food, craft beer and distilled spirits.
You might find yourself surrendering the charms of Ava Gardner at the Ava Gardner Museum in Springfield.

For more info on Johnston County.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Cruising With the Real Pirates of the Caribbean

Entrance to the Pirate Museum of Nassau
“Are ye a pirate, sir? Well then, sign aboard,” says the man in the tricorn hat, brandishing a flintlock pistol as he beckons visitors into the Pirates of Nassau Museum. Called “the best pirate attraction in the world” by British pirate historian David Cordingly, the museum in downtown Nassau, Bahamas, blends some Disney-like effects with enough real history to offer a fun look at the pirates who ruled the waters of the Bahamas 300 years ago.

And what a story it is. During the “Golden Age of Piracy” (1715-1725), the greatest conglomeration of pirates the world has ever known assembled at Nassau and created an actual Pirate Republic that terrorized the Americas and even challenged the European powers of Britain, France and Spain.  They were all here – 2,000 outlaws including Blackbeard, Black Bart, “Calico Jack” Rackham, Charles Vane, the women pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read and dozens of others, all with one thing in common:  they were loyal to no country and an enemy to all.  

The Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's flagship, in the Pirate Museum
But these pirates were a lot different than most people think.  Formerly, they had been privateers, loosely fighting for England, France or Spain.  But when the wars ended in 1715, they had no occupation and little choice but to turn to piracy.  At this time, the world was ruled by kings, but the pirates in the Bahamas were revolutionaries and they created their own republic -- a democracy where they elected their own captains and officers. Runaway slaves were treated as equals and nearly a third of the crew on some pirate ships were free blacks. Pirates had their own laws and courts and even offered the first naval disability program to anyone injured in battle. But the real allure was best summed up by pirate Captain “Black Bart” Roberts, who said of pirating, “It was a short life and a merry one.”
Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam

And so was my four-day Holland America cruise on the good ship Nieuw Amsterdam, bound for these same pirate waters of the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale.  I have always loved pirates, so why not take advantage of some excellent December cruise prices to sail the historic pirate-infested waters and visit the haunts that have inspired hundreds of films, books and legends.  I would devote the cruise to all things pirate – visit a private island once used by pirates to collect water, see the famous pirate museum, visit old forts, take a pirate history walking tour (sponsored by a brewery, of course), drink some rum, eat like a pirate and stroll the colonial backstreets of Nassau, taking in many of the same views over the island that Blackbeard and Black Bart had once known.

“Life on board a pirate ship consisted of long periods of drunken idleness and brief periods of violent action…Most of their time was spent gambling and drinking huge quantities of alcohol.”    Placard in the Pirates of Nassau Museum

Half Mood Cay, Bahamas
Well, pirates never sailed on the Nieuw Amsterdam.  Oh, you could get drunk, easily enough, and there was gambling once outside the 12-mile U.S. border. But it was hard to be idle with so much to do on board the ship, not the least of which was to take in the sunset and beautiful views of the sea – the same exact view that pirates would have seen.   Technically, the Bahamas, just 180 miles off the Florida coast, are in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. But the sea has the same sparkling aquamarine blue color of the Caribbean, with idyllic sandy beaches lined with palm trees.

The pirates originally located in Nassau because the harbor was surrounded by cliffs and could only be entered from the sea through two narrow, easily defended, passages.  In addition, the harbor was too shallow for big warships. 

The pirate flag of Calico Jack was "borrowed" for the Johnny Depp movie
From here, armed to the teeth in fast sailing sloops, the pirates could venture out into popular sea lanes to prey on Spanish treasure ships and British and French merchantmen.  The first indication the victims would have of danger approaching would be to see the Jolly Roger flapping in the breeze on the horizon – the dreaded pirate flag.  The idea for the flag most likely came from French pirates, who would soak a white flag in blood to let their victims know they would be treated with no mercy.  These flags were called
“le joli rouge” – the pretty red – which drunken English pirates translated into “Jolly Roger.”

Each pirate crew hired seamstresses in Nassau to create their own flag, which generally had a skull and crossbones, death head, crossed sabers, bleeding hearts or an hourglass to show the victims that their time was up.  Pirates never actually liked to fight.  It was dangerous, and it could damage the ship they were trying to seize.  So they liked to employ terror.  Blackbeard would tie burning fuses into his beard and hair so that he was surrounded by smoke and looked like a fiend from hell, which he also just happened to resemble in temperament and cruelty.

Sunset at sea, heading for the pirate waters of the Bahamas
On my first night at sea, there being no Jolly Rogers in sight, I spent my time in drunken idleness, but on the morrow, we were tied up off shore before the private island of Half Moon Cay, as pretty an island paradise as ever held a buried treasure chest.  Of course, as I was to learn, with the one exception of Captain Kidd, pirates never buried treasure.  That (and much of what we think we know of pirates) was invented by Robert Louis Stevenson in his classic book, “Treasure Island.”

Most pirates were alcoholic wastrels who would spend their loot in one night of drunken passion in Nassau, or gamble it away, and soon end up back living in a broken down hovel, waiting for the next adventure.  The majority of them were in their 20s, and lived short, violent lives.  Not a single pirate captain of the era had his life end naturally, most of them being hanged, shot, or killed in storms.  Or they went out in a blaze of battle, like Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, who died from five bullet wounds, 20 stab wounds and was beheaded.

Half Moon Cay, the private island of Holland America 
Half Moon Cay, where we dropped anchor, is its own pleasure palace with every opportunity from jet skis and kayaks to horseback riding in the surf, glass bottom boats, biking, paddle boarding or just lounging on the beach.  I elected to take a nature hike to the summit of the island, some 68 feet high, passing ruins of old farmsteads along the way.   There are 700 islands in the Bahamas and pirates would use ones like this to gather water and food, and lay in wait for a plump merchantman passing by.  Or to maroon pirates.  Marooning on a deserted island was a common punishment, and a cruel one.  Although it might seem like a pleasure today, the lack of food and loneliness made it a misery for those left behind.

The cannons of Fort Fincastle were designed to keep pirates out of Nassau; now they welcome ships to harbor
Our next morning, we sailed and docked in Nassau, just a musket shot from the Pirate Republic Brewing Company.  With fresh beers on tap with names like Long John Pilsner and Black Beer’d Stout, this is general headquarters for pirate memorabilia in Nassau, and their shop is filled with pirate stuff, from skull and cross bone kitchen magnets to the all-important pirate bandana.   The brewery offers a combination pirate and beer walking tour for $13, which ends with a sampler tray and a giant pretzel.  Around the stone walls of the 125-year-old pub are commissioned portraits of all the famous pirates of Nassau, created by renowned Bahamian artist Antonius Roberts.
Pirate tours at the Pirate Republic Brewing Co.

The art provides a backdrop to tell some of the crazy stories of people like pirate Howell Davis, who “died like a game cock,” killing two men before he fell, and “Calico Jack” Rackham, who was probably the pirate closest to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

While in Nassau, Calico Jack fell in love with Anne Bonney, and convinced her to leave her husband, put on men’s clothes, steal the sloop Sweet William and begin a life of piracy.  Incredibly, once at sea, Anne fell in love with a fellow shipmate, only to discover that this pirate was also a woman dressed as a man – the adventuress Mary Read. The three sailed together as pirates until they were surprised by a British ship off the coast of Jamaica. Calico Jack and most of the crew were drunk and hid in the ship’s hold. Only Mary Read and Anne Bonney offered any resistance, fighting like hellcats with pistol and cutlass.
But the ship was taken and all three sentenced to hang. As Calico Jack went to the gallows, Anne told him, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog.” Anne and Mary both conveniently got pregnant in jail and escaped the hangman.

The Pirates of Nassau Museum
But many other pirates didn’t.  Just a cannon shot from the brewery is the block long Pirates of Nassau Museum.  As you walk by two fortress cannons into the front door, you plunge straight into a moonlit dock lined on one side by taverns and pubs and on the other by a full-scale reproduction of the 130-foot-long, 16-gun corvette, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship.  It’s like walking (instead of floating) through Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Sound effects replicate the creaking of the ship and the lapping waves hitting the dock, while you can hear pirates singing in the dimly lit pubs beside you.  If you’ve just come from a beer sampling (and had a couple shots of rum along the way) the illusion is very entertaining.

A life size diorama of the woman pirates in Nassau
The museum details a pirate’s miserable life at sea and how the whole pirate era finally came to an end.  Tired of the nuisance, England sent Woodes Rodgers (a former pirate himself) to Nassau in 1718 with three warships and an ultimatum for the pirates to choose: “Accept a pardon….or death.” In short order, most accepted the one-time offer of a pardon, and Rodgers cleaned up the rest, hanging ten of them at Fort Nassau.  He described his actions as: “Expulsis Piratis – Restituta Commercia,” words that still adorn the official seal of the Bahamas – “Pirates Expelled – Commerce Restored.”

Ironically, it’s the pirates who have remained heroes. You can’t throw a cutlass in Nassau without hitting a shop selling skull & crossbones t-shirts or “Got Grog?” bumper stickers, while the only tribute to Rodgers the pirate hunter, is a small statue of him reaching for a brace of pistols, located in front of the British Colonial Hilton Hotel. He looks angry.  But at least he looks dashing.  The real Rodgers, when he was a pirate, got shot in the face, blowing away his jaw and many of his teeth and it’s doubtful he looked as handsome as he does here.
The statue of Woodes Rodgers, pirate hunter

Strangely enough, the British Colonial Hilton is the very spot where Rodgers hanged his ten pirates.  And it’s also where James Bond stayed in the Ian Fleming book, Thunderball, which is about a modern day pirate in Nassau high jacking an atom bomb for ransom.

If you want to eat like a pirate, walk down Bay Street from the hotel for about a mile to a village known as “Fish Fry.” This is a row of a dozen local seafood restaurants, where the meal of choice is conch…a snail-like, beautiful pink shell mollusk that tastes like a rubbery scallop and can be grilled, stewed, fried or served cold in a conch salad with green pepper, tomato and onion, cured in lemon juice. “Cracked conch” (conch fried in a light batter) with “peas and rice,” (rice and small beans) and fried plantains (small banana-like fruit), washed down with the very drinkable local beer, Kalik, is the national dish.

Kalik is brewed in the Bahamas and the name is supposed to come from the noise cow bells make. Well, why not?  Lonely Planet will tell you not to eat conch because of its near endangered status and the fact that is quietly being fished out in the Bahamas. Conch from the Bahamas has already been banned in the U.S. since 1986 and many other Caribbean islands. But as a pirate, how could you not taste the national dish? Conch is an important part of the Bahamian diet and a major source of their protein. It’s also delicious.

Cracked conch and peas and rice

For fun, stop at D’Water CafĂ© at Fish Fry for the Big Daddy Conch Show.  Big Daddy (the rather large gentleman with no front teeth) has been cracking conch on the restaurant’s front porch for decades and will show you how it’s done with a hammer and knife.    “If you want it any fresher, go and catch it yourself,” as they say.  Though if you walk to the back of the restaurant, you can watch them pull fresh ones out of the water.  Experts say it’s kindest to only eat mature, six year old conch, and Big Daddy will help you find one.   As a pirate, you can finish off the meal with a fine Cuban cigar – legal and cheap in Nassau, but of course illegal to bring home to the U.S. 

Four mid-size cruisers land a force of 8-9,000 passengers in Nassau, but it's large enough that everyone spreads out.
And if you still want more pirates, just look across the harbor to what was in pirate days called Hog Island.  Today, thanks to some splendid PR marketing, it’s called Paradise Island.  At one time, the majority of this island of resorts and golf courses was owned by the biggest pirate of them all.  A scallywag named Donald Trump.

For more information visit:  Holland America

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Columbia River Gorge is Open for Business – and as Beautiful as Ever

The beauty of the Columbia River Gorge in November 2017, two months after the fire.
September 2, 2017, started off wonderfully in the Columbia River Gorge.  It was the beginning of Labor Day weekend in one of the nation’s most beautiful scenic areas.  Located just an hour east of Portland, Oregon, this was a busy time for the area’s $100 million-a-year tourism industry.  They had been hurt that winter with 8 feet of snow falling in an area that usually gets just inches.  Interstate 84 was closed and schools and businesses had to shut down for as much as two weeks.

But now on Sept. 2, the weather was beautiful, people were hiking, biking, wind surfing, eating locally sourced foods, drinking craft beer at outdoor cafes and just enjoying the incredible beauty of a wilderness area along a river lined with cliffs, thick forests and waterfalls.

And then at 4 p.m., a fire was reported in Eagle Creek.  Near the village of Cascade Locks, some teenagers had been throwing fireworks off a waterfall into the dry forest below.  By morning, the fire they started grew to 3,000 acres.  With favorable winds, over the next two days the Eagle Creek Fire blossomed into a raging inferno, so huge that at one point it leaped across the Columbia River, sending tongues of flame into the wooded hillsides on the other side of the waterway in the state of Washington. 

More than 48,000 acres of forest would eventually be consumed by the fire
Eventually, 48,000 acres of forest would burn.  The entire town of Cascade Locks had to be evacuated, along with hundreds of other residents throughout the gorge.  Surrounded by flames, 153 hikers were cut off by the fire and had to be rescued.  I-84 was closed.  Clouds of smoke closed schools in nearby Portland, where more than an inch of ash fell on the streets.  Fighting the fire rang up of a bill of $20 million.
The falls three years ago, before the fire.

And then the fire raced to Multnomah Falls, the highest waterfall in Oregon.  A national icon, the 611-foot waterfall had at its base a famous lodge built in 1925 that attracted 1.5 million visitors a year.   Dozens of volunteers came and heroically fought the blaze throughout the night, wetting the building’s roof and soaking a 100-yard perimeter around it.  By morning, though the fire consumed a wood bridge below the falls and many trees, the historic lodge was saved.

The Gorge Today

So how much damage was done in the end?  Amazingly, the Columbia River Gorge is today a triumph of both nature and man.  On a trip through the gorge in early November 2017, barely two months after the blaze, there is hardly much sign of the catastrophic event.  Sadly, Multnomah Falls Lodge and access to the falls is closed indefinitely, mostly because of damage to the roads.  You can still see the falls, as beautiful as ever, as you race by a vantage point on I-84.  Some other viewpoints and hiking trails are temporarily inaccessible, but compared to the vast amount of wilderness recreation available here, it is very small.  The towns are completely open, I-84 is open, and the burn area is hardly noticeable compared to the rich forest land surrounding it.  In fact, many environmentalists are saying the fire, which burned up the trees rather than torching the ground below, is just part of nature’s evolution.  So here’s a review of just some of the many pleasures open and available in the gorge and Mount Hood areas, starting with ground zero where the fire started.

Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods in November 2017.

The village of Cascade Locks is where the 2,659-mile long Pacific Crest Trails crosses the Columbia River over the very pretty Bridge of the Gods.  A poignant scene was filmed in the Reese Witherspoon movie, Wild, was filmed on the bridge.  During the fire, all residents of the town were forced to evacuate, crossing the bridge as flames approached the village from both directions.  You’d never know it today. The bridge is as beautiful ever, and all businesses are open.  The Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn at the base of the bridge is a pleasant place to stay with balconies overlooking river traffic of barges and pleasure craft. 

Thunder Island Brewing Co.
Indian legend says there was once a bridge of land here over the Columbia with a huge lake behind it.  Well, for once, an Indian legend actually makes some sense and is backed by geologists, who say there was a land bridge here that eventually washed away, helping to create the spectacular gorge.   You can walk over the manmade Bridge of Gods to Washington, but there’s no pedestrian path on the road.  Better is to have a beer, while you still can, at Thunder Island Brewing on the banks of the river.  They’re moving into town, unfortunately, but their Rolling Thunder Pale ale and other craft beers will be just as good in the new location.

A visit to the gallery and studio of Heather Soderberg / is worth a journey.  You’ll be hearing a lot about her in the near future.  She’s the first woman to own a bronze foundry and is currently working on a 55-foot-long, 12-ton cast bronze statue of an eagle that will be the largest eagle sculpture in history.  Bits and pieces of it currently fill the studio, and when finished, it will tour the country.  In the gallery, they’ll explain how bronze casts are made, but good luck understanding it.  Enough to say, it’s impressive to look at.
The head alone is as tall as a man.

The Cascade LocksAle House across the street is a cozy place for dinner with pizza and salmon chowder.  It’s a favorite hangout for people walking the Pacific Coast Trail.  It must be lonely on the trail.  The hikers we met were a talkative bunch.  As an ice-breaker, ask them what their “trail name” is and how they got it, but make sure you have a beer first.  It’s liable to be a long story.  You’ll certainly want to see the movie Wild before visiting the pub.   

This colorful little village is the western gateway to the gorge and a good base for touring the area.  Stop by the historic Barn Exhibit Hall, which is actually not historic at all.  The cleverly built “barn” museum is brand new, but designed to look like it’s been there forever.  Currently, there’s an exhibit on the history of the 75-mile-long Columbia River Highway, the first highway in the U.S. built as a scenic road, and amazingly, the first road to have a white stripe down the center.  You can see why they took such care to divide the road when you drive on portions of it as its twists and turns with sheer cliffs alternating from side to side.  It’s scenic and scary.   When it was built between 1913 to 1922, it was also an engineering marvel.  It still is.    

Pretty Troutdale is a mix of colors and pastels to mix with the dramatic skies often seen over the Gorge.
Though it was replaced by I-84, bits of the historic road are still open.  Sections between Troutdale and Hood River have been closed temporarily by the fire, but there is no impact from north of Hood River to The Dalles, our next stop.

Mosier is picture postcard of a little place with a scenic park overlooking the river, the Rack & Cloth cidery, and most important, Route 30 Classics, which has ice cream, espresso and electric bike rentals.  And what a place to rent an electric bike!  

Electric bike rentals for a trip on the Columbia River Highway
A six-mile stretch of the historic Columbia River Highway here has been turned into a paved bike and hiking trail and heads west to the town of Hood River, passing through forest, along cliffs, and burrowing into tunnels on one hell of an exciting bike ride.  It’s hilly and up and down, but on an electric bike?  No worries.  You toggle the bike from one to four on a power scale, change gears, and never pump more than you would on a flat stretch of road.  The famous Oregon rain is also no problem.  Winds gush through the Gorge at this point, swirling clouds and dragging in squalls.  But the winds also bring bursts of sunshine.  Just when you think, well, it’s raining, do I want to be on a bike? Out pops the sun and a view of unbelievable beauty.

A few from a cutout in the tunnel looks down on to I-84 and the Columbia River.
If you get wet, dry off in the Rack and Cloth, a cute little place making their own hard cider from apples grown in their own orchard. They’ll walk you through a cider tasting of four hard ciders.  Even if you’ve tried commercial hard ciders and don’t like them, give these ciders a chance.  They are a completely different, tasty product, unlike commercial ciders, and paired with handcrafted pizzas and locally sourced delicacies like squash soup? Delicious.       

Hood River to the Dalles
Both Hood River and The Dalles are cool and quirky little towns worth a visit.  Hood River is home to Full Sail Brewery and a sloping main street lined with shops, galleries, and pubs.  This is the ground zero, recreational central of the Columbia River Gorge, and everyone is biking, hiking, sailboarding or doing something else to make you feel guilty if you’re just hanging out drinking craft beer.  Well, not that guilty.  This is Oregon, after all, and there are plenty of other people just hanging out. 

Hood River is a fun and quirky little town.

There’s a little more history at The Dalles, which has an 1856 fort (just a house is left, but nice grounds) and Klindt’s Booksellers, which has been hawking books since 1870 and is worth a journey to explore their maps and local recreation guidebooks.   Both towns, in keeping with this area of Oregon, have breweries and wineries and, increasingly, distilleries.  And did we mention marijuana is legal? 

And Now for Something Completely Different

Farming communities like Dufur and 300 days of sunshine are always just a short drive from the Gorge
The weird geography of this area creates micro climates that could not be more different.  It’s barely a 30 minute drive south from the misty, swirling clouds of Hood River or The Dalles into Mt. Hood territory, where you come into fruit orchards, rolling hills and incredibly, 300 days of sunshine.  Dufur, just south of The Dalles, is a tiny old farming community on the historic Oregon Trail with a few shops, a heritage museum and a real gem called the Historic Balch Hotel.  This historic building has been transformed into an elegant spa and countryside retreat with gourmet food and an idyllic setting.

The Resort at the Mountain is nestled near Mount Hood and offers a completely different forest landscape.
South of Troutdale takes you on the western fringes of Hwy. 26, which (along with Hwy. 35) is called “The Fruit Loop,” as it curves and twists around the base of 11,249-foot Mount Hood, passing dozens and dozens of orchards, forests, rain forests, timberline, snow-covered mountains and rivers.  The Resort at the Mountain just east of Sandy is one of Oregon’s premier lodges with a 27-hole golf course, luxury spa, hiking trails, two restaurants and bars, and best of all, fireplaces in the rooms.  On a November afternoon at twilight, with a fire going and college football playing, we noticed someone on the patio peering into our floor to ceiling glass door.  It was three baby deer.   

Bob Denman has been making hand forged gardening tools for 30 years at Red Pig Tools in Boring, OR
For a true Oregon evening, head to the nearby Skyway Bar and Grill, a real mountain roadhouse (the address is Zigzag Mile Post 43) that was built by hand in 1972 and is today filled with art, antiques, live music, craft beer and the smell of barbeque and smoked meats.   

And don’t miss the most exciting photo op of the region – Boring, Oregon.  They make the most of the odd name choice with a Boring Brewery and Boring Winery (in the same building!) and lots of opportunities to take photos of the word “Boring.”  It’s cute.  But nowhere cuter than at the blacksmith shop Red Pig Tools, where for 30 years Bob Denman, a semi-retired advertising executive, has been hand-forging gardening tools.  Bob, a life-long gardener, will tell you, there’s only one rule for weeding and that’s King Harrod’s rule:  “Kill them while they’re babies!”

Nearby Wildwood Recreation Site has a wetland boardwalk down to the Salmon River
He has researched old garden tools and found that any modern tool that does two tasks is half as efficient at each.  In his blacksmith shop, he hand forges old forgotten tools for special tasks (like weeding between cracks of patio tiles).  The tools are beautiful (if somewhat medieval looking).  Bob has been dealing with customers and perfecting his comedy-set for 30 years and if he’s in the shop, he has a 15-minute routine that is perfect, fun, educational and worth a journey.  At a time where “fire” is not exactly a friendly word in Oregon, you’ll have a lot of laughs around his flaming forge and come away with a lifelong tool and memento of this slightly wacky – but gorgeous – part of the state.


The elusive and spectacular Mount Hood is visible sometimes and sometimes, like our four day trip in Nov. 2017, not.