Tuesday, October 28, 2014

North Little Rock, Arkansas: Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum

As tourist attractions go, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame is an odd one.

The facility is part of Verizon Arena, which is located just off Interstate 30 near the riverfront in North Little Rock. We had some time to kill before heading to the airport, and this was convenient.

Upon arriving, the one employee unlocked the door and seemed very happy to see us. It seemed we were the first customers of the day, and it was early afternoon. Although we figured it was going to be just a display in the arena lobby, we paid our $5 each while figuring it was a good cause.

I asked who played in the arena, and got a lot of "used tos." An Arena Football League team was here, but that league didn't make it. A minor-league hockey team was here, for a while, but not any more. A local college played here once upon a time, and then built an on-campus site. So Verizon Arena is only used for concerts, more or less.

As for the Hall of Fame itself, there's a film narrated by Pat Summerall about Arkansas sports, and some memorabilia about the state's top athletes. Mark Martin even donated one of his old cars.

Learn more about the place by clicking here. Better yet, drop by if you are in the neighborhood. Someone will be happy to see you.

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Little Rock, Arkansas: Big Dam Bridge

This, as you could guess, is one damn big bridge. And it's on top of a dam.

Therefore, it's name is the "Big Dam Bridge." Pretty clever.

This is the largest bridge in the world built solely for pedestrian and bicycle use, at least according to the web site. It's more than 4,000 feet across.

The bridge is about seven miles west of downtown Little Rock, and connects to trails leading back to the city. It's been open since 2006. There are bike and road races in this area.

It could have been called the Murray Bridge, since the southern side is Murray Park, but the name that was picked is much more fun. Here's a video about it:

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Little Rock, Arkansas: Clinton Presidential Center

There aren't many Presidential libraries out there, but they have come to be major tourist attractions when built. The city of Little Rock hit the Presidential lottery when Bill Clinton decided to put his library there.

While there is library filled with all sorts of records about the Clinton years, most people come to see the museum areas. The building in this case is a particularly striking one, built right along the riverfront and giving that part of the city an economic boost.

The facility has three floors. This is a view of the second and third floors from above. The shelves are filled with records from the Clinton Administration and hold a very small percentage of what's in the library. The display down the middle of the second floor reviews each of the eight years of the Administration individually, and there are displays on either side. It's more of the same upstairs, with some personal artifacts of Clinton's (old pictures and documents, letters from celebrities) under glass.

Meanwhile, replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room are in the far end. By the way, Clinton took a look at the Oval Office just before opening and thought it was a little sterile. So he gave some books and other personal effects to make it look used. That's why visitors can't get past the ropes. It really is oval, though, just like the real thing.

There's a nice plaza outside, leading to a pedestrian bridge over the river. A shuttle ride can take visitors down the street to a gift shop, filled with everything the Presidential collector could use. They were giving away old Presidential campaign buttons when we were there. It's all very well done, no matter what your political viewpoint is.

And here's a video look at it:


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Little Rock, Arkansas: The Little Rock

When visiting Little Rock, Arkansas, the obvious question to be asked is: "Where is the Little Rock?" A piece of it is still there.

It seems when the area was being explored, Benard de le Harpe saw a big rock on the north side of the Arkansas River. He called it the "French Rock," which eventually became known as the "Big Rock."

That left the other side of the river, which had a smaller bit of rock along the river. It was eventually reduced in size to make more room for a railroad bridge.

A piece of the rock found its way to the mayor's office, where it sat for no particular reason. Then, the idea came along to place it near its original home. And that's where it is, just to the east and below a bridge that has been converted to pedestrian use.

By the way, most of the rock on the north side is gone. They dug it out, and used it to build the city on the other side of the river.

Supposedly, not that many residents even know the story of the odd boulder by the river. So you can one-up them by visiting it.

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Little Rock, Arkansas: Little Rock Central High School

At one point in the fall of 1957, this probably was the most famous high school in America - for all the wrong reasons. Little Rock Central became something of a battleground in the fight for civil rights.

Before 1957, the school was considered one of the best in the nation. A 1955 graduate was Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame baseball player. The Supreme Court had ordered the integration of our schools a few years previous to Little Rock Central's time of fame. But portions of the South were in no hurry to follow that order.

When some African Americans tried to enter the school as students, they were stopped at the door by the Arkansas National Guard through orders from Gov. Orval Faubus. Federal troops eventually were called in, and the streets around the school turned into chaos. Television cameras filmed all of it and showed it to the rest of the nation, bringing the situation home to millions in a way that wouldn't have been possible 10 years before. The troops stayed for the rest of the school year, and the school later was closed for a while, but eventually integration took place. We really were a nation of laws after all.

The school is still beautiful and huge - it holds 2,500 students. We asked a couple of kids who were outside the school after classes if they had gotten used to studying in a historic place. They said yes. Visitors can't go inside, but they can visit a National Park Service site on a nearby corner. The story of those nine children is told in a variety of ways. This certainly is an odd "tourist attraction," but we should remember what happened on these streets and grounds.

Here's a video look back, compiled for the 50th anniversary of the event:


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Little Rock, Arkansas: State Capitol

Is there some sort of cookie-cutter that cranks out state capitols? It seems like most of them look alike - dome on top, spaces for the legislature, lots of columns.

Welcome, then, to Arkansas's version, which will turn 100 in 2015.

This is a relatively simple version as these things go. There is space for the State Senate and House, and the old Supreme Court chamber is now used for hearings. The Governor has an office there and a reception area.

The grounds do have some statues and markers around. One of them pays tribute to Confederate soldiers. Veterans and the Little Rock Nine of Central High School also take a bow.

Most of the building seems to be covered with construction tarps when we were there, which cut down on the visual impact of the place. The person in charge of greeting visitors could have been a bit more friendly and helpful too. Still, it's always worth a trip to see democracy in action.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Hot Springs, Arkansas: McClard's Bar-B-Q

Bill Clinton seems like a man who knows good barbecue when he finds it. He reportedly says McClard's is his favorite such restaurant, anywhere. Who are we to disagree?

Thus we joined the many tourists who no doubt have dropped by this place to see how it is.

First of all, it's rather small - there are a limited number of booths and tables. When we were there, everyone seemed to know everyone, and the waitresses called the customers "Hon." Perfect.

McClard's goes through lots and lots of meat in the course of a day, and our sandwiches were quite good. According to legend, the restaurant one time took a sauce recipe instead of a payment, and used it. The recipe is still locked in a safe after it proved very popular.

Both political parties can agree that this is worth a stop at mealtime.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas: Bill Clinton's boyhood home

President Bill Clinton usually is associated with Hope, Arkansas, since that's where he was born. Yet he probably has a stronger connection to Hot Springs.

Clinton moved up the road at the age of eight, arriving in Hot Springs in 1954. This is where the family landed - not particularly far from Central Avenue and the National Park area. As you can see by the picture, the current owners aren't anxious to show you around. But that rock in the bottom right does proclaim this to be Clinton's boyhood home.

It is a little tough to park along the road, so turn into a side street and make the quick walk to 1011 Park Ave. He later moved to 213 Scully in 1961, and stayed for three years. There is literature at the visitors' centers in the area about where Clinton went to school, church and bowling.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas: Babe Ruth's Home Run

Baseball teams early in the 20th century liked to come to Hot Springs for spring training. What's more, players often stopped there in the spring even if their teams were slated to prepare for the season somewhere else. So, many Hall of Famers passed through there.

On March 17, 1918, Babe Ruth took his turn at the plate at a park on Whittington Ave. (Street number is 870.)  He connected and sent the ball into deep, deep center field. It supposedly landed in a pond and became legendary for its distance.

The park is gone, but home plate is still honored with its placement in a parking lot of a business. Meanwhile, in deep center is an alligator farm. But the pond is still there, and it has been measured as 573 feet away from home plate. That would make it the longest home run in history. The alligator farm put up a sign to mark the occasion. The story of it is here.

Is it a true story? Hard to say, of course. That's a long way to hit a baseball, perhaps longer than is possible in the scientific sense. But it's certainly ought to be true. Ruth was about to be a pioneer in slugging baseballs, and maybe this showed everyone - including Ruth - the way.

Hot Springs has what it called an historic baseball trail. Players and locations are honored. Ruth's historical sign as part of the trail is in front of the alligator farm. We considered taking a look at the sign about the homer run inside the farm, but it was a little expensive and the man at the cash register didn't seem like he was willing to let us go take a look for free.  Can't say I blame him.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas: Hot Springs Mountain Tower

If you are standing on top of Hot Springs Mountain during a rain storm, the water won't go away. You'll be able to drink it sometime past the year 6000.

It's a bit of a drive to get there. You can reach the road by going down Fountain Street, near Central Ave. where the Arlington Hotel is on the corner. The road up features plenty of switchbacks, but at least it's one way.

Finally, when you reach the top, you pay some money and take the elevator to the top and see Hot Springs from above. The view is quite nice - it goes for miles - and you certainly do see a lot of trees. The picture gives you an idea of what you'll see.

By the way, there are two levels on the top of the tower - one outside for views, the other inside for informational displays. There's even a video about Hot Springs' finest, Bill Clinton. The bottom of the tower has a small gift shop.

Happily, the road back down the mountain is a much more direct and easy drive.

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Hot Springs, Arkansas: Bathhouse Row

This is arguably the oldest national park in the United States. It's also unique.

In 1832, interest grew over a place in Arkansas where the water that seeped out of the ground was always warm and clean. The town became known as Hot Springs. The government decided to take control of the water, which came out of one particular mountain. It was called a reservation, designed to protect a natural resource. Does that make it older than Yellowstone and Yosemite? Guess it depends on who is telling the story.

By 1877, the government opted to add a little order to the area. Licenses were issued for bath houses, which were build along the bottom of the hill. The waters quickly became known for their medical powers, and soon doctors were telling people to go to Hot Springs and soak in the warm water. This became quite a luxury item, and so Hot Springs became a destination for the rich and famous.Bathing peaked just after World War II, but a couple of the bathhouses are still in business.One of them is the Buckstaff, shown in this picture.It's $30 per bath there, with other services available.

By the way, scientists have discovered that the water on top of the mountain slowly - and I mean slowly - works its way deep into the group. Eventually it hits hot earth, and comes to the surface at almost 150 degrees. It takes more than 4,000 years for the water to complete its journey. People brings gallon jugs to the area and fill them up with this special water; there is no charge.

The Park Visitor Center is located in the Fordyce, which was closed in 1962. The building also serves as a museum, since you can see what the facilities were like in their glory days. There are other springs along Central Ave.

Hot Springs is a little out of the way, but it's still only an hour from Little Rock.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Billy Bass Adoption Center

Remember "Big Mouth Billy Bass"? It was a singing wall ornament, in a sense. The toy, which looked like a fish, would belt out "Take Me to the River" and "Don't Worry, Be Happy." They sold a lot of them around 1998.

But now they aren't so popular, just like Pet Rocks. That raises the question, what do you do with it? Luckily, the restaurant chain "Flying Fish" can provide a good home.

Bring in your Billy Bass for the wall, and the restaurant will give you a free order of catfish in return. Each adoption is signed and dated, and other walls are covered too.

There are similar stores in Little Rock, Dallas and Fort Worth, among other places, and the same offer applies. The food there is quite good, and the line when we ate at the Little Rock store was out the door.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Beale Street

It's fair to say you can have a good time on Beale Street.

Back when Memphis was segregated, this essentially was the Main Street of Black Memphis. It was the home for local music, as artists such as W.C. Handy, Elvis Presley and B.B. King learned their craft there.

It's a different era now ... and everyone apparently hangs out here. The music is still around, and the food is mighty good. That has helped make it one of America's most iconic streets.

You can see the best of Memphis' musicians honored on the sidewalk with "notes" done in the style of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's called "The Brass Note Walk of Fame." We stumbled on Sam and Dave, for starters.

Hardy's house is still intact and available for touring at the end of the district. A. Schwab's is a classic general store, with a variety of odd goods and some displays on the history of the area. King and Jerry Lee Lewis have restaurants; you can see a couple of King's guitars (called "Lucille" when in use) on the wall. Silky O'Sullivans has goats to keep you company during food and drink.

This is only a couple of blocks from the FedEx Forum. It's a fun stop, day or night.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Remember Stax Records? It was an recording label from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. Stax had a ton of talent come through the door, including Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, the Staple Singers, Ike & Tina Turner, etc. It sold a lot of records.

Sadly, the business end didn't work out so well. Stax made a few business deals that didn't work out, and eventually the business went bankrupt in the Seventies. The home of the place in Memphis soon became an empty lot.

The music, however, lived on. Therefore, someone decided to bring the place back to life in the form of a museum - right on the same spot. There are all sorts of record covers, videos, and audio clips that salute the era. The studio has been recreated as well, almost exactly the way it used to be.

All well and good, you say, but what's the story with the car pictured above.

Yes, the car. That's Isaac Hayes' Cadillac. The detail isn't great because flash photography isn't allowed, but the car is on a slow-spinning carousel. Visitors can get a good look at the solid gold trim and the shag rug that must have been a pain to clean. It's fair to say that when Isaac was on your street, you knew he was coming.

Here's a 2006 report from CBS on the museum:

It's located several blocks south of the National Civil Rights Museum. There's a music academy right next door, and plenty of free parking in the back.

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Memphis, Tennessee: National Civil Rights Museum

For those of a certain age, this location is instantly recognized. It's the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. You've probably seen a famous picture taken from the balcony of King's associates pointing to where the shots were fired, across the street.

The motel, which was famous for catering to anyone who walked through the door (meaning black and white), eventually went out of business. However, people still came to see the site, so someone in Memphis decided that they ought to learn a bit of history while they were there. Eventually, the National Civil Rights Museum was finished. It opened in 1991.

Almost all of the inside of the building was transformed into a museum. The story of the nation's struggle with the idea that all men and women are created equal is nicely told through a variety of exhibitions, sound clips, videos, etc. Near the end of the tour, visitors can look through some glass and see what Room 306 looked like on that fateful day in April 1968. They also can look out on to the balcony; the window is upstairs to the far right. I'm not sure what the correct word is to describe that view. Perhaps that is for each person to decide.

From there, visitors are sent across the street. There they can learn more about civil rights as well as the investigation into the murder. While you can not stand in the exact room in which James Earl Ray allegedly shot King, you can examine the scene from the window a few feet away. It too is chilling.

By the way, there was a small protest (one woman and a sign) across the street from the museum, one that has been going on for years. She apparently wondered if it was appropriate to spend millions preserving the site of a tragedy. It's an interesting position at least.

The building was remodeled in 2014. It's an affecting experience. Here's a video done just before it reopened:

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Memphis, Tennessee: AutoZone Park

AutoZone Park won an award as the nation's best minor league park a few years ago, and you can guess why by this picture.

It was built in 2000, and is sort of shoehorned into part of a city block in downtown Memphis. It's across from the Peabody Hotel and seats about 14,000. You can see how well it fits into the neighborhood.

By the way, the plaza of the stadium is particularly nice. If you look in the corner, you can see a cap covering a grandstand.

Can't wait to see a game there some day.

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Memphis, Tennessee: The Peabody

When in Memphis, you have to go see the ducks at the Peabody Hotel downtown.

They are marching ducks. Honest.

It seems that the ducks were brought in as a joke and placed in the grand fountain in 1933. No one seemed to mind, so the ducks stayed. They have a regular home up on the roof, and stay there 18 hours a day. At 11 a.m., they march into the elevator, get off at the lobby, and march into the fountain (there are towels) for a swim. Then at 5 p.m., the route is reversed. The place gets very crowded, so get there early.

Here's a picture of two of the ducks in the fountain. He/she are in the lower middle of the picture.

This is a wonderful old hotel. It's worth taking a walk through the lobby. You can see a letter from the manager about a crisis that came up involving the restaurant. There's a fancy French restaurant there, and such places always serve duck. But since that is the symbol of the hotel, the manager wrote a letter stating that no dead ducks would be associated with this hotel. The letter is under glass. Souvenirs are available at the gift shop.

Now, here's they come:


Also, be sure to go to the top floor for a great view of downtown Memphis and the river.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Rock 'n' Soul Museum

Some serious downtown development has taken place in Memphis in the past several years. One obvious spot is the FedEx Forum, a major venue for NBA basketball and other events.

Right next door is a relatively new "Rock 'n' Soul Museum," which tells the story of Memphis and its music. It works quite nicely, all things considered.

The museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian, and has all sorts of displays in the area. You can learn about Memphis Minnie and Mavis Staples, and everyone in between. And there are plenty in between.

Each guest receives a wand that plays sounds. Plug in the correct number when standing by a display, and you can hear the story behind it. A nice touch is the chance to hear full songs that way as well. It adds a lot to the visit.

The latest tunes were often heard at Poplar Tunes, named after its street. The store eventually closed, but the sign remains here.

By the way, Gibson Guitar has a factory right across the street. Tours of the facility are open to the public; reservations aren't a bad idea. No pictures are allowed, so you'll have to remember what it was like in your head. It's definitely worth a visit too.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest

You can tell a bit about a society and a culture by what it chooses to remember. Such is the case for Memphis.

Nathan Bedford Forrest certainly is one of the most famous generals of the Confederate Army in Civil War history. But he comes with some baggage, and not just because he may have been involved in some war crimes.

Forrest was certainly an early member of the Ku Klux Klan. He may even have been a Grand Wizard of that organization, although there is some dispute over that matter. He died in Memphis in 1877, but in 1904 the remains of Forrest and his wife were moved to their present location.

So how about now? Forrest has more national markers and monuments dedicated to him that the Presidents from Tennessee. But "Forrest Park" is now Health Sciences Park, since it's near a huge hospital. The name still creates controversy, as some have tried to rename schools and building that were originally designed to honor Forrest.

In any event, the man is a significant figure in his time. He's located only a couple of blocks from Sun Studios, so feel free to take the stroll if you want to see what all the fuss is still about.

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Memphis, Tennessee: Sun Studio

Sometimes someone opens up the door to a recording studio, and an amazing stream of talent comes through. It happened in Detroit, Michigan, in the Motown Studios, and it happened a couple of times in Memphis, Tennessee - including here.

The Sun Studio is one of the legendary spots in all of music history. It's where Elvis Presley recorded his first song, and where Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash started their careers.

The building was only leased to Sam Phillips for 10 years (1950 to 1960), but it changed everything in the music business. The place is now available for visits by tourists. You can see some memorabilia upstairs, as well as hear some old recordings of the origins of rock and roll. Then it's down the stairs, around a corner, through an office ... and you are standing in the original Sun Studio. In the picture above, you can see a picture of the day that the four legends turned up in the studio on the same day. They did a little recording while they were together, and prompted the play "Million Dollar Quartet."

While visitors go through by day, this is still a working studio. Groups still record there at night in hopes of picking up some of the magic. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003.

By the way, one of the original microphones is still on the property. You can pose for a picture of it and pretend you are the next Elvis. We did.

The entrance area has plenty of souvenirs, etc. available. Any rock music fan has to go through here. Here's an eight-minute video version if you can't make it in person for a while:

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Memphis, Tennessee: Graceland

Where to start in describing Graceland, that distinctly American travel destination? You know that it was the home of Elvis Presley, and that it's become a magnet for fans of all ages.

And how to only pick one picture to represent it here? Problems, problems.

Here are a few points that you probably didn't know:

Graceland is on Elvis Presley Boulevard. The actual estate is surprisingly small, as these things go. It's not a giant house by any means, but there is room for gardens, fields used by horses, etc. The commercial activity is across the street; more on that in a moment.

The tour takes you via shuttle bus across the street, where you go in the front door and around the lower lowel of the place. The upstairs is off limits. As you'd expect, there's a living room, dining room, kitchen, and den. There are plenty of rooms that were designed for play. You'll particularly like the room redecorated to look like Hawaii, complete with an indoor fountain.

Some of the areas in the complex have been converted into display areas for trophies, awards, clothes, and so on. For example, the room shows here is a converted racquetball court. Each visitor is given an iPad with tour information coming over the headphones. The tour of Graceland ends at the garden, where Elvis and some relatives are buried.

Back across the street is a major complex. You can pay extra and get a ticket to see such items as Elvis' two airplanes (one big, one small). Worth the money? Tough call, and the non-airplane attractions are nothing special, but you only go to a place like this once. There are a few special cars around, restaurants, and naturally plenty of souvenir stands. Parking is in the back.

It probably takes three hours to go through it all, unless you get caught in a line to see the house - which I would guess is quite possible. One trip should satisfy your curiosity.

Here's the official video:


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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Walkerton, Ontario: Art Fish

Some years ago, several cities became caught up in a civic art project. They picked out a symbol of their city, and sent artists out to represent that symbol in creative ways. Then the finished products were placed all over the city. New York had its bulls, Buffalo had its buffaloes.

And Walkerton, Ontario, had its fish.

Walkerton sits a bit south of the Bruce Peninsula, and it is on the Saugeen River. Therefore, fish were a good symbol.

Eleven are said to be scattered around town. We found three on the main drag, Durham St. Our favorite was one that hung on a fishing pole of sorts. It was a whopper!

Thanks to Roadside America for the tip, as usual.

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Tiverton, Ontario: World's largest nuclear power plant

Admittedly, a nuclear power plant doesn't strike many people as a typical tourist stop. This one is worth at least a look.

Part of the fun is the drive (not counting the construction we encountered in getting there). The area approaching the plant, which is located right on Lake Huron, is filled with wind turbines. At one point, they stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. We found out later that almost all of them have nothing to do with the power plant.

A visitors' center welcomes tourists. It is on a hill, located above the complex. This is the largest working nuclear power complex in the world, as a bigger one in Japan was a victim of the tsunami. The picture above shows one of the reactors. This is a big area. It provides enough electricity to power a quarter of Ontario's needs. There are displays and a movie that show how the process works.

Visitors can take a tour of the facility from inside the gates, but advance preparation is needed. Names must be submitted for a security check ahead of time. The tourist area will satisfy many of your needs in this area.

As you might expect, the visitors center is something of an opportunity for public relations. Everyone wants cheap power and jobs (3,000 are employed here), but no one wants a plant in the backyard. So, this is something of a sales job, but it's a well-done one.

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Wiarton, Ontario: Wiarton Willie

You certainly have heard of Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog who lives in Pennsylvania. But what about the Canadian equivalent, Wiarton Willie?

Canada has its own competitor in this area, and he lives on the Bruce Peninsula. Willie comes out of his hole on February 2, and heads right back into the dirt if he sees his shadow for six weeks.

This started in 1955 as something of a hoax. Local resident Mac McKenzie had a party on Feb. 2, and a Toronto reporter thought it was an actual celebration. Well, the next year, McKenzie started an actual event for it, and 35 attended. Now the number is closer to 10,000. The traffic must be awful, just like in Punxsutawney.

Pictured here is Willie's living space. The catch is that you can't see Willie in this habitat designed by the Toronto Zoo. He comes out of the hole and looks around around 8:30 in the morning and at dusk. Otherwise, you are out of lucky. In Punxsutawney, Phil and Phyllis live in the library, and visitors can see them all the time, year-round. It's almost sad that visitors usually can't see Wiarton's most famous resident.

Meanwhile, the marketing efforts of the town concerning Willie are on the feeble side. You'd think you would have all sorts of souvenirs, cleverly designed, on sale. Alas, the Chamber of Commerce building attached to Willie's home only has a few items. Post cards are $2.50. Sigh. If you go to the Wiarton web site, it has a page devoted to a store that is called "Willie Headquarters." When we went there, the store was empty ... and had been for some time. Thanks for making us search for the store, guys.

Obviously, Wiarton doesn't have much money for marketing purposes. Still, you'd have to think it was missing a golden opportunity. You don't want to send tourists home unhappy.

Care to see what Feb. 2 in Wiarton is like? We can help.

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Big Bay, Ontario: Beach

Sometimes a picture does all the work in describing a place.

Welcome to Big Bay, located not surprisingly, on the coast overlooking Georgian Bay on the water-hugging road between Owen Sound and Wiarton.

The beach is filled with stones instead of sand. Therefore, it's a great place to pick up a stone and send it skipping into the bay. I was never good at that particular skill, but you might be.

The beach also has a nice dock, which can be used for boating but also serves as a launch point for swimming and diving. The water might be a little cold, but you'll get used to it.

A general store is about a block away from the beach, and it sells homemade ice cream - with some unusual flavors. (Carrot cake ice cream? Not bad.) The locals like to pick up a cone and then head to the beach for a nice view while eating it.

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Owen Sound, Ontario: Black History Cairn

Those looking for a lesson in history probably would be surprised to find one in Owen Sound, Ontario. After all, it's not exactly in the middle of Dixie.

Yet there the tribute stands in Harrison Park, well north of the U.S.-Canada border.

The reason is that famous Underground Railroad, which in a sense transported blacks from the South to freedom in Canada, ended for some here. Many stayed here, and became part of the community.

Stealing from the town web site - according to Webster's 1913 Dictionary, a cairn is "a rounded or conical heap of stones erected by early inhabitants of the British Isles, apparently as a sepulchral monument." In this case, the cairn is a memorial to Owen Sound's black settlers. Symbols were used on quilts as something of guideposts for the journey, and they are also represented.

This is all unexpected and quite touching. Nicely done, Owen Sound.

By the way, Harrison Park is a very nice, expansive park along the river. It has the usual facilities you'd expect, plus miniature golf, boat rentals and a nice restaurant. It hosts skating, tobogganing and cross-country skiing in the winter. 

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Owen Sound, Ontario: The Ancaster

Here's a story of a town that wasn't happy about a change in its country's currency. Trust me, it will make sense in a minute.

This is the Ancaster, a tug boat that has retired after performing years of service. It is located right next to the visitors' center of Owen Sound, standing watch over the harbor (or, in Canadian, harbour) it once patrolled. The area around the water, by the way, is nicely maintained.

Owen Sound used to be a good-sized hub for commercial transportation, with all sorts of ships and trains passing through. The world has changed since then, so this is something of a tribute to a bygone era.

The catch is that the Ancaster used to be pictured on Canada's one-dollar bill. Alas, the dollar bill died several years ago, in favor of a coin. It must have been nice while it lasted.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Lion's Head, Ontario: Isthmus Bay

If people moved to where the best views were, Lion's Head would be much more crowded.

It sits on Isthmus Bay, and the view from the shoreline is truly wonderful. The lighthouse does a good job of guarding the bay - even if it is just a replica of the real thing. Some school kids built a replica that replaced the rotted-out version that was torn down in 1969.

If you look in the background of the picture, you can see more of the Niagara Escarpment - a constant in these parts. Supposedly there is a lion's head in the rocks. We couldn't see it from here, but we didn't really know where to look. Perhaps you'll have better luck.

Lion's Head has about three places to eat in town only a handful of stores, but the bay makes it worth a visit.

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Lion's Head, Ontario: The 45th Parallel Road

Geography students realize that the 45th parallel goes all the way around the world. If the earth were perfectly round, that would be the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

As it turns out, part of Route 9 (just east of Highway 6) in the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario happens to fall right on the line. Some enterprising civil servant has celebrated that fact by putting up a sign in tribute.

By the way, the actual halfway line falls a few miles north of here. It's on one of the tourist maps that is handed out to visitors. I've never seen that in other such locations. That line, however, doesn't get a spiffy street sign like this one.

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Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario: Cyprus Lake

Sometimes good fortune shines on a photographer. We knew while walking in this park that this was a good spot, but didn't take a picture - knowing it would be there when we returned from the Grotto. When we did pass it again, a bird was standing at the mouth of a waterfall, almost protecting it. It does wonders for the picture. Click on it to increase the size of the image.

Bruce Peninsula National Park is a little odd. It may be the first such park that doesn't have a sign directing traffic near the entrance. That makes it easy to drive past while in Highway 6. (Guilty) There is a sign on the road into the park.

Then, parking is extremely limited. It's almost as if they don't want too many visitors, which might not be the worst idea in the world. Again, this is more of a forest preserve than traditional park, but there are some nice hikes and good views here.

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Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario: The Grotto

Probably the top tourist attraction in the entire peninsula is the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park. Be warned - it's a little tough to see.

After finding a parking place (go early or late, by the way), tourists - mostly wearing swim suits - walk for about 25 minutes to the shoreline. The coast is rocky and beautiful there. One warning - it's a little tough to navigate the area on foot because of the uneven surfaces. If you have mobility issues, you'll only be able to reach a lookout above the area - still well worth it. I'm not sure if an American park would allow people to go swimming here.

More climbing on rocks to the north is necessary, and it's also on the difficult side. Along the way, visitors can see this small grotto (pictured here), which is quite spectacular in its own right. People do make it to the grotto and go inside the cave for a swim. I wasn't prepared to do that during my visit, so I'll rely on the work of someone else to show it here.

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Fathom Five National Marine Park, Ontario: Little Dunks Bay

Part of the Fathom Five National Marine Park is on the mainland.

I know. Canada does things a little differently sometimes.

The idea behind many of the parks on the Bruce Peninsula is to preserve the forest in the Niagara Escarpment area, so in that sense it's a good move. This park, right on the tip of the peninsula, has plenty of wilderness to explore by foot. It also shares a visitor center with Bruce Peninsula National Park.

From that visitor center, it's an easy walk east to the shore line. There hikers encounter the coastline of Little Dunks Bay, which is shown in the picture. As you can see, the Escarpment rivals Maine when it comes to a rocky coast. The Georgian Bay side of the peninsula has taken a bit of a pounding over the years and thus rock is exposed. The Lake Huron side is much smoother.

By the way, the relatively famous Bruce Trail goes through this park. There are signs for it throughout the peninsula. All of Ontario looked like wilderness once upon a time, so it's nice to save a slice of it. You can hike from Tobermory to the edge of Niagara Falls if you are so inclined. Some portions are rated as very difficult, so it's not for beginners.

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Tobermory, Ontario: Big Tub Lighthouse

Portions of Ontario along the Great Lakes have all sorts of lighthouses, and this is a particularly useful one. It's located at the entry to "Big Tub," the larger of two harbors in Tobermory. The water there sort of marks the start of the divide between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

Lots of people apparently make the visit there, even if it isn't well marked. When northbound traffic on Highway 6 hits the water, some go right to take the ferry. Others go left and make a short trip on the rim of the Big Tub. The lighthouse is located at the end.

By the way, the water between the two bodies of water is quite shallow, thanks to the Niagara Escarpment that runs mostly underwater in that region. Therefore, there are plenty of shipwrecks in that part of the world. The region has become the scuba diving capital of Canada.

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Fathom Five National Marine Park, Ontario: Flowerpot Island

The United States has a few areas off of its coastline that has been designated as the equivalent of a national park. The contents are preserved that way.

Canada had the same idea. Thus the Fathom Five National Marine Park was created at the end of the Bruce Peninsula.

The big attraction is Flowerpot Island, about three miles off the coast of the Bruce Peninsula. And the big attraction of Flowerpot Island is its two seastacks. You can see one of them in this picture. Yes, apparently everyone sees a face in the top right of the one above.

Visitors can take a boat to the dock, be dropped off, hike for a while, and then get a ride back. I'll bet there are worse ways to spend a summer afternoon. Let's look around:

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Tobermory, Ontario: Shipwreck

There's a story behind this odd-looking picture. Luckily.

This is the City of Grand Rapids, built in 1879. It caught fire while docked in Tobermory in 1907. Rather than put the fire out, the ship was towed and released. It drifted into "Big Tub" - the larger of the two harbors in Tobermory - then sank.

There is another ship nearby in the water, the Sweepstakes. That went aground in 1885.

There are a couple of boat tours that go by the sunken vessels. They have glass bottoms so that you can look at the remains below. However, the water is actually shallow, and you can get a good look at a larger section of the ships just by looking over the edge of your boat. That's what I did for this picture.

Here's an underwater look at the Sweepstakes, taken by someone else:

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Chatsworth, Ontario: Miniature Village

Sometimes it's good just to get out of the car for the moment during a long drive.

In this case, you make a very brief stop to gawk at a miniature village, built on the front lawn of a private home, on Hightway 6 in Chatsworth. It's located south of Owen Sound.

According to Roadside America, this was constructed by a previous owner in the 1970s. The current property owner hasn't bothered to keep it in top shape - perhaps because it's probably not worth it to him. I stayed on the road and took a couple of quick pictures, one of which is shown here.

A driving tip - if you are traveling north on 6 and get to a junkyard, you've gone too far. Keep your eyes on the west side of the road.

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West Grey, Ontario: Tiny Cemetery

There's probably a good story associated with this picture. I just don't know it.

If you go west off of Route 6 in West Grey, Ontario, for two miles on Grey County Road 4, you'll encounter quite a few cemeteries. The last one on the north side is pictured here, and there are more questions than answers.

There's plenty of open land here, but the gravesites are packed closely together. Why? The names and dates are all different, so it's not as if this was one family.

My guess is that a small cemetery's contents got moved here for some reason, and the owner decided he didn't want to take up much land with the contents. He/she was successful.


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Varney, Ontario - World's Largest Adirondack Chair

Here's your photography lesson of the day, class. What you see on this page is one big chair. Let me rephrase that. It's ONE BIG CHAIR.

No, really. It must be 12 feet tall. But that's tough to tell by this photo, because it is easy to be fooled by the perspective.

So when taking a picture like this, put a person next to the chair so the actual size can be recorded.

The chair is located on Highway 6 in Varney, which is between Guelph and Owen Sound. It looks to be in front of some sort of business, although there is no sign in front. Therefore, the chair just sits there. Seems like a lost marketing opportunity.

One other note - there's a smaller chair down the road that has seen better days. Don't be fooled, make sure you go far enough to see the real thing. The chair is located near Varney Speedway, and can be easily seen on the road.

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Hamilton, Ontario: Dinosaur models

Flamborough Patio Furniture has all sorts of interesting items scattered around its grounds. That includes models of animals, including dinosaurs. Some are even life-sized.

That certainly makes it an unusual spot to buy a shed.

There's no explanation on the web site as to why this was done. There is a reference on it that says it is home of the dinosaurs, but that's it. No doubt someone thought it was a cute gimmick.

And it works. Once you start touring the grounds to see the works of art, you can't help but notice the furniture. They do have a wide variety of items. Someone offered to help, and I said, "We're just looking for ideas. So far we've seen two swings and a dinosaur we like." The man laughed.

The store is located on Highway 6, not too far north of Route 403. It's on the west side of the road. Look for the T-Rex near the entrance.

Based on the picture, it looks like there's a new mouth to feed on the grounds.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Penn Yan, New York: World's Largest Pancake Griddle

Yes, every town needs something to be famous for something. Here is Penn Yan's something - at least in the silly tourist attraction department.

In 1987, Penn Yan made the world's largest pancake. Naturally, you'd need a very large griddle for such a project. This is that cooking device. It's hung on a building in downtown (Main St. and Seneca St. if you are visiting.) It's another great find from our friends at the website of Roadside America.

The pancake was 28 feet across and weighed more than 4,000 pounds. It took 15 gallons of syrup and 48 pounds of butter to finish it. Reports say the finished product was rather cake-like, and a little tough.

The Finger Lakes Times says the record only lasted for seven years, when an English town made a bigger pancake. Let's hope Penn Yan still holds the American record.

The town is a nice little college town, with Keuka College just out of downtown. Too bad the students don't get to see it in the summer for the most part. Here's a tourism video:

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Bluff Point, New York: Garrett Memorial Chapel

You get 10 points if you know where Bluff Point, New York is. It is located in the Finger Lakes region of the state. Keuka Lake is shaped something like a Y, and Bluff Point is located just north of where the two water branches come together.

That was where Garrett and Company made millions of gallons of wine in the first half of the 20th century. The son of Evelyn and Paul Garrett - Charles - died in 1929, and the winery owners put up this chapel in tribute to him.

It's a great old building, with fine views of the surrounding countryside. It's a natural place for weddings and wedding pictures, and services are held there in the summer. The Chapel is on the register of national historic places.

When we visited, the place was locked up. Luckily, the website has a video:

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Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum

Part of the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo is less than impressive from the outside. It looks like some sort of old warehouse, which it is.

But open the door, and the view becomes that much more impressive. The floor of the main part of the museum is filled with cars. As you'd expect by the name, the Pierce Arrow is more than well represented. That car was made in Buffalo, and was the luxury vehicle of its time. Alas, the Depression did the company in, as few people had the money to buy an expensive auto. The walls have plenty of memorabilia as well - everything from signs and memorabilia to gas pumps.

But that's not the best part. A wing was added to the building some time ago, and the centerpiece is a gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was never actually built at the time, as it was deemed a bit impractical for actual use. A fireplace in a service station probably didn't seem like a good idea then, just like it doesn't now. But it's fun to see what Wright designed. There's some controversy in the architectural world about this, as some don't like the idea of taking the plans of an unrealized project and building it. Still, it's quite a curiosity piece. The museum borrowed Wright's car, and placed it on display at the time of this visit.

This is a relatively new museum, so it's a little underrated in terms of attractions. Transportation lovers certainly will enjoy it a great deal.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is either the first or last stop when going up and down the Inside Passage of Alaska. I don't want to say there's not much of a shoreline, but the first street that runs along the water is built on the dock. The streets get steep pretty quickly.

Ketchikan is something of a starting point for outdoor adventures for the region, such as hiking, kayaking and canopy adventures (ziplines, etc.). Downtown has a variety of shops, including the ever-present jewelry stores and souvenir emporiums. Dolly's House is an ex-brothel that is now a museum.

There are lots of totem poles around as well - Ketchikan is one of the world's leaders in that department. The Totem Heritage Center and Saxman Totem Park (a couple of miles out of town) have plenty. And as the sign suggests, there's plenty of salmon to eat.

Due to some mechanical problems on our cruise, we didn't get as much time as we'd like to explore Ketchikan. Maybe next trip.

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Misty Fjords National Monument, Alaska

There certainly are places that are as beautiful as Misty Fjords National Monument. I don't think there are any places that are prettier.

This was designated as wilderness in 1980 and takes up more than 2 million acres. It receives more than 160 inches of rain a year, and thus is as green as you can imagine. Much of it looks as if no human being has ever set foot on it, which considering the topography is probably true.

Visiting it isn't easy, but it's worth it. We took a floatplane from Ketchikan, taking off from the Tongass Narrows a short distance from our cruise dock. The plane needs only several minutes to get to the National Monument. After taking a look around, the place actually lands in the middle of a mountain lake which is surrounded by glacier-chiseled cliffs. Riders then can actually get out of the plane and stand on the floatation devices that stand in for landing wheels. (The above picture was taken from there; I can't imagine what a sunny day looks like there.) The only sounds come from the waterfalls in the immediate area. After a too-short stay, it's back up in the area for another look around before heading for the departure point.

A tip: Tourists from the cruises are swarmed by representatives of floatplane companies as soon as they get off the boat. The aggressiveness is bit startling and leaves a slightly bad taste. We had set up a reservation for a flight in advance with ProMech Air, and were treated quite well. Other companies probably do as good a job as that one, but they didn't shout at me in order to get my business.

Sure enough, someone else did a video of a similar trip.

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Juneau, Alaska - Mount Roberts Tramway

One of the striking parts about Juneau is how little flat land there is along the waterfront. In some portions of town, it is level for only a few blocks before the terrain goes almost straight up.

How, then, can you see the whole landscape? One way is to take the Mount Roberts Tramway, which takes passengers straight up to a landing spot on top of the hill.

The structure is more than 3,000 feet long and 1,700 feet high. One interesting part that you might not notice is that there are no towers along the way, as the trip is so steep that the supporting structures were bypassed. There are two cars that hold 60 people each; as one goes up, the other goes down.

The structure opened in 1996 and is built right on the docks. It's easy to find - just look for the wires. Here's someone else's video on it:

This is not a cheap ride, checking in at $32 per person as of 2014. At the top is a big gift shop, a small nature center, and a restaurant. Make sure you allow enough time to go for walks on the scenic trails. You'll have a better chance of getting the best views of the area by getting away from the complex around the top of the tramway. Trees and buildings can get in the way of the views there, spoiling the experience somewhat. (In fairness, it's a little tough to trim the trees up there because of the steepness.) Therefore, if the trails are closed for one reason or another or if it's a very cloudy day, you might not rate this a consumer "best buy."

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Juneau, Alaska: State Capitol

Those who have been to a variety of states capitals know that the state capitol building usually is large and has some sort of dome. Not so in Alaska.

In 1931, the United States government constructed the Territorial and Federal Building to handle business before Alaska became a state. When Alaska achieved statehood status in 1959, the building was turned into a capitol.

Still, it's been adapted for the usual uses. Here's a shot of Alaska's House. Being a legislator here is a part-time job, usually in the early months of the year. There are 40 representatives and 20 senators; the state only had a population around 750,000.

Tours of the building are available, for free no less. We were unlucky enough to get a guide who had just started on the job. I think we knew more about Alaska's state government than he did, based on his struggle to answer questions. But he'll get the hang of it eventually.

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Juneau, Alaska: Patsy Ann Dog Statue

How many dog statues have their own web site? At least one. Patsy Ann, though, wasn't just another dog.

Whenever a ship came into Juneau's dock area in the Thirties, Patsy Ann - a bull terrier - would run to greet it. This is rather remarkable since Patsy was born deaf. Still, she returned to the wharf again and again - perhaps because visitors would always give her treats.

After a while, the dog was one of the area's best ambassadors. Juneau's mayor opted to name her "the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska."

Patsy Ann died in 1942, and the body was placed in Gastineau Channel. A statue was finished 50 years later, and Patsy Ann is still greeting tourists there to this day.

Check out a longer version of the story here. You can even buy a t-shirt or mug through the site.

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Juneau, Alaska: Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure

Steve and Cindy Bowhay owned about 50 acres of land in Juneau that were adjacent to a national forest and located on a steep hill. The land had been clobbered during a heavy storm, causing a creek to overflow. So ... they got to work.

The result is the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure, a surprising outburst of color.

Upon arriving, visitors are taken on a tram and slowly wind their way up the mountain. They eventually reach the top, taking in the plants and flowers along the way, and visit a wonderful scenic overlook of the Juneau region.

But it's the upside-down trees that will catch your attention. Supposedly Steve got frustrated in the clean-up process with a particularly pesky tree, and stuck it in the group the "wrong" way. When plants were placed on the top/bottom, the Gardens suddenly had a unique item.

Here's a look at a few of them together. And I have no idea who the man in the red jacket is; he was on the tour with us. But thanks for lending your image, sir.

For a more full picture in the form of an ad, here's the video from the Glacier Gardens site

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Juneau, Alaska: Mendenhall Glacier

You'd think you might get tired of seeing glaciers after a while, but it never happens. They are too impressive.

Mendenhall Glacier certainly qualifies. The blue ice is part of the attraction, as the surface absorbs all colors except blue.

If you want an example of the concept of climate change, this isn't a bad one. This glacier has been retreating quickly for quite a while, and the rate has picked up. This picture was taken from the Visitors Center. The glacier was about even with this location during the 1940s. It now checks in at 12 miles long, a half-mile wide and 70 feet tall, but we'll have to see how true that statement is in the coming years. Right now it is called the fifth-biggest icefield in North America.

By the way, when you click on the picture to increase its size, take a good look at the waterfall on the right. It's very large, and as you can see visitors can walk up very close to it on a trail from the Visitors Center. That also provides an even closer look at the glacier.

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Juneau, Alaska: Macaulay Salmon Hatchery

Salmon not only the dinner entree of choice in this part of Alaska, but it's big business. So why not give Mother Nature a little help?

Thus, the Macaulay Salman Hatchery in Gastineau Channel was created. The operation (factory or plant just doesn't seem appropriate here) is designed to grow salmon. There's a six-part process involved. Eggs are collected and fertilized, alevins evenually hatch and turn into salmon fry, and they go through an imprinting process in the pens pictured. The idea is to get them to learn where they are.

Then it is off to the Pacific Ocean. They'll spend two to five years out there, before returning to the Hatchery to spawn. This is a pretty neat trick when you think about it all the way around, and it works from 2 to 10 percent of the time. I'm sure the salmon wind up in some stomachs too, human or others.

Visitors can see the tanks where the little fellers start the process. There's also a large aquarium and a gift shop with plenty of salmon-related items. I'm not sure if I would have gone here on my own (it was part of the tour), but it wasn't a bad stop.

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