Cartagena, Colombia, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Now that the 125-degree heat is winding down in the U.S. and readers in the soon-to-be-frigid north are planning their winter escapes, some thoughts on a popular warm destination…

The culture nerds in Paris designated Cartagena, Colombia a World Heritage Site back in 1984:

Situated on the northern coast of Colombia on a sheltered bay facing the Caribbean Sea, the city of Cartagena de Indias boasts the most extensive and one of the most complete systems of military fortifications in South America. Due to the city’s strategic location, this eminent example of the military architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries was also one of the most important ports of the Caribbean. The port of Cartagena – together with Havana and San Juan, Puerto Rico – was an essential link in the route of the West Indies and thus an important chapter in the history of world exploration and the great commercial maritime routes. On the narrow streets of the colonial walled city can be found civil, religious and residential monuments of beauty and consequence.

… The components that make up the Port, Fortifications and Group of Monuments, Cartagena, are authentic in terms of location and setting, forms and designs, and materials and substance. The property constitutes an exceptional example of Spanish military architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and the existing fortification works remain authentic examples of some of the most important military engineers of this period, including Juan Bautista (Giovanni Battista) Antonelli, Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor, Antonio de Arévalo, Ignacio Sala and Juan Bautista MacEvan.

The city was in the news more recently for a different kind of cultural treasure… “US Secret Service Cartagena scandal ‘involved 20 women'” (BBC):

The US Secret Service prostitution scandal involved as many as 20 women, 11 American agents and some military personnel, senior US officials say.

Senator Susan Collins, briefed by the Secret Service director, said 20 women were found at the US hotel.

The incidents took place in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of last weekend’s Summit of the Americas.

The BBC article includes a subhead “Dog-handlers investigated” with no explanation or elaboration.

Hoping to catch up with Hunter Biden, I visited in February 2023 via Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas (onboard Internet made it a work trip with a colleague in which we stopped to stretch our legs periodically).

Coming into the historic city and docks as viewed from the deck:

Let’s check out the iPhone 14 panoramic capability:

Here are the smart folks walking 50 steps and getting on a tour bus:

Our decision to walk took us through a fun welcome center:

As soon as we got out of the port, we were besieged by taxi drivers who told us that it wouldn’t be safe to walk into the historic center. We ignored them because we wanted to get a feel for the town and they were partly right. The first 15 minutes of the walk is on narrow sidewalks that are in poor condition. The streets are jammed with traffic and it was already uncomfortably hot by late morning.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to see a few views that the tourist who zips straight to the historic center might miss.

The tourist center is jammed with… tourists:

The cathedral offers some escape from the sun and heat:

The local museum features some good views of the plaza below and also some practical ideas for Covidians:

The Ring doorbell people could take some ideas away from here:

The town was previously fortified by a wall and now is protected against invasion by a ring highway as well as the wall.

This is unfortunate because the town can’t truly meet the water. We walked to the 16th-century Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, watching our step carefully:

Then it was an Uber (less than $3 for the luxury option) back to the port.

Note the young slender local wearing a mask (voluntarily, I think, because some other employees did not have them). Colombia had a “mandatory nationwide lockdown” for approximately six months. Children lost more than a year of education as “most of the schools remained closed during most of 2021”. Borders were closed until May 2021 with testing and vaccine papers demands after that. The population was ordered to wear masks outdoors through at least February 2022 (Reuters) while indoor masking was required in 2023. (What was the short-term effect of these efforts? Colombia has suffered from a 23 percent excess death rate (versus 5 percent for no-lockdown no-mask Sweden) since January 1, 2020.)

Were we sad to sail away? Did we wish we’d booked a hotel and stayed three or four days? No and no. The old city of Panama is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Panamanians are much wealthier than the Colombians, which means they can afford to restore everything, including the sidewalks, and they don’t need to be aggressive in trying to sell stuff to tourists. Also, there is much less car and truck traffic. If we wanted to vacation in the midst of an old Spanish colonial city in the region we would choose Casco Viejo.

If you’re planning to visit, maybe stay in the richest part of the modern city and hit the historic stuff for one or two days. Or check it off your bucket list by visiting via cruise ship! December through April are the agreed-on best months to visit and this is also when cruise ships sailing from Florida are unlikely to encounter any hurricanes (end of November is the end of the season for nautical and property insurance woe).

Full post, including comments

Among the Covidians in Burlington, Vermont

Some photos from a recent trip to downtown Burlington, Vermont…

The front door of a state government building:

Inside a bookstore, a follower of CNN:

COVID-19 is dangerous enough that one should wear a mask, but not so dangerous that one should shop for books on Amazon?

We are informed that marijuana can cure almost any illness, yet below is a marijuana shopper who feels the need to protect him/her/zir/theirself via a mask (Fauci-approved cloth version). If he/she/ze/they is about to inhale healing cannabis, why does he/she/ze/they need to worry about a minor bug such as SARS-CoV-2? Note also the trans-enhanced rainbow flag on the front door.

Speaking of rainbow flags, nearly every merchant had one, but only some featured Black Lives Matters or Trans People Belong signs.

Note the tattoos behind the Sign of Justice:

The University of Vermont featured both indoor and outdoor maskers of the young/healthy/slender variety, but unfortunately I was too slow to get good photos. Even more upsetting: the “intentional intersectional space” was closed.

Shout-out to Heritage Aviation at KBTV for the usual awesome service. Also to U.S. Customs at Burlington for hassle-free clearance inbound from the Land of Blackface and Political Unity.

Full post, including comments

How much does aviation add to real estate values in vacation destinations?

Happy National Aviation Day!

I’m celebrating on Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, having arrived here via ghetto-class Cirrus SR20. I’m staying in a neighborhood of oceanfront houses that were worth $2-4 million pre-coronapanic. This evening, about 30 folks gathered for dinner two houses over. Everyone who wasn’t a full-timer had arrived by air, either private or scheduled, to the BHB airport. The lockdowns and Internet (lucky to get 80 Mbits down and 10 Mbits up here) added a lot of value to these houses, but I think that aviation is responsible for much of the value.

I can’t find any economic analysis of how much out-of-the-way vacation spots have increased in value now that they’re accessible by air. These places were worthless before the railroads. Bar Harbor became conveniently accessible via rail, it seems, in 1902 (Wikipedia). The place took a hit from the invention of modern air conditioning by pioneering female engineer Wilma Carrier ( A/C made staying in New York City or Washington, D.C. more tolerable) and then got a boost from improvements in aviation. The overnight sleeper trains from NYC might have been as comfortable as today’s Cape Air flights, but coming to Bar Harbor from Alabama (we met some folks at a restaurant who vacation in Acadia every year) was impractical.

[If we’re climate change alarmists, which I hope that we all are, we can also look at the benefits to Bar Harbor, Maine from CO2 emitted by aviation. Maine isn’t a pleasant place to swim yet, but if Greta Thunberg is correct this could be the next Miami Beach.]

Some over-sharpened iPhone pictures from a carriage road in Acadia:

View from my friend’s back yard:

Cars and Coffee at the Seal Cove Auto Museum:

The big hotel in downtown Bar Harbor:

The only rainbow flag that I could find downtown (note the lack of trans-enhancement):

What it has looked like most of this summer:

Climate change has brought a wet/cold summer to Vermont, Maine, and Quebec.

Full post, including comments

The Dutch acknowledge their wicked past, but refuse to make reparations

From a recent trip to Mauritshuis, a house-turned-museum in The Hague. The curators say that the house was built with profits from slavery in Brazil, but apparently they refuse to give the house to Brazilians who are descended from slaves and then pay rent:

A few additional photos of/in the museum:

The most famous Vermeer was pressed into service for righteous shops, reminding customers to wear a mask:

Speaking of disease, the museum has a great Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson:

The other big art experience in town is Panorama Mesdag, which convinces you that you’re standing on a dune using the best technology of 1881. The foreground is real sand:

Full post, including comments

The Dutch Pinball Museum in Rotterdam

Europeans who love Americana seem to be more passionate about their hobbies than we are. The Dutch Pinball Museum in Rotterdam confirms this general observation. I asked Gerard van de Sanden, the founder and collector, why he closed at 6 pm. “All of the American pinball collections stay open until midnight and sell as much alcohol as possible, which is how they make their money.” He replied that the late-night crowd didn’t treat the machines well and preserving the machines was more important to him than making a higher profit.

Compared to arcades in the U.S., the Dutch Pinball Museum is as quiet as a church. All of the machines have had their volume turned down low so that it isn’t deafening when the museum gets crowded. Visitors are friendly and enthusiastic. I talked to one couple where the husband has 11 machines in a backyard shed. They’d driven 3 hours from the farthest corner of the Netherlands to spend a Saturday here. The wife wasn’t an enthusiast, but joined nonetheless. On the way, they picked up friends, a couple where both husband and wife play. They have 5 machines inside their house.

For the Dutch lover of pinball, here’s the ultimate machine:

It’s made in Holland by the Dutch Pinball company. Despite the obscurity of the manufacturer, the owner says that the machine is not difficult to maintain (though metric tools are required).

Unlike the typical “play all you want” arcades that call themselves museums, this one makes an attempt to educate:

The collection includes an unusual modern game, a 40th anniversary Elvira’s House of Horrors (#31 out of just 199 made):

This is a great machine for playability, but I don’t love the theme, perhaps because I am not a horror movie fan and have never seen the Elvia TV show.

It’s Europe, so the collection must include a soccer game:

If you love space, the collection includes Black Hole and Stern’s fascinating innovative Orbitor 1:

With five technicians working in the background, the collection is quite strong on playable older machines. Example:

When you’re done, take the water taxi back to the city center.

Then hit the Markthal:

Where else can one experience great pinball in Europe? The owner suggested Krakow, Poland.

Separately, Rotterdam itself offers a mixture of Western debauchery and Islamic rectitude. A strip club is close to Halal Fried Chicken, for example:


Full post, including comments

The 30,000′ view on crossing the North Atlantic

Here’s a report on a crossing from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Canada in July 2023 in a Cirrus Vision Jet (my review).

The machine: one engine, one parachute, 31,000′ service ceiling, cruise speed of about 310 knots, range of about 900 nautical miles. It lacks almost everything that the regulatory gods want to see for an aircraft crossing the North Atlantic. There is no HF radio. We could not spell or pronounce CPDLC, much less operate with it. We were one letter behind on ADS, being equipped with ADS-B rather than the more impressive ADS-C. Nonetheless, we were entitled to fly the most sensible route for a short-range airplane at altitudes up to at least FL280 and sometimes all the way up to FL310 (the accessibility of RVSM flight levels is tough to predict, even for the experienced planners, so make sure that you have enough fuel to make it at FL280).

A common route for short-range aircraft… EGAA, BIKF, BGSF, CYYR:

The biggest challenge with this route is that Greenland, because it remains a colony of Denmark (the natives would prefer to have accepted Donald Trump’s proposal and become part of the U.S.), has only two decent airports, both built by the U.S. military. Kangerlussuaq, which started out as “Sondrestrom” during World War II, is where all of the jet airliners land and where any general aviation pilot who doesn’t imagine him/her/zir/theirself to be a hero should land. The Cold War-era Thule, now “Pituffik Space Base”, is too far north to be a useful alternate and is generally closed to civilians (see Project Iceworm for what we did up there without telling our Danish hosts). Nuuk, BGGH, might be a reasonable alternate when they finish extending the runway (delayed until 2024 due to coronapanic). See charts below.

There is always the possibility that BGSF, which lacks a parallel taxiway, will get shut down due to a disabled aircraft. I wouldn’t advise any attempt at crossing unless BGSF is forecast to be good VMC (visual meteorological conditions).

A lesser challenge is the long leg between CYYR and BGSF, which is readily doable with a tailwind, but crosses a lot of water and takes an airplane out of communication range at 30,000′. Why not skip this by substituting CYFB (Iqaluit, Nunavut; not to be confused with “Frobisher Bay“) for CYYR? Now the leg is 487 nm instead of 872 nm and much of the route is within gliding distance of land.

We had an additional challenge on our trip. The owner-pilot of the Vision Jet had been in Europe for a couple of months with his family and we were tasked with bringing a furry child back to the U.S. Iceland and Greenland are unfriendly to Canine-Americans and, therefore, it would have been extremely ugly if we had gotten stuck due to weather or mechanical issues. Maybe the pup would have been locked down in quarantine for weeks (like a California K-12 student!). Maybe the owner would have had to sleep with her in the plane. In theory, dogs are not even allowed out on the airport ramp/grass to pee.

Although apps such as and ForeFlight can provide good weather briefings and performance calculations, most people making the crossing elect to use a planning and dispatch service such as Air Journey or Shepherd Aero. We used Shepherd and, in addition to the high-level and low-level planning, they provided a raft and survival suits in Belfast that we later dropped off in Bangor, Maine. They also handled the paperwork requirements for approval to operate in the North Atlantic high-level airspace (“NAT HLA”; see link at the end).

Our day started around 6 am at a Hilton golf hotel where we checked weather and navlogs over breakfast. The TV described “millions of public sector workers” getting raises in the UK. Fortunately, we are assured by top economists that a wage-price inflation spiral is impossible.

We showed up before 8 am at Global Trek, the FBO at the big airport in Belfast.

We unlocked the baggage door so that the local maintenance folks could top off the oxygen bottle. If a jet depressurizes at the midpoint of one of these legs and descends to an altitude where oxygen is not required, the additional fuel burn will result in a failure to reach the destination. The only way to avoid a swim is to put on the oxygen masks and stay at least reasonably high, e.g., 20,000′. The mask is also a great tool for avoiding a deadly SARS-CoV-2 infection from one’s co-pilot. #AbundanceOfCaution:

(What if you don’t get the quick-don oxygen masks on after an explosive decompression? The Vision Jet, thanks to the Miracle of Garmin and having seen a cabin altitude above 15,000′, will automatically descend to 14,000′. In theory, the pilots will then wake up. If they don’t, the Garmin AI will try to Autoland (I’d like to see that in Greenland! Autoland requires a GPS approach with LPV or LNAV/VNAV at an airport within 200 nm).)

What about a weight and balance calculation? Given long runways, cold temperatures, and mostly-smooth air, being slightly overweight is not a significant risk (not a tough issue for us because all of the back seats were not only empty, but had been removed). Would it ever make sense, from a risk management point of view, to leave out fuel or survival gear in order to hit a book number? (In Greenland, the fueler didn’t even ask whether we wanted to be topped off. He simply topped off the plane because nobody would be dumb enough to depart over the North Atlantic in a light plane with less than full fuel.)

Prep for the unlikely event of that single turbojet engine breathing its last? As with Caribbean flying, it is essential to have a life raft and as many EPIRB/PLBs as one can reasonably attach to one’s raft and person. In addition, however, one must have a survival suit to protect against the cold and wet. Here’s me suited up for the crossing and/or the Climate Change (TM)-induced floods in the Northeast (photo taken at the end of the trip, in Bangor, Maine; note the sun-reddened face due to the Vision Jet’s less-than-complete UV protection):

How does it work to operate the latest generation of touchscreen avionics with hands like Zoidberg‘s? What’s conventional is to wear the survival suit up to one’s waist and be prepared to don the rest in a worst-case scenario. The folks who do this all the time get constant-wear dry suits that have separate gloves ($4,000 in pre-Biden money).

We departed with full fuel and full oxygen at 9:00 am local time, just as planned, climbed to FL300, and stayed within radio and radar range for the entire nearly-3-hour trip to Iceland. The only old-school task that we had to perform was tell Reykjavík Control when we expected to enter their airspace at RATSU. Radio communications on the entire trip proved to be easy and informal. The controllers are nowhere near as busy as FAA controllers, so you can always ask for a clarification.

We were able to get to FL300 and found the temperature, due to humans ignoring Greta Thunberg, to be ISA+4. True airspeed of 315 knots plus a tailwind of 10-20 knots.

Landing in Iceland is relaxing because BIKF is a huge international airport with two runways and, in the event of shutdown by fog or mostly-peaceful protest, BIRK is next door and also has two reasonably long runways. The wind was blowing 29 knots when we landed, which made taxiing in certain orientations challenging and also required some thought regarding parking orientation for the restart. The powerful wind was forecast to continue for four days, so we were glad that we hadn’t planned to stay. Our canine companion was not allowed out of the plane and immigration came out to meet us in a shack to check passports, despite us having expressed no intention to leave the airport or stay longer than required for refueling. Elites sometimes need to stop here in their Gulfstreams, e.g., if on their way from Los Angeles to attend a climate change convention deep into the Mediterranean and carrying a full load of sycophants. Consequently, there is a reasonably nice FBO with a full array of free drinks, a jail, and a children’s play area. Delicious pizza was delivered, but I had just one slice due to concerns regarding the bathroom facilities on the SF50 (none).

Here’s our beauty contestant on the ramp (n-number obscured):

(If you disagree that the Vision Jet is beautiful, remember that we crossed during the same week in which a person assigned male at birth was crowned the most beautiful woman in the Netherlands (BBC).)

The fuel truck in Iceland is more like a Mississippi River towboat with a fuel barge behind it:

It was then time to fire up and head for Greenland, another three-hour leg. The planning elves filed us for FL280. Our route took us directly over BGKK, an airport on the east coast of Greenland with a 4,000′ gravel runway. We could see a handful of buildings from the air, but nothing resembling a settlement.

Being “over land” in Greenland is not quite as comforting as it would be in the Midwest. Can you see a good place to land via parachute?

The weather had been forecast to be great for landing in Greenland, with ceilings of more than 5,000′. Nonetheless, the approach to the runway is right alongside enough terrain to get a pilot’s attention. Here’s our GPS approach on the Garmin G3000:

The closer to the airport you get, the more straightforward the view, but notice the mountains behind that would complicate a go-around or a departure:

Safety tip: fly every procedure as slow as possible. That gives you more time to think about whether you’re following the procedure precisely and, if you’re in an auto-everything aircraft like the Vision Jet, to see if the magic is set up properly.

Because only peasants who can’t afford a Falcon or Gulfstream would ever visit this airport in a private airplane, there is no FBO. Airline passengers are welcomed in a terminal, but light aircraft park in the middle of nowhere and are shuttled back to an airport management office to use the restroom or call CANPASS to report an expected arrival (only the pilot-in-command can do this and we waited on hold for 40 minutes; the regulars told us that this Canadian government service went downhill during coronapanic and never recovered).

(Don’t tell anyone, but our passenger escaped to the side of the ramp for her own restroom action.)

BGSF is an inefficient airport because everyone tries to land 09 and depart 27 (in from the fjord and out toward the fjord). We had to burn fuel on the ramp for about 20 minutes before the arrivals were all down and it was our turn to depart opposite direction (the wind was actually favoring 27). This is another good reason not to plan on a maximum range leg out of BGSF.

It is always nice when the last leg of the day is the shortest and the final leg to CYFB, which was forecast to be reasonable VMC, was uneventful until we got the weather report… clouds at 200′ above the runway and visibility roughly 4,500′ down the runway. The approach minimums are 200′ and 4000′ of visibility. It would have made sense to go somewhere else except that there isn’t a lot else around. Fortunately, as I pointed out to our planners (channeling the New York Times; see also this story about the invention of computer programming), we could thank the female engineer who invented approach lighting. Runway 34 is equipped with approach lights that a pilot will be able to see at 200′ above the ground even when visibility

Full post, including comments

Big Sky v. Jackson v. Park City as a summer destination

Interested in escaping to the mountains for all or part of the summer? Here’s a report, based on 2023 visits, regarding three possibilities.

Park City, Utah (elevation 7,000′) is the best choice if you’re passionate about Pride and 2SLGBTQQIA+. The city purchased at least 100 trans-enhanced rainbow flags and has hung them from every lamppost in the small downtown area. You can pay obeisance to Rainbow Flagism before you think about entering a business establishment, which might in turn have its own 2SLGBTQQIA+ talismans on the windows or door. If you’re not a follower of the state religion, however, you might be annoyed by Park City’s tilted situation. There are no level streets downtown. Park City is great if you’re planning to break a bone doing an adventure sport or if you’re planning on suffering a total body meltdown due to old age. A friend went from ski accident in Park City to world-class University of Utah hospital in 25 minutes via ambulance. The surrounding area is certainly more scenic than most of Florida, but it is far from any National Park.

Big Sky, Montana exemplifies everything that is bad about American sprawl. There are three main developments spread out along a highway, none of which has sufficient critical mass to constitute a city or even a “town”. Let’s call them three strip malls, one of which includes ski lifts. Everything is part of a single “resort”, which is able to impose a 4% sales tax on everything sold by the stores within Big Sky (Montana itself has no sales tax, so stock up in Bozeman or West Yellowstone!). But the resort corporation ignored all of the principles of New Urbanism and the sprawl does not feel planned. You can be crammed into a townhouse or condo development or you can be isolated and car-dependent far out from one of the three strip malls.

For peasants, Big Sky is tough to access. It is a 1.5-hour drive from the regional airport in Bozeman. The elite will sometimes do this or Gulfstream it to KWYS, a 35-minute drive away and blessed with an 8400′ runway and approaches down to 200′ AGL.

The exception to the above might be for the rich folks who hang out together in the Yellowstone Club (two shared and one private helipad inside so that the above drives are rendered unnecessary). Otherwise, Big Sky shows the genius of the New Urbanism folks who created our community. The shared gym, pool, lawn, playground, etc. for every 150-200 households and the compact layout (but still mostly single-family homes) facilitate social connections.

If you’re going to check out Big Sky and coming from sea level, I recommend the Marriott “Wilson”, which is in the middle strip mall that is 1,000′ lower than the base of the ski hill. This hotel was built in 2019 and folks say that the base lodges are getting worn and tired. There is a good walk down to an impressive waterfall. Bidenflation is a Republican lie: my haircut (without shampoo) at the local barber shop was only $55 plus tip. Here are the prices at the local Mexican food truck where local laborers get lunch (13 Bidies for a sandwich):

Jackson, Wyoming (elevation 6,237′) shows the importance of flatness. Hills are great if it is winter and you want to ski, but they’re annoying if you’re going to the supermarket. Jackson has a huge amount of more-or-less flat valley area that enables the development of a functional city, an extensive bike path network that you don’t need to be a hero to enjoy, etc. The wildlife art museum is a great place to hang out, especially because the members’ room is open to all and there is a good restaurant on site. You could spend 4-5 hours here with a meal and then doing some reading while looking out over the elk refuge. Jackson has its own regional airport (kind of a short runway and the approaches aren’t great, but airlines serve it). It also has an in-town low-elevation ski hill that looks good for beginners (the eponymous ski resort for Jackson is huge and terrifying).

Jackson offers quick access to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that it will take nearly 5 hours to drive to the nearest real city: Salt Lake. I’m sure that the local hospital is great for orthopedics, but if you need any other high-end specialist it will be quite a project to see a doctor in Salt Lake City. The lack of inflation meant that it was only $30 plus tip for Pad Thai in Jackson:

Residential construction was proceeding at a feverish place in all of the places that we visited (on our way to a Chinese level of population density!), but even where it seemed that a lot of land was available the prices were stratospheric. Park City was perhaps the most affordable. In Big Sky and Jackson, the townhouse lifestyle is $1-2 million and the single-family houses with a big of land and a gorgeous view were mostly $4-10 million. Here’s the downtown Jackson view on Zillow. Note that many of these multi-$million properties are either apartments or vacant land.

Tax implications: Wyoming has no personal income tax. If you end up getting stuck there for more than 6 months or fall in love with Jackson and decide to make it your primary home, you won’t pay income tax. Utah and Montana both have income taxes. None of the three states have estate or inheritance taxes. The family law systems and associated profits for alimony and child support plaintiffs are quite different among these three states as well. See Real World Divorce.

Conclusion: I think that Jackson is the nicest place among the above three. Unfortunately, it is also everyone else’s favorite so it is super expensive. The long distance from a major city is concerning as well. Due to the urban layout, it should be easier to build a social life in Jackson than in Big Sky or Park City. That said, it probably still wouldn’t be that easy due to the large percentage of transients.

On the third hand: If you stay in Florida for the summer, you are unlikely to suffer from forest fire smoke, a problem that has been common for thousands of years in the mountain states, especially up north. Here’s the sky in the Titusville/Cape Canaveral area on July 1, 2023, when folks in the Midwest and Northeast were putting their N95s back on:

(we were up there watching SpaceX push the European Euclid telescope toward the L2 Lagrange Point; even the Florida-hating NYT was forced to admit that “The weather was almost perfect for the flight”)

Full post, including comments

National Parkflation

Gift shops at National Parks sell books, stickers, posters, and quilts featuring all of the parks for those who wish to try to hit them all (my favorite is a scratch-off). If you’re old and remember when the “National Park” designation was reserved for truly spectacular places you will greatly underestimate the challenge. There are now 63 National Parks. How is that possible? 63 places in the U.S. that deserve to be mentioned as peers to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon?!?

It turns out that there has been a substantial amount of Parkflation.

Eero Saarinen’s 1965 Gateway Arch in St. Louis was redesignated from Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to Gateway Arch National Park in 2018 (Wikipedia).

Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a National Monument starting in 1933. Without any upgrades to the sights, which Coloradans say are worth a half-day visit, it became a National Park in 1999.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a set of hills cut through with highways just south of Cleveland. Half of Connecticut and all of New Hampshire qualifies as a National Park if this place does. From Wikipedia:

Cuyahoga Valley was originally designated as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then redesignated as a national park 26 years later in 2000, and remains the only national park that originated as a national recreation area.

We checked off the park on the way to Oshkosh 2021. It’s a pleasant place for an afternoon walk if you don’t mind being able to hear road noise.

The UNESCO World Heritage folks are more discriminating. Only 12 natural sites, all National Parks, make the cut:

  1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1995)
  2. Everglades National Park (1979)
  3. Grand Canyon National Park (1979)
  4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1983)
  5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1987)
  6. Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979, 1992, 1994)
  7. Mammoth Cave National Park (1981)
  8. Olympic National Park (1981)
  9. Redwood National and State Parks (1980)
  10. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995)
  11. Yellowstone National Park (1978)
  12. Yosemite National Park (1984)

(One’s in Florida!)

Readers: What are your predictions for the next few U.S. National Parks? Here are mine:

The southern edge of Vermilion Cliffs, as viewed when driving from Grand Canyon North Rim to Page, Arizona:

Full post, including comments

Should we rush to sign up for Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser immersive hotel?

Who’s ready to sign up for Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience/hotel? Compared to the price of Taylor Swift tickets, $6,000 for a family of four for two nights is a bargain. Fox Orlando explains:

Touted as a “first-of-its-kind immersive experience” Disney opened the resort with much fanfare in the spring of 2022 during “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” honoring the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World. Guests were invited aboard the Halcyon starcruiser, “a vessel known for its impeccable service and exotic destinations.” The resort hotel also had direct access to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Throughout the voyage, “guests’ choices determined their personal stories as they interacted with characters, crew, and other passengers.”

The immersive experience at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser came with a hefty price, critics said. At its opening, the cost for two guests per cabin came to $1,200 per guest, per night. A cabin for four guests (3 adults and 1 child) was priced at $749 per guest, per night. Guests were also required to book a two-night minimum stay.

(“3 adults and 1 child”? Is Fox joining the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in promoting throupledom?)

Our kids aren’t quite ready for this because they haven’t seen all of the Star Wars movies yet, but I had thought that we would take them eventually. Now we have only until the end of September to stuff them full of Star Wars knowledge, e.g., about the relationship between Jar Jar Binks and General Grievous, and get them to this immersive hotel.

Separately, though I hate to brag (nobody hates to brag more than I do), I need to share that I was just 50′ from Taylor Swift when she was on stage. Even better, I did not have to pay $5,000 for my seat and close-up view of Ms. Swift. It all happened at Oberlin College where Taylor Swift was receiving an earned bachelor’s degree. A 2015 Daily Mail story explains:

Taylor Swift, 21, is the second cousin of the famous singer

They’ve never met, but the famous Taylor’s parents brought her backstage at the 1989 tour – which she bought tickets to herself

She currently attends Oberlin College where she’s taking classes in politics and Hispanic studies, and she spends her spare times giving swim lessons to kids.

College student Taylor doesn’t sing, she doesn’t like country, and she didn’t even listen to her famous cousin’s music until recently.

I hope that by now the singer Taylor Swift has at least sent some free tickets to her same-name cousin!

Full post, including comments

Chattanooga, Tennessee as an aviation stopover

We’re getting into the summer travel season. For folks in small planes fleeing South Florida, Chattanooga, Tennessee is a reasonable first overnight. KCHA is a huge airport with a great FBO:

The surrounding Appalachian Mountains are scenic, but don’t interfere with instrument approaches down to 200′ AGL.

This post has some photos from an overnight stop in Chattanooga on the way home from Oshkosh last summer (early August 2023).

Uber it to downtown and visit the Tennessee Aquarium, which takes the novel architectural approach of following a river down to the ocean:

This is what my house would look like if I were an evil billionaire. The aquarium puts a lot of effort into showing river ecosystems from around the world. In the Department of Stuff You Couldn’t Make Up, Bank of America supports the piranha exhibit:

We’ll see how many San Francisco Fed supervision failures lead to Bank of America swooping in!

Speaking of swooping in, Science says that humans crossing a border are good, but the Nile Perch crossing into Lake Victoria has been bad for native species:

Invasive Mosquitofish are also bad…

The dark River Journey building has now been augmented by a more conventional Ocean Journey building that has similar to displays to what you find in public aquariums around the world.

Puckett’s is a great Southern-style restaurant next door:

Walk along and then across the river…

Cry when you learn that Americans won’t put down their Xbox and OxyContin long enough to come in and make donuts (“Staffing Shortages” sign below):

Your kids can cool off in a fountain and then ride a carousel…

Ruby Falls is entirely underground so it is open late. You start high above the city:

You walk through a limestone cave with beautiful formations and eventually come to the falls themselves:

Downtown is a little scarier than the cave:

You probably won’t get sued for divorce or custody during your overnight in Chattanooga, however, because child support profits are capped in Tennessee (see Real World Divorce). You can finish your evening with a late-night snack inside the old train station:

All of the above can be easily accomplished if you land before 1 pm. Then fire up early the next morning and proceed to the heartland!

Full post, including comments