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Author Topic: Something different for the 2016 Holiday Season . . .  (Read 2767 times)
Oldcarsarecool
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« Reply #60 on: February 18, 2017, 11:32:47 PM »

continued  .  .  .
Part 4 of 8
  
  
  
  
  
Overlooks 2 and 3 are relatively close to one another which is evident from the previous photos.  
 
 

 
 
I started down the grade to Overlook 2
 
 
Overlook 2

 
 
The viewing area at Overlook 2 is larger than that of Overlook 3, but is a bit more difficult to navigate due to the rocks and the slope.  This area appears to be built directly into the rocks on the side of the slope.
 
 

 
 
I also discovered a tree growing from the rocks, like I saw in Colorado.
 
 

 
 
Another overlook meant more stunning views !  I had a good view of Overlook 3 where I just was.
 
 
Overlook 3

 
 
I also had a good view of Overlook 7 across the gorge.
 
 
Overlook 7

 
 
I had a much better view of L' Eau D' Or Falls from here !
 
 
L' Eau D' Or Falls

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 
I'm also closer to Tempesta Falls at Overlook 2, but can still only see the top of it.
 
 
Top of Tempesta Falls

 
 
Gorge depth was listed as 350 feet at this point.
 
 

 
 
The sign also mentioned the "Hurricane Falls Bridge Loop," which I'm guessing is what I was looking for.  Awesome !  But what's this "staircase ?"
 
 

 
 
Oh !  This looks interesting.
 
 

 
 
Access down into the gorge is via an elaborate network of stairs anchored to the side of the gorge.  If the gorge depth is 350 feet, this means I would be heading down A LOT stairs to reach the bridge, 310 to be exact.
 
 

 
 
This seems like a good way to offer access to the gorge.  I was impressed by the engineering.  I'm not a child, (legally anyways), nor am I in poor health (relatively speaking).  So off I went .  .  .
 
 
« Last Edit: February 19, 2017, 12:09:24 AM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #61 on: February 18, 2017, 11:46:01 PM »

continued  .  .  .
Part 5 of 8
  
  
  
  
  
The stairs lead downward and just kept descending.  The bridge eventually came into view.
 
 

 
 

 
 
I soon arrived at a crossroads .  .  .  
 
 

 
 
.  .  . and was asked a question.
 
 

 
 

 
 
The path to the right goes under the path on the left and stops, but offers a good view of the underside of the suspension bridge.
 
 

 
 
The path on the left takes hikers onto the suspension bridge and across the gorge.
 
 
Hurricane Falls Bridge

 
 
The Hurricane Falls Bridge sits about 80 feet above the Tallulah River, and moves with every step you take.  So anyone who has a fear of heights may have an interesting time here.  But the views are worth the trip for those so motivated.  I started across the gorge and had to stop and take a few pics, naturally.
 
 
Looking upstream

 
 
Inspiration Point can be seen in the photo below.  This is the highest point in the park at 1,000 feet.  
 
 
Looking downstream

 
 
Overlook 1A where I started this journey

 
 
The Hurricane Falls Bridge is so named because of where it crosses the gorge above Hurricane Falls.  
 
 
Hurricane Falls

 
 
The platform on the other end of the bridge is the same one I saw earlier from above.  I arrived to find yet another crossroads.
 
 

 
 
Turning right and going up the 347 steps would take me to the South Rim Trail and the overlooks along the fence I photographed earlier.  There is a small viewing area in front of those steps that offered a great view upstream.
 
 

 
 
Instead, I turned left and started down the 221 steps toward the gorge floor.  And I mean DOWN !
 
 
« Last Edit: February 19, 2017, 12:10:32 AM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #62 on: February 18, 2017, 11:48:40 PM »

continued  .  .  .
Part 6 of 8
  
  
  
  
  
By this point, I had already dropped quite a bit in elevation.  Below is a shot looking toward Overlook 1A from the beginning of this adventure.
 
 
Looking toward Overlook 1A

 
 
And I kept descending.
 
 

 
 
I zoomed in on another overlook on my way down the stairs.
 
 
Overlook 1

 
 
I would later discover that this is Overlook 1, or the one I missed.  Overlook 1A (which I thought was Overlook 1 initially), would be out of view to the left in the photos above and below.
 
 

 
 
And I still kept descending and passed by a fallen tree.
 
 

 
 
The gorge floor came into view at this point.
 
 

 
 
I had a better view after a few more twists and turns.
 
 
Hurricane Falls Platform

 
 
I had reached the Hurricane Falls Platform at the bottom of the stairs.  The map on the sign below shows where I am standing.  My journey took me from the Interpretive Center to Overlook 1A which isn't shown on the map, (I'm guessing it's somewhere near what is labeled as Overlook 1).  I then backtracked to Overlook 3 and started downward a short distance to Overlook 2 where I began the descent down the stairs.  After crossing the suspension bridge and traveling down more stairs, I made it to where the red arrow is pointing.
 
 

 
 
The Hurricane Falls Platform is tiered.  The top tier features a landing area at the bottom of the stairs and the entrance to the gorge floor.  Permits are required to enter the gorge floor and are only available at the Interpretive Center, which was closed today.  So I'm not sure what's happening below.
 
 

 
 
Because of its elevation, the top tier also offers a spectacular view downstream !
 
 
Toward the North Rim Trail and Overlook 1

 
 
Toward the South Rim Trail and Overlooks 8 – 10

 
 
Gorge floor at Hurricane Falls

 
 
Earlier, I took a picture of a cool rock formation that stuck out next to Overlook 1A.  Now I was looking at it from the bottom of the gorge .  .  .

 

 
 

 
 
« Last Edit: February 19, 2017, 12:12:15 AM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #63 on: February 18, 2017, 11:51:13 PM »

continued  .  .  .
Part 7 of 8
  
  
  
  
  
The second tier of the platform is an extension that takes visitors above the water's edge in front of Hurricane Falls.
 
 
Hurricane Falls

 
 
Wonderful !
 
 

 
 
Not only was it wonderful to look at, the sound of the rushing water very relaxing and quite intense.  I could hang out here for hours just listening to the river.  
 
 

 
 
Hurricane Falls is the third of six waterfalls along the Talullah River through the gorge.   It is also the tallest at 96 feet.
 
 

 
 

 
 
I zoomed in on the gorge walls directly across from the platform.  
 
 

 
 
The rocks within the gorge are part of the Tallulah Dome formation and are comprised of mainly quartzite.  The dome was created by a geological folding of the earth's crust.  Essentially, parts of the earth's crust that were originally flat have become curved due to some type of deformation due to changes in temperature and pressure.   I know nothing about geology.  But the visual effect of all of this is pretty cool.
 
 

 
 

 
 
I had another awesome view of the gorge floor downstream of Hurricane Falls.
 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 
The map of the gorge seen earlier labels a "primitive trail" that crosses the river at this point.  Since I don't see an actual bridge anywhere, I'm wondering if the term  "primitive" means you cross the river via the exposed rocks and then hike through the woods.  I don't know how true this is.  But the kid in me would love to try and cross the river on the rocks seen below.
 
 

 
 
But my 50 year old mind quickly reminded me that I am no longer a kid.  Or coordinated.  Or graceful.  Or light on my feet.  A visit to the local emergency room would be likely after such an adventure.  But it looks like fun !
 
 
« Last Edit: February 25, 2017, 11:55:33 AM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #64 on: February 18, 2017, 11:51:33 PM »

continued  .  .  .
Part 8 of 8
 
 
 
 
 
I had to wait a few minutes before this end of the platform was available for a selfie.  I set the camera up on the railing facing Hurricane Falls and set the self-timer.
 
 

 
 
Merry Christmas everyone !
 
 

 
 
Looking upward gives you an idea of how deep the gorge is.
 
 

 
 
I was too busy enjoying the view on my way down into the gorge to think about how I was going to get back out.  Standing on the platform looking up at the stairs did a great job of jarring my memory.   
 
 

 
 
I now have to climb all of those stairs !
 
 

 
 
That would be 221 stairs to reach the suspension bridge, and 310 more to get back to the North Rim Trail and the parking area.  It's a good thing I brought my asthma inhaler with me.
 
 

 
 
My out-of-shape-self hit the stairs and did ok for the first dozen or so, after which progress slowed dramatically.  It took a while, but the bridge came into view.
 
 

 
 
I found a few words of encouragement from a South African visitor near the top of the first set of stairs.
 
 

 
 
I made it up the first 221 steps still upright and headed back across the bridge.
 
 

 
 
I couldn't help but take one last picture of the river from the bridge.  But more than anything, this was a great excuse to stop for a few minutes.
 
 

 
 
I would stop several more times to catch my breath during the final leg of the climb.  It took a while, but I made it back to the car and headed off to my next stop.  This was a wonderful diversion !  And even though my legs are probably going to hurt tomorrow morning, I'm glad I stopped .  .  .
« Last Edit: February 19, 2017, 07:16:23 PM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #65 on: February 19, 2017, 11:11:17 PM »

North Carolina Route 28 .  .  .
December 25, 2016
  
  
  
  
  
Cherokee, North Carolina sits almost directly north of Athens, Georgia, (both are 83.3xxx degrees west longitude).  The most direct road between the two, US Route 441, doesn't vary a whole lot from its north-south orientation.  But there are a few interesting side roads that can be explored without going too far out of your way.  One such road, North Carolina Route 28, jumped out at me when looking at the map in preparation for today's adventure.

Route 441 approaches the city of Franklin, North Carolina at the bottom of the map shown below.  Normally, I would bypass the city on its eastern side and continue north on Route 441 toward the city of Dillsboro where I would pick up the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway and head west.  Route 441 diverts northward again toward Cherokee a few miles later.  
 
 

 
 
The map above also shows where North Carolina Route 28 passes through the city of Franklin and continues north on the western side of the city following the path of the Little Tennessee River.  Essentially, Routes 441, 74, and 28 form a giant circle around the Cowee Mountains.  Instead of traveling on the eastern side of the mountains like I normally do, I decided to see what was on the western side.
 
Looking at the map gave me the impression that there wasn't a whole lot happening on Route 28.  Population centers looked sparse at best.  Based on the way the line for the roadway was drawn, I figured I was in for a fun ride along a curvy mountain road.  Once out of the city of Franklin, I had exactly that !
 
 
North Carolina Route 28

 
 
The best part of this drive was that I had the road to myself.  I'm sure being Christmas day had something to do with that.  But it made for a more enjoyable experience.  In what is likely to be quite a surprise to regular readers, I didn't take any pictures until I had reached Horseshoe Bend of the Little Tennessee River near the intersection with the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway.  
 
 

 
 
I pulled over at a small parking area and started shooting.  Of course, I had to take a couple of pics of my car first because that's what I do !



 
 
This area is known as Horseshoe Bend because of the shape of the river as it winds its way through this section of the Nantahala National Forest.  Even though my sunny skies had disappeared, I still had a great view of the river and surrounding mountains.


Horseshoe Bend

 
 
The prominent peak in line with the river is White Top, 2,660 feet.
 
 

 
 
Little Tennessee River



I don't know the names of any of the specific peaks seen in the photos below.  But the maps I examined list Breedlove Mountain somewhere in the background in this direction.





I had fun just zooming in on the various peaks off in the distance.











I think the peak in the background of the photo below is Tyre Knob, 3,780 feet, but I'm not 100% sure.





I continued on my journey toward the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway which arrived a few minutes later.  My plan was to follow US Route 19 east through Bryson City and into Cherokee.  This would take me past the hotel where I stayed during my Fall Foliage Tour in 2015.  I spotted something interesting at the exit ramp for US Route 19 outside of Bryson City.





I zoomed in a little further and discovered a house on top of a nearby hilltop.  I believe this is Baines Mountain, 3,540 feet.  The view from the front porch would be amazing !





Harrah's wasn't too far away at this point.  After a wrong turn in Bryson City that took me off of Route 19 and put me back on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, I eventually made it to Cherokee where my wonderful Christmas Feast was waiting .  .  .


« Last Edit: February 19, 2017, 11:19:05 PM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #66 on: February 23, 2017, 12:05:32 AM »

Christmas day feast at Harrah's in Cherokee, North Carolina .  .  .
December 25, 2016
Part 1 of 4
  
  
  
  
  
And with that I had arrived at my annual Holiday tradition .  .  .
 
 

 
 
The specifics have varied over the years.  But some kind of feast has been a key part of my routine for decades, something that most everyone can relate to in some way or another.  In my case, the house was usually filled with visitors throughout Christmas day when I was a kid in Altoona, Pennsylvania.  My dad was in a wheelchair which meant physically getting inside someone else's house wasn't feasible.  So my mom and dad hosted all the visitors and prepared a special meal for the occasion.  
 
After I got married for the first time, my wife and I became those visitors, which meant I got to feast twice !  Christmas dinner at my parents' house was usually held later in the afternoon.  That feast was supplemented by an all-day grazing event at the home of one of my wife's sisters where her family's annual gathering was held.
 
A slight twist was added to the routine after I got married for the second time.  Wife #2 had no family in the area, (she was originally from Austria where the rest of her family still resides to this day).  It was during these years where I was introduced to the concept of a Holiday buffet.  So my mom & dad's annual late-afternoon feast was supplemented with a late-morning Christmas Brunch.  Those options ranged from something more retail oriented like the Old Country Buffet in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania all the way to a full-blown Holiday extravaganza at the Willow Valley Resort further east in Lancaster.
 
Wife #2 and I moved to Columbia, Missouri in mid-2003 where we ditched the idea of visiting someone's home to feast altogether.  Because neither of us had any family in that area to visit, finding a good Christmas Brunch became the norm.  This is how I was introduced to the wonderful concept of a casino buffet.  Usually we alternated between Harrah's, (now the Hollywood Casino), 1 ½ hours east in St. Louis and the Ameristar 2 hours west in Kansas City.
 
Moving from Columbia, Missouri to Athens, Georgia in 2009 had me worried at first.  Georgia doesn’t have casinos.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered Harrah's in Cherokee, North Carolina.  My horizons expanded further when I discovered the "Holiday Brunch" at a resort hotel in an area like Hilton Head Island, South Carolina or Jekyll Island, Georgia.    
 
The commonality among all of these scenarios is the idea of the Holiday feast.  The specifics have changed over the decades, but the concept remains the same.  I associate "Holiday" with "Feast."  It's who I am and what I do.  
 
After having spent the previous two Christmas holidays in Jekyll Island, I returned to Harrah's in Cherokee for this year's feast.  Harrah's always puts on a great show and decorates for the Holiday season.
 
 

 
 
The line for the buffet was next to a large Christmas tree which served as a busy photo-op location for groups of visitors.
 
 

 
 
The great thing about a casino buffet is that they are usually HUGE !  A long line at the entrance doesn't always mean that the place is full.  I don't know the capacity of the Chef's Stage Buffet, but it was enough to swallow the long line I was in and still had plenty of room to spare.  I was seated in one of several large seating sections that was decorated for the occasion.
 
 

 
 
I had a nice view of the Creek Tower wing of the hotel out the window.  
 
 
The Creek Tower

 
 
The Creek Tower opened in 2012 and is the newest guest room addition to the hotel.
 
 

 
 
I could see my reflection in the windows across from my table and tried to zoom to see what kind of shot I could get.
 
 

 
 
The second picture actually came out ok.  Please pardon the hair.  This is the primary casualty after a three hour ride with the roof down .  .  .

 
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« Reply #67 on: February 23, 2017, 12:07:18 AM »

continued .  .  .
Part 2 of 4
 
 
 
 
 
Time to get down to the business at hand !  I was conveniently seated closest to the BBQ station which featured ribs, grilled salmon, pulled pork, and my personal favorite whiskey brisket.
 
 

 
 
Top round was the feature of the day at the BBQ carving station.
 
 

 
 
Steamship corned beef was featured at the Home Cooking carving station.
 
 

 
 
Next to the steamship beef were the traditional comfort foods like fried chicken, meatloaf, turkey, and baked potatoes.
 
 

 
 
The Seafood station on the other side of the room featured popcorn shrimp, crab cakes, shrimp scampi, fried oysters, and mahi-mahi.
 
 

 
 

 
 
Next to the seafood was my personal favorite.
 
 

 
 
It's a good thing several chefs worked the prime rib carving station during the evening.  That way there was less of a chance I'd be recognized after multiple visits.   
 
 

 
 
Here's to the continuation of an annual Christmas tradition !  Merry Christmas everyone .  .  .
 
 
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« Reply #68 on: February 23, 2017, 12:08:52 AM »

continued .  .  .
Part 3 of 4
 
 
 
 
 
Harrah's Cherokee has been expanded several times since its opening.  What began as a small temporary building hosting bingo and video poker in 1995 has evolved 150,000 square feet of gaming space.  Visitors to the casino have the opportunity to stay in what is now the largest hotel in the state with more than 1,100 rooms in three towers.  The casino wing and hotel wing are separated by a beautiful courtyard.  Soco Creek runs through the courtyard and over the entire length of the property, eventually flowing into the Oconoluftee River a few miles away.
 
 
The hotel wing

 
 
The casino and hotel are connected via two enclosed walkways.
 
 
Western walkway

 
 
I took advantage of the nice weather to walk off a few of the pounds I just gained.  The Chef's Stage is on the second floor of the casino building.  Nearby exits take visitors down to the courtyard area.  I was surprised by how nice the flowers still looked at the bottom of the stairs.
 
 

 
 
My walk took me under the second overhead walkway from the hotel wing.
 
 
Eastern walkway

 
 
The eastern walkway is connected to the Creek Tower, the hotel's third expansion, which opened in 2012.   
 
 
Creek Tower

 
 
Access to the creek is offered in several places along the length of the courtyard.  Soco Creek is, apparently, a popular fishing spot.  I noticed a couple of Christmas day fishermen during my walk.
 
 
Soco Creek

 
 
Instead of fishing, I sat down on a rock and called my brother to wish him a Merry Christmas.  So much for this "walking off dinner" thing.
 
 

 
 
All was quiet except for the very relaxing sound of the flowing water.
 
 

 
 
We chatted for a little while before I continued on my journey.  The roadway to the parking garages sits at the eastern end of the courtyard and gave me an opportunity to get across the creek to the hotel wing.  Just like the casino, the hotel was outfitted for the Holiday .  .  .
 
 

 
 
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« Reply #69 on: February 23, 2017, 12:10:09 AM »

continued .  .  .
Part 4 of 4
  
  
  
  
  
Several balconies with seating have been incorporated into the hotel wing's design.  I took advantage of one to take a panorama shot of the casino wing across the creek.  
 
 
The casino wing

 
 
Below is another shot of Soco Creek as seen from the hotel.
 
 
Soco Creek

 
 
I walked through the hotel back to the western overhead walkway and into the casino eventually making my way to one of the covered casino entrances.  
 
 

 
 
The above entrance is located at the western end of the courtyard by the Mountain Tower, the hotel's first guest room tower that opened in 2002.
 
 
Mountain Tower

 
 
It was beginning to get dark by this time which allowed me to check out the outdoor lighting.
 
 

 
 
Lighting is a prominent part of the overall design, whether it be the courtyard accents or the buildings themselves.  
 
 

 
 
Since this is a hotel and casino, the traditional Las Vegas-like "bright lights" theme makes sense, (only on a much smaller scale in this case).
 
 

 
 
I made my way back up the stairs to the exit where I started this journey to I could head back to the car for the drive home.  It was now dark enough to get a decent picture of the building lighting.  
 
 
L – R:  Creek Tower, Soco Tower, Mountain Tower

 
 
Creek Tower

 
 
I also liked the way the light reflected off of Soco Creek from this vantage point.  
 
 

 
 
Thanks once again to Harrah's for never letting me down when it comes to feasting.  Once back at the car in the parking garage, I put the roof down and headed back to Athens .  .  .
 
 
« Last Edit: February 23, 2017, 11:04:39 PM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #70 on: February 24, 2017, 12:02:32 AM »

Epilogue .  .  .





And so ends the story of my 2016 Holiday Season.  Here is where I traditionally say how much this holiday and I haven't been the best of friends throughout my adult life.  I then usually go on to say how wonderful this particular Holiday Season has been, and that I ended up really enjoying myself.  When I stop and think about it, I've been repeating that same story for more than a decade.  

Rereading that paragraph makes me realize that I've finally learned how to enjoy the Holiday.  That statement, which may seem obvious to most, has somehow eluded me for a long time.  The ideas of "tradition" and doing what you're "supposed to do" can have a specific life expectancy.  Things that worked great when I was younger may not always get the job done today.  Recognizing this can open a wide variety of doors.

I've said repeatedly within these boards how much I cherish my time behind the wheel.  I was understandably a little nervous when the idea of a cross-country drive was first proposed.  But the 4,000 mile Colorado trip had "Me" written all over it  -  I got to explore a few new places with the roof down and indulge my love for taking pictures.  That trip, and the Holiday Season as a whole, were made that much more wonderful by the fact that I didn't need a tow truck once !  I've documented throughout these boards how I believe my Beautiful Disaster has been trying to kill me ever since I brought it home two years ago.  Yet the car performed flawlessly over the entire adventure,  (which has me both pleased and worried at the same time to the point where I'm not sure what to think).  All I know is that there is no better car for the open road than a drama-free Jaguar.  And it's hard to emphasize just how great this trip was because of it.

And I got to continue my love affair with the Holiday Feast.  Whether it's with a good friend, a great group of coworkers, or with me, myself, and I, enjoying a good meal for the occasion is one of those "traditions" that works for me.  Allowing the specifics to change with the times keeps the practice relevant.

In other words, I'm learning how to adult !  It's time for me to file the past away and embrace the fact that I've come to like this time of year, (I don't know how much more obvious it can be !).  I also know that I'm already looking forward to next year and wondering where else I can go, (my first thought was Las Vegas !).  While it may seem like I've got some time to plan such an adventure, my 50 year old mind sees time passing by much faster as I age.  Thanksgiving 2017 will be here before I know it, so I need to get to work.  We'll see what happens !





I want to thank everyone for reading, and hope you enjoyed the adventure as much as I did .  .  .
« Last Edit: February 24, 2017, 11:09:30 AM by Oldcarsarecool » Logged

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« Reply #71 on: February 24, 2017, 03:33:27 PM »

I've done the drive from Houston to Colorado Springs twice since 2012. It's a hell of a city and a drive (Mostly once you get out of Texas). Brings back memories.
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« Reply #72 on: February 25, 2017, 12:06:00 AM »

I've done the drive from Houston to Colorado Springs twice since 2012. It's a hell of a city and a drive (Mostly once you get out of Texas). Brings back memories.


I bet it is !  Unfortunately, I didn't make it to Colorado Springs on this trip.  But I definitely want to see Pikes Peak next time !  I was actually looking into the idea of doing something different for my drive back to Athens.  I wondered about heading south from Greeley to El Paso, Texas on I-25, and then east on I-10 through San Antonio, Houston, and New Orleans, Louisiana.  That's quite a drive that would require several days by itself .  .  .
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« Reply #73 on: February 25, 2017, 01:59:17 AM »

Well you saw Pikes Peak, which is close enough  Grin

El Paso and San Antone would be cool. I'd have checked out Austin too if you ever decide to do that trip.
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« Reply #74 on: February 26, 2017, 01:36:33 AM »

There are certainly a lot of great places to be seen.  I've been to Houston one time in my life, and that was for Mercedes-Benz training way back in the beginning of my career.  If I remember right, their training center is/was somewhere near the airport .  .  .
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