CAUTION! Twists and Turns Ahead for The Rooted Gypsy

Feliz año nuevo! 新年快樂 Gelukkig nieuwjaar! Bonne année! Ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος! And, of course, Happy New Year from all of us here at The Rooted Gypsy!

Wherever you rang in the New Year I sincerely hope it was incredible and is only the beginning of a wonderful year! It’s impossible to close the chapter of another year without some reflection and, hopefully, a little optimism for the future.

The Rollercoaster formerly known as 2019

Looking back, 2019 was a rollercoaster ride full of steep climbs, stomach-clenching drops, and unforeseen sharp turns. If you follow along on my Facebook and Instagram to you witnessed first hand many of these twists and turns including my mom’s cancer diagnosis and treatments to the launching of my family’s boutique winery.

One of the “Smugglers” enjoying Movie Night at Free State Cellars

We mined for gems in San Diego, Mardi Gras’ed like a native in NOLA, and dove headfirst into the wilderness of Montana. Lori brought us along while she swam with manatees and Kendra took us underground in Paris.

But the most unexpected twist of 2019 came just as mom defeated her cancer. In case you missed it on social media, Mr. Gypsy and I discovered we are going to be parents!

The Rooted Gypsy is expanding…literally

So what does this mean for The Rooted Gypsy?

Well, I’m assuming one can’t have a child without having to make a few changes, or so I’m told. But we fully intend to keep exploring as much as possible, offspring in tow.

We just might be a bit disorganized at first and slow to get our travel articles out on the first of every month as we have over the past few years. We beg your forgiveness as we transition into the chaos known as parenthood. Happy thoughts and prayers are always welcome!

Will The Rooted Gypsy still be a travel blog?

Absolutely! We don’t plan on morphing it into a parenting blog by any means but that’s not to say there won’t be the occasional ‘best things to do with a kid while in XYZ” article every now and then. We still intend to cover travel from every angle, but there may be a new little model in some of the travel shots.

My Rooted Gypsy will start their modeling career early like their mother… who is obviously a natural

Will you still welcome new and returning writers?

OF COURSE! Honestly, I look forward to working with new and returning writers more now than ever!!! I’m always looking for fellow Rooted Gypsies. Want to become a travel writer? Shoot me an email or direct message and let’s make it happen!

Now that we got that all clear, CHEERS TO THE NEW YEAR! What are your hopes and aspirations for 2020? What twists and turns are heading your way?


Missoula's Art Scene: More than Just Mountains

Surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains and trout-filled streams its easy to assume that nothing in Missoula can top that. With it’s rugged Wild West history and unforgiving terrain, one may think that such a place lacks culture and sophistication. And one couldn’t be more wrong. From gorgeous Native artworks to thought-provoking modern exhibits, Missoula’s art scene has never been more dynamic.

Missoula Art Museum

Now housed in what was once Missoula’s first Carnegie library, Missoula Art Museum (or MAM) beautifully melds original brickwork from 1903 with contemporary additions of glass and steel. With a mission to showcase as many indigenous artists and regional talents as possible, MAM’s eight exhibition galleries display an eclectic and diverse collection.

Such as the fun and colorful Trophy Room exhibit by Ken Little. Fashioned out of mix-matched leather clothing products and other discarded pieces, Little’s collection of taxidermied “beasts” brings vibrancy to an otherwise somber art form. This exhibit remains on display until December 28th.

Montana Museum of Art and Culture

Over 11,000 historic works of fine art comprise the permanent collection of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. Within this collection reside pieces by Donatello, Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, as well as several ancient native and Asian textiles. While small, the museum’s goal remains to not only be a resource for the college but for Montana and beyond.

Pondering the “Ratljóst”, the Icelandic word meaning “sufficient light to find one’s way”, while admiring UM Professor Matthew Hamon’s award-winning photography.

On exhibit now through December 14th, visitors can enjoy the chronological works of Montana modernist Jack Franjevic. A professor of art at the College of Great Falls, he devoted himself to teaching and a lifetime of learning. This lack of self-promotion led to the name Franjevic being virtually unknown beyond Great Falls.

In his 30 years as an art teacher, he mastered a wide range of styles found in 20th-century modernism. Browsing through his three dozen paintings from his family’s private collection, look for Franjevic’s interpretations of realism, abstract distortion in perspective, impressionism, cubism, German expressionism, and pop art.

Like many of his paintings, this painting titled Circus, 1947 hung on the wall in his child’s bedroom instead of in an exhibition.

Never exhibited his works, most of his pieces found their way into the homes of family and friends. This exhibit consists of pieces on loan from Franjevic’s family, making this the largest collection of Franjevic pieces to ever be mounted.

The Residence Inn

One of the last places you might expect to find an elegant blend of fine art and history is a chain hotel. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in downtown Missoula. Where once the old Missoula Mercantile stood now sits the swanky five-story Residence Inn by Marriott.

The bustling sounds of commerce, such as the ding of cash registers, play overhead as you enter into the Mews. Once the historic Mercantile’s pharmacy, the marketplace known as the Mews now consists of a collection of restaurants and boutiques encompassing the lobby of the Residence Inn. Which only seems fitting considering the building’s origins.

An original art installation consisting of books based in Montana or written by Montana authors oversees one of many setting areas in the Mews and hotel lobby.

The Mercantile’s construction began in 1877 and was THE PLACE to shop in Missoula. Deep into the 1920s, one could find everything from groceries and home goods to horse-drawn wagons and plows. In 1959, it changed to Allied Department Stores and then the Bon Marche in 1978. The building changed hands again in 2003 to become Bon-Macy’s only to finally become Macy’s a few years later before closing in 2010. For seven years the building lay empty and abandoned before Marriot decided to take a chance on it.

Due to foundation deterioration and asbestos, nearly 80 percent of the original building needed demolition. Thanks to Home Resource of Missoula, a vast majority of the building endured through salvaging and recycling.

In an effort to salvage as much of the original building as possible, designers incorporated original material wherever they could. Bricks from the original Mercantile set the scene in the hotel lobby.

Near and dear to the heart of Missoulians, Marriott and the town came together to preserve this historic landmark. Thanks to the creative efforts of many, historic photographs from the archives of the University of Missoula, artifacts found within the old Mercantile, antique catalogs pages, gigantic safe doors and salvaged parts forming the ancient elevator shafts adorn the walkways, meeting places, and rooms.

From authentic indigenous artifacts to contemporary political satire, Missoula’s art scene remains as vast and varied as the mountainous terrain enveloping the lively college town.


Diving Head First into Missoula’s Backyard Like a Pro

Few things get my heart racing more than the prospect of diving headfirst into a destination known for its outdoor adventures and unequaled natural beauty. What really moves me and speaks to my soul is immersing myself in the natural world. And Missoula exudes natural splendors and adventures in spades! With everything from gold and gem mining to river surfing to snowshoeing in the winter, where does one begin to plan their explorations?

With the experts of course! With only a few days to take on Missoula and all its glory, I needed help to narrow my focus, ensuring I made the most of my time in Missoula’s backyard.

Montana River Guides

Launching our raft into the Clark River near Alberton Gorge

Under the guidance of Montana River Guides, we slipped our bright yellow raft in the frigid emerald water of the Clark Fork River beneath the looming shadow of the Cyr Bridge. Our expert guide and whitewater rescuer, Leon, used the first few calm minutes of our float to brief us on the river and upcoming rapids.

Ranging between Class II to Class IV and with names like Boat Eater, Roller Coaster, and Tumbleweed we needed all the prepping available. Within minutes the soft roar of The Shelf and Potter’s Plunge reverberated off the steep cliffs of Alberton’s Gorge.

The rapids carving their way through “The Gorge”, just 30 minutes west of Missoula, reign supreme as Montana’s premium whitewater run. And since 1995 Montana River Guides have not only been guiding on these waters but also teaching swift water rescue courses. That means no one knows these waters better or more intimately.

Catching our breath between rapids

In between rapids, rafters float serenely through sheer cliffs carved by glaciers while watching for eagles, osprey, river otters, beaver and other wildlife inhabiting the river and surrounding forest. After several hours of floating and running legendary rapids like Cliffside and Fang, we stepped out of the crystalline waters completely soaked but also completely stoked.

While we opted for the adrenaline-filled half-day whitewater rafting trip, Montana River Guides offers several more options. Ranging from relaxing to heart-pounding, other options include standup paddleboarding, scenic floats, kayaking, and riverboarding.

Grizzly Hackle Fly

A staggering selection of flys at Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop

When you visit one of the prime trout fishing destinations in the world, you want one of the best outfitters and guiding services in the nation. You want the pros at Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop.

Not only do they offer quality rods, reels, flys, and waders but they offer unparalleled knowledge along with unsurpassed customer service. Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned professional, they provide assistance, instruction, and encouragement every step of the way.

Having never seen a fly rod in my life much less touched one, my stint as a fly fisher could have easily turned into a mess of tangled lines and soggy clothes. Fortunately, Sam, my guide and consummate pep-talker, had my back.

Sam and Adina, my fishing partner for the day, showing off her Mountain Whitefish caught on the Clark Fork River

We slipped into the placid stretch of the Clark Fork winding its way through the middle of Missoula. In no time flat, Sam had us casting our stonefly nymphs and mending the lines effortlessly. While he paddled and steered, we bounced between banks in search of troat while the midday sun glinted off the rippling surface of the river.

After only a couple hours on the water, we had managed to land several trout and kindle my everlasting love of flyfishing.

Dunrovin Ranch

Trail riding at Durovin Ranch

To truly experience the rugged wildness of Montana, one must set out into the wilderness like the natives and pioneers. On horseback. And just like in the days of the Wild West, horses were more than just mounts. They were vital partners and family.

And the herd over at Dunrovin Ranch, just 8 miles outside of Missoula, remains precisely that. Each of the horses, ponies, and donkeys provide an essential service both to each other and guests visiting the ranch. Luckily, guests get plenty of opportunities to meet the herd through numerous activities such as River and Ranch rides, half-day and full-day rides, Historical rides, riding lessons and corral lessons.

We opted for the Dunrovin’s most popular River and Ranch Ride. In the safety of the corral, we introduced ourselves to our mounts while covering the basics of horsemanship. After mounting Razz, my handsome partner for the day, we left the dust of the corral behind and headed out into swaying grasses of the fields. Surefooted and steady, our horses sashayed along the trail toward the Bitterroot River.

Trail Riding along the Bitterroot River

River Riders would ford the river and follow the trail as it continues onto adjacent public lands and follows the river upstream into the shelter of the forest, and across again into open meadows. Before heading back toward the ranch the ride rounds off with a short up-hill trek for views of the Heavenly Twins, the Bitterroot, Ch-paa-qn Peak, the Rattlesnake Wilderness and a small part of the Lewis and Clark Trail.

We Ranch Riders meander alongside the Bitterroot River and through a beautiful wetland meadow dotted with willow bushes and apple trees. After a couple of hours in the saddle, we sauntered back into the corral in time from a picnic lunch and fresh-picked apples.

Trail Riding with Dunrovin Ranch

From scaling mountains to leisurely tubing the Clark Fork in summer, there’s still so much left to experience! Fortunately, the dedicated and enthusiastic local guides ensure visitors like me can always come back and explore Missoula’s backyard like a pro!


Lost Ponies and How Carousel for Missoula Sparked a Renaissance

From medieval training device to a Gilded Age delight, the history of the carousel dazzles the imagination. These whirling masterpieces of art will forever hold a nostalgic place in our hearts. But maybe none so much as the Carousel for Missoula.

In the heart of Caras Park, t into the banks of Clark Fork River, stands of love, a testament to true artistry, and Montana’s largest public art piece. With the help of a community and over 100,000 hours of volunteer hours, local cabinet maker, Chuck Kaparich, sparked a carousel renaissance that would spread across the nation.

Why A Carousel?

But, like many things, that wasn’t the initial plan when Kaparich began his endeavor. Initially, on the hunt for an antique carousel horse for his wife, his search lead him to Fred Fried, historian, carousel conservationist and author of A Pictorial History of the Carousel. Through Fried, Kaparich discovered that America once boasted over 5,000 hand-carved carousels. Today there are less than 160 due to their selling off of the ponies, parts, and scrap metal. Fried informed Kaparick that, in not so many words, that if he really cared about art or carousels, to carve his own damn horse. Or better yet, a carousel.

Each horse consists of 7 different pieces held together by wood glue and pegs. Up to 8 different people work together to bring each horse to fruition.

And that’s just what Kaparich did. After receiving carving tools for his birthday, Kaparich turned piles of basswood, wood glue, and wooden pegs into four prancing ponies. These four carvingsIn the would become the foundation of A Carousel for Missoula. In a speech to Missoula’s City Council Kaparich promised, “If you will give it a home, and promise no one will ever take it apart, I will build a carousel for Missoula.

But he knew he needed help if he was going to finish the carousel in his lifetime. So he offered carving classes to see if anyone might be interested in learning and contributing. Fifteen minutes after registration opened, the waiting list was 40 students deep.

John Thompson, Carousel artist, with adopting families and businesses to design all but six of the carousel’s ponies

Multiple carving classes, over 100,000 volunteer hours, and almost 5 years later A Carousel for Missoula opened to the public on May 27, to an overwhelming outpouring of support.

Guests stood in line for hours to be the first to ride Montana’s largest public art installation. The carousel consisted of 38 one-of-a-kind parading ponies and two racing chariots, complete with wheelchair capabilities. Overlooking the twirling display of master craftsmanship stands 14 grinning gargoyles and a towering 9-foot dragon named Lucky Red Ringer, daring the most skilled riders to reach out and grab a ring from his mouth. The rider who collects the brass ring wins a free ride.

Meet The Mounts

Ask anyone in Missoula and they will gladly tell you their favorite pony. And each pony has a name and story.

The most vibrant and eclectic pony of All, Larry Pirnie’s Paint remains a crowd favorite

Impossible to miss and always a crowd favorite, Paint certainly shines the brightest. Adopted and painted by world-renown Missoula Artist Larry Pirnie, Paint sports Pirnie’s signature style of vibrant hues splashed across a leaping stallion.

The ever valiant Sir Franklin was one of four Penny ponies designed by the schoolchildren of Missoula

There’s the bucking Merriwether, armored Sir Franklin, black and white , and the spunky circus Moonlight. These four steady steeds were born from the imaginations of Missoula’s schoolchildren after raising over one million pennies in their Pennies for Ponies campaign.

A fitting choose for any Montana Native, Montana Appaloosa proudly sports Henry Bugbee’s hand print

Among the Penny Ponies, you can find Henry Bugbee’s Montana Appaloosa. Being the first Native American professor at the University of Montana, Henry’s family and friends chose to celebrate him by adopting a horse in his honor. Look for the galloping appaloosa with Henry’s red hand marking the rump.

Midnight Rose traveled all the way from Calgary to be a part of A Carousel for Missoula

Then there’s Midnight Rose, a gorgeous prancing ebony pony adorned with gilded roses. She was gifted to the Carousel from Calgary’s Midnight Rose Carvers in memory of a fallen friend. Inspired by the Calgary Carvers, Missoula keeps a group of carvers called the Pony Keepers on hand. The Keepers craft gift horses – or huskies, sea turtles, and even slugs – to any cities building a carousel for nonprofit.

The lead horse in the carousel, Columbia Belle, proudly dons two antique jewels from America’s first “galloping” carousel

And you can’t miss Columbia Belle, the carousel’s most dazzling horse of all. With golden hooves, rainbow sashes, and the American flag tucked under her saddle, Columbia Belle holds the lead horse position. But that’s not all she holds.

Embedded within her bridle shines two antique jewels, one a crimson ruby and the other a brilliant sapphire. These 100-year-old gems once belonged to America’s first carousel to have ponies that “galloped” and were gifted to A Carousel for Missoula by Mr. Fred Fried himself.

Carousel Historian and Conservationist, Fred Fried, depicted on one of the inside panels of the carousel

Carousel Conservation Leads to Renaissance

Sleipnir, a Norwegian Fjord, and Soro, a traditional Stein and Goldstein carousel horse, demonstrate the wide array of styles making up the Carousel for Missoula’s herd

Little did Fried know that his fateful conversation with Chuck Kaprich would spark a carousel revival. A Carousel for Missoula was the first hand-carved carousel built in America in over 60 years. Since it’s opening it hassparked the creation of over 15 new carousels from coast to coast.

Thanks to Fried’s conservation efforts and the support of Missoula’s residents, the simple, sentimental joy of carousels will continue for generations.


Monumental Day Trips Minutes from Billings Montana

The first time I ever stepped foot in Montana was purely accidental. After driving through Yellowstone National Park, mostly in light sleet and snows, we arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs, a few miles south of the Wyoming-Montana line. Dying to stretch our legs, we set out exploring the steaming travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs just as another light snow began to fall.

Eventually, the cleared and the temperatures soared. Maybe we could fit in a quick hike before sunset? A short there-and-back again trek above the springs. We’d be out half an hour, one hour max. That’s all.

The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

One wrong turn, a jaunt around a beaver pond, and 3 hours later we stood overlooking a vast valley into a town we didn’t recognize with music coming from a bar we couldn’t see. If you squinted just right you could see a giant stone structure straddling the road. Definitely not Mammoth.

Gardiner. We were looking down at Gardiner, Montana.

Overlooking North Entrance Road…in Montana

Which meant we still needed to hike several miles back the way we came. With little daylight left and the constant reminder of how every park ranger praised the raging success of the reintroduction of wolves into the park, we double-timed it back south.

Out of breath and barely able to see, we burst from the towering trees into Mammoth Hot Springs, startling a small herd of elk bedding down for the night by the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

Montana: Take Two

Upon arriving in Billings, known as Montana’s Trailhead, I vowed less time scrambling and more time basking in Billing’s rich history, natural beauty, and National Monuments. With only a few days to explore, efficiency and expertise were paramount. Luckily, Austin Adventures, one of the world’s premier luxury boutique guide services, calls Billings home.

Billings alone boasts 45 miles of trail, hundreds of acres of parks, plus 5 separate mountain ranges just a short drive away a few days are just not enough to tackle it alone.

Not to mention all the National Monuments, National Parks, and State Parks just outside Billings’ front door! To glean the most out of my few days in Big Sky Country, I’d need help from the pros.

And Austin Adventures didn’t disappoint. With their unique knowledge and exceptional service, they delivered Montana history and culture on a silver platter.

Pompeys Pillar

Twenty-eight miles east of Billings lies the only spot along the Lewis and Clark trail that bares any physical evidence of their expedition. Neither the first nor the last, Captain William Clark was drawn to 150-foot tall sandstone rock overlooking the Yellowstone River.

Marked with centuries worth of petroglyphs and carvings, Clark too, scratched his name into the side of the stone.

Thank goodness for well maintained boardwalks otherwise this decent would have ended differently

Today, a sturdy 1,000-foot long boardwalk makes for an easy ascent to Captain Clark’s signature and onto the top of Pompeys Pillar. Gazing out over the Yellowstone you can see why Clark, and the natives before him, were drawn to this significant vantage point.

Tracing the different routes of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition

Delve deep into the area’s historical and natural virtues by visiting the vast 5,700 square foot Interpretive Center. Follow along the stone and cement Yellowstone “riverwalk” that meanders from the parking lot, through the indoor center, and ends at the base of the butte.

Along the walk, read excerpts from Clark’s journals, watch a short film titled “About the Expedition, and even try on buckskins like the ones worn by Clark.

Chief Plenty Coups Memorial State Park

Through his unwavering dedication to education, understanding, and peace, Alek-Chea-Ahoosh, or Chief Plenty Coups, changed the course of history for the Crow Indians.

Because of his foresight and vision, he saved thousands of both Natives and whites, earning him the highest honor and respect of both his people and the United States government.

Thirty-five miles from Billings located on the Crow Indian Reservation, visitors have the opportunity to pay their respects to this wise leader and cultural ambassador. Stroll down a peaceful hiking trail that leads to the burial site of Chief Plenty Coups.

Here, one can stand in the quiet presence of the last Chief of the Crow, who was so highly regarded that following his death the tribe voted not to name a new chief.

Before his death, Chief Plenty Coups donated 189 acres of his land for the creation of a park that people of all races and creeds could enjoy in peace.

Finally, in 1965, the land became a Montana State Park. In 1970, his homestead became registered as a U.S. National Historic Place and in 1999 became a National Historic Landmark.

Chief Plenty Coups humble homestead

Visitors of the park can walk through the chief’s original log house tucked beneath massive cottonwood trees, sit by a sacred spring, and get up close with the Chief’s teepee while admiring Montana’s magnificent wildlife.

While perusing the park, don’t skip the great museum full of original and replica Native American wardrobes, weapons, and tools. This museum remains the only museum dedicated to Apsáalooke, or Crow, culture in the United States.

Though he had a “modern” log home, he often preferred his teepee
Little Bighorn National Monument

Thanks to Hollywood and history books the first and usually only thing that comes to mind at the mention of Little Bighorn is Custer’s Last Stand. However, when one visits the Little Bighorn National Monument, about 60 miles outside of Billings, you realize how much more there is to discover.

One of the biggest surprises is National Cemetery. Here, under the neverending sky of Big Sky Country, approximately 5,000 U.S. soldiers and their family members lay at rest. Like Arlington Cemetary in Washington, D.C., these soldiers served in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.

Custer National Cemetery

In addition to the scattering of white headstones representing fallen calvary and red headstones marking fallen Indians, you’ll find a monument honoring the horses lost in the battle as well as self-guided drive with audible narration. There are even regular Ranger talks that dive deeper into understanding the deadly conflict.

It is common to find offerings placed on the markers of the fallen.

Refreshingly, the National Parks Service does a stellar job of taking the focus off of Custer. The NPS reminds us that the monument commemorates all involved, not just the 7th Calvary.

We remember the 2,000 Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors who preferred death in battle to losing their ancestral ways.

Time to Celebrate

There’s only one way to celebrate a successful exploration and that’s to raise a glass of your favorite adult beverage. And what are the odds that the “Best Winery in Montana” resides right here in Billings?!?! And cattleman-turned-winemaker, Clint Peck, goes to great lengths to earn such a title.

Clint Peck explaining the various wines found on his tasting menu

Several times during harvest, Clint will make the 14-hour one-way drive to Washington’s famous Yakima Valley. While there he personally meets with the various small family grape growers.

He then hauls the fresh grapes back to Yellowstone Cellars and Winery in Billings where he crushes, ferments, and ages his wines right there on site.

Welcome to the Cellar

From his cellar, Clint Peck continuously produces award-winning artisan wines. Like his dark and moody cabernet sauvignon with bold black fruit and tobacco flavors.

Another favorite is his off-dry blanc. With crisp tropical flavors, mild acidity, and creamy mouthfeel, this wine pairs beautifully with fresh trout topped with lemon and garlic butter.

Our Austin Adventures guide personally serving wine straight from the barrel. Talk about service!

No wrong turns, lost or wasted daylight this time around. I skipped days worth of research, planning, and exploring and went straight to enjoying a carefully curated and personalized itinerary.

And luckily, Austin Adventures can be from everywhere from Montana to Montenegro. Now to figure out where I want to tackle next!


The Pelican State Goes to War Exhibit Lands in Lake Charles

Look, I’m not usually one to tell you how to live your life. You do you. But I, in good conscience, must urge you to take advantage of something great while it lasts! Especially when a world-class exhibit, curated by one of the top ten museums in the world, arrives right here in Lake Charles’ Historic City Hall! The Pelican State Goes To War is currently on view, but not for long.

By now it should be obvious that I adore a great exhibition. From monstrous insects to colored cowboys to the world’s largest Mardi Gras museum to world-famous tycoon’s private art collections. I was even lucky enough to visit an exclusive exhibit featuring over 50 Van Gogh‘s masterpieces!

So when I found out that one of the most incredible museums EVER – New Orleans’ National World War II Museum – not only curated a special traveling exhibit but that it was currently featured at our local Arts & Cultural Center, I had to see it. And it keeps getting better. Featured on the second floor is National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Landscapes. And to top it all off, both exhibits are free!

The Pelican State Goes To War

The Pelican State Goes To War spotlights the immense role Louisiana played in securing America’s victory in WWII. From the production of the game-changing Higgins boats to hosting the largest military training maneuvers in American history, Louisiana more than answered the call for the President’s “Arsenal of Democracy.”

The Pelican State Goes To War on Exhibition now at Lake Charles Historic City Hall.

After signing the Lake Charles Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural guestbook, start your visit on the third floor. There, recorded voices of veterans reverberate throughout the room, recounting their first-hand knowledge of the war efforts. To the right, a collection of interviews allow you to explore daily life during wartime through those who lived it. Meet the women who filled crucial roles as nurses, riveters, and welders. Hear from those responsible for producing over 2,000 fighter planes a month, such as Rose Marie Elfer. Listen to how these incredible women helped assemble ships weighing over 10,000 tons in only 67 days.

For the first time in history, African Americans, women, and disabled received equal work and pay.

Continue on and see how the war wasn’t only fought across oceans but also at Louisiana’s front door. Learn how German U-boats brought the battle to the Gulf of Mexico where 56 military and commercial ships were attacked and destroyed.

Further on, discover that nearly 280,000 Louisianans enlisted in military service of which six became of Honor Recipients. Men like Leroy Johnson, who in order to save his patrol from Japanese attack, died after shielding two grenades with his own body. This act of self-sacrifice earned him not only the Metal of Honor but also the distinguished honor of having a New Orleans army based named after him.

Louisiana was home to the largest “war games” in American history. Those who participated in the training, over 400,000 men, received Manuevers Badges.

Before heading down to the second floor, learn about the local POW camps. Due to the war draft and industrial jobs, farmers lost much of their laborers. In order to counteract such a shortage, roughly 20,000 Italian and German POWs filled this void. They subsequently bolstering Louisiana agriculture and allowed farmers to produce thousands of tons of rice, sugar, sweet potatoes, and cotton. Following the war, once these men returned home, they collected back wages from their time spent as laborers.

A glimpse of the 280,000 Louisianans that served.

National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Landscapes

Next, head down to the second floor and spend some time walking through National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Landscapes. Begin in the Summer gallery and enjoy Shane Katyn’s haunting image of foggy islands in British Colombia, Micheal Milford’s brilliant sunflower fields of Denton, Montana, and moody black and white shots of California taken by Ansel Adams himself.

In the Autumn Gallery Orsolya Haarberg takes you into shrouded forests of Romania. Renown landscape photographer, George Steinmetz gives a birds-eye view of wind ravaged deserts of China, and Alessandra Meniconzi captures the Alpine peak of the Matterhorn at sunrise.

Winter’s Gallery showcases Stephen Alvarez’s shot of the fiery lava flows of Hawai’i, Babak Tafreshi’s image of dancing aurora borealis over Tromsø, Norway, and verdant rows of rapeseed fields found in Yunnan Providence, China another landscape captured by Steinmetz.

Lastly, The Spring Gallery allows guests a glimpse of Spencer Black’s firefly trails illuminating the forest floor of North Carolina. Among other iconic Nat Geo images you’ll find Duncan George’s moss-enshrouded forest captured in England’s Dartmoor National Park. This exhibit ends September 28th.

Local War Stories

Personal Memorabilia of Major J. W. Stine

Once back on the ground floor, browse a small gallery displaying a vast collection of war relics featuring locals of the Lake Charles area. Natives and new comers alike will certainly find familiar families, businesses, and neighborhoods among the honored. This exhibit leaves October 19th.

Lake Charles’ Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center is located at 1001 Ryan Street. For more information call (337) 491-9147 or email at


Crushing it with Free State Cellars, Southeast Texas Newest Winery

Blue and red bars of light fall from the antique stained glass windows, painting the butcher block serving counter. Softly, the steady thunk – thunk- thunk of chopping drifts in from the small kitchen behind the bar, keeping time with the soft jazz playing overhead. The intimate tasting room and open patio of Free State Cellars with tasteful contemporary lines blended with Old World pieces, creating a refined yet casual atmosphere.

But it hasn’t always been so. What would one day be know as Free State Cellars got its humble start as Texas’ 14th winery under the name of Piney Woods Country Winery. In 1984, Albert Flies, one of Texas’ pioneers in viticulture and oenology, planted his first muscadine grapes behind his Orange, Texas home.

Over the years his micro-vineyard grew to roughly six acres while steadily producing an award-winning variety of muscadine, fruit, and chocolate wines. But more interested in wine production than in aesthetics, his tasting room and cellar remained utilitarian opposed to appealing. Sadly, after his passing, both the vineyard and winery fell into disrepair. But luckily for the small town of Orange, the narrative doesn’t end there.

Free State Cellars Vineyard before countless hours of restoration

The Cinderella story of Free State Cellars owes its success to one family with a vision and the massive support of friends, family, and the citizens of Orange backing them. Enter Orange, Texas natives, the Swope family.

After purchasing the deteriorated estate in 2017, the family quickly began the laborious act of reviving and rebranding. Unfortunately Mother Nature dealt plenty of set backs. After hurricanes, historical flooding, fallen trees, and a rare snow storm, over 200 vines needed to be replaced, as well as the original structure.

Luckily North America’s only native grape, the muscadine, thrives along the hot, humid banks of Adam’s Bayou. In August of 2018, Free State Cellars harvested their first successful bounty of muscadine. They hope to have their Heirloom Wines bottled and ready to serve by the end of July.

But muscadine wine isn’t the only wine coming from Free State’s cellars. Oenophiles can still find old world favorites grown right here in the Lone Star State.

Like their buttery, full-bodied Viognier with aromas of honeysuckle and flavors of crisp pear and ripe peach. And their light and delicate Riesling that bursts with bright green apple. And for those who love red blends, the Rio Dulce, a ruby cabernet/ blend, sits firmly at the top of the bestseller list. With a fragrance of lush dark fruits and lingering ripe cherry notes, this easy drinker remains the crowd favorite.

This little winery has big dreams and Southeast Texas can’t wait. Keep an eye on their Facebook, Instagram, and sign up for their newsletter to be the first to know about new wine reveals, special events, and the latest happenings as the winery continues to grow! Visit them at 4702 Tejas Parkway Orange, Texas.


Digging for Tourmaline in SoCal’s Oceanview Mine

Legend says that an evil spirit, enraged at his own ugliness, vowed to destroy all which was beautiful. One day while sitting in the mouth of a cave, the spirit gazed up to the sky and saw a rainbow. Filled with spite, he grasped the rainbow, shattered it, and buried the colorful shards deep within the cave. And in doing so, gave the gem tourmaline to mankind.

With legends and folklore as colorful as the gem itself, it comes as no surprise that tourmaline remains one of the top five most desirable gems of the modern world. Coveted by the Rajas of India, the Czars of Russia, and the Emperors of China, few jewels rival the brilliance and chromatic array of tourmaline. And few places on earth produce such jaw-dropping specimens as Southern California’s Pala Gem Mining District.

At the turn of the 20th century, Tz’u Hsi, China’s last Dowager Empress, loved San Diego’s pink tourmaline so much that she directly funded the mining operations there, leading to the rise of the Pala Gem Mining District and The San Diego Tourmaline Mining Company. 

Today, of those 72 mines pocking the mountains of San Diego’s Pala Gem Mining District, the Oceanview Mine remains one of the last operating underground mines. Thanks to the dedicated men and women of the Oceanview Mines, mineralogists and gem enthusiasts, such as myself, can dig alongside the miners in search of the next big payload.

Located an hour north of downtown San Diego, Jeff Swanger, CEO and owner of Oceanview Mines, LLC, opens his gates to welcome the public three days a week. “We produce about 50 tons a week to be sifted. Many think we go through it first but this is false. There’s no way we could go through it and continue mining! When we open a pocket with a blast, we recover what’s stuck to the mine wall but most gets blasted into muck or rubble to be found by our guests. You would be amazed what’s been found by our guests over the years!” Best of all, guests keep every single gem they find, no matter the size or value.

But before diving bucket-first into a gravel pile, what exactly do we as guests need to look for? I headed to Oceanview Mine to find out. After a dusty, bumpy drive an undulating mountain road and through a massive citrus orchard, I arrived in a gravel lot overlooking the yucca covered valley below. As the sun steadily crept towards its zenith, Janie Amsler, one of Oceanview’s knowledgable rockhounds, gathered us all there to dig that day around to demonstrate how to identify the gems and minerals regularly unearthed at Oceanview.

Holding up a large sparkling crystal, she explained how the mine continually turns out pockets of verdant green and violet tourmaline, but peachy morganite, brilliant aquamarine, lavender-hued lepidolite, and lilac kunzite also make appearances within the gravel pile. Within Chief Mountain, the Oceanview Mine produces colors and matrixes found nowhere else in the world.

Now that we knew what to look for, Janie then established the proper etiquette of gathering gravel and working efficiently and respectfully with fellow diggers. With the buckets and shovels provided, guests needed to quickly fill their buckets from the gravel pile without lingering or “pile digging” and return to their station in order to make room for others. At our screening stations, we dumped the buckets into the wooden 1/2” mesh tray stacked directly on top of another 1/4” mesh tray in order to dry sift the contents.

To preserve the equipment, the gravel gets sifted by hand instead of sliding, banging, or shaking the trays. This dry sifting technique reveals large chunks of granite and clay, making them easy to remove. The now-sifted tray undergoes a rinse in the water bath, revealing any crystals hidden amongst the large rocks. The same process is repeated for the 1/4” tray before returning to the gravel pile for another bucket of gem-rich debris.

Between sifting, sluicing, and searching, Jeff and his team take each guest on a personal jeep tour of Chief Mountain. Diggers see first-hand the mining operations and historic tunnels crisscrossing Chief Mountain as well as the Pala Chief Mine and Tourmaline Queen Mine.

In the darkness of one of the tunnels, illuminated only by headlamps, I asked why anyone would want to be a miner. While prying a chunk from the tunnel wall with a small pick, miner Jason Evans eloquently stated, “Personally, I find it absolutely fascinating to be able to unearth something that has been hidden away for millions of years. It is truly breathtaking to be able to physically pull a crystal from within the earth and bring that crystal into the light for the first time in its history.”

Running his fingers inside the decades-old scars left behind by ancient pickaxes, my guide and drilling-blasting expert, Steve Carter, expounded on the advancements made in modern mining and blasting. As we bounced our way back towards the dig site, he said, “The great thing about my job is I get paid to make one heck of a mess,” with the slightest ghost of a smile. 

While speaking with Jeff about the rise and fall of Pala Gem Mining District, he credits his team for allowing Oceanview to stay active when so many others failed. “We have been open so long on sheer will. And tourism allows us just to be able to do what we love. We have found so many historic finds and I feel blessed to have such a hard-working crew who works well together and makes it happen!” 

After hours of chipping away at the gravel pile the dig finally winds down. Guests and miners pour over the days find and congratulate each other on the day’s find. Covered in a fine layer of monochromatic dust with bags of brightly colored stones, the day ends as most days do, I imagine. With sore backs and scraped knuckles but genuine enthusiasm and eagerness all the same. For more information or to schedule a dig, please visit their website at


Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art

“Who is there that conveys, in form and colour, the magnificent dynamic energy the 19th century is again becoming aware of? I know of one man, a lone pioneer, struggling on his own in the depths of darkest night. His name, Vincent, will go down to posterity. There will be more to be said about this heroic Dutchman in future.” If only Joseph Jacob Isaacson, Dutch artist and critic, knew how true his words would ring. Vincent van Gogh would battle bouts of mania, melancholy, and debilitating anxiety throughout most of his life. And, ironically, while mostly under-appreciated by his peers in life, van Gogh would become one of the most recognized and celebrated painters of all time. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, together with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, have come together to tell his turbulent but brilliant story through an exclusive exhibit “Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art.”

Upon entering the Introduction Gallery, nine reproductions hang against elegantly handwritten correspondences. These letters exchanged almost daily between Vincent and his sole supportive family member, Theodorus, serve as a sort of diary into the thoughts, emotions, and justifications of Vincent’s ramblings. The reproductions of treasured pieces, too fragile to be lent out, as well as the over 800 personal letters, serve to briefly introduce visitors to the five pivotal periods of van Gogh’s short but prolific artistic life. Once leaving the Introduction Gallery, every one of the over 50 masterpieces throughout the exhibit is original van Gogh works of art.

Still Life: Vase with Irises against a Yellow Background

The Early Years (1881-1885) 

Following a series of failed careers and under the urging of his most loyal younger brother, Vincent finally took up art seriously at the age of 27. Once deciding to pursue a career as an artist, he vigorously set out to master drawing, stating, “Drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit.” Van Gogh, comically, lacked natural artistic talent but any inherent inadequacies conceded to his sheer energy and zealous vigor.

From the Introductory Gallery, visitors step into the moody, stoic semblance of 19th-century rural Netherlands. This dark gallery, full of earth-toned portraits depicting the crude, harsh realities of peasant life of Drente, illustrates van Gogh’s evolving mastery of sculpting dark subjects from low and side-lighting while drawing out subtle details hidden within deep shadows. Spotlighted in this gallery, are many of his earliest studies of the De Groot family, in which he composed numerous studies of, including The Potato Eaters (1885). This piece left van Gogh’s brother and fellow artists less than enamored but would become considered his earliest masterpiece.

Head of a Peasant Woman with Dark Cap

Paris (1886-1888)

Leaving behind the somber tones of his earliest works, visitors advance into the next gallery and into van Gogh’s “Luminous Period.” In order to be closer to fellow artists and his sole financial supporter, Theo, he moves to Paris. Here, he cultivates significant friendships with influential artists such as Louis Anquetin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Émile Bernard, and Adolphe Monticelli, whose excessive application of paint greatly influences van Gogh’s future work. Punctuated by dreamy blues and hints of fiery reds, the energizing effect of his time spent in Paris becomes evident throughout his over 200 paintings produced there. Towering larger-than-life sketches, swirling floral still-lifes, and a pointillized self-portrait usher viewers around this gallery and through his, quite possibly, happiest years.

Self Portrait

Arles (1888-89)

After two years in Paris van Gogh travels south in hopes of establishing an artist’s colony along the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. Captivated by the vibrant, sun-washed landscapes of southern France, van Gogh begins infusing many of his works with cheerful yellows. He gushes to Theo, “Sunshine, a light which, for want of a better word, I can only call yellow – pale sulfur yellow, pale lemon, gold. How beautiful yellow is!” Unfortunately, within a few short months, van Gogh’s mental stability would begin to deteriorate alarmingly. This last gallery of “Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art” displays some of his most brilliant and eloquent pieces, many produced from inner recesses of an insane asylum.


Following the nervous breakdown where he notoriously mutilated his left ear, van Gogh sought at Saint-Paul’s Hospital. During his self-induced year-long stint in the Saint Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy van Gogh produced some of his most notable and poignant pieces while confined to the grounds of the asylum. They include numerous paintings of rolling golden fields of wheat, lush flower gardens, and the much celebrated Starry Night. Not permitted to venture outside the asylum walls, van Gogh returned to his favorite subject matter of peasants by painting his interpretations based off of Jean-Francois Millet’s Work in the Fields series. Done in his tell-tale energetic strokes of blues and yellows, he once mused, “One must paint the peasants as if one were one of them, as feeling, thinking, as they do themselves…I so often think that the peasants are a world in themselves, so much better in many respects than the civilized world.”

Peasant Woman Binding Sheaves (after Millet)

Auvers-sur-Oise (May-July 1890)

After leaving the asylum, Vincent longed for the familiarity of the north. He stops in Paris to visit Theo for a few days before continuing on to Auver--Oise. In this small provincial village close to Paris, Theo found an amateur painter and homeopathic physician that agreed to care for the still unstable Vincent van Gogh. While initially robust, van Gogh began battling guilt over being a financial burden to his brother, fearing his unstable mental state, and anxious over his uncertain future, Vincent van Gogh attempted suicide on July 27th by inflicting a single gunshot to his chest. Vincent eventually passed two days later in the arms of his devoted brother, Theo. He was only 37 years old. Theo, perpetually sickly, succumbed to difficulties of syphilis only six months after Vincent’s suicide. Just as in life, they can be found side by side, interred in Auvers--Oise.

In just ten short years as an artist, Vincent van Gogh produced over 870 paintings. This doesn’t include his countless etches, engravings, and watercolors. This exhibit of over 50 original pieces of Vincent van Gogh can only be found at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and only until June 27th, 2019. To further enhance the experience, optional audio tour, which delves deeper into select pieces with narration. commentary, and insights from MFAH are available with ticket purchase. 

The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital

This exhibit is installed at the Audrey Jones Beck Building located at 5601 Main Street, Houston Texas.


NOLA’s Mardi Gras Few Seldom See

Stands of ladders painted in purple, green, and gold topped with booster seats line the street where kids dart back and forth throwing flashing Frisbees and bouncy balls caught during last night’s parade. The savory smell of grilling boudin drifts from someone’s courtyard and the upbeat blare of Jazz trumpets carries down the ancient oak shaded street. Not usually the scene that comes to mind when thinking Mardi Gras down in New Orleans. Sadly, the notoriety of Bourbon Street’s shenanigans overshadow much of what NOLA’s Carnival Season really looks like.

Say you have young children or less than mobile grandparents, where do you go to laissez le bon temps roulet yet avoid rowdy crowds? Well, with over 53 parades rolling for a total of 204 hours for over 300 miles, there’s plenty of opportunity.

Carnival in Louisiana

Loosely translated as a “farewell to flesh”, the French brought Carnival to Louisiana around 1699. The Season of Carnival celebrates life’s many luxuries before entering into the somber season of reflective penance and fasting known as Lent. This joyous season begins on “Twelfth Night”, the night of the Epiphany, January 6th and ends at midnight on the night of Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Celebrations differ slightly across the state but all are rooted in Medieval European traditions. While the revelry of Carnival dates back centuries, the first New Orleans Mardi Gras parade didn’t roll out until 1857. But secret societies or “krewes” were holding “bal masques” and crowning mock royalty long before they were parading through the French Quarter.

How to Increase your chances at a PG-Rated Carnival

With parades all over the city and in neighboring parishes, do a little research to get a better idea of parade routes, times, themes, and whether are not the parades that aren’t adult themed such as the Krewe du Vieux parade. (See the links posted at the bottom of the article)

Plan to stand toward the beginning and middle of the parade route, especially with parades starting in the Uptown area. These areas tend to be where the local residents line up and aren’t near as crowded as Canal Street and the Quarter. But hey, if standing 15 rows deep in an intoxicated sea of humanity is your thing, get it! You do you. I’ll be over here with all my elbow room and fresh air.

Also by positioning yourself close to the line up, you can walk among the floats for a closer look before the parade starts and chat up the float riders. This is a great time to take pictures with your favorite costumed revelers.

A Little Lagniappe For You

  • Many krewes participate in philanthropic, fund raising efforts, and out reach programs such as those following Hurricane Katrina. Femme Fatale, a 355 all-female krewe, strives “To offer women of all creeds and colors a unique opportunity to promote and support New Orleans’ cultural landscape through participation in the annual Mardi Gras season, while uplifting the community through various endeavors of engagement, awareness and social enhancement in order to further growth.”
  • The only time green, purple and gold where replaced as the colors of Carnival was in 2010 when Carnival and The Saints Super Bowl Victory overlapped.
  • Bands and marching troupes provide entertainment and diversity as well as inclusiveness in an historically elitist event. Required by city ordinances, parades must include a certain amount of bands and troupes depending on the number of floats slated for the parade. The cost of paying guest bands come in second behind the cost of building and maintaining the floats.
  • Many of the high school bands practice for countless hours and will march in up to 8 or more parades per season. On any given day, students will attend school, report to the band hall immediately after school lets out, dress and line up for parade. depending on the length of the route some bands march up to 7 miles at a time and may not return to the band hall until close to midnight. When the parades occur on a weeknight, the students return to school the next morning to do it all over again. So be sure to show those kids some much needed love!
  • Mardi Gras never falls on the same day from year to year even though The Epiphany never changes. That’s because Easter falls on the first Sunday following the full moon after the Spring Equinox (anywhere from March 22 -April 25th). From that date, count back 47 days to Fat Tuesday (anywhere from Feb 3 – March 9). Got it? Yeah me either, luckily someone else figured it out for us and gave us the dates for the next few years

2020 – Feb 25
2021 – Feb 16
2022 – Mar 1
2023 – Feb 21
2024 – Feb 13

To see something truly spectacular, hang around a few minutes after the last float to see the clean-up krewe work their magic!

Parade Essentials

  • Comfortable shoes, water, and snacks – with up to 5 parades a day, it’s an all day affair and standing around hungry, dehydrated, and with sore feet is never a bon temp.
  • Toilet paper/wet wipes – because Port-a-Potties exist.
  • Backpack or reinforced bags – your going to have a LOT of throws and a wimpy grocery bag just won’t do.
  • Sunblock, rain poncho, and blanket – because Louisiana has been known to go through all 4 seasons in a single day.
  • No glass containers – they are illegal and a hazard. Just don’t.
  • Costumes – from homemade to elaborate, you’ll never be over dressed. Give your imagination free reign. Or compile a make shift costume from all your parade throws!

A Few of My Favorites Parades

  • Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club- first African-American krewe, their coconut throw is the most prized throw in all of Carnival. With more than 100 units (floats, bands, dancing troupes), keep an eye out for their renowned Soulful Warriors such as Witch Doctor, Mayor, Big Shot, Ambassador, and more.
  • Krewe of Iris – New Orleans’ oldest female krewe (founded in 1917 and parading since 1959) and now largest of any krewe in the NOLA’s Mardi Gras history. All 3,450 members wear their signature hand-painted masks and long white gloves. This parade consists of almost 90 units including marching bands from all over the nation. The ladies of Iris will let fly fluffy tutus, stuffed king cake babies, gauzy butterfly wings, and hand-decorated sunglasses. Throw me something, sista!
  • Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus – this Comic-Con centric marching group exploded into it’s own krewe complete with parade. “The mission of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is to save the galaxy by bringing the magical revelry of Mardi Gras to the disenfranchised, socially awkward and generally weird masses who may have never had the opportunity to participate in a Mardi Gras parade organization. Through our works, we hope to elevate all aspects of fandom and celebrate Carnival in our unique way.” Love it, I do.
  • Mystic Krewe of Barkus – New Orleans’ only krewe for canines kicks off with a “Pawty in the Park” at Armstrong Park before costumed owners and dogs alike stroll through the French Quarter. Seriously, the happiest parade. Ever.
  • Mystic Krewe of the Druids – this 250 all-male krewe holds no queen, court, or balls. Celebrating with traditional satirical night processions, like many of the older krewes, the parade’s theme is never announced before the parade nor is the identity of the Arch Druid – their version of a King – ever publicly known. Many of their 18 floats are over 90 years old. The druids will rain down lighted wizard hats, Druid flags, and plush golden acorns among parade attendees.
  • Endymion – this super-krewe of over 3100 men boast some of the most spectacular floats found anywhere. Their tandem nine-section float titled Pontchartrain Beach dwarfs all others while the parade rolls toward the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the parade culminates in a parade after party 20,000 attendees strong.

To plan out your parades and stay up-to-date with roll time click here.

Not sure What to do with your throws after carnival? Donate them!

Sponsored by several of the krewes, many local charities recycle Mardi Gras beads and throws in an effort to support local charities. To donate your goods reach out to Arc at (504) 837-5140 or, Magnolia School at (504)-733-2874, and St. Michael’s Special School at (504)-524-7285 or