Agritourism — It’s a Real Thing

Orchards such as this one in Adams, Tenn., are growing visitors as well as fruit. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

ADAMS, Tenn. – Simply taking a city kid to a farm isn’t likely to inspire him or her to choose agriculture for a livelihood, but it certainly can provide some entertainment and show that food originates somewhere other than the grocery store.

Apples go up a conveyor before dropping into a press. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Farmers across America have found new revenue streams by welcoming visitors, and in the process, they inspired a new word – agritourism.

Agritourism runs the gamut. It can be everything from offering a few acres of strawberry fields for a you-pick-‘em opportunity to operating a bed-and-breakfast, perhaps with a chance to do some real farm work, too.

Other agritourism activities include wandering in cornfield and hayfield mazes (just be sure to go home with all the kids you bring, unlike a certain family in Utah), picking a future jack-o-lantern at a pumpkin patch, enjoying a hayride, fishing in a farm pond or learning how cheese or apple cider are made.

Finding an agritourism activity isn’t difficult. States such as mine, Tennessee, have vibrant promotional campaigns. Tennessee’s online presence is PickTNproducts.org, which goes beyond

Color, motion — and tractors in the fields — entertain youngsters. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

argitourism information to include recipes, lists of Tennessee-grown items and even county-by-county databases of farmers markets and where to buy compost for home gardens.

Tom and Sarah Head, whose Shade Tree Farm and Orchard is northeast of Nashville at Adams, offers blackberries and blueberries for early-summer visitors and apples from part of their apple orchard for autumn visitors. In autumn, you get the bonus of watching the multi-step process of producing apple cider. It’s fun to buy a gallon to take home, but it’s more fun to enjoy an apple cider slushee before you head back to the city.

The Heads also have a small farm store with a variety of goods, country lunches on some weekends, wagon rides through the orchards and occasional special events, such as a night of scary stories just before Halloween.

Tom Head transfers another pail of fresh cider from the press. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Tennessee’s agritourism website has the recipe for this apple stack cake.

If you leave Shade Tree Farm and Orchard with a bag of apples to go along with your good memories, you then can revisit PickTNproducts.org to find recipes for an apple stack cake or a traditional apple pie.

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I Never Wanted To Visit the 9/11 Memorial

(Editor’s note: Today is Sept. 11, 2017. As Americans deal with the agonies of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and wildfires across the West, this also is a time to remember where we were 16 years ago.)

I was in New York City last week for the first time since the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, and I had said aloud that I did not ever want to visit the World Trade Center site. Why  resurrect the trauma of that day, a trauma that remains close enough to the surface anyway?

Despite that declaration, I went. I had filled my spare hours on a business trip with other diversions – a Broadway comedy, a walk on the High Line, oysters at Grand Central – but I was drawn to the memorial.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a most peculiar day for me back home in Nashville. The day before had ended with my termination after 22 years of a corporate job in the hospitality and entertainment industry. I had volunteered to clear up unfinished projects over the next couple of weeks, and my employer agreed. As I left, I said not to expect me early the next morning.

I awoke to the first news reports, knowing that my oldest child lived in New York and was to fly to St. Louis that day. I didn’t know his schedule or airport.

As the horror unfolded, I headed to the office for what I knew would be a challenging day. My job was media relations, and I worked for one of the city’s biggest employers and one of the nation’s biggest hotels. What was happening in New York would affect us quickly.

At work, everyone’s shock grew as America’s air transportation system shut down and the scale of what we learned was an attack became clear. We had thousands of guests. More were expected.

I technically wasn’t on the payroll, but two decades of experience jumped into high gear. We worked with the existing and incoming meeting groups. We communicated with our employees. We began to get questions from the media.

“What will this mean to future business?” was the basic inquiry.

My hotel general manager recoiled at the question, and I admired his devotion to the core tenet of his profession – the wellbeing of guests.

“Our concern right now is caring for the people under our roof. They are confused and hurting. We’ll worry about the future later,” he said.

The day proved to be a paradox. It simultaneously was the best professional day of my life amid one of our nation’s most tragic. Somewhere in the midst of work, I learned that my son’s flight was at midday and that he had never left New York.

The myriad memories of that day pushed to the front of my mind as I rode the No. 4 subway to the Fulton Street station. I emerged into a weather day almost identical to 16 years ago. The air was cool, and jet airplanes coursed through a brilliantly blue sky. However, it was eerily – yet appropriately – quiet for a space in the middle of a huge city.

I walked the two blocks to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and completed my trip back in time.

An Art-Filled Stroll in Chattanooga

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Bluff View Art District is a quiet retreat high over the Tennessee River that features a B&B operation in three houses, an art gallery, a chocolate kitchen, a bocce court, a nice restaurant, a fancy restaurant, a coffee roaster and more.

In the “more” category is a collection of outdoor sculptures that makes the Bluff View Art District so unlike many other enclaves of escapist businesses, Some of the sculptures are located around the various businesses, but most are in the River Gallery Sculpture Garden.

Some are thought provoking, such as one called “Prodigal Son.” Some are whimsical, such as a park bench in the silhouetted form of a couple or one called “My Black Belt,” which has nothing to do with martial arts. Some have classical allusions, such as “Icarus,” which is ready to soar off the bluff.

The garden has a permanent collection, and it hosts an annual changing exhibition. It is listed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens and is among 195 worldwide on a list from the International Sculpture Center. Access is free.

(All accompanying photos are © Tom Adkinson.)

Keeping the Trains on Time at Tweetsie Railroad

 

Locomotive No. 12 is the only surviving engine from the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, which operated from 1882-1950. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

BLOWING ROCK, N.C. – Scott McLeod has had a dozen or more jobs at Tweetsie Railroad, including cowboy actor, pyrotechnician and haunted house designer, but he’s hanging on to the one he has now.

He supervises the train shop that keeps Tweetsie’s two locomotives rolling through the hills and hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Blowing Rock and Boone, N.C.

This is a big year for McLeod because it’s the both 60th anniversary year of the western-themed park and the 100th birthday of the park’s biggest attraction, locomotive No. 12. No. 12 the only surviving locomotive from the real-life East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad that stopped chugging through the mountains in 1950.

Scott McLeod and his team keep the trains running at Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

Describing No. 12 as the park’s biggest attraction is literal. It may be a narrow-gauge locomotive, but it’s still hefty and powerful. It rolled out of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1917 measuring 54 feet long and weighing 60 tons.

No. 12 and the younger No. 190, also built at Baldwin in 1943, carry passengers in open-air coaches on a three-mile loop multiple times a day. You can ride as many times as you like, watching the scenery go by and laughing along with a very campy show featuring cowboys, train robbers, Indians and frontier soldiers.

How campy is campy? It’s fun enough for the kids on the train to shout out warnings to the good guys when the train robbers are sneaking up on them and tongue-in-cheek enough for the adults to snicker good naturedly, such as when the train robbers introduce themselves as Texas Pete, Tabasco, Picante and Cayenne – the Hot Sauce Gang.

Cowboys in North Carolina? Why, sure, since they are characters in the comedic train robbery skit at Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

In addition to train rides, the 200-acre park offers 14 very child-friendly rides and six shows. One of the shows features high-kicking mountain clogging and pays tribute to nearby Tennessee by featuring “Rocky Top” as the closing dance number.

There are a classic carousel and an open-air chairlift, both ideal of family photos of children, parents and grandparents. At the highest point in the park is a place for the children to feed goats, deer and other animals.

McLeod says he never had to perform in the clogging show or herd goats, but he’s dedicated enough that he’d try if called upon. Instead, he’d rather work on No. 12 or No. 190 or offer help to owners of steam locomotives across the U.S.

Tweetsie Railroad’s train shop is respected nationally for providing or repairing what McLeod calls “pieces and parts” to trains at Disney World, Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, Carowinds, Knott’s Berry Farm, Dorney Park, Six Flags St. Louis and many other places spread across the country.

“They send wheel assemblies, air compressors, brake components, drive wheels, road and more to us to work on,” McLeod said, adding that the Tweetsie shop has done full restoration jobs on locomotives, although those are less common.

When the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, which once connected Johnson City, Tenn., with Boone, N.C., went out of business in 1950, locomotive No. 12 was bought by railroad enthusiasts in Harrisonburg, Va. Their idea for a tourist attractions got derailed, and Blowing Rock native Grover Robbins Jr. brought it back home in 1956 and opened the Tweetsie Railroad attraction in 1957. That grew into North Carolina’s first theme park.

Locomotive No. 12 pulls open-air coaches on a three-mile loop through the wooded hills of Tweetsie Railroad. (Photo © Tom Adkinson)

“Every day I’ve been around No. 12, I’ve wished it could talk and tell me stories about the people who have been on it over the past century. With proper care, No. 12 will run indefinitely,” McLeod said.

Tweetsie Railroad is open weekends in spring and autumn and daily in summer, and it will have its first Tweetsie Christmas season this year on Friday and Saturday evenings from Nov. 24-Dec. 30. Tweetsie Railroad is a member of Southern Highlands Attractions, a collection of 20 classic tourist attractions, including See Rock City, Luray Caverns and the Barter Theatre.

Six Attractions Along the QLine in Detroit

Detroit’s QLine is is getting visitors and locals moving on Woodward Avenue. (Photo by Bill Bowen)

DETROIT, Mich. – The most popular wheels in Detroit today aren’t made of rubber and aren’t attached to shiny automobiles rolling off assembly lines at Motor City plants. They are the steel wheels underneath the carriages of the QLine, the city’s new foray into mass transit.

In one sense, the QLine is simple. It’s only on one street, and it’s only 3.3 miles long, but the impact it is having for visitors and locals alike is substantial. Along its route are sport facilities, theaters, restaurants, a medical center, a major university, retail location (including one that’s making Detroit shine) and restaurants.

What’s impressive – besides quick trips in sleek-looking cars – is that the QLine is a major transportation project led and funded by private businesses and philanthropies in partnership with local, state and federal governments.

It opened in May 2017, and fares are modest ($1.50 for three hours of hopping on and off, or $3 for a 24-hour pass).

The route is up and down Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare through the middle of the city. Just past one end are the Detroit Riverwalk and its views to Windsor, Ontario, and at the other end is West Grand Boulevard.

Here are six attractions along the way.

This Tiger roars at Comercia Park along Detroit’s QLine. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Sports Galore – Regardless of the corporate sponsor, Comercia Bank, it’s difficult not to think of Comercia Park as Tiger Stadium, home of baseball’s Detroit Tigers. It’s smack-dab downtown, and immediately behind it is Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. The almost-finished Little Caesars Arena will be the home of the NHL Detroit Red Wings and the NBA Detroit Pistons. Can you say sports mania?

Fox Theatre – This 5,000-seat palace was among the five spectacular Fox Theatres built in the 1920s (others in Atlanta, Brooklyn, St. Louis and San Francisco). It was fully and grandly restored in 1988 and is a National Historic Landmark. On the fall calendar are Paramore, Sturgill Simpson, a touring production of “Kinky Boots” and a holiday run of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.”

Save your nickels and dimes for a Detroit-made Shinola watch. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Shinola – Surely you know this is a brand of American-made luxury goods, not a shoe polish. There’s a great story at the Shinola store just a block off Woodward Avenue, even if you’re not in the market for a handmade watch, a sleek bicycle or plush leather goods. It’s simply nice to see top-quality goods from a company that’s been on a mission since 2011.

That’s no ordinary corn dog at Grey Ghost. It’s really octopus. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Grey Ghost – Great food in a reviving location is the attraction at Grey Ghost, an instantly successful restaurant that opened in 2016 between the Brush Park and Midtown neighborhoods. The beer and whiskey selections are hefty, and the chefs sometimes are quite sly – that corndog on the appetizer menu doesn’t have a frankfurter in the middle; it’s really octopus.

Diego Rivera’s murals are among Detroit’s true treasures. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Detroit Institute of Art – Go to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see its amazing Diego Rivera murals that tell the stories of Detroit’s industrial past and stay to roam through gallery after gallery of 65,000 works of art from the earliest civilizations to the present day. It is an encyclopedic collection that never could be consumed in one visit.

Michigan Science Center – The QLine can take you to a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experience, too, at the Michigan Science Center. Geek out at its planetarium, IMAX theater, 250 hands-on exhibits and even live stage shows. Science is far from boring here.

Visitor information about all aspects of Detroit is at VisitDetroit.com.

The Sound of Music, Kansas-Style

IN THE FLINT HILLS OF KANSAS – Outside the isolation chamber that is my automobile, I’m not one for sing-alongs – but I changed my tune as a full orchestra pushed the melody of “Home on the Range” across the Kansas prairie and 7,000 people began to sing.

The giant Kansas sky crowns the site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The occasion was the Symphony in the Flint Hills, an annual concert/picnic/party that draws an appreciative crowd into wide-open spaces for stirring music, a celebrity guest performer, a panoramic sunset and that “Home on the Range” sing-along.

It is no small accomplishment to set up a stage, import the Kansas City Symphony, erect pavilions, arrange catering and address all of the other needs of a crowd of thousands, but it happens every summer for a good cause.

That cause is heightening the public’s appreciation and knowledge of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie, a region of the state that seems big but is only a tiny portion of the prairie that once covered the middle of North America. Of the 170 million acres of prairie that existed before settlement, only about 4 percent remain.

Event organizers think good thoughts all year for a dramatic sunset on the night of the symphony. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A not-so-simple birthday party was the origin of the prairie concert.  In 1994, a rancher named Jane Koger celebrated her birthday by inviting the public to her Homestead Ranch for what she called the “Symphony on the Prairie.” More than 3,000 people came, demonstrating how a magical union between symphonic music and the prairie landscape can be created.

Ten years later, a grassroots organization (pun intended) formed to increase awareness of the prairie, and it presented the first Symphony in the Flint Hills in 2006. People now come from around the world to experience the magic that began with that long-ago birthday party.

The 2017 Symphony in the Flint Hills is June 10 on the Deer Horn Ranch between Abilene and Manhattan and a few miles south of Junction City. It’s a long way from the Kansas City Symphony’s fancy home, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The guest artist is Michael Martin Murphey (singer of “Wildfire,” “Carolina in the Pines” and “What’s Forever For” and a real-life rancher).

Pre-concert entertainment includes jostling rides on covered wagons. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A special aspect of the 2017 concert is a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, the cattle-drive route from Texas to Kansas in the decades after the Civil War. The lush grasslands of the Flint Hills were the cattle’s destination for some fattening up before becoming protein for a hungry nation.

Of course, there are ways to learn about the Flint Hills and the tallgrass prairie beyond a one-day concert.

·      *   Start at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Cottonwood Falls, a speck of a town with a beautiful courthouse, a surprisingly nice hotel and restaurant (the Grand Central Hotel, built in 1884), art galleries and the offices of the Symphony in the Flint Hills. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, which encompasses 11,000 acres of rolling hills where buffalo really did roam, is a unit of the National Park Service.

·     *     Visit the Symphony in the Flint Hills Gallery in Cottonwood Falls for art exhibits, special programs and community events.

·    *     To do more than observe, spend a few days at the Flying W Ranch near Cedar Point, where you can ride horses, drive cattle, hike, marvel at dramatic sunsets and gaze at the stars. Josh, Gwen and Josie Hoy will make sure you understand the importance of the prairie, and they will feed you well, too.

·      *    If your time is short, invest it in the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. Through permanent and temporary exhibits, videos and demonstrations, the center explains the geology, ecology and cultural history of the 22-county Flint Hills region.

My idea of the ultimate experience is a stay at the Flying W, a personal exploration of the region using Cottonwood Falls as home base and the rousing finale at the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

I learned that “Home on the Range” is the state song of Kansas, but if I get back, I’m going to request an extra sing-along of “Don’t Fence Me In,” another fitting song for the location:

                       “Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above/

                       Don’t fence me in./

                       Let me ride through that wide open country that I love/

                      Don’t fence me in.”

It’s a full concert experience at the Symphony in the Flint Hills every summer. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

 

Expert advice: See a bear, make some noise

This bear wandered off before I had a chance to say, “Boo!” I promise. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK — Bill Stiver, a wildlife biologist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wants me to do something that goes against every outdoor-loving fiber of my body. If I’m lucky enough to see a black bear, the symbol of America’s most visited national park, he’d appreciate it if I would make a ruckus, startle the bear and make it run away into the woods.

“Can’t I take a picture first?” I implored.

He smiled, didn’t answer directly and repeated what he said earlier about making a big noise.

Stiver, of course, was being theatrical – I think – but his point was clear. He doesn’t want bears to associate humans with anything good, even benign neglect. He wants bears to go the other way when they see a human.

The problem isn’t the bears. It’s the humans who aren’t smart enough, or respectful enough, to keep their distance from bears and understand that they are guests in the bears’ home, not that the bears are there for their amusement, photographic or otherwise.

Stiver explained that the absolute worst thing a human can do is try to feed bears or to leave human food or trash where bears can get to it. That’s especially important in campgrounds and at backcountry campsites in the park and at the vacation cabins that are near the park’s boundary.

“The saying is true that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’,” Stiver said, explaining that bears that associate humans with food are a danger and that he has successfully lured a nuisance bear into a trap using a single M&M as the bait. Stiver and other wildlife professionals will trap and relocate nuisance bears, but if they continue to return to where they interact with humans, euthanizing them can be the result.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to about 1,500 bears spread throughout its 522,000 acres in Tennessee and North Carolina. Even under normal circumstances, your odds of seeing one are slim, and you won’t have much opportunity to be a noisy visitor or to take a photo anyway.

Signs for Life in a Chinese Canyon

Three of 12 waterfalls. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Three of 12 waterfalls on a hike in China’s Tongling Mountain National Forest Park. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

WENCHENG COUNTY, China – The forest resembled Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the waterfalls could have been in Yosemite, but the signs along the trail were pure China.

They told us a bit about where we were, and despite mangled syntax and odd spellings, they made it perfectly clear that if we fell off a cliff, it was our own fault. We’d been warned.

We were about three hours’ drive inland from the coastal metropolis of Wenzhou and in a range of rugged mountains blanketed with deciduous trees and accented by a crashing river we heard long before we could see it.

We were eager to explore Tongling Mountain National Forest Park and begin a promised hike. We had a hint of what lay ahead because of the winding and steep ascent to the trailhead in a tour bus, but that didn’t quite prepare us for our walk down a canyon wall, rock-hopping river crossings and a protracted hike back up a gorge.

Stone staircase to start the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Stone staircase to start the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Timbers underfoot for a portion of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Timbers underfoot for a portion of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The hike began inauspiciously on a solid stone staircase that would have made the Civilian Conservation Corps proud. A sign portended a change. It read:

“It is not my fault to reflect magic

and dangerous with steep and narrow,

it is your fault that forget your safety

while enjoy the sight.”

The translation was clear:

“If you’re so absentminded

 that you fall off the edge,

you’ve only yourself to blame.”

The trail actually wasn’t bad at all, and it was a marvel of backcountry construction. In places, it was a catwalk suspended over open space.

The wide stone steps morphed into circular timbers, then planks of wood and then into steel mesh resting on steel rods driven into the rock walls of the gorge. Handrails were common – and welcomed. The amount of human labor (almost none of this could have been done with machinery) was impressive.

Why did the Chinese go to such lengths? The answer was in the signs – the trail builders appreciated nature’s glory. One sign with three messages offered these thoughts:

“Here, the nature’s uncanny workmanship has created the mountains, rivers, forest and valley.”

“Here, let us make appoint far away with the mortal life!”

“Here, people will be intoxicated by the harmony of the voice of wind, water and birds.”

Again, the translation was clear:

“Drink in the beauty of these mountains. Enjoy a respite from your daily life.”

7-three-part-signWhat surrounded us soon shifted from merely impressive to outright spectacular. The cascading river far across the canyon had blasted out one beautiful plunge pool after another.

It was a thing of pure beauty – a narrow white waterfall crashed into a blue-green pool, which led to another waterfall and another pool, over and over again – 12 times in all.

Waterfall after waterfall. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Waterfall after waterfall. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Views at every turn of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Views at every turn of the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

We finally reached the bottom of the canyon, took the obligatory group photo (our Chinese hosts insisted on group photos absolutely everywhere we went), crossed the river on a bridge made of circular stone steps resembling pier pilings and began the climb back up.

Step by circular step across the river. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Step by circular step across the river. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

This time, however, the trail was immediately beside the waterfalls and plunge pools. Signs provided the names of each pool, which the Chinese called ponds. We climbed along Gourd Pond, Belle Pond and Dragon Princess Pond. A favorite was Connect Heart Pond, so named because its outline resembles a heart.

At the top of the climb – after walking across a small dam and admiring a reservoir where golden koi flashed in the still water – was a manmade surprise, a teahouse in the middle of nowhere.

A teahouse in the middle of nowhere. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A teahouse in the middle of nowhere. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and tofu snacks. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and peculiar tofu snacks. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Green tea, peanuts and peculiar tofu snacks were our reward – along with time to contemplate two signs we had passed:

“Civilization lives with mountains and waters, and harmony coexists with landscapes.”

“Protrcting the environmenr is a responsibility.

“Caring for the environment is a virtue.”

Spelling be damned, the day’s message was clear.

"Civilization lives with mountains and waters."

“Civilization lives with mountains and waters.”

Responsibility and virtue. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Responsibility and virtue. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Super Hiking above Wenzhou

trailhead

Daluo Mountain’s trail start at this lakeside village. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

WENZHOU, China – Most Americans who have even heard of this city of 9 million know it as a manufacturing and export city, but it is trying to enhance its leisure visitor credentials and has one attraction of major proportions.

Towering above Wenzhou, a coastal city between Shanghai and Hong Kong, is Daluo Mountain, a trail-laced retreat from a bustling metropolis where the best job may be leasing construction cranes. The number of high-rise buildings under construction is almost indescribable, but those manmade towers can’t rival Daluo Mountain.

My group of American and Canadian convention attendees kept looking out the windows as our bus charged up a two-lane road hugging the side of the mountain as the city grew smaller and smaller.

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The bus dropped us at a little village tucked into a divot in the mountain just 12 miles from city center. Vendors had lively businesses selling snacks, water and a few souvenirs. Westerners, of course, are unusual here. The trails’ primary users are locals. Especially evident when we visited were college students, presumably from a sprawling campus at the base of the mountains.

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

An hour-long, calf-challenging ascent was primarily on a concrete walkway through bamboo corridors and along ridges of deciduous trees that should have been showing autumn colors but that hadn’t started turning.

As we neared the crest of our chosen trail, views opened to several vistas that showed Daluo Mountain was part of a sizable ridge and canyon region.

Most of the trail was staircases concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Most of the trail was staircases of concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Instead of doing an about-face for the expected out-and-back hike, guides told us to press on. We noticed that almost all of the local hikers who had been with us earlier had returned the way they came.

Our continuation was on a more traditional natural-surface trail, and our reward was a placid mountaintop lake, which popped into sight when we emerged from a stand of trees.

We didn't expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

We didn’t expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The descent from the lake put us back on concrete staircases similar to those at the start of the hike, testing a different set of leg muscles. A stream that flowed from the lake provided a soundtrack for part of the downhill walk.

Our hike became almost a full loop. Our motorcoach met us a few hundred yards up the road from the trailhead in the village we had left about three hours earlier.

Urban planners have a grand scheme for cable cars, trams and visitor facilities, but what’s available now works quite nicely.

"Enjoy the excellent journey," indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“Enjoy the excellent journey,” indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

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Dancing in the Daylight

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

ZHANGYE, China — If you’d told me a month ago that I’d wake up one morning in the middle of China and shoot photos of a plump, matronly woman wearing a white mask, red shoes, red gloves, and a red jacket while wielding a gleaming silver sword as she danced before a smiling golden Buddha draped in what appeared to be a Go Big Orange beach towel, I’d have said, “Nah, never happen.”

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)