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FALL 2019









hometown to airport transfers Collette takes the hassle out of getting to the airport with our hometown pickup for all air-inclusive tours (for groups of 10 or more).

THE WORLD AWAITS WITH TOURS TO ALL SEVEN CONTINENTS. Call 844.445.5663 or your local travel professional now to learn about our booking offers. CST# 2006766-20 UBN# 601220855 Nevada Seller of Travel Registration No. 2003-0279

Plan your visit at Williamstown, K Y (south of Cincinnati)



[ FA L L 2 0 1 9 ]

34 22 28

Best of Louisiana Get your fill of Cajun and creole culture.

Silicon Valley and the Sea Discover the scenery and

energy of San Mateo County, California.


Groups love visiting these natural wonders.

DEPARTMENTS Columns 6 EDITOR’S NOTES: A Culture Check-Up

Spotlights 16 HOW TO:

Paul Anderson

20 INTERNATIONAL: Athens, Greece

41 RETREAT: Ridgecrest Conference Center


COVERAGE 8 Attendees find ideas, enjoy entertainment and get to know Grand Rapids at the Going On Faith Conference.

30 BOTANICAL GARDENS Color abounds in these horticultural hotspots.

Plan Memorable Meals

38 SOUTHWEST EXPERIENCES Tap into cowboy culture in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Mac T. Lacy Founder and Publisher

Herb Sparrow Senior Writer

Christine Clough Copy Editor

Charles A. Presley Partner

Donia Simmons Creative Director

Brian Jewell Executive Editor

Ashley Ricks Graphic Design/ Circulation

Kelly Tyner Director of Sales and Marketing

Eliza Myers Online Editor



18 PROFILE: ON THE COVER: An Andean flamingo in the Bolivian Andes. Photo by P. Agustavo


Kyle Anderson Account Manager Daniel Jean-Louis Account Manager

Going On Faith is published quarterly by THE GROUP TRAVEL LEADER, Inc., 301 East High Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40507, and is distributed free of charge to qualified group leaders who plan travel for churches, synagogues and religious organizations. All other travel suppliers, including tour operators, destinations, attractions, transportation companies, hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related companies, may subscribe to Going On Faith by sending a check for $39 for one year to: Going On Faith, Circulation Department, 301 East High Street, Lexington, KY 40507. Phone: (859) 253-0455 or (859) 253-0503. Copyright THE GROUP TRAVEL LEADER, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction of editorial or graphic content in any manner without the written consent of the publisher is prohibited.





ulture eats strategy for breakfast.” This saying has been popular in leadership circles for the past 20 years, and nobody is sure exactly where it originated. But successful leaders around the world agree the fundamental idea is solid. No matter how great an organization’s products, strategies or assets are, its long-term success will be determined by the health of its culture. Culture can be ephemeral: It’s essential to any group of people but very difficult to measure. Culture develops over time through hundreds or thousands of small personal interactions. And whenever someone encounters an organization for the first time, the culture of the group will determine how likely the visitor is to return. Like any other human organization, your church has a culture, and so does your travel group. And if you play a leadership role in either of those entities, you’re responsible for the health of that culture. If the culture is strong and vibrant, the organization can’t help but succeed. But if there are problems in the culture, you can expect stormy seas ahead. Since group travel is such a people-oriented business, it’s especially important for you to invest in a positive culture. Here are five questions to help you evaluate the culture of your travel ministry. 1) ARE WE FUN? Travel is supposed to be enjoyable. But if you travel with people who don’t know how to have fun, the trip isn’t going to be a good experience. A healthy travel group culture will have lots of laughter and great shared memories. It’s OK to visit important places and talk about serious topics, but make sure to include plenty of lighthearted moments, too.

2) ARE WE ADVENTUROUS? A sense of wonder and curiosity should pervade everything a travel group does. Yes, there may be destinations that your travelers enjoy returning to again and again. But if you never try anything new, your culture is going to stagnate. As a leader, you can engender a healthy, adventurous culture by continually encouraging your followers to go beyond their comfort zones. 3) ARE WE INCLUSIVE? The mission of the church is inclusive by nature: We’re called to reach as many people as we can and make the biggest possible impact in our communities. But sometimes church groups can become so cliquish that outsiders feel they don’t belong. Even if your travel ministry is focused on a specific age or demographic, make sure you’re reaching out to people who aren’t part of your group and making them feel welcome. 4) ARE WE HONEST? One of the most telling indicators of an organization’s cultural health is how honest people are with each other. Do people in your group feel like they can be themselves around you? Do they talk honestly about the struggles and triumphs they’re experiencing in life? Do they find your community supportive, or do they feel like they have to keep up appearances to fit in? In a healthy culture, everyone is free to be honest. 5) ARE WE GROWING? Healthy things grow. When people see a group with a vibrant culture, they naturally want to get involved. If your travel group — or your church — isn’t seeing consistent growth, that’s a good indication that your culture needs some attention. Strengthen your culture, though, and growth will always follow.


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]




nspired by two Biblical attractions, faith-based travelers are flocking to Northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The region’s more than 70 hotels, access to interstates 75 and 71 and metropolitan amenities make it easy to create two-night, three-day customized itineraries for faith-based travelers, according to Erin Hoebbel, group tour manager for meetNKY. Keep reading for one example of a tour meetNKY might suggest.


After a mid-afternoon check-in, explore Covington’s best-known religious landmark, the Gothic Revival-style Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. The cathedral rivals its European counterparts; in fact, the Catholic Reporter called it one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Visitors will marvel at 32 eerie gargoyles and 82 German-crafted, stained-glass windows, including one of the largest in the world. Self-guided or docent-led tours can be arranged. If there’s time before dinner, visit Covington’s riverfront and venture under the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge to admire the 18 murals that transformed a concrete floodwall into colorful art. Each panel illustrates a piece of Covington’s history. Northern Kentucky continues to feel the influence of its German immigrants, which makes Hofbrauhaus Newport a fitting local dinner choice. When it opened in 2003, the restaurant was the first U.S. location of the famed Munich bier hall Hofbrauhaus.

Groups can bond at long tables over platters of schnitzel and sauerkraut. There’s live music nightly and, like the food, it is likely to have German flavor.


The first of two attractions in NKY created by Answers in Genesis will absorb travelers for most of the day, as they experience the Creation Museum. Using modern tools like animatronics and holograms, the museum tells ancient Bible stories through more than 150 stunning exhibits. Much more than a museum, the attraction also has a lush botanical garden, a petting zoo, a planetarium, ziplines and a café. During the holidays, colorful lights and a living nativity add a seasonal touch. To appreciate the scenery of both sides of the Ohio River, arrange a dinner cruise aboard one of BB Riverboats’ two paddle wheelers, which leave from the new Newport Landing Dock and Event Center. The boats pass sports stadiums and riverside parks and slip under the historic Roebling Bridge as the Cincinnati skyline sparkles to the north and Covington and Newport twinkle to the south. If a cruise doesn’t suit the schedule, opt for fried chicken at the Greyhound Tavern or, on the Cincinnati side, famous barbecued ribs with river views at Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse.


Groups often make what Hoebbel calls “the icing on the cake,” their final stop. The Ark En-

counter is the newest and most dramatic religious attraction in the region. A new visitors center welcomes guests and features a 2,500seat theater for daily presentations and periodic concerts. The focal point is the Ark, on a hilltop and of biblical proportions--stretching the length of one and a half football fields, as tall as a four-story building. Like the Creation Museum, there is a day’s worth of exhibits and activities to take in, from three decks of exhibits that wind through the Ark and tell the story of Noah, his family, their preparations and voyage as well as massive meals at Emzara’s Buffet, multiple ziplines, an expanded zoo and, come the holidays, special programming, holiday lights and a skating rink. A lake and the Ark behind it make a memorable backdrop for a commemorative group photo.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Erin Hoebbel, group tour manager meetNKY | Northern Kentucky CVB 859-655-4154 or 859-815-0127 (cell)





All photos by Dan Dickson

Delegates enjoy Grand Rapids’ vibrant downtown.



eligious travel planners came to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to search for new travel ideas and destinations at the annual Going On Faith Conference, which took place September 4-6 at the beautiful and historic Amway Grand Hotel in the downtown sector of Michigan’s second largest city. Faith-based travelers have left their mark around the U.S. and the world. “Faith-based travel in this country represents


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

$300 million with 20 million travelers going to faith sites and on other vacations,” Mac Lacy, a Going On Faith Conference partner, told the delegates. “When you consider world faith-based sites like Jordan, Israel, Rome, the Vatican, Egypt, Turkey and more places, it is really a remarkable industry.” Conference attendees received a warm welcome in Grand Rapids “What makes our community so special are the people who love Grand Rapids and who give back in

so many ways, like Visit Grand Rapids, our convention and visitors bureau,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in her welcome to all attendees. “When you’re here, I hope you sense that feeling.” “It’s a great destination and centrally located,” said Joe Cappuzzello, president and CEO of Group Travel Family, the conference organizer. “It’s an upand-coming city known for music, arts and craft breweries all over town, so it is young and hip with a great vibe. There is a religious component here also and our members saw that over three days.”

Musicians at the opening event

Ice cream!

President Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Red or white?

Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

going on faith [ ]



Sculpture Park

Children’s Museum


ne highlight of the conference was a tour and dinner at the amazing Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Delegates boarded trams and saw some of the 158 acres and 180 sculptures spread around the grounds. Delegates viewed the 24-foot-tall sculpture called “The American Horse,” created by famed animal sculptor Nina Akamu. After the tour, attendees enjoyed a dinner and entertainment from a lively musical trio. An afternoon schedule of sightseeing tours kept delegates busy. One tour included the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The Ford museum is the presidential museum and burial site of Ford, the nation’s 38th president and his wife, Betty Ford. Another tour option was to Ferris Coffee and Nut, a local coffee and nut roaster and distributor. A third tour highlighted art and architecture and included the Grand Rapids Art Museum and a stop at a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home completed in 1909 and located in the Heritage Hill Historic District. The last tour was to two breweries and focused on beer tourism. Grand Rapids, known as Beer City USA, has a lively and booming craft beer industry. Ray Hendon of the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, appreciated the tours. “What they have to offer in Grand Rapids is absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “I talk to a lot of group leaders who always look for places to go and I’d recommend Grand Rapids. The Meijer gardens and sculptures tour and dinner were wonderful. The food and musical entertainment were nice. My city museum tours were interesting.” Sandi Stewart of Stewart’s Fun Adventures in Hemet, California, concurred. “I think the tours were very informative and enjoyable and gave us ideas for future group tours to Grand Rapids,” she said.

Sculpture Park


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]



s always, the cornerstone of the three-day Going On Faith conference was the two marketplace sessions. These featured scheduled meetings between planners seeking ideas for their religious traveler groups and travel industry representatives offering their sites and activities. Most planners came with agendas, like Peggy Watson of Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. “We started doing mystery trips and I want more of those — on trains or anywhere, as long as they’re less than a day from Kansas City,” she said. “We’ve also taken groups to the Holy Land and to London and Paris and on cruises.” Suzanne Taskowitz of Faithful Travels in Islamorada, Florida, had goals. “I’ve handled the travel ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami for the last 10 years, and I want to increase the number of spiritual journeys I schedule and work more with the churches,” she said. Loretta Persyn of Main Street World Travel in San Antonio, Texas, wants the best for her clients. “My goal is to help people have the best travel experience possible with other people they travel with,” she said. “You come to this conference to learn about new places to go.” Tom and Stacy Kellam of Kellam Road Trips in Liberty Center, Indiana are newbies. “We’re a new tour company doing motor coach trips,” said Tom. “It’s our first conference and we’re excited,” said Stacy. “We just had our first two meetings, and I already have a bunch of good information.” Juel Fitzgerald of Viviano’s Cruises and Tours in Bedford Heights, Ohio, felt a spiritual longing. “I’ve always been interested in taking tours with people to see more of God’s glory,” she said. “I really want to go to Israel. I just returned from Indonesia, and I believe God sent me there. I wonder where he will next send me.”


Faith-based marketplace

Selling Myrtle Beach

Selling the Shrine

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Faith-based friendships


roadway Direct Group Sales in New York City had excitement to sell. “Our parent is Neaderlander Producing Company of America,” she said. “We’ve been around over 100 years and produced tons of shows from ‘Hamilton’ to ‘The Lion King,’ and we own nine theaters on Broadway. I can streamline everything for a group tour to our theatres.” Paul Sadaphal of Bird-In-Hand Family Inn, Restaurant and Stage in Pennsylvania Amish Country pitched nostalgia. “This is a very unique destination,” he said. “We serve a cornfield banquet, literally in an Amish cornfield. We have guest rooms and a theater under expansion. We can personalize any group visit. We want to make sure people have that nice, peaceful, tranquil Amish experience.” Trisha Cook of iCruise in Delray Beach, Florida, knew where to look. “There are many groups represented here who love to cruise so I’m here to meet group leaders to build more business,” she said. “I’ve gotten good leads.” Rebeca Perez of Crowne Plaza Dallas Downtown offers accommodations and more. “It’s our first time attending this conference,” she said. “Our hotel hosts many religious groups, and it’s great to be here getting to know everybody and finding out about their needs.” Sonya Harchaoui of the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau in Ohio is a pro who knows her job. “I’m new to the CVB but have been in the hospitality industry for years working for hotels and an airline,” she said. “My goal is to meet people and create relationships and friendships and see if Dayton is a good match and to present us in a good light.”

Full coach!


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

Host city help


Let’s go somewhere!

Louisiana lagniappe

Spin the wheel

Auction action Let’s eat

Jazz singer

Can we help?

Ice cream social

Meet the mayor

Renewing friendships

going on faith [ ] 13





he conference’s keynote address was delivered by Bob Pacanovsky, an expert on hospitality in the marketplace. It was a perfect theme for travel planners and travel representatives. “You simply must give hospitality,” he told delegates. “You know what it is. You’re all consumers and when a service provider or business does something great for you, you naturally say ‘I can’t believe they did that for me.’ That’s hospitality. Now go do that for your own customers. It‘s all about how you make them feel.” Frequent conference attendee Greg Nahmens of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a friendly but serious reminder to planners who book ground transportation for their travelers. “Before you pick a carrier for your passengers, you need to ‘Look Before You Book,’ every trip, every time,” he said. That means researching the government’s website for safety information and records for the carriers you are considering. Sponsors brought great travel information to the delegates as they enjoyed delicious meals. The second day’s breakfast was sponsored by Globus, represented by Diane Wilhelm. “We want to make it so that when you step out into that destination, you say ‘Wow,’” she said. “We want to put smiles on your faces and chills up and down your spines.” Lunch that day came courtesy of Wayne Peyreau of MSC Cruises, which is aggressively adding new ships, upgrading others and pushing into the North American market. “MSC Cruises visits 45 countries around the world, so I need your help filling up all these new ships,” Peyreau said. “I want your business.” The last day’s breakfast came by way of Eddie Lutz and the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in Hebron, Kentucky. “Videos and pictures are helpful,” Lutz said of the massive recreation of Noah’s Ark. “But you can’t imagine its size unless you’re standing next to it. It is the largest single frame structure in the world. It is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet tall, the same dimensions as in the Bible. When people pull up in buses and see it for the first time, they gasp.” Jim Edwards of Collette told attendees they might be able to


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

still get into next year’s Oberammergau event, but almost all their trips are filled. He suggested several other 2020 options for active faith-based groups. Pete Smith, with US Tours, encouraged attendees to join one of his company’s many Southern gospel events or special event trips for the coming year. The closing luncheon was provided by Visit Wichita, which will host the next Going On Faith Conference, August 19-21, 2020. “There is a lot of growth happening right now in Wichita, and we can’t wait to get these religious travel groups there to see everything going on,” said Jessica Viramontez, Visit Wichita’s convention sales manager. “Everyone who comes to Wichita and who hasn’t been there before comes away saying they are pleasantly surprised.”

My new shirt

Stay safe out there

Collette presentation



Faith-based friends

Globus breakfast

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ou have to feed your travelers, so why not feed them well? No matter where you take your group or what you do when you get there, eating will be an essential part of every trip you take. And meals aren’t just pit stops on the way to more interesting places. Today’s travelers seek authentic, delicious culinary experiences just as much as sightseeing and shopping. For your travel group to thrive in the future, you need to upgrade the culinary components of your trips. That means spending less time at buffets and food courts and giving your groups meal experiences they’ll remember long after a trip is over. Many group leaders are resistant to the idea of enhancing their culinary offerings because they’re afraid that adding better food experiences will make their trips too expensive. But tasty doesn’t have to mean pricey. In destinations all around the country and even around the world, locals have developed fun, affordable ways to help visitors connect with their culinary cultures.


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

Here are 10 types of food experiences to consider for your next group tour.


TAKE A FOOD TOUR. In destinations large and small across America, entrepreneurs have launched tour businesses that introduce visitors to the culinary highlights of their hometowns. These tours often visit several restaurants for conversations with the chef and small samples of signature dishes. Many also visit candy shops, bakeries and other culinary businesses. These tours can take place on foot or by motorcoach, and they often make a great way to see the city in addition to sampling its flavors.


PLAN A PROGRESSIVE MEAL. If you don’t want to dedicate a few hours to a full-fledged food tour, you can achieve a similar experience by planning a progressive meal for your group. Work with the convention and visitors bureau in the place you’re visiting to identify three or four restaurants that are close to each other and that accommodate groups. Then plan to visit one for appetizers, another for entrees and a third for coffee and dessert. You could also divide your travelers into smaller groups and have them rotate among restaurants for a more intimate experience.


TAKE A COOKING CLASS. One of the most engaging ways to give your travelers an upgraded culinary experience is through a cooking class. Cooking schools, restaurants and other organizations in many destinations offer opportunities for groups to meet with chefs and watch as they prepare food related to the area’s culinary traditions. Smaller groups may be able to do hands-on workshops where they prepare food themselves under the chef’s instructions. And at the end of the class, everyone enjoys eating what they have prepared.


VISIT A FARM OR A FACTORY. All food starts on farms, and the farm-to-table movement has caused many people to become more curious about the provenance of the things they eat. By visiting farms, groups can see where their food originates, and farmers can tell them about their products and how they are raised. Food factory tours also offer behind-the-scenes looks at culinary culture. Tours at both types of places often include samples of fresh food and treats.


BROWSE A PUBLIC MARKET. In many cities across the United States, public markets, food halls and other vendor marketplaces have become staples of the culinary community. These markets work well for groups for several reasons: They feature a wide variety of different types of food products, and they often have lots of available seating. Groups can take tours at many of these markets, then split off during free time to buy a meal or sample goods from the vendors that pique their interest.


FIND THE FOOD TRUCKS. Much like public markets, food trucks offer travelers opportunities to try diverse and inventive types of food without the commitment or the overhead of a full restaurant meal. Many larger destinations have special food-truck parks where groups can find a dozen or more trucks during lunchtime. Taking your group to a food truck park makes a great alternative to an “on your own” meal at a food court.


VISIT AN ETHNIC RESTAURANT. For a lively alternative to bland chicken and forgettable buffets, why not work with the local CVB to find a great ethnic restaurant? International populations and immigrant heritage have brought a world of dining options to cities large and small. Groups can enjoy excellent Thai, Chinese, Mexican and African food while traveling in America, often at prices lower than an those at an upscale American restaurant.


TRY COFFEE AND (ICE) CREAM. Culinary experiences don’t always need to entail full meals. Stopping for a surprise treat during a day of touring is a great way to excite your travelers. There are wonderful local coffee shops everywhere you go, and many cities now have artisanal local ice cream shops, too. An unannounced visit to one of these places could give your group a needed pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon.


DINE IN SOMEONE’S HOME. There’s no better way to experience the unique aspects of life in a faraway place than to visit someone’s home. In many destinations, the CVB or a receptive operator can connect groups with locals who can host them for in-home meals. In addition to exposing your travelers to authentic local food, these experiences foster genuine interpersonal encounters and lay the groundwork for cultural insights that no restaurant meal can match.


HIT A HOT SPOT. If you have real food aficionados in your group, they’re going to crave high-end meals at well-known restaurants in the places you visit. Most tour pricing doesn’t allow for fine dining every night, but a farewell meal at a hot local restaurant is a fantastic way to celebrate the end of a successful trip. And if it’s difficult to secure space for dozens of people for dinner, consider visiting for lunch or on a night when the restaurant is usually closed to the public — many restaurants will open at special hours to accommodate groups.

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Promoting the Passion





FUN FACTS ABOUT PAUL ANDERSON Paul Anderson is the general manager of the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana.

FAVORITE BIBLE VERSE: Psalm 23:1-4 “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me.”


hen Paul Anderson first began contemplating a career change, he hardly expected to switch from owning a car rental agency to managing an internationally known religious site. But after a conversation with his friends Frank and Shirley Schilling, his path became clear. The couple wanted to create a free, nondenominational religious site that would walk people through the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before construction even began, Anderson signed up as general manager of the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana. “My wife and I were ready for a change in our lives,” said Anderson. “When they asked me to manage the site, it seemed like something we would like to do. We had lived in St. John for many years, then had moved 30 minutes away. Once this opportunity came up, we sold our house and moved back. The rest is history.” Despite moving from one industry to another, Anderson knew his experience owning the car rental agency gave him the tools he needed for the job. “My business background is why Frank chose me,” said Anderson. “I run it as a business, but a totally different business because it is dealing with so many people’s lives instead of cars. It is still a business and has to be run like a business.” Anderson worked with the Schilling couple to organize the massive project, which took about six years to plan and construct. Anderson helped shape the flat piece of farmland into an area resembling the Holy Land. “They brought in clay and boulders to make it look as close to the Holy Land as they could,” said Anderson. “We couldn’t use the same plants, but we chose grasses and trees that looked similar to ones in the Holy Land.”



Hammond, Indiana

FAVORITE DESTINATION: Anderson’s favorite place at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion is the Garden of Gethsemane. He finds it a peaceful place where he can reflect about how Jesus’ path to the cross first started.

Schedule enough time at each destination to be sure that you can leisurely digest all that a destination has to offer. For instance, whenever we promote the Shrine to groups, we recommend that they spend at least three and a half


to four hours at our location.

Golf, grandkids and traveling All photos courtesy Shrine of Christ’s Passion


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

After items for the on-site gift shop were purchased in July 2007, the site opened in December. Groups can now walk a half-mile path to see bronze sculptures depicting 18 scenes from the Passion of Jesus. The first scene is the Garden of Gethsemane, and the last depicts the empty tomb. Each scene has audio narration telling the story of Jesus’ journey to Mount Calgary with a meditation at the end to encourage reflection on what happened 2,000 years ago. “Frank and Shirley Schilling are the ones that founded this,” said Anderson. “It was their dream to do it. They’ve been very blessed in their lives and wanted to give back. They get nothing from this except for seeing thousands of people come here and enjoy what’s been created.” The gift shop supports the site and has become its own destination. Anderson has overseen five expansions to accommodate the 17,000 religious items for sale, ranging in price from under $1 to $4,000. The gift shop sells spiritual gifts, such as religious statues, jewelry and artwork. “Our dream was to be a worldwide destination,” said Anderson. “When we opened the store in 2007, we wanted to get the bugs worked out. The path wasn’t opened yet. One day, a bus pulled into the parking lot. A lady introduced herself and her group.” The woman asked if her group could see the shrine even though Anderson explained the path wasn’t open yet. Anderson agreed to show the group the statues that were already in place. He

T h i s

Bronze statues at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion depict scenes such as Jesus’ crucifixion (right) and ascension (above).

then watched as people from the Philippines, Japan, Italy, Mexico and all over the world walked out of the bus. “The first bus that ever pulled in fulfilled our dream of welcoming people from all over the world,” said Anderson. “It’s been a wild ride ever since.” People from 40 different countries and every U.S. state have now visited. Last year, the site welcomed over 150,000 people. The shrine has since been expanded to include a sculpture of Moses on Mount Sinai holding the 10 Commandments. “It’s so great to be involved in something that touches people’s lives,” said Anderson. “People tell me it is even more peaceful than the Holy Land because we are away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a very spiritual experience.”

i s

S p i r i t .


M e e t t h e c o o l e s t c o l l e g e t o w n i n t h e S o u t h . A n d h i s h i p o l d e r s i s t e r.






The ancient Acropolis sits on a hill overlooking Athens.

All photos courtesy Greek National Tourism Organization



W H E R E I N T HE BIBL E ? Acts 17:22-23


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

bout 3,000 years ago, the Greeks ruled the world, and that history looms large in Athens. Visitors could travel across the city exploring one archaeological site after another. Monuments stand next to modern life in the thriving Greek capital. The aroma of spiced lamb often drifts through busy local markets on cobblestone streets. As the birthplace of democracy, theater and the Olympics, Athens’ historic contributions remain relevant today. Stops at the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus and the Theatre of Dionysus paint a picture of the city at the height of its prominence. To understand the importance of the city’s archaeological sites, groups

can opt for guided tours that explain the wider context behind the various ruins. Church groups can also discover the city’s strong Christian ties. The apostle Paul visited Athens and declared the city full of idols. The book of Acts discusses his time preaching the good news there. The seeds St. Paul planted became the start of Christianity in Europe. Religious groups can follow in Paul’s footsteps at Mars Hill and other biblical sites. The Byzantine period also made a lasting mark on the city. Byzantine churches, architecture and art illustrate the Christian fervor of the time. Groups can admire the heavenly Byzantine interiors of the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, the Church of Panagia Pantanassa and the Church of the Holy Apostles.


FOR CHURCH GROUPS • ACROPOLIS — The Acropolis overlooks Athens from atop a rocky outcrop. The ancient citadel contains several iconic historic buildings, such as the Parthenon. Only a short walk away stands the Acropolis Museum. Inside, 4,000 priceless finds from the Acropolis monuments present a fuller picture of what the religious center looked like in ancient times. • MARS HILL — When St. Paul delivered his famous speech about the identity of the “Unknown God,” he stood on Mars Hill, also known as Areopagus. The marble hill contains a bronze plaque with the text of St. Paul’s sermon. • BYZANTINE AND CHRISTIAN MUSEUM — More than 25,000 exhibits hold rare collections of art, scriptures and artifacts from the third century to the late Middle Ages. The museum contains an impressive Byzantine art collection.

MUST-DO: Shop at the Agora-Athens Central Market for a lively experience full of enticing sights and smells.

MUST-TASTE: Sample some authentic Greek tzatziki. The flavor accompanies most local meals as a favored dip or sauce.

BRING IT HOME: Shop for hand-painted Byzantine icons.

PHOTO OP: Lycabettus Hill stands above the city with 360-degree views of the sprawling city. Visitors can sip drinks from one of the hill’s open cafes and take in the hill’s panoramas.

• ANCIENT AGORA — Athens’ original political center, Agora once hosted celebrated thinkers like Socrates and St. Paul. Groups can explore the site’s Temple of Hephaistos and the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles.

Lycabettus Hill

• CHURCH OF PANAGIA KAPNIKAREA — The Greek Orthodox church is one of the oldest in Athens. Built in the 11th century, the Byzantine church is dedicated to Mary.

Ancient Agora

RESEARCHI N G Y O U R TR I P Greek honey

Byzantine and Christian Museum

going on faith [ ] 21





Courtesy Cajun Food Tours


Louisiana icons, clockwise from top: a crawfish boil in Lafayette; a workshop tour at Blain Kern’s Mardi Gras World; St. Louis Cathedral on New Orleans’ Jackson Square

going on faith [ fall 2019 ] By Tom Adkinson

By Tom Adkinson












PL A NTAT IO N CO U NTRY Mardi Gras World in New Orleans


uilding an itinerary across Louisiana is an exercise in deciding what to leave out. It’s a virtual guarantee that the destinations and activities you choose will be hits with your group, and the travel times between overnight stays are entirely manageable if you don’t keep stopping to see something else. This itinerary starts in New Orleans, scoots up to Baton Rouge and then heads west to Lafayette and Lake Charles before returning to New Orleans. Louisiana’s catch-phrase of “laissez le bon temps rouler,” or let the good times roll, can be a shout-out at every stop along the way. Your group will go home with tales of silliness and seriousness; distinctive foods — crawfish etouffee, anyone? — wild animals no one expected, much more than alligators; and insights into multiple cultures. This takes a minimum of five days and easily could be seven.

The state capitol in Baton Rouge

By Tom Adkinson

1 NEW ORLEANS HIGHLIGHT | MARDI GRAS WORLD AND ST. LOUIS CATHEDRAL Faith is integral to two of the most famous aspects of New Orleans: St. Louis Cathedral and Mardi Gras. Neither would exist without organized religion. The cathedral, formally the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, is the heart of New Orleans. A church has been on this spot since 1727, and today it is one of the city’s most photographed locations. Mass is celebrated daily, docents lead impromptu tours, and formal tours are available by reservation. It is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the U.S. The story of Mardi Gras, the multifaceted, frivolous celebration leading to Ash Wednesday, is told well at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, the production company that makes a huge percentage of the floats in more than 80 parades that dot the calendar. Mardi Gras season begins in January, so it’s quite possible to time a tour to see one. The tour includes an informative video, watching artists at work and even a taste of king cake. WHILE YOU’RE THERE: The Mississippi River helps define New Orleans, so get on the water with an excursion aboard the Steamboat Natchez or the Creole Queen. A no-cost alternative is taking the ferry to Algiers Point and then enjoying a walking tour there.


going on faith [ ] 23 By Tom Adkinson


Cajun Food Tours

Sampling king cake in Lafayette

Courtesy Cajun Food Tours

A Vermillionville hostess

Courtesy Cajun Food Tours

By Tom Adkinson

Lafayette is where you can earn a Ph.D. in Louisiana food and Cajun culture, and you probably should plan on two nights there. Real people bring a Cajun heritage attraction called Vermilionville to life. It’s a representation of a village from 1765 to 1890 that features 19 restored and reproduced buildings. Meet a woodcarver, a spinner, an accordion player, a fiddler and others who will explain how exiles from Canada became Cajuns. Then take a ride on Bayou Vermilonville aboard a traditionally built bateau. Although you can eat well at Mama’s Kitchen at Vermilionville, consider getting a step-on guide from Cajun Food Tours, where owner Marie DucotComeaux advises you to “wear your stretchy pants.” Your tour hits five restaurants and will introduce you to boudin, the ultimate Cajun snack food;, alligator; gumbo; cracklins; fried seafood; and perhaps, Cajun bread pudding. A narrative about Cajun history and culture rounds out the tour. WHILE YOU’RE THERE: You’re so close to Avery Island that it’s practically a culinary crime not to visit the home of Tabasco sauce. The company marked its 150th birthday in 2018 and, recently, substantially upgraded and expanded its group tour program. Its companion attraction, Jungle Gardens and Bird City, is worthwhile, too.


Experience where New Orleans goes to meet and unwind!

Reserve a peaceful retreat from the bustling big city. Just a beat from New Orleans, experience Jefferson Parish. We are home to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, and with two convention centers, over 8,000 hotel rooms, themed venues, and attractions we are ready to host your group! Jefferson Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. Call 504.731.7083 3 Toll Free 1.877.572.7474 3


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

3 LAKE CHARLES HIGHLIGHT | A SEQUINED SURPRISE You learned about Mardi Gras floats at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans at the start of the tour, and here’s where you’ll learn about elaborate, extravagant Mardi Gras gowns. The location is the Mardi Gras Museum of the Imperial Calcasieu, a five-parish region in this corner of Louisiana. The museum owns almost 600 gowns; each costs up to $6,000 to make, and most are worn only once. The museum goes beyond gowns, of course, and clearly demonstrates why only New Orleans has a bigger Mardi Gras celebration than Lake Charles in Louisiana. Lake Charles also is the place to take in nature’s grandeur by exploring a wilderness area known as Louisiana’s Outback. The key is the 180-milelong Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Enlist support from the Lake Charles CVB and outfitters such as Grosse Savanne Eco Tours to learn more about this region of saltwater marshes, cypress swamps, coastal prairies and even some cultivated land. The birdlife alone is amazing. WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Check out the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center. This fine building and its three floors of gallery space are everchanging. Previous visitors have chanced upon solo exhibitions of works by Pablo Picasso, Ansel Adams, Norman Rockwell, Tasha Tudor and others.


Mardi Gras Museum of the Imperial Calcasieu

Courtesy Mardi Gras Museum

Birding on the Creole Nature Trail

By Annette Thompson

Noah in Traditional and Contemporary Art & Stations of the Cross Biedenharn Museum and Gardens Monroe, Louisiana March 28, 2019 — January 18, 2020

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Plus, Biedenharn Bible Collection, Coca-Cola Museum, Historic Home, and Gardens. or 319-387-5281 318-387-5281





HIGHLIGHT | A TRICULTURAL MUSEUM Make a day of getting to Baton Rouge, only 100 miles away. Start with the longest bridge over a body of water, the 24-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. At Folsom, visit the Global Wildlife Center, home to more than 4,000 of the world’s exotic, endangered and threatened animals, roaming 900 acres. Among them are rare Bactrian camels, zebras, giraffes and all manner of antelopes. In Baton Rouge, get a snapshot of the entire state at three museums in one stop. The Capitol Park Museum highlights Louisiana’s cultural tapestry: American Indians; colonists from France, Spain and Great Britain; Canadian exiles who became known as Cajuns; and enslaved Africans. The museum doesn’t shy away from difficult topics and enlightens visitors about the harshness of slavery and the challenges of the civil rights struggle. Combine that with the nearby state Capitol, America’s tallest, and the Old Arsenal Museum. When done, you begin understanding the state that’s Baptist up north, Catholic down south and fun all over. WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Complement the indoor museum experience in Baton Rouge with the open-air experience of the LSU Rural Life Museum. A big component is a collection of backroad buildings that includes a country church, a pioneer cabin, a shotgun house, a dogtrot house and a Cajun house.

HIGHLIGHT | SOBERING STORIES The Great Mississippi River Road stretches about 70 miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and is a worthy destination as you return to New Orleans from Lake Charles. It is on both sides of the river and features some of Louisiana’s most famous and photographed plantation houses. The most provocative is Whitney Plantation, Louisiana’s only plantation museum devoted to the lives of enslaved Africans. This plantation was established in 1752, and a 90-minute walking tour unflinchingly tells the story of the 350 slaves held in bondage there for more than a century to produce rice, indigo and sugar. Memorials honor the more than 100,000 people enslaved in Louisiana. Slave cabins, outbuildings and the owner’s plantation house are open, and a collection of haunting statues complements the tour guides’ narrative. Assuming your ultimate goal is a return to New Orleans, the towns of Gonzalez, Sorrento and Donaldsonville offer groups an array of lodging and dining for their last night on the road. WHILE YOU’RE THERE: The River Road African American Museum focuses on the history and culture of African Americans in rural communities along the Mississippi River. It is a member of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.



Creole Nature Trail

By Annette Thompson

Baton Rouge’s Global Wildlife Center By Tom Adkinson


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

A slave cabin at Whitney Plantation Courtesy RPTC

Whitney Plantation Courtesy RPTC

Plan your travel getaway

866.204.7782 I @nolaplantations

Encounter a land,

shaped by diversity

The architecture of the historic homes spanning our River Parishes is as diverse as the people who built them. From Greek Revival to Creole style plantations, these structures are a reflection not just of a regional culture, but of a time marred by inequity. Travel this stretch of land, and uncover stories of generations past that continue to be felt across the south.





All photos courtesy San Mateo Co. CVB


Photos by Bradley Wittke

Top: Groups can take in the beauty of San Mateo County’s Pacific coastline at Half Moon Bay. Center: Sunset at Half Moon Bay Bottom: Pillar Point Harbor


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

here are two sides to California’s San Mateo County. Comprising 470 square miles of peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, San Mateo County is home to some of the world’s most famous technology companies. But it’s also full of stunning scenery and quintessential California food culture. “On the bay side, we have biotech in Brisbane, and Oracle’s campus in Redwood City,” said John Hutar, president and CEO of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Then you go down to Palo Alto, and it becomes even more tech centric, with Hewlett-Packard, Facebook and Amazon. And Stanford University is a huge draw because the tech companies want to be near Stanford and recruit from there.” This side of the county — the Silicon Valley side — is known for its brainy population and fast-paced startup culture. But on the west side of the county,

the Pacific coastline offers a much more peaceful experience. “It’s a completely different world,” Hutar said. “It’s very focused on farm-totable agriculture. Much of the Salad Bowl of California starts on Half Moon Bay. There are farms, honey-makers and natural organic wineries that have popped up on the coast. They feed America and contribute greatly to the Greater Bay Area food scene.” Groups visiting San Mateo County can arrange tours and tasting experiences at many of the region’s agricultural attractions. They can also enjoy the outdoor beauty of the area and the bounty of the Pacific Ocean. “There’s a tremendous amount of activity on the coast,” Hutar said. “You can take a day fishing trip out of the bay or have an afternoon at Sam’s Chowder House, a majestic restaurant with all things fresh. There’s glamping at Costanoa resort in Pescardero. You can go from an outdoor overnight experience to rooms in their lovely lodge and from a rustic cowboy barbecue dinner on picnic tables to a farm-totable restaurant on their premises.” Whether you want to explore the ancestral homeland of the internet or soak up the culture of the coastline, here are four attractions and activities your groups will enjoy in San Mateo County.

Kayaks on Half Moon Bay

HALF MOON BAY About midway down the county’s Pacific coast, Half Moon Bay is the epicenter of ocean exploration on the peninsula. Only a fraction of the size of San Francisco Bay, Half Moon Bay enjoys substantial wave activity and is home to Mavericks, one of the area’s most famous surfing competitions. Visitors can stop in surf shops in the area or don wetsuits to try the activity for themselves. For a more relaxed experience, Half Moon Bay Coastside Tours can take groups on guided walks, kayaking excursions, horseback trail rides and other outings to enjoy the beauty and scenery of the bay. HMBCOASTSIDETOURS.COM

HILLER AVIATION MUSEUM In the 1970s, helicopter aviation pioneer Stanley Hiller Jr. began gathering rare and unique aircraft in a warehouse in Redwood City. Word of his growing collection grew, and in 1998, the Hiller Aviation Museum opened to the public. Today, groups visiting the museum can see more than 40 memorable aircraft on display. Highlights include a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, as well as secret spy planes, NASA research aircraft and numerous prototypes of helicopters produced by Hiller’s company. The museum also has several interactive flight simulators and guided tours. Groups can opt for Invention Lab workshops to learn more about engineering and aviation science. HILLER.ORG

Hiller Aviation Museum

Computer History Museum

COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM At the southeastern tip of San Mateo County, Mountain View is ground zero for Silicon Valley heavyweights like Google and other companies. It’s also home to the Computer History Museum, where tech lovers can learn about the evolution of the machines that power our modern world. The museum has the world’s largest collection of computing artifacts, including hardware, software, photographs, videos and other documentation of the early days of computer development. Visitors can try hands-on demonstrations with historic computer equipment, learn the basics of coding and discover how computer engineers are breaking new ground with autonomous vehicles. COMPUTERHISTORY.ORG

CANTOR ARTS CENTER Not everyone can attend Stanford University. But everyone can go to Stanford to visit the Cantor Arts Center, the school’s arts museum open to the public with no admission fee. The museum collection was founded when the university opened in 1891 and has grown to encompass 38,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of history. Visitors will find artwork in nearly every medium at the museum. But the Cantor Arts Center is best known for its collection of work by renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin. There are nearly 100 Rodin works on exhibit in the museum and accompanying sculpture garden, and the museum offers tours that highlight other Rodin works across Stanford’s campus. CANTORCOLLECTION.STANFORD.EDU Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

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The gardens at Nashville’s Cheekwood Estate come alive with color in the fall.


hough some plants’ colors may peak in the spring and summer months, botanical gardens are yearround destinations with plenty to see and enjoy throughout the fall and winter, from the textured beauty of indoor and outdoor exhibits to pumpkin festivals, harvest events and holiday light displays. Here, we highlight a few of the country’s most impressive botanical gardens, where groups can enjoy a day immersed in garden splendor.


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

By Caitlin Harris, courtesy Cheekwood Estate

The stunning conservatory at Longwood Gardens By Larry Ablee, courtesy Longwood Gardens

Cactus flowers at the Desert Botanical Garden

Courtesy Dessert Botanical Garden

[ LONGWOOD GARDENS ] KENNETT SQUARE, PENNSYLVANIA In Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens comprises more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows, and groups can expect to see something new every time they visit. “Some of the change is intentional, through our rotating displays and exhibits, and others are just part of the cycles of nature outdoors,” said Patricia Evans, Longwood’s director of communications. “It’s a combination that makes experiencing the gardens unique every time you come.” Guests will want to make time to enjoy the four-acre indoor conservatory, one of the largest in the U.S., where despite what the weather may be doing outside, 20 indoor gardens ensure that “it’s a flower show every day of the year,” Evans said. Each fall, the garden hosts the annual Chrysanthemum Festival, which features displays of all 13 classes of mums, many of them trained to grow in extraordinary forms and shapes. “It’s a hallmark of the Longwood experience,” Evans said. For a touch of winter cheer, groups can enjoy A Longwood Christmas, set this year for November 22 through January 5; it features holiday displays of poinsettias, pinecones, snowflakes and more in the garden’s Grand Conservatory.

Autumn at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania By Larry Ablee, courtesy Longwood Gardens

[ LEWIS GINTER BOTANICAL GARDEN ] RICHMOND, VIRGINIA With over 50 acres of gardens — including more than a dozen themed displays and trails, such as a children’s garden, a cherry tree walk, an edible display garden and more — there’s always beauty in bloom at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. Though certain areas of the garden may crest in color during spring and summer as perennials fill the grounds, there’s brilliance to behold in the fall and winter months as well. “We have blooms even through the winter,” said Beth Monroe, the garden’s public relations and marketing director. “Working here, I’ve come to really appreciate the beauty of winter, with the different barks of the trees and the berries and seed pods — there are so many textures to enjoy.” The garden’s 11,000-square-foot, domed conservatory boasts exotic plants from around the world, from orchids and cacti to palms and tropical specimens. Throughout the year, groups can enjoy special themed displays in the conservatory’s North Wing. Lewis Ginter’s annual GardenFest of Lights, set this year for November 22 through January 6, is a visitor favorite; the festival features model trains, holiday botanical displays and more than 500,000 holiday lights. “Our theme this year is Magic in the Air, and our designers incorporate the theme into how they use the lights throughout the gardens,” Monroe said.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden scenes, clockwise from top left: a butterfly and pitcher plant; water lilies; a bee on a toad lily; the Asian Valley Photos by Don Williamson, courtesy Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

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An aerial view of Cheekwood Estate

Cheekwood in bloom

[ CHEEKWOOD ESTATE AND GARDENS ] NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE Each year, more than 225,000 visitors explore the 55-acre botanical garden at Cheekwood Estate in Nashville, Tennessee, where 150,000 blooming bulbs greet guests in spring and a million holiday lights signal the onset of winter. Whatever the season, guests will want to allow time to explore the stately Cheekwood Mansion, built in 1929 as the home of Leslie and Mabel Cheek. After a major renovation in 2017, many of the main-floor rooms were restored and outfitted with original or period-appropriate furnishings. Upstairs, two galleries host rotating art exhibits throughout the year. Outside, the grounds boast 12 distinct gardens, among them the Japanese Garden and the Color Garden, which are “always crowd favorites,” said Caroline Jeronimus, Cheekwood’s communications manager. Another guest favorite is the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail, which features large-scale sculptures hidden among diverse habitats along a wooded trail. “It’s so fun to walk through these wooded passes, and then you’ll stumble upon a sculpture, which are always so special to see,” Jeronimus said. The Sculpture Trail, now closed for renovations, will open in 2020 with improved lighting and paved pathways to increase accessibility. Fall is one of the most popular seasons to visit thanks to Cheekwood Harvest, which features 5,000 mums in the gardens, a beer garden, a 12-foottall pumpkin house and pumpkins for sale. As Christmas approaches, visitors can enjoy light displays throughout the grounds, as well as special holiday attractions such as reindeer, carolers and a large-scale poinsettia tree. “There’s something unique to enjoy on our grounds at any time of year,” Jeronimus said.

Photos courtesy Cheekwood Estate

[ MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDEN ] ST. LOUIS On 79 acres in St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden serves as a tranquil oasis in the midst of a large Midwestern city. Its 14-acre Japanese Garden is often cited as one of the best of its kind in the nation thanks to its intricately designed plantings, waterfalls, walkways and islands. The garden’s Climatron conservatory, a unique geodesic dome first opened to the public in 1960, is home to “thousands of exotic plants, including some critically endangered species not publicly displayed anywhere else in the world,” said John Dedeke, the garden’s content managing editor. The garden’s Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum, recently reopened following a $1.5 million restoration, allows visitors to enjoy botanical art and natural-history collections from its horticulture and research divisions. The Tower Grove House, home to garden founder Henry Shaw, is also open to visitors. Outdoors, guests can stroll among more than 51,000 plants, as well as 4,800 trees, some of them dating back to the 19th century. The garden’s annual Best of Missouri Market celebrates fall with more than 130 local arts and crafts vendors, live music, locally produced foods and even a pumpkin patch. The winter months are also a great time to visit thanks to the annual Garden Glow event, set for November 23 through January 4, which covers the grounds in more than a million lights and also features a holiday flower and train show.

Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis

Photos courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

[ DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN ] PHOENIX One of the top visitor attractions in Arizona, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix greets more than 300,000 guests annually. Given its setting, the botanical garden specializes in cacti and other desert plants, but not just from the American Southwest. “We have a full horticulture center with climate-controlled greenhouses so that we can accommodate desert plants from all around the world,” said Clare Hahne, the garden’s marketing communications manager. “We have one of the most complete collections of cacti in the world. Visitors will see plants from the Sonoran Desert as well as Australia, South America and Africa.” Home to more than 50,000 plants, the Desert Botanical Garden actively works to conserve and protect endangered cacti, which — because of illegal poaching — are only slightly behind coral reefs on endangered lists, Hahne said. Visitors can explore five nature paths that wind throughout the grounds, including the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail and the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail. Guests can also enjoy a 45-minute behind-thescenes tour of the garden’s Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science, including its 5,300-square-foot greenhouse, as part of their general admission ticket. Private, guided tours of the grounds are also available to groups of 10 or more. “When people come to visit, they’re enjoying a really beautiful place with wonderful exhibits, but they also know that their admission dollars are also helping this greater cause of preservation,” Hahne said.

Courtesy Holy Land Experience

Photos courtesy Desert Botanical Garden

Cactus and other arid climate plants on display at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

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The sun rises over Badlands National Park, South Dakota’s amazing canyon landscape.

A bison in the Badlands

Courtesy Travel South Dakota

A flamingo flying in Florida’s Everglades

By James Branaman


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

Courtesy Travel South Dakota

’m standing stock-still, my head thrown back, my jaw hanging open in awe. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. They crowd the dark night sky in uncountable numbers, some big and bright, some barely visible pinpoints of light. The sight fills my heart, so much so that my eyes fill, too, spilling over with tears of gratitude. As I smile and wipe my cheeks, I consider that I feel nearly as close to our Creator here, under this star-strewn heaven, as I do worshiping on Sunday. Cherry Springs State Park, which is tucked away in a remote stretch of Potter County, Pennsylvania, is renowned as one of the world’s best locations to stargaze. But the United States is filled with natural wonders so glorious that they are nearly guaranteed to appeal to faith-based group travelers. And like Cherry Springs, places such as Mammoth Cave National Park, Everglades National Park, Badlands National Park, and Redwoods National and State Parks are accessible to motorcoaches, so can groups can easily reach the sites that will set their spirits soaring.

[ MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK ] KENTUCKY If Cherry Springs is the place to keep an eye to the night sky, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is where groups go to explore the world beneath their feet. The world’s longest known cave, the appropriately named Mammoth features an astounding 412 miles of surveyed passageways, a number that increases every year with further explorations into its interior. And according to Mammoth Cave National Park management assistant Molly Schroer, “The human history of the cave is also fascinating. People have been here visiting Mammoth since Native Americans explored it thousands of years ago.” It’s believed that Mammoth Cave started forming in ancient times as rain seeped into the ground, eroding the limestone underneath and creating the stalactites, stalagmites and other striking formations visitors see today. The park, which some 2 million people enter annually, offers a wide variety of subterranean tours for every level of fitness that focus on a wide range of topics, including the cave’s geology and its history. But that’s not all group members can do in the park. The visitors center features exhibits that detail subjects like south-central Kentucky’s geology and the exploration of the cave. And there’s plenty to see aboveground, too. “If somebody doesn’t want to go into the cave, we also have surface trails,” Schroer said. “We’ve got 53,000 acres of forested land with riverways, wildlife and wildflowers, so they can find something to do on the surface while the others are down in the cave. Mammoth Cave is great for groups because we have a lot of things for different interests.”

[ BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK ] SOUTH DAKOTA The 244,000-acre swath of southwestern South Dakota was once dubbed “mako sica,” or “bad land,” by the Lakota thanks to its rugged environment, but there is much that makes Badlands National Park a good destination for groups. Containing one of the country’s largest mixed-grass prairies, the park is also home to a sweeping, otherworldly expanse of colorful sedimentary rock layers that time has eroded into dramatic buttes and spires. As beautiful as it is brutal, the landscape is accessible via the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, a 39-mile loop road running through the park that features 16 designated overlooks. “If the group is more adventurous, you can do some pretty extreme hikes in the Badlands, or you can just do a nice, meandering walk,” said Katlyn Richter, global media and public relations director for the South Dakota Department of Tourism. “But if you’re not as physically able, you can see it from the scenic byway. Of course, wildlife viewing in the park is extraordinary. In fact, in the next few months, they are going to be opening up more land for the bison to graze, so visitors will have more opportunities to see them. There’s also bighorn sheep, antelope and the prairie dogs that everyone loves.” Richter said she especially enjoys the Badlands in the spring, when all is green and lush, and visitors can spot baby animals at play. “Sunrise and sunset are also great times to be in the park,” she said. “You have that beautiful glow lighting up the land in vibrant reds and deep purple.”

Exploring Mammoth Cave Courtesy NPS

[ EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK ] FLORIDA Sweeping across 1.5 million acres of south Florida, Everglades National Park is part of the largest subtropical wilderness in the nation, an incredibly diverse ecosystem that is home to both the American alligator and the American crocodile, the sweet-natured, slow-moving manatee and the critically endangered Florida panther. The ease with which visitors can spot some of these animals makes it particularly welcoming to groups, said Everglades National Park spokesperson Allyson Gantt. “You don’t have to necessarily have binoculars to view wildlife here,” she said. “We have a lot of large wading birds, we have large reptiles, and the concession companies that operate boat and tram tours and airboat rides in the park give you easy access to see the wildlife and the vegetation up-close and personal. And they can accommodate large groups on those tours, so you get the information, and you get the experience of being out there, and maybe you get to try something a little bit different than you would elsewhere.” The park has three entrances and four visitors centers. And there is a wide range of activities available in Everglades National Park for groups, from taking an easy stroll to surveying the scene from atop a 65-foot observation tower. Gantt recommends it all, adding that Shark Valley Tram Tours, in particular, “slows down the pace a little.” “It’s a narrated, open-air tram that goes about 15 mph,” she said. “And the Everglades is about the details sometimes.”

Florida’s expansive Everglades National Park By Peter Cross and Patrick Farrell

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Cherry Spring State Park in Pennsylvania


Fall Mums, Farms & Markets Meet a friendly herd of alpaca, tour a greenhouse, visit an orchard and find locally made specialty foods and fresh produce in the Fall.

“Fun Farm & Market Experiences!”

- Clarksville Parks & Rec, Clarksville, IN

Embracing a California Redwood

Redwood perspective By Patrick Orton

OHIO Indianapolis







South of I-74 & west of I-275, 20 minutes west of Cincinnati 800-322-8198


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

By Paul Levine

[ REDWOODS NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS ] CALIFORNIA They are the tallest trees on the planet, reaching as high as 380 feet — and as wide as 22 feet. Some may live to be more than 2,000 years old. Majestic and mysterious, California’s coastal redwoods inspire the kind of reverence in groups that borders on the spiritual. And they are found nowhere else but the Golden State. “There are more than 100 redwood parks along the coast, from as far south as Big Sur up to the Oregon border,” said Jessica Carter, Save the Redwoods League director of parks and public engagement. “Many have the infrastructure for larger vehicles and trails of all lengths nearby that can accommodate groups for hiking, picnicking and other activities.” Humboldt County, which lies about 200 miles north of San Francisco, is blessed with a particularly spectacular array of the trees. Half of the globe’s remaining old-growth redwoods stand sentinel there within places like the Redwood National and State Parks system, which includes three state parks and one national park and has been named a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the state’s biggest redwood park, can be reached via the legendary Avenue of the Giants, a stunning 31-mile scenic drive lined by the stately trees. When asked why groups should visit the redwood parks, Humboldt County Visitors Bureau executive director Julie Benbow said, “It’s like being in God’s cathedral. You cannot easily wrap your head around the enormity of them, the fact they’re living and that they lived long before us and they’re going to live long beyond us. There’s just a mystical sense of awe.”

Stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park

Courtesy PA DCNR

Courtesy PA Wilds

Relaxing in Redwood National Park

By Richard Stenger courtesy Visit CA

[ CHERRY SPRINGS STATE PARK ] PENNSYLVANIA It seems impossible that in the densely populated eastern U.S., there is a spread of sky dark enough that it has become renowned as one of the best places on the planet to see celestial objects. But Cherry Springs State Park is not only surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, but its mountaintop location shields it from the light generated by the small communities below and provides a rare 360-degree view of the sky. These attributes have earned Cherry Springs the designation Gold Level Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Cherry Springs offers a variety of public events, but groups may also request a private night sky tour with park staff. “The Milky Way is the most-requested object people want to see,” said Tim Morey, natural resource specialist with Pennsylvania State Parks. “We also look at constellations that are visible to the naked eye, and we’ll get out the telescope and look at double stars, star clusters, nebulas and galaxies. But we focus primarily on brighter planets. The summer was delightful with Jupiter and it the moons visible, as well as Saturn, and its rings.” Groups many also want to check out Dark Sky Telescope Tours, which are available at Cherry Springs through North Star Outdoor Guides. “What really strikes me is the amazement of all ages when they look up and see the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon,” said Morey, who has been with the park for nearly two decades. “That never gets old.”

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Staying at a Colorado dude ranch gives visitors authentic Western experiences.



ou’re never too old to play cowboy. Experiencing the Old West is still possible in the Southwestern states of Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. At any one of Colorado’s 23 dude ranches that welcome groups, mountain scenery and an array of activities connect guests to ranching life. In Arizona, the town of Tombstone keeps alive the days of old-fashioned gunfights, stagecoaches and mining. Consistently ranked one of the nation’s best Old West towns, Elko has its roots firmly planted in Nevada’s ranching history. And in 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes declared the main street of Lincoln, New Mexico, “The Most Dangerous Street in America” when the likes of Billy the Kid roamed the region. If your group craves Western-style adventures, plan a trip to one of these destinations. 38

going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

Up-close with calves at a Colorado dude ranch

Courtesy CDGRA

COLORADO RANCHES Horseback riding is central to every Colorado ranch experience, but there’s plenty to do without riding. Fishing, hiking, mountain biking, climbing walls and zip lines add to the adventure. There’s even seasonal whitewater rafting and tubing on the rivers. In the evenings, groups can sit around the campfire and be entertained by cowboy singers and poets, or take part in a square dance, depending on the ranch. “Groups can come with loose programming, and the ranch will supplement activities,” said Courtney Frazier, executive director of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association. “Or the ranch can formulate the entire schedule. Ranches can accommodate groups during shoulder season, primarily between September and May.” Lodging is often in cabins scattered throughout the property. Rooms are usually double occupancy in a homestead-style atmosphere. Given their remote locations, cabins don’t have TVs or cell service. Wi-Fi is often limited to the main lodge. All-inclusive rates include three meals per day. Depending on the season, many ranches host outdoor cookouts. Chefs source locally and whip up exceptional fare that’s far beyond the standard pork and beans. Each ranch is unique. For instance, smaller Sylvan Dale Ranch, west of Loveland, offers a cattle program with cattle drives, team penning and sorting. The Big Thompson River runs through the property, and excellent fishing takes place outside the cabin doors. C Lazy U Ranch, near Winter Park, can accommodate up to 95 people. It’s the only ranch with a full-service spa, featuring canvas tents for massages with plexiglass floors suspended above the river. Open year-round, the ranch offers numerous outdoor activities as well as a ropes course and a zip line. Near Durango and tucked into the San Juan Mountains, the Majestic Dude Ranch accommodates up to 50 people. Its mountain biking program offers guided treks, and it’s the only ranch with a baseball field.


Courtesy CDGRA

Tombstone will always be associated with Old West lore and the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Visiting groups can start at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, where the two-story Victorian building has been converted to a museum dedicated to this wild mining town. Each of the themed rooms displays Western memorabilia, and the outside courtyard re-creates the town gallows. On historic Allen Street, the O.K. Corral tells the story of the famous gunfight with its daily reenactment of the shootout. Three of the eight cowboys were shot and killed on this site, which was rebuilt in the early 1950s and looks much as it did in 1881. No one will want to miss Boot Hill, the final resting place of many legendary cowboys. Tours recount how individuals met their demise and give perspective on just how dangerous it was to live in Tombstone. Still published today, the Tombstone Epitaph is Arizona’s oldest newspaper. Visitors

OK Corral re-enactors in Tombstone

Courtesy AZ Office of Tourism

Colorado’s C Lazy U Spa

Courtesy CDGRA

can watch the original hand press at work. Also displayed are composing stones, linotype machines, type cases and interpretive displays that chronicle the printing process. Travelers can hop aboard a stagecoach for an authentic ride about town or take a tour on the Good Enough trolley. Good Enough also offers a silver mine tour. This journey goes 100 feet below the surface of an 1880s mine to see the silver veins and learn how mining was accomplished by hand and candlelight. Part museum and part antique store, the Tombstone Western Heritage Museum is one of the best places to buy Tombstone memorabilia. And if your group can’t get enough of the era, the Tombstone Monument Ranch offers rooms that line the street of a re-created Old West town. Guests can wake up in the Grand Hotel, the blacksmith shop or even the jail. Activities on-property include themed horseback rides, riding lessons and team cattle penning. “Sometimes groups allow just a few hours to visit Tombstone, but a full day is preferred,” said Marjorie Magnusson, public relations manager at the Arizona Office of Tourism. “Most people enjoy walking up and down the paved streets that resemble the Old West, and rubbing shoulders with the reenactors that hang around town and work in the historic district’s shops.”

ELKO, NEVADA Nestled in a valley and bordered by the snow-capped Ruby Mountains, Elko, Nevada, abounds in Old West spirit. The Western Folklife Center is known for hosting the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held each January. Year-round, visitors can see contemporary cowboy craftsmanship, explore ranch life and view American Indian art. A full calendar of concerts and performances includes evening jam sessions every second Wednesday of the month. Artist, craftsman and entrepreneur G.S. Garcia had a shop in Elko from 1894 to 1935. Garcia’s most famous saddle was one that brought home the gold medal from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Garcia apprenticed a young man named Joe Capriola, who in 1929 opened J.M. Capriola Co., which continues to serve customers today. On the second floor, two craftsmen still hand tool saddles while visitors watch the process. Cowboys and visitors will find plenty to outfit themselves with hats, boots, spurs and more. Today, Garcia’s former saddle shop and home has been converted to the Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum. Three original display cases look just as they did when the store opened more than 100 years ago. Guests see spade bits, bridles and spurs, plus photos and family ranching histories. The Wright family, which now owns the J.M. Capriola Co., contributed to the project. “In downtown, 54 larger-than-life centennial boots

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grace the streets,” said Tom Lester, the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority tourism and convention manager. “Over six feet tall, they were painted by local and regional artists. Forecasted to be an annual event, our September mural festival features our Old West, Native American and Basque culture with 55 permanent murals painted on downtown locations by approximately 35 artists.” Eight miles west of downtown on Interstate 80 lies the California Trail Interpretive Center. This $20 million hands-on museum tells the journey of the pioneers who traveled west in the mid-1800s during the California Gold Rush. In May, the annual Trail Days event celebrates with reenactors demonstrating 1800s crafts and culture.

Historic saddlemaker G.S. Garcia Courtesy Travel Nevada


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

Lincoln’s Fort Stanton

LINCOLN, NEW MEXICO On the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, Lincoln, New Mexico, remains a well-preserved Old West town. In one of the most violent eras of the state’s history, Billy the Kid put Lincoln on the map with his famous escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse jail. Pat Garrett and other characters of the Wild West passed through or made their home here, too. The Lincoln County War began in 1878 and turned the town into a battlefield that was fictionalized in several movies, including the 1988 film “Young Guns.” The Lincoln County Historic Site has preserved 17 adobe and stone buildings from the 1870s and 1880s. Museum exhibits recount the details of the Lincoln County War and the historic multipurpose use of the building. Other sites in town include El Torreón, a defensive tower built by native New Mexican settlers in the 1850s for protection against Apache raids; the San Juan Mission Church; the Convento; and the Montaño store. The Tunstall Store, built in 1878 contains displays of the original 19thcentury merchandise in the original shelving and cases. For a historical overview, the Anderson Freeman Visitor Center and Museum features exhibits that begin with American Indian prehistory and end with the Lincoln County War. West of Lincoln on 240 acres, Fort Stanton was established in 1855 and is one of the most intact 19th-century military fortifications in the United States and the bestpreserved fort in New Mexico. Known for its roles in the Indian Wars and the Civil War, it also played a part in westward expansion. The museum features an introductory video about life at Fort Stanton. And the 12-building parade ground appears much as it did in the mid-1800s. Options for groups include guided tours of the grounds, History on Horseback tours and Fort Stanton After Dark, which takes place in June and October. Living-history events on the third Saturday of each month feature hands-on activities and the opportunity to watch military drills, musket firing, horsemanship and field cooking.



RIDGECREST Ridgecrest Conference Center is tucked in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


All photos courtesy Ridgecrest Conference Center



nyone seeking inspiration can just look out the window at the Ridgecrest Conference Center. Guests can see giant oak trees, birds and the occasional deer from the center’s facilities Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, the center is one of the country’s largest conference facilities. With 1,200 acres of wilderness near Asheville, North Carolina, the site can host groups of up to 2,100 people in a location that feels far away from the rest of the world. The facility seeks not only to provide the meeting space, accommodations and food for guests, but also to draw participants closer to each other and to God. To achieve this, the center offers a variety of venues to appeal to groups of every size, age and budget. Since its founding more than 100 years ago, the Ridgecrest Conference Center has welcomed over 1 million guests.

LOCATION Ridgecrest, North Carolina SIZE: The Ridgecrest Conference Center sits amid 1,200 acres. The site offers a 400-room hotel with additional rooms and 1,300 beds for youth conferences. CAPACITY: Groups of 20 to 2,100 guests can book a stay at the Ridgecrest Conference Center. The site’s largest auditorium holds 2,100 guests. CONTACT INFO: 800-588-7222

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Hotel accommodations at Ridgecrest Conference Center

Ridgecrest’s staff pray for ONE MAN’S VISION When Bernard Washington Spilman saw a wilderness area with a few deserted cabins, a railroad track and a dirt trail leading west, he had a vision. He knew the land could become a “Mountain of Faith” that Baptists could use to learn how to teach the Bible. The site had the majestic scenery Spilman wanted and sat centrally located within 500 miles of New York, Chicago, New Orleans and central Florida. In 1907, the 940-acre property was purchased by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. Spilman was elected as general manager, and construction soon began. The Ridgecrest Conference Center’s first summer drew 600 people. The first 12 years tested Spilman and other staff with a destructive windstorm, a fire and, in 1916, the greatest flood in the history of the area. Eventually, financial contributions helped repair and expand the site. Today, Lifeway Christian Resources operates the center in affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention.


going on faith [ fall 2019 ]

each group that comes to the campus.

FOCUS ON FAITH Ridgecrest’s staff pray for each group that comes to the campus. The site facilitates religious experiences in nature by providing several miles of hiking trails that range in difficulty. Groups can walk past white oak trees, red maples trees, evergreens and mountain laurel that grows so thick it can create an umbrella of green over the pathways. The Royal Gorge Trail shows off God’s handiwork with mountain vistas. Visitors often ascend the trail to watch the sunrise for a spectacular viewing experience. Ridgecrest also offers overlooks at the laid-back Rocking Chair Ridge. Guests can sip on a cup of coffee while relaxing and taking in the views.

To encourage team building, groups can work with a member of Ridgecrest’s recreation staff for a facilitated experience.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURE To inject some adrenaline and laughter into the experience, the Ridgecrest Conference Center offers several recreational opportunities. Many of the recreation options are free for guests, such as softball, basketball, tennis, volleyball and disc golf. Visitors can also play a round of miniature golf for a small fee. To encourage team building, groups can work with a member of Ridgecrest’s recreation staff for a facilitated experience. Whether facing fears of heights in the trees on a High Challenge Course or zooming through the forest on the zip line and climbing wall, groups will find fellowship and fun with these team activities. A third option, the site’s outdoor laser tag, requires strategy and fast-paced thinking for a 90-minute game. Groups also frequently add adventure opportunities from the nearby Asheville area. Whitewater rafting, hiking Chimney Rock and visiting the Biltmore Estate can easily fill a week’s itinerary at Ridgecrest. Just two miles from campus, Black Mountain offers an afternoon of shopping and exploring Ashville’s charming streets.

DIVERSE MEETING SPACE At Ridgecrest, diverse meeting space can accommodate a wide range of groups. The 2,100-seat Spilman Auditorium offers advanced audiovisual and lighting equipment for concerts, meetings and worship services. On the opposite side of campus, Ridgecrest’s Auditorium and Recreation Center fits 700 people for video projections or for other recreational opportunities as a gymnasium. Other options include the 214-seat Jim Henry Auditorium, the 320-person Rhododendron Auditorium, the 450-person Lambdin and the 46,250-square-foot Johnson Springs. For a picturesque venue, group can opt for the wood and stone Rutland Chapel. The 250-seat, padded-pew auditorium sits on one of Ridgecrest’s highest points, with windowed walls that overlook panoramic mountain beauty. Groups looking for comfort can stay in the deluxe Mountain Laurel Inn and Rhododendron Inn. Medium-range hotels Pritchell and Mapel offer economical options; the most budget-friendly hotels, Walnut and Royal Gorge, frequently serve youth groups. To keep the focus heavenward, hotel rooms do not have televisions. Ridgecrest prepares meals for large groups regularly. The dining room sits in a centralized location on campus; with eight serving lines and round tables, guests can grab their food quickly no matter how big the crowd is. Groups with more individualized needs can work with the site’s catering service, which serves meals in separate banquet spaces. The year-round Clouds coffee shop and summer-only Nibble Nook also offer more intimate dining experiences.

Royal Gorge Overlook

Spilman Auditorium

Mountain Laurel East

Johnson Spring

Ridgecrest Conference Center rests beautifully in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains, just off Interstate 40, minutes from Asheville, North Carolina. At Ridgecrest, our goal is to offer superb customer service in a Christian environment. Before you even set foot on the campus, Ridgecrest’s staff will be praying for you, your event and its attendees. Come spend a few days here and you’ll soon agree with the hundreds of thousands of guests who over the last century have said, “There’s just something about Ridgecrest.” PERFECT FOR

• Events, Retreats & Conferences • Staff Retreats


• Christian School Events • Personal/Family Spiritual Retreats

T.W. Wilson Prayer Garden

• • • •

Deluxe Accommodations Youth Housing Meeting Space Groups from 10 to 2,000

Spilman Classroom

• • • •

1,300 Acres Hiking Trails On-Site Recreation Culinary Team


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Spend a day or a weekend where real authentic Texas culture is thriving in Mesquite, recognized as the Rodeo Capital of Texas by the Texas State House of Representatives. Enjoy the Texas traditions of rodeo and BBQ at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo at the Mesquite Arena. This famous venue has evolved into a regional concert facility hosting thousands for award-winning musicians.


teT esqui

Get lost in the history of the community at the Opal Lawrence Historical Park. Hit the links or just a bucket of balls at the Mesquite Golf Club. Take the family to City Lake Park to enjoy fishing and a picnic. The possibilities for outside exercise and fun are endless.

Satisfy any craving from Texas BBQ, and Greek with a variety of restaurants, including a few Zagat-rated eateries and the famous pies at Mesquite’s The dedicated art enthusiast is sure to find something to spark their interest. newest restaurant, Porch Swing. Enjoy shopping at Town East Mall or in The Mesquite Arts Center keeps a great rotation of local artists in the gallery. Downtown Mesquite. Check out local attractions like the Devil’s Bowl Discover the sounds of the Mesquite Symphony Orchestra or see a show by Speedway, Celebration Station, or XscapeDFW Adventures. Give us 15 minutes and we’ll give you an experience like no other. the Mesquite Arts Theatre. The vibrant community of Mesquite is also a great place to enjoy the outdoors with more than 70 parks that offer experiences for everyone. Get in a healthy jog or enjoy a leisurely walk along the Mesquite Heritage Trail on your way to nearby shopping and eateries. Take archery or tennis lessons at Westlake Sports Center.

Profile for The Group Travel Leader, Inc.

Going On Faith Fall 2019  

Find group travel ideas for natural wonders, botanical gardens, the Southwest, Athens, Greence, Louisiana, and San Mateo, California along c...

Going On Faith Fall 2019  

Find group travel ideas for natural wonders, botanical gardens, the Southwest, Athens, Greence, Louisiana, and San Mateo, California along c...