Big Al is not just any old fish – he’s one of 66 tagged fish released May 2 into Lakes Hamilton and Catherine near Hot Springs. And if you catch him by 5 p.m. July 31, you will be $20,000 richer. Not a bad return on the investment of an Arkansas fishing license.

“It’s really fun for us, just waiting for the fish phone to ring,” says Bill Solleder, director of marketing for Visit Hot Springs.

All the fish in the Hot Springs Fishing Challenge are worth something to the people who reel them in and call the phone number on the tag. Twenty are worth $500, 40 carry a prize of $1,000 and four are worth $5,000.  The runner-up to Big Al is a $10,000 fish.

Anthony Chapel, Hot Springs, Arkansas. Photo courtesy Tourism Arkansas

The contenders include largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish.  Visit Hot Springs is mum about the genetics of Big Al, but clues are released during the contest season. The top dog can be illusive.

“So far, 2017 is the only year Big Al was caught,” says Solleder. 

Hot Springs National Park is the city’s star attraction. Visitors can bathe in the thermal water, “and fill up your jug with the best water in the world,” Solleder says.

The national park and its nine historic bathhouses “stand as icons for healing and tributes to the American Spa of the 20th century,” according to the National Park Service. “The ancient thermal springs, mountain views, incredible geology, forested hikes and abundant creeks make Hot Springs National Park a unique and beautiful destination.”

The Fordyce, the largest on Bathhouse Row, serves as a visitor 

center for the national park. The Hot Springs Mountain Tower’s indoor and outdoor observation decks offer 360-degree views of the national park and the city of Hot Springs.

Also in Hot Springs is Garvan Woodland Gardens, a giant botanical garden that features a four-story treehouse and a glass chapel. 

Another top Arkansas attraction is the Cosmic Cavern near Eureka Springs. The walking tour lasts about an hour and features two bottomless cave lakes and the Silent Splendor section, where many of the formations are transparent.

Garvan Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas. Photo courtesy Tourism Arkansas


Garvan Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas
Photos courtesy Tourism Arkansas
Red Rock Canyons, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Widely regarded as Colorado’s most celebrated piece of architecture, the amphitheatre at Red Rocks State Park is an acoustically perfect venue for acts ranging from the Colorado Symphony to Sting to the world’s greatest opera singers.

At 6,450 feet above sea level, the park is where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains and where visitors can see plants, birds and other animals of both regions.

This summer’s musical line-up includes Duran Duran, the Avett Brothers, Tori Amos and My Morning Jacket.

A visit to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park starts with a gondola ride to the top of Iron Mountain. The western-themed mountaintop park offers Colorado’s first alpine coaster, along with a cliffhanger roller coaster, the Soaring Eagle Zip Ride and the Glenwood Canyon Flyer.

Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photos courtesy Matt Inden/Miles and Colorado Tourism

The Trail Ridge Road soars to an elevation of 12,183 feet and is one of the best ways to see the Continental Divide as it cuts through Colorado. The two-hour drive passes through Rocky Mountain National Park between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers the tallest dunes in North America and is an international dark sky park. Activities include sand sledding, beach play, forest hiking and free ranger programs.

Cold winters, mine closures and economic troubles led to the abandonment of mountain towns across the state, and visitors can now explore such ghost towns as Alta, Animas Forks and Antero Junction. 


It was such a simple idea in the beginning – why not create a pleasant atmosphere for people waiting to tour Marvel Cave? Well, one thing led to another, and some 70 years later, Silver Dollar City is a 100-acre park with music and venues, more than 40 rides and attractions, 18 restaurants, 60 shops and 100 resident craftsmen. The 1880s-themed attraction near Branson is recognized internationally for its theme, presentation and operations, and much of the credit goes to the Ozark landscape and culture.

The Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis, Missouri 
Photo courtesy Cathedral Basilica
The Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo courtesy Cathedral Basilica

The mountain scenery is to die for, and those skillet dinners are legendary, but “what really sets us apart are our demonstrating craftsmen,” according to the theme park’s website. “The effortless skill that these artisans display is breathtaking.” 

As visitors watch, skilled workers create candy, lye soap, candles, handblown and cut glass, mouthwatering cinnamon rolls and decorative objects fashioned from clay, leather, wood and metal.

On the other side of the state, Forest Park is where another modest idea grew legs. Originally conceived to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, the movement grew into the 1904 World’s Fair, “when the world came to St. Louis.”

The property became a city park again after the iconic fair closed and is home to the city’s zoo, art museum, history museum, science center, boathouse, skating rink, tennis center, golf courses – the list goes on and on. 

Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri 
Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

A few decades later, architect Eero Saarinen’s design of a 630-foot stainless steel arch would further secure the city’s claim as the “Gateway to the West.” 

Gateway Arch National Park, on the banks of the Mississippi River, encompasses a westward expansion museum and the Old Courthouse, currently closed for renovations, where nationally important civil rights cases were heard.

More than 100,000 people gathered in 1926 for the consecration of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, a labor of love that would not be fully completed until 1988. Tours are available of the basilica, a synthesis of Byzantine and Romanesque design that is known for its stained glass windows, high altar and ornamental mosaics. 


Natural and man-made attractions lure visitors from one end to the other of the giant state of Texas.

Landlocked Oklahomans often make the drive to South Padre Island, a tropical oasis that offers 34 miles of white sand and clear emerald water, with such highlights as snorkeling, deep sea fishing and sunset dinner cruises. 

Nature tourism includes dolphin and eco tours, nature trails, birding and an alligator sanctuary. Indoor offerings include dining, dancing, shopping and relaxing in spas and yoga studios. Art galleries, museums and the Port Isabel Lighthouse add to the culture of the island paradise.

Moody Gardens on Galveston Island has an educational and conservation mission, but kids find it just plain fun. There’s a rainforest pyramid, a paddlewheel boat, a ropes course and zip line and Palm Beach, Galveston’s only white-sand beach.

You won’t find any run-of-the-mill sea creatures at the Dallas World Aquarium, where species sport such monikers as starki damselfish, magnificent foxface, leafy seadragon and Napoleon wrasse.

The aquarium’s Cloud Forest Trek, which opened in 2020, sports a giant LED screen that extends the exhibit to the clouds of Colombian rainforests and animals indigenous to South America.

If it’s wilderness you crave, check out Guadalupe Mountains National Park, with more than 80 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy nature walks to all-day hikes into the high country forest. McKittrick Canyon is the heart of the park and the launching point for trails leading to dramatic landscapes. The west side of the mountains offers remote hiking and access to the Salt Basin Sand Dunes.

San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, Texas 
Photo courtesy Travel Texas
San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy Travel Texas

Just steps from the Alamo is San Antonio’s River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, famous for guided barge tours of a 15-mile urban waterway with riverside shopping and dining. 

Nearby is the wonder-filled Natural Bridge Caverns, where a ropes course and zip rails offer treetop views of the Texas Hill Country. Twisted Trails Tykes is a ropes course for the 4-feet-tall and under set. Gem and fossil mining, a ranch roundup maze, shopping and dining and Bracken Bat Flights and of course a discovery tour of the caverns round out the package.


Walk on the bottom of the ocean and come nose-to-nose with sea turtles as sharks circle above you. Discover polar regions, temperate oceans, coral reefs and the Amazon. That’s the promise made by Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium about the adventure that awaits at the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, the largest aquarium to be found in a zoo.

The zoo is all about context and interpretation. 

The Desert Dome, a geodesic dome that’s become an Omaha landmark, is the world’s largest indoor desert. There you will find plant and animal life from Africa’s Namib Desert, the Red Center of Australia and America’s Sonoran Desert. Wallabies, meerkats and a cape cobra are among the animals living there. Visitors continue on through a butterfly and insect pavilion, African grasslands, a Birds in Flight program, children’s adventure trails and a wildlife safari park. 

Suzanna and Walter Scott Aquarium, Omaha, Nebraska 
Photos courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Suzanna and Walter Scott Aquarium, Omaha, Nebraska. Photos courtesy Nebraska Tourism

To cool off during your summer travels, man-made options across Nebraska include the Island Oasis Water Park in Grand Island, Fun Plex in Omaha and Aquacourt in Hastings.

The Dismal River beckons the paddling crowd. Described as a “short, wild river” in the Sandhill Region of the state, it features natural springs that bubble up through the sand and is best suited for intermediate to advanced kayakers and canoers.

“Magical Mystery Tour” is the 2023 theme at the Sunken Gardens in Lincoln. This year’s designs will reflect the artwork on album covers from the Beatles era. Admission is free, and visitors can enjoy a healing garden, perennial and annual flower gardens, water features and art installations.

Western Nebraska’s Scotts Bluff area is also known as Landmark Country. The Chimney Rock National Historic Site marks the most-noted landmark on the Oregon Trail. The Horse Creek Treaty Marker describes the 1851 gathering of 10 tribes of Plains Indians, numbering about 10,000, to negotiate a treaty that would soon be broken by the U.S. government.

A paleontological adventure awaits at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, an important source for 19.2-million-year-old Miocene epoch mammal fossils. The monument also features the Cook Collection of American Indian Artifacts.

Other Getaways 

Chicago, IL: One of the largest cities in the U.S., Chicago beckons for great eats, art, outdoor activities and music. Highlights include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Navy Pier, Millennium Park (home of the famed metal Bean) and Wrigley Field.

Lincoln, NE: Nebraska’s capital city offers unique stops including the International Quilt Museum, the Museum of American Speed and the Pioneers Park Nature Center. Plenty of breweries plus the Memorial Stadium also draw visitors. 

Santa Fe, NM: Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, Santa Fe presents a slower pace and art offerings galore. Stroll through Santa Fe Plaza, visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, or enjoy Meow Wolf – an immersive art exhibition you won’t soon forget.

Scottsdale, AZ: The desert city of Scottsdale offers outdoor activities for the active tourist, like the Gateway Trailhead, Desert Botanical Garden and Pinnacle Peak Park. Cool off at the OdySea Aquarium or the Penske Racing Museum. 

New Orleans, LA: The Big Easy is a perfect pit-stop for those looking to meld history with a bustling nightlife. Visit the French Quarter for great eats and live music, or venture to the National WWII Museum. Louis Armstrong Park and Jackson Square are other must-visit locations. ■

Previous articleA Taste of Oklahoma
Next articleTi Amo Ristorante Italiano