Celebrating the world’s biggest pistachio

The world’s biggest pistachio is a roadside attraction that stops traffic on Highway 54 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: February 26 is National Pistachio Day, but everyday is a holiday at PistachioLand.)

ALAMOGORDO, New Mexico – If it weren’t for White Sands National Park and the Manhattan Project atomic bomb heritage of Alamogordo, the most famous aspect of this desert town might be the world biggest pistachio nut.

The 30-foot-tall nut is impossible to miss along Highway 54, just up the road from the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In and its famous two-patty “Tiger Burgers” and green chile cheeseburgers. It serves as a magnet, pulling you into PistachioLand, a retail heaven for pistachio lovers that is complemented by a 111-acre pistachio tree orchard and a 14-acre vineyard. 

Motorized tours of the orchard and vineyard start at the top of the hour during most of the workday and cost only $2. It’s practically a guarantee you’ll spend more than $2 on pistachios, however, especially after you discover the myriad varieties.

Sure, there are plain pistachios (in the shell or already shelled for the slightly lazy), but try a sample of maple and brown sugar pistachios, or butter toffee pistachios, or garlic pistachios, or garlic and honey pistachios or sriracha honey pistachios. Of course since this is New Mexico, there are green chile pistachios, too. And that’s only the start of the list.

Thomas McGinn started all of this when he planted the orchard on bare desert land in 1980. He died in 2008, and his son, Timothy, built the world’s largest pistachio to honor his father.

The retail store that showcases all those varieties of pistachios also has PistachioLand souvenirs aplenty, pistachio candy (including Atomic Hot Chili Pistachio Brittle) and a tasting room for Arena Blanca Winery (traditional varieties such as chardonnay and merlot, along with specialty wines such as Pistachio Delight, Outlaw Red and Sweet Clarissa).

Since this is the desert, it’s no surprise there’s an ice cream shop, and it’s even less of a surprise that a favorite of visitors from around the world is . . . pistachio ice cream. Sometimes you feel like a nut, especially at PistachioLand.

Trip-planning resources: PistachioLand.com, Alamogordo.com, LasCrucesCVB.org and NewMexico.org

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America gets new national park for Christmas

The dunes of White Sands National Park cover 275 square miles of desert land in southeast New Mexico. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

By Tom Adkinson

ALAMAGORDO, New Mexico – Merry Christmas, America! You got a new national park just a few days before the big day for opening presents. It is White Sands National Park between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

You may have thought White Sands already was a national park, but it wasn’t. It was a national monument, another category of protected public land, but distinct from national parks, although both parks and monuments are overseen by the National Park Service. It became a national monument in 1933, when developers were eyeing the strange terrain for gypsum mining.

White Sands now shares national park status with 61 other American treasures under National Park Service stewardship, places such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains.

The gypsum sand at White Sands National Park is so fine that sledding is a popular activity. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Even though White Sands has joined the Big Boys Club so to speak, it is relatively small. The park protects the vast majority of a 275-square-mile dune-covered landscape that delivers a beautiful white reflection of the desert sun, while Yellowstone covers 3,468 square miles, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers more than 780 square miles.

More than 600,000 people find this spot on U.S. 70 every year to learn about the ever-moving dunes, capture extraordinary photos and go sledding. Yes, the sand of White Sands is so fine that it is possible to slide down a steep dune on a plastic disc without bundling up in layers of winter clothing.

This obviously is a geologic oddity. After all, it is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world – one big enough for astronauts on the International Space Station to observe. Gypsum is the key word here. These gentle swaths of gypsum, the same stuff in sheetrock walls, plaster of Paris and even toothpaste, are different from the silica sand found in desert and beach settings.

Creation of this gypsum sand is a tale millions of years in the making. Here are the basics, told at a very elementary level.

Sediments in a prehistoric sea dried out when the sea disappeared, mountains were formed with layers of gypsum, a basin took shape between two mountain ranges and rain began to fall. Rain carrying water-soluble gypsum washed from the mountains into the basin and formed a shallow lake. It was like a bathtub, but with no drain, so when the lake dried up, evaporation created gypsum crystals that were blown by the wind and broken down into today’s sand. 

All it takes is time. Lots and lots of time.

The sun sets behind the San Andreas Mountains as a park visitor walks on the ridge of a dune. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A visit today is full of surprises, not the least of which is learning that the massive dunes move. Steady southwest winds can push them up to 38 feet a year. You won’t see any movement as you stand there, but you certainly can see evidence of movement, such as pillars of vegetation that once were surrounded by sand.

This otherworldly scene has attracted humans for at least 10,000 years. Commercial development (remember gypsum has value) was short-circuited in 1933 when the national monument was created, and in recent decades, movie producers have found this scenery ideal for westerns, science fiction and apocalyptic films. Examples include “Hang ‘Em High,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “My Name is Nobody” and “The Book of Eli.”

Everyday visitors come to take sunset or full-moon walks with park rangers, enjoy picnics in wind-protected shelters, hike almost nine miles of trails or just drive the park’s eight-mile loop. Plenty of them, of course, buy or rent plastic discs at the visitor center’s store and get the unusual treat of sledding in the desert.

Trip-planning resources: NPS.gov/whsaNewMexico.orgAlamogordo.com and LasCrucesCVB.org

A soaptree yucca, one of many plants that adapted to this desert environment, reaches into the blue sky. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)
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And the wall came tumbling down

BERLIN — I was in grammar school when the Berlin Wall went up, and I was married with three children when it came down. The physical division of Berlin began in 1961 and ended in 1989 — 30 years ago today (November 9, 2019).

History seekers examine a piece of the Berlin Wall on a dreary day. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Barbed wire eventually gave way to 96 miles of concrete wall that zigzagged through the city and into the countryside. More ominous than the wall itself were 302 watchtowers manned by soldiers ready to shoot.

Today, less than 1 percent of the wall remains. In places where portions stand, explanatory markers and photos tell the story. Elsewhere, stones in the street trace its former location. It was very sobering to witness when I visited Berlin in 2010.

Pavers set in the asphalt trace the route of the Berlin Wall. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

In today’s hyper-partisan United States, it is interesting to reflect on how a clear fact can be described in opposing fashions. Consider this from one of the historical markers along the wall: “In West Berlin, the wall was openly called the ‘wall of shame,” while in East Germany it was described as the ‘anti-fascist protection barrier.'” 

The completed Berlin Wall stretched for 96 miles. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

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Hopscotching through Southern Oregon in Autumn

By Tom Adkinson

The big-city appeal of Portland means it gets plenty of visitor attention, but meandering through the small towns and two-lane highways of southern Oregon provides a completely different set of diversions.

If you fly into the region at Portland, I-5 funnels you into this corner of the state in only about three hours. At that point, you can get off the interstate for the most part and wander. You’ll find plenty to see and do, especially as autumn colors begin appearing.

Wheel off I-5 near Roseburg to admire the beauty of Abacela and taste the wines that come from its Fault Line Vineyards. The vineyards are named for a fault in the Klamath/Coastal Range and vary from flat to having a 43 percent slope.

Abacela Vineyards near Roseburg (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Head east about a hundred miles and gain considerable elevation to see one of North America’s wonders, Crater Lake National Park. The surface of the 30-square-mile lake is at 6,178 feet, while the rim of the surrounding caldera ranges from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. It’s a long slide down if you get too close to the edge.

Crater Lake photographer (Photo by Tom Adkinson)
Crater Lake couple (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Coming down from Crater Lake National Park, check out the Rogue River Gorge, where mountain waters rage through a chasm 500 feet long and only 25 feet wide at a rate of 410,000 gallons a minute. That’s enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool every 60 seconds.

Rogue River Gorge (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Park your car just once in Central City near Medford for what’s been called the “Trifecta of Yummy.” Fill your picnic basket at Rogue Creamery (artisan cheese), the Ledger David Cellars Tasting Room (wine) and Lillie Belle Farms (specialty chocolates, led by lavender sea salt caramels).

Rogue River Creamery at Central City (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Soak up some history and do some small-town shopping in Jacksonville. This walkable town sprang up with the excitement of a gold rush in 1851, but things are calmer now.

Street-level advertising in Jacksonville (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Enjoy an artisan pizza or some stuffed mushrooms and an array of wines at Dancin Vineyards, one of the prettiest and most romantic vineyards and wineries you’ll find anywhere. It’s between Jacksonville and Medford.

Wine glass and flower at Dancin (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

The area’s cultural magnet is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which delivers much more than works by the Bard of Avon. Its multiple performance spaces are in Ashland, where the famous place to stay is the Ashland Springs Hotel (dating from 1925 and on the National Register of Historic Places), The famous activity in town is bracing yourself for a sip of water for the fountain at Lithia Park. The water is high in supposedly curative lithium, but it takes courage to get past the taste and aroma.

Taking a sip at Lithia Springs in Ashland (Photo by Lois Adkinson)

Travel Southern Oregon is the source of visitor information about the entire region.  

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Meet the Texas Doctor Also Skilled in Chocolate Making

By Tom Adkinson

GRAPEVINE, Texas – Sue Williams wanted to be a county agricultural agent, but she became a medical doctor and a chocolate maker instead – and the world is a better place for that.

Just ask anyone who visits Dr. Sue’s Chocolates, one of dozens of independent shop on the main street of Grapevine, a vibrant little city with a distinct identity in the urban region that is the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

A box from Dr. Sue’s Chocolates is guaranteed to contain tasty treasures. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

When Dr. Sue (that’s what everyone calls her) finished undergraduate school, her dream of being an ag agent died because the times dictated that was not a job a woman should have. Instead, she went to medical school, honed the candy making skills she learned from her mother and gradually developed a local reputation for chocolates as well as for healing sick patients.

Sue Williams — medical doctor and chocolatier. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

“I always liked to cook and entertain. My mother was a great cook, as so many Southern women are, and I learned from her,” Dr. Sue said as she showed visitors around her cozy shop.

She loves medicine – and continues to practice – but dark chocolate became a passion. She even attended the Chocolate Academy in Chicago for specialized training.

What fills the walls and display cases inside Dr. Sue’s Chocolates is true artisan chocolate. All ingredients are natural and non-GMO, and color in any of the specialty creations comes from an organic vegetable powder, not dye.

The most popular item in the shop is cherry pecan bark. It features toasted Texas pecans, tart Michigan cherries, organic brown sugar, organic butter, ancho chili  powder, natural vanilla, sea salt and Texas port wine. The wine comes from a neighbor just down Main Street, the Messina Hof Winery.

Samples aplenty at Dr. Sue’s Chocolates inspire more purchases. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Another in-demand item combines dark chocolate, blueberries and ancho chili powder. The blueberries offer fruity sweetness, and the chili powder provides a slightly delayed kick. An unusual item to many people is ginger fig chocolate that is made with Turkish figs, organic crystalized ginger and sea salt.

“I promote the consumption of good things, the use of good ingredients and the reading of food labels,” Dr. Sue said, showing she really can combine being a doctor with being a chocolatier.

Chocolate maker Aaron Drew shows off chocolate Texas souvenir. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

There’s a feel-good aura inside Dr. Sue’s Chocolates, and that comes not just from the feel-good sensation of eating decadent chocolates. It also comes from knowing that the shop is plugged into the local charity scene by supporting approximately 50 charities a year.

“Grapevine is a community of artisans. We are woodworkers, bakers, vintners, glassblowers and more,” Dr. Sue said. And every artisan in town would add chocolatier to that list, too.

(Grapevine, named for wild mustang grapes that were abundant in the early 1800s, is between Dallas and Fort Worth. In fact, part of the sprawling DFW Airport is in Grapevine. It is the location of GrapeFest, the largest wine festival in the Southwest. Travel information is available from the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau.)


Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die” is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com.

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100 Things To Do In Nashville Before You Die – Tom Adkinson’s New Book!

We’re super excited here at Travel World Central to announce the newest book by our very own Tom Adkinson! You’ve seen his awesome posts, now get his amazing book all about Nashville, Tennessee!

This lighthearted guide to 100 special activities in Nashville, Tenn., will overfill any visitor’s itinerary. Yes, go to the Grand Ole Opry, but also get a Recession Special at the Robert’s Western World honky tonk (fried bologna sandwich, chips and a PBR for $5), learn who’s buried in the Tennessee Capitol, check out the club where A-list musicians play regularly for just a modest cover charge and load up on chocolate at the home of Goo Goo Clusters. Available at www.CornersOfTheCountry.com.

Get your copy of Tom’s book today – you’ll be glad you did!

Get your copy of Tom Adkinson's New Book!

100 Things To Do In Nashville Before You Die – by Tom Adkinson

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Times Square, 1 Hour, 10 Photos – Now GO!

By Tom Adkinson

NEW YORK – You’re in Midtown with an hour to spare before your next appointment. What do you do with that small amount of time, just 60 minutes?

My decision was a personal challenge – get 10 photos in Times Square that capture the essence of “the crossroads of the world.” I ended up with a dozen because two of the images begged to be paired with related images (a human Statue of Liberty and strangers taking photos of each other).

Practically everyone knows Times Square, if only from movies, television shows and New Year’s Eve. You can find various definitions of what exactly Times Square encompasses, but go with the most basic. It’s Broadway at 7th Avenue and between West 42nd and West 47th Streets.

Stated simply, it’s a circus people and neon, towering buildings and human connections that usually are fleeting, but still quite real. It’s big and brash, flashy and fun. It’s discounted Broadway show tickets at TKTS, it’s acrobatic buskers who risk life and limb for tips, it’s selfie heaven.

Take the Times Square Photo Challenge yourself someday, and compare your photos to this selection.

The vehicular traffic never stops flowing around Times Square . . . (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

. . . and neither does the pedestrian traffic in “the crossroads of the world.” (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

The model-pretty couple asked a stranger to take their photo . . . (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

. . . and the stranger turned the tables on the couple. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A buff busker thanks a passerby for being part of his act. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)


What’s Times Square without a dancer promoting a show? (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Just another typical tourist blending in nicely in a sea of other tourists. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Sometimes Lady Liberty is an unmoving object. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Sometimes Lady Liberty just has to make a call. {Photo by Tom Adkinson)

“Gee, Officer Krumke.” (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

George M. Cohan’s spirit fills Times Square. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

The sensory assault of Times Square almost always has a commercial message. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, 2nd edition” is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com)

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Barbados, Bajan, Beautiful

By Tom Adkinson

Junior outside of his restaurant in Speightstown. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

About 270,000 people call Barbados home, and the face of every one of them almost cries out to be photographed.

From the Friday fish fry at Oistins toward the south end of the island, to the markets and docks of Bridgetown, to rum shops and restaurants at Speightstown on the Caribbean Sea, to the north end in St. Lucy Parish and around to the East Point Lighthouse on the Atlantic Ocean, smiling faces and intriguing countenances constantly greet you.

Strike up a conversation. Drink a beer or a rum with your new Bajan acquaintance. Ask for a photo for a remembrance.

Professional baker Ralph Skeete, 81. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Bartender at the John Moore Bar. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)










Pineapple carver at a Bridgetown market. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Cricket coach Vas Drakes at Kensington Oval. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Photographer Glyne Strickland. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)










Weary waitress in Oistins. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

A serious tomato inspector in Bridgetown. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Red snapper for her. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)









One cool dude with two hats. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

Papayas, carrots, broccoli and more. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)

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Best Atmosphere and Food on Tybee Island, GA!

In all honesty, this place can NOT be beat! This is a must stop for us when we get to visit Tybee Island. First off, if you haven’t been to Tybee Island, Georgia yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?! This little destination has so much to offer. Great fun, food and an awesome beach!

Now, on to the spot I was talking about… you MUST take time to stop into Rock House, Original Bar & Grill, the lively atmosphere, friendly staff and amazing food is well worth the trip! I have never left this place hungry, the food is just too good and the portions are quite generous. This visit, I enjoyed a crab stuffed grouper with rice and broccoli, then topped that off with a Reece’s cheese cake! Oh my word, just thinking about that meal and I am drooling. Everything was delicious and cooked to perfection. I had never had grouper that was so flavourful before.


The staff at Rock House Original Bar & Grill is fantastic. Friendly and attentive, they will take very good care of you there. Always smiles and willing to chat with you, and they will be sure to take care of you. One of us has allergies, so always worry when we visit restaurants that serve seafood/fish, not a problem here, they make sure that there is NO risk of cross contamination.

Entertainment, always on at Rock House and always so much fun. We live for the karaoke and their KJ/animator, Aundre, is fantastic! Talented, funny and so friendly! We always have the best time.

I can’t stress more how amazing this spot is. Do yourself a favour, take a trip to Tybee Island, GA and make a stop at Rock House, you will not regret it!

We can’t wait to go back!



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Admiring the Neon Rainbows of Las Vegas

Photo by Tom Adkinson

By Tom Adkinson

LAS VEGAS – Neon lights are to Las Vegas what the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco or the Statue of Liberty is to New York.

The colorful use of an inert gas inside glass tubes is so important to this entertainment mecca that neon signs even have their own museum – the Neon Museum, which opened in 1996.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

The museum is a major attraction, although undoubtedly ranking lower on the Las Vegas popularity list than slot machines, stage shows, conversations with bartenders and certain behaviors you don’t care to talk about back home.

Whether or not you visit the Neon Museum, you can see several of its sign restoration projects on public streets, and you certainly can bask in the glow of a multitude of neon signs advertising businesses of all types.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Freemont Street, the first paved street in Las Vegas, certainly has its share – both under the canopy of a pedestrian mall called the Freemont Street Experience and out under the stars, where you do have to be mindful of traffic when you try to line up a particularly good angle on a photo of a towering martini glass or a gigantic can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Consider these sites during your trip planning: Las Vegas CVA and Travel Nevada.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Photo by Tom Adkinson

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