Ole Smoky Moonshine – The Real Thing from Gatlinburg, Tennessee!

Johnny Baker

Johnny Baker shows off Ole SMoky Moonshine

With deep roots in the Appalachian community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Johnny Baker and his team will welcome you to their distillery of genuine moonshine. It’s a family business with decades of heritage. The business has grown considerably and has given them the ability to expand their line of available flavours.

Ole Smoky Tasting

Presentation is everything. Ole Smoky Moonshine tasting is an event in and of itself.

Presentation is everything and when you visit Ole Smoky Moonshine, you will not only see walls of various flavours of their product, you’ll get a floor show.

Tastings are available and are done with a very entertaining flair. Come and enjoy this signature product of the Smoky Mountains. The team at Ole Smoky put a lot of love and care into each batch.

When you come to their distillery, the shelves are stocked full of colourful varieties of moonshine. Always packaged in mason jars, they’re available in single jars, multiple packs and you might even get a nice tote bag for it.

Presentation is everything and the moonshine tastings at Ole Smoky are a show in their own right. You’ll see smiles all around and  you’ll be able to sample many different varieties available. It’s all done in the spirit of fun.

Getting here is simplicity itself. Gatlinburg is a town that is easy to walk around. Park your car and everything is an easy stroll. You’ll see the signs everywhere for Ole Smoky Moonshine. Parkway is the main road through Gatlinburg.

So come on down, you’re in for a good time!

Ole Smoky Moonshine, 903 Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Find a Warm Southern Welcome in Gatlinburg, Tennessee!

Nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee, Gatlinburg awaits you with open arms. There is just something so special about a visit to this place. It’s a very small town in and of itself. You’ll want to park your car and walk around. Really! Everything is within an easy stroll.

Gatlinburg in the Smokies

Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains

Our visit was in December. Gatlinburg is not just a summer destination, as there are plenty of things to do even in the mild winter. If you like to ski, Ober is right smack dab in the middle of town. Well, ok, the gondola that will take you to Ober is there. Once again, you can walk the whole time you’re in town.

This picture was taken from the gondola, showing the mountainscape and how the town is nestled comfortably right at the doorstep to the Smoky Mountain National Park.

There are major hotel brands available here too, so if you want to stick with a brand you know and love, like the Hilton Garden Inn, there’s a gorgeous one here. Family-owned properties are also plentiful here in Gatlinburg. There’ something for everyone.

Come take in the fresh air, the delicious food and the easygoing and friendly atmosphere. And did I mention the food? Oh my goodness are you in for a treat!

Above all things, the best part of Gatlinburg is the people. Expect a warm and friendly welcome. The wonderful people of Gatlinburg, Tennessee will greet you with a welcome that will make you want to come back again and again. If you aren’t careful, you may make a few new friends as well.

We loved our visit and can’t wait to return in the summertime!


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Dogsledding Where the Dogs Speak French

All these powerful dogs want to do is run and run and then run some more. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

“Unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

OUTSIDE QUEBEC CITY – That axiom from the world of dogsledding doesn’t apply if you’re the musher. Standing on the runners of a sled with six or seven powerful, yelping dogs in front of you offers a commanding and ever-changing view. For any novice who is  “behind the wheel” so to speak, it’s a daunting view, too.

An outfit called Aventure Inukshuk introduces total newcomers to dogsledding at Station Touristique Duchesnay, a Quebec provincial park about 30 minutes from the historic center of Quebec City. It’s an encounter with nature not far from the frenetic urban frivolity of Quebec City’s annual winter carnival (Jan. 26-Feb. 11, 2018).

Open fields and quiet forests of maple, cherry and birch trees are the setting for the park’s trail system, where you can try this exhilarating sport. The quiet, of course, is shattered by the near-constant baying of the harnessed dogs when you are on the trail.

A dog team has no problem pulling a pair of excited humans. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

When you step out of your vehicle at Aventure Inukshuk, you are a few hundred yards from a compound where more than a hundred baying, howling, yelping canine athletes await you.

“All they want to do is run,” said owner Carol Lepine, a big man who seems far less bothered by the cold than his guests do.

Lepine is proud that he runs only small trips – a maximum of three sleds, with the lead sled guided by a highly trained dog handler.

Recreational dogsledders bundle up for an exciting, but cold, ride. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

The guide on my trip was Joe, and I stood on the right sled runner while he stood on the left. No one was in the sled’s basket, and it was clear that he wouldn’t have been happy if I had wanted to ride instead of stand with him. A good sense of balance came in handy.

Even though I was traveling with a professional, I still felt like a 16-year-old who had been given the keys to a Ferrari. I could only imagine what the solo drivers in the two sleds behind me felt like. Later, one of them told me he felt as if he was stomping on the brakes of a runaway train.

I’m not a dog person – having a German shepherd bite you in the back at age 8 will do that to you – but I loved Lepine’s dogs. Mixtures of husky, malamute and other breeds, they are powerful, beautiful and smart.

An experienced leader offers instruction to some first-time dogsledders. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson.

In the winter, they run and run and run some more. After the snow melts, they’re on vacation. A good sled dog can have a 10-year career, Lepine said.

Beyond dogsledding, there are numerous, quieter winter diversions at Station Touristique Duchesnay. Among them: cross-country skiing on 47.5 kilometers of trails, snowshoeing, ice fishing, skating and spa treatments.

There is lodging, too, if you want to add some Mother Nature time to an urban visit to Quebec City.

(Quebec City visitor information is right here.)

Scores of canine athletes are kenneled in anticipation of runs through the forest. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson


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Celebrating on the Watauga River

The sun-dappled Watauga River supports trophy trout after decades of industrial pollution and attracts international fishermen to Tennessee. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

By Tom Adkinson

The Watauga River rises on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and gets interrupted by two Tennessee Valley Authority Dams in Tennessee. About 78 miles from its headwaters, it flows into the Boone Lake impoundment of the South Holston River, and a stretch
of water below the second TVA dam at Elizabethton, Tennessee, attracts fishermen from around the world.

My Watauga introduction was one of celebration – the combination of a friend’s birthday and retirement and my own retirement. We had joked about “fishing on Wednesday if we wanted,” and now we could.

TVA controls the flow and is conscious of river levels, both for fishermen and rafters. The Watauga is ideal for driftboats, and there are some stretches where wading is practical.

The Watauga, whose flow is controlled by a TVA dam, is ideal for driftboat fishing.          Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Our trip was a driftboat day with Jason Reep of East Tennessee Fly Fishing. He’s easy to spot on the river. His Stealthcraft driftboat, which he calls the Cadillac of driftboats, has a brown trout paint job. Reep said he was one of the first three or four guides on the Watauga back in the early 1990s.

“There are close to 15 full-timers now, and about a thousand on weekends,” he said with a wink. They all work the Watauga and the South Holston, which is only about 45 minutes away. Reep also offers wading trips on smaller streams in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

Our float with Reep was an easy trip of about five miles, starting at Hunter Bridge in Elizabethton
and ending at Lovers Lane. Along the way, the
Doe River flows into the Watauga, but it doesn’t appreciably change the stream’s size. Below our takeout is a 2.6-mile “Quality Trout Zone,” where the TWRA enforces a possession limit of two fish 14 inches or longer caught on artificial lures.

Guide Jason Reep, whose driftboat sports a brown trout paint job, watches a client to fish a pretty run. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Because the Watauga is a tailwaters river, it’s fishable all year, although Reep says volume drops after Thanksgiving, only to revive as warm spring days come along.

Reep enjoys the river’s beauty and recalls one client from England, who was overwhelmed.

“He couldn’t believe that just anybody could buy a license and go fish on a river,” Reep said.

Scuds and midges predominate in the stretch between Wilbur Dam and the Doe River confluence, and the insect variety increases below the confluence, with more caddis, mayflies and even a few stoneflies, according to Reep.

“Blue wing olives are around from spring almost through Thanksgiving, and there’s usually a big caddis hatch around Mother’s Day. You can barely open your mouth without eating a caddis fly then,” he said.

A small brown trout pulled from the Watauga is about to return to grow bigger and excite future fishermen. Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

Reep had rigged 10-foot, 3-weight Syndicate rods with #18 and #20 scuds for us. My norm is a showy #12 dry fly as an indicator and a #10 or #12 beadhead nymph for small streams in the Great Smoky Mountains, so Reep’s flies looked too tiny to be logical.

They didn’t look that way to the numerous brown and rainbow trout we caught fairly consistently. We certainly would have caught even more had we been as attuned to strikes as Reep was. He patiently told us to react more quickly.

“A two-inch fingerling or a 20-inch trophy can present the same strike,” he observed.

As pretty and as healthy as the Watauga is now, it has a dark history. For decades, much of the Watauga was dead – really dead – because of industrial pollution, primarily from a rayon plant and a nylon plant in Elizabethton.

David McKinney, now TWRA’s chief of environmental services, was with the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment’s Division of Water Pollution Control in the 1980s. He paints a grim picture of the Watauga below those two plants that dated to the 1920s and 1930s and were significant to the war effort of the 1940s, but were gross polluters.

“Long before (serious) pollution controls, the river was devoid of all life,” McKinney said.

The cleanup effort proved to be a watershed moment (pun intended). Instead of the prevailing theory of simply reducing the volume of pollutants in a river, the idea of neutralizing the pollutants’ toxicity was suggested.

A cardinal flower proves that trout are not the only source of color along the Watauga River.           Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

“When the toxicity was removed, the river immediately began to recover. The benthic community took off. Once there were insects, the trout thrive,” he said.

“I remember when the first fish were put out. A year later, we electroshocked with no expectation of success. Not only had the trout survived, they had thrived,” McKinney said, calling the effort one of Tennessee’s greatest environmental success stories.

TWRA stocks about 40,000 rainbows a year from March through September. There are good numbers of holdovers among the rainbows, and the holdovers begin to take on characteristics of wild trout. Browns naturally reproduce in the Watauga.

Reep, whose wife had shuttled his vehicle to the takeout point while we were enjoying the river and who does the same for other fishermen, said he was disappointed we didn’t catch a true bragging-size fish.

We weren’t. We were too busy celebrating the fact we were fishing on a Wednesday.

The Watauga River Lodge outside of Elizabethton is on the river’s trophy section.                                Photo (c) Tom Adkinson

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Agritourism — It’s a Real Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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I Never Wanted To Visit the 9/11 Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Art-Filled Stroll in Chattanooga

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

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

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

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

(All accompanying photos are © Tom Adkinson.)

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Keeping the Trains on Time at Tweetsie Railroad


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Six Attractions Along the QLine in Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are six attractions along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flowers from Guatemala for Mom

IN THE MOUNTAINS OF CENTRAL AMERICA — A visit last month to Guatemala produced a virtual bouquet for Mother’s Day. The only thing better would be having some of these beauties in my own yard, but I’d have to be in a completely different zone on the seed packages for the most part. (All photos by Tom Adkinson)

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