The Sudwala Caves

As some of the oldest caverns known to man, the Sudwala Caves in Mpumalanga, South Africa are a magnificent display of natural beauty.

Come along as we explore these riveting corridors of ancient masterpieces, and we’ll discover together what makes these caves such a popular attraction!

History of the Sudwalas

Because of the great antiquity of the Sudwala Caves, we only have a small glimpse of what has taken place there; we can guess that it has sheltered many people over the millennia, as primitive artifacts and tools have been found deep in the cavern’s recesses.

In the 1800s, they were a hideout for Prince Somquba as he tried to gain the throne from his brother and royal heir Mswati. The caves supplied fresh water, and provided plenty of room for men, animals, weapons, and other supplies. Somquba named them in honor of Sudwala, one of his officials.

The Sudwalas were later used by the Boer army for storing supplies during the South African War.

In 1965, a man named Philippus Rudolf Owen purchased the caves and opened them up to the public. An enormous chamber near the mouth of the caverns has been named the PR Owen Hall in his honor; this amphitheater-like room reaches 121 feet to the top of its dome, and has a diameter of 230 feet!

Modern Tours

The Sudwala Caves are open year-round, and the basic entrance fee is around $7.00. They also offer guided tours that can take you over a mile into the caves. This lengthy (4-hour) trek, called the Crystal Tour, costs around $32.00, and will lead you along the ultimate cave exploration experience, including getting a little wet and dirty!

While the terrain of the tour is easy enough for most people, it is not an advised endeavor for individuals with back or knee problems; nor is it a choice activity for anyone who experiences claustrophobia easily, as some of the passageways are a bit tight.

The highlight of the tour is a chamber full of glistening aragonite crystals that dazzle the eyes with their beauty. You may see a few of the many horseshoe bats that reside in the caves as you walk along the tour; you’re also likely to see some strange naturally-occurring mineral formations along the way with names like the Rocket and the Screaming Monster. 

Let’s Go!

So, are you ready to go exploring? Tie on your hiking boots and get ready to experience one of the most intriguing caves in the world!

National Museum of the Resistance: The Most Important Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

The world is full of obscure museums, but most of them are obscure for a reason.

Typically, such places are devoted to select topics that appeal to only a select few, and frequently they are located in out of the way places. 

The National Museum of the Resistance, however, breaks the mold. Located in cosmopolitan Brussels, Belgium, the museum enshrines wartime artifacts with a particular emphasis on World War II and the Belgian Resistance to German occupation of their country.

The mainstream appeal and placement in a large and prominent city make it somewhat baffling that this museum, which opened its doors on the 28th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1972, isn’t more renowned.

An Historic Building

The building itself that houses the museum is historically important, as it was the site of the publication of a satirical newspaper, Faux Soir, that spoofed the Nazi propaganda publication Le Soir (which means “the evening”). At great risk of personal danger to themselves, members of the Belgian Resistance produced and distributed this publication, managing to spread tens of thousands of copies throughout Europe. Unfortunately, the Gestapo arrested fifteen of the people involved in the satire’s production and at least two of them never returned from the prison camps to which they were sent.

A Somber and Meaningful Collection

Included in the museum’s archives are items such as an original edition of Faux Soir, a radio set that the Resistance recovered from a downed allied plane, and a violin scavenged from Mauthausen Concentration Camp (it is thought that the violin was played during executions). Make no mistake, this is a sobering yet compelling and ultimately very important place to visit. After all, it is said that everyone who ignores history is doomed to repeat it.

Unfortunately, due to renovations the National Museum of the Resistance is currently closed. Hopefully it will re-open soon, because the world is always in need of reminders that freedom is never free.

The Nickajack Cave

What once was a massive cave system full of corridors, spectacular mineral formations, and historical artifacts has now been reduced to a small fraction of its accessible area;

but what was stolen from Nickajack Cave through the rising waters of the Nickajack Dam has been preserved through legends and stories of its fascinating past.

Get ready for an intense evening of fluttering bat wings and tales of near-death SCUBA experiences!

The Times They Are A-Changin

For hundreds of years, Nickajack Cave has played a part in human history; American Indians, settlers, the confederate army, and countless adventurers have taken advantage of the shelter and mineral resources of the cave. What was considered to be the world’s largest stalagmite stood majestically in the deep recesses of Nickajack, and for a time, the cave was publicized as a tourist attraction.

It is claimed that, during a low point in his life, Johnny Cash wandered into the cave in the 1960s with the intent to get lost and die; but in the process, he experienced a spiritual awakening and found God. This moment changed the course of his life, and as he felt a divine guidance leading him back to the mouth of the cave, he emerged a new man.

In 1967, everything changed, and Nickajack Cave would never be the same.

Rising Water

The Tennessee River (on which Nickajack Cave is located) was so difficult to navigate by boat that it was decided a dam needed to be built to regulate the water flow. The Hales Bar Dam was the first attempt, completed in 1913. It was located further up the river where the cave was not affected by its reservoir. The Hales Bar had some faults however, and continual leaks prompted the construction of a new dam.

The Nickajack Dam was constructed 6.4 miles downstream from the Hales Bar Dam, and it was completed by the end of 1967. As the water gates were officially shut, the new dam’s reservoir began to fill, and the Nickajack Cave flooded almost completely, burying everything (except a few hundred feet at the entrance) in water.

The Nickajack Today

Today if you visit Nickajack Cave, you will find the entrance rising out of the water only by about 15 feet, and blocked by fencing. But you can still take a thrilling boat ride to the entrance’s cove and see thousands of bats emerge from the cave on warm summer evenings; it is quite the experience to sit in the middle of the shadowy flutters as the bats search for insects near the surface of the water (Don’t worry, they don’t fly into you). Just be sure to take plenty of lights; it will be dark as you head back to the boat launch.

Entrance into the cave is strictly prohibited, and violation can cause serious risk, as was found out by David Gant in 1992. No doubt, you will hear all about the foolhardy SCUBA diver and his friend as you interact with the locals, as well as how the entire Nickajack Reservoir had to be lowered in order to save his life!

No visit to Marion County, Tennessee is complete without a trip to Nickajack Cave. 

Are you ready?

There’s No Place like the Judy Garland Museum

If you’re planning a trip to Grand Rapids, MN, including a stop to the Judy Garland Museum is a must.

The museum includes the entertainer’s childhood home, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and of course, the Land of Oz exhibit. So, embrace the magic and follow the yellow brick road.

It’s No Longer Just a Dream

A walk through the modest 1920s home where Frances Ethel Gumm, a.k.a. Judy Garland began life’s journey offers a poignant glimpse into the star’s history.

The museum includes an array of memorabilia from Garland’s extensive film and musical career as well as her personal effects. Scripts, personal letters, photos, jewelry, and clothing combine to create the lasting legacy of her career.  

The most extensively memorialized aspect of the museum includes mementos of Dorothy’s heroic journey through Oz. Here, you’ll find the carriage ridden into Oz, which incidentally, once belonged to Abraham Lincoln.

Secure your own legacy and request to have a personal message engraved on the museum’s yellow brick road.

The Case of the Missing Ruby Slippers

When Dorothy’s missing ruby slippers mysteriously vanished from the museum in 2005, the case went cold. It wasn’t until a phone call in an attempt to cash in on insurance money and subsequent FBI sting operation in 2018 that the iconic slippers were returned to their rightful owners. It proves once again that, “There’s no place like home.”

The Children’s Discovery Museum

The interactive exhibits are designed for children aged 12 and younger. Included among the adventures are Treesa the Talking Tree, a dinosaur dig, and Lions and Tigers and Bears exhibit.

The Wizard of Oz Festival

The third week of June every year is set aside to participate in activities that celebrate Judy Garland’s life and career as well as the iconic production of The Wizard of Oz. The three-day festival includes memorable film clips, concerts, and dining.

The Mysterious Parallel Forest

Does your idea of fun include a close encounter of the paranormal kind?

That’s exactly the type of experience many who’ve visited the Parallel Forest in the Wichita Mountains say you’ll find under the canopy of the symmetrically lined red cedars.

Where Is the Parallel Forest?

A five-minute drive south of Meers, OK, on State Route 115 will bring you to the general location of the Parallel Forest. There are no signs indicating you’ve reached your destination, you simply have to look for a cement pad and a stand of cedar trees tucked into the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

The fact that you must rely on your map skills and powers of observation to uncover such a hidden treasure adds to the site’s urban-legend mythology.

What Is the History of the Parallel Forest?

The Parallel Forest’s physical history is completely manmade. That is to say that in 1912, the U.S. Forestry Service requisitioned 16 acres for the planting of cedar trees, which when mature, were to be harvested and used for such practical purposes as fence posts and railings.

The trees were planted in a strictly symmetrical pattern – each tree in every direction was placed exactly six feet apart to keep it from spreading too far out as it grew. Through the years, the trees were saved from the ax because they were eventually included within the boundaries of a reorganized public use area, known as the current wildlife refuge. They’ve maintained their parallel appearance, this grove of 20,000 trees.

What Is the Parallel Forest Legend?

The cedars’ branches, captivated by the wind, creak and sway in quiet unison. Shadowy light forms dimly-recognized shapes that create the backdrop for the imagination to flourish. Growls and moans, cries and howls, disembodied voices and headless visitors are just a few of the experiences visitors have reported over the years.

Do You Dare Visit the Parallel Forest?

There are those who’ve experienced nothing short of the exquisite beauty of nature while venturing into the Parallel Forest. Where do you stand when asked to brush up against the supernatural? Is it an adventure you would dare to encounter?

Manhattan’s Poster House Museum is Dedicated to Graphic Arts

Posters as advertising billboards are graphic art as well as history.

The Poster House Museum at 119 West 23rd Street in the Chelsea neighborhood exhibits posters from around the world.

This is the first museum in the United States to focus on the graphic art of posters from the late 1800s to the present.

Exhibits

The Poster House opened in June of 2019 with a special exhibit of the work of Alphonse Mucha titled “Art Nouveau/Nouvelle Femme”. The exhibit “Designing Through the Wall: Cyan in the 1990s” details the graphic form of using the blue-green cyan for contemporary design. Future exhibits include posters from the 2017 Women’s March and “100 Years of Chinese Posters”. A collection of hand-painted movie posters from Ghana will also be on display.  

The Art Of Advertising

This is a celebration of the art of persuasion using posters to advertise everything from beauty products to concerts, exhibits, and events such as movies or plays. This is where business and commerce meet art and artists. Posters are the artwork of advertising.  A poster must be visually appealing as it usually communicates its message asking the public to buy or participate in an event that will cost money.

The Poster House is a “living archive” of contemporary poster design as well as those from the past. Posters developed from photos and even computer-designed art are also on display. The posters reflect the fashion and morals of different times over a 160 year period. They are part of the pop culture of the past where different print media and techniques were used to create the posters.

Extras

The museum features a gift shop and cafe along with a special children’s exhibition. There is also a classic poster photo booth and a modern digital poster wall.

Let’s Go!

Poster House is open Wednesday through Monday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $12 for adults with children under 18 admitted free. Students and seniors pay only $8.00. This is a new experience for New Yorkers and visitors in a city that offers many museums. 

Featured Article

Visit Platform 9 3/4 For Your Harry Potter Needs

From the well-known Harry Potter series came Platform 9 3/4.

It took root and grew in the hearts and imaginations of people all around the world. Have you found yourself dreaming of visiting the platform and escaping to the wizarding world lately?

PLATFORM 9 3/4 FACTS

  • While the Harry Potter series is a fantasy fiction series, Platform 9 3/4 has been made into a real location to visit. 
  • Platform 9 3/4 was released to the public in 1997 via the first Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
  • King’s Cross Station in London was one of the primary locations set in the books, helping define the series and setting the barrier to the entrance that led students on their journey to Hogwarts and the wizarding world beyond. 
  • Between 2005 and 2012, the famous marker and trolley were relocated all around King’s Cross Station, until finally finding its permanent home between departing platforms 9 and 10, as described in the series. 

THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE VISITING PLATFORM 9 3/4

Any fanatic of Harry Potter only dreams of the day they’re accepted into Hogwarts and able to escape the muggle world by visiting Platform 9 3/4. It’s a dream come true. While we’ve brought the magical world into our homes, we can access parts of that world with simple travel.

Find your way to the platform at King’s Cross Station by taking the London Tube. Whether you’re coming straight from the Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton airport, there is a direct tube link to get you there within an hour. There are also 14 bus routes that give you easy access when attempting to get on the Hogwarts express in time. If you’d rather travel a little more privately, take a taxi and you’ll be there in no time. 

When visiting Platform 9 3/4 you’re encouraged to dress in your house colors to show your spirit for whichever house the sorting hat placed you in. Be sure to make a pit stop at one of the platform stores to pick up some gear before your arrival. Are you in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin? 

Important disclaimer: Muggles – humans – should not attempt to cross the barrier as it remains quite solid to those that don’t harness magic in their family. While getting your letter to Hogwarts is exciting, only true wizards and witches can cross the barrier to board the Hogwarts Express. Once you board the magical train, enjoy your journey to start your classes at Hogwarts school for wizards and witches, located in Scotland. On your ride over, snack on a chocolate frog or some of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

If you’ve made it through Platform 9 3/4, I wish you a great journey in the wizarding world! 

Sources:

Platform 9 3/4 Facts – https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/platform-9-3-4

Getting to King’s Cross Station – https://www.tripsavvy.com/guide-to-kings-cross-train-station-london-4174017

Bayterek Tower: A Symbol of Prosperity for Kazakhstan

Bayterek Tower is a stunning monument and observation tower located in Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan.

From the tower’s notable height to its color and shape, to the golden observatory, every aspect of the tower’s design is steeped in symbolism and celebration of the Kazakh culture.

Symbolism in Numbers

The architect, Akmurza Rustembekov, designed Bayterek Tower with the symbolism of numbers in mind. The tower was built to a height of 97 meters, to celebrate the year 1997, when Nur-Sultan, then Astana, became the capital city of Kazakhstan.

Prior to 1997, the capital of Kazakhstan was Almaty, about 1,300 km to the southwest. The government of Kazakhstan feared that Almaty was too susceptible to damaging earthquakes, and too close to the Chinese border for comfort, and relocated the capital North and East to Astana. In preparation for the new capital’s celebration, construction of the Bayterek Tower began in October 1996. The sparkling golden egg observation tower, spans 22 meters and overlooks the picturesque Kazakh capital from 86 meters above ground. Inside the observation tower sits a wooden globe at the center of a flower with 17 petals to symbolize the world’s religious movements.

Samruk and the Tree of Life

The symbolism that Rustembekov built into tower’s design derives from an old Kazakh legend about the great bird of happiness, Samruk, and the golden egg she laid among the branches of the Tree of Life, a poplar tree. The legend varies based on the region, but it is generally agreed that the egg symbolizes the sun, and is laid by Samruk in the Tree of Life. The sun is later swallowed by the dragon Aydahar, a representation of the light and dark cycles of summer and winter, day and night, good and evil.

Even the name of the tower, Bayterek, is the historic name of the Tree of Life, symbolizing strength and prosperity. As a celebration of the new Kazakh capital, the Bayterek Tower succeeds admirably by combining an uplifting sense of prosperity and bright hopes for the future with profound insight into depths of Kazakh folklore and history.

Sources:

“The Bayterek Tower”. Explore Astana. http://www.astana-kazakhstan.net/attractions-2/culture-and-entertainment/the-bayterek-tower/. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Bayterek Tower”. Astana Hotels. http://www.astanahotels.ru/eng/astana/bayterek.htm%20Bayterek%20Monument. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Why Did Kazakhstan Move Its Capital?” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/askeds/why-did-kazakhstan-move-its-capital. Accessed 23 August 2019.

“Baiterek – A Symbol of Modern Astana”. Advantour. https://www.advantour.com/kazakhstan/astana/bayterek.htm. Accessed 23 August 2019.

The Mysterious Ball’s Pyramid

Ball’s Pyramid is one of the most interesting rock formations in the world.

It is a remnant of the lost continent of Zealandia and home to an almost extinct species of insect. 

The Mysteries of Ball’s Pyramid

According to Atlas Obscura, Ball’s Pyramid is one of the few remaining land formations above sea-level left on the micro-continent of Zealandia. Danny Collins with The Sun explains that Zealandia has all of the major characteristics of a continent, it’s just mostly underwater. Nevertheless, Ball’s Pyramid is actually the world’s tallest volcanic stack on the planet.

It was discovered by Lieutenant Henry Ball of the Royal Navy in 1788. For more than two centuries, it was believed to have no life. Atlas Obscura wrote that in 2001, scientists studying this huge volcanic spire discovered a colony of the Lord Howe Island stick insect that was long thought to have been extinct. Since this time, expeditions have gone back to the island to attempt to repopulate the species in captivity as discussed in this YouTube video on the Australian Museum channel. 

The Massive Peak of Ball’s Pyramid

Coming out of the Pacific Ocean seemingly out of nowhere, Ball’s Pyramid sticks up over 1,800 feet in the air. It is located 23 kilometers from Lord Howe Island. Climbing this volcanic remnant is no easy task. A rock-climbing club from Sydney, Australia was the first to climb Ball’s Pyramid in 1965 according to this YouTube video. Getting to the top is no easy task, making the expeditions to save the Lord Howe Island stick insect all the more difficult. 

The Eighth Continent

According to National Geographic, Zealandia broke away from Australia about 80 million years ago. Today, only seven percent of Zealandia is above sea level. In this seven percent are a number of islands and landmasses much like Ball’s Pyramid. You might recognize the name of Zealandia’s largest landmass, New Zealand. Indeed, the country of New Zealand is the largest area of this micro-continent that is above sea level. Part of what makes Zealandia so interesting is the unique peaks, like Ball’s Pyramid, that poke out of seemingly nowhere. They are, in actuality, part of a much more intriguing continental mass that many people don’t even know exists. 

Red Rocks Amphitheater: A Musician’s Dream Venue

Whether you’re a concert-goer or a nature enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of Red Rock Amphitheatre.

If not, get ready to explore one of the coolest outdoor theaters in the United States.

Visiting Red Rocks

Red Rocks Amphitheatre is part of the 738 acre Red Rocks Park located outside Denver, CO. Here, you can see a diverse environment of plants, animals, and the middle ground between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, giving you the best of both regions. You can even hike up to the amphitheatre. Red Rocks Amphitheatre itself is the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world, and it took more than 200 million years for the rocks that make up the amphitheatre to form. Many great artists from U2 to the Beatles have played in the geological phenomenon. 

The History of Red Rocks Amphitheatre

The theatre itself opened in 1941 and was made a National Historic Landmark in 2015. It can seat just over 9,500 people. Because Mother Nature designed the amphitheatre, it isn’t duplicated anywhere in the world. Consisting of two, 300-foot monoliths called Ship Rock and Creation Rock, this geologically formed outdoor theatre gives the perfect acoustic opportunity for performances. Sitting between these two towering red rocks allows visitors to stargaze at night and get a glimpse of prehistoric times during the day. It even gives the perfect view of the city of Denver.

It all started in the early 1900s when a man named John Brisben Walker dreamed of there one day being performers on a stage that would fit perfectly between the perfect acoustic surrounding of the rocks. He held concerts in a makeshift venue until he attracted the attention of the manager of Denver Parks, George Cramer. From there, the men convinced the city of Denver to buy the area from Walker and build upon his dream.

Denver architect Burnham Hoyt was commissioned to design the theatre under the direction that he would preserve the natural beauty of the park. Although the park was dedicated in 1941, it wasn’t until 1947 that the first annual Easter Sunrise Service took place, and it has attracted the best performers ever since.  

As Unique as it is Historic

Red Rocks Amphitheatre has an incredible history. With its formation to its magical acoustics to the zany things that happen there during shows, the amphitheatre is quite a unique place. The Denver Post shared 75 little-known facts about Red Rocks Amphitheatre that are worth a look. Some of those include:

  • From the first show up until the end of 2016, there had been over 2,700 shows
  • You can see Denver’s airport, which is about 39 miles away, from the top row of the venue
  • The first observed occurrence of lighters in the air happened in 1944 when opera singer Regina Resnik asked the audience to light a match after the lights went out

Worth a Visit for a Show or the Beauty

If you’ve been looking for a place to visit that combines a love of music with a love of nature, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and the park it’s located in, are worth a stop. After all, you can’t go wrong seeing a place that was previously considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.