Midwest turns Wild West : Bull riding for the whole family

In northwestern Ohio where the land is flat, flat, flat and family farms dot the landscape in a scene of bucolic sedateness, the Midwest turns wild west on Saturday nights from October through May. Off State Rte 29, between the Indiana border and Celina, a town with a population of 10,000, is Mack Arena, a non-descriptive rectangular building that one might blow right pass without noticing. Only the white corral-style fencing around one end of the building says animals. Looks can be deceiving. Inside, excitement and a dose of danger crackles. Who knew?

The clues to the wildness inside the industrial corrugate structure start at the dirt parking lot where a pungent odor of animals and leather waft over the assortment of pickup trucks, trailers and cars that gather here every Saturday evening. The announcer’s voice can be heard over the crowd’s din of shouts of encouragement and awe.

The yellow sign near the door touting, “Beware of Bull” is more of a welcome mat than a warning, however.

That’s what Gadling found out a few weeks ago when we came upon the bull riding as an unexpected pleasure of Saturday night’s entertainment–just two hours from Columbus. The allure of the wild west in the Midwest pulled our station wagon into the mix of vehicles.

Although the bull-riding is rough and tumble, the crowd is not. This is family fun where kids are free to hang off fences close to the bull pen for a better look, and any one who wants to give riding a bull a try can plop down money for a go at it.


Cowboy hats and jeans, of course, are part of the scenery.

First, though, comes the professionals who know how to ride these massively muscled beasts. Riding a bull is not a matter of just getting on and letting the gates fly open.

There’s a slew of fussing and positioning in the narrow chute where handlers keep the bull still, the gate closed, and help the rider settle onto the bull’s back.

Then when the rider signals ready with a raise of his hand, the gate is pulled open and whoosh!–out of the chute the bull and rider come for a rollicking, very fast ride.

For a few seconds, dust flies in a whirlwind accompanied by whooping and hollering in a rush of excitement. Once the bull rids itself of the rider, there’s a rush to get the rider out of the way while the announcer calls out the time.

Then the next bull and rider are made ready for their turn in the arena.

The crowd, a mix of people of all ages from grandparents to babies in carriers, visit with each other in between rounds. And, at the end, about 10 p.m., they file out of the building and into their vehicles to pull out of the parking lot into the calm night until next Saturday when the excitement calls them back.

The nuts and bolts of bull riding if you want to give it a go:

  • Jackpot riders (experts) $45
  • Novice riders–$25
  • Practice rides–$15
  • Riders must be 18 or over, although parents can sign a release for younger kids.

Our son rode a sheep as part of the evening’s entertainment. Alas, no photo. He was a hit though since his riding style was to lay along the back of the sheep with his legs hanging over the rump.

By the way, the arena is heated and you can bring in your own coolers. Admission is reasonable.

[all photos by Jamie Rhein]

Largest corn maze in Utah pays tribute to Twilight for a perfect Halloween pairing

Last year American Idol runner-up David Archuleta made it into corn maze fame in Utah. This year “Twilight” gets the honors. Black Island Farms in Syracuse, Utah has mowed its 24-acre maze into four labyrinths that are devoted to the next installment of this teen vampire love story. “New Moon,” also marketed as “Twighlight 2” and scheduled for release November 20, was the inspiration of this intricately rendered seasonal attraction. The efforts have made this maze Utah’s largest.

One of the main sections is the face of Edward (Robert Patterson). The other main section boasts Jacob’s (Taylor Lautner) visage. Mowed labels “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” are also part of the design.

Admittedly, these corn field creations make seasonal pop culture sense. Vampires and Halloween do go together.

For teen girls there’s a certain metaphor here–at least for those who are way into Robert Patterson or the character he plays. Here’s a chance to get lost in his eyes, particularly the eye on the left (can you tell why?), although by the looks of the maze, it may take a while longer to get out of his hair. [See maze after the jump.]

According to the Black Island Farms’ website, the corn fields used for the mazes are animal feed, thus not good for munching as you try to find your way to the exit. For sweet corn, head to the Farmers Market where you’ll also find other fresh vegetables that have been grown here.

The last day for the maze is Saturday, October 31. How perfect is that? For Halloween night, as on other Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, you can head into the mazes armed with glow sticks and flashlights.

If you can’t make it to Utah in the next three weeks, look for a corn maze near you. As Scott posted, mazes have become popular seasonal attractions. Several, like Black Island Farms and Cornbelly’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Fest, where Archuleta graced a corn field last year, also offer Halloween inspired haunted tours.

[Deseret News]

Nativo Lodge offers New Mexico State Fair Package

New Mexico’s State Fair kicked off Friday and to celebrate, the Nativo Lodge is offering a special package. For $129 per night, families of up to four people will receive accommodations (with one king or two double beds), daily breakfast, four one-day passes to the Fair, and one parking pass.

The Nativo Lodge offers spacious rooms decorated with Native American touches. The property features a pool and Jacuzzi, free (and reliable) wi-fi, free parking, and a weekday Happy Hour reception. Rooms with breakfast normally start at $119 per night, so if you plan to visit the Fair, this is a good deal.

The New Mexico State Fair runs through September 27 and costs $7 per day for adults. The Fair showcases Native American, Hispanic, and African American cultures, and includes live music performances, livestock competitions, horse shows, and a rodeo. The Fair is held in northwest Albuquerque, less than 10-minutes by car from the hotel.

Economic consequences: travel with your family

I guess there are some families that genuinely enjoy traveling together. Dozens of people buy out plenty of space in a motel – or line up a few cottages – and arrive in force for some good ol’ fashioned family bonding time. I wouldn’t do it (coordinating travel inside the immediate family is hard enough), but there’s an element that will.

Take out the element that looks forward to a large family trip every year, and you’ll find a few more families at campsites, motels and vacation rentals … though not entirely by choice. Difficult economic conditions are driving some to pool their resources, sacrificing a measure of enjoyment to make their travel dollars as productive as possible. From Hawaii to Maine, prospective travelers are looking for deals for large groups.
TripAdvisor puts the number of families with children vacationing with another family at a third, up substantially from 2008.

Of course, some are trying to put a positive twist on the trend, claiming that the point of these trips isn’t to save money but to spend time together as a family. And, a handful of them mean it. For the rest, let’s see what happens when the economy recovers.

For summer, a banquet of exotic fresh fruits: Bring travel back home

So you’re at home this summer. Your vacation budget is bust. Sure, there are backyard barbeques with friends and family stretching out into summer, but that tropical vacation feels long gone.

Or perhaps, you have never been on a tropical vacation. Perhaps a tropical fruit to you is the canned version of Dole pineapple–the one that waits in your kitchen cabinet.

Hop to it. An exotic experience might be as close as your neighborhood grocery store. As you browse the fruit, section buy those that you haven’t tried before.

Perhaps, they are the odd looking ones. Go head. Pick one up. If you’re heading to a barbeque, bring some with you and give your friends a geography lesson with the bounty. If you’re a parent, pull out a geography book and give your kids a taste of the world.

Here are suggestions and countries where such tastes can be had. I found them in local markets where I’ve lived and traveled, and some of them, in my own backyard.

1. Last year we purchased three dragon fruits in Chinatown in New York City. Dragon fruits, a nickname for pitaya, are cultivated in Vietnam, among other places. Those three brought back memories of our pleasures of first trying them on our first Vietnam visit. Even though I’ve had them elsewhere, I attach them to this Vietnam experience.

2. In Bangkok, we head straight to the fresh coconut stand across from the Regency Park where we always stay. The vendors cut off the tops of coconuts, add a hole and slip in a straw. Sucking out fresh coconut juice is one of my daughter’s favorite treats.

3. Taiwan was the first place I ate a star fruit. A friend of mine had carefully cut one of these slightly sweet fruits into star-shaped slices and arranged them on a plate for a lunchtime dish.

4. Also in Taiwan, on a bus ride to Taroko Gorge, I ate an Asian pear for the first time at a rest stop. The crunchy, refreshing taste is distinct from the pears grown in the U.S. They’re like apples, but not quite.

5. In the Gambia, I was greeted each morning during the rainy season by a tree filled with mangoes that created welcome shade in my backyard. With lack of refrigeration, I ate mangoes morning, noon and night and made mango jam, mango bread and added mango slices to oatmeal. Since the season for that tree was so short, I didn’t have time to get tired of them. Not all mangoes are the same. I prefer the ones with juicy flesh and very little strings to get caught in my teeth.

6. If you’ve ever eaten bananas where they are grown, particularly the red ones that are not much bigger than a fat finger, you’ll have a hard time adjusting to the Cavendish variety most common to grocery stores. The Gambia also was a worthy introduction into banana wealth.

7. Also, in the Gambia, papaya trees were one of the easiest fruit trees to grow. Thus, papayas were everywhere, and almost all year long. Although I like them, I suggest squirting a bit of lime on your slice to add a bit of zip to the flavor.

8. The first time I ate a pomelo, my great aunt and uncle brought one back from California. As a young girl, the size amazed me. It’s the largest citrus fruit there is. Before I ate it, I took it to school for show and tell.

9. Singapore is a fruit lovers delight. Even though we had a durian tree in our backyard, we let other people have the fruit that is so stinky it’s banned on subways. I have had durian ice cream and found it appealing.

10. I first developed a taste for rambutans that we bought from the market in Singapore. One isn’t enough.

Of course, if you happen to live in the tropics, relish what you have. You’re lucky. You get the goods fresh off the trees.