Monday, November 15, 2021

 America’s Christmas City, Bethlehem, PA

Each year, throngs of people travel thousands of miles to spend the holidays in locations that offer great views, attractions, activities, dining, shopping and best of all, an immersion into the true holiday spirit. They can find no better destination than Bethlehem, PA, declared the official “Christmas City USA” in 1937 and is on a tentative list for declaration as a UNESCO site.


On April 2, 1741, the Moravian Church, a pre-Reformation religious sect and the world’s oldest organized Protestant religion, received a deed for 500-acres of Pennsylvania land at the juncture of the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek. On Christmas Eve of the same year they met, in a two-room cabin functioning as a stable and a barn, in thanks and celebration. Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the colony’s patron visiting from Germany, named the settlement “Bethlehem”. The settlements’ location in the heart of the fertile Lehigh Valley and the industriousness of the Moravian community guaranteed success for more than a century.


Historic Moravian Bethlehem was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 2012, inclusive of 20 historic sites dated 1741-1845. The Moravians were a closed religious community that included blacks and Native Americans. Members worked at more than 35 trades in the self-sufficient community. A self-guided walking tour consists of more than 22 locations. Visitors can experience an old-fashioned holiday with modern elements. Decked out for the holidays, with more than 50 events and immersive activities, you can’t fail to feel the seasonal spirit.


The north side of the city contains the historic area and numerous Christmas-themed tours are offered. Visitors can take guided tours led by costumed docents, carriage, horse-drawn trolley, walking or custom tours designed for your group. The district is decorated with illuminated Christmas trees and storefronts make great viewing as you stroll along. Along the trail you must stop in the working Blacksmith Shop, the 1740’s Apothecary Museum, the 1746 Moravian Bookstore and the 1806, the oldest continuously operated bookshop in the world and the Central Moravian Church designated one of the Ten Greatest Places to Reflect on Christmas Eve. Special note should be taken of the 6-ft. Moravian star suspended inside the church belfry. 


The Johann Goundie’s Federal-style home built in 1810. It is the oldest brick home in the city. Goundie was a Moravian brewer and a house tour recounts the history of beer brewing in the area. It is filled with fascinating information and artifacts including the fact that ale was sold to wedding guests and the money was given as a gift to the bride, hence “bride ale”, or bridal.


The 1741 Gemeinhaus is home to the Moravian Museum. It was a communal gathering place and housed the Saal, a place for worship. The enormous structure, 94-ft. by 32-ft., remains the nation’s largest log building in continuous use and the oldest building in Bethlehem. A Christmas tour includes examples of the earliest Christmas trees, wooden pyramids with tree boughs attached to them, decorated with candles, apples and Bible verses and holiday Putz scenes. Putz scenes recount the story of the birth of Christ in miniature from the Annunciation to the Flight into Egypt.


Three adjoining houses make up the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. The themed galleries often take the form of room settings. Holiday exhibits feature a series of individually decorated trees. Permanent exhibits include the country’s largest collection of 1830-1930 dollhouses, showcasing 40 houses and more than 5,400 furnishings.


From November 19, 2021 - January 9, 2022 the city will offer the Trees of Historic Bethlehem Tour. The twenty-six trees are adorned with decorations inspired by holiday movies Trees were decorated by the 

Bethlehem Garden Club and are on display in five historic locations.


The Bethlehem By Night Christmas Tour is extremely popular and is the ideal way to see the city. It includes a visit to the iconic Moravian Star set atop South Mountain. The stars were originally used in Moravian classrooms to exemplify geometric principles and later as symbols of the nativity. The first star was a $460 wooden construction. Bethlehem Steel donated a second star. The current LED-lit star is 91-ft. tall, is illuminated nightly and can be seen for 20-miles.


Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem® is recognized as one of the top holiday markets in the U.S. The annual market will be open November 19 -December 20th. Artisans and vendors are both indoors and outdoors and the experience is enhanced by performances and scheduled activities. 

Friday, November 5, 2021


Fort Smith, Arkansas Bass Reeves Statue
Fort Smith, Arkansas Bass Reeves Statue

Fort Smith, Wild, Wild West Arkansas

  • “There is no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith.”
No alt text provided for this imagePeople tend to forget that America’s frontier changed over time. The earliest European settlements were along the coast and gradually settlers and explorers, following Indian trails and waterways, moved inland. Early 18th-century events opened the Louisiana Territory and made western Arkansas the frontier, the last stop between “civilization” and Indian Territory and from 1817 until 1897 Fort Smith was the westerly outpost of law and order.

There is no archeological evidence that there were permanent native villages in the area prior to the establishment of Fort Smith in 1817. It was situated at what was known as La Belle Pointe, where the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers met, and named after General Thomas Smith. The log structure was 132-ft. square with 10-ft. walls and was tasked with maintaining peace among the Indian tribes, preventing whites from encroaching on the Indian Territories and keeping Arkansas Territory settlers from harm. The US Army abandoned the first fort in 1824.

Cathay Williams, Buffalo Soldiers

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Urged by white settlers work was begun on a new fort in 1838. The new fort was built of stone and surrounded by an eight-ft. stone wall. Two years later, future US president, Col. Zachery Taylor, took command and in 1845 it became a supply depot. During the Civil War the Confederates held the fort until they abandoned it in August of 1863. Union forces then held it for the remainder of the war. Black regiments were stationed there and it was a base for U S Colored Troop recruitment. 

In March of 1871 the Federal government relocated the Western Arkansas Federal District Court to Fort Smith and installed William Story as the first judge. In March of 1875 President US Grant replaced Story with Judge Isaac Parker and Fort Smith’s most famous era began. Parker presided over the court for the next 21-years dispensing justice to western Arkansas and the Indian Territory. It is documented that he handled an average of two cases daily and throughout his career a total of approximately 12,800 cases. Parker’s 74,000-sq. mile jurisdiction was the province of his deputy marshals, 65 of which were killed during his tenure. At the end of Parker’s era the area was carved into more than 70 separate jurisdictions.

Possibly the most famous of Parker’s federal marshals was a former slave named Bass Reeves. Born in Arkansas in 1838 his owner, William Reeves, moved to Texas when Bass was 8. At the outbreak of the Civil War Bass was forced to accompany his owner’s son George to war as his body servant. Bass took this opportunity to flee to Indian Territory and live among the Creeks and Seminoles and learn their traditions and languages. 

Because of these skills, his ability with a gun, his tenacity and fearlessness, at the age of 38 he was named the third African American marshal and the first west of the Mississippi. He was ambidextrous and was an expert marksman with either hand but with all his abilities he could neither read nor write and after having someone read him the warrants he would memorize them. During his 32-years as a deputy he is credited with arresting 3,000 miscreants and killing 14 in the line of duty. Bass stood 6’2” tall, weighed less than 200-lbs. and arrested blacks and whites alike. Records indicate that in 1882 Bass arrested Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen, once brought in 19 horse thieves at once and in 1902 arrested Benny Bass, his son. Benny had murdered his wife and run away but Bass arrested him and brought him back for trial. He was sentenced to 20-years in Leavenworth.

When Reeves marshaling career ended in 1907 he joined the police force in Muskogee, Oklahoma where he died in 1910. In November of 2011 the bridge over the Arkansas River connecting Muskogee and Fort Gibson was named in honor of Reeves who served longer than any other US Deputy Marshal and captured more criminals. Bass Reeves’ story has been told and retold but the real man rarely receives the credit. The movies using elements of Bass’ life include Hang Em High and The Naked Spur.

On May 26, 2012 Ross Pendergraft Park became the home of a 12-ft. bronze, equestrian, statue, the Bass Reeves Legacy Monument. Reeves, rifle at the ready, is accompanied by his faithful dog. The $300,000 sculpture was created by Harold Holden in Norman, Oklahoma and traveled with an escort of law officers from more than one dozen different agencies, the 168-miles. Reeves’ fame in the area is such that the statue was funded completely by private donations. If you are in the city at just the right time you might encounter Bass in the person of re-enactor Baridi Nokikeli. He brings the man to life in a way that can only occur in Fort Smith. Fort Smith will be the home of the planned U.S. Marshals’ Museum that will honor the contribution of all the marshals. 

 Just as Parker’s marshals were legendary, so too were the criminals they captured and incarcerated at Fort Smith. The worst of the worst fled into Indian Territory because it was so vast and odds of capture appeared slim. The court also had jurisdiction over Arkansans, blacks who were Native American freedmen and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Indian Territory. Although Parker was known as “hanging judge” he was considered fair, was a believer in Indian rights and never attended a hanging.

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 Cherokee Bill was born Crawford Goldsby in 1876 to a Buffalo Soldier and a mixed Cherokee and black mother. Bill’s father abandoned the family but at the age of 10 his mother managed to send him to Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Industrial School for two years. Stories differ but it is generally believed that he shot his first man at age 12 and soon after joined up with the Cook Brothers for a string of robberies and murders. During his brief career he both led his own gang and rode with other notorious felons such as Billy the Kid. 

Bill was betrayed by friends for the $1500 reward, captured and sentenced to death. During his appeal Bill attempted to escape from cell #20 and killed a jail attendant. It was for this murder that he received an additional death sentence and was hung on March 17, 1896. When asked if he had any last words he is quoted as saying, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”

Rufus Buck Gang.

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Lewis Davis, Sam Sampson, Maoma July, Lucky Davis and Rufus Buck, all Creek Indian and most mixed black, formed an infamous teenaged gang of criminals who robbed and raped both blacks and whites in the territory. Their first murder was that of a US Deputy Marshal on July 28, 1895 and their viciousness was such that marshals, the Creek Indian Lighthorse Police set out to catch them. They were tracked down on August 10, 1895 and only surrendered when they had no more ammunition. Parker sentenced all five to death and they were hanged as a group on July 1, 1896.

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 Fort Smith National Historic Site is a 46-acre complex that includes the 1987 Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Overlook, remains of the first fort, the second fort with four interpreted historic sites and a reconstruction of the Initial Point Marker.

The Initial Point Marker dates from 1858 when a stone was placed to indicate the boundary between Arkansas and Indian Territories. Whites were forbidden to settle west of the line until 1890. The original marker is on display inside the museum.

The Barracks-Courthouse –Jail is the must see site. In 1849 the first barracks burned down and the current one is the second built there. In 1871 the army left the fort and the next year the Western District of Arkansas moved in. Here Parker presided from 1875-1889.

Tours begin in the Visitor Center with a brief orientation film and continue into the basement jail referred to as “Hell on the Border.” The jail is set up as if the prisoners just left and an audio track provides their voices and conversations as if they were ghosts. The upper level of the building features a museum that is walk among jail cells and display cases that feature artifacts, videos, photographs and text. Highlights of the museum are a huge photo of the arrest of Cherokee Bill and items used during his failed escape attempt. Parker’s courtroom is also on the tour as well as displays around the Trail of Tears.

Recreated Gallows. photo by legendsofAmerica.

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A recreated 1886 gallows is located in an enclosure 150-ft. from the courtroom. Six men at a time, making this the largest federal court gallows, could be executed simultaneously. In 1897 the original was burned down.

 Outside of the NHP there is much to see in the city and walking tours have been developed. Belle Grove Historic District encompasses 22-sq. blocks of structures built over a 150-year period representing nearly all the forms of architecture used in American construction. The best way see the Downtown area is to follow a trail of 12 historic plaques that, with the use of a free application on your cell phone, gives visitors access to video and full narration.

Miss Laura's Bordello

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Fort Smith never brags, it doesn’t have to. This is historic travel central and everywhere you look it’s a hands-on experience. No other city in the country has a Visitor Center located inside a 1903 bordello owned by Laura Zeigler in the heart of “The Row,” the seven house Red Light District. It was known as the “Queen of the Row,” with nine of the most refined ladies, gambling, dancing, socializing and champagne. Miss Laura’s office was downstairs and gentlemen paid her $3.00 for a token to “spend time” with a lady or $5.00 to spend the entire evening. Laura kept $2.00 and the woman received $1.00. Laura paid $600 for the house and sold it in 1911 for $47,000.

The wooden, baroque Victorian, building is furnished in Victorian elegance complete with stained glass windows. The muted green exterior is its original color. On the second level the rooms of the girls are designated with a a transom over each door inscribed with a name. Throughout the house there are display cases with personal belongings and memorabilia from the era. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. 

John Drennen, from Elizabeth, PA and David Thompson began a company in the Fort Smith area in the early 19th-century. In 1836 they purchased land, established what is now the city of Van Buren and relocated. Drennen began construction of a home in 1836 and the house remained in the family until it became the property of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith in 2005 making it the oldest home in the state continuously owned by a single family. 

A tour of the 26-acre site begins in the Visitor Center with interpretive panels on Wyatt Earp, Bass Reeves and women’s history. A short walk takes you to the five-story, dogtrot house that began as a basic one-room structure. The house underwent a $5-million restoration and has been returned to its original colors. The furnishings are 100 percent original and include a 1748-64 tall case clock complete with parchment scroll that attests to its provenance. 

The house has strong links to the Revolution and Civil War and the Underground Railroad (UGRR). In 1850 John, his wife and her 14-year-old slave girl stopped at Pittsburgh’s Monongahela Hotel. Some of the free black staff at the hotel were part of the UGRR and with their assistance she escaped. Accounts tell us that she asked that a damaged steamer trunk be repaired. As the luggage was removed from the hotel she slipped out and disappeared, it is believed, to Canada. The incident was big news at the time and the story was printed in a Pittsburgh newspaper and reprinted in Douglass’ “The North Star.” The Drennens’ trunk was returned.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Smooth Traveler in Richmond, VA   

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”  Matthew 24:6

Kehinde Wiley, one of America’s foremost African American artists, visited an exhibition of his works in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and was stricken by the Confederate statues, and what they represent, that line nearby Monument Avenue.  He conceived of a monumental sculpture, Rumours of War, as a response that would enhance the country’s story by placing people of color into the narrative and serving as a reminder that our cultural wars have not ended. Since that time the Confederate statues have come down and the “war” has expanded to include political, social and historical issues. The sculpture expresses Richmond’s recognition of and commitment to societal change through art.

Wiley’s 27-ft. tall, 16-ft. long, work, situated in the sculpture garden of the VMFA, is of a contemporary Black male astride a horse. The bronze statue is on a marble and granite base and provides a perfect photo op. #kehindewiley

On view inside the museum until September 6, 2021 is the new exhibit, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse. This outstanding exhibit incorporates music, photography, film and art to present aspects of southern tradition and cultural patterns as expressed by various artists. The exhibit opens with videos of Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit”. #vmfa

Richmond’s Jackson Ward district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and positioning itself squarely at the heart of Richmond’s history. The district was home to free blacks prior to the Civil War, known as Little Africa, and grew around the black churches. It was named after Stonewall Jackson. After the war the area continued to thrive and by 1900 it was considered both Black Wall Street and the country’s Cradle of Black Capitalism. Along with the district’s 7 banks and 300 businesses it was also home to Virginia Union University formed in 1896. The university buildings date from 1900. @VAUnion1865

Walking the Ward is a history tour guided by longtime resident Gary Flowers enhanced by personal insight and anecdotes into the district at several tour stops. The 90-minute tour departs from the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia.

A highlight of the tour is a visit to the Maggie Lena Walker National Historic Site, the home in which she lived from 1909 until 1934. Maggie, the daughter of an ex-slave, founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and became the first female bank president in the US and tireless civil rights advocate. Tours of her Victorian home are offered and exhibit 90% original furniture and personal items. A 10-ft. bronze sculpture of Maggie L. Walker stands in a Memorial Plaza near her home. Ten benches surrounding the statue relate her lifetime achievements.

Famous tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was born in Richmond. On a return visit he witnessed children attempting to cross the street at a dangerous intersection. He then purchased a traffic signal, the first in Jackson Ward. A statue was erected in his honor near the spot. His life-sized statue has danced down a staircase since 1973.  

Richmond’s Mending Walls Project is the creation of Hamilton Glass and 30 public artists from all ethnicities sparked by the political climate. Their goal is to paint a series of murals that address current issues and spur community conversations and personal connections throughout the city. A location map is available on the website.

President and Artistic Director Janine Bell founded the Elegba Folklore Society more than 30 years ago to infuse Richmond’s black history into the city’s cultural and historic landscape and fostering pride in the community. Elegba Society offers unique history tours, performances and events. The Elegba Gallery features African artifacts, educational materials, clothing and jewelry for sale. Specialized tours can be arranged.

Bare Soul Yoga, a community wellness collective, was established by Ashley Williams as a place for the black community to heal physically, emotionally, culturally and spiritually.  The Collective holds classes, hosts events and lectures on all aspects of self-care. Access to services is available online.

The American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar Iron Works seeks to tell the story of the Civil War across race, gender and nationality through video, colorized photographs, displays, first-person narratives and greater than 500 artifacts. This museum is well worth a visit because of its holistic approach to history. The museum was constructed within the existing walls of Tredegar Iron Works, the South’s largest wartime facility in the 1860s and is architecturally stunning.

Richmond’s Quirk Hotel is one of the city’s newest and trendiest hotels. It is a full service boutique hotel situated inside a historic department store building that artfully blends modern amenities with original elements including incredibly high ceilings and original maple floors. Highlights of a stay here are two on-site art galleries, rooftop bar and lobby restaurant. The hotel has an ideal location and is walking distance to restaurants, shopping and historic Jackson Ward.

                  Travel + Leisure named Richmond one of the “50 Best Places to Travel in 2021”.  #visitrichmondva


Dining Southern Style Suggestions:

Soul Taco

Lillie Pearl

Perly’s   https://

Ms Girlee’s Kitchen

Southern Kitchen

Brenner Pass


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Paradise on Broadway !


                  Paradise Square, a new musical, will debut on Broadway at the beginning of 2022. A creative team including choreographer Bill T. Jones craft a tale of the tenuous existence of those who inhabited Manhattan’s infamous Five Points neighborhood in 1863. : @blktheatronline

                  Irish immigrants and African Americans both free born and self-emancipated via the Underground Railroad inhabited five Points. The two ethnic groups, both considered barely on the social scale, established a community bound together through intermarriage and cultural exchange. Traditional music and dance, juba and step dancing, blended and together and created new musical forms. Tap dancing is said to have begun here.

                  Five Points was so named because it was located where a trio of intersecting streets, Anthony, Cross and Orange, formed five corners. In early colonial times Collect Pond covered the area. In the 1770s the polluted pond was drained into the Hudson River. When the land was reclaimed cheap wooden houses were constructed and the marginalized, poor, downtrodden and criminal began to populate the area. It was the location of the city’s first free black settlement. These factors were a perfect equation for the proliferation of gangs.

                  The Civil War was a defining moment for Five Points and would destabilize the neighborhood and put an end to the harmonious existence between the Irish and the African Americans. Lincoln established the first Federal Draft. The poor had to serve but there was a $300 exemption fee ($6,000 today) that only the wealthy could afford. African Americans as non-citizens were exempt from the draft. The Irish were incensed and initially turned on the elite but their anger quickly pivoted and targeted blacks. The New York Draft Riots raged for four nights in July of 1863 until 4,000 federal troops arrived. It is estimated that more than 1,000 blacks were killed.

                  Paradise Square is a musical drama that presents social history as a snapshot of a time when racial harmony appeared possible and the circumstances that altered life as they knew it.

                  Support Black Theater and get tickets as soon as they go on sale.

View a promotional video:  

Virginia Beach, A Destination for All Seasons

Virginia Beach, A Destination for All Seasons 

“The six and twentieth of Aprill, about foure a clocke in the morning, we descried the Land of Virginia: the same day wee entred into the Bay of Chesupioc” Honorable Gentleman, Master George Percy.

                  On April 26, 1607 three English ships docked in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and placed a wooden cross on the beach. They named the site of the first landing Cape Henry in honor of Prince Henry of Wales. Approximately 18,000 indigenous Native Americans, the Chesepians, who had inhabited the region for thousands of years, greeted the settlers. Fourteen days later they relocated upstream to the more easily defended Jamestown Island and established the first permanent English settlement. Based on this early history Virginia Beach can lay claim to being the first tourist destination in the

Virginia Beach is a year round destination that offers activities from history to adventure and is suitable for everyone from solo travelers to families. The resort boasts a 3-mile boardwalk, originally constructed of wood in 1888, that is wheelchair accessible, and 35-miles of oceanfront and bay beaches. The boardwalk is filled with restaurants, accommodations, attractions, art, unique museums all with great views. Grommet Island Beach Park and Playground, the country’s first beach playground created for all ages and physical abilities, is situated on the south end of the boardwalk. @visitvabeach

Individual cottage accommodations gave way to the first of the luxury hotels in 1893. In 2021 the newest of the deluxe properties, Delta Hotels by Marriott Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites made its debut. The hotel is designed to be a destination in itself and provide an ideal location from which to launch daytrips and area explorations. Artfully decorated public and private spaces, in blues, tans and golds, are reminiscent of the sun, the sky and the Chesapeake. 

                  The only beachfront hotel on the Chesapeake Bay, the Delta Hotels by Marriott Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites, offers 295 suites located on its own private beach. Additional amenities include a 24-7 state-of-the-art fitness center, exterior pool, kayak and bike rentals, and parking. The Tin Cup Kitchen + Oyster Bar, the property’s iconic eatery, offers a prodigious daily menu of fresh oysters from all the regions of VA. The food here and the signature cocktail, the Tin Cup Smash, are highlights of your stay and are not to be missed.

                  Near the hotel is the 2,888-acre First Landing/ Seashore State Park, the most visited state park in VA. Ironically the park was constructed by an all-African American unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps but African Americans were refused entrance to the park. Visitors can avail themselves of the 1.25 beachfront, cypress swamp, dunes, salt marsh and 19-mile interpretive trail. 

                  VA Beach has more than 200-miles of trails and many of those trails include new ways to experience beer. The larger Virginia Beach Beer Trail encompasses three self-guided trails, Bike, Brew and Arts, Brew and History Trail and Family Fun Trail. Each trail has a distinctive, downloadable guides. 

                  One of the most awesome things about VA Beach is the ability to go whale watching in the winter months during their annual breeding migration. The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and Rudee Tours offer boat tours that promise wildlife sightings

                  Virginia Beach is poised to become a center for historic research on and collection and dissemination of resources on regional African American culture. Situated in a historically rich area the city serves as a springboard to explore the colonial history of settlers, Native Americans and African Americans. Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, as founder and chairman of the Virginia African American Cultural Center (VAACC) is tasked with crafting and implementing a vision for the transmission of those stories, transcending race, that formed VA Beach specifically and Virginia in general.



                The VAACC will be erected on a 4.8-acre parcel in the center of 7 historically significant African American neighborhoods. The current design is for a multi-purpose structure that includes exhibition areas, a rotunda, artist studios, meeting, research and classrooms. Ongoing programs will showcase performances, exhibitions, trails and special events. In March 2021 the VAACC inaugurated a 13-site Self-Guided Tour of African American History in Virginia Beach. The tour highlights sites across 14 historic African American neighborhoods within Virginia Beach. A brochure is available.

                  Superlative sunrises and sunsets are woven into the fabric of VA Beach. You can begin or end your trip with one of these awesome sights. Little Island Park is a great place to enjoy the sunrise (, or you can settle down on Chesapeake Bay Beach for a life-altering sunset.