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Happy Trails for a stressfree year

Finding happiness is easier than you might think. Happiness is all around us, and all we have to do is hop in the car and hit the road to find it. Actually, there is more to true happiness than just jumping in the car, but for many people, self-actualization does involve discovering new places, new cultures, beautiful nature and secret little hideaways. Kathleen Walls, publisher of American Roads Magazine, and David Leonhardt, publisher of Your Daily Dose of Happiness share a few of their favorite "Happy Trails," hoping you, too, will find happiness there. MOJAVE DESERT For a Canadian, snow is no big deal. This year, we've been shoveling it since early November.

But to find snow in a desert, that really made my eyes pop. It was noon, and it had rained in Palm Springs, California, the previous evening. But the famous Mojave Desert is actually quite high up in the mountains, and the rain fell there as snow. Just how amazing was it to see snow tucked up against the north side of a cactus? Amazing enough that, through my jetlag, I delivered a mostly impromptu speech on the sighting at my Toastmasters club.

If you want to see snow sidling up to a cactus - what a photo op! - head for the desert in January or February, and make sure to choose a desert with a high altitude. The Mojave Desert proved most effective for this. Now, should I mention the Joshua trees? YELLOWKNIFE It really is hard to fill one's eyes with wonder, what with Star Wars and The Lord of The Rings and so many special effects that make a person just want to yawn. Then, every now and then, one comes across something truly unique, something that actually does make your eyes pop with wonder. Such is Yellowknife, a town built on a peninsula of rock in the Arctic. What is unique about this town are the houses in the old city.

There are some amazing mansions hoisted up on the rock. Well, at least some corners are on the rock. Others are on stilts one or two stories high. Each house is unique, and so are the various contraptions to keep them level on this uneven land. (Why would anybody choose this spot to settle in the first place, with so much flat land all around?) The second amazing feature is the shanty-town shacks scattered among the mansions. In every other city, the slums and the ritzy parts of town are separate, but not in Yellowknife.

I found that a truly stereotype- shattering sight. LUSK CAVERNS, GATINEAU PARK Happiness is spelunking. Let's face it, you've done a million vacations on the road and in the air and on the water.

How many have you done underground? Two, in my case. Once in Pennsylvania on a boat, and once in Gatineau Park, in Quebec. If you think of a cave as something cavernous, these don't qualify. The two caves are merely a passage for a stream that flows underground for a few yards.

The first cave is just right for little children, who can wade in the gently-flowing water. The second cave is a little more challenging, as the water pools into a miniature underground lake. In the spring, when the water is high, there's not much room for a head to pass between the water and the roof of the cave. Of course, you have to be daring to brave the cold spring water.

June is a great time to visit; by August there's not as much water. And can there be anything happier than splashing in water while exploring a cave? Happiness is watching the sunrise over Mobile Bay. And what better time to visit the city by the bay than Mardi Gras, when the historic city puts on it's party face.

This traditional celebration was brought to Mobile by the French even before it was established in New Orleans. That history is preserved at the Mardi Gras Cottage Museum located on the grounds of Oakleigh, an antebellum mansion located in the historic section of this fun city. Centuries of Mardi Gras history are packed into this little cottage.

Be sure to visit Oakleigh while you are there. In fact Mobile is packed with great historic sites from the French Fort Conte to the U.S.

S Alabama, These sites have been carefully preserved or restored Take time away from the celebrating to visit Bellingrath Gardens and home, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Weeks Bay Preserve, and Mobile Botanical Gardens (which will introduce you to the ecological diversity of Mobile as well). Then there are all of those parades. All of which are guaranteed to make you feel good. MACON GEORGIA: SPORTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION For some people, sports equate happiness. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame's 46th Induction Class, which will be held February 7-8 2003, will includes two female pioneers, arguably baseball's greatest home run hitter, one of football's best place kickers, a Peach State high school coaching legend, and one of Georgia's most celebrated golfers. Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is the newest of Macon's attractions housing memorabilia of pro and amateur athletes in all fields.

You can even experience the thrill of driving in a Nascar event without the danger. Climb into a racecar and take the wheel in a fast paced race. Hear the sound when you ram the fence. Experience the thrill of the track. Then get the results of your foray into professional racecar driving. Depending on how well you drive, the results may or my not make you happy.

The museum is sure to be a crowd pleaser for sports fans and non-fans alike FORT VALLEY GEORGIA: FESTIVALOF CAMELLIAS Flowers are a sure mood lifter, so don't miss the Festival of Camellias at Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley Georgia encompasses the entire month of February when camellia blooms are at their peak.(Something is out of place in this sentence.) The flowers begin to show color in October and continue through late March.

Not only camellias show their beautiful faces here. Each season provides a new delight for the eyes with roses, flowering bulbs, day lilies and much more. Even the path winding throughout the gardens is unusual. Scattered randomly through it you will find ancient millstones gathered from middle Georgia.

Also along the path you spot granite mile stones from the Old Wire Road witch ran from New Orleans to Washington, D. C. The road was so named because it was the route of the first telegraph lines in the southeast. After you have absorbed nature's outdoor offerings, visit the two museums housing the largest public collection of Boehm Porcelains. Here you will find nature reproduced so exquisitely you will sometimes think you are looking on a live bird or a blooming flower.

ATHENS GEORGIA: TASTE OF ATHENS Food is sure to make everyone happy and Taste of Athens, a community fund raiser, is sure to make you feel good all over. You get to sample all of the exotic restaurants Athens Georgia abounds in all under on roof and contribute to a good cause at the same time this February 23th. Athens' restaurants are hard to beat both in number and in excellent cuisine. Harry Bissett's New Orleans Cafe and Oyster Bar, where you experience the ambience as well as the authentic food of "The Big Easy". It's housed in an old bank building and the mellow brick walls are reminiscent of some of the French Quarter's courtyard restaurants. The majority of the food served here is spicy, for example The Blackened Redfish, gumbo and Crawfish Etoffee, but there are enough less heated dishes to suit any taste.

Any festival that brings all of these culinary delights together makes me happy. It looks like for David, happiness is scenery, and for Kathleen, it's festivals. Whatever it is about traveling that turns you on, now's the time to hit the trail.

So "Happy Trails to you until we meet again." .

By: Kathleen Walls and David Leonhardt

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