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California: Plumas County claims fall color crown this weekend

If you haven't explored California's Shasta Cascade region, this is a great time to go. Fall colors are reported to be at peak or approaching peak in Plumas, Lassen and Siskiyou counties, areas in the northern part of the state rich in national forests and parklands.

The color show is in full force in places south of Susanville, says the Awesome Autumn report run by Plumas County's tourism council.

One recommended route starts in the town of Quincy where an English maple whose "orangeish/pinkish leaves were at peak" this week, the report says.

The drive continues along winding back roads to La Porte (population 26) to see the yellow glow of big-leaf maples and the red tones of dogwood along the way. 

The Plumas County Fall Color Tour Map is handy for planning a road trip and identifying leaves and trees. In this area, willows and black cottonwoods also bring out the gold; Indian rhubarb and mountain dogwood add reddish-orange tinges.

Other good bets for color this weekend: The Bizz...

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Bainbridge Island: Where Seattle goes for R&R

Bainbridge Island, 35 minutes by ferry from the Seattle waterfront, is an escape from city grit.

For locals, the island (population 23,196) is a haven for affluent commuters. For visitors, it's an easy day trip with 30 miles of trails, seven wineries and -- as this "A Minute Away" video below shows -- plenty of boats and boat folk.

Once the ferry has pulled into Eagle Harbor, it's an easy walk up (perhaps a quarter of a mile) Olympic Drive Southeast to Winslow Way East, the main drag of the tiny town of Winslow.

There the diversions begin with the curvy Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (550 Winslow Way East; [206] 842-4451), which opened in June 2013 and specializes in contemporary works with a regional focus. Then come the upscale restaurants and shops, a few of which I tried while in Seattle for a story on Pike Place Market.

Some spots I liked:

Blackbird Bakery (210 Winslow Way East; [206] 780-1322), which has been serving baked goods, soups, quiche and such since 1999.

I bought a hat...

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Father and son turn dream into homemade dark ride

Countless kids and plenty of adults have dreamed of building their own theme park ride.

Even with an endless supply of creativity, hard work, ingenuity and determination, the dream remains a long-shot undertaking that few ever attempt and fewer still ever achieve.

Scott and Ashton D’Avanzo dreamed that dream after one fateful trip to Disneyland and turned it into reality, building a full-fledged theme park ride in the two-car garage of their family home.

The result is Mystic Motel, a truly amazing homemade dark ride and haunted maze that the father of six and his fifth-grade son built in their Southern California home.

"I really wanted a roller coaster, but you can do more with a dark ride," Ashton said.

Tucked inside the garage and the enclosed courtyard of their suburban home, Mystic Motel is the last thing you'd expect to find in Ladera Ranch, a master planned bedroom community in an unincorporated part of Orange County near Mission Viejo.

D’Avanzo, a 39-year-old casino game...

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Some Las Vegas wedding chapels are turning away same-sex couples

Although same-sex marriage became legal on Oct. 9 in Nevada, some Las Vegas wedding chapels are refusing to perform the marriages.

Those places are, the American Civil Liberties Union says, breaking the law.

An ACLU official on Thursday criticized what he said are “a small number” of for-profit wedding chapel owners who are refusing to perform such ceremonies because of their religious beliefs. 

“That’s not religious freedom,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s discrimination.”

On Oct. 9, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down the Nevada’s ban on gay matrimony. Since then, a handful of chapel operators have publicly opposed such unions.

“I’m not going to perform it,” said Dolly de Leon, owner of Vegas Wed Chapel. “I believe that I cannot be forced to perform a wedding.  I cannot ... because of my faith, because of my belief.”

De Leon, a licensed minister since 1979, said she realizes her...

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Texas: $2,900 for dinner and a swig of rare 50-year-old Scotch

To hear Ryan Roberts tell it, Balvenie Fifty, Cask 4567 had "something different about it." Whatever made this 1963 Scotch whiskey remarkable -- how the barrel was put together or a quirk in the aging? -- the manager at Cullen's restaurant in Houston knew he had to have a bottle.

And he will. Roberts plans a meal Nov. 15 for a dozen guests who pay $2,900 each to sample the single malt Scotch whiskey with the man who sealed it in its original cask half a century ago, malt master David Stewart.

"For Scotch lovers, this is nirvana," Roberts says. Seven people have already bought a seat at the table.

How rare is the bottle? For starters there are only 131 bottles of the stuff on the planet, each valued at $38,000. Of those, only 15 are coming to the United States, he says, and most of those will go to collectors.

Add the fact that Stewart, whose legendary career spans more than 50 years, will fly from Scotland to oversee the meal and the tasting and ... maybe it's one of those...

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3,700-pound sculpture you can sit on is flown up to Palm Springs tram

The Palm Springs Art Museum on Wednesday moved a 3,700-pound carved granite bench up to its new perch at 8,500 feet on a patio at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway high above the desert city.

It may be "one of the few pieces of public art at this elevation in the nation," a museum statement  says.

The bench, by artist Bruce Beasley, is called "New Horizon" and was flown by helicopter. It sits at the north patio of the tramway's Mountain Station in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Though it's a work of art, visitors may pause to sit on it and enjoy the view.

The sculpture was a gift from Palm Springs philanthropist Bradford W. Bates to mark the museum's 75th anniversary and the tram's 50th anniversary.

"I wanted to contribute something significant that might offer the casual visitor a deeper understanding and appreciation of the area," Bates said in a statement.

He's also a founding member of the museum's new Architecture and Design Center which will make its debut Nov. 9.

Beasley's work is...

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