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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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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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Deal: Want to take a cruise but don't have time? Try a quickie trip

Cruise Line International Assn. sent out some information last week about the value of mini-cruises. What caught my eye was how short and how cheap some of the getaways could be. You can take a West Coast overnight cruise for about $100 per person, less than what you might pay for a nice hotel room.

The deal: Beach lovers who want to go east can find three-day sailings from Florida to the Caribbean at low prices. Short cruise routes in the West include:

--The Norwegian Pearl sails from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, for an overnighter that costs $109 per person. You board at 4 p.m. and arrive in Vancouver at 8 a.m. (Currently available for Sept. 27-28 next year.) Princess Cruises also offers the same route on the Ruby Princess starting at $84 (Sept. 13 and 19 next year).

--Holland America's Westerdam sails from San Diego and stops at Victoria, British Columbia, before ending in Vancouver. Four-day trips next spring start at $249.

--The Golden Princess sails on four-day cruises...

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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 to calm down

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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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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