Sunday, July 16, 2017

Butchart Gardens

The quiet peacefulness of an evening visit.

No trip to Victoria BC is complete without visiting the world-famous Butchart Gardens, located 14 miles north of Victoria’s Inner Harbor and 30 minutes to get there traveling by car.

I had read that the enormous crowds from tour buses and cruise ships can be difficult to deal with, but our timing couldn't have been more perfect because there weren’t any crowds to speak of when we were there!

Original Butchart family residence.

We arrived at the gardens mid-afternoon, spent a couple of hours touring the grounds, then had dinner at the Dining Room Restaurant located in the original Butchart family residence. Very good food, excellent service, and totally cool ambience. 

And since the sun didn't set until about 10 pm, we had plenty of time to go back out to continue our tour of the gardens and walk off some of the calories we consumed at dinner.

Sunken Garden stairway leads to a 360 degree view of the garden.

The history of the gardens date back to 1904 when Robert Butchart, a cement manufacturer, bought some farm land on Tod Inlet at the base of Saanich Peninsula, developed a limestone quarry and built the Vancouver Island Portland Cement Company.

While Robert was busy with his cement company, his wife Jennie was occupied with her gardening projects.

Ross Fountain was named after the Butchart's grandson Ian Ross.

The limestone deposits were mined out after five years and what remained was a gigantic ugly pit near the Butchart residence. It was only natural for Jennie to have a vision of turning this eyesore into a beautiful garden.

But there was an enormous amount of work to be done. All of the abandoned tools, equipment and machinery were removed. Water that had accumulated in the quarry was drained into a catchment basin creating the lake where Ross Fountain is located.

Resident Pollinator

The rubble in the pit was pushed into tall mounds to be used for flower and shrub terraces, and tons and tons of top soil from surrounding farms were brought in to line the floor of the quarry.

The project wasn't completed until 1921. And the quarry blossomed into the Sunken Gardens.

Night illumination of the Sunken Gardens.

Today, Butchart consists of five colorful, inviting and perfectly manicured gardens … Sunken, Japanese, Rose, Italian and Mediterranean.
You don't have to know about flowers or plant species to appreciate the transformation of a mined-out limestone pit into a spectacular world-class garden.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Inner Harbour, Victoria, BC

View of the Inner Harbour from the Empress Hotel.

Hubby and I didn’t plan our trip to Victoria, British Columbia, to coincide with the hottest day of the year in Phoenix, but, lucky for us, it did!

The day after arriving in Vancouver we took the ferry to Victoria and spent the afternoon exploring the busy picturesque Inner Harbour to photograph fishing rigs, sail boats, yachts, ferries, sea planes landing and taking off, street vendors and performers, horse drawn carriages, and historical attractions like the Parliament and famous Empress Hotel.

So much activity! I can see why the Inner Harbour is such a big tourist destination!

Fisherman's Wharf

We eventually made our way over to Fisherman's Wharf which is a small and colorful boardwalk venue with eateries, unique shops, kayak rentals, whale watching and wildlife viewing tours, and fishing charters.

Hubby and I aren't fish eaters, and we were afraid there wouldn't be food choices for us other than fish, but as it turns out, there's something for everybody.

Floating Boutique

Fisherman's Wharf is also a commercial fishing boat dock so if you don't want to eat at one of the eateries, you can buy some fresh fish off one of the fishing boats and take it with you and prepare it yourself.

Which would be kind of awkward if you're a tourist staying in a hotel!

Float Home Dwellers

The Wharf is home to pleasure boats with live-aboard residents, transient vessels, commercial operators and the float home dwellers, a picturesque village of 33 vibrantly colored floating houses moored along three piers on the wharf.

Very eye catching!

It was an overcast day and the colors really popped.

The float houses are private residences, but tourists are free to stroll along the piers where they are moored to take photos or get an up-close look at the decorative items adorning the houses.

"Oh, Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

It was so fun to see how the homeowners used their creativity with flowers, ornaments and color to create cute themes for their float houses.

H2O Taxi

After a long day on our feet, we decided that the best way to get back to where we started from was to ride back on the little H2O taxi.

Aren't they cute?!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Jewel of the Desert

Meet Jewel!

The neighbor down the street who re-homed Trix to us several years ago has a brother who adopted Jewel from the same litter as Trix. Due to family circumstances, he needed to re-home Jewel and offered her to us.

Jewel is now in her forever home. She's adjusting easily. Trix, on the other hand, is trying to figure out what the heck just happened!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Grand Canyon Rafting - End of the Journey

Our ride out of the big ditch.

After spending six days rafting 187 miles on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, it was time to go home.

Our last night on the river was at the Whitmore Wash helipad camp site where a helicopter picked us up early the next morning for the seven-minute flight to the Lodge at Bar 10 ranch.

Bar 10 is a working ranch located nine miles north of the rim and serves as a base for helicopter transport in and out of the canyon and plane transport to and from Marble Canyon, Page and Las Vegas.

Securing the pumpkins for their final few miles.

While we were being helicoptered out of the canyon, Lars and Zak were making their way down river to the take-out point for the raft.

DeHavilland Twin Otter

We took a shuttle from the Bar 10 Lodge to their airfield and boarded a small plane for the 45-minute flight to Marble Canyon. Two vans from Hatch Expeditions picked us up for the short ride back to our vehicles near Cliff Dwellers Lodge.

Bird's eye view of the Colorado River.

Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is more than just crossing something off of your bucket list.

It’s about the extraordinary beauty, power and stunning size of the Canyon. Up to 18 miles wide, cliff walls more than a mile high, and 277 river miles long.

It’s about its geologic story. Rocks more than one billion years old, the basement of the North American Continent.

It’s about ancient ruins like Nankoweap Granaries and 400 million year old Nautiloid fossils.

It’s about sleeping under the stars. And knowing what the canyon is like when it goes to sleep at night and when it wakes in the morning.

It’s about immense landscape scenes, waterfalls, and the turquoise-blue waters of Havasu Creek and the Little Colorado River.

It’s about the isolation and remoteness from the outside world. No internet, no connectivity.

It’s about bruises, cuts, scrapes, dry skin, being hot, being cold, the sun, the wind, the cold water, the sand, and no indoor toilets or showers.

It’s about relaxing and drifting on calm water. And the adrenaline rush of a big rapid.

It’s about the risks. On and off the river.

It’s about teamwork, camaraderie, group harmony and new friends.

It’s about storytelling, river lore, and history lessons.

It's about reflecting and introspection.

"It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Grand Canyon Rafting - Rafts and Rapids

Oar-powered rafts floating on a stretch of flat water.

If you want to raft the Canyon, you have a couple of options regarding craft type (motor, oar, dory or paddle rafts) and whether to go on a self-guided private trip or a professionally-guided commercial trip. What craft you choose and whether to go commercial or non-commercial will likely depend on your schedule, interest, abilities and budget.

However you choose to go down the river, you're at the mercy of the National Park Service who strictly regulates all river travel in the Canyon through their river concessionaires and weighted lottery system for permits. There are a lot more permit applications than there are authorized launches, so luck plays a big part in whether you get drawn.

Motorized rafts move along at 8 mph.

The motorized pontoon boat is a good option if you want more comfort, security and safety, or have budget or time constraints.

And if you like being around people, here's your chance to hang out for a week with about 14 other passengers and two guides.

The traditional river-rafting greeting.

The oar-powered inflatable raft will carry up to five passengers and one guide who does the rowing. It's a good option if you want to experience the pace and peacefulness of floating down the Canyon at the speed of the river (about 4 mph). Running the rapids in these rafts is not for the faint of heart!

The cataraft.

Another oar-driven raft is the cataraft which is a pair of pontoons straddled by a metal frame. They hold one or two people so this is a good choice if you like your own space.

A downside of the cataraft is they don't have a floor. If you drop something, it’s gone. Sort of like my expensive polaroid sunglasses, when I accidentally dropped them in Havasu Creek. Gone.

The Canyon has long stretches without rapids.

There are about 80 major rapids from the put-in at Lee’s Ferry to Whitmore Wash, but the fact is about 95% of the Colorado River is flat calm waters.

Two notable exceptions are the 10 miles through the Roaring Twenties which is a series of nine rapids many spaced only a half mile apart, and then there’s the 20 miles or so of Adrenaline Alley that has a high density of rapids.

River Hazard.

Some say the Canyon rapids aren’t as dangerous as they used to be due to improvements in the technology and quality of the rafts and development and use of life jackets. And while that may be true, the rapids are inherently dangerous and not without some risk.

Granite Rapids, Class 7-8.

It was fitting that Lava Falls was the last major rapid on the last day of our trip.

Lava Falls is one of the most famous whitewater rapids in the world; and the biggest, the baddest, the most fabled, the most talked about and considered the most scary and toughest rapids in all of North America. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest degree of size and difficulty, Lava Falls is the only Class 9-10 rated rapid on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

All day long on day 6 we talked about “the big one.” It was the only rapid on the trip where Swamper Zak double checked all the gear to make sure it was secure, straps were cinched tight and everybody was where they were supposed to be and holding on tight with both hands. It was either going to be the most exciting or the most terrifying 10-20 seconds of the entire trip!

Prepare to get wet!

You hear rapids before you see them, and we first heard Lava Falls when we were about 1/2 mile away. As we drifted toward the rapids, we could see the horizon line, but we couldn't see the river because it drops 37 feet over the span of several hundred yards.

When we finally hit the rapids, things got real exciting real fast with big waves going over the entire raft soaking us with cold water, and there was this tremendous power and energy with big hits to the raft.

And before you know it, you're safely on the other side (unless you’re having a bad day, in which case your raft has flipped or you’ve been knocked out of the boat). After a quick headcount to determine everyone was accounted for, there was a lot of whooping and hollering and high fives all around. And shouts of “let’s do it again, let’s do it again!”

NEXT UP - Grand Canyon Rafting - End of the Journey

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Grand Canyon Rafting - Hikes and Sites

Vasey's Paradise Waterfall, mile 32.

There’s a lot more to rafting the Colorado River than just sitting on your arse floating down the river and running a bunch of rapids.

Almost everyone who journeys down the Canyon will stop to see the waterfalls, ruins and other hidden gems. Some are easy to get to. Others not so much. The terrain is naturally hazardous, but any difficult hiking required to get to some of the sites is definitely worth the effort.

Navajo Bridge

Navajo Bridge is 4.5 miles downstream from the launch site at Lee's Ferry and is the first iconic landmark for river rafters. It's one of the few places in Arizona where you can cross the Colorado River with a vehicle. If you don’t cross here, then it’s a 300-mile drive downstream to Hoover Dam.

The Navajo bridge is actually two bridges. The first one was completed in 1929, but is now a pedestrian-only bridge. The second bridge was built in the mid-1990s to accommodate the heavier and wider vehicles on the roads today.

The new bridge was not only built to meet federal highway standards but to have a similar visual appearance with the first bridge out of respect for its cultural (it's on sacred Native American land) and environmental setting.

Partial view of Redwall Cavern looking upstream.

Our first stop on day two was at mile 33 to see Redwall Cavern.

Redwall Cavern is a ginormous alcove carved by the river, but from the river it doesn’t look all that massive. You realize just how unbelievable the scale of the place is once you hop off the raft and walk 100 feet to the far recesses of the cavern.

This is one of those places where you definitely need an ultra wide angle lens to capture the entire cavern. Kinda hard to do when you've left that particular lens in your night bag. Dagnabit!

Remember the Nautiloids!

After Redwall Cavern, we made a quick stop at mile 35 to see the Nautiloid fossils.

What are the nautiloids? Well, they are snail-like marine creatures, some as big or bigger than a human arm, that were killed in a catastrophic event 340 million years ago.

The Granaries at Nankoweap

High above the river at mile 53 sits the Nankoweap Granaries. The Granaries are storage units used by the Puebloans to keep their grain stock safe from floods and rodents.

The hike up to the Granaries was only about 1/2 mile, but the trail was rocky with lots of high step ups and a vertical climb of 600-700 feet. My thighs were feeling it the next day! The view from the top is spectacular, and you can see one of the longest uninterrupted downstream views of the Colorado River.

The Little Colorado River

Our only hiking stop on day three was a short easy one (yay!) to check out the turquoise-blue water of the Little Colorado River at mile 62.

The section of the Colorado River from Lee's Ferry to the Little Colorado River is Marble Canyon. Once you reach the Little Colorado River you've officially entered the Grand Canyon.

The Diva Diaper Derby

Some of the more adventurous photographers in our group opted to put their cameras down and swim the rapids on the Little Colorado. A requirement for swimming the rapids is to wear your life vest the proper way by turning it upside down and stepping in to it. And wear it like a diaper. These ladies were promptly named the Diaper Divas!

One historical note of interest. The 1956 mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon between TWA and United occurred in a remote area of the Canyon about a mile southwest of the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. Some of the wreckage remains can be seen from the river when the sun is just right and glints off of it.

Elves Chasm Waterfall

Of all the waterfalls we saw on the trip, Elves Chasm at mile 117 was my favorite. It was a short half-mile rocky (should have worn my gloves) hike to the beautiful waterfall with its fern-decked grotto and crystalline swimming hole. Paradise in the desert.   

Deer Creek Falls

On day five we did two hikes, one to Stone Creek at mile 132 and the other to Deer Creek Falls at mile 137. Deer Creek Falls was one of our easier hikes at less than 100 feet! The waterfall funnels out of a narrow crack in the canyon wall and falls about 170 feet before landing in a shallow clear pool. It's one of the tallest waterfalls in the Canyon.

Havasu Creek

Havasu Creek at mile 157 was the last hike of the trip. And it was the usual. A rigorous hike on a non-existent trail, rocks, cliffs, water, go up, go down.

Havasu Creek is beautiful with its tropical turquoise-blue water, lots of little runoffs and bright green trees contrasting with the rock walls of the canyon.

After re-boarding the raft for a final time, we headed to our last camp site where the helicopter would be picking us up early the next morning. But, there was still one obstacle ahead of us. The biggest baddest rapid of them all. Lava Falls.

Next Up - Grand Canyon Rafting - Rafts and Rapids 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Grand Canyon Rafting - Life on the River

The scenery, the remoteness, the isolation.

An epic adventure starts with a great destination and a cool activity.

So several months ago when Colleen Miniuk-Sperry of CMS Photography asked if I was interested in a six-day/night sleeping-under-the-stars rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I was like, “hell yeah!” Like millions of people, I have visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon, but being at the Canyon floor is something not too many people get to experience.

Fourteen fellow photographers joined Colleen for her Grand Canyon Rafting Women’s Photography Retreat with Hatch River Expeditions on a 188-mile rafting trip from Lee’s Ferry to Whitmore Wash.
I knew it would be an incredible and unforgettable experience, and it truly was one for the books!

Cliff Dwellers Restaurant.

Hatch River Expeditions is a commercial river tour company. Rafters traveling with them stay at the rustic Cliff Dwellers Lodge at Marble Canyon, AZ the night prior to the start of the trip, and from there it’s a quick 15-minute drive to the launch site (officially it's called the put-in) at Lee’s Ferry.

Preparing the rafts for launch.

Lee’s Ferry is the official starting point for Grand Canyon National Park and Mile 0 of the Colorado River so this is where most private and commercial raft trips begin. When we arrived at the launch site, a couple of other groups were already there staging their rafts, and since they launch around the same time as you do, you see them from time to time on the river.

All loaded up for another day on the river.

Our motorized raft was big enough to carry 16 photographers, our head boatman Lars, our swamper (assistant to the boatman) Zak, and all the food and camping gear needed needed for six days and nights on the river.


Lars has been rafting the Colorado River for over 35 years. He’s an expert at his craft and a walking encyclopedia on the Canyon’s geology, history and culture. Every time the engine got quiet we joked that we were either approaching some rapids or Lar’s was about to give us a lesson in geology or history. 

Zak, on the other hand, has been with Hatch for only about five years. He’s a good leader with lots of energy, a much better cook than I'll ever be and he had great rapport with everybody in the group. Based on our experience with him, he's ready for his own raft so we all plan to mention that in the Hatch survey we'll be getting at the end of the trip.

A Pumpkin and a Squash.

We were allowed one small water-resistant day dry bag (the small squash) for gear that we needed access to during the day (camera, hiking shoes, small hiking backpack) and a water-resistant dry night bag (the orange pumpkin) for our personal duffle bag and a sleep kit that included a ground cloth, sheet, pillow and sleeping bag.

Our personal gear was limited to 25 pounds due to helicopter load requirements for the flight out of the Canyon which pretty much kept you from taking a bunch of stuff you didn’t need anyways.

Having fun in the Tea Room.

There are four areas on the raft where you can sit. The section at the front of the raft is called the bathtub. You can expect to get overly wet if you sit here! The section in the back near the boatman and swamper is the “tea room.” This area is for those who want a more mellow and less wet experience.

You can also straddle the side pontoons or sit on the side seats located between the bathtub and tea room. Or you can stand. Lars didn't want any of us getting dumped in the river, so on particularly difficult rapids we were instructed to sit in the raft. And hold on!

The kitchen.

A typical day for us would be waking up around dawn and getting ourselves ready for the day. While Zak and Lars prepared breakfast we started breaking down our individual campsites.

After breakfast we finished packing up, loaded the raft and were on our way by 8:30am.

Loading the pumpkins.

There’s actually quite a bit of work involved in loading and unloading the raft, but it goes pretty quickly with everyone pitching in to help.

In addition to our day and night dry bags, there’s chairs and cots, tents, food and tables for food prep and serving, dishes, coolers for water and lemonade, pots for cooking and pots for cleaning, pee bucket and groover (outdoor toilet), hand washing stations, propane tank, and stove and a million and one other things I don't even know about. And it all gets loaded/unloaded in a particular order.

River view from the raft.

Back to our day. After a few hours of rafting and rapids, we’d usually stop for a side hike, then re-board and raft a few more miles before stopping for a beach-side lunch of sandwich fixings, Pringles, cookies and a steady supply of chocolate.

Who knew that you could take a Keebler Pecan Sandies cookie, spread peanut butter on one side, and press M&Ms into the peanut butter, and you would have one of the best things to ever happen in the universe?!

Lunch break.

There are small sand bars all along the river where rafters can stop for a break or to camp for the night. The water was pretty cold in the mornings so by lunch, we were so ready to stop for a while to dry off and warm up.

We needed to keep on a schedule of rafting about 30 miles a day, and if time permitted we’d stop for another hike in the afternoon.

My bedroom.

Most days we arrived at camp around 5:00pm. Then it was offload the raft, set up camp, wash a few clothes, do a little sunset photography, and enjoy some wine or other spirits while dinner was being prepared. After dinner we were all pretty much ready to call it a day so it was off to the cots to sleep under the stars (except for the last night when we slept in tents because of the possibility of rain). 

The sand bars are a very fine grade of sand, and it gets into everything! At first, you try to control it. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that it's a losing battle. Resistance is futile!

Next Up - Grand Canyon Rafting - The Hikes and Sites