Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Iceland in Winter

Otherworldly landscape of Iceland.

Hubby and I, along with 12 other adventurers, spent seven days late last November exploring Iceland on a trip arranged through REI Adventures, the travel arm of the outdoor gear retailer REI.

They offer adventures all over the world for active travelers with a range of activities from backpacking and climbing to wildlife safaris and winter sports. 



The water temperature at the geothermally-heated Blue Lagoon is about 100°F.

We’ve done a couple of their hiking/backpacking trips right here in Arizona and based on those experiences felt comfortable signing up for an international trip with them.

So, we packed our bags with all our cold-weather gear and headed off to their Iceland in Winter trip.



Church at Hellnar village, an old port of call for fishing vessels.

Our itinerary included hiking, hiking with snowshoes, a glacier walk using crampons and ice axe, taking a dip in the geothermally-heated Blue Lagoon, looking for the Northern Lights, and sightseeing at the three most famous stops on the Golden Circle which is a popular tourist route featuring Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir geothermal area, and Thingsvillir National Park.



Black pebble beach at Drivek on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Each trip has an activity rating of 1-5 to give you an idea of the physical demands of the trip so that you can select an adventure that's right for your skill level.

The Iceland trip was rated a moderate Level 3, meaning you needed to be capable of hiking up to eight miles over variable terrain with some steep grades.



Rift valley of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Thingvellir National Park.

Since Hubby and I spent most of the spring and summer doing some long, hard training hikes so that he could get in shape for a fall hike in the Grand Canyon, I felt hike ready for Iceland.

It turned out to be more difficult than I expected! I'm not sure additional training would have made all that much of a difference since we don't get the chance here in the Sonoran Desert to do much hiking in winter weather conditions with steep elevations.



The drowning pool. In olden times, drowning was a widely used method of execution.

Even though the days were short, with sunrise at 10 am and sunset at 3:30 pm, there were enough daylight hours to complete all of the activities that were scheduled for that day.

It was nice not having to get up at the crack of dawn, and you can't complain about getting an early start on happy hour!



View from westernmost part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Visiting Iceland in the dead of winter might not sound like a great idea, but the temps weren’t too bad, around 20°- 30° F.  The biggest weather challenge was winter wind storms.

Our REI Adventure guide Orri said wind storms aren’t all that uncommon during the winter but that it's very uncommon to have wind storms for four days in a row like we did.



Partially frozen Gullfoss waterfall.

The wind situation caused daily shuffling with the itinerary, but everyone in the group was flexible, and it just added to the overall adventure.

Unfortunately, the glacier walk had to be cancelled ... but, that’s winter in Iceland.



Sunrise - 11:00 am.

Although this trip wasn’t about photography, we had our cameras with us and took photos when we could.

The stark and rugged landscape was so photogenic, and sunrises and sunsets lasted a couple of hours with nice soft light that is great for photography. 



REI adventurers hiking along the coast of the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Iceland in Winter was a great experience and excellent trip.

And it was fun traveling with a group of like minded-adventurers.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Autumn at the North Rim

View from Bright Angel Point

The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is in northern Arizona out in the middle of nowhere near the Utah border. It requires some effort to get there. For us, it's about an eight-hour drive from the Phoenix area.


Fall colors of the aspen trees.

The rim is surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, and a popular time to visit is at the beginning of October when the Aspen trees are displaying their fall colors. The colorful aspens surrounded by green firs make for some spectacular views.

The rim closes mid-October due to winter snow and doesn't reopen again until mid-May.


Part of a bison herd near the ranger station.

If you want to see a bison herd, head over in the early morning hours to the meadows near the entrance station to the park.


Mule deer on the Transept Trail.

Mule deer can be found on both sides of the canyon and are one of the most commonly seen animals in the park.


Soft morning light.

The North Rim has a totally different vibe to it than the South Rim.

About five million canyon-goers visit Grand Canyon National Park each year, but only 10% visit the North Rim. So it's less touristy, less commercialized and has fewer amenities. No internet, no cell service, no TV.

It's calmer and quieter and has a solitude and serenity that you won't find on the other side of the canyon. 


View from Point Imperial overlook on a foggy morning.

The North Rim has three major overlooks compared with about two dozen at the South Rim.

The most popular viewpoint is Bright Angel Point which begins at the Visitor Center. The trail is paved but steep in places. Elevation is over 8,000 feet so expect to get out of breath if you're not accustomed to hiking at high elevation.

The highest rim overlook is Point Imperial at 8,803 feet located 11 miles from the Visitor Center, and the widest panorama of any overlook in the Grand Canyon is the Cape Royal viewing area 23 miles from the Visitor Center.

We definitely saw people on trails and at viewing areas but didn't feel overwhelmed by the number, and there were times we were the only ones there.  


View from Cape Royal.

The North Rim views are more about width while the South Rim views are more about depth.


Morning frost.

If you prefer peace and quiet and fewer people, the North Rim is definitely worth the effort that it takes to get there.



Sunday, January 7, 2018

Glacier National Park

Lake Josephine

I'm back! Probably.

In late 2013 I started this blog to document my photography adventures with one of the new Olympus mirrorless cameras, and my goal was to post once a week. Surprisingly, I maintained this pace until a few months ago ... when I abruptly stopped. Hadn't planned on it ... it just happened.

I like to think the reason I stopped posting is because I'm so busy; but honestly, it's because I lost focus and interest.

My new goal is ... to just post ... however frequent or infrequent that might be. Let's get started!


Wild Goose Island

This past summer hubby and I did a five-day photo workshop at Glacier National Park with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Master Photographer Kerrick James was our instructor, and we had an excellent mix of classroom, photo instruction and critique. Kerrick knows Glacier well and our itinerary included both the iconic locations as well as some gems off the beaten path.


Sunrift Gorge

We try to avoid high season and crowds if we can, but that’s not always possible when you’re chasing hiking trails clear of snow, blooming wildflowers, and active wildlife.

Since Glacier's core summer season is short ... mid-June thru mid-September ... it shouldn't have come as a surprise to us that there were hoards of people and traffic all throughout the park. Just forget about finding a convenient place to park your vehicle! Most likely, not gonna happen.


The Pollinator

Because Glacier’s rainy season occurred earlier than normal last year, most of the wildflowers were already bloomed out by the time we got there. 

We were luckier with wildlife encounters, which really are as much luck as location. We saw mountain goats, a herd of bighorn sheep, and marmots at Logan Pass; a moose on our way up Grinnell Glacier; deer at Fishercap Lake; and bear sightings on the Hidden Lake and Grinnell Glacier trail hikes. So cool to see these animals in their natural habitat!


Bighorn Sheep

With sunrise at 6:30 am and sunset at 9:00 pm, our days were long and tiring. But in a good way!

Day hikes are plentiful in Glacier, and over the course of 4.5 days we hiked about 30 miles, mostly on well-maintained easy-to-follow trails. So other than being hot (although not as hot and miserable as our hacienda in the Sonoran Desert in midsummer), the hikes weren't too difficult.


Water below Baring Falls

This workshop had a nice mix of photography with an activity level that fits our lifestyle.
  


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Port Renfrew

Tree Reflection

The last few days of our trip to Vancouver Island were spent in and around Port Renfrew, a small remote fishing village of about 200 residents located on the southwest coast of the island.

We stayed at the Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages where it's a quick walk to the Pub, or you can shop in the quaint gift shop or you can just sit back and relax with a glass or three of wine, and enjoy the water, wildlife, beauty and tranquility.


The Pub at Port Renfrew

It's not too often that we get to spend time in an amazing place where there aren't hoards of other people around ... except for the pub which was always rockin' with the locals ... and the quiet solitude inspired all of us.


Waterfall at Sandcut Beach

There’s very little of anything at all in Port Renfrew. Not too much in the way of groceries or even a year-round gas station. And no cell service. 

But what they do have ... fishing, hiking, wildlife, rivers, lakes, beaches, camping, surfing and huge old-growth trees ... more than makes up for what they don’t have.



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!