Sunday, August 18, 2019

Glaciers and whales in Juneau, Alaska

One of the most popular ports on Alaska cruises is Juneau. It’s a unique destination because there are no connecting roads to other cities, making it only accessible by water (such as on a cruise) or air.
Glaciers are plentiful in southeastern Alaska.
Nestled next to Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau is Alaska’s capital and second largest city. Mount Juneau rises above the city’s downtown area, providing a scenic setting of mountains and water. Boats from luxury cruise ships to local fishing boats and small floatplanes fill the waterfront.
Mendenhall Glacier
Above the historic downtown (included in the gold rush) is 1500 square miles of pure glistening glacier known as the JuneauIcefield. Having flown via helicopter over these magnificent glaciers on a previous visit---and landed for the quintessential Alaskan experience of dog sledding—we opted for a small group photography excursion during our most recent cruise.
This excursion combined two of the things Juneau is most known for—Mendenhall Glacier and Orca whales. We got good opportunities for pictures of both.
Waterfall on our hike
Because of the surrounding ice, many people don’t realize that Juneau is deep in a temperate rain forest. There are more hiking trails than roads, which makes it a perfect place for nature-lovers. So our morning began with a hike  on Steep Creek Trail to Mendenhall Glacier through a thick forest canopy. Located in the Mendenhall Valley 14 miles from the city center, the glacier flows 12 miles from its source and has a half-mile-wide face.
Dense vegetation in the forest
Along the trail were posted year markers showing how far the glacier had extended in the past. Since it loses about 75 feet a year, the signs and photos showed a remarkable story of glacier retreating. Yet, the geography and unique climate of the area has allowed Mendenhall Glacier to survive much longer than other glaciers in North America.

Mendenhall Glacier extends around the upper left corner.
Despite a report of a bear sighting on another trail, we didn’t see any, even though salmon were plentiful in the surrounding lake. Still we had a good look at the glacier and later spotted large, red salmon darting among fallen branches and leaves in the water.
Lots of sea lions
Following a short bus ride to the harbor, we boarded a small boat designed for photography. Large windows on both sides of the enclosed space opened fully to allow for unencumbered picture-taking. During the boat tour we spotted a dolphin, numerous sea lions, a sea otter floating on its back, and an eagle.

Whale tail as it descends into the water
When we arrived at the area where Orcas hang out, it didn’t take long to spot a female whale named Flame. She had a cub and ducked underwater to escape prying human eyes. Another female whale named Riddler was more accommodating, darting in and out of the water several times, allowing us to take numerous quick photos.
Tell-tale spout before a whale surfaces
Once the Orca’s tail has gone under water, it is generally 10 minutes or so before the whale will surface again. But you never know just where that will be. So we were all mesmerized watching for the spout of water that signals a whale about to surface.

Too soon it was time to head back to the ship where we heard about other outdoor adventures that cruisers had enjoyed including canoeing near the glacier, flight seeing, dog sledding, exploring native art, zip lining in the forest, river rafting, and salmon fishing.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



Sunday, August 4, 2019

A garden wonderland for your bucket list

 It’s Fantasyland for the horticulturist and Wonderworld for the masses. Famed Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, is a blue-ribbon showplace in one of the loveliest corners of the world.
Every path leads to another spectacular view.

Visitors marvel at the variety and harmony achieved by co-mingling easily recognizable flowers like dainty purple daisies and ruffled pink geraniums with unusual specimens such as teardrop fuchsia and delicate drooping trout lily.  Since passing the century mark in 2004, privately owned Butchart Gardens has featured more spectacular scenes than ever within its 55 acres. 

Never-ending vision

With different plants in bloom 46 weeks of the year, each season (The Gardens counts five seasons—spring, summer, autumn, Christmas, and winter) brings new items of beauty and interest for the public’s pleasure.  Fifty full time gardeners and additional part time staff work in 26 greenhouses year round to supply The Gardens with the best possible plant specimens.
Twelve thousand tulip bulbs are imported annually from Holland to provide a dramatic prelude to spring. One and a half million annuals grown on-site plus flowering trees and shrubs fill beds and lawns with a brilliant display of shapes, textures, and colors. 

Summer is nirvana for plant lovers.  Not only are flowers blooming in myriad hues, but also thousands of colored lights transform each night into a glowing floral delight, casting shadows and a magical luster on trees and shrubs. On Saturday evenings fireworks light up the sky, and guest artists perform on the Concert Lawn. 

Colors peak in mid-October with flaming red and russet maples and 53 varieties of chrysanthemums leading the autumn parade.  As the blooming season winds down, guests enjoy greenhouse tours in November.
Christmas displays are crowd pleasers every year, and visitors enjoy ice skating on the outdoor rink during the winter.  Background shrubs take center stage while flowering plants are dormant. The family home on the estate was christened “Benvenuto,” Italian for “Welcome,” and during the winter it is open for tours showcasing memorabilia that chronicle development of The Gardens. 

In the beginning

In 1904 Jennie Butchart, wife of successful cement manufacturer Robert Butchart, began to beautify an abandoned limestone quarry near the family home. Originally, the quarry was expected to support the cement factory Butchart built in 1898 on Tod Inlet. However, the quarry was soon exhausted, leaving an ugly, empty gravel pit.
As a diversion, Jennie set about transforming this bleak sight.  Under her personal supervision, top soil was brought in by horse and cart, and other improvements were made.  Trees, shrubs, and flowers planted under her watchful eye eventually took shape as the Sunken Garden.
Friends and neighbors flocked to see Jennie’s beautiful gardens, and visitors traveling to Vancouver Island spread the word about the floral displays.  During the 1920’s more than fifty thousand people admired Jennie’s creation, and it began to take on a life of its own.  As the concrete business declined, Jennie established a viable business by offering guided tours with a cup of tea, an idea that proved popular with both locals and visitors.
Since Jennie’s husband Robert collected ornamental birds from all over the world and kept live ducks and peacocks, many elaborate birdhouses were stationed throughout the gardens.  The Butcharts incorporated landscaping visions from their world travels in the form of a Japanese Garden on the sea-side of their home and later an Italian Garden and a Rose Garden. 
Traditional hospitality is still evident during High Tea in The Dining Room Restaurant when fruit and yogurt as well as a generous selection of tea sandwiches and homemade sweets are served.

Whether you stroll on well-maintained paths meandering through several distinct garden sections and expansive lawns or rest beside one of the many cooling water features, you’re experiencing the result of more than a century of pride and caring from Butchart family members. Memories of this spectacular wonderland will stay with you a very long time.

Getting there: The Butchart Gardens are located on Vancouver Island, 14 miles north of Victoria and 12.5 miles south of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry terminal at Swartz Bay. Ferries are available from several points in Vancouver and Washington state, or you can arrive by plane or boat. Allow at least three hours to absorb the elegance of Butchart Gardens.