Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Snowshoeing In Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

          We’re snowshoeing inside a giant layer cake with dollops of fluffy white frosting perched on pinnacles, sandwiched between rock layers, and sliding down canyon walls.  Where is this confectionary dreamland?  Along the Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. 
       In his book 50 Best Short Hikes in Utah’s National Parks Ron Adkison describes the Queens Garden Trail: 
This is a popular dayhike into the incomparable Bryce Canyon amphitheater, descending into the realm of hoodoos, castles, and balanced rocks, many of which have been likened to familiar images and given such fanciful names as Gullivers Castle and Queen Victoria.”
         This is an apt and succinct description of the delights offered by this trail and I would add this:  When viewed through the lens of a heavy snowfall, the charms of this trail are multiplied exponentially. 

         Although Bryce Canyon is enchanting in any season I prefer a January or February visit.  After viewing the following photographs, I think you’ll agree.
         As always, click on an image to enlarge.

Strapping on snowshoes for the Queens Garden hike.

Rita, approaching one of the tunnels
on the Queens Garden Trail.

If this isn't a day in paradise, then I don't know what is.

Inside the layer cake.

Captivating views along the trail.

Our group descends into the amphitheater.

Tim poses among icing-topped red rocks.

Go ahead, immerse yourself in the marshmallow world that is Bryce Canyon in winter.

Plan your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park by visiting these websites:   http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Wild Companion in Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

         Movement.  A shadowy figure darting among the trees.  What sort of creature could be lurking there?  I’m alone, skiing the rim trail in Cedar Breaks National Monument.  Cautious now, I ski from the meadow toward the spruce forest and stop to peer into the understory.
With relief I see it’s only a Blue Grouse, scurrying over twigs and downed logs.  I call out:  “Hello Blue, what are you up to on this fine day?”  To my surprise he saunters up to me, stands on my skis, cocks his head and casts a suspicious look my way.

Blue is wondering who I am, and why do I have
these boards strapped to my feet?

          “Blue”, I say, “it’s time for me to move on.”  I slowly kick-glide away and Blue jumps off my skis, but he keeps pace with me, walking alongside, clucking, cooing and hooting as we travel another 50 yards.  Blue stops where the trail breaks into the open and watches me as I ski on to the canyon overlook.  I admire the view, snap a few photos and ponder the grouse.  “What was that all about?”  If nothing else, it was an unusual experience.

View into Cedar Breaks Canyon from overlook.

         I turn and retrace my route.   When I reach the point on the trail where Blue and I had parted company, I glance into the forest and wonder aloud:  “Blue are you still here?”  In the next instant I hear flapping and clucking and Blue is flying through the forest, only to land in front of me on the trail.  And again, for the next 50 yards he keeps pace with me, walking over, around and on my skis as I climb the hill.  Then he stops and I continue on, glancing over my shoulder every so often to make sure he’s not following me.
That afternoon I meet up with Tim as he’s finishing his downhill runs at nearby Brian Head Ski Resort.  “You’ll never guess what happened to me today.  I skied part of the rim trail with a Blue Grouse.”
The following morning Tim skis the Cedar Breaks trail with me; we arrive at the forest’s edge and Blue is waiting—he immediately hops up to me and coos as if to say “I knew you’d be back.”  And then he does something unexpected: he jumps at both my legs, nipping and pulling at the fabric of my ski pants.  Alarmed, I shoo him away with my ski poles and he doesn’t attack again, but still follows close-by on the next 100 feet of trail.  We ski on, but upon our return Blue is waiting.  He accompanies me as I ski and he’s more agitated than yesterday, as if delivering a message I had somehow failed to understand the first time.  
We ski away from Blue and I try to reassure him:  “Don’t worry Blue, we’re leaving, going home today, we won’t bother you anymore.”  And with that, Blue turns and disappears into the woods, his shadowy figure alone once more.

Blue has just "attacked" my legs!  I'm ready
to shoo him off with my poles.

Blue accompanies Rita on the trail
in Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Later, in the comfort of my own home and far from the prying eyes of a Blue Grouse, I research grouse behavior on the internet.  I discover this is the beginning of mating season for these game birds and the male Blue Grouse is quite territorial—defending his patch of woodland from all intruders.  I tell Tim that Blue must have perceived me as an invader, encroaching on his territory, disturbing his plans.  Tim's alternative interpretation:  Blue was more amorous than annoyed!  In any case, "Sorry Blue." 
Interested in visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument?  Visit this website: http://www.utah.com/nationalsites/cedar_breaks.htm

Monday, February 13, 2012

Romantic Riversong Inn in Estes Park, Colorado

        The Mission:  select the perfect honeymoon destination.
How to determine where to go?  In the pre-internet days of 1990 I relied on magazines and guide books for travel information.  Browsing a gift shop one February day I noticed a “Romantic Bed and Breakfast Inns” guidebook.  I thumbed through the pages and there it was, the ideal Rocky Mountain getaway: The Romantic Riversong Inn in Estes Park, Colorado.  

Riversong Inn, Estes Park, Colorado

         Ten months later, wedding festivities behind us, Tim and I arrive at the Riversong; the Inn is nestled in a forest of Ponderosa Pines, candlelight glows from its windows.  We enter the great room to find a log fire blazing in the hearth; a wall of windows opposite the fireplace provide breath-taking views of the snow-capped Rockies.   
We’re shown to our suite, Chiming Bells.  A live Christmas tree decorates the sitting room; the sunken bedroom contains a brass bed, a corner fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and large windows with a view into the pine forest.  The bathroom boasts a large soaking tub and a redwood-paneled double shower. 

Chiming Bells Suite

        A day at the Riversong offers these choices:  1) curl up by the fireplace with a book, 2) luxuriate in the tub while gazing at forest and mountain views, 3) enjoy an in-room massage, 4) walk the trails around the Inn, 5) stroll the streets of downtown Estes Park, 6) explore nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.   
Another offering at The Riversong is the candlelight dinner, cooked by Chef Carol.  We chose the candlelight dinner for the night of our arrival and were rewarded with this feast:  butternut squash soup, spinach salad, medallions of beef tenderloin with mushrooms in a light wine sauce, baked stuffed potato, sliced zucchini and yellow squash.  And then there was dessert—a fudge walnut torte.
In the mornings, breakfast is served in the circular dining room.  While watching mountain chickadees flit about the bird feeders we’re treated to offerings such as green chili strada and rhubarb-strawberry cobbler.
What to do after breakfast?  See choices 1-6, above. 
So, how did I do with my selection of The Romantic Riversong for our honeymoon getaway?  “Mission Accomplished.”


        Tim and I have returned to the Riversong Inn four times since our honeymoon and, in addition to Chiming Bells, have stayed in Wood Nymph and Meadow Bright.   If you’re looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion–Valentine’s Day, Wedding Anniversary, Birthday, or just any day at all—you can’t go wrong with a stay at The Romantic Riversong Inn.

Tim relaxes in Meadow Bright.

Our bathroom in Meadow Bright includes a waterfall shower
and jacuzzi tub by the log-burning fireplace.

Jacuzzi tub in Wood Nymph with a mountain view.
It's difficult to leave a place like this.

George Bernard Shaw once said:  “A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell.”  With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, had he the chance to stay at an Inn like The Riversong he would never have uttered that statement. 

Readers, do you have your own special retreat—an inn, lodge or resort you return to time and again?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Painter Gilbert Stuart's Homestead, Saunderstown, Rhode Island

            As I travel throughout the United States, I discover a wealth of interesting sites and attractions—some of them off the beaten path but well worth a visit.  The following story is taken from a 2011 visit to one of these places.
          Gilbert Stuart is widely considered to be one of America's foremost portraitists.  Did you know that if you live in the United States a little bit of Gilbert Stuart’s artwork passes through your hands most every day?  He painted the likeness of George Washington that graces our one dollar bill.  In addition to painting George Washington, Gilbert Stuart went on to produce portraits of our first six presidents. 

For only one dollar, you too can possess Gilbert Stuart's
most enduring work of art.

          The 1750 Gilbert Stuart Homestead was my destination on a cool, crisp New England September morning.  I paid the $7.00 admission and Peggy conducted my personal tour.  We walked from the gift shop to the first stop on our tour, the homestead's grist mill. 
          As we entered the grist mill Peggy pointed to two giant grindstones, each weighing two and a half tons.  She then relayed the following tidbit, which has become a well-known phrase:  “While the corn was being ground, the operator on the top floor who was feeding corn into the mill would keep his nose close to the stone while sniffing the air for smoke.  It was not uncommon for fires to start due to friction that would occur if the stones got too close to one another.  A fire between the stones would ruin the corn, so the operator up above would shout to the mill worker down below to lower the bottom stone.”  Have you guessed the common idiomatic expression?  It’s “Keep your nose to the grindstone.”
         Peggy and I walked over to the pond and stream that were dammed for the mill.  Every year River Herring swim upstream from the ocean to spawn in the pond.  River Herring are a threatened species and a new dam and spawning ladder will have to be built to accommodate them.  Peggy said that when the River Herring hatch in the pond scores of birds, including herons, are attracted to the property to fish for them.

Gilbert Stuart Homestead:  Grist Mill on the right,
Entrance and Gift shop to the left.
          Next on the tour was Gilbert Stuart’s birthplace, an impressive home with wide plank floors and windows all original to the 1750 house.  The dwelling boasts a cheerful “family room” and a great room in the basement as attractive as in any modern home.  Many of Gilbert Stuart’s paintings adorn the walls, but most are reproductions because the originals are displayed in museums throughout the country.  

Family room in the Stuart Homestead.
Two of Stuart's George Washington paintings adorn the walls.

            Gilbert's family moved to Newport when he was a boy and his talent was first noticed by the eye doctor who cleared up an ocular infection for the 13-year-old lad.  In a display of gratitude, Gilbert painted a picture of the physician’s two dogs.  Recognizing the expertise shown by this painting, the ophthalmologist paid for young Gilbert to train at an art school in Scotland for two years.

"Dr. Hunter's Dogs".  This stunning painting was completed
by Stuart at age 13.  Extraordinary!

In his adult life Stuart was plagued by addictions to snuff and alcohol and had a series of strokes when he was in his 60’s.  He returned to his original homestead in his later years.  
After we left the house I thanked Peggy and then walked one of the wooded trails on the property.  The tour was both fascinating and educational; if you’re ever traveling near Saunderstown, Rhode Island consider a visit to the Gilbert Stuart Homestead.
Learn more about the Gilbert Stuart Homestead on this website:   http://www.gilbertstuartmuseum.com/

Next Week

in celebration of 

Valentine's Day

journey with me to

The Romantic Riversong Inn 

of Estes Park, Colorado.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Visiting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key, Florida

           Last week's post transported readers to a winter wildlife excursion in cold, snowy Yellowstone National Park.  This week, we switch gears and travel to warm, sunny Florida.

          Tim and I visited the Florida Keys in February of 2011 and one highlight of the trip was our tour of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key.

          The tour begins with a presentation.  Our guide, a young woman who had worked at the hospital for five years, introduced us to the sea turtles common to Florida and informed us of the dangers facing them.  When not imperiled, sea turtles may live to 80-100 years—if not longer.  As recently as 200 years ago most sea turtles who survived to adulthood lived out their lives with nary a threat.  Today though, sea turtles face a host of problems, most of them human-caused.  Among the threats facing sea turtles: injuries from boats and fishing lines; ingestion of garbage and plastics; loss of habitat due to development along coastlines; hatchlings losing their way to sea due to bright lights on the shoreline.  With all these risks to their survival, is it any surprise that all of the world's seven species of sea turtle are considered endangered?

          The turtle hospital cares for sick and injured turtles with the goal of rehabilitation and re-entry into their ocean home.
          Five species of sea turtle—the Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Kemp's Ridley—are common to Florida.   All face possible extinction and all five species are patients at the hospital.

          The tour continued with visits to the operating rooms, and to the rehabilitation ponds and tanks.  We visited with many of the hospital's patients, some of them permanent residents—too sick or injured ever to be returned to the wild.
          While dismayed by the plight of these exquisite creatures, I applaud the staff at the Turtle Hospital for their valiant efforts to save the endangered sea turtle.

Leatherback Sea Turtle in the rehabilitation tank.

A Loggerhead cruises the tank....

... and raises his head for a look around.

Green Sea Turtle.

"Little Joe", a Loggerhead, lost an arm to a boat's propeller.  Due to
this injury he swims only in circles.  The staff at the hospital is working
on his rehabilitation.

Visit The Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key at this website: http://www.turtlehospital.org/blog/?page_id=2
Learn more about Florida sea turtles by clicking here.