Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Southwest / Canyonlands Photos

We just returned Sunday from a dream tour of the Southwest US, with hundreds of wonderful photos and memories, and plans to return again soon. My only regret is that we took only the one week the kids had for Spring Break, so it was aggressive to cover the 1500 miles and numerous National Parks and Monuments which we knew we couldn't miss. Most of these were ones my husband and I had visited 13 years ago, when I was first pregnant, and we had our final fling - a 3 week driving trip from Vancouver BC, camping in our tent (many places without running water) and staying in modest motels. This time, with the kids, we stayed in Holiday Inns and Best Westerns, which was good, since it was still quite chilly and even snowy in some of the locations.

This is a collage of many of the beautiful locations we visited:
We flew into Las Vegas, staying two nights at the gorgeous Venetian, catching their haunting and powerful Phantom of the Opera show - I highly recommend it.  I haven't downloaded the photos from the small camera yet, but we also visited the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden (with tigers, lions, panthers, etc) and Dolphin Habitat, and spent a lot of time gazing at the amazing painted ceilings at The Venetian.  We didn't end up riding one of the gondolas through the canals, since we were not persistent enough to insist on reservations (we only phoned the hotel in advance, and also asked at the registration desk, but we should have also checked with the Concierge, who should have been able to help us with that).  They had a beautiful outdoor pool with fountain and hot tubs, but it was still quite chilly, and miles away from our room (even though we could see it out our window), so we didn't make it.  Another time.

From there, we visited the Hoover Dam and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon was still in snow.
It's hard to believe that this huge canyon could be carved out by a small river.  Looks more like the result of an earthquake, splitting such a huge crack in the earth.

The next day we were in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, and took a Jeep tour with a Navajo guide, Bobby, who grew up in the canyon, and still lives there today.  The Canyon is quite amazing.  Not as wide as the Grand Canyon, but the sheer vertical walls are breathtaking, with their red rock, the streaks of minerals down the sides, and the remains of Anasazi dwellings tucked into the sides of the cliff.  Not to mention the many petroglyphs and pictographs of the Anasazi, Hopi and Navajo peoples.

Having seen the Anasazi cliff dwellings from below, the next day we were in Mesa Verde in Colorado, where we were able to tour inside one of the many cliff dwellings there, even climbing down a wooden ladder into an underground kiva (round religious / social meeting room).  We visited the Spruce Tree House, which was easy to access, and the only dwelling open so early in the year.  The Cliff Palace, which we viewed from the cliff above, was even larger.

Note the multi-story dwellings in the photo on the top left.  I found that fascinating.  And these people were definitely small, to fit into such small spaces.
From Mesa Verde, we drove to Arches National Park in Utah, arriving in the late afternoon, with a few hours before the sunset.  It is an amazing place, with natural arches and rock formations, which can be accessed quite easily on foot.  Note my husband and 2 kids in the photo on the top left, and bottom - those are fun photos.
Of course, the most recognizable arch in the park, is the Delicate Arch:

The next morning, we spent more time in Arches NP, and then headed to my favourite from the previous trip, the Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.  Being a State Park, this one doesn't seem to get enough recognition.  We could find very little mention of it anywhere in the tourism information, including the internet, but it is a must-see for anyone in the area (near Hanksville, UT), especially anyone with kids.  This park is a wonderland of little goblins and mushrooms and other weird little shapes which can be climbed on and between, and our kids spent most of the visit playing hide-and-seek with their daddy (see the 3 in the bottom photo), while I pursued them with the camera.  The middle photo I will name "Ostracized" - poor little goblin!
The following day, we visited Bryce Canyon in Utah.  It was snowing in the morning, and we started out on a hike into the canyon, but it was too slippery and dangerous.  So we visited some of the viewpoints, but the visibility was limited.  We let the kids take a break from the sightseeing, and enjoy the indoor pool before dinner.  We visited Bryce Canyon again the next morning, before we drove back to Las Vegas, and were able to get some wonderful views into the snowy canyon.  Sadly, the road to some of the further viewpoints was still closed.  So we'll need to go back again, to see those, and to be able to hike down into the canyon between those hoodoos and other rock formations.
Once I emerge from the unpacking and laundry (we arrived late Sunday night, and went to work Monday morning), I hope to transfer the photos from the other camera, and may post a few more photos and comments.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's Bloomin' in March?

I am a few days late for the March Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I hope Carol of May Dreams Gardens will forgive my tagging along, once the rain finally cleared, and I had a chance to search the garden for blooms.

I was happy to see a few signs of Spring.  The weather is still very cold, for March, and the snow line is very low in the local mountains.  Every year I have a crocus or two emerge from this corner of my garden, and I love the contrast of the cheery yellow against the dreariness of the fallen gunnera leaves:
Crocus and gunnera
This Winter Aconite (Eranthis) is smaller than I remember buying it last year, but it was delightful to find this tiny bloom peeking from my native/shade garden:
Winter Aconite
These mini irises are so cheery surrounding my granite bench.  I hope they will naturalize and fill the area:
Mini irises and stone bench
This emerging sedum is not a bloom, but the little rosettes almost look like blooms:
Emerging sedum
My Missouri currant (Ribes odoratum) is not quite in bloom yet.  I wonder if it will tease me again this year with loads of flowers but next to no fruit?
Missouri currant
I noticed today that the flowers of the male Skimmia are actually quite pretty, and dainty:
Male skimmia flowers
Although I originally bought the males to keep the females in berry:
Female skimmia berries
The winter pink in this little sedum is so colourful, contrasting with the golden thyme, that it looks a bit like a bloom.  In the summer, the sedum will be silver blue:
Sedum and thyme groundcovers
I love my Petasites frigidus, but I find the flowers which emerge before the leaves a bit creepy looking.  When they get tall enough, I will cut them down, otherwise they will send seeds (which have little umbrellas like dandelion seeds) flying everywhere.
Petasites frigidus flowers
I hope Carol will forgive me - not only late, but also showing off my non-blooms, too.

Looking at other garden bloggers blooms, I am longing even more for Spring to arrive at last. All the best to everyone in their gardens this year!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Another Plum Tree!

It was not a surprise, but it was wonderful that I could convince my husband and the kids to go pick up another plum tree this afternoon.  I had my "landscaper" (who cuts my lawn, and does the occasional projects for me around the yard) dig a big hole just before Winter hit.  But his idea of digging was to clear the layer of grass and soil, and leave a shallow "hole" of our near-undiggable clay.  I suppose he would have used the excuse that he didn't want to leave a hole for the Winter.

It was me who came along after that, and actually dug and loosened up about 12" of the clay, and laid a load of grass clippings on top, to provide some organic material, before the Winter hit.  Today, it was my husband who climbed in and dug a real proper hole.

Planting a fruit tree
It seems the grass clippings had some effect, since there were lots of worms in the top foot or so, which actually resembled something like soil.  He removed that to the side of the hole.  Below that it was grey clay.  Thick, mucky, and non-draining.  My husband removed a few wheelbarrows full of clay (dumping them just outside our fence, in the "abyss"), and mixed back the top layer of soil, with two large bags of planting soil (100 l or 4 cu ft each).  I also poured in bonemeal.  We had enough to plant the tree, but could use a couple more bags, to fill it up to the surface properly.
Newly planted Methley plum tree

Enough about the dirt.  What type of plum did we plant?  It was a tough decision.  I already have an Italian plum which is very tasty and sweet even when a bit firm.  It has started to bear a good amount of fruit these past two years, for fresh eating.  I wanted another plum which would also be good for eating, but also for making juice.

I phoned Triple Tree Nursery in Maple Ridge, where I have bought nearly all our fruit trees, and asked about their plum varieties.  Their European plums included the Italian, Yellow Egg, Damson (not really for fresh eating), Toka and Superior.  Their Japanese plums included Santa Rosa, Beauty, Shiro (Yellow), Methley and Satsuma.  For flavour, Shiro and Methley were recommended.

Since then I read up on the various plum varieties, and the ones which emerged as the top choices were:

Methley (Japanese) - Red skin with dark red juicy flesh, early bearing, self-fertile, mild and sweet flavour, attractive and vigorous tree.
Green Gage (European) - Flavour was described as "exquisite", and my mom remembers her uncle (?) having this plum tree, green colour even when ripe.
Satsuma (Japanese) - Red with deep red flesh, semi freestone, good flavour.

I was really intrigued by the Green Gage, and might have tried it, except perhaps for some random notes on the internet from people who had bought some and were looking for recipes for them.  It made me wonder, if they are so exquisitely flavoured, why would they not simply eat them, and not be looking for recipes?  Not to mention, the photos of them really didn't do much for me.

So in the end, I decided on the Methley, for the dark colour (I like that in a plum, and it would be great for the juice!), hopefully the flavour, that it is an early bearer, and I hear that the Japanese trees tend to bear their first crop at an earlier age than the Europeans.  The Methley trees available at Triple Tree (they are bare root, not potted up yet, so a great time to buy them!) looked pretty good, too.  So the Methley joins our collection of one dozen young fruit trees.
Methley plum from Marshalls Seed Co
The photo is courtesy of Marshalls Seed Co in the UK.  In a couple of years, I hope to be sharing my own photos.  :-)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Winter's Last Stand

As Spring gently advances on our land, Winter has taken its last stand, surging forward with its final battle cry, sending a flurry of massive snowflakes, covering the land with some 6" of snow.  Followed by rain, and hail, and bitter cold.  At last (or so I hope), it relents, and has gone silent.

The snow was actually very pretty, falling quite steadily from Saturday evening until Sunday morning. Before it got wet and fell (that's the kind of snow we usually have in Vancouver), it hung softly and silently in the trees, for some pretty Winter scenes.
Snowy garden in winter
Snowy garden
Winter garden
Winter snow scene
Yesterday evening, before night fell, I carried my kitchen compost to the big bins at the top of the yard.  I took some photos of the crocuses, battered by the cold and snow, laying surrounded by a thin layer of snow.  I think it would have some pretty good photos, but I accidentally had the "blank" card from my laptop in the camera, and I guess the silly thing tried to store the photos on it, but unsuccessfully.  At least I can't seem to find them.
Snowy trees
I'm hoping this is the last bit of Winter here, and sent only so that we will appreciate Spring even more when it comes and stays.
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