Friday, February 26, 2010

Sunset over the Desert


Snow on the mountains overlooking Palm Springs. Palm trees standing guard.



Shadows and rays of sunlight dance off the snow and onto the desert below. Spectacular show.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Desert Cacti


If no two snowflakes are alike...surely no two cacti are either.


Some early blooms in the desert.


Some odd looking blooms in the desert.




These almost look fuzzy...almost.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Desert Blooms


Flowers so tiny you wonder how they survive.



About ready to bloom...


Tiny and colorful



A few more days of sunshine and this one will erupt into many blossoms.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Indian Canyons


Indian Canyons on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation just outside of Palm Springs, California was home to the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians. Here, one of the four distinct areas, Palm Canyon of the Andreas Canyon, includes the world's largest California Palm Oasis. Rock formations like this one line the walls of the canyon. One can only imagine the force it took to heave these heavy rocks into formations such as this one.


The Andreas Creek, a perennial creek, rushes over rocks and boulders past the base of these skirted palms.


Skirted palms huddle together as their feet stay cool in the water.


Reds, grays and brown hues of rocks rise above the canyon. California Golden Eagles and Red Tailed Hawks ride the currents above. One Golden Eagle sat high upon a rock...watching for a mid afternoon snack.


Strands of skirted palms and fan palms march along the creek. With over 150 species of plants within a half mile, this is a great hike for exercise, bird watching, photography and cooling off near the creek. Touching the water it was cool, but not cold. On the lower side of the creek, as you climb over rocks through the palms you are treated to a cooling effect for your hike. Dramatically different, the upper side takes you through more open desert area where the temps rise significantly. As you might expect the views are equally as diverse.



This is definitely an area of contrasts...beauty...mystery.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


While this is not Vancouver...

Been watching the 2010 Winter Olympics? Now that you’ve seen the gorgeous Whistler mountain vistas and the vibrant Vancouver cityscapes, you might be thinking about visiting…spring, summer, winter or fall.

Fodor’s is a good resource so check out these sites for possible deals:

Winter deals in Whistler

It's common for people to shy away from host destinations in Olympics years because they think it's going to be too crowded. But…the Whistler/Blackcomb Web site has lodging deals, ski-and-stay deals, and even airfare deals. In addition to saving money, quieter slopes mean more fresh powder for you.

Hotel bargains in post-Olympics Vancouver

Did you know there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 hotel rooms available in Vancouver for the Olympics? Some specials include The Wedgewood with a Spring promotion for the month of March. Check out the Tourism Vancouver Web site for more deals on hotel rooms and packages with hotel and entertainment, or spas.

Skate the Richmond Olympic Oval

The Richmond Olympic Oval, located just off the Canada Line, has a huge fitness facility with hard courts, ice, and an indoor track area. A one-day adult pass is CDN$12.50.

Try mountain biking

Head north in summer for plentiful opportunities in outdoor excitement. Whistler Blackcomb as not only among the first to realize the potential of converting ski runs to fat-tire trails, they also established Whistler Mountain Bike Park, the best downhill-biking center in the world. Located on lower Whistler Mountain, the trails are marked green through double diamond and groomed with as much care as their winter counterparts. Beginners can find plenty of comfortable dirt lanes to follow and you can keep your fingers ready at the hydraulic brake to keep speeds under control.

Or hiking

If hiking is more your speed, head to the ski lifts that take hikers and bikers up to the alpine, where marked trails are graded by difficulty. The brand-new Peak2Peak Gondola, the largest free-span gondola expanse in the world, crosses Fitzsimmons Valley to connect Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in just 11 minutes. The newest addition to the high alpine-trail network is the High Note Trail, an intermediate, five-mile route with an elevation change of 1,132 feet and fabulous coastal mountain views. Trails are clearly marked—take the lift up and choose whichever way you want to come down, just as if you were skiing.

Festivals, festivals, festivals

Vancouver and Whistler are, each, the scene of many festivals worth planning a trip around, in all seasons. In Whistler, you'll find everything from Cornucopia, the renowned food-and-wine festival spread over four delectable days in November, to the Telus World Ski & Snow festival, which takes the end of ski season out with a swoosh. For more Whistler festivals check out whistler.com.

In Vancouver, you'll find everything from one of North America's largest Chinese New Year celebrations, in February; to August's MusicFest Vancouver, with two weeks of orchestral, chamber, choral, world music, opera, and jazz performances in venues around the city; to the Vancouver International Comedy Festival, in September; and the Vancouver International Film Festival, in September and October, which draws more than 150,000 people to view films from more than 50 countries.

For sports enthusiasts, the Bank of Montreal Marathon is in early May, the Scotiabank Half-Marathon and 5K are in June; and the popular Vancouver Sun Run (a 10K, with a minirun) is in mid-April. And every New Year's Day means the Polar Bear Swim, when a phalanx of extremists plunge into the frigid waters at English Bay beach—often in costume.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Travel Tips



Think about these tips as you get ready to plan your next trip...

Book early and think about traveling in the middle of the week as you may get a better deal than traveling on a Friday or Monday. But do remember that the most important thing to realize is you must purchase a ticket at least three weeks in advance. If you purchase within 21 days of flight date, ticket prices start going up fast. There will be exceptions and last minute deals but for the most part early is better.

If you're willing to drive to a surrounding airport, you can compare airfares at area airports if you go to ITASoftware.com. This site allows users to compare airports that range from 25 to 300 miles away at both their departure and arrival destination. Log in as a guest. Be sure to calculate gas, time off work and parking when deciding which airport to fly out of.

Some of the best international deals right now are in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Domestically, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas, Nev., are economical destinations. Vegas hotel rooms dropped 24 percent in the last year.

Pack your lunch. Eating in the airport or on a plane is expensive; leave drinks behind because you can't take them through security.

Check out Bing.com, which has some unique features. This search engine has a "Flexible Search" and if you select a 30-day range, it will give you a graph showing when airfares are high or low during that month. It predicts if airfares will drop and lets customers know how confident it is in its prediction. For example, a recent search from St. Louis to L.A. showed it was 60 percent confident fares would drop. A search from Springfield to Portland, Ore., recommended buying now because fares were rising.

When traveling internationally, see what packages are offered by various airlines. Some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, offer good vacation packages on their Web sites. Right now for $999, Singapore Airlines is offering roundtrip airfare from L.A., airport transfers, daily breakfast, four night accommodations, complimentary "Hop-on Bus" pass in Singapore and 50 percent off certain tours. Prices do not include tax of approximately $110. Add $50 for U.S. departures Friday through Sunday. By contrast, a search on Travelocity found the flight alone on Singapore airlines was $1,230.

Consider a cruise. One of the best ways to travel is on a cruise and not just your Caribbean cruise, but in Europe, South America, Hawaii and Australia. You unpack one time and get to see several different cities and ports. Your food and entertainment is usually included. When booking a cruise, be sure to tell your travel agent if you have taken this cruise line before as some offer discounts for repeat cruisers. If you're active or retired military, tell your travel agent, too, since some offer discounts for military personnel.

Skip the Passport Card and get a real passport. The Passport Card is a travel document that allows Americans to enter the country from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. It is less expensive than a passport, but if a passenger gets sick on a cruise and has to fly back to the United States, they're in trouble. A passport lasts 10 years so it's worth the investment.

Bring your own pillow. Beginning May 1, American Airlines will charge $8 for a pillow and blanket in coach class on most flights. JetBlue and US Airways charge $7 for a blanket-and-pillow set. It may not sound like much, but it's easily the cost of breakfast.

Save yourself time searching for a ticket by using a search engine that compares various flights. There are many, but here are a few: www.momondo.com; www.skyscanner.com; www.sidestep.com;www.kayak.com.

Hotels eat a big part of your budget, so spend time researching them. You're likely to get a good deal from sites like Hotwire.com, but you don't know what hotel you're booking until you've reserved it, so if you don't like uncertainty, this may not be for you.

A hotel price comparison site is atwww.hotelscombined.com, which searches numerous listings and allows you to book directly through the hotel. If you find a rate you like, before you book, call the hotel and see if you can get a better discount.

Don't care where or when you go, just want to get out of town? Check out http://www.airfarewatchdog.com and type in SGF for Springfield or BKG for Branson. The site will pull up a list of deals available (usually within the next two weeks). A recent search showed roundtrip airfare from Springfield to Baltimore for $180 or $146 to Asheville, N.C. Branson to Orlando was $138.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spring Time in Napa



Planning a trip to Napa Valley? Planning on visiting wineries? If you want less tourists, beautiful scenery and more one on one time with winery folks make plans to visit in the spring.

Trees and flowers are in bloom, vines are starting to get green, traffic is less...much less. Spring is great time in Northern California. Check it out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Destination...Gardenseed


Wandering around Danville, California we discovered an interesting shop. Perhaps a better choice of words would be...bordello meets geisha meets antique aunt meets funky Victorian parlour all rolled into one TINY shop. Not one square inch was left unadorned. Even the ceilings were festive with dozens of Japanese umbrellas. So when the sign said "Uncommon Wares"...they really meant it. Ever see a life size chicken decked out in jewels and beads? They have one.


You have to look up...all the way to the top of the walls and on the ceilings. Just don't move when you do or you'll miss something at eye level.



Crystal chandeliers hung amongst the umbrellas, showing off both in amazing light patterns. Believe me whatever you are looking for from modern to antique jewelry to sequin purses to unique pill boxes to garden art...the list goes on and on...they have it at Gardenseed in Danville, CA.

An antique ring just had to come home with me. See what I mean...they have everything.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Today in Napa



No travel tips today...just ramblings from my day.

Oreo cows and calves (baby Oreos?) against bright green grass welcomed drivers to the south end of Napa Valley. Most drivers probably didn't give these unusual cows a second glance. After all they are there most days. Spring, however, makes their unique look stand out even more. They aren't really "Oreos" but that's what everyone calls them as they are black on both ends with a white band around their middle. One of these days they will be close enough to the fence for me to get a photo!

They are really Belted Galloway cows or Dutch Belted. But it's more fun to call them Oreo Cows.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Miso at Christmas


When we went for a walk in the park, Miso alerted us to squirrels, birds, squirrels, hares, peacocks...and did I mention squirrels?



Back home after a hard day of squirrel duty, Miso took a well deserved nap. But she wasn't overly happy about the bow someone tied to her collar.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stay Healthy and Fit While Traveling



Anyone who travels a great deal needs to stay healthy and fit. But just do you do it? Here are a few tips from Olympic athletes and frequent business travelers.

Drink...and then drink some more.
It doesn't matter if you are on a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam or from Phoenix to Vegas...you need to stay hydrated. Carry an empty refillable bottle through security and fill it before you get on the plane. On a long flight, ask the attendants to refill it from their bottled water.

Exercise.
Take a walk, go for a run, do some sit-ups or some squats. Whatever is your exercise of choice, don't forget about it when traveling. Have a long layover in an airport? Go for a walk. Depending on how long your layover is, you may be able to walk to the next terminal! Heading to the beach? Take advantage of jogging or walking in the sand. Your body will thank you for it.

Eat right.
Almonds make a healthy snack and so does fruit. If you pack some in your backpack or carry-on you won't have to buy the airport not-so-healthy food and it won't cost you as much. Don't forget to start your day with a good breakfast, especially if you have a big day ahead of you.

Plan ahead.
Packing the right snacks and a water bottle, scoping out the airport ahead of time and allowing some time for exercise while traveling will make your next trip a healthy one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Less Expensive Trips



Let's say you want to visit your favorite city or big time attraction...but you don't want to spend tons of money. What do you do? Here are a few suggestions that may work for you.

Plan ahead...
Look at websites for the city or attraction. There may be special coupons or event passes available only online. Check out places like www.budgettravel.com or www.fodors.com to see if there are any specials coming up in the near future. You may have other favorite sites you check. Sign up for email alerts for that city. You can always "unsubscribe" after your trip. Download coupons, specials and tickets in advance.

Plan your days...
If possible plan on mid-week stays rather than week ends. Many hotels and attractions offer better rates during the week. And try to go when everyone else is NOT going there. It may be cheaper and less crowded.

Shopping...
Want to take home souvenirs? Try the local supermarket instead of tourist shops. You never know what you might find for considerably less than in the tourist shops. Purchase some local specialties for your friends and family. What's better than English Tea...from a corner grocery store? Or real vanilla...from a grocery shop in Mexico?


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pack Your Bag


These packing tips are not new but are always good reminders, especially when planning a trip longer than a weekend.

Make a list before you start packing for your next trip. Not only are the chances of forgetting something less but it may help you to organize your luggage better. Include clothes as well as tickets, guidebooks, ID's, passports, money, camera, batteries, chargers, vitamins, etc. etc. etc.



Once you have your list, try laying everything you plan to take on your bed. Take a look at the amount of items, the number of outfits, how many shoes you have in the pile, how many sweaters you really have, etc.

Does it all fit in the luggage you were going to pack? Do you really need everything you have in the pile? Can you consolidate outfits to eliminate some shoes or extra tops or bottoms? Will one black sweater fit the bill for the whole trip, allowing you to leave your navy and cream ones at home? Shoes can take up a lot of room. Can you coordinate so fewer pairs are needed?

You may be amazed at what you can leave home!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

January Rains Bring...


After January rains, everything is so green and fresh.



Cloudy day with more rain in sight.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February Trip Ideas


Looking for someplace different to head off to this February? Check out these destinations.

Head to the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain...

Summer is not the only time of year when the Canary Island of Tenerife celebrates fiesta. On February 7 islanders will head to the city of Santa Cruz to elect a Child King and three days later the Carnival Queen is chosen. By February 17 on Ash Wednesday visitors to Tenerife can witness a colorful funeral procession where a paper mache sardine packed with fireworks is set alight. Celebrations conclude on February 21 with a big festival procession. Go to www.webtenerife.com for more information.

Or take a trip to Italy and celebrate Caravaggio Year...

Rome has declared 2010 Caravaggio Year in honor of the Baroque artist. This year marks the 400th anniversary of his death which is being marked by several special exhibitions of his works. Thirty of his works of art are going on display in Rome at the Scuderie del Quirinale from February 17. In May, a Caravaggio exhibition is opening in Florence at the Palazzo Pitti while at the end of the year Rimini will host paintings by Caravaggio in Castel Sismondo. Right now some of the artist's most important works are on display in Forli. More information can be found at www.scuderiequirinale.it.