Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yanert Glacier Helicopter Ride

Riding in this helicopter and playing on Yanert Glacier has been the highlight of all my travel adventures, (so far). 

When I signed up for a helicopter ride to a glacier in Alaska, I had no idea I would be experiencing a bit of heaven on earth. 

Arriving at the heliport, my daughter, Beth Blair, and our Twitter friends were weighed and given a pair of glacier walking boots. The weigh-in was to evenly balance the weight in the helicopter.  The five of us on this excursion were called by name to climb into the helicopter according to our seat assignments. With our green boots buckled up, we were ready to go. 

 I was happy having a window seat behind the pilot. 

Preparing for lift off we put on our earphones and adjusted our microphones so we could visit with each other and talk with the pilot. We had amazing Enya music playing in our ears if no one was talking. It was perfect background music for this amazing ride to sights so rarely seen. 

Our Era Flightseeing pilot related the geology of the mountainous regions and the glacier carved valleys below. I was thinking how my husband, Rex, a geophysicist, would understand all this better than I was.  As we traveled at 110 mph, we saw the terrain change from lush greenery to  frozen tundra. 

After a delightful flight we started descending towards the icy terrain. 

The landscape was uneven and I wondered how we were going to land on the glacier. 

Very gently our pilot set us down on an uneven clearing. He opened my door and I looked down at the floor of white. I asked "how far will I sink when I step down?"

 I was seeing these water holes in the ice and I expected to step onto something like snow. I didn't need to worry as I soon found out the ground was frozen hard. These holes were from rocks that had been warmed by the sun and had sunk into the ice causing these water holes.  There was no way we were going to sink even with the sun occasionally shining.

One of the most striking views was the magestic blue color of the glacial ice. It was like we were in another world. 

With our glacier walking boots we were able to romp and play on the uneven glacial ice.

The area  where we had landed was large, quiet, magnificently beautiful and so peaceful.  I dearly loved it there.  I wanted to stay and not leave. I hoped the pilot would leave me there and pick me up on another of his trips back. I knew it wasn't likely to happen but the thought of leaving this incredible place was hard to fathom. 

Even though I was standing on a frozen glacier, it didn't feel freezing cold at all. I didn't need to wear a hat and I had on a simple fleece jacket and blue jeans. There was no wind and the sun kept us comfortable as we explored.

 Everyone was having a joyous time. You can see how happy I was!

As all good things must come to an end, Beth and I had to eventually climb back into the helicopter with our fellow travelers. A final picture with our feet on the glacier saves this memory for us.  

Back on the helipad I was still on a spiritual high having experienced a little bit of heaven. It confirms that I have to be good so when I leave this world, I get to see more of heaven. It must be magnificent if God gave us this place on earth.

Over and out...until next time.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Peaches from Palisade, Colorado

My 18 pound box of world famous Palisade peaches arrived today. They are juicy, freshly picked and a wonderful sweet treat. I wish I had a scratch n sniff sticker for you to enjoy a whiff of these delectable delights. 

Palisade, Colorado, is the peach and wine capital of Colorado. It's located on the Western Slope east of Grand Junction. It has a mild climate perfect for growing peaches and grapes for wine. 

This weekend is the 44th annual Palisade Peachfest. It has all things peachy and something for everyone. It's held the third weekend in August so even though it's too late for you to go this year, you can put it on your calendar for next year. If you plan to go, let me know. It's a mere 4 hour drive for me. 

 I had heard about Palisade peaches and wine ever since I moved to Colorado in 1994. Finally I was able to visit the area. The peaches on the trees are beautiful and I am happy to say I resisted picking any free samples off the trees.  I patiently waited for my own box of peaches. 

My 18 pound box of peaches came with a count of 36 peaches. I'm already wishing I had ordered another box as they are going fast. They are perfect for eating fresh, cooking or freezing. 

In Palisade there are many places to stop and shop. I picked up some peach salsa at a small farm outlet. Also available are peach jams, jellies, preserves, peach syrup, peach pie filling, dried peaches and, of course, fresh peaches.  

My husband recently brought home from work a container of homemade peach butter. Stephanie, whom he works with, had made a batch from fresh peaches and we were lucky recipients.  I am so grateful for  Stephanie's gift of cooking! If you're reading this, Stephanie, a heartfelt Thank You

Another stop along the way was St. Kathryn Cellars. The tasting room offers 16 fruit wines from which you can choose four to sample.

My favorites were the Peach Passion and the Apple Blossom.  

 In the tasting room is also a large gift shop with a wide selection of wine related accessories. If you're bringing home bottles of wine, they have cute cardboard carrying boxes that hold three bottles at a time. They also have a wine club so you can celebrate the juicy, fresh picked peach flavor all year long, even out of season, without leaving home.  

 Exploring Palisade, I was thinking all things peachy. When I tasted the Peach Passion wine, I just had to bring it home with me. My bottle is almost gone now but it will remain a sweet memory of my visit to Palisade.

Peach harvesting in Colorado begins in July and runs through August. It's getting close to the end of the season so if these pictures made your mouth drool, you'll have to hurry to order a box of Palisade peaches. There are many companies that will ship right to your door. 

"An apple is an excellent thing -- until you have tried a peach."
George du Maurier (1834-1896)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ziplining Thrills

Zipping through the air with the greatest of ease 
my heart was racing as I slipped through the trees.

My little rhyme hardly begins to describe my 3.5 hour exhilarating experience of the Rainforst Canopy Zipline  in Ketchikan, Alaska. 

My zipline adventure started with a ride in this 4 x 4 Unimog. It took us up a steep hillside to the outfitting chalet. In the chalet we were fitted with an adjustable seat harness, a chest harness, a helmet, industrial gloves for braking ourselves on the cable, pulleys, carabineers and  a safety lanyard. Our cameras were tied to our chest harness so we wouldn't lose them on the rainforest floor as we traversed the tree tops. Below you can see my daughter, Beth Blair, dressed in her safety equipment and ready to go. 

There are some restrictions for ziplining that people need to be aware of. Each company has it's own regulations but mostly they are close or the same. Weight limitations are 90 to 250 pounds. Minimum height is 60 inches, although there are family friendly ziplines available if you have adventurous children. Pregnant women and people with certain disorders are not allowed.  One company I found, in Colorado, goes so far as to state that "the absolute maximum allowable circumference, measured around the belly button area is 44 inches and the absolute maximum circumference at the top of the thigh is 24 inches". This is to assure safety and comfort in the fitting of the harness. So, if you are thinking of taking this flying leap, check on the limitations for the zipline company you plan to use.  

Above is the view from the first platform in Ketchican, Alaska. Since ziplining is not for everyone, an orientation is given here where a person can easily change their mind about going any further. In my small group, no one chickened out. The first cable run was considered a practice run of only 100 feet long. I hear in some places people are pushed off the platform for their first run but that was not my experience. I made the decision all by myself to step off the safety of the platform and go flying. It was scary I will say.

The guides give individual attention to each person as they send and receive them between platforms.  Here you can see the guide  giving me the signal to start stopping. To do this I used my gloved hand to reach above my head to grab the cable and start applying pressure. This has to be done correctly. If you stop yourself too soon you won't reach the platform and you'll slide back to the middle of the cable. If that happens you'll be swinging in the middle and will have to pull yourself to the platform. I was grateful that didn't happen to me. The only terrifying moment I had was when the guide failed to give me the "start stopping" hand signal and I was coming in at an alarming rate. The trees have padding around them and now I understand why. As I barreled towards the platform, I saw everyone moving out of the way. Luckily I realized I wasn't going to get a stop signal and was able to quickly bring myself to a safe, successful stop. 

As we landed on each of the 10 platforms, we didn't have much room to move around so we stayed in a circle around the tree for our next run. We were connected with lanyards to safety cables at all times. While standing on the small platforms between the runs it was  reassuring to know if we fell off, we would  only dangle in mid air and not splat on the rainforest floor. After a few daring looks over the edge we mostly avoided getting too close to the edge of the platforms and kept our backs against the tree trunks. The guides even teased a few people in our group about being real tree huggers.  

Another part of this adventure was crossing three suspension bridges between platforms. These sky bridges provided another whole dimension of an aerial experience.  This is not the kind of fun anyone with a fear of heights would want to try. The bridges were shaky but you can see the yellow lanyard that had each of us connected to a safety cable. 

Up close the first step onto the suspension bridge looks daring. Even hanging on to the side cables was a shaky deal. From this viewpoint, the bridge doesn't look very wide, and it isn't. 

There is a lot of diversity in ziplining opportunities. We were in a rainforest so long pants and layered clothing was recommended. We wore our rain jackets as well. Closed-toe shoes are always required. The longest ride was the 850 foot run called "Ben's Revenge".  The speeds were up to 35 mph. Since the zipline is in a wildlife habitat with a large concentration of bald eagles and black bears our group was told not to scream as we zipped along because it would disturb the animals in the reserve. We  practiced our quiet screams during orientation. 

If my 35 mph  sounds tame to you, there are other ziplines in the world that are longer, faster and higher. The fastest zipline is reportedly in Sun City, South Africa. It reaches 100 mph. 

Even at 35 mph, I hung on tight and had to steer myself to stay straight. Letting go with one hand to brake was at first unnerving but I got used to it. However, on one of our last runs, we were told we could reach out and touch the tree if we wanted to. Beth rose to the challenge but I was more comfortable continuing to hold on for dear life. I found ziplining to be an adrenaline rush like I had never felt before. Each line became more fun as I learned to steer, brake and freely fly. By my last run, I was truly disappointed that I had reached the end but I was joyful that this grandma had ziplined in Alaska .

The eighth and final zip landed me on a 55 foot viewing tower with steps leading to the base camp.  After leaving the safety equipment with our guides each participant was awarded a medal on a red ribbon in recognition of our ziplining achievement. This ceremony was followed with a complimentary snack and hot beverage.  Our emotional descent was cushioned by a visit to the gift shop, a perfect ending to this extraordinary Alaska experience.

My zipline experience was in Alaska but you don't have to travel that far for such fun. This popular adventure is offered in many places. Most likely there is one close to where you live.  Colorado has a new one you can see along I-70. It crosses Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. In Colorado alone I counted at least 12 zipline companies offering a variety of experiences. 

Catalina Island, California, has a zipline that beckons me. It's an entirely different style from the one I was on. The braking for landing on platforms appears to be very different. The climate is warm so no need of layered clothing and raincoats. Best yet, screaming is allowed. While on the island we could hear the zipliner's screams as they sailed across the desert island. 

If this post has pushed your  adventure button, consider unzipping a new experience that promises a wonderful adrenaline rush. I think you'll love the thrill. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn, a motel located in San Luis Obispo, California, is a fun, romantic, quirky place worth exploring. 

My first visit to this marvelous inn was over 35 years ago. My husband was a graduate student in Los Angeles and on weekends we would drive around to see the sights in California. We were only daytime visitors back then but all these years I remembered the glitz of Madonna Inn.

When we had a recent trip to California, I was delighted when my husband agreed to make reservations for us to stay as guests for two nights. I studied Madonna Inn's web site and marveled over the room features grid.  This spreadsheet gives the price, bed type and amenities of  each of their 110 uniquely decorated rooms. Some of the rooms boast of rock rooms, waterfall  showersbalconies, European fixtures and rock fireplaces. I had my eye on some pretty spectacular offerings but we chose to settle into the Swiss Chalet for our two night visit. Alex Madonna, the creator of the Madonna Inn, had the dream of creating a hotel modeled after a Swiss Chalet so we were in a great room. I was thrilled with our experience. Below is a picture of the outside of our beautiful corner room.

Upon entering the room, we found a bottle of champagne with a huge helium balloon welcoming us and wishing us a Happy Anniversary. When we made our reservations we were asked if it was a special occasion. It was our 37th wedding anniversary celebration. We didn't realize they would be honoring our celebration throughout our stay. 

Madonna Inn first opened in December, 1958. It was created by Alex Madonna and his wife, Phyllis. Since pink is Phyllis Madonna's favorite color, it dominates much of the decor and furnishings at the Inn. In our room we found pink bath robes in the closet. A pink bow decorated our bottle of champagne and the ice bucket was, of course, pink. We had yet to see the pinkest part of Madonna Inn. 

For dinner we celebrated at the Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House. It was so very pink and sparkly my camera had a hard time focusing on the glitz.

At dinner our anniversary was once again acknowledged with a Happy Anniversary balloon at our table. For dinner we received a complimentary piece of their signature cream filled pink champagne cake.

Besides the balloon decorating our table, we had amethyst luster water goblets (for sale on their on-line order page), copper salt and pepper shakers, and a gilded candlestick holder. The antipasto plate was a delightful surprise. Every part of the meal experience was geared to pleasing us.  

The pastries are baked daily in their pastry shop which is next to the Copper Cafe. The signature cream filled pink champagne cake looks as impressive as it tastes.

We had breakfast in the Copper Cafe. It has elaborate woodcarvings and all the table tops are copper.  Pink sugar fills the shakers on every table.

For many tourists a must see at the Madonna Inn is the public men's restroom located in the basement of the main building. It's the famous rock waterfall urinal. I hear the water runs only upon it's use. I would have peeked in there myself but there was a constant line of men going in  because of a private party in the area. Instead I handed my camera to my husband and insisted on a picture. 

Even the sinks are impressive.

Since we're on bathrooms at the Madonna Inn here are a few more of the unusual ones they have.
This is the ladies room with a rock wall.

And a very pink bathroom in the lounge area.

This is our bathroom in the Swiss Chalet room.

Madonna Inn has lots of places to enjoy. Downstairs in the main building you can visit the Classic Gourmet and Wine Shop. Up a few stairs from the main floor is My Favorite Things Boutique. It is the ladies shop with designer styles in clothing and jewelry. The Madonna Inn Gift Store is full of unique gifts and souvenirs. One thing I found most intriguing was a book by Phyllis Madonna Madonna Inn, My Point of View. The price tag was a little steep for my budget so I didn't get to bring it home.  The Brass Tower Men's Clothing Store assures that the men aren't forgotten. They also have a spa, pool and fitness area, banquet facilities and the largest expo center on California's central coast. 

Everywhere you venture around the main building you will find large print carpet, woodworking, lights and lots of razzle dazzle in the decor. Above is my husband, Rex, on his way down to the wine cellar. Below is the Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge, with lots of pink

At night the lighting accentuates the entire Madonna Inn, turning it into a beautiful evening resort.

Above is the registration building. Inside they have racks of post cards of every room. Each guest gets a free postcard of the room they are staying in.

The doors leading into the Copper Cafe are beautifully crafted with stain glass windows.

The water fountain outside the Copper Cafe and the night lighting make the area magical.

Additional rooms are located in these dazzling buildings.

The grounds outdoors are meticulously kept and add to the beauty of the Madonna Inn experience. Be sure to plan a stop on your next trip down Highway 101. It will most likely put a smile on your face.