Friday, September 30, 2016

Glass wizard Dale Chihuly's 'Garden and Glass' is magical offering of Seattle master's talents

Chihuly's "Glasshouse" is a 40-foot tall glass and steel structure holding the exhibit, which includes this homage
to sea life -- complete with coral, ferns and the underwater life one might see on a scuba dive or snorkel adventure.


Chihuly's glasswork is both inside and out in Seattle; here flamingo-like
shapes seem to preen and sunbathe amongst well-coordinated flowers.

I FIRST DISCOVERED the magic of Dale Chihuly's glass creations at the Desert Botanial Garden during my Phoenix, Arizona, years.
His freeblown and functional glass work delights and intrigues, celebrating color, honoring life.
Some of his lush shapes seem to spill out, encouraging touch.
(It is not allowed, understandably, to do so.)
So we couldn't spend nearly a week in Seattle without visiting this Tacoma hometown boy's "Chihuly Garden and Glass."
WE HAD our favorite CityPASS coupons, a great way to see a great city, and were delighted to move quickly into the gallery.
Cookie takes in Chihuly's magic.
Dale Chihuly's "Glasshouse" presents
his magnificent artwork in Seattle Center.
The exciting exhibition, in the shadow of Seattle's iconic Space Needle, is a wondrous collection of a few of his finest indoor and outdoor works.  Staged in the booming Seattle Center, inside and surrounding a towering glass and steel building, Chihuly's show enchants with its lovely play of light and color, his sense of whimsy and the voluptuous nature of his compositions.
Keller photographs this glass "flower."
HIS ELABORATE installations seem to be alive.  They climb up walls, float from the ceiling, flow onto the floors and surround the viewer with the artist's sense of wonder and gratitude.
It's obvious that Chihuly enjoys his life, appreciates the wonders of nature and celebrates his presence on the planet with every piece he creates. His installations are a marvel to behold.
Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Chihuly studied in Wisconsin and received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a time and nurtured a fondness for Italy -- known for its magnificent glass creations. His work is influenced by his time there, studying renowned glassblowers, taking workshops.  Back in the U.S. in 1971, he founded the famed Pilchuck Glass School. Living in primitive conditions, with two other teachers and 16 students, the artful commune built glass furnaces and began blowing glass.
THE BEAUTY and grace of Chihuly's work is influenced by his time in Florence and Venice, where he studied with the masters of the famed Burano glass.
No, this is NOT a Chihuly piece. We included it because
this creation is in Burano, Italy, where he studied.
Artist Dale Chihuly is known for his graceful glass sculpture.
Here, he inspects his own showing in Seattle
In 1976, while visiting England, Chihuly was involved in a head-on car accident and flew through the windshield. His was blinded in his left eye but, after recovering, continued to blow glass until he dislocated his right shoulder in a 1979 bodysurfing accident.
He is still at the center of the action, with a studio on the water in Seattle, and his work displayed from the British Isles to South America and Australia.  Most major U.S. cities have hosted a Chihuly exhibit -- usually in a botanical garden.  I've seen his work in Toronto and Oklahoma City, and in my home of Scottsdale, Ariz., where -- as in Seattle -- we heard kudos for the master in multiple languages.
Boston, Atlanta and many other cities around the globe have borrowed his masterworks to entertain audiences, sharing Chihuly's daring and invention worldwide. His fondness for the desert has brought him and his work back to Phoenix several times.
His chandeliers often sell for six figures, and he is valued now at about $10 million -- not bad for spending nearly a half-century doing something he clearly loves.

 If you're in Seattle, don't miss it.
At night, the place lights up for an extra dimension of wonderment. And consider CityPass, which will get you into many other venues, and on the water, at bargain prices:

The beloved Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C., welcome then enchant
visitors from all over the world.  Here, a zennia and dahlia garden delights.
NEXT UP:  Another garden, this one in Victoria, B.C., awaits.  This time, the flowers are real, though. Butchart Gardens welcomes us -- and you -- with 50 acres of floral finery and spectacularly kept displays.  Japanese, Italian and English gardens are all beautifully maintained by a staff of 50 greenhouse and grounds workers, and a full-time administrative staff. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each weekend, when we move around the globe in search of nature-and-arts driven travel. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Whales astonish, amuse, delight on the whale trail from Seattle to Alaska's Inside Passage

A juvenile orca learns how to swim next to his mother, south of Vancouver, near U.S. waters with Wild Whales Vancouver. In Alaska, Juneau Tours offers spectacular whale watching farther north.
Juneau Tours offers up close, personal opportunities to see
whales, with skilled drivers and guides to get you "there."



CAN ONE ever get enough of whale watching? I think not. It's sheer magic, eye-popping, time-stopping magic.
The erect penis of an orca can reach more
than eight feet as this undersea image
. Art courtesy ChainedBirds

Each outing is different -- we've logged more than 100. Because of weather, waves, the boat's speed, ability of the naturalist and captain, mood and travel patterns of the whales, you'll always see something new.
We've watched with awe these splendid creatures from Santa Barbara to Maui, Seattle to Iceland, Alaska to our winter base, San Diego.
OUR LAST five outings yielded spectacular sightings, although even with our practiced eyes, we didn't always have our cameras at precisely the right place and right time. We were so stunned to see orcas mating on a Wild Whales Vancouver outing, that we nearly forgot our mission. It was a magical adventure aboard the small, well organized company's sleek new Jing Yu vessel.
I grew up in Montana and have spent time on ranches, but the Wild Whales mating orca experience was a first.
Watching a humpback scoop up a huge mouthful of fish, to be filtered
through his baleen, is a magnificent sight.  We saw the birds circling first!
Accurate measurements of the erect orca penis are tough to make, because the whale's erect length can only be observed during mating.  We were lucky, our knowledgeable captain Michael said. There it was:  a huge penis above water, waiting for action (fellow passengers thought it was a squid or octopus.)  No, Michael assured us later, as his crew Luke and Christopher smiled. It was the male's sex organ. When the thrashing began, a female orca had answered the call.
Our knowledgeable  on-board naturalist, Amila, shared scholarly insights on the fast boat ride from Vancouver. She, too, had never experienced mating whales, but knows a lot about orcas.
WE HAD just crossed into U.S. waters, south of Vancouver, B.C., after two and one-half hours of a beautiful journey along Vancouver Island, into the sea pointed south. We saw a few humpbacks, and many orcas, including a family of four -- mother teaching baby orca, with another older juvenile and papa bringing up the rear.
Wild Whales Vancouver is tops.
About a 30-minute boat ride from Juneau, you'll be treated
 to diving whales --  a thrilling sight -- with Juneau Tours.
Headquarted on picturesque Granville Island with its pretty markets, restaurants and live music, it offers a nature-driven variety of whale watching tours into the Strait of Georgia and beyond. We also saw many seals and bald eagles.
EARLIER IN two-plus weeks of whale watching, we'd been thrilled with Puget Sound Express, which we boarded at Edmonds, Washington, after a pleasant coach pick-up from the Hyatt in Seattle.
In our whale watching days, we've been fortunate to see whales off the coast of Maui a half-dozen times.
Aboard Juneau Tours, Alex and Luke provided lively
commentary and a successful afternoon of viewing whales. 
We've seen the sperm and the blue, but never the elusive narwhal, known for his spectacular tusk.
Then in Alaska's chilly waters, we were thrilled to hear "Thar they blows" aboard the well organized, highly rated Juneau Tours. The majestic backdrop of the Chilkat Mountains and Juneau's Ice Field framed exciting whale watching there,  enhanced by other wildlife sightings -- bald eagles, playful harbor seals and plump Stellar sea lions, sea otters and black-tailed deer.
TO BE YARDS away from something greater than you, something far more powerful and more spectacular, is a humbling experience.
The fine mist from the humpback's spout as he feeds off Alaska's coast.
To think that man nearly brought this beautiful creature to extinction makes seeing a pod of seven humpbacks even more moving. To see several dozen orcas, as we did on Puget Sound Express then with Wild Whales Vancouver, is extraordinary.
ON OUR VARIOUS outings, we saw whales from five vessels -- aboard that small 15-passenger Juneau Tours vehicle, the 30-passenger Jing Yu speed boat out of Vancouver,  our 3,000-plus Explorer of the Seas on Royal Caribbean, a small motor boat and the sleek Puget Sound Express vessel, Chilkat.
WHALES INHABIT all Earth's major oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropical waters of the equator. Shamefully, man nearly destroyed them and sadly, several nations  still hunt them.
Cookie sets out on another whale-watching adventure.  This trip, we were lucky to have
five different experiences -- on vessels large and small -- all offering spectacular sightings.
Depending on species and migration patterns, some whales are abundant in some locations while absent in others. So look for other life, too. We loved watching sea lions lumber along the shores, and heave themselves on the buoys for sunshine.
THE SMALLER harbor seals were abundant in calmer waters.
Out of Seattle, our Chilkat naturalist prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling week on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. Humpbacks were the stars on our trip out of Juneau then again as we exited Tracy Arm Fjords and headed back toward Victoria for the thrills with Wild Whales.
For all our our whale adventures -- from Seattle, to Juneau, to British Columbia -- we reveled in gorgeous weather and bountiful, close-up whale sightings, enhanced by expert crew curious and friendly fellow passengers from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil.
We recommend whale watching on vessels large and small for eye-popping thrills. Shop around to find the vessel and tour that suits you best.
You'll be happy to join the humpback's song, singing the praises of "hunting" these magnificent creatures with cameras, not weapons of destruction.
BEST BET: Juneau Tours:

Mesmerizing glasswork awaits at Dale Chihuly's Seattle museum.

UP NEXT: Enchanting Chihuly -- We visit the master's museum in Seattle where Dale Chihuly's "Garden and Glass"  visionary artwork is dispayed.  The Northwesterner's creativity shines through in gorgeous glass exhibits both indoor and outdoors -- right next to Seattle's landmark Space Needle. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us weekends for more artful, nature-driven travel adventures.

Friday, September 16, 2016

On the trail of the whale, from Puget Sound, north to Alaska

A juvenile orca whale -- probably less than a year old -- was the star for passengers in Puget Sound Express.
Watching an orca breach was a thrill of a lifetime this week on Chilkat.
A family run enterprise shares 31 years of experience in Puget Sound Express.

The "L" Pod was photographed off Victoria.
Puget Sound Express shares its knowledge and love of
whales in extraordinary top-rated adventures. 




I FELL IN LOVE with whales when I was a kid. I was a young musician and vocalist when I first heard that whales could sing, too.  I asked my parents for a recording of their elaborate vocalizations. Ear-popping! It changed my life -- introducing me to the lyrical language of another species.
LATER, AS A  newlywed, my late husband and I honeymooned in Maui and heard whales off the shores of Lahaina, the same year Roger and Katherine Payne's wonderful "Songs  of the Humpback Whale" came out. That 1970 album from respected musicians and "bio- acousticians"  showed the world that my revered childhood whale tunes were indeed communication: my beloved whales' complex and haunting methods of sharing joy, fear, longing and  more.
Chilkat Express takes its name from the Tlingit native people of
Southeastern Alaska and pays homage to the peoples' reverence for whales.
 BRUCE KELLER AND I  have  followed the magical world of whales on seas, bays and oceans, and we are lucky lad and lass to follow them again in the U.S. and Canada, watching, photographing  -- and listening --with joy.
Thrilling sight: three humpbacks feed, frolic in Alaska's Stephen's Passage.
We were aboard a delightful Juneau Tours vessel when we found these gems.  
We're reveling in  early autumn whale watching out of Edmonds, Washington, finding Orcas, which are frolicking in the Straits of Juan de Fuca -- as many as 50 surrounding our Chilkat boat,   one of three vessels run by the excellent Puget Sound Express.
 Three generations  of the marine-life loving Hanke family run the operation, which specializes in close-up whale encounters that leave shivers up the spine. Our trained naturalist, Justine, driver Brian and boat host Wendi took 60 of us into the Straits of Juan de Fuca,  up towards Victoria, where the orcas cavort, feed, feast on salmon and teach their young the whale ways. Our "preview" was a half-dozen humpback sightings.
Each humpback has a distinctive tail or fluke, allowing
Puget Sound Express to identify each and name each whale.   
 SINCE MY first sightings off the shores of Lahaina, I've watched whales on several continents -- and in our wintertime backyard of San Diego.  Never have I had a wealth of sightings to compare to our day on Chilkat with the Puget Sound folks.  The crew knows every whale by name -- thrilling in itself. And for this "Cookie," it was pure bliss to meet a whale who shares my nickname. She's a revered auntie who helps raise the young.  Whales operate much like a kibbutz or my big Irish and Norwegian clan. They help one another out, share child-rearing chores, feeding and babysitting to give one another a bit of down time.
SEEING THESE magnificent creatures in the wild gives one a whole new perspective on their imperiled life. And using radio communication with fellow "spotters," moving at more than 40 miles an hour, you cover the waterfront with Puget Sound Express, which also offers three-day excursions to the San Juans with expert instruction on whale watching and wildlife viewing around Friday Harbor and Port Townsend. Our Chilkat naturalist  prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling two weeks week of whale watching. If you're staying in a Seattle hotel, Tours Northwest can book you for the Puget Sound trip and pick you up at your hotel.
LATER IN THE week, we had more whale thrills with Juneau Tours and Whale Watching. We set out in a 15-passenger smaller vessel, and  the whale revels continued (more next blog). They amped up aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, as we exited the Tracy Arm Fjords and headed back toward Victoria, through a sea of playful humpbacks. Listening to the humpback's haunting song, watching them move in ice as tall as three-story buildings is bound to  thrill. Spending time with three pods of salmon-feasting Orcas on their Puget Sound kibbutz is off the charts.
A well fed sea lion suns, snoozes. The sea lions are part
of the "extras" on whale watches off Seattle and in Alaska.
UP NEXT:  Watching three generations of orcas an  listening to the humpback's haunting song --  watching them navigate around ice bergs as tall as three-story buildings -- all this alters a person forever.  There simply is not enough room in a single story to do justice to the magical, intelligent and graceful whale, and to the wildlife one sees on the whale trail. We continue our marine watch with sea lions, otters, and bears aboard Juneau Tours with 15 other passengers, then with a cast of thousands aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us with a new post each weekend.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Red Lodge eatery, Old Piney Dell, delivers delightful meal in decades-old tradition

Old Piney Dell grew from a mountain cabin to a world class restaurant with old world European service and offerings.



Rock Creek Resort grew up around  Old Piney Dell restaurant. 

The rustic charm of Old Piney Dell remains through the decades.
WHEN OLD PINEY DELL was becoming the legendary Carbon County eatery it is today, I was a youngster growing up in nearby Stillwater County -- just a pleasant drive through the hills, farmland and aspen groves to this rustic Red Lodge, Montana, area restaurant.
My family enjoyed the company of Piney Dell owner and Rock Creek Resort founder Pepi Gramshammer, who recently turned 84. They loved hearing him describe how the Beartooth Mountains recalled the mountain scenery of his childhood and how he designed the menu to feature satisfying fare of his native Austria.
Pepi and my Norwegian grandfather Gustav swapped tales of Alpine woods, fondue dinners and mountain hikes.
Pepi was an internationally known athlete -- and my dad and brothers were athletic, so daddy loved coming to the rustic restaurant to enjoy the bounty of the Alpine-style menu offerings and to chat with Pepi about their mutual love of nature, travel and sports.
Pepi Gramshammer drew from his European
roots and memories at Rock Creek Resort.
DECADES LATER, I wondered if Old Piney Dell could live up to my glorious childhood memories.  
We'd stayed several times through the years at Rock Creek Resort, but always on a Sunday or Monday, the two "dark" days when the restaurant is closed.
The resort still has allure, even if you can't make a dinner at Old Piney Dell.  Our favorite rooms on the creek are restful and nicely appointed, there are lovely grounds to stroll and a bounty of flowers to photograph. And there are many restaurants in nearby Red Lodge.
Recently, though, we timed our visit on Saturday, so we could dine at Old Piney Dell.  It was a trip down proverbial memory lane, with a delicious meal -- beautifully cooked and presented with the friendly flair I remembered.
An abundance of flowers awaits the photographer; bees and birds abound.
THE RESORT grew up around the restaurant after Pepi purchased the property in the 1960s, the time my memories of the place begin.
Cookie and Keller pay a visit to Piney Dell.
The small, welcoming restaurant evolved from a homesteader’s cabin built in the 1920s. Pepi put his touch on that as he was beginning development of the resort. He built the Grizzly Condos first, to house fellow ski racers. The resort grew, with Rock Creek Town Homes, Stoney Cabin, the Beartooth Lodge and the handsome log building Twin Elk. Pepi added a fishing pond, soccer field, playground, volleyball court, indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and gym. The night we were there, a wedding party was whooping it up. It's a popular place for private fetes. The place had a magical feeling to me as a child.  I remembered a woodsy setting, Rock Creek running by the window, mature trees, delicious aromas, pleasant conversation and a small, intimate restaurant which drew me in like the lure of a sorcerer.
THE MENU includes standards popular through a half-century. There's still an old-world sense of charm to the place, and our meal was leisurely and well served. We were happy with pretty salads and perfectly cooked steak, while Pepi's signature weiner schnitzel was enjoyed at the next table. A lovely smoked trout appetizer is our recommendation, and the fondue is popular especially in winter. The menu also features shrimp, ribs, scampi, crab, bratwurst with spaetzle (those delectable German dumplings), homemade soups and desserts and a nice children's menu.
Old Piney Dell recommends reservations, at 406 446-1196, open Tuesday through Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Call 1 800 667-1119 or go to 
A wonderful exhibition on the whale at San Diego's Natural History
Museum was the beginning of our two-week whale odyssey.

UP NEXT: What is it about whales that sweeps us off our feet?  We just saw a magnificent exhibition on the whale in San Diego at the Natural History Museum. That was our preview for a two-week whale-watching odyssey we'll share in the next month.  There is something magical and inspiring about seeing a humpback frolick in his natural environment, watching an Orca breach, or a minke play. We're on the whale trail and will be out of range for a few days, but we hope by this time next week to have wondrous photos to share, from Edmonds, Washington, and Puget Sound on up to Juneau, Alaska. So stay tuned, and  catch us on weekends -- as we all explore, learn and live.