Tag Archive | landscapes

The Nature Of Biltmore

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As I imagined, there was far more to the Biltmore Estate than just walking around a magnificent house, although that in itself was well worth the price of admission.  The nature of Biltmore extends to every corner of the 8,000-acre estate which includes some spectacular gardens.

Biltmore was landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s final major project and what an almighty challenge it must have been.  In 1895, the original property purchased by George W. Vanderbilt covered 125,000 acres, much of it over-farmed and with many of its trees already cut down, but with the help of Olmsted’s brilliant planning it was turned into a profitable, self-sustaining estate.

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It is interesting to note that the Biltmore Estate appears on the National Historic Landmark Register not because of the house, but because Carl A. Schenck established the first forestry education program in the U.S. here on the estate grounds in 1898.

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Vanderbilt had asked Olmsted to set aside 75 acres to be transformed into formal gardens, one of which is the Italian Garden that features three large water gardens and classical statuary.  Each pool contains water lilies, lotus and papyrus as well as other water plants.   You will see koi and goldfish swimming about among the lily pads and I also noticed a large number of tadpoles in various stages of development lounging around the edges of the center pool.

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The 4-acre Walled Garden features thousands of tulips in the spring and colorful mums at autumn time. Our visit came just after they had planted out all the summer annuals and as they hadn’t had time to become established, the beds were not quite as spectacular as they might have been, but the garden still looked beautiful nevertheless.

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Similarly, the rose garden had already seen the first flowers in full bloom and they were past their best but if you didn’t examine them too closely you could imagine how gorgeous the garden must have looked just a few weeks previously.  Timing is everything and it’s not always possible to visit these places at exactly the right moment.  Still, we were very lucky with the weather and enjoyed brilliant sunshine throughout our stay in Asheville.

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Water plays an important part at Biltmore. The French Broad River runs through the middle of the estate which also features a bass pond and waterfall.

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Traveling further from the house you come to the Farm, Antler Hill Village and The Winery, all of which are overlooked by The Inn on Biltmore Estate.

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As always seems to be the case, we had to cram as much sightseeing as we could into one day, but you could easily spend a few days at Biltmore in order to look at everything.

Starved Rock – From The Other Side

Starved Rock which, according to legend, was where, in about 1769, the Ottawa and Potawatomi chased the Illiniwek and held them under siege until they starved to death, is the busiest of the Illinois State Parks. Ask anyone who has grown up in Illinois and they will almost certainly tell you that they have visited Starved Rock at one time or another, either with family or as a school field trip.

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We have been to the park on numerous occasions, mostly when our girls were growing up, and thought nothing of climbing all the steps that were required to reach the summit of the Rock and look out over the Illinois River. These days we are not quite so adventurous and decided to take this trip, sans children, at a slightly more leisurely pace.

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This was probably the first time that we had actually seen Starved Rock from the other side of the river. After visiting Utah last year, the bluffs didn’t appear quite so awe-inspiring this time, but the history attached to the place still makes them an interesting feature of the landscape.

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The timing of our visit to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, just across the river, was perfect as it gave us the opportunity to watch a barge going through the lock.

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We were also treated to a fly-past by a couple of the pelicans that gather at the foot of the dam in order to catch fish.

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We did eventually cross over the Illinois River just to pay a brief visit to the Park for old time’s sake. They’ve built a new visitor’s center since we were there last, but those steps looked just as daunting as ever and, with advancing years and gimpy knees, we decided not to try to make it all the way to the top.

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Conserving our energy, we moved on to neighboring Matthiessen State Park. The terrain there is similar to that of Starved Rock; lots of steps, leafy dells with little pools and high rocky walls. I took mostly close-up shots as the patches of bright light and deep shade made it difficult to get a good picture of the overall landscape.

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Returning to the north side of the river we stopped off at Buffalo Rock State Park and caught a glimpse of one of the buffalo enjoying a dust bath which made us feel like it was time to get back to the B&B to enjoy the sunset and recuperate after an exhausting day.

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Time To Reflect – Snippets From Colorado

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It was our misfortune that we were unable to spend any appreciable amount of time in Colorado on our return trip from Utah and the only opportunities that I had for scenic photography were either through the window of a fast-moving car or by the one rest area that we stopped at during the journey.

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However, I was determined to capture some pictorial record of our whirlwind passage through the state no matter how blurred or poorly composed it might be.

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As with much of our trip out west, I was struck by the ever-changing nature of the terrain, a different picture at every turn of the road.  And the light varied too, cloudy and gloomy at times and at others bright and sunny with blue skies.

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Despite the fact that it was only mid-September and the trees hadn’t really begun to change color, there were already brilliant splashes of autumnal shades to be seen.

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Time To Reflect – Snippets From Utah

In previous posts I’ve spoken about the grandeur and majesty of the Utah landscapes and about the limited amount of time we had to spend at each of the places that we visited.  It was difficult not to get caught up in trying to capture the bigger picture and, going through all the photographs (almost 3,000) that I took during our trip, I can see there were very few times when I actually stopped to take a closer look at things. However, there were one or two instances when I was able to slow down, take a breath and get into something more like macro mode.

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One of the things that really fascinated me about Utah was the way everything seemed to be fashioned into such tortuous shapes by the forces of nature. Rocks and vegetation alike have, over the years, been molded by the elements into things of weird and wonderful beauty.

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This was much in evidence in Arches National Park as I hiked along the paths to Skyline and Landscape Arches.  Watch where you walk if you step off the trail. There are lots of these clumps of cactus waiting to snag your ankles.

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On our way to visit Park City we stopped off at Guardsman Pass to take in the scenery. The leaves on the aspen trees were just starting to change color and a butterfly landed conveniently close by as I stood by the side of the road taking pictures of some gigantic seed heads.

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On the only rainy day during our visit to Salt Lake City we visited the Natural History Museum, an extremely interesting place packed with some really bizarre characters.

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I hope if we do get the chance to go back that I will have the luxury of more time to take a closer look at all the wonderful things that Utah has to show us.

Time To Reflect – Arches National Park

It was like being on another planet and as one fellow visitor remarked, “This can’t be real. It’s like we’re having a collective hallucination!” She couldn’t have said a truer word.

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Arches National Park in eastern Utah covers approximately 76,679 acres and contains more than 2,000 natural arches. But the park isn’t just about the arches. Its also about some of the most fantastic rock formations you will ever see.

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It’s about the color and texture of these towering sandstone monoliths, at times dark and forbidding, at others alive with vibrant hues. When we arrived at the park it was gloomy but as the day progressed the sun came out and provided a stunning blue sky as backdrop to a world of breathtaking grandeur.

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It’s about the enormity of these bastions of nature that have stood through the centuries, created by a prehistoric upheaval of the earth, blasted by wind and water and fashioned by time into weird and wonderful shapes.

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It’s very humbling to walk in the shadow of these titans and sometimes rather scary when you see colossal boulders that have been cast about like some giant’s toy, knowing that any sizeable tremor would most certainly bring more crashing down. More than forty arches have collapsed due to erosion since 1977 so despite their solid appearance even these massive monuments are not impervious to the elements.

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But it’s also about the bigger picture; the size and scope of the landscape, the seemingly endless range of hills and mountains with names like Devils Garden, Fiery Furnace and Petrified Dunes that conjure up all manner of wild images.

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There are so many other facets to the park that we just didn’t have time to explore such as the flora and fauna of the area so I really hope that we have another chance to visit. This is a photographers paradise!

Time To Reflect – Snowbird

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Snowbird, even the name sounds enchanting and the scenery is just as enthralling. Snowbird Ski Resort, open year-round, is located in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City. The area was originally known for its silver mines but for me the treasure lies in the beauty that is apparent on the surface.

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Our trip to Utah was a series of firsts for me; first visit to Salt Lake City, first time traveling this far west in the USA, first up-close and personal view of a moose! We almost fell over this one on our way from the parking lot up to the lodge. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Even without snow, Snowbird was busy due to the fact that Oktoberfest was in full swing and one of the many marathons that are held in the Wasatch Mountains was in progress. But despite all the people going back and forth, this moose seemed quite unperturbed.

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Riding up to the top of Hidden Peak in a tram was another first and if I hadn’t been so busy taking photos from the window I might have been terrified. It reminded me of when I was a young child, taking the lift up and down the cliffs at Folkestone, scared stiff and yet fascinated by the mechanics of the thing.

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The view was astounding. You could just make out Salt Lake City in the distance, partially veiled by a haze, a remnant of the wildfires that were raging further west. A rather sobering reminder of how merciless Mother Nature can be. While thousands of acres were burning in California, sixteen people drowned in the flooding in southern Utah on the day that we stood looking out from the summit of Hidden Peak.

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Anyone who has the energy to hike or bike up to the top of Hidden Peak, and there were many that day who were competing in the marathon, is able to catch a free ride on the tram going back down to the resort.

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Our daughter and her husband availed themselves of this service shortly after their arrival in Salt Lake City and the thing that impressed them the most on their way up was the change in the terrain, as though the mountain were presenting a different face at every turn. And on the ride back down the slope I could see what they meant.

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Time To Reflect – Antelope Island

There were never enough hours in the day to see and do all the things that we had planned during our trip to Utah.  We had already spent several hours at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City, the rain having chased us inside, but by the time we were finished in there things had cleared up somewhat and it was suggested that we head over to Great Salt Lake.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect. Various people had mentioned that the place had rather a distinctive odor to it, but we were curious to find out for ourselves just what Antelope Island was all about and so we took the road along the causeway that leads to the largest of the ten islands in the lake.

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Our first impression when we stopped along the causeway and opened the car windows was not encouraging. Apart from the smell, which was pretty awful, we were inundated by flies and we quickly closed them again. Thankfully it didn’t deter us because once we got onto the island everything was fine.

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Antelope Island covers about 42 square miles, most of it native grassland. The size of the lake fluctuates during the course of the year but has lost quite a lot of its water due to evaporation. It is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere but because of its extremely high salt content it cannot support fish although large amounts of brine shrimp attract many waterfowl which were very much in evidence as we drove along the shoreline.

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It didn’t take long for us to spot some of the many species of wildlife that roam about Antelope Island State Park including pronghorn antelope, for which the island is named, and bison. The bison herd may include anything up to 700 animals and there is a yearly round-up to take count and make sure they are all healthy.

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The sun had put in an appearance by this time and we decided to take a short hike along Lady Finger Point Trail. The scenery was awesome and we could see the bison grazing in the distance while at our feet some kind of lizard scurried away as we approached. Magpies are a common sight in Utah and we were closely watched as we made our way along the trail.

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But time was growing short. The rest of our days in Salt Lake City were already spoken for so we knew this was our only opportunity to see the island and now the light was fading fast.

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And once again the storm clouds rolled in. I was sorry to leave with so many wonderful things yet to see and photograph but it was as though the island was closing ranks on us. It seemed to be saying, “That’s all you’re getting. Come back another time. Goodbye.”

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

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I’m always happy when I find something new and interesting to photograph, and on our recent trip to Utah there were so many fantastic places to explore, but probably the most spectacular of these was Arches National Park.

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I was like a kid in a candy store. Too bad we only had a limited time to take it all in but we made the most of it.

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I think a woman who was taking pictures alongside me summed it up best when she said, “It’s like we’re having a collective hallucination.  This can’t be real!”

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At Balanced Rock I met a group of tourists who didn’t speak much English but it was obvious they were tremendously excited about being there and we were all bowing and smiling and taking photos of each other and laughing. What a happy place!

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I was certainly happy to finally reach Landscape Arch after a 1.5 mile hike at the end of a long day.  I had to wait before I could take a shot of the arch as the sun was just starting to go down and was shining right underneath.

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For more on The Weekly Photo Challenge go to  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/happy-place/

Snowy Range Scenic Byway

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On a recent road trip to visit our daughter and her husband in Salt Lake City, a journey of 3,250 miles round trip, we made a slight detour to visit Snowy Range in Wyoming, the second forest road in the USA to be designated a National Forest Scenic Byway.

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Following the road over the Medicine Bow Mountains we were greeted by a magnificent view at every turn and although it was too late in the year to see the many wildflowers that grow there, it was still a spectacular sight .

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The highest point in the range, Medicine Bow Peak, reaches 12,013ft, towering above many beautiful, clear lakes such as Mirror Lake and Lake Marie.

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There are several hiking trails but as we were on something of a schedule I restricted myself to a short walk across the Libby Flats which can be seen from an observation deck.

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For anyone who has more time to spend in this gorgeous area there are plenty of opportunities for camping, horseback riding, fishing (there are something like 70 fishing spots, 60 of which are brook trout lakes) and picnicking, amongst other things.

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