Category Archives: Travel

A week in the desert, part 3c: Tucson Botanical Garden … and more!

With our desert botanical appetite whetted, Eric and I raced to our next destination: Tucson Botanical Garden. (Actually, we spent a little time with the friends we came to visit first.) TBG isn’t as large as Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, and far smaller than Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Tucson Botanical Garden began as Rutger and Bernice Porter’s family home (built in the 1920s) and their business, Desert Gardens Nursery. When Rutger Porter died in 1964, Bernice donated the property to the City of Tucson, but she continued to live in the house. Bernice passed away in 1983, and the city deeded the property to Tucson Botanical Garden.

Tucson Botanical Garden map.

Tucson Botanical Garden

This brilliantly back-lit cactus greeted us as we entered the garden. Pity that I didn’t record the name, but it reminded me of my mom’s old crown of thorns … on steroids. It’s not from around here … maybe Madagascar?

Bright green cactus in a pot at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

It’s glowing!

I noticed these women just leaving after a plein air painting session. Perhaps if I lived in Tucson, I’d join them.

Plein air painters leane Tucson Botanic Garden..

Plein air painters scatter.

I noticed large trees that I would not have expected in a desert garden. This was April, and they were just beginning to leaf out.

A large deciduous tree in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A large deciduous tree shades a patio near the Porter house.

A crape myrtle in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia)? In Arizona? These trees have a tropical origin.

The Porters’ original house is now used as an admin and gallery space for the TBG. I circled the building, surprised at the undesert-like leafiness of the plantings.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A patio tucked into a corner.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The back door and sunny garden with roses.

Wall with colorful ceramic appliques at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Colorful botanical appliques decorate a wall bordering the parking lot.

Shutters made of sticks on Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Look at these shutters made out of sticks!

Front door at Porter house, Tucson Botanical Garden.

The front door with its shady patio. Straw yellow stucco with sage green trim and surprisingly bright red downspouts.

The shocking periwinkle blue of the adjacent herb garden pergola was the perfect color to make the plants stand out. What a striking color scheme for the desert!

Blue herb garden pergola at Tucson Botanica Garden.

Even on a hot day, these blues look cool.

We walked on through a series of themed desert gardens. The day was hot, in the upper 90s, and shade was hard to come by.

Trail at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The trail winds through the cacti and succulent garden.

piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Funny little Piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae from South Africa. Piaranthus produce beautiful, fleshy star-shaped flowers.

Pink-blooming cactus at Tucson Botanical Garden.

I don’t know what these are, but their little pink blooms are so cute.

Crassula at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crassula lit by the sun.

Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), at Tucson Botanical Garden

It’s a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), of course.

Another small house … on the map it’s labeled Friends House. Something about this door and the rustic landscape drew me in. More red and green accenting on an adobe house. Colors that I wouldn’t otherwise put together seem to work here.

Friends House at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Friends House.

On the other side of Friends House, we found yet another structure … this one larger and definitely open. We ate a delicious and memorable lunch at Café Botanica. I highly recommend it for their fresh and local cuisine.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Looking into Café Botanica. We ate on the patio.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Market umbrellas usually mean food is near. I was famished.

Cacti in sun at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Outside the restaurant, these cacti glowed in the late afternoon sun.

After a late lunch, our tour was nearly over. We ended it in the Plants of the Tohono O’odom Native American garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches! Handy stuff.

Yellow flowering shrub in Arizona.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata chaparralis), or greasewood, is common in the desert Southwest.

Metal sculpture gate at Tucson Botanical Garden.

This stunning gate marked the end of our tour.

I had an epiphany at Tucson Botanical Garden when I came upon a sign that read, in part: “Does this garden seem lush and cool? The Historical Gardens show a gardening style that was popular in Tucson from the 1880s through the 1940s. The landscape choices of those days aimed for a green retreat from the desert and helped keep homes cooler in the decades before air conditioning.”

Informational sign describing historical garden style at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Does this garden seem lush and cool?

Aha! Suddenly it all made sense—my natural attraction to old houses, coupled with my desire (if I lived in Tucson), to push the botanical boundaries by growing an oasis around my house. Something like this, maybe:

Landscaped yard in Phoenix, AZ

This is the kind of landscaping I’d try to achieve in Arizona. More modern, but lush. [photo: Moon Valley Nursery]

And of course, the house would have to be an oldie. Something that Georgia O’Keeffe might like.

After we left the garden, we drove downtown on Broadway. Suddenly we were passing a treasure trove of Tucson’s vintage homes—the kind that get my DIY juices flowing. My head was on a swivel! Granted, at this time of our lives, the last thing Eric and I need is another century-old fixer-upper, but I still enjoy imagining what I’d do with these oft-forgotten little gems.

In the Rincon Heights neighborhood just south of the University of Arizona, we found plenty of these charming southwest bungalows. It’s a very modest neighborhood, and I don’t know how safe it is, but if people restore these homes, the neighborhood will improve. I saw some evidence that this is happening.

Here’s a slide show of a baker’s dozen houses that I love, captured from Google Maps. (Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable pointing a camera at people’s homes.) Notice the interesting ziggurat shapes of their buttress walls, and the repetition of arches. Many have beautiful (and apparently original) red tile roofs and metal-framed windows.

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Whew … these houses need us. But so does our own house here in the Northwest.

I’ll leave you with a sampling of photos from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Then, we’ll head back to the Northwest. See you next time, Arizona!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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A week in the desert, part 3b: Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Happy autumn, everyone! What a summer we’ve had. A couple of hurricanes tried to drown Hawaii (I sheepishly admit, when I first heard about Hurricane Lane, I thought they were talking about something akin to Tornado Alley). The west coast burned while Wisconsin flooded. Florida’s waters turned toxic. Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas. Whew. Let’s rewind, shall we, to a gentler season—last April, when Eric and I spent a week in Arizona. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had such an abrupt switch of seasons that I’m glad to think about sun again.

After a few days in Phoenix, Eric and I set off for our ultimate destination of Tucson. Still excited about what we’d just seen at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, we couldn’t resist a quick stop at Bryce Thompson Arboretum State Park, near Superior, AZ (“the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona”). Quick only because we’d arrived an hour before closing time, and we didn’t have time to explore the entire trail system, which is extensive.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum trail map

Boyce Thompson Arboretum trail map. We hiked from the parking lot to the lake and back, along the purple trail.

You might be thinking, “You’ve already seen every single plant the desert has to offer. Why go to yet another botanical garden?” True, each garden features many of the same plants, but each garden is different in scope, design, terrain, and just the feel of the place. Boyce Thompson was a very different experience than the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. For one thing, we were nearly the only people there so late in the afternoon, which was wonderful.

Got your sunscreen on? Walk this way …

At 323 acres, Boyce Thompson Arboretum was large enough to make me feel like we were actually setting out into the open desert. While these plant vignettes were certainly deliberately planted, they looked so natural, it was easy to think they just “happened” that way.

Agaves and golden barrel cactus at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Agaves and golden barrel cactus.

Cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Unsure what these are; possibly a thicket of young senita (Pachycereus schottii).

We passed the Smith Building (1925), constructed of native rhyolite, mined just across the highway. Originally the visitors center, it’s now the interpretive center. Attached greenhouses hold collections of succulents from around the world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open late in the day.

Smith Building, 1925. The original visitors center at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Smith Building, 1925. The original visitors center.

Occasional ramadas such as this one provide shade for hikers.

Rustic ramada at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ramada on a hill. Yucca rostrata on the left, agaves and barrel cactus in foreground.

View of cliff at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Saguaro cacti frame a classic view of the West.

View of cliffs at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Pipelines deliver water from Queen Creek and a cistern high above.

We walked the trail to Ayer Lake, which stores water from Queen Creek.

Ayers Lake at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ayer Lake.

Cute little lizards ran all over. This one looks like an Elegant Earless Lizard.

Brown lizard in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Cute little guy (or gal?).

Loved this sign for “Boojum Cove.” And sure enough, boojum trees appeared!

Rusty metal sign, "Boojum Cove," Boyce Thompson Arboreum.

Welcome to Boojum Cove!

Boojum tress in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

You can’t beat a boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) for weirdness.

Beautiful blue agaves … probably a variant of A. americana.

Barren tree trunk and striped agaves in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Horizontally striped Agave americana.

Tree cholla cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

The prominent tubercles tell me this is a tree cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata).

Cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley.

A little bunny let us get right up next to her to take photos.

Rabbit in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Little cutie!

We came upon a grove (not sure that cacti come in groves, but …) of golden barrel cactus. I would have loved to grab one of those pups to take home, but TSA would not appreciate finding it in my suitcase. Golden barrels are endangered in the wild, but later I found one of my very own at Lowe’s (go figure).

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), also known as Mother-in-law’s cushion. That’s so mean!

Agave pelona in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Isn’t this Agave pelona a beauty?

 

Dead saguaro trunk in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Nothing lives forever, including this saguaro. It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, though.

We returned to the parking lot where they were having a plant sale. Why, oh why didn’t I buy some of these Astrophytum myriostigma? Only $5.00!

Astrophylum succulent for sale at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Astrophylum succulent.

Look how cool they are!

Collection of astrophytum succulents.

Assorted astrophytum. [Photo: Shutterstock.]

Guess what–I’m still not done with the Arizona desert! I have one more post in this series, in which I come to a realization about desert gardening and residential design. I hope you don’t have to wait for it as long as you did for this one. The days are getting cooler and shorter, so I’m spending more time indoors … which may help my blog production. And of course, I have more stories about our recent house projects, so stick around!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

A week in the desert, part 3a: Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

We visited three botanical gardens in Arizona … too much for one post, so I’ll break it up into quicker reads. Grab a cuppa joe and settle in … because this will be a spiny post, heavy on prickly photos and short on words. Lots of eye candy for fans of desert flora!

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

One of our must-see destinations was the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, a 140-acre site with five distinctive loop trails. We had time for only three, which means we must return. (We’d return, regardless.) I’ll name the plants that I know, but I don’t know them all. Here we go!

I fell in love with this place even before we got to the admissions booth. On the way in:

Chihuly sculptures at Desert Botanical Garden.

Yucca rostrata, nature and Chihuly’s versions.

 

Hedgehog cactus with pink blooms and Agave paryii

Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus) with pink blooms, and Agave parryi

 

Blooming Cercidium floridum (blue palo verde), the Arizona state tree

Blooming blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), the Arizona state tree. I like how the colors are echoed in the potted agaves.

As we walked inside, we were surprised by this enormous lavender head, the first of several large, colorful ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko that were displayed throughout the garden. Featured art installations change several times a year.

Large ceramic lavender head by Jun Kaneko.

Untitled head by Jun Kaneko.

 Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa rita)

Probably my favorite desert plant, Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa rita), because — purple and green!

Squirrel among opuntia rufida

See the squirrel among the blind prickly pear (Opuntia rufida)? There are many varieties of opuntia.

Wildflowers at Desert Botanical Garden.

We walked the Wildflower Loop first. More Jun Kaneko heads in the background. They made great landmarks.

Butterfly on a yellow blanket flower.

The butterfly pavilion was a special treat. Photographing flitting butterflies is difficult!

Yellow fruit of the fishhook barrel cactus

Fruit of the fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni) look like little pineapples.

Brilliant orange claret cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) blooms.

Brilliant orange claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) blooms. I don’t know what the yellow flower is.

 Santa rita prickly pear with pink bloom.

Another Santa Rita prickly pear. I love cactus flowers.

We continued on the Desert Discovery Loop. We were reminded that all cactus are succulents (they store water in their leaves), but not all succulents are cactus! Only cactus have spines that grow from areoles, whereas succulents may have spines, but they do not grow from areoles. Got that? Take a look at some of these examples.

There are many varieties of agave, which are succulents with spines, but no areoles.

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A young cardon (Pachcereus pringlei).

This young cardon (Pachcereus pringlei) is a cactus, with spines and buds growing from areoles.

boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

A boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) — yes, they DO exist! It’s not a cactus.

Octopus cactus (Stenocereus alamocensis)

Octopus cactus (Stenocereus alamocensis)

Black spined prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra)

Black spined prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra), definitely a cactus! Ouch!

Saguaro metal sculpturemade of wrenches.

A saguaro, but not a cactus–because it’s a sculpture made out of wrenches. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the artist’s name.

We detoured into the shorter Center for Desert Living Loop to visit the herb garden. There, I found the beautiful Archer House, built in 1952 and named for Lou Ella Archer, a founding member. I cupped my hands around my face and peered into the windows, trying to look past my reflection. I was shocked to find a face peering back at me–a man working at his desk!

Archer House at Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Archer House, 1952. Love the color — maybe because it’s the same color as our house!

Pergola detail of Archer House, Phoenix

Interesting octopus hanging planters.

Woman at Archer House, Phoenix, AZ

A tourist studies the Archer House.

 

Agave potatorum and rosemary

This might be Agave potatorum, contrasting beautifully with rosemary.

We came upon a grove of giant cardón (Pachycereus pringlei), the largest columnar cactus in the Sonoran Desert—far larger than saguaro. Some of these rose over 60 feet in the air. We could tell they were very old.

Cardon cactus.

Magnificent cardons grow up to 60 feet.

Man and woman peek from behind a colorful Jun Kaneko sculpture.

Past the cardons was another Jun Kaneko sculpture.

Just ahead was another adobe-style building—Webster Auditorium, originally built in 1939 as the garden’s administration building, and named for founder Gertrude Divine Webster.

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Our time was running out, so we completed the Desert Discovery Loop and returned to the Admissions and gift shop courtyard … but not before passing a few more beautiful specimens.

Yucca rostrata

Yucca rostrata … looks very Dale Chihuly.

Ceramic head by Jun Kaneko surrounded by golden barrel cactus.

I like how this head’s colors complement the landscape, and the stripes echo the ribs of the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).

silver torches (Cleistocactus strausii) with red blooms

Look at these silver torches (Cleistocactus strausii) with their topknots and red schnozzes! Such personality!

Blooming claret cups (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

A gorgeous group of blooming claret cups (Echinocereus triglochidiatus).

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Desert rose (Adenium).

I want a desert rose (Adenium).

I’ll leave you with this one, who took out all his false teeth for this photo. I’m unsure what species it is, but it’s Something cristata, or crested. I didn’t know at the time what a comparative rarity this condition is. It’s caused by a cellular mutation, usually due to injury or disease, that makes the cells multiply in a linear fashion. I’m going to look for cristata succulents in nurseries now. I gotta have one!

A columnar crested cactus.

An unidentified columnar crested cactus.

In part 3b, we’ll head east a few miles to tour the Boyce Thompson Arboretum before we finally get to Tucson. Stay cool!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

A week in the desert, part 2: Cosanti

More from our April trip to Arizona …

After our visit to Taliesin West, Eric and I headed to the Paradise Valley area of Scottsdale. I was excited to show Eric a place that had enchanted me years earlier. Cosanti, an Arizona Historic Site, is the home and studio of architect Paolo Soleri (1919 – 2013), who was once a student at Taliesin West. Soleri is best known for his experimental urban laboratory, Arcosanti, 60 miles north of Phoenix.

Cosanti logo inlaid in sidewalk.

The Cosanti logo inlaid in the sidewalk. Can you make it out? [photo: esotericsurvey.com]

Soleri coined the name Cosanti from two Italian words: cosa and anti, meaning “before things” or “against things,” depending on which source you consult.

Soleri and his wife, Colly, bought five acres in Paradise Valley in in the 1950s, long before suburbia hemmed them in. The property is now surround by fashionable homes. In 1970, Soleri began building Arcosanti as a prototype self-sustaining city with a densely settled, small footprint. Artisans at both Cosanti and Arcosanti produce and sell bronze and ceramic wind bells of Soleri’s design to fund their existence.

Stepping out of the car in an unassuming gravel parking lot, we walked under lacy olive trees to the entrance of the Cosanti compound. Suddenly, it’s as if we were on another planet or on a sci-fi stage set. The setting is a feast for the eyes, and a lot to take in.

Entry to gallery at Cosanti.

You’ve never seen anyplace like this! [photo: TripAdvisor]

As at Taliesin West, concrete is the construction material of choice (cheap!), but the effect is entirely different. Soleri experimented with using concrete to construct apses—quarter spheres—most decorated with strange and fanciful designs. The apses are positioned to take advantage of sun in the cooler winters, and shade in the blazing summers. Some of the structures are partly underground for additional insulation. These shelters are made by heaping up a big mound of earth, then pouring concrete into frames laid on top. When the concrete cures, dig out the earth, and you have an apse.

Admission is free, but we chose to pay for a guided tour that had just started.

Just ahead, down an allee overhung with olive trees and sculptures, was an apse filled with our tour group and bronze wind bells. I wished for a breeze, but the hot air was still. I wished I could have all the bells.

Concrete apse at Cosanti

Entrance to a strange land.

We entered the apse. I didn’t know where to look: up at the decorated ceiling or at the forest of wind bells that surrounded us. It felt like a small cathedral … a little weird, a little awe-inspiring, and entirely engrossing.

A bronze wind bell sculpture hangs from a ceiling at Cosanti.

A large bronze pendant dominates the ceiling.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

Wind bells hang from the ceiling like flowering vines.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

A door to more.

White and tabby cat at Cosanti.

The only cat I saw on our entire trip.

Tour guide under apse at Cosanti.

Our tour guide explains it all.

Larry, our tour guide, had worked at Cosanti for 20 years, so he had worked with Soleri directly. He explained Cosanti’s history and architecture, and Soleri’s vision for the wind bells.  Larry referred to himself as an artisan: a person who creates art using someone else’s design.

We moved to the next apse, this one full of ceramic wind bells. And a gorgeous red roof. This was the bell assembly area.

A red stained glass roof and pink bougainvillea under an apse at Cosanti

Red roof and pink bougainvillea.

Red stained glass roof in an apse at Cosanti.

Roof detail.

A chain of wind catchers hangs from the ceiling.

A chain of wind catchers.

Larry led us on to another large apse—the bronze foundry, which would have been off-limits to us had we not been on the tour. The apse looks like it’s made from wood because wood was used to create the form for the concrete. Just as at Taliesin West, white canvas panels provide protection from the sun and a pleasant, even light.

Bronze artisans set up for a pour at Cosanti.

Artisans set up sand bell molds for a pour.

Molds are made from a special sand that can withstand high temperatures without melting. The sand is surrounded by a thick metal jacket for stabilization. There’s a funnel-shaped hole at the top of each mold into which the bronze is poured.

The day was sweltering hot, but the men who poured the molten bronze had to wear heavy buckskin coats, chaps, gauntlet gloves, and face shields for safety. They deftly moved the crucible of 2200°F, glowing yellow bronze from mold to mold, pouring smoothly. I could tell they’d done this many times.

Two men dressed in protective leather pour molten bronze into molds.

Moving the crucible of molten bronze from mold to mold. Sand molds without metal jackets are on the right.

Watching the men pour the silky looking liquid bronze was fascinating in a scary sort of way.

Molten bronze pours from a crucible.

HOT!!

Within minutes, the new bells’ temperature had fallen to a mere 1000°F, and they could be removed from the molds without damage. Wearing heavy gloves, Larry whacked the sand from the casting, revealing a luminous golden bell. When the sand fell from the middle of the bell, it rang in a clear tone. (The sand is swept up and reused.)

The bells are beautiful when they emerge from the mold, but they darken to a gray color as they age. Soleri preferred to use an acid bath to add a verdigris color. Because the color varies, no two bells are the same.

A newly cast bronze wind bell looks gold.

Newly cast wind bell.

Two bronze bells at Cosanti

A newly cast bell (left) and a finished one after an acid bath.

It was beastly hot in the foundry apse, as you can imagine. I backed out under the olive trees, hoping for a breath of air. Behind us hung a large bronze sculpture belonging to the Goldwater family, returned for restoration. You can see its natural gray color … and an iconic Cosanti window behind it.

People stand in the shade of the foundry apse at Cosanti.

Our tour group bakes in the foundry apse.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration at Cosanti.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration.

I was a little relieved when we left the superheated foundry apse and ventured further into the compound. We walked through a tunnel whose small entrance and large exit whooshed the cooling air through … a Wright trick. Ahh …

Concrete structures at Cosanti.

A dinosaur’s ribcage? Soleri’s office is behind the portholes at right.

On the other side of the tunnel was an apse where ceramic bells are fired. Behind that was a curious half-underground building that served as living quarters for the apprentices onsite. See those steps that go down into the pit? They’re simply timbers that stick out of the wall. I took a break sitting on the hefty timber railing of the bridge.

Dormitory building with sunken center space at Cosanti.

Dormitory with a rustic Asian vibe. [photo: Tomiaki Tomura]

We exited the earth house through the door at the top of those timber stairs. In front of us loomed the enormous concrete roof over the swimming pool. This mammoth slab is supported on 12 utility poles. Like everything else at Cosanti, it’s been there since the late 1960s. This stuff holds up.

Thick concrete slab forms the roof over the swimming pool at Cosanti.

Wonder how much it weighs.

The wall of a small apse near the pool featured this poem.

A poem is inscribed on the apse wall at Cosanti.

A poem on the apse wall.

We had reached the end of the developed property, and the tour was over. Thanks, Larry! We returned to the gallery, where we’d started.

Siadewalk between concrete structures at Cosanti.

The sidewalk near the foundry apse.

Gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

“Exit through the gift shop,” we always joke.

Inside the gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

Inside the gallery and gift shop. [photo: TripAdvisor]

Bronze bell assemly at Cosanti.

A display at the gallery.

We knew we wouldn’t escape without choosing something special to bring home. Because I had been to Cosanti and Arcosanti before, I already had some goodies, so I wanted Eric to pick this one. He chose one of Cosanti’s Cause Bells, which donates part of its cost to a cause of our choosing (ours benefitted the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden). This bell has a varicolored polished finish, a little different than the acid-washed bells. It’ll look good in the modern house we’ll have some day.

A polished bronxe Cause Bell from Cosanti.

A polished bronze Cause Bell.

I’ve had my two Soleri bells, both from Arcosanti, for years. They’ve accumulated more patina as they’ve aged. These bells are LOUD. I used to have them hanging on the front porch until a summer storm blew through. The next morning there was a note from the city police that they caused a disturbance, and I had to take them down. They’ve been in a box for years, but I’m going to put them back up in my backyard garden … without the wind-catchers.

These ceramic tiles are from my first visit to Cosanti.

Blue and green coaster-sized ceramic tiles from Cosanti.

Coaster-sized tiles.

Something about this desert place, with its mysterious symbology and dusty, sunbaked concrete structures from the 60s speaks to the hippie artist in me, and it feels like home. (I was never a true hippie, and can’t really call myself an artist, but I hope to become one when I grow up.) I hope you enjoyed the tour and get to explore Cosanti (and Arcosanti) for yourself someday!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

Floating on Portage Bay

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.

The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather than interiors.

A row of floating homes on Seattle's Portage Bay

Seattle’s floating homes [photo: Eric Shellgren]

The neighborhood

While 2014’s tour featured homes on Lake Union, this year’s tour focused on the Portage Bay community. Portage Bay is a small, partially manmade lake between large Lake Washington to the east and Lake Union to the west. It’s part of a water passage from fresh water Lake Washington, through the Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, the ship canal, and the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks to salt water Puget Sound. With all the boat traffic, the view is never boring. The University of Washington and the Seattle Yacht Club are just across the bay.

Map of Seattle showing Portage Bay

This is the view from many of the homes: the UW on the left, the Seattle Yacht Club on the right, with the Montlake Cut and bridge in the middle. Not bad.

Montlake Cut seen from Portage Bay, Seattle

The Montlake Cut and bridge

You can rent these little battery-powered boats from The Electric Boat Company in Lake Union. They were all over the place! Why have we never done this?

Blue electric boat among lilypads

A fun way to see the sights

The floating homes

The homes are incredibly eclectic. Anything goes as far as architecture. Apparently there are few covenants here limiting the imaginations of homeowners and designers. No boring rows of cookie-cutter, neutral-hued houses. That’s one reason floating home communities appeal to me. Everyone is free to express their own sense of style. (Although I did hear from a volunteer that her dock voted to outlaw vinyl siding.)

Each dock, which serves several homes, may operate as a co-op, or like a condo. For instance, homeowners might own the mud beneath their homes (but not the water, of course), while a homeowners association owns and maintains the dock and common areas.

Three floating homes on Portage Bay, Seattle

Every home has its own character.

Floating homes of many shapes and colors in Portage Bay, Seattle

Architectural diversity

Most homes come with boat moorage. What fun it would be to have a classic runabout like this tied up right outside your door!

Runabout boat with mahogony decking

Nice car!

Each home is numbered as a member of Seattle’s floating home community. This little red bungalow was full of Scandinavian art and décor.

Red floating home with white trim

Little red bungalow [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Red siding and white window trim, with two small metal numbered tags

Floating home No. 447

side deck on red and white floating home

Side yard

Nearby was a small, new A-frame cabin. This house was nicely designed, but absolutely everything in it was gray or white, even the artwork. It felt cold inside. Oh, for some color!

Small, gray A-frame cabin floating home

We’re all taking pics of each other

A-frame floating home interior

The only color is outside [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

A-frame floating home interior

But it would be nice to sleep under glass [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

On the other hand, we toured a modern box that screamed with color—so much that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside for very long. I didn’t feel relaxed with the hard edges and all the color bombarding me … and I like color.

Modern floating home with galvanized metal siding and bright trim

An interesting multimedia exterior [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Bright colored modern kitchen in floating home

Zowie! Who needs coffee! [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Colorful modern living room with huge windows in floating home

That view [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I do love modern homes, but for the floating variety, I’m always drawn to the oldies.

I can see us living in this white bungalow with the red roof … and the matching white boat with red Bimini that the owner is inching into his slip.

White bungalow floating home with red roof and picket fence

You can have a white picket fence without a yard

I liked the casement windows in the house with the red umbrella. Many homeowners left their doors and windows open that day so that we looky-loos could peep into houses that weren’t on the tour.

View of neighboring floating homes from a roof top deck

Checking out the neighbors from a rooftop deck

Look at the interesting curve of this home’s ridgeline.

Red barn-like floating home with curved ridgeline

A complex curve

An impressive collection of Southwest and Native American art and artifacts crowded this Bohemian home. Wouldn’t you like to grab a book and a cup of tea and sink into that chair on a rainy day?

Old floating home with Southwest art collection

A cozy cottage

Our favorite home this tour was a cabin that looked small on the outside but lived big on the inside. I was impressed with the spacious kitchen and quirky details like vintage industrial sliding doors (the bedroom door’s glass window said “Employment Bureau”). And of course, the original pine beams.

20160911_140847

Prime end-of-dock location

Cabin living room and kitchen

From the deck, looking toward kitchen

Cabin living room with pine beams and red couch

Original pine beams define the living room [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I looked up some floating real estate and was dismayed that the cheapest I could find for sale was over $500,000 (two years ago it was $399,000) … not our price point as we approach retirement. All the homes aren’t tour-worthy. We saw several that are begging for some TLC.  With Seattle home prices soaring, it’s likely that even these fixers are out-of-range. Besides, I doubt any dock would allow as many pets as we have.

Floating home with tarp on roof

Can you hear this house crying out for us to renovate it?

A run-down flotaing home at the end of the dock

Location, location, location (and a blue tarp)

Some people have walk-in closets bigger than this barge, but a little imagination could make it into a cute getaway.

Small yellow barge home under University Bridge, Seattle

Think of the bridge noise as surf.

The bridges

At the north end of Portage Bay, two bridges dominate the landscape: The massive Interstate 5 freeway, known as the Ship Canal Bridge, and the smaller, green University Bridge. As you approach the bridges, the volume ramps up considerably. Yet, this traffic noise doesn’t deter people from living near them. It’s just part of living at the lake.

Floating home and sailboat near two large bridges

A man waters his garden near the bridges

Small blue bungalow with red roof next to University Bridge

You could almost leap from the bridge onto the roof

The University Bridge performed for us several times. A long and short toot from a sailboat signals the bridge to open. The bridge operator toots back, the vehicle barriers come down, and the bridge gapes open to allow the sailboat to pass … many times per day. As part of the Floating Homes Tour, we even had the opportunity to visit the bridge tower.

Seattle's University Bridge goes up

Tooooot-toot

University Bridge open for a sailboat

A sailboat passes through

Ivar’s Salmon House, the restaurant with the red umbrellas (just right of center) is where Eric took me for my birthday earlier this summer. Our table overlooked the ship canal—my favorite Seattle view.

West view toward Lake Union for University Bridge

Looking west toward the Ship Canal Bridge and Lake Union

University Bridge green-painted iron detail

University Bridge detail

The gardens

Container gardening is the only way to go when you’re in a floating home. This resident has a magnificent bonsai garden.

Bonsai garden on floating home deck

A miniature forest surrounds this home

Bonsai cedar trees

A tiny, magical cedar grove

Container plants on a floating home deck

Bonsai with a view

Sedums growing in large clam shell

That was a big clam

Speaking of containers, this cheery purple house is surrounded by them.

Purple floating home with colorful planters on the deck

Not afraid of color [photo: Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Larger homes have larger garden space. The first home we visited featured built-in planters and mature ornamental trees at its spacious end-of-dock location. Two impressive new homes shared this dock, with ample room between them—a different feeling than the crowded docks up the road … and a different price tag.

Woman walks down a dock next to floating home

Pretending I live there

This lucky little guy does live there.

Turtle sunning himself on a log with lilypads

Another sunny Sunday on Portage Bay

Common areas on shore are often made into community gardens. Here, a weeping willow and a hydrangea shelter a garden bench.

A bench sits beneath a weeping willow tree in a community garden

A private shore garden

Or, maybe just an endless staircase. Imagine hauling your belongings in and out here. At least gravity would be in your favor coming home from the grocery store.

A long staircase climbs an ivy-covered hill

Exercise

Thanks to the Seattle Floating Home Association homeowners for inviting us aboard, and for fueling my floating home fantasies for another two years. We’ll be back again in 2018!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

 

Take an art break

Ever since I mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, in my last post, our 2007 visit to the Olson House has been banging around in my head. Much has been written about Andrew Wyeth and his relationship with the Olsons and their Maine farmhouse; this is my impression of our visit.

Olson House, Cushing, Maine

Olson House

Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) is renown for his watercolor and egg tempera paintings of rural American life. He met siblings Christina and Alvaro Olson, neighbors of his young wife-to-be, Betsy, in 1939. Wyeth became fascinated with their spare lives and the austere environment of their Cushing, Maine, saltwater farm. He took up a kind of summer residence there for many years, painting prolifically in an attic bedroom studio. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 2011. Now, the property is part of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and is open to the public.

Gable on weathered house, missing window trim

Gable

To the casual observer, Christina’s World (1948) is a painting of a thin young woman in a pink dress, sitting in a tawny pasture, turned (rather awkwardly) to look up the hill to her house. Christina was 55 when Wyeth painted her, using a composite of Christina herself and his wife as models. She had lost the use of her legs to an undiagnosed neuro-muscular disease, and didn’t use a wheelchair. Instead, she propelled herself across the floor or ground by using her arms. In this painting, she is returning to the house from visiting her parents’ graves in the family cemetery, some distance down the hill toward the bay.

Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth [Wikipedia]

Christina’s World – Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Wyeth created many other paintings and hundreds of sketches around the farm, some of which we recaptured, deliberately or often serendipitously, in photos during our visit.

When we arrived at the Olson House, a yellow school bus was parked in the back. We wandered about the grounds and waited for the noisy kids’ tour to leave before we entered. We hoped to be alone in this place, which felt almost holy. And we were alone, except for a docent or two. How often do you get to be alone when you explore a historic site? Better yet, we had free rein to crawl all over the entire house—all three stories—and the attached barn. No part of  the house was cordoned off.

There is nothing I relish more than poking around an old house. The older and more decrepit, the better. The smells and the textures and the worn colors, and the sense that the lives of past residents have somehow seeped into the walls make the house a living thing.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The front hall floor is painted and stenciled with leaves. I don’t know how old this charming feature is, but it reminds me of the leaves our pets track into the kitchen in the fall. I even have a chair like this one at home.

Stenciled leaves on the hall floor, Olson House

Leaves on the floor

Beyond the stairs is a large, light-filled parlor. The cracks in the plaster feel familiar.

The kitchen, with its monstrous cast iron stove, still holds a few pieces of furniture. The rest of the house is all but empty. Wyeth painted Christina sitting at her kitchen table in “Woodstove.”

Geraniums still grow in the kitchen window.

Beyond the kitchen is a two-room pantry, which houses the sink (a metal-lined wood box) and water pump and a mechanical roller for wringing out the wash. The remarkable turquoise door has been immortalized in “Christina and Alvaro.”

Through the turquoise door is the dim and shadowy barn, which is roped off, probably because it’s in unsafe condition. We stepped only a few feet inside. I struggled with the light setting on my camera, so I asked Eric to photograph this scene and its beautiful light (which he no doubt would have, anyway). It’s one of my favorites. I didn’t know until I researched this post that Wyeth had painted it, too.

Back in the house, up the stairs are Christina and Alvaro’s childhood bedrooms. The tattered wallpaper in Christina’s room has been left to deteriorate, its delicate, faded patterns mingling like a collage. Our visit was several years before we tackled our kitchen remodel. Little did I know that I’d be seeing a similar effect on my own walls in a few years.

In the attic, Eric captured this scene of the room in which Wyeth did much of his painting. It was from this window that Wyeth first noticed Christina crawling through the field back to the house.

On the other side of the attic is another bedroom in which Wyeth created his last painting of the Olson House after Christina and Alvaro’s deaths.

We walked down the hill and into the grassy field. A hay wagon sits approximately where Christina was depicted, although the view of the house has been obscured by trees in the intervening decades. (More likely, Wyeth simply eliminated all trees from the pared-down painted scene. He also stretched the perspective of Christina’s World to enhance the feeling of distance. As I walked further down the hill, the house disappeared over the horizon.) The Olson House website now warns that this area is private property and not to trespass, but the docents encouraged us to go. I wonder if it’s still possible to walk there. It felt like an important part of the experience.

Farther down the hill is the small family cemetery, with a view of Maple Juice Cove between the trees. Christina and Alvaro’s shared headstone is prominent. They died within a month of each other in the winter of 1967 – 1968. In 2009, Andrew Wyeth himself was buried there with them. The three of them seem to look up toward the house.

While researching this post, I learned that the Olson House has recently reopened after being closed for a year for exterior renovation and installation of a fire repression system. While I’m glad the house is being preserved and protected, I’m also very glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy it in its original, weathered state. This photo of the new pine exterior just doesn’t have the same atmospheric appeal.

Olson House with new pine siding

Restoration [northernnewengland.aaa.com]

 Thanks for indulging me in a little art history nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed the tour.

Old woman with dark hair cuddling black kitten on her chest

Miss Olson [A. Wyeth, 1962]

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson with wagon in front of Olson house

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson [Kosti Ruohomaa]

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew [Richard Meryman]

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

Tropical escape, part 4

This is my fourth and final post about our Florida vacation. (If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Lighthouses

As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.

Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!

Key West Light through the trees

Key West Light through the trees

We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.

Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.

Tall red lighthouse seen from across the inlet

Jupiter Inlet Light just a par 5 away

Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!

The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.

McKee Botanical Garden

Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?

Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!

It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.

The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.

We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.

I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.

Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.

Rat snake head

I’m watching you. [eashellgren.com]

If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.

brown Carolina anole lizard on a plant identification marker

A Carolina anole who likes Washington State

The Wedding

The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.

The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.

See you later, alligator

The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.

We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?

Sailboat at sunset, Key West, FL

Sailing into the sunset.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

Tropical escape, part 3

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys had long been on Eric’s and my bucket lists. It was finally time to go! Come on along on a photo tour as we see what Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett made a such a fuss about.

Here we go on the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile, 42-bridge, southern end of US 1, which links the Florida Keys to the mainland. Most of the highway is two-lane like this, but a few places have been upgraded to four-lane. Our destination: Key West.

Crossing the 7-mile bridge on U.S. 1, Florida Keys

Seven-Mile Bridge

We planned to drive straight through, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over to take pictures of that water. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m talking about—the colors are incredible. If you haven’t, well … you need to go.

Shallow cove of aqua water in Bay of Florida

Aquamarine

The highway follows alongside the remains of the old railroad or the old highway (I couldn’t always tell which). The railroad, built in the 1920s, predates the highway, which was built in segments during the 1920s and 1930s. The continuous highway opened for traffic in 1938; it’s been partially updated.

Cars parked on old Hwy. 1 in the Florida Keys

Part of the old highway is now a very long fishing pier.

Key West

Arriving in Key West, we made straight for famous Duval Street, a mile-long strip of tourist restaurants, loud bars, and tacky t-shirt shops. For some reason, Key West is overrun by feral chickens. They’re everywhere. People love them or hate them—I think it depends on whether they’re trying to get some sleep.

We hoofed it through the sauna-like air down to a long pier at the end of the street—the southernmost point in the US.

Later we learned that the pole at the end of the pier is not really the official southernmost point. The official southernmost point is the painted buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. (It’s not a real buoy … it’s an old concrete sewer junction box that’s painted to look like a buoy! Ha! Tourists beware.)

Painted "buoy" at southernmost point in US, Key West, FL

Southernmost tourist point in the US

But wait—that’s not the real southernmost point, either. The really real one is on nearby US Navy property and not accessible to civilians. Anyway … we were damn close.

It was getting on toward sunset, so we beat feet to Mallory Square, all the way at the other end of Duval. This is the iconic plaza where the crowd gathers every evening to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. Every tourist on the island was there, plus souvenir vendors and performance artists … maybe even some locals. The place was packed, but we managed to find a spot at the rail, so to speak. I was so busy watching the sunset that I didn’t think about turning around and taking a picture of Mallory Square itself. Here’s one taken from a cruise ship, which gives you a much better perspective than I had.

Crowded Mallory Square from the air

Mallory Square [onboard.com ]

Here’s what was distracting me. Wow, what a show! I can’t possibly cull my photos down to one favorite shot, so enjoy the gallery. None of these photos has been Photoshopped or color-enhanced. (Click to enlarge.)

The next morning we toured the Hemingway Home and Museum use to get a cat fix. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived in this charming house from 1931 until their 1940 divorce. We were lucky to be there when the African tulip tree was in bloom.

A plaque beneath this 1928 photo explains that Hemingway got the gash on his forehead when he yanked on a skylight chain, thinking it was the toilet chain. The skylight shattered over his head. I’m sure alcohol was not a factor.

1928 photo of Ernest Hemingway with a curved gash on his forehead.

Nine stitches

Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the present-day house and gardens are crawling with kitties, some of whom are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s cat. Many are polydactyl. All are safe and content, and do what cats do in the heat: snooze. They even have a feeding station designed to match the house.

How about this for a bathroom? Windows on three sides! I love the Deco tile floor—fish are always at home in a bathroom.

Yellow, black and white bathroom at Hemingway house in Key West, FL

As big as our bedroom

We peeked in at Hemingway’s writing studio over the old carriage house. A suitably masculine place to hang out. But it’s blocked off … we could only stand in the doorway to look and imagine him typing the manuscript for To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway's Key West studio over the carriage house.

Hemingway’s studio seen from the house’s balcony

Interior of Hemingway's Key West studio

Inside the studio

From Papa Hemingway’s place, we walked to the other end of town (again) to catch a glass-bottomed catamaran cruise to the barrier reef. (Alas, I am neither swimmer nor snorkeler.) The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest living coral reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize). I thought it would be cooler out on the water, but it was mercilessly hot and humid. The woman next to me mopped her face with a Kleenex, which disintegrated and stuck to her skin.

Back on shore, we walked some of the side streets. Just a block or two off Duval, Key West is quiet and distinctly Caribbean.

We strolled by Harry Truman’s Little White House, which was being set up for a wedding (even the bride’s little dog was wearing a lace gown). I was amazed to find coleus, which back home are small potted plants, growing taller than me!

Bahia Honda Key

We wanted to stay longer, but we had a schedule to keep and a wedding to get to, so back we went on US 1. We stopped to take photos of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This one was obviously a railroad bridge … right? Yes … and no. The new four-lane bridge sits to the north. Beside it, the old bridge is slowly crumbling into the sea. It was originally a railroad bridge, but when a hurricane wiped out many railroad bridges in 1935, the state bought what remained of the bridges and used them to build more of the highway. In this case, the pavement is on top of the railroad structure. Something tells me they wouldn’t get away with that these days.

Marathon

In Marathon, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital, an experience that I’ll always remember. This nonprofit hospital rehabilitates sea turtles that have been injured by boats or nets, have eaten trash, or are suffering from disease. It’s set up in an old motel, and the staff lives onsite. What a perfect use for an old property! The old salt-water pool is too dilapidated for humans, but it works just fine for turtles. Some of these turtles are permanent hospital residents. For instance, a collision with a boat can force air into the turtle’s body tissue, deforming its shell and causing it to float head-down, bottom-up. This condition, called bubble butt, can be compensated for by gluing weights to the turtle’s shell … but the weights will eventually fall off, so the turtle cannot safely to return to the sea.

Key Largo

That night we ate at a seaside restaurant whose boat dock was lit from underwater. As darkness fell, I snapped this otherworldly photo with my cell phone. I think it’s the shot of the trip.

Boats at dock with water lit from below with green lights

One last stop before we returned to the mainland: John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where we discovered a beautiful aquarium. After studying the sea life there, I was able to identify all the types of coral depicted in Finding Nemo.

We walked down a wooded trail and along the beach, where we found these large coral rocks. Easy to see remnants of sea life here.

Coral texture on large rock

Love the patterns

As we were leaving, we passed the kayak rental. Why do these colorful kayaks remind me of fruit?

Detail pf multicolored kayaks in a row

Bananas?

Goodbye, Florida Keys … we’ll be back someday!

Coming next: My final post about Florida, featuring gardens, lighthouses, and a wedding!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Tropical escape, part 2

Gators in the ‘Glades

After reveling in the retroglam of Miami Beach, we lit out for the territory to visit something wilder—Everglades National Park. We’d already had a glimpse of the Everglades from our plane. It looked like this: On one side of the canal, dredged waterways and man-made islands covered in homes and golf courses … on the other side, miles of uninterrupted grassland.

A long straight canal divides development from natural grassland in the Everglades

Houses on one side, sawgrass on the other [qz.com]

The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s a shallow, slow-moving river, draining water out of Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. This vast grassland covers the southern end of Florida. Everglades National Park is at the southernmost tip of the overall Everglades area.

Like many of our natural areas, the Everglades has been ruthlessly exploited and nearly destroyed by humans. The northern part was converted to grazing land and sugarcane fields. Canals, levees, and roads blocked the natural flow of water and decimated animal life downstream. Urban development crept ever closer from the East Coast. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas [Wikipedia]. I won’t go into the horrifying history of what humans have perpetrated there, but if you read about it, it will make you sick. Fortunately, restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s, with the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Better late than never, right?

Map showing loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century

Loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century [fas.org]

After a brief stop at the main visitor center to plan our day, we continued a little further into the park to Royal Palm Visitor Center, where we walked the .8 mile Anhinga Trail. Most of this accessible trail is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to peek down into the brush and water.

Man walks on wooden boardwalk in Everglades National Park.

What’s around the next bend?

Green lillypads float in Everglades National Park

Lillypads floating in the clear, shallow water

Young mangrove tree growing in Everglades National Park

A young mangrove tree

Cardinal air plant growing on a tree trunk

Cardinal air plant (tillandsia fasciculata)

Spherical white flower in Everglades National Park

This may be a powderpuff (related to mimosa?)

Before long we found some wildlife … this turtle was lounging on the warm mud.

Turtle sleeping in the sun

Lazing in the sun

Smack in the center of this photo is an alligator bag. No, wait—it’s a real alligator!

Alligator resting under a tree in Everglades National Park

See him?

Alligator in Everglades National Park

A better view

Here’s another one, facing away from me.

Alligator hides among grasses in Everglades National Park

We never saw a gator in action … they were all just lying around

I didn’t know much about the Everglades, other than what TV shows lead us to believe. Here’s what I thought it would be like.

Cartoon gator inviting you to take an airboat tour

Thankfully, airboats aren’t allowed within the national park. We certainly did not expect to see this:

Smoke from wildfire hangs over Everglades National Fire

An eerie landscape

The Everglades were on fire. Lightning-induced fires are not uncommon, and sometimes prescribed fires are necessary to burn off spilled fuel or to reduce invasive plant species, but this 3800-acre fire was caused by some idiot who got careless at a campsite.

We had hoped to take a boat tour into the interior of the park, but because of reduced visibility from the smoke, the Forest Service made us wait for a lead car to escort us through part of the main park road. We waited. We missed the boat. By the time we arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center, only one last boat tour was available, out into Florida Bay. (Florida Bay is between the mainland and the Florida Keys.)

Pink Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

What color did you think Flamingo Visitor Center would be?

As we cruised into the bay, the captain ran through the mandatory flotation vest demonstration. “If you fall overboard and can’t remember how the life vest works,” he said, “just stand up.” Florida Bay is only three or four feet deep … six feet in dredged boat channels.

Aerial shot showing southern Floida and Florida Bay

You can see the park and the shallowness of Florida Bay. [Google]

View from dock at Flamingo looking toward Florida Bay

Looking south from Flamingo Marina toward Florida Bay

FLorida Bay with island visible in the distance

Heading out into Florida Bay

From the water, we saw birds … lots of birds. Ubiquitous brown pelicans, white egrets, terns, and this nest of osprey.

Three osprey chicks and their mother on a nest on a harbor navigation marker

These osprey chicks look almost ready to fly.

Brown pelican diving into water

A pelican dives for dinner

Perky terns

Perky crested terns perch on a piling

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root.

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root

Out in the bay, distant mangrove islands shimmered in the sun like mirages. They seemed to float above the water.

Distant island shimmers in heat

Mirage?

These islands begin as a single mangrove seedling that breaks off the parent tree and floats away. If the seedling gets hung up on a shallow spot, it can put down roots in an hour. As the tree grows, its dropped leaves decay and build up, eventually forming a small island.

Small mangrove tree grows near the water

Baby mangrove

Over many years, this island may gain enough elevation—just a few feet—to support hardwood trees. These small humps are known as hardwood hammocks. We passed many hammocks as we drove through the park … but we don’t have a single photo to show you. Guess we’ll have to go back.

Everglades cross section

Everglades cross section [USGS]

Reflection of mangrove roots in the water of Florida Bay

Reflection of mangrove roots

After the cruise we lingered at the marina, hoping to see the manatees that often visit there … but we were disappointed.

Two manatees under water

We did not see these manatees [Keywestaquarium.com]

Cruise boat docked at Flamingo Marina

Our cruise boat in manatee-free Flamingo Marina

The only manatees we saw during our whole trip were these popular mailbox holders. They’re so cute and kitchy, I suppose I would have to have one.

Manatee mailbox holder

Close, but no cigar

A few hours in Everglades National Park was only enough to scratch the surface. We’ll have to come back to catch that boat into the interior, meet a manatee, and hang out in a hammock with a Florida panther. But now, off to the Keys!

Tropical escape, part 1

FLORIDA.

The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.

In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.

For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.

But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!

Ft. Lauderdale

This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.

Palm tree and ocean at Ft. Lauderdale beach.

This is what we came so far to see!

People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.

Man facing the sunset on Florida beach

Where we come from, we face the ocean at sunset.

We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.

We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.

Condos line the beach at Ft. Lauderdale

Condos north and south, as far as the eye can see.

Miami Beach

The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II.  What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.

The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.

Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).

Congress Hotel, Miami Beach

This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.

Detail of COngress Hotel entry showing pastel-painted frozen fountain motif

The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.

Cream and gray Art Deco facade of Hotel Sheely

The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.

Art Deco building that resembles a boat

Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?

Whit Art Deco building on corner, with tall mast sign.

Mast atop Tiffany building with neon letters

Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!

Staircase made of polished yellow and green polished coral

Art Deco lobby of Tiffany building

The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.

Sherbrooke Hotel looks like an ocean liner

Detail of Sherbrooke sign in Broadway typeface atop hotel

Sherbrooke’s sign in Broadway typeface

This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.

Fancy detailing on the Taft Hotel

Icing on a wedding cake

A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.

Gray, carved palm motif frieze on white building

The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.

Breakwater Hotel with famous vertical sign

A very Miami Beach color scheme–blue and yellow

A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.

Art Deco Banana Republic store with black and white striped awnings

Right at home in the palms

Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.

Shiny, patterned aluminum diner with glass block corner window

Like a jewel box …

We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.

Small house build of rough coral limestones

One of two coral bungalows

This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.

Cream and orange vintage car in front of Mediterranean style building.

Nice when your car matches your restaurant’s awnings.

After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).

Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.

Colorful lifeguard station at Miami Beach

We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.

So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.

Next stop: Everglades National Park.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it