Poker, Pool Time and Pigging out in Las Vegas!

My husband and I recently joined three other couples for a long weekend in Las Vegas. The goals: gamble, eat good food and enjoy the warm weather for a few days. We exceeded all expectations and came home full, pink skinned and really tired! It was pretty much what one would expect of a group of empty nesters getting together and blowing off a little steam.

The four couples all had different arrival times and we arrived thursday evening.

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View from our plane

We flew in around 2pm and it was well over 90ºF. We made our way to the Aria Resort and Casino. We have stayed there several times and really like its location on the strip, the restaurants and the pools. I am partial to their fitness and spa center as well. I took a few pictures of the exterior of the Aria.

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This view is from one of the three pools,  looking back toward one of the towers

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This view is from one of the other pools

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This is the pool where we spent most of our time

 

My hubby wanted to head straight for the pool that first night, I had a hard time getting him to leave but we finally made our way to dinner.

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This was our only night that we dinned alone as our friends were still arriving from various destinations. We chose to dine at Bardot Brasserie. The food was French and delicious! bardot restaurant

We started off with the King Crab Crepe. A buckwheat crepe filled with trumpet mushrooms, sunny -side egg, and a Normandy cider beurre blanc. It was outstanding!

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My entree was the Salmon Aux Lentilles prepared with King salmon, beluga lentils with a smoked tomato vinaigrette. This trip was starting out on a great foot!

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The next day was Friday and that meant that my hubby was in a poker tournament all day. He plays the WSOP events in June and it is variable as to how long he will be in the casino. If all goes well he will start at 10am and play until 2am the next morning! Or he could be out in an hour! So, I decided to get a message at the Aria spa to help work on my back injury. So glad I did! My back did feel better from the masseuse and the jets in the hot tub. Meanwhile my husband played all day Friday, until he was out. Unfortunately, that turned out to be sooner rather than later!

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No big poker winnings this year! We met up with our friends and had dinner at Javier’s, a Mexican restaurant at Aria. This was my least favorite meal on our trip. It wasn’t bad, I had the callitos mazatlan which were pan seared scallops with a chipotle sauce and the ubiquitous rice and beans found at every Mexican restaurant. No pictures, it was a typical and well executed meal.

We spent the rest of the evening in a lounge listening to live music (very good live music) and having a few too many cocktails-we had a blast!

Saturday we all had some personal time until our dinner and show reservations that evening. I decided to head to my two favorite hotels on the strip. My husband and I took the Aria tram to the Bellagio. We have stayed there several times and love the interior of this casino.

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The tram cycles between the Aria, The shops at Crystals and the Bellagio

In just a few minutes we were at the Bellagio, me with my camera in hand. The Bellagio is bright, airy and colorful. It is impossible to capture any one image that will convey all the amazing scenery. I have highlighted a couple examples that really speak to me every time I visit.

 

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This is one of many domed skylights which allows light into the long corridors

 

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These gorgeous arrangements are on every table top as you weave your way through the walkways into the main buildiing 

 

One of my favorite shops of all time is Jean Philippe Patisserie and I visit every time I am in Vegas.

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This is where you will find the largest chocolate fountain in the world. It runs from floor to ceiling and has milk, dark and white chocolate pools

And, of course, there is the pastries!

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A truly stunning experience!

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The patisserie is close to the conservatory and botanical garden that showcases floral artwork. This season is dedicated to the Chinese new year. This is just a small fraction of what there was to see!

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The detail was amazing! As you leave the conservatory area you enter the main lobby of the Bellagio. The ceiling is covered with glass flowers made by Seattle’s own Dale Chihuly. Even though he is right here in my own backyard, I marvel at this ceiling every time I visit Vegas.

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We travelled down the long corridor to the exit of the Bellagio, on our way to the Paris Hotel and Casino. There were a few more beautiful ceiling elements along the way.

We exited the building and crossed the street. We entered Pairs hotel and immediately felt the ambiance change. Where Bellagio was bright and open, Paris was darker and had the feel of Europe in the middle ages. It was as if we were in underground Paris in the 1800s.

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It is like you are at an illegal club!

 

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The sky ceiling is similar to the one in Caesars Palace

 

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The building facades look so real

 

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This could be any shopping avenue in Paris

 

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The French have there own version of amazing pastries to choose from!

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This Chinese restaurant is stunning!

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They really captured that nighttime feel.

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This is my favorite Creperie, anywhere! I always have a crepe when visiting Vegas from this shop. Today the hubby and I split a Monte Cristo crepe. Ham, Swiss cheese with strawberry sauce, powdered sugar and basil. Just the perfect lunch!

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Then it was time to head back to the Aria and meet up with our friends. There were a few sights on the way back!

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Our dinner reservations that evening were at the steak house, Mastro’s Ocean Club at the shops at Crystals. This was a fantastic meal! The restaurant is in an old tree house that now sits at the heart of the mall. It is two stories and we were seated inside this structure. More importantly the food was killer! If you have never tried Wagyu beef (and you have an extra kidney to sell to afford it) I do recommend it!

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We throughly enjoyed this meal and then set out to see Zumanity, a Cirque du soliel show at New York, New York Hotel and Casino. If you like nude acrobats then you will love this show!

Sunday morning I got up early and ran 4 miles. It was hot (81°F at 6:15am), hard and full of stairs but I needed to work off some of the “fun” I had been consuming! Plus we are still half marathon training! The hubby said no to accompanying me and we all reconvened at the pool for our last day of mini vacation. I posted a picture on Instagram of my shoes taking a break by the pool. I caught my husband trying to steal one of the drinks.

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This trip was a bit of a whirlwind, looking back I did not get the right amount of sleep or eat as healthy as I would have liked, but we all need a crazy, fun break every once in a while!

Oh, and as for gambling

the only time i won

This was the best result I had the entire time!

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A family vacation that really rocked!

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This is my daughter and I sitting on top of Red Wall in Smith Rocks State Park. We just finished the 3 pitch climb of Super Slab. What a view!

My husband and I are truly blessed to have these amazing kids who also happen to be very athletic and, apparently, fearless. Our son, Ryan, is only 21 but has been a rock instructor since he was 14. He recently began to acquire AMGA certifications and is now a professional guide. He is also a classically trained clarinetist, not sure how these two worlds will knit together yet, but as his parents have zero musical talent, we have chosen to join his climbing world.

This was the first trip to Smith for the parentals (as our daughter Alex calls us) but the kids have been numerous times. We stayed in a motel in Redmond Oregon, about 10 minutes from the park. We had never been to Central Oregon before and were impressed with its beauty. We live in Redmond Washington so the drive is about 6 hours, give or take. Warning: Lots of pictures in this post!

We were greeted by these yellow bellied marmots, which are like rabbits there.

Our first day in was all about Red Wall, and climbing a route called Super Slab. We had a small hike for the approach, but when you are carrying gear, ropes, a camera and its 70+°F, the hike is harder! It was mostly uphill of course!

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Our daughter at the very top of the last pitch

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A view of the wall as we approached

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Our trusty guide!

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Ryan did most of the leading and set the rope for me. Alex lead up for Dennis.

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Once we finished all three pitches it was time to enjoy the view and some snacks

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The views were spectacular!

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I do like being as high as the birds

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This is the crooked river which runs through the entire park

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You can see why this is called the Red Wall

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Ryan was probably a mountain goat in a former life!

We rappelled down, reorganized the gear and headed off to another climb that the kids felt the parentals could handle. Ryan also had a project that he had been working on, that was impressive!

We made our way over to a route called “5 gallon Buckets” because the holds are huge-perfect for my husband and me! This was only rated a 5.8 but it was longer than most of our lead climbs, so the decision was made that I would lead up, set the anchor then hubby would top rope it. This was my first outdoor lead climb!

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me leading 1

Yep, that’s me up there!

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The good news is that I got it done in one take! Then my husband climbed it and we all headed over to Ryan’s project- A very intimidating 11.c climb named “heresy”. It is only 4 bolts and the anchor and it is intense!

We did have a short wait in line while other climbers were on the wall so I took some shots of the surroundings.

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There are climbers all over this rock like ants!

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A number of climbers here as well

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There were humans hanging all over the place!

Then it was Ryan’s turn to climb!

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He got it in one try! At this point we were all tired and it had been a full day! We hiked out (no small thing) and drug ourselves to dinner in town. I was asleep by 9pm.

The next day was also to be a big one-the Marsupial Traverse which was a whopping 10 pitches total. We got up and out the door and were at the park by 9:30am. We had a nice long hike out to the site. Since this climb was longer and required more gear, I did not take my canon with me, just an iPhone, so less pictures this time!

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This was one of the views on the way into the canyon

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This is what we would look like in a few hours! I caught this group doing the traverse before we did!

Along the way, Alex decided to try a quick climb before we all started the traverse. She got up ok, but stuck on the way down (the rope drag was too much for her size). Fortunately, little brother knew what to do and brought her down safely!

The traverse took all day, as I said before we started at 9:30am and we finished the final, 200 foot rappel at 5:45pm. Another long day, but so worth it!

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My hubby fighting his way up!

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Amazing views from up here-notice my husband hunkered down and tied in at all times! He is not super excited about the height!

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He is feeling a little safer here!

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This climber is on an adjacent spire waiting to rappel

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Look how joyful Ryan is! This is his “happy place” several hundred feet above the ground! 

We had an amazing time at Smith and will definitely do it again! The parentals did mange to get one half marathon training run done while the kids went for one last climb before we all piled in the car for the long ride home. We were dirty, tired, sun burned and very happy!

Working on my photography at the beach

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This weekend I spent with me, myself and I. My husband went to Spokane to run in the Bloomsday event. This is a huge race that he does with his coworkers. They leave early on Saturday morning for the 1 hour flight and head straight to a golf course where they proceed to drink all day and, somehow, play a round or two. They spend the night and get up early to join the 30,000 other folks for the annual 12K (7.5 mile) run, have lunch, drink some more beverages and then fly home Sunday night. That meant that I was on my own to run a 9 mile training run so I figured that after I ran I would take off to the Washington coast and work on my photography skills (such that they are!).

I left for the shore at 1pm on Saturday and arrived at 4pm. I was staying at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino on, you guessed it, Quinault Beach. I dropped off my bag and immediately headed out to the shoreline.

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As I exited the hotel, I took a shot before I entered the beach

 

These images were from the shore, looking back at the resort. The sky was amazing!

 

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The property had a private boardwalk to enter the beach

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It was windy, and cold to be sure, but the sun was shining.

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The tide was out quite a ways and the beach was covered with jellyfish.

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There were a few seagulls out and about. This one is the same as the bird in the picture that is found at the start of the post.

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I really love the cloud cover. Part of our photography class is playing with the white balance. We are learning how to shoot in cloudy and bright conditions. I played around with this function to get this image.

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Another area of focus in the class is depth analysis. Here I tried to capture the different growth levels of the plant both above and below the surface of the water.

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I switched to my zoom lens to get a little closer to the waves and this seagull.

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By now I was quite cold and ready to head inside for some hot coffee. Sunset was at 8:34 and I had just enough time to settle into my room, have dinner and get back out to the shore with my tripod in tow.

It was extremely windy and the sand was really blowing along. I tried to capture the feeling of movement by using a longer exposure setting. What do you think? Can you see the sand moving?

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I will keep working on that!

These next shots were on aperture priority setting, and the white balance was set to cloudy to make the colors more visible. I should also say that I did not use any filters.

 

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I decided to swing around and look at the clouds in the east as well.

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Moving back to the west again, I tried positioning the sun in different fields of view.

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That was a long as I could stand the cold! I went back to my room and had a hot bath, read a good book and had a great night’s sleep!

The next morning I went for a long walk on the beach sans camera. I just wanted to absorb the beauty, breath in the salty air and stretch my sore muscles-they were definitely feeling that 9 mile run the day before! With my soul refreshed I packed up, checked out and went 5 miles down the road to the city of Ocean Shores. This was a completely different experience! Where Quinault Beach was quiet and mostly deserted, Ocean Shores was crazy, populated and chaotic. There were cars on the beach driving around, horse trailers set up for tourists to ride on and motorized bicycles buzzing around. Why would anyone want to drive all the way to the shore to then drive on the beach! What happened to listening to the waves, feeling the sand in your toes and getting away from it all? I didn’t get it!

There were some standard sights that you usually get at the beach, such as people flying kites.

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And the ocean here looked a lot like the last beach, but the clouds were not as impressive today. At least it was warmer, and I did appreciate that.

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The birds here were insane. Maybe it was because there were so many people around who left their food unattended. The flocks were massive and the small birds were wicked fast. I decided to try to capture some the fast moving objects by moving into shutter priority mode and set it to 800. I can’t tell you how many shots I snapped trying to get a sharp image, but I got a few to my surprise!

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I was getting a headache trying to catch the little birds so I turned my attention to the slower, gulls. I managed to get a couple good ones.

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Then, out of nowhere one of the flocks turned right at me!

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They veered off at the last second, thankfully!

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That was enough for me-I am not really all that comfortable around birds. Especially when there are so many of them. I decided to pack it in for the weekend. I made one last stop for lunch before the long ride home in Sunday traffic.

 

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This granola with greek yogurt and berries was delicious! I had a great, albeit short trip and had a lot of fun with my camera. Next time I think I will skip the touristy beach and just hang out on the calm, serene shoreline. Minus the deadly attack birds!

Half Marathon Training, Week 2 Update

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We finally made it back from Arizona yesterday. It took three days for a couple reasons. First of all, we didn’t want to come back and decided to spend one more night in AZ and went to the Arizona Biltmore Resort. You can check out this earlier post if you want to see why we were so eager to stay there.  We hung by the pool and drank too much, especially for the 3 mile run on Thursday! We spent one night in Las Vegas, Just because we could! Then we drove 11 hours to get to Boise, Idaho to visit some friends that we never see enough and had a great night with them. So, how did this effect our running schedule? Well, we ran the 3 miles Tuesday in Chandler, which was wonderful. It was sunny and warm enough to wear shorts and a tank top. Thursday we ran at the Biltmore which was in Scottsdale where the temperatures are really starting to heat up this time of the year. This was a tough run for me, as I mentioned before I had too much to drink the night prior and did not enjoy the hangover pounding in my head all the way to my feet!   But I still appreciated running in the sun. We were scheduled to run 5 miles on Saturday but had to defer that one until today because we were in the car for 8 hours yesterday, trying to get back to Seattle. So today’s run was colder, and really windy! I had a head wind at the turn around but I did manage to avoid the rain, that started later in the day. Mentally, it is tough to gear up for these colder runs when I was so spoiled for the last three weeks! I already miss Arizona but am determined to keep to the schedule, winter be damned!

Time to go rock climbing at Vertical World Redmond. Climbing at AZ on the Rocks was great, but we are really looking forward to the new routes and seeing old friends at our home gym.

March 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule

This is a blank and printable March Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar.com

February 2017 March 2017 April 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Feb 26

Week 1

  Feb 28

4 miles

1

 

2

3 miles

3

 

4

5 miles

5 week 2

 

6

 

7

3 miles

8

 

9

3 miles

10

 

11

5 miles

12 week 3

 

13

 

14

4 miles

15

 

16

4 miles

17

 

18

6 miles

19 week 4

 

20

 

21

4 miles

22

 

23

4 miles

24

 

25

6 miles

26 week 5

 

27

 

28

5miles

29

 

30

5miles

31

 

 
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I wil leave you with this image from the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas!

Week One Half Marathon Training, Done!

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Our first week went really well, how could it not? We have beautiful, sunny, warm Arizona weather to thank!

I ran on Tuesday morning for 4 miles here in Chandler. But my husband had to go to a conference in New York, so he ran his 4 in Central Park in the afternoon. He arrived back in AZ late Wednesday night so we were able to run together on Thursday (3miles) and today, Saturday, for the 5 mile, long run of the week. We also managed to get in some putting on the practice greens and rock climbing at AZ on the Rocks again.

Personally I hit a small milestone. I have been using the Nike running app to log my miles and started June  7th, 2016. Todays run put me over the 400 mile mark. Looking forward to 500! Maybe I will get a foot message to celebrate!

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Next week has me worried! The Tuesday run should be fine but we leave Arizona on Wednesday for the road trip back home. We are planning to return via a different route back to Seattle, maybe staying at the Arizona Biltmore one night (if you are wondering why we would stop so close to Chandler, then check out the pics here), then heading to Vegas for a day. I don’t know what weather or running opportunities will present to us, should be interesting!

 

March 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule
This is a blank and printable March Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar.com

February 2017 March 2017 April 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Feb 26

Week 1

  Feb 28

4 miles

1

 

2

3 miles

3

 

4

5 miles

5

week 2

 

6

 

7

3 miles

8

 

9

3 miles

10

 

11

5 miles

12

week 3

 

13

 

14

4 miles

15

 

16

4 miles

17

 

18

6 miles

19

week 4

 

20

 

21

4 miles

22

 

23

4 miles

24

 

25

6 miles

26

week 5

 

27

 

28

5miles

29

 

30

5miles

31

 

 

Botany and Brunch in Phoenix!

I have mentioned before that we lived in the high desert for six years in Southern California. We were incredibly busy during that time and I really didn’t have the luxury of wandering the desert and looking at the flora or fauna. Now that the kids are grown and on their own we decided to revisit the desert through calmer, more leisurely eyes. We went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona yesterday. I wasn’t sure what would be worth seeing since it is winter, but there were plenty of blooms and impressive succulents to make the trip a success. There is no way to capture the entirety of the ecosystem that would do it justice, so I tried to focus on plants that are unique or dramatic in some way.  And, no I don’t know the names of any of them! I am a molecular biologist not a botanist. I can extract their DNA but that is the extent of my plant based knowledge.

The park is divided into 5 distinct loops, or trails and each has a main theme. Desert plants found around the world, those that are used for food or medicine, ideas for succulents in your landscaping at home, desert wildflowers and a vista loop with uniques perspectives and views.  I guess I will just jump in!

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There were several sculptures and water features in the various gardens as well.

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This sun dial was on time

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These seed pods were horseshoe shaped

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Remember when I mentioned fauna?

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This bird appeared to be nesting on the ground. You cannot see from this angle, but its wings were spread out as if it was roosting.

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We were told that some birds will hollow out a portion of the larger cacti to nest in or for protection.

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Do you see both birds?

Remember when I mentioned the trail with the great views?

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We were finally done and on our way out of the gardens when a couple other interesting sites popped up!

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Touch down, Seahawks!

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These last two pictures are of Dale Chihuly Glass sculptures that mark the entrance/exit to the park-just beautiful!

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We spent a couple hours hiking around the park and we were good and hungry. We headed over to the Biltmore Resort for Sunday Brunch, which was being served in their Wright’s Restaurant.img_0509

This was quite the spread! Included in the price of the brunch was this all you can eat buffet that included the mussels, shrimp, crab claws, smoked salmon and capers that you see above. What you do not see is the rest of the cold buffet and the dessert bar, both of which were extensive! Additionally there were hot items made to order (also included in the cost of the brunch). I chose the chipotle maple glazed pork with farrow, golden raisins, grilled broccolini and sunny side up egg.

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As good as this was, it was nothing compared to my second choice! Blue corn pancakes with jalapeño, lime and mexican creme. Beyond delicious!

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Another amazing taste was from the cold buffet. I had a smoked salmon bowl, with pickled vegetables, mandarin orange and salmon roe.

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Of course I had to leave some room for dessert. There were many great options but I took only two small bites to sample. A salted caramel cheesecake and the raspberry chocolate macaron, and coffee of course!

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Both desserts were outstanding! Now that we were replenished from our morning, my husband and I set out to check out the Biltmore Resort grounds.

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The resort had an 18 hole putting course that we had fun practicing on. I didn’t too bad that day!

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We could have played a game of chess on this giant outdoor chess board, but golf was our first choice.

Then we saw the pool! This is hard to forget-just stunning and so inviting!

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We finally wrapped up a very busy and incredibly fun day! If you are in Phoenix you are going to want to hit up the Desert Botanical Gardens and Wright’s Restaurant at the Arizona Biltmore Resort!

A few last beautiful images!

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Road Trip! Second Stop, San Simeon California

We lived in Southern California for six years. I was a graduate student at USC, my husband worked at Edwards Air Force Base as a civilian engineer and both our children were born in Lancaster during those six years. Clearly we were busy and in way over our heads with life in general. Still, before all that wonderful chaos we managed to visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Fast forward 20+ years and I can honestly say I remember very little of that initial visit. We decided to take a refresher tour and were just as amazed as the first time we saw the hilltop house, it is breathtaking in that over-the-top, wanton excess kind of way that makes one wonder “what were they thinking?” It is truly one of a kind that will never be politically correct to replicate in the future. If you get the opportunity to see it, you definitely want to grab it!

We began by entering the visitors center and purchasing our tickets. They have several tours to choose from and you will not have the opportunity to see the whole estate in one viewing. I wanted the tour that led throughout the three guest cottages and the kitchen, but that was sold out, so we selected the Grand Room tour. We boarded our designated bus for the 15 minute ride up to “the enchanted hilltop” as they called it. Along the way we saw cattle grazing on the slopes and a variety of fruit trees while Alex Trebek informed us of the basic facts about the construction of the estate. We caught a few glimpses of the structure as we approached the top.

Just a note, this estate is far too vast to capture with one camera and you can go to the website for panoramic shots. I tried to focus on details that really demonstrated the attention to detail that impressed me the most.

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The view from the hilltop was incredible, even on a cloudy day like the one we experienced.

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The tour began outside where there were plenty of sites to absorb.

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This marble carving was at the base of the grand staircase

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Another carving marked the base of a light fixture, one of a dozen identical lights. The Neptune pool, which can be seen in the background, was under repair and not part of this tour.

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Another example of a light base with a stone carving, several of these lined the stone wall border

The surface of the walkway was not overlooked by the designers.

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This pattern covered the entire terrace

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This is a single square that you see repeated in the floor covering above.

We made our way up the grand staircase and additional sculptures, buttresses and embellishments were visible.

Even the staircases had amazing details.

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This golden statue had the best view of all!

We continued our ascent to the front door. Not just any front door!

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A statue of Cupid pointed the way

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See the gold door at the top of the stairs, to the left?

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There are two statues on either side of the door

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This is the “wild man” on the left side, half man half beast

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Directly above the center of the door is a Madonna and child

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Above the Madonna is an intricately carved wooden ledge that covers the balcony. Zoom in and you can make out the variety of animals carved from the wood.

Remember the cottage tour I wanted to take? This was as close as I could get this time. There are three guest cottages on the property. Each a small home in itself at 2,000, 3,000 and 5,000 square feet!

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It was finally time to enter the great hall, where there is no flash photography allowed.

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Sculptures on both sides greet guests as they enter

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This is the first image seen as you walk straight into the room. On the right is the fireplace with a huge mantle that runs, almost to the carved ceiling, and on the left a glimpse of the tapestries that adorn the entire great room.

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I love ceilings, and the details on this one are beyond stunning!

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a close up of one of the panels, these are not repeating images, they are all different!

From here we went into the dining hall.

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Who doesn’t need a table that seats 22 guests?

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These are choir seats, found throughout many of the rooms. These are not meant for additional seating, Hearst just liked how they looked.

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Another amazing ceiling!

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The detail is exquisite! No wonder it took 28 years to complete this estate.

After dessert was finished, the guests would retire to the Morning Room to relax.

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Another impressive fireplace. See the row of choir chairs off to the left again?

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Then it was on to the billiards room. This room was particularly dark and hard to photograph. Just a couple of images from this one.

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Then the guests would be treated to a movie in the theatre. This is not your media room at home! It was a full theatre with seating for a small city. It was also dark so only one picture.

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This was one of the dozen or so carved beams that ran floor to ceiling. Impressive to say the least.

The Roman Pool was the final stop on the tour, and my favorite site (beside the ceilings).

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The light you see from above is from the tennis courts located on top of the pool house. The balcony in the middle is the high dive

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This is the bottom of the pool, the picture is taken from above, through the water.

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One of the many examples of the tile pictures that line the pool deckimg_0227img_0220img_0229img_0228

 

We had the option to tour the grounds, gardens and other walk ways in the public areas, but it was cold! So we boarded our bus and returned to the visitors center. Our ticket included a 40 minute video on the building of the estate, but we were hungry! We made it back to our resort just in time for sunset.

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A great end to a perfect day, on to Chandler Arizona!