Monday, December 21, 2015

PALM SPRINGS: MY WIND FARM TOUR 2015



One good thing about touring the wind farms in Palm Springs on the coldest, greyest day I've ever experienced here, was that the wind was blowing.

At the foot of Mt. Jacinto
Nearly four thousand windmills used to line the San Gorgonio Pass north of Palm Springs at the entrance to the Coachella Valley – now they total about two thousand. Here the Santa Rosa and San Bernardino Mountains squeeze the prevailing westerly winds through a funnel. It's a perfect place for a wind farm, if unattractive.

Windmill Tours are the only company to provide tours and they have gained rights to entry on the privately-held land. We saw everything during the hour and a half visit, starting with a visit to an outdoor display of the older windmills' parts, which gave me a clearer idea of how they worked and how they are now controlled, and a drive all over the site. We also learned about the need for two natural gas plants for periods of peak consumption when there's no wind (rarely!). Tour reservations must be made online and the tour costs USD$47.00 per person.

Older wind turbines are still working

Since 1985, windmills have been erected here on various leased lands. Some turbines were not efficient and some collapsed in the early days. We saw examples of these as we rode the comfortable tour bus listening to the commentary. (The tinted windows made photography almost impossible and I would have liked a few more stops at the most scenic places. We planned to return later on a sunny day, as we now knew how to get there, but we never did.)
Modern and huge

Today modern wind turbines are replacing the Vestas (older versions) and are needed in fewer numbers. However they need more space. They are gigantic –  420 feet tall with a nacelle the size of a semi-truck and blades over 130 feet long – and each can deliver 3 megawatts of electricity per day in ideal conditions. The nacelle provides the controls to capture the wind, change the pitch of the blades, a gearbox, and a braking mechanism. I was amazed at their size and cost.

The total electricity produced by the windmills in the San Gorgonio pass  is about 1822 gigawatts annually. It equates to the amount of energy used by 180,000 typical US homes in one year.

As land is cleared of the older windmills, solar panels are filling the empty spaces between the modern monsters; they are computer controlled too and turn to face the sun on its journey from east to west.

Near the end of the tour, we visited a local café for free date shakes, which many loved but I did not. I don't enjoy dates....

Overall, this was a good tour especially for engineers and those interested in alternate power generation. The weather proved challenging for photography and for staying warm outside. Few participants had cold weather gear in Palm Springs!

Solar panels filling in where the old
windmills used to be (looking southeast)

Images: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

MONTEBELLO, QUEBEC, IN THE FALL


The view from Le Chateau Montebello of the Ottawa River
My husband, a native of Ottawa, has long wanted to visit Montebello in western Quebec, Canada. His parents were invited to stay at Le Chateau Montebello and he remembered hearing about it when he was small.

In 2015 we got there at last because our son and daughter-in-law invited us to Ottawa for Thanksgiving. It's a perfect time to see the fall colours and we booked three nights at the acclaimed chateau.

Montebello is actually a small village on the banks of the Ottawa River, an hour's drive from Ottawa. A popular vacation spot in the summer, we found in early October that most of the cafés and restaurants were closed. No doubt some would re-open for Christmas and the snowy months, but we were out of luck.

The chateau gobsmacked me. It's a vast, star-shaped log cabin built of ten thousand red cedar logs from British Columbia and it's surrounded by parkland. The builders took only three months to complete it in 1930 as a private vacation club for the wealthy elite from Montreal and Ottawa, as well as prime ministers and royalty. The grounds have a marina, stables, a curling rink, a golf course, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and much more. The members enjoyed this club summer and winter. When it snowed they cross-country skied, skated, curled, snowshoed and attended wonderful Christmas parties. In July and August, they hiked, sailed, swam, rode, and partied some more. This lifestyle did not last and the chateau became a hotel decades after WW2 and hosted the G7, NATO, other distinguished meetings. Now it's part of the Fairmont chain, recently acquired by the Accor group.

Inside the hotel is a vast circular lobby around which are the galleries of the upper two floors. Dominating the centre is an enormous stone chimney, below which are six fireplaces surrounded by couches and arm chairs. There is a bar too, with a friendly barman, shops, and the front desk.









The galleries are lined with old photos of the hotel and club members in Chateau Montebello's heyday and they are worth viewing. Around the railings are tables and chairs, often with a chess set or backgammon board to while away the time. The rooms radiate from the galleries and are good sized and comfortable. The bathrooms are small but modern, and the wifi is excellent.

When guests are hungry, there are several options and they're all superb. Aux Chantignoles, wraps-around the banquet room and looks out to the terrace with the Ottawa River beyond. The food was absolutely divine and most sourced locally. We had two dinners and two breakfasts here. There is also the Seigneurie Bar that serves bistro food and good local beer. In the summer, Le Riverain on the huge terrace delivers barbecue fare.

All in all Le Chateau Montebello was quite an experience combining luxury, history, politics, and more. It was a visit I was thrilled to make.


IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved

Saturday, September 19, 2015

SUNSHINE COAST: A GETAWAY FROM VANCOUVER


Thirty dollars each way in mid-September will get a vehicle and two retired passengers onto the ferry to the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver. Little traffic and few tourists make for a quiet, relaxing getaway. Weather can be lovely too.
Neither my husband nor I had been there for decades and with few recommendations to assist, we selected Painted Boat Resort and Spa for our three-night getaway. I remembered the winding and narrow main road though, lined by towering evergreens and few views of the coast because most of the shoreline is privately owned. After 63 kms from Langdale's ferry dock, we arrived at Madeira Park. The resort is about eight years old and built on the steep slopes down to the water. The view was stunning.

The units are cleverly stacked so everyone who stays here has that view overlooking the marina. But nothing had prepared me for the unit we stayed in. (They're all two bedrooms.) I gasped as I walked into the huge open-plan living/dining room with a kitchen to delight the most discerning cook. It was so well-equipped, we enjoyed dinners in every night. The master bedroom and living room have decks and there is a BBQ off the dining area. The master ensuite is also huge with a soaker tub and separate shower. The beds embrace you and we slept like newborns!

Painted Boat overlooks Gerrans Bay and Beaver Island in Pender
Ebb tide at Painted Boat
Pool Lagoon
Harbour. As the tide floods and ebbs, two tiny islands join and separate. Herons fish along the shore; kayakers paddle in and out of the marina. The resort faces west with the promise of sunsets. A major benefit of staying at Madeira Park is a good supermarket and a liquor store, both of which are well-stocked, in a small shopping centre. The other advantage is that exploring by car or boat north of Sechelt means beautiful spots are close by just waiting to be found. Many boat rentals and tour companies are based out of Pender Harbour.
Garden Bay

Beaver Island is linked to Madeira Park by a bridge and has a marine park at its southwest corner. We explored the north coast of Pender Harbour on a glorious sunny day and lingered over a great lunch at Garden Bay Hotel's pub that provides a huge outdoor patio above the bay. This spot is busy with boats big and small, and boat tours run from here up to Chatterbox Falls in Princess Louisa Inlet. Earlier we had stood below the historic Sundowner Inn to take photos of Pool Lagoon and Hospital Bay. The fall colours had begun to make their appearance and softened the more gloomy hue of the evergreens.

Our last full day was overcast but dry and we headed up to Egmont, near the ferry dock that leads up to Powell River. This tiny village is home to two big draws. The first is West Coast Wilderness Lodge, an attractive retreat with all modern comforts. The views from the restaurant and bar are breathtaking. You look towards Jervis and Princess Louisa Inlets with blue mountains as the backdrop. Two islands dot the Skookumchuk Narrows in front of the lodge.






We had the best meal of the getaway here plus glasses of pale ale. The home-made curried coconut, cauliflower soup was fragrant and warming. I chose to have the special — squid steak, grilled to perfection, and resting on a wonderful thick ancho-tomato sauce. My husband tucked into an ahi tuna clubhouse sandwich with tuna confit. It was a good four inches high! There is a huge viewing deck below the resto and a vine-covered patio for dining beside it.

The second draw is the standing wave — a two kilometre hike away. Kayakers and surfers come from around the world to ride it as the tides sluice in and out of the Narrows. We did not do the hike as the tides were wrong. I wish it had been the right time because it is a photographer's dream to take shots of the derring-do!

We will return to stay at the lodge and take advantage of the boat tours and the photography, but will also take a few days at Painted Boat to relax awhile and I will also try out their spa.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TWO NEW PHOTO PORTFOLIOS: Hebrides and Iceland

I'm proud to announce the publication of two new portfolios recording my explorations of the Scottish Hebrides and Iceland in September 2014.



Three Weeks, Fifteen Islands documents my exploration of the Inner and Outer Hebrides off Scotland's northwest coast. I travelled by land, sea and air from Arran in the south to Lewis in the north. 

Some of the many highlights were a full-day, hands-on photography workshop on Arran and a week's cruise on a converted trawler that visited Mull, Staffa, and Iona, and included a wildlife safari too. Another was landing on the beach at Barra in the Outer Hebrides.


The land steams. Volcanoes erupt. Earthquakes rumble. Mud boils. Geysers gush.

Halló Iceland is the visual journal of my adventures in northern and southern Iceland in late-September 2014. The boon and the curse of seismic activity has defined the land and the people of Iceland since the mid-800s. Its natural beauty is breathtaking, sometimes desolate, and always revealing....

© Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

CLOSE TO HOME: A DAY OUT ON BARNSTON ISLAND, BC

After cancelling our two major trips this year, we are taking day trips around home. We live close to Vancouver in Port Moody and many places beg for a visit and photography. Although I've lived here for nearly fifty years, there's much left to explore.

Our first day out involved a five minute cruise after a half-hour drive. Barnston Island lies smack in the middle of the Mighty Fraser river in southern British Columbia, sandwiched between Surrey on the south bank and Pitt Meadows on the north. The ferry dock is accessed at the eastern end of 104th Avenue in Surrey,

This triangular-shaped, small island was named after George Barnston, a naturalist and clerk in the fur trade who arrived here in 1827 when Fort Langley was established. Now it's a farming community with cleared land and houses scattered around, most of which belong to the Katzie First Nation on the south side of the island.

The free ferry takes vehicles and passengers across Parson's Channel on a large raft strapped onto a powerful tug. It sails across the river crabwise in the strong current and the tug's captain has to be a master ship handler to dock successfully on either side. Drivers need to know that they will have to reverse either on or off the ferry up a steep ramp. Most visitors park their vehicles on the Surrey side and walk onto the ferry with bicycles. I tackled the intimidating reversing.

Traffic-free and flat, Dyke Road runs 10kms around the island close to the river and we stopped often to take photos of the magnificent views. On the north side, visitors can see the entire span of the new Golden Ears Bridge with its backdrop of mountains (last photo below). We were lucky, the cloudscapes were dramatic and enhanced the images we took.

The Fraser river is a working river and there is always something to watch: log booms, tugs towing barges and booms, light aircraft taking off on the other side from Pitt Meadows airport, and pleasure craft pushing their way upstream against the current.

On Barnston's northwest point is a tiny regional park with peek-a-boo views through the trees. Here too are the only public restrooms and shady picnic tables on the island. We spent an enjoyable thirty minutes watching a tug bring a huge log boom alongside others with consummate skill against the current before having our picnic and heading home.




IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos. All rights reserved 

Click on the images to enlarge