Monday, July 23, 2012

Bunches of Grasses Everywhere

Bunch Grass Bonanza by Joe Rocchio on Flicker
Bunchgrass Definition: 

The term "bunchgrass" refers to types of grasses that grow in tufts or bunches from a single root system. As the stems of bunch grasses grow up and outward from the narrow base, they form a sort of an "umbrella" appearance or in some cases as with single large specimen "bunch grasses", a fountain-like appearance, hence "Fountain Grass". This actually protects the base and root system from drying out due to hot sun and evaporation. As a side benefit, think also of those long stems as being a sort of funneling system to channel water to it's base and providing an immediate hydrating effect directly where the roots are located. It's because of these characteristics and the fact that they are normally so deeply rooted as compared to traditional lawn grasses, these bunch grasses are particularly well-adapted to the very dry conditions found in the valleys, mountains and plans of the Western region States. 
Notice the Chart below Root Systems:
While these are bunch grasses, many of these varieties listed would not necessarily be suited to a lawn replacement situation, but could be a specimen plant as I'll note later on. View the chart below as a mechanical understanding of how well suited they would be from a western landscape point of view.
Image - Kernza Farm by Jim Richardson National Geographic Society
At the very least out in the west, alternatives should be a must to the conventional traditional water loving lawns which contain a large variety of back eastern USA natives who have adapted to an entirely different environment than their western cousins. Interestingly, many of the varieties in those mixes as an individual will form a bunch grass clump. But there is more to a lawn alternative than just the conventional Bunch grass. What about Carex species (Sedges) which are native to moist area meadows in the higher country of the western states. Here's an example found at both Tree of Life Nursery and Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery
Mike Evans Explains Carex Praegracilis As Groundcover
Here is a reprinted experience example from the CalPoly San Luis Obispo Leaning Pine Arboretum which utilized the above Native Carex Praegracilis as a conventional lawn seed alternative or substitute.
California Native Carex Lawn (February 2006) The arboretum has a sizable new lawn planted entirely with Carex praegracilis, a California native known as dune sedge. The lawn area measures about 4,000 square feet and is in an area roughly between the Californian garden meadow and the Mediterranean garden. Dune sedge is not a true grass and is not normally planted for use as a lawn. It is used elsewhere in the arboretum’s Californian garden where it is managed and displayed un-mown, functioning as an ornamental grass-like plant growing about 12” to 15” tall with a graceful, floppy habit.

"Based in part from observations of a smaller, successful planting managed as a lawn, the arboretum decided to move ahead with this large scale planting. The lawn was planted using small starter plants, or plugs, grown from seeds collected in San Luis Obispo County. During establishment, the planting has been watered and fertilized regularly to speed plant growth. It is being mowed regularly and has nearly filled to form a solid carpet that seems very tolerant of regular foot traffic. Once fully established, we expect the dune sedge lawn will require less watering, mowing, fertilizing, and de-thatching than the conventional lawn it replaced."
"The new lawn is part of the arboretum’s efforts to evaluate and display landscape plants that are appropriate for the Central Coast area. Its management will also be consistent with the arboretum’s policy of using environmentally sustainable practices, such as feeding using only organic fertilizers and controlling weeds without the use of toxic herbicides."
On another note this same plant may be utilized in other settings.
Another example of a Meadow Setting
Much of my experience with these grasses doesn't come from actual use in urban landscape, but with wild restoration applications. The area north of Anza CA on the other side of Thomas Mountain is called Garner Valley and has one of the richest native grasslands loaded with a number of Carex species including the one listed above. The area in question is from Lake Hemet eastward and is south of Idyllwild CA. Here is an entire plant list for that Garner Valley.
The Press-Enterprise (2013) "BACK IN THE DAY: San Jacinto Mountains drew movie makers"
Image - The Press-Enterprise
Picturesque Garner Valley was one of the areas in the San Jacinto Mountains that attracted Hollywood movie makers.

Yup, even the opening scene to the 1960s western series Bonanza was shot here up by Lake Hemet. About the only feature of  a building you'd see as you drop down into the Valley from Idyllwild & Mountain Center from the west was the iconic Lake Hemet Store. This place always reminded me from the first time that I ever saw it as the location where the movie staring Alan Ladd called "Shane" with the Lake Hemet Market easily substituting for the movie's "Grafton's General Store" where Jack Palance was the Saloon's resident Gunslinger. But like Grafton's General Store, it's the only place around for miles anywhere to pick up supplies of any kind. The only other nearest supply depot would be Idyllwild to the north. Even Mountain Center Store I believe is something else now, like a Real Estate office I believe.

Garner Valley by Tom Morris

In the old days this stream through the center of the Valley ran all year. Not sure about now, but the massive fields of the dominant Carex species interspersed with other native bunch grasses is beautiful as water always seems never far from the surface here. Those lower foothills used to have forests on them. Early logging and a lack f replanting programs changed all that. We took my Great Uncle for a ride from San Diego up to my place and drove to Idyllwild for dinner. He was in his early 90s. The was in the late 1980s. He was an avid yet responsible Hunter and had been in this area hunting many decades previous. When he saw the lack of forests in the foothill background in the above photo and behind this Camera which is Thomas Mountain, tears came to his eyes as he wonder where all the forest went. Well, that's another story for later on.

Another Grass-like plant some what related to the Sedge habitat would be the Juncus (Rushes) which in reality often grow together in the same locations. These Rushes have the appearance of a stiff bunch grass which could be used in many of the same large ornamental grass setting, but with more moisture requirements like the Sedges. This plant has often been utilized in grey water filtration plant ponds for restoring and cleaning up a city's Sewage gray water. Here's an example of one called Juncus acutus at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, California.

Juncus acutus - photo Mike Evans
Change in direction now. I have used large Bunch Grasses as singular statement plants alone or in groupings. An example is the large Burgundy or Purple coloured Bunch Grass called
Fountain Grass - Red (Pennisetum setaceum)

I find maintenance on these grasses easy enough. You simply cut it back once a year, but not down to the ground as you would regular lawn grasses. I left it a foot and a half high from the ground. Cutting back hard could kill the grass.
This next ornamental grass I have really liked in the past, but it tended to get a bit weedy and out of control for me. It's called Mexican Stipa Grass or Feather Grass and looks great when planty of water is available, but when it gets loose and away from the water it will turn as dry as Foxtail annual grasses. In the fire prone areas I think it would make me a bit nervous, but still an attractive grass as the images bare out. The other nice thing was when the afternoon breezes would pick up on the grasses seed heads for which a feathering twitching in the wind look was common. Caution though about Mexican Stipa grass, although attractive, it will easily reseed and spread and dry up and create somewhat of a fire hazard.

As time pants on to the end and crisis after crisis looms with regards to Green Energy, Clean Water, Science-Based Landscapes verses Nature Replicated Landscapes, people are turning their attentions now to alternative viewpoints they may have not considered before. Cultural differences and traditional conventional methods are being challenged by the alternatives. This isn't necessarily another going native pushing commentary, but getting a better understanding of some better possibilities could result in breathtaking outcomes.  Most long time USA residents out in the west had their ancestors bring with them their back east mentality of just what a traditional garden should look like. Before that I suppose the British brought over the English Garden favourites with European non-native influences. Much of the traditional Green Grass Lawn dogma had it's birth from the 1950s onwards. Many military personel after the war decided to stay instead of going back to harsh winter weather extremes. They appreciated all the long growing seasons of the west coast with it's easily planned weekend Bar-B-Qs and of course a good traditional lawn was all a part of that. Water didn't seem to be much of an issue back then, but it certainly is now. Without running the story into the ground, let's get into the meat and potatoes of advantages of a Bunch Grass landscape. First some mechanical issues.
To sum things up, I don't think I'd make a giant lawn project of it. Maintenance would be an issue for me and I'm not exactly opposed to getting rid of all lawns either. I prefer narrow meandering strips of lawn as a pathway. I believe Lawns have a cooling effect on the environment around one's house and home and they keep the dust down from your porch and inside the house. A smaller lawn keeps water bills lower as well. Things planted near lawns or at the edge should be close to water loving. Think of lawns as a streamside habitat when planting and consider what plants would work along this course. Of course you can pretty much get away with doing anything on most small garden or urban landscape conditions since maintenance is usually like caring for something on life-support anyway. But learn the basics on how exactly nature works and replicate that to the extent possible.
As always use Mycorrhizal applications and dump the traditional science-based Corporate marketing junk which tempt one into believing it's the only way for greener landscape. Grasses have been around for countless thousands of years and have done superbly long before Miracle Grow said otherwise.

Enjoy your Bunch Grass Lawns. Below is a reference source for many native grasses at least from the Southwestern United States. The sight is owned by Jim Koweek former owner of Diamond JK Nursery in Sonoita Arizona. Jim has many years under his belt at habitat restoration and many of the educational tips & insights found on his sight are most beneficial. He also harvests various native grass seeds which may be found at several locations.
Native plants draw on moisture far below the surface, allowing them to survive harsh conditions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Meandering Watercourses: Repairing the Riparians

Alfalfa sprouts hold the line on meandering streams

And you though it was an actual floodplain or river delta photo scene somewhere in Amazonia !!! It's actually a very ingenius experiment by a UC Berkeley graduate student Christian Braudrick, UC Berkeley Professor of Earth and Planetary Science William Dietrich and some other colleagues who have replicated the first experimental creation of meanders in a flume – a scaled down representation of a natural floodplain channel using alfalfa sprouts to represent riparian streamside vegetated stream banks.

Image - (Christian Braudrick/UC Berkeley)

Alfalfa sprouts hold the line on meandering streams

Christian Braudrick, William Dietrich and their colleagues are the first to build a scaled-down meandering stream in the lab that successfully meanders without straigtening out or turning into braided streams. The substrate is composed of sand to represent real-life gravel; white light-weight plastic for sand, and alfalfa sprouts for deep-rooting vegetation. No one has ever previously  been able to experimentally create or recreate a self-sustaining meandering hydrological system in the lab, and numerous restored meanders have straightened out or turned into multi-channel "braided" rivers after the first flood. Take a view of this short video clip as Christian explains the purpose of his experiment.

Now take a look below at this link and the Berkley Video of a time-lapse of water movement which shows water's ability to natural ability to twist back and forth in a meandering motion as explained decades ago by Viktor Schauberger of Austria who won several awards in River Engineering and Management which replicated what nature is designed to do without interference from Humans who would otherwise straighten the channel for commercial enterprise purposes.

That experiment to me must be to a biologist what a kid's HO Scale Train set is to him. I want one of those too!
 I actually stumbled across this experiment from a Christopher Richard's blog called "Flow Back in Time" which takes you on a re-enacted journey through Juan Bautista de Anza's trek through Yuma Arizona, Imperial County to Riverside County and places north towards today's San Francisco. It follows the then present water courses where today they are either completely absent or changed beyond recognition of what these Springs, Creeks, Rivers and other water sources once were in all their past glory. This is not simply a mere retracing for curiosity of Anza's route, but a study of the hydrological features at that time. 

Here is a link to his fascinating blog. Bookmark it and follow the discussion and ongoing posted articles which are not finished yet. By years end he will actually be up in the high country valley of Anza California where I once lived and for who the valley was named for. Eventually he will make his way all the way up to the San Francisco Bay regin following all the hydrological spot where the Spanish Explorer Juan Bautista de Anza followed back in the years 1774 & 1775. What he wrote about then and what the water sources look like today. 
I have previously mentioned Viktor Schauberger, but most folks don't seem to have a real interest in what this man accomplished and did in life from 1885 to 1958. He witnessed amazing natural phenomena with regards water movement. He had theories of deriving energy from water based on his observations at the time. He was able to observe this natural phenomena in a pristine environment, an environment which no longer exists today and a phenomena which in many places is now non-existent. The sad thing is we may never appreciate all that he saw. He did comment once that a down hill spiral of the Natural World took place at the beginning of World War I in 1914. 

Swedish Researcher and Author Olof Alexandersson who is now himself close to 95 years of age if still alive, worked as an assistant to Schauberger the last few years of his life in the 1950s. He wrote a book called "Living Water" based on Schauberger's life and work and everyone should at least get a copy and read about this man's life and the things he saw and witnessed and the inventions he came up with based on water. I promise you that it will be difficult to put down until you finish it and then you'll want to reread portions of it. I've already mentioned his river engineering expertise which actually replicated what existed at one time out in nature. Here are some of his disgrams and drawings of how he believed rivers and other water courses should be repaired and re-engineered. Here are some of those drawings.

Illustration - Viktor Schauberger

Illustration - Viktor Schauberger

Much of his research was based on water's ability at spiral or vortex movement. He was well ahead of his time. He was constantly at odds with the conventional arrogant scientific understanding of the so-called geniuses of his day. Viktor Schauberger actually developed a sophisticated logging flume which was ahead of it's time and the principles of which were based on natural water movement observed in the environment. He later regretted doing this as it accelerated the destruction of Austria and Germany's old growth forest and in some cases caused permanent damage by all the removal of old growth vegetation. Still the meandering river lab experiment is fascinating and could be used as a model for repairing the damage humans have done. Though in the video they talk about learning how geological features on Mars which could possibly be explained, the REAL NEEDS are here on Earth. So much focus is on other worlds and space exploration and massive amounts of monies being spent on these. Yes they are fascinating, but they are NOT the present pressing need for Earth itself which Science has mismanaged and abused through many irresponsible technologies they have created for their commercial handlers.

With that in mind another interesting site by LA Creek Freaks has focused on some of Southern California's present hydrological disasters and natural habitat problems. Take the example of the video above on the vision of this group to revitalize the Los Angeles River. One positive focus has been a series of articles they have done on Riparian Habitat restoration projects along the Colorado River near Yuma Arizona. Let's first define the term 'Riparian' for some for who may not be familiar with it.
 Riparian Zone or Habitat (from Wiki)
A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation, their habitat biodiversity, and the influence they have on fauna and aquatic ecosystems, including grassland, woodland, wetland or even non-vegetative. In some regions the terms riparian woodland, riparian forest, riparian buffer zone, or riparian strip are used to characterize a riparian zone. The word "riparian" is derived from Latin ripa, meaning river bank.

 On this note here are some of the related article on the lower Colorado River Valley restoration project by LA Creek Freak. This series was authored by one of many blog contributors named Joshua Link.
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River, #1: Motivation & the Vaquita Marina
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #2: the River in Yuma
Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #3: The River in Mexico
Around the world many invasive species through no fault of their own have taken over certain regions and wreaked havoc on native populations of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds animals and plants. In Florida it's any number of trees such as Brazilian Pepper Tree and out west the mid-east introduction of the Tamarisk. Human ignorance and stupidity has always been at fault for this. Even after some education and information highlighted on this, criticism by a collection of cyberspace chatroom Buffoons always raises their ugly collective voices in sarcasm to what they perceive as alarmists (leaving out the true derogatory names). Nothing could be further from the truth. Below is a native plant nursery developing seedlings like willows, cottonwoods and other native riparian habitat plany community one displaced by an introduced species for windbreaks called Tamarisk.

Photo by LA creek Freak

Soaking dormant Willow cane poles in an old irrigation ditch before planting. Many if not most  riparian plants have the ability to propagate vegetatively, that is from branch cuttings or as in nature after floods when branches are broken naturally and buried in sand down stream. This ability is important as rapid streambank repair is essential.

Photo by LA Creek Freak

One of the biggest tasks in fighting with Tamarisks is understanding a few details about it's requirements and life cycle. The seed has a low sustainable viability rate. What I mean is that it needs to be germinated early in it's release. In most cases it's viable between 20 to 40 days and poops out after that. Another point can be illustrated down below. Take a look at these close plantings of Fremont Cottonwood Poles. While I don't necessarily like the agricultural rows, they can be thinned later for a more natural look. 

Photo by LA Creek Freak

However the main purpose here is to force tall leggy competition and create a tall forested canopy. Any young Tamarisk seedling started under such a canopy won't make it as they hate shade. A good bit of info to know when doing your own restoration project. Create a giant native cottonwood forest able to sustain itself and you can move on to other invaded areas. This also mimics those heavy rain season flooding events that come along every once in a while where land alluvial fans of massive soil sediments are deposited and kept wet  for a long period of time as runoff drains off over a long extended period of time and creates dense willow, cottonwood, alder, sycamore and other new riparian habitats.

I'll have more later on specifics of restoration techniques, but don't forget the education and informative links above. In the mean time here is another important link provided by Landscape Architech David Cristiani:

Image - Stream Dynamics Inc.

I love the Monsoon Season

I can remember planning trips in the summertime when the monsoon season was at it's peak, probably the beginning of August and looking forward to traveling to any points east as long as it was towards Arizona and away from California. I'd always look forward to that eventual Friday afternoon/evening when the day finally came to take off on our road adventure. I could hardly concentrate on work that day since the trip next week was so overwhelming all other thought processes. Heading out on Hwy 74 and leaving the San Jacinto Mountains finally coming to Indio, CA and turning right onto the eastbound on  Dillion Road to that on ramp of  Interstate 10 leaving Indio. The feeling was exhilarating knowing I was leaving California heading for that state line to explore the Arizona outback somewhere to a place I had never been to and only read about from my monthly subscription of Arizona Highways. As fun as the trip was, it was mostly that first day's drive I actually enjoyed the most. It was like a long  anticipated excitement of seeing a blockbuster film coming to the local Cinema, except this time Nature was going to put on the performance tonight, not Hollywood.

During the monsoon season, the mountains generally have their activity during the day and unless there is some unusual weather anomalies packed with extra energy it'll always stay quiet till the next day's afternoon. But out over the deserts the heat still has an energy output about it with it's warm powerful uplifts and the thunderstorms are usually at their most potent moments. You rarely see many of these storms in the middle of the day like you do at higher elevations, not that they can't happen, they can. But the norm has always been a nighttime event from my experience. Once we reach the top of of Chiriaco Summit on I-10, we begin to see the shows previews. Almost amazingly these storms would be right about the border along the California/Arizona stateline as if there were some sort of invisible energy barrier preventing them from further westward advancement. Days prior to leaving of course I'd always be checking the weather forecasts seeing if the conditions were right for the trip's monsoonal experience. Sure enough I wouldn't be disappointed

Since I'm no longer in the desert and mountains areas of the southwestern USA, the Southern California Weather Authority has been my next best virtual Nature entertainment venue for the real thing. Love that graphic. Weather reports like this one from the Southern California Weather Authority back in May of this year 2012 were common and beautifully illustrate the horseshoe pattern of Thunderstorm lines along the CA & AZ border regions. This is often the typical pattern as evidenced by storm patterns thus far 2012.

Photo by Blitzo - Mountain Project
 Here's a link to beautiful photos of Thunderheads at Sunset. Driving towards Arizona was never boring with a Thunderhead on the horizon. It was a preview of what was to come as we came closer ot it or it to us. Off in the distance as it grew darker was almost like being at a drive-in theater. The entertainment feature of the night was provided by Nature. I'm still amazed that city people pay all that money on Hollywood entertainment when the real life graphics provided by nature as so awesome.

Freeway heading east towards the border of 
California and Arizona

Downtown Blythe California, August 16, 1999. This was always a favorite pit stop for coffee on the road and whatever munchies we needed for the upcoming Light Show Displays we'd be seeing on AZ Route 60 traveling north off of Interstate 10 to Preskit.

Quartzite Arizona
Sometimes before turning off I-10 and heading north on Route 60 towards Wickenburg, we'd stop at a MacDonalds there in Quartzite Arizona. It's mostly a series of Truck Stops and huge wintertime SnowBird hangout, but lately it seems to have become more of a permanent location for many retirees and others who found they loved the deserts year round, much like the changes in residency that came to the Coachella Valley from years previous. Many of these areas were traditionally known as summer ghost towns. No more ghost towns, the word is out. Desert environs are actually very Kool all year long.

Once we turned off at the Rte 60 Junction near the first tiny community of Brenda, it was usually from this point on that we'd really hit the heavier stuff. However until the heavy rains were encountered, rolling down the window and allowing the fragrance of Croesote Bush to permeate the car's interior was a must. Oddly enough the scent is reminiscent of a highway's asphalt, but with a clearly distinct refreshing energizing effect on the senses. This plant actually has some interesting natural medicinal properties. It was once utilized heavily by the Herbal Industry who actually mistakenly call it Chaparral which is merely a plant community, but was also banned by the FDA whose bed fellows at the Pharmaceutical industry were disturbed by it's potential at detoxifying the body and gradually reversing cancer. It's since been unbanned.

Usually we'd hit heavy rain at Harcuvar just before Salome AZ. At Salome we'd break to let the storm pass, refilled my large king-sized plastic Texico Coffee Refill Mug, hit the Salome Cafe's antiquated Loo Office to finish some paperwork and back out on the road again. Then we'd hit another squall line of rain between Wenden to the north and Aquila. 

credit: RoadTripz
We'd turn off onto Hwy 71 heading for the town of Congress and Junction 89. From that point winding up the switched back road of Yarnell Hill we'd stop at the viewpoint at the top, look back down at the desert floor below we just traveled through and watched those previous Thunderbumpers making their way west into California. All the while the moist cool refreshing scent of creosote bush ever present. These first few hours on the first day on any of my trips were always memorable. Our stay in Preskit, Sedona, Grand Canyon and other point's north had their own monsoonal events during daylight hours, but that specific late afternoon early evening drive was always the best  highlight for me. As with anything you should have a measure of caution and don't drive like an idiot in such weather. If rain is heavy pull over. If there is a dust storm preceding this pull over. If a dip in the road is a raging torrent wait it out, don't chance a crossing.

Wow, who knew ??
A big part of my fascination with monsoonal moisture events was studying the mechanics of the actual cloud and storm formation themselves. What makes it all tick ? Why does it more often than not happen over there than here, etc ? More on that in another post. But viewing it for me with just the right equipment was just as important. Take for example this often posted corner photo view of my former covered porch deck which was the perfect view portal as a monsoon lookout point. Why right there on the corner next to my steps I'd park my favourite viewing chair which overlooked all of Burnt Valley & Santa Rosa Mountains to the east, Anza Valley to the west and Thomas & San Jacinto Mountain straight out in front to the north. 

And the perfect chair for me was a rounded saucer bowl shaped Rattan swivel chair which was technically called a Papasan Swivel Rocker style chair. This chair to me was/is the most perfect chair for me. I could dump all living room furniture and live with only a lamp and this chair. Fortunately I'm married and as a result civilized and not single and neanderthal. It had a heavy base much like the common Rattan Swivel Rocker with the arms like the photo to the right here. The only exception was of course the chair itself which was saucer or teacup shaped with a giant heavy duty canvas cushion pouch pillow in the center. This pouch-like cushion would conform to anyone's shape or size. I often would come home from work hot and tired and slink down into this comfortible  pillow and almost fall fast asleep. Okay so I did fall asleep quite often. But viewing thunderhead cloud formations from this vantage point and with just the proper equipment made this time of year the most perfect of all the seasons. 

I'd often curse the wintertime when on that same deck in a January we experienced hurricane force Santa Ana winds from the northeast with frigid near Zero Temps blowing off the snowcapped El Toro Peak to the east which would cause me to wonder what am I doing here ??? Then of course every summer I was reminded why. Yes, I miss Anza.

I am very serious about cloud formation and thunderstorm anomalies. Clearly there are intriguing questions like why in all the mountains or deserts in certain specific regions or locations within those regions does it chance rain more there than other places ? What causes the clouds to form quicker on some locations before moving onto others. While there is a observational sense of randomness to it all, you'd be surprised how ultimately very organized, and conveyor belt mechanical these formations can really be. I'll have some charts and diagrams and other illustrations later and will incorporate vegetation's influence on it all. Enjoy the season in the mean time.

Monsoonal Cloud Formation & Rainfall References: 
Earth's Vegatation Effects Global Cloud Formations

Earth's Internet: Electrical Conductivity of Trees 
Trees Recharge Earth's Electromagnetic Field 
Are Rainforests Alone Solely Responsible For Earth's Climate Mechanisms ?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Silkeborg Dänemark & a Mexican Restaurant

My wife and I took a trip for only the second time to a city in the center of Dänemark called Silkeborg. To me the area is unique for a number of positive reasons. First, it's one of the last holdouts for viewing Danish Forests in their natural state. Like most of Europe, most of Dänemark has been cleared of it's forest trees, with the odd exception of pockets of woods here and there and of course the wooded riparian habitats along all of it's waterways. Various forms of Agricultural Enterprizes for the most part have taken the place of the once beautiful forest woodlands. 

Silkeborg on the other has an abundance of forests around it and a peaceful quietness about it despite the annual Riverboat Jazz Festival which we just happened to hit at just the right time --> both times we stayed. Actually, our first trip was spent outside of Silkeborg in the town of Bryrup at a Bed & Breakfast (Rum och Frukost) next to the old train station. Our next morning there, I got up early at around 5:00am and took a walk along the old railway tracks which run tourist steam train excursions through the forests then opening up running along side a large lake. The lake was like clear undisturbed glass and the only sound was that of a European Cookoo across the lake making it's presence known. Along with a pair of gliding Swans on the lake making a slight ripple in the water behind them, the scene was a restful & beautiful one. I could have sat in a chair by that spot on the lake and drank coffee all morning taking in & soaking up that whole experience for another 2 hours or so.

One of the first things you'll notice on the way traveling there are the dominent flower called Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)  in the large meadows and farm fields.

There were of course crowds there for the Riverboat Jazz Festival. I like the various Jazz Musics and such like, but so many people in and around those tents, it was hard to find a place to sit or stand. We heard one Latin Jazz Band  and we wanted to listen, but again the crowds were overwhelming and when my wife had some woman spill wine on her shoe, so oh well it was time to move along.  

 Below are some pictures along the river walk pathway and the numerous private boats by which a great number of people choose to visit and participate in the traditional Jazz Festival. My wife also spent much of her growing up in Sweden with her family during every summer on these boats where one can travel the waterways meandering through various water courses along with hundreds of others and all living life on the water. Bar-B-Qs are everywhere. I don't think anyone hardly uses a conventional stove or range on their boats.

Silkeborg's River Walk Pathway with private boats lining the banks

A large number of folks without boats pay for the beautiful steam riverboat excursions which have a lot of food, drink and of course a live Jazz Band on board

Across the water looking towards old town city center were where the numerous tents and Jazz celebrations were going on. The private boats were lined up 5 -6 rows deep in various inlet harbours with folks having their own private family Bar-B-Qs or getting to know their new neighbours from places elsewhere.
One of the highlights for me was in the old city center of town where there is a place so familiar to me that once inside, you'd think you were at Casa Guadalajara in old town San Diego California. Well, maybe not that clourful, but close. On our first trip there 5 years ago we were walking around the town looking for a place to place to eat. It was early and all we were really doing was just lookie-Looing around anyway. We walked along by these old quaint Danish buildings and I past by a window and for whatever reason just happened to look inside. To my surprise and pleasant astonishment, their interior decor I saw inside of this Danish Building below here looked authentically like being somewhere in Southwest or Mexico.

First of all I have to explain something here about Scandinavian restaurants in general. No matter what the theme of the restaurant (Greek, Spanish, whatever) , the decor (chairs, tables, etc) is almost always IKEA. Seriously, what's up with that ? I've never experienced such a generic lack of artistic character or imagination when it comes to most restaurant themes here in northern Europe (Scandinavia). So this was out of the typical norm and I didn't even have to look at the signage above my head to know what the theme of this restaurant was all about. For me personally, the idea of going to a restaurant is atmosphere and finding a potal to another place. For a brief moment leaving the insane world outside behind and experiencing an escape. That's why you don't mind paying a little more for the food. I don't care if there is good Mexican food, I can have good Mexican food at home. But I want good food with great atmosphere. Here are some more pics of the place and later a bit of history behind this place and it's owner who clearly has worked so hard to pull it all together.

Front entrance to La Casita 

Mexican Food with Cerveza Corona ?

Public Toilette with Mexican Theme 
The day before, we had recommended this restaurant to a large group of friends from Sweden who were with us at a convention there and they ALL gave it two thumbs up. 😍 They were also impressed by the bathrooms with their decor. This picture to the right  is the restroom wash basin. The his and her toilettes are behind this scene and have the similar authentic  coloured Mexican theme and created from Mexican tiles the owner imported. The owner really thought of everything when it came to decor for her place and her guest's experience. The funny thing is that the Salsa was mild, but there was a hotter version (it actually wasn't to me) which most of our friends couldn't take, with the exception of one of them who was from India. What can I say, most northern Europeans burn their lips on Katsup, go figure 😲. The place has expanded from when I was there before. They have a back patio area and another indoor dining area. Below is that back dining room and the outdoor porch area and seating along with a Jazz Band playing for guest entertainment. Also one shot of the actual owner hard at work as always over the Bar-B-Q grill.

Owner Sanne Jensen

I didn't have a chance to speak much with the owner Sanne Jensen as we could before because their business at that moment was so intense with numerous guests coming and going. But I remember the first time I visited 5 years ago & I was impressed by not only the decor choices and selection on the menu but also the authentic flavourings of the dish recipes themselves. This particular time they only had a shortened abbreviated menu for the crowd coming in from the Jazz Festival. Made perfect sense to me. Otherwise any other visit would have been the full Menu selection. My wife and I both had the all you could eat chicken & carne asada fajitas with all the rice, beans, guacamole, 2 kinds of salsa, sour cream, grated cheddar, etc you eat.

Image from La Casita website
The name La Casita means "small home" and this describes this  cozy little Mexican restaurant in Silkeborg. The restaurant owner Sanne Jensen opened her restaurant 1997 after traveling in the Southern USA, but in particular San Antonio, Texas, where she experienced lots of good tasting Mexican food. She said it wasn't just about opening a Mexican restaurant, but also providing a good atmosphere where families and business people would always want to come back and visit. The decor is kept in warm, autumn colors and contains a wealth of Mexican handicrafts and antiques. The food is classic delicious Mexican dishes such as burritos, tostadas and enchiladas. La Casitas' specialty is fajitas where you get served a number of small Mexican specialties that you combine to create your own tortilla meal. Fajitas would be unusual for most Scandinavians who think Mexican food is only about Tacos. So that explained the authentic taste and appeal of the food. He background also explained her taste in dining decor for the overall theme of the restaurant with many of the items actually imported from Mexico. The photo above left shows some of the collected southwest items arranged along a shelf all along the walls close to the ceiling. Even still, it was a pleasant surprise to actually find an authentic Mexican Food restaurant with escapism atmosphere in Europe period.

Image - haciendagrill
For those in Scandinavia who have no clue as to what fajitas looking like, the example on the right is a combination of grilled hot carne asada, chicken, chiles, onions, etc served on a cast iron grill plate. Along with that you can get either flour or corn tortillas, guacamole, different salsas, cheeses, beans, etc. You seriously can NOT get this kind of superior Mexican Dining and atmosphere anywhere else in all of Europe. There are some good tacos stand like a mobile La Taqueria trailer stand that sets up at Saluhallen in Gothenburg. He is a Swede and is girl friend from Mexico. Not even in Spain, even in our favourite place the Canary Islands. I know because I looked. The closest thing we ever found was in Puerta de La Cruz , Tenerfie and it looked authentic enough in the sense of an out of the way Cantina in a small in the middle of nowhere Pueblo in Sonora, Mexico where Pancho Villa & his Banditos would have probably hung out on occasion. But there was no comparison to the food at La Casita and the immaculately clean atmosphere was lacking in Tenerife. If anyone in Europe or from anywhere else wishes to experience authentic Mexico, it's food and it's culture without the expense of traveling to the United States or Mexico, then La Casita in Silkeborg, Dänemark is the closest you'll come to the original. 
Here is a link to the restaurant's website:
La Casita MexiCantina
Our Guest House

We actually stayed at a private upstairs guest house loft which was very roomy and very comfortable. You could ask for a squeaky cleaner place that the one we rented. Around the neighbourhood there were a number of walking trails through the forests. We walked quite a bit and passed through what are some private garden summer houses on small lots. This is common in Scandinavia where land is scare and expensive where you find it. But I'll have more on that later in a comparison of several such communities in another future post.

Silkeborg has alot more to offer for those looking for a relaxed summer atmosphere. You can rent a room almost anywhere or even a complete house if you wish. But I would go there over the more well known Dänemark capitol of Copenhagen any day.