Archive for the ‘US Travel’ Category

Yosemite: a tale of a land that inspired Ansel Adams, John Muir, and traffic jams

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

One could say that Yosemite has it all: be it one of the grandest works of nature’s paintbrush or the towering rocks jutting out to the blue sky or the out-of-place million city-smart tourists that contribute to the parking-lot like traffic jams that are not uncommon here mid-day on a Wednesday in summer!

Half Dome, the quintessential Yosemite icon

Half Dome, the quintessential Yosemite icon

Fortunately for us, before we were utterly turned off by the overcrowded valley, we entered the park through the beautiful east entrance which is in Tuolumne Meadows where John Muir worked as a shepherd before he was inspired to write for nature. And rightfully so: the High Sierras, of which Tuolumne Meadows is part of, are truly a sight to behold. White washed granite rocks lined with dark green foliage mingled with abundant rivers, falls, and lakes.

High Sierras near Glen Aulin

High Sierras near Glen Aulin

After a not-so-fun car camping experience in one of Yosemite’s campgrounds, (did I mention loud Mexican music and football were commonplace?) we made a quick drive through the valley, or so we had planned.

The “quick” drive took a few hours as we inched our way through the valley traffic shouting and honking so as not to be left out by our neighbors, and headed back out to the relative solitude of the High Sierras.

Tuolomne Meadows, High Sierras of Yosemite

Tuolomne Meadows, High Sierras of Yosemite

Needless to say, we headed out to the woods soon as we could get our hands on trail permits which can be hard to come by in mid-summer.

My Rock! Sandra staking her claim

My Rock! Sandra staking her claim

As our pick ‘Glen Aulin’ trail was out of quota, we entered through the Murphy Creek trailhead just a couple miles down the road which turned out to be the better choice as there were much fewer hikers on the trail and we camped on a beautiful ridge about a mile south of Glen Aulin overlooking a small valley and surrounded by mountains.

Camping on a ridge: windy but beautiful!

Camping on a ridge: windy but beautiful!

You’re allowed to camp anywhere in the High Sierras so we decided to make the most out of it and stay away from the overused Glen Aulin itself.

Sandra stakign a claim... again!

Sandra stakign a claim... again!

The vistas around our camp were enough to inspire even the most stoic, we sat around our little fire ring atop the mountain ridge for hours just gazing up at the canopy of stars, the crystal-clear milky way, and shooting stars that we got tired of making wishes upon.

stargazing by the fire

stargazing by the fire

Slowly as the logs turned to amber in the firepit, we crawled into our tent and fell asleep by the sounds of nature.

Reluctantly, we doswed the fire

Reluctantly, we doswed the fire

And then, onwards we went, on the road again! We made our way to San Francisco and then up the California and Oregon coast to get to North Cascades which I’ll show you in the next post. A final word on Yosemite: it’s as beautiful as it gets BUT be prepared for gazillion tourists if you go in summer and plan in advance!

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Pilgrimage through the fire: the unholy trek from Sin City to Yosemite

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

You might just have guessed it (or so I had hoped), Sin City refers to Las Vegas and it’s one of their self-claimed “praises”. With high hopes of making a quick fortune, we urged Jamhuri down from the beautiful oasis of the Grand Canyon North Rim towards the heart of the fire in the Lightropolis of Nevada.

As in a prelude to a torturous execution of a sinner, the breezy weather slowly gave way to intense heat beyond my craziest imagination. The closer we got to Las Vegas on the I-15, no amount of airing or sticking head out the window helped anymore to cool my by-now-frying brain. I turned on the little fan we’d bought after much debate but even the air from that was just hot hot hot and did nothing but exacerbate the situation. It came to a point that I started hallucinating while driving (it’s not the first time, ask Sandra) and saw a smiling polar bear beaconing to me as he sipped… uh, is that a coke? Well, maybe it wasn’t a hallucination and just a passing Coke truck, but I felt like I was in a haze!

Paris, Las Vegas

Paris, Las Vegas

So we cut short the drive at Mesquite, Nevada and got an AC room at the beautiful Falcon Ridge Hotel and we cooled in their pool till mid night and then drifted off to a blissful sleep in the gazillion-thread count sheets and I saw more polar bears in my sleep, this time just chilling around killing seals. No more coke business here!

Stratosphere Tower at Night

Stratosphere Tower at Night

Next day, after much persuasion from Sandra and liters of ice tea, we made it to Las Vegas amidst 48 degrees Celsius heat! No you didn’t just imagine that, I said 48 DEGREES Celsius heat!!! Right away we checked into the Hotel we’d booked, the Stratosphere tower, at a deal of just 30 bucks a night and hibernated until sundown like the rest of the city. Next couple of nights we strolled through the famous “Strip” of Las Vegas, trying our luck at some of the dozens of casinos that dot the street.

View of the strip close to New York, Las Vegas

View of the strip close to New York, Las Vegas

Most of the photos of Vegas were taken by Sandra as I’m not much into cityscape photography, yet! We watched the very entertaining ‘Vegas the Show’ at the Planet Hollywood complex and of course, had to watch the Bellagio Fountains. We wondered through most of the big casinos such as MGM, Bellagio, Treasure Island and more.

Treasure Island Sirens ship

Treasure Island Sirens ship

Also toured some of the replicas for which Vegas is famous such as New York, Venice, Paris etc. One word of advice though: just walk the street if you can and avoid the public transit in the evening, if it makes it to you at all, gonna take longer than walking to destinations!

Sandra in front of Bellagio's tropical rainforest

Sandra in front of Bellagio's tropical rainforest

Vegas basically seemed like a huge hotel place with casinos attached to them, or might be the other way around. We’d basically picked the hostelworld.com city guide for Vegas and covered most of the attractions. In a way, it was our vacation from a vacation since this was unlike anything else we did on the trip: stay in hotels, walk around a city, gamble, and so on. At the end of it all though, we basically left Vegas $3 richer, yayyyyy!

We’d seen enough of the heat to know not to travel daytime anymore and left for Yosemite late night from Vegas and decided to go through Death Valley to get there. All was well on the remote night drive and we made it to Death Valley by midnight. It was kinda hot but not unbearable and we slept in, um, or so we thought till like 7am when the blazing sun heated the van like an oven and we took to the road again. Turned out, its named Death Valley for a reason and temperatures can go up to 50-55 Celsius in summer and the rangers don’t recommend staying out long in summer.

Sandra enjoying Death Valley dunes

Sandra enjoying Death Valley dunes

Sandra took to the heat very nonchalantly as you can tell in the pic above even when we were at the aptly named “furnace creek”, but I stayed put with my new found ally, a small battery-operated mist fan, whew!

Me and my best friend Misty

Me and my best friend Misty

We finally made it to Yosemite late that evening and we entered through the beautiful east entrance which is in Tuolumne Meadows. Yosemite deserves a whole post to itself but here’s sneak pic of this beautiful land:

sunset on a small lake in tuolomne meadows

sunset on a small lake in tuolomne meadows

Until next time!

Out of the frying pan into the fire

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Yup, no one ever willingly admitted I was the cleverest man alive! And it seems for good reason. As if the heat of the Salt Lake and Bryce wasn’t enough, I got talked into visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion, and even Vegas en route to Yosemite. Oh, did I mention that we also drove through Death Valley? (although that was largely self-inflicted and a not a result of Sandra’s persuasion skills).

From Bryce, we continued on some small highways that went south towards Zion. Before entering Zion, we did an overnighter at a hidden gem of a lake: Quail Lake where the waters are warm 24 hours and even when you come out from swimming, there’s always warm air. Almost perfect swimming conditions.

evening gloe after sunset on quail lake

evening glow after sunset on quail lake

Now, IMHO Zion isn’t worth visiting if you’re gonna visit Bryce and Grand Canyon as it’s kinda somewhere between the two and not very big and feels ultra-touristy: think about those hop-on hop-off children’s trains at six flags. Basically you’re not allowed to drive into the main Zion Canyon and must take one of the many park shuttles (remember the children’s trains) to go anywhere in the canyon.

Zion shuttle

Zion shuttle

Even “the parking lot” of the park gets filled to the rim on a weekday by 10am in summer so gotta get here earlier or take even another shuttle from a close-by town. As the shuttle took us into Zion, we were less than impressed with most of the vistas, might be a result of being spoilt by Yellowstone and the like. We took a shot or two and high-tailed outta there in a couple of hours.

looking upto angel's landing, Zion

looking upto angel's landing, Zion

Relived from the tourist traffic, we slowly drove towards Kaibab plateau in Arizona where the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is located. It got hotter and muggier while driving to the point that I was thinking of turning back to Salt Lake! Then we started climbing up on a plateau and the weather changed dramatically: for the first time in weeks I felt cool air on my face from the open window! My heart leapt with joy and I knew I’d be bound to cold climates if I really wanted to be happy: the heat does me no good! (Sandra: Sagi wouldn’t know the first thing about what a treat this warmth is: he loses all but the last of his strength soon as the mercury climbs over 25 Celsius!!!)

Grand Canyon North Rim at sunrise

Grand Canyon North Rim at sunrise

So apparently the North Rim is worlds apart from the South Rim in terms of weather: its in a green oasis in the dessert and weather is vey nice and cool even in mid-summer.

smile of relief: cool morning on the north rim

smile of relief: cool morning on the north rim

Grand Canyon from Roosevelt Point

Grand Canyon from Roosevelt Point

Surprisingly it’s only 10 miles as the raven flies across the South Rim but driving around is a different matter altogether. I was able to sleep again in the van comfortably and we spent a few days reveling in the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Canyon hopping

Canyon hopping

Grand Canyon and Colorado river from Cape Royal

Grand Canyon and Colorado river from Cape Royal

We even took up the challenge to see if we were upto the task of being muleteers for a day riding down the canyon on these interesting animals. They look almost like horses save for long donkey ears and funny tails and an unpredictable temperament. They are more sturdy and sure-footed on treacherous terrains and hence no horses go down to the canyon generally.

Mule riding down the Kaibab trail

Mule riding down the Kaibab trail

You gotta be warned though: these mules have a tendency to always walk on the outer edge of the trail which can be nerve-racking! Once you get used to it (or decide to not look down) you begin to enjoy the ride and the scenery around the canyons. We went a few miles down and then back up the same day which left us in awe of the strength of these beasts of burden.

for once the mule stopped before the edge

for once the mule stopped before the edge

And so the saga of the brown spot continues: we made our way further into the fire towards Las Vegas, Nevada which I barely survived! No one ever said it was a smart idea to go to an already hot place in the heart of summer! The story shall soon unfold!

amazing storm cloud

amazing storm cloud

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