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Archive for June, 2009

Thu, Jun 11th, 2009

Since we could not see Rushmore lit by the night, we were hoping to at least have a decent day time visit, but the forecast didn’t bode well. It was supposed to start cloudy but turn rainy pretty soon. We left very early and reached there by 9 am. There were already big crowds and parking was a bit of fight. No sooner had we gotten closer to the monument ( a bit of a walk from parking), it started to drizzle again. In that wet weather, we joined a ranger walk on the Presidential trail around the base of the mountain. From the trail, we get closer looks of the carvings than from the Grand Terrace viewing platform. The ranger talk was interesting too. From there, we walked to the Sculptor’s studio and saw the model which was used for the carving. I found the ranger talk here even more fascinating than the one on the Presidential trail. This talked about how the actual building of the monument happened  – the people involved, the difficulties faced, the tools and equipment used etc. We must have spent about 3 hours at the monument.

From there we drove to Custer State Park. I had read a lot of good things about this one. But by now the rain had picked up and we didn’t get out at an vista points on the Iron mountain scenic drive. The scenery was breath taking and the clouds and fog made it more dramatic, but the rain made it hard to take pictures or record. After almost 2 hours of aimless driving (1 hour was supposed to be a wildlife viewing loop, but the only animals we saw were donkeys and even they were huddled under trees taking shelter from the rain), we stopped at the Blue Bell lodge for lunch. Only vegetarian item on the menu was garden burger.  After lunch, we did the Needles Highway scenic drive and that was pretty good. The various rock formations are pretty astonishing. It ends in the Sylvan lake area and this was truly very beautiful. I would have loved to spend a night there in the cabins.

From here we drove to Jewel Cave National Monument. As luck would have it, they were sold out for the day for the cave tours (this is why I like to my detailed planning rather than spontaneous jaunts). Tomorrow was not an option, since we were leaving today. After getting over the disappointment, we just saw the displays and watched the video at the visitor center and left.

From here, it was ~100 miles to Gillette, WY. It took us about 2 hours to reach our hotel here. Since yesterday, PK has been fretting about the weather. Mainly because  we may not be able to camp after all, if the weather continues like this.

Miles driven today: 415
States : SD, WY

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Wed, June 10th, 2009

Today was a total washout. Our planned agenda was to visit the Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile national Historic site (a nuclear missile launch control facility from the Cold war days). Both were adjacent to each other and after visiting both, we were to drive on to Rapid City for our overnight stay.

We made the 4 hour drive to the Badlands area.  The drive itself was through vast plains. It started out cloudy with occasional drizzles, but by the time we reached there, it was a steady rain. To locate the Missile Center proved harder than expected since it is spread out in several different areas and there’s plenty of confusing information out there. After reaching there with so much difficult in the rain, I found out we needed reservations for the tour and were full. That completely burst my bubble since I had been very eager to take AK there since I thought he would enjoy it. After that disappointment and with the dreary weather, we skipped Badlands National Park and headed straight to Rapid City. This was second consecutive day of driving with no sight seeing or other activities. The only diversion was a stop at the much hyped Wall drug. It is just a store with several different sub stores and different cafeterias. They had some entertainment in their back yard (like dinosaurs, sprinklers etc) and had an extensive display of art all around. We spent an hour there and drove towards Rapid City. Closer to Rapid City, the scenery changed drastically. The vast SD prairies changed into the Black Hills and it was quite a transformation. We reached Rapid city around 4.30 pm and checked into our hotel. By now it was still raining and extremely foggy, even at lower elevations.

The kids went to play at the pool. This Hampton Inn was pretty good. The indoor pool had a reasonably big water slide and both PK and AK thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  I caught up on laundry and felt pretty good since I was tired of carrying dirty laundry around. One of the things that AK had wanted to see on the trip was Mt Rushmore, but specifically, Mt Rushmore lit in the night. Tonight would be the only opportunity to do that since it happens at 9 pm. We decided to take our chances and started driving there around 8.15, after dinner. But pretty soon it was obvious that the 60 mile round trip drive would be a waste. So we turned back. We drove on Skyline drive and got beautiful views of Rapid City.

Miles driven today: 416
States : SD

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Tue, June 9th, 2009

Today was just another marathon drive and the kids did just wonderful. Yes, there were periods of whining and fighting, but overall, it wasn’t too bad.

We had thought we will fit in some more Chicago sight seeing in the morning before leaving, but it was a cloudy and foggy day, so decided to skip that. So, we started driving right after breakfast. Getting out of Chicago was slow, but not nearly as bad as getting in. The drive through Illinois was pretty boring, but luckily it was short. There were numerous toll booths along the way asking for $0.5 to $1.25 each, which was annoying. We missed one because we blindly followed the lots of cars in front of us, but they all had iPass, I guess. We now have to find a way to pay back that 80c with in 7 days. I like the NY/NJ system better. You get a card marking your point of entry into the highway. And depending on where you exit (and hence, how far you drove on the thruway), it just charges a lump sum – longer you drive on the thru way, higher the amount. This is much more efficient instead of going through a dozen toll booths in a short amount of time.

Wisconsin was quite beautiful. Lots of rolling green meadows with cows grazing. I enjoyed the serene scenery. Not sure why, but it didn’t occur to me to either take pictures or record anything during the drive :(. The highlight of the drive for PK was crossing the Mississippi river, more as a milestone than any other significance. The state line goes right through the river and as soon as we crossed over, we were in Minnesota.

The first exit in Minnesota leads to a beautiful welcome center and rest stop. It is right on the river with lots of picnic benches facing the river. There are some green hills around too and it is a very picturesque spot. We stopped for a late lunch here. This was almost the mid point of the day’s drive. We started a movie for the kids and started out again. In several places, for long distances, one lane was closed out with cones, even though there was no visible construction. In the town of Dexter, we drove by a really huge windmill farm. Was quite an impressive sight. As we neared the eastern part of the state, it was very flat and one could see the plains far and wide. One curious thing was we kept seeing these billboards which said “Wall drug 355 miles away” etc and wondered what it was.

Other thing I noticed is that we had not paid any tolls once past Illinois. From home to Illinois, we paid quite a bit in tolls.

As soon as we entered South Dakota, Sioux falls was just beyond the border and was going to be our home for the night. We didn’t think it was possible to get lost in a small town like Sioux falls, but we proved it could  happen. After some searching, we located an Indian restaurant, had dinner there (quite good too) and checked into the hotel.

Miles driven today: 593
States : IL, WI, MN, SD

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Mon, June 8th, 2009

We left Ann Arbor around 10.45 am. Drive to Chicago was uneventful. But closer to Chicago, there was a lot of traffic and the last 20 miles or so took very long. Reminded me of our very similar experience in Toronto. We checked into the Embassy suites in downtown around 3 pm. We gained an hour, so felt less rushed. Kids were thrilled to be on the 15th floor and we had views of Lake Michigan and downtown from our Window. As usual, the story was “so much to do and so little time”. We walked through a portion of the magnificent mile and reached Millennium Park. We were pretty smitten by the Cloud gate. Walked around it and under it and took a lot of pictures. There was a concert going on in the Boeing gallery. Then we went to the Crown fountain area and kids had a good time in the sprinklers. It was a humid day, but we didn’t have a change of clothes for them since we didn’t expect them to get wet.

We walked around the Riverwalk area too. AK wanted to go on the boat rides but the next trip was scheduled for an hour later, so we skipped. In retrospect, I feel we should have tried and fit it in. We were tired and back in the hotel by 8.30 pm, hoping to catch up on sleep. From our window, we could see that downtown looked even more beautiful now, after all the buildings had been lit. Overall, we liked the city. PK said he would have loved to live there. It was as awesome as New York City, only much cleaner.

Miles driven today: 248
States : MI, IN, IL

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Sun, June 7th, 2009

Today was a totally relaxing day. Last night, we slept only around 4 am, catching up with friends after 3 years. So, we woke up late (well, as late as 4 young kids will allow us to!), had a lazy morning, mostly eating one thing or the other. It was cloudy and drizzly, so didn’t go any where since we had 11 month old infant. Late afternoon, we visited another friend of mine from Engineering college who lives half hour away. Her kids were out in Austin on vacation, so my kids didn’t go. They were already being pampered and they had friends and toys here, so it was just PK and me who went there. Spent a couple of hours there, it was a hurried visit, but there were constraints on both sides, so it was better than not meeting at all. In the evening, the kids went to a playground nearby and played on the swing, monkey bar etc. Our friends have a 7 yr old girl, so SK thoroughly enjoyed playing with all her girly toys which she had outgrown. She generously offered it to SK to take away, but we had no room in the car for anything absolutely. It was an enjoyable day after the craziness of the last week.

Miles driven today: 68
States : MI

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On the road

Sat, June 6th, 2009

So, we embarked on our two week cross country road-trip today. It was a "failure to launch" story – we had to delay it by a day. This also meant that we had to cut out the first leg of the trip since we were late to begin. I feel very ill prepared for the trip. I normally spend a lot of time researching and planning all our trips. Some people say that this leaves no room for spontaneity, but that is fine by me. With two kids, vegetarian dietary needs etc, I don’t want to leave a lot to chance. Planning also helps us make the most of our time at the destinations. But for this one, I have absolutely had no time, except to make hotel and camping reservations. As for what to do in those places, choices of places to eat etc, I have no clue and I feel very uncomfortable.

Our original route was to go to New Jersey first, then to Pittsburgh and then to Ann Arbor. But because of the delay, we cut out the first two stops and decided to go to Ann Arbor directly. Our main purpose there was to visit two sets of friends. When PK checked the distance, he said it was around 700 miles -long for a single day, but doable. Later we realized that this shortest route involved entering Canada, driving there for a while and re-entering the U.S. That was ruled out since we had mailed our passports to my friend in San Jose, for fearing of misplacing it during the trip. So we had to take a longer route to stay with in the U.S which added almost another 100 miles to the trip.

We left home around 10 am. I-90 upto Buffalo, NY is a familiar route for us, since we have made the Niagara trip a few times before.
Our first stop was in Pittsfield, NY after 350 miles (5 hrs 15 min). The kids did alright. We visited friends there and the kids were happy to play for a while. We stayed there a couple of hours and hit the road again. We had a long night ahead. Around 9 pm we entered into Ohio. We stopped there for some snacks and loo break. After that, the kids fell asleep. We did ok until around 10 pm, but after that we started to feel very sleepy. The next three hours were a bug struggle. We had been short of sleep for more than a week now, and we had been driving for more than 10 hrs, so it was very hard. We finally reached Ann Arbor around 1.30 am.

One of the things I had wanted to do is photograph all the welcome markers at the all state borders. In the North East, this is easy. they have several marks indicating the last exits in the state, so you expect to see the welcome signs. But after the first couple of states, it was hard to get these.

Miles driven today: 800
States: MA, NY, PA, OH, MI

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Sat, June 6th 2009

After the misadventures of the previous day, we woke up early and started loading up the remaining things in the car. We had more things to donate at the library, the salvation army etc. PK ran those errands and also dropped off our second large bag at the friend’s house. They must have been dazed at the apparent lack of planning, but with a move of this magnitude and the complicated one way road trip before the long flight contributed to all the chaos, which some people seem to understand. Then PK set the many bags of trash and several bins of recyclables out for pick up on Monday. Then I went room by room and said good bye to the home. We did a group hug, shed a few tears and stepped out. I walked around full circle of the exterior and admired the plants, shrubs and the fruit trees. Then with a heavy heart I walked to the car. As we set out on our road trip, the house faded into the distance through the rear-view mirror. It truly was a sad moment.

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