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Archive for the ‘fun’ Category

Tue, June 16, 2009

Today’s plan was to go to Jenny lake, hike one of the trails and an activity on the lake. Weather was never great through out the trip, but it was particularly bad in South Dakota and Wyoming. Just cloudy, drizzly, foggy …

I had read and heard a whole bunch about Jenny lake and was eager to get there. We drove there quite early in the morning. There were no crowds. I had done some research on some hiking possibilities and we had decided on Inspiration point as the destination. There are two ways to do this hike. The longer way is that you walk along the shore of the lake from the visitor center for about 2 miles and then climb up to Inspiration point (1 mile). Or you can take a boat ride to the trail head and cut out the walk along the shore. Since SK was only 3.5 yrs, a 6 mile hike would have been too much for her, so we had decided to take the boat ride to the trail head. It’s a short 10 minute ride on calm waters with awesome views of the mountains.

Inspiration point - Jenny lake in the background

There were a good number of hikers and we started climbing up. After passing by a creek, at around ½ mile, is the hidden falls. But I could just catch a glimpse through dense trees and didn’t find any good viewing platform for the falls. We continued on to Inspiration point. The hike continues on into a Canyon, but we stopped here and enjoyed the views.

On our way back, I was curious if we could catch a better view of the Hidden falls. We had to look around quite a bit and we finally spotted some hikers coming from another path. And they asked us to go a few meters further up to catch a better view. Here we could see the full height of the falls and it was quite pretty. But hanging around there was difficult since the ground was very slushy and it was crowded too. So after a few pictures, we walked down to the boat dock and rode back. A better description of this hike (done by someone else) is here, complete with pictures.

Hidden falls

After lunch, we looked at something to do on the lake. There were no speed boats or kayaks here, so it had to be canoeing. PK is ok with kayaking, but in the past, when ever the conversation turned to canoeing, he would become resistant. But today the kids were eager to do something anything on the water, he agreed. Overall, all of us enjoyed the experience. When the boats across the lake came, the wake used to rock us a lot and that was a bit scary, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. At one point, it looked like PK was more worried about all the expensive stuff we had (HD camcorder, camera, 2 blackberries etc) than us! I think the best views of the mountains were from inside this lake.

After this we wanted to go up Signal mountain on the auto road. On the way from the Jenny lake center to Signal mountain, there were a line of cars pulled over by the roadside, so we joined the party. Turned out, there was a black bear cub limping about. Seems to have hurt one of his legs and he was hovering in that vicinity. Signal mountain road was a scenic drive and very nice views at the top – the lakes, the mountains, the park, Snake river …. But the mosquitoes and other insects there were very bothersome. So we didn’t stay for very long.

On our drive back, another car flagged us down about half way through the mountain. A cyclist who was going down had fallen and injured himself and there was problem with the bicycle too. The car which flagged us down was a sedan with an elderly couple inside. They wanted to help the cyclist but couldn’t fit both him and the bicycle in their car. So they wanted us to go along. Our SUV was stuffed to the brim (from stuff for the road trip and our India luggage) and there was barely room for a cat inside. We cleared out a few things and the kids squished themselves and he somehow squeezed in the backseat. He had to be dropped back to Jackson, WY (almost 50 miles away), in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I wasn’t too happy initially, but you gotta do the right thing, so we did. We had to exit the park, pass by the Jackson airport and reached Jackson in about an hour. Jackson is a charming city and I regretted that we didn’t get to spend any time there at all.

The cyclist turned out to be an interesting kid, in his teens. He was from Netherlands and on a 2 month trip to the U.S and was doing a cross-country trip. He was mainly taking public transportation between cities/points of interest, staying in hostels and doing local touring by bicycle. He had started in the east coast and gone to similar places we had (by bus or train). Everyone enjoyed the conversation and AK seemed in awe of that kid’s adventures. After dropping him off, it was a quiet ride back to the cabin.

Miles driven today:126

States: WY

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Mon, Jun 15, 2009

This was our last day in Yellowstone.  To start off, we drove on the South Rim Drive. Undeniably, the highlight of this part of the park is the Artist’s point. A postcard perfect spot to catch the Lower falls and the Yellowstone canyon! We wanted to hike down Uncle Tom’s trail but it had still not opened for the season. That was a disappointment since the viewing platforms on this trail are supposed to give the closest view of the falls.

We were done by mid-morning and we started driving down towards Grand Teton National Park. A milestone we passed through was the continental divide. The drive itself was short and soon enough we were in Grand Teton. We chose a picnic table by the Jackson lake with a view of the Tetons.

As far as accommodations were concerned, we had not made any advance reservations here before we left home, because our plan was to camp and the lady had said it was very early in the season and campgrounds would be pretty empty, so no need for reservations. But after the Yellowstone experience, no one was in the mood for another two freezing nights in the outdoors. So we went and checked into log cabins at the Colter Bay Village. The cabins were good and SK was pretty excited that there was a bathroom and a TV!

We went back near the marina to see if we could catch a ride on the speed boats. But it was quite expensive and rides were closing for the day in a few minutes, so we didn’t want to be hurried. We ditched that and took a small walk along the lake shore. Beautiful views …

Artist's point

I liked Grand Teton a lot. I’ve visited so many parks, many of them quite unique and beautiful, but somehow the small parks always impress me. Usually the parks are so big that even after a four-day stay, I leave with the feeling that I couldn’t do everything that I wanted. But the advantages of these smaller gems are that they are quite beautiful too, less crowded and in a 2-3 day stay, you get to see and do a lot more. I remember liking Zion National Park for similar reasons.

Miles driven today: 120

States: WY

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Day 9: More Yellowstone

Sun, Jun 14, 2009

Last night was far more peaceful. I think the two layers of pajamas made all the difference. We decided to drive north to the Mammoth Springs area. Here we saw the living quarters of the park staff. Looked like a nice residential area. From the top of mammoth springs itself, we got beautiful views of the town and the surrounding area. There was not a lot of water, but this one has unique geographic formations. The water was pretty hot to the touch. We walked on those boardwalk trails for a bit.

After that we drove to the Norris Geyser Basin. There was a ranger walk starting and we joined. The trail was very nice with some active small geysers and some were pretty colorful too. We came back early and caught up on laundry and just relaxed the rest of the evening.

Miles drive today: 102

States: WY

Mammoth Hot Springs

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Sat, Jun 13, 2009

Last night was a nightmare. We had expected it to be cold and were reasonably prepared, but didn’t think it would be in the 30s. We froze. The tent didn’t let any rain water seep in, but just the moisture in the air had dampened the insides. We had good comforters, but our heads, noses, ears etc were exposed. Sometime in the night, 3.5 yr old SK declared, “this is sooo not fun”.

But once it was past 9 in the morning, it became much more bearable. The shower facilities were awesome. After a nice hot shower, we set out to explore Yellowstone NP. We love NPs but Yellowstone is really unique. We drove on the North Rim drive and saw the Upper and Lower Yellowstone falls. The Canyon was pretty amazing too. Later in the day we saw the spectacular eruptions of several geysers, the Great Fountain Geyser being the best of them. It was almost an hour’s show. The sheer volume of water, the height to which it erupted and the duration of the eruption, it all came together for a one of a kind of experience. Later we drove to Old faithful and watched it erupt too. But after the Great Fountain Geyser, I was not at all impressed by Old faithful. There was just too much mist and dense fog to realize what was going on. But the visitor center was fabulous and we enjoyed some hot coffee and snacks there, which was perfect for the drippy weather.

On the drive back, there was only one thought on my mind – to see if we could get any sort of room for the night. It being the weekend, chances were slim, but I hoped a basic room may be available. When we checked at the reception, they had nothing open and the nearest place which had any availability was the Old faithful Inn and that too, only the pricey, exclusive suites. I confirmed with her that it was ok to get in the car and run the engine in the night, if it got too cold. With peace of mind that we had a plan B and wearing two layers of pajamas, we went to bed.

Miles driven today: 145

States: WY

Lower falls

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Day 7: A birthday on the road

It has been more than seven months and the road trip seems like from another life. Actually everything about the U.S has been forgotten so quickly, it is unbelievable. This is not to say that we don’t desperately miss that place. But the daily life here has been hectic (I don’t know if it is because of the transition or if this is how life will be). But I just wanted to update whatever little I can of the remainder of our trip.

Fri, Jun 12, 2009

It is AK’s 8th birthday today and we are in the middle of nowhere here in Gillette, WY. The agenda is just to drive to Yellowstone National Park. It has been a long time wish to visit that place. I ask around at the reception of our hotel and a few nearby grocery stories but couldn’t find even a semi-decent cake, so we just gave up. AK was pretty sporting and didn’t fuss much about the lack of celebration of his milestone.

The initial 150 miles or so was pretty boring, but once we entered the Big Horn National Forest, it was quite beautiful. We stopped at a few view points and the drive thru the Big Horn Canyon itself was pretty breathtaking. Another nice place was the Buffalo Bill Dam and the Buffalo Bill reservoir.

After this we were really in some of the most remote parts of the country. We passed through towns with population of 50 and 10! We finally reached Yellowstone around 4 pm or so. The plan was to camp for 3 nights here. It was another 50 mile drive to the camp site from the entrance. On the way, we were treated to first views of the smaller geysers and hot springs. We walked on the mud pots trail and saw two bisons up close. The kids were a bit apprehensive about camping after that. Evening here was a bit chilly but it was not totally unexpected.

But we were not quite prepared for what happened next. When we reached the campground and located our site, there was snow on the ground. More than a little bit. We were not really prepared for that. We cleared what we could and pitched our tent. Dinner was soup and noodles.

Miles driven today: 420

States passed through: WY

Our campsite

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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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