Jul 1, 2017

Alaska Itinerary

This is an update to my Alaska post in 2012.

I was helping a friend with her itinerary and thanks to her, she noted that the old Alaska Post didn't have the detailed itinerary there. This one was written to assist her and any one planning on going there but not sure where to start. The parks/hotels, views mentioned here are our own and we are not being compensated for writing our reviews. So please feel free to check them out.

VACATION DURATION 8 DAYS/ 9 NIGHTS:
  • DAY 1:  
- Arrival in Anchorage. 3 nights in Anchorage.
- The first day shop for any foodstuff that you would want to stock up on. Costco, Walmart / Sam's club are some stores that you can pick up your grocery items from. 
- Visit Captain Cook Monument and Log Cabin Visitor Information Centre visit with downtown area
Stay in Anchorage

  • DAY 2
- 26 Glacier Tour ( 6 hours plus needed + drive time to and from hotel )
- Portage Glacier
- Stay in Anchorage
  • DAY 3: 
- Go to Hatcher's Pass/ Palmer
- Ox Farm 
Stay in Anchorage
  • DAY 4:
1 night in Seward
DRIVE TO SEWARD. SEE FOLLOWING PLACES ON THE WAY.
- Drive to Girdwood/Homer
- Enjoy viewpoints along Turnagain Arm
- Stop at Girdwood. Go to Alyeska Resort Tram
- Stop at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre
- Portage Valley Highway
- Resurrection Bay

Once you reach Seward:

- Welcome Flag monument picture point
- Mile 0 where Iditarod Starts
- Watch for Bald Eagles
- Go to Downtown Seward ( located on south end of 4th avenue.
- usually in the early evening people get their fresh catch of fish and line them on large hooks. This makes a great picture spot.
-  Stay in Seward
  • DAY 5:
- 2 nights in Denali
- Visit Exit Glacier
- Drive to and STAY IN DENALI
  • DAY 6:
- Visit Denali National Park by bus 8 hour tour to Eilson Visitor Centre
- Inquire about the free sled dog demonstrations at Visitor Centre
- Stay in Denali
  • DAY 7:
- 1 night in Fairbanks- Visit the Sled dogs via free shuttle
- Drive to and stay for the night in Fairbanks.
   - Visit Santa Claus House
   - Creamer's Field
   - Ice Museum in Chena Hot Springs
  • DAY 8: PALMER
Drive back to Palmer. Stay for the night. 
  • DAY 9: FLY BACK HOME
That's me with the reindeer
Downtown Anchorage
Glaciers on Prince William Sound

Santa Claus House
Seward docks
Whale Sighting  on Prince William Sound cruise
Views from our flight back home

Jun 19, 2017

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico



From Joshua Tree National Park we drove the 12 hours to Las Cruces where we stopped for the night. Early next morning we left for Carlsbad Caverns. We were very excited about visiting this place. Having read all about it, it was the ride down the elevator into the depths of the earth and walking about 800 ft below the earth that made this journey even more special. If your not able to make it all the way here, Kings Canyon National Park also has caverns where you will be able to stalagmites and stalactites and more. Read about all this and more on this link. 

Carlsbad Cavern is one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park. The most famous of all the geologic features in the park are the caves. It has more than 119 limestone caves, the most famous of them all is Carlsbad Caverns.

Driving along the highway in New Mexico, no one would even guess that a national park that is approx 6 football fields even exists beneath the earths surface! 


We reached the park about an hour and a half before our tour to Kings Palace that we had prebooked before leaving home. We took our passes and the headed towards the elevator to descend 75 stories below. The trip took about one minute. It was nerve racking as it was our first time doing something adventurous as this. 



KINGS PALACE GUIDED TOUR is highly recommended.

Reserve your spots at the earliest online via www.recreation.gov since some tours fill quickly. Pick your tickets from the visitor centre 30 mins before your tour. Children below 4 years are not allowed.

- There is an additional entrance fee tour ticket in addition to the park ticket. We took the 1.30 pm tour which was very comfortable for us.  A short ride down 800 ft in the elevator will take you to the rest area which has a small store, seating area and restrooms.

- The hike is a little strenuous, narrow and dark in some places. The best part of this tour is in the Queens Chamber which has the most beautiful curtains and cave formations. Rangers will put off lights for a moment for the hikers to experience life underground and what it was years ago.





 - Learn about Soda straws, Stalactites and stalagmites. Seeing is believing and that's what make this park one of the most visited in the US. You can only imagine the bold and extravagant size of the park experiencing it from below. Pictures taken are no way close to what is seen in person. You will require a good camera lens or use a tripod for low light photography as most will come either dark or blurry. On guided tours tripods are not allowed.



- A light jacket is required and sturdy shoes since there is a lot of climbing up and down hill.The total length of the tour is 1.5 hours and is 1 mile. Strollers are not allowed.

BIG ROOM SELF GUIDED TOUR: 

After the Kings palace tour we had enough time - about an hour till closing time to do the Big Room self guided tour. Mostly paved with a few steep uphills, this is a great way to experience the Caverns. Don't miss out on Lions tail, Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit and rock of ages. The  Big Room is the largest natural limestone chamber in the Western United States. The floor space is comparable to 600,000 square feet or 14 football fields.




Other Tours available are Left hand Tunnel, Lower Cave, Slaughter Canyon Cave which we did not opt for since we planned only for a half day here.

Here are some pictures from The Big Room Tour.

The entrance to Big Room

Original steps used to enter the cave are used for official purposes. 




Lions Tail
Our recommendations for a wonderful tour.

1. ) Make sure you have sufficient time to drive to the park from wherever you are put up. Carry jackets as its quite cold beneath the park.

2.) To enter the cave you can either take the Natural Entrance Self guided tour or take the elevator down to the rest area where the Kings Palace and the Big Room self guided tours start.

3.) If your unsure which tour is best for you check this LINK. It will surely help.

4.) The Natural entrance self guided tour is 1.25 miles in length. It takes about an hour or so to complete the entire loop. and is an hour walking.  There is a descent of about 800 ft in one mile. We decided to skip this and take the elevator down since it would have been quite strenuous and more as we had a young kid with us.

5. ) Plan to spend an entire day here. Keep an hour and a half for the guided tour, an hour for the Big room tour and some time for a snack\lunch.

6.) Food ( Sandwiches, salads\ burritos ) is available at the park cafeteria.

7.) 4.) If you plan to go between May and October, enjoy viewing the bat migration ranger program at the park amphitheatre.

Overall, we had an amazing experience here. The pictures taken do not do justice. Seeing is believing. Happy to have made it all the way here from California.

Cheers till we meet again!

Jun 17, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park, California

With this trip we complete 10 National park visit. See our visits from our other parks HERE. Standing here in the desert and the area is clam, quite deserted as we are a week early from Thanksgiving break.  Palm trees beacon the streets, desert type appearance, sand blowing across the main road with the light breeze and the famous Joshua trees that give the park its name.

Silhouette of Joshua Trees at Sunset
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites at Twentynine Palms. 29 Palms has a multitude of hotels to choose from. Lots of restaurants with cuisines ranging from fast food to Chinese, Thai, Indian and Mexican all along the way.  The city's website had more information on all food, lodging and events available.

The night we arrived we checked into our hotel, had a quick bite for dinner and entered the park post dusk. Here we stopped at Skys the Limit - a free Observatory and nature centre. Here volunteers and astronomers have telescopes for viewing the night sky. View the smallest objects, ask questions and view even a planet! We saw globular clusters, Uranus, planetary nebulae and of course all free to the public.
  • OASIS OF MARA VISITOR CENTRE:
We started our day by visiting Oasis of Mara visitor centre. The park entrance via The West Station is more scenic with Joshua Trees lined along the roads than the drive via the North Entrance. Here we saw a geokinetic sculpture, saw some unique cactii, and some cactus upclose with their super thorny structures.

Closeup of cactus thorns

Heart shaped cacti

  • KEYS VIEW:
The drive up to Keys View is gorgeous with lots of  Joshua Trees lining alongside the road. There is a steep pathway that overlooks the Salton Sea and the Palm Springs Resort town. This area is prone to windy and cold. On clear days you can see the Coachella valley and in the distant Palm Springs. Distant views of the Salton Sea which is located 230 feet below sea level. The Santa Rosa mountains and the San Jacinto Peak with the San Gregorio Mountains can be seen on clear days.

  • SKULL ROCK: 
This place truly freaked me out. The rock formation really looked like a skull with sunken eyes and a mouth and nose. It made a good picture point. We didn't stay here for long. 

  • CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN: 
This was my favorite of all the places we saw here at Joshua. These Cactii look so perfect shades of brown and off white. But they are deadly. Each stem has long thorn like pincers that pierced through and through. They were blown away with the wind and invariable stuck onto my shoes. With cautious maneuvering we managed to remove the thorns only to be stung by another. So if your going be careful specially if kids are around. You would not want a "BooBoo" here. 


Hiking through the Cacti Garden

Flowering cacti

The scenic winding route at Cholla garden
  • HIDDEN VALLEY:
We traversed over boulders, rocks and passed by Joshua trees. There were millions of boulders. Here is a pic of what it looked like.




Another National Park off our bucketlist. Onward journey to New Mexico!

Jun 15, 2017

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico


And the last leg of our long journey! Here we are in White Sands National Monument.. Having driven all the way to New Mexico, this should be on your list of activities on your itinerary.

White Sands comprises of a large area of gypsum crystals. As we approached White Sands all we could see was a sea shining in the midday sun. The area all around us was white as if it had freshly snowed. This was just at the visitor centre and we had not even entered the park yet. Read about more of Gypsum here and how it is formed. Very interesting details explained. I did learn something from this trip.. all about gypsum :) 

The White Sands area is an active missile testing area. They have scheduled closures of the White Sands Monument and Highway 70. They are updated usually 24 hours before. You can check updated details HERE. The Monument has historical significance.

During the Second World War, when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th 1941, the US Government responded by setting up a permanent residence in Tularosa Basin creating White Sands Proving Grounds now known as White Sands Missile Range as well as the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range known as the Hollowan Air Force Base.

White Sands Missile Range was one of the key Manhattan Project which developed the first atomic bomb during World War II. The testing of the first atomic bomb took place in 1945 at the Trinity Site on WSMR 65 miles north of White Sands National Monument.

(above ref White Sands website)

There is an annual public visit to the Trinity Site. You can check more details HERE



We didn't have much time so we planned to do the InterDune hike and take the 5 mile drive into the park. To experience this park you need to get out of your car and venture out onto the soft sand. I felt as if I was on a beach .. just without water touching my feet. Little Had we known we would have brought the sled along so we could have had more fun. None the less we did even without it.

INTERDUNE HIKE:

The total amount of time spent here was under 30 mins. We saw some pawprints in the sand and learnt about the vegetation and how the plants survive.




DUNES DRIVE:

We drive for around 5 miles and spent some time playing in the sand. Buy a saucer/sled that you can play with from the visitor centre. Walking in the sand surely was good exercise. Just make sure you have some snacks at hand once your back.
Good exercise climbing up here

Patterns in the sand

Feb 22, 2017

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

This Santa Fe landmark is one that has many people impressed and staggering for answers to this unsolved mystery at the Loretta Chapel: the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction.


When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.

Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and tools ( saw, carpenters squae, hammer and tubs in which to soak the wood )looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in to answer to the sisters' prayers.

The stairway's carpenter, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today.

Loretto chapel
Mysterious Staircase @ Loretto Chapel
The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction.

Many people flock to see this miraculous staircase as it has also been telecast on T.V. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and Movies including "Unsolved Mysteries" and the television movie titled "The Staircase." along with TV specials and reading articles that have been made surrounding the mystery of this staircase. Above excerpt from the Loretto website.

Someone sent me this video. I do not know the origin and hence cannot credit it to anyone. If you know who this video belongs to please let me know so that due credit can be given.

video


This Chapel is now privately owned and is a museum for preservation. If your visiting: Please call ahead as the Chapel may close for private events. There is a small entrance fee. For more information please visit : Loretto Chapel.

Here is a picture of what it would have looked like before the banners were installed.

Simulation staircase pic
Staircase without banners

Altar @ Loretto Chapel
Altar @ Loretto Chapel


Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe
Loretto Chapel

Unique Sights/ Names New Mexico

New Mexico has some unique sights and names of small towns! If your an avid fan of roadside attractions, these are some that you can PIN to your bucket list. More links are here on my Pinterest Page

1.) WORLD'S LARGEST PISTACHIO:
This quick stopover is along US 54. It has this large famous single pistachio just outside the store. You cannot miss it as it towers above the highway. Pick up some delicious pistachios for the way when your there and your good to go. This destination is close to the White Sands National Monument.

Address:
McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch; Arena Blanca Winery 
7320 U.S. Highway 54/70, Alamogordo, NM 88310








McGinn's Large Pistachio


2.) GIANT RATTLESNAKE MADE OF ROCKS:

This has been one of the most pinned pics on my Pinterest Board. It looked unique and since we were driving all the way to NM, and it was just a few minutes drive off the highway where we were put up it made sense to actually see this piece of art. 

ADDRESS

Intersection of Rio Bravo Blvd SE and University Blvd. 

Take Exit 220 from I-25 to Rio Bravo. Turn East on Rio Bravo and go to University Blvd, only about 0.2 mi. The snake is to the right on University Blvd, just beyond the intersection. There is every possibility that you may miss seeing it as it comes just around the bend. It happened to us and we ended up making a couple of round about turns. But it was worth it. 

giant rattlesnake new mexico
Giant rattlesnake made of rocks

3.) CUPID STRIKES:

Close to Albuquerque downtown, this Large Red Arrow sticking to the ground. It is one of the many unique picture points found in New Mexico. 

The address: 2101 Carlisle Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110. Located at the intersection of Indian School and Carlisle. Park within the Wholefoods parking lot or across the street to get a full picture.

new mexico
Cupids Arrow New Mexico

4.) UNIQUE AND STRANGE CITY NAMES:

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCE, NM 
SNOWFLAKE, NM

This website I fell upon has more names added on to it. Check it out It's only in your state :-) You might want to check it out. It has loads of information about each state.

unique town names
Unique New Mexico town names

Socorro, New Mexico

Socorro is well known for its well known bird watching opportunities. We drove through this little town via Magdalena on our way from Albuquerque to Very Large Array. From Socorro it is about a 51 mile drive to VLA an acronym for Very Large Array. 

We missed out on this but have mentioned it here you include it on your trip itinerary. Ref pic from San Miguel Mission website.

1.) The San Miguel Mission is one of the most photographed missions here. 


San Miguel Mission
Pic from http://www.socorronm.org/attractions/san-miguel-mission/

Address: 
403 El Camino Real
Socorro, NM 87801

2.) Visit Southwest's greatest natural treasure: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The Festival of the Cranes happens between November 18-23. It is one of the largest annual events celebrating the sandhill cranes return to winter habitat. Other birds that may be sighted are blue heron, canada geese, light geese, bald eagles, American coot, owls, swans and American white Pelicans. 


Roswell, New Mexico

This small town is famous for something unusual that happened in 1947 during a severe thunderstorm. For a detailed look into the events that led to this world famous place click HERE. Was it a flying saucer, a baloon. Many still believe that they were UFO's and sightings have been recorded by many.

Passing through this town we made a brief stop at the museum to check it out. I was surprised to see almost everything from street lights to stores had flying saucers, aliens or UFO related memorabilia attached.


A great place to start your quest for information regarding the UFO's is at the International UFO.


Museum is located at 114 N. Main St. Roswell, NM. There is a free parking lot adjacent to the museum.

Average time needed to visit: Ranges from an hour to a couple of hours depending on your curiosity for UFOs.


flying saucer
Flying saucer above a store

Street lamps Roswell NM

UFO International centre
Entrance to UFO International Centre


aliens ufo
Aliens UFO International centre