Aug 9, 2017

Santa Fe, New Mexico

This charming city is located at 7,000 feet and is the capital city of New Mexico. It has the cleanest air in the country and has a vibrant culture, fascinating historical sites and multitude art galleries along the Historic Plaza/Downtown area.

We had only a day here and we managed to add see most of the must see places walking. The best way to see Santa Fe in and around is by following the guided brochure. Page 18 has a detailed map that helped us plan our walking tour here. Depending on what your preferences are, most people make the following a part of their iterinary.
  • LORETTO CHAPEL: 
We started our walking tour with a visit to Loretto Chapel. I had heard so much of it and seen videos of this "miraculous staircase". Read and see more pictures about it HERE.


  • HISTORIC PLAZA:
The Plaza was originally a fort and was the epicentre of Santa Fe life, Government and Commerce. It surrounded the houses, the Governors residencce and the prison. Today it has one of the most vibrant shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums, hidden courts, Cathedrals and colorful alleys with Spanish architecture. It is a grassy square surrounded by vendors and exquisite shops and restaurants.


  • ICONIC LORETTO INN SANTA FE
This one cannot be missed! Close to the Loretto Chapel, it makes for a good picture stop. In November /December, almost all the houses and lit up with luminaires. They are so pretty to see at night. The below picture has luminaires on each floor. 


  • OLDEST HOUSE:
This house is situated just beside the San Miguel Mission on the side road. It is a little hard to find so look out for the side left road just before the mission entrance to the left.

Oldest House
  • SAN MIGUEL MISSION:
It is the oldest church structure built in the USA. The original adobe walls and altar were built by the Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico under the direction of the Fransiscan Padres. ca.1610.

San Miguel Mission

  • BARRIO DE ANALCO:
Orginally settled in the early 1600's by the Tlaxcalan Indian servants of the Spanish settlers from Mexico. The area is one of the oldest settlements in the US. 330 Old Santa Fe Trail. It includes San Miguel Mission and the Oldest house plus five other historic structures and buildings in between.

  • PALACE OF THE GOVERNORS:
This is the oldest continuously occupied Government building in the country. It houses exhibitions, collections and artifacts. You will see local native American artisans selling handmade jewellery. 





  • CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI

This Cathedral combines adobe, French Romansque and modern architechural styles in a gorgeous beautiful package inside and out. It is centrally located. You will find musicians playing outside the Basilica. Every 15 mins you can hear the bells chime. There are 14 life sized statues in the Prayer Garden adjacent the Basilica representing the 14 events leading upto Jesus's crucifixion.
  • CANYON ROAD
This contains the world's finest art galleries of Taos and Santa Fe artists of the late 1800's and the 1900's.


  • STATE CAPITOL
If you happen to visit around Thanksgiving, attend the official kickkoff to the holiday season. Las Posadas starts and ends at the Palace of the Governors.

Picture Opportunities at Santa Fe:

- Picture of East Palace Santa Fe ( old section of the city )
This place is best seen when on the narrow pathway which has secret courtyards. They are beautifully adorned with green and red chillies. The best way to find it is to find the stairs to the entrance of the Cathedrale, turn left and come to the street. Cross the street and walk along the path of east palae to the left.

East Palace 

Chillies everywhere!

Add caption

A store near downtown

Wall hangings

Jewellery on display

Local artisans sell earrings at downtown

I have pinned a couple of places to be seen on MY PINTEREST.  Do check it out. 

See the rest of our roadtrip to other destinations in New Mexico!

Carlsbad Caverns
Roswell
Socorro
White Sands
Very Large Array
Albuquerque
Unique places in New Mexico

If you have visited New Mexico, do share your experiences with us.

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