Nov 13, 2011

Redwood National Park



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Entering the Redwoods National Park Area
In September 2010, we travelled to the northern most part of California to see and enjoy the tallest trees in the world. It is located in the Redwood National Park between Eureka, CA & Crescent City, CA. We decided to spend 2 days there. This place intrigued me more as I always wanted to see Roosevelt elk ! Our journey here gave us more than what we expected... elk at a safe yet close distance, the tallest trees in the world, an unforgettable experience going to fern canyon, some great views of the Crescent Bay and some old Victorian houses in Eureka.

Oct 23, 2011

Death Valley National Park



This valley is located on the east, between the border of California & Nevada and is the hottest, driest and lowest elevation in Northern California. Death Valley is one of the few places we had, on our "To be completed" list. With extreme temperatures in summer, we found that December, January and February are the comfortable months to visit. We visited Death valley in February over the long weekend. The temperatures were between 75-85 and it was still hot !! So, if you have 2 days to spare, read on.. you will find yourself buried in a world of extreme temperatures, salt flats, sand dunes and some amazing landscapes.




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We left on a Friday evening, stayed at Bakersfield for the night. Since we had already travelled via CA 178 to US 395 earlier, we changed our route a bit and took CA 58, CA 14, US 395 and CA 190 E. CA 14 is a long uninteresting route and a bit boring  I think. ( if you have already travelled on US 395 earlier ) The scenery is so much more appealing to the eyes for US 395 via CA 178 to US 395 than coming on CA14 and US 395.  The last gas station before you hit CA 190E is just before Fall road,  5 mins before the right turn to Death valley. Make sure you fill up here as there is nothing till Stovepipe Wells! You may not see / pass by anyone for miles if you run out of gas..

For accomodation in the park, we found StovePipe Wells and Furnace Creek to be more populated, lots of stores, gas stations, camp grounds, golf courses and restaurants to satisfy your hunger after a long day. During the busy long weekends and the winter months, accomodations can be pretty tough to get. Do plan your trip in advance to avoid disappointment. It is better to stay in the park rather than to stay in nearby towns 2-3 hours away. http://www.escapetodeathvalley.com/ and http://www.furnacecreekresort.com/ are the two websites that you can refer to.

I found the following facts from NPS.Gov very informative.
- The highest mountain in Death Valley National Park is 11,049 foot Telescope Peak. The vertical drop from the peak to the Badwater Basin is twice the depth of Grand Canyon.
-Rainfall in Death Valley averages less than 2 inches a year. There have been some years of no recorded rainfall at all!

-In July of 1913, Death Valley recorded five consecutive days of 129 degrees or above. On July the 10th, a reading of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was taken. This world record was held for nine years.
-The salt pan on the floor of Death Valley covers more than 200 square miles. It is 40 miles long and more than 5 miles wide.
  

Some places to enjoy Sunrise: Dante's View, Zabriskie Point, Sand Dunes, Devils Cornfield, Badwater & Furnace Creek.
Some places to enjoy Sunset: Artists Drive, Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point &Badwater Salt Flats.
( Be there an hour after sunrise & an hour before sunset )

 In general, just driving in Death Valley is an expereince in itself with its very unqiue and distinctive vistas. However, the following are the "Not to miss" areas that we can recommend:

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:
This Dune is close to Stovepipe Wells. You can walk as far and for however long you want. Easy to access from the parking lot. Great to view sunset as the late afternoon light accentuates the patterns and ripples of the dunes. You will also notice people walking the sand dunes at night to view wildlife. A torch may come in handy at times. We stopped here to view the night sky which was just awesome. There are no street lights and the dark surroundings make it a fantastic place for night photography on a clear night.
Mesquite Sand Dunes
Very close to the the sand dunes is the Devil's Corn-field and the spot which marks 'sea-level'. These lend themselves to be nice photo spots. As we approach the furnace creek area there is also the Harmony Borax mine turned museum which you can drive through.

  • Furnace Creek Golf Course: 
This is the world's lowest golf course @ 214 ft. below sea level. There is an oasis with Date Palm trees that looks very pretty.

Date Palms
  •  Artist's Drive:
This drive can be done on the way in or on the way out after seeing the vista points on Badwater Road. Stop by Artist's Palette and view the kaleidoscope of color formations from a very close distance. The rock color formations that you will see are purple, red, black, yellow, pink. This is best seen at sunset when the colors actually stand out. During the day the colors look washed out but are still visible.  You will get an exceptional view from your rear view mirror about 100 - 200 feet after you take the road ( left or right ) from Badwater road of the basin below. Motor homes and Rv's are not permitted. The road up has tight curves and you will feel as you are on a roller coaster, dipping up and down between the road and the rock formations. At the end you will see the white stretch of the salt water basins. The view and drive is incredible.

Artists Drive
Close to the Artists drive is a very interesting Natural Arch which can be visited incase you haven't seen one earlier.
  • Devil's Golf Course: 
This has nothing to do with an actual golf course and is a must see. It is a large salt pan and the rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain is carved into jagged crystal spires. One has to be very careful, as a fall on this can cause serious cuts and injuries. Take a closer look at the spires. Its beautiful. The road to the course is unpaved with a parking lot. If you are visiting in the evening, carry a jacket as the temperature can suddenly drop, can be windy and cold.

Devils Golf Course

Salt crystal spires
  •  Badwater Basin:  
This is the lowest elevation in the US @ 282 ft below sea level and is a must see. From the parking lot, look above on the cliff side, you will see a sign board that states the sea level. Badwater is a salt flat basin. Repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes. Be sure to wear inexpensive shoes as you will get salt residue on the sides and the bottom. You can venture as far out as you want. The hexagon squares are clearly visible if you walk far out into the basin as they are untouched from the hundreds of people that come to Death Valley. Like Devils Golfcourse, if you are visiting in the evening, carry a jacket as the temperature can suddenly drop, be windy and cold.

Badwater Basin
  •  Zabriskie Point: 
From the parking lot, it is a 5 mins wheelchair accessible uphill walk. This point is noted for its erosional landscape and geological formations. Some areas are dangerous even though they have walls surrounding them, its not very high. Hang on to your kids. You will be surrounded by a maze of eroded and vibrantly colored badlands, this place is out of this world. It is a spectacular view. 

Zabriskie Point
  •   Dante's View:
This was one of my favorite view points. It stands 5000 ft above and is a birds eyeview of Death Valley. The road up here is windy and steep specially towards the end. Trailers, RV's and buses are not recommended. Once up, the weather can be different. In February, it was freezing temperatures and very windy at noon. The view is spectacular. There is no railing \ wall for protection. You have to take great precaution if you are travelling with kids. One mistake and you are 5000 ft below onto Badwater road.

Dante's View
  • Racetrack Playa:
We plan to visit again to see this place as as we were not too comfortable going there with our 2 yr old son. Access to this area also requires driving about 27 miles on an isolated dirt road and a high clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended. One can be rented from Furnace Creek Area. Based on our research, one would need to plan for about 4 hours round trip if starting from the furnace creek area. Will keep you updated.

There are hikes and other activities that you can do. Please visit http://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/places-to-go.htm for more details.

( A word of caution.. Since cell phone service is limited, it is always advisable to carry maps, know your GPS. I always use quickest route on my journeys, as the shortest route has many times taken me on some unknown, unfamiliar path which may be dangerous. If you think you are on the wrong path, turn around. Sometimes its best to trust your instincts especially if you see yourself driving off-path, than rely on the GPS .. you will be thankful you did.
I have read a couple of instances where there have been deaths because of incorrect decisions in the Death Valley. Always have someone know your whereabouts and the location where you are going. And stay safe.

CA 190 towards Death Valley from US 395
From Death Valley we drove to Las Vegas via Pahrump for the rest of the holiday.

Oct 13, 2011

Island of Oahu, Hawaii


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Aloha!! One of the most beautiful places, a place on everyone's "To Go" Dream List, a place for Romance, Adventure, Culture, Family Fun, Honeymoon or just Relaxation.. it has to be HAWAII!  The warm turquoise crystal clear blue waters, the year long gorgeous weather is a treat for everyone visiting Hawaii. This was just the place to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary.

Waikiki in the background from Kuhio beach park

Hawaii is made up of 5 islands Kaui, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island. We visited Oahu which is made up of Honolulu, Windward coast, Central Oahu, Leeward coast and the North shore.

The average weather is around 80F. We spent 4 nights, 5 days here and wanted to see all that we could. Hence rented a car which came in very handy knowing that buses would be inconvenient travelling to distant areas we had on our itinerary. The hotels do charge a fee for parking, so please check the same. Also, traveling in summer or on holidays, please keep in mind the traffic and extra time at hand for any delays. There are a  number of ABC stores at every corner street for supplies that you would have forgotten, even curios and gifts.

DAY 1: HONOLULU: WAIKIKI BEACH AND NEARBY AREA

Taking the Hawaiian airlines, the experience begins in the flight. On arriving after a 5 1\2 flight, we decided to relax on the Waikiki beach, and in the evening stroll along Kalakaua avenue and the International market. Most hotels have a evening live entertainment program with hula dancers and live relaxing music to dance to and enjoy. Sunsets here are gorgeous with the silhouettes of the palm trees and hula dancers. You can enjoy a free Hula Show at sunset, that takes place at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound ( near Duke Kahanamoku statue, beachside at Uluniu & Kalakaua Ave) in Waikiki.  For more information please call 808-843-8002. The night life at this place is something to look for, just walking down the street will rejuvenate you.

Duke Kahanamoku statue with Waikiki beach in the background















 DAY 2: HONOLULU :
  • LEAHI ( DIAMOND HEAD STATE MONUMENT )
 Keep at least 2 - 3 hours for a leisurely round trip hike. From the trail head to the summit is a slightly strenuous hike with a number of switchbacks that will take you 0.8 miles \ 1.3 kms one way up and climb 560 ft from the crater floor. This is an uneven and steep terrain with railings for support at various places. It is not recommended for strollers and wheelchairs. If you have a baby\toddler, you may have to carry them up. It is usually very hot up, and is recommended to start early morning to avoid the heat. There is a steep stairway ( 74 + 99 )  and a lighted tunnel that you will have to go through. At the end, you can get an attested certificate proving that you have completed the climb to Diamond Head ( for a small amount paid in cash )! The tunnel gate closes at 6.00 pm ( don't get locked in ! ). Once you have reached the top, the view is amazing of the Crater, Honolulu and the entire coast line! It can get very windy at times, so hang onto you hats!

Climb up Diamond Head









View of the Lighthouse from Diamond Head
View of Waikiki Beach Area from Diamond Head.













  •  HANAUMA BAY NATURE PRESERVE:
Hanauma Bay
 This place is a beauty from the moment you lay your eyes on it. The preserve was once a crater and is shaped in a "C" with greenish, blue waters, lined with palm trees and a white sandy beach. There is a  presentation you would have to see before starting. The walk down is pretty. The reef is full of colorful fish. We saw different colored shole of fish swimming near our feet. My favorite was the yellow and black striped. It was an incredible experience. Don't forget your snorkeling gear or if you forget, you can rent one there.

The view of the shallow reef from the pedestrian trail to Hanauma Bay
If you have time, you can drive up the east coast towards Kalanianaole Beach park. The drive here is very different as compared to the Honolulu area and is picture perfect. The para-sailors gliding in the air above the highway and the kayakers kayaking along the shore with the rugged coastline, will have u thinking about the beauty that this island has to offer.

Kamehameha ( south east ) highway

DAY 3:
  • CENTRAL OAHU: PEARL HARBOR 
 If you have seen the movie "Pearl Harbor", being physically present at the actual site gives you a deep sense of what really happened on December 7th 1941. Till today oil and the hull of the ship can be seen through clear waters. It was a dream come true to be on the grounds of an event that made history. The USS Arizona Memorial  museum has exhibits, that assist the visitors that come in large numbers from all around the world to the events leading up to the aftermath. A reconstructed battleship Arizona shows before and after pictures.





























Tickets are given out on a first come first serve basis. They have limited number of seats per batch so go early to avoid getting a late admission. ( Even though we arrived at 9, we got an admission of 12.30 ). The short film on the Pearl Harbor attack and then the boat ride to the memorial built on top of the sunken warship are a must. The memorial is probably one of the few places where I found it difficult to speak and just looked around in respectful silence for those who lost their lives on December 7, 1941.

Other memorials that you can visit are USS Oklahoma Memorial ( free, visit the visitor centre ), USS Bowfin, Battleship Missouri Museum & Pacific Aviation. ( tickets required )

No bags are allowed due to security reasons. There is a storage area for a few dollars. Strollers are permitted, however you have to leave them outside before the film and the boat ride, and pick it up after the round trip is over. The round trip for this from start to finish is about 4-5 hours. So plan accordingly.
     
  • WINDWARD OAHU: KAILUA BEACH & LANIKAI BEACH

The drive from Pearl harbor to Kailua is about 45 mins via H3 ( Pali Highway ). The route is one of the best drives we have experienced. As the road from the island climbs towards the mountains, the route is along green hills which have scenic viewpoints along that provide panoramic views of the city and the ocean in the distance. The Kailua beach park is stunning. The soft sand and the vast shoreline is just awesome. This beach has a restroom and big parking lot. It is popular beach and can get crowded on weekends and holidays. There is a kayak rental closeby if you would like to rent one.

Kailua Beach Park

One of the most beautiful beaches in the world, some of which are located in Oahu, are never to be missed. The National Geographic website has named Lanikai Beach as one of the TOP 10 Beaches of the world @ number 5. This beach is located in a residential neighbourhood. Parking is very limited and care has to be taken not to block someone's entrance. We parked near Onekea Dr. where we found a public beach access via a narrow pathway. It is a beauty! No doubt it is one of the most beautiful of the world.. the view was like this.. deep blue waters, white shoreline, kayaks parked against palm trees, yellow and red kayaks against the backdrop of the two islands of Mokulua. Was there another word\words for Picture perfect postcard? No.. it was just awesome.. You have to see it to believe it. This is one of the safest family friendly beach and considered the best for swimming.

Lanikai Beach, The Twin Islands













Lanikai Beach











DAY 4:

  • NORTH SHORE, TURTLE BEACH :

Laniakea Beach
Laniakea beach

One beach that I was very interested in visiting was the Laniakea Beach \ Turtle beach. Located bout 1.5 miles from Haleiwa, it is just before Pohaku Loa Way on Kamehameha highway on the left hand side. Cars are usually  parked in large numbers on the right hand side of the road. I had read and seen pictures of these massive turtles that come to rest and eat sea weed on the shore. We were looking forward to seeing some of them. We waited for 2 hours, and saw 3 of them nearing the shore, however were frightened by a surfer. We waited for a long time but they kept on swimming in the water. There were just too many people by that time surrounding the area. 

Laniakea Beach

So if you want to see them, this is what the locals told us.. they come at their own convenience, mostly around mid day - 2 pm and at dusk. Be prepared to see\ not to see them.. You can see similar ones at the zoo near Waikiki if you missed it here.
  • NORTH SHORE, WAIMEA BAY:

The North Shore is considered to be the surfing mecca of the world with waves more than 20 ft in height which in December hosts 3 surfing competitions. Baywatch, Lost and Blue crush are some movies that were filmed here due to its natural beauty and vast stretches of sandy beach. We did get a chance to see some surfers in the water even though there was an advisory of high and rough seas that day. This area reminded us of Goa with its vast sandy beaches.    

Waimea Bay
Waimea Bay






  • POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTRE:
    The Centre is located on the North East of Oahu, in Laie, on the Kamehameha Highway, 1 hour from Waikiki. If you want to experience a Luau ( an elaborate Hawaiian feast or party accompanied by traditional foods and entertainment), one of the best place to experience it would be at The Polynesian Centre. It is totally worth it. The Centre is a non profit organization that is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Polynesia while providing scholarships for hundreds of Polynesian students attending the adjacent university. The centre has various events throughout the afternoon and evening to experience the Polynesian culture.





  • The Rainbows of Paradise\ Canoe Pageant ( pics above ) is one of the best that we saw. The islanders float through the lagoon dressed in their native outfits dancing to music. This is a very colorful pageant. 
  • The island presentations of Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, hawaii, Tahiti and Tonga are unique in their own way and provide information about family, survival, music, dance and endurance through their skits. Some of their special presentations are learning to play the drums Tongan style at the island of Tonga, coconut husking and fire making at the island of Samoa and learning to play the Derua bamboo drum in the island of Fiji. ( taken from the Passport handbook )
  • The canoe ride is a leisurely cruise on a canoe to view the islands from the lagoon.
  • HA Breath of Life -  A story of Passion, ignited by fire, song and dance is a must see. For more information please visit http://www.polynesia.com/evening-show.html. 
  •  It is recommended to arrive early as the programs start  at 12 p.m


DAY 5: WAIKIKI BEACH

The last day we just spent lazing on the Waikiki beach and hitting the Waikiki shopping district. We drove by Queen Iolani Palace.

Waikiki Beach


When we arrived back in San Francisco,  it was like stepping out of a dream to reality!

Oct 6, 2011

Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Hot Springs @ Mammoth

Over the 2011 Labor Day weekend, we visited America's First National Park ... The Yellowstone National Park. It was the perfect long weekend for the long road trip of 17 hours from Santa Clara to West Yellowstone. We decided to stay in Reno, NV, and then drive the next day 12 hours via Twin falls to West Yellowstone. You could also..
  • Take a flight to Salt Lake City and drive to the park ( 6 hrs 15 mins )
  • Fly to Boise, ID and drive to the park ( about 7 hours  )
  • Fly to Jackson airport and drive via Grand Teton NP to Yellowstone ( 1 hour 40 mins )
  • Just drive to the park ( 16 hours with an overnight stopover in between )

This is an incredible park with a lot of energy in every location, numerous geysers, wildlife, birds, hot water springs, mud pots, scenic routes through meandering rivers and picturesque meadows. In this blog, I will be writing about what to expect and what you can do. The recommended amount of days to spend in this park would be 3- 4 days. This would include spending time at all the must see attractions including taking pictures and viewing wildlife.

Based on our experience, we would suggest the following itinerary if you have about 4 days to spend in both the parks:


DAY 1:

  • Drive to the Old Faithful Geyser, wait for the eruption which is predicted to be every 90 minutes.
  • Then walk the 2 mile round-trip walk to the Morning Glory pool and back where you will find other geysers. The interesting ones are the Castle, Grotto, Daisy and Riverside. You will find numerous hot-springs and erupting geysers with lots of good photo opportunities.
  • Once you are done with the walk you can head back to the Visitor center to refresh, grab a bite and buy mementos.
Old Faithful Geyser
Morning Glory Pool
Daisy Geyser
  •  Next, you can drive to the mid-geyser basin which is a host of some of the largest and spectacular hot springs namely the Grand Prismatic  and Excelsior Geyser and the Turquoise Pool. It is a short walk but quite spectacular. The water from the hot springs draining into the stream below is quite spectacular and presents a beautiful photography.

Grand Prismatic
Excelsior Geyser
  • Finally, end the day with a short hike at the Fountain Paints Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin and a short round loop drive along the Fire-hole Lake.


  • Do make time for the spectacular meadows and the scenic spots around the meandering river when you drive from the Madison Junction to the Old Faithful Area. You are very likely to sport elk and bison grazing in the meadows and lone fisherman in the streams.

Bison near Madison River
DAY 2:

  • Drive to Norris  Geyser Basin. Some of the more interesting geysers in this basin are the Echinus and the Steamboat. The Porcelain Basin walk is quite spectacular and makes for interesting photo opportunities from the over-look.  
  • The Norris Geyser Basin also hosts night sky programs. Given its location this place hosts one of the most spectacular dark night starry skies.

Porcelain Basin Trail
  • On your drive from Madison to the Norris Geyser Basin make time for the  Terrace Springs, Gibbon Falls, Roaring Mountain and the short walk on the Artists Paint-Pots trail.

Roaring Mountain
  • Next drive to the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. There are numerous view points along the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which hosts the falls. The most spectacular ones we liked were the Artists Point and Uncle Tom's trail. You can also take the short but steep hike to the top of the lower falls.

  • Drive down to the Sulphur Pits and the Mud Volcano area for an extraordinary experience.

Artists Point ( view of Yellowstone Falls )
  •  End the day at Hayden Valley which is one of the best spots for wild-life viewing in the evening and the early morning.

DAY 3:

  • Drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. While here take the spectacular trail that covers the upper and lower terraces. The town of the Mammoth is also quite interesting. 
  • While here you should make time to drive down to the 45th Parallel Latitude which is the half-way point between the North Pole and Equator.

Mammoth Hot Springs





  • Next Drive to Tower Falls. This is also a very interesting falls and makes for good photo-opportunities. The drive from Mammoth to Tower Falls is quite spectacular. 
  • The Lamar Valley which is close to Tower Falls is also one of the most famous places for wild-life viewing in the park.

Tower Falls

  • After covering Tower falls you can drive down to West Thumb via the Mt Roosevelt Overlook. You will pass through the Hayden Valley and the Spectacular Yellowstone River. West Thumb is also an interesting basin right along the Yellowstone River and makes for a very nice leisurely evening walk.


  • If you still have time you can end the day at the Old Faithful Area. On your drive here you will pass over the Continental Divide. Alternatively you can head back to Hayden Valley for wild-life viewing.


DAY 4:

  • Drive to the Grand Teton National Park via the South Yellowstone Park Entrance. Depending on what you want to do you can spend a few hours or a couple of days in the Park. You can stop at the visitor center and pickup the suggested tours. We only had a few hours to spend in the Park, so we chose the Jenny lake driving tour itinerary. This marks the driving trail and spots as you stop your way through the park to photograph and take in the breathtaking scenery with the majestic Grand Teton Peaks in the backdrop.

On the way to Grand Teton

Route on Jenny Lake Drive
 Finally we made our way out of the park to the small but quaint town of Jackson, Wyoming. We stopped by here to grab a bite and do a short drive thru the town before heading back home via the Teton Pass over an elevation of 10,000 ft.

Tips:
  • Do carry water and snacks as not all places will have stores for a quick bite.
  • Most of the areas have steps and may be a little strenuous. Do take a flyer at the entrance of each point for $ 50c. This will have a map of the area and mention if it is accessible.
  • Not much shade in most areas, a wide brimmed hat is recommended.