Dec 1, 2017

4th Grader FREE Annual NATIONAL PARKS PASS

I stumbled on this website in 2016. It was one of the best links I saved. When my son started 4th grade, we decided to let him make choices for our vacations or at least be part of where he wanted to go and take all of us on an excursion. On his list was camping, national parks and visiting some federal lands. Indirectly it gave him a chance to be part of the NPS Celebration of 100 years. President Barack Obama started this program in 2015 and it has been extended for the 2017-2018 school year. I am not sure how long this program will be around but I know its there till 2018!

He was so excited, intrigued at a Free pass and that exhilarating feeling that he would be instrumental in taking the entire family to one of his favorite parks for FREE !! So with a click of a button and an easy 3 questions on Every Kid in a Park, he got a print of his Free Pass that we recently utilized. Here are a few things to keep in mind for getting the pass.

  1. This pass is ONLY for 4th graders. Home schooler equivalent and 10 years old.
  2. You can visit National Parks, Federal Lands, Forests.
  3. The paper print needs to be given to the ranger who will then exchange it for a plastic card. This is a great keepsake once the card is expired. 
  4. The child needs to be with you in the car when exchanging. His/her signature or name will have to be written on the back of the card.
  5. The child needs to be with you every time the card is used.
  6. The child and the family is entitled to a FREE PASS for an ENTIRE YEAR!! 
  7. It starts on September 1st 2017 and runs till August 31st 2018 of the 4th grade school year.
  8. The Printed letter should be carried with you. If you lose it a fresh one will have to be printed. 
  9. No electronic copies are allowed.
  10. The card has a unique code so you cannot make copies and distribute it for others. 
  11. Each child is encouraged to make his/her own.
  12. Check the number of possibilites you can make use of with this card. 
  13. There may be other exclusions, please check Every Kid in a park for more details.
  14. Not all places on the list may accept the pass so you might want to call ahead just to make sure. Link HERE to check locations in your state.
Isn't this a great way to spend time with your kids and loved ones on an adventure? With so much going on in our lives, cell phone addiction, TV addiction and the social media that comes in between, this is a wonderful opportunity to get away for a few days and enjoy, learn about nature, breathe in some crisp fresh air, rejuvenate and come back whole hearted revived after a few days off from these worldly activities.

I believe, we would talk more with each other instead of being so engrossed with our heads lowered into our phones. A small life change in making sometime for ourselves with outdoor trips, make walking a necessity in life to be healthy and fit and to have a great relationship and rapport with people around us. Let us enjoy the natural surroundings that we so often tend to ignore.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends and family. It will surely make a difference in someones life and bring happiness and a Big Smile on your 4th Graders face. Please comment in the form below if you have utilized this Pass and do share your blog / or mention the place you visited with the Pass. I would love to read all about it.

BUT...

What if you don't have a 4th grader? There are fee free days allotted during the year. The only downside is the crowd that usually visit the park on that day/weekend. Free entrance days / week are available HERE.

So Long,

Savsmich

Oct 29, 2017

Very Large Array, New Mexico

Very Large Array is one of the worlds largest Astronomical Observatories and it has been featured in movies like Independence Day, Contact and Terminator Salvation. After our half day tour in Albuquerque, we headed towards VLA, a two hour drive into the most deserted part of New Mexico. It is about 50 miles west of Socorro. After the populated town of Socorro the only one lone town that you would pass by would be Magdalena. One important detail which I must mention is the lack of data reception within a couple miles of VLA.

Just before we reached the centre, we passed by the antennae. This is what it looked like. Tiny toy saucers.



The first thing that we did was to watch the 20 min by Jodie Foster that provided an idea of what we were there for in the first place.. Radio Astronomy, Interferometry and VLA. The VLA has 27 dish shaped antennas that are connected together to form a single radio telescope. They use this to study cosmic objects from the sun, planets, solar galaxies in our universe. Each antennae collect radio waves emitted by cosmic objects and send them to a central location where they are combined. By using many antennas the VLA can make detailed pictures of cosmic objects. It is one of the most powerful radio telescopes of the world.

We explored the exhibits before we made our way to the outdoor exhibits. We learned about Cosmic jets spewed by Giant galaxies, Microquasars in our galaxy, the first Einstein ring Gravitational lens and Gamma rays. There were informational texts on Water Ice on Mercury, Mystery centre of our galaxy and our neighboring stars.

VLA has walking tours that would surely provide in depth knowledge. They are usually held on the first Saturdays of each month. First Saturday tours in April and October are free Open house events. If your going these would be the best days to go. You can check more on the VLA Website. 2017 has 2 days November 4th and December 2nd if you wish to go. 

The Radio Sundial:



On the way to the 230 ton working antennae on the array.



Why is the VLA out there?


Look how tiny we are here in front of this massive structure:)


Why is the VLA so very Large?


What is inside the VLA?


 What happens inside the building?


Why do we need a supercomputer?


My kiddo checking out the telescope below. 


View on our way out. We headed towards the control building where we climbed up to the observation deck for a birds eye view and to learn about the super computer processing processing that was taking place in the control building.


We hope you enjoyed reading our experiences on this amazing New Mexico journey. Our next trip we headed to Mexico for some sun, fun, blue skies and clear waters of the Caribbean. Till we meet again.


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!

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