Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Grand Canyons - Nature's Marvel

Grand!! Grand!! Grand!!
This Christmas we visited one of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyons! Oh! They are truly grand!!! 277-mile long, 18-mile wide and a mile deep, one can hardly fathom the dimensions.
I have to start my blog with this panaromic photo I took from South Rim, opposite to El Tovar Lodge Parking lot.
Our first view of the canyons at South Rim
Believe you me, the photographs just do not do justice to what one witnesses while the wide deep gorges stare at you! They look inert but look at them for a while and you will find that different colored rocks have stories to tell. If only we could understand them........

Preparation for the winter at Canyons
We were constantly following the weather in Grand Canyons (from now on GC) and knew for sure that end of December is extremely cold there. Following were the few things which we packed alongwith our clothes from home:

a) Flashlight (very helpful during the night walk)
b) Hand warmers
c) Gloves (layers)
d) Snotrax crampons for shoes while walking on ice (bought them at Costco)
e) Ear mittens (for the windy weather)
f) Weatherproof layered jackets
g) Thermal tops and pants
h) Woollen caps
i) Sun-glasses (snow can be very reflective)
j) Thermal blankets (very compact to pack)

These were the ones which we packed in our luggage from Seattle.

k) Water bottles - bought it at Las Vegas (henceforth LV) before leaving for GC.

Arizona is Mountain Time Zone so it is ahead of PST by 1 hour. This information must be kept in mind while booking your flights so you can maximize your time at GC.

Booked our room at Kachina Lodge, canyon-facing room. It was worth it as in the morning had a fantastic view from the window. Higher floor would have been even better! I know, desire has no bounds!

Journey starts
Day 1:
Captured some nice aerial views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood with the sun rising during our flight to LV.
Mt. Rainier

Mt. Hood
Aerial view of Las Vegas rocky mountains and the famous LV strip.

We landed in LV and picked up our rental car from Enterprise rentals. We got a Chevy Traverse LT AWD(All Wheel Drive). It was a fantastic car and being an AWD was very steady on snow and black ice while we were on the South rim.

Our Route
I-515 --> I-93 --> Enter I-40 at Kingman --> Enter I-64 at Williams after Kaibab Forest
Journey time: 10:45 am(PST) to 3:40 pm (PST) [4:40 pm MT]  (about 5 hours with a halt of 45 minutes at Seligman for gas)

We bought water bottles and soda at 7-Eleven and started for GC.

We had packed lot of sandwiches from home so practically we were taken care of till dinner. This way reduced our halt time for food. It being so cold, they were fresh the whole day!!

There is the historic Route 66 (made famous by CARS movie) we wanted to venture but it was another 60 miles addition to our original distance so we decided to stick to the regular route, I-40.

We did halt at Seligman at the intersection of I-40 and Route 66. We filled up gas, bought some souvenirs as a memory that we touched this historical town, built around 1880s. It had that vintage look.

En route, found this interesting Restroom stop option!! Sign points to open fields! ;)

At around 4:40 pm, we reached GC South rim and parked at El Tovar parking. As we walked towards the canyon from the parking, the revelation was breathtaking! I surely must have skipped a beat or two...... just have no words to describe the exhilaration. We were about 7,000 feet above sea level. Here are some pics of what we witnessed.

We spent around 1 hour and then there was the drizzle, dampener! So basically, even though the sun did set that day, we did not see its effect on the rocks. :(

At night, we walked along the trail for some time but it being a no-moon day there was no moonlight either. :( Trees on the sides, lights of the hotels, and pitch dark in the vast center....something the effect as seen in the photo.

Check-in process
Kachina Lodge check-in needs to be done at El Tovar Lodge.  Considering the parking problem (discussed below), one must plan about stoppages.

Parking lots of the lodges facing the canyon
The lodges have limited parking, there were times when one of us(my husband or myself) would drop off my mom and our 6-year old son at the lodge and then park it on a street little far away.
It made us wonder if in winter this is what happens, we cannot imagine the problem in summer.
The streets are one way so if you exit from the parking lots, then make a mile loop back to your lodge again!!
Parking is a problem here, so you have to get a hang of the place.

Shuttle Buses
There are shuttle buses that ply between various view points from the lodges. It is a nice way of avoiding the parking hassle and driving. But we preferred driving as wanted to be independent.
But, shuttle buses are definitely a good option.

Day 2:
We drove in the morning around 7:45 am to Yuka point but when we reached there, it was closed for private cars, only shuttle buses were permitted, guess because of the snow.

We did stop at a view point on our return.

Canyons from 7500 feet above sea level

Parking lot at the view point
From here we headed to Mather Point and Yavapai Geological Center. Views from Mather Point:

There is a snack bar here so we had breakfast here and then finally returned to Kachina Lodge to checkout. Meandering through various parking lots, finally we checked out.

One mention about Bright Angel Lodge, it is the oldest one there, probably since 1920s. They have maintained the vintage look and neatly merged the present technology. We had dinner there and really enjoyed the service, food and the ambience. If at the south rim, then one must plan for a meal over there.

My husband's research added Desert View Drive and Watch Tower to our itinerary. It is the best place to get a panoramic view of the Canyons, provided the day is clear, but all we could see was clouds and snow. The drive was beautiful and the tower itself was designed and built as an ancient Indian tower. Icing on the cake would have been a clear view, which didn't happen for us! :(

Desert View Drive

Watch Tower


Watch Tower paintings

If you squint, probably you can see the canyon in the photo below.....hmmmm.... Well no I could not....that was a disappointment, but the drive and watch tower was still beautiful.
Grand Canyon IMAX Theater
We booked the movie tickets online. Tickets are good for any show for a year. On our return to LV, we stopped at the National Geographic visitor center for the movie. Movie was very informational and definitely amazing on that big screen. The movie depicts the power of Colorado river and human settlements starting from the first Indians, thousands of years ago.

The Pizza Hut cafĂ© inside the center had winding queue so we went to We Can Cook Pizza and Pasta restaurant right across the road. The food was good and helped us last till we reached LV.
Grand Canyon IMAX Theater

After a 4-hour drive we finally checked in our hotel The Venetian at Las Vegas.

The trip to GC was a memorable one, memories to last forever! It is a geological wonder and researchers are constantly trying to figure out how such a river could carve such fabulous canyons out of a huge land mass! Mystical force of nature!!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yurt Camping on the Pacific Coast

Hello to everybody! After a year long sabbatical for lots of reasons, am back with the photo blogs.

Last weekend which is mid-june, made a trip through the Pacific Coast along US-101 and experienced Yurt camping for the first time. Our yurt was in Grayland Beach state park.
In the morning, we headed straight for Fort Stevens State park in Oregon . We stopped at Raymond in between for brunch.
It is about 200 miles from Redmond. Following was our route to Fort Stevens.
Redmond to Fort Stevens
We stopped at the viewpoint before entering Astoria Bridge and enjoyed the view. Bridge really looked majestic.
Astoria Bridge

Fort Stevens state park still maintains the ruins of a ship, Peter Iredalw, which unfortunately was pushed to the coast by strong gusts of wind. The whole place is beautiful. There are 4 or 5 lots which are sequenced as Lot A - E. Each lot offers a different view of the Columbia river and the Pacific. Viewpoints are strategically placed.

View of the Pacific from one of the viewpoints.

After soaking all the ocean beauty we headed for Grayland Beach State park to settle in our Yurt. It is a nice tarp tent with a nice bunk bed, futon, electric charging points, electric light, even a heater! That was something in a campground. It was a very luxurious camping experience when compared with tent camping.
Our campsite - Yurt behind our picnic table

 Evening, we fired our charcoal grill and had some snacks and then headed for the beach for a beautiful sunset. This is the first time where we drove our car on the beach close to the water. Our 4-wheel drive got tested nicely and had a new-found respect for our car!! :)

Ummm......the taste of food mixed with charcoal flavor is something that is beyond description.

Yummy paneer tikka
Our car with sunset beyond the horizon! The beach is so vast with no vertical intrusion in the view that one can truly feel the curvature of the Earth being spherical. All you can hear is the waves, it is so peaceful.
Sun set at the beach

There are well-maintained beach trails from the campsites to the beach. Once you are approaching the beach from the trail, you get a breathtaking view of the vast beach and the pacific.

After spending an hour or so at the beach we prepared our lunch and packed our stuff to return home.

In just two and a half hours from Redmond, this is a very beautiful place for camping and even for day picnic.

I shall try and add more photo blogs of our visits to places with novel experiences. It feels great to be back with the vast world of the internet web!