Long Weekend In Yellowstone National Park – Part I

IMG_0728

The year after we went to Crater Lake, we planned a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Located mostly in Wyoming and a little in Montana, this is THE park to go with family and friends.  Wildlife, geysers, hot water springs, rivers and canyons, lake, fishing and waterfalls, it truly has something for everyone. We  planned a 4 – day road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone over one Fourth of July weekend. And it was yet another EPIC trip!

Planning a Trip to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the shape of a number 8. Most attractions are along this loop. Each loop has various entrances. We planned to enter the park via the north entrance in Gardiner and then drive around the loop clockwise starting with Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone,  Lake Yellowstone and then around to Old Faithful. Our plan was to visit the numerous geysers along the way and exit via the West Yellowstone.

It was going to be a lot of driving but we were young without kids and we were really looking forward to a lot of bears, bisons, elks, moose, dall sheep and more.

Yellowstone loop

Getting to Yellowstone

Yellowstone is about 800 miles from Redmond -it was one long road trip. But its doable in 4 days. We started on Friday evening and had dinner along the way. We stayed overnight somewhere after Missoula. It was a basic motel with a MacDonald’s nearby where we had breakfast.

After breakfast we continued on I-90 and reached Gardiner by noon. We passed under the Roosevelt park and then headed straight to first attraction, Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs

IMG_0715

IMG_0711

This was our experience of the active super volcano that is Yellowstone National Park. This active volcano fuels all the thermal activity in the park. Sulphur fumes are in the air and its a unique experience to see the  hot springs bubble, gurgle and smoke all around.

There is a board walk  and its recommended to stick to the boardwalk -its safe that way! The white terraces formed by calcium carbonate deposits are straight out of discovery channel. Algae has tinted these terraces red, brown or orange and its a sight to admire.

IMG_0719

We walked up to take in the hot springs and wondered if there is a place where the hot springs meet cold river water to form natural hot springs to bathe in. There is supposed to be a spot along the river but we didn’t know where it is so we didn’t bother about it. We saw a bunch of bison’s lazing and grazing in the meadows around.

We were in the park only a few hours and we already got to experience hot springs and wildlife. The trip was on to a great start.

We were looking forward to more wildlife in Lamar valley.Stay tuned for next post on wildlife and more wildlife!

Two Days in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of five most popular national parks in US ( Great Smoky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Olympic National Park being the other four).

And it is my favoritest park ever. I simply love looking at the valley with the river flowing through, the monolithic El Capitan and the magnificent Half dome. Sunset on Half Dome is one the prettiest sights in the national park. Situated in central California, about 3 – 4 hours drive from Bay Area, this is the national park for city slickers.It has meadows, waterfalls, giant Sequoia trees and starry nights. At any point in the Yosemite Valley, we saw folks cycling around, rafting in the river or hiking to the waterfalls. It was alive and buzzing. Spring and Summer are the most popular times as the weather is pleasant and the waterfalls are gushing; though I can imagine Fall being equally attractive.

Planning a trip

Yosemite National Park

We planned on the west and south park attractions of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. The north side of Yosemite are the beautiful Tuolumne meadows and Tioga Pass which Sunset magazine has crowned as the best spot to lose the crowds. But as it is open only from June thru November and is another hour – to hour and half further we skipped it. We only had the weekend in Yosemite as we had a Monday morning appointment in the French embassy for Schengen Visa so we didn’t really have a day to spare.

There are quiet a few options to stay inside the park from rustic cabins, campgrounds to elegant Ahwahnee; but they tend to be sold out during summer weekends. So plan early or stay near one of the entrances. If staying outside the park ensure that the lodging is really close to the park entrance else you will spend time driving back and forth instead of in the park. Being a popular park close to San Francisco and Bay Area the park sees a fair amount of visitors resulting in long entrance lines.

We went via Oakdale to the west entrance of the park and luckily didn’t encounter much traffic. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast (Falcons Nest) inside the park in West Yosemite which had most hospitable owners ever. More about this later.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park

This is the most visited place in the park and has a visitor center and wilderness center. Free shuttles are offered to most common points of interest – Bridal Veil Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Sentinel Bridge.

Yosemite National Park

This is the most crowded part of the park. Parking is hard. We enjoyed the hike up to and the mists from Bridal Veil falls but didn’t care about Yellowstone falls as they were very crowded.

Yosemite National Park

And the Tunnel view is not to be missed. This is the classic photo-op with the half dome in the distance and the bridal veil falls on the right. Plan it for late afternoon when the sun lights up the half dome.

El Capitan soars high above and you do see fair number of climbers on its face. The rafting in the river looked particular inviting but we had plans to go up to Glacier point for Sunset.

Glacier Point

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

To get away from the crowds and the day trippers, Glacier point is one the options. It’s about an hours drive from the valley.The ranger talk at Glacier point was one of the highlights of our trip. The sight of the valley below, the river, waterfalls and the setting sun over the half dome is surreal and is one experience you should not miss in the park. Most folks left after sunset, but this would be an awesome place to star gaze perched high above in the Sierra Nevada forest!

Falcons Nest B & B

Yosemite National Park

After the sunset we drove to our B & B. We were lost as the forest floor darkens post sunset and we couldn’t find the signs easily. We reached the B & B by 9:00 pm. Our plan was to check in and then go out for dinner. There were no restaurants around. We asked our hosts for nearest restaurants and everything would either be already closed or would be by the time we reached. As Donn explained “this ain’t Spain“. So plan meals or carry food along. He heated some south-western chicken chipotle soup and made us some PB& J. Yummm, after a long day.

The next morning, Kay, cooked us some fabulous breakfast. Cornmeal waffles, eggs, fresh fruit and coffee. It was served on their beautiful outdoor deck. It was a lovely morning and we lingered over breakfast exchanging travel tales and getting tips for the day ahead.

Mariposa Grove
Yosemite National Park

Near the south end of the park,this is another place which is quiet and not crowded. A bus takes you along the loop amongst century year old giant sequoia trees which are over 300 feet tall! I  was humbled in their presence. The trees are naturally fire resistant and have survived many a fires in their time.

After the tour, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco. We had a 7 am appointment the following morning and wanted to make sure we reached on time.

Yosemite National Park

The drive back was routine except for these beautiful windmills that dotted the road.

Yosemite is one park that I simply fell in love with. So much so that Vipul and I planned to retire as Forest Rangers here! If we lived in Bay area we would probably visit it every spring and fall! Two days are very short to visit the park – we hope to return again with a camper and stay for long. Some day, some fall day!

Crater Lake National Park: A Deep Blue Lake In Volcanic Caldera

Crater Lake

When we had newly moved to Seattle in 2003, every year, we used to go on a long road trip on 4th of July weekend. Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies, coastal Oregon were visited with friends and their visiting families. Trip to Crater Lake National Park was the first such trip we took. A deep blue lake in the volcanic crater with crystal clear water surrounded by high cliff walls and towering pine trees. And friends to the mix and it has makings of an EPIC trip. A trip that you will never forget.

July4th 005

We rented a 12 seater van from Redmond and set out on a long drive to Crater Lake on Friday evening. We had another group in a sedan.It was almost 2 am when we reached our rented house about an hour away from the National Park. There is limited lodging very close to the national park. And of course it is booked solid in summer and especially on long weekends. It’s hard to get last-minute reservations with 15 -16 people.

A day inside the Crater Lake National Park

Pan6_2

The next morning we woke up fairly late and then after a really late breakfast we headed to Crater Lake.  It was a beautiful sunny day and there was absolutely no one on the road. We reached the park post lunch time. We followed the rim drive and pulled over at several places to take in the breathtaking scenery. The deep blue water is mesmerizing. We hiked to the bottom to reach the shores of the lake.It was easy-going down but strenuous coming back up!

We sat on the boat jetty for quiet some time as no one wanted to go back up really.

The park offers a boat ride on the lake but you have to reach early to get the tickets. Scuba diving is also possible in the lake but you have to haul your gear all the way down ( and then back up). And since private boats are not allowed you have to dive with the park’s boat.

But these restrictions have ensured the lake is crystal clear, clean and pristine.

IMG_3038

IMG_3017

After the hike we were all hungry. So we decided to go to the Lodge and have late lunch. There was some renovation and reconstruction work  going on, so we couldn’t really eat there. There were a couple of hot dog stands but they didn’t have any vegetarian option. Most of the us just had ice-cream and fries and such for lunch and were a bit grumpy for a while.

IMG_3067

We continued with the rim drive this time pulling over for snow fights. Yes, even in July you will find snow in this national park. It’s so awesome to have a snow fight under the sunny skies. We behaved like little kids with no regard whatsoever to what other folks may think!  Later in the evening we headed back to our vacation home to make a hearty dinner. Drinks, music, cards, singing and pav-bhaji! OMG it was insane.

White Water Rafting and Sunset at Oregon Coast 

IMG_3122

The next day we went white water rafting in the Umpqua river which was cool. We wore wetsuits as the water was still very cold. We went to a neat hole to dive into and had just a ball of a time in spite of the cold water.

Later we drove to the nearest beach (which was still a couple of hours drive) through beautiful valleys, across quaint bridges and rivers to watch the sunset. As with all beaches in pacific northwest it was cold and we had our jackets and sweaters on. In July. Yes. Really.

We drove back after dark and had another night of drinks,music, cards.

ATV on Sand Dunes

IMG_3178

Sand dunes and riding ATV’s on them was the agenda for last day. Towering sand dunes which shift every day based on winds,so tall that you cant see whats on the other side till you are the very top. They are almost vertical towards the top edge. Very exhilarating. . I was super thrilled till we got there and then was I was shit scared as a few friends who had come back earlier were injured. Some of us got stuck, others had their ATV’s toppled over.  We managed to go over to see  lakes, hidden valleys and pretty dessert landscape.

If you are in Southern Oregon then it is a must do. You don’t even need directions as you will see hoardings and ads all along the freeway.

After an adventurous ride on the sand dunes,it was time to head back to Seattle. It was a long drive back home from Florence, Oregon to Seattle. Most of us dozed on the way back while others just chatted away.

It was an EPIC trip. It marked beginning of  annual fourth of July getaways till our master trip planner moved from Seattle to Bay Area.  But its awesome to remember those fun times especially now that we are older and scattered all the way around the world. One day,I hope we get to have another memorable trip with old friends and their new kids in tow!

Exploring Olympic National Park: Mountains and Rain Forest

P1010075

There are very few national parks where you have to choose between hot springs or lake; beach or mountain or rain forest. Olympic National Park in the north-western corner of Washington is one such park. Here you can spent the day at the rain forest and then watch sea stacks glow in the sunset throwing pebbles into the on coming waves while sitting on driftwood. Or you can spend the day hiking around hurricane ridge and then unwind in the hot springs. All within 3 hours of driving distance from Seattle!

P1010088

We have visited Olympic National Park several times with friends, with parents and by ourselves. We have spent a weekend driving along its beautiful beaches watching stormy skies and waves from beach-huts in peak of winter. We have spent summer weekend in the rustic A frame cabins at Crescent lake. And of course we have made impromptu last-minute trip and stayed in one of the many motels in Port Townsend overlooking the Strait of Jaun de Fuca with sights of Victoria, Canada on clear day.

There are mainly two ways that we have taken to Olympic National Park:
1. Drive up to Edmonds and then take a car ferry to Port Townsend
2. Drive south to Olympia and then drive around north on to 101.

We have usually taken # 1.above when we visit Hurricane Ridge, Sol duc hot springs, Crescent lake and Hoh Rainforest; and taken #2. route above when visiting the coast beaches of Kalaloch and Quinault lake. It’s possible to drive down to the beach from Hoh rain forest and then drive along the coast to the beaches and then lake Quinault and then complete the loop south and reach Olympia. It really depends on how many days you have on hand! Set aside at least 4 days if you want to visit and drive around the entire loop. We have usually split the trip between the mountains/ rainforest and the beaches.

Hurricane Ridge

P1010079

Leave as early as possible and take the ferry across from Edmonds to Port Angeles. Once on the Olympic peninsula, drive up to Hurricane Ridge. You will drive past quaint villages, antique shops and lavender farms. Once at the top,on a clear sunny day it offers majestic views of the park-mountains, valleys, strait of Juan de Fuca that separates USA from Canada and wildflowers! The visitor center here has maps, snacks, restrooms etc. In winter, its offers cross-country skiing.

P1010014

P1010012

This is usually our first stop on the peninsula. We love the views here though parking sometimes is hard in summer as the place is extremely popular.

Crescent Lake

P1010023

Next stop usually for us is Lake Crescent. We love this place with its A-frame cabins on waterfront. Sleeping in the loft and gazing straight out to the calm blue water of the lake is my idea of a lazy vacation. The meals at the restaurant on-site are fairly good. Kayaking and boating is an option and so is camping. On one occasion when we were visiting with my parents, some of the campers offered my parents tea at 6:00 am when they were out for a walk as the restaurant was still closed.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

Usually we end day 1 with a quick hike to the Sol duc waterfalls or a soak in the Sol duc hot springs. We have never stayed here as the resort fills up quickly but you can just visit the hot springs for a fee. They even have swim suit rental incase you have forgotten to pack one – after all who thinks about swimsuit and pacific northwest in the same sentence 😉

Hoh Rainforest

P1010018

Our typical itinerary entails driving to Forks ( of the Twilight fame) to visit the temperate Hoh Rain forest.  Moss covered trees and fallen logs add to the lush green canopy. There are short flat trails that let us enjoy the unique ecosystem without actually sweating it though I am sure there are longer trails here as well.

P1010024

Dungeness Spit

P1010037

If we have only two days on the peninsula, we drive back from Hoh rainforest to Port Angeles. Before getting on the ferry, we stop at Dungeness Spit. It’s an arch of land that shoots off into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We have always seen deer here and is usually quiet with fewer tourists.

Coffee in hand, this is the perfect place to hang out and stretch your legs before getting back on to the ferry. Mountains, forests, hot springs and lake offer a quick breather away from city life. Ferrying across helps put you in a vacation mood already. Try this even on a not so sunny Seattle weekend – it will definitely put a spring in your step and a smile on your face!

Stay tuned for next post on Olympic National Park’s beaches and coastal explorations!

Alaskan Adventures: Denali National Park

IMG_3422

After our day trip to Kenai Fjord National Park, we walked back to the RV parking lot and started driving up towards Denali National Park. After seeing whales, porpoises, sea-lions and bald eagles, it was time to now see the land animals – bears, caribou, dall sheep etc. We started driving north from Seward to Denali. As this is a 8+  hour drive, we broke it up with an overnight stop in Anchorage.

IMG_3321

On the way we stopped at Portage glacier. By then the sun was out and we had beautiful views of the glacier and the Turnagain Arm on the drive back. We stayed at RV park very close to the city centre. The RV parks in the city were smaller and noisier than in Seward (naturally!) and a couple of them looked a bit shady. Again, I can’t remember the names but its all in Milepost magazine – a handy guide to everything in Alaska mile by mile. Don’t forget to pick up a copy in Wal-Mart along with other supplies.

The following morning we showered in the RV camp, had breakfast and then made our way to Denali National Park. We had almost all day to drive up and make it to a 6:00 pm White water rafting trip. En-route we planned to do the short trail of Thunderbird  falls and then an airplane ride around Mt McKinley near Talkeetna. The air plane ride was a bit expensive so we thought we will do it only if Mt. McKinley was visible.

IMG_3344

This day was better than the previous day on boat cruise and we had a ball of time – fantastic company, stunning scenery, few RV’s on the open road. We pulled over at one of the many pit stops to have lunch while enjoying the views. We met another couple who had driven their RV all the way up from Iowa and were planning to spend their Spring and Summer in Alaska.  And here we were on a 5 day road trip trying to see as much of this gorgeous state. Something better than nothing, eh?

IMG_3363

Although it was sunny, Mt McKinley generates its own weather system, similar to Mt. Rainier in Seattle area. So while we enjoyed the plains and low mountains, the top of Mt. McKinley was covered in clouds. We decided to skip the air plane ride and instead continued onwards to Denali.

Once at Healy, the town closest to Denali National Park, we checked into the RV park, picked up our bus tickets for the trip inside Denali National Park which we had pre-booked online and then went White water rafting. According to our raft guide, the water level is much higher in August, making it the best time to white water in Denali. White water rafting was a great way to end the day after the long drive. Dinner was in one of the many restaurants in Healy which were all open at 11:00 pm and had some great music. What a mesmerizing journey so far!

IMG_3391

The next morning  was our day trip in the park. Personal vehicles are not allowed in the park (beyond the first 15 miles) and shuttles are the only way to go. We took the 8:00 am shuttle so we could go as far inside and hike around a bit. The ideal way to see this park is to stay overnight in the  Wonderlake  campground. Experience the sunset and sunrise in the park. But this early in the season, the campground was closed and we could go only up to Tolkat River. En-route we saw herds and herds of caribou, grizzlies, Dall sheep, bears and owls amongst other birds. Our initial plan was to hike around Tolkat River, but it was awfully cold and it started snowing at Tolkat. We took the shuttle back to Savage River and then hiked a bit around that area. The ranger recommended a few paths along the Caribou creek and we saw a couple of them just 100 ft away. I was a bit terrified when ne of them looked up and stared at us. They can outrun humans if they choose to. We slowly backtracked on the soft lichen covered trail and headed to the bus stop. It was going to be a while before the bus so we climbed up some rock formations to take in aerial views of the park. We took in some fabulous views of area – the lone bus on the lone track, scree covered mountain bases, different colors of the rock formations and the vastness and silence that is only seen in Denali with miles upon miles of plains set amidst the backdrop of the mountain ranges.

IMG_3454

IMG_3449

IMG_3404

IMG_3389

IMG_3431

We hurried down as the next bus came around and we were back to the RV by 6:00 -6:30. AA couple of friends had skipped the hike and headed to the visitor center for seeing movies/information on the area, its natives etc. We all met up in the evening and headed back to Anchorage after some refreshments.

A visit to national par is always refreshing  – the fresh mountain air, relaxed vibe, starry nights, trails and the peace and calm that is hard to get by in the cities. But even more it refreshes the spirit which is re-energized and humbled in the presence of tall conifers, cycle of life and majestic mountains!

Stay tuned on the next post on Whittier – the last of our Alaska series.