Friday, September 19, 2008

Cuckoo's Photo Competition - Clouds

Cuckoo continues her photography competition with a different topic each month.

The topic for this month is Clouds and here is my entry.

This picture was taken this summer when we visisted Alaska. We were driving from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs, the day had been clear for the most part when suddenly the clouds started reeling in. We stopped at this pond and the clouds were stark grey.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An interesting weather station!

A few months ago, we went wine tasting with a couple of friends and came across this barn in front of one of the tasting rooms. In front of the barn was this very interesting "Official weather station"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alaska - Part 5 - A drive down Richardson Highway

During our trip to Alaska one day was dedicated to a drive down Richardson Highway. Richardson Highway runs from Fairbanks to Valdez, a distance of about 350 miles. Google Maps will tell you otherwise - that Richardson Highway runs from Delta Junction to Valdez and that the section before it is Steese Highway, but the actual road signs mark it as going from Fairbanks to Valdez.

Before leaving I had done some search on the internet - there were people who claimed it to be the most scenic highway in Alaska. Plus when we started it looked like it was going to be a pleasant day. Our 2 prior days in Denali had been cloudy and rainy at times and so I was really looking forward to the drive.

Our first majestic glimpse was that of the Alaska range that started coming into view pretty much as soon as we were leaving Fairbanks. As we crossed Delta Junction and the range came closer the views kept getting better.... Plus there were long stretches of the highway when we couldn't see a car for miles around us.

The Alaska Range along Denali Highway

There are portions where the highway runs parallel to the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. S had stopped to take pictures of the pipeline when he got talking to someone travelling in the other direction. This person told him - "Summit Lake is looking beautiful today". As we drove on we came upon this pristine blue lake clearly reflecting the snowcovered mountains around. This was definitely the high point of our drive.

Summit Lake

A larger part of the day had now been spent in the car. We were getting tired and were not stopping as much as we were in the beginning of the drive. But as we approached Glenallen, the Wrangell Mountains started coming into view - Mt. Sanford, Mt. Wrangell and Mt. Drum. The excitement came rushing back.

The Wrangell Mountains

Mt. Blackburn

Mt. Wrangell

This post is getting long...moreover I am getting sleepy. Rest of Richardson Highway in the next post.

Alaska - Part 4 - The Trip Plan

A friend recently asked me what our exact trip plan for Alaska was and I forwarded her a small spreadsheet I maintain for longer trips. I thought it might be useful for other people planning a trip. Here is a snapshot of what I ended up sending to her.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alaska - Part 3 - Grizzlies of Katmai

Sunit and I have run into bears unexpectedly twice before. The first time left us scared - we were all alone on a hike in Yosemite. The second time was jaw dropping - we saw a sow and 2 cubs crossing the road, from the safety of our car.

So it was no surprise that one of the items on our itinerary to Alaska was a visit to Katmai - home to the grizzly bear. The Katmai National Park has the largest concentration of brown bears in the world. It also provides one of the safest environs to see bears. There are viewing platforms along the mouth of Brooks river and Brooks falls and though one has to leave the safety of the platform when going from one platform to another (about a mile or more apart), this is still the best way to see grizzlies closely without any need for binoculars or zoom lens. When the salmon visit the river for spawning, about 70-80 bears congregate at the brooks falls to catch fish.

Our final day saw us making a day trip to Katmai. Our travel plans were booked through Katmailand - We had a PenAir flight to King Salmon and from there a 30 minute float plane ride to the park. While we were on a day trip I would definitely suggest that people wanting to explore should spend atleast one night at the park and preferably two. But that will require planning months if not a year in advance since lodging at the park sells out really soon (there are very few options - a campground with a 60 person limit and a lodge with a similar limit) for the months when the fish are spawning.

When we visited the park, the fish were few because of a commercial fishing day right before we came. But there were bears still coming to the falls and the river to check for fish. Atleast 2 of the bears we saw were within 10 feet from us.

Some shots of these mighty creatures ....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cuckoo's Photo Competition - Sunrise

Cuckoo has been a regular visitor on my blog and I saw that she is hosting a photography competition on a different topic each month. Thats interesting. Now here's a reason for me to go back and look at all the pictures we take.

The topic for this month is Sunrise and here is my entry.

We were on a boat (ketuvallam) in Allepey in Kerala. At night we were docked near a paddy field. And early morning my parents woke us up to this cloudy sunrise...

Alaska - Part 2 - Wildflowers

July in Alaska is a wonderful time to see wildflowers. And we did not have to make an effort to see them - they were all around - lining the roads, along our hikes, near lakes, even the grass had a pink hue to it. Below are some of the shots of wildflowers - lupines, campunalas, irises, grass etc.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alaska - Part 1 - Denali National Park

June 27th - finally it was time to leave for our much awaited trip to Alaska. We had booked the flights way back in February and I had spent the last month or so planning out the other stays/campsites etc.

Some last minute scrambling, packing etc. and we were on our way. We took the United flight to Anchorage where we were to sync up with a couple of our friends. Just before landing, around 11.30 at night we looked outside the window - all we could see was mountain after mountain covered with snow. And we could see it, it being summer and Alaska being close to North Pole it is hardly dark here during the summer days. We saw the view under and were all spruced up for the trip.

View from the plane

The first section of the trip (3 days) was a visit to Denali National Park. Denali is a 4 hour drive from Anchorage. The first night we drove up there and stayed outside. The drive itself was full of vast panoramic vistas, braided rivers and huge mountains. The one thing missing was blue skies - it was cloudy for the most part that day.

View along the drive upto Denali National Park

The next couple of days we planned on camping inside the park at Wonder Lake campground. Our friends who had camped in Denali before told us that if there is one place in the world you want to camp at it is Wonder Lake. This was going to be there first time at the Wonder Lake campsite too - earlier they had camped at a different location. So the following morning at 6.30 we were all packed and on the camper bus that was to take us inside the park.

It is a 6 hour bus ride from the entrance of the park to Wonder Lake (the last point where the bus goes). And no private verhicles are around inside the park after the first few miles. As we rode deeper into the park, the views became vaster and huger. It was definitely something like I had never seen before.

If you look closely, you can see the Denali peak in the background in the above picture

As we drove on, we got our first view of the peak from Stony Dome - our bus driver told us we were lucky. Being hidden in clouds for the most part, Denali or Mt. McKinley makes an appearance only once in 2-3 days for a really short time.

Denali is the highest mountain in US. At 21,000 or something feet, it is much lower than Mt. Everest (29,000 or something ft. ) but apparently is very shy and a bigger challenge for mountaineers because of its closeness to the North Pole. The elements are much harsher here. We got a much better view of the peak on the day we were travelling out of the park a couple of days later since it was a clearer day.

View of the peak on a clearer day

The 2 days in Denali were spent camping, hiking around and viewing wildlife of which there was plenty. I will make a separate post on the wildlife and wildflowers we came across. It rained both nights but our tents served us well as we had rain flys to cover the tents. The sound of the rain and hail(one night) hitting the top of the tent was a bit unnerving, but when you have tired limbs its relatively easy to fall asleep. Plus our sleeping bags were adequate and kept us warm. The one thing thing that did bother us were all the mosquitoes at Wonder Lake. Believe me when I say there were loads of them because being from India I am used to mosquitoes but this was different. We had to rub DEET and wear head nets to ward them off.

But despite the mosquitoes and the rain, all in all it was a nice camping trip inside Denali. Staying inside the park allowed us more time to explore more of the park. Alaska is wilderness at its best, and camping deep inside Denali provided the perfect remote wilderness experience.

The park was dotted with many such ponds

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Notice anything weird in this picture ? It is a mirror image, isn't it ?

Even though the title of the post pretty much gives it away, the picture above is of a few people standing near Mirror Lake at Yosemite National Park. And just to prove that the reflections are that good, I have actually inverted the image above.

Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake. A short 1.1 mile (2.2 miles roundtrip) hike, this is an easy walk. The lake is seasonal because it appears (it is of significant size) only when the waters in the high altitudes is melting. As summer sets in much of the water disappears and is replaced by meadows with pools of water here and there.

The hike here is off the beaten track. S and I always like coming here as early in the morning as possible - there are fewer people and we find the quiet around this place is very relaxing.

And Mt. Watkins always looks splendid with its reflection in the lake.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another exciting trip to Yosemite

Being in the bay area puts us in close proximity to Yosemite National Park. We both absolutely love the place. Infact our trips to the place have always been special.

The very first time we went there, we hit the park during perfect weather and full waterfalls. And since we did venture on one of the less frequented hikes, we also had a not-so-desired bear encounter that left us a little bit unsettled.

Our second trip to the place was during fall and the fall colors had us going ga-ga over the place. Fall in Yosemite was definitely beautiful.

So it was no wonder that when we set off friday evening for another trip we were absolutely impatient with excitement and what the place had in store for us.

It was an uneventful drive for the first couple of hours except for a long stretch when there were loads of white and purple wildflowers along the road. Till we were closer to the park and suddenly S hit the brakes - there were 4 deer on the road. And when it comes to wildlife the rule here is you wait for it to pass and you don't disturb them, so no horns either. This first sighting had us invigorated suddenly, we sat up and started looking around for more wildlife.

But soon it was dark and we pretty much gave up on seeing anything else. S was tired, he had not eaten for a long time either. We switched and I took the driver's seat. Very soon we were in the park but our camp was still some distance away. It was already dark and a windy road, I was driving slowly. Suddenly the head lights fell on a big brown creature on the other side of the road - a big black bear (Yep, I wrote it right - the bears in Yosemite are called black bears but they are brown in color). I hit the brakes, we looked at it in wonder, we waited for it to cross. I was about to start again when lo behold! we see 2 cubs following the mama bear. They were tiny, very tiny. Definitely not more than a month old. The sow looked back to make sure her cubs made it safely across the road. And as soon as they did, the party disappeared in the woods, while we sat there gaping in awe. All this happened in just 30-40 seconds, we did not get a chance to capture the moment in our camera. We looked at each other though, and smiled - thats a nice start.

The rest of the weekend was spent hiking to lakes, waterfalls etc. and picnicing in meadows. But as I look back, that split second bear sighting the very first night was definitely the highlight of our trip.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A different kind of model

It happened at one of the vista points along Highway 1 recently.

A squirrel very graciously posed while we went click-click with our camera. Infact we clicked quite a few with the little one looking here and there and even straight into the camera lens. It was not scared at all...we were expecting it to scurry away but it was just not ready to leave.

The California Poppy

In the end though, it is always the California poppy that rules!
While driving back on Highway 1 we chanced upon a number of patches of these, but this one particular patch was especially bright orange.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fiscalini Ranch, Cambria

Coming back to the weekend trip to see wildflowers....

While travelling down from our place we drove on Highway 101. All along the highway, after every mile were these markers reminding us that 101 is the historic El Camino Real. Since we could not stop the car just anywhere, (and I was hell bent upon taking a picture of this marker,) it took some time and effort before I could take a shot of this marker from the moving car. I was very pleased myself.
Till yesterday, when I was walking to a nearby grocery store on El Camino Real near our home (its a slow driving street instead of a fast moving highway when it runs through any city) and what should I see but the same markers. So much for putting in all that extra effort.
In any case, I actually found the whole 101 route to be very scenic, especially this time of the year since it was all green and colorful with flowers.

On our way back we drove back on Highway 1 along the coast. We decided to stretch our legs at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria. It was along the coast and there were a number of flowers here and there. Our morning walk ended up being a very pleasant one!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Travel Tips for Rome

I have to intersperse my wildflower trip account with this post on Rome.

A lot of our friends are travelling to Rome this year (atleast 3 in the immediate friend circle) - and everytime they ask me for planning tips, I am reminded that I completely forgot to blog about our Italy travel. Actually we were so caught up in moving etc. that blogging about Italy took a back seat.

So here are some tips especially for Rome:

1. Buy yourself one of those Rick Steve's guide for Italy/Rome - it is very useful with very handy tips. A lot of the tips here are from that book that we used and found to be useful.

2. Pack light - If possible pack all your stuff into a big carry on, so your luggage does not get delayed or re-routed.

It happened to one of our friends - they reached Venice without their luggage and spent much of their trip shopping for clothes - Infact they got their luggage back only after they had returned to US.

Even when we tried to check-in our luggage at the train station at Zurich, the agent looked at us baffled - "you never check-in luggage (if possible) when travelling to Italy - you might not get it back"

3. If you pack light, pack some detergent packets to wash clothes in the sink. Dry them overnight in your room.

4. In Rome, Villa Borghese is a must see and it requires advance reservations - get those. People are allowed to enter every 2 hours. You will also have to check-in your camera and bags outside.

5. The only place I would recommend booking a tour is for your visit to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museum - we stood in line for more than 2 hours to get inside. Tour groups have a separate entrance.

6. It is a long journey from the entrance of the Vatican museum to Sistine Chapel. If you do not get an audio guide, take the tour group exit out of Sistine Chapel rather that walking back to the entrance.

7. St. Peter's Basilica feels heavenly early morning with the light streaming in from the windows, and the crowds are less too.

8. Get a Roma pass (from a participating site other than Colosseum) and use it for entrance into Colosseum. With the Roma Pass you get a free entrance to the first 2 participating sites but you do need to buy the ticket. Since the line at the Colosseum ticket window is long, all you need to do is first visit the Roman Forum next to the Colosseum. Inside the Roman Forum, there is a ticket office at the Palatine Hill entrance that sells tickets for Colosseum (the same ticket is valid at both the Palatine Hill and Colosseum). Buy your ticket here - there is hardly anyone here.

Then armed with your Roma Pass and ticket, you will skip the line and go straight to the security screening and then the turnstile.

9. Roma pass is useful if you are in Rome for atleast 3 days and plan to use the metro a lot.

10. Get yourself a comfortable place to stay - AC is a must in summer, its very hot.

11. Rome is hot and tires you down in summer - plan for afternoon siestas and sightsee during morning and late afternoons.

12. There is a lot of petty crime (read pickpocket) in Rome, especially at the sites popular with tourists. Be careful. We saw atleast 2 pieces of action ourselves and both times it was at the Spanish Steps. It is not a bad idea to carry a messenger bag instead of a purse, your camera in your neck, backpack in front etc. Be alert on the trains also.

13. Read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown if you have the time - the book is as good as a guide for Rome.

14. Eat Gelato at Giollitti (spelling might be wrong...)

15. If you plan to visit museums and you are not familiar so much with Christian stories/symbology, get a small booklet that can act as a gallery companion of sorts. Otherwise you will see a lot of wonderful pieces of art without understanding what they represent.

16. Piazza Navona has a lovely bazaar of sorts of paintings and prints by local artists every evening - check it out if you have time.

17. In one of the side-streets off Piazza Navona is a shop called Bortalucci which sells wonderful wooden toys for kids. A sister shop of the same is also at the airport. Even if you are not interested in buying anything, you need to visit this shop - Its fun to just look around.

18. We stayed at Hotel Sonya - it was not the typical high-end place, but we found it to be comfortable and adequate for ourselves and it was centrally located.

19. Spend some time walking around the piazzas. I loved Piazza Navona and the one near the Spanish Steps.

20. Trevi fountain is a must visit though it is pretty crowded at night.

Rome is wonderful with all it architecture, fountains, ruins, piazzas etc. Walk around and enjoy it at a relaxed pace. Even though you have to be a little careful, its worth the effort. You will surely have a time of your life there.

I was so full of it that I dreamt of it quite a few times after coming back !!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wildflowers along Cottonwood Canyon off Highway 166

While there was a lot of lavendar and blue wildflowers around this season, this is definitely the year of yellow. And the star attraction of our trip was a drive to Cottonwood Canyon Road off Highway 166. Since this was basically wide open space, we could park anywhere, climb the hills, walk among the flowers (of course on foot paths so as not to trample on the flowers).

Here are some pictures from the time spent there.

P.S. BTW the credit for alerting me to the wildflowers in Cottonwood Canyon goes to the author of the following blog. I came across his posts when looking for wildflower locations near our place and that is how we reached Cottonwood Canyon. Thanks kmw. It was a weekend well spent, all thanks to your tip.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wildflowers at Shell Creek Road off CA-58

The central California coast is looking magnificent this wildflower season. We went searching for them last weekend and once we were in the area, did not have to search much. They were pretty much everywhere. Lining the highways were yellow, lavendar and blue flowers (lupine) along with lots of california poppies. At times it was difficult to keep the eye on the road.

The following pictures were taken on Shell Creek Road, off CA-58, right before reaching the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Since it was not a freeway, there was plenty of time to walk around and observe the flowers at length.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poppy fields in Lausanne

These days there are california poppies blooming all around this place. They reminded me of these poppy fields growing in the wild that we came across outside Lausanne in Switzerland last year. We were having a hard time figuring our way out of the city in the car, when we came across these.

Getting lost can be fun sometimes.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blooms at the Golden Gate State Park

A picnic at Golden Gate State Park....
And the flowers were in full bloom after the long winter.
Spring is definitely here!

P.S. Mridula, this one is for you :-)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mission Dolores

We moved to the San Francisco area in August, and by the time we were all settled, the city was very cold. So at the first sight of pleasant weather, my husband dragged me to the city to explore -that was last weekend.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz, Crooked Street were all visited by us before so Sunit insisted we doscover the quainter historical parts - we decided to visit Mission Dolores - the oldest structure in San Francisco. Much of the structure, though restored, still stands on the original adobe walls and looks like how it did when it was constructed in the eighteenth century.

Here are some pictures from the trip.

Stained glass window inside the Basilica

The Basilica - I really liked the light streaming in from the stained glass windows and creating the red glow inside

The Cemetery - You can see that spring is here and cherry blossom trees are in full bloom

The Chapel

Light streaming in through a window in the Chapel

P.S. I am so glad spring is here and summer follows soon :-)