Saturday, November 01, 2008

New Hampshire Trip

Oct 11th - 13th, 2008

New Hampshire trip totally changed my perception towards fall colors. I've seen fall colors only in pictures. I used to think that the fall colors shown in pictures are exaggerated and artificially colored using some software technology. Well, my perceptions were proved to be wrong during the New Hampshire trip.

We reached Manchester airport (MHT) on 11th Oct in the morning. The arial view from the flight was awesome. It appeared as-if someone sprayed colors all over Manchester. Fall season was at its best. I rented vehicle from Alamo (the rental facility was located within the airport. You can walk down to the rental car parking area). We headed to Boston, to visit my wife's relatives. You could see fall colors everywhere, even along the side of the highways. It was hard for me to resist my temptation to pull over and take some pictures along the road side. It took us about an hour and a half to reach Boston. We reached Boston at around 12.00 pm. We had a delicious lunch. We stayed there for a few hours and went to Rhode Island. We reached RI by around 6 pm. We wasted nearly an hour trying to find my friend's house in RI (Google Maps screwed-up as always!). We had a heavy dinner in my friend's place. My family & my friend's family left RI to Vermont. We reached our hotel (Yankee Village Motel), in Ascutney, VT by mid night. It was a decent hotel.

We got up early and vacated the hotel. We had our breakfast in one of the (actually, the only) mom & pop fastfood restaurants in that area. We first visited Ascutney State Park. It was just a few minutes drive from the place we stayed-in. The park was very beautiful than I had anticipated. Most of the trees had pale yellow colored leaves that were glittering in the sun. We spent about an hour there. We then went to visit Jenny Farm. Jenny Farm is one of the famous photo shoot spots. You can see several artists & professional photographers there. It is a must-to-see place in Vermont. We spent about an hour there and took some nice pictures.

We left Jenny farm to go to Woodstock. Woodstock is a very busy town. There were lots of places to shop & lots of activities going on in that area. We parked our car in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller farm. We had our lunch there. My friend's wife had prepared lunch for all of us. It was so good to eat home-made food in the park. After having our lunch, we walked to a waterfall that was nearby. We spent sometime there and then left to Quechee Gorge.

Quechee Gorge was about 45 minutes (?) away from Woodstock. We reached there by 4.00 pm. Surprisingly, they didn't have any entry fee :) The Gorge looked OK. It was not all that great. The hike to the bottom of the Gorge was nice. We took a few pictures there. There is a miniature golf facility opposite to Quechee Gorge. We watched people playing m.golf for a while. Then we started our drive to Plymouth, NH. It took us about an hour and a half to reach Plymouth area. Most of the places along the highway was deserted. Plymouth had some decent population. I was surprised to see Walmart, Burger King etc in Plymouth. We stayed in Red Carpet Inn & Suites, Plymouth for that night. It was a good hotel (complimentary breakfast was not all that great).

We got up early, had our breakfast in the hotel and went to White Mountains area. Kancamagus highway was gorgeous. You see colors almost everywhere. We first visited Flume Gorge. Flume Gorge was majestic and beautiful. The hike was a bit demanding (especially, when you carry a 2 year old kid on your arms :)). We spent about an hour there. We then had several stops along Kancamagus highway. There were not many great options for dining in that area. We grabbed sandwich along the way. We reached Cog Railways by around 2.45 pm. It was amazing to see the steam engines pulling carriages over the steep Mt. Washington. We concluded that our Dodge Caravan isn't fit enough to take us to the top of Mt. Washington. We decided to return back to Rhode Island.

The commute to Rhode Island took nearly 4.5 hours. We had dinner at my friends place. We slept for about 5 hours, woke up at 2.00 am, got ready and drove to MHT airport. We reached Mancester by around 4.45 am. We had about 2 hours for the flight. We boarded the flight at 6.45 am and reached SJC by 11 am.

This was a very relaxing trip. We didn't do lots of driving. We had time to admire the nature.

(Note: It is hard to find an accomodation in Vermont/New Hampshire during fall season. I would recommend anyone planning for a trip during the peak fall season to book your tickets in advance. You can look at my NH-Vermont trip planner, for the places to see.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

What goes up, comes down & What comes down, goes up

You throw a rubber ball up in the air. The ball goes upto a certain height and comes down again. You throw the same rubber ball down on the ground. The ball touches the ground and bounces back up again. You can see this pattern in stocks also.

When AAPL was trading at $90 in 2006, many felt that it was overvalued. But, the stock kept going up & up until it reached $200 in late 2007. In Dec 2007, many felt that AAPL can easily go to $250 or $300. People strongly believed that buying at $200 is a bargain. Analysts were throwing crazy numbers. But, what happened in 2008?

After the financial meltdown, most of the stocks lost their value. AAPL came back to $90 again in 2008. AAPL nearly lost 60% of its value. It is hard to believe that AAPL, the dream stock of many hedge funds, is trading at $90. Now in 2008, many are betting that it would go down even further because of the poor economy.

There is no 'perfect' time to buy a stock. Any stock that goes up, will come down again. Any stock that goes down, will come back up again. (Ofcourze, the company has to stick around, till the recovery ! :)). If stocks were uni-directional, then nobody would be trading stocks. Don't make emotional decisions when you buy or sell stocks. Develop a plan and stick to it. Don't be greedy or over-optimistic.

Do you have a diversified portfolio?

Have you worked in a team? A team may contain people with different set of skills. Each one of them bring a unique value to the effective functioning of the team. Same goes with stocks. You need to build a portfolio that has a "mix" of stocks from different market segments. That way, if one of those segments is adversely affected, the other stocks can still continue to do good. Portfolio is all about minimizing risk and diversification. During tough times, diversification really helps.

Let us take for example you've invested all your money in Semiconductor business. If a market analyst predicts that the "semiconductor market" is going to be really dull for the next few years, your investment would loose its value all of a sudden. On the contrary, if you have built a diversified portfolio spanning tech, energy, finance, commodities etc., your investment value would not be eroded.

Building a diversified portfolio is like constructing multiple strong pillars/columns for a multi-storied building. Even if one of them goes bad, the others would be holding the structure. It would give you enough time to repair or replace the bad columns.

Buy/Sell Stocks in increments

Do you think you are good at predicting the market? If you really can, you may not be reading this blog. You may be spending your time in the beaches of Hawaii, giving yourself an early retirement. Yes. You should be a billionaire by now, if you can really predict the market peaks & bottoms. But, the reality is ... most of us are not good at predicting the market. So, what should you do if you are an investor? When should you really invest? What is the strategy you should follow?

Say, for example, you have $5000 to invest in stocks. You wake up one fine morning and dump all the money into a stock. The next day, the stock value drops by 10%, the following day it drops by another 10%... what would you do? You keep hitting the "Refresh" button several hundred times a day for the price to come up.

Let me propose a strategy for you. This has worked for me. If you have $5000 to invest, buy stocks for $1000. Wait for a week or a month (depends upon whether you are a long term or a short term investor). See if the stock continues to hold its value. You can throw another $1000 into the same stock after some time. If the stock keeps going up, it is well and good. If the stock lost some value, it is a nice opportunity for you to average out. The drawbacks of this approach is

(a) you may have to pay the broker for each trade that you make. However, the price that you pay is very very less when compared to the loss that you would've encountered if the stock were to drop 5 or 10% of its value.

(b) occassionally, you may have to miss some opportunities. Especially, when a stock goes up by 10% or so every day. But, such opportunities show up only very rarely. You shouldn't be too greedy :)

The same strategy would also work when selling stocks. Sell in portions instead of selling all of them in one go.

Always, Buy or Sell in increments.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Are you a trader (or) investor?

Trading is like hunting & Investing is like harvesting. One fine morning, you can decide to hunt and go out with your spear. If you are lucky, you may come back with a few animals. . However, harvesting is a long process. You have to plough, sow seeds, water the plants and remove the weeds. The returns of harvesting cannot be seen in a day or two. It may take months or years. Patience is the key.

There are lots of differences between 'trading' & 'investing' in stocks. Traders (typically short-term focused) time the market, they act based on news, they don't look at fundamentals of a company. All they look for, is a quick entry and exit. They try to ride through the waves. Investors look at long-term fundamentals of the company. An investor has lots of patience. An investor is more disciplined than a trader. How many 'traders' become famous in history? But, Warren Buffet, a veteran investor is continuing to make his mark.

Are you a trader (or) a investor?

Chicago Trip

Oct 10th 2008

We had a chance to spend a day in Chicago on our way to New Hampshire. We took a Southwest flight from SJC to MDW airport. Southwest had good deals for SJC -> MDW. The flight reached MDW airport at around 1 pm and it was 2.30 pm, by the time we reached Super 8 Motel close to the MDW airport. We were lucky enough to get a free upgrade of rental vehicle from Hertz. The vehicle also had a navigation device. All the car rental facilities are inside the Airport and it was so convenient. Most of the rental facilities were open late in the night (even at 2 pm).

We spent the whole day in the downtown area. The city is very beautiful. The downtown is garlanded by Lake Michigan. The downtown appeared to be busy with lots of financial institutions. You could see people from diverse cultural background. The downtown was clean & also safe for tourists. I didn't see 'strange' folks along the road side. We visited Sears Tower, the second tallest building in North America. We then went to see Union Station, one of the oldest train stations in US. A trip to Chicago wouldn't be complete without visiting the Millennium Park. I was amazed & surprised to see the Millennium Park. The park is in the heart of the city downtown area. It was very crowded even on a working day. You could see school tour groups, tourists, people having their lunch, people who are submerged into their novels/study materials & people who are sitting there and just relaxing. The "Bean" in the park carries the beautiful reflection of some of the nearby downtown buildings. The park also has dining and parking facilities.

The parking in Millenium Park was relatively cheap (they charge about $18 for 8 hours) when compared to the other nearby parking facilities. We then walked around in the downtown. I saw lots of buses in the Chicago downtown. If you want to spend a few days in the downtown area, you don't even have to rent a car. You can complete your trip with just the public transportation services. Driving in Chicago downtown wasn't very tough (unlike New York downtown, which requires a bit more driving skill & extra alertness).

We took a 90 minutes ferry tour, organized by the Chicago Architectural Foundation group. We sailed Lake Michigan to see some of the downtown buildings & the Navy Pier. There are several tour operators near the Michigan Avenue bridge. This tour costed about $22 per person and I felt that it was worth it. There were 100s of people who took this tour every hour. We left the downtown area by around 5.30 pm and drove back to our hotel. We wanted to see the Buckingham Fountain but didn't have the time to do it.

Overall, the trip to Chicago was very peaceful and relaxing.

Chicago Trip Planner

Bahamas Cruise (Bahamas & Miami Trip)

26th - 30th Sep 2008

This is one of the much anticipated & exciting trips. I had planned this trip with my friends, a month in advance. We booked flight tickets in AA website. After doing some research, we decided to take the Royal Caribbean (RC) cruise ship. We booked cruise tickets directly from the RC website. RC charged $300 for the first person, $300 for the second person & $200 for the third person. It cost me about $800 for my family. The round trip flight tickets from SJC -> MIA airport cost about $300 per person. (Also read: Places to see in USA)

Day in Miami

We took the AA flight from SJC -> Miami on Sep 25th. One of my friends have to drop-out in the last minute due to a family emergency. We reached Miami airport on Sep 26th at 7.30 am. We had a few hours to kill before boarding the RC cruise. We rented a vehicle from Alamo. There was a very long queue in the Alamo rental location. By the time we took the rental SUV, it was about 10.30 am. Miami was greenish everywhere. You could see large Banyan Trees along the sides of the streets. We went to the Fairchild Tropical Garden. It is such a beautiful place with lots of colorful flowers, ponds, and gardens. You can spend nearly 1/2 a day in the Fairchild Tropical Garden. The tickets were somewhat pricey ($20 per person). Weeekend visits are free and that explains why the garden was deserted on the weekday. This garden was mostly run by retired folks & volunteers. The garden was maintained very well. We took the narrated tram tour. We walked around for about an hour or so. We then drove back to Alamo rental facility to drop the rental vehicle. Alamo has a free pickup/drop off service from/to the Port & Airport (Note: The last pickup/dropoff service to the Port was 3 pm).

Bahamas Cruise

We reached the Port of Miami at around 3.30 pm. It took about an hour to complete the check-in process and to reach the stateroom. Our first impressions of the Cruise Ship was great. In fact, it didn't look like we weren't in a cruise ship. The ship looked like a five star hotel or a shopping mall - with elevators, restaurants/dining areas, bars, huge lobby, casino, swimming pool, theatre, play areas etc., The ship wasn't wobbling at all. It is hard to sense the ship's motion and so, you don't have to worry about sea sickness :)

We got ready and went to the dining room by 6 pm (We had requested for the 6 pm dining slot). We have to sit in pre-assigned dining tables. My friend & I got it changed, so that we can be in the same dining table. You can order food from the menu and also customize the order. The waiters were very professional and courteous. We had a heavy dinner. There was a stand-up comedy going on in the night. We watched it for about 30 minutes. We were too tired and went to sleep early.

We got up early on the second day of the cruise. The ship was docked in Cococay, a private island of Royal Carribean.We had our breakfast (which was a buffet). There was nearly 100+ items to choose from. Even for a vegeterian, there were lots of options. I had a heavy breakfast (as if, I'm eating for the whole day). A small ferry boat took us from the cruise ship to the Cococay island. Cococay is a very small island. There were some shops in the island (including restaurants). There were all kinds of water sports in CocoCay island. In fact, that is the only thing that you can do in CocoCay. I had a nice fun time with my kid in the beach. My kid was busy collecting shells & playing with the sand along the shore. Around noon, it started to drizzle a bit and we went back to the ship. The lunch was a buffet as well. We had a heavy lunch :) My friend had brought some card game and we played it until evening. We then got ready and had our dinner. We spent an hour or so chatting in the upper front deck sit-out area. We played again during the night.

The cruise ship was docked in Nassau, Bahamas on the third day. We had our breakfast early and left the ship by 8.30 am. However, we have to wait in the Nassau port until 9.45 am, for our Discover Atlantis tour. We used that time to take a few pictures in the Bahamas port & a few pictures in front of our cruise ship :) The Discover Atlantis was a narrated tour and it was nice. It costs a few $$s extra if you book the tour from RC website. Majority of the Bahamas population is of African origin. People sell water bottles & other things along the road side. We spent some more time in the Atlantis resort after the tour and returned back to the cruise ship. We had our lunch & took a nap. We spent about an hour or so wandering in the ship. We then went to the same sit-out area in the upper deck watching the sun set. We then had our dinner and started packing our 'stuff'. We left the suitcase along the side of the corridor (for checkout in the morning).

We got up early on the fourth day, got ready and had our breakfast. It was 9.30 am in the morning by the time we got off the cruise ship, collected our luggages and cleared the US immigration process. I realized that we should have kept our baggages with us (instead of handing over them to RC, the previous night). That delayed our checkout process by about an hour. If we had had our baggages with us, we could've got down from the ship early in the morning. Now that we had checked-in our baggages, we had to wait until our turn, to collect them. In the early morning, there was not many people in the checkout queue. You can just swift through the checkout process in minutes.

We didn't have much time to explore Bahamas during our trip. However, the cruise experience was very memorable. We felt that our time in the cruise ran very fast. The top two things that I liked in the cruise was Food & Service. I was amazed by the level of service provided by the RC crew. I wasn't expecting individual attention - but the RC crew did provide individual care to everyone. Even my little kid enjoyed the cruise experience. She had lots of places to explore in the ship. If I had to do take a cruise again, I would definitely choose Royal Caribbean.

2 Days in Miami

We had to wait for about 1/2 hour (some people have waited for an hour) for the Alamo rental shuttle to pick us up from the Miami Port. The same Alamo car rental shop services customers from both Port & Airport. We rented an SUV and drove to Key West. On the way, we stopped near the famous "7 miles bridge over the sea". There was a nice beach close to the bridge. The water in the beach was sparkling & crystal clear. My daughter had lots of fun in the beach. It took us about 3 hours to reach the Key West area. We stopped at a Starbucks to get our energy drinks (Lattes). We then visited Fort Zacher Taylor's park to see the sunset. We killed nearly 2 hours in that park by taking some pictures & by playing a card game. However, Mr. Sun disappointed us. We then headed back to Miami for our night stay in Metropole Hotel. Metropole Hotel is located in the downtown area. The outward appearance of the hotel was not that great (in fact, it was scary). However, the rooms very nice with brand new appliances - most of them, designer class.

The next day, we got up early and visited Vizkaya Museum & Gardens. We had our breakfast in Dunkin Donuts (I used to think that they just have Donuts. But, DD has lots of other items too. I liked their hash browns. It was yummy!). It was raining heavily when we visited Vizkaya Gardens. I thought we have to abandon our plans. However, the rain stopped in a few minutes. The garden was fresh & gorgeous (Thanks to the morning showers!). There are some nice photo spots in that garden. You could see a few newly wed couples busy with their photo shoot sessions. We spent nearly 2 hours in the Vizkaya Gardens. We had our lunch in a fine Thai Cuisine in the downtown. We then visited a few road side parks, took pictures of the Miami Skyline and then went to Miami South Beach. Miami Skyline was not all that great. South Beach had a long shore line and lots of parking space. It was almost deserted (we visited on a weekday). I personally felt that the Key West beaches are more beautiful than the Miami beaches. We left South Beach, returned our rental vehicle and reached Airport in the evening. We reached SFO at around 10 pm. We had parked our car in Anza Parking, San Francisco. We picked our car and reached home at around 12 pm.

Our Bahamas/Miami trip was very relaxing and memorable.

Miami Trip Planner 

[Update - Bahamas Tourist Visa]

If you are a US Citizen, you don't need a tourist visa to visit Bahamas. If you are residing in US on a work or a visitor or a dependent visa (H1B/H4/L1/L2/B1/B2 etc.,), you need a tourist visa to visit Bahamas.

I applied for my visa to the Bahamas consulate in NY.

http://www.un.int/bahamas/Consular_Travel_Information.htm

The following private website provides the details that you need for applying for a Bahamas visa.

http://bahamas.visahq.com/

Talk to the Bahamas consulate directly to find out more details.

I was able to get my visa in just one calendar week (5 days). I overnight couriered the application/passport on Monday and got the visa on Friday.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Denver & Mt. Rushmore Trip

Aug 8th - 11th, 2008

"If anything can go wrong, it will". Murphy's law came true during our trip. We boarded a Southwest flight from SJC on Aug 8th. The flight got delayed by an hour. We reached Denver late in the night. It took us about an hour to rent a vehicle from AAdvantage. I didn't realize that customer service could be THIS BAD. It took another 2 hours to get to our hotel in Colorado springs. By the time we reached our hotel, it was about 2 am in the morning. The receptionist in the hotel took another 30 mins to check us in. Finally, the hotel keys didn't work. I have to come back to the reception to get that fixed. During this trip, we were accompanied by my friend (Santhosh Ram)'s family also.

The hotel served a complimentary breakfast (just muffins & orange juice). We went to Pikes Peak & Royal Gorge Bridge on the first day. Pikes peak drive was nice. It was an awesome view from the top of the peak. There was hardly any oxygen to breath. We spent about an hour there and drove to Royal Gorge Bridge.

Royal Gorge had lots of activities. I think you can spend the whole day there. We went on the Aerial Tram & Inclined Railway. We walked over the bridge & spent a few minutes at the Inspirational Point. The Gorge was beautiful. But the bridge didn't create a 'Wow' effect! There were a few rain showers in the evening. My daughter had lots of fun in the rain. She also enjoyed her time in the carousel.

On Aug 9th, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent the whole day there. The rock formations looked great and it is a very scenic location. There were lots of gorgeous lakes and rivers. Rain spoiled our day. We hardly spent any quality time in the park.

In the evening, we returned our rental van and rented individual cars. I drove to Hot Springs, SD. My friend decided to spend the 3rd day in Colorado. I had a 6 hours drive to Hot Springs. We wasted about 30 minutes to find our hotel (Google maps screwed up as usual!). Finally, I stopped a cop vehicle to get help. He guided us to the hotel - nice cop! :) The stay in Rodeway Inn, Hot Springs was very comfortable (except for the poor complimentary breakfast. They had just muffins & orange juice. There was no milk also).

On Aug 10th, We drove to Keystone to visit Mt. Rushmore. It is a very beautiful & amazing place. They had spent about 14 years to carve the memorial. The memorial has carvings of George Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, & Lincoln. It is a perfectly done & well maintained art work. We spent about 2 hours there and left to Crazy Horse Memorial. The entry fee was 20$ per person (It was just 10$ per person in Mt. Rushmore). It looks like Crazy Horse Memorial is getting constructed from public funds. Hence, they are charging more money. This memorial is being constructed to honor the sacrifice of Red Indian Soldiers. They had already spent about 60 years already. It would look as if the work has just begun. It is amazing to see that people have dedicated their entire life for this kind of construction. We watched the video show in Crazy Horse Memorial that explains the history a bit. We then had our lunch & started driving to Denver. Well, I forgot to mention about my car. I had rented a 2008 LE Camry - it was sooo... comfortable driving it. We reached Denver airport on time, boarded the flight & reached SJC in the night. The best part of our trip is the visit to Mt. Rushmore & Crazy Horse Memorial.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Stocks may not be the right "investment" for everyone

Housing crisis, sub-prime mortgages and the slumping economy made the stocks of financial institutions to reach their all time lows. Stocks that were trading in 100s are trading in pennies. Stocks that took 5 - 10 years to reach their all time highs came down to their all time lows in 5 - 10 months. What if you had invested 'just' in financial stocks. Many people have lost their retirement savings because of this crisis. What if you were to be one of them?

Diversification is the key. Maintain a diversified portfolio that spans across different market segments, and industries. Better yet, choose other investments like mutual funds, gold, bonds etc., Let us say, you planted a tree, programmed sprinklers and forgot about it! What is the probability that the tree will grow as you had wished? What if the sprinklers didn't work, what if the wind uprooted the plant, what if some animal grazed over it, what if ... what if... ? Similarly, there are thousand factors that can influence the value of your investment. Monitor your portfolio regularly. Do adjustments based on the market conditions.

Stocks may not be the right "investment" if you don't understand its dynamics and if you don't have time to 'monitor' them regularly.

Crater Lake & Mount Shasta

3rd - 5th July

This was our second attempt to go to Crater Lake & Mount Shasta and we made it :)

We planned for a trip to Crater Lake during the beginning of spring & we had to cancel it in the last minute due to snow storm.

We had a horrible 7 hours drive to Mt. Shasta from the bay area. We got fettered in the long weekend traffic. We reached Mt. Shasta at about 11 pm.

The next day morning we drove to Crater Lake. Crater Lake is about 2.5 hours drive from Mt. Shashta. Crater Lake wasn't very crowded (may be the 'season' hasn't begun yet). We spent about an hour in the visitor center watching few videos & having our breakfast. We took the Rim drive and were disappointed to see the lake fully covered with fog. The lake wasn't in its traditional light blue attire. Imagine how you would feel when you drive for 10 hours to see the lake not looking at its best. One of the rangers said that they were expecting to see the sun around noon. What would you do when you are hungry and you didn't get your favorite double cheese burger to eat. You'll start to enjoy the cold veggie sandwich that you have in your hand. Thats what happened. We started to admire the beauty of the lake in her current form.

We drove a few miles and reached "Cleetwood Cove trail". We decided to walk down the trail to get our feet drenched in Crater Lake. It took us about 1 hour to get to the bottom, with our 20 months old kid. We took several breaks in between- well, our legs wouldn't co-operate otherwise. By the time we reached the bottom, the lake was glittering in silverish blue color. The view from the bottom of the trail was amazing. Boat rides for the season hadn't started yet. We spent a nice 1 hour there. My daughter had more fun than us, by playing in the water. She collected pebbles from the shore. Our return hike was even more strenuous. We took more than an hour to come back to our car. We were very hungry and had our lunch in the parking lot. Thanks to my wife for preparing a delicious meal!

The rays from the Sun had wiped off all the fog. The lake was shining in fresh blue color. It was exciting to see the lake. We stopped in a few locations along the Rim Drive and took some pictures. We drove back to Mt. Shasta and reached hotel in the evening.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and drove to see 'THE MT. SHASHTA'. Mt. Shashta had a few snow lingering around. Since it wasn't fully covered with snow, it was not as beautiful as Mt. Hood (Oregon). We then went to see Lake Shashta Caverns. It was a guided tour. They took us on a boat, followed by a bus ride to the Caverns. Lake Shashta had very little water (due to drought!?). Lake Shashta Caverns is a must-see place if you are in that area. The caverns was formed out of melting limestone deposits. They looked marvellous. NPS has been maintaining it well. Interiors were neat & clean & well lit. The only thing is you've to have the energy to climb about 200 stairs (& walk down 200 stairs). Our tour guide was very friendly & knowledgeable. It takes about 2+ hours for the entire trip.

We stopped over in Redding to see the Sundial Bridge. I believe the bridge will be more beautiful to see during the night than in the day. We spent very little time, there. I guess you can spend more time in Turtle Bay acquarium if you have toddlers. It is a very 'commercialized' place. I was surprized to see lots of people there.

We drove back to California & reached home in the evening.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Yellow Stone Trip

12th - 16th June 2008

Yellow Stone is a very beautiful place. It is one of the best national parks that I've ever visited. The park has terrains that belong to different weather patterns. You can see mountains covered with glaciers, spurting waterfalls, gushing geysers, hot springs, and lots of wildlife. The place is very safe to visit. You don't have to be a hiker to visit Yellow Stone. All the attractions are very accessible from roads. You don't have to have a all-wheel drive vehicle. I traveled with a 19 months old kid and I didn't have any problem at all. She enjoyed it too. The park has boardwalks everywhere. You can even take strollers with you. Yellow Stone is a nice & relaxing destination. There is plenty of lodging and dining facilities inside & outside the park. There is plenty of hiking trails. There is plenty of parking everywhere. Yellowstone is also a nice camping destination.

We stayed in West Yellowstone (Montana). This place is located near the West entrance. You can get to the center of the park in about 30 minutes from West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone is more developed when compared to the North entrance.

We took a flight from SFO (Sanfrancisco) to SLC (Salt Lake City). We reached SLC at about 7 pm. We took the rental car and drove to Idaho Falls. We stayed in Idaho Falls for that night. We got up the next day and went to Grand Teton Natiaonal Park. This park is located close to the South entrance of Yellowstone. We spent the whole day in Grand Teton. The drive in Grand Teton was beautiful. We visited Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. They've a mini museum. We took the boat ride in Jenny Lake to get to the Hidden falls. The short hike to Hidden Falls was nice. It was hard to find a parking near Jenny Lake. Grand Teton is a nice place to camp. There are lots of campgrounds filled with RVs & tents. We saw the Grand Teton mountain covered with snow. The park officials have tried to make the visitors 'Bear-Aware'. We were not fortunate enough to see a bear :) We visited the Indian Museum and the lake (Colter Bay) close to it.

We didn't see a lot of things in Grand Teton. We drove to West Yellowstone from there. We reached West Yellowstone at about 6 in the evening. We had our dinner and slept early on that day.

The next day, we got up early. We visited Firehole River, Old Faithful, Lower & Upper Yellowstone river falls, Artist Point, Fountain Paint Pot, Upper and Middle Geyser Basin, Mud Volcano, Yellowstone lake on the first day. The access to Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was closed. So, we had to miss it. We reached hotel early, had our dinner and slept early.

The next day we visited Roosevelt Arch (North Entrance), Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin (Steam Boat Geyser). We also saw Roaring Mountain on our way to Mammoth Hot Springs.

It is hard to miss wild life in Yellowstone. You can see Bison & Deer everywhere. You can see'em even on the roads. They don't do any harm to you or your vehicle. Do not scare them for them to not scare you :) We were luck enough to spot a bear deep in the woods.

On the last day of our trip, we got up early, checked-out from the hotel and started our return journey to SLC. On the way back, we stopped at Idaho (visited Idaho falls, & Idaho Falls Church of Christ). Idaho falls was small & beautiful. There is a park with picnic tables adjacent to the falls. We then drove to Salt Lake City and stayed in Salt Lake City for that night. We visited the "Cathedral of Madeline" in Salt Lake City. The church was very beautiful. There are other churches close by (notably, Temple Square). But we skipped them. We reached Holiday Inn and stayed there for that night. We took the early morning flight the next day and reached SFO by 7 am. I took my car from Anza Parking Lot (SFO) and drove back home. We reached home by 8.15 am.

Yellowstone trip was very memorable. It was very lightly packed and we all enjoyed it. The place was different from the other places that we had visited in the past. Yellowstone is a collage of natural colors. There is not a single place in Yellowstone that we didn't like. Every attraction was beautiful on its own. You can cover all the places in just 2 days or 2 months. It depends upon the passion and interest that you have.

If you are planning a Yellow Stone Trip you can refer to my Yellow Stone Trip Planning Sheet

NY Trip - Pittsburgh (Day 5)

26-May-2008


We got up early, checked-out and started our journey to Maryland. We had plans of visiting Pittsburgh Venkatachalapathy temple in-between. We drove for about 3.5 hours to reach Pittsburgh. We reached the temple at around 11.30 am. (Get directions using the co-ordinates given by the temple website. Do not directly enter the temple's address in Google/Mapquest. The temple is somewhat located in a remote area. But they've very clear signs to guide you on the way). We spent about an hour in the temple and also had our lunch there.

We drove back to Maryland. We took several breaks during the day. So, the drive wasn't very tiring. We reached Baltimore airport (BWI) at about 5 pm. Our flight was later in the night. We dropped our rental car and had dinner in the airport. Mitra (my little one) had lots of fun wandering the airport. We reached SJC late in the night (in fact, early next day !).

This trip was very packed and involved lots of driving. I drove for about 24 hours in 5 days. I even felt drowsy during the drive. I decided not to keep the trip so packed here afterwards.

If you are planning a New York Trip, you can refer to my New York Trip Planning Sheet

NY Trip - Niagara Falls (Day 4)

25-May-2008


We crossed the border to visit Niagara from Canada side. Border crossing didn't take a lot of time. The officer asked a few questions and let us go. It was a sunny day. . I had visited Niagara before in the night. But I was not impressed much (may be because I visited in Winter !?). The view of the falls was amazing, this time. We found a convenient parking right in front of the falls. They charged 20$ (They accept only cash ! :().a (Note: If you are traveling from U.S, make sure that you have enough cash. The debit cards do not work in the ATM machines. You've to go to a foreign exchange to get cash using your ATM card. AMEX is not accepted in many places) My VISA card didn't work (I think my bank didn't grant international use of the card. Crazy folks.). I had to walk for about 30 minutes to get to a Foreign Exchange to get cash.

We took the Maid of the Mist ferry. The ferry takes you close to the bottom of the falls. That was one of the best experiences that I've ever had. Don't miss the "Maid of the Mist" ride. I bet that you'll get fully drenched (inpsite of wearing a Pancho).

We came back and had our lunch in front of the falls. We stayed there for sometime and returned back to the hotel. We prepared and had our dinner in the hotel.

The area around Niagara Falls has plenty of other attractions & activities. You can spend even 2 - 3 days in that area. All you need to have is "money" to spend :) The view of the falls in the night will be good. But we skipped that to take some rest in the hotel. My wife, daughter and I went for a little walk in the evening.

NY Trip - Liberty & Ellis Island (Day 3)

24-May-2008


We got up early and reached Liberty State Park, to board the ferry to Liberty Statue at 8 am. We spent some time in the Ellis Island before reaching the Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island had a museum depicting the history of U.S immigration. We spent about an hour in this island.

We reached Statue of Liberty at around 11.00 am. The view of the giant statue in the middle of the lake was amazing. We got off the Liberty Island. I had booked ferry ticket with "Monument Access". There are only limited tickets with "Monument Access". You can get to the pedestal with this ticket.

There are two levels of security check. One at the Liberty State Park (before boarding) and the other at the Liberty Island (before getting to the pedestal). We had to wait in the queue for about an hour to get to the pedestal. The interiors were great and unbelievable. The government has been taking extra care to preserve the gift from France. Unfortunately, the elevators were not for general public use and we had to climb about 100+ stairs (354?). Our life expectancy went up by climbing the stairs :)

The visit to Liberty Island was memorable. You can spend more than 1/2 a day in the Liberty Island. I would recommend boarding the ferry from Liberty State Park. You have plenty of parking there and it is very inexpensive.

We drove to Buffalo from there. It was a very long & tiring 6 hours drive. We reached Buffalo at about 9.30 pm. We checked-in to Holiday Inn. Holiday Inn is located in the downtown and it was about 30 minutes away from Niagara Falls.

NY Trip - Downtown New York (Day 2)

23-May-2008

We had the complimentary breakfast in the hotel and went to see the Downtown Manhattan. Driving in the downton was fun. NY downtown traffic looked like India devoided of 2 wheelers. I managed to find a parking lot close to Empire State Building. They charged me 32$ for 10 hours.

We waited in the queue for about 3 hours to get to the top of the Empire State Building. My little one lost her patience. We got a nice view of the Downtown Manhattan from the top. We came down pretty quick. We then had our lunch in a park close to Empire State Building. Yep. I was surprised to see this calm park in the middle of the busy Manhattan. There were several other people who were relaxing and having their food.

We walked to the Time Square. Time Square was extraordinarily crowded. It looked like a mini Vegas :) We spent a few minutes there and walked to the U.N building. We saw the Grand Central Station on our way to the U.N building. We had to walk for about 30 minutes to get to the U.N building. But, it was not worth the walk. We then returned to Grand Central and took a subway train to Wall Street.

We got off the Wall Street station. We visited Ground Zero, Brooklyn Bridge & Wall Street. Ground Zero kindled some of the 9/11 memories. There is heavy construction activities going on in Ground Zero. We then returned back to Wall Street and took to the subway train to Empire State Building. We took our car from the parking lot and drove back to the hotel.

On our way back, we stopped in Liberty State Park to get a glimpse of the New York skyline. It was an awesome view from the Liberty State Park. It is a nice location for photographers. We took some snaps there and returned to the hotel at around 10 pm.

NY Trip - Washington DC (Day 1)

22-May-2008


This was one of my long postponed and much awaited trips.

We left SJC on May 21st in the night and reached BWI (Maryland) in the morning. We had a stopover in Atlanta. We had our breakfast in airport, took the rental car and drove to DC. It was about an hour and a half drive from BWI -> DC. We reached the US State Capitol building and parked our SUV close by (It took 1/2 hour to find the 'perfect' parking space :)).

We visited the State Capitol Building, Supreme Court building, Washington National Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial & White House. You can spend a whole day in this area. However, it is tough to find a parking lot on a week day. We visited the National Mall & Monuments area on a weekday. I don't know if there will be enough parking available on a weekend. The monuments were beautiful and most of them resembled European architecture. The view of the reflection pond inbetween the Capitol building and the Washington National Monument was amazing. I liked my brief visit to the Lincoln Memorial. I couldn't resist recollecting Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" that was delivered in Lincoln Memorial, ages ago. Lincoln's statue was majestic. That was the best one that I've ever seen.

We then visited the whitehouse. It IS a very secure area. We took a few pictures infront of white house.

I did the most costliest parking ever during my DC trip. I was charged $100 for 3 hours of parking :) You won't believe it, but it is true. I got a parking ticket :( When I parked my SUV, I didn't notice the parking hours for that location. I violated by 10 minutes and the police officer was not kind enough ! (Latest update: It looks like the officer didn't submit the ticket to the DMV on-time. So, the ticket was voided !! :))

We then went to Arlington's Cemetry in VA. It was about an hour drive from the National Monuments area. My wife & kid stayed in the car. They were very tired. I took an hour walk inside the cemetry - saw JFK's & thousand other soldier's cemetry. It was very moving.

We then drove to New Jersey and reached our hotel by about 11 pm.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Trip (Day 4 - Seattle, WA)

14-April-2008

The 4th day of our Oregon-Seattle-Vancouver trip was spent in Seattle. We vacated our hotel in Kent and went to Seattle Downtown. We walked around the downtown and saw Qwest field, Smith Towers, and the totems in Pioneer Square. We took some snaps and went to "Ride the Ducks". Riding the ducks was a marvelous experience. We boarded a small truck full of passengers (about 30 of them). The duck (truck) took us around the Seattle city and plunged into Lake Union. The driver/captain of the duck kept us occupied by cracking jokes.

We spent more time walking around the Space Needle (which was close to the Ride the Duck office). We wanted to see the Fremont troll but couldn't find it. We then headed back to Oregon to board the flight at 9.00 pm.

We enjoyed our Oregon-Seattle-Vancouver trip and if you are planning for one, you can use the details in my Trip Planner.

Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Trip (Day 3 - Vancouver, BC)


13-April-2008

We drove to Vancouver, Canada from Kent, WA in the morning. It was my first experience to cross the international border by land. It was a very simple process. The officers asked me the usual legitimate questions and let me go. I grabbed some downtown maps in the small visitor center close to the border crossing booths. Our first destination in Vancouver was the Buddhist Temple. This is my first visit to a traditional Buddhist temple. I was spell bound on seeing the magnificient and colorful statues of Lord Buddha. The authenticity of the temple will definitely make a deep impact on the visitors.

We then visited the Capilano Suspension bridge. You can spend about 1/2 day or more in the Capilano suspension bridge. They have a number of hiking trails and tree walks. They had a few totems near the enterance. It was very adventurous to walk on the suspension bridge - especially when it was wobbling here and there :) We spent about a hour and a half there. They charged $27 per person and I felt that as too much for our short visit.

We went to the downtown, parked our car in a parking lot and walked to the Vancouver lookout. You can get a full view of the downtown from there. We then boarded a trolley that took us around to various places in Vancouver. We saw the sea wall and totems in Stanley Park. We took a short ferry to the Granville Island. We then took the trolley back to Vancouver downtown.

We had an interesting experience in Downtown Vancouver. An Afro-American along the road side offered to help us with the route and finally threatened to get some money from us. In the future, we should be careful not to get help from road side strangers. We crossed the border and drove back to Seattle.

Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Trip (Day 2 - Columbia River Hwy)

12-April-2008

We got up on the 2nd day, had complimentary breakfast at the hotel and vacated the room. We then drove to Columbia River Highway. Wow ! How could nature be so partial? The drive was so amazing and breath taking. There is a beautiful river that gives company to you throughout the drive. We stopped over at Crowne Pointe Vista House. It was very windy there. Throughout the drive, there are several waterfalls along the way and nice vista points. We stopped at Horse tail falls, Sheppard Dell falls and Multnomah falls. Mutlnomah is the second longest waterfall in US and about 2 million visitors come there every year. There is a popcorn store and coffee shop close to Multomah falls. My wallet lost some weight there.

We then drove to Mt Hood (actually, half way to Mt Hood). We stopped in a village where we got a full view of Mt Hood, took snaps and returned back.

We came back to Portland and went to "The Grotto - National Sactuary of Sorrowful mother". It is a very calm and relaxing place. If you are visiting this place, make sure that you take the elevator to the top of the hill. They have beautiful gardens out there.

From, "The Grotto" we drove to Kent, WA to stay in "Crossland - Extended Stay America Hotel". They had a small kitchen with the basic stuff.

Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Trip (Day 1 - Portland)

11-April-2008

Spring is a beautiful time to travel. Thanks to mother nature for making the season so colorful !

We decided to go on a trip to Portland, Seattle & Vancouver. One of the main drivers for this trip is the Tulip Festival in Woodburn. We flew to Portland and rented a car at the Portland International Airport (PDX).

We drove to Willamette Valley and reached Woodburn at about 10.30 am. Spring had painted the whole city with fresh green color. I was expecting to see a lot of colorful gardens on my way to Woodenshoe Tulip Farm. Until I parked my car in the Woodenshoe farms, I was not convinced that I'm going to see a lot of colorful flowers today ! Woodenshoe Tulip farm is the best garden that I've ever seen. Its a place soaked in colors. For a moment, I couldn't believe that the tulips are natural. They had a very nice compilation of tulips and the memories are hard to erase. You can even spend a half day or more in Woodenshoe farms. They've a lot of activities for kids.

We then returned back to Portland city and reached OSHU's campus. We went on the Portland Aerial tram and it was nice to see the whole city from the top. The view was beautiful.


We drove to the downtown and saw the Pioneer Courthouse Square. I was amazed to see so many people hang in there. Many of them were just sitting there relaxing, reading a book or just having fun talking. Starbucks at Pioneer Courthouse was one of the busiest locations that I've seen.

We wanted to go to the International Rose Garden, lost our way and got trapped into the Rose Garden Arena. Thanks to all the folks who rightly guided us to the wrong Rose Garden :)

We then visited Portland Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden and finally the International Rose Garden. International Rose Garden is located very close to the Japanese Garden. Both the Chinese & Japanese gardens are very unique and had a lot of cultural value. You had to hike for about 1/2 mile to get to the Japanese garden - however, it is worth the hike. We spent some halcyon time in the gardens.

We then drove to Vancouver, WA and stayed in Staybridge Suites hotel for that night. The hotel had a fully furnished kitchen and we enjoyed our short stay there.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Don't wanna fail? Stock market is not your playground

I'm not a sport fanatic. However, I understand that in any game there is an equal chance to failure and success. If you can't appreciate this, stock market is not your play ground.

I never lost any money since I started earning in 1998. I never made any mistake on financial investments. Well, this is not true anymore. I did some investment mistakes when selecting stocks. My losses piled up when I failed to admit my failure. I saw the value of my portfolio going down everyday like water falling from the mountain top. I do not want to sell the stocks for a loss. I held them until I lost up to 30% of my investment. Thats when, I realized that I should let go my ego and admit my failure. Since I had started small with stocks, the mistake didn't hurt me a lot. However, it is a lesson well learned.

If you don't want to loose, stock market is not your play ground. For every stock that you buy there is a 50% chance of success and a 50% chance of failure. By doing your home work, you can maximize the probability of success. But there are always factors that are beyond your control, that may influence your portfolio. Don't wait long enough to admit your failure. Being honest can punish you in the short term but will reward you in the long run.

No Risk No Reward

Did Christopher Columbus discover America by sitting on the couch? No. He took enormous risk by sailing through rough seas with his fellow men. Can we get valuable gold and diamond without miners risking their lives? Without risks, there is no reward. This is true for stock trading as well.

I bought a few Google stocks recently before they announced their 2008 Q1 results. The whole market was pessimistic and were betting that Google will loose. A report from Comscore indicating that the paid ad-clicks decreased in March added fuel to the fire. I took the risk of buying Google stocks at a cheap price. Google gave a pleasant surprise to everyone by reporting a 30% growth for the 2008 Q1 quarter. The stocks increased by about 20% in a single day. Of course, I didn't wait enough to maximize my profit. However, it helped me to make one of my best profits.

No Risk, No Reward. But do not take blind risks. Make calculated risks.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Do you look for stock trends?

Have you ever got cold? I'm sure you would have got one. Did you ever notice how it all started? It would've started with a sore throat. The next day you would've sneezed a few times. The third day, you would've got some running nose. If it is a severe cold, you may also get some coughs. If it is a very very severe cold, some may also get a little fever. You would know at least 3 or 4 days in advance, that you are going to get cold. That is called TREND.

Have you ever noticed trends when buying or selling stocks? As a novice investor, most of my early investment decisions in the stocks weren't based on trends. I never computed moving averages. I never plotted a trend line to predict the stock's directions. When a popular stock goes down by 5% or so, I buy it. The next day, the stock would go down by another 5%. The following day, it would go down by another 5%. I've literally seen my capital getting eroded. A trend line or moving averages would help you to understand the stock's direction. Thereby, you can make wise investments. There are several tools available in the market to plot trend lines. You can even use your Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to compute moving averages and trends.

Always, look for trends. Understand, the reason behind the trend and make investment decisions accordingly !

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mendocino Trip

29th & 30th March, 2008

Are you in the bay area? Looking for a weekend getaway?

Have you been to Mendocino? The coastal city is about 4 hours drive from the south bay. It is a beautiful and relaxing destination. You can linger on the sea shores or hike on the trails along the coast. The views are breath taking.

I had earlier planned to visit Crater lake (inspite of warnings from my friend that it is a bad time to visit). However due to a bad weather forecast in Crater lake, I had to cancel my trip in the last minute. I had always wanted to go to Mendocino, but kept postponing it. So, I decided to go there for the weekend with my family. I booked my stay for a night in Pacific Mist Inn. The cottage had a lot of bad reviews on the forums. However, the cottage manager assured me that there was a management change and they've replaced all the appliances and changed the interiors.

We started from home at 6.30 am and reached Mendocino at about 10.30 am. We took a short break inbetween for break fast. We took the 101 N / 128 W route and that saved us some time. It had rained during the night. The drive was very beautiful as it got closer to Mendocino. We went to the Mendocino Botanical Garden in Fort Bragg. They had nice collections of Rhododendrons. My daughter enjoyed walking in the garden. There were some trails that'll take you to the ocean. But, we didn't hike. We spent about an hour and a half there. We had our lunch (As always, my wife had prepared & packed delicious food). We then went to Pt. Cabrillo Light House. The light house was about 0.5 miles from the parking lot. My daughter enjoyed walking on her own, from the parking lot to the light house.

We didn't go on the Skunk train in Fort Bragg. The reviews were not very great and there was not much value for money. So, we skipped it. Fort Bragg is a more developed city than Mendocino. It is just 10 mins drive from Mendocino and has lot of hotels, restaurants and gas stations.

We then decided to go to Little River. The view of the 'little river' joining the ocean, was nice. We spent about 1/2 hour there. We then went to Albion little river park. We returned back quite soon because there were not much of interesting things to see there. It had a huge campground. May be a nice place for people who want to camp. We then went to the hotel and checked-in.

The manager in the Pacific Mist Inn office gave us a warm welcome. She suggested us a few places to see in the area. She was very helpful. The cottage was facing the sea shore (we got a glimpse of the ocean through the trees) and CA-1. The cottage was old, but the appliances were new. It was neat & clean. My wife prepared dinner. We had our food and slept early. My daughter got up in the middle of the night and my wife (& I?) had to loose some sleep.

We got up early the next day and went to glass beach. It was very cold and windy near the ocean and we had to return back early. There were some beautiful white colored floors along the walk way near the beach. We took a few pictures there. In Mendocino, there were a lot of marigold (dark yellow) colored flowers along the road side. We took a few snaps there as well. We came back to the cottage, packed up things, had our break fast and checked-out.

We then went out to visit the Montgomery Woods State Reserve. However, the drive & the forest were not as amazing as we had thought. We spent about an hour and a half on the drive. We came back and visited Big River. You can see the Big River marching towards the Pacific ocean and finally getting sucked into the ocean. The view was beautiful. We had our lunch in the Big River and then left to the Point Arena light house.

The Point Arena light house was about an hour drive from Mendocino. We weren't lucky enough to visit the top of the light house because it was closed. We took a few snaps in front of the light house and started to head back home. On our way back, we took CA-1. We took a few snaps in some of the vista points. The ride back home was hectic. I felt as if I'm driving from San Jose to Canada. The drive really felt as if it was very long. We finally reached home at about 9.30 pm. We had our dinner at home, cherishing the memories of our short Mendocino trip. My little daughter enjoyed the trip more than my wife & I had enjoyed. This time, she didn't bother us much during the drive. She was comfortable and contended during the drive. We had taken one of her favorite toys (Baby Tad) and that kept her busy throughout :)

Overall, it was very a relaxing trip.

Death Valley Trip

15th - 18th February, 2008

When I first told my colleagues that I'm going to Death Valley, they asked "What is there to see in Death Valley?". I can answer that question better, now.

Death valley is about 8 hours drive from the bay area. We planned for a 3 days trip. I booked a 4WD vehicle (Thanks to the suggestion from one of my college seniors !). It was hard to find an accomodation in Death Valley. So, I booked our stay in Beatty (El Portal Motel). Beatty is about 7 miles east of the Death Valley National Park (~30 minutes drive from Stovepipe wells). My brother joined us for the trip.

We left home on Friday (Feb 15th) and reached Lone Pine around mid night. We stayed in Best Western for that night. On Saturday, we got up early and drove to Death Valley. We stopped at Father Crowley Point for a short break. We then went to Mosaic Canyon. We were quite amazed by the texture of the stones and the canyon. Walking through the narrow trail inbetween the canyon walls was fun.

We reached Stovepipe wells around noon. We then drove to Marble Canyon. Drive to the Marble Canyon was more fun. We had to drive through rough roads, rubbles and stones for about 4 miles. We were surprised to see one lady there who was camping with her dog. There was no one other than her. We had our lunch in Marble Canyon. There were a few hiking trails there. But as always, we didn't hike. We wouldn't have had that adventure without a 4WD vehicle.

We then returned back and went to the Sand Dunes close to Stovepipe Wells. It was nice to see the dunes for the first time in my life :) We spent about 1/2 hour there and went to Ubehebe Crater. The crater was wide and very accessible. We took a few snaps there and went to Scotty's Castle. We didn't take the castle tour. My friends had been to the castle and they told that it was not very impressive.

We drove from Scotty's Castle to Beatty. Beatty is a very small town. El Portel Motel was right in front of the Beatty Museum. It is a very old hotel. Motel 6 in Beatty appeared to be new. StageCoach Casino/Hotel was also pretty decent from the outside. We had our dinner and retired for the day.

The next day, we went to Rhyolite (the ghost town) which was very close to Beatty. On our drive from Beatty to Death Valley we could see the spring blossoms. The view is going to be more beautiful during the mid of spring. We then went to Golden Canyon. The name was very apt to that canyon - it was glittering in the sun. Ganu lost his 10$ glass in Golden Canyon :) We then went to Natural Bridge. We had to hike for about 0.5 mile to get there. We had our lunch there and then went to Bad Water Basin. Bad water basin is claimed to be the lowest elevation point in Death Valley. We also took the Artist's drive which was closer to the Bad water basin.

We then went to Dante's view point. The view of the valley from the Dante's view point was nice. You could get to see the whole salt water basin. We spent some time there and left to Amargosa valley. I wanted to see the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel. All the forums were giving very bad reviews for the Amargosa hotel. It is a very very old hotel and the whole area is kind of deserted (What else can you expect in a desert :)).

On our way back to Zabriskie point, we took the "20 mules team" drive. It was nice. You can drive through in a 2WD vehicle also. We took a rough road to see the "Wall in the hole" but we couldn't find the attraction. So, we stopped after driving for a couple of miles. We reached Zabriskie point at about 5 pm. It was way too early for the sunset. We spent sometime there. It is a nice location. We waited until sun set, took some pictures and returned back to Beatty.

The next day, we checked out and started our journey back home. The return drive was not very hectic. We took several breaks. We stopped at Dinosaur point near I-5 & CA-152 intersection. It was scenic. We reached home at about 6 pm in the evening.

Summer gets too hot and Spring is a nice to visit Death Valley. If you are an admirer of the nature, Death Valley is a must to see place.