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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.