Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On the Road again..Part 2

Road trips are always exciting keeping us on toes especially with no fixed plans and least expectations. Further continuing the journey…
 Day 4: Wyoming, South Dakota – A day of Surprises
We started the day early from Rawlins, WY to make it comfortably to the many places planned for the day. By afternoon, we were at Jewel Cave National Monument, ready to take the “Scenic tour”. We were very disappointed to learn the tours were all booked for the day and without which there’s no entry to the cave. (For all the people traveling in summer, beware of school holidays despite weekdays!) We proceeded to Wind Cave National Park and took a tour of Wind cave. It was quite different from laurel caverns in Virginia, not as pretty but sure was scary. 
Our next destination was the famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a masterpiece of Gutzon Borglum. Standing high in the Black Hills, this granite sculpture definitely succeeded in its purpose of attracting millions of visitors every year and making them feel proud and inspired from the four outstanding presidents of the United States:  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
We stayed the night at Wall, a place closest to Badlands and that proved a great decision next day.
Day 5: South Dakota – A day of Luxury
It was about 5am when we somehow woke up despite a long day before. Making the most out of it, we decided to catch Sunrise in Badlands National park. In just 10min, we were at the park enjoying the cool breeze in “blue light” along with a mountain goat and its kid. The sun rose from between the hills, the peaks shone red in sunlight and within an hour, the sunrays drenched almost the entire park. We saw herds of mountain goat by the Sage Creek Rim Road and hundreds of birds singing to the glory of the sunrise. 
We went back to the hotel, took a short nap and returned to the park. We drove the Highway 240 Loop Road, stopping by the overlooks. It looked quite different from what we saw in the morning, still spectacular with wild pinnacles and buttes rise starkly out of the seemingly endless mixed grass prairie. There were prairie dogs, dear and also signs of Rattle snakes everywhere. 
The east end of the park was better especially the Fossil exhibit trail where the badlands had dominant patterns and shining white tall spires. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center had more exhibits and the Tipi Village located across from it was good to experience the Oglala Lakota Sioux culture. 
By noon, it was so hot and we were glad to finish the loop and get onto I90. We stopped by Lewis and Clark Interpretive center and Memorial Bridge at Chamberlain, dedicated for the two great explorers on one of the pioneer expeditions in American history.
We made an early halt for the day to spend the night at Sioux falls. We walked to the Falls Park and saw the illuminated waterfall in the night. The dinner at Minervas Restaurant in the downtown and Jacuzzi were such a treat after another tiring day and we slept like babies.
Day 6: Minnesota, Wisconsin – A day of Drive
The drive through Minnesota was beautiful - green farms  with white windmills and lakes! Had an awesome lunch at a cute Chinese restaurant in Albert Lea, which I consider as one of our best finds till date. We couldn’t visit the twin cities with time constraint and continued on I90 to Madison.
As we approached Wisconsin, the sight of great plains faded and contrary to our expectations, Madison was a big city. We went to Olbrich Botanical gardens, Lake Monona, roamed in downtown around Wisconsin state capitol and drove to Chicago. The city was dazzling and still bustling that late in the night and looked more beautiful from our hotel downtown.
Day 7: Illinois, Michigan – A day back home
Next morning, we started off at the Magnificent Mile along with the pouring tourists. The shopping was fun and John Hancock Observatory surely got the best sight of Chicago, its skyscrapers, lake and beaches.
Boat tour in the Chicago river and Lake Michigan gave us another great view of the city and the high rise buildings along with  Buckingham fountain, Grant park(The day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park) and Navy pier. 
We bummed around in Devon street, which reminded of streets of Hyderabad, India and made us feel nostalgic. With Haleem(a Ramadan specialty dish) and my all-time favorite Hyderabadi Biryani, we drove home, tired, sad and equally excited!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

On the Road again..Part 1

After a great summer in CA, it was time to hit the road again to Michigan. This time, we decided to give it a week, taking small detours whenever possible, and do a relaxing sightseeing trip unlike last time.
Day 1: California
After a hot traditional south Indian breakfast, we bid farewell to California and set out on our journey. We stopped at the famous Livermore temple on the way to Lake Tahoe.
I heard about it a lot from my friends, but never got a chance to visit before. After a delicious ‘Prasad’ meal, we reached the crowded South Lake Tahoe by late afternoon. From the Emerald Bay overlook, Lake Tahoe with Fannette Island resembled the Crater Lake(with Wizard island) except for the green hue. 
We followed Vikingsholm trail down to the lake and the Vikingsholm Castle, one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in North America. We walked along Rubicon trail to the boat camp and pier from where we could see distant glimpse of Eagle falls. 
Being a Saturday, the hotels were full and sadly, we had to drive to Carson city for the night.
Day 2: Nevada
The day started in the quiet downtown of Carson City, we strolled near the State Capitol and other state buildings taking pictures. 
At Reno, we checked out the casinos each with its own theme and grandeur, but the best part was the champagne lunch buffet at Eldorado thanks to yelp. 
After such a heavy lunch, it was challenging to drive and I was so jealous of Rama enjoying his Siesta. Finally the sight of Bonneville flats was very welcoming and we reached SLC, late in the night.
Day 3: Utah, Wyoming
At Salt Lake City, we spent the morning at the Temple Square. The conference center seating 21,000 had impressive acoustics, beautiful waterfall and 4-acre roof garden!! 
The Salt Lake Temple was magnificent from outside(no access inside) and the organ recital at the Tabernacle was astounding.
The State Capitol Building stood majestic with incredible art in every room-Supreme Court, House of Representatives. 
After a quick lunch in downtown, we drove to Antelope Island State Park, largest island in the Great Salt Lake. The road to the island with lake on either sides, offered outstanding views of the surprisingly calm and clear lake but had to bear the “lake stench”. 
At the beach, the brine flies would swarm around as we walked to the lake and Rama enjoyed his time swimming(rather say floating) in the Great Salt Lake. 
On the way to the Fielding Garr Ranch, we saw herds of Bison grazing in the grasslands along the lake. 
We started driving back early evening to avoid rush hour traffic, and successfully made it to Rawlins, WY by night. And BANG. A sudden change in plan! we decided to take I-90 further, through South Dakota covering its popular destinations and attractions. We were so excited that we couldn’t sleep and just waited for the dawn.