Still Dreaming Of Morocco

We are back home from our trip to Morocco, but I am not fully here yet mentally. I dreamed of Morocco last night. But I also know that the feelings and memories will fade away quickly. I need to make my statement promptly before that happens. There are things worth remembering. We have experienced so much, and learnt so much about this amazing country and its people. I should be thankful, and grateful, and should also be spreading the word and the feeling – if possible!

I can still hear the voices of my fellow-travelers – 41 of us in all. I can still hear Youssef, our tour manager, as he tries to get our attention – to get us organized for the next move or for the next day, or as he tries to explain something to us, or as he gives us more background information about his country. Daily early morning breakfasts, many before sunrise – fresh omelettes, fruits, pastries, and juices – the chocolate croissants to die for, the orange juice with pulp in it – as we greet our fellow travelers as they sleepily join us in the dining area. We make sure to put our bags outside our room if we are moving to a new town that day. And then we are on the road once again, all counted and accounted for by our always smiling and efficient helper, Rashid – to see new places, to learn new things, to meet new people – the wonderful people of Morocco. Rashid gives each of us a bottle of water as we get going. Our driver, the other Youssef, gets us from point A to point B, with intermediate stops along the way, quietly and safely every day. He negotiates the tough spots smoothly. He does not do anything rash. He is patient. The big motor coach cannot be easy to manage.

We covered the entire nation of Morocco during our 15 days of wandering, starting off in the capital city of Rabat. We then visited the northern city of Tangier, the gateway to Africa from Europe. After that we headed into the Rif mountains, heading southeast to Chefchouen, the Blue City. Two nights were spent in the old religious center of Fes. We then crossed the Middle Atlas Mountains and the High Atlas Mountains – through mountain passes and over the high plains – to the get to Erfoud and the Sahara desert. Then it was onward and westward to the UNESCO Heritage site of Ait Benhaddou; then over the High Atlas mountains to the madhouse that is Marrakech. Finally, we crossed over the High Atlas mountains once again, to head to the beach and resort towns of Agadir and Essaouira, before completing the trip in Casablanca. The above list does not even begin to touch upon the various other places that we passed through and even visited along the way. We were rocking the casbahs and the medinas of the towns we visited!

I am not sure yet how to tell the entire story. Perhaps it will emerge in non-linear fashion. And I did take notes this time, perhaps for the first time on a trip like this.

But I do also feel that I need to try to provide a highlight reel of pictures before I start to tell the story, even though it is bound to be incomplete. The most complete set of pictures will be posted in a Pbase album, and some of these pictures will be used in further blogs that I will create to break down the trip and provide more information.

The pictures will be further identified in their contexts in future blogs.

The In-Between Time

There is no rest! We are off on another adventure out of the country later this week – assuming all goes well! The last time we prepared for a visit to this particular country, there was a bad accident on the trail just a week before we were scheduled to travel. It disrupted all plans. Hope things do not go awry this time. This time we have the uncertainties of travel during the time of COVID.

Meanwhile, life has been moving a fast pace in the time in-between. Two wedding celebrations, including the one during the trip to Colorado (that I wrote about), and two different singing gigs dominated.

Thankfully, I have also been able to put in a couple of volunteer sessions at Manna in the time in-between, and meet up with friends who I had not seen in a while. As I might have mentioned in the past, this is the place I come to to clear my mind of my worldly concerns. It is amazing how it happens!

We have not been able to go for Sunday walks during this time, but we made time for the weekly bike rides. Talking about the canal and the towpath, this is the time of the pawpaws. There was fruit lying on the trail the last time we went out, and I could even smell it in the air.

The second of the music gigs that I mentioned above was the participation of the chorus in the Gaithersburg Labor Day parade. I have not done anything like this before. It was a very gratifying experience even though the conditions for singing were not very good. We were on a float, we were moving forward steadily (the audience changed even during the course of a song), we had to keep changing the direction we were facing to sing to people all around us, and we did not have a good amplification system, especially for this kind of a setup. Nevertheless, folks seemed to appreciate our presence. They smiled, they waved, and they clapped their hands. Some people attempted to sing with us. Older folks perhaps recognized some of the barbershop standards. The kids in the passing audience stared at us with wonder. Perhaps they will remember us. I had a blast.

Finally, a quiz question! From this picture, can you tell me the city where we went to celebrate the second wedding I mention in the blog?

How Claude Shannon’s Concept of Entropy Quantifies Information | Quanta Magazine

This concept forms the basis of Information Theory. In digital communications, it places an absolute limit on the maximum possible rate at which data can be transmitted on a channel reliably. This limit is theoretical, and the challenge is to implement coding schemes that can get us closer and closer to such limits in real systems.

How Claude Shannon’s Concept of Entropy Quantifies Information | Quanta Magazine

How Claude Shannon’s Concept of Entropy Quantifies Information | Quanta Magazine

The Last Day Of Our Colorado Trip

After waking up in the morning, I walked down to Fall River and did a short exploration of the property that our motel was located on. The first picture below is our motel room with our car parked in front.

After breakfast in our motel room, we headed south out of Estes Park on Colorado’s Route 7. We were going to be driving along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to the town of Nederland during the earlier part of the day.

Route 7 quickly snaked and climbed its way out of town, up the foothills of the mountains. Our route was to take us through the Roosevelt National Forest, running along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park itself, with opportunities to visit sections of Rocky Mountain National Park where it lay close to the road we were on. It was unclear if we could actually stop at these areas since we did not have a valid pass for the day.

We made a stop at Lily Lake, which is a part of Rocky Mountain National Park. The parking area was along the main road, and there was no checking of entrance passes going on. We did the short walk around the lake before continuing on our way.

Further south, we took a detour from the main road towards Long’s Peak Trailhead, a part of Rocky Mountain National Park. We arrived to find cars parked along the sides of the road for a long stretch, even before we got to the entrance to the park. People had started their explorations early. This, plus the fact that we might have had to deal with park entrance issues anyway, made us decide to turn back.

Further along the main road, we drove past St. Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock.

Our next attempt at accessing the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park was at an area called Wild Basin. That was also not successful. There were long lines of cars at the entrance booths waiting to enter.

It was further south, while still we were driving on Route 7, that I got into a dangerous situation on the road. The vehicle ahead of us was driving very slowly, well below the speed recommended for this stretch of road. I sighted a place suitable for overtaking, and I moved into the opposite lane and accelerated. Unfortunately, it was only then that I saw vehicles on the other side of the road approaching in the distance, at the top of a stretch of hill. I had not noticed them at first because I was descending another hill before getting to the hill that the cars were on, and those cars had just come over the top. Fortunately, the Nissan Altima responded, and I was able to pass the vehicles, but with not much room to spare. The slow vehicle, now behind me, actually pulled off the road to let another vehicle that was behind it also pass. Phew! That shook me up for a little while. I do get myself into sticky situations similar to this every once in a while. One is not really in full control of every situation you face even though you may think you are. Life can be short…

We arrived at the turnoff for Route 72. This turn would keep us on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The road started gaining elevation almost immediately. We were, once again, surrounded by forests after having driven through a clear area for a little while. We drove for a short distance through a canyon-like area with the Middle Saint Vrain Creek flowing downhill next to us.

The sign for Brainard Lake Recreation area appeared in front of us beside the road unexpectedly. It was a surprise! It was a quick, almost instantaneous, decision to take the road leading to this space. I was expecting to encounter the recreation area near the main road, but we ended up driving for some time on a road that kept climbing up the mountainside. We were not sure of what to expect in the end. We read along the way that this was also a place where a reservation was needed, but we kept going. Fortunately we found a free parking lot for hikers (Brainard Gateway Trailhead) that was located at the entrance, before the area that required payment for admission.We parked here. We did some investigationand decided not to attempt a hike all the way to Brainard lake. We would stretch our legs by doing a shorter walk.

We would go to the closer Red Rock Lake.

The following pictures were taken on the way back from the lake.After the hike, we returned to the car and had our lunch while hanging out around in the parking area. I saw this bird next to one of the buildings.Is is called Steller’s Jay. I believe we sighted this bird on a few other occasions.

From this recreation area you can actually hike up the mountains into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Four Lakes Backcountry Zone. There are different rules there from those in the recreation area for use of the land, including for trekking and camping.

We continued our drive on Route 72 until we arrived at the town of Nederland.Our first stop was supposed to be the Mining Museum, but it turned out that the place was only open on weekends.

We headed for the Visitor Center to get some idea about the town.(The rest rooms for the visitor center were interesting in that the doors and locks were operated without having to touch anything!) We inquired with the friendly lady inside the visitor center about what there was to see and do in town if we had just a few hours to spare. She gave us enough information to get us going.

The place certainly had an old-town appearance to it.

We took a walk along Boulder Creek.
There were aspen trees beside a certain section of the trail.
We walked to the water inlet to Barker Meadow Reservoir.There is a dam downstream of the reservoir that holds back the water to form this lake.In the first of the two pictures above, you can see the threatening clouds that were moving in from the west.

By this time I was beginning to get a kind of vibe from the town that my instincts related to the 1960s, the time of the hippies. It seemed to be a laid-back place. This feeling began when I first noticed the folks in the park beside the creek. They had parked their old vans by the water, were playing older music, and were indulging in some random artwork on random objects of different kinds. I was thinking that they would sell these to make some small change. The behavior had a certain ring of familiarity to it. The feeling persisted with other people we encountered. There was a certain casualness, a certain way of presenting oneself that seemed different from that of an eastern suburbanite. I wondered if this was generally a Colorado thing. I imagined people getting away from complicated lives and coming to live a simple life in the mountains. Perhaps some of it was my imagination, perhaps also some wishful thinking.

After the walk to the reservoir we came back to a small shopping area. Angela and I rode the Carousel of Happiness next to the shopping center and a main road.The carousel has some interesting history to it. It was built by a Vietnam Veteran as a therapeutic project using original parts salvaged from another historical carousel from 1917.The carousel opened in 2010.

After that, we had frozen yogurt and coffee from a small and offbeat establishment operating out of a repurposed railroad carriage. They also had miniature donuts that we did not try.

It was raining on and off all of this time. We finished our drinks under the covered bridge over Boulder Creek,and headed to the car.

We departed Nederland in the rain – headed for the town of Boulder on Route 119. The road is also called Boulder Canyon Drive in this section. As we departed the area of Nederland, I took this picture of the dam downstream of the reservoir.It was still raining lightly and the skies were dark over the reservoir. In the distance, we could see the outlines for the mountain ranges that we were about to leave behind. The town of Nederland lay at the far end of the lake.

The drive on Boulder Canyon Drive was actually unexpectedly interesting. We kept descending from the mountains through spectacular canyons that seemed to go on forever. The creek cascaded down the mountain next to the road. There appeared to be quite a few places to pull over to the side to indulge in some outdoor activity or the other, but we were time-constrained because of a flight we had to catch later in the evening. There was a nice running and biking trail running for a long distance through the canyon next to the road. I could imagine myself running and/or biking through the canyon. What a great resource for the locals!

We drove through the town of Boulder, only stopping on the outskirts of town at a local park to pack away stuff into our suitcases to prepare for our flight back. We had assigned ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport and deal with any car rental issues that might be brought up by the rental company.

And then we joined rush hour traffic on our way into Denver. This was quite a change from the traffic in the places that we had been to the last few days.

Fortunately, the return of the rental car went smoothly, and we had plenty of time to get to the terminal before our flight. There was no inquiry about the car that had been damaged a couple of days earlier. We finished our left-over food for dinner after we got to a place on the concourse that was close our departure gate.

The flight back was uneventful other than the fact that there were an unexpectedly large number of young ones on the flight, and a baby that seemed to be objecting to the experience of flying for most of the duration of the flight. And then the kid seated on mother’s lap behind me decided to play with the food tray attached to the back of my seat by regularly banging on it!

The sun set behind us as we were in the air.We landed at the airport around midnight. I was so tired at the airport that I was only thinking about taking the shuttle bus to our parked car, and I forgot about our checked-in luggage. The others were fortunately more alert.

I got us back home safely.

Across The Rocky Mountain National Park

We spent the day driving on the Trail Ridge Road from one end of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other – from Grand Lake in the west to Estes Park in the east. The total distance covered was only about 50 miles, but we did make a few stops and do a lot of walking along the way. It was another exciting day!

We arrived at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, at the western end of Trail Ridge Road, as they were opening up for the day – got some information about the trails to explore, watched a video about the park, and then headed into the park. I had forgotten to bring my senior pass with me, but I had kept a receipt for it on me – just in case! The park ranger at the actual entrance to the park was kind enough to let us into the park after seeing the receipt without our having to pay an entrance fee for the day. She actually did not have to accept the receipt because it was missing some of the information she needed.

We traveled north in the broad Kawuneeche Valley for the first section of the drive, stopping at Harbison Meadows to take a couple of pictures. The Colorado River flows through the meadows. There was a crew of rangers out in the meadows doing some work.The mountains were still in the distance at this point.

The valley narrowed as we drove further north, with the peaks of the Never Summer Mountains rising up to our west. At one point we had the option to stop at a pullout area and start hiking along the Colorado river on the Colorado River Trail – towards a point very close to the river’s actual headwaters. We had considered doing this initially, but ended up not having time. We reached a point in the drive where the road began to climb and switchback its way up the side of a mountain on the eastern side of the valley. At the last of a series of switchbacks, at a pullout up on the mountainside, we got this view of the valley.If you examine the picture carefully, you can almost see the road that we had been driving on in the valley. The Colorado river itself is merely a stream, and is barely visible.

Our first stop was at Milner Pass (10759 feet). The ranger at the visitor center had recommended our walking along the Continental Divide towards Mount Ida from this location. The parking lot at the pass was already full when we arrived. We had to park at a smaller lot further along the road and walk back along the road to get to the start place for the hike.You can see the parking lot for Milner Pass in this picture, beyond the lake in the foreground. The lake is called Poudre Lake.

Unfortunately, once we arrived at the parking lot that was our original destination, I led the team onto the wrong trail. I only figured out that we were going the wrong way after a little while – as we were traversing a meadow.Although the start of this trail had looked well used, we had encountered no other people along the way. Also, we had not seen any official trail markings anywhere.

We had to return to the Milner Pass parking area and restart our hike. We had actually already walked a significant distance by then.

The hike took us immediately up the mountainside. It was quite a steep climb. Since we were also starting out from a high altitude. the going was tough.We arrived at a point where the trail split in two directions, one leading to the Alpine Visitor Center, and the other taking us in the direction of Mount Ida. There was a warning attached to the trail sign to watch out for the weather if one were headed in the direction of Mount Ida. The weather could change quickly in these parts and one would be walking in the open, above the tree line, for the latter part of the hike. If one were caught in a storm, including perhaps lightning, there would be no place to take shelter. We had been warned that there was the possibility of inclement weather later in the day. We wanted to complete the hike before that time.

The climb never got easy! The vegetation started thinning out as our elevation increased,and at some point we made it above the tree line. The Never Summer Mountains loomed to the west of the valley below us.

At one point we thought that we were close to the ridge line of the Continental Divide itself, but we arrived at that locationonly to see that there was still some more significant climbing involved in order to reach the top of the ridge.

We continued our slog higher up the side of the ridge. We then arrived at the highest point on the ridge that we had seen from the bottom of this stretch of the ridge, thinking that we had reached the top,only to find out that there was still quite a climb left if one actually wanted to get to the top of the Continental Divide, and that the trail in fact continued along the side of the ridge rather than along its top.

We regrouped. We had some snacks to restore our energy, and then turned to head back to the trailhead at Milner Pass. We had to leave the climb all the way to Mount Ida for another day. According to my GPS device we had climbed up to 11,620 feet. In my estimation, Mount Ida was still more than a mile away. It is at an elevation of over 12,800 feet. I was not sure about our ability to handle the additional climb at this elevation, even though the climb beyond this section appeared to be a more gradual one. Besides, we had expended additional energy with the walking at Milner Pass itself.

The hike back to Milner Pass, and to our car, was much quicker than the attempted climb up to the Continental Divide.We walked back along the road to the place where we had parked the car, and then drove to a picnic area at Lake Irene to consume our packed lunch. We had expended at lot of energy on this walk even though it had not been that long. Some of us were hangry!

We continued driving eastward into the park on the Trail Ridge Road. Since we had crossed the Milner Pass at a relatively high elevation, I thought that we were already into the high areas of the park. But I was wrong. The road kept climbing and soon we were up in the alpine tundra region of the park. I did not realize how vast this space was until I experienced it. In these wide open spaces, one can see enormous distances along the mountainsides – for miles and miles. The tiny path of the road ahead of us, gaining elevation, looked quite minuscule and insignificant in scale when seen along the side of the massive mountain range. I was awestruck.

At Medicine Bow Curve we could see that the road was headed still higher up the hillside after the switchback.

This is what I saw at the switchback after Medicine Bow Curve up on the mountain. (You can actually see the switchback in the middle of the previous picture.) This picture also shows the road that we had already traveled on on our way from Milner Pass. It is to the right of the picture.

(The lighting was not ideal for the above pictures. You might have to click on the pictures to open them up and actually see the roads on the mountainsides.)

From the location where the above picture was taken, I could also barely make out a building on what looked like a saddle between two mountains. That was my first sight of the Alpine Visitor Center, at an elevation of 11,796 feet. It is the National Park Service’s highest visitor center.

We arrived at the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot, and for the first time got a full appreciation for the magnitude of the crowds visiting the park.The big parking lot mostly full and you had to drive around to find an available spot.

We first tackled the Alpine Ridge Trail that ran up the hill next to the visitor center.
It was difficult climbing because of the elevation, but I did not feel it as bad as at Mount Evans.You could not see the actual top of this hill from the visitor center. You got a surprise when you got to where you thought the climb ended – when you suddenly realized that there was some more to go! Fortunately, this last section of the hike was not as steep as the earlier one.

Along the side of this trail was a wayside display that explained why it was more difficult to climb at this altitude, and the kind of behaviors that one could expect from a person suffering from the effects of altitude sickness. I could not help thinking that this was a perfect location for teaching young people. They should be busing school kids to the visitor center and taking them up the mountain so that they can experience and get more practical knowledgeable about the realities of our physical world.

Here is a view from the top of the mountain.The mountain had a flat top, and its elevation topped out at 12.005 feet.

Back at the level of the visitor center, you could also see the western terminus of the Old Fall River Road that also ran across the park. It is a one-way, mostly dirt, road that can only be driven in the east to west direction today, and it runs in the valley between the mountain ridges, one of the ridges being the one we were going to continue our drive on. Here is a picture of the road climbing from the valley to the level of the visitor center.We would encounter the Fall river once again later in the town of Estes Park. Both of the roads through the park are closed in winter.

After the somewhat obligatory shopping at the gift shop in the visitor center, we continued the drive eastward along the Trail Ridge Drive. We made a few stops along the way at different viewpoints. We crossed the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet. There was a herd of elk at one point along the road that brought traffic to a standstill. We pulled off the road into a parking lot to see the animals.

Here is a sweeping view of the mountains from the Forest Canyon Pullout. Mount Ida can actually be seen in the distance, towards the right side of the picture.

The drive in the alpine tundra section of the park, above the tree line, came to an end at Rainbow Curve (elevation 10,875 feet). Here is a picture of the valley below as seen from that viewpoint.The road was about to start descending into the valley beyond this point.We could see a spectacular rainstorm happening in the distance.There were also chipmunks at the parking lot that kept us entertained.We remembered these animals from our previous trip to the park.

Rainbow Curve was the location at which our attempt to explore the western side of the park had stopped during our previous visit to the park – due to unexpected snowfall early in the season in the mountains.

We had just descended into the valley (on the road seen in one of pictures above) when we came to an area where all traffic had come to a standstill. People were stopping their cars on the narrow road and getting out to look at something by the roadside. There did not seem to be any park official around to maintain order. As we crawled along, we finally got a glimpse of what had caught people’s attention. It was a moose! We had made a few trips to parks out west, and this would be a first moose sighting for us. I found a place beyond the crowds where there was place to pull over safely, and got out of the car and walked back to the place where we had sighted the animal.

The moose was sitting quietly amongst the vegetation chewing on the greenery. It appeared to be completely oblivious to the excitement that its presence had caused.

Our last stop in the park was at a big meadow (elevation about 8500 feet) that was said to be a good location for bird watching, and for looking for longhorn sheep. We found neither. There was the solitary elk sitting in the meadow in the distance. It looked quite relaxed!

From the meadow, off to the west, we could see the opening in the mountains through which the Old Fall River Road runs. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to drive on that road some future day.

We could also see Rainbow Curve from this point. That was the location in the mountains from which we had seen this meadow for the first time. I had also taken pictures of the meadow from Rainbow Curve.

We drove further east, out of the park, and into the outskirts of the town of Estes Park, soon after we left the meadows. Our motel turned out to be a charming place, sprawled out on a property beside the road, accessed by a short covered bridge over Fall River. The motel property also included a short trail beside the river. There was some exploration to be done the next morning.

After all the events of the previous day. including the late night, I was happy to end the activities of this day somewhat early. We headed out towards the center of Estes Park for dinner. Memories of our previous trip came flooding back as we entered the central area of town. It is a very touristy place, and not very inviting. There was no room at our first choice of restaurant this evening, but we did manage to find another nice place to eat. After dinner, we walked over to the river running behind the shops. Fall river feeds into the Big Thomson River in town. Big Thomson River also originates in the park, and it runs through the valley that we had seen from Forest Canyon Pullout earlier in the day.

After dinner, we took a detour to try to locate the motel we had stayed in during our previous trip. The mission was successful. We then drove back to our motel for a relaxed evening. I was able to crash out at a reasonable time.

We have managed to explore just a tiny part of what Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer during our two trips to the park. There is so much of hiking and exploration that remains to be done. Surely one must return!

A Day Of Travel And Adventure

This was probably the most eventful day of this whole trip. Our destination for the end of the day was Grand Lake (elevation 8369 feet), located at the western entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. There were a couple of options under consideration for the route to get us there. Either way, we would head out west into the mountains on Interstate-70 for the initial part of the drive, but once on the highway, there were two different options to consider to get us to Grand Lake. One route was shorter than the other. Our decision would depend on the time at our disposal. We ended up taking the longer route.

Our first destination for the day, Mount Evans (elevation 14258 feet) had been chosen just the previous evening, at the last minute, after hearing about the plans that friends had to visit the place. They were going to try to see the sunrise. That was much too early for us. We could perhaps get to the Fourteener later in the morning. (My original thought had been to instead stop at Berthoud Pass, a pass that has been, and still is, notoriously difficult to traverse – on the shorter route to Grand Lake.)

The morning started just like the one before, with a sighting of the dawn.

We first stopped at the local AAA office near our hotel to get a paper map of Colorado in case we had networking and/or GPS issues during our travel. We also stopped at the Safeway grocery store for lunch items, and also for Dramamine for the road. After a check of tire pressures at the gas station, we were on our way!

We were still climbing into the mountains when we exited I-70 at Idaho Springs (elevation 7526 feet) and then headed southwest on highway 103 towards Mount Evans. After entering the park just beyond Echo Lake,we started our drive up the road to the top of the mountain. Wow, wow, wow! This road, about 14 miles long, tops off at 14,140 feet, near the top of Mount Evans – climbing into the open spaces of the alpine tundra, above the treeline, and traversing many spectacular mountain sides, clinging to the mountainsides, dangerously in some places, and even passing a beatiful mountain lake (a tarn), before reaching its destination. Note that Echo Lake, where the road starts its climb up the mountains is at only about 10,600 feet. This road to the top is claimed to be the highest paved road in North America (and 5th highest in the world). It is clear that the road is a difficult one to maintain. It is closed in winter. While climbing up the mountain, it quickly becomes a narrow road without a divider, with sections where vehicles have to pass each other with extreme caution. There is no protective wall on the side to prevent one from tumbling over the mountainside. The condition of the road as it passes Summit Lake is extremely poor, with huge potholes, and the pavement itself undulating up and down in a dangerous way. This section has to be passed very carefully.

We arrived at the parking area near the top of the mountain to find ourselves in a fog. The temperature had fallen quite significantly by now, and there was snow around us. There was an open structure beside the parking lot.

We explored this area quickly and used the restroom. There was an observatory nearby that we could not even see at that point. We then started climbing to the actual top of the mountain on foot. The conditions were a little dicey, but, having gotten this far, we were determined to finish this last section. I was having trouble breathing. I needed to take it slow and easy.
The exposed rocks, fortunately, had a good grip!

We managed to get to the top safely. It was still misty – but the fog gradually began to lift.A spectacular view opened before our eyes. Here is a picture including Summit Lake (elevation 12840 feet).This is the geological marker at the top of the mountain.

It cleared up enough that we could see the observatory as we walked down from the mountain top.

We made a few stops driving back down the mountain. I got a picture of a Yellow Belied Marmot at one of our early stops.This is the view from the place where we saw the marmot.

This is a picture of Summit Lake.Interestingly, the park here is owned by the City of Denver, and they charge you for its use. Apparently the Denver Mountain Parks system is an over 14,000 acre collection of parks in different parts of Colorado.

We had lunch at Echo Lake, and then got back on the road to Idaho Springs. At Idaho Springs, we headed west on I-70 towards the town of Silverthorne.

It was at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial tunnels on the highway (highest elevation 11,158 feet) that we ran into our first unexpected situation. This is the highest point on the Interstate system in the United States, and it is among the highest vehicular tunnels in the world. As we were emerging from the tunnel, we saw a sign just outside that warned about ice on the road, and cautioned drivers to slow down. We had entered the tunnel in a location where it had been sunny and dry, and we were not prepared for what happened next – in spite of the sign. As we exited the tunnel, we hit a patch of rough pavement, and felt and saw the snow around us. We were coming into a gradual curve, and I had to steady myself. I could not panic! Fortunately, the tires found their grip on the road surface, between the patches of snow, on a clear twin path that had been created by vehicles that that previously exited the tunnel. There was an official vehicle with its emergency lights beside the road, and another vehicle seemed to have smashed into the side of the hill next to the road. It was snowing! Everything slowed down. I sneaked a look at the thermometer in the car. It was 38°F outside.

The roadway was a mess for a few miles after this. The pavement was flooded in parts. The road spray from the 18 wheelers on the other side of the highway was flying over the divider and onto our windshield, temporaily blinding us. We ourselves were in danger of hydroplaning and losing traction in some sections that were waterlogged. By this time the rain also was coming down in sheets, in bursts, and visibility was also suboptimal. Our vehicle was heavy enough to hold steady. I proceeded with caution. The good thing was that traffic was light. We made it safely through this section.

The weather had cleared up by the time we got to Silverthorne, but there were threatening clouds in the direction of the mountains. It was still cold.

The sun was out as we headed north on route 9 in the direction of Kremming. Just before we reached Kremming, we turned off the main road and headed west on Trough Road, a part of the Colorado River Headwaters National Scenic Byway. We followed this mostly dirt road till we got to the Gore Valley Overlook, where we could see the Colorado River flowing below us.
Having followed the Colorado river all along its flow. all the way into Arizona, during previous trips, I was appreciative of seeing this section of the river also.

The railroad line running through the canyon is a historical one. It is part of the earliest railroad connection across the Rocky Mountains between the east and west of the continent, and this is part of the section between Denver and Salt lake City. This line includes the historical Moffat Tunnel. Amtrak’s California Zephyr still runs on this line.

We headed back to the main road towards Kremming. We drove further north on route 9. Once we reached Kremming (elevation 7313 feet), we made a right turn onto Highway 40 to head east towards the town of Granby (elevation 7935 feet). Our route paralleled the Colorado river and the railroad line during this part of the drive. The skies looked threatening ahead of us, and we did encounter some rain.

It was in a section of the road that ran through a canyon that we had our second unexpected event of the day. It seems like the rains had losened up rocks along the canyon wall. We would come across small rocks randomly littering the road, in small enough number to not be of great concern. There were signs along the road that indicated the presence of the rock falls. We were managing the driving quite nicely until we came upon a section of the road where the attempt to avoid driving over the rocks resulted in one of the bigger rocks going right under the car. It seemed small enough to fit under the front end of the car – and it did. Unfortunately, we also heard a loud bang from under the car. It was an “Oh, crap!” moment to put it lightly, but the car continued to drive properly after the event. We thought we had made it OK. Soon after that encounter, we arrived at the turnoff from route 40 onto route 34 towards the town of Grand Lake. As we approached our destination, the sounds from below the car bagan to get more obvious, especially to the nervous driver. When we reached our destination I looked under the car. A piece of plastic has come loose and was dragging along the ground.

There was no way that we were going to go any further in this car. The area in which we had ended up was far off beaten path and I did not think I would be able to find a place to fix the problem anywhere close by. While the others checked into our cabin for the night, I made a call to the rental company. They quickly decided that the only way to resolve the problem was to get us a new car. They had to find a place from which to send it to us. They would also take the damaged car back with them. They indicated that they would address the problem within 8 hours! We were to be contacted as soon as they figured out the details. This sounded good!

Meanwhile, we headed out into town for dinner.It was a small place, and one could walk from one end of town to the other other in a matter of minutes. The place seemed to be set up for the tourists, but this traffic tends to be seasonal in these parts. The entrance to the western end of the Trail Ridge Road across the Rocky Mountain National Park was nearby, but this road is closed during the winter time.

After dinner, we took a detour to look at Grand Lakeand then headed back to our cabin.

While we were out in town, I got several messages related to our car problem. The person calling the first time seemed to be confused about what problem they were addressing, and where they were supposed to go. Soon after I corrected that issue, I got a text message that the problem would be addressed in half-an-hour. A company had been found to send me my replacement car and to take the old one away. I then got a call from the person who was actually going to bring out my new car. It was going to take about three hours, not the half hour that was initially promised. The person had to drive to the Denver Airport to get the new car since there was no agency of the rental company closer by that could be of use.

While the others settled in to try to get some sleep, I sat up in the living room awaiting my new car. It took more than the three hours promised for the towing company to arrive with the new car. The person doing the car exchange was very professional. He got the job done quickly and quietly without disturbing the people in the neighboring cabins. He was smart enough to do the unloading of the new car from the tow truck, and the loading of the damaged car onto the tow truck, on the main road, away from our sleeping neighbors. I was impressed by how he got the job done.

It was about 11:30pm by the time I could get to bed. It had been a long day and I was super-tired.

But the trip could also go on as originally planned! Things turned out OK in the end – except for perhaps a bill for damages that I could expect, and take care of later. The number of different things that one was exposed to on that long and exciting day made for a very memorable episode in the life of one Mr. Joseph of Planet Earth.

I slept well!

A Wedding Day In Colorado

It was still dark in the hotel room when I awoke that morning. I noticed a faint colored light coming into the room through the small opening that remained between the two closed curtains. I had to investigate.

My timing could not have been better. It happened to be the moments just before sunrise, and our room on the sixth floor was on the proper side of the hotel to observe the phenomenon as it was happening.

You can see the downtown Denver skyline in the pictures.

We had plenty of time to get ready for the events of the day after waking up. The wedding ceremonies were to take place in a mansion on Lookout Mountain at the foothills of the Rockies, just outside of Golden.

The wedding was held outdoors.There were two ceremonies. The Hindu ceremony included many rituals.This ceremony ended shortly before noon.

There was a short break before the Jewish wedding ceremony took place during which there was opportunity to take a few pictures.

It was getting hot by then.

The Jewish wedding ceremony was officiated by a cantor.There was the traditional breaking of the glass towards the end of this ceremony!We enjoyed the South Indian vegetarian lunch that was served after the wedding ceremonies. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to rest for a little while before the reception that was to take place in the evening.

We took the scenic route back to the hotel, descending down the slopes of the Windy Saddle Park section of the mountains,overlooking the town of Golden on our way down from the foothills of the mountains,including a closer view of the famous Coors brewery from one of the viewpoints along the way.

We returned to the mountains for the reception later in the day. It was held at a club. It was a beautiful location. Evening turned into nighttime as we enjoyed the drink and food and listened to speeches from the families.The celebration continued as we took to the dance floor and boogied late into the night. Many calories were shed (and much water was drunk in order to stay hydrated!). We were amongst the stragglers that left only after they turned off the music. It all had to come to an end some time!

As we departed the club, we were warned about the presence of a bear in the parking lot. Fortunately, none were encountered.

We slept well that night.

Arrival in Colorado

As I mentioned in my previous blog, our trip to Colorado started out with an early morning flight the day before the wedding we were about to attend.

The drive from home to BWI airport was on empty roads in the darkness before the break of dawn. We were able to find a parking spot in the Express Lot closer to the terminals. Surprisingly, the Southwest terminal was packed with people even though it was only around 5:00am. So many people traveling at that time! Thankfully, all the lines – bag check-in and security – moved quickly. The flight was full.

We overflew both the BWI airportand Dulles International airporton our way to Atlanta. At Atlanta, we were delayed on the taxiways for over 20 minutes while a gate was cleared for our aircraft to park at. Our aircraft made a figure-of-eight move between two temporary halts on two different taxiways during this period of time before finally moving on to a gate. It was quite confusing. At the same time, we heard that there was a ground stop on all Delta flights all over the country due to a software problem in the system. Angela’s flight’s departure from JFK could have been delayed. And Atlanta, where we were, was also the central hub for Delta flights.

From our stalled aircraft, we could see Delta flights lined up for takeoff. The thought occurred to me that all of this could potentially also impact our own flight. The day could have started with delays for all of us!

Thankfully, all issues were cleared up for all flights involved quickly. Delta seemed to have addressed their issue quickly, and flights were soon on their way, and our aircraft was also parked at a gate well before our connecting flight to Denver was expected to take off. I got some breakfast from the terminal. It was a mistake. The coffee tasted awful – I like to say it tasted like cardboard, but then again, I have not tasted cardboard – I think!

The flight to Denver was uneventful as far as I can remember. The flight arrived on time. This is a picture of the airport as our aircraft was preparing to turn around and come in for a landing.This is a picture of the main Terminal at Denver International Airport.

We met up with Angela at the baggage carousel, got our bags, and headed out to the car rental place. The process was smooth, but took time. We drove away from the rental place in our Toyota Camry towards Golden, CO – actually to our hotel in a place called Lakewood, just a few miles east of Golden.

We could not check into the hotel immediately upon arrival because we had gotten there an hour before the earliest check-in time. We spent the extra time exploring the downtown Denver area by car. Denver feels like a small town when compared to the big US cities that I am more familiar with. It is easy to get around, there is a lot of open space, and it seems to not be crowded. The skyline of the downtown area is typical of a big city in the United States.It turned out that Lakewood (and even Golden) are easily accessible from the downtown area – both by car and even using a public transport system. Denver seems to have also invested heavily in long-term growth, with what appears to be a very nice light-rail metro system – with lines radiating out in all directions, into the distant suburbs, from the downtown area. The downtown is connected to both the airport in the east, and to Golden in the west, by train. The system is relatively new and seems to be still under development. There is significant room and scope for the city to grow further.

Once checked into our hotel room, we had a short time to rest before heading out to the welcome event at a golf course in Golden. People were still arriving from different parts of the country for the wedding that was to take place the next day.

After dinner, we stopped at the local Target before heading back to the hotel. Blueberries and packaged chocolate croissants were picked up for breakfast!

A Busy Time

I got back from my trip to India just a short while ago, but it seems like an eternity has passed already. The pace of life has been intense the last couple of weeks.

The first week of my return, with the singing event with the chorus happening at the agricultural fair in the evenings, was quite tiring. My last day of singing was particularly busy, but also enjoyable. We ended up singing more than we usually do. The crowds on the streets were heavier in volume than at the beginning of the week, and, in most locations, people would actually stop on the street to listen to us sing. (Some would stop just to take our picture, seemingly not paying attention to the music itself, but that is par for the course at the fair.) We even had requests from people – including one invitation late in evening to sing at the rabbit barn! One of the highlights of the evening was when we sang The Cup Song to a bunch of little kids who were minding a booth. They joined us in the melody.

Two days after my last singing day at the fair, we were up early in the morning, at 3AM, to get ready to make our way to the airport, heading for a wedding in Golden, CO. The purchase of the least expensive airline ticket that we could find meant that our flight departed before the sun was up.
The routing to our final destination of Denver included a stopover in Atlanta for a change of flights. That detour made the journey much longer than it could have been.

That day turned into a long one, including a late evening out in the time zone that we had ended up in, two hours west of where we had started the day. There was a welcome event that evening to set the stage for the wedding the next day, after which we set off in search of the local Target store to get some supplies for the rest of the trip.

The day of the wedding started off very early, one of the factors being that the body had not had a chance to adjust to the change in time zone. I was up before the sunrise.

The wedding events were spaced out throughout the day, ending in an evening reception at a club located in the foothills of the Rockies, overlooking the high plains of Colorado. It was indeed a unique and wonderful setting for a wedding reception.

The day after the wedding, we set out on a drive through Colorado that lasted three days. The drive included many different adventures that I hope to write further about. It was both a challenging and exhilarating tour. I am also happy that we came out of the whole trip without anything untoward happening to us – since events did not nearly always follow an expected path. It is good to remind oneself once in a while that we are not really always in control of things even though we think we are.

We arrived at Denver airport early in the evening on our last day of travel to catch a late evening flight back home.

Evening gradually faded into the nighttime soon after our departure from Denver.We arrived at BWI shortly after midnight, overflying parts of the city of Baltimore on our way in for landing.It was the early hours of the morning by the time we got back home and went to bed.

And now it is back to our old routines. Suffice it to say that we were in a very different space both physically and mentally just a couple a days ago.

And now further travels await!

Into The Fire

I am back in the United States. As with all of the previous trips that I have made back from India, the transitions that I experienced while traveling were quite abrupt and significant, but this time it was less jarring. For one thing, I left my parent’s home for the airport at a reasonable hour of the day – in the evening, and not at some unearthly hour around midnight as is usually the case. Life was in full swing on the streets of Madipakkam when I left. I am used to unexpectedly quiet departures for the US. I did not have the opportunity to get into a contemplative and brooding state of mind on the way to airport itself.

The other reason why my departure from India might have been less painful than it usually is was because I was leaving my also-visiting sister behind at home. Things would be taken care of at home for at least a little while longer after my departure.

The Uber driver gently, quietly, and quickly negotiated and navigated his way through the crowds and the chaos of the streets of Madipakkam and Nanganallur, then on to the crowded highway to Tambaram, and finally got me to the airport – well before the scheduled departure time.

The airport experience was an intense one in its initial stages. First, I had to fight my way through the crowd that was blocking the entrance to the airport itself. Most of the people were just hanging out and not intending to enter the airport. Then, a long line to check in my baggage, thankfully managed somewhat professionally by the airline staff. Security was a total mess. They had a sophisticated system to handle the carry-on luggage, but the security staff seemed to have not been trained in the proper use of the equipment. People, both official and unofficial, who were clueless, felt the need to pass along advice to others on what they were supposed to do. I found that my laptop computer had made its way through the scanning machine while I was stuck on the other side desperately trying to find a way to pass my other hand luggage through. And then they ran out of trays! Fortunately, I was able to team up with another person who was in a similar situation as I was in – to interrupt the flow of trays and insert mine in the way. I had to even grab a tray that an officer was holding out in her hand for somebody else! In the end, my computer might have been in the open on the other side of the scanner for anybody to grab for over 10 minutes!

The first flight from Chennai to Dubai was uneventful and quick. A double gin and tonic helped me to digest the late dinner and to relax for the rest of the flight. I did get some shuteye. On arrival at Dubai, I had just about enough time to make it to my departure gate. I had only 2 hours between flights. The 14 hour flight to Washington DC was uneventful. I would say that more than 80 percent of the passengers on this flight must have originated their travel in India.

It was strange to begin this part of the trip with dinner once again. Traveling across time zones leads to strange happenings. Thankfully, I was able to snooze in fits and starts during this flight. The only two movies I caught were classics. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart, includes a classic line that has made it into the current popular lingo. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges! The other movie I saw was Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. I have seen this movie several times, and it never ceases to entertain! These old movies have a great charm which is completely lacking in new releases. It is clear that the acting and staging in these movies comes out of a theatrical background. And the performances are compelling.

I was also able to continue reading the book by Tom Clancy that I was carrying with me during other times of the flight. This is my first exposure to the author. I find the attitudes expressed in the book to be rather dated – jingoistic, a little racist, and definitely full of stereotypes – but I will finish the book nonetheless. Then, I think I will be done with the author.

All of my book reading and movie watching during the flight were interrupted by episodes of sleep. I would pause the movie or put away the book whenever the urge to snooze hit me. No use fighting it. This strategy seemed to work rather nicely. I felt fine after the long flight, on arrival at Dulles International Airport. I was finally able to head home from the airport after a long wait for my luggage at the baggage carousel. It was chaotic. When a massive A380 aircraft unloads its full complement of passengers, most of whom are carrying the maximum luggage they are allowed, there is not even enough space on the carousel for all of the luggage being unloaded. The measures taken to mitigate this situation added to the confusion.

Thankfully, I was able to sleep the next day, but I was back in action in the field the day after that. My chorus is singing at the agricultural fair once again, and I had to go out to support the troops. Due to the difference in time zones, it was nighttime in India while I was out singing in the summer sun of Gaithersburg the last couple of days. I go out to sing once again this evening. The contrast between the nature of the crowd at the fair here in the US and the nature of the crowds on the streets in India is beyond description. I will not every try! We are truly living in many different realities on this planet. And the challenge of singing barbershop harmonies after having been out of it for more than a month is significant. Into the fire…

The great thing that has happened is that I have not fallen ill so far after my return. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Hopefully, I am able to pursue further adventures that are in the works once again starting next weekend! Meanwhile, I need to make sure that I am able to recover from the efforts of these travels more completely.