The most interesting part of the travelogue for me was the description of the steps being taken in China to combat COVID-19. What they are doing must be having an impact based on the numbers we are seeing. We look like relative fools here in the USA. Our leadership is failing. Soon we will be number one, and it will not be a positive thing. Shame on us.
We are back home from our trip to India. Truth be told, the travel involved, this time, created more of a felling of tiredness and disorder in the brain than I ever felt before. Waiting in the middle of the night at the airport to board the flight, at a time when you are normally in bed – amidst the crowd, the lights, the noise, and the nonstop activity all around you – it all disturbs the mind.Standing in a long and disorderly line in the middle of the night, a line that was moving slowly, among a crowd of people, many of whom were in the same zombie-like state of mind as myself, waiting to board the massive aircraft, find your seat, and fall asleep, it numbs the mind. You just want to be done with it. A few of our fellow-travelers were wearing masks, a sign of these troubled times.The flights back home were themselves long but unremarkable otherwise. But, the act of passing through multiple time zones in a short amount of time while regularly forcing the body to behave as if it were experiencing a different time of day than it has become used to – it added to the weariness.
Being pulled over for additional scrutiny at the security checkpoint at the transit airport made things worse. I went through the process like a automaton, just hoping that it would be over soon. My boarding pass had apparently been marked for the additional security check at my initial boarding point in Bangalore.
It was raining in Frankfurt by the time our flight departed for Washington, DC.I spent the early part of this second flight watching a movie and trying to fight off the sleep that hit me at the wrong time, a sleep that could interfere with my attempt to fight of jet-lag after getting back home. Later on in the flight, I opened the shade beside my seat to find that we were flying over the icy waters of the North Atlantic.Soon we had reached the eastern shores of Canada. During this part of the trip, I kept a lookout for the other aircraft that seemed to be flying with us across the ocean. I could see its contrails just below us for a very long time. The aircraft finally came into view after we finally caught up with it when crossing the Canadian shoreline. Here is a picture. At this point, the path of this second aircraft was beginning to diverge from ours. It was another Lufthansa aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, which was probably headed for Philadelphia. I will end this blog with a couple of pictures of the sunrise taken in Bangalore. These pictures were taken on different days from the 12th floor (according to the European and Indian system of counting floors, this would be considered the 11th floor!).The smoke in the first picture, and the color of the sun in the second one, were interesting. I believe that these could actually be a result of pollution and smog!
Now that I am back home, I have to catch up on a month’s backlog of things to do! Did I mention that I am already tired?
Still adjusting in Gaithersburg…
The new house in Madipakkam has two floors. Its elevation provides for a different view of the area around the house than I am used to. Here are some observations from an evening on the terrace.
There are many cellphone towers built on top of buildings in the neighborhood around us. You can see a worker coming down from the top of this particular tower across the street. I actually saw him at the top, but was not quick enough with my camera to take his picture while he was there.The traffic on the main road in front of the house is a disorderly mess. I am getting better and better at figuring out how to cross roads like this on foot. You will notice that there are two-wheelers on both sides of the white car in this picture. One of them is parked.On top of the building in front of the house you can see a few, small, one-room shacks that that have been added on, perhaps illegally. I suspect that these are rented. There must be at least four units in the picture below. These are probably occupied by young people who have come to the city to work. This is all they can afford under the circumstances, and it is in all likelihood better accommodation than some others on the street.The little home captured in the picture below sits on top of another building next to the house. It is located next to, and just below, a couple of cellphone towers built on top of the same building. The clothing hangs out to dry next to the structures. I hate to think of the radiation that one is exposed to on a continuous basis under the towers. People living there are probably unaware of this. Even if they were, the decision to live here might be considered a difficult choice between two bad alternatives – affordable housing vs. long term health.The occasional bird flew across the sky high above me as I stood on the terrace. Sometimes it was a group of birds that I observed headed in what looked like a random direction, seemingly with a sense of purpose.An egret settled down on a coconut tree close to the level of the terrace I was on. It observed the human being pacing back and forth on the terrace for a while and then moved on.Meanwhile, the the sun began its descent behind the buildings of Madipakkam at the end of yet another Chennai evening.The cycle will continue.
I am back home, visiting my parents once again. I searched my blogs from the last few years, and realized that I have been making this trip more frequently in recent times. And I have been posting pictures and writing my impressions about the experience over and over again. It is a good thing. The essential, core, feeling that comes with a trip home never seems to change regardless of the circumstances which bring me here, which tends to be different each time. This time, I am here for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebration, a celebration of a life well lived, and still being lived. I am happy to be home for the occasion. Once again.
And so it is time to put these series of blogs out of its misery. It is time to end this long tale. I have already said most of what I wanted to say for this last part of the trip, but I did that at the beginning of the story, and you may have already forgotten all of that. I shall add to the original account that I gave.
After a nice breakfast, we departed the Silver Creek Hoteland Bellevue for the Sawtooth Mountain National Recreation Area. The weather was somewhat dreary. The drive through the mountains was still spectacular, and a little challenging where snow was falling. Many official facilities in the recreation area were already shut down for the winter, and there were very few people around. I had planned for a hike at Redfish Lake to be a highlight of the day, but that did not pan out. The plan finally fell apart at the starting point of the trail. That impacted my mood the rest of the day.
The little town of Stanley was interesting. I posted this other picture of the town in the earlier blog, along with my sense of the town itself.Stanley was the extent of our northward exploration on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.We stopped by the road for lunch on our way out of the park. The traffic was so light, I was able to take this picture.We took a short walk in a park along the Big Wood River just before we got to the towns of Sun Valley – Ketcham, Hailey, and Bellevue.We did a hike at Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls.It took us some effort to find the actual trail. We started the walk not knowing where it would take us. We ended up climbing out of the canyon to get a view of the Falls from a unique vantage point.It looked like the trail extended beyond this point, but we did not explore any further. We had started out the hike from a point just behind the waterfalls themselves.
We did stop at Dierkis Lake after that. You can make out the faint outline of the lake at the top right hand corner of the picture above. It is at the level of the top of the canyon. Imagine the whole area being originally covered by water, and a river cutting out a canyon after the level of the water dropped, and water left behind from the ocean that previously existed in this space collected in a basin beside the canyon, thus forming a lake. All this would have happened millions of years ago. You can read about some of the geology of the place at the Wikipedia page for the Snake River.
By the time we got to Dierkis Lake, the late evening sun lit up the lake in a unique manner. It turned out to be a small body of water. Very few people were around.Our stop for the night was on the highway to Salt Lake City, at a place called Burley, in Idaho. The town felt like a regular truck stop along the Interstate for travelers, with its chain motels, restaurants, fast food, and gas stations. There was nothing remarkable about the place. We stayed at a Best Western motel and had a simple dinner of “comfort food” (with a beverage, of course) at the Perkins restaurant attached to it.
We did a lot of driving the next day on the way to Salt Lake City. The stop at Antelope Island was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps the experience might have been better if we were able to hike one of the more challenging trails. The easier trails were not very well maintained. Here is a picture taken from the park of Salt Lake City in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains. I thought might be worth sharing.We got to Salt Lake City that evening.
The sights that are in Salt Lake City itself can easily be covered on foot since it is a small place. Our hotel was also close to downtown.
We spent the next day walking around the city. Here are some more pictures from Temple Square, the area where the buildings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) is located. The building in the picture below is the chapel. The wall represents the border of Temple Square itself.The following picture was taken outside the Tabernacle. We were waiting for a performance. The tabernacle building has fantastic acoustics inside. We could hear a piece of paper being shredded on the stage from far back in the room without any electronic amplification.This is a picture of the famous Mormon temple of Salt Lake City. It is the only space in the area of Temple Square considered sacred and not accessible to non-believers.There were many couples getting married in the temple, and you could see some of the marriage parties gathered all around the building.There are a few other buildings around Temple Square belonging to the Mormons, including a huge office building. It is probably their headquarters. In general, you get a sense that the Mormon faith does not ask for any level of asceticism in their practices.
Here are some pictures from our visit to the Utah State Capitol. The following pictures were taken on the grounds of the facility. You can see the Wasatch Mountains in the background. To the right of the picture below is a memorial to Mormon pioneer volunteers who joined the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.The picture below is taken from the entrance to the Capitol building. (The entrance is actually to the side of the building rather than its front.) The spire of the old City Hall appears on the right side in the picture below.This is the rotunda of the building itself.The steps in the picture below lead to the offices of the governing officials, including the governor.This is a picture of the Capitol building taken as we departed the area.The road from the Capitol building into the downtown area is called State Street.We walked through the City Creek Center shopping center on the way back just because we had read about it. It looked like any other mall.We experienced a moment of minor excitement as were were walking back to the hotel. There was a loud sound behind us as we were walking near the station seen below. (This was a little while before the train in the picture below arrived at the platform.) We turned to see an older woman who was on a motorized wheelchair toppled over the rails. She looked disheveled, and I am guessing that she was indigent. She had been carrying some metal rods on the chair, and they had fallen off. The footrest on her wheelchair had gotten snagged under the rails. Luckily, a few of us were able to extricate her from the rails before the train arrived. Traffic continued to flow around us.In general, from what I saw, I thought that Salt Lake City seemed to have a more compassionate approach than some other places to dealing with the less well off people who are drawn to the bigger cities. They did not seem to be aggressive about chasing people away to make the tourists feel better about themselves.
It turned miserably cold on our last evening of the travels, and it started to rain. After Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline,we went to dinner at a sushi place. After that, we topped off the gas tank in our rental car. We had an early morning flight the next day, and there was a threat of early morning snow that could impact our ability to get things done in time and leave town in the morning. I could feel the cold right down to my bones standing out it the cold at the gas station on a windy night, and was happy to get back to a warm room in the hotel!
Fortunately, the snow held off that night, and we were able to make it to the airport on time without a hassle. The airport was crowded for that time of the morning. We had an uneventful flight back home on a aircraft that was packed with travelers.
And that is how this story ends….
I was wondering whether to continue this series of blogs beyond our visits to Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons, considering that I had provided a synopsis of the rest of the trip a while back in this blog. I changed my mind after looking once again at the pictures I had taken of Craters of the Moon. For some reason, the awesomeness of what we had seen there did not register to its fullest extent until I saw these pictures once again. So I am continuing the blog series for at least one more day of the trip. I am not yet sure what lies beyond. Without much ado, here goes!
(And before I forget, you do not get the full impact of the panoramic pictures without seeing them on a full screen. So, go ahead and click on them!)
This was our last morning in Victor, Idaho. We had to clear out of the cabin that had been our home for four nights. We, once again, made an eastbound crossing of the Teton Pass for what we thought would be the final time. We were heading to Jackson Hole Airport to drop off Angela. After that, it would be just the two of us for the rest of the trip.
We went to the airport through the area of Grand Teton Park where the moose had been sighted by others on the first day of the visit to the park, giving it one last try! We were unsuccessful in seeing moose yet again.
After the stop at the airport, we headed out for our tourist destination for the day – the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Unexpectedly, the route set out for us by our GPS device took us back over Teton Pass one last time, and into Victor. We took a left turn at the only traffic light in Victor and headed west towards central Idaho.
The drive towards Craters of the Moon took us through all kinds of different terrain and surroundings. There was first the forest land and the mountain pass that we went through coming out of Victor. We then drove over flatland and past massive farms, with the road running close to the Snake River itself. We could have stopped at one of the lookout points overlooking the deep canyon in which the river ran, but did not do so since we had a long drive ahead. The only significant population center along the way was the city of Idaho Falls. We arrived at our destination after an extended drive through what looked like wasteland. This space actually included the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility. (There is even a place in this part of Idaho called Atomic City. It has a population of less than 100 people.)
The area of Craters of the Moon has a distinctive landscape that is quite different from what you see in the space around it. It is interesting that the activity from within the mantle of the earth manages to escape to the surface in just this small area. As I noted in the earlier blog, such activity happens approximately once every 2000 years, and we are due for some action any time now!
The park itself is a small one to drive through. We had enough time to do a couple of walks. The road through the park has turnouts at which you can pull over to visit some specific sites. We headed out after watching a video in the visitor center.
The first stop near the visitor center was to see the North Crater lava flow area.
We walked up to the formations that you see in the above picture. They are called cinder cone fragments. They are from the side of a volcanic cone that broke apart. They were carried to the place where we see them now by the flow of lava that resulted.You can see the nature of the rocks in the flow as you get closer.Interestingly enough, some of the rocks that we encountered in the park were extremely light. These were the ones that contained air pockets that were created by the hot gases caught within the rock when it was being formed from molten material.
The picture below shows our car parked along the road when we took the walk to see the cinder cone fragments.We made a stop at Inferno Cone. The black sand that forms the outer coating of this cone was quite fine, and the slope up the slope in some sections somewhat steep. We had to be extra careful because of the injured elbows.These are views from the top of Inferno Cone. The objects in the distance in the picture below are called spatter cones.You can see Big Southern Butte (that lies to the east) in the picture below. It is supposed to be one of the largest volcanic domes on earth.We got a 360º panoramic view from this vantage point.There are flowering plants that survive in these harsh conditions.We drove to the area of the spatter cones.This is what it looks like inside one of them. Notice the interesting color of the rocks towards the bottom of the picture.Here are some more of the hardy plants in this area.This is a picture of Inferno Cone from a distance. There is a person walking down the hill. You can make the person out more clearly in the second picture below. I also want to highlight the fact that the National Park Service has used material in the building of the pavements in the park that match the dark volcanic rock in their color. I thought this was a nice touch.Some of the larger vegetation that we saw reflected the harsh nature of our surroundings, and made for beautiful and dramatic views when set against the open sky. The wind does seem to shape the trees.The following pictures were taken from the Broken Top Loop Trail.You can take a detour from the Broken Top Loop Trail to the Big Sink Overlook to see another area of lava flow in the park.We stopped at the Buffalo Caves at the tail end of our hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail. You can see one of the openings to the caves in the pictures below.The presence of caves that you can enter is not very obvious from ground level. There were a couple of adventurous young ladies who were exploring underground, and they popped their heads out unexpectedly! They encouraged me to go in, saying that it was quite safe. One of them showed me the way. I had to crawl in through the shallow entrance. I was fortunate that I did not hurt myself when I bumped my head. (The rock was light and crumbly. So I was left with small pieces of rock in my hair.) I believe that you are supposed to wear a helmet.Once inside the cave, it expanded into a large space where you can walk standing up. One gets out of the cave from a different spot, at the other end of the space that we were standing over. Interesting experience! There are other caves to explore at the Craters of the Moon National Monument.
We left the park shortly after the hike on the Broken Top Loop Trail and started the drive towards Bellevue, the place we were staying at that night. It was a bit of an adventure since I had not done my research about the town of Bellevue, and about the driving distances involved in the drive, properly. The GPS function on the smartphone that we were using for navigation stopped working properly somewhere along the way. Fortunately, we were able to reset the device just in time to be able to find the turnoff from the road that we were on onto a secondary road towards Bellevue. Once on this road I began to get even more nervous, because we seemed to be in the middle of the countryside, and the GPS device indicated that Bellevue was close by, much closer than I expected. I was cursing myself for not having done my homework properly. We were going to be lost in the middle of Idaho! Fortunately, we hit a main road at the outskirts of the town itself before too long, and it was clear that we were in population center with some activity, including hotels and restaurants.
We found the Silver Creek Hotel where we were staying that night easily. It turned out to be a really nice and modern place. Our room on one of the higher floors faced west. We could see the end of the sunset.Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant close by that we were able to walk to. The place was a watering hole. They were serving relatively inexpensive mainstream beers (rather than local craft brews) in large 32 ounce mugs. Neither of us indulged to that extent!
We walked back to our hotel rather full. The Chinese restaurant next door to the place we had eaten at had an empty feel to it. There were some young people hanging out, but mostly the place was quiet. It felt like a small town.
The plan for the next day was to drive north through the Sun Valley to the Sawtooth mountains.
The last posting in this series of blogs here.
Here are a few pictures taken at our cabin in Victor early in the morning after the two days of visiting Grand Teton National Park.This is the living room of the house before sunrise.This picture is taken closer to sunrise.I actually walked out into the cold to take the picture below. You can see the setting moon.Commercial aircraft carrying consignments of human souls zipped across the morning sky, this one headed to some place northwest of where we were.This was a leisurely morning. The decision to stay put in the cabin for the day came only after everybody had woken up. Nobody, it seems, felt a strong desired to spend another day at the Grand Teton National Park. It did take some driving over the mountain pass to get to the place, and we had been doing this crossing regularly. It also took some time to get to the park. Maybe it was getting to be too much. We also looked into local hikes closer to Victor but ended up deciding not to go out on any. We were going to relax.
This was the day for board games and catching up on reading.I got somewhat restless after a little while of sitting around in the cabin and decided to go for a drive on my own. I went into the main part of town and took a few pictures there. It looked like a typical western town.I proceeded towards Driggs, the next big town on the main road. It was just a few miles away. We had stayed there the first night of the trip.
I saw a sign for Darby Canyon Road just outside of Driggs. I made an unplanned turn onto this road on the spur of the moment. I had no idea what lay in store for me.
The road led to some hills in the distance. I was headed east. In a mile or two the paved road turned to dirt, and shortly after that it came to a T-junction. There was a field in front of me, and an abandoned house on the road going left.The road to the right made a 90 degree turn to the left just beyond the field, and continued east. I decided to go in that direction. I ended up heading into Darby Canyon. I had not planned any of this. So, I did not know where the road was going to lead me. But I kept driving. I arrived at a trail head. The trail itself did not look well maintained at that point. It was not very tempting.The canyon stretched out in front of me. I had no idea how far the road went into the canyon.It was tempting to investigate further, but, in the end, I did not drive too far down the Canyon . All of this was unplanned, and I had not budgeted time for “adventures”. I turned back towards the main road to Driggs.
On the way back to the road, I took a picture of this massive irrigation device in a field. We saw many instances of such equipment in the field in the huge farms that we drove by during this trip. I am not sure exactly how this mobile sprinkler system works, since there appears to be the need for a water source at one end, and it looks like the whole system can move without being anchored at any location.Only later did I find out that I had actually crossed from Idaho into Wyoming when driving into Darby canyon. In fact, a short stretch of the road that I had driven along before turning into the canyon ran along the border.
Driggs was a short distance away once I reached the main road. It is a small town. There did not seem to be any significant tourist related activities, but I did see signs for a national forest and an outdoor store. There is a winter sports area close by called the Grand Targhee Resort.From the establishments on the main street, I gathered that there was a Buddhist presence in town. I picked up lunch for the folks in Victor from this small establishment which had prayer scrolls hung up all around on the inside. This was a hole in the wall. I was served by two kids, one of them Asian, perhaps Thai. There was no place to sit inside, and I took one of the last two bags of potato chips. There was one apple left. (This place does not even have its own website.)I headed back to Victor after picking up lunch.
My eyes were drawn to something by the wayside on the way back. I stopped for a quick look. I had seen the signs earlier, but I had not stopped. This time I turned off the main road. It looked like a joke, but suspect that it is, or perhaps was, real. I would be surprised if the drive-in theater is still functional. There is a website for the theater that looks real, but it looks old and the links do not work. Old Murphy looked like something out of a Disney movie. The spud could not have been real, but I did not confirm.It was a very short stop.
I was able to take a picture of the front of the cabin we were staying at when I returned to Victor. It felt bigger inside than it looked like from outside.Lunch was a little delayed due to my unplanned detour. The rest of the afternoon passed by quickly. I made sure I got a group picture before we left for Jackson Hole Airport to drop off the folks headed for Massachusetts.The drive to the airport was uneventful. We could have driven through the park to the airport and made another attempt to see the moose, but we had left the park pass in the cabin. This was the last crossing of Teton Pass for some of us.
I took this picture of the cowboy on the bucking horse at the entrance to the airport. This is a symbol of the State of Wyoming.The three of us drove back to Victor. It was going to be our last night there. We had dinner at a small Thai restaurant called Chiang Mai Thai Kitchen, a surprising find in a place like Victor. (Perhaps the existence of the restaurant was connected with the presence of Buddhists in the general area.) The food was good, but the dishes were different from what one is used to seeing in more mainstream Thai restaurants in the US. We enjoyed the food with some local beer.
And that was it for the day. I did take pictures of the moon again – for the last time in Victor. It was obvious that the moon was waning.Next in this series of blogs here.