The Visit to Astoria, Queens, NYC

Last weekend took us to Astoria, Queens, in New York City. We were transported from the quiet and somewhat pastoral suburbs of Maryland to the concrete noisy jungle of the big city within a matter of hours. There is no blog this week about the canal and the river, and of the flowers and the animals of the wild, because of this trip. Instead, during the events of this weekend, the mind was transported to a state of alertness and hyper-sensitivity of a different kind, a period of time during which the neurons in the brain seemed to be firing every single minute of the weekend, whether it be day or night. For a newcomer, NYC can offer you an experience that is dynamic and stimulating – perhaps even over-stimulating. It works well for the young of body and mind. It takes more of a mental adjustment for people like me who are older and who have been away from this kind of a scene for a while. In a way, it was good to be back to spend a short time here, but it did also require an additional effort and expenditure of energy to keep up.

New York city hits you immediately with the richness and fullness of its experience the moment you arrive. That having been said, it is fair to also state that not all of this experience may be looked at in a positive light. After all, this is an old city with a very high population density, and a diversity of people of all economic backgrounds. It is indeed a jungle of concrete and steel that can tend to overwhelm the senses. I actually used to spend a lot of time in the city when I was young, and I used to thrive in the seeming chaos and diversity of Gotham. I am not sure that would be the case for me any more.

The experience of navigating our way into New York City, and that of driving on the highways within the city itself into Astoria, was my first exposure to what was to come. The confusing roadways – including the nature of the road signs, and the sudden appearance of entrance and exit ramps, and the aggressive driving that one has to become a part of – all of it might want some people to close their eyes. One should not be surprised when driving across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan to find out that one has to drift across two or three lanes of very heavy traffic within a very short distance to get to where one needs to be in order to exit on to another highway. It helped that I have driven these roads in these kinds of conditions before. It all came back rather quickly, even though my mind might not have been very receptive to how it all felt at that point! One has to be hyper-alert!

Once off the highway, the city driving in Astoria itself turned out to be somewhat easier, although one still had to adjust ones senses to the rules of driving in the city – including the fast changing and frequent traffic lights, the one-way streets, the fact that right turns are only allowed in NYC when your light is green, the existence of pedestrian crossings at every intersection, the behavior of pedestrians in the city, and the general sense of chaos. Drivers start honking at vehicles in front of them almost immediately when a light changes to green regardless of how how far behind they are in the queue. And you really do not want to hit somebody or something at a crosswalk in NYC! Additionally, you have to be on your toes looking out for other drivers (or even jaywalkers) making a move or two that was surely not lawful and allowed by the authorities. And then you might even be cursed at by people who simply seem to like the feeling of releasing some some of their built-in stress (a result of living in a state of hyper-alertness) by yelling or gesticulating at other more mild-mannered folks. Sometimes both parties involved in such an interaction on the street are similarly worked up. People may not appreciate the sense of caution of a newcomer, one who is normally a mild-mannered individual, but one who is now going to be transformed into a fire-breathing Godzilla himself!

Rules of the road are broken with great regularity, and the aggression that the mindset of the city can bring out in some people on the street is amazing. There was the one occasion when I was walking across the road on a sidewalk at an intersection (after the “Walk” sign turned on), when a driver of a sporty convertible with its top down made a turn from a side road behind me and accelerated on to the road I was on, passing dangerously close to my backside, while giving me some kind of a nasty look. He revved the engine and raced away even while he was passing me. Why do that?!

It is not possible to survive with a cruise control mindset if you are an outsider driving in NYC – regardless of circumstances. When driving under the elevated N and W lines of the subway system (that runs up to Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria), one has to be even more cautious. There are two lanes of roadway available in each direction, one under the supporting pillars of the elevated line and one beside it. You have to look out for traffic entering (sometimes darting) on to the main lane under the railroad lines from beside the pillars, and you have also to make turns carefully to avoid the metal supports for the elevated line at intersections.

The more commercial streets of Astoria are filled with a diversity of small mom-and-pop establishments. While it might be disconcerting to some who are used to shopping at the big-box stores and supermarkets that dominate the suburban spaces, I actually appreciate their presence. These neighborhoods were in existence well before the big chains even came into being (which also says something about how the nature of the economy has changed in this context over the years). There are the local grocery stores, the fresh fruit and vegetable markets, stores for all things organic if you are so inclined, the bodegas, cafes and coffee shops, the restaurants, beauty shops, home goods stores, flower markets, barbershops, laundromats, etc.., to give a few examples. There seems to be enough business for these establishments to survive – by catering to the needs of the locals. Even the development of the online shopping experience, and the presence of the ubiquitous Amazon delivery vans, does not seem to have affected these places that badly. It makes sense when you think about the density of the population of the city.

These days there also seem to be a large number of food trucks present at street corners. I do not remember these from my youth. The street food in those days used to be served from smaller food carts that were pulled into place by other vehicles. They used to primarily serve food like hotdogs and pretzels – low cost foods that could be consumed in a hurry while standing around the cart. The food trucks of today are much bigger and much more sophisticated. King Souvlaki, at one of its established locations at the corner of 30th Street and 31st Avenue in Astoria,comes highly recommended. I had a craving for one of those old-fashioned souvlakis (something that I cannot include as a part of my regular diet these days!) that I remembered from my youth. Mission accomplished!

You find people from all parts of the world with a wide range of backgrounds on the streets of Astoria. People come from many different social and religious backgrounds. NYC is a true melting pot. You can actually hear different languages spoken on the street. Astoria has a significant Greek immigrant population. You can see the commercial storefronts with Greek names. The landlord for the apartment that we helping Angela to move into was Greek. I think I was even hearing Greek spoken at Madame Sou Sou Cafe and Bakery between the person behind the counter and a customer. You tend to think that people speaking other languages are doing so because they are not comfortable with speaking English. That is not necessarily the case in NYC.

The parking situation in NYC seems to have not changed significantly from what I remember it to have been during my youth. The residential areas are lined with cars, and one might have to drive around in circles for a while hoping for a parking spot to open up before being able to park and get out of your car. You will sometimes be fooled by what looks like an open spot from a distance, but which turns out to the area near a fire hydrant, a location where you cannot park legally. You might even find your parking spot on a different street somewhat far away from your intended destination, and then have to walk. The streets we visited were packed with apartment complexes with the distinctive fire-escapes (still functional!), and with single family homes with very small yards, all packed tightly next to each other. There may be just enough place for the owner of a home to drive a car into the private space in front of the house, to park it behind a gate that can barely be closed shut! We were not fortunate to find street parking close to where we wanted to be when we arrived, and ended up getting a parking ticket from the city for parking in the place I found instead nearer to the a commercial area. (I had, unfortunately, not spent enough time fully understanding the parking sign attached to the street lamp close by.) Fortunately, the amount involved on the ticket was tolerable.

These days, most of the restaurants in Astoria (and probably all of NYC) have a place in front of the establishment where customers can sit in the open and enjoy their meals. This space is created in what formerly must have been a parking area for the restaurant. I suspect that this development is a result of the COVID pandemic. This can actually be a very nice experience if the weather is cooperative, but you might have to put up with some aggressive behavior of drivers on the road beside you in some areas. There are some who tend to rev up their engines and accelerate when they get on a empty roadway just after crossing an intersection. There are vehicles whose silencers seem to be non-existent, or modified to creative impressive sound effects. We did get somewhat used to the sound while having dinner one evening at the Shady Lady. Truth be told, even though I was only driving a fuel efficient hybrid car, I was tempted to play the acceleration game myself the more I got used to the driving tendencies and habits of the city.

I had the opportunity to sit on a bench at the corner of Ditmars Boulevard and 30th Street and observe the pedestrian traffic while others were shopping. This a somewhat busy location because it is a commercial section of town. There were other people also hanging out there by the benches, either by themselves or with friends. I had nothing to do but to simply observe people going by. Folks come in all shapes and sizes. There are families out for the evening; there are young people who are hanging out and chilling; there are people who are conservatively dressed and there are those who are letting it all hang out; there are people who seem to be lost in their thoughts and seem serious and focused – walking with a purpose, there are others that are enjoying the weather and the setting. There are the children and the babies in strollers. There are the people with their electric bikes and mopeds gliding by silently. There are the dogs. I feel sorry for the dogs because they are in an environment that is so far removed from what one would consider natural for animals (but then, one could also sincerely and honestly consider the human beings around me to be living this kind of a existential experience!). Many dog-owners also seem to deal in halfhearted ways with the problem of cleaning up after their animals in a situation where the concrete is the only surface available for peeing or pooping. Some do not even bother. Any open area that is not maintained becomes fair game. It is funny when people in countries like the US sneer at the behaviors of folks in other places with regard to the sophistication of their public behavior. The truth is that you try to get away with what you can regardless of where you live.

I need to emphasize that my impressions of this part of New York City by no means represent the entirety of of the character of New York City, and the experience of all of what it has to offer. Each borough of the city has its own character. When one thinks of New York City, one typically thinks of the great borough of Manhattan, and more specifically the areas closer to downtown and midtown Manhattan, including perhaps its gleaming skyscrapers, stores, and centers for the financial industry. One thinks of things like the entertainment of Times Square, and the glorious expanse (at least in my eyes) of Olmsted’s Central Park. Astoria in Queens is far removed from all of this. It is a more residential part of town. We did drive past a more industrial part of Queens in Sunnyside – close to the railroad yards, junkyards, and the auto dealerships; and also to the parks and newer developments on the east bank of the East River at Long Island City. And, of course, I did lose my way during this drive on our way back to Astoria!

I did not get to take many pictures during this trip because the primary reason for the visit was to help with a move into an apartment. I was exhausted at the end from all the driving, the repeated lifting and carrying of heavy stuff up two flights of stairs to a third-floor apartment, and from the shopping and the extended walking we did around town in order to get the things needed to make the apartment livable in! But all is good! I did manage to get the pictures below early one Sunday morning (before most people had gotten out of their beds). I made it a point to take my camera with me when I went to Madame Sou Sou for my morning coffee. Hopefully, these pictures serve to illustrate the little bit of what a particular section of Astoria looks and feels like.

The “LAX from the Westin” Picture Gallery

This gallery is linked to the subject matter of my previous blog.

Some interesting observations came to mind when I was trying to pick pictures for this blog. One is that quite a few of the aircraft that I used to see in those days are no longer flying. This list includes the Boeing 747 (with the exception of the later B747-8), the Airbus 340, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and McDonnell/Boeing MD-11. There is even a picture of a freighter DC-8 above! The Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8 aircraft only arrived later, and soon they too will be no more.

Also of note is that a few of the airlines that were in existence at that time are no more, including Continental, Northwest, and US Airways.

The picture in the collage above of the small rolling suitcase taken in front of the door of my hotel room as I prepare to depart Los Angeles to come home is symbolic of the nature of my work-related travels in those days. The bag carried everything I needed for a short trip. It was small enough to fit into the overhead bins of the aircraft I flew on, so that I did not have to check-in any luggage. I could get through airports quickly without having to wait at luggage carousels or in check-in lines. I was constantly traveling – in and out of hotel rooms, arriving and departing at all possible hours of the day. The passageways, the concession stands, and even the restrooms, of the United and American Airlines terminals at LAX became very familiar to me.

A person can do it, especially at a younger age, but you may not really fully realize what the experience of constant long-distance travel is doing to your body and soul, especially as it is happening. Some of us simply had to do it.

Conshohocken, PA

Our travels last weekend took us to Conshohocken (I love the way the word “Conshohocken” rolls off the tongue when you are saying it!) and Villanova on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA. This was our first long-distance trip since the beginning of the pandemic that was being made for reasons other than visiting family. We went for a wedding. The names Conshohocken and Villanova are actually not that unfamiliar to me, having spent some time in the early 1980s in another suburb of Philadelphia called Landsdowne. I suppose that I must have heard the towns mentioned on the local news or in traffic reports when visiting Philadelphia. But, I really had not spent any significant time before this trip in either Conshohocken or Villanova.

We stayed in a really nice hotel on the southwest shore of the Schuylkill river (here we go again with the unique names!) in a place called West Conshohocken. I remember the river because there is a highway right next to it called the Schuylkill Expressway that used to be notorious in its day. I do not know if the highway still has a bad reputation, but in those days, navigating the twists and turns of this narrow highway through the center of Philadelphia, including its narrow shoulder spaces and short entrance ramps, was considered quite the challenge. The highway even earned the unfortunate moniker – the surekill expressway! The Schuylkill Expressway is actually a part of Interstate 76.

We had not stayed in a hotel room for over a year at this point. So, it was once again all a new experience for us.
The room on the 8th floor overlooking the Schuylkill river felt quite luxurious,

and the corner placement of the room offered us window views in two directions.

Not having had the opportunity to spend the night in such a nice and upscale room for many years, it took me a minute or two to adjust my expectations of what normality could feel like for people who were fortunate enough to find themselves circumstances like ours. Fact of the matter is that I used to stay very often in places like this during the time of my employment. There was a period of time when I stayed in a hotel room practically every other week. It was a part and parcel of my life experience in the business world. I can still recall the whole experience – the travels, the car rentals, the driving through strange places (that would eventually became familiar), the solitary dinners in restaurants with a glass of wine beside me to numb the soul, the endless waits in airport lounges, etc.. I do not miss that life!

The wedding took place on a property in the town of Villanova, about a five minute drive from our hotel. Villanova was obviously a town for the very rich. It smelled of old-money – huge estates surrounded by well kept fences or walls to keep out the riffraff, meticulously manicured and landscaped properties, and massive homes in traditional styles situated as far away from the main road as possible, it seemed. The wedding space itself must have been one of these homes once upon a time. It has since been converted into a sprawling arboretum, with the central building that used to be the home, and the space around it, available for events like weddings. It was a beautiful setting for the outdoor ceremony and the festivities that took place after that. Once again, not having been to weddings in such settings in a very long while, I had to make my own mental adjustments. I have not had to dress up for formal events for a long while. The fact that we were at such a grand event, where no expense was being spared for the celebrations surrounding the happy occasion, was something that got me thinking once again. But being a part of events like this is actually not something new for us. It is just that I might be changing. I have become more used to seeing the other side of things. In any case, it did not stop me from joining in the celebration – enjoying the drinks and the excellent food laid out for us, and boogieing my way into the night. So much for consistency and clarity of conscience!

We went for a walk on the Schuylkill River Trail the morning after the wedding. When complete, this trail will run all the way from headwaters of the river in the eastern ridges of the Allegheny mountains to it termination at the Delaware river in Philadelphia. The section of the trail we tackled runs on an abandoned railroad right-of-way along the north shore of the river. Next to the trail are railroad tracks that are still in use for the suburban SEPTA line to downtown Philly. Of note is the fact that there is also another railroad line on the southern shore of the river that is still in use for Norfolk Southern freight traffic. The existence of lines on both sides of the river is a reflection of the industrial background of the place. Railroad lines used to be the lifeblood of towns like these, and these lines usually used to run along the shores of the rivers because of the relative ease of laying tracks along the relatively flat shorelines. It was not unusual to find competing railroad lines on either shores of a river.

We crossed the bridge over river to get to the trail, and then proceeded east along the trail in the direction of Philadelphia. We quickly left the newer developments and the remains of old industry in the section of the trail that ran through Conshohocken, and soon entered a more rural section.

It was a pleasant walk, with sightings of wildflowers like honeysuckle, buttercups, purple dead nettle, gill-over-the-ground (also called ground ivy), dogwood, etc., and also some new flowers that we were seeing for the first time this season. These included what I think was Paulownia tomentosa (also called Princess Tree),Spiderwort,
and clover.

The birds were out in large numbers. We were greeted by songs emerging from the trees and bushes beside us as soon as we entered the trail.

Here were some of the sights from our walk.

The waters looked quite calm as we walked over the bridge across the river. The thick green foliage of the woods indicated that we are well on our way into summer.

We noticed that the signage on the trail itself was quite good.



As you can see from the picture below, the trail was also wide and well paved.


There were a lot of bikers on the trail. The location in the picture below looked like an ideal stop during a ride!They even had an official bike station beside the trail with tools to make repairs to bikes.The section of the trail outside of town was quite wooded. It might be hard to imagine that an active railroad line and a highway run along the other shore of the river. You cannot even see the SEPTA double-track that runs beside our trail on our side of the river (just below the level of the trail) in this picture.

We even chanced upon one of the SEPTA trains stopped at a station.

We checked out of the hotel soon after returning from our walk and cleaning up. There was not much packing to be done. We had brunch in the town of Conshohocken to celebrate Mother’s Day. And then we headed home.

A blog about travel during this time of the pandemic would not be complete without some mention of how the pandemic impacted the activities of the trip. People are still using masks in general, but fewer people than I expected seemed to be wearing them during the wedding celebration itself. Some were more careful than others, and the use of masks decreased as the night progressed! It is a little difficult to eat and drink, and dance, with a mask on! I hope the confidence in the impact of the vaccines on the situation is justified. The hotel in which we were staying still had a requirement for masks to be worn in all of its open spaces. Also, their restaurant was closed because of the pandemic. I was not really paying close attention to the masking efforts of people on the trail during our walk because of the circumstances – existence of open space and a lot of separation between people. I believe we are in a transition phase in our country.

Manassas, Virginia

Our travels took us to Manassas last weekend. Manassas is an older town in the neighboring state of Virginia. It may be known for its proximity to the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also called the battles of Manassas), battles that took place during the Civil War. The city was actually built up around a railroad junction. The Southern Railway tracks used to run through town. Today, it is a commuter railroad station on the VRE on their Manassas Line. Amtrak trains also pass through the town. This is the route of Amtrak’s Crescent train that runs between New York City and New Orleans.

There was a Farmer’s market going on while we were there. There was a band providing entertainment, playing on a stage set up up on the bed of an old, repurposed, Southern Railway flatcar. The town has a small and charming downtown area that we were able to visit and walk through quickly.

Flying Back to China During The COVID-19 Crisis – SamChui.com

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.

via Flying Back to China During The COVID-19 Crisis – SamChui.com

The Return

We are back home from our trip to India.  Truth be told, the travel involved, this time, created more of a feeling 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanding 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

I spent my time on the flights watching movies, taking pictures out the window,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand taking catnaps.

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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…

As Seen From a Rooftop in Chennai

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, the the sun began its descent behind the buildings of Madipakkam at the end of yet another Chennai evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cycle will continue.

Chennai Morning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 2019 Road Trip: The Final Chapter

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 HotelPA170493.jpgand 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I posted this other picture of the town in the earlier blog, along with my sense of the town itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanley was the extent of our northward exploration on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.PA170525.jpgWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA170580.jpgWe did a hike at Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.PA170632.jpgOur 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.PA180688.jpgWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture was taken outside the Tabernacle.  We were waiting for a performance. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.PA190755.jpgThis 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many couples getting married in the temple, and you could see some of the marriage parties gathered all around the building.PA190747.jpgThere 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the rotunda of the building itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe steps in the picture below lead to the offices of the governing officials, including the governor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of the Capitol building taken as we departed the area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road from the Capitol building into the downtown area is called State Street.PA190801.jpgWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.PA190817.jpgIn 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,PA190832.jpgwe 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….

The 2019 Road Trip: Onward to Craters of the Moon and Sun Valley, Idaho

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the nature of the rocks in the flow as you get closer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are views from the top of Inferno Cone.  The objects in the distance in the picture below are called spatter cones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a 360º panoramic view from this vantage point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are flowering plants that survive in these harsh conditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove to the area of the spatter cones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is what it looks like inside one of them. Notice the interesting color of the rocks towards the bottom of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere  are some more of the hardy plants in this area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following pictures were taken from the Broken Top Loop Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner 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.