The First Day on The Skyline Drive

We started our short vacation in the Shenandoah National Park last Sunday.

The Getaway Outpost near the park that we were going to stay at was located closer to its southern end, just outside the village of Stanardsville, VA. My initial thought had been to drive to Stanardsville directly, driving on the main highways in order to get there as quickly as possible. I changed my mind shortly before we started out. We decided to start our explorations of the park on Sunday itself, starting at the northern end of the park. That entrance to the park, just outside of the town of Front Royal, VA, was very easily accessible to us via Interstate-66 – the most direct route to the park from Washington, DC. This was how we usually got into the park. This was also Mile 0 on the Skyline Drive.

I-66 transported us from the crowded suburbs and the unending construction close to the city to the bucolic countryside of Virginia. Soon we were approaching the eastern ridges and the hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains.

As we got closer to the park, we could not help but notice that the foliage everywhere was still green.

The Senior Pass that I had just got helped us bypass the longer lines at the entrance to the park. The first order of things was to stop at the Visitor center to decide the places that we wanted to visit within the park. A ranger indulged us with maps and suggestions for places to hike. The places suggested were located all along the park – starting close to the visitor center where we were beginning our visit, and extending to the place that would exit the park to get to Stanardsville (just beyond Mile 65 on the Skyline Drive) at the end of the day.

I could not help but notice that the Dickey Ridge visitor center that we were at was busy, but not overcrowded as it sometimes gets during the autumn season. People from the Indian subcontinent were present in large numbers.

Thankfully, the crowds diminished as we drove further into the park.The first stop was in the Compton Gap Area, just beyond mile 10. We hiked up to Compton Peak West from the Compton Gap Parking area. The parking lot was full but we found some space next to the road.The hike was mainly along the Appalachian trail.

We realized very quickly that this was not going to be like our typical weekend walks along the C&O Canal. The climb started right from the beginning of the trail.

The climbs were significant and persistent.This being the first of our hikes for the week, we had to take more than our usual quota of breaks to catch our breath. I did not think that the altitude was significant enough to be contributing to our troubles.

The Compton peak viewpoint itself was occupied by a group of young people who seemed to have had settled themselves in for the longer run. I had to settle for this picture.You may be able to actually make out the Skyline Drive on the ridge in front of us in the picture above (click on the picture to enlarge it). The roadway itself can be seen in one spot through a gap in the trees. You can see the road better in the zoomed-in picture below.

We did see some yellows on the trail.This being the first day of our visit to the park, we still had hope that we would see more Fall colors.

After the hike, we continued our way south into the park. We stopped at the Elkridge Wayside area and found a picnic bench where we could eat our peanut butter and cranberry marmalade sandwiches.

Along the way, we kept our eyes peeled for signs of seasonal change.

Our next hike was in the Hawksbill area. We took the Upper Hawksbill Trail from a parking lot south of Mile 46. This trail had a shorter climb to the peak than the Lower Hawksbill Trail, but was longer in distance, and also took a longer time. Our choice of trails is a good indication of our mindset when it came to hiking at that stage of our travels. We were conservative in our efforts.

The climb up the Upper Hawksbill Trail was not as challenging as the one we had done in the morning. We did see more signs of early autumn as we made our way through the woods.

The wind was picking up as we hiked the trail. We could hear it howling through the trees by the time we got to Hawksbill peak and the viewing platform there. It was even difficult to hold steady while taking pictures at the top!

Shafts of intense sunlight cut through the dark clouds moving over the valley, lighting up parts of the valley selectively.

As you can see below, the ridge line was clearly visible from the peak. If you open up the pictures below and look at them carefully in sequence, you can zoom in on an overlook on the Skyline Drive near the top of the ridge line. The overlook is on the west side of the ridge (on the left side of the ridge as seen in the picture). These pictures should hopefully give you a good idea of the scope of the panoramic view we were getting from this mountain top.

There were clearly signs of autumn in this section of the park.

This is a picture of Byrds Nest 2 shelter near Hawksbill peak. There are shelters and cabins throughout the park.Incidentally, Hawksbill is the highest peak in the park.

This was our last significant stop for the day. We drove further south on the Skyline Drive towards our destination for the evening, and left the park at the Swift Run exit just south of mile 65. We took US Route 33 East out of the park towards Stanardsville. We had to descend from the ridge on which the Skyline Drive is located on a winding road which was a little challenging, especially at the advertised highway speeds. The town was a few miles away from the park. We first did a bit of light shopping at the grocery store in town before heading out to the Getaway Outpost just outside of town.

The first evening at the outpost was a bit of an adventure. It was simply a matter of getting used to our own place in the woods.

The inside of the tiny home was quite cozy.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner of fresh pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs that we had brought with us from Gemelli’s Italian Market! I had been having a craving for spaghetti with meatballs during that period of time. It was a part of my physical and mental recovery from my trip to India.

We were quite tired from the day’s activities and crashed out soon after dinner, well before our usual bedtime.

The Place Of The Gathering Of The Crows

My only company this early in the morning was the dog that kept barking at me when I stepped out on to the street. I promptly retreated back into the compound.The dog’s compadres on the nearby streets also joined in the noise making. They might have been passing messages to each other. The only other person who was up was the owner of the store across the road. She will soon start washing out her store front, a ritual that she has probably been doing for most of the years of her life. The Kolam will be the final step in the process that gets her store ready for the day’s business.

I never really overcame the jet lag of the trip completely. I am up very early in the morning with almost no exception. But it is OK. I try to make up for the early start with a nap during the day. The early start for the day gives me an opportunity to clean out the house before the rest of the neighborhood comes alive. Chennai dust is special. You just have to wait a couple of days for a layer of the dark stuff to collect on any untouched surface. The dust is relentless. It is fine enough to enter the house through the screens covering the doors and windows. You find yourself cleaning the place regularly. And then there are the fallen leaves that need to be swept up from the yard every other day.

Early mornings also give me the opportunity to go up to the terrace – before the sun is up.

The crows are the most common birds that you will see in these parts.Crows are said to be very social animals. I sometimes see them gathering in large numbers on the cellphone towers that are close by.I have noticed that some of these birds clean and preen themselves excessively in the mornings.

This is a White-throated Kingfisher that visited the yard,
and this is probably a Shikra.

There was surprise guest in this picture I took at the time of the sunset. I do not know what it is.

I was talking to a friend over the phone while in the house when the rain began. I heard the sound of a loud thunderclap. The power went out. I lost my phone connection. Pretty soon it was coming down in buckets. The rains did not last too long but it was enough to cause the street to flood. Here are a couple of shots taken from the front gate of the house after it stopped raining.

Today is another hot and sunny day. That is what you usually expect in Chennai!

A Sunrise In Chennai – The City Awakens

It is a strange thing that is happening to my body. Over a week has passed since my trip across the globe and I am still fighting the effects of jet lag. My avoidance of afternoon naps to enable nights of longer sleep duration have not panned out so far. I end up waking up a few hours before the sun is up, much before the sounds of the street begin to pick up, even earlier than the wake up calls of the birds. But this state of affairs did also offer an opportunity. I was awake early enough to be able to go up to the third floor terrace of the house to greet the sunrise and the dawning of the new day. Armed with information about the expected time of sunrise in Chennai, I ascended the stairs to the top of the house yesterday just before the dawn was due.

This first picture of the bright light in the skies turned out to be a show well before the actual sunrise. The colors in the sky disappeared very quickly.

Store fronts began to open and set up on the street. This is a little cafe.

This is a little store front right across the road.The banana leaves you see in the picture will probably be used for packing food that is sold. Later in the morning, the owner will wash the store front and complete the Kolam, the auspicious floor design on the ground in front of the home that is a tradition of South India.The milk packets for sale have already arrived are in the yellow crate.

Another false sunrise appeared in the sky shortly after the first one. It was brighter still than the first burst of light, and could be seen in a slightly different direction from that first light show. This time the light appeared over a building next to the terrace I was standing on.

This is the way the sky looked when you turned away from the sunrise phenomenon.

The color in the sky in the direction of the sunrise lost its intensity fairly quickly after the second burst of color.

The next distinct indication of the continuation of the sunrise was the light of the sun falling directly on a building that lay across from the rising sun.

It was a peaceful scene. Birds could be seen flying high across the sky in little groups. They seemed to have a sense of purpose. They flew in straight lines from one edge of the horizon to the other. From below me, on the street, arose the sounds of an awakening city.

But I still could not see the sun. It was hidden by the building in front of me. I could see the faint flare of light, somewhat like an aura, at the level of the building as the process continued.

The picture below shows the final phase of the whole transformation.

I departed the terrace at this point. My experience of the magic of this sunrise was now complete.

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…

Along For The Ride

Another Christmas vacation has gone by, another family gathering with siblings and families has happened, this time in Florida.  It was during this occasion that the fact that I was the oldest person in the group hit me a little harder than I expected.  Maybe it was something that somebody said, or something that I noticed in the mirror.  Seniority was not something that I had paid much attention to in past years. But this year something led to a moment of contemplation on the subject.  Perhaps the age threshold that one had reached in September was not as much of a artificial artifact as one tended to consider it.  Many of us are getting along in years, and there are consequences. For some, it happens so slowly that you do not realize it is happening, and then, suddenly, BAM!, there it is!  You take notice of how much you have changed since you last checked – perhaps when you were a youth.  You can no longer play the pretender.  Your mind catches up with your body.

And at this point in life, after having achieved seniority of the senses, and after many other such Christmas vacations with family, I am in such a state of mind that I am there simply to enjoy the company of the family.  I have not planned to do much other than relax.  I do not need any additional “entertainment”.  I just need the time to chill out.  If people plan something that interests me, I can participate.  The others in our group all have it all under control.  I only needed to keep an eye on the liquid refreshment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was prepared to help where needed, but there hardly seemed to be any need for that.  I did cook dinner one evening.  If somebody had asked, I would have cooked again without feeling any pressure about it.  Heck, if there was not a list of dinners generated ahead of time, I could have even volunteered once again.PC220098.jpg

I want to keep it simple these days.  I just wanted to be able to lounge around, and to be able to do my daily exercise, a routine that I am having great difficulty keeping up with recently.  The over 40 miles of walking and running that I accomplished during the holiday, some of it even under rainy conditions,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA was worth it. I could have spent more time with the others on the beach, but I chose to be lazy, and, as a result, perhaps also a little anti-social.  Its OK, the old man needs his nap time and rest to recover from his exercise routine.

I did catch a sunrise,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut missed all the sunsets.  The pool at the back of the house provided the opportunity to chill out. PC280023.jpgOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe listened to music. We even listened to the changing sounds and rhythms emanating from the starlings sitting on the tree beside the pool.PC250278.jpg(This recording is from Youtube.)

We enjoyed our time playing with the young’uns.  The laughter that results from all involved is pure innocence. The older kids have all grown up.  There seems to be a deeper sense to togetherness.  It must be encouraged. Hopefully we can continue to meet during our Christmases so that they continue to get the opportunity to further bond and support each other.PC270146.jpg We celebrated Christmas as usual. We celebrated the usual birthdays. We went to the usual services at church.

Games were played and dinners were consumed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was the trivia competition (where I was reminded that the number 1 is not a prime number!).   There was the gingerbread making session where the sampling process that was going on as the dough was being prepared had me concerned.  The baking process took care of my concerns.

We went out to a restaurant for dinner only once this year, there being no undue pressure from anybody, or on anybody, (from what I could see) to have to do so.  I think most were content to hang out at home and on the beach.  Perhaps we might even skip eating out the next time and still be happy as a group.PC270002.jpgOn the other hand, it can truthfully be stated that the cooking efforts at home resulted in top-notch dinner fare and many original culinary masterpieces that everybody enjoyed.  Yum!

The family gathering happens these days without my having to do much.  The old man is just along for the ride.PC240178.jpg

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.

The 2019 Road Trip: The Rest Day

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the living room of the house before sunrise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture is taken closer to sunrise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI actually walked out into the cold to take the picture below. You can see the setting moon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACommercial aircraft carrying consignments of human souls zipped across the morning sky, this one headed to some place northwest of where we were.PA150256.jpgThis 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.PA150276.jpgThe canyon stretched out in front of me.  I had no idea how far the road went into the canyon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnly 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom 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.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext in this series of blogs here.

The 2019 Road Trip: Grand Teton National Park – Day 2

Once again, I made sure to be up early in the morning to see the sunrise.  I stepped outside from the bedroom into the cold morning in my night clothes to get the pictures.  Thankfully, it was not as cold as it had been during the first few nights of this trip.   The two pictures below were taken as time progressed as it got closer to sunrise.  Sunrise that day was not as colorful as it had been the previous morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPA140945.jpgI went to the other side of the house to take pictures of the moon. These came out better than the pictures I had taken before going to bed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is the moon setting behind a hill.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs it became brighter outside, there was enough light to see the horses out in the field next to us.  We saw these three horses together regularly.  I imagined them as a family.  I jokingly said that one of them was named Jack.  I did not take the trouble to identify which one of them was actually Jack.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a little while, the sun itself finally made its grand appearance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABreakfast was once again a leisurely affair before we set out to the park.

I was able to take  pictures since I was not driving.   The picture below was taken as we were nearing Teton Resort.  Once again, we went into the park through the south entrance, without passing through Jackson, hoping that the moose were still hanging out where they had been sighted the previous day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a view of the mountains to the west as we drove into the park.  Our first stop was going to be Signal Mountain, towards the north side of the park.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove slowly through the section of the earlier moose sighting without any luck.

We saw bikers once again after entering the more developed section of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Grand Teton mountain taken from the car.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from one of the parking lots along the park road.  I think it was Potholes Turnout.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to drive up a winding road to get to the viewpoints on Signal Hill.   The road ended at the top of the mountain at the location of a cellphone tower.

This was the view of Jackson Hole Valley with the Snake river flowing through it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis bird stayed around us while we were at the lookout at the peak.  I have not been able to identify it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are views in the direction of the Tetons.  Unfortunately, they were not as unobstructed as I was hoping for.  I jokingly noted that they should be cutting some of the trees that block the view – just for the tourists!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sighted what I think were mule deer on our way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken half way down Signal Mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart on our way further north after leaving Signal Mountain. The chapel was closed for the season.  It belongs to the Catholic parish in Jackson.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Jackson Lake and reservoir.  The Snake river flows south through the lake.  The river actually begins a short distance to the north of the lake and flows through it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is where the Snake river reemerges from Jackson lake.  The main road runs over the dam that creates the lake behind it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove off the main road to a river access point to have our lunch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Snake river looked quite peaceful and the waters were low.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water was crystal clear.PA140082.jpgI spotted a common merganser in the river.  It did not hang around too long.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch, we headed out to the Willows Flats overlook. We were going hike the Willow Falls Trail starting at the parking lot.  Our goal for the afternoon was to see moose.  We had been told that this was one of the areas where they hung out!

The trail lay below the parking lot, behind the trees (towards the front of the picture below).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tetons were visible in the distance, beyond Jackson Lake, as we began the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe kept our eyes peeled, looking for moose (and bear).  There were a few occasions when our eyes were drawn to something or the other in the distance that drew our attention.  Even the growth seen in the picture below caused us to pause and look more carefully.  (I had to zoom in to the maximum extent allowed by the lens to get this picture.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail followed the twin tracks of a an old dirt road.  We forded a stream at this point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flats were covered with brush.  We could see occasional pathways where animals had forced their way through the growth to get to drinking holes by the waterside.  The occasional scat on the trail indicated that this was the abode of the animals and that they were around somewhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe continued to look for moose.  We were also keeping an eye out for bear.  I did not want to disturb a bear inadvertently and annoy it.  We tried to keep up a conversation to alert the bear ahead of our arrival.   I was especially alert when walking in the wooded areas between the open spaces.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed Pilgrim Creek on a road bridge at one point.  The creek looked wide and impressive enough to be a river.  It runs from the nearby Bridger Teton National Forest into Jackson Lake.PA140129.jpgWe saw these two birds along the way.  I have not been able to identify them yet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail ended up at a fork in the road where you could continue either leftOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA or right.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a different decision! We decided that this would be the extent of the hike.  We turned back.  We had already walked a few miles without seeing moose!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese pictures were taken on the way back.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did see a herd of elk in the distance as we were leaving the place.  I am sorry to say that the moose eluded us the entire duration of the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was time now to head back to Victor.  We would be driving south, all the way through the park, on our way back to Idaho.

Along the way, we stopped at one of the turnoffs and noted this curious sight.  The woman was facing the direction of the Tetons.  It took us a few minutes to gather that she was actually taking a picture of a car that was in the parking lot in front of her.  She was taking the picture against the background of the mountains.  A person who looked like the driver was also hanging out in the parking lot.  Our guess was that this was for some kind of advertisement.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was going down behind the mountains by that time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did have enough time to stop at the Chapel of the Transfiguration – in the park and near Moose Junction.  It is a functional Episcopalian church that was built in 1925. The setting of the chapel is very dramatic.  (A morning view of the chapel against the mountains would have been even more impressive!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe interior of the chapel is very simple. The opening behind the altar revealed the Grand Tetons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe benches that formed the pews reflected simplicity, and the nature of their surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe continued our way south through the park even though it might have been faster to drive on the main road through Jackson.  We stopped at the parking lot of the earlier moose sighting once again.  We had no luck once again.  I did get a picture of what I suspect is a Goldeneye duck in the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mountains looked majestic in the fading light as we left the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at a place called West Side Yard in Victor for dinner.  It was more of a bar, with a lot of open space, space for games, and random sitting arrangements. The separate, very small, formal dining area was full when we arrived.   So we sat at a high table on high chairs near the bar and ordered our beer and hot sandwiches.  It was great food and drink, and a nice atmosphere.  The place looked new.  The draft beer came from some of the local microbreweries.  (There is even one in Victor.) I sensed that this place represented a kind of change coming to these old country towns, with a goal of serving people who were visiting the area in addition to the local population.  Victor was not a tourist destination in itself, but there was enough overflow traffic from the nearby more touristy areas to bring in additional foot traffic to keep a business going.

We headed back to the cabin after dinner.  The rest of the evening was spent chilling out.   This was the last evening of the holiday for the folks from Massachusetts.  Their were taking a red-eye flight in the evening the next day.

Next blog in this series here.