Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Garden, A Beach, A Mountain

Time: July 24th, 2016

Place: Japanese Tea Garden, Stinson Beach, Mt Tamalpais

Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights: Since almost 3 years we have been wanting to visit the Japanese Tea Garden but have been postponing for some reason or the other. Finally, considering it was a beautiful sunny day in SFO, we decided the time was just right for something that each of us wanted - Gouri (Japanese Tea Garden), Paavani (Beach), Harsha (Mountain Peak).

We left home (Pleasant Hill) at about 11 am and headed to San Francisco via Bay Bridge. Due to traffic, it was almost 1 pm by the time we got car parking and entered the Japanese Tea Garden. It was pretty pleasant and green all around. Not much of flowers but there were some Lily-pads and lotus flowers blossoming around many small streams and lakes. There were some nice tiny bridges made of stones and one specially curved ladder like bridge which was famous for photos. Pagodas and other Japanese art was strewn around the place. Soothing and nice - it was all over by 1 hour.

We headed out and had quick bite at a 'Meals on wheels' Indian food truck. Then we walked back to the car, which was almost a good mile away. Our initial plan was to go to the Mt Tam and then relax at the beach for the sunset but daughter was insistent that we go to beach next. So be it. We headed towards Stinson beach, which seemed to be the closest to Mt Tam. Alas, we were stuck in the traffic for a good one hour, and by the time it started moving, it was already 4 pm. We went through the Golden Gate Bridge and finally reached Stinson Beach at about 4:45 pm.

Much to our surprise, Stinson Beach was magnificent. Not all beaches in California is as good as this. This beach has extremely nice soft sand and one can spend hours on it, simply lying down. The waves are super awesome, especially because it is shallow for a long distance away. The ocean itself was very cold. So we satisfied ourselves by standing a few feet inside to get our ankles washed up by the waves and also we walked along the beach just at the place where the waves were losing steam. Felt nice and good - especially because the weather was just perfect. We were fortunate enough even to see a whale going past the swimmers and Paavani had a nice time building what she called the 'Rao Mountain'!

Meanwhile, we had all but decided to ditch the Mt Tam trip because the fuel gauge suddenly was showing just 2 gallons (what with all the hills that we had to climb to get to the beach) and the upward drive to mountain was surely going to consume all the fuel. The trip to Mt Diablo was fraught with similar scenario and we didn't want to risk one more mountain top driving with so much of anxiety. Even in this case, the nearest gas station was 15-20 miles away and even to get there, we had to go up (and down) some hills. Hence, considering the Mt Tam trip was off, we spent nice and relaxed time at the beach.

However, just as we left the beach and headed back home at 6:30 pm, we saw a road towards Tamalpais State Park, and on an impulse, we decided to take that road. Within a few minutes, the gauge dropped to 1.5 gallons. Still we continued on. After 4 miles, we saw the road to Mt Tam peak - 4 miles away. We decided that we will continue on until the gauge drops down to 1 gallon. Finally, when we were just a mile away from the peak, we decided to park the car on a pullout and walk the remaining distance, which shouldn't be 20-25 minutes away. The gauge was still showing 1.5 gallons - which was good because we had a good 15-20 miles for the next fuel stop.

We started walking at 7:20 pm and thought we will reach at about 7:45. However, the road kept climbing and climbing, and the peak seemed very far away - which is common in all mountain hiking. Thankfully, the wife and daughter were up for it, and we kept on walking. Soon enough, we reached the parking lot. However, there was still 0.3 miles with an elevation gain of 230 ft pending. It started off easily from the parking lot and then it became all rocky and gravelly. But daughter and wife enjoyed it a lot. It didn't take long for us to be at top. 

The peak was gratifying, the hike was well worth it, and we were extremely happy. With all the tension of the fuel, the sweat on the brow during drive without fuel all seemed worth it. The view on the top was super awesome. It shows rolling mountains and the cloud that gets condensed from the ocean near the city of SFO is practically happening right in front of our eyes. As the sun set, the orange rays shone super brilliantly and the sky slowly turned to pink and it was as if we were on an airplane. 


After taking pictures all around the peak, we started heading back. Just as we got to the car parking lot, the sun set and quickly the hills started getting enveloped with darkness. We still had a mile to walk/run to get to our car before the jungle came alive. Even so, when we were walking on the road, we suddenly stopped on our tracks - because a deer was intently watching us from a ravine, still as the mountain itself. Soon, its offspring joined it. There we were, in the middle of a jungle, all by ourselves, and two deers looking at us. No one else anywhere nearby! Quick pictures, and we started half running, half walking to the car. Paavani helped a lot by running too but I carried her the last few yards and finally, we were safe in our car. It was 9 pm.

I was pretty confident that we could reach the fuel stop - especially because it was mostly downward drive. Still, I drove most of the distance in neutral. The road was very winding and curvy for almost 30 minutes. Paavani slept off soon enough. It was about 9:30 pm when we finally got to a fuel stop. Fuel filled, we wanted fuel ourselves! We headed to a nearby Subway (first time after almost 2 years!) and had a Veggie Delite. Rest of the journey was uneventful but pretty fast! By the time we arrived home, it was 10:45 pm.

It was extremely tiring although it started very relaxing at the garden. The traffic jam itself was tiring, the beach was again relaxing. The fuel issue caused lot of anxiety but the East Peak of Mt Tam was gratifying. Just like the roads in Mill Valley, the day was full of up and down - and we were glad we had done all that we had planned to do. It just seemed the perfect day for everything - A Garden, A Beach and a Mountain!!

A Garden, A Beach, A Mountain

Time: July 24th, 2016

Place: Japanese Tea Garden, Stinson Beach, Mt Tamalpais

Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights: Since almost 3 years we have been wanting to visit the Japanese Tea Garden but have been postponing for some reason or the other. Finally, considering it was a beautiful sunny day in SFO, we decided the time was just right for something that each of us wanted - Gouri (Japanese Tea Garden), Paavani (Beach), Harsha (Mountain Peak).

We left home (Pleasant Hill) at about 11 am and headed to San Francisco via Bay Bridge. Due to traffic, it was almost 1 pm by the time we got car parking and entered the Japanese Tea Garden. It was pretty pleasant and green all around. Not much of flowers but there were some Lily-pads and lotus flowers blossoming around many small streams and lakes. There were some nice tiny bridges made of stones and one specially curved ladder like bridge which was famous for photos. Pagodas and other Japanese art was strewn around the place. Soothing and nice - it was all over by 1 hour.

We headed out and had quick bite at a 'Meals on wheels' Indian food truck. Then we walked back to the car, which was almost a good mile away. Our initial plan was to go to the Mt Tam and then relax at the beach for the sunset but daughter was insistent that we go to beach next. So be it. We headed towards Stinson beach, which seemed to be the closest to Mt Tam. Alas, we were stuck in the traffic for a good one hour, and by the time it started moving, it was already 4 pm. We went through the Golden Gate Bridge and finally reached Stinson Beach at about 4:45 pm.

Much to our surprise, Stinson Beach was magnificent. Not all beaches in California is as good as this. This beach has extremely nice soft sand and one can spend hours on it, simply lying down. The waves are super awesome, especially because it is shallow for a long distance away. The ocean itself was very cold. So we satisfied ourselves by standing a few feet inside to get our ankles washed up by the waves and also we walked along the beach just at the place where the waves were losing steam. Felt nice and good - especially because the weather was just perfect. We were fortunate enough even to see a whale going past the swimmers and Paavani had a nice time building what she called the 'Rao Fountain'!

Meanwhile, we had all but decided to ditch the Mt Tam trip because the fuel gauge suddenly was showing just 2 gallons (what with all the hills that we had to climb to get to the beach) and the upward drive to mountain was surely going to consume all the fuel. The trip to Mt Diablo was fraught with similar scenario and we didn't want to risk one more mountain top driving with so much of anxiety. Even in this case, the nearest gas station was 15-20 miles away and even to get there, we had to go up (and down) some hills. Hence, considering the Mt Tam trip was off, we spent nice and relaxed time at the beach.

However, just as we left the beach and headed back home at 6:30 pm, we saw a road towards Tamalpais State Park, and on an impulse, we decided to take that road. Within a few minutes, the gauge dropped to 1.5 gallons. Still we continued on. After 4 miles, we saw the road to Mt Tam peak - 4 miles away. We decided that we will continue on until the gauge drops down to 1 gallon. Finally, when we were just a mile away from the peak, we decided to park the car on a pullout and walk the remaining distance, which shouldn't be 20-25 minutes away. The gauge was still showing 1.5 gallons - which was good because we had a good 15-20 miles for the next fuel stop.

We started walking at 7:20 pm and thought we will reach at about 7:45. However, the road kept climbing and climbing, and the peak seemed very far away - which is common in all mountain hiking. Thankfully, the wife and daughter were up for it, and we kept on walking. Soon enough, we reached the parking lot. However, there was still 0.3 miles with an elevation gain of 230 ft pending. It started off easily from the parking lot and then it became all rocky and gravelly. But daughter and wife enjoyed it a lot. It didn't take long for us to be at top. 

The peak was gratifying, the hike was well worth it, and we were extremely happy. With all the tension of the fuel, the sweat on the brow during drive without fuel all seemed worth it. The view on the top was super awesome. It shows rolling mountains and the cloud that gets condensed from the ocean near the city of SFO is practically happening right in front of our eyes. As the sun set, the orange rays shone super brilliantly and the sky slowly turned to pink and it was as if we were on an airplane. 


After taking pictures all around the peak, we started heading back. Just as we got to the car parking lot, the sun set and quickly the hills started getting enveloped with darkness. We still had a mile to walk/run to get to our car before the jungle came alive. Even so, when we were walking on the road, we suddenly stopped on our tracks - because a deer was intently watching us from a ravine, still as the mountain itself. Soon, its offspring joined it. There we were, in the middle of a jungle, all by ourselves, and two deers looking at us. No one else anywhere nearby! Quick pictures, and we started half running, half walking to the car. Paavani helped a lot by running too but I carried her the last few yards and finally, we were safe in our car. It was 9 pm.

I was pretty confident that we could reach the fuel stop - especially because it was mostly downward drive. Still, I drove most of the distance in neutral. The road was very winding and curvy for almost 30 minutes. Paavani slept off soon enough. It was about 9:30 pm when we finally got to a fuel stop. Fuel filled, we wanted fuel ourselves! We headed to a nearby Subway (first time after almost 2 years!) and had a Veggie Delite. Rest of the journey was uneventful but pretty fast! By the time we arrived home, it was 10:45 pm.

It was extremely tiring although it started very relaxing at the garden. The traffic jam itself was tiring, the beach was again relaxing. The fuel issue caused lot of anxiety but the East Peak of Mt Tam was gratifying. Just like the roads in Mill Valley, the day was full of up and down - and we were glad we had done all that we had planned to do. It just seemed the perfect day for everything - A Garden, A Beach and a Mountain!!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

8th Year Anniversary at Alaska!!

Time: July 3-7, 2016

Place: Alaska (Anchorage, Kenai, Denali, Fairbanks, Arctic Circle)

Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights:

Preview: This trip was planned solely to overcome the slight repentance of our previous trip to Alaska and also to close some unfinished business! Visits to Arctic Circle, Glacier & Denali National Park were sorely missed since it was winter then, and hence Summer of 2016 was slated to check these items off our bucket list! It took about 2-3 weeks of research, planning and ticket-booking. What better way to celebrate the soon-to-be 8th year wedding anniversary other than at Arctic Circle, eh?!!

Day 0: Had planned for car parking off airport but when called up, found out that there was no self-park option available and only option was valet-park which costed about $100. So, changed plans last minute to take BART. Only risk was that return flight was scheduled to arrive at 10:45 pm and last train leaving SFO was at 11:45 pm. So, if there was a delay in that last leg of journey back home, then we would be stuck! Anyways, took the risk. Left home at noon, caught the 12:25 train, and reached SFO at 1:45 pm to take the 3:20 pm flight to Seattle. On-time. 1 hour lay-over. Next leg to Portland. Going back the way, huh! On-time. Finally, flight to Anchorage. On-time. Three flights with 2 lay-overs is way too much but it was cheaper. Reached ANC at 11 pm. Got rental car, drove to Anchorage Downtown hotel. At midnight, it was still bright! Room was super-cool and decorated royally. Paavani enjoyed it a lot, and declared it as her official Palace!

Day 1: After breakfast, we checked out from our hotel at 9 am and headed south to Portage Glacier along the road that hugged the beautiful Turnagain Arm. There was a cruise at 10:30 am which we had planned to be in. However, on the way, our little one got motion sickness and we had to stop over. We were 3 minutes late! Although it concerned us at that time (because we had a lot planned for that day), it didn’t impact us in anyway. We spent the next 1.5 hr lazily relaxing, looking at scenery which was magnificent. Snow-capped mountains, a glacial lake (Portage) and wonderful air that surrounded us. Also had a bit of snack – sorta early lunch.

Soon enough, we were on board the cruise to see the Portage Glacier. It was a short ride on the boat, and we were in front of the massive glacier. It was bluish at places (since it reflects blue color alone) and vast. We could hear the water gushing underneath the glacier although we could not see it. Finally, a dream of 2014 got fulfilled this day! When we missed to see glaciers in Alaska, we went to Glacier National Park in the hope of finding any glaciers there but it was not to be. This one seemed so easy to access and wonderful too. The cruise spent almost an hour in front of the glacier and we could take pictures in all angles until we were fulfilled.

Back from the cruise at 1 pm, we headed to Seward and Kenai National Park thereon to hike to Exit Glacier. We reached Exit Glacier at about 2:30 pm. There were multiple trails but we chose the 1-2 hr trail that took us to the edge of the Exit Glacier. We were even closer to this glacier than Portage. Here too it was bluish and we could see the water flowing underneath the glacier. The best part of this trail were the ‘Year boards’. Each board represented the year at which the glacier originally existed, and how it had receded. In the last 1 year, the glacier had receded almost a mile! We spent time until about 4 pm and headed back to Anchorage.

We encountered a road accident on the way back and were stuck for more than an hour due to a traffic jam. By the time we reached Anchorage it was almost 8 pm. Thankfully, Tontu slept all the way from Kenai to Anchorage – 3 full hours! It saved us from a few hundred “Are we there yet?”s! Went to Bombay Deluxe and ordered a take-out dinner since there was a huge queue (because it was one of the few restaurants opened on the July 4th Independence Day). Food was ok-dokey. Had a quick dinner and headed back to airport, returned the car, checked-in with Alaska Air for our 11 pm one-hour flight to Fairbanks. It was an uneventful flight except that it was completely sunny on a midnight!  

Upon reaching Fairbanks, we took one more rental car and drove to our Travelodge hotel. We retired at 1 am in the night (for the second consecutive night!) and it was still sunny outside. We wanted to experience this Midnight Sun and done! Apparently the Fairbanks folks can experience night not until mid-August!

Ok, to recap all that we did today: Saw Portage Glacier, Exit Glacier and the Midnight Sun at Fairbanks. Drove really fast (since we had to cover too many places and we were halted by the accident and the motion sickness incidents) and was extremely lucky not to have got caught by the hiding cops!

Day 2: We got up at about 8 am, had breakfast, and left to Denali National Park. There was a forecast of rain all day and hence we had no hopes of seeing Mt McKinley. Reached DNP at about 11 am, had quick lunch, and visited the Visitor Center to check what we can do. The Visitor Center itself was awesome. Spent about half hour there.

Unfortunately the Savage Road parking lot (up to which automobile was allowed) was closed out because of a bear-human interaction, however we were allowed to drive but return back without parking there. So, we continued on our way, inside the DNP. On the way, we saw a moose and its offspring. Took enough pictures of it and continued on. We guessed where Mt McKinley was, but could not see it clearly since it was a cloudy day (Luckily it didn’t rain the entire day! Thank God!!)

We drove all the way to Savage Trail, took a U-turn, and headed back. The serenity of the place was nice and pleasant. We headed back and came back to US-3 (George Parks Highway) after a quick pit stop at Visitor Center. Parked our car at the road-side and hiked a small trail called Parks Highway Bike Trail. We especially spent a long time on the bridge that crossed the Nenana River, taking a bunch of pics. The gushing force of the glacial river (from Nenana Glacier) was a sight to see. It reminded me of the many rivers in North India where snow-melted rivers flow down from Himalayas. It brought back memories from my 2004 trip to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

After spending about an hour on the trail, we headed back to Fairbanks. It was a nice easy drive. We returned the car back in Fairbanks airport, took a cab back to the hotel and retired to bed early to be refreshed for the long day coming up.

Day 3: Up at 5 am, we had requested a cab at 5:45 am to drop us off at Northern Alaska Tour Company by 6. Checked-in for the tour, we were given instructions and off we headed 200 miles away to the Arctic Circle. The guide seemed very youngish but she was super cool, and gave us all a very homely feeling. She had lots of short interesting stories to share and her art of narration was very nice. She also had a very good knowledge of Alaska and its history.

And so began the day – with Alaskan history, of the quest for gold a century ago, how folks started settling in Fairbanks, and on the way we saw some machinery that was used for Gold mining a century ago, now defunct. Soon we entered Dalton Highway, the 400+ miles gravelly road, and she started using the radio unit, a commonality on this highway to communicate with nearby drivers. She even mentioned how truckers communicate to one another and what fun it is to listen in at times! At milepost 1, we all took some pics and continued on. We spotted a moose and she was too fast for folks to spot it, so people asked her to go back. Thankfully there was a side road where she could head back, and most folks spotted the moose. However, there was no side road now to head back towards Arctic Circle, and hence she had to drive quite some distance to get back on.

Our next stop was in the city of Joy. She narrated the story of Joy and how she came to stay in that place, which got named after her. There were too many mosquitoes every time we got down the bus (which was very comfortable by the way) and hence we had some bug repellants as well bug zappers. So each time we got on the bus, we used to zap at the pests. It is astounding why anyone would want to stay in such a desolate and god-forsaken wilderness, where it is too cold in winters and too many mosquitoes in summer! Anyways, it was nice to see Joy’s little shop and her children’s lemonade spot for truckers.

Off we went on and stopped next at a favorable spot for Trans-Alaska pipeline. We had done this last time we were here but this was a different spot. She had more news to share on this and it was all very interesting. She even put on a video about how the pipeline came into existence and it was very good.

Our next stop was at Yukon Camp, which was just past the Yukon river – the only bridge to cross the Yukon river in US. It was a nice information that the guide shared that no one can stop on the bridge, and if they do, the loud speakers will boom to shoo them away, because the pipeline goes right underneath the bridge and anyone stopping on the bridge is deemed a terrorist! Folks picked up lunch at Yukon camp but we had brought our own. It was a very brief stop and we continued on.

Our next stop was Finger Mountain. It is a small mountain shaped like a finger and there was also a short trail that goes up another small mountain to give a 360 degree view of the Arctic wilderness. After this, very soon, at about 1:45 pm we reached the Arctic Circle. 

The guide made a grandiose enterprise out of it, she put on a red carpet and even distributed cakes. We spent the next 20-25 mins taking pictures, and just to soak it in. There were some nice information boards indicating how Sun never sets beyond this point in Summer and how Sun never rises beyond this point in Winter.

At about 2 pm, we started heading back and our first stop was to experience the Arctic Tundra. We took a short hike on a cross road and entered what seemed to be normal vegetation. However, much to our surprise, the guide started pulling the vegetation out and, lo and behold, there was ice underneath! She made us all feel it and it was incredible! The whole place where we were standing was actually ice. Upon the ice was vegetation. The vegetation insulated the ice and kept it cold during summer and opened up only during winter. Our hands were all muddy but it was totally worth it.

Our next stop was again Yukon camp but this time it was for a lot longer time. We reached about 4:30 and by the time we left, it was almost 6 pm. We first went to the Visitor Center to get some memorabilia. Then folks grabbed their dinner and ate at the same place, complete with desserts. We had our own food but we shared the table with them. Then we shopped some more at the local shop selling T-shirts, jerseys, etc. Once that was done, we walked over to the Yukon river bank and threw some stones. It was all very pleasant. Even Paavani enjoyed it a lot.

That seemed pretty much it for the trip. There was one another video regarding Alaskan Native Indian life but it didn’t seem very interested for me, so I dozed off a little. Paavani too. We again had a pit-stop at the city of Joy, and we continued on. We were slightly ahead of the schedule (planned ETA was 10:30 pm and we were almost at the destination by 10 pm) when we encountered a road block due to an accident. However, it was not long before vehicles started moving past the fallen truck. So, we did make it early. Upon reaching, we were all given Certificates for surviving the Dalton Highway and to have made it across the Arctic Circle.

After bidding adieu to all fellow passengers, we took a cab back to our hotel. Then we just relaxed and waited for the midnight again to experience the midnight Sun, since it was the brightest evening (no clouds) that we were in Alaska. More pictures and then we retired.

Day 4: The only day for which no activity was planned. So got up real easy like at about 8:30 am. Quickly went out to grab some breakfast. Then started packing and getting ready. We requested for a late check-out and checked out at 12 noon. We had our cab ready for the airport. Checked into our Delta flight back to SFO via Seattle. It was on-time. Had our lunch at airport. The flight itself was uneventful, and we all watched a movie.

At Seattle, our flight was delayed. That would mean we could not take the BART back home. Anyways. We proceeded to have a real nice dinner at Qdoba. Absolutely loved it. It was our first real meal since 3 nights ago in Anchorage at Bombay Deluxe. Tontu played at the play area in the airport. She had done this same thing back in 2014 when we were heading back from Fairbanks. Our flight got delayed by further 1 hour – thanks to a runway issue in SFO. So instead of departing at 8:30 pm, it was now departing at 11 pm.
This leg of the journey, we slept all through and it was over 1 am when we reached SFO. Took our baggage and pondered our next step. It was 2.5 hrs for next BART train to depart. Considering it was too late to go in a taxi (and perhaps not safe), we decide to spend the 2.5 hrs at the airport itself trying to sleep.

Day 5 (unplanned!): Although uncomfortable, we spent the 2.5 hrs somehow. We then made to BART, it somehow seemed painstakingly far to get to the SFO shuttle itself, and we were right on time to get on to the BART. As soon as we got in, the train doors closed and we were on our way. Reached at 5:30 am and we hauled all our luggage back to our home – another painstaking 10 minutes but thanks to Paavani who woke up and started walking (otherwise it would have been very, very difficult!). Finally, we reached home at 6 am – it was 17 hrs since we left our hotel room!

Overview: Price was cheaper ($500 per head) compared to our previous winter trip ($600 per head), surprisingly so, considering it is school break now. The Arctic Circle tour was pretty expensive (~$219 per head) but it was pretty cool and interesting. The rental cars & hotels in Alaska during summer is extremely expensive. Nothing below $100 per day. All in all, it costed over $3000 for us (a family of 3) for 3 days of active sightseeing and 2 days of travel.

The trip was very hectic, since we had to cover Anchorage and surroundings on 1st day, Denali on 2nd day and Arctic Circle on 3rd day. We didn’t have much option on the 3rd day but we had a few on 2nd and quite a few for 1st. So we had to pick and choose on things to do. As a result, we completely veto-ed Matanuska Glacier as well as some nice scenic spots along the road from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The railroad in Alaska also seems scenic but it would need a lot of time and money. 

We were lucky to have no rain showers on any of the days, especially because that was how it was forecasted. But still it was cloudy and hence we were unable to see Mt Mckinley – the highest mountain peak in North America.

One another thought that was haunting me was that perhaps a longer visit during March-April or September –October could have sufficed covering all parts of Alaska (that we covered as part of 2 separate trips in 2014 Feb and 2016 July) as well as a chance for Aurora Borealis. But I guess this is how it was meant to be. So be it.

We enjoyed the beauty of Alaska in all its glory – in two different climatic conditions. Each season had something great to offer that the other season cannot. Main purpose of our visit in Feb 2014 was Aurora - Check. Main purpose of our visit in 2016 was Arctic Circle - Check.

And we were back home safe from another adventurous vacation. Thank God for that. And to top it all - I may not so easily gift my wife diamonds on our wedding anniversary but I cannot say 'No' to a once-in-a-life-time "dream" visit to Arctic Circle! ;-)

Happy 8th Anniversary to us!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Birthday at Tahoe

Time: April 16, 2016
Place: Lake Tahoe
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Prologue: The only snow experienced in the past winter was in Jan and kiddo didn’t enjoy it too much because of extreme temperature. So we thought we might as well visit Tahoe again since it still had snow and temperature was in 60s. It was my wife & my birthday celebration too, so double fun! We initially planned to make it as a day trip, but then thought it was too hectic for our birthday. So booked a hotel at 4 pm(check-in started at 3 pm!) for the night and started getting ready to go.

Day 0: Left home at about 7:30 pm in car on Friday. This helped avoiding all the traffic surrounding Sacramento. We took cake on our way to cut the next day. Munched some packed dinner on the way itself and took just one pit stop. After 3.5 hrs, we reached South Lake Tahoe. Room at Days Inn was pretty comfortable. But it was chilly!! Retired for the night.

Day 1: After a fairly decent breakfast, we cut the cake, sang the birthday songs to ourselves(!) & headed directly to Gondola at Heavenly, which was our only focus for this trip – since we had never been on it. It was not in action in Oct 2015 when we were here last, and we didn’t know about it when we visited in May 2012 and it didn’t even exist when I visited in 2006 (although I did experience Squaw Valley gondola).

It wasn’t too crowded, so got gondola tickets easily, and hopped on the cable car. It is extremely impressive. The angle at which it ascends is almost breath-taking. The hush of the forest underneath and the expansive view of the lake behind us suddenly makes the jaw drop. After about few minutes, we get to stop at Observation Deck from where we could see the Lake Tahoe in all its beauty. We had access to snow right at the deck, and kiddo started playing with snow. It was bright and sunny, and hence not at all cold. We allowed her to have as much fun as she wanted, and hence we ended up staying just at the deck for over an hour! Then we headed further up in the tram to arrive at a wide expanse of snow where all ski-lifts started for further up ski trails. But this place was sufficient for us.

With white blanket covering all around us, kiddo did a snowman, a snow angel, threw snow at us and we had a gala time altogether. Also had nice hot chocolate and munched some snacks. More snow, more fun time, lotsa pictures. At one point, we sat on patio chairs & just relaxed in the cool breeze. It was a beautiful day to be in the snow on this sunny day!

With that, we finally got down the gondola. It almost took 10 minutes! Then headed to Nikki’s Indian eatery and had sumptuous lunch buffet. Little shopping for some memorabilia and then at 6 pm we headed back home. After a brief stopover to visit a friend’s place at El Dorado Hills, we drove home uneventfully and reached at about 10:30 pm.

Epilogue: It is always great to celebrate birthdays differently, and this one was really special. Wife and I hadn’t done this grand ever before, and to top it off, daughter had fun in the snow too. Looking forward to Anniversary now!!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Antelope Canyon

Time: March 29 – April 2, 2016
Place: Page (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend) & Las Vegas
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Prologue: To visit Antelope Canyon was an year long dream (or maybe more). We forgot when we came to know about this place or how but looking at the pictures, we really felt like visiting it. The fact that we had traversed right through it in December 2012 gave us a huge dismay but the consoling thing was that the light rays in December would not have been that good anyways. So it was ok to visit those parts again. March end seemed like a good time to visit with not much crowd, not too cold and good enough sunlight. So we booked the flight tickets, the tour tickets, the hotel tickets, the car just about a month back and we were ready to go!

Day 0: Left home at about 4:30 pm in car to ParkSFO – long-term parking for SFO. With a coupon, it seemed reasonable. Reached airport at about 6 pm. Took the southwest to Las Vegas at 8:30 pm. All three of us flew free - with points. For the first time ever in life, flying for free!! Reached Vegas at 10 pm. Shuttle to rental car. Quite a long line to shuttle itself. Not a good designed airport, looks like. Sixt & Fox folks need to take double shuttle. Thank God, we had Budget. Got a new black Nissan Versa. Good enough. Drove to our Super 8 for the night, and retired.

Day 1: Extremely sumptuous breakfast. Very fulfilling. Left hotel at 9 and drove north towards to St George. Unlike in 2012, this time I was ready for the Virgin River Gorge – with its beautiful winding roads across the rocky valley. Took exit towards Zion National Park. At Hurricane (city), found a play area for kids, and rested for Tontu to play on swing for some time. Had little snack, debated whether to go to Zion or not (as per original plan) since drive-through costed $30. Decided yes, and continued on. Lost a turn, and had to drive back for about 5-10 minutes. Then headed towards to Zion. Just at the entrance, mother and daughter had some motion sickness issues that had to be taken care. Thankfully had a nice restroom nearby. Once done, we went to a Thai restaurant (Thai Sapa) – the same one which we had relished in 2012. Excellent service, and the waiter happened to be an ex-National Park Serviceman. So he gave us a rundown of some hikes including the Angel’s Landing. Now, although, our plan didn’t include any hike or trail on Zion (just a pass-through), we suddenly started thinking ‘why-not’ – at least on the way back. It would be hectic, as well as some plan changes, but still why-not.

Anyways, started driving uphill towards Zion’s exit on the other side and we were welcomed to some amazing cliff structures. The tunnel was amazing too. Last time, we had driven the other way at night and hence had missed all of this. Stopped at Checkerboard vista point for some snaps and continued on. We saw some mountain goats posing for us and then we were out of the Zion’s reddish roads. We had planned to go to Page via a lesser-known road called Johnson Canyon to admire Grand Staircase but we somehow missed the exit. When we finally found it, we were shocked to see that it was unpaved. We couldn’t risk to go on an unpaved road, checked with a local and even he said he had never been on it. So had to strike off one of our to-do things in our trip plan. Instead took the highway, and headed straight to Page.

During 2012, we had driven the other way back and hadn’t realized that the cliffs to our right were indeed Grand Staircase. But that knowledge helped us to scrutinize them further this time. It was quite grand indeed. Just near to Page, we found Wahweap Overlook. It was a nice vista point for Lake Powell view just before the Glen Canyon dam. Took some pics at the windy place and headed to our Super 8 hotel. Ordered a pizza from pizza hut, discussed a lot on what to do with Zion and Angel’s Landing, and finally decided to stick to originally planned itinerary. Although reached hotel at about 7 pm, ended up straining ourselves unnecessarily (researching) for about 2-3 hours. Instead could have rested.

Day 2: Once again a fantastic breakfast. This was all-inclusive continental. Thoroughly enjoyed. Today was the big day, and there was huge dependence on Sun and clouds. Thankfully, we were blessed with a near-clear sky with sun shining down on us. A short 10-minute ride took us to Ken’s tours of Lower Antelope Canyon. We had the 9:40 am tour booked. As the guide took us to the steep steps that led down the Earth’s level to the slot canyons, we positioned ourselves to be the last in the group. Flip side of this is that we cannot hear much of what the guide explains. But the best part of this is that we get to take lots and lots of pictures, since we would have almost 10-15 minutes before the next group catches up to us. As we descended, we got to see the natural carvings of flash flood water and it is surreal. Although we had seen many videos of this exact venue, it is only when we see with our naked eyes that we can truly appreciate the experience and the beauty. Paavani had great adventure with ladders and claustrophobic canyon walls. The guide was very patient with us and allowed us all to take as many pictures as we wanted. After we reveled in the picture-taking and walked for almost 1.5 hrs in the serpentine canyon route, we came to the end, which is actually the opening for the flash floods to enter. So we were walking all the time in the reverse order – from lower depths to earth level via a series of ladders. This coming out of the crack of the earth seemed so unearthly! And with that, we were done with Lower Antelope Canyon.

Our next tour of Upper Antelope Canyon was at noon but we had to report at 11 am. As per what we had researched, the site for Upper was right opposite Ken’s tours across the highway - Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours. So, just a minute’s drive and we were there. 

Tip#1: Upper charges $8 per person for Navajo permit whereas Lower charges $8 per family. But if you show Lower’s receipt to Upper, then the $8 per person is waived! But if you go to Upper first and then Lower, then you end up paying the $8 per person. So we got lucky booking Lower first. In fact, we had initially thought that Lower was without tours but a casual chat with a friend of mine who had visited informed that Lower was through tours only too, which resulted in research and subsequent booking.

Tip#2: Upper Canyon tour with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours is nearer than anyone else because they are right at the entrance. Any other tour company is located somewhere in Page, and they have to go through this tour company property (add almost 15-20 minutes of drive one-way). 


After munching up some snacks and killing time till noon, it was soon time for us to depart. For Upper, we had to go on a bumpy 3 mile 10-minute truck ride to the mouth of the Upper Antelope Canyon. Unlike Lower, Upper is like a huge natural triangular Earth tent with a tiniest shadow of light filtering through the opening. Hence the rush for the lunch time, to see the Sun beams cast its glory to the canyon floors via the myriad shapes and canyon wall carvings. The guides here were expert in photography and suggested us all the right configuration to get the right pastel shades. I am no camera expert and without the guide’s excellent suggestion, the whole Upper Antelope Canyon album would have been a black and white mess! In fact the guide even helped most of us to keep the camera at unique angles to get the right shots – such as some US president faces, wolf face, a heart, sunrise, sunset, bird flying, etc. It was hard to get a family picture since there were too many people. And unlike Lower, in which we enter at one end and exit at the other, here we enter and exit at the same place. So we have to head back the way we came, thus leading to lot of traffic issues inside! 

Despite all this, Upper Antelope Canyon is beautiful too. Maybe it is because we went to Lower first, we liked it better but Upper is as good. There are no ladders, it is just plain walk and hence Tontu didn’t have that much fun. She was tired of all the canyon walls since it was almost 3 hours, and she wanted to head back. We were blessed with good sun beams in both Lower and Upper canyons, so we were pretty contented. It was worth travelling 2 hours in flight and driving almost a day to get to see this! Bumpy ride back and we were back to our car at about 1:30 pm.

Headed back to Lower Canyon visitor center to buy a magnet. On the way, stopped at roadside for a scenic photo. Kept my glasses on the car, and forgot clean about it, and drove away. Alas, by the time I realized (which was in a Mexican restaurant in Page) and went back to the spot, my glasses were broken, thanks to a car that has gone over it. Morose, returned back to hotel room, since we were pretty exhausted and there was nothing significant to do anyways. Took some rest and unfortunately, I had to attend a 5 pm office call which went on till 7 pm. So even though, we had plans of going to Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, we had to forgo it. With the happenings of the day, we were ok with it. Retired early.

Day 3: After another nice sumptuous breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed to Horseshoe Bend trailhead which is again a short ride from Page. Trail was less than 20 minutes and not strenuous. Soon, we were at the edge of the cliff overlooking at the Horseshoe Bend of the mighty Colorado river. It was indeed quite a scene. Thanks to the natural wonder, there is a huge overlook area, and hence even if the place is crowded, there is always a place to see. The cliff is about 1000 ft drop and hence one has to be extremely careful. We took about gazillion pictures from all possible angles with all possible permutations - individual, family, individual selfie, family selfie, just the bend, videos, etc. and spent almost an hour basking in the beauty. Then headed back to the car.

We again went to the same Mexican restaurant and had an early yet heavy lunch. Then we were on our way back to Vegas. But we felt we had quite a bit of time and hence took it easy. We went to Glen Canyon dam, went to the visitor center to search for another magnet (since we thought we lost the one which we had bought the previous day) but it was futile. Took some nice pics of the dam, and finally we were on our way. It was about 1 pm when we left Page finally.

All the way, we took pics of Grand Staircase as it paralleled our road. Excellent scenery all through. This time, we didn’t go through Zion & took the highway route. At Hurricane, we stopped at the same exact park where we had stopped on Day 1. Some snacks, some play in the park, fuel refill and back on our way. Once more through the Virgin River Gorge – same excellent landscape – and then dry desert miles together. We had decided on going to the Valley of Fire route, and hence took the appropriate exit. I was hoping it was a 30 minute diversion but it was not so. It was quite a long deviation indeed. After we left the highway, we drove almost 30 minutes just to get to the entrance of Valley of Fire. But once we entered, it seemed worth it. There are a bunch of rocks with cave-like holes in them and with the Sun setting, the park indeed seemed like on fire. It was orange-ish all around (especially more so with the sunglasses on), and mesmerizing indeed. We felt we should have come a bit earlier without having the Sun threatening to set on us. So we had to hurry around, especially to some of the shorter hikes. But to be fair, the park actually needs one whole day for itself, since most of the trails are pretty lengthy. So despite the setting sun, we felt we were on short change. But with whatever time we had, we saw whatever we could and took pics.

Finally, with no more stops, we headed straight to our same hotel in Vegas as on Day 0. This was a Super 8 vacation! After quickly freshening up, we headed to the Strip at about 8 pm. Parked our car at Bellagio, and showed Paavani the fountain. She enjoyed thoroughly. There were also a bunch of cartoon characters on the Strip and Paavani had a nice time talking to them all. Showed her the Eiffel Tower.  Then walked down to the New York New York to show her the Statue of Liberty. More pics. Then the tram to the iconic Vegas Pyramid. By then, she was way too exhausted and she slept. Carried her all the way back to Bellagio and headed back to the hotel to sleep. All the casinos which we wanted to show Paavani at night with lights, we were able to show and hence it was rather fulfilling.

Day 4: Was really exhausted and hence got up really late, at almost 9 am. After breakfast and getting ready, we finally left at 11 am. Considering we had a flight at 7:30 pm, that wasn’t such a good idea. We should have left the hotel early. Anyways. Read somewhere about a shark show in Mandalay Bay. So, got to the car parking in Mandalay Bay, walked through a series of passageways and finally when we got there, there was a big queue. So, ditched the plan, walked all the way back and took the car to Aria. From there, walked through Aria, to the Strip, through Paris resort, Strip again, Caesar’s, and then walked to Bellagio’s, took the mono rail back to Aria, since it was already 3 pm. Then drove to Circus Circus. There was some delay due to traffic & parking restrictions. Stopped over at McD’s for a quick bite of lunch & ice cream. Saw one amazing acrobatic aerobic show in Circus Circus, and headed back to car, ready to be off to airport.

There were a few more casinos we wanted to see & show to Tontu – like Wynn, Venetian, etc. but due to lack of time, we had to forego. So with a heavy heart, we left. Lost our way to rental car return, got back on track, returned car, took shuttle to airport, checked-in, security, and finally we got to the gate. After an uneventful journey in JetBlue – which we flew after almost 7 years! – we landed safely in SFO, took the shuttle to car parking, drove back home and reached at almost midnight. Thus ended the Antelope Canyon & Vegas trip…

Epilogue: The main objective of the trip was the Antelope Canyon, and we were extremely lucky to have got a clear and sunny day for most of both the canyons. There were certain other aspects of the trip which kinda pulled the mood down at times. Such as losing my glasses. And most importantly - not having seen any of the place in its entirety. There were small places in Page which we couldn’t see like Marble Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, etc. There was Zion & Angel’s Landing which got us thinking and the thinking fell flat. There was Valley of Fire’s landscape which was so beautiful which we could not see enough because we hardly had time. And although we were short by a day in Vegas(!) - considering how much there is to see in each resort – we felt we should have done a good job planning the last day’s activities instead of being lackadaisical & leaving the hotel so late in the morning, which left us just with 5 hours. I guess the fact that we have been to Vegas many times before took us off guard...This is my fourth time already.

But the trip as a whole was safe and enriching. And I guess that’s just as good as anything anyone can ever ask for, right?. So, then this was the first big vacation for 2016. What’s next?!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 New Year Snow!

Time: Jan 1st 2016
Place: Soda Springs Ski Area
Company: Wife and Daughter
Highlights:

Wanted to usher the new year with snow, just like how we had on 2012 in North Conway. But had not planned anything until 31st evening. Finally decided on Soda Springs - but just as a day trip, considering the drive was about 3 hours. Left at about 8:30 am and reached about 11:30 am. There was a huge line for the ticket. We took Planet Kids since we wanted the daughter to have her day of fun. And once we got the ticket, we went on the short sleigh ride to Planet Kids base lodge, where there was another huge line for ski rental. Looking at the line, perhaps we should have arrived about an hour early. It was almost 2 pm (just 2 hours for closure) when we got the ski and hit the short slopes.

Skiing for the first time is never easy. And the 5 year old was more scared than had fun but she did ski a little with help. The thing she had more fun was snow tubing which she did for a few times. Then the cold (13 F) caught onto her and started biting into her toes. So we had to rush back inside for warmth. Then came out again for some snaps and to just take in the setting. The sun had already set by then and it was getting far more colder. 

We left at about 5 pm with a slightly dejected feeling that the kiddo did not enjoy as much as we would have liked her to. There were times when she was just playing with snow, and at such times, I should have just let her enjoy instead of asking her to hurry up for ski or snow-tube. And the cold was far too much for her to really enjoy and have fun. So the combination of the day/place/temperature was not correctly chosen either. 

Anyways, it was still a nice drive amongst snowy mountains. Surprising that we had so much snow within a 4 hour drive from our place. There were many feet of snow. So much, that we saw people on top of housetops shoveling down the snow! The scenery and the setting was all very beautiful for a day's trip.

The return drive was slow, because of the traffic and light snow drizzle. Stopped at Punjabi Dhaba in Dixon for a dinner buffet. By the time we came home it was 9:30 pm, and we were all exhausted. 

Overall it was a 13-hour outing, with an 8-hour drive to start the new year 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Florida

Time: Nov 22-26, 2015
Place: Disneyworld Orlando, Kennedy Space Center NASA, Miami, Key West, Everglades National Park
Company: Wife and Daughter

Highlights: 

Day 1: Got up at 4 am, left home at 5:30 am in freezing cold, and all three of us walked to the BART station dragging our luggage. Shocked to find it closed. Totally, totally forgot that BART on Sundays is only from 8 am onward! Our train was at 9 am from OAK! Quickly went home, got a parking slot booked and took car OAK. Had a tough time finding parking spot but finally found it. Then walked back from car (again, cold) to shuttle stop, took shuttle to OAK airport, walked to terminal and finally glad to be on the airplane. It was a short flight to PHX and extremely short layover (35 minutes). Finally, boarded the flight to ORL. 

Landed at ORL local time about 5 pm. Took baggage, waited for rental car shuttle, took car and reached hotel at almost 8 pm! Never expected it would take 3 hours! Exhausted, we retired for the night.

Day 2: Got up really early, had breakfast at hotel, and left at 7 am. Got the direct local bus to Disney World, which was $2 per adult. Compare that to $20 parking fee! It was a short ride and we entered Disney World just before standard opening time of 8 am. Rushing in, we went through the ritual of standing in the line either for rides or for character meet and greet. Initially it was for Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, and then some rides. Then some more characters and then some more rides, and so it went on all day until it became dark. 

The only ride for which we waited in line a long time was Winnie the Pooh. It was for more than an hour and very frustrating. We also didn’t go on the Splash Mountain ride even though we had a FastPass, which was another negative thing. Unusually it was cold entire day. At night, there was a spectacular show of Elsa and Anna and icy castle. It continued on with light parade, and then one more Mickey and Minnie show and finally it was time for fireworks. After another great display of fireworks, we trudged out of the park. Tontu, although extremely tired, kept herself awake all day and enjoyed thoroughly. It was biting cold when we had to take the bus back to hotel. Finally reached, and slept.

Day 3: Relatively easy day, but still had to drive about an hour in the morning. Reached at about 9:30 am and took the shuttle bus to Launch point. It was mesmerizing actually, although not much for the daughter. There were actual simulations of how it felt in the headquarters when Neil Armstrong almost missed Moon, and the first rocket launch experience and the rocket itself which is hung over the ceiling. It is awesome to come so close to the launch pad and think about all that Man has achieved.

Back in the visitor center, we then went to the auditorium where they showed the history and story of Atlantis. Just the thought there is something called International Space Station which is catering to Man’s problems on Earth is outstanding. I felt so little in front of it all, and was humbled by how little I know. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of ISS until that day. Perhaps I had read about it, but the full significance of it never entered my head. The props there were all stunning - the actual Atlantis itself hung from the ceiling, the commode where astronauts had to "go", the position in which they had to half-sit/half-sleep, exercise, etc. Then there was a small simulation of an actual rocket launch (which me and my daughter skipped), and then we headed to an IMAX auditorium to know more about spacesuit evolution and the likes.

And then, we spent some time on the rocket garden & explorers required for MARS video presentation. We missed the ‘Meet-the-Astronaut’ event. We left at 6 pm and drove on for about 2-3 hrs to reach our next hotel at West Palm Beach. 

Day 4: After a fitful sleep and rest, we had a nice sumptuous breakfast and then headed to South Beach, Miami. Not expecting too much in the morning (since this place is more known for night time entertainment), we headed to the sand but still the sight was mesmerizing. The turquoise greenish-blue water color and the high-surf was awesome. The beach was not entirely empty. We spent about an hour until 1 pm walking on the sand. We then headed to a quick lunch in an Indian restaurant, and then dropped off the car at MIA off-airport. Took shuttle to MIA and then headed to Advantage for next car, which was a convertible. 

Some confusion led us to have a Beetle light-grey convertible which seemed very repulsive. So had to go back, stand in the line again, and get the paperwork re-done to get the white Ford which was much better. Then took some more time acclimatizing with the convertible features. Due to all of this, the original plan of going to Everglades had to be ditched. Instead, headed directly to Marathon where we had booked our next hotel for the night. The daughter had some difficulties with too much wind (especially since she was in rear seat) and we had to sort it out for the next day. 

Day 5: Left early at about 7 am. After a quick 1 hour drive, went to the Southernmost Point of US spot for some nice snaps. Then headed back. This time, with the convertible top open, went over all the bridges with their excellent views. Stopped at couple of places to enjoy the scenery and get some air and some pics. We made quick time, so headed to Everglades (Ernest Coe Visitor Center) although we only had about an hour’s time. We decided on Pa-hay-okee overlook as the only spot that we would see and headed straight there. It turned out to be the best place to go with only one hour to spend. It has a short trail, but with a view of miles together of the famous Florida swamp & river of grass. Alas, that is all we could see. Headed back to MIA & reached MIA at about 2:30 pm for return & boarding non-stop flight back to SFO at 5 pm.

So totally exhausted that all three of us slept completely from take-off to touch-down without ever getting up. But even after arriving at SFO at 8 pm, the journey was not over. Thanks to the first day’s goof-up, we now had to head back to OAK to retrieve our car, even though the BART would have taken directly to home! So, we switched trains twice to get to OAK, and then waited for rental car shuttle, then took the car back home (lost direction midway due to missing of an exit) - and by the time we reached home, it was almost midnight!

Overview: All-in-all, it was a great trip although slightly hectic. Disneyworld was mind-blowing especially the night-time shows. NASA was mesmerizing. South Beach Miami was splendid. Drive to Key West was nice, especially all those bridges. Everglades was serene. We realized that we covered most of Florida in less than 4 days! No wonder it was hectic! 
I had been to Florida thrice - May 2005 (Miami, Key West, Epcot Orlando) and September 2005 (Tampa, Univeral Orlando) and July 2009 (Seaworld & Universal Orlando) - but hadn’t taken wifey to Key West & Miami. This was on the to-do’s for a long time. Especially on a convertible. Check!

Point Bonito

Time: Oct 12, 2015
Place: Golden Gate vista point, Point Bonito, Rodeo Beach
Company: Family, parents, brother, sister-in-law, wife, daughter

Highlights: A chance encounter on Google Maps led us to this stunning picturesque destination. We were actually checking for the address for the best Golden Gate vista point which is on the north side on top of a hill and the map showed a road that led all the way to the ocean with ‘Point Bonito lighthouse’ at the very end. So, this time (it has been many times that we have been on this vista point), instead of turning back after taking some amazing clicks of the Golden Gate - not so chilly, which was a surprise actually - we continued on till the end of the road which (the road, I mean) was itself stunning. It was then a short downhill hike to the lighthouse from the parking lot. But unfortunately it had closed just a half hour back, and the pedestrian tunnel walkway was closed. Nevertheless, we took some more pictures and then headed to Rodeo beach. It was a different beach, with black sand but the waves were awesome. Some folks were riding the surf too. Munched some snacks, spent about an hour and headed back home.

Lake Tahoe

Time: Oct 9-10, 2015
Place: Lake Tahoe loop
Company: Family, parents, brother, sister-in-law, wife, daughter

Highlights: For daughter’s birthday on 11th, parents had come from India & brother and his wife had come from Detroit. To make the family get-together extra special, we planned for a small vacation to Lake Tahoe. It was to be my third (first on September 2006 & second on May 2012)

Day 1: Tontu finished her school at 11:30 am and then we had quick lunch and departed at about 2 pm. There was some traffic near Sacramento but it didn’t keep us up too tied up. Just as the daughter finished seeing Frozen (for the second time in her life and for the first time in a moving vehicle), we reached our hotel in South Lake Tahoe city. It was a nice big suite-kinda-family room that housed all of us. Quick rest later, we went to Nikki’s chaat cafĂ©. I was surprised that Taj Mahal restaurant was no longer in operation. And then it was time to retire back at the room. Of course, the 4-year-old was a big entertainer!

Day 2: It was heartening to see the Tahoe lake so dry, what with California being in draught. We decided to go around the Tahoe in a clockwise route so that we could take in all that Tahoe had to offer (something that I hadn’t done before in my previous trips). Our first stop was at Emerald Bay, where we took some pictures. It resembled of Crater Lake. Then we drove on. Much of the road didn’t skirt the shoreline so it kind of became monotonous. But then we took a stop at King’s Beach. This place was awesome. The depth of the lake was so shallow (maybe because of evaporation) that we could walk in many yards into the lake and feel as if we were surrounded by it and yet the water was just a few feet deep. Added to this, there were tiny waves which made the feeling more special. We spent a long time here. We continued on and had lunch at a Thai restaurant in Incline Village, then made one more stop near Zephyr Cove beach for more pictures. After that, at about 4 pm, we headed back home which was a 4 hour drive. 

Overall: We missed some good attractions such as the Squaw Valley gondola and even the South Lake Tahoe gondola due to seasonal maintenance, which was very unfortunate. Also, it was a short trip that could have been extended but we had to be home early because of the birthday party the next day!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Point Reyes

Time: September 26th, 2015

Place: Point Reyes Lighthouse and nearby beaches

Company: Wife, daughter and parents

Highlights: Left house at about 11 am and reached the Bear Valley Visitor Center at about 1 pm. Nice, easy drive with a short bit of easy winding road. Then headed directly to lighthouse. Reached at 2 pm. A magnificent view of a straight-line coastline with crashing waves greeted us at the parking lot. After a short walk, reached the start of the stairs that went 308 steps down to the lighthouse. Quite a spectacular view. The lighthouse itself was quite interesting, with actual diary entries recorded, way back from late 1800s. Spent some nice time looking at the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and then headed back. 

After a quick lunch, headed to Chimney Rock spot where there was an Elephant Seal Overlook. It wasn't all that great. So didn't spend much time at that place. Headed next to the Point Reyes South Beach. The sand on this beach is very coarse and actually has tiny colored stones. Spent some nice time relaxing and then headed to Drakes Beach. We didn't expect this beach to have any waves considering this is in the bay area. However, we were surprised to see some waves crashing in single file with quite a thunder. It was pleasant with quite a view - a backdrop of cliffs. However, we didn't stay for long since it was chilly.

Our next stop was Point Reyes North Beach. This seemed to be the best of the three. The waves here was much better than South Beach. Here the crashing waves appear in great sets and is non-stop. The sand on the beach was much finer and smooth. We spent the maximum time here, mainly to wait until the sun set. It was a clear sky and we were rewarded with a nice enough sun set although - at the very end - there seemed to appear some clouds from nowhere. We were hoping for the sun to sink beneath the ocean but it disappeared just above the horizon. Still, it was a good enough sunset.

Left at 7:05 pm after sunset and reached home after an uneventful trip at about 9 pm. Driven 166 miles, spent 6 hours all in all at Point Reyes National Seashore (from the time we entered Bear Valley Visitor Center until we left the North Beach) and it was good enough time spent for a nice weekend outing.