The Prince William Sound cruise

“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”

Indeed a spectacular marine ride it was on board Major Marine Prince Williams Sound cruise. The adventure began from Seaward through a one lane narrow and dim combined rail/road tunnel (the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel) to Whittier which opens every hour. The tunnel is opened for traffic in each direction alternatively and the Alaskan Railroad also uses same tunnel to go to Whittier.


We reached the tunnel at around 9:30 am and so could avoid the rush and was at the harbor much earlier than we thought. As we had ample time, we decided to explore the area but found nothing much of interest except for the ships and boats. We had packed some breakfast which we ate sitting at the staircase of a gift shop (closed). We felt we were out on a picnic. Though sunny, the weather seemed to be pretty cold with the wind blowing and so I got some heavy socks and scarfs and two jackets on. Surprisingly, once we boarded the ship, I had to remove all of them and was just in my tanks.


The Captain of the ship was a young lady and full of jest and energy. Her hearty welcome pulled up the spirits for the adventure. We had also had a lady forest ranger on board as our narrator, who pinpointed to us all points of interest of the journey.
Once Major Marine started, the scenes surrounding us began to change.We were lucky to have a sunny day as the water sparkled in the bright sunlight. Amidst the smooth sailing in the calm water, we came upon a number of stunningly beautiful glaciers in the mountains around us and through the beautiful Esther Passage.

We also saw some wild animals like the bald eagle, sea otters, sea lions, and salmon fish but no whales though. Dozens of sea lions were resting on small rocky islands in the middle of the sea. We saw plenty of sea otters, floating around in their flotillas. It was interesting to watch them laying on their backs basking in the sunlight, cleaning their fur or eating off their bellies. The forest ranger had brought an adult male sea otter pelt to show us. It was incredible, the fur was so densely packed (highest hair concentration of any animal) and it was large and heavy.


The main attraction of the trip was of course was The Surprise Glacier, a massive piece of evolving ice, 300 feet above and below. The captain stopped for about 30 minutes at this location so we could take photos and enjoy the breaking ice.

While returning through Port Wells, we also halted at a bird rookery – home to thousands of Kittiwakes, a member of the gull family. Over 10,000 Kittiwakes nest on these cliffs each summer to lay eggs, raise their young, and bulk up for their long trip south for the winter. The place was pretty noisy as one can imagine.
The innumerable tall waterfalls streaming down the slopes of the mountains gave an incredible view to the whole scene.

As we were ready to return, the captain announced that we could buy Glacier Margarita made from a chunk of Glacier ice from the sea and combined with other ingredients.We also had lunch overboard as well. Since there wasn’t much of vegetarian options, the cook made us a special soup made of tomato and beans which he called as chilly soup.

It was indeed an incredible experience to witness nature in its most pristine setting and realize that our world is so temporary. This natural phenomena has been around since thousands and thousands of years before us and hopefully will continue undisturbed for a million more.In the words of John Muir,”after witnessing the unveiling of the majestic peaks and glaciers and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it seemed inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us.”

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Trip to Barrow, Alaska- The top of the world

Life is God’s gift to you.The way you live your life is your gift to God.

It wasn’t just another trip this time. I would rather call it a very unique adventure of a lifetime. For our July 4th long weekend we had planned our trip to Alaska long long ago in November 2012 but was uncertain if we ever would be able to make it.. me being 6 months pregnant. But having got the green signal from my Ob/Gyn we decided to go ahead as planned but Barrow was a long shot. I had no knowledge about the place but hubby dear had done some research and was very enthusiastic about it. However he had left it entirely upon me to decide whether to go ahead or not.After a hectic bus ride at Denali National park, we headed to our Mckinley creek cabin to rest for the next day’s flight. I was all wobbly and dizzy the next morning and was distressed that we wouldn’t be able to make it. However, after a little rest I managed to convince myself that all was well and am glad we could make it.

 

Our flight from Fairbanks took a break at Prudhoe Bay airport.It was an extraordinary sight to view the 800 mile pipeline from the air,a true testimony to engineering feats, that  allows contraction and expansion of the 48″ pipe on the tundra. We also got a glimpse of the famous Dalton Highway, one of the most isolated roads in the United States. My hubby has the greatest desire to drive through this road someday specially during winter when the road is frozen.The view of the permafrost terrain (permanently frozen ground) from the air was exhilarating.

As soon as we landed in Barrow, the whole scenario changed. It was a totally different world from the rest of Alaska or US. The airport was pretty small with just one room used both for departure and arrival as well as check-ins etc. Once we stepped out of it everything seemed to be isolated and rustic. I felt at a loss at first as the streets seemed to be desolate and not many people or vehicles were around. Following hubby out of the airport, we at first thought of picking up our rented car but didn’t know which direction to go. The google map too wasn’t working and it was pretty cold outside after having come from 70/80 degrees F at Fairbanks. Fortunately we sighted our hotel(Airport Inn) and decided to check in first. The hotel wasn’t that fanciful but had a warm welcome atmosphere with all the modern amenities except for the outdated TV set and two small twin beds.


After resting for awhile we walked through the town in search of our car rental agency. I was desperate and irritated as the place was all empty and desolate and the cold wind added to my vexed feelings. I was wondering if the trip was worth it. To make matters worse, when we reached the agency, (a worn out unpolished house rather just a room in some small building) not far from the airport, no one responded to our calls and the door was locked too. I was in no mood to keep walking and was literally angry with hubby. Just then as if god saw our desperation, a car stopped by and inquired if we were looking for rental cars. He was the owner of the car rental agency. I was so relieved that I immediately jumped into his car and we headed to his office.

Barrow isn’t a big place and one can see around mostly on foot too if you are good at it. It is located 300 miles (480 km) north of the Arctic Circle on the Arctic Ocean. The tiny village holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement in the United States, and the northernmost settlement on the North American mainland. The residents are primarily of Inupiat (“Eskimo”) descent.(courtesy wiki travel).

Because of its extreme location Barrow receives 24-hours daylight from May 10 to August 2 as well as 24 hours darkness from November 18 to August 22.

Barrow wasn’t a very welcome sight at first with the unpaved roads and the desolate looks of dark and gray with no greenery around except for the small grasses. after picking up our rented car, we headed towards the Tundra Top of the world hotel where we were to join the tour group. We boarded a small bus with 15 other tourists. The driver took us along the beach road to as far north towards Point Barrow as you can go without a permit. We were about 4 miles away from point Barrow, the northern most point of the American continent.We learnt that the hunters dump all their whale bones at Point Barrow in order to keep the Polar Bears out of downtown Barrow but they still come into town during the winter months. One need to pay extra to go to point Barrow as well as hire a private ATV or car to get there along the rugged unpaved road.

To be able to make to the top of the world is a thrill unexplainable in words.It was pretty exciting to be so close to the arctic ocean.It was a sunny afternoon and the water was gentle. There were several icebergs floating around though most of it had melted away by now. We also saw some pretty big colorful jelly fish. Amidst the excitement, one tourist suddenly stripped naked and dived into the icy cold ocean water while we all stood on shore not daring to even dip a finger.Everyone started laughing and clapping. Definitely, he made to the polar bear club membership, a tradition of some people to swim in the icy waters. We were a little disappointed to have missed seeing a polar bear though.

We continued our journey as the driver narrated stories and showed us almost every part of  the town of Barrow,including the one and only gas station and grocery store, the lagoons and fresh water lakes,the hospital, the two local cemeteries, the elementary school, middle school, and high school, the Barrow High School football field on the road towards Point Barrow, the local government buildings, the Will Rodgers/Wiley Post Memorial and the airport named after them and the Inupiat Heritage Center, which provides information on the history of the Inupiat people as well as displays of artifacts and cultural events. We also got to see “Satellite City”, an area outside the town where all of the satellite dishes are located. Interestingly the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky.  In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them.  Luckily finding empty space  isn’t much of an issue.

Because of the permafrost, no vegetation could thrive in the region. The houses too were built raised from the ground to prevent from melting the permafrost.There were junk piles and old boats and broken down snow mobiles everywhere. We also saw a water truck that constantly splashed water on the road to keep away the dust during the dry season.

After the tour, we picked up lunch from Pepe’s Restaurant, took our car and headed back to our hotel. We rested for a few hours and then decided to tour around on our own. It was quite astonishing to see the sun quite above us even after 9 pm.We went back to the Bowhead Whale jaw bone Arc point and Welcome to Alaska, top of the world sign and took several more pictures. The ride was even more bumpier in the car than was in the bus. The weather was cool and sunny but thanks to the chilly wind from the Arctic ocean,that made it impossible to stay out of the car for long.

We also went to the grocery store mostly to check the prices and also get some water and snack bars. I can understand why the prices were so high there as definitely it wasn’t that easy to get all items to such a remote area. The price of things up here in Barrow were way higher than anywhere in the world, since everything had to be flown in or brought in by boat.

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Arctic Pizza restaurant

We ordered a medium size pizza for dinner from Arctic Pizza restaurant, which we found bigger than our normal large size pizza. It was quite tasty and sumptuous for dinner. Exhausted from the day’s rides, we soon fell asleep even when the sun outside was high above us. We woke up next morning and got ready to catch the flight back to Fairbanks. We left the place with a sense of achievement of seeing a unique and historic destination and being above the Arctic Circle.

” I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” ― Jack Dawson

Places I have been to in the USA

Re-posting my earlier post after adding a few more places….Alaska and Florida.usmap

The blue color shows the states I have visited.

SR# Place State
1 Grand Canyon National Park Arizona
2 Antelope Canyon Navajo Park Arizona
3 San Francisco California
4 Rocky Mountains National Park Colorado
5 Mount Evans Colorado
6 Colorado Springs Colorado
7 Royal George Bridge Colorado
8 Great Sand dunes National Park Colorado
9 Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
10 Starved rock state park Illinois
11 Indiana Dunes State Park Illinois
12 Chicago Illinois
13 Dubuque IOWA
14 Maquoketa caves State Park IOWA
15 Pictured Rock National Lakeshore Michigan
16 Silver Lake State Park Michigan
17 Bay Harbor Michigan
18 Mackinaw City Michigan
19 Tahquamenon falls state Park Michigan
20 Marquette Michigan
21 Porcupine State Park Michigan
22 Blue Mounds State Park Minnesota
23 William O Brian State Park Minnesota
24 Minnesota Nothshore Minnesota
25 McCarthy State Park Minnesota
26 Frontenac State Park Minnesota
27 Minneopa State Park Minnesota
28 Mille Lacs State Park Minnesota
29 Niagara Cave Minnesota
30 Scottsbluff national monument Nebraska
31 Chimney Rock Nebraska
32 Lake Tahoe Nevada
33 Las Vegas Nevada
34 Atlantic City New Jersey
35 Niagara Falls New York
36 New York City New York
37 Badlands National Park South Dakota
38 Mt. Rushmore South Dakota
39 Custer State Park South Dakota
40 Crazy Horse South Dakota
41 Cosmos South Dakota
42 Jewel Cave South Dakota
43 Needles Scenic Byway South Dakota
44 Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee
45 Zion National Park Utah
46 Bryce National Park Utah
47 Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah
48 Monument Valley Navajo Park Utah
49 Arches National Park Utah
50 Canyon lands National park Utah
51 Washington DC Virginia
52 Peninsula State Park Wisconsin
53 Wisconsin Dells Wisconsin
54 Yellowstone National Park Wyoming
55 Grand Teton National Park Wyoming
56 Everglades National Park Florida
57 Disney World Florida
58 Miami Florida
59 Key-West Florida
60 Kennedy Space Center Florida
61 Denali National Park Alaska
62 Barrow Alaska
63 Kenai Fjords National Park(Exit Glacier) Alaska
64 Seward Alaska
65 Whittier Alaska
66 Chugach National Forest Alaska
67 Anchorage Alaska

Yellowstone National Park-1

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

I am sure anyone who has visited Yellowstone national park will agree to the magical beauty of this place. I feel extremely lucky to have got the chance to visit this natural wonderland.There are more geysers and hot springs here than anywhere else on Earth.

The park was established in 1872 as America’s first national park. A mountain wildland, home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, the park is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone.

Yellowstone National Park  extends through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  The park’s name is derived from the Yellowstone River, which runs through the park.The Firehole River winds through the Upper Geyser Basin.

Nomadic grazers, bison roam Yellowstone National Park’s grassy plateaus in summer and spend winter near warm thermal pools or in the northern section of the park. The huge animals use their heads like a plow to push snow aside in search of food.

The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, at 308 feet high, is one of the most photographed features in all of Yellowstone. There are numerous vantage points on both the North and South sides of the Canyon. The 3/8 mile (one way) hike down to the edge of the Lower Falls is breathtaking. The Yellowstone begins south of the park, traveling more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) before it empties into the Missouri River in North Dakota. It is the longest undammed river in the continental U.S.

Tower Fall is 17 miles north of Canyon or two miles south of Roosevelt. The 132-foot waterfall plunges as a near-perfect water column until it crashes onto the rocks at its base.

During the winter months, the frozen falls are accessible via cross country skies.

Yellowstone National Park’s mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) Upper Geyser Basin contains the world’s greatest concentration of hot springs and geysers. In the entire park, which spreads out over parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, there are more than 10,000 hydrothermal features—half of all such features in the world.Of this remarkable number, only five major geysers are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. They are Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful. There are many frequent, smaller geysers to be seen and marveled at in this basin as well as numerous hot springs and one recently developed mudpot (if it lasts).

Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the park and is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. This geyser erupts more frequently than the other big geysers, erupting every 40 to 126 minutes. Old Faithful’s eruption lasts from 1 ½ minutes to 5 minutes on average, and reaches heights of about 105 – 184 feet, expelling 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water.

Lower Geyser Basin is located north of the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins, between Madison Junction and Old Faithful Village on the Grand Loop Road. The primary access point is either the Fountain Paint Pot area or the Firehole Lake Drive.

Midway geyser basin, though small in size compared to its companions along the Firehole River, holds large wonders for the visitor. Excelsior Geyser reveals a gaping crater 200 x 300 feet with a constant discharge of more than 4,000 gallons of water per minute into the Firehole River. Also in this surprising basin is Yellowstone’s largest hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring. This feature is 370 feet in diameter and more than 121 feet in depth.

There are a huge number of day hikes available in the park, and since many visitors travel only to the most popular geyser basins these trails provide an opportunity to see the park in a more natural setting.

Yellowstone offers a number of recreation opportunities with specific rules and guidelines that visitors should be familiar with prior to arriving at the park. These include fishing, backcountry camping, hiking, horseback riding and boating.

….to be continued.

Grand Teton national park

This is one of the most magnificent place I have ever visited.On our way to Yellowstone national park we stopped at this spectacular place The Grand Teton national park. It is located in northwestern Wyoming just south of Yellowstone national park and just north of the town of Jackson.

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the ethereal mountain landscape

Rising more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, the Teton Range dominates the park’s skyline. Natural processes continue to shape the ecosystem against this impressive and iconic backdrop.

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The Tetons are a prime example of fault-block mountain formation. When the earth’s crust cracked along a fault millions of years ago, the Tetons rose into the sky. The exposed crystalline rocks give these mountains their dramatic appearance in any season. The Grand Teton rises to 13,770 feet above sea level and 12 other peaks reach above 12,000 feet elevation.

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the snake river

Running north to south, the Snake River winds its way down the valley and across this amazing scene.

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Grand Teton National Park has abundant wildlife, but it is most famous for its populations of elk, bison (buffalo), moose and bald eagles. We were fortunate enough to see a herd of bisons.

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This stunningly jaw dropping mountain peak is a wondrous playground for climbers, hikers, skiers, and nearly all other outdoor enthusiasts.

ready for a wild ride????
ready for a wild ride???

If you visit Yellowstone, this place is a must see. The park is definitely overshadowed by its big brother – Yellowstone NP. However, its magnificent panoramic views of the Grand Teton, Eagle Rest, and other peaks, beats even the Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Snow and glaciers on the steep slopes add to the range’s breathtaking beauty.

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Crystalline alpine lakes fill glacial cirques, and noisy streams cascade down rocky canyons to larger lakes at the foot of the range. These lakes, impounded by glacial debris, mirror the mountains on calm days.

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view from the visitor center

The weather was a bit cloudy that morning as we started and we also met with some heavy rains on the way but finally the sun did show up.

The weather can change rapidly in this mountainous region. Temperatures can plummet with little advance warning. Lightning is a real danger. Watch the skies, and if you hear thunder, take shelter within a structure or lower your profile to the sky.

After being stunned by this majestic natural beauty, we headed towards Yellowstone national park.

South Dakota – Part 2

The next morning we went to see the Jewel caves which was about an hour’s drive from Custer State park. It is the second-longest cave system in the world with 160 miles of explored passageways. The cave got its name from the dazzling calcite crystals that illuminate the underground and lighted walkways of the cave. We took the scenic tour which was of 1 ½ hrs duration. The tour guide took us down to the cave in an elevator and down several steps along a ½ mile loop.
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We saw many chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems including stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, frostwork, flowstone, boxwork and hydromagnesite balloons.
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The cave is an important hibernaculum for several species of bats. At one point, the guide asked us to stand together and then he put out all the lights inside of the cavern. It was quite exhilarating to be in total darkness.
This was one of the most fascinating cave tour I have ever had.
From here we headed towards the mystery spot Cosmos about which I have already written…
https://paharidotme.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/cosmos-mystery-area-rapid-city/
After the magical experience of Cosmos we drove towards Badlands national Park.

South Dakota- Part 1

(Custer state park, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse)
One of our longest road trips was the one we made on the Memorial Day long weekend of 2010 to South Dakota from Chicago. We covered a total 2,500 miles approx. round trip. There are many things to cover up in this trip and so I will have to make different posts for them.
South Dakota Trip Map

We started our journey at around 4 pm from Chicago on 4th of July 2010. Our first stop was Galena. After a little sightseeing and filling our bellies, we headed towards Albert Lea where we put up for the night. Next morning we headed towards Sioux falls which is located at the intersection of two major interstates, I-90 and I-29, . The cool water of the falls helped to beat the summer heat and we had some great time there. We rested in the park for awhile and enjoyed some snacks too.

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From there we moved on to see the Corn Palace, an amazing work of corn art. The themes keep changing every year since 1892.Every spring, the exterior of the palace is completely covered with thousands of bushels of native South Dakota corn, grain and grasses that are arranged into large murals.

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I got myself a cup, shaped like a corn from the souvenir shop :). There wasn’t much to see and do around and so after having a quick local made ice cream we headed towards our next destination… Custar state Park, where we put a tent for the night.

I say that’s the best part of making a road trip.. carry your home along with you.

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Having “bhutta” and tea in the cup bought from the corn palace the next morning. After breakfast, we headed towards Mt Rushmore which was just about an hours drive from the park.

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On the way we saw a bison by the roadside and stopped at a safe distance for a quick shot. The drive along the scenic Iron Mountain road itself was awesome.The road is famous for the “Pigtail Bridges” that allows travelers to drop or gain altitude quickly. The scenery along the highway is bewitching. The three rock tunnels are simply stunning.

IMG_3891We could see Mt Rushmore at certain points along the drive and the heads of the Presidents through one of the tunnels. I tried to capture a shot of it but as the sun was ahead of us, the dirt in the window screen was more prominent than the view ahead.

We reached Mt Rushmore by noontime. There was a huge rush as it was a long weekend but we managed to get a parking place. I was awestruck by the huge sculptures of the four famous US Presidents. The entrance was lined up with flags that gave an awesome view.

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It took 14 years to build the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln in these mountains. There is a pathway that leads to a close view of the presidents and also a sculpture museum showing of all the tools used in the construction and also videos and pictures. We wandered along for awhile clicking pictures and admiring the sculptures.

Suddenly dark heavy clouds flooded the sky and we decided to leave. As we left the parking lot we were caught by a drizzle of passing showers. I took a last glimpse at the sculptures which seemed to be weeping in the rain.

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We took the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway while returning. With the sharp turns, low tunnels, and impressive granite spires, this was one of the most amazing road I had ever seen.

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The drive was a little nerve racking too because of the height but had an amazing view. We stopped by the pine and spruce forests to get a few more clicks. We saw a couple of adventurers climbing up the pointed rocks.

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Soon the clouds gave away and the weather seemed to be better. So we headed towards our next destination i.e. The Crazy Horse. I have written about it already and so I am putting up its link here https://paharidotme.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/crazy-horse/

After leaving Crazy Horse we headed back to our campsite at Custer State park.

I will put the next part of this trip in another blog.