Sunday, September 18, 2016

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton mountains from Jackson Lake Lodge.Grand Teton National Park was the last destination of our Montana-Wyoming vacation. We spent three nights in Grand Teton, albeit in two different location to make the drive to the airport on our last day easier to avoid unexpected road blocks along the way.

From Jackson Lake.For the first two nights we opted in to stay at Flagg Ranch which is the same place we stayed at during our last visit to Grand Teton. Grand Teton National Park itself is pretty much adjacent to the southern end of Yellowstone. So Flagg Ranch is located on the northern end of the park and somewhere under 30 miles south of West Thumb — which is really on the southern end of Yellowstone — our last stop in Yellowstone itself, as Alёna wrote earlier.

Flagg Ranch cabins.We got to our cabins closer to the end of the day which we mostly spent in Yellowstone and were pretty tired. We had our dinner at the main lodge as there are zero other choices in a reasonable range. The food was nothing to write home about, but it wasn’t bad either. Soon after dinner we turned in for the night to recharge for park exploration on the next day.

Shore of Jackson Lake.We decided to set a hike along a trail on Jackson Lake as the goal for our day. The road through the park runs on the eastern side of Teton Range itself and magnificent views in the forms of lakes and vistas open up between you and the peaks of the mountains.

Throwing pebbles.The trail that we picked was in the Colter Bay area of Jackson Lake. There was a visitor center where we obtain a new set of stamps and acquired some Grand Teton National Park themed apparel. We also decided to eat lunch before heading out in order to avoid our awkward schedule of nobody being hungry for dinner in time.

Grand Teton National Park.The trails itself starts right near the visitor center and runs along the shore of the lake onto a peninsula. Once you make it to the west-most end of the peninsula itself you are presented with a grand view of the Teton Range reflecting in Jackson Lake.

Picking out pebbles.The water wasn’t as still as I wish it was and there was a considerable haze in the air. That seemed to be a theme throughout our stay at the park. On the beach itself though, while I was taking photographs, kids played in the sand and threw an uncountable quantity of pebbles into the lake.

Little boat.After we were done with this trail we drove south to Jenny Lake. Last time when we were here with Alёna in 2009 we took a ferry across the lake and then went on a trail up to some waterfall. The thing that I remember the most about that trail was a huge population of giant mosquitoes which that particular piece of the forest sported. Actually that’s not true. Last time mosquitoes were everywhere. Including at least 50 of them in our cabin at Flagg Ranch whom we proceeded to eradicate viciously with Eldar.

Jackson Lake shore trail.Anyhow — there was a lot of construction going on at Jenny Lake visitor area and we were all pretty tired either-way. So we settled for a set of new stamps and all the scenic views along the lake shore that we stopped at. However by that time the sun was shining directly into the lens along with all the haze presents a very challenging set of conditions for any decent photographs.

Tetons.We set course back north hoping to find a new place to have dinner at. We stopped by Jackson Lake Lodge which had multiple restaurants. Everything was extremely overpriced, so we decided to just go with Flagg Ranch dining room again.

Colter Bay.But at Jackson Lake Lodge one can walk out onto the back porch of the lodge which has one of the best vantage points to look at the mountains from. I remembered that this is exactly the place that I took a picture from the printout of which I had on my desk for the last 5 years or so.

Official Grand Teton National Park sign.Since the sun was still shining in our face we decided to make a stop here again the next morning on our way to Jackson for our last night stay of our road trip. The dinner we ate at Flagg Ranch, as I said, and for breakfast we stocked up on Cup-A-Noodle soups at the general store. These, for me, have a strong nostalgia feeling connected to our breakfasts in Shenandoah at the end of 2010.

Store. Great prices on awesome things.On the last day we did stop at Jackson Lake Lodge again for pictures and drove down to the town of Jackson via a route that runs through the town of Moran — a more eastern way to go than the route we took a day before. There were still numerous scenic overlooks that one can stop at — which we did — to take in the views of the mountains from all possible angles.

Janny Lake overlook.We grabbed some lunch at a visitor center near Moose — along with some stamps of course and decide to finish our Grand Teton stay with a place that we missed the last time around. There is an old abandoned Mormon town on the southern end of the park — Mormon Row with a number of old houses and barns. In fact one of those barns must be the most photographed barn in the world.

Jenny Lake.And that was pretty much it for the park. When we arrived to Jackson we checked into a huge two-story suite at Jackson Hole Lodge. This was probably the best setup for a family trip that we had — too bad we only had this for a single night.

View from Jackson Lake Lodge.Town of Jackson turned out to be a pretty busy place with a ton of people. It’s somewhat surprising seeing how it’s quite a long way away from Yellowstone and not all that close to most places in Grand Teton either. It’a great place to finish one’s trip, but not so much as a base of operations.

One of scenic stops.We went for a walk along the busy streets of the town, stopping a numerous souvenir and jewelry stores. But windows shopping was all we could afford as most prices really make no sense. Too much tourists equals to too high prices.

Mormon Row.Here, however, we ate probably the best dinner of our vacation. We stopped by a Spanish — as in Spain — tapas place called Bin 22. We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais wine and a good number of tapas. In fact we just tried to recreate the experience with Alёna yesterday in a placed called Brook Vin in Park Slope. Parents also enjoyed the experience very much which made us happy that we had them try something new.

Barn at Mormon Row.And then we walked to the central square of the town which had four sizable arches — on each corner — created of antlers collected at a nearby National Elk Refuge. The square, by the way, was full of people complete obsessed with Pokemon Go — it was that week when it just came out.

Jackson central square.The next morning Alёna and Arosha brought us all breakfast from a nearby bagel place. Afterwards we drove to the airport, turned in our banged up car without any hassles and boarded a plane to New York with a layover at Salt Lake City. There the flight was delayed many times so we arrived home very very late. Thus another one of our great road trips has concluded. Another trove of great memories.

Antler arches at Jackson Hole.
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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Grand Prismatic Spring.Every time I speak about Yellowstone to people who have not visited the park, I tell them that it’s one of the most amazing places in the United States, and probably the whole world! I am so happy that we were able to visit it with our children and Daniel’s parents. His dad read about Yellowstone in some Soviet Union magazine when he was still a boy, decades ago, and it left everlasting impression. Finally, he was able to see it with his own eyes, and his joy added to ours.

Road to Yellowstone.The road from Helena to Yellowstone took us through beautiful mountains. We stopped a few times to take pictures of the clean mountain rivers racing along the highway, of fresh green pine trees and bright blue skies.

First dinner at Madison Crossing.We arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon, and even though our rooms were not ready right away, we did not have to wait long for them. The hotel did not have interconnected rooms available, but they gave us two rooms next to each other. There was an unpleasant smell of tobacco smoke in Daniel’s parents’ room, but luckily they were able to air it out to a tolerable state.

Dinner.We did not eat lunch, so everybody was pretty hungry. We decided to check out the West Yellostone Visitor Center first — it was within a walking distance from our hotel. We got our stamps (Anюta kept asking for a passport, but we did not get it for her until later in the trip), and got a map of the park.

Old Faithful trail.We decided to eat at Madison Crossing Restaurant based on TripAdvisor reviews, but it only opened up at 5pm, so we had to wait for about 40 minutes. Kids were really hungry and whiny at that point, so t. Oksana, me and the children made a short trip to the local supermarket and got some bananas and the like, while Danya and his dad went to look for a post office.

Boiling water.Needless to say that everyone survived until dinner, which was absolutely worth the wait. Madison Crossing Lounge is located in the building which used to be the first West Yellowstone School. The beer was good, the food (I ordered ratatouille risotto for myself and steak for the children) was delicious and the server was attentive and friendly. We got some ice cream after dinner, and went back to the hotel to rest. The children went to the pool for a short while and we went to sleep.

Bacteria life.The night turned out to be more eventful than we hoped it would be. At some point I was woken up from sleep by Danya, who thought that Arosha was peeing on the floor for some unknown reason. I jumped out of bed still disoriented, and it took us some time to realize that both our children were sound asleep. The noise that we heard was that of the water flowing from the ceiling through our smoke alarm. We put a bucket under the stream, and Daniel went outside to investigate what’s going on after his attempts to reach the administration of the hotel by phone have failed.

Doublet Pool.To make long story short, he did found the staff member in a room above the parents’ room. Parents had “rain” from the ceiling as well. Something happened in the room above, and both of our rooms got affected. Luckily for us, the water stopped flowing soon. Not so luckily for parents, it happened again in a few hours. So they had a pretty sleepless night.

Spasmodic Geyser.The next morning the administration said that they can move us, but we had to wait since the whole hotel was booked. We agreed to stay in the same rooms granted there will be no more midnight awakenings. They also promised to take care of us, which at the end came up to a $70 discount per each room (roughly 30% of the cost). I have to say that I don’t think that the 30% discount of one night (we stayed there for 5) is adequate, and we argued our case with the staff at the checkout time (since management was not available), but to no avail.

Chromatic Spring.Next morning after breakfast we drove to the park itself. I have to say that this year the park seemed extremely crowded, much more so than I remember from our first visit seven years ago. We decided to start with the geysers, and it took us nearly 2 hours to get there from the park entrance. It was also difficult to find parking, but we got lucky eventually.

Non-irrupting Giant Geyser.We started with the visitor center, and found out to our disappointment, that none of the predictable geysers, with the exception of Old Faithful of course, were going to erupt in the next few hours. The Old Faithful was about to start, so we waited for a little while and watched it go off. To be honest, it was not very impressive not just to us, but to all other members of our party.

Morning Glory Pool.I was hoping that Daniels’ parents will be more excited to see colorful bacterial pools, chromatic springs and other thermal wonders one can see at the park. And so they were! If geysers left them quite indifferent, pretty much all other things left them impressed. I think their favorite thing of all was the Great Prismatic Spring.

Us by Morning Glory.We spent a significant amount of time walking the trail from the Old Faithful to the Morning Glory Pool. We stopped often to admire the views and to take pictures. It was hot and sunny, but not too bad overall. When we headed back, we took a different, shorter trail.

Crowd waiting for Old Faithful eruption.By the time we reached the Old Faithful, it was about time for it to erupt again, so we decided to wait and see it once more. The geyser erupted about 20 minutes later than predicted, so we ended up sitting in a big crowd of people for the total of 40 minutes.

Old Faithful Geyser.One good thing that came out of the waiting though was that after the Old Faithful was done, another geyser, the Beehive, went off. It was higher and stronger than Old Faithful, and Danya and I have not seen it in the past. It erupts once every 16-18 hours or even less frequently and is not predictable. We watched it for a few minutes from a distance and then decided to take a closer look and maybe take some pictures. By the time we got close, it stopped. Oh well. It was still somehow very exhilarating to see it.

Old Faithful Geyser.Because of the traffic and a long walk, we skipped lunch, so by the time we got back to town everyone was ravenous. We planned to go to Madison Crossing again, but to our surprise it was closed. On our way to the restaurant, Danya has noticed that none of the traffic lights were working, so the closed restaurant confirmed out fears — there was a blackout!

Beehive Geyser.We went to the hotel and went to look for food by foot. Daniel suggested that town’s pizzerias might be still open, since they were the only restaurants open during the blackout in Brooklyn in the past. We tried calling two pizzerias we found in the town phone book, but with no luck.

Old Faithful visitor center.When we passed the first place, there was a big line. There was also a big line across the street from it next to some barbecue place. We then proceeded to check the supermarket (closed), baker shop (closed) and another pizzeria (only serving alcohol), and returned back to the first pizzeria.

Traffic-causing deer.To our luck, at that particular moment not only there was no line, but a table big enough for all of us just freed up. We were very happy to go there, even though they warned us that they only have spaghetti and a simple salad on the menu. And of course, they only excepted cash (luckily we had some for situations like this one). They also had cold beer, which went very well with our pastas.

Grand Prismatic Spring.The next day we decided to explore the Grand Prismatic Spring. There was traffic again, but it was not as bad as on the previous day. I was really looking forward to see this magical place, and I am happy to say that everyone was really in awe of its beauty.

Units by Grand Prismatic Spring.For me personally this time around it was slightly less enjoyable to be there due to huge crowds. There were just so many people, and I also was constantly worried about the children falling off the trail into the thermal ground, so I could not fully immerse in its beauty. I don’t know if its a common trend in all the major parks, but there seem to be a huge number of Asian tourists in Yellowstone. I wonder if with growing affluence of Chinese they travel around the world more. And Yellowstone is really a place worth visiting!

Excelsior Geyser.After the Grand Prismatic, we decided to drive to Yellowstone Lake Lodge to have lunch — it was not easy for children to skip them. On our way we had to stop due to bison crossing the road. To our luck, one of the huge bison bulls decided that he does not like our car too much. He stopped right in front of it, started to make scary snorting sounds and was flicking his tail up and down. Also his eyes were getting redder and redder. In all honesty, I got really scared. I even asked d. Borya to close the windows, just in case.

Crowds on a narrow trail.The park ranger noticed a situation escalation, and came to our rescue. She did scare the bison successfully, but managed to ram our car in the process. Not only she rammed into us, but she also increased the damage by driving forward, instead of backing out. Danya got really angry and upset, and before I saw the damage with my own eyes, I thought that the car was in not drivable condition anymore. Luckily for us, this was not the case. Yes, the car was scratched and damaged a little, but we still could continue on our journey.

Yellowstone Lake.We had to spend nearly two hours filing the accident report with park rangers. They said that they were sorry this happened to us, but good thing is that nobody got hurt. The ranger who helped us with paperwork also showed me a hole in his car, which was a result of a bison attack. So at the end, I suppose that being rammed by ranger is still preferable than being rammed by bison.

Lunch by Yellowstone Lake.The worst thing about an accident was that it cast a shadow on the rest of the trip for Danya. During the next day he called our insurance company, and the rental company, and was still not sure if we would have to pay extra money to either one of those agencies.

Bisons are no longer our friends.By the time we got to the Yellowstone lodge, the only place where we can get any food was a self-service cafeteria with a poor selection. So much for driving there to have a nice lunch. Oh well.

Yellowstone Falls.After that we went to see the Yellowstone Canyon. The views were quite glorious, especially one of the waterfall overlooks, where one can see the falls close up from above and feel the power of nature.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.On our way home we got stuck in another traffic jam. This time it was deers and inconsiderate people, who were stopping to snap pictures of them and blocking the ongoing traffic. Luckily, at some point park rangers came to the rescue and dispersed the crowd.

Brink of the Upper Falls trail.We went to the pools in the hotel, and due to late lunch, we skipped dinner. I had some nuts and bananas left for the kids, and Daniel’s mom bought them pop-corn from the vending machine. To be honest, all this dinner skipping worked out not too bad for me, Danya and his dad — all of us shed a few pounds during this trip.

Brink of the Upper Falls.The following day we decided to drive to see the Mammoth Springs. The drive was pretty long, but I remember being pretty impressed with that place back in 2009. This time around the hot springs did not leave as big an impression on me. I am not sure if they changed, but in my memory there was more water flowing down the steps. It was also very hot, which made me want to get to the shade sooner rather than later.

Mammoth Hot Springs.We had a nice lunch in the nearby lodge, which resulted in another skipped dinner later on.

Mammoth Hot Springs trail.After lunch, we drove to the Porcelain Basin side of Norris Geyser Basin. By the way, the Norris Geyser Basin national park stamp was the only Yellowstone park stamp missing from Danya’s collection, so he was happy to get it. We walked the trail and it was really interesting to see some things, for example two streams of water with different temperature, which have different colors, becoming one stream with two distinct color patterns depending on the exact water temperature of the stream in specific places (so-called natural thermometer).

Mammoth Hot Springs.We decided to take it slow the next day. Everyone was tired of driving and traffic and heat. One of the things that was suggested to us by the owners of not-so-Best Western, was to visit Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center which is located literally 5 minutes away from the hotel. After reading about it, we thought that it will be fun for the children — we were hoping that they could take part in the hiding bear food program for little children, but all the spots for that morning were already reserved.

Porcelain Basin trail.As it turned out, this was a blessing in disguise, since the program was obviously designed for older children. The center employee was talking to the group of about 20 kids for almost an hour — Arosha and especially Anюta would have expired long before the actual food hiding took place.

Porcelain Basin trail.Danya’s parents skipped the center and just waited for us outside. They did not miss much, although I have no regrets of going there. We saw a bunch of birds of prey, all of them rescued after being damaged by one kind of human activity or another. Pretty much all of them would have died in the wild if it was not for the center. Bird which impressed me the most was a huge eagle who is a few decades old.

Porcelain Basin trail.The children were most impressed by the imitation of the wolf den. They climbed inside multiple times and were very sad to leave it. I think one of the reasons it fascinated them so much is that we recently read “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling, so they instantly thought of Mowgli — a boy, who was brought up by the wolves.

Nature's thermometer at Porcelain Basin.I personally really wanted to see wolves up close, since I’ve never seen one in the wild (we did later on that trip, but it was far away). As expected, they looked so much like dogs. After being brought up on the fairy tales about bad wolves, it’s fascinating to realize how important they are for the ecosystem and hear wolf-reintroduction success stories, namely the Yellowstone one. Still, looking at animals in captivity is sad as opposed to the excitement of seeing them in the wild.

Crackling Lake on Porcelain Basin trail.After the Discovery Center, we drove to Idaho. Why? Just because it was one of the states we have not set foot in, and we wanted to change that. We took a few pictures by the welcome sign, and stopped at the nearest gas station.

Weird looking puddle at Porcelain Basin.It was lunch time, so we decided to buy something there. There was not much choice, but Danya, his parents and Anюta settled on hot dogs. Arosha and I are not huge fans of those, so we had to look for something else. Arosha ended up buying a can of beans (luckily, the store owners lent us a can opener), which he devoured with such pleasure, it made me envious. I snacked on leftover almonds, which we bought a few days ago in a supermarket.

Porcelain Basin overlook.We did not do much afterwards, but relaxed in the not-so-Best Western. We ate dinner at Madison Crossing again, and got ice cream in the parlor across the street.

Wolf den at Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.We planned to go to the pool in the evening, and so we did, but unfortunately the hot tub was broken, so the water was lukewarm. I did not even get in, but Danya, his dad and the children did. They got very cold in the end and were shivering by the time they reached the hotel room. The nice thing about that part of the country is that even though days are hot, the air really cools down by night. Of course, it does not work so well for the outside pool, but luckily they got very cold just that one time.

Wolf at Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.Next morning we checked out and headed for the Grand Tetons National Park. We tried to get a better deal on the bill from the owners, but they were not there, and even though they were supposed to call back, of course they did not. We decided not to pursue the issue any further, but I would recommend that hotel only if all other choices are obviously worse.

Entering Idaho!The road to Grand Tetons went through the park, and we were hoping to see the Grand Geyser, which was scheduled to erupt approximately around the time we would get to it. What do you know? We saw it, but from the car on the road. It went off on the early side of its 7 hour cycle, so we were literally 5 minutes too late to see it up close. Oh well.

And back to Montana.From our previous trip I remember a beautiful lake, which is located right on continental divide and is covered by yellow pond lilies. It is called Isa lake. What I did not know before, is that it drains to both Pacific and Atlantic oceans. How fascinating! And not only that, but what makes it unique is the fact that its east side drains to Pacific and its west side drains to Atlantic — a full reverse of what one would expect. We stopped on Isa lake again for a short break.

Isa Lake.After that we had an early lunch at Grant Village, which is located on the shore of Yellowstone lake.

Lakeshore Geyser.Later, we backtracked to the West Thumb Basin, where we took a nice trail. I really liked the area. We’ve been there before with Danya, but we missed half of the cool stuff, such as Lakeside Geyser, Fishing Hole Geyser (apparently, fishermen used to boil freshly caught fish there a 100 years ago), Black Hole Geyser (which is actually a vibrant aquamarine color and just looks so deep) and other fascinating thermal pools and springs which I don’t know by name.

Black Pool.Later, Danya, his mom and I took a half an hour trail to Duck Lake. Daniel’s dad stayed behind with the children, who were tired and preferred to play in the picnic area under nice shade of pine trees.

By Black Pool.The trail was nice and secluded, and we have not met any other people on our way to and from. There were multiple bear warning signs, so we tried to be loud and talked to each other all the time just in case. We met no bears either.

Duck Lake.The lake was peaceful and beautiful, and I had an urge to wade through its clean waters if only for a few minutes.

Duck Lake trail.When we returned, we saw a very funny looking geyser, which was spitting out mud. It was bubbling almost all the time, and it also smelled pretty bad. Needless to say, everyone liked it, especially the children.

Mud pot at West Thumb parking lot.This concluded our Yellowstone part of the trip.

Yellowstone sign.
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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake.Glacier National Park was the new destination for myself and Alёna on this trip. We’ve been to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 2009, but Glacier was a bit too far off for that trip so we left it for some time later. So seven years and two kids later we finally got around to booking this trip. We also did look forward towards the rest of our family enjoying all three of these places already knowing that two of them will definitely be awesome.

Glacier Park Lodge.But I’ll start from the beginning. We arrived to Great Falls, Montana at around noon. It was the closest airport that we could get to without having to do more than one plane change. We rented an enormous three row Chevrolet Suburban which fit all six of us quite comfortably along with for large suite cases. As for Great Falls itself — we really didn’t find anything to look at or see, so after driving through a couple of streets we got on a highway and left for our first destination of this vacation.

Entering Glacier National Park.We were staying in East Glacier Park Village in an old lodge — Glacier Park Lodge — right on the edge of the park — 10 miles away from the nearest entrance. The drive from Great Falls was 140 miles which wasn’t too bad. Everything started on large plains, often covered by fields of flowers with dark silhouette of the mountains visible on the horizon. The mountains themselves are located inside Glacier National Park — the continuation of Rockies which run through the whole continent from top to bottom. As we were getting closer, the mountains were getting bigger and we could make out their snow covered peaks.

Two Medicine Lake. On our way to Stain Mary entrance.We arrived at our lodge at around 5pm local time, which is 7pm in New York. We were pretty tired. We got a pair of rooms next to each other at this magnificent looking lodge made out of enormously sized logs. The lodge itself was built over a century ago and it feels nice. The rooms were not akin to a 5 star hotel, but that was expected. I’m sure they were renovated from the time that the lodge has been built, but not quite obvious how long ago.

Our rental Suburban.By the time we got to the lodge everyone was pretty tired and I was quite sleepy since I woke up way too early in the middle of the night. And I can’t sleep on the plane at all. So we just went to the diner room of the lodge, ate our dinner and I turned in for the night to explore the park the next day. Alёna though took kids to the pool if I remember correctly, but I think I slept through all of that.

Us on one of the meadows.We had two full days in the park and thus we had two different locations that we wanted to visit, both on the east side of the park as the western entrance was too far away to drive to and back to the lodge on the same day with kids. We decided to start with a further objective on the east side of the park — Saint Mary entrance and visitor center. That’s where Going-to-The-Sun Road starts that runs across the whole park to the western exit.

Saint Mary Lake.On our way there we stopped by a couple of lakes to take in the views and eventually got to the visitor center. We stamped our passports and inquired about hikes that we could take. I always imagined Glacier National Park to consist of multiple lakes surrounded by mountains and I wanted to visit something like that. Out of all the possible hikes we decided to take a trail leading to Hidden Lake which starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center and is 2.7 miles long.

Trail to the Hidden Lake.And while driving to Logan Pass we made numerous stops along the highway. The most spectacular view was on the shore of Saint Mary Lake. There was no wind and the water was very still and mirror like. That’s where I took one of the best photographs of this trip — mountains reflecting in the water of a lake — just like I imagined this park would look.

Snow on the trail.When we got to Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot we were surprised to find out that there is absolutely no parking. After circling around the parking lot for some time we eventually got lucky with somebody driving off right in front of us. This turned out to be a common theme all-throughout our vacation. Yellowstone was the worst.

Mountain goat.While the trail itself didn’t seem all that hard if you’re a young adult it ended up being fairly steep for kids. And my 77 year old dad a lot of the pain in his knee lately, so he ended up not going — the only trail that he missed. As soon as we started up Arosha decided that he urgently needed to use the bathroom, so Alёna had to go back with him. And Anna’s pace was — well, not fast, her not being even 3 and all.

On the trail.I had my tripod with me and Alёna told me to just continue and not wait for them. So I did. The fact that the trail was fairly steep was exacerbated by the fact that soon after you start the climb the trail is covered by snow that still hasn’t melted by the end of July. So climbing up the mountain via a slippery snow is not exactly fun, but I was determined to get to the lake.

Hidden Lake.On my way up I ended up seeing at least 10 mountain goats in different places. I was feeling sad that I’m going to be the only one to see all this, but I took enough photographs to show all this to the rest of the family. And eventually I got to the overlook of this lake. It turned out that the lake itself was still quite a bit away down from the mountain and I felt that I probably should head back after taking the pictures from the overlook since everyone was waiting for me.

Hidden Lake overlook.And as soon as I turned around I saw Alёna and Arosha standing next to me. I was so happy to see them. They actually did get to see all the snow, the lake, the goats and I really at all didn’t expect to see them here. I knew Alёna could easily do the hike, but the fact that Arosha was there with her made me very proud. She says that she kept her own pace and he kept up with her just fine.

Hidden Lake.After taking in all the views we decided to head back. And when we were somewhere in the middle of trail down we ran into my mom who was carrying Anna up the hill. That was another very surprising discovery. We took over Anna and my mom continued all they way to top of the trail. Interesting things about my mom is the fact that it’s really hard to pull her out of the house for a walk around Brooklyn, but when we go to a vacation she turns into a hiker that doesn’t miss a single trail.

Inside our lodge.Heading down the trail was actually quite a bit harder than it was going up. Some places which seemed just fine on the way up looked downright scary on the way back. One wrong step and you are sliding down a steep mountains into somewhat of an abyss. So we took it really slow, holding kids by their hands or in the hands in Anna’s case. Anyhow, the hike felt really exhilarating. And the fact that we ended up seeing so many wild animals on our first day was exciting too.

Glacier Park Lodge.And that was mostly it for our first day. On our way back we drove by the shore of Saint Mary Lake again and the view has changed completely. There was a slight breeze and the water has lost all of the reflections. We were glad that we stopped by the lake in the morning and didn’t leave it for later.

Two Medicine Lake.When we got back to East Glacier Park Village we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant that had high ratings on TripAdvisor, but it turned out that they have a long line. So we went back to the lodge for their not exactly stellar food. It was decent, but not anything to write home about. And I think I started falling asleep again. Kids played around the lodge on a big grass field that it had for a long time. And that’s how the first day ended.

One of the meadows on the trail.On the second day our plan was to explore the other of the two eastern entrances to the park — Two Medicine entrance. This entrance was only 10 miles away from our lodge. The main event would be a hike along Two Medicine Lakes to Aster Falls.

Meadows.Before setting out to a hike we stopped by a general store to buy a pair of light aluminum hiking sticks for my dad. A lot of people use them on the trails and we thought it makes a lot of sense to take some of the weight away from his aching knee. We spent some time in the store picking out the sticks and some other souvenirs.

Aster Falls.When we walked out and put our hiking gear on — backpacks, hats and all it started raining. Within 3 minutes of us starting our hike it switched from raining to pouring and it got really cold. We were glad that we decided to pack our light rainproof jackets with us, but the weather was not hikable at all. So we figured we should have a quick lunch and see if our fortune changes.

Photographing.We went back into the general store and had a nice hearty lunch — I had a chili soup and a hotdog. We bought hotdogs for our kids, but they have a strange way of eating those. Anna only eats the hotdog itself and refuses to eat the buns and Arosha does the exact opposite. Also we figured by having an early lunch we would be hungry just in time for dinner.

Aster Falls.By the time we were done even though the sky stayed very dark and ominous the rain has stopped. So we set out for the falls which ended up being a four mile three and half hour hike. We made a lot of stops along the way to take pictures — tripod setup takes time, Anna is not a quick walker yet, but the views were worth it.

Two Medicine Lake.Most of the trail took us through the forest and multiple blooming meadows and valleys. Some valleys had lakes by them with magnificent reflections. The sky though was dark and uncooperative for photography, so it’s really hard to really convey how beautiful the setting was. So many flowers.

Us by the lake.The waterfall itself was usual. Just your average waterfall. But as I said before — the final destination was not the point. There was a ton of people with little kids at the falls. Some of them kept falling into the water from time to time, but we managed to keep ours from getting wet.

Trail to Aster Falls.On the way back we made a little detour to get directly onto the shore of one of the lakes — the trail itself starts from the opposite side of the lake. I again tried to take some photographs, but Saint Mary shot from the previous day was still my best.

Trail to the falls.By the time we were back at our car everyone was tired and hungry. So we drove back into East Glacier Park Village. We again tried to go the Mexican restaurant I mentioned above and again there was a ton of people outside, waiting. I decided to try my luck and asked for a table anyhow. And what do you know — because most parties were smaller they were waiting for smaller tables, and because there was six of us we got a table right away.

Hidden Lake overlook.Our kids love Mexican food. One of Arosha’s favorite cuisines — mix rice with black beans, add some guacamole and sour cream — there is nothing better. I love fajitas and Anna just eats a bunch of meat of all kinds. We also washed it all down with some nice margaritas.

Two Medicine Lake. Panorama.And that’s how our introductory trip to Glacier National Park came to an end. The park has a lot of beautiful places and trails, but we’ll have to explore its other parts on some of our future trips. We spent our last night at the lodge and in the morning set course south, towards Yellowstone.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Montana & Wyoming National Parks

This is a vacation that we were planning to take for several years now and it’s finally booked. The main point of this trip is going to be Yellowstone National Park. While Alёna and I have been to Yellowstone before, my dad always wanted to visit it as well. It’s going to be an interesting destination for our kids too. I, on the other hand, wanted to visit Glacier National Park in Montana for a while now, so this trip is it.

This is the first road trip that all six of us are going on. Original plan was to fly up to Calgary and explore Banff National Park in addition to everything else, but it turned out that renting a car in Canada and returning it in U.S. is not easily achievable. So we decided to nix Canada and start from Great Falls in Montana instead. And we’ll finish in Jackson Hole of Wyoming.

As expected there are no direct flights1 to either of these locations, but we’ll save time on having to drive to any big destination such as Salt Lake City. We also have reserved a humongous SUV for this trip — Chevy Suburban2 or similar. Seven seats and plenty of luggage room. I wish we could fit into something smaller such as Tahoe, but we’ll probably have to take a look and see if it’s feasible at the rental place.

So on July 14th we arrive to Great Falls. We rent a car and drive north to East Glacier Park Village — a town on the edge of Glacier National Park. We’ll be staying here for 3 nights3 and we’ll explore different parts of the park from here. On July 17th we start our drive south, but in order to break up the trip we’ll spend one night4 in Helena — the capital of Montana.

On July 18th we arrive to Yellowstone. We’ll be staying here for 5 nights5 in a little town right on the edge of the park called West Yellowstone. There is a lot to explore, but kids can only take so much in a day, so we figure 5 days should be good. And we opted in for a regular hotel instead of a lodge because lodges typically don’t have pools. And kids love pools.

And on July 23rd we arrive to Grand Teton National Park — a really short drive from Yellowstone. It’s actually right to the south of it. We’ll be staying here for 2 nights6 at the same exact place that we stayed at with Eldar back during our 2009 trip. This was the most affordable place even though it’s a bit farther out than the rest of the lodging.

And our last night we are planning to spend in the town of Jackson itself to save ourselves a drive on the day of our flight back home.

  1. Delta from JFK — $593 per person and we need tickets for both of our kids now. []
  2. Alamo — $885 with all the taxes and fees included. []
  3. Glacier Park Lodge — $640 per room for 3 nights with all the taxes. []
  4. Hampton Inn Helena — $147 for the night. []
  5. Best Western Weston Inn — $1,108 for 5 nights with taxes per room. []
  6. Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch — $434 for 2 nights per room. []

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shenandoah Trip 2015

Pick your own farm.Это небольшое путешествие прямо перед началом учебного года Даня запланировал еще до нашей поездки по каньонам. Если честно, то после возвращения из июльского отпуска, я попросила его отменить Шенандоа — несмотря на то, что отпуск получился замечательным, я сильно устала от езды в машине с детьми (особенно, когда Анюту укачивало и рвало). Даня на отмену отпуска согласился, но всё равно очень хотел куда-нибудь поехать.

Corn maze.В результате, мы немного поменяли наш план, и вместо трёх полных дней в парке Шенандоа, мы провели там один полный день, но зато были полный день в Херши и пол дня в Вашингтоне. Ну, и еще мы сдвинули поездку на день вперёд, чтобы Ароша не пропустил первый день школы.

In a peach tree.Сразу хочу сказать, что сьездили мы очень хорошо, и что я, конечно, рада, что Даня меня не послушал и всё сразу не отменил. Недаром же говорят, что гораздо лучше вкладывать деньги не в вещи, а в различный опыт — например, семейные поездки.

Family units.Выехали мы из дома в четверг (3 сентября) вечером. Ароша, который считал дни до поездки уже недели две, вскочил с утра пораньше и был готов отправиться хоть сразу же. Ждать до конца Даниного рабочего дня ему было тяжело — думаю, в 5 лет время тянется как минимум в два раза медленнее, чем в 35, так что когда мы наконец-то вышли из дома и направились к машине, радости нашего сына не было предела.

Brewery beer selection.Чемодан я, кстати, паковала в тот же день, так как заранее с нашими маленькими пачкулями особо не соберешься. Вообще надо сказать, что я терпеть не могу собирать и разбирать чемоданы, хотя могу делать это довольно быстро — всё-таки наши многочисленные поездки меня закалили. Я всегда нервничаю, что что-нибудь забуду, но составлять списки не люблю.

Beer sampler and lunch.Выехали из дома мы где-то в 7 вечера, а прибыли на место около 10. Ароша и Анюта немного поспали по дороге, а также перекусили орехами (все) и хот догами (Даня и Анюта). Остановились мы как всегда в хилтоновком отеле — Hilton Garden Inn. Там были бассейн и завтрак — две вещи, которые облегчают жизнь в поедзках с маленькими детьми.

Bottling plant.Всю пятницу мы провели в Херши и его окрестностях. Сперва мы решили сьездить на ферму, которая находилась примерно в 3-4 милях от нашего отеля. Там мы собирали яблоки и персики. Когда я пишу “мы”, то на самом деле я имею ввиду Арошу. Он самолично заполнил довольно большой мешок (пол бушеля, или примерно 17.5 литров) этими фруктами. Причём, когда он собирал персики, то залез с мешком прямо на дерево — так ведь гораздо интереснее! Я боялась, что фрукты за время нашего путешествия испортятся, но яблоки остались такими же свеженькими, а персики просто дозрели. Правда, большинство яблок и персиков, собранных нашим сыном, оказались довольно мелкими, но на вкусовых качествах это не отразилось.

Pins of visitors at the brewery.Жарища в тот день была ого-го (30 с плюсом по цельсию), а у меня в придачу ко всему сильно болела голова, так что на ферме мы долго не задержались.

Hershey Chocolate World.Следующей нашей остановкой была местная пивоварня — Tröegs Independent Craft Brewery. Там мы купили пробник с шестью сортами пива, а так же иразных закусок типа картошки фри и маринованных овощей. Как мы и ожидали, больше всего нам понравилось пшеничное пиво (вайсбир), так что мы не стали мучиться и допивать невкусное пиво, а просто купиили по бокалу того, что нам понравилось (у них было даже два вида такого пива, оба хорошие).

Singing cows at the chocolate ride.По пивоварне можно было сделать небольшую эскурсию (с детьми без экскурсовода, ибо экскурсовод = пробовать пиво), что мы и сделали. Больше всего мне запомнилассь конвейерная лента с бутылками, в которые разливалось пиво, и то, сколько шума она создавала.

Our room at the Big Meadows Lodge.После обеда мы отправились в Hershey Chocolate World. Я даже не знаю как лучше охарактеризовать это место, так как это нечто большее, чем магазин, но и парком это не назовёшь. Там мы купили билеты на 3Д мультик — небольшую “детективную” историю, главными героями которой были (и кто бы мог подумать?!) шоколадки. Мне было скучновато, но Ароше, вроде, понравилось.

Big Meadows rooms.На выходе всем вручили по небольшой шоколадке — Даня свою отдал детям, а я решила сьесть, о чём потом немного пожалела. Когда-то я очень любила молочный шоколад, но за последние годы привыкла к чёрному (70% массы какао и выше), и молочный мне показался переслащённой гадостью. Но дети, конечно, были очень довольны.

Playground at Big Meadows Lodge.Еще мы сходили там в шоколадный “музей” — небольшую выставку, через которую надо ехать на специльаной машине, двигающейся по транспортёру, где немного рассказывается о производственном процессе на шоколадной фабрике. Анюте больше всего там понравились поющие игрушечные коровы. Ну, а в конце это экскурсии, все тоже получили по шоколадке, так что нам даже не пришлось покупать шоколад в магазине.

Bars.После “шоколадного мира” мы поехали в отель. Даня прилёг отдохнуть, а я пошла с детьми в бассейн. Вода там была очень тёплой, и в результате мы провели там около двух часов (в конце к нам присоединился Даня).

Dinner at Big Meadows Lodge.Поужинали мы пиццей, а бедная Анюта даже заснула по дороге в ресторан, так как днём она не спала.

Rocking chairs inside the lodge.На следующий день мы отправились в Шенандоа. Дети вели себя хорошо, и по дороге даже уснули, что оказалось весьма кстати, так как последние 20 миль мы ехали по жутко виляющему серпантину, и Анюту вполне могло укачать.

Lodge.На этот раз мы остановились в новом месте — в Big Meadows Lodge. Комната оказалась очень приличной, и даже можно было принять душ, в отличие от нашего предыдущего посещения, где и напор был очень слабый, и температура воды совсем низкой.

Looking out.Мы немного погуляли по территории гостиницы (дети провели пол часа на детской площадке) и пошли на ужин в местный ресторан. Еды было много — я даже отвыкла от таких огромных порций. После еды мы отлично провели вечер в большом гостиничном зале, который находится рядом с рестораном. Там были кресла-качалки, игры (шашки, конструктор) и пару книг для детей, а так же отличный вид на горы.

Tucked herself in after a long day.Так же там сидел мужчина лет 55, который играл на гитаре и довольно неплохо пел. Его пение создавало какой-то особый уют, и я получила море удовольствия слушая гитару и наблюдая за играющими детьми. Даня немного помогал Ароше играть в шашки, но вобщем-то, насколько я понимаю, Ароша уже довольно неплохо освоил эту игру.

Big Meadows.На следующий день после завтрака, на который мы убили 1.5 часа (минус мест без буфета с завтраком), мы отправились на прогулку по Big Meadows. Мы были на этом лугу поздней осенью и ранней весной, и выглядел он примерно одинаково — поле, покрытое бурой сухой травой — что, впрочем, тоже имело свою прелесть. На этот раз луг выглядел более красочно — было много зелёной травы и разноцветных цветов типа ромашки и репейника. Так же мы видели много бабочек, гусениц и прочих насекомых.

Caterpillar.Мы дошли до дерева, которое полюбилось Ароше в прошлый раз, потому что на него можно очень хорошо залазить. Там мы провели минут 40 (Ароша всё время лазил по дереву, время от времени прыгая с него), и отправились обратно.

Big Meadows hike.Потом мы решили поехать на водопад. Дорога к водопаду занимает чуть больше киллометра в каждую сторону — сначала надо идти вниз, а на обратном пути карабкаться вверх. Денёк выдался очень приятным — не жарким и не холодным — и мы получили массу удовольствия, шагая к водопаду. По пути туда мы видели медведицу с тремя медвежатами (довольно близко, но нас разделял ручей), а Ароша нашёл водомерок, которые, по его мнению, ничуть не менее интересные, чем медведи. Еще они с Анютой катались на стволе поваленного дерева и вообще много бегали и радовались. Анюта, кстати, хотела идти сама — только иногда мы переносили её через особо сложные места, да Даня вёл её за руку по земляным ступенькам.

Butterfly.Сам водопад был неплохой, но возле него было ужасно много народа, поэтому долго мы там не задержались. Практически весь путь назад мне пришлось нести Анюту (она устала, плюс под горку идти тяжелее), а Ароша шёл с Даней и немного поднывал.

Under a tree. We have an early spring picture on the same exact spot.На обратном пути мы тоже встретиили медведя. На этот раз без медвежат. Мы начали на него смтореть, и каково же было наше удивление, когде медведь начал подниматься на тропинку. Надо заметить, что мы шли в довольно большой толпе людей, но так уж получилось, что медведь выходил именно на нас. Если честно, то я испугалась. Прямо перед Даней шла пожилая женщина, которая начала проворно шагать вперед, потом за ней отступали Даня с Арошей, потом я с Анютой в эрго, а метрах в двух от меня — медведь.

Decided to pose for pictures.К счастью, кто-то из толпы с другой стороны от медведя додумался громко похлопать в ладоши, и медведь решил убраться от людей подобру поздорову. Даня себя потом укорял, что не сделал фотографий, когда медведь был так близко, но он тоже испугался, особенно за детей. Всё-таки медведь — зверь сильный и быстрый, и вести себя рядом с ним надо очень осторожно.

Sitting in a tree.После водопада мы поужинали в баре нашей гостиницы очень вкусными бургерами, снова немного погуляли по территории и отправились спать.

Big Meadows.Изначально, мы планировали провести в Шенандоа еще один день, но решили уехать на день раньше и остановится на ночлег в Вашингтоне. Главной причиной было сократить дорогу домой в последний день. Плюс, в Шенандоа не было бассейна, а в Вашингтоне мы забронировали номер с бассейном, и Ароша был этому факту чрезвычайно рад.

Hike to waterfall.В понедельник утром мы отправились в Вашингтон. Для того, чтобы не терять времени на завтрак в ресторане, мы подкрепились печеньем и чаем. Пока я паковала чемодан, Ароша и Анюта играли на улице возле номера. Анюта первой увидела оленей (мы видели их на территории уже пару раз, но они были довольно далеко) и закричала “мама! аени! мама! аени!”. Я тоже вышла посмотреть, и увидела двух пятнистых оленят и маму олениху. Они довольно быстро убежали, но я всё равно была рада, что дети увидели их так близко.

By herself.До Вашингтона от Шенандоа ехать не очень далеко, но первые миль 20-30 дорога петляет по горам. Я немного волновалась за детей, и как оказалось, не зря. Где-то через 45 минут езды Анюта начала похныкивать и поплакивать. Видно, её укачивало. К счастью, плакать ей пришлось недолго — дорога быстро выровнялась, и нашей дочке стало получше.

Climbing everything.Я помню, как укачивало в детстве меня. Родители останавливались на обочине дороги, и мы устраивали 10-15 минутную прогулку по лесу. В Америке такой номер не пройдёт — вдоль шоссе не остановишься (хотя нам пришлось это два раза сделать, чтобы Ароша смог опустошить мочевой пузырь).

Playing at a spring.По пути мы остановились на ланч в Outback-е, и по приезду в Вашингтон решили навестить национальный собор. Мы с Даней там уже были, но дети его не видели. В собор мы поехали главным образом потому, что на улице стояла неимоверная жара, и бродить под палящим солнце по многочисленным мемориалам не было желания.

Dark Hollow Falls.В соборе нам пришлось заплатить за вход (плату ввели в начале прошлого года), что сразу напомнило мне о Ватикане. Мы немного побродили по собору, поглазели на его отделку яркие мозаичные окна. Даня в пару предложениях рассказал Ароше историю Иисуса Христа, и нашему сыну она очень понравилась (хотя за пару дней до того он нам сообщил, что не верит в Бога, а верит в обезьян).

At the falls.После церкви мы отправились в гостиницу. Там мы сразу отправились в бассейн, где провели почти час. Надо заметить, что никого кроме нас в бассейне не было. Потом мы пошли на ужин. Долго решали куда — на небольшом расстоянии от нас было довольно много неплохих ресторанов — и в результате пошли в средненькое китайское место, где мы ели во время нашего отпуска чуть больше года назад.

View from the top at Shenandoah.Что меня неприятно поразило в Вашингтоне — это бомжи. Когда я говорю, что на каждой улице вокруг нашей гостиницы их было по 2-3 чековека, я не преувеличиваю. А прямо на соседней с нами улице был небольшой парк, где они собрались большой группой из 10-15 человек. Соответственно, на улицах было много мусора, да и вообще было как-то неуютно.

Leaving Shenandoah.Примерно такой же опыт у нас когда-то был в Сиэтле. Причём надо заметить, что наша гостиница находилась не в каком-то плохом районе на окраинах города, а практически в центре. По причине запруженности улиц непривлекательными элементами, мы после ужина не пошли гулять по окрестностям, а сразу отправились в номер.

National Cathedral.На следующий день мы позавтракали и поехали домой. Дорога обошлась без приключений, и дома мы были где-то около трёх часов дня, чему я была рада, так как я волновалась о том, чтобы Ароша получил адекватный отдых перед началом первого учебного дня.

Inside the cathedral.
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Monday, September 14, 2015

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon.For the second part of our trip we drove out to Grand Canyon National Park. We were staying in Yavapai Lodge right inside the park. Alёna and I haven’t been to Grand Canyon since 2005 — 10 years. I was looking forward to seeing it again. When we finally did, even though it was still impressive I remembered well enough what to expect, so I wasn’t smitten as the first two times.

Rocks!And it’s really hard to figure out what Arosha is really feeling since he might look at a thing for 20 seconds and get distracted by some big rocks that he can jump around — which is what happened with us.

Yavapai Lodge.We had two full days at Grand Canyon and it seems that it was our least favorite part of the trip. The big lesson that we learned was that a hotel better has a pool. Otherwise there are large portions of the day when kids don’t have anything to do and they start whining from boredom.

Rim trail.We couldn’t do a lot of hiking either since it was very hot and there was very little shade around. So it was hard on the little ones.

Bright Angel trail down into the canyon.We did take a small portion of the trail down. And then we did a whole bunch of hiking around the rim. At some points Anna was driving us crazy with her stroller. She didn’t want to sit in it and she insisted on pushing it around herself. And she would bump into everything and we would practically be stuck at one place.

One of the many visitor centers.When we tried to put her into the stroller or one of us tried to just carry the stroller she would throw a massive feat. I was really close to throwing the damn stroller down the canyon on multiple occasions.

Love of the climbing.The lodge itself was nice and clean. But as I mentioned it had one downside — it didn’t have a pool.

One of visitors who doesn't seem to like his life much.It was surrounded by shallow woods — lots of spread out short trees. I was trying to do my exercise goals so I tried walking to the edge of the canyon through those woods. And even though it would probably take me about 15 minutes or so to get to the edge half way in all the directions started looking the same. So I decided to turn back while I still knew where “back” was.

Grand Canyon. Many many people.We ate our lunch and dinners at the lodges inside the park and at our local general store. And for breakfast we would buy something that didn’t need a lot of cooking — yogurts, cup noodles soups and stuff like that.

Evening hike.Overall it was nice, but we didn’t really get to experience the serenity that I was looking for and I remembered. I guess the main reason was the fact that we were visiting during the peak season as opposed to our previous trip in October and it was quite crowded everywhere.

Illusion of the edge.We did have nice quite hikes during the evenings when the crowds would subside.

Entering the park.And we also did get to see a new place on our way out to Page — Desert View Watchtower which was built at the begging of the last century. It was nice to climb up to the top, but all the windows had glass on them which typically ruins good pictures.

Desert View Tower.When we asked Arosha which place he liked the most from the vacation he starts listing everything and leaves out Grand Canyon, which is kind of funny.

View from the top of the tower.Anna though kept calling all further canyons that she saw “gan cayon”. We kept trying to convince her that we left Grand Canyon behind and she was looking at a different one, to which she would agree, but then would revert to “gan cayon” three minutes later.

The Rest


After Grand Canyon we traveled to a little town of Page with a lot of wonders and see. And later on we went to Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and Las Vegas. But that part of the story is not ready yet.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sedona

Grand Canyon.Well, it’s been more than two months since our mega vacation trhough the southwestern canyons has started and we haven’t posted a thing yet beside our large photo stream that was going throughout our trip. Overall everything went well. It was a bit harder in the beginning, but our schedule settled in pretty quickly and we enjoyed exploring the southwest.

Road to Sedona. Saguaro forests.The hard parts pretty much consisted of Anna throwing up on the plane, Arosha had an accident in bed during the first night from being overtired — it really hasn’t happened to him in years now, Anna throwing up in the car — we think it was from motion sickness and Arosha throwing up during the night — we have no idea why, but he was fine in the morning. All that happened pretty much in the first 2 days, but everything went well afterwards.

Our hotel at Sedona.The flight went OK. Anna even took a nap. Having two large suite cases, two car seats and a stroller appeared to be challenging beforehand. But we basically had to just get it to a cab, from the cab to checked baggage and from there into our rental car. And vice versa on the way back. Not too bad at all. Costco seats are pretty crappy, but they are also very light. They served us just fine throughout the trip.

Arizona capitol building in Phoenix.As far as the car rentals go — it’s always a rip off and always ends up being much more expensive than you expect. To begin with our rental company Sixt didn’t have any cars that we reserved that would work for us. So they pawned us off to Payless which agreed to honor the same price. But then adding a different driver, adding an extra hour (our flight was leaving later in the day) and so on added up to a hefty sum.

Sedona from the top.Adding a second driver was not really needed. Alёna drove for all of 30 minutes or so during the trip. I thought that should would enjoy the open roads, but she was afraid to drive at 75MPH speed limit, and was a nervous wreak. Also our VW Passat seemed all kinds of wobbly. I was hoping for a Chrysler 300, but that wasn’t available either. VW was really bland and unexciting in every way possible but it did get us where we needed to go without any issues.

Looking up at Montezuma Castle.On our first day we started with a short stop at Arizona capitol complex at Phoenix. This time we actually managed to get inside for the first time ever — our 3rd trip there — and got ourselves an official capitol stamp. Otherwise it wasn’t anything special inside. And it was very very hot outside in the sun. Our kids expired very quickly and we decided to proceed.

To Sedona


Entering Sedona.Our main objective for the day was to reach Sedona. But since everyone was really hungry after the flight we decided to get a bite before heading out of Phoenix. We couldn’t really find any place to eat for some while. I guess the main highway runs through shady parts of town and nothing looked appealing. Kids were getting really tired by the time we ran upon some nice Greek place. Of course after we did eat every next exit had plenty of eateries.

Montezuma Castle.Also on our way to Sedona we made a stop by Montezuma Castle. The light was much better this time around for a better photograph and there was plenty of shade for a nice hike. What interested Arosha the most though was a lizard that he spotted. Lizards, you see, are much more exciting than some 900 year old building in a side of a cliff.

Sedona cliffs.Along the way we were driving through mountains covered by saguaro cacti. Very unusual landscape. By the time we started approaching Sedona landscape becomes even more unusual in a different way. Gray mountains turned into red cliffs of peculiar shapes. Sun was setting and everything looked very beautiful.

Arosha at one of the many souvenir shops in Sedona.We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived, but when the kids discovered a pool at our hotel they got second wind. We spent the rest of the evening swimming and chilling out in cool waters of the hotel pool on a hot day. Later in the evening Arosha and I picked up some Mexican food at a nearby place while Alёna put Anna to sleep. That was the end of our day.

View of Sedona from the local airport.In the morning we drove up to the local airport which is located above the mountains and has a spectacular view of the town down below. Sedona really is a beautiful place and if you’re going to be driving through from Phoenix to Grand Canyon it really is worth it to make a small detour to see it.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shenandoah Road Trip

Map of our planned Shenandoah Trip.We have planned a short road trip for ourselves — Alёna, myself and our kids — for the first days of September. We decided to visit Shenandoah National Park. Again. We’ve been there two times already.

Our first one was at the beginning of November of 2010 with tiny Arosha and my parents. While there was beautiful autumn happening down below the mountains the trees up on top — inside the park itself — had been long asleep. Not a single leaf.

Our second trip to Shenandoah was in May of 2014 during our grand Tennessee vacation with kids. And again — while everything was blooming down below the nature in the park had not awoken yet. Everything looked exactly like it did in November.

So we figured it’s time we saw this park in a different light. We also decided to try another place for our stay. We stayed twice at the Skyland Resort, but we wanted to try Big Meadow Lodge1. So we picked out the days when there was vacancy specifically in that lodge.

The whole trip is going to take five days and will have a very simple plan. We’ll leave on the night before Saturday. Spend that night at Hershey2, Pennsylvania and probably visit an amusement park there. We’ll spend three full days in Shenandoah and we’ll spend the last day on getting home with a possible stop in Washington, DC.

Update: We ended up spending 2 nights in Hershey, 2 nights in Shenandoah and 1 night in Washington.

  1. Big Meadow Lodge — $184 per night for a room with two queen beds to the total of $846 with taxes included. Not cheap. []
  2. Hilton Garden Inn Hershey — $142 for the night for a room with two queen beds. []

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Summer Southwest Road Trip

Grand Canyon Road TripAfter a lot, really a lot, of thinking and picking through our choices we have settled on the route of our next road trip. And now it’s all booked. The centerpiece of our trip is going to be Grand Canyon — probably the most beautiful place on earth that I’ve been to. We’re going to visit some other natural wonders that southwest of this country has to offer.

The road trip will start in Phoenix and will end in Las Vegas. Only four of us will go — Arosha, Anna, Alena and I. We haven’t flown anywhere with Arosha without parents yet, and this time we’ll go with both kids. We’ll have to bring a lot of stuff (like two car seats) and we’re hoping we’ll be able to manage it all. We do have a lot of stops in our plan, but the drives themselves are relatively short and should be easy enough on the kids.

The plan is simple. We fly1 out to Phoenix early in the morning of Friday, July 10th and we will be back home on the late night of July 21st flying back from Las Vegas. Right upon our arrival to Phoenix we rent a car and go an a mandatory tour of the capitol. Without spending the night we drive out to Sedona2 where we are staying for 1 night.

After Sedona we drive to Grand Canyon National Park itself. We’ll spend 3 nights3 on the southern rim staying right inside the park. I only hope that the canyon doesn’t make Arosha experience his fear of heights. He was never afraid of any mountains or anything in nature, but who knows.

After the southern rim we go to Page, Arizona where we spend another 3 nights4 on the eastern end of the canyon. While Alena and I have been to all the other places of our road trip, this will be one new location for all of us. We want to see the famous Horseshoe Bend and take a hike through Antelope Canyon.

The next destination of our trip takes us to another gorgeous place — Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon has a very unique look due to the natural structures called hoodoos. We’ll spend 2 nights5 at Bryce and we’ll take off to our final destination of Las Vegas through a scenic road that runs right through Zion National Park.

And our final 2 nights6 we will spend in Las Vegas which has been becoming a family destination for a long time now. There are a lot of things to see for kids there such as a pirate show at Treasure Island, or a volcano eruption at Mirage. It would be great to go to some Cirque du Soleil show, but Anna is way to little to be able to sit through something like that, so not this time.

Overall our nature loving kids should have a lot of new impressions on this trip and we’ll be seeing all the old places anew through their eyes. Should be a fun one.

  1. Delta flight, non stop from JFK at $334 per person. Anna flies for free in Alёna’s lap. Total price for the flight is $1,002. []
  2. Hampton Inn Sedona, $204 total with taxes included. []
  3. Yavapai Lodge, $548 for 3 nights plus tax. []
  4. Best Western at Lake Powell, $767 total with tax for 3 nights. Not cheap at all. []
  5. Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, $445 total for 2 nights. []
  6. Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations, $260 total for 2 nights. []

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park.Our vacation started on Wednesday evening. Just as planned we left home after Danya finished his work. I think it was a good thing that we left when we did — even though we did not drive all that many miles, but finishing packing and getting out of the house alone saved us good two hours for the next day. Nothing is fast with two little ones.

Shenandoah.After a 3 hour drive we arrived to Hershey, PA at around 11pm. Our hotel, Hampton Inn, was located on Chocolate Avenue, which really amused Arosha. There really is nothing much I can say about our stay there — we just spent the night, ate breakfast and moved on.

There is an amusement park in Hershey, but they were still closed for the season. The only memorable thing for me are the lampposts on Chocolate Avenue — they were made in the form of Hershey kisses.

Skyland Resort.We stopped at Harrisburg for a tour of the state Capitol, ate a pretty decent lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s and then proceeded to Shenandoah.

In Shenandoah we checked in and went to get some dinner at the local restaurant, which had two sections — the main dining area, which was very busy at the time, and the bar. We decided to eat at the bar, even though their menu was much more limited. I ordered a salad, which was pretty much the only thing that I could eat with my diet. Big mistake, as it turned out.

Big Meadow.It was close to Anюta’s bed time, so I gobbled the unappetizing plate of wilted greens, droopy tomatoes and weathered onions. My head was starting to hurt and I felt tired overall. I left the boys to finish their meals and ran to the room to feed Anechka and put her to bed.

Danya and Arosha decided to take their equally horrible tasting meals to go and joined us shortly. By that time not only I had a horrible headache, but felt nauseous. I think I yelled at poor Arosha for being his overly active self and had to run to the bathroom to throw up.

Big Meadow fog.Long story short, I was throwing up half the night. This summoned an anxiety attack in Danya and his stomach went all crazy on him. To make things worse, Arosha kept falling off the high bed he was sleeping on (and he had no such issues in the hotel bed the night before). The only thing that made it all better in my eyes was that is was happening to me and not the children. I could not imagine how much worse it would have been if this was happening to one of them.

Climbing tree.To prevent Arosha from falling down again — he fell 3 times before we did something — Danya moved his bed to the wall and went to sleep on the other edge. This worked well for Arosha and not so well for his dad since our little unit kept trying to push Danya off in his sleep. The next evening Danya put two beds together so that Arosha will at least have the whole bed to move around.

When we got up on Friday morning, I was all better and so was Danya, although this incident brought a bout of evening anxiety feelings for him. Too bad it had to happen.

Under the tree, while Arosha is climbing.There was a small and expensive breakfast buffet in the hotel, which was not included in the price of the room. We decided that it was not worth it and got some oatmeal and yogurts instead and went to see the park right after.

When we were driving from Hershey, we saw nature waking up — lots of trees with fresh green leaves, lots of trees and bushes in bloom. This was not the case higher up in the mountains though. We’ve been to Shenandoah in November before, and I have to say that at the end of April everything looked about the same if not worse.

Luray Caverns.We’ve decided to go to the Big Meadow since it was the most memorable place from our last trip. Before our vacation I was imagining it all covered in mountain flowers. Ha-ha, so silly. There was not even a single green grass spear. Oh well. It was still a nice experience. We started walking towards trees in the horizon and walked into the cloud of fog. The weather was grey and grim, but at least it was not raining. Yet.

Arosha found a big tree with a lot of brunches at the bottom and he kept climbing up and down. He had so much fun! Danya also climbed up and down ones. Anюta just sat under the tree and played with dry grass and pine cones and stones and pretty much everything that she could find.

Donation pool.After a while we headed back to the car and kind of got lost. The fog was everywhere and the Big Meadow was … well … BIG! I did not take us too long to find our car, but it still felt like a little adventure. I have to confess thought that if Danya was not there it would have taken me much longer to find the way out.

Just as we got into the car it started raining, so all other hikes had to be canceled. We decided to drive down to Luray and visit the famous caverns instead.

Car and carriage museum.The drive was OK. It kept raining on and off, the children were asleep. When we arrived to our destination and Danya got out of the car to get something from the trunk it started pouring really bad. My poor husband jumped into the trunk to stay dry. I think he spent around 15 minutes there. Don’t think it was too comfortable, but it beats walking around in wet clothes.

Luray.When the rain got a little lighter we ran to the entrance and bought tickets for the tour. Unfortunately in order to see caverns one has to get a tour, there is no such thing as just walking at your own pace. The tour duration was a bit over an hour and I was a little anxious as to how children will handle it.

Caverns.The caverns themselves were nice. I’ve been to similar caverns twice — ones in Crimea, Ukraine and ones in Carlsbad, New Mexico. All of them are quite impressive, and even though the novelty wears off, it was still interesting to see all the rock formations. The unique thing about Luray Cavers was The Great Stalacpipe Organ. It was interesting to listen to it and I hope that the vibrations will not harm ancient stalactites in any way.

Arosha seemed to like the caverns too, although he got tired of the tour by the end. At some point he was asking Danya to take a picture of each and every rock that entered his field of vision. It was cute and a little annoying at the same time. Anюtka was not too impressed with the caves, but she did not throw any bad fits, which is already good.

Big Meadow in fog.We finished our Luray trip with the tour of the automobile museum. Danya found it to be relatively interesting and Arosha wanted to be done with it as soon as possible.

Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park.We drove back to the lodge and ate dinner at the local restaurant. It was much better this time. Danya and I have decided that it would be better to leave one day early — it was not one factor, but everything together: cold weather, lack of laundromat and hot water, horrible beds. Luckily, lodge’s stuff did not give us any hard time at all. So next morning after another round of yogurt and oatmeal we left for Tennessee.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains. View from Clingmans Dome.Great Smoky Mountains National Park was on my list of to-visit places for a while now. I spotted it on the map for the first time during the spring-summer of 2010, when we were thinking of our last vacation before our kids started arriving — Alena was well along into her pregnancy. At the time we decided that it was too late to try anything as ambitious as 1,400 mile trip at the minimum.

Zoo at Natural Bridge.Later that year we went to Shenandoah for a week’s stay with my parents and our brand new family member. From that moment on I kept mentioning Great Smoky Mountains from time to time and we kept deciding that it was too early to do something like that. This spring I brought it up again and somewhat to my surprise Alena agreed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.Not only would this be by far the biggest drive for Arosha in his life — although he has shown himself a great traveler during our Washington State trip. And not only it would be the first trip with Arosha without my parents, no. We also had a tiny new unit who wouldn’t even be 7 month old by the time our trip would start.

Sugarlands Visitor Center.Keeping all the above in mind we planned the trip in such a way that we would make several stops on our way to Tennessee and back to give our kids some breaks from long drive days. Our original plan had a single stop in Shenandoah for three nights and two full days of relaxation at the park before driving another 400 miles all the way to Gatlinburg.

Newfound Gap road.But since we decided to leave Shenandoah a day earlier (more on that in Shenandoah post) we figured we’ll just split our drive into two 200 mile sections instead of a full 400 mile jump. But to our surprise our kids were so good that we ended up making it all the way to the end in one day, thus adding another great day to our best part of this vacation — our stay in Great Smoky Mountains.

At the top of Clingmans Dome.On our way we had two breaks — one was a detour to see natural bridge instead of which we ended up visiting a zoo. Kids had a lot of fun there. Arosha fed goats, llamas, giraffes and camels among the things that I remember. Llamas were making all kinds of sounds while gobbling up the treats and both of our kids found them to be by far the most amusing bunch. As a result llamas got most of our treats.

Same location.Our second stop was for a lunch at some local BBQ place where I got 1/4 (or was it 1/2) of a rack of ribs which were double the size of the normal rack that I’m used to seeing. Good thing I wasn’t greedy and didn’t order the whole thing. It was interesting, but it took much more fighting than ribs usually take. Not fun. We were tired after.

Conquering the fear of heights.So we kept driving and driving and our kids kept being totally content, taking naps and at some point we figured that it no longer really makes any sense to spend a night elsewhere but our final destination. Only when we got off the main interstate and started driving via a local road with traffic lights Anюta started to get annoyed and started crying. Luckily it was only for the last 5 miles of our drive.

Observation tower at Clingmans Dome.On our way to Gatlinburg we were greeted by a neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. We always imagined that Gatlinburg would feel a lot like Bar Harbor near Acadia National Park or like Port Angeles by Olympic National Park or even like Ashford near Mount Rainier. Pigeon Forge though was nothing like. The best analogy that I can think of is the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but bigger — everything is covered in flashing neon signs, mini-golf courses, houses of scary mirrors, Guinness record halls and so on and on and on for miles.

On the way down.To our relief Gatlinburg was a lot more toned down, yet still not a serene and cozy town we expected it to be. We were glad to find out that our hotel is located on the edge of the town and on a top of a decently sized hill. The location was so great that it was only a third of a mile away from one of the entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stopped on the side of a road for one of the numerous trails.The hotel itself, as I wrote earlier, was not what you would expect to find near a national park. This one was a fifteen plus story building bustling with activity. We were lucky enough that they had a room available for our first unplanned night — we did check via their website before driving all the way there. But reasonably enough they had no upgrade for us on such a short notice.

Us at Laurel Falls.The room was on the first floor. When they asked us whether we preferred to just stay in one place or we would like to get our upgrade for the rest of the nights we inquired what kind of upgrade it would be. — We would put you on the 15th floor. — How many are there? — Fifteen. — We’ll move!

Thus our Tennessee stay has begun. Hotel and our room were great. Breakfasts were included. Lunch and dinner menus were reasonably priced. Pools were fun. And Great Smoky Mountains National Park was right beside us for us to explore.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Laurel Falls.Now after my not-so-short introduction on to the park itself. In the park we visited four major scenic places or destinations, two visitor centers and did a number of smaller hikes in the forest by just pulling off the road and taking quite trails.

On the way to Cades Cove.Our very first stop was by a standard national park entrance sign. We saw some people taking their pictures by the sigh and I kindly offered to take a picture of all of them. The nice people offered to take our picture as well and I confessed that it was my plan all along.

Woodpecker.After that we stopped by Sugarlands Visitors Center to put together a plan of actions for the next five days. We also got our passports stamped. Arosha now has his own passport with a pretty nice collection of stamps already. Too bad we didn’t buy it for him back during our Northwestern trip.

Taking a break from all the driving.My conversation with a ranger about places to see and hikes to take was interrupted by loud howling cry. Arosha was all in tears and at first we got very scared that he hurt himself somehow — he really only cries that loudly when it really hurts. Luckily it was not that — turns out he was playing under the stand (desk) with his pasport while I was talking and somehow managed to drop it into that stand.

Meadows at Cades Cove.A bunch of rangers gathered around, but only to find out that stand is solidly built and attached to the floor and there was no way to get inside of it. Arosha was terribly upset and couldn’t stop crying. Several rangers tried to calm him and tell him that they will save his passport. They ended up taking their stand apart and extracting the passport. From that moment on Arosha was much more careful with his collection of stamps.

Old aqueduct.We put off the destinations that we discussed with the rangers to other days because there was one place that I’ve read about before coming to the park that I really wanted to visit — Clingmans Dome. Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and it has a 45 feet observation tower build on top of it offering unobstructed view in all directions.

Old mill.This is the destination that we ended up visiting tree times, but did the hike to the top only twice. So on our first day our first trip up there was on a relatively clear day. But from the top there was still significant haze. However the views were magnificent.

Bear cub!The hike itself is only half a mile long, but it is very steep. Alena had to carry Anna in her arms as she didn’t want to sit inside her ergo (which was the case for pretty much all our hikes), but Arosha had no issues doing the hike on his own.

The whole family. Mama bear with 3 cubs.Several days later we came here again. The day was very foggy and we were hoping to get above the clouds. It was not meant to be. Clouds were too high and when we started our hike we ran into a couple coming back down. We asked them if the visibility was any better at the top and they said it wasn’t at all, so we just turned back.

Wild turkeys.And several days later we got up here again on a cloudy day. Even though we did get above the clouds the cloud cover underneath wasn’t as thick as I was hoping it would be. We made the hike to the top again and did take a bunch of nice photographs. So overall I have to say if you’re going to see only one place in Great Smoky Mountains this is the destination to go to.

Fog at Clingmans Dome parking lot.One our second day we went on a hike to see Laurel Falls. The trail was three mile round trip with a pretty modest altitude change — non stop climb up to the falls and descent on the way back. The trail was paved, but there were several signs warning of danger as there were fatal accidents on this trail before. The path was laid right along a steep cliff and children had to be protected and supervised at all times. So while we were hiking up I was firmly holding Arosha by his hand.

Trail to Clingmans Dome.We passed by several small streams on our way up and Arosha loved them. As did Anyuta. Arosha found some branch with a bunch of leaves on the end and started dunking it into the water and then “washing” everything around him. He kept pretending that he had this awesome broom and kept talking and talking about it. At one point the end with the leaves just fell off. That fazed him for all of 2 seconds when he declared: “I just pressed a special button and my broom turned into a vacuum cleaner. It works even better now.”

Thick fog.The waterfall itself wasn’t big or anything, but since waterfalls seem to be our favorite destination in any park — we liked it. The trail led us to the bottom of it and it was falling on the huge boulders right in front of us. Arosha started fishing with his “vacuum cleaner” and when Alena let Anna touch the water she turned into a little speedy propeller with her arms flying in circles.

Another random trail to nowhere.Eventually Arosha managed to slip and fall in with one of his shoes into the water. However that wasn’t enough. Soon enough he ended up knee deep in the water with both of his feet. And we had no spare pants, socks or sneakers. I fished him out quickly enough, but his feet were all soaked. We had to go all the way back like that and we had to listen to Arosha’s whining about how it was horrible and not fun at all.

Riding an old log.When he would switch to crying we would try to cheer him up by saying that all people only saw the waterfall, but he actually was inside of it and that it was quite funny. He kept disagreeing and protesting claiming that there was absolutely nothing funny about his tragic situation. Later on when he was all dried off in a new set of clothing he did admin that maybe it was a little bit funny after all.

Wonderworks at Pigeon Forge.So after our mandatory stop back at the hotel (to get dry clothing) we got back into the car and drove to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a place with a bunch of old houses and farms and things like that, but the main attraction for us was the fact that apparently that was the best place to spot wild life. And that indeed ended up being true. We did see a total of 8 bears, a whole bunch of deer, wild turkeys and a really good looking woodpecker on that day.

Climbing.Our first spotting of a bear was actually not far from the entrance to the park itself. We saw a whole bunch of cars stopped on the side of the road going in the opposite direction. I did an SUV maneuver through the median, put on my big lens and got out of the car. I couldn’t spot the bear myself, but soon enough some kind folks did point it out to me. It was far away enough that I felt it was safe to get Arosha out of the car and show him the bear. He did see him too.

Snowboarding.In Cades Cove we just kept driving very slowly and looking around. Alena spotted a woodpecker on the tree, but by the time I had my camera in hand he already jumped off. I did get several nice shots of him still.

Urtica burn. Luckily we avoided Poison Ivy.Our kids fell asleep on the way there and got some rest on the road. Then we stopped at some gift shop where we discovered yet another stamp (we got one at Clingmans Dome too) and an old watermill.

Trail to Grotto Falls.Arosha played with the water throwing all kinds of stuff into an old aqueduct, pretending to be cooking some soup which had about 50 different ingredients. We saw some wild turkeys, but one guy scared them all off before we had a chance to take a picture — we did find some more on our way back that did pose for us.

Grotto Falls.The best way to spot a bear is to see for a bunch of stopped cars and a bunch of observers with cameras. Thus we spotted a mama bear with two cubs, but they were quite far away. I could see the black dots through the camera, but not much more. They were sitting in the open field when suddenly a deer ran out of the woods and stopped. After realizing that it probably is not the best idea to be handing out around the bears the said deer disappeared in the woods even more hastily than it appeared.

Walking behind the falls.And several miles later we saw a whole bunch of cars again. I got out of the car and went about 50 meters into the woods. And there I saw several photographers taking pictures of a mama bear and her three cubs not far away. That’s where I got my best pictures of the cubs climbing the trees. Needless to say that was pretty exciting.

View from behind the falls.On the next day we went onto another trail. This one was located on a scenic road that started right around the back of our hotel. The trail was to Grotto Falls. This one was also about three miles both ways which Arosha also hiked without any problems. However this time we were much more careful around the waterfall itself in order not to have to do the hike back in a half wet condition again.

Gatlinburg. View from our hotel.The trail was also very scenic as any other trail. But the waterfall itself stands out because you could hike under and behind it. I actually carried Arosha under it because it was a sure way for him to get a shower otherwise.

Over the clouds at Clingmans Dome.We also spent half a day in Pigeon Forge and went to a weird place called Wonderworks. They had an upside-down building and all kinds of weird things inside, but overall it ended up being pretty boring. Arosha tried climbing a special mountains, but he didn’t seem to like that at all, and couldn’t really grasp the concept of having a safety on him and why he needed that at all.

Observation tower path.On our way back we stopped for a lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban restaurant. And we saw a beaver on the side of the road. At first time we went by him too quickly so we made a U-turn and came back and he was still sitting on the side of the road. But as soon as I touched my camera he split with the speed of light — so no picture.

Wildflowers.And on our last full day we again went to Clingmans Dome, which I wrote about above and after that went on a trail through the woods the start of which was literally one third of a mile away from our hotel. Just a nice quite trail that runs along a mountain river and no people around.

Trail by our hotel.On our way our way out of Tenseness we crossed the whole park and came out on the other side in North Carolina. We stopped at another visitor center on that end, bought some wildflower honey for ourselves and our parents and walked around the old farm that used to be located near it.

Newfound Gap road.And that’s pretty much it. We picked a very good time to visit the park as everything was in full spring bloom. Everything about this stay was great. The only regret is that parents weren’t with us. They surely would’ve liked it a lot as well.

By Oconaluftee Visitor Center.P.S. All pictures are posted in chronological order.
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tennessee Trip Highlights

Time really flies. It’s been more than a week since our vacation has ended and I, as usual, am having trouble figuring out which way to go about these posts. So I decided to just pick out some general categories about the whole trip and then split off location specific notes into separate posts.

Hotels


Throughout our trip we stayed at five different places. Four of those places were Hilton properties. We did not take advantage of our points for any of these since we’re saving them for our November trip, but we did get the full benefits of our Diamond VIP status.

Park Vista by DoubleTree. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.All Hilton properties are great. Clean, big rooms, nice blankets, good breakfasts. I would rate them all at four out of five starts with the exception of one. The hotel where we spent six nights — the longest and most important part of our vacation was just superb and by far the best one of our trip. It was Park Vista by DoubleTree (Hilton property) located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Our hotel. 15 stories atop a hill.Everything about it was great. The hotel itself was located on top of a mountain located right in the middle of a forest. We got upgraded to the top, fifteenth, floor. We had a balcony with a great view of Gatlinburg and the mountains that surround it.

View from the inside.This hotel had a very nice breakfast included with a chef that would cook hot to order meals. We also took advantage of the on property restaurant practically every day. Once we ate directly at it, but mostly we would order some dishes to go to bring up to our room and had our dinner while Anechka was tucked in for the night in the same room.

Other Hilton properties that we stayed at were located in Hershey, Pennsylvania — right near PA capital of Harrisburg, Chapel Hill, North Carolina — not far from NC capital of Raleigh, and the last one was located in Arlington, Virginia — right across the bridge from Washington, DC.

Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park.Our only non Hilton hotel was a lodge located right inside Shenandoah National Park. We did stay at the same lodge at the end of 2010. However because we had to reschedule our trip we ended up having to take the only left over room. It was located in a different part of the lodge (cabins are all over the property) and was somehow way below the standard that we are used to.

DoubleTree at Gatlinburg.Floors we were not covered with carpet and cold. Beds were small, mattresses were old. Arosha kept falling off the bed throughout the night. Hot water would run out before one could take a quick shower. There were no laundry facilities and we couldn’t do without them because of Anna’s diapers (more on that later). And it smelled like … — well, it just smelled.

The only thing that it had going for it was the fact that it was located right in the woods and we had a nice porch where Arosha could play with leafs, sticks, stones and all other things he loves playing with. And the restaurant was nearby as opposed to the other cabins from which one had to climb atop a rather steep hill to get to it.

Arligngon, Virginia.Overall this contributed to us cutting our Shenandoah stay one night short. We ended up adding the night to our Tennessee stay which proved to be a very good move on our part.

Pools


The hotel in Tennessee had probably the best pool we’ve encountered during all our previous travels. It had a pair of shallow pools for kids, a hot tub, and an adult pool with a two story high slide leading right into it. Arosha loved it. I would put him between my legs, we would lie down on our backs and slide down right into the water. I have to admit that it was quite fun for me as well.

Pools at Gatlinburg DoubleTree.There was another smaller slide leading into the kids pool, but it was a tube going through the wall. It was pretty dark inside and only on our last day I managed to talk Arosha into trying it. He had to go through it alone as I would not fit into it. So when he was ready to go in I told him that I’ll run down to the pool and catch him at the bottom.

The first time by the time I got there I saw a huge splash and Arosha managing to get above water on his own. Naturally he wanted to go again. On the second time by the time I got down to the pool I heard yelling coming through the tube:
– Ready??
– Ready.
– Ready???
– Ready!

Water slide.The next thing I see is Arosha flying through the tube with complete terror on his face. He splashes down into the pool, jump out with with complete ecstasy written all over his face. Again! Third time went very much like the previous run. Same “readies”, same terror, same happiness.

Alena also took Anna out to the pool. She also enjoyed it along. Alena would hold her in the water with her head above it and they would “swim” around the pool. One time Arosha and I talked Alena into trying the slide. We practically had to coerce her into it. Eventually she reluctantly agreed.

Another view of the slide.When she got up there I told Arosha — now listen to this! And then we heard multiple high pitched yells, screams and howls. She did end up liking it too. I’m glad we made her try.

Our other pool experience was rather sad. While we stayed in Arlington we decide to go to the pool. Arosha got all dressed, all prepared, totally happy. We all also got dressed for the pool. Then we couldn’t figure out which floor it was on. When we went down to the lobby to inquire where it is it turned out that this was the only hotel of our stay where there was no pool. It was a complete tragedy for poor Arosha. So much preparation and anticipation and such a fiasco. He was crushed. That will teach us a lesson for the future though.

Our Car


Our car has served us admirably. I’m really enjoying the “utility” part of our SUV. The cargo space easily fit a pair of large suitcases, a stroller and a good number of smaller bags and purses, while still allowing us to pull a cover over them.

Shenandoah fog and our car.The ride was comfortable and higher vantage point makes for a better trip — you can see more. Distronic made driving for 2,000 miles easier on me. Our car fully loaded with four people and a lot of cargo came out with a very respectable MPG of 26. That’s with mixed highway and city driving. We had to fill up only 4 times and that’s considering that we never waited for it to fall below 1/4th of the tank. Diesel rules.

One thing to note is that while I feel rather well driving Mercedes in and around New York it felt a bit awkward everywhere else. It attracts too much attention and really stands out. Something like Chevy Tahoe would feel somehow safer and more comfortable in that respect.

Another trail.However while before I never wanted anything to do with SUVs now I’m a big fan of an SUV as a family car. It is safe, heavy, stable and allowed us to easily park in all kinds of “off-road” ditches while in the parks.

Kids


Our kids did great. We feared that 400 miles in one day was not doable without many problems. Our original plan was to split it into two days when we left Shenandoah one day early. Turned out it wasn’t a problem at all. We kept planning to stop at 200 miles, 300 miles, but they just kept doing well. Only towards the end a little amount of crying ensued from Anyuta. Arosha had zero issues at all.

On the trail to Laurel Falls.The totally love nature. We could not drag Arosha away from anywhere. Sticks and stones, rivers and puddles. Arosha’s kind of paradise. Anyuta also was very happy to sit on the ground and taste grass, flowers, sticks and just plain good old dirt.

Arosha did great on hikes. We did numerous long hikes on steep trails that were about 3 miles in length and he walked them on his own without any problems. Anna on the other hand refused to sit in her ergo for the most part and Alena had to carry her. I don’t know where she gets the strength and energy. Us driving our stroller around was totally pointless. We haven’t used it once.

Nature fun.Sleeping in one room was perfectly fine too. We thought that’d all have to go on Anna’s schedule and go to sleep at 8pm. However once Alena did put her to bed we could still sit around and do other stuff. Arosha could watch some cartoons or all of us would go through our pictures we took throughout the day. Or we would eat dinner using bathroom sinks as dinner tables. It all work out rather well.

Laundry


Now this was a first for us. Because Anyuta is allergic to disposable diapers we have to use washable cloth ones. And as a result we had to do laundry every other day. Shenandoah was the worst. No laundry facilities and the closest town was 30 minutes away. Hot water would run out. Alena did hand wash them in the cold water.

View from the window of our Gatlinburg hotel.We dried them everywhere. Radiators, tables, TVs and so on. The best place though goes to the dashboard of our car while the car was sitting in the sun and we were away on a walk of some kind. Other hotels did have laundry facilities, yet it was still quite annoying to say the least.

Food


Food was … boring. This country is full of steak houses with very little variety. By the end of the trip we could not look at steaks, burgers and potatoes. We did eat at a nice Mexican restaurant once and one Cuban hole in the wall place. While in Washington we ended up running into a completely random and cheap Chinese place that was in China Town which was well reviewed by New York Times as it turned out. By most evenings my appetite for any food was nowhere to be found so we mostly ate from the appetizer sections of the menus.

Bullfish Grill at Pigeon Forge, Tennesssee.One thing that worried us slightly was the fact that Anyuta would always cry before at any kind of a restaurant. But Alena figured out a perfect solution. She can sit very well in a high chair on her own. Alena would put a plate in front of her and would put all kinds of non-choke hazard vegetables on that plate — string beans, broccoli, slices of carrots and so on. Anyuta would reach out for them and taste them. That kept her occupied rather well and would could eat in peace.

Overall


Overall it was a really nice road trip. A great vacation with an exception of one nightmarish night in Shenandoah. I’ll explain in more detail later. Otherwise we got very lucky with the weather, spring was in full bloom and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting new places. It was fun for all four of us and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. It actually wasn’t all that hard at all. Our kids are great.
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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fire Island Outing

Lighthouse against some funky clouds.Last weekend was quite active for us. Besides going to Bayswater Point State Park we decided to take full advantage of warmer days and on Sunday went to Fire Island National Seashore again.

Beautiful Fire Island Lighthouse.We even managed to talk my mom into going with us — to our surprise it was her first time there. Only took her 19 or so years. So there was a total of seven of us there and two cars.

Grandmas. Grandpa and Arosha on the left.Even though the day was warmer relative to other days it still was a cold February day. Especially when you’re walking along an open shore of Atlantic Ocean. The sky was very blue and thus uplifting, but the wind was cold.

More of the family.I had to borrow the hood from Alёna’s jacket because I as always misjudged the weather. As did my dad. That seems to be the trait of our male side of the family. Since Arosha doesn’t make these decisions for himself yet he was well dressed.

Shore of open Atlantic Ocean.Fire Island National Seashore is probably one of the nicest “nature” locations that is within an easy reach from us. If traffic conditions cooperate it takes us under an hour to get there.

Wooden trail at Fire Island National Seashore.After having a nice jog we finished off the evening with a family dinner at some random Outback Steakhouse that we found on our way home.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Exploring Costa Rica

Our Toyoto RAV4 at Santa Rosa National Park.As I noted in my previous post, not being confined to the extents of our resort by virtue of having a rented car and going out to actually explore some nearby parts of Costa Rica was the most fun part of this vocation for me. We made two such excursions, since it’s still hard for Arosha to spend so much time sitting in the car.

Scenic view stop.Luckily for us two places that we picked out to visit turned out to be vastly different from each other. The whole ecosystem reminded me of our trip to Big Island of Hawaii. On one side of the island there is an eternal summer with very high temperatures and dry climate and only 60 miles away there is an non-stop rain with lush green forests. Costa Rica is very similar in this regard and we got to see both sides of the so-called coin here.

Santa Rosa National Park


Trails of Santa Rosa National Park.In the morning of our second full day in Costa Rica we got into our car, turned on our GPS and headed North in the direction of Santa Rosa National park — the closest destination we could find. Right across the road from Santa Rosa there was another park — Guanacaste National Park, but as we later found out the park was closed to visitors.

Arosha in a hole of a volcanic stone.Soon after we were at the park entrance. It was very easy to find and especially so with GPS’s assistance. At the entrance we were given a map and a nice explanation of what’s worth seeing in the park by a nice and very polite young guy with very good English. The entrance to the park was $10 per person.

Dry tropical forest of Santa Rosa.Soon after we came to appreciate the fact that we rented a 4×4, because there is no way we would’ve gotten through to any of our destinations by the so-called road on any other car. It was not paved and it was covered in rocks and in certain places with deep muddy puddles. The ride that was only 12 kilometers long took us not less than an hour.

Creepy tree at Santa Rosa.We did 3 hikes. One fairly long one — 1.6km each way and two shorter ones. The park was not at all what we expected Costa Rica to look like. It was a dry tropical forest and March being the peak of a dry season made the forest look pretty much dead. The temperature was in the 90s so the hikes themselves were quite exhausting, especially with the fact that Arosha expired very quickly and one of us had to carry him as he didn’t want to walk by himself anymore.

Santa Rosa hiking trail.We did get to see the canyons at the end of the hike and later on — our third hike — even got onto the shores of open Pacific Ocean. And even though it is called Pacific it was anything but. The waves were just humongous. The beach was deserted and nobody wanted to risk getting into that water, but it was beautiful.

Iguana.We also saw a whole lot of iguanas. Arosha even tried to catch one — and hit it on the head with the stick as he claims, but luckily for that iguana it was a lot faster than Arosha was. But now every time we mention an iguana he points out he wanted to hit it on the head with a stick, but was unable.

Open Pacific Ocean. Naranjo Beach.At the end of the day we were quite exhausted. The unpaved road back took a long while, and we were extremely pleased to finally get onto the highway and drive back to our hotel. The only thing is that for some reason our rental car came with no cruise control and it’s really hard to go long distances without it once you get used to such a convenience. My foot was ready to fall off by the time we got back.

Second Excursion Planning


Naranjo Beach.At this point we really wanted to see the Costa Rica that we imagined before the trip — lush green rain forests. However research proved to be very difficult. The information that comes up is often that on various tourist agency sites and lacks any kind of useful information for touring without a guide. There was a number of parks not too far from us, but from what we read they would either be very similar to Santa Rosa and all of them had long hikes that we would need to take to see anything. As we understood it was not really a great option for us with a 2 year old.

Unpaved road at Santa Rosa.One place that was often mentioned was Monteverde cloud forests. But from what I could find online it really is more of an area than a park and the same thing — long hikes. It took us several days to finally come up with a plan for our second, and last trip.

Arenal Volcano National Park


Green forests.A place that we were aware of before we got to Costa Rica was Arenal Volcano which in fact was located inside the national park. And even though we again couldn’t really find any good information we looked at the map of the route there and seeing as it goes along the coast of a large lake we figured it was worth a drive. We were hoping that maybe if we don’t even get to do a hike in the park we’ll catch some good views along the way. And right we were.

Lake Arenal.Remembering Hawaii I advised everyone to take sweaters because the temperature could change dramatically with higher elevation. And as once years ago during our trip to Yosemite Alena took the sweaters for us and my parents decided it was too hot for sweaters. And were they wrong or what. As we were gaining altitude we ended up literally driving into a cloud. The mist started to set down on the windows and when we got out on a first scenic view everyone completely froze.

Monkeys in the trees.The views were magnificent and they were getting better. The fog was hugging everything around, the forest was getting greener and trees were getting taller. Near one such tree we saw a stopped car and a pair of tourists looking up. From our experience in Yellowstone it was a sure sign of wildlife. We pulled over as well and saw a whole bunch of real wild capuchin monkeys sitting in the tree, eating some exotic fruit. We we already excited — even if we don’t get to see anything else the trip was already worth it.

Coatis.We kept driving and suddenly we were surrounded by funny furry animals with long noses — about 30 of them. They were all very wet because of the rain, and they were also very hungry. Sadly Arosha has finally decided to take a nap, which didn’t last long, but he did miss all the fun. As we later learned these animals were called coatis.

Rain forest.We drove a little while longer and the forest just became irresistibly photogenic. We passed a small one lane bridge and I pulled over onto the shoulder. We got out and went back to the bridge. This was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen during our trip. Bright brown water of a mountain river under the bridge was surrounded by lush green forest that was in turn covered by fog, or the cloud that we’ve never left after driving into it. Such a serene place.

Dad on the one lane bridge in the middle of a cloud forest.Right while we were walking around a car with some American tourists going in the opposite direction stopped and they informed us that a couple of miles down the road there are 30 lemurs running around. And sure enough, there was another large pack of “lemurs”.

Inside a cloud.Soon after we arrived to the entrance of Arenal Volcano National Park via a relatively short unpaved road. To our surprise the park was closed for some administrative restructuring, but they were letting anyone in anyhow. On the plus side the admission fee was not collected, but on the down side there were no maps or any explanation of what we were supposed to see. However we ran into a couple of tourists and an information board with a map and it turned out that park itself wasn’t very big and all the trails were pretty self explanatory.

More coatis.First we drove all the way down to an observation area and observed a volcano which was absolutely not visible because of the earlier mentioned fog. Not even a hint of it. So we decided to take a hike to the lava fields, which we actually have seen a lot of in Hawaii. It was also lightly raining, but better rain then 90 degree heat. I gave my sweater to my mom, my dad grabbed a towel and I was pretty well covered by my hiking hat.

Trail inside Arenal Volcano National Park.The trail itself was very different from the view that we saw on the bridge along the way. The path was surrounded mostly by tall bamboo sticks which look a lot like oversized grass. I was getting a feeling that I have been shrunk by some magical device and I was walking through grass which now appeared to be gigantic. Arosha was running around trying to find the biggest leaf of fern (paporotnik in Russian) and trying to pronounce this complicated word. He came up with a number of rather funny versions.

On a rainy trail.We kept walking and walking and kept getting wetter and wetter and we suddenly decided that we’ve seen what lava fields look like before and we can live without seeing them today and just turned around. It was still a fun hike, but we didn’t get to our destination. Also all around us were signs saying something along the lines of if you melt because of lava, it’s your own damn fault, and don’t blame us. Although we heard that Arenal was actually not active right now, so there was a little chance of that happening I guess.

Arosha and coatis.We got back into our car and started driving back with numerous stops along the way. We ran into a pack of “lemurs” again on the way back and Arosha got to see them. He liked them so much that he decided to generously donate an orange he was eating at the time. And then asked for some banana and did the same.

On the road.And then we got hungry and after driving and driving decided to stop at a strange German place of all things. Everyone ate some tasty goulash that goes well with cold rainy weather and I ate some bratwurst which tasted pretty well too. Although they do some really funny math when they give you a check, but we decided not to argue too much and pay.

Arenal Volcano National Park.That’s pretty much all the events from this day that I remember. We got back to the hotel after dark, so it was a full day road trip that Arosha handled very well. We’ve seen a lot of unusual things and some amazing beautify that Costa Rica’s nature has to offer.

Conclusion


Papa at Santa Rosa.So all in all, even though we only did two trips I was very glad that we rented a car. We got to see two very different sides of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and it made the vacation much more fun than it would’ve been otherwise. It was a worthy investment without a question. Thus concludes my reporting on yet another one of our great vacations.

Fog.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shenandoah Road Trip

Shenandoah National Park. View from Skyline Drive.We’re back from our vacation and it’s time to write something about it. I’m not sure where to begin best, so I’ll break it up into a couple of parts — states and capitals part of the strip and Shenandoah National Park part. But I will start with something a bit unrelated — photography.

Photography


The unusual start is an introduction to the photos that will be a part of this and upcoming posts. They break up in to two categories — family and general vacation snapshots group that are just that and a group that will later go into my photostream here on the blog and on Flickr — an artistic attempt at landscapes, nature and other types of photography.

Country morning.Since our plan for the road trip was less ambitions than usual I was done with general shots of the park fairly quickly and instead concentrating of throwing all the conventions of photography out of the window and just experimenting. I took a lot of shots with the sun shining directly into the lens or hitting a lens at an angle that would create a flare. I took a lot of shots with lenses wide open with have very little in the focus plane. I took much fewer HDR shots than usual.

Last Leaf.Basically I’ll let you be the judge. I think I’ve come back with some interesting and pleasing shots that I myself like, but as always I would welcome and appreciate any feed back I can get — if you like something, don’t be shy — say it.

States and Capitals


As part of our “goal oriented” travel we’ve set out to “recolor” some of the states on our visited states map that I’ve posted about yesterday.

Dover. In front of Delaware Capitol Building.Our first stop was Dover, Delaware. We checked in into the hotel late at night and in the morning our first order of business was visiting the capitol. The building turned out to be rather modest, but the personnel was very friendly. They let us roam around all over the place, since it was Saturday.

Delaware Capitol.We went through the Senate and Congress chambers and took a bunch of pictures, even some HDRs. A lot of portraits inside, but otherwise nothing really spectacular.

Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.Right after that we went to Annapolis, Maryland. The capitol was bigger than that of Delaware, but nothing made it really Liberty Bell in Maryland.stand out in my memory either. The city itself was noticeably bigger and much more busy than Dover. We ate lunch at one of the local places and where on our way.

Our next stop was Washington, DC. Even though we’ve been to this city many times before and have visited majority of its memorials it was before we started our stamp collections. And when I was researching it some time ago I noticed that Washington Monument actually has ALL of the stamp available at the other memorials. So it was a great chance to make a stop and grab all the missing stamps of the places that we’ve been to.

Flags around Washington Monument.Next was Shenandoah itself, but about that a bit later. Sadly Richmond (Virginia capital) was way out of our way and since we were with Arosha we didn’t want to take any extra detours, so we skipped it and didn’t get a chance to “recolor” Virginia. But we did continue our venture after our stay in Shenandoah, or to be more precise — on our way back home.

Stamps in Washington.If our trip to the park looked like a downward curve the trip home was a mirror curve facing upwards. This allowed us to drive through West Washington Monument. Looking into the sky.Virginia (first for all of us) and make a stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

We stopped in a town called Marginsburg in WV, but there is really not much special about any of it. Harrisburg on the other hand was very impressive. I expected to see some small provincial town, but it turned out to be a modern city.

The city lies on the banks of Susquehanna River. We drove along it and saw a lot of huge mansions. Eventually one of the streets opened up and you get a magnificent view of the Capitol Building right from the banks of the river. Our timing was also perfect as the sun was setting down and the green dome of the capitol was basked in golden rays of an evening sun. It really looked breathtaking.

West Virginia Welcome Center.I don’t know if the pictures I took will do it justice, but it was probably one of the best looking capitol buildings any one of us has seen. The whole district around it was very “Washingtonian” — a city that is a museum on its own. We didn’t get a chance to get inside, but otherwise we left happy.

Pennsylvania Capitol.The city outskirts though looked very much different — a completely contrast to the center. Everything was extremely ran down and poor. For some reason a lot of capitals tend to be similar in this way, including Washington, DC itself.

Harrisburg Downtown.So to sum up — we have visited capitols of Dover, Maryland and Pennsylvania for the first time, stepped on the soil of West Virginia for the first time and filled up our passports with missing stamps from Washington, DC.

Shenandoah National Park


We spent most of our vacation in Shenandoah. We got here on Saturday evening and left on the next Saturday’s morning. Upon arrival to the lodge we were given keys to a pair of interconnected rooms on the 2nd floor of the cottage located right on the edge of the mountain.

Shenandoah Autumn.In the morning we really saw the view for the first time — huge valley and Blue Ridge mountains on the other side of the valley, right in front of our windows. They couldn’t have picked a better place to build a lodge.

Evening light over Shenandoah National Park.On our first day we went to Big Meadow visitor center and asked for a couple of maps of trails that we could take a stroller on. Our first hike was to Dark Hollow Falls. The road that lead it was a gravel fire-road. It was relatively flat and all the bumps seemed to have put Arosha to sleep. When we go to the falls Alena and I climbed to the top of the mountain to waterfall origins and parents stayed behind with Arosha.

Shenandoah Valley.After that we drove to Luray to stock up on some food and water (even though rooms do not have microwaves of freezers we were given one since we were staying for a week) and see what Luray itself is. Several things came to our attention. Even though trees on the top of the mountain were completely leafless the forest was full of color closer to Luray — that gave us a chance to take some colorful pictures. Luray itself though was pretty much nothing of anything.

On a trail.We made a great decision to come later in the season and stay in the lodge rather than come earlier and stay in town. And even though the drive to town was about 20 miles away from our lodge it would be a huge pain to go back and forth every day. All the trails are in the park anyhow. Plus the road in the park — Skyline Drive, that runs atop the mountain — is very twisty, so my mom was getting dizzy every time we went anywhere.

Sunset in the forest.Eventually we developed a pretty good schedule for every day. Arosha was sleeping OK. Alena would feed him when he would wake up and put him back to sleep in the complete darkness (except for the bathroom light that we used as a night light). Because he didn’t really have a chance to wake up he would fall back asleep pretty quickly. At 6am when he would wake up for good my mom would take him to their room and let Alena get a couple of hours of sleep.

Sunset over Blue Ridge Mountains.Then we would wake up and eat breakfast, while feeding or entertaining Arosha. He would do his morning nap and we would go for a short walk around Skyland (our lodge). After coming back we would feed Arosha and go for a 2-3 hour hike. It was great.

Some trails were better than others. One day we went on a long trail right around Skyland, but the fire-road turned On one of the trails in Shenandoah's forest.out to be so steep that it started to get scary with a stroller. Somehow while my dad and I were taking pictures of plans my mom and Alena managed to push the stroller and Arosha all the way back up. That was not an easy feat.

Our favorite hike was probably at Big Meadow. At first we started going right through the meadow trails, but most of them were getting narrow and not nearly wide enough for a stroller. But luckily there was another fire-road running right around the meadow and into the woods. At one point Alena spotted a buck with antlers crossing the road. A grabbed my 200mm lens and ran after him into the woods. I didn’t end up catching up to him, but stumbled upon another one buck with 2 females. I guess his antlers were bigger, because the other one was alone.

Moon after the sunset.Sadly I didn’t get any good pictures worth adding into the photostream, but I did get ones that are good enough as proof. When I got back to the road Alena informed me that a coyote just crossed the road, but I did completely miss it. Sad.

Near Skyland Resort.Speaking of animals, that’s pretty much all we saw. We were really hoping for a bear or a bobcat, but I guess they weren’t as anxious to meet us. Forest was full of chipmunks and squirrels with super fluffy tails. Also on our very last morning I looked out our window and saw another buck eating grass. I took a couple of pictures of him. When I looked out 30 minutes later there was another different one. This one seemed much younger, judging by the antlers.

Sunset.For dinner we would always go to the lodge dinning room. To our luck they had a pretty good chief and we were very happy with their cooking for the most part. In the last couple of days we didn’t want to wait until 5:30 (dinning room opening) so we want to a tap room that actually used the same kitchen. Ate some good burgers there.

Looking out the window of our room in Shkyland Resort Lodge.Overall even though the trees were naked in most of the park the forest had a nice tranquility to it. The weather was great — absolutely blue sky, temperature in the 60s and very little wind. Even though it wasn’t unusual it was very relaxing and calming. We had a great family vacation.

Arosha


Arosha smiling.And the best for the last. Aroshka turned 3 months old on November 8th. If to be counted from the very beginning of his existence — it’s been a year. He was great. He cried, but not too often, he ate well, he slept well and he did a lot of “hiking” with us.

Papa and mama.It’s amazing how kids grow right in front of your eyes. He has changed so much — not appearance wise, but behavior wise. He is following everything with his eyes, he likes looking at faces and toys and he was extremely fascinated by a ceiling fan.

Us at the Big Meadow.He smiles a lot and seems to be trying to laugh. He makes tons of very funny noises and says a lot of his own words like “guk” and “agu”. When I talk to him he often starts to smile and then turns his head and hides his face, like he’s shy. When he gets tired he starts to talk in a different tone of voice and it sounds like he’s complaining. He talked to his giraffe a lot like that.

Aroshka. Sitting and smiling.Alena and my mom were worried a lot, because it was pretty much on them to keep him entertained, fed, happy or to make him sleep. But I think they shouldn’t have worried as much. Arosha did really well on his first trip.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Map Update

After our Shenandoah trip.I will start our after trip posts with a map update. Overall in the past week we have been through 7 states1 and have visited 4 capitals2.

Before our Shenandoah Trip.We’ve also stopped in a multiple little towns and of course we add a new National Park to our map.

Updated map after our trip.

  1. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania. []
  2. Dover, DE; Annapolis, MD; Washington, DC; Harrisburg, PA. []
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Time: 09:23   Comments: 1 Comment   Post a Comment  
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O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin