Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wilkes-Barre Labor Day

Locomotive at Steamtown National Historic Site.Планов куда-нибудь поехать в этом году на длинные выходные в честь дня труда у нас не было. Поэтому я немного удивилась, когда после обеда в пятницу Даня предложил: “А не сьездить ли нам куда-нибудь на пару дней?”. “Ха, а чему тут удивляться — тут же мысленно одёрнула себя я — было бы удивительно, если бы при его любви к путешествиям, он НЕ предложил бы куда-нибудь прокатиться.”

Kids by an old steam engine.Вобщем, пару идей у моего любимого мужа уже было, и после кратких раздумий мы остановились на относительно недорогом варианте гостиницы Hampton Inn в городке Wilkes-Barre (произносится “Уилксбэри”) в штате Пенсильвания. Ехать туда по нашим меркам относительно близко — около 140 миль. Мы приглашали и собой и даниных родителей, но в связи со скороспешностью наших планов, они не без сожаления отказались.

Taking a ride on an old train pulled by a steam engine.Я быстро собрала чемодан, Даня сьездил на физиотерапию всвязи со спиной, и часам к 6 вечера всё наше довольное семейство отправилось в путь.

Kids taking a ride on a miniature train model.Выехали из города мы без преключений. Я ожидала застрять на мосту Верразaно и/или на Стайтэн Айланде, но мы проехали эти, как правило забитые в такие дни, места без всяких проблем. По пути мы остановились поужинать в японском ресторане “Мизуки”.

Machinist room of a Big Boy locomotive.Это получилось случайно — мы сначала попробовали сунуться в один из сетевых американских ресторанов (Friday’s), но в пятницу вечером там была очередь минимум на 40 минут. В “Мизуки” же не было очереди, еда была очень вкусной, а счёт оказался совсем небольшим — нам с лихвой хватило двух порции хибачи на четверых.

Different generations of locomotives.В гостиницу мы приехали около 23:00 и сразу же отправились спать.

Italian festival at downtown Scranton.Следующий день, субботу, мы начали с посещения музея паровозов в соседнем городе Scranton. Музей Steamtown, основанный в 1960-х годах в депо, где когда-то оперировала большая железнодорожная компания DL&W, был выкуплен конгрессом в 1980-х годах и превращён в национальное историческое место — National Historic Site. Теперь он оперируется государственной службой парков, что для нас дополнительный плюс из-за коллекционирования печатей национальных парков.

Lunch at ale house.В музее было много разных старых поездов. Мне лично очень понравился вагон первого класса с купе на одного человека. Кровать там складывалась днём в удобное кресло, а в комнатке был умывальник.

Great beer is served. Waiting for food.Ароша и Анюта с удовольствием залазили в разные кабины паровозов, где можно было крутить разные колёсики и дергать рычаги. Мне было там скучновато, но это не главное.

Go-karts! Alёna's driving Anna.Еще мы там приобрели билеты на короткую поездку на паровозе. Честно говоря, там тоже было не супер интересно, но в какой-то мере любопытно. Сиденья там были составлены в ряд, как в автобусе, но их направление можно было менять, передвигая спинку с одного края сиденья на другое — такое я видела впервые. Ароше это дело понравилось, и нам даже пришлось его остановить из боязни повредить что-то в старом вагоне. После поездки на настоящем поезде, дети прокатились на миниатюрной версии, где сидеть надо было поверх вагонов.

Lunch before our hike. Waiting for food.После музея мы отправились в Скрэнтон пообедать. В центре города, куда мы приехали в пивную с высоким рэйтингом в TripAdvisor, как раз проходила ярмарка итальянской еды, но к счастью мы смогли запарковаться возле ювелирного магазине недалеко от нужного нам места. Хозяин магазина решил немного заработать, и продавал право парковки на лоте возле магазина по $6 за два часа. Что же, очень даже резонно.

On a trail.Когда мы проходили мимо палаток с едой, то был соблазн купить что-нибудь сьестное прямо там, недоходя до запланированного места, но так как на улице было жарко и есть бы пришлось стоя, мы всё же дошли до Backyard Ale House, о чем ничуть не пожалели. Еда там была вкусной, пиво лёгким и холодным, да и народу было немного. На ярмарке мы потом купили лимонада. Он очень понравился Ароше, и я обещала как-нибудь сделать такой же дома.

One of many many mushrooms we saw.Потом мы поехали в гостиницу и провели несколько часов в бассейне — наличие джакузи всегда сильно увеличивает время, которое дети могут потратить на водные процедуры.

Kids throwing stones into some river at Ricketts Glen State Park.Поужинали мы в ресторане “Lucky’s Sporthouse” возле гостиницы. И еда, и пиво были так себе, но мы были слишком уставшими, чтобы ехать куда-то в более заманчивое место.

Steep stairs.В воскресенье мы запланировали поехать в какой-нибудь парк и погулять на лоне матушки-природы. Вариантов было много, но мы остановились на Ricketts Glen State Park — там должна была быть живописная дорога к водопадам, а водопады мы любим. Ехать туда от нашей гостиницы было миль 30.

People by a cliff at the brink of the biggest fall on the trail.По пути мы совершенно случайно увидели небольшую площадку с go-carts и минигольфом. Так как времени у нас в принципе было много, мы решили на этих самых go-carts покататься. Честно говоря, я ужасно трусила и даже немного поотпиралась, когда Даня сказал, что я тоже буду кататься. Как оказалось, я зря боялась, и было очень даже весело. Даня ехал в машинке с Арошей, а я с Анютой. Детям тоже понравилось, хоть они и не рулили. Ароша просился поиграть в мини-гольф, но было жарко и много народа, поэтому мы поехали дальше.

Snack break.Перед тем, как пойти на прогулку по парку, мы зашли подкрепиться в небольшую забегаловку. Там продавали roast beef sandwiches и картошку фри. Ароша от сэндвичей с мясом, само собой, отказался, и мы купили ему салат с овощами на гриле — овощей там оказалось мало, но он поел и поделился с Анютой. Было не очень вкусно и дорого.

Family units.Мы боялись, что идти по парку будет тяжело, потому что была как раз середина дня и ярко светило солнце. Но оказалось, что тропинка идёт через прекрасный теснистый лес, где царят полумрак и прохлада. Лес оказался очень грибным. Примерно раз в минуту мы слышали радостный Арошин крик “грибы! смотрите, грибы!” и первые раз 7 мы честно шли и смотрели. Потом нам надоело, а Ароша всё время сокрушался, что с нами нет дедушки, который наверняка просветил бы любознательного внука и рассказал бы ему какие именно грибы он имеет счастье лицезреть.

One of many waterfalls on the trail.Гуляли по лесу мы пару часов. Видели три мелких водопада и один побольше. Спускаться до конца, чтобы лучше увидеть самый большой водопад, мы не стали, потому что дорога стала скользкой из-за воды, и мы решили, что с маленькими детьми туда идти опасно — плюс у нас с Даней была неподходящая обувь.

Daniel.На обратном пути Ароша и Анюта уговорили нас снова заехать на площадку с го-картс, чтобы поиграть в мини-гольф. Они даже отказались от бассейна — и то, и другое было бы слишком утомительно — в пользу этой забавы. Что ж, почему бы и нет. Лично мне мини-гольф кажется ужасно скучным, но дети получили удовольствие. В какой-то момент Анюта отправилась там на небольшую детскую площадку с качелями и горочкой, а Даня с Арошей еще раз прокатились на машинках — Ароша помогал рулить.

Mini golf.Поужинали мы в мексиканском ресторане. Было очень вкусно, особенно приготовленное на наших глазах гуакамоле, и совсем недорого.

Putting apples into a bag.На следующий день, в понедельник, мы отправились домой. По дороге, мы решили заехать в большой торговый центр (mall) в надежде купить что-нибудь стоящее с хорошей скидкой в честь дня труда. Когда мы заехали на битком забитую парковку, то начали сомневаться в правильности нашего решения идти по магазинам в такой день. Но, как говорят, охота пуще неволи, поэтому после 20 минут кружения по лоту, мы наконец запарковались и отправились за покупками. В результате мы купили всем пару необходимых и не очень вещей (зимние куртки детям, спортивные штаны и тёплые рубашки Дане, юбку мне), и поехали на ферму собирать яблоки.

Lots of apples. Heavy.Поесть в торговом центре, как мы планировали заранее, мы не смогли — слишком много людей было в кафетерии, так что там были грязь, шум, очереди и отсутствие свободных столиков. Вместо этого, мы немного проехали в нужном нам направлении и быстро перекусили фаст фуд. На нормальный ресторан времени не было — боялись опоздать на сбор яблок.

Apple picking.Несмотря на небольшую пробку, мы успели приехать на ферму где-то за час до закрытия. Мы были на этой же ферме два года назад, когда Анюта была еще совсем крохой. Мы насобирали 30 фунтов яблок, 12 початков кукурузы, и пол небольшой коробочки малины (больше не было).

Kids on a farm.Дети получили кучу удовольствия, а яблоки мы потом ели две недели (в холодильнике осталось еще штуки две). Еще я купила баночку очень хорошего местного мёда. Жалею, что не две, потому что Ароша с удовольствием пьёт воду с мёдом и лимоном. Кукуруза оказалось слишком сладкой на мой вкус, но детям она очень понравилась, и они сразу же стрескали по два початка (просили еще, но я не разрешила).

Corn picking.Добрались мы до Бруклина без больших пробок, и к 7 часам уже запарковались возле дома. Данины родители пригласили нас на ужин и накормили вкусным пловом, что было очень кстати, потому что к вечеру мы изрядно проголодались.

Raspberry picking.
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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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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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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier through the clouds.When we left Port Angles behind we had nowhere to rush. We had a full day to get to our next destination — Mounthaven Resort located right on the edge of Mount Rainier National Park in a tiny town of Ashford. This time we were driving around the eastern side of Olympic National Park and the road seemed very rural even though we were not that far away from Seattle. In order to get the same feeling one would have to get a lot farther away from New York. The only planned stop for the day was in a city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.

Olympia


Washington state capitol building.At some point in our travels years ago we decided that it would be cool to visit all state capitals and see what each capitol looks like. Olympia was a very small detour for us so we didn’t pass the chance up. Usually it’s very easy to find the capitol building itself as soon as you get into the city and Olympia was no exception. It was visible from afar. We parked our car and went for a short walk exploring the area.

Inside the capitol building.Luckily for us the capitol building itself was open and we got to walk inside. We also got lucky with a stamp — a lot of capitol buildings that we visited in the past have a standardized stamp and Washington turned out to be one of such states. The building itself was quite impressive too with a pretty high dome.

Capitol.Afterwards we walked around the area some more. Saw different state buildings such as courts, libraries and saw a governor’s mansion. Now that guy has a nice commute to work — just cross the street. Wonder if he somehow manages to get driven to his office. We took a bunch of pictures and were on our way.

In front of the capitol.Before leaving Olympia we decided to grab a nice lunch. We drove to a more busy street that we noticed when we were trying to get to the capitol and once we got there easily found parking near a restaurant that looked appealing. To my surprise Trip Adviser app declared that the restaurant was rated as #1 in Olympia. However it turned out that it is closed on weekends and even though it would be open because of the Father’s Day reservation was required. So we had to settle for some other cafe across the street that had a limited menu for lunch and the food was not all that great.

Elbe


Streets of Olympia.On our way to the park we made a couple of short stops at several scenic overlooks and a bit longer of a stop at a small town of Elbe. What made Elbe interesting was the fact that it appeared to have an operational train station with old steam locomotives. And indeed we saw one departing from the station with a lot of whistling and smoke.

Steam locomotive at Elbe station.A whole bunch of old train cars were converted into different restaurants. Arosha really wanted to get inside one of them, but for some reason they all had signs that declared that one had to be 21 or over to get inside. We also visited one ancient looking grocery and bought some water. Also this town had some historic church. It was closed on this day, but we managed to visit it on our way out — it didn’t have the right kind of stamp though.

Mounthaven Resort


When we were looking for a place to stay at Mount Rainier National Park we wanted something close, so we wouldn’t have to drive back and forth to and from the park. Since everything inside the park was either sold out or very expensive I started looking for places right on the edges of the park. And to my surprise I found a nice cabin rentals a mile from the entrance — Mounthaven Resort. And not only that, but we could get a cabin with two bedrooms and for a very reasonable price to top it off.

Our Pine cabin at Mounthaven Resort.When we arrived we found one of the owners on the property and got the keys to our cozy cabin named Pine. It was very much what I expected. It was very small and quite rustic (in a good sense of the word) inside. My parents were a bit surprised by its size and were wondering how we were going to fit in. However once they got over the initial “shock” they ended up enjoying it very much too. When we first entered it had a stale smell. I guess it wasn’t used for a while, because in several hours the smell was completely gone. The cabin had a small living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms.

Fire by our cabin.For Arosha we were given a thick mattress to put on a floor. At first we thought to put it down in the living room, but then we moved our double bed towards the wall and his mattress fit in the space right next to our bed. Needless to say Arosha was pretty happy about the fact.

Arosha on playground.Also I have to say that before, sleeping in the same room with Arosha was always problematic as he would wake up in the middle of the night and not fall asleep and so on. But now it was great. We would talk to each other, either discuss the day, or tell him some bed time story and we would all fall asleep and sleep easily past 8am, which is also quite unusual for Arosha.

Arosha by the fire.The territory of the resort itself was located right inside a forest of old huge pines. Each cabin also had a bunch of wooden chairs outside around a brick fire pit which we got to use for two nights. The firewood was given to us by the owners. There was also a nice playground for kids which Aroshka enjoyed very much. All in all this was a great place to stay at for our Rainier portion of the vacation.

For our first night we went for dinner to the closest place we could find which was less than a mile away from our cabin. The place was called Wildberry and was serving Nepal food including yak burgers and steaks. But since none of us were very hungry we got some soups and salads as far as I remember, but I’m sure that we didn’t eat any yaks.

Longmire and Paradise


This was our first full day in the park and this would be the time when we would see Mount Rainier itself for the first time. Even though our cabin was not all that far from it the fact that it was surrounded by 500 year old trees made it impossible to see. We caught our first glimpse of the mountain when we were approaching Longmire — the first stop with a visitor center.

Snow near Reflection Lake.This mountain that is an active stratovolcano was massive. It has an elevation of 14,411 feet at its summit and is covered by 26 major glaciers. Mount Rainier is 4ht most topographically prominent mountain peak in North America. In other words it was very impressive.

Mount Rainier from the bed of glacier formed river.When at Longmire we went into the visitor center, talked to a ranger and put together a plan of action for the next two days and got our National Park passports stamped. By now Arosha really enjoyed our passport stamping stops and kept stamping a piece of paper of his own at every opportunity.

Bridge.The plan for day one was to take a short hike along the bed of a river formed by one of the glaciers for unobstructed views of the mountain. After that we would drive up to Paradise — a valley at high elevation known for its views of the mountain and the subalpine flower covered meadows. Of course us being there in the middle of June meant that we were probably in for a lot of snow and zero flowers.

Mount Rainier.And so that’s what we did. We found the river trail and walked down into a boulder covered valley. There was a bridge constructed over the river out of an old fallen tree. Arosha enjoyed throwing stones into the river while I tried to take some shots of the mountain that would show itself from time to time from the clouds covering its top.

Of course as always it was really hard to capture the magnitude of this giant. In fact I think the best picture I took that conveys the size of Rainer was days later, when we were far gone from Mount Rainier National Park.

Christine Falls.Our next stop was a small overlook near Christine Falls. The falls themselves were quite small in size compared to some of the previous ones that we got to see, but they were nicely framed by a small canyon and an old stone bridge over that canyon. We took a couple of pictures and moved on.

Snow at Paradise. Rainier is behind me.When we got to Paradise we were greeted by tons and tons of snow, as we expected. Not only summer wasn’t here, spring was far away as well. There was a huge visitor center and a large lodge. The meadows in the front and the mountain in the back were covered by multiple feet of snow. We took a short hike up that snow covered hill. Arosha was again very much excited to play in the snow and we all took turns running away from his snowball attacks.

Visitor Center.After that we got our passports stamped at the visitor center, bought a couple of pins for our hats and decided to have an early lunch-o-dinner type of meal at the lodge. Food was not bad, but nothing special either.

Lunch at the lodge.On our way back we noticed another parking lot by Narada Falls. Now this one was indeed quite huge. We had to hike down a rather steep hill which was largely covered in ice. That vantage point gave a really nice view of the falls at about their middle point. I ended up not being able to take any decent pictures because of all the mist that was rising from the falling water that was instantly covering the lens. That was our last stop of the day.

Narada Falls.We came back to our cabin, left Arosha and my parents out and drove to a nearby grocery store with Alena. We bought some hot dogs, long metal forks and some other stuff. On our way we picked up a pile of firewood (we couldn’t find the owner of our resort at that point to ask him for some) and made a fire in our fire pit. We drank some nice beer, fried our hot dogs on open flames and had a nice evening snack. Arosha kept running around picking up all kinds of sticks from the forest and adding them into the fire, helping us to sustain it. It was great.

Day Two


Reflection Lake.On the second day we decided to venture further into the park and explore more of it. We were told by a ranger that our best chance of seeing some flowers was along the road beyond the valley of Paradise and that’s where we went without any real objectives. Our first stop of the day was Reflection Lake — a like named so simply because one could see a great reflection of Mount Rainier in it. Our problem was that there was not much of a like visible as it was covered by mountains of snow.

Arosha playing with snow.Arosha utilized an empty tin can from the nuts that we had as a shovel and had a blast playing with the snow. He was building mini-castles, throwing snowballs at everyone, but we didn’t really get any cool reflection pictures of the mountain.

Mushrooms on a trail.After a while we got into our car and drove further. Everyone was starting to get tired of sitting so we pulled over into the first parking area we saw and it had a couple of trails leading off from here. We decided to take a short hike. This one turned out to be going down a rather steep hill with a promise of a river at the end. The trail itself was quite interesting as we found a multitude of different mushroom growing on its sides, including colorful fly agarics which Arosha recognized from his books.

Down the trail.Eventually my dad was starting to get tired so he decided to return back up. I was starting to get worried that it’s going to be pretty hard for Arosha to get all the way up as well. However Alena and my mom wanted to reach the river since we already wend down so much. So I handed the camera to Alena and turned back as well with Arosha. He had no problems getting back up and kept talking about lightsabers (that was a pretty common theme with him through all our hikes on this vacation) and mushrooms and looking for them again.

Down by the river.When we got back up we discovered that my dad decided to go somewhere as he probably was bored sitting there, waiting for us. I started yelling out for him, but he didn’t show up. Arosha seeing that I’m getting no response decided to join in. Apparently his loud high pitch voice was much more audible as my dad soon appeared. He said he haven’t heard me calling him, but he heard Arosha very well.

We sat down on a bench near a picnic table that was placed at the start of the trail and tried to take the experience in. Us, Pacific Northwest, Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park, magnificent forest. I always try to slow down during our vacations once in a while and take in the moment of being there in. However I find it very hard to actually be able to do that well. Somehow the only place that I was really able to do this last was in Tokyo. To really really feel it.

By Narada Falls.Not long after that my mom and Alena came back up and told us that we were quite close to the river when we turned back. They showed us some pictures they took on their iPhones and our camera. After a short rest, we got back into our car and continued further along the road. The map indicated that there was a canyon of some kind nearby and we wanted to reach it.

Box Canyon.The map didn’t lye. Indeed there was a scenic overview pullover soon after — Box Canyon. The canyon itself wasn’t very wide, but it was impressively deep. I found it hard, again, to capture the real magnitude of it. I did send out my mom in her red jacket onto an overview on the trail that was visible from the road to give the picture some sense of scale. It still looks nothing like being there though.

Road near Box Canyon.We decided to take a short hike here as well. And here we were actually rewarded with a meadow covered by blue flowers and Mount Rainier decided to show itself through the clouds in the background. The picture of that didn’t come out too well either. Flower are out of focus and the mountain’s scale is not really visible because of the other much lower mountains near our position. But because they were much closer they looked as big as Rainier, even though they are nothing like it. Nevertheless I was happy with getting to see at least some flowers.

Flower and Rainier.On our way back to our cabin we stopped a couple of times along the road to take some pictures of flowers with valleys below. And we stopped near Reflection Lake again, since Arosha really wanted to play with the snow some more.

Meadows and valleys.Before returning to our cabin we decided to grab an early dinner. Trip Adviser’s top pick was a place called Copper Creek Restaurant and that’s where we went. My memory is really blurry at this point about the food that we actually ate, but I remember that I did have a fish — not sure what kind now — and a beer. And it was very delicious. The service was great too.

Grocery store at Elbe.We also stopped by a local grocery store again to get something for breakfast for the next day. Here poor Arosha had an accident. He told us that he need to go quickly and we thought he can hold it as he usually does. But soon he became very upset and told us that he needed new pants now. This kind of thing didn’t happen to Arosha in a long time, so we felt bad that we didn’t listen to him, especially considering that it turned out that this store did have a restroom.

By Narada Falls.After dinner we came back to our resort and built a fire again. That’s how we spent the rest of the evening. As a family, sitting in front of a warm fire on a chilly night, reminiscing and sharing our feelings about our experiences. It was great. In the morning we “puzzle-packed” our luggage into the trunk and were on our way to Seattle, speeding away from this beautiful park.

One of scenic overlooks.In conclusion I want to say that I don’t think I fully realized how huge Rainier was until days later when we were in Seattle. On our last day there we had a pretty clear day and Rainier became visible in the distance — towering over everything. It was enormous. So enormous in fact that when our plane took off and got above the clouds the peak of the mountain was still clearly visible rising even higher. That’s where I took my best picture of Mount Rainier on which you can really see its true magnitude.

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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, February 22, 2009

Another Route

Yesterday we cycled along our usual route with an addition of a new path on the Rockaways. The Rockaways is a very good place for cylcing as the roads are in a good condition, the traffic is very low and traffic lights are a few. Our trail length for yesterday was 17.5 miles and for the first time our average speed has exceeded 10 mph.

On the negative side of things I keep getting pretty sever pain in my elbows. The problem seems to be the fact that the fit of the bike is not right for me. I keep having to reach too far to the handlebars which forces my to keep my arms extended and elbows locked.

I keep thinking of getting a bike for myself for these and other reasons, but I’m not really looking forward to spending more money on one. If we keep doing this and the pain does go away however, we will buy another one. I really like Cannondale CAAD9-5. Specialized Allez is another alternative, but I’m leaning towards Cannondale.
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