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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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Olympic National Park

View from Hurricane Ridge.Our vacation to the great state of Washington had three distinct parts, so after thinking about the way to write down our memories for the past several weeks the approach to make three posts about each part separately in chronological order makes the most sense. Our arrival to Seattle and our four nights at Olympic National Park is where it all begins.

Our Flight


Road at Olympic.Luckily for us we’ve confirmed yet again that flights with Aroshka that take more than 5 hours are largely uneventful. He has no problem sitting in his chair and talking about something, looking out of the window, listening to books and a little bit of cartoon watching on iPad — cartoons on the flight there seemed to bore him, and the ones on TV are not in Russian. When he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask, but that’s not really new for him.

Lake Crescent.The flight back was even better. He actually ended up watching a bunch of cartoons in English on the TV after which he declared that turns out that he actually does speak a little bit of English now — which he really doesn’t. In between the cartoons he also managed to take a nice nap — also something quite usual for him and after waking up watched some more cartoons on TV. The flight was a breeze. With either flight we couldn’t be happier. He gave us zero problems.

Renting a Car


Our rented car.Upon arrival we retrieved our luggage which consisted of two large suitcases, two very large suitcases, Arosha’s car seat and an umbrella stroller which we yet again had no use for. We proceed to car rental place to claim our reserved car. Of course I must’ve not been thinking straight when I did book that — so called full-size Chevy Malibu had no chance of fitting all five of us with our luggage in. I ended up having to upgrade it to a nice big Chrysler 300, the next generation after the one we have.

Lake Crescent.However after an initial futile attempt to load all our stuff into the trunk it was recommended to us to take Jeep Compass instead. They were the same price. And to me Jeep Compass is a really crappy car — I had to drive one for several days when my own 300 was in service several months ago. Not only is it crappy it happened to have even less space in the back. All the rear window view was obstructed, luggage was plainly visible to everyone — so we wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it anywhere while on our way from place to place and we still couldn’t close the rear gate with it all in.

At Hoh Rainforest.So we tried 300 again. It probably took us an hour if not more overall, but we did solve this real-live puzzle. I really regret not taking a picture of our final trunk configuration. Every inch of it was used up. And by the end of our vacation we got so proficient at it that we packed it up in 5 minutes on our way to the airport for the flight back. And off we were in our nice luxurious sedan with all our stuff hidden from everyone’s view in a trunk and zero view obstruction.

Port Angles


Olympic Lodge. Our hotel at Port Angeles.We decided to stay in a small town of Port Angles on the northern tip of Olympic National Park for the four nights that we were going to spend here. Originally we looked at the lodges inside the park itself, but most of them were described as “very rustic” to us or were sold out. So instead we opted in for a nice clean and beautiful hotel called Olympic Lodge. The hotel was located 2 miles away from Olympic National Park visitor center and 7 files from one of the entrances into the park itself.

At Hoh Rainforest.We got a pair of interconnected rooms as we requested in our reservation. The hotel had a nice pool and a hot tub which we even ended up using in 60 degree weather with the help of Arosha’s strong persuasion skills. The breakfast was not included, but there was a restaurant, which we used a couple of times for the first meal of the day.

By Lake Crescent.On our first evening we were pretty tired from any early and long flight and our 120 mile drive from Seattle to Port Angles. We decided to have a nice dinner and call it a day. Even though we were given a recommendation for a restaurant I didn’t feel like it and picked a random place because I liked its name — Kokopelli Grill — it was just a familiar word that we encountered in our travels before. The food was great, the service was even better. It did turn out to be pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor, which I started using later on during our trip for references on restaurants.

Hoh Rainforest.Most restaurants in Port Angles actually specialized in steaks and seafood, and we decided to stick to those. When in Maine we ate a lot of lobsters even though we’re not big fans of it. So we figured seafood on Olympic Peninsula should not be any worse — well, maybe slightly worse because there are two big cities in the vicinity after all — so that’s what we ate.

Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park entrance.The national park itself is very big and we would have to do much more driving than we did to really cover all of it. But we did end up covering a nice portion of Olympic, and Port Angles was perfectly situated for such excursions. However we were really extremely tired by the the end of each but the last day when we decided to really take it easy. And even then we did see a couple of cool places.

Hoh Rain Forest.On the morning of our first full day the first order of business was to visit the closest to us Olympic National Park Visitor Center, get a good map of the place and talk to a ranger about our time in the park and the places that we should try to see (we also did get our passport stamps) — basically build out a nice plan of action.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.So after that it was decided that on this first day we will visit the farthest parts of the park that we were going to go to — namely Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach, both situated on the western side Olympic NP.

Hoh Rainforest


Hoh Rainforest.It took us a couple of hours to get to the Hoh Rainforest entrance. We made numerous stops along the way. Route 101 — the roads that runs around the park goes through a lot of beautiful mountain vistas, lakes, meadows and canyons.

Road to Hoh.There were a lot of different flowers on the side of the road and we couldn’t help but stop and try to take as much of it in as we could. The road took us through a tiny town of Forks — we ended up eating our lunch here after our hike at the park.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.We decided to take it easy as we had no idea how Arosha would handle the hikes. Everything was new to him and it actually made things more exciting for us as well — taking it all in through his eyes.

Hoh Rainforest. On the trail.We got our stamp at the visitor center and picked a 0.8 mile loop hike through the forest. Aroshka kept running around with a large stick that he would pick up, claiming that it is his lightsaber and attacking fallen down trees because “they had their names in red and needed to be defeated” — such are the rules of the game that I play on the computer that he likes to help me with.

On a trail. Tree arch.And even though we have been to rainforests before, this one was very unusual. There were tons of enormously tall pine trees all covered in moss. Pines on their own would’ve been impressive enough, but the moss transformed this forest into a fantasy world of a kind.

Giant pine.I took a large number of pictures — and I will repeat this many times — it is impossible to capture how it really felt being there.

Wild blueberry.Somewhere along the way Alёna spotted bushes of wild blueberries and we all took part in eating them — Arosha ate the most since Alёna was giving him all her pickings.

On a trail at Hoh.What was the most surprising and encouraging thing for us all was the fact that Arosha did the whole hike by himself, running back and forth and didn’t ask to be carried a single time. He also was perfectly fine with long drives and would look around, ask questions, come up with made up stories and so on. It all was great.

Rialto Beach


Rialto Beach. Olympic National Park.After eating our lunch at Forks, WA we drove to the portion of the park located on the west coast of the continent right on the open Pacific Ocean. We managed to take a wrong turn and as a result arrived to the ranger station after its closing — or so we thought. Later I found out that it was not open for the season to begin with anyhow, so no stamps for us at that location.

Giant trees on the beach.The beach itself was very unusual. It was covered by huge old gray downed trees. Tons and tons of them. Arosha had a blast playing with the water and throwing stones into the ocean. What made the beach beautiful was the fact that there were several huge rocks that were more like islands sitting in the water.

Rialto Beach. Small islands in the water.However the problem was that sun was hanging relatively low since it was towards the end of the day. And since we were on the west coast it was shining right into the lens creating a nasty haze. Bad haze — no good pictures. I actually tried to hike down to some other rocks, but I was unable to cover a big distance by walking on the sand and the tide was starting to rise. It was beginning to look like if I didn’t get back in time I wouldn’t be able to get back at all, so I turned around before reaching my destination.

Rialto Beach at Olympic National Park.All in all we spent several hours on the beach and all of us were fully spent — except for Arosha — by the time we got back into the car. A drive back took a bit of time, we reluctantly (since we were so tired) ate our dinner at Garden Cafe and called it a day.

Sol Duc


Lake Crescent.For our second day we had less ambitious plans — two locations to visit — Sol Duc and Hurricane Ridge. Both are much closer to Port Angeles than our destinations a day before. Sol Duc actually is one of the locations where we looked at the lodges to stay at.

Sol Duc trail.It has hot spring pools right on its premises and those are usually accompanied by an according smell of sulfuric acids. But the reason we didn’t stay there was two-fold — location was far from other destinations and we couldn’t find good rooms for decent prices.

Stamps at Lake Crescent Lodge.Another place that we looked at was a lodge at Lake Crescent, but it was all booked out. The road to Sol Duc from Port Angeles actually runs along the shore of Lake Crescent (same road that goes to Hoh) and we spent a little bit more time on the lake this time around. The lake was beautiful the sky was blue — it was a great day.

Sol Duc Falls.I need to note that all the weather predictors predicted rain for us every single day and luckily for us they were always wrong, except for one day — more on that day later.

Arosha on a trail at Sol Duc.We got to Sol Duc, got our stamps and this time took a much more ambitious hike — 0.8 hike each way to Sol Duc Falls — or 1.6 miles total. Arosha was as great as the day before. Did the whole route himself with no problems.

Waterfall on the way to Sol Duc Falls.Along the way we went past another waterfall — water gradually running down the side of the mountain. Later on we saw a river running deep inside a big canyon. As before — impossible to really capture on “film”.

Sol Duc Falls.As for the Sol Duc Falls themselves — wow! You are standing on a wooden bridge over this deep deep canyon in the front of the top of waterfalls themselves and only by actually being there you can appreciate the real power of water with all its speed and sound. I took many many pictures, but none of them really came out all that impressive.

Sol Duc Falls.After our hike we ate our lunch at Sol Duc Lodge deli and went onto our next destination.

Hurricane Ridge


Hurricane Ridge.The road to Hurricane Ridges starts right from Port Angeles itself. It keeps running up and up and up all the way to the top of the mountains that we were driving under all this time. Amazing vistas open up with views of Port Angeles below.

Road to Hurricane Ridge.By the time we got to the top we realized that there was a ton of snow all over the place. We couldn’t really do any hikes here, since the trails were also mostly covered by snow, but the views were magnificent in all directions. Arosha had a blast playing in the snow. So much fun to actually play snowballs in the middle of June. His clothing was all wet afterwards, but Alёna had a spare set for him.

Arosha loved the snow.I, again, took a lot of pictures, but was yet again disappointed with my inability to capture all the depth of being that high up in the mountains. Only later in the day when looking at my photos on iPad I realized that I should’ve placed the visitor center itself into more of the pictures to give the viewer some perspective. I have a lot to learn still.

View from Hurricane Ridge.At the end of this day we actually stopped at a supermarket and got ourselves some instant noodle soups and some other food and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very very tired again.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge


Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.At this point we were done with all main objectives and still had a full day at Olympic. We looked at the map and decided to visit one of the closest destinations to us — Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge which is located on one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.

Bald Eagle.Before we got to the park itself we stopped on a small pullover that turned out to be a cliff overlooking the ocean. We were lucky to see a bald eagle seating on one of the cliffs below. I attached my 200mm lens to my camera, but he was still too far away for a nice close up shot. I did manage to catch another one in flight though right at the same spot.

Crab kingdom.Later we took a nice hike through the woods and ended up on a long sand spit — peninsula. At the end of it there was a light house, but it was too long of a hike. The beach itself looked very similar to Rialto Beach — it had a lot of old trees on it. My dad and I went for a short hike, found a tiny river full of little crabs and Alёna let Arosha play in the water — he again had a blast.

Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Mt. Baker is 90 miles away.I could also see a huge mountain visible on the horizon, but I wasn’t able to get sure answer from anybody as to what mountain that was. Most probable version judging from replies I got and looking at the map is that it is Mt. Baker which is located more than 90 miles away.

Arosha at  Dungeness.Also visible was the coast of Canada. We thought about taking a ferry there originally, on this day, but it turned out way too long and expensive of a trip.

Strawberry picking.After spending some time at the park we drove back and stopped at a strawberry farm that we passed before. Arosha loves strawberries and we wanted him to see how it grows. The lady that was working there actually told us that he most definitely should collect those strawberries inside of himself — quite nice of her. Usually they are quite strict about people eating stuff — or at least pretend to be. The strawberries were delicious!

Evening


At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.Then we proceeded to a restaurant that I spotted on the map that was given to us at the hotel on the first day. When we got there I checked it on TripAdvisor and happened to be ranked as a number one spot at the time — Woodfired Grill. I had a steak and everyone else had seafood risotto. It was probably the best meal of the whole trip for all of us. We even got some non-alcoholic beer for Alёna.

Bald eagle at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.And on this day we actually had some energy left at the end of it that Aroshka and I went for a swim in the pools — I preferred to sit in a hot tub, but Aroshka kept demanding to swim in the cold big one. It was too cold of a day for that for me, so we kept running back and forth. And that was our last night in Port Angeles.

At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.In the morning we packed our luggage-puzzle, checked out from our hotel and set course towards Mount Rainier National Park through the city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.
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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 Alёna 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 Alёna 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. Alёna 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 Alёna 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 Alёna 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 Alёna 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 Alёna 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.Alёna 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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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hiking Shoes Update

The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR.Just received a new pair of hiking shoes, just in time for our Yellowstone trip. Yellow shoes for Yellowstone. Nice. )

Experience shows that the last pair I ordered turned out to be 2 sizes too small. I tried ordering a different model, but I didn’t like neither the fit nor the look. So I got1 exactly the same model as the one I currently have, only the right size this time.

  1. Ordered from Zappos.com. $105 and free shipping. []
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hiking Shoes

The North Face hiking shoes box.I don’t get excited about shoes. I also hate shoe shopping with passion. That’s the reason I have 2 pairs of shoes total including a pair of sleepers. ) Lately, however, I started to realize that probably I should wear something more comfortable than my dress shoes for times when we go hiking, be it either long walks around the city or exploring the trails of some national park. We decided to buy me a pair of sneakers, something that I didn’t have since high school.

The North Face Men's Hedgehog GTX XCR hiking shoes.That’s where Zappos.com makes its entrance. The selection is huge, the shipping is free, including return shipping and they have all the sizes and a bunch of reviews. We settled on two pairs of hiking shoes near the top of the list when sorted by popularity. Turns out Eldar has ones of those, so that’s what we ordered1 based on his recommendation — The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR.

We got two pairs still, since I wasn’t sure on the size, and looks like one of the two pairs is a good fit. First real life test of these will be the upcoming weekend in Pocono Mountains. Either way it’s going to be better then running around the mountains in dress shoes.

P.S. Shipping was extra fast too. Zappos upgraded us to the next level (they probably do this for everyone), so we basically got them 1 day after we ordered.

  1. $109 per pair. []
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon HikerA couple of weeks ago I was browsing through some old photos and I’ve stumbled upon this little gem. The photo was taken during our Phoenix, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas trip somewhere in October of 2005.

The hiker was just coming up from the bottom of Grand Canyon after a several day stay there. He said that after he’s been to the bottom once he fell in love with Grand Canyon all over again and has been doing this hike every year since.

To those of you who haven’t seen Grand Canyon — you just must. There is just nothing like it anywhere on this planet. One of these days we must look at it from the bottom ourselves as well.
In: Photography, Travel   Tags: , ,
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