A day that we were excitedly looking forward to….the trip to Key West.  Key West is the most popular of the archipelago of islands called Florida Keys


 A brief summary about the Florida Keys:

“Key” is derived from the Spanish word cayo, meaning small island

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida between the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These islands are linked by the Florida Keys Overseas Highway which is rightly called The Highway that goes to Sea. The drive from Miami to Key West takes 4 hours and crosses over 42 bridges ; the longest bridge being 11 km long. The water surrounding this highway has shallow flat lands, mangroves and coral reefs. The drive to the Keys is indeed mesmerizing with a straight road ahead of you with water on either side for the major part.

The Highway that goes to Sea

Initially, the Keys were accessible only by water. A railway link was subsequently developed but was disrupted due to repeated hurricanes. Following this, the rail road bridges were converted into automobile roadways.

The Old railroad bridge that was destroyed by the hurricane

The keys are divided into 5 main regions..Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and Lower keys and Key West.

Key Largo is the largest and it is home to living coral formations.The Coral Reef State Park located here is the first Underwater state park. Glass bottomed boats, snorkeling, scuba diving and other coral reef viewing activities are available here.

The keys are home to a variety of plant and animal life particularly a variety of deer and is a refuge for the great white heron. The Everglades National park encompasses many of the keys and is home to turtles, alligators and manatee.

Key West

Key West, the southern most Key is the most popular and is just 90 miles from the Cuban coast.

Our Trip

The Key West Express Bus picked us up from our hotel in Biscayne Boulevard (Miami) and soon we were on the way to the Keys. The drive to the keys is really beautiful with water on either side of the road and crossing multiple bridges. The landscape includes a mixture of shallow flat lands, mangroves and well developed tourist resorts on both sides. As we approach the main Keys, there are lots of restaurants, hotels and resorts along the road.

View from the highway of  some of the resorts as we drove by

After 4 hours of this beautiful drive on the highway to sea, we were dropped off at Key West

Typical street scene in Key West with Spanish colonial villas

Once we were dropped off at Key West with time to explore on our own,we decided to take the conch train.

We took the train tour and our first destination was Duval Street which is the epicentre of Keywest. This thoroughfare is lined with bars, pubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and other attractions.The famous Key West butterfly and nature conservancy is also located here.

Walked around the street and savored the ambiance and had some good food .

The Train Tour     

  Some good food at Duval Street    

After re boarding the train we hopped off at The Southernmost Point….

 There is a red Buoy to mark the southern tip of Florida which is only 90 miles from Cuba


The Buoy at the southern tip of florida


Boarded the train again and hopped off at Mallory Square.

Mallory Square is a plaza located adjacent to the cruise ship port. This Square is particularly famous for its sunset views. Tourists gather here in large numbers to watch the sun go down. There are various activities here around sunset time….street performers, food carts, art exhibitors etc. Since we were leaving before sunset time, we missed the celebrations in Mallory square. Spending one night at Key West will definitely be worth it, if your schedule permits.

       A short video of Mallory square with people enjoying the water sport activities


At Mallory Square with the cruise ship in the background

From Mallory square, we walked along the water front and reached a marina where lots of yachts were anchored. Also some high speed motor boats were seen anchored there. 

Key west Marina with the high speed boats and a passenger catamaran

Tourists enjoying the evening at the marina at Key West

While discussing Key West, it will be inappropriate to not mention one of its main attractions… snorkeling. Home to the only living coral reef in America, it is a prime snorkeling site. Since we had experienced snorkeling at great barrier reef in Australia and we had dearth of time, we did not snorkel. For snorkeling, you are taken in a catamaran to the designated sites and guided to snorkel.

Another attraction at Key West is Hemingway House which is a museum dedicated to the famous english author Earnest Hemingway. We also saw this during our tour around key west.

The sun was slowly going down on yet another beautiful day and we headed to our bus for the return trip.

Meanwhile, tourists who were staying overnight at Key West were gathering around Mallory square for the sunset and other activities.

Spending one night in Key West is definitely worthwhile if your itinerary permits!

Boarding the bus, we had another beautiful drive on the Highway that goes to Sea…this time in the other direction. Enjoying the scenery, we bid farewell to Florida and USA.

Well as I said earlier; with this blog, I finish my blogs on USA. From next week, its going to be Canada….

I hope you all enjoyed your US trip with me…

Get set to cross the border to Canada.

See you all next week at a great destination…NIAGARA Falls!!

Meanwhile do subscribe to my blog below


One of the most popular cities in the Sunshine State of Florida, Miami is famous for its white sand beaches and it’s typical Latin -American mixed culture and vibrant night life. It is also one of the starting ports of the Caribbean cruises. Cruise liners are a common sight in Miami. An important tourist destination by itself, it also attracts visitors to the Caribbean for their cruises. This doubles the tourist potential of this fun city.

Miami offers an array of local transport options ranging from metrotrains, metromover, tri rail, buses, taxis and luxury cabs. Its your pocket that decides what you want to use.

We flew in from SFO to Miami and reached by noon.

Took an airport shuttle bus to our hotel…Holiday Inn  at Biscayne Boulevard. Walked around the Biscayne Boulevard area in the evening savoring the warm Miami air. Walking along Biscayne Boulevard, I noticed an illuminated Spanish style clock tower. That was Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower is a national historic landmark on Biscayne Boulevard.. It was originally a safe haven for Cuban refugees who arrived here seeking asylum. During the Cold War there was an influx of Cuban refugees in Florida due to its proximity to Cuba. This tower with Spanish architecture  is now with Miami Dade College and serves as their main cultural center. This Cuban influx has left its mark on Miami . A lot of locals are of Cuban lineage and Little Havana, a neighborhood in the city has predominant Cuban shops and restaurants.

 The Biscayne Boulevard overlooks the Biscayne Bay. As the sun goes down, Biscayne Boulevard lights up in all its glory. The waterfront market called Bayside Market is dotted with restaurants serving international cuisine. Sea food courts are the highlight of course! There are shops that cater to all pockets …from exclusive branded goods to small wayside vendors. There are dinner cruises that start from here in the night . The reflection of the lit up cruise vessels is really beautiful.

Bayside Marketplace

The illuminated shops and restaurants with reflections on Biscayne bay

One of the many cruises that depart from the Biscayne Bay

Next morning, we set out to explore more of Biscayne Boulevard and surrounding areas on our own. Walked along the seafront and was pleasantly surprised to see some dolphins playing around in the Bay. There are lot of shopping options in and around Biscayne Boulevard and so we did some shopping . We also saw the FTX Arena ( formerly American Airlines Arena) which is a sports and entertainment arena located here.There are many residential and commercial high rises overlooking the Biscayne bay. And I do not have to tell you that those must be some of the most valued real estate in the world!

Biscayne Boulevard at daytime

Wanted to visit Fort Lauderdale and North Palm Beach. So we took the Tri rail from Airport station.

As the train left Airport station, we were surprised to see the sides of the tracks. Lot of metal junk dumped all over .Old dilapidated buildings with graffiti painted on them. Dirt and filth around. It was a far cry from what we had expected. More like any third world country!

Some parts of Miami have high crime rates and moving around on lonely streets after dark is not advisable. This kind of fear is palpable in this city as one goes around.

The Trirail which took us to North Palm Beach

The train to North Palm beach passes through various stations and at places, the tracks are close to the seafront. We wanted to explore Fort Lauderdale which is known to offer great holiday experiences, but it started raining and without raingear, it was impossible to alight here. So we continued our journey. We saw Fort Lauderdale airport from the train itself. This is the other airport close to Miami.

Fort Lauderdale is known to have nice beaches and boating canals and is the Yachting Capital of the world. It is refered to as the Venice of America and we wanted to visit it .The rain really spoiled our trip that day. We missed the canals and the beachfront. Fort Lauderdale is also renown for the International Boat Show that it hosts. This Boat show is a showcase of luxury yachts, water sport equipments and related activities.It also offers water transportation education.

We continued our journey by train and reached Palm Beach

After alighting at Palm beach, we took a cab and drove to the beach. We also saw the famous Mar a Lago…the residence of President Trump. Photography restrictions prevented me from taking a shot of the imposing mansion!!

The Palm Beach…across this is Mar a Lago…

Next day we took the Metro mover and explored downtown Miami.  Visited little Havana….the famous Cuban neighbourhood in Miami. This area is like a slice of Cuba….with Cuban Coffee shops, Cuban Cigar shops etc.

Late afternoon, we visited the world famous Miami Beach.

Miami Beach is actually an island city separated from mainland Miami by the Biscayne Bay. Bridges connect it to the mainland. It comprises of the South Beach area and the Art Deco District. The main Beach is in the South beach. The Art deco district houses some ancient art deco architecture.

The roads are palm fringed and have a lot of skyscrapers overlooking the ocean

A typical Miami street scene with palm fringed beaches and skyscrapers

We went to the water front at South beach and then relaxed on the sands . Plenty of families relaxing under colourful umbrellas, lot of sunbathers and other fun activities kept us enthralled.

Miami beach front

Lifeguard station

The most popular area in Miami Beach is the Ocean Drive…a road along the beach. Plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs line this road and as the sun sets, the preparations for the night begin. The bright neon lights come on, the tables are laid out under umbrellas and tourists start trooping in.

Restaurants and bars getting ready for the night

The Art Deco District with ancient architectural buildings

After enjoying the sights of Miami Beach,we returned to our hotel looking forward to our trip to the KEYS …

See you all next week at my final destination in USA…Key West…

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Yosemite National Park

The Beauty of Yosemite lies in its diversity

History and Overview

Yosemite National Park located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains  and spread over more than 1200 sq miles , is known for its the granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, sequoia groves , meadows , lakes , glaciers and valleys and has unmatched biological diversity. Tunnel view is a popular view point here from where you get an overall view of the popular granite cliffs and some of the waterfalls. It was first protected in 1864.

About 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada mountains were uplifted and tilted due to tectonic activity; resulting in steep valleys and canyons. Snow and ice accumulated in the higher altitude alpine ranges forming glaciers. The downward movement of ice masses cut and sculpted the terrain as we see it today.

Yosemite is the name of an indigenous tribe that originally inhabited this area  and were driven out as a part of the California gold rush in the early 19th century.

The Yosemite Valley represents less than 1% of the park area but this is where most visitors arrive today.

Granite Cliffs

El Capitan(the captain) and Half Dome are the most popular cliffs and are sought after rock climbing destinations. Permits for hike are distributed by lottery.The introductory image in this article is that of sunlight falling on the Half Dome

Giant Sequoias

The Tuolumne, mariposa and Merced groves have giant Sequoia trees. The Tuolumne and Merced river systems flow through the park. Hydrological processes like glacialisation and flooding have been responsible for creating the various landforms in the park.


Yosemite is also well known for its innumerable waterfalls, the most famous among them being the Bridal veil falls seen from Tunnel view. The best time to view these are between April and June. Many of them are dry during the dry season.

Fire fall is another phenomenon peculiar of Yosemite. Occuring at sun set in mid to late February, the sun rays hit  the Horsetail falls  causing it to look like molten lava

Apart from this, Yosemite is home to a variety of  wildlife species which changes according to the plant species and the altitude of the area. Noted among them are the black bear, coyote, raccoon, marmots, deer etc

Wild fires occur seasonally and clear the park of dead vegetation making way for new growth. The Giant Sequoias need fire to reproduce. It clears away the competing firs and cedars and exposes bare mineral soil for the tiny seeds to take root. These fires do help some of the other trees as the fire clears the way for sunlight to trickle into the forest floor.

Lodging Facilities like the Yosemite lodge and various other options are available inside the park and in neighboring communities.

Wilderness Permits are required for all overnight visits.

Suffice to say that this is not a place you can rush through in a day. You need to camp and spend time exploring the place. It is a naturalists delight and the more you explore…the more you discover….

Our Tour

We had booked with Extronomical tours for this trip and we were dropped off at city Hotel at 5.30 am ;from where a cab picked us up and drove us to Livermore. Driving to Livermore was an eye opener about San Francisco traffic….there was heavy traffic at that early hour. We were dropped off at a Starbucks outlet at Livermore where there were other people waiting to join the tour. After a half hour wait, the tour bus pulled up and we all excitedly boarded the tour bus

Our first halt was at The Tuolumne Grove….The grove of giant sequoias.

The main attraction here is the Giant Tunnel tree, but a steep trek is required to reach it. The tour guide dissuaded us from taking the trek as there was limited halt time here. So, we walked around the grove and admired the giant sequoias.

The missing of the Tunnel tree was a disappointment …but we did get some nice pictures at the grove.

The single dirty toilet here with long a  queue was also a sore thumb…..

The Tuolumne Grove

Giant Sequoias

The Sequoia grove is at one end of Yosemite and so after we left the grove, we were driving through thickly forested areas and winding roads with amazing scenery.

So, the drive was really captivating and we reached the Tunnel View  point where we could see The Half Dome and El Capitan. These are granite cliffs sculpted by the vagaries of nature and are popular rock climbing destinations .

Tunnel View

The El Capitan (blue) and Half Dome( green) and Bridal Veil Falls(red) opposite the El Capitan

At Tunnel View with the cliffs in the backdrop

We were then taken to the picnic area where we had around two hours to spend. We had lunch and walked around the area and also took some pictures. The Merced River was flowing like a small stream…the effect of drought over the years.

The Merced River with the reflection of the cliffs        


The wooden bridge across the Merced

After the break, we were picked up by the guide and we reached close to El Capitan from where we could see Rock climbers as tiny specks on the cliffs….that was something really unique!!! These climbers even halt overnight on these vertical cliffs…..literally the heights of adventure……

The El Capitan with rock climbers (marked with red arrows)                 

A general view of the park with the Merced River.

There is yet another exciting event that occurs in Yosemite….the firewall.The horsetail falls here gets illuminated by the sun rays in a particular angle during a few days in the month of February.This gives an illusion of fire falling along the rocks…hence fire fall.

Photo by Ruvim on

(The above picture is courtesy Pexels…It would be unjust to miss this phenomenon in a description of Yosemite and hence chose to put a non personal picture .)

Let me show you some pictures we took as we walked around. Take a look…

Some general pictures from Yosemite

I leave this description with a note that Yosemite is not for you to cover in a day. Whether you are looking to hike the cliffs, or simply enjoy the stillness of nature or even ski the slopes, you will not be disappointed.You need to spend a few days camping there to extract the cream of Yosemite

Meanwhile, please do not forget to subscribe below

See you all next week at the Sunshine state of Florida….at Miami

Till then take care….

In case you missed my last blog on the Big Basin Redwoods, here’s the link


Continuing my series from San Francisco, this week I take you to an amazing place..

The Big Basin Redwoods

Brief history and overview

One of California’s oldest state parks, The Redwoods Park is home to ancient coast redwoods that are among the tallest and oldest trees on earth.

Covering more than18000 acres and ranging from sea level to heights of more than 2000 ft elevation, this place is truly awe -inspiring!!! Some of the trees are more than 300 ft tall and 50 ft in circumference and are estimated to be 1000 to 2500 years old.

The coast redwoods ( Sequoia Sempervirens ) are native to the US and are found only along the Pacific coast from Oregon to California….No wonder the Redwood is California’s state tree!  Sempervirens means “ever living”

There is evidence that this place was inhabited much before the Spanish explored the area in 1700s. The European explorations followed by the gold rush resulted in wide spread logging and deforestation. A group called the Sempervirens club was formed to halt this destruction and finally in 1901, a state park was created

Apart  from redwood, this place is home to Douglas-fir, Red alder ,oak  and myrtle apart from lot of native shrubs. Foxes, coyotes, bob cats and a variety of birds inhabit this park.

There are plenty of facilities for  recreational activities like hiking and camping .

Peculiarities of REDWOOD TREES

Bark: It can be upto a foot thick and protects the growing part of the tree

Roots: Are remarkably shallow for such tall trees but they grow sideways and fuse with neighboring roots forming a network which gives more stability

Leaves:Can catch water from fog and hence helps tide over drought

Dormant Buds: Continue to grow after a part of the trunk or branch falls off

Red Pigment: Tanin, the red pigment is a potent insect repellent

This explains the relative strength, resilience and longevity of these trees…no wonder they are “everliving”

Our Trip

Located at Santa Cruz county, we drove down to Big Basin Redwoods State park. A huge tunnel tree at the entrance welcomed us to the park.

Let me take you through the park with my pictures so that you can see these trees yourself…better than any explanation I give…take a look….

The huge tunnel tree at the entrance…a giant by any standards!

One of the many walking trails in the park

A fallen redwood tree

Sunlight trying to filter in through the canopy   

Mother of the Forest Tree( zoom to see details)

This is one of the oldest and tallest trees in the Big Basin

The Campfire area with seats made of fallen redwoods   

The Campfire area looks very attractive…with seats carved out of fallen redwood trees.a covered stage and a huge fire ring.


Measuring tree height….a display board explains 

I visited this park in 2019….however, after that there was a major fire here .

(CZU fire) Forest fire in 2020

Unfortunately this park is now closed to visitors temporarily. A fire swept through the visitor centre of this park in August 2020 destroying most of the visitor centre, some parts of the camp ground and a few redwoods. Majority of the ancient trees however survived this fire . Hopefully the park should reopen soon after the renovation activities.

Let us hope, that happens fast….

There is another amazing sight in this park,….a fallen tree…its roots displayed like a sculpture…take a look

Standing against a natural sculpture…the roots of a fallen redwood tree….see the beauty even in its fall…….

When I saw the beauty even in the roots of a fallen tree, I thought….

These trees would say:

Here I stand strong and tall

Withstanding it all

Giving hope to one and

Even after we fall….

See you all next week in yet another amazing place…Yosemite National park…till then goodbye

Meanwhile, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog…

In case you missed my last’s the link

San francisco 2

San francisco 2

This week we continue our visit to San Francisco city.

We did a city tour of San Francisco with the Big Bus…

We drove past some of the iconic buildings and other landmarks in San Francisco. Detailing a few of them for you,

Transamerica Pyramid, the second tallest skyscraper in SanFrancisco, an icon in the San Francisco skyline. It houses offices and is not open to the public.

The Transamerica Pyramid

The City hall, the seat of government for the city and county of San Francisco. Built after the older city hall was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906, this structure was built to showcase the rebirth of the city in time for the world’s fair of 1915.

The City Hall

The Lotta Crabtree Fountain..commissioned by actress Lotta Crabtree. Located at a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco, this served as a meeting place in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire.

Lotta Crabtree Fountain

The Painted Ladies

These are old Victorian houses and buildings repainted in 3 or more colours that enhance their architectural details

The Painted Ladies

The Cable Cars

This is an iconic structure of the city and is the world’s last manually operated cable car system , a tramway where the cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street. It is part of the Urban transportation system but is mainly used by tourists today. It has the distinction of being the only transportation system to be called a National Historic Landmark.

The Cable car and a typical street scene in downtown San Francisco

Next we visited Pier 39 also called Fisherman’s Wharf.…a fun place ; an outdoor shopping mall by the bay filled with dozens of shops and restaurants of all types. Set with wooden planks, there are two levels of shops . Most of the restaurants are family run and serve sea food. Clam Chowder in Sour Dough Bread ( clam soup in a bowl made from sourdough bread) was really a unique dish I found here. That seemed to be the most popular dish around.

Most of the restaurants offer great views of the bay. An added attraction here are the sea lions that visit the back docks. One can watch them lying lazily around and creating a cacophony….

Some pictures from Fisherman’s Wharf

Sea Lions basking in the sun….at Pier 39   


The Homeless.the unglamorous part

I must also mention here that apart from all the glamour of San Francisco, there’s a very sad side too. As we drove around town, we found lot of homeless people sitting amid dirt and grime on the footpaths, smoking and generally looking drugged. Makes  one feel highly unsafe. We were also witness to needles and syringes lying by the road…probably left by a drug peddler.

Most of the flyovers and bridges in San Francisco have hutments below them; small dwellings covered in coloured plastic sheets . The hapless homeless make themselves these shelters to escape the vagaries of nature

Again at Embarcadero, we did see people scavenging the dustbins for food. The roadside benches near Embarcadero have people sleeping on them in broad daylight.

Suffice it to say that inspite of all the high and powerful outer image, there’s a dirty underbelly to this place.

Sweeter side

We then visited Ghirardelli Square….I guess I don’t have to elaborate on what that is!!!

Tasted and bought some yummy chocolates and Ice cream. There was a quaint old lady walking around with a basket and distributing free chocolates to every  one . She resembled a character from an old fairy tale…

Nice quadrangle with shops selling a variety of desserts.One can spend hours here shopping for chocolates and other goodies or simply enjoying the views downing some coffee or icecream!

Don’t miss that  enthu smile on my face in anticipation of the treat ahead…

That was really a sweet ending to our San Francisco city tour…

Next week we visit the famous Redwood forests of California….

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In case you missed my last blog, click on San Francisco 1


San francisco 1

San Francisco : An Overview

San Francisco is the Spanish word for “Saint Francis” and it is a cultural, commercial and financial centre in the state of California. Founded in 1776 by Spanish colonists around the Golden Gate area; the gold rush brought rapid growth to the area.Unfortunately 3/4 of the city was destroyed in 1906 in the earthquake and fire. It was rebuilt rather quickly and subsequently became the birthplace of the UN in 1945. A popular tourist destination,it has a hospitable climate and various landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz Penitentiary, fisherman’s wharf and china town.,It also serves as the headquarters of many multinational companies and social media giants.The city and the surrounding bay area is home to a variety of cultural and educational institutions.

Where else do I start my SFO blog from ; than…the Golden gate bridge?

An iconic structure in San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world .

The Golden Gate Bridge:

Opened in 1937, it  has become a  symbol of San Francisco and connects San Francisco with Marin County. It is 1.6 km long lying across the strait between the San Francisco Bay and Pacific ocean. On both ends, it is flanked by the natural beauty of The Golden Gate National Parks. It carries US Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the strait and has pedestrian and bicycle traffic.There are walkways on the bridge for pedestrians and cyclists on either side of a six lane highway. There is a visitor centre and gift shop near the parking area.

The vermillion colour of the bridge was chosen to complement the surroundings and for visibility in fog.

Unfortunately it has the dubious distinction of being the most used suicide spot in the world!! After many such episodes, protective barricades have been put up.

We were driven down to this icon by our host. Arriving at Vista Point, the parking area, we walked up to the bridge and soon we were standing next to a great engineering marvel. We enjoyed the sight of the bridge and took some photographs. Later, we drove on the bridge….a novel experience! This was our golden gate bridge visit from the land side.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Driving on the golden gate bridge

We had a tryst with this iconic structure for a second time during our stay. This came courtesy our second host at SFO….our cousin who lives in Pleasanton.We did a Bay cruise . This cruise took us on the San Francisco Bay and we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. A view of San Francisco city and Alcatraz Island is  an attraction on the cruise.

The Golden Gate Bridge from the bay       


On the Bay Cruise  

View of San Francisco city from the bay

Alcatraz Island

This is another tourist destination in San Francisco. It is the site of an old abandoned prison and has the oldest functioning lighthouse on the US west coast. A ferry from Pier 33 takes one to Alcatraz island.

A view of Alcatraz island as we sailed on the Bay Cruise.

After finishing the cruise, we were driven down to Sausalito.

Had nice lunch at a Mexican restaurant there. Mexican food is similar to Indian and i grew fond of it.

Sausalito is a picturesque residential community with large number of houseboats which can be hired for stay. It has a wide choice of restaurants and is generally a fun place. We walked up along the waterfront enjoying the scenery.

A Typical street scene in Sausalito..duplex houses    

One day, we set off on a picnic to Santa Cruz Beach with a bag filled with goodies to munch on the way.   A nice drive on the highway and then off to the side road  and we found ourselves on a festive looking beach front. An amusement park on the beach with lots of excited children and adults with happy smiles and colourful gear…..

Had fun walking around and enjoying the festive beach front

Selfie time at Santa Cruz beach


A local wanted to pose with us….a bonus….

And some good food!

All in all , a great time indeed!!!

From San Jose, we had the opportunity to visit Stanford University.

Stanford needs no introduction….and a visit to this iconic education centre  ; set in more than 8000 acres adjacent to Palo Alto was indeed very gratifying.

The tree lined avenues, landscaped lawns and traditional old architectural buildings, admixed with modern buildings and shopping centres  makes it an amalgamation of the old and the new. One does feel a sense of envy for the lucky ones who have been associated with it!

The corridors of learning

The church at Stanford

Some pictures from Stanford Campus highlighting the amalgamation of the ancient and the modern

Well friends, with this I stop here for the week…see you next week once again at San Francisco…..

For a detailed itinerary on SFO, please visit the link below

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In case you missed my blog last week…click on the big sur below:

The big sur

The big sur

We met last week at Zion National Park(

Leaving the canyons behind, we arrived San Jose from Las Vegas. We were picked up by our friend who lives in San Jose.Well we have been family friends for years , being neighbours we are like extended family….So it was a home coming of sorts for us!

We took a walk around his house and since it was halloween time, saw the decorations in front of many houses.

He treated us to dinner at an Italian restaurant that night.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant with our hosts

Next day, he drove us to Big Sur..

Brief overview

The Big Sur is a rugged stretch of Pacific coastline of central California known for its scenic beauty.The Santa Lucia mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific ocean results in steep coastal cliffs, redwood forests and beaches.The narrow road lies between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific ocean.It has often been described as the longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in America.In 1937, the present highway was completed after eighteen years of construction. The highway has since been declared California’s first Scenic Highway, and it provides a driving experience unsurpassed in natural beauty and scenic variety.(Resembles the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne with lesser winding roads!!)

Highly restrictive development plans for the area has led to it being sparsely populated and hence helped preserve its natural beauty.There are various look out points along the coast, besides hiking trails, reserve forests and camping grounds

Historically the name Big Sur was derived from El Sur Grande, The Big South( the name given to the unexplored wilderness areas south of Monterey)

Traveling to Big Sur

You can travel to the Big Sur only by car…either your own or a rental car.

Depending on the time in hand , you could spend anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days doing this trip. It entirely depends on how many stops you take!

Carmel, and San Simeon are two cities between which this beautiful drive lies. You could start from either end and skirt the pacific coastline. Whalewatching is another sought after activity here.

The Monterey Bay   


At Monterey with our friends…


The Bixby Creek Bridge


The Pacific Coast

We visited Carmel...a small beach city in the Monterey peninsula known for its scenic beauty and artistic history.

Its narrow streets are dotted with restaurants and retail establishments. The atmosphere is very festive with tourists thronging the streets. Had lunch at one of the restaurants and strolled around the streets for some time.

I must mention here that I have never had such delicious Tiramisu anywhere else!!!

Our Next Destination was The 17 Mile drive

The 17 Mile Drive is a scenic drive in the Monterey Peninsula  along the Pacific coast and passes through famous golf courses, beaches, mansions and other attractions. Visitors have to pay a toll to use this road which passes through a gated community.A route map is provided to the visitor .

Most of the drive passes through the Del Monte Forest area and you can access the beaches at designated places. There are clear sign boards and following them one can reach the choice destination.

In contrast to Big Sur,which is natural by and large; 17 mile drive is more man made….with golf courses, large mansions,picnic spots and other recreational avenues.This is more a representation of American High-end Cultural lifestyle. Whatever it represents or whichever way it came….its definitely worth a drive.

The map showing the drive and attractions on 17 mile drive

One of the main attractions is Pebble beach

Pebble beach has a famous golf course by the sea…which is a novelty and is a venue for many international golf tournaments. I am no golf expert but from what little I know, there is no other golf course by the sea. It is extremely beautiful.

At Pebble Beach                                                                         

Golf course on Pebble Beach

Another point is Point Joe

Particularly rocky part which is infamous for ship wrecks in olden days named after Joe a native who lived here in a driftwood hut

Point Joe

Driving further down we were at Bird Rock

On a lucky day one can spot seals on the rock….but we were not in luck!

Finally we reached Lone Cypress

It is a single Cypress tree atop a rocky pedestal overlooking the Pacific.

The Lone Cypress

The view of this single lone cypress tree on a small cliff overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean is beautiful to say the least.

As I stood and watched this, a poetic thought rushed through my mind….

Here I stand lone and tall!

Here I stand lone and tall!

Happy to see you all!

Must visit me one and all!

Do come to see me…lest I fall!!!

So let us get inspired by this lonely tree standing up to the vagaries of the mighty Pacific …Meanwhile you all stay strong till we meet next week at…..downtown San Francisco

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Zion National park

After finishing Bryce Canyon , we drove to Zion National park.

Geology and History

I must brief you on some features of  Zion so that the essence of this national park can be savoured in full .The prominent part of this park is the Zion Canyon which is 29 km long and 800mt deep .The canyon has been carved out of the  red and tan coloured cliffs of Navajo sandstone by the Virgin River.

The road to Zion is 6 miles long and ends at the Temple of Sinawava…a deity of the natives. The road then leads to The Narrows which is a hiking trail only 20 feet wide. The east side of the canyon is approached by the Zion Mount Carmel Highway passing through the Carmel tunnel and ending at Mount Carmel.

Checker board Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mesa are two prominent sandstone peaks adjoining the Mount Carmel Road . They have a checker board pattern caused by contraction and expansion of the Navajo sandstone due to temperature changes. Some of this is believed to belong to the Jurassic age.The Mesa canyon sometimes holds water used by the the local sheep.

Apart from this, there is a slot canyon at Kolob terrace, Angels Landing …one of the most daring hiking trails, the sentinel and such other peaks. Most of these can be reached by hiking trails

The Virgin River; a tributary of the Colorado River , runs through the park.

Suggested Itinerary

1.One day tour from Vegas(like we did). Local tour operators from Vegas do this. We had booked online from India via Viator. This trip does not cover all parts of the park and limited time is allowed at the stops.

2.You can drive down to Zion and drive along all the roads (except Scenic drive in the Shuttle season). Private vehicles are not allowed on scenic drive during shuttle season(March to November) You have to check this online as the dates may vary. There are two shuttle routes

3. Shuttle route one starts from Zion canyon visitor centre to Scenic drive. It has various stops along scenic drive and one can go upto the temple of sinawava from where the hikers depart for The Narrows.

4. Shuttle route two is the Springdale or town shuttle to and from Springdale…a nearby town.

5. Springdale offers various accommodation options….this is probably the best way to see the park…stay at Springdale and do some hikes and tours.

Our Trip

We did a day tour from Las Vegas covering Bryce and Zion. After finishing Bryce( on which I had detailed in my last blog) we drove to Zion.

Contrary to our trip to Bryce where we had some walking and mild trekking to do, Zion was mostly covered in the vehicle itself.

Our First halt at Zion was at Checkerboard Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mesa and the Mesa Canyon

We had to do a short trek down from the road and found ourselves among horizontal, wavy rock formations. The upper areas had vertical line formations too.

The Wave formations at Mesa Canyon      


A long shot of the wavelike Crazy Quilt Mesa

The Horizontal wavy rocks

It was a short photo halt and soon continued our drive through the national park. Then came some winding roads amid huge red sandstone cliffs. This is actually called the Scenic Drive.

At Scenic Drive     


The sandstone cliffs of Zion

Driving along the scenic drive, we soon reached the Mount Carmel Tunnel…a real marvel. The Tunnel is around a mile in length and has windows at  six locations through which one can see the cliffs as one drives on.

The Mount Carmel Tunnel

View through one of the tunnel windows

View through another tunnel window    


The windows on the cliffside( through which we see the cliffs as we drive through the tunnel) as seen from below

Further down we reached the Virgin River. There was a large crowd assembled there. It was nearing sunset and   most of the people had cameras on tripods ready to shoot the changing colours of Zion as the sun sets. I was told that this is a daily phenomenon and this spot was a favourite of photographers who stood patiently to get the colour changes on the sandstone as the angle of sun rays changed at sunset.We watched the setting sun for sometime soaking in the beauty of the river.

The Virgin River at sunset       

Soon it was time to return to the van and we drove back to Vegas after a short halt at Panguitch town.

Before I leave, I must pay a tribute to the natives of this wonderful area….how else can I do that; but by sharing some pictures of their native artwork!

The typical Native Exhibits

I have just given you a sneak peek of the Park.

Suffice it to say that this is a park where you need to spend time. It is impossible to cover all of it in half a day as we did. Time constraint had made us do this tour. But for the more adventurous, there’s plenty awaitng you at Zion….If you have the luxury to do it, spend a couple of days here…hike around…soak in the beauty of this beautiful park…..

So friends, with this episode we bid goodbye to the canyons and move on to the Pacific Coast….San Francisco….see you next week at The Big Sur….

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Bryce Canyon

The last canyon visit scheduled from Vegas was to Bryce and Zion.I will be covering Bryce in this episode and Zion in my next episode. They are located in the state of Utah.

Before I actually give you the tour details, I need to explain the geology of the place to give you an idea of what lay in store for us in the tour.


Bryce Canyon National park lies within the Colorado Plateau and is strictly speaking not a canyon at all!!. It is a collection of uniquely shaped rock formations  which resemble a collection of amphitheatres in the Paunsaugunt Plateau . The rocks are in red, white and orange colours and offer spectacular views…the colour often changing due to the direction of sunlight.  The distinctive feature of Bryce are the HOODOOS… the effect of frost weathering of rocks and crevices.

HOODOOS are tall thin spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland and consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder , less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements.


Before the hoodos were formed , the area was full of water. Utah was a mountain encircled basin. For millions of years, the rivers deposited sediments into a large system of lakes. When the lakes dried up over the years, muddy limestone walls remained. Weathering and erosion shaped these rocks further. Almost 200 days in a year, the area sees wide temperature swings between freezing nights and warm afternoons. This is what causes frost weathering. As the snow and ice melts, the water seeps into the crevices in the rock. When it refreezes, it expands and causes cracks or windows .  As the windows enlarge, their tops collapse leaving columns. This phenomenon happening repeatedly over millions of years has resulted in the formation of Hoodoos.

A Typical Hoodo

Suggested Itinerary

  1. A single day tour from Las Vegas(like we did) arranged through any tour operator.We  had booked this tour also online from India via Viator.
  2. A road trip lasting 2-3 days with your own vehicle or a rental car. This will give you time to hike and explore the place more in detail
  3. Stay at one of the towns close by like Panguitch ,Tropic, Cedar city or Kanab and take a drive . This will also give you more time at the canyon.

Our Trip

We were picked up early morning from our Vegas Hotel in a minivan with around 10 other tourists. As the weather was expected to be unusually chill again, we were advised by our guide to pick up some warm clothing at the town of Panguitch where we had a stop . We did pick up some warm clothing there and felt much relieved from the biting cold.

The shop at Panguitch where we picked up the woollens   

A model of an elk and some other graffiti at the store

After that, we stopped at a Subway joint and picked up breakfast of our choice and headed to Utah.

The drive was through desert roads with orange and pink rocks on either side. We were in for a pleasant surprise….a natural arch of sandstone across the road…like a tunnel. There were two such tunnels called the Red Rock Arch Tunnels which have served as the unofficial gateway to Bryce  and Red Canyons

Red Rock Arch Tunnels

After a short drive we were at the Visitor centre and parking area of Bryce Canyon. The Guide accompanied us to the walking paths and explained to us about the two main lookouts here. He then asked us to follow the sign boards and visit both the lookouts . The more adventurous, could do a small hike down to see some of the hoodoos at close range.

We decided to stick to the main walking path and after following that trail, reached a lookout from where we got a great view of the Bryce amphitheatre which is a hoodoo filled depression lying below the hiking path .In the far distance, we could see the Grand Canyon too….as explained by the guide.

The Bryce Amphitheatre    


Close up of the Amphitheatre

A long shot of the National park with the Kaibab plateau and Grand Canyon in the far distance

After enjoying the views , we walked up to the sunrise and sunset points on the trail and got some amazing views and pictures.

Some views from the lookouts….

Walking further down for a short while we were close up with some hoodoos…

Close encounters of a rocky kind!!!

A short video clip of Bryce Canyon

Besides hiking trails and camp grounds , Bryce is also an important stargazing destination. The high elevation, the clean dry air and lack of light pollution, makes it a one of the darkest places on earth. This makes it a stargazers paradise. They have guides called the Dark Rangers who offer moonlight walks among the hoodoos. But for all such activities, one must have more time in hand and of course should plan well in advance!

All in all…..another of nature’s marvels…lucky to have seen it…

After the walking and small trekking, we returned to the van at the appointed time to proceed to Zion National park which will be where we meet next week…till then, goodbye and soak in the hoodoos…

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Antelope Canyon

Friends…I must tell you…this is one of the most amazing places I have been to….its incredible!!!

We had made our Antelope Canyon tour bookings online from India via Viator. The tour company that was assigned to us was Coexist West Coast tours. They did a good job of it.

The day finally arrived and with lot of excitement, we waited outside the hotel lobby for the pickup. Never expected this kind of freezing weather in Las Vegas and we were caught unawares with our woollens dropped off elsewhere. The bus pickup point was something like a small bus stop with a canopy on top. The warm air being pumped out from the canopy was definitely a blessing and we were pleasantly surprised and much comforted.

Finally a minivan arrived and we were a group of 12 tourists on the van to Antelope canyon. The driver had stocked up some soft drinks and nibbles and we were all allowed to help ourselves. The drive to Antelope canyon was along the desert fringed roads of Arizona

The Rocky desert fringed roads of Arizona   


A roadside desert beauty in full bloom!!!

The first halt was at Lake Powell the second largest man made reservoir in the USA. Lake Powell is a man made reservoir on the River Colorado in Utah and Arizona. It was created by flooding the Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam which also led to the creation of Glen Canyon national Recreation area.

We walked up to the edge of Lake Powell and took some pictures.

Lake Powell

If you do not have time constraints, you can take a kayaking tour on Lake Powell and if you kayak for more than 2 miles….you will reach antelope canyon!!!!

After leaving Lake Powell, we were taken to a Subway joint and we could pick up a  breakfast of our choice. It  was really sumptuous and tasty.

 I had heard a lot of the beauty of Antelope canyon and so was eagerly awaiting our arrival there. Let me just brief you about the origins and history of this wonder on earth….

 Antelope canyon is a slot canyon carved out by the waters of the Colorado River. The flowing waters carrying sand along with it has carved out this magnificent canyon whose walls resemble fluid rock. Located close to the city of Page in Arizona, it is a photograper’s delight. Its towering walls with  wavelike lines and the varied hues of colour as the sunlight trickles in; makes it an awe inspiring giant sandstone sculpture. The sculptor of course is nature….

The natives of this place called Navajos now run this place which includes Lake Powell area called The Navajo Park Recreation area. The Navajo name for this place means “where the waters run between rocks”. This place was once home to herds of pronghorn antelopes  ……

 As we were nearing the canyon a real surprise awaited us. We could see melting snow by the road side and the guide informed us that it had snowed in the canyon the previous night and it was a very rare phenonmenon. So we were even more excited to see it!

Snow on the roadside….a rare occurrence in that season

We drove past the upper and lower antelope canyon and were taken to Canyon X as they call it. We were told that this is identical to Antelope canyon and minus the crowds…so we could spend more time and get some awesome pictures without the crowds. Antelope canyon is one of the most photographed places and so this is one of the important considerations while travelling here. There are even special photography tours offered here.

 The Canyon is very sacred to the Navajo people who are the original natives here and this canyon can only be explored under their guidance. One cannot do a tour in the canyon by oneself. A very helpful and friendly group of people…I must admit. One of the locals even offered me her jacket as it was unusually cold and we were caught unawares without proper winter wear.

One we arrived there; we were handed over to The Navajo guides who are now engaged in tourism as an occupation. Two of the Navajo guides took us by a van to the actual canyon which was about 2 km from where we were dropped off by the other guide.

Once we reached the canyon, the guide asked us to follow him and we were in a magical world of rock formations in various colours and designs. It was around noon and the sun was peeping in through the crevices and adding to the colour of this vibrant canyon We walked in between the crevices; some very narrow where we had to squeeze ourselves and at places stoop down to avoid hitting the ledges. No amount of description by me is going to equal the majestic views… let me just show you the pictures….

Just imagine yourself walking in between these beautifully coloured rocks….

The Entrance and one of the narrowest crevices inside

  See the different shades of colour        


The lines on the rock resemble strokes of a paint brush

The artist is none other than flowing water and sand    


The final result looks like fluid rock!!!

Imagine a throne in this heavenly place!!!      


The blue sky seen in between the towering sandstone      


Lost in nature’s beauty   (note the jacket provided by the Navajo lady)

Feeling sad to leave this awesome place

It took us close to two hours to walk the distance of approximately 1.5 km . After we finished the tour we were driven back to the entrance and our original guide took charge .

We were quite tired and hungry and everyone started nibbling at the left overs of the breakfast and some other goodies provided by the tour company.

Our next destination was The Horseshoe Bend.... a horseshoe shaped turn of the Colorado river near Page in Arizona.

We were dropped off at the parking area and we had to walk around 2 km to the cliff from where you get a view of the river. The initial part of the climb is steep but it gradually settles to level ground and you reach a cliff side from where you can look down to this dramatic bend of the river. From the cliff we could see the dramatic sweep of the river around a sandstone escarpment. Kayaking on the river at horse shoe bend is another option for the more adventurous!!

The Horse shoe bend is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation area and a few miles away from the Grand Canyon National park.

The Horseshoe bend       

After the   trek back to the van, most of us were tired and once the drive started, we were all busy admiring the pictures that we had clicked….reliving those moments…

Must tell you all this too….some coincidence this is!!!…its exactly two years to the date….that we were at this amazing destination.

Next week I take you to yet another canyon….the land of HOODOS…

See you then….may have to look for me among the hoodos!!!!!. 

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