Travel


Outside of my insatiable attraction to mountains, one of my life long dreams is to hike the Grand Canyon. For years, I looked at the pictures of Grand Canyon and imagined what it would be like to experience that landscape through a regular day hike or with overnight backpacking. My desire for the Canyon hike was so strong that I didn’t want to ruin the excitement by merely visiting the rim without hiking. So in spite of being in the vicinity of one of the natural wonders of the world a few time before, I decided to not do the standard rim tour.

This summer, specifically two weeks ago, I ventured on a long road trip out west, a road trip that would require me to drive about 5000 miles in a week. My initial plan was to check out the Rockies, settle in around the Estes Park area and hike the mountain trails for the entire week, but it didn’t make sense for me to drive all the way to Colorado from the midwest and not get a good feel for for Colorado plateau province, the Four Corners unique landscape in the South Western United States made up of elevated deserts and forests along the southwestern corner of Colorado, northwestern corner of New Mexico, northeastern corner of Arizona and southeastern corner of Utah. So, I decided to sacrifice my hiking plans and charted out this loop from Denver limited to a drive-through site-seeing through the Rockies, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon with a stop in Vegas before returning back to Denver.

Road Trip through the Colorado Plateau Province (Rockies :: Arches :: Grand Canyon :: Vegas :: Rockies). Click on the pic for a HD view

Draining water through out the plateau is one major source, the mighty Colorado river, which starts with snow melting from the Rocky Mountain peaks and flows southwest through the plateau, eventually merging with the Pacific Ocean in the California gulf. The overlay above is a hack job and a rough approximation, but close enough for this journal. I couldn’t find an overlay of rivers in Google maps to provide a cleaner view, but it should suffice for the purposes of this blog.


Day 1: To Denver

I arrived in Denver after a lengthy and boring drive through the cornfields in the midwestern plains of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska, but what lay ahead was well worth the full day driving marathon that took me there. Driving through Western Nebraska along the green prairies of North Platte leading up to the Colorado foothills was my first look at a barren green landscapes with grass and shrubs and no trees anywhere for as far as the eye could see, different from the fertile irrigable farmlands dotted with tall trees I had been over-exposed to for the past 24 hours. These North American prairies are a result of Rocky Mountain rain shadow, a dry area created due to blockage of the rain producing weather systems by the mountains causing only dry air to advance in, resulting in an ecosystem that kills any trees.


Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
– America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates.

It is a beautiful day in Colorado. I have no idea why anyone would live anywhere else? I visit other places, and every now and then I meet a few people who actually claim that they live there by choice. Can you believe? By choice! I don’t know why but I an not going to waste my time attempting to rationalize insanity…“, boasted a local talk show jockey on the Colorado air waves as he started off his daily show. Tuned in to the channel while driving through the rocky mountain terrain, I stared at the spectacle that unfolded in front of me and and couldn’t agree more. The alpine-sloped hills with sharp-edged rocks and snow-capped summits glittering in the bright summer sunlight left me giddy with excitement. The purple mountain majesties that inspired Bates to pen America the Beautiful is evident in all its glory. As I got closer, I slowed down for the a stream of cyclists riding in front of me while a horde of runners cut right across the road at the stop sign and started heading for the hills directly, along some narrow running trails by the hill side. Why wouldn’t everyone want to live here?

On the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park (Click on the pic for a HD view)

I entered the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, about an hour away from Denver, and took the Trail Ridge Road, which is a stretch of US Highway 34 and the highest continuous highway in the US reaching a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft.

Trail Ridge Road Entrance (Click on the pic for a HD view)

As you can imagine, the road is closed during winter due to heavy snow and is an extremely popular and busy route when it is open, weather permitting, mostly during late spring and summer, as was the case on this day. Going west from Estes Park, it winds through several breathtaking overlooks along the mountains and finishes in Grand Lake, CO in the west. My plan was to head out south west from Grand Lake and spend the night in Grand Junction, CO.

The views along the road are spectacular.  Here’s a small sampling.  Click on the image to view a HD version of it.

Views along the Trail Ridge Road (Click on the pic for a HD view)

From one of the overlooks (Click on the pic for a HD view)

No shortage of crowds.. children enjoying the mountain top views (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Nearly one third of the park is above treeline. Above 11,400 ft of elevation, the conditions are too harsh for trees to grow, resulting in the rugged rocks covered with ice that melts through out the summer producing a river system that drains most of America. Missouri river flows east from the Rockies originating in Montana whose watershed covers over two-thirds of American Great Plains and Colorado river originates in Colorado Rockies and flows west through the Colorado plateau province draining the American South west.

Mountain top with frozen tundra.... on the Trail Ridge (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Rocky Mountain beauty (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Rocky Mountain Snow Caps (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Alpine tundra is a complex of high-elevation meadows, fell (barren) fields, and talus (rock) slopes above treeline. Grasses and sedges dominate the meadow communities, and fens (a type of wet meadow) and willows exist in wet soils. Vegetation in the alpine zone is similar to that in the Arctic.

These meadows below are that subsection of Rocky Mountain alpine tundras that the Trail Ridge traverses through. It is truly a unique experience to get to witness these changes in climate and ecology by being able to get to such heights within an hour to two by car. These summits are the same areas the Trail Ridge hiking trails lead the hikers to, and while there is no substitute to the hiking experience, the drive up here is a close second.

Trail Ridge Road at the height of its elevation (Click on the pic for a HD view)

The rugged mountain tops (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Too cold for any vegetation (Click on the pic for a HD view)

View of the valley from one of the overlooks (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Bull Elk feeding in the pastures (Click on the pic for a HD view)

After that breathtaking trip through the Rockies, the Trail Ridge finished in Grand Lake, CO. It was time for me step on the peddle and drive Southwest to Grand Junction, CO.

Glenwood Canyons:

An unexpected surprise on the way to Grand Junction was the I-70 section through the Glenwood Canyon. This is as scenic a stretch of interstate highway as I’ve driven through anywhere in the country. My only regret was that I couldn’t spend more time there since I wasn’t prepared for it. I wouldn’t even have noticed it if I hadn’t stopped at one of the rest areas entering into that stretch and at the visitor center read the details of what was essentially a blue-eyed project from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). The highway itself weaves in and out of tunnels through the canyon, with the Colorado river flowing right next to it accompanied also by an old rail track through out that beautiful stretch.

Scenic Glenwood Canyons through I-70

This road system is the primary highway link between Denver and the states to the west, and the complexity of squeezing in a modern 4-lane freeway into a gorge that could barely allow two lanes was solved by building two elevated roadways, one on top of another with 40 bridges and viaducts stretching over 6 miles, 15 miles of retaining wall and 4,000-foot-long tunnel with bores for traffic in both directions, creating a scenic beauty surrounded by imposing canyon walls all around. If you ever drive through this stretch, there are about 6 rest areas through out the 12.5 mile stretch, and it is worth every minute of your time to spend taking it all in by stopping at a couple of them and driving through it at speeds below the speed limit. You can read all about the history and background behind Glenwood Canyons from this DOT site here.

Weird exit names during this stretch
Hot Sulphur Springs:

No points for guessing what you can find in this town.

Hot Sulphur Springs, CO

Gypsum:

Granted, it is home to a gypsum wallboard products manufacturer, but do you really want to name your town after a mineral?

Gypsum, CO

No Name:

No Name Exit on I-70 (Pic source unknown.. not taken by me)

This one’s a classic. It is a census designated place (CDP) so named after I-70 was constructed. I could make all sorts of jokes here, but apparently there is a reason for the name.. or.. no name, and if you are interested, you can read about the history behind it here.

No Name, CO

I got to Grand Junction late in the night to get a few hours of sleep before heading out for the Arches next day.


Day 3: Arches National Park

How many weary centuries has it been
About those deserts blown!
How many strange vicissitudes has seen,
How many histories known!
– Sand Of The Desert In An Hour-Glass by H.W. Longfellow

I am not sure how many times you’ve been to Utah. This was my first. Prior to the trip, if I played a word association game, the first thing I would have come up for Utah was Mormonism. After all, 60% of Utahns are Mormons and the influence of Brighan Young as a major Mormon pioneer that spread the influence and membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is still very visible in the street names and church names wherever you go. But, after my visit, I can only see red when I think of Utah. Utah is Red Rock state, the landscape that defined the rugged western looks in Hollywood, the grand vistas and sprawling deserts with red sand, red stone and red lands everywhere is as much the identity of the state as its religious homogeneity.

Entering Utah (Click on the pic for a HD view)

By the time I crossed the state borders from Colorado into Utah on I-70, the change in the landscape is quite evident. The heat index went up, the trees got smaller, the sand got drier, the land looked arid and the vistas got broader, and I can tell the desert land awaited me.

I took the US-191 S exit on I-70 and headed south. Arches National Park is right off of US-191 in Moab, Utah.

View of US-191 at the entrance to Arches (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Arches National Park is home for over 2000 sandstone arches and other unique red rock formations naturally sculpted by forces of nature.

Red stone monoliths (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Natural erosion of slabs of red rock (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Red stone wonders (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Impressive and implausible landscapes (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Remarkable structures created from nature's magic (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Tall sandstone fin (Click on the pic for a HD view)

After staring bewildered at these red rock sculptures from nature’s hands, I turned to the material handed out at the park entrance to get a sense for how these rocks are formed. Here’s the explanation from the geological types..

About 300 million years ago, a sea flowed into this region and eventually evaporated, depositing a salt bed thousands of feet thick in places across the Colorado plateau. Over millions of years since, residue from floods, winds and the oceans that came and went blanketed the salt bed. The debris was compressed as rock, at one time possibly a mile thick.

Salt under pressure is unstable and the thick cover of rock in this region caused the salt layer to be shifted, buckled, liquefied and re-positioned, thrusting the rock layers upwards as domes and causing whole sections falling into cavities.

Geological story of Arches (source: NPS, Arches National Park)

Faults deep in the Earth made surface even more unstable, causing vertical cracks contributing to the development arches. As salt’s sub-surface shifting shaped the landscape, surface erosion stripped off younger rock layers. Over time water seeped into superficial cracks, joints, and folds, ice formed in the fissures, expanding and pressuring the rock, breaking off bits and pieces. Wind later cleaned out the loose particles, leaving a series of free-standing fins.

Wind and water then attacked these fins until the cementing material in some gave way and chunks of rock tumbled out. Many of these damaged fins collapsed, but others hard enough and balanced, survived despite missing sections. These became the famous arches.

This is the possible story of the Arches National Park and they are sticking to it though the evidence is largely circumstantial.

Balanced Rocks.. the precarious one on the left is about 3 school buses tall (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Arches.. one of many in the park (Click on the pic for a HD view)

In case you are wondering about the reason for the color being so red, it is due to Hematite, a common mineral form of Iron Oxide. The presence of Iron in these regions causes the release of Iron Oxide with exposure to air and water. The surface coating of this Iron Oxide on rock and its grains is the reason for the redness of the rock.

I did found it curious that they have campgrounds at Devil’s Garden, the interior site of the park. I am all for a camping experience in a forest or a mountain, but I am not so sure about it here. With 100 degree temperatures a commonplace in summer and the sun beating down mercilessly with few clouds in site and the glaring red rock radiating more heat around, you’d have to be a die-hard enthusiast of these rocks to pitch a tent there. They do claim to get about 1 million visitors a year, so, the interest must be much more substantial than I am assuming.

All in all, it was a worthy trip to the Arches, one of those visits that you can do once to experience the uniqueness of the place. When I first charted out the plan, I was considering visiting one ore more of Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands national parks. I tried every combination I could to see if it was feasible to squeeze in a visit to Bryce Canyon, but it just didn’t fit into my tight schedule. Only practical option was the Arches, so while I was a bit circumspect coming in, I left well satisfied with the visit. After wrapping up the 25 mile course back and forth through all of the Arches sites, I was ready to drive to Arizona for the big finish next day. The plan was to spend the night at Williams, AZ, south of Grand Canyon and west of Flagstaff, AZ, and head out to the Grand Canyon South Rim in the morning.

As I got closer to Utah-Arizona border, the desert got a lot flatter, with long stretches of flat and straight roads with few cars and nothing but scattered and tiny shrubs on dry and sedimentary soil with distant pillars of sand of various different canyons scattered across the scenery. It was a picture of a landscape depicted in many a rattle-snake-infested, wild-west desert shot of Hollywood, though I didn’t see any dead rattlers on the road or any live ones since I didn’t stop to checkout the desert in search of one. I did see many tumbleweeds roll across the road, a staple for any movie shot foreboding impending doom in a desert scene — perhaps an escaped convict is about to arrive for a secret rendezvous at a desolate bar nearby or a drug lord was arriving with his posse to settle a score against a rival gang, or may be if I paid proper attention, I would have noticed Brad Pitt shooting down a knelt-down-smug-faced Kevin Spacey with Morgan Freeman pleading him not to…. but I digress.

What I did find as I got closer to Arizona border is an increase in Hispanic presence in the small towns along the way and one or two mobile homes with trailers and small Indian habitations scattered in the middle of nowhere across vast stretches of completely empty desert lands. As I crossed into Arizona and approached Flagstaff, I saw the San Francisco Peaks, a volcanic mountain range that imbued a greenery to the surroundings that has been absent for the past several hours. Flagstaff with nearby Williams is a pleasant towns surrounded by several hills with moderate temperatures and with its relative proximity to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon, they are a popular spot for a growing number of people who call them home as well as tourists from Vegas who make the town a base for their South West trips to Utah and Grand Canyon.

Weird exit names during this stretch
Mexican Hat:

Not sure why I find this funny, I might even find a town in New Jersey called Indian Saree and perhaps a town near seattle called Japanese Kimono.

Mexican Hat, UT


Day 4: Grand Canyon (South Rim)

Be a provenance
of something gathered, a summation of
previous intuitions, let your vulnerabilities
walking on the cracked sliding limestone
be this time, not a weakness, but a faculty
for understanding what’s about
to happen. Stand above the Seven Streams
letting the deep down current surface
around you, then branch and branch
as they do, back into the mountain
and as if you were able for that flow,
say the few necessary words
and walk on, broader and cleansed
for having imagined.

– The Seven Streams by David Whyte

There is no way to prepare for it, no way to anticipate it. You hear that it is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, so it must be large, but just how large and how deep? As you park in one of the 3 large parking lots at the visitors center close to the park entrance (they get an estimated 4 million visitors a day), and start walking towards Mathers point, the nearby viewing area at the visitors center, you start imagining a hole in the ground, deep and wide.. based on the post cards or blown up posters you are exposed to.. but still, there is no way you can anticipate the sensation you are about to feel.

You finally get to the viewing area, shuffle in between the crowded visitors towards one of the railings and stare at the landscape in front of you in jaw dropping amazement. The immediate feeling is a mixture of awe, shock, exhilaration and incredulousness. You notice that the crowd, huge crowd, that is witnessing this with you is not very noisy. You see people murmuring, almost whispering to each other, as if they are in some sacred grounds. Depending on your views and believes, you might even say it is a hallowed ground. You are witnessing deep time.. millions and even billions of years of nature at work.. right in front of you.

Mathers point - spectacular views (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Naturally carved canyon walls (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Another perspective (Click on the pic for a HD view)

A view from the side (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Spanish Discovery (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Near here, in late summer of 1540, soldiers from Spanish expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado became the first Europeans to see Grand Canyon. After journeying for six months, Coronado’s army arrived at the Hopi mesas, east of Grand Canyon. From there Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, guided by Hopi Indians, led a small party of men to find a reported “great river”. After 20 days, they reached the south rim of Grand Canyon, emerging from the forest to stand on the edge of this vast chasm.

Around 1560 Pedro de Castaneda, a soldier with Coronado recorded his memories of the expedition 20 years earlier. It is from him we have our record of Cardenas’s discovery of Grand Canyon. Castaneda reported frustration and amazement:
“After they had gone twenty days they came to the banks of the river (the canyon rim)…. They spend three days on this bank looking for a passage down…. It was impossible to descend…. the three lightest and most agile men made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place, and went down until those who were above were unable to keep sight of them. They returned about four o’clock in the afternoon, not having succeeded…. Those who stayed above had estimated that some huge rocks on the sides of the cliffs seemed to be about as tall as a man, but those who went down swore that when they reached these rocks they were bigger than the great tower of Seville.”

An overwhelming experience (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Canyon walls tell an impressive story (Click on the pic for a HD view)

The sheer enormity of it all with humongous walls of sand carved down the elevated plateau by the Colorado river, day after day after day, for millions and millions of years, and the result is a masterpiece in front of you. You gape deep down into the middle of the canyon to locate the snaking Colorado river, that looks like a mini-creek from up near the rim, and you wonder how it could have caused all this and you gaze up and down, wide and across,  all over the canyon and you are overwhelmed by it all.

Desert View - Colorado river at work (Click on the pic for a HD view)

Rain in the distance (Click on the pic for a HD view)

One of the unique features of climate around these parts are views like these where you seem to be able to see black streaks of rain coming down from afar, something new for me. As these rain clouds passed over the canyon, bringing with them a short period of rain accompanied by brief thunder and lightning, while scurrying for shelter, I overheard a teen yelling excitedly to a group of friends “Hey, if this lightning strikes me, make sure you take a picture of that and put it up on Facebook.” That just about summarizes the social network hysteria of these times.

Desert View - A view from the gift shop inside the tower (Click on the pic for a HD view)

I am an anti-hype scoffer of anything and everything that is even remotely overrated and over-hyped. I can’t help it, its in my blood.  Yet, this is one place that is beyond any description that could be construed as hyperbole. It is above all description, and imparts a feeling that can only be experienced and not explained. As I drove out of the park and headed towards Vegas, my resolve for coming back to the Grand Canyon for a proper hike only grew stronger.

Weird exit names during this stretch
Chloride:

At this rate, By the time I am back home, I wouldn’t be surprised if I drove through the entire Periodic Table of Elements.

Chloride, AZ


Day 5: Las Vegas

I went for a walk along the Vegas strip late in the night for the normal touristy thing of checking out the fountain show at the Bellagios and the volcano show in front of the Mirage and the pirate show near the Treasure Island. Drinking on the streets is fairly pervasive, and if you walk long enough, you will see thinly veiled solicitation from prostitutes and pimps working hard at the street lights, providing the right constitution for that sin city texture Vegas prides itself on.

Each time I am here, I see a couple of new high-risers boasting something new to outshine the competition, and the average age of the crowd on the street seems to go down a few years. It seemed like there were more teenagers than adults on the street. I remember staying at the Luxor a few years ago when that sphynx-shaped casino was hailed as a cool attraction. I am told it is outdated now. As I watch the glitz and glitter of Vegas, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. After the experience at the Grand Canyon, it just looked jaded and inconsequential.


Day 6 and 7: Back to Denver and back to home

This was clearly the worst part of the trip when I started questioning the sanity of my choice to drive 5000 miles within a week. Until now, the anticipation of visiting these great places and witnessing the great new landscapes kept me excited and fresh, but now I was left with the omnipresent cornfields of midwestern flatlands on a very long stretch of a return trip that I was not looking forward to. By the time I was done with it all and reached home, I needed another vacation from my vacation to recuperate, but I was very happy with the trip. And those Rocky Mountains and Grand Canyon, I am already looking forward to the next time I will be there.. with a backpack.

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Golden Gate Bridge - an indelible San Francisco landmark (Click to enlarge)

I was in San Francisco this week for the Oracle World – Java One conference.  I watched Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, one of the richest men on the planet and an unabashed megalomaniac set the tone for what this year’s edition of this conference was going to be like.. essentially a grand avenue for a CEO trash-talk.  After watching him bash his detractors with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, and unveil product after gradiose product promising performances unheard of by cobbling together the shiny toys he acquired the past few years as he grew his impressive empire, I started longing for Sun’s Java One days when the sales pitch was always muted by the idealistic geekdom for safeguarding and enhancing the goodness of Java.  Sun was never great at marketing what they had and that perhaps explains their demise as they fell into the hands of Mr. Ellison’s empire, but they will forever be remembered for Java and what it means to the IT industry.  After attending a few sessions on Monday, it was obvious my time was better spent enjoying the gorgeous weather and always beautiful city by the bay.  Here are a few pics from my trip in and around San Francisco..

San Francisco Skyline ..from the hotel room (Click to enlarge)

An evening view from atop (Click to enlarge)

Downtown San Francisco (Click to enlarge)

Johns Grill - One of the oldest establishments in the city (Click to enlarge)

Tourists near the zig zag Lombard Street.. the crooked-est street in the city (Click to enlarge)

San Francisco streets under the California sun (Click to enlarge)

Up and down streets of San Francisco (Click to enlarge)

Alcatraz.. from atop Golden Gate (Click to enlarge)

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge (Click to enlarge)

 

Green Mountain

 

There’s an oft-used saying that as you get older, time flies by faster.  It feels like it was only yesterday that I  threw my thick, lousy jacket into the closet stubbornly refusing to take it out again inspite of the vagaries of the Midwestern weather, almost willing the winter  to submission.  But that was two months ago.  Slogging away at work, I didn’t realize until a couple of days ago that I am only left with a couple of months of decent weather to enjoy before I will be forced again to drape that ugly thing over me whenever I step outdoors for months to come.   I’ve been  secretly entertaining grand plans for an elaborate travel trip out in the wild wild west in August-September time-frame, in spite of the fact that it requires the sun, the stars and the rest of the Universe to align themselves  magically for me to pull it off.  It didn’t stop me from salivating at the mere idea of visiting the Rockies, Bryce Canyon and Yellow Stone national parks having not made that visit in more than a decade now.  Taking the initiative to identify these breathtaking natural resources in all their variety and vastness, setting them apart for conservation, spending the time and money and painstaking effort with passion and dedication for their protection and preservation, and all along maintaining them and continuously making  them accessible to common folks like me is, just as the great PBS show about the national parks suggests, truly America’s greatest idea and deed.  And  I for one am grateful for that.

With the July 4th weekend upon us, in a mixture of panic at time flying by and greed in sneaking another trip before the big one that might not happen, I decided to take a couple of days off and drive through portions of the North East that I had driven through a decade ago, but never spent as much time as I have in the South East or portions of the West.  The Upstate New York and Vermont areas attract a lot of visitors especially in the fall to witness the stunning colors during the  fall foliage and in winters for skiing expeditions.  I am more interested in the hiking and trekking and I figured this might be the best time for me as I wanted to avoid heavy traffics and throngs of visitors.

So I leave to Albany in the morning in the hope that in the next few days I can do this trip up Vermont  through the Green Mountain National Park and spend some time at the Adirondacks through Lake Placid on my way back.  Once I get to Albany, time permitting, here’s the map of my expected travel up north through Vermont and down south from upstate New York from close to the  Canadian border.  Provided there is no shortage of wifi connections (there isn’t a place remote enough that deprives their natives of their basic necessity to tweet and facebook in today’s world), I hope to post my diary notes at the first opportunity.

Adorandacs (NY) & Green Mountain (VT) - Map + Terrain

 

Au revoir, for now.

….

July 4, 2010 – 11:30 pm (Albany, NY):


   

Sunny skies and a warm day for a ride

 

Arrived in Albany in estimated time. After sleeping through my morning alarm and waking up in a panic, made up good time on the road and made it to Albany a couple of hours ago. I picked perhaps the hottest day of the year to make the trip but the journey so far has been quite pleasant under clear skies, aided in no small measure by the decision to drive through Southern Ontario, Canada, entering the US again through Niagara in Buffalo and taking I-90 all the way to Albany. The scenery through that part of Ontario isn’t spectacular by any means, but you drive through the few arable sections of Canadian land, with large stretches of crops on fertile farmland dotted with red farmhouses in between. The speed limit shows 100 for 100 kmph. I looked at my speedometer and I could only see mph. I couldn’t remember the conversion, and had an in-built excuse made up if I were pulled over for speeding. “But Officer, I thought the speed limit was 100 miles per hour.”

I Scream U Scream.. couldn't resist some ice cream from this place along the Ontario drive

 

The alternate route would have been through Ohio, a military state where the primary source of revenue is highway piracy in the name of speeding tickets. Ohio might be the only state where Ohioans drive consistently below the speed limit, because they have been strictly programmed to do so by an army of policeman, the primary workforce of the state constantly roaming the highways and byways to nab unsuspecting drivers and squeeze the last hard earned penny out of them. As if this wasn’t enough, Ohio State Supreme court ruled recently that an Ohio policeman has the right to write you a speeding ticket without ever using a radar gun, just an educated guess of a trained eye is enough. “I think you were going at 76.5 mph in my estimation sir, I am afraid that’s 10 over the speed the limit. Now pay up!”

Construction and dividers.. as much a sign of summer as baseball and bikinis in America

 

On a typical holiday such as today, you will find half as many cops patrolling the Ohio highways as the travelers, or somewhere close to it. With or without a radar gun to hand out speeding tickets, it is just a lousy way to make a living if you ask me, hiding behind a hill or a tree or an over bridge and sneaking up on people enjoying their holiday rides

Back into the USA

 

when no one’s in any obvious danger. 

That whole tangential tirade aside, once I hit Niagara and into I-90, I was impressed to see that the heavy toll I

Nearing Albany with Appalachian backdrop

 

paid for that I-90 ride was put to use quite well. I stopped at three different service stations on the way, they are abundant and well kept and even on a July 4th evening, when most restaurants and fast food chains shut down, they managed to keep them working to serve travelers like me. Of course there is construction everywhere, what is summer without road construction? I used the GPS this time and it is amazing how accurate they are now-a-days with information from 8 different satellites guiding you wherever you are… you can ride but you can’t hide!  

Into the Albany evening with the sunset behind me

 

Soon as I got to the vicinities of Albany, I could see the Appalachian mountain ranges in the background and I am looking forward to tomorrow’s trip up the Green Mountain. I hope to get a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast before I set out to Vermont tomorrow. 

July 5, 2010 – 10:40 pm (Watertown, NY):


   

To Vermont - The Green Mountain State

 

Woke up just in time to catch the breakfast served in the hotel before they closed it.

In Bennington.. along VT 7

 

It was just my luck that I caught the simmering heat wave stifling the northeast, which did make the trip uncomfortable at times, but the air conditioning in the car served me well. My impressions of Vermont, en-route from my previous trip to New England to witness the fall foliage, was one of several small towns along byways with quaint little shops selling ice cream, antiques and woodworks. The disappointing aspect of this trip was that I drove these towns and could see these shops and inns, but there were no vendors to be found. Due to July 4th falling on a Sunday, they all took the holiday off on July 5th and almost all of the shops were closed, which was a bummer. It was still a relaxing and leisurely drive through the Green Mountain State, first along the US 7 from Albany to Bennington to Rutland and then along US 100 to Burlington. Beyond the greenery of Vermont, the recurring theme along the way is dry wood with all types of furniture and woodworks on display with many wooden barns along the way. Vermont is home for a popular woodworking school and is proud of its popular home made wood products – chairs, tables, cabinetry, bowls, baskets, carvings – they were all on display. But the atmosphere I was hoping wasn’t there mainly because of the holiday and closed shops.

Waiting to get on the ferry

 

New York and Vermont are separated by Lake Champlain, and the quickest route

Lake Champlain.. from the ferry

 

for me to get to the Adirondacks was crossing Lake Champlain on a ferry. Now, I had traveled on ferries carrying people before, but I had no idea that you could just take your car with you on these ferries on Lake Champlain. It was just another day for all the regulars there, some do it every day, but for a tourist like me, it was a new experience. I was the only geek taking a video and some pictures on this Adirondack ferry. When I think of water bodies and hear about lakes, my mental image of the magnitude of them typically fall along the lines of
a pond < a stream < a lake < a river < a sea < an ocean.. but once I saw the great lakes and Lake Champlain today, mentally, I now equate them to the seas.

To Lake Placid

 

After getting off the ferry on the other side in the state of New York again, I had

Near Lake Placid

 

 a choice to make – I could drive down to Lake Placid and spend the night there or if I drove through and crossed the Adirondacks, and spend the night somewhere closer to Lake Erie, I could squeeze in another leisurely drive along Lake Erie on my way back, something I wasn’t sure if I had the time to do when I left home yesterday. I decided to do the latter and drove through the Adirondacks, through the High Peaks, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake on to the North-western New York. The town of Lake Placid, hosts of Winter Olympics twice, is a hip

Adirondack dusk

 

and happening place, attracting a lot of visitors even on a weeknight like July 5th. In general, the hills on this side attract a wider range of visitors compared to those in Vermont, because they are marketed and promoted aggressively by the state of New York and are more accessible to the large crowds looking for a getaway from the city of New York. As I drove west out of the Adirondacks, with night sinking in, I decided to stop at Watertown, New York, along Highway 81. Hope to take the Seas of Trail, a trail along Lake Erie from Sliver Lake, NY to Erie, PA tomorrow.

July 6, 2010 – 10:10 pm (Pittsburgh, PA):


  

Along Seaway Trail

 

The region along Lake Erie, a stretch of about 50 miles along the Lake coast from western New York to Pennsylvania is called “America’s Grape Country” and is the source for most grape production in the country, this side of the Rockies. It is also the Lake Erie section of over 500 mile trail along the great lakes dubbed as the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. If you are on the right byway, you will see a sign indicating you are on the trail. Due to the proximity to Lake Erie from Watertown where I stayed last night, I decided to drive through that stretch on my way back. Plus, I wanted to visit the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh and had to stay overnight in Pittsburgh, my current stop in what is the last night of the trip.

When I left Watertown, I knew I had about 4-5 hours to cover as much of the Seaway Trail as I can.

Lake Erie.. from Seaway Trail

 

I entered the trail in Silver Creek, NY and drove west on US 5, the Seaway trail road, along the beaches of Lake Erie, with large stretches of wineries and a few state

along the shores of Lake Erie

 

parks sprinkled in between by the lakefront. I spent some time on a couple of beaches, one in Dunkirk and one in Erie. You can’t help but marvel at the great lakes, the sheer vastness of them. If you are curious about how you could have such large water bodies in the middle of a landmass that is the North American continent, they were formed by the movement of glaciers back

town of Dunkirk on Lake Erie along US 5

 

and forth. During the ice age, entire Canada and some northern parts of the now USA were covered in a sheet of ice due to the advancement of a huge glacier called Laurentide. As the ice age came to an end and ice started melting with warmer temperatures, Laurentide started receding, leaving behind the glacial deposits that are now the great lakes and the shape and size of the great lakes continue to change on a daily basis.

Seaway Trail Sign on US 5

 

I could have taken the wine trails and spend some time in the wineries but with

Western PA wineries along Lake Erie

 

still some driving to do and the sweltering heat touching 100 F making life difficult outside the comforts of the car AC, I decided to just do a leisurely drive through instead. The state parks were relatively empty though a few camping areas were full by the lakeside, in spite of the heat. All that heat was just an excuse for more cold beer for these outdoorsmen. As I arrived in Pittsburgh, hungry and craving for Indian food, I managed to find an Indian restaurant just before closing time.

Overall, it was an interesting and satisfying trip. It has also been a very lengthy and tiresome drive and I am guessing I will need another vacation from this vacation once I get home tomorrow. By then I’d be closing in on 1800 miles for the trip. In hindsight, I could have done a few things differently – not pick July 5th for the drive through Vermont, not squeeze so much distance into three nights and instead spend a little bit more time in the Adirondacks than I did, but that’s like complaining about not having the right mix of cilantro and ginger in the dish I just ate when I should be glad that I was able to find the food I wanted to eat and munched it in record time to satisfy my hunger and craving.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway (Click to view)

May be because I live and have lived in the plains and plateaus all my life, but I am in awe of the mountains.  I crave  everything about them – their sheer vastness, their dizzy heights, the pleasant weather in their valleys, the raw strength of their ragged rocks, the greenery of their landscape, the variety of their flora, the  imperiousness of their tall trees that dot their surface and  scream of free spirit,  and the busy noises from their habitats that for a change are not dominated by the man made devices but emanate from a life evolved out of their own unique ecosystem.

Whether they are semi-valid reasons or thinly veiled excuses for my laziness, I found ways to miss those drives, those treks and the hikes across mountains that I used to do frequently up until a few years ago. Perhaps with friends graduating to parents and now nurturing toddlers of their own and rightfully adjusting their priorities, these trips that I used to take for granted once are almost impossible to coordinate and pull off now-a-days. So, with a long weekend around the corner, I decided to take a few days off and make a trip on my own through the entire Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline drive.

Blue Ridge Parkway Map

Blue Ridge Parkway Map (click to view)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a designated recreational motor road, linking Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks and he Skyline drive is the adjoining drive along the mountain skyline through Shanandoah National Parks. The Blue Ridge parkway stretches through North Carilina/Tennesse border in the south into Virginia in the north over a distance of 469 miles and merges with Skyline drive for another 105 miles. I drove through parts of the parkway and the Skyline drive with friends and parents a couple of times before, but never alone on my own and never the entire distance.
The idea of total creative freedom by retaining the intellectual property rights for the uninfluenced choice of activities during the lonely trip seemed far too inviting even against the downside of having no one to share it with. It sounds like no big deal, but I guess you’d have to be a borderline sociopath (not me) or something of an anti-social loner (like me) to actually enjoy doing it alone.   Once the thought crossed my mind, it felt like a no-brainer and I couldn’t wait to hit the road. I took a few days off to coincide with the long weekend and set out on my trip.

Just to keep it more interesting and challenging, I set myself a couple of self-imposed rules:
1. I intentionally didn’t write down even a single piece of information on any paper.  If Steve Jobs is right, and his IPhone is really that cool, I should be able to pull out any information I want from my IPhone and what if I am stranded in the middle of a forest with no AT&T service?  Well, I wanted to find out.  After all, if I am going to do it alone, I should afford myself these risks, even if it sounds stupid.  Also, I wanted to try out the GPS capabilities of the IPhone without spending the $9.99 monthly services from AT&T which makes it a true GPS device with voice activated directions and all.  Also, sticking with the IPhone theme, I didn’t carry another camera, just whatever snaps I could take from the IPhone had to suffice.  All the pictures posted here are from my IPhone, so the quality isn’t terrible, but not top notch.  I did make some tentative reservations for three nights, one night each at the southern tip of the parkway (Cherokee, NC), at a tentative half-way point (Floyd, VA), and around the northern tip of the parkway (Winchester, VA).
2. I had to stick to the Parkway the entire way – no ifs and buts!  In other words, if it was getting dark and I’m not making enough time through the parkway, I cannot exit out of the parkway and get through a few miles quickly on a freeway or a highway to get to one of those reserved hotels, because if I afforded that luxury, I wouldn’t travel through every mile post of the parkway, which was my main objective.

Just to keep it more interesting and challenging, I set myself a couple of self-imposed rules:

..perfect travel day weather (click to look at enlarged view)

..perfect travel day weather (click to view)

1. I intentionally didn’t write down even a single piece of information on any paper.  If Steve Jobs is right, and his IPhone is really that cool, I should be able to pull out any information I want from my IPhone and what if I am stranded in the middle of a forest with no AT&T service?  Well, I wanted to find out.  After all, if I am going to be reclusive about this, I should afford myself these risks, even if it sounds stupid.  Also, I wanted to try out the GPS capabilities of the IPhone without spending the $9.99 monthly services from AT&T which could have made my IPhone  a true GPS device with voice activated directions and all.  Also, sticking with the IPhone theme, I didn’t carry another camera, just whatever snaps I could take from the IPhone had to suffice.  All the pictures posted here are from my IPhone, so the quality isn’t terrible, but not top notch.  I did make some tentative reservations for three nights, one night each at the southern tip of the parkway (Cherokee, NC), at a tentative half-way point (Floyd, VA), and around the northern tip of the parkway (Winchester, VA).

2. I had to stick to the Parkway the entire way – no ifs and buts!  In other words, if it was getting dark and I’m not making enough time through the parkway, I cannot exit out of the parkway and get through a few miles quickly on a freeway or a highway to get to one of those reserved hotels, because if I afforded that luxury, I wouldn’t travel through every mile post of the parkway, which was my main objective.

So, without much ado, here are my diary notes, with relevant snaps along the way.  I started off by driving to the Southern tip of Blue Ridge parkway, in Cherokee, NC, to start my parkway drive up from there:
..road beckoning (click to look at enlarged view)

..road beckoning (click to view)

Sep. 2, 2009 – 01:30 AM (Cherokee, NC):

Southern tip of Blue Ridge Parkway

Southern tip of Blue Ridge Parkway

Phew, I finally made it to the hotel! What if it only took 3.5 hours more than anticipated.  I couldn’t have asked for a better travel weather.  I didn’t have to turn the AC on in the car at any point during the 12 hour drive to Cherokee, but it is still took 3 hours more than anticipated.  I was able to get to Pigeon Forge, TN in anticipated time.  The southern tip of the Blue Ridge parkway actually falls within the Smoky Mountain National Park and Pigeon Forge is one of the entry points to the Smoky Mountains, and is actually a pleasant little town with tons of activities and festivities for the travelers.  I remember driving through the same town on one of my previous hiking trips to the Smokies with friends a few years ago. I saw lot of families with kids on the on the sidewalks enjoying the night as I drove through the town.  The directions to the hotel I reserved for my overnight stay in Cherokee required me to drive through Pigeon Forge and cut across the Park along US-441 to get to Cherokee valley.  It was after 9:00 pm in the night, and if things went as anticipated I could have arrived in Cherokee by 10:00 pm.

Cherokee (Click to view)

Cherokee (Click to view)

As I crossed Pigeon Forge and entered the Smoky Mountain National Forest in pitch dark, along US-441, I saw flashing red and blue lights on top of a park ranger’s car in front of me blocking US-441.  Apparently, they have an event the next morning in the Smoky Mountains for which they had to block the road through the parkway and I had no alternative but to find an alternate route.  The friendly ranger was kind enough to suggest what she thought was my best option to get to Cherokee and quickly proceeded to spit out a series of lefts and rights from Pigeon Forge to a highway from where I can supposedly find the exit to Cherokee.  I nodded as if I understood and decided to put the great IPhone to use instead.  I couldn’t get any service inside the park, so I drove back to Pigeon Forge and breathed a sigh of relief to see it pick up my mobile service.  It was getting late and I was tired, so I got some food from a fast food place and retrieved an alternate route as I finished eating it.  Instead of US-441, I had to take US-321 to US-40 to US-19 to Cherokee.  After another 2+ hours of driving through the forest in the night on these roads, I reached Cherokee.  Note to self about truckers driving in these parts – they are insane!  I don’t like to generalize, but I have to question their sanity when truck after truck tries to drive just as fast or faster and get into speed races with the cars and vans on the highways, never mind the cargo of automobiles they are carrying in the trailers behind them and the blind spirals they have to navigate in front of them!
.. Cherokee (Click to view)

.. Cherokee (Click to view)

Cherokee is an American Indian reservation and has a casino right in the middle of the town.  I was able to get to the Casino, but the road on which the hotel resides was blocked for construction and by the time I figured out yet another re-route within Cherokee and got to the hotel, it was past midnight.  Along the way, I noticed a few American Indian girls (dressed up as Casino dealers) walking back home after what I presume was their work in the Casino, which must be the main attraction for anyone to come to Cherokee.  I don’t think there are many who come to Cherokee to start their Blue Ridge parkway trip.  Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg in neighboring Tennessee border, is much more of a popular choice for the Smoky Mountain attractions.
Not for the first time, I noticed somewhat of a resemblance in the British accent and the Southern accent when I spoke with the lady at the front desk.  Say what you want about the American South, everyone I’ve ever met in the South has been polite, friendly and spoke with a genuine smile on their face.  The lady at the front desk blessed my heart for being able to make it in spite of US-441 getting blocked and sent me along to my room.  It is past 1:30 now and while I was hoping to get up around 6:00 to get to the Blue Ridge entrance by 7:00 am, I am doubtful if I will be able to get up in time for that.  I may have to revisit that plan  in the morning.  With all the driving I did and I was going to do, the last thing I can afford is sleep deprivation.
Sep. 2, 2009 – 03:00 PM (Blue Ridge Parkway : Milestone 380 near Ashville, NC):

Blue Ridge Parkway Entrance from Cherokee (click to view)

Blue Ridge Parkway Entrance from Cherokee (click to view)

As expected, I got up late, much later than my original 6:00 am plan, which was wishful thinking anyway.  By the time I got some coffee, packed up and checked out, it was 10:30 am.  After some stumbling around to find the entrance, I entered the Blue Ridge Parkway at 11:00 am.  There is no fee to drive the Blue Ridge parkway.

Tunnels in the parkway (click to view)

Tunnels in the parkway (click to view)

Surprisingly, I encountered very few visitors traveling either way until later in the day, which was just fine by me.  It was still quite foggy without the sun fully out when I entered the parkway which still had an early morning freshness to it.  I drove through the first of many tunnels built along the drive.  It started raining, but like the fleeting weather in these mountains, it lasted only for a brief period.  The southern part of the parkway is at a higher elevation than the northern part.  I stopped at the first of the many overlooks with a view of the aptly named Smoky Mountains looking like a chimney working overtime.  The fog cleared up in half an hour as the sun came out and the views from the overlooks became clearer, but the fog and the mist had its own charm while they lasted.

Foggy morning (click to view)

Foggy morning (click to view)

Other than a couple of cars going the other way, still not many drivers.  They started

..foggy morning (click to view)

..foggy morning (click to view)

trickling in after noon.  Blue Ridge Parkway is a hot spot for the bike riders, because of its steep and curvy roads, up and down the mountains that offer them somewhat of a thrill ride in a scenic setup.  I saw more and more of them as the day grew older.  Below is a picture of a biker who drove a long distance like myself and noticing I was driving alone, offered to take my picture against the backdrop, and ended up taking hers first as she had the camera pointed the other way.  I really like her picture and liked her spirit..indeed age is no barrier to how young you are at heart!

I reached the Visitor Center at milepost 380 by 2:00 pm.  In speaking with the visitor center folks, they thought it was best if I filled gas in Ashville right off the parkway there.  So, I filled gas

..sun peaking out (click to view)

..sun peaking out (click to view)

and brought more fast food back to the fine Visitor Center area to finish these notes while finishing my late lunch.  The parking lot is full of cars here.  Ashville is one of the bigger towns in NC and more people enter the parkway here than at Cherokee.  Also, I see some people who enter the parkway here for a jog and a good workout.

..a biker riding the parkway

..a biker riding the parkway

Because of the proximity to Ashville, the mobile service was strong.  I pulled up the information of the hotel I booked in Floyd, VA from my email and called them to cancel it.  Judging by the distance I made, if I make it to Floyd overnight, it was going to be really late.  I was told that there’s plenty of availability if I do get there later tonight.  I collected some parkway information material at the visitor center and looked up the trails along the way and decided to do one of the “severe” hikes though I am not really in that good a shape physically – I can’t wimp out now!

..motoring along (click to view)

..motoring along (click to view)

Sep 3, 2009 – 00:20 AM (Floyd, VA):

I did make it to Floyd after all, albeit very late.  Floyd is a sleepy little Virginia town off the parkway at milepost 165.  If I didn’t make up this distance now, I would have left myself having to cover it tomorrow and with the Skyline drive looming where I knew there are many more overlooks and speed limit is lowered to 35 mph, it would have forced me to spend an extra day somewhere for this trip and I wanted to avoid that extra expenditure.
..to Tanahawa trail from here (click to view)

..to Tanahawa trail from here (click to view)

Rough Ridge overlook is near milepost 303, and I stopped here for my hike.  I

..over the rocks (click to view)

..over the rocks (click to view)

followed the trail upward from the parking lot and took left along the Tanawha Trail on to the board walk and a steep climb up the rocks to some superb birds-eye views off the protruding rocks along the hike.  I ran into a couple of seasoned hikers during this and later learnt that I picked the right trail and it is as good a trail as there is one along the parkway.  Apparently, the number of visitors to the parkway has been decreasing over the years and it was evident from the sparse crowds.  Maybe the weekends bring in more people, but this was just perfect for me.  I reached the summit

..board walk along the trail (click to view)

..board walk along the trail (click to view)

somewhat huffing and puffing and spent more than half an hour there soaking in the

view from atop

view from atop (click to view)

unbelievable view of the mountain ranges from atop.  This is the best part of the hike.  The high of reaching the summit with somewhat tired legs and just absorbing the sunlight and looking all around me at the green peaks and valleys gave me a feeling of being given a 360 degree view from a first class seat on one of those white clouds floating around.  The views are breathtaking and the experience within is one of a feeling of an exhilarating high, as high as some of these mountain peaks themselves, even if you are not sharing it with anyone.  If this is the experience of a mere hike along a public trail in a National Parkway, I understand the addiction the mountain climbers have to attempting to reach the summits of some of

view from the rocks (click to view)

view from the rocks (click to view)

world’s tallest peaks such as Mount K2 and Mount Everest, and this brings back

view from the rocks (click to view)

view from the rocks (click to view)

memories of primary school days when our Social Science teacher had a tough time giving a convincing answer to one of the student’s questions about why do mountain climbers risk their lives and go to extreme lengths to ascend such dangerous peaks.  For those climbers, it must be difficult to explain, but easy to experience.  As I climbed down to the parking lot, a much easier task, I made a mental note of coming back to this trail the next time I returned to the parkway.  I caught up with somewhat of an older couple who went only as far as the board walk took them which still provided a great view and were climbing down from there.  Back at the parking lot, they requested with a grin that I take their picture there so they can tell people that they were there.  As I obliged, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate in many ways and how little time we all have to truly experience these nature’s gifts.

rolling meadows along the parkway (click to view)

rolling meadows along the parkway (click to view)

After that spectacular hike which took up a couple of hours and into the evening dusk, I sped through the rest of the way intent on making up as much ground as I can to Floyd.  I managed to take a couple of snaps on the fly even as I ran through the pretty scenery of rolling hills with green meadows with picket-fenced horse farms with grazing horses in evening sunlight.  As the sunlight disappeared, the mist reappeared

rolling meadows along the parkway (click to view)

rolling meadows along the parkway (click to view)

and though it was almost a full moon, visibility was tough, and coupled with young deer constantly venturing onto the road at twilight, it was risky driving.  I had to veer away from transfixed deer on the road with that “deer-in-the-headlight-look” on at least three occasions I can remember.  The mobile service was dead again and I got to Floyd purely relying on scant directions available from the map I got from the Visitors Center.  Once I got here, I filled in gas and asked for directions to the hotel which was right adjacent to the gas station.  I arrived just within the closing time of the hotel office.  The room far exceeded my expectations; it was surprisingly spacious, very clean and tidy, had all the amenities I needed, including wifi connection just like in Cherokee.  Clearly, wireless and internet infrastructure has caught up with even remote parts of the country, and while I couldn’t find an open restaurant after 10:00 pm in town and ended up savoring granola bars from the hotel vending machine for the night, I had no problems catching up with my email and all communications via my IPhone, even though AT&T mobile service was still dead.  Yes, the Information Revolution is alive and well!

..motoring along (click to view)

..motoring along (click to view)

Sep 3, 2009 – 04:30 PM (Blue Ridge Parkway : Milestone 5 near Waynesboro, VA):

Trial's Cabin..old log houses (click to view)

Trial's Cabin..old log houses (click to view)

I had a good night’s sleep in Floyd and picked up some breakfast at yet another local

nice backyard! (click to view)

nice backyard! (click to view)

fast food place on my way to the Parkway after checking out from the hotel.  I couldn’t afford too many breaks on the way if I wanted to reach my pre-planned destination of Winchester, VA and finish my last leg of my three-legged trip.  So, I ate my breakfast while driving.

Trail’s Cabin was a cabin protected with fencing (picture) at one of the overlooks along the way.  Built by Trail family in 1890s, it gives an idea of a typical log buildings built by the pioneers of the country in forested areas during those times.  How about that backdrop and that backyard!
The Big Valley (click to view)

The Big Valley (click to view)

This is also a stretch where you see posts at many picnic area along he parkway asking

old wooden mile markers along the parkway (click to view)

old wooden mile markers along the parkway (click to view)

you to protect your food as it is bear country, though I didn’t see any bears during this stretch I saw plenty of deer and wild fowls.  There are wooden milepost markers posted every mile (such as this one in the picture) which is also a throwback to yester years to give you an idea of where you are in the parkway, though it can get difficult to catch it once it gets dark and you want to know where you are to take a proper exit.

I took the Roanoke mountain trip, a five mile drive off the parkway and back into the parkway, up the Roanoke mountain that has a couple of good

..to the top of Roanoke mountain (click to view)

..to the top of Roanoke mountain (click to view)

overlooks to the city of Roanoke.

I stopped at Bald Mountain Overlook where the elevation was one of the highest in the northern part of the parkway, but is also a stretch of long treeless patches on the mountain top.  It

Roanoke from atop Roanoke mountain (click to view)

Roanoke from atop Roanoke mountain (click to view)

gives a different perspective and an opportunity to stretch your legs and soak the sun in.  Here are a few snaps from there.

I am writing these notes at Milestone 6, from the Humpback Gap parking area where I just finished a 2 mile stretch of the Appalachian trail to Humpback Mountain and back to the parking area – a more tiring and strenuous hike than the Rough Ridge trail yesterday.  Most of this trail goes through parts of the famous Appalachian Trail, a trail that stretches

..near Bald Mountain overlook (click to view)

..near Bald Mountain overlook (click to view)

all the way to Maine through the forests of the Appalachian mountain ranges, but it was an equally rewarding effort.

I am nearing the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and am left with covering the Skyline drive in

near Bald Mountain overview (click to view)

near Bald Mountain overview (click to view)

near Bald Mountain overview (click to view)

near Bald Mountain overview (click to view)

through the Appalachian trail (click to view)

through the Appalachian trail (click to view)

the remaining time, with a hope that I don’t have to drive long stretches in the night through the fabulous Shannadoah National park.

..motoring along (click to view)

..motoring along (click to view)

Sep 4, 2009 – 00:30 AM (Winchester, VA):

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

I finished my Blue Ridge parkway trip and reached my hotel I made the reservations with in

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

Winchester, VA after a fantastic final stretch through the Skyline Drive.  Of the three places I ended up spending the nights during my trip (Cherokee, Floyd, and Winchester), Winchester is a larger town with a University, a community college, a mall, and a slew of restaurants beyond the fast food chains.  I knew I hit civilization when I called the hotel for directions because the hotel location mapped out to a wrong address on my IPhone maps and the girl at the other end asked me what the GPS system I might be be using is telling me about my current whereabouts.  When I tried to explain to her that I don’t carry a GPS system and that I had the address, but it maps to a different location on my phone,

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

view from Skyline Drive (click to view)

she went on to explain that a GPS system will usually tell me when I reached the destination.  She was very polite and helpful, but sensing a hint of suppressed frustration at her perception of my lack of technology savvy (what human being in America travels without a GPS system now-a-days? Ew?), I just asked her directions from a nearby highway and was able to get there within the next half an hour.

As the Blue Ridge parkway ends, it merges with the Skyline drive.  There is a fee of $15 at the entrance to the Skyline drive, and it is worth it.  As the name suggests, the Skyline Drive ranges through the skyline of the mountain ranges into the Shanandoah valley and finishes near Front Royal, VA (if  going from South to North).  The overlooks and the views from the drive are just stunning.  Unfortunately, due to fading sunlight and as I was running out of time, I

sunset on one side of the drive (click to view)

sunset on one side of the drive (click to view)

didn’t take many snapshots during the drive, but due to the timing of my drive, I was

near full moon on the other side of the drive (click to view)

near full moon on the other side of the drive (click to view)

able to witness the sunset within the mountains and the beauty of moonlight on a near full moon.  The snaps here don’t do justice to the true beauty of this place.  As you are driving northwest along the Skyline drive, you can witness the sun set into the skyline of the mountain ranges on one side and the moon rise to softly light up the gaps and valleys on the other side, simultaneously!!  I also witnessed a black bear cub (couldn’t take the picture in time), avoided yet another collision with the deer, and wore out the breaks of my car as it wound through the top of the mountain ranges along the skyline.  My only regret of this trip is not being able to spend enough time here.  Next time, I intend to spend a whole day just through the Skyline drive.  Even in the fading sunlight, there were a lot more visitors to the park here along with enthusiastic hikers and bikers.

Overall, the trip far exceeded my expectations and I was extremely glad I decided to proceed with it.  Off to bed after yet another fast food dinner.  A quick off topic note about fast food chains and the general negative perception surrounding them – they are a blessing during trips like mine; you can expect one to be present even in the most remote of locations, you know what you are getting, they are available late now-a-days and best of all, the service is fast and on the go, exactly what I wanted.  So thank you McDonalds, Hardees, Subway and Quiznos!  I intend to sleep late into the morning tomorrow, before my long drive back home.
fading light towards the end of the trip through the Skyline drive (click to view)

fading light towards the end of the trip through the Skyline drive (click to view)


Whether you like these pics or not, they don’t do enough  justice to the awesome scenery visible throughout the drive, but I hope they capture at least a portion of its thrilling experience.  If you can sieve through the self absorbing notes of my trip diary, hopefully there is an ounce of information somewhere that is useful to you.  There are so many things you can do on the way; I am convinced that no matter how much time I spend, I feel like it will be insufficient.  You can plan to stay at one of the cabins on the parkway, or if you have a nice cool sports car or if you are riding a motor bike, you can take some exciting spiraling loops off the parkway, or you can just ride your bicycle through any stretch of the parkway.  I also witnessed an unfortunate accident on the parkway when a biker (motor) riding with a group apparently  fell off the road into the gap (cause unknown) along one of the curves. There are not many cops or rangers monitoring you speed limits, which means more freedom, if you use it right.  Just ping me through the comments of this post if you need any information, I will be glad to respond if I can be of any help.  There is also plenty of information available online, if you are planning to make a trip.  It is one of my favorite road trips in the Eastern USA and worth doing at least once, if you haven’t done it already.  With the fall colors around the corner, October is as good a time as any.