Tuesday, May 30, 2006

We went canoeing!!

I know I said I would post tips for traveling with kids in my next post, but I’m going to have to do that later. I’m just so excited over our Memorial day weekend that I really had to post about it first.
We had a reunion of sorts with hubby’s friends from college. They were meeting after about 16 years. We met each other’s families and got to know each other on Friday. On Saturday, we decided to go canoeing on the Fox River up in Wisconsin. It’s about an hour’s drive from where we live. We had a picnic lunch and set off in four canoes. Initially, a 7.5-mile canoe trip didn't seem to be hard at all!! It was a beautiful, scenic trip through the wilderness and we loved it.There was a slight breeze and the trees swayed and danced around us. We could hear little critters in the bushes along the shore and we spotted lots of different birds. We couldn't capture any on them in our camera though. Like I said, it was idyllic. And then things started happening.... In a while, we realized that 7.5 miles on water seems much farther than that on road!!

At one point we got separated from the rest of our group. We were wondering what happened when we felt strong winds blowing and the canoe was being pushed around and in the wrong direction..upstream! We fought hard to keep going in the right direction. When we realized we had left our group way behind and it was starting to get dark, we decided to go ahead and send someone to get them.

We made it back to shore at about 6.45 pm. While we were still paddling back, we saw the people who had rented us the canoes coming in our direction in their motorboat and we asked them to please find the rest of our group. Another couple followed close behind us and made it back at about 7.15. The other two canoes actually floated back in style, being towed by the motor boat! They had their feet up in the canoe and were busy taking pictures.

We later learned that a storm was passing through and hence the winds! I think there’s something up with us and the storms! (Remember our return trip from Arizona?)We also learned that one of the canoes in our group, got stuck at one point because of the winds and they completely lost sense of direction and started moving the wrong way. They met up with the other canoe after a while and realized they were going back to where we started from!! They were relieved when the motorboat pulled up and towed them back.
Despite the little hitches, we all had a pretty good time and a good laugh about the whole adventure. We picked up dinner on the way and could barely eat with our aching muscles. Nevertheless, we did eat well and came back home. I provided everyone with motrin..being the good hostess that I am and hubby got some wonderful coffee for all of us and that kept us going well past midnight, playing games and talking about everything and nothing!
The next day we went to downtown Chicago, but ah, that’s another post. Don’t want to bore you all at once…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Now, the part that inspired me to start this blog.
The vacation was over, well… almost over. We still had to come home, by road!! So, we planned our return trip carefully. We once again booked a hotel in Oklahoma City, but not the Marriott, although why we booked a different hotel, I will never understand--temporary insanity perhaps?
Anyways, we started off bright and early once again. It was a beautiful sunny day. We had the snack-size cereal boxes, goldfish, bread, and plenty to drink. We left Glendale around 6.00 am and drove North on I-17. After we crossed Flagstaff, we got onto I-40 East and set forth. We had breakfast on the go and stopped for an early lunch at the Arizona-New Mexico border.
We entered Texas around 5.30 in the evening and stopped for dinner at Vega once again, the same place we had lunch on the way to Arizona. Once again, we did the usual gas, food and pit stop combination to save time and set off.
The sun was setting behind us and the stars stepped out of hiding. There were so many stars in the sky! It was beautiful. We still had a few hours to reach Oklahoma City and the kids were getting tired. They picked out a movie they wanted to watch and started to wind down. As we drove quietly in the dark, I noticed some lights in the distance. The lights were golden and rhythmic and seemed to be dancing to a distant tune. I pointed this out to hubby, who took a quick look and came back with, “looks like a laser show. There must be a lake somewhere in the distance.” When we lived in Sydney, Australia, we had watched a fantastic laser show over the waters of Darling Harbor. I accepted his explanation then, but something still bothered me. The lights seemed to be in one place, to our distant right, but as I said, something nagged me.
My younger son looked up when the movie was over and said, “Mom, look, its lightning.” I assured him it wasn’t, that it was just a laser show. He seemed satisfied with my answer for about five minutes and once again in a very small voice, said, “Mom its freaking me out, it is lightning.” I knew by now that it was indeed lightning and that we were driving into a major storm. I tried to calm him down and told him to try to sleep and that mom and daddy would protect him. He settled down and went to sleep. Now, ordinarily lightning does not bother me. In fact, I like looking at it light up the night sky. But this time I was scared. The lightning was not like anything I had seen before. It was a bright golden color and just seemed to set the whole sky on fire. I saw numerous sky to ground strikes as we neared the storm! The winds were stronger and seemed to push our van around like some kind of toy. If you live anywhere in the US, you know that OK is known for the twisters that occur there from time to time. In fact, the whole midwest is privy to some very deadly tornados. Of course, that's the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the lightning and heard thunder. The only other vehicles on the road were some huge trucks. We were desperate to get to some shelter and quickly. The few rest areas that we passed looked deserted in the night and we drove on hoping to get to our hotel soon.
We entered Oklahoma City with a sigh of relief. Although we had been chasing the storm and seemed to be getting closer to it every minute, we managed to stay behind it and reached our hotel safe and sound. The ground was soggy and wet from the storm and as we parked and dragged two weary and tired children and entered the hotel, I wondered…”what were we thinking when we started this trip?”
Well, the hotel didn’t at all look like the picture we had seen of it on the internet. The kids had already started to whine and say they didn’t like it here and can we please just go. I wasn’t too pleased either, but hubby convinced us it was just for the night and all we needed was some sleep. With some reluctance, we agreed and got the keys to our room (after a long wait!) It was 11.30 in the night and we desperately needed a bed. Well, we took the key and went looking for our room. After some searching, we finally found it and entered the dimly lit two room suite. There was an empty soda can on the coffee table and the TV was on! “Hmm… the staff probably forgot to turn off the TV and pick up the soda can after cleaning up,” I thought. Hubby walked into the bedroom and stood staring at the bed. When I went up to him, he very calmly said, “there’s someone sleeping here!” Needless to say at this point, we hastily made our exit. I was terrified at the thought of the person sleeping there waking up and finding four strangers staring at him or her. We ran down to the reception area, returned the key and left. I tried to ask for our money back, but was told that we had to contact the website through which we booked the hotel. So, we just left. The receptionist seemed very calm about the whole other person in the room thing!! Maybe she thought we could share!!!
We were out on the street at midnight with two kids and no place to go. We thought we would try our luck with the Marriott again and so I called them. They very kindly put us up for the night in a very clean and wonderful room with two queen beds and clean bathroom and no one sleeping in either of the beds! Oh! What a relief!
We turned on the TV and guess what, the next day, the day we were supposed to leave Oklahoma and return home, was going to be one of the stormiest days of the year.Numerous tornados were predicted and people were being asked to stay indoors as far as possible. Golf ball sized hail and soft ball sized hail was expected in some areas. The storm’s path was our route exactly! The storm was predicted to be traveling at about 35 miles an hour and with us driving at about 65 miles an hour, we were destined to catch up with the storm at the Missouri-Illinois border. After a quick discussion, we decided to stay put for another day. We called the hotel desk and once again they very graciously let us book the room for the next day too. Thankfully, we sank into bed at about 2.00 am. Only after we returned home did we hear that several tornados had touched down along our very route! Many tornado related deaths were reported in Tennessee, Missouri and southern Illinois. I think we made the wisest decision of our lives by deciding to stay back an extra day!! We have been known to do some whacky things and I'm glad we didn't try to drive through the storm.
The next day was beautiful and sunny in OK City, but the rest of the Midwest reeled under the raging storm. We tried to make the most of our extra day. We slept in, had a good breakfast and decided to visit the Cowboy museum there. It was just about 4-5 miles from where we were. The museum was great and the kids especially loved the gun exhibit (boys-of course). We got a glimpse of the wild west and how life was in those times. The museum had one room full of huge paintings of the Grand Canyon, the Yellowstone National park and many other wonders. We looked around for a couple of hours and went to get lunch. The rest of the day we just spent relaxing in the hotel room and went to bed early. The next day, we checked out early and started to drive back home. Thankfully, the journey was quite uneventful and we made it back home in good time. The kids were happy to be back in their room with their own beds and their TV and games! Anyone would think they didn’t have TV for centuries!
All’s well that ends well and yada yada yada….yup I sure was glad to be back home…my very own comfort zone with the old familiar smell.

One thing I have learned from this trip is to never, ever book a hotel based on the pictures you see on the internet. Often the picture is of the reception area!
The star rating given by the travel websites do indeed make sense and it is safe to book a hotel that has more stars than less.
It is safest to stick to popular hotel chains or to go by other peoples experiences. Ask around before you book a hotel.
We were lucky in that the website through which we booked the hotel gave us a full refund for the cancellation. A big thank you to them!

I wish I had taken pictures of the awesome lightning strikes, but at that point, all I could think of was for my family to get to safety.Also at the Cowboy museum in OK city, photography was prohibited near most of the exhibits, so no pictures of that either. But my son is trying to draw a picture of the storm that we experienced and I will try to update the post with that once he is done.

Gangadhar, Tracy, Jimmy, Kartik..Thanks so much for adding me to your blogroll!

Coming up....

Useful Tips for Roadtrips with kids!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Grand Canyon…

I have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. So, it was on the top of my list of things to see when we planned our trip to Arizona.
We set off right after an early lunch. Our cousins, having taken a number of family members to see this natural wonder, joined us to see it once again. I really appreciate their effort, because I know it’s not easy traveling with a one year old. But he was a perfect angel all along the trip.
The Grand Canyon National Park is about 230 miles from Glendale. It’s a beautiful drive in the spring time, transcending one from the heat of Phoenix and Glendale to the snow capped mountains near Flagstaff and beyond.

We reached The Grand Canyon National Park at about 1.30 in the afternoon. There is an entrance fee for the park, which is about $25 for one vehicle. We drove into the park and found parking near a lodge. After a quick bathroom break, we were all ready to explore this natural wonder. We set off to the appointed stop for the shuttle buses, which take you to different scenic points. We hopped onto one of the shuttle buses and stepped off the bus at the point from where one can view the Colorado River flowing through the Canyon. It was an amazing sight!

The Grand Canyon is not just a beautiful, awesome view; it is a timeless gift to humanity. Its vastness and magnificence are unparalleled. I was completely awestruck at this great chasm, carved over millions of years across the Colorado plateau. I cannot find words to describe this natural wonder!

One can indulge in a number of activities at the Grand Canyon National Park from hiking to horseback riding to white water rafting in the Colorado River and many more. We did not embark on any of these adventures, but spent our time going to different scenic points and just gazing at the Canyon. We returned to the lodge where we had parked our car before sunset so we could see the sunset at the Grand Canyon. We saw a number of Elk on our way to different points. Sometimes the elk just step right into the path of vehicles and can be quite dangerous, especially after dark.

The sunset was spectacular! Again, words fail me. Even our camera failed to capture the beautiful sunset at the Grand Canyon in its entire splendor. We did, however, try to get some good pictures.

On our way back from the Grand Canyon National Park, we stopped at the Imax theatre and saw a movie about the Grand Canyon.. It was a spectacular showing and I would recommend all who visit the Grand Canyon to take the time out and see this presentation, as it gives you a new perspective.

I have, as of now, visited two of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I hope to be able to visit all of them someday…

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


After our trip to Sedona, we decided to drive south to Tucson. Tucson is about 140 miles south of Glendale and a mere 60 miles north of the Mexico border. The drive time is about 2 hours and thirty minutes. Tucson has many interesting attractions. The one we chose to visit was the Saguaro (pronounced ‘Sauvaro’) National Park, part of the Sonora Desert, home to a wide variety of cacti, including the famous Saguaro cactus. The park consists of two sections, the east and west sections.

The eastern section of the park, also called the Rincon Mountain district is the one we visited. The Saguaro National park has a dry rugged personality of its own. The Saguaro, the giant cactus, has been described by many as the monarch of the Sonora desert and has been a symbol of the American Southwest. It is famous for its odd shapes and huge size. The tallest ones can be up to 50 feet tall and 150 years old. The National park is also home to many other types of cacti and desert trees and shrubs. Many animals and birds also live in this vast desert land. The Gila Woodpecker and gilded flicker are two common residents of the Sonora desert. These birds live in nest holes they make in the larger branches of the saguaro. Some other winged inhabitants of the saguaro are the red-tailed hawks, American kestrel, western kingbirds, elf and screech owls to name just a few. Some animals that live here are roadrunners, the desert tortoise, Western diamondback rattlesnake, the cactus mouse and the jackrabbit. Many of these animals are nocturnal and venture out at night, thus avoiding the desert heat. Some animals venture out in the cooler morning and evening hours while a few that have special adaptations for dissipating heat like the jackrabbit(radiates heat from its oversized ears) comes out at midday.

The Saguaro begins its life as a shiny black seed, the size of a pinhead.
One saguaro produces tens of thousands of seeds in a year. Of all the seeds, only a few survive and grow to adulthood. The growth of the saguaro is extremely slow. By the end of a year, a saguaro seedling may measure only a quarter of an inch. At about 30 years, the saguaro begins to flower and produce fruit. This fruit was used by the Tohono O’odham Indians to prepare jams, jellies and even wine for their ceremonies.

We took a road that lead to several trails and started driving slowly along the winding path. It was an interesting trail with many types of desert plants growing on either side. There are smaller trails leading off from this one where one can go hiking. There is only one trail in the national park where one can ride a bicycle and this is the Cactus forest trail. The kids were trying to spot some snakes or other animals, while I was more than happy not spotting them! Being around midday, we didn’t see much animal life, much to their disappointment. However, we did go on a short walk where we saw a few small creatures scurrying away from us. We were told at the visitors center that just a couple of days before we visited the national park, a mountain lion was caught on the park camera drinking from a water hole!

We could see the Rincon mountain range all along the trail. It was beautiful in the afternoon sun. As we drove along slowly, the sun began to go down bathing the valley and the hills around in a golden hue. The warm temperatures and the golden light had a mesmerizing effect. Being the end of March, the temperatures were not too high and were very comfortable. However, temperatures are typically over a hundred degrees in the afternoon during the summer.
The Saguaro National Park was proclaimed a National Monument in the early 1930s and later declared a National park in 1994.
The Saguaro National park is not the only attraction in Tucson. The Biosphere, which is located a few miles away from the city of Tucson, is a 250-acre facility. Guided tours of the science exhibits are available. Also one can look at the upper and lower grasslands and the ocean under the glass. Guided tours of this are also available.
Another family attraction is the Old Tucson Studios. The Studio brings back memories of the old west. Kids enjoy cowboy adventures and simulated gunfights and action packed stunts.
Again, we had only a day at Tucson and our adventures were limited, but wonderful! There is so much to see and so little time!!

Coming up…The Grand Canyon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A big thank you to the author of Travel-Rants, one of my favorite travel blogs for featuring me as "blog of the day" on Friday May 5, 2006.

Friday, May 05, 2006


We spent a day at our cousins’ home relaxing and getting our aching muscles back to normal. The kids enjoyed playing outdoors again after a long time. Our cousins have a beautiful yard and play set and those kept the kids busy. Oh! and the air was filled with the sweet smell of so many flowers. Living through the winter in Illinois, I’d forgotten there were so many sweet smelling flowers on the planet. And the colors were awesome too, from the vibrant bougainvillea to the fragrant white jasmine, it was paradise.

Well, we decided to do a little sightseeing the next day. We had heard a lot about Sedona and so decided to go out there. Sedona is about 106 miles from Glendale, AZ.
Although I had heard a lot about Sedona, I was not prepared for its unparalleled splendor. It took my breath away.
At an elevation of about 4500 ft, it nestles, at the base of the dominating Mogollon Rim and the mouth of the majestic Oak Creek Canyon, among beautiful red sandstone rocks. The huge sandstone monoliths have names like Coffee pot, Bell and Snoopy because of their resemblance to these objects or in one case a lovable cartoon character. Sedona is also home to the vast Coconino National Forest. It goes unsaid that with so much natural splendor, there are many outdoor activities that one can indulge in here.

There are jeep rides, helicopter tours, hot air balloon rides, to name just a few. The more adventurous can go hiking or for ATV rides. Whatever mode of transportation one chooses, there is plenty to see in Sedona. The rocks are home to authentic old Indian cave dwellings. Downtown Sedona has an old worldly charm of its own. There are several specialty stores where one can spend hours just window-shopping. There are also several friendly cafes where one can get a cup of coffee.
We decided to take a helicopter tour of the place; although the kids were more interested in doing a jeep ride or ATV ride, (I’m not that adventurous!) We drove down from the city’s tourist information center to the small airport. We were asked to wait a short while. In a few minutes, we were accompanied to the helicopter and introduced to the pilot, a friendly smiling chap, who made us feel at ease. Being a family of four, we got a chopper all to ourselves, and yours’ truly had the opportunity to sit in front, next to the pilot. My family was jealous that I got the best seat and I couldn’t help gloating. To say that the view was spectacular from above would be an understatement. Words cannot describe Rich, Beautiful Sedona!
It’s a small world indeed, because after our helicopter tour on the way back to downtown Sedona, we stopped to take some pictures at a scenic point, when we ran into one of my son’s teachers from school. We were pleasantly surprised and took the opportunity to take some pictures with her too.

Apart from its natural grandeur, Sedona is also considered a spiritual retreat by many. It is believed that Sedona is home to several vortexes or focal points of the earth’s energy and many come here to renew their own energy.
After shopping for souvenirs and getting some yummy ice cream, we decided to head back home. How I wish we could have stayed another day and explored more of Sedona.

I’m sure, if I have the opportunity I will certainly go there again!