Monday, July 31, 2006

Family fun at the beach…

Usually for the 4th of July holiday, we plan some kind of vacation. Sometimes it is to Colorado, other times Niagara Falls. This year too, we were wondering what to do for the holiday. We did not feel like taking a really long trip, partly owing to finances and partly because hubby wanted to save up some of his vacation for later in the year. Good friends of ours, S&S suggested the beach and we jumped at it. Yup, a relaxing, fun time at the beach. The kids love the water and we love watching them having fun. Not to say, we don’t have any fun of our own. So, the four of us and the four of them, SS and their adorable two, set off for the beach.

The beach is a short distance from our house and we arrived there around noon, just in time for lunch. We had packed ourselves a picnic lunch and as I’ve said before, I think food tastes better outdoors. We realized that almost all the area residents had the same splendid idea we had, of going to the beach. It was packed. Of course, that made it even more fun. The more, the merrier. We ate, smeared more sunscreen, carried all our stuff, and headed towards the water. It was really warm weather and we thought the water would be cool and refreshing. The kids ran into the water and came out squealing. It was cool, really really cool!! Once their teeth stopped chattering, however, they were in the water, again.

The little ones made sand castles and we threw the ball around and played a few other games. The water was blue and beautiful. The sand, warm and clean. It was one of the cleanest beaches I’ve been to. Toward sunset, we headed back home. After a quick shower and dinner, we headed out to see our local fireworks display. A fun end to a fun day.

Oh! Did I not mention which beach I was talking about? Can you guess what shoreline it is that I speak of?

It is the shoreline of beautiful Lake Michigan. We went to the Illinois Beach State park in Zion. It is in northern Illinois. The Illinois Beach State park offers a wide variety of recreation like jogging and biking paths, fishing, and camping. It is perfect for some good old family fun.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Colorado Part 2

Hi…am back again. We were on a short vacation to Wisconsin Dells and just returned a couple of days back. I will be posting about that soon. But for now I’ll finish up on our Colorado adventure!

After our stay at Colorado Springs, we headed to the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge is located in Canon City. It is situated about an hours drive away from Colorado Springs. The best way to visit this spectacular canyon is by the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. However, we could not do that and so we just drove to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. This is located just 25 minutes from the train depot and offers a panoramic view of the Gorge from the World’s highest suspension bridge. This bridge hangs about 1000 ft high and spans about a quarter of mile across the canyon. The view from atop the bridge is breathtaking with the Arkansas river flowing right through the Canyon. One can indulge here in white water rafting and other water adventures. We chose the Incline Railway to go to the Canyon floor. The Incline Railway was built in 1931 and is considered to be one of the most difficult structures to be built. It travels at an angle of 45 degrees and descends about 1500 ft deep into the canyon. Here we marveled at the timeless granite walls hovering all around us, and the suspension bridge looking like a mere rope above. We enjoyed the scene of some dare devil white water rafters maneuvering through the roaring rapids of the Arkansas River.

Our plan was to leave the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park at about 3.00 pm and drive down south to Durango to camp there for a couple of nights. However, as plans go, this one went a few hours off the mark too. We did not leave the Park until about 6.00 pm. This being so, we reached our campsite near the Mesa Verde National Park close to midnight. It was quite an adventure pitching our tents by the light of our car headlights! The kids were asleep in the car and it was stifling hot. We decided to pitch just one tent for the night and six of us huddled into that at about 2.00 am. Actually, it was a lot of fun!

The next day, we went rafting!! It was just so awesome. We drove down to the main office in downtown Durango, where we met up with other rafters. Here we were driven by bus to the main part of the Lower Animas river where we would be rafting. We were given life jackets and led to the river by our guide. She was a young girl who seemed very confident on the waters. We, on the other hand, were a little nervous. But it was just such an amazing experience. The lower Animas is just perfect for first time rafters and families with young children, with some peaceful stretches and a few class II and class III rapids for that little bit of excitement. The Upper Animas is for the more adventurous, with class IV and class V rapids.

We had a great time and the kids were excited and thrilled. After this we returned to camp and cooked ourselves a delicious dinner. Too exhausted, we just dropped off to sleep. The next day, we went exploring the Mesa Verde National Park.

The Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve sites built by the first settlers on mesa tops and in Canyon alcoves. The park spans about 50,000 acres. Mesa Verde or “Green Table” rises high above the surrounding country. The park consists of several cliff dwellings. Some of the dwellings can only be viewed with a park ranger. But there are others that can be explored from a distance on our own. We visited many such cliff dwellings and pit houses, and got a glimpse of the indigenous people who lived then. We marveled at the construction and wondered how they got in and out of the cliff dwellings. They are located so deep and steep into the canyon that one cannot fathom climbing in and out. These cliff dwellings have helped historians understand significant details of the life and times of prehistoric America.

We also visited the museum, which displays the artifacts of the early settlers. It was an educational and fun experience for the kids and adults. We were extremely tired after the long walks through the park and came back to our campsite, once again exhausted but very content. We left the campsite the next morning and started driving back home. We had to drive through mountain roads for a good number of hours. By the time we were done with the winding roads, my sons had had enough and claimed they had ‘mountain sickness.’

We were happy to be on our way home. As fun as vacations are, we also missed home. We drove continuously for the next 24 hours, changing drivers every couple of hours of course, and got home close to 6.00 pm on the 4th of July. And guess what? A tornado had just passed our area, fortunately not touching down. That was the big news we cam home to…..I told you…there has to be a storm in every story of mine…

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Incredible Colorado!

We visited Colorado with a couple of friends a few years back. We drove from Illinois to Colorado. We did not have a minivan then and went in a rental Ford Explorer. Although quite comfortable, it was a little crammed for space for six people, four adults and two kids. All the same, it was not bad at all.

The whole trip consisted of about nine days. We left our home in the afternoon of the first day and drove until Omaha, Nebraska, where we stopped for the night. We stayed at the Radisson, a pleasant hotel. The next morning we visited a temple at Omaha and after breakfast drove on. We reached Colorado Springs that night at about 10.00 pm, Mountain Time. As we drove into Colorado, we could see the majestic Rocky Mountains ahead of us. It was a magnificent sight. I’ll never forget that first glimpse of the Rocky mountains. Seems like whenever we travel there has to be a storm. This time was no exception. At one point it started to rain so heavily that we couldn’t see an inch in front of us. We just had to stop at the side of the road. There was so much hail and the noise was deafening. To top things off, we had a huge load of luggage tied to the top of the vehicle. Being a small vehicle, we couldn’t carry all the stuff we needed for 10 days in the car itself. So, we had the brilliant idea of loading it all on the top and tying it there securely. It worked well, although every few minutes, we would have to look up to make sure nothing came undone! Anyways, even with all the excitement, like I said we reached Colorado Springs in one piece, with all our luggage safe, if not a little soggy.

We went straight to bed and the next morning we decided to see the “Garden of the Gods.” This is a National Natural Landmark. It consists of about 1300 acres of red sandstone rock formations. One can drive through the park, take a horseback ride, or ride a bicycle. There are paved bike paths in the park. There is no fee to drive through the park. There is a visitor’s center that offers multi media shows focusing on the American Indian heritage and the geologic formations in the park.

We had a great time driving through the park and taking pictures. The next day we drove up Pikes Peak. At a height of more than 14,000 ft, this is a visible landmark for many miles to the east, far into the Great Plains of Colorado. The view from atop Pikes Peak is breath taking to say the least. It is at the summit of this mountain that Katherine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful” her most famous poem. The overwhelming beauty of the open skies, fields and the majestic Rocky Mountains inspired her to write that poem. The drive up was beautiful. We stopped from time to time to take some pictures, but I don’t think any picture can do justice to the natural grandeur of the mountain. The temperature was very hot at the foot of the mountain, but when we reached the summit, it was actually snowing!

Another mode of transport to the summit of Pikes Peak is the Cog Railway. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is supposed to be the world’s highest cog railroad. This railway is said to be running for almost 114 years, taking passengers to the summit of Pikes Peak. We took the Cog railway the next day to get a first hand experience of this train. It was awesome. It took us up a steep incline all the way to the top. The kids had a great time looking out the window at the mountainside. At the summit we had some coffee and hot chocolate in the small restaurant. We looked at the vast stretches of land from the top once again and marveled at the wonders of nature.

That evening after dinner, we went to see the famous Seven Falls. To be frank, I was a little disappointed. It was a mere trickle. After having visited the Niagara Falls, all other water falls pale in comparison. But in all fairness, the lighting was very good. They had different colored lights dancing to the timeless tune of the waterfall.

The next day we visited the Royal Gorge. From there on we drove south to Durango where we camped for a couple of nights and visited The Mesa Verde National Park and went rafting in the Colorado river. But that’s going to be another post.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hope all of you had a good 4th of July. It's been a busy weekend for me. We had a number of activities planned and the kids had a great time. I will be posting about our visit to the beach shortly, but just wanted to say Hi so you guys wouldn't forget me!

I also wanted to especially thank Couch Potato for the link back on his blog.In his latest post 'experiences tell' he talks about my blog.He especially refers to my two latest posts, 'The other side' and 'the Good Samaritan.' I love the way he writes and this post is a great read.

Thanks to Kartik I finally figured out how to add the link in the main body. I didn't realize it was quite that simple. Thanks again Kartik.