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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Fall Foliage 2019 - A Glimpse

Explorer Lens



2019 has been an amazing year for us, especially in terms of travelling.
We have explored new places, immersed ourselves into the beauty of nature, witnessed breathtaking natural wonders, captured lifetime memories, had some great adventures and experienced moments which will be with us forever.

We planned our last trip of the year to witness one of the best Fall Foliage on the East Coast of USA. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park is always on the top of the list when we talk about 
watching fall colors, but we didn’t go there, instead visited the 2nd best on the list – New Hemisphere, Vermont and Upstate New York.


Here are glimpse of the places we visited in these 3 states in two and half days.
I would recommend these places if you wish to witness one of the best fall colors of East Coast.

1. Echo Lake
   
Echo Lake State Park is a great place to witness the fall colors. The water is
    crystal clear and the reflection of the colorful mountains on the water looks
    stunning. You can also canoe and swim in the water.
    There is an entry fee of $10 for the state park.


   


2. Cathedral Ledge
   
In the vicinity of the Echo Lake, there is a great hiking/climbing point – Cathedral
    Ledge. You can either climb to the top or even drive your way up there.


    The views of the entire valley from the top are just breathtaking.


3. New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway
   
It is one of the most scenic highways of USA to observe the spectacular fall foliage.
    You get to witness about 27 miles of jaw-dropping views of the White Mountain
    with lot of sightseeing and overlook points.
    There are also lot of trails in the way, if you love hiking.



    So if you want to see tons of gorgeous fall colors, this is the highway to get on.
    Make sure to visit when the fall colors are at their peak.



4. Vermont's Route 100
    
Though the entire route 100 is more than 200 miles long, I would recommend
    to start from Waterbury and drive all the way till Stowe.
    You get to see picturesque views of the Green Mountains and the highlight of the
    drive is Mount Mansfield. It is the highest mountain in Vermont and is also the
    most visited mountain here. During the fall season, it is recommended to take the
    Gondola ride to the top which cost around $30 /adult, but is worth every penny.

Credit - Here

5. Lake George
    
After witnessing tons of amazing fall colors in New Hemisphere and Vermont, it is
    time to observe the beauty of fall in Upstate New York.
    One of the best points to witness the same is from the India Head Trail. As Lake
    George lies in the vicinity, it is a good option to book accommodation near Lake
    George and get stunning views of the lake in the morning with mountains in the
    backdrop.


6. Indian Head Trail
    
I would highly recommend this place to all the fall lovers who are also ok with
    moderate level hiking.
    Indian Head Trail is an 11 mile heavily trafficked loop trail, with moderate level of
    hike. The trail is gorgeous with beautiful fall views. At many places you
    can see tons of leaves scattered on the ground and many falling from the trees
    which looks magical.



     The view from the top is fantabulously fantastic. It is worth your time, money
     and everything you have spent to reach here.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

8 top thing to do in Death Valley National Park

Explorer Lens


Don’t go by the name of this national park, because what you are going to witness here is far-far away from that. Death Valley National Park is home to one of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen in my life. With more than eight different colors of mountains, layers of salt crust forming the lowest point of USA, Sand dunes reaching upto 100 feet, volcanic crater and vast areas of desert, it is a place which will definitely mesmerize you and be in your memories forever.

Scattered in an area of 3000 square miles, this national park has huge variety of terrains to offer.
I have seen a lot of people giving more preference to Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyons. No doubt, they are one of the natural wonders in the world, but Death Valley to me is not a penny less.

Yes, it is also one of the hottest places in the world, but if that doesn’t bother you, this is definitely a must visit place for anyone who is coming to Vegas and has time for a day trip, as it is just at 2.5 hours driving distance from Vegas.

Though there is a lot to see in Death Valley, but here are the top 8 must visit attractions that you should not miss :

1. Dante’s View
    
Start your exploration of Death Valley at an elevation of 5000+ feet from sea level.
      Yes, I am talking about one of the greatest photographic spots in Death Valley, Dante’s Point.
      From Dante’s Point, you get to witness the most breathtaking views of the entire valley, especially
      the entire Badwater Basin surrounded by mammoth mountains.

      It feels like you are over the edge of another world. There is a small hike from the parking to the
      north, which we will highly recommend.
      Though it’s a longer drive to Dante’s View, but the reward from the top is incredibly grand, so
      don’t miss it.

2. Badwater Basin
     
Though it is the lowest point in USA, but the views are highly mesmerizing.
     Whether you have a glimpse of the entire basin from the Dante’s point or drive down to the basin,
     the scenes are breathtaking.


     The basin consists of salt flats which are formed by the greatest evaporation in the entire USA and
     is surrounded by towering mountains. There are warning signs of high heat in this area, so make 
     sure to take pictures in the first 10 minutes of coming here, as your phone will show overheat 
     warning and will eventually stop working.


3. Devil's Golf Course
   
This is a different terrain altogether and definitely suits its name.
     Don’t confuse it with some golf course having lush green grass, as it is totally opposite of
     that.



     It is one of the interesting geological areas in Death Valley covered with sharp and crusted salt
     formations which are a bit bizarre in shape. There are jokes that only a Devil can play golf here,
     hence the name. The terrain is quite rough and hazardous to walk on, so be careful.


4. Artists Drive   
     It is an one-way 9 mile drive off the Badwater road into the hills on the east side of Death Valley.
     There are several turnouts on this road, most of which are quite tight, hence extra caution needs to
     be taken while driving.


     This drive is right out from some artist’s imagination. Definitely a magical drive with stunning
     colors all around. One of the spots on this drive, Artists Palate, according to me is one of the most 
     picturesque spot in the entire park. It is hard of believe how sand, wind and rocks can produce
     a natural paint palette consisting pastel shades of yellow, white, green and chocolate brown.



5. Zabriskie Point
   
After you have visited Artists Palate, you would be wondering if there is any other place in the
     park which is as beautiful and colorful as Artists Palate, well there is and it is known as Zabriskie 
     Point. 


     It is one the most popular spot of Death Valley and also one of the most photographed spot in the
     entire valley. You need to hike a little from the parking spot to a high elevation point from where
     you can witness rock formations and structures of striking colors and diverse landscape.


     To me it felt like I am not on Earth anymore but on another planet. Its really fascinating to see
     what all nature has in store for us. It is recommended to visit this place during sunrise or sunset, 
     when the colors appear to be more vibrant and are constantly changing.  

6. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
    
If you are wondering what else Death Valley has to offer apart from the stunning colorful rock
      formations and the bizarre salt crystals, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes will definitely surprise you.

Credit - Here

     
The dunes start out small and get much bigger the further you go in. The dunes are amazing and
      you can feel the solitude of the desert once you get to the quiet points.
      Unfortunately there are lot of footprints on the dunes in the starting which doesn’t turn out good
      in the photographs, but as you explore it further the panoramic views of the shifting sands 
      forming interesting shapes definitely appears magical.

      As the sand gets superhot in the day, do carry a lot of water and wear shoes instead of flip flops or
      barefoot.

7. Ubehebe Crater
    
If you haven’t got enough of the alien world feel, this place will take it to another level.
      Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater which is estimated to be formed around 2000-7000
      years ago.

Credit - Here

      You can get stunning views of the crater from the parking lot and also from the rim.
       It is an easy 60-90 minutes’ walk around the rim. You can also get to the bottom of the crater, but
       that walk is a bit strenuous.
       Do carry a lot of water, sunscreen and look out for scorpions.
       Definitely it is highlight of the Death Valley, hence shouldn’t be missed.

8. Furnace Creek Visitor Center       
    
I have seen a lot of visitor centers during my visit to national parks and other places in USA, but
      Furnace Creek Visitor Center is a gem.

                                
      
      There is lot of information here regarding what all to see and visit in Death Valley.
      Also it has a great exhibition which gives you insight to the valley, in forms of pictures and
      interesting displays.

      Staff is quite friendly and knowledgeable. There are good restrooms and snack machines.
      Also you pay the entry fees - $30 of the park here which is good enough for 7 days. You get
      parking pass which you need to put on the dashboard.
      Would highly recommended to stop here before you start for the Sand dunes or the Crater.

Credit - Here
Racetrack Playa
One of the most interesting and intriguing points in Death Valley is Racetrack Playa.
It is a scenic dry lake famous for its mysterious sailing stones. Large rocks traverse through the rough terrain leaving trails behind them.
It is really mystifying to think how big rocks glide over the surface without any external force.



Though I couldn’t visit this point as the road to the racetrack is quite rough and there are warnings of flat tire, the tow cost of which is around $2000, but it will be always be on my bucket list to see a moving rock myself.

Some important points before you start your trip to Death Valley
1. Carry a lot of water, as the average temperature here is around 100’ Fahrenheit.
2. Sunscreen is a must if you plan to do some hikes and travel a bit far from the parking area.
3. Fill up the gas as there is only one gas station in Death Valley near the Furnace Creek Visitor
    Center, where the gas is quite expensive.
4. Carry lot of food and snacks with you, as there are not much food options at the Visitor Center.

Here is the map to all the must visit locations of Death Valley from Las Vegas.



Saturday, November 2, 2019

Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon - The Comparison

Explorer Lens



The Antelope Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in USA.
Situated in Page, Arizona, this sandstone slot canyon can also be considered as one of the natural wonders of America.

But the most important question that occurs in everyone’s mind is, whether to visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. Both of them are stunningly beautiful and will give you an experience of lifetime.
We visited both the canyons and here is the comparison and list of common factors between the two, to help you decide.

Common Factors

1. Crowd
   
5 years ago, Upper Antelope was considered more famous and crowded, but things have changed
    thereafter. Today both the Canyons are equally crowded during the peak season, especially in
    summers.
    So whichever Canyon you are visiting, don’t expect to get much time to spend at one spot and be
    prepared to always keep moving. If you won’t stick to your guide and follow his instructions,
    there is a possibility that he might shout at you or not take your pics.

2. Expensive
   
Antelope Canyon is privately owned by Navajo Nation and is a source of tourism business for
    them. As a result, the tour cost of these Canyons is on the higher side, as compared to the 
    admission fee for any national park in USA.

    Normal tours for Upper Canyon starts from $60 and $50 for Lower Canyon.
    This price is the walk-in price. If you book online the price is still higher.
    And yes, you need to pay $8/person for the Navajo guide who accompanies you during the tour.
    I would suggest to book online if you are visiting during the peak season, as the slots get booked
    pretty fast.

Now moving on to the comparison between the two slot canyons, here are the thumbs up and thumbs down points for both the Canyons.



Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon is V shaped, narrow at the top and wide at the base. It is famous for its light beams and falling sand.The most expensive photo ever was also taken here by Australian landscaper photographer Peter Lik.

There are lot of tour providers for Upper Antelope Canyon. Some of the ones I know are:
- Antelope Canyon Tours
- Adventurous Antelope Canyon PhotoTours
- Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours


Thumbs Up
1. Photogenic
   
Because of the beam of light the Upper Antelope Canyon is more photogenic. Mostly the pics on
    the internet are of Upper Canyon only.
    There are photography tours available for Upper Canyon which are no longer provided for Lower
     Canyon.  So if you are a serious photographer, the photography tours are for you.


Thumbs down
1. Expensive
    
As compared to Lower Antelope Canyon, the tours for Upper Canyon is a bit more expensive.
     So be ready to shell out more for this canyon.
2. Darker
   
The best time interval to tour the Upper Antelope Canyon is from 10 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., when the
    sun is right above our head. But, as it has narrow canyon walls at the top, it is darker than the  
    Lower Canyon.



   
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is comparatively bigger than the Upper one. It is narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, making it brighter and warmer than the Upper Canyon.
There are mainly providers of Lower Antelope Tour
- Ken's Tours
- Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Canyon Tours



Thumbs Up
1. Longer and Bigger
   
As Lower Antelope Canyon is bigger and longer than the Upper one, you get more time to
    experience and feel the beauty of the vibrant colors of the Canyon walls and also click pics.
    Also you get to see more structures and formations than the Upper Canyon.
2. Slightly less Expensive and Crowded
   
Well, I would say that in terms of crowd there is not much difference between both the Canyons
     but still Lower Antelope Canyon is comparatively less crowded.
    Also it is atleast $10 cheaper than the Upper Canyon.



Thumbs down
1. Narrow and Congested
   
The Lower Antelope Canyon is narrow at the bottom which makes it is a little congested to pass
    through, especially when it is crowded. But if you are not bothered by small and enclosed spaces
    then it won’t be a big concern. 
2. Stairs
   
You need to take stairs to get into the Canyon and also there are few of them while you are walking
    through the canyon. It might be an issue for the children and elderly people and those who have     
    mobility limitation.
3. No light Beam
   
It was the light beam pic which made Antelope Canyon world famous, but you can find that only
    in Upper Antelope Canyon. As the Lower Antelope Canyon is wide at the top, the possibility of a 
    seeming light beam is nearly impossible here.



Final Conclusion
Both the Canyons are incredibly beautiful and will provide you with a lifetime experience.
But, if you are looking for the beam of light and are a professional photographer, I would suggest you to visit Upper Antelope Canyon.

But if you are not much concerned about the beam of light, but want to experience the canyon more closely, want to touch and feel the walls and vibrant colors of the Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon is a better option.

If you have time, I will recommend to visit them both on the same day..!!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

8 top things to do in Lake Tahoe

Explorer Lens




Lake Tahoe can be termed as one of the most beautiful creation of nature.
Pristine blue clear water, beautiful Alpine trees surrounding the lake and Majestic Mountains at the backdrop, makes it an unparalleled beauty.
Mark Twain even called it the ‘Fairest picture the whole world affords’.

Situated on the border of California and Nevada, this lake can be explored from both the sides.
It is split up into South Lake Tahoe – in CA and North Lake Tahoe in Nevada and is also referred to as the California Side or the Nevada Side. 

As it lies at an elevation of 6,000+ feet above sea level, it is better the visit it during the summers, when all the routes are open and there is no need to use snow chains.

There are a lot of activities/things to do and places to see, but here are top 8 things that you can’t miss in Lake Tahoe.


Emerald Bay State Park -
The best way to observe the magical beauty of Lake Tahoe is from the Emerald Bay State Park. The views from the top, of the glacier carved granites, towering Alpine trees and pristine blue water are just stunning. It is a mountain/lake combination like no other.

There are two observation points:
1. The first one is at the top of the rock in the Emerald Bay State Park. Do remember that the parking
    is extremely limited here and you would want to come early to find one. Otherwise lot of people 
    park alongside the road too.
2. The second and most important point is a bridge which is just a mile away from the Emerald Bay
    State Park. The pics of the Fannette Island lying in the center of the lake that you see on Instagram 
    and google are being taken from here.


Fannette Island. 
One of the most magical and popular tourist spot on Lake Tahoe is the only island present on this lake - Fannette Island. If you are into adventure, you can kayak or take a bout tour to the island. 


Donner Memorial State Park
Camping at Lake Tahoe is an experience of lifetime and I would definitely suggest you to do that.
Donner Memorial State Park is a great place for camping. Apart from that it also offers the visitors with various opportunities like picnicking, boating and fishing.
There are also various trails, which offer stunning views of Lake Tahoe.


King’s Beach State Recreation Area.
There are lot of beaches on the California side of Lake Tahoe, but King’s Beach is my favorite.
There are lot of activities to do here like swimming, parasailing, jet skiing, paddle boating, kayaking, canoeing and various other water activities. Also the views of the mountains in the backdrop is quite mesmerizing. The water is crystal clear and clean. The beach is quite happening with lot of people enjoying themselves round the summer. There are also plenty of places to eat around.
Getting a parking is the only difficult task here.


Sand Harbor Beach
There are beautiful beaches on both sides of Lake Tahoe. Once done exploring the Californian side, head towards the Nevada side beaches for a different experience.
As compared to the beaches on California side, Nevada has lesser number of beaches.
By favorite beach on Nevada side is Sand Harbor Beach and also it is probably the best spot to watch sunset in Lake Tahoe. It is less crowded than King’s Beach but provides more scenic views.
The parking is $10 per car.



Trails
The top trails providing breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe are as below:
- Rubicon Trail:
 
This is a 22 mile trail through the Sierra Nevada and can be experienced in iconic jeep tours.
- Cascade Falls Trail
 
This is a moderate hike to the beautiful Cascade Falls which provides amazing views of Lake Tahoe.
- Fallen leaf lake trail
 
There is another lake near to Lake Tahoe, Fallen leaf lake which can be visited using this 7.8 mile 
 
trail.Though the trail is not well marked, so there is a possibility of getting side tracked. The 
  stunning views of huge snow covered mountains reflecting over calm water is worth the visit.

Heavenly Mountains
You need to take a 2.4 mile gondola ride up from Heavenly Village to the stunning heavenly mountains. This gondola ride provides breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and surrounding mountains.
The ride is $44 per adult.

Once you reach the top, there are lot of activities you can do here like rock climbing, snow tubing, skiing and zip-lining.


Tahoe City
Tahoe city is a great place for vacation and also one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.
Once you are done exploring Lake Tahoe, you can stroll around the city for some delicious food, shopping and art galleries. Best way to explore the city is by renting a bike.

Credit - Here

Winter Wonderland
Lake Tahoe is equally beautiful in winters and is home to some of the best skiing areas in USA.
You can try Squaw Valley or lessen know Alpine Meadows to enjoy and experience the winter activities.
Not to forget the views from these places are unparalleled.

Monday, September 30, 2019

8 top things to do in Zion National Park, Utah

Explorer Lens





Situated at a driving distance of 3 hours from Las Vegas, Zion National Park is one of the most iconic national parks in US.
Home to some of the tallest sandstone cliffs, breathtaking hikes and stunning landscapes, Zion National Park stood fourth among America’s most visited parks in 2018, even leaving behind Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park.

There is a lot to do in Zion National Park, but here are the top 8 things you should not miss:



1. Drive the Zion – Mt Carmel Scenic Highway
    
Start with witnessing the majestic beauty of Zion National Park by driving the Zion – Mt Carmel
    Scenic Highway. Mammoth rocks towering over you on all sides, driving right through the 
    mountains and passing through numerous sheer cliffs is going to take your breath away.

    It is 12 miles drive with slow moving traffic. There are scenic pull offs, but they are small
    and come up suddenly, so make sure you drive carefully and not pass one by.
    Also if you are lucky, you might see some wildlife like mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
    Checkerboard Mesa was my favorite pull off, so don’t miss that.
Credit - Here

For most part of the year, the scenic drive is the only drive that you can do with your vehicle. For rest of the points within the park, you will have to use the free shuttle service.


2. Angels Landing Hike
   
Shuttle Stop – 6, Grotto is where you need to get down for this famous hike.

   
Rated among top 10 most iconic and difficult hikes of USA, this hike is the gem of Zion National
    Park.It is a 5.4 miles round trip which becomes quite strenuous at the last 0.5 miles, where you 
    have to use chains to walk your way uphill and downhill.

    We made it to top and the views are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, in short just out of the
    world. But the hike is not for those who are afraid of heights, because at the highest points there is 
    steep drop-off on either of your sides and the risk of life is quite real.

    So, if you are doing this hike, make sure to start early to prevent the scorching heat as much as
    possible, as this hike is going to drain you out of all water, energy and strength.

Credit - Here

3. Narrows
   
Get down at the last shuttle stop - Temple of Sinawava, to hike the Narrows.

    After you are done with Angels Landing, get some food and rest and prepare yourself for another
    unique and incredible experience.
    Set out from the Temple of Sinawava towards the Riverside walk and after walking for 2 miles you
    will be offered with the breathtaking views of the Narrows.

    For most of the time you will be wading or even swimming your way through the water of Virgin 
    River, so make sure you have got the right gear for it, especially footwear and hiking stick. Also 
    make sure to keep your valuables in a waterproof bag.
    You can rent the gear from the visitor center or from the shops outside the park.

   The whole Narrows hike is 16 miles, but you will need a permit to hike past the Big Spring which
   is 10 miles out and back. If you are doing the complete 10 miles, plan it for the complete day.
   Though heading a mile or two in the Narrows will provide you with an amazing hike.

If you have just one day for Zion, the above 3 things are the max you can do and should be at the top of the priority list. But, if you are there for more than a day, below are the attractions which you should definitely explore.

Credit - Here

4. Emerald Pools Trail
   
It is relatively easy and family friendly trail.
    Get down at Shuttle stop 5 – Zion Lodge to access the Emerald Pools trail.

    There are two parts to the hike, the Lower Pool and Upper Pool trail. The combination of both the
    trails is a 2.2 mile round trip. During the hike, you can witness small waterfalls making their way 
    down from the Upper Pool to the Lower Pool, picturesque natural pools and on a sunny day the  
    sparkling water of the Virgin River.

    Overall the hike is quite pleasant and enjoyable.

Credit - Here

5. Weeping Rock
    
Shuttle stop 7 leads you to Weeping Rock.
     As the name suggest, you are going to witness a great phenomenon of water coming out of rock.

     The hike is 0.4 miles roundtrip, but is a bit steep.
     Because of the moisture created on the rocks, you can see plants growing on these rocks which are
     also sometimes known as hanging garden.

Credit - Here
6. Canyon Overlook Trail 
    For those who are not doing the Angels Landing hike, Canyon Overlook Trail is a great spot to
    witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the park.

    The parking for this trail is a small pull off area along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway which
    fills quite quickly, so it is good to arrive early.
    As compared to Angels Landing hike, it is quite easy hike of just 1 mile round trip.

Credit - Here

7. The Court of the Patriarchs
   
Shuttle stop 4 takes you the trailhead of - The Court of the Patriarchs.
    It is one of the shortest hike of Zion National Park which will take you to an elevation of 40 feet in
    just couple of minutes.
    From here you can witness 3 massive sandstone formations referred to as the Court of the
    Patriarchs, after the biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


8. Other Incredible Hikes
   
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are 2 other hikes which I think are quite unique and
    gives you a lifetime experience, but are equally difficult and long. Check them below:

Credit - Here

   
a. Subway Hike
       
The opening of the Subway hike looks like you are entering a different world altogether.
        Be prepared to wade, swim, crawl and climb to complete this hike, but the experience and
        feeling will be for lifetime.

        It is a 9-9.5 miles strenuous round trip hike for which you need a permit from Zion Authority.
        There are two ways to complete it, top down and bottom up.

Credit - Here

  
b. Observation Point
    
This trail begins at the Weeping Rock trailhead.
      It is a strenuous 8 mile round trip hike though not as scary as Angels Landing, but the views of
      the Zion National Park from the top are equally iconic and stunning as of Angels Landing.

      So if you the time and strength, this hike will provide you an unforgettable lifetime experience.


So have a wonderful experience at Zion National Park..!!
       
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