Thursday, July 27, 2006

Finding the way home

Here. If only I can figure out a way to find such a long way home!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Part 2: Lost in the Tetons

Day 2

Teton Village, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Wake up and see beautiful, green slopes in the backyard. Checkout and get out, and discover that this is a one-street town. Rich tourists all over the place. Posh hotels. An antique car auction in progress. We are a little confused; all this opulence doesn't make sense, isn't this just a small little town outside a national park? What are we missing? Winch. Oh yes, ski resort. This place's apparently a ski resort of some sort. We walk over to Snake River lodge to get some breakfast.

MR: Table for three please.
Waiter: Sorry ma'am, we are closed for lunch.
MR: But its only 10.20.
Waiter: Yes, but we close at 10 AM as you can see here.
MR: Hmm, is there any other nearby where we can grab food?
Waiter: Yes, if you walk up this hill here, the Four Seasons will be open for breakfast until 11 AM
MR: The what?
Waiter: The Four Seasons. Right up this hill.
MR: This place has a Four Seasons? Middle of Nowhere, WY has a Four Seasons, ha ha.
Bill: Apparently, it is not exactly Middle of Nowhere. I read this in the hotel brochure but thought they made it up
Me: Made up what?
Bill: Jackson Hole is the fourth most prosperous county in the United States
MR: Goodness! Anyway, think we should go check out Four Seasons. We have to eat right?
Me: Of course.

Two hours later, after a long, leisurely brunch at the Teton Village Four Seasons, Bill, MR and I enter Grand Tetons National Park. The Tetons are the youngest range in the family of mountains that includes the Grand Canyon, and the mountains in this range have no foothills. Lush green slopes, halfway up the mountains, the green's gone and snow's taken over. Much more beautiful that anything we had seen at Yellowstone the day before.

We decide to head North to Jackson Lake for a hike around the lake, and then get back to the Jenny Lake and hike up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Jackson Lake is very pretty, but the supposed hike is actually a mile-long stroll along the lake. We decide to go canoeing instead, and soon in three men in a boat fashion, we are going around in circles. While other canoes are happily speeding past us, we take our time and claim to enjoy the scenary. We get the hang of it after sometime, and we are cruising along different inlets amazed at our rowing skills. Very impressive, we think. We could easily make the Cambridge rowing team, Bill claims. MR performs some neat acrobatic feats to shoot some pictures.

Me: Isn't is time to turn back? We have been here for an hour, I think.
MR: Yeah, we should. It is quite late and we have to do Jenny Lake too. Lets turn back.
Bill: Yep, we have to go around this island and we should see the visitor center.
MR: Yep, lets see, twenty five strokes and we should be around the island. Go.

Twenty five strokes later, we are around the island. Happiness. We did it. But the visitor center is nowhere to be seen. Another island is there though.

MR: Looks like we did hazaar distance. It must be around this island. Lets go.

Around the second island, and we see a third one. But there are no inlets North of us. Which means we are in the open bay. The wind's blowing the other way, and the waves are becoming bigger. No other canoes can be seen. Only motorboats whose wakes nearly topple us. We are utterly lost.

Me: I think we are lost. We will call for help.
Me: You guys think we should call for help?
Me: This map doesn't say anything. I do not know which way to go. And my arms are dead.
Me: Guys, are you even listening?

Bill and MR both have the same serene look on their faces.

Me: So do you know where we are?
Bill and MR: No
Me: So we should do something right? We will get toppled over soon by these waves. We are going to die.
MR: Do she always get so hyper over everything?
Bill: Yeah, she does
Me: Dudes, this is my life!
MR: Oh, enough drama! I think this is the one. We should see the visitor center if we go around this one.
Me: Okay lets go. If we don't see the visitor around this bend, we will call for rescue.
Bill: Whatever

Around third island, and all we see are two fishing boats. We row over to one and ask them for directions. They cannot believe that we could get lost in the lake. Stifling laughter, they tell us to cross more islands and then follow the bank. And thus, three hours after we originally set out to conquer the lake, we are back on the shore - exhausted but elated. MR and I show off our bulging biceps to each other.

Next stop: Jenny Lake. We are to take the boat shuttle across the lake, and then a half-mile 250 ft climb up to Hidden Falls, and another half mile to Inspiration Point from where panoramic views are promised. But when we actually get to Jenny Lake, its past six, and the last boat left at six. But we, well, MR is not to be discouraged. The sun won't set until 9.20, she claims. Which means that we could take the 2-mile trail around the lake instead to taking the boat, and then climb up the hill. What if the sun sets, and who knows what creatures live in these jungles, says I. Vetoed. Soon I find myself following Bill and MR into the jungle. The last of the hikers are coming back. We seem to be the only brave people in the entire park heading towards Inspiration Point. Yeah yeah, we make it alright. Totally worth it. Here's Hidden Falls.

(Btw MR, where the hell are pictures that you shot from Inspiration Point? You mean to say after all that risking life comedy, you don't have any pictures?)

Well, the day ain't over yet. We got back down by 9.40 and drove out of the park into Jackson, WY. After searching for an hour for places to eat, we finally had dinner at a sushi place. And then drove like crazy across the Teton Pass, into Idaho Falls, and all the way back to Salt Lake City. Hit the bed at 4.30 AM.

Coming up: Day 3 at Arches / Canyonlands

Unrelated trip notes: Just back from a wonderful weekend in Northern CA. Good wine, great friends and The Tempest in the park. Could not have asked for more.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Part 1: Romancing Yellowstone

Day 0

Last Friday at SLC International Airport, I sat down to write an eulogy for the very average Mr Wainwright. Someone ought to do it, I thought. There was no doubt in my mind that Wainwright was dead. After all, Falstaff reached Delhi on time with all bags intact, didn't he? It stands to reason that Wainwright died. But I was mistaken. We all were. Mr Wainwright, I am glad to inform you, is alive and well. Why, just last Friday afternoon he spent three hours watching NASCAR races at a neighborhood bar in Greensboro, SC. While MR spent the same three hours sitting on the runway in Newark, NJ waiting for her flight to take off. You see Wainwright's life isn't really tied to Falstaff's flights being on time, it is tied to MR's travel plans working out as planned. Almost every time Falstaff's flights were delayed, it was really MR's travel plans that were in jeopardy. So Wainwright is alright. Just that MR, Bill and I got a very late start on our holiday plans.

Day 1

Woke up and realised that we were in Pocatello, Idaho. Apparently we drove here yesternight from Salt Lake City. Bill walks around the room claiming that he is in love with Idaho. Look out of window, Idaho State University campus. Go Bengals everywhere. No wonder Ohio and Idaho are Bill's favorite states now.

MR starts to unpack. This is surprising because we have to leave the hotel in the next half hour or so and we will never come back. Oh wait, no, she is not unpacking, she is showing me all her hiking gear to make sure that she did not miss anything. For a whirlwind "four national parks in four days" trip where our longest hike would probably take us three hours, MR has dutifully packed the following:

- Hiking shoes (1 pair)
- Backpack (Red and Black)
- Hydration pack (Camelbak)
- Hiking towel (2)
- Rain Jacket (Blue and White)
- Sweater and fleece jacket
- Flashlight (2)
- Swiss-army knife (1)
- Hiking socks (3 pairs)
- Reflector hat
- Water purification filter

I assure her that yes, the only things she's missing are tents and sleeping bags which we most definitely need but maybe we can pick them up at the park visitor center? MR looks skeptical. An hour later we get out of the hotel and have breakfast at the nearest IHOP which happens to be in the same strip mall as Macy's. No Macy's in Chicago, IL[1] but there is a Macy's at Pocatello, Idaho.[2]

Soon, we are on our way to the west entrance of the park. Before us, the horizon opens up its welcoming arms, the famed potato farms of Idaho stretches out on either side, the mountains behind them watchfully guarding them. The road is so straight that it could put the highways of the midwest to shame, and we peacefully cruise along at 90 miles/hour. After Idaho Falls, the potato farms give away to pine trees and the highway starts curving as we enter the Targhee National Forest. Up a steep mile-long stretch and down again, and we find that the trees have receded from the sides of the road. They are all the way back by the mountains, and stretching out on either side now are expansive, green meadows.

Bill: This is beautiful!
MR: Yes, it is.
Bill: Though I guess this is not what I thought this place will look like.
MR: Me too. I was thinking this place would be all parched with just sulphur pools.
Me: Agree but we aren't at the park yet. So maybe it will change.
Bill: This is so green and so big! This is like a Disney movie.
(MR drops her camera)
MR: This is what?
Bill: Well, you know how in the Lion King type movie, you see meadows like this extending all the way to the horizon.
MR: You see this and you think of a Disney movie?
Bill: But the sun rolling high / Through the sapphire sky /Keeps great and small on the endless round / It's the Circle of Life /And it moves us all
(MR gives me a look that says it all)

Up and over the Targhee pass and the state border, past the small town of West Yellowstone, MT and we find oursleves at Yellowstone National Park. A small river on our right, huge mountains on our left with trees, but no leaves. We stop for some pictures; a plaque tells us that the wildfires of 1988 burnt the forest down leaving only the stumps. Wildfires that despite best efforts could not be put out for months. Dickinson says You cannot put a fire out/ A thing that can ignite/ Can go, itself, without a fan/ Upon the slowest night.

After a brief stop at the visitor center where we are told 12 times that we should stay on the boardwalk at all times, we drive to Norris Basin which houses a host of geysers including the highest in the world - the Steamboat Geyser. We can smell the sulphur from half a mile away; its like being back in Chem lab. We walk over to the nearest pool which looks like a deep blue jacuzzi spouting sulphur fumes. The earth around the pool is parched and cracked, we read that one can get second degree burns just by stepping on them. We go over to the Steamboat geyser which when it is in action could rocket scalding water over 300 ft. But since we did not want to spend a lifetime waiting for the boat, we leave to see the other pools in the Basin. Vast stretches of land with smoke arising out every 30 yards or so; it would be Mordor but for the trees in the background. A dying land not yet Dead as Tolkien would have said.

We leave Norris Basin and drive towards Canyon Village. The landscape changes abruptly - one minute we are in the middle of arid hot springs with scant vegetation and the next, we are in Ansel Adams territory. Lake Yellowstone, bluer than Tahoe, before us in all its magnificence with snow-capped mountains behind her. At Canyon Village, we decide to hike down to see the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With 328 steep steps and a 410 feet elevation change, it is classified as a strenous hike. In the interests of making good use of MR's hiking stuff, we climb down to see the Lower Falls. It is most definitely worth the climb up.

After stopping at Artist's Point so that our staff photographer with her wannabe-SLR camera could shoot some more pictures, we drive to Old Faithful to witness the grand performance. 40 minutes to go before Old Faithful's expected to send out water, the Park Ranger tells us. Just about enough time for MR to set up her photo shoot. While Bill and I get dinner, shop for souvenirs and take a walk around the place, MR finds the perfect spot to shoot the geyser from, sets up her tripod and fiddles around with the camera settings. A young, Punjabi couple walk past her.

Man: You are so bad. You keep taking pictures all the time.
Woman: I like taking pictures. Is that a problem?
Man: No, but you behave like a Japanese tourist. Or worse, like some Patel.
Woman: You look there. Look at that woman there. See how she is setting up her shot. That is how you take pictures. You wouldn't understand.[3]

Yeah yeah, Old Faithful was quite loyal. Here.

And a bonus picture showcasing MR's talent. When I pointed out that the sky did not look anything like this that day, I was told that I am too stuck in reality and that true photographers transcend reality. But, of course.

Coming up:
Day 2: Getting lost in the Tetons
Day 3: How to borrow a tripod to shoot the Arches at twilight

[1] Yes, I know Macy's technically own Marshall Fields now. But it still says Marshall Fields okay?

[2] Note to Falstaff: Throughout the trip, Bill missed you. But on this particular occasion, when he saw MR and I exchange glances on seeing Macy's, he actually screamed for help. I am quite sure you must have heard that SOS call in Delhi.

[3] Now when you see the billboards back home with pictures of MR with Rebel on them along with captions like "This is how you shoot", you know exactly how MR became the role model for trigger happy Punju women all over the world.

PS: Yeah, I know. Footnotes, poetry, copious descriptions and making fun of MR n times do not belong here in this blog. But hey, I was just trying to check off at least four things on my cheat sheet on "How to write a long, rambling Falstaffian post".

PPS: Falstaff, let me remind you that you asked for this.