Picture Tour of our US Trip – Part 2

Finally, we are ready with part deux of the picture tour. It has taken a long time; mainly because we were at our wit’s end trying to sift through the pictures and collate the apt ones.

In this part, we will be taking you through another set of scenic views sighted at the Zion National Park, the din and bustle of Las Vegas and the quaint, effervescent streets of San Francisco.

Zion National Park, Utah

As we left Page for Vegas, we decided to stop by at Zion National Park, which lies mid-way on the same route. The plan was to halt there for a couple of hours and if possible, to hike a short trail before we headed further to Las Vegas.

The change in scenery, although not very drastic, was quite notable. All thoughts of our previous sightings were flushed out of our minds as we eagerly peered outside our car windows to be greeted by a series of tall, distinctly coloured cliffs (alternating between red and white) with sides so steep, it appeared to have been sliced off with a knife! The rocky sentinels surrounding three sides of the topography of Zion are accompanied by swift flowing streams, deep canyons and vividly green vegetation; and, just like the Colorado river, the architect of this piece of marvel is another river, called the Virgin.

Enough said, take a look yourself.

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Psalm 87:2-3: “The Lord loves the gates of Zion, more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God!” The Gods (without naming any!) must truly love every place called Zion to have bestowed it with such resplendent beauty.
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The entire drive till the visitor’s centre kept our eyes glued to the window screen.

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Despite its beauty, some parts of Zion (like in the pictures above and below) look a lot like the mythical Mordor, minus the orcs of course! We wondered, if it was so because of the dryness of the rocks or the solitude.

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Simply driving through Zion would have been a great experience in itself, but it would have been foolish of us to be there and not take a walk around. Zion is supposed to be famous for hiking, with trails of varying difficulty and length. We decided to do the moderately difficult Emerald Pools trail, a 2.5 mile hike.

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At the start of the Trail
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Okay then, now, this is what could have easily passed off as the Shire (or maybe Rivendell). 
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This harmless looking stream, we were told, could turn into a raging monster during the monsoons.
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 “What are men to rocks and mountains?” These hauntingly true words of Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice came to mind as we began to ascend towards the Emerald Pools.

The trail is divided into three landings, where the river collects in a series of ‘pools’, called the Lower, Middle and the Upper Emerald Pools.

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The Lower Pool – with the sidewalk encircling the pool of water which is replenished by the tiny waterfall seen above.
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The Middle Pool is more about altitude and the panoramic beauty that one can see from here.

After the Middle Pool, the climb up was more rocky and testing of our agility. Finally when we made it to the top, the view was worth it. The Upper Pool is a collection of water at the foot of a giant rock with a private beach of its own.

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The Upper Pool at the foothill of that big boulder
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You have to lie flat on your back to capture the full face of the giant rock in one frame! 

We quickly descended from the Upper Pool and resumed our sojourn towards Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Vegas needs no introduction. We cruised through the highway to reach Las Vegas strip in approximately 2 hours after our departure from Zion. Nikhil successfully managed to drive almost 200 km on this stretch, the first time he has ever driven outside India, and was pretty kicked about being able to master the right-hand drive.

We did the customary walk down the strip, aimlessly loitered in various casinos and tried our luck at gambling, checked out the fountain show at the Bellagio, attended a day pool party, went to a night club, ate a hearty buffet, et al. Phew, that was hectic!

The must-have picture of this iconic symbol seen in almost every tv show or movie featuring Las Vegas!
We saw this and were immediately reminded of the silent ending to Ocean’s 11, where the entire crew, sans Mr. Ocean, seem to be mesmerised by the fountain before parting ways.
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Planet Hollywood, the hotel where we stayed
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The Game of Slots – Money is coming! Albeit, as little as 30$ that we won 😛 
That crowd! So many people out for the pool party on a hot sunny day, mainly running on beer! 
Alesso 🙂
At the Fremont Street – the old glamorous part of Las Vegas before the Strip came up.

Vegas was definitely everything that we had watched in the movies, heard about from friends and family, read about in the travel websites, yet somehow it failed to bedazzle us. Blasphemous as it may sound, Las Vegas, with all its incandescence and intoxication, was definitely a lot of fun but not as awe-inspiring or therapeutic as Mother Nature that we had encountered before.

After a frenzied stay in Las Vegas, we headed towards our ultimate destination, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

All avid readers will agree with this theory that most experiences magically reminds us about something that was read in a book and stored in, as Sherlock calls it, the Mind Palace. One of the first descriptions of San Francisco etched in our minds is from Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray – “It is an odd thing, but every one who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world.”

‘Frisco is indeed a delightful city backed by a rich history that adds substance to its lavish exuberance. The vibe in this city is pregnant with the force of life. You will find everyone, from locals to tourists, walking around with a sense of purpose; not the kind that makes you a grumpy person, but the kind of purpose that adds music to every step you take.

The only downside that we encountered (at the risk of seeming too bourgeoise) was the huge number of homeless people we saw on the streets whose plight transcended beyond poverty and homelessness.  We found it queer that a city so full of joie de vivre, a city that prides itself for being large hearted and liberal, for being the epitome of the American dream, seemed to be struggling with an issue so basic as the rehabilitation and care for its homeless.

Be that as it may, our 4 day stay in San Francisco was all about new experiences, more reunion with extended family and, of course, treating our taste buds.

On Day 1, we took a quick walking tour of the downtown, followed by a sumptuous lunch at Pier 39, visit to the Alcatraz island and a relaxed, enjoyable evening spent in the fabulous company of the Mehras.

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The hearts of Union Square. There is one in every corner, a great meeting point! 
Aerial view of the Union Square. The statue on the pillar is that of Lady Alma de Bretteville – one of the most iconic ladies of San Francisco whose rags to riches story serves as an inspiration to countless people hoping to make it big in the Land of Opportunities.
Lotta’s fountain 

We feel compelled to write about the historical significance of both, statue of Lady de Bretteville and Lotta’s fountain as narrated to us by our guide from the walking tour. After a devastating earthquake in 1906, everything that the people of San Francisco had built crumbled down like a pack of cards. Everything except the statue of Lady Alma and Lotta’s fountain. Standing tall and resolute, the statue inspired the citizens to re-build their lives and rise like the proverbial phoenix from ashes. Lotta’s fountain not only served as the only source of drinking water but also a symbol of hope as countless people gathered there everyday hoping to be reunited with their lost loved ones. What a heart-wrenching sight it must have been! We were told that every year on April 18, people gather around Lotta’s Fountain at 5.12 am to commemorate  the victims of the earthquake.

Shorts and sweater! San Francisco’s weather is the best example of oxymoron. It is summer time, the sun is out bright and smiling, yet the weather is cold and windy. 

The island of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay area has played many roles – it was used as a military fort, served as a federal prison site till 1963 housing infamous criminals like Al Capone, and later became the site of protest for greater rights by native American in the ’70s.

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The Rock – as Alcatraz prison used to be called back in the day. Nowadays, there are guided tours which take you inside the erstwhile prison to show a glimpse of how life used to be for the inmates.
The cells!
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Yes sir!

In the evening, we met our aunt, Bulbul bua, who showed us around the famous ‘hoods of San Francisco like Haight-Ashbury, Castro district, etc. All of us then drove down to Los Altos, which is outside SFO, to meet Bablu chachu and Sonia chachi. After a really long day (we had been up since 4 am to take the flight from Vegas to SFO!), the company of warm family members, nostalgic discussions of childhood, photography and current affairs over refreshing margaritas and piping hot, delicious Indian food were all we needed to rejuvenate ourselves.

View of SFO from atop the Twin Peaks – all thanks to Bulbul bua for taking us there. 
FamJam – Meet the Mehras 🙂

No trip to SFO is complete without a cycle ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. We set out a whole day to explore the Golden Gate Bridge and nearby areas at leisure.

But before you hit the pedals you have to treat yourself at the Ghirardelli chocolate factory.
That’s how chocolate rolls!
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 First full view of the Golden Gate Bridge as we cycled towards it. We had started from Fisherman’s Wharf, cycled across the  beautiful Crissy Fields before we reached the Golden Gate Bridge. 
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The weather Gods continued to stay kind on us as seeing the bridge in its full glory with no fog is a rare sight.
This was after we had cycled across. 

After we had crossed the bridge we rode ahead towards the quaint, sleepy little town of Sausalito.

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The entire route from the end of the Golden Gate Bridge till we reached Sausalito was so peaceful and pristine. We passed by charming little shops, people walking their pets, plush houses, a cluster of white yachts swaying to the music of the sea.
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View of Sausalito from the ferry taking us back to SF.
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Last look as we sailed towards the city.
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Sunset at the Fisherman’s Wharf
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The Cable Car – an icon of SFO akin to the Toy Train of Darjeeling. It moved slowly uphill, meandering lazily across the undulating streets of ‘Frisco till we reached a point when it had to go downhill, which is when it suddenly donned the avatar of a roller coaster. It was lovely!
That is not a garden folks. It’s the Lombard Street –   said to be the most crooked street in the world. 
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Chinatown – a must-visit.

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We found out where Fortune is made!

On our last day, we decided to take a tour of the famed California State Highway 1. The   drive along the pacific coastline is known for its scenic views.

The rough sea running to hug the rugged coastline. 
The lone Cypress tree spotted on the famous 17-mile drive near the Pebble beach. It is said to be the most photographed tree in the world.
Sky, Sea and Seagulls!
Town of Monterey – we took a pit-stop here for lunch,

 

Carmel By the Bay – our last stop before heading back to SFO. Carmel had a very European feel to it.  
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The beach at Carmel.

We reached SFO and, with a heavy heart, prepared ourselves to bid adieu to Uncle Sam the next day.

Read Picture Tour of our US trip – Part 1

But before we end this post, we want to leave you with one last picture, taken along the Pacific coastline, which is one of our personal favourites.

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A wedding photo-shoot – the bride-to-be, perfectly in sync with the flowers, is gearing up for an upcoming wedding; hopefully her fairy tale is as beautiful as ours!

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