Friday, November 07, 2008

Kanchanaburi - The resilience of this little town amazes me.

Death, deplorable working conditions, war-stricken monuments are all part of a sad and dreadful history that allow for Kanchanaburi (a little known town) to go down in history books, to be included in the making of post world war II films, to lend to thriving tourism etc.

It is also a place where the story (of many years gone by) lies, as if cast in stone, with decaying mold all around it, in a dark, dingy misnomer of a museum called the Jeath Museum of War history.
Brace yourselves before you go here...even though, in appearance, it's a shack-like dilapidated structure, within its crumbling mud walls are plastered photographs and pictures that tell stories about the atrocities, violence and crimes committed by the Japanese forces against the POWs during the world war. It's gruesome, shocking and ghastly articles often times send chills down your bones. It is not something for the faint-hearted for on these decrepit newspapers and rundown picture frames, are displayed in-human acts of terror and treatment, of punishment and torture, or savagery and slaughter. The treatment of thousands of POWs and locals is beyond comprehension. So many lives lost for a bitter and indescribable cause.
Most deaths (more than 100,000) were caused during the construction and re-construction of the Death Railway (between Thailand and Burma), including the infamous Bridge over River Kwai. The one silver lining (of little consequence to those who lost their lives), is the beautiful and peacefully meandering River Kwai along the banks of which, the museum is reconstructed. As you step out from this surreal experience, you almost ironically need a breather from it all. The river flowing alongside offers a calm solitude and much needed respite from thinking about the horrors and degree of war crimes.
If you are anywhere close to the river, you cannot help notice, what could be the most visited section of the Death Railway, the large iron construction of the Bridge over River Kwai. The bridge was known simply as "Bridge 277," and while the Allied forces tried to destroy the bridge several times, it wasn't until mid-1945 that they finally managed to render the bridge over the River Kwai in-operable.
Popularized by a novel and later an Oscar-award winning film, the iron bridge you visit today is actually the second to span the river; the first was made of wood and lasted less than six months. Of course, it's partly because of this gruesome history that it's such an important World War II monument and such a popular tourist attraction.

While the Death Railway itself was only in operation in its more than 250-mile entirety for two years, today, a 47-mile stretch still sees regular train traffic and visitors can either traverse the famous bridge on foot or via a little tourist train which runs a 15-minute round-trip across the bridge and back.
The lives of thousands of war prisoners (mostly British, Dutch, Australian and American) who were victims of the Death Railway are laid to rest here. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves commission, the cemetery catalogs, via engravings on memorial plates, the deaths of young and brave soldiers forced into labor camps to work on the bridge and the railway line to Burma. The cemetery is very well maintained and tended to by local staff. Going through the rows of plaques, is a sober moment well deserving of our respect and recognition.

After all this history, death and would imagine the town to be anything but alive and up-beat. Well, I was amazed at the resilience of its people. How quick they are to embrace the benefits of trade and tourism. There are those notorious floating raftels (raft hotels) with discos that play way into the early morning hours. If you love your sleep, make a note to not take up a room anywhere close!

Quaint little shops and stores offer all the good eats and buys. Tourists flock to them to buy souvenirs, T-shits, music CDs, you-name-it! The Thai people once again maintain a perfect balance between respect for their history and culture, and the prospect of the future which they look forward to with great anticipation and vigor. 

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tiger Temple - Forest Monastery near Kanchanaburi

Okay, so at the very outset let me state that I was the skeptical one. My husband (once having seen the pictures, video and articles about this place) insisted that we go to the Tiger Temple and have it become the highlight of our trip to Thailand. Being that he was so gung-ho about it, we made sure to include it into our itinerary.
Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno is quite a mouthful to say. Calling it Tiger Temple might be easier said than done.
My impression of a Tiger refuge and this place were world's apart.

Tiger temple is not the easiest to get to...not if you don't have your own means of transportation, or are traveling with a tour company that includes this as part of their tour. For people who prefer the bus or train, the options are limited. You can arrive by train or bus from Bangkok into the town of Kanchanaburi, and then take bus 8203 for Sai Yok and ask the driver to stop at the temple. The bus takes about 45 minutes to reach the temple and costs 25 Baht; this isn't the actual temple though. From the bus stop, follow the dirt road (1.5) km all the way to the front gate. The walk takes about 30-40 minutes. Factor in the heat and humidity...and you'll soon realize, this isn't the easiest..but it could be the most cost effective.

As I mentioned earlier, we hired a taxi for the entire day, so getting there was hassle free. Even otherwise, renting a taxi from the town of Kanchanaburi would cost about 200-250 Baht and take about 30 minutes or so. 
After paying 300 Baht per person as an entrance/donation fee, buying a T-shirt (another 300 Baht; see tip below) and signing waiver forms, I say to myself, this better be worth it...after all I am signing my life away here!!
The grounds look more like a reservation than a temple. We find a trail that leads us through rocky gravel and un-even ground to our first viewing of Tiger Cubs!! For someone who hasn't seen tigers live and in the flesh before, what differentiates a cub from its parent...hmmm...I wouldn't know. I was freaking out more because I had the thought ...could tigers (like dogs) sense my inner freaking out-self?? There was an Australian volunteer who re-assured me that they were babies, harmless, ultra cute, they love their bellies getting rubbed etc... all I saw were teeth and claws!! After my initial stomach churning moments, I summoned enough courage to step up and take a couple pictures with the 'babies' (yeah right, if you say so). The volunteered literally took my hand and ran it over their furry backs and bellies all the time assuring me, that this made them feel good....yeah but how did it make ME feel?? I sat gingerly next to the cubs leaning into (or out of) the picture frame to get it done! (Breathe)

Step 2 was the giant was a short hike to the canyons where the tigers are brought out in the mid-afternoon. If I thought the cubs were big...these guys (or gals) were huge, enormous, and gorgeous - yes, but gigantic!!! I now understood what the volunteer meant when she called them babies earlier. Those were small compared to what lay in front of me. My am I going to do this? I had already paid for my there was no backing out. The waiver I signed said nothing about any cancellation fee…moreover I don't read Thai! So, it was settled...I was in...I was going to do it. I decided to stand in line along with 40 other visitors to get myself photographed with the big beauties.

Here is where my impressions changed, my skepticism (about this place) deepened, my fear replaced with sadness…after watching the sorry plight of these magnificent beasts. Tigers are supposed to be raw, feral, wild, impassioned creatures that tread the jungle, define territories, fend their young, hunt prey etc. That was not at all what I witnessed before me. Instead what I saw were stationary, utterly docile, passive, limp, flaccid mammals that never budged or moved an inch over the 2 hours that we stood in line. They never once purred or growled or yawned or made any sound or action. Wait…I probably saw one (of the 12 -13 tigers) flick a tail. That was about it. Why?

With so many tourists, visitors, children, volunteers…the place was buzzing with activity. Yes, agreed it was a hot summer afternoon, down in the canyons temperatures can soar even higher, the animals are nocturnal, yet, these beasts lay impervious to any sound, sight or smell…unyielding to any human activity around them. So many cameras flashing, people commenting, sometimes even laying on tiger bellies and yet, not one moved, not one awakened even momentarily, not even one opened an eyelid to scrutinize the surroundings. Why was it so strange? Were these mammals drugged, I had to ask myself. How else could their behavior be explained?
I didn’t know who to ask to get an answer. All I saw were numerous yellow shirted volunteers holding people’s hands, leading them to these animals, specifying where and how to sit to get photographed. It felt like a monotonous habitual routine for them - time tested and tedious. I did see one monk on the premises, keeping a watchful eye. He would intervene when any visitor paid a special (extra!!) price to have close-up pictures taken with the tigers head on their lap, or their head on the tiger’s belly etc.
After a point, I literally tuned out; the scare of facing a fierce wild beast exited my system. I felt pain for these animals and their exploitation through so called donations from the people. I didn’t notice any signs of malnutrition or abuse. Neither did I notice any signs of a sanctuary being built for which all donations were being raised. The animals did look healthy…just that, they were lifeless. I had decided then and there - the next time I see tigers it will be in the wild, in their natural habitat, and definitely from inside a covered safari vehicle.

Tip to foreign tourists - you must be dressed in knee length pants, skirts or shorts and must have sleeved shirts or t-shirts on. Sleeveless tops are prohibited inside the premises. My sleeveless top forced me to spend 300Baht on a Tiger Temple T-shirt available for purchase at the ticket office. I brought it back as a souvenir of the place.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets

The floating markets of Damnoen Saduak come highly recommended…the guide books rave about it, travel writers blog about it, TV documentaries rate it as a must see….so without question, we knew we were going there…if nothing else, to answer the question – “is this another tourist trap??”

Located about 100 kms from Bangkok (about 2 hours by road), this is a very doable day-trip. The highway system in Thailand is very impressive. If you can escape the rush hour traffic in and around Bangkok, the peripheral highways zip you to your destination quickly and smoothly. There are several transport options, buses, trains or taxi to get there. We needed the flexibility and had a lengthy itinerary planned for the day. It made sense for us to hire a taxi for about $80 which would take us to the floating markets and beyond. In addition to the Floating Market, this trip also covered:
Commerce on a canal….or another tourist trap?

Of-course other tour companies cover similar itineraries for much less, and if you are on a tight budget, then you should exercise that option. The cons however, are being bound to a fixed time table with a bunch of other tourists leaving little or no room for flexibility (or for your legs).
Damnoen Saduak floating market is truly one of its kinds. Even though, you might have framed a picture in your mind (after reading books, watching TV etc)…you still are overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. Is it the smell, the sounds, or is it the scene…is it the trade, the taste, or another trap…or is it the means of a living, a way of life, everyday commerce on a canal.

One trip to the market answers all of the questions above. What we discovered is that there really are two entrances to this fanciful bustling commercial market.
The Tourist entrance: This is the option that most tourists take. I would describe the experience here to be …well… touristy. Of-course you do get to experience the market in its entire splendor. Disarrayed paddle boats carrying everything from fruits, fresh produce to noodle & fried rice flood the scene that enfolds in front of you. Loaded onto these canoe-like small boats are cooking stoves, tender coconuts, spices and brimmed hats in all shapes imaginable. And oh by the way, they even transport tourists! It’s a mad cacophony of sound, sight, smell that overload your senses.

Encroaching the canal banks, and sprawled all over the jetty entrances, are teems of souvenir shops selling everything and anything; throngs of arriving pharangs (foreigners) might possibly be enticed to purchase. As shopkeepers hawk their wares, elderly ladies adorning bright wide brimmed straw hats, deftly maneuver the slim and impossibly tight waterways. They are always watchful for tourists who beckon them to buy their goods. Generally, their boats would carry fresh fruits … tender young coconut, or have the best noodles & curry freshly cooked boat-side and served!!

The market itself is vibrant, energetic and lively, in fact its so dynamic…you wouldn't’t want to blink your eyes at the risk of missing anything. What amused me was watching tour groups wearing like-colored hats to be easily identifiable and distinguished from other tour groups. All purple-rimmed hats…”follow me this way” and the green ones …” that-a-way”!!

The Not-so-touristy(?) entrance: If you took this route (for a few extra bath), you get to see and experience all of the above (there is no way, you want to skip that)…plus more! This is where you get a chance to move away from the hub of all commerce….to the wider, much quieter, sparsely populated back canals and waterways of Ratchaburi (the name of the town).

Here you get to witness first hand the lives of the common people, catch a glimpse of their traditional Thai teak homes built on stilts, spot the colorful yet intriguing spirit house located at the corner, outside their homes. As our boatman, steered us through this part of town, we saw a women with her young baby tied to her back in a sling, doing her dishes waist-deep in the canal; an older man, sunbathing, chatting up over a cup of tea; large earthen pots meant to store drinking water placed beneath their homes (the shade keeping the water cool).

The gentle bends of the khlongs (water canals) take you amidst rice paddies and fruit farms; we spotted Jackfruit, Mango and Lime trees. There were signs on the “right” to a snake farm/show. My relationship with reptiles is a nonexistent one; needless to say, we turned “left” on that bend! Just knowing there is such a farm in the nearby vicinity, gave me the creeps. You get the general idea don’t you?
En route this trip was a pit stop at a “Coconut sugar factory” as the boatman called it…what it was we learned later, was an expansive area showcasing artifacts made out of all parts of a coconut palm tree. There was also a fire pit demonstrating how palm sugar was extracted from the sap. The factory uses the old dead palm fronds and husks to fuel the fire to boil down the sap to a delicious sugar. It was quite amazing to watch how different parts of the coconut gave way to creative lamps, toys, wooden animals, wall hangings, chandeliers, you-name-it. If you can bypass the tourist gimmick and resist your own temptation to buy, this is a good break, to stretch those limbs, take a walk and admire the talent of the local craftsmen.

Few tourists visit this part of town, which is why when we passed by, a curious old grandma peered out of her rickety 2nd floor room window and shot our way the most adorable toothless grin, we ever received!!
We were asked to pose for a picture before getting into the long-tailed boat (for our tour), which seemed like a kind gesture at first…but beware, for within 2 hours, upon our return, there we were, all photo-shopped, pretty and dolled-up pasted onto a photo plate ready for sale - 150B only!! Also, there were a couple awkward moments - once or twice when our boatman stopped by specific souvenir stalls even though we weren’t interested to buy anything (it was his family-run store).

So what’s the final verdict? Touristy or not? I’d lean more heavily on the touristy part. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to classify it as a trap!! It helps to know before hand, what these trips are priced at, and bargaining here is acceptable, even encouraged by the shopkeepers. Keep in mind though that this is the livelihood of people who live, work and raise their families here. Taking the extended tour opens your eyes to the fact that for them, this is commerce on the canal. Your visit translates to their income. Saying ‘no’ with a big smile to large items, and price-tags that go with it is a simple way to relax and enjoy this exceptional sensory experience.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Jatujak (‘Chatuchak’) Weekend Market - Bangkok

Before visiting Thailand, I (or actually my better half) was forewarned about Bangkok being a shopper’s delight! Well….how misinformed I was!

The Jatujak (as pronounced in Thai) weekend market, transforms you into a shopaholic, eliciting the ‘shop-till-you-drop’ gene from your DNA, it manipulates you to showcase your bargaining skills…and leaves you desiring an extra pair of eyes that lend a 360 degree view of all its sounds, sights, smells and surroundings. This market was not just a shopper’s delight, it was the mother of all markets… It was the epitome of commerce, the ultimate personification of all things desirable, and the embodiment of the impulsive shopper in all of us!
A cornucopia of ‘you-name-it’ anything and everything under the sun!

Having said that, I hope I have prepared you to expect arrays of stalls, narrow by-lanes filled with artifacts, infinite maze of sois, one could so easily get lost amidst. In the midst of this complicated labyrinth, you will find continuous stalls selling clothing, shoes, art work, flowers – both fresh and artificial, fishes for your aquarium, fishes for the frying pan, cafes, restaurants, paintings, fabric to decorate, food to eat, souvenirs, trinkets, toys, Buddhas, jewelry, books, fake designer wear, not-so-fake-looking designer wear, watches in all sizes, colors and content, more Buddhas …the list goes on and on…all for the fraction of the price you would pay back home.

Hansel and Gretel couldn't find their way out of here even if they tried!!
How did we survive – you ask? We kinda stuck to the perimeter…and never ventured too much into the interior…there is a whole different world…that we didn’t even get to sniffing distance. Give yourselves plenty of time to cover this expansive market (think largest flea market, then multiply it times 100!!!)
Jatujak Market can be reached in a variety of ways, but arriving by Skytrain is by far the most convenient (except when its time to haul all those shopping baggies back, call for a taxi in those cases). Simply get off at the Mo Chit station, a terminus on the Sukhumvit line, and follow the crowd to the market. The Market is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. 
With more than 15,000 stalls situated on 35 acres of land and approximately 200,000 visitors a day, calling this market enormous is probably an understatement; it also makes it one of the biggest, most crowded outdoor markets in the world. So, if crowds, hot/humid weather, lots of walking are not your thing, then this isn’t for YOU. However, if you do decide to venture into this extraordinary market, dress appropriately (light clothing, good walking shoes) and keep the liquid intake going. There are delectable eats and refreshing drinks to be tried…the chilled lemon tea was excellent.
I guarantee you will not return from this place empty handed(no guarantees on an empty wallet though!!).
Happy bargaining!!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Foot Massage – the ultimate in Thai luxury!

After traveling three quarters of the world…across (who knows how many) time zones, changing 3 flights, spending way more time than we should have in and out of an airplane, cramped in the middle seat of a 3-seater economy coach class international flight, flanked by human beings who believe in the mantra – ‘sleeping (on such long flights) is the path to nirvana’…I could use a well deserved massage…ok….I was desperate for one!! I quickly learned that if massages are your fancy…then Thailand is your place! Funny, how some things are just meant to be.

(and then there is the part I absolutely do not remember)
The variety, range, options, style and price of Thai massages are as overwhelming as shopping for toothpaste in a large grocery store in the US (too many choices to select from). Thankfully, our gracious friends and host knew exactly the cure for my tired weary, circulation-deprived feet…and recommended a heavenly foot massage for 60 minutes!

Did I already mention, heavenly??? Wait till I describe it in detail...which by the way, I remember only the first 20 minutes off…after which I dozed off into…land, into ethereal a point of no-return. Here are excerpts from what I can remember… us being escorted to a sit-down half bath house, built out of teak and bamboo where we were waited upon (truly) by 2 masseurs who cleansed our feet …hand washed them with soothing warm water. It was a tickly sensation; we were then given house slippers to wear and lead to the massage room…where we discover to our delight these 180 degree comfy plush leather recliners.

The room itself is dimly lit…there is some lilting music one can barely hear, its soft and mellow. There also appears to be a feng shui water fountain in the background…I never did see it, but was aware of the sounds the subtle droplets of water made at a subconscious level. The ladies who settled us into our recliners, gently whispered amongst themselves as they occupied the foot stools opposite our feet to begin the massage. If ever there was a fleeting thought about getting a foot massage for 60 minutes (?)…it was quickly dismissed forever….and replaced by, when we could do this again!! The stillness of the room, soft murmurs of people’s breathe, and the adept experienced hands working on our tired feet quickly put me into a trance, took me away from the room and its surroundings, away from the present and into oblivion, after which point, there is complete and utter relaxation and nothing else.

        (and then there is the part I absolutely do not remember)

I awoke so well rested, as if I had slept for many hours…my feet felt alive and rejuvenated, my body recharged and revitalized and my spirit invigorated. I had never experienced something so wonderful and I am happy to be able to share with you – this quintessential Thai experience, a phenomenal foot massage! Never miss it…work it into your day, give up food (although Thai food is a tough call), if you have to…and make time for it. You…and I am sure your feet, will definitely remember it for a long time to come.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sukhumvit – the lifeline of Bangkok

If one were to look at the street map of central Bangkok, one would unmistakably recognize its most central arterial vessel – the Sukhumvit line. Intersecting the city with numerous ‘sois’ branching out into the inner suburbia of Thai neighborhoods, Sukhumvit is the place to experience a vibrant, bustling, cosmopolitan Bangkok.

From the 15th floor of a high rise apartment, the Sukhumvit neighborhood has a pulse and beat different from any other. Steel and concrete high-rises accentuate the skyline. They stand out in stark contrast to the many characteristically Thai architectural villas of a large opulent expatriate population that has called this neighborhood its home.
Sukhumvit – the lifeline of Bangkok, our base to explore Thailand from.

Crystal blue swimming pools (as seen from the balcony) give away the fanciful expat-lifestyle that beckons one to consider …hmmm…what would it cost to relocate?
Fast skytrains, taxis in fluorescent colors, multi-level glossy and extravagant shopping malls, restaurants, chic massage boutiques and plenty more, all make Sukhumvit very travel friendly, trendy, accessible and definitely livable.
We used this as our base to explore Thailand from. Not only is Sukhumvit central to Bangkok, Bangkok is central to Thailand, making this the perfect choice for us.

Some of the places that we traveled to within Thailand on this trip were: Bangkok, Ayuthaya (day trip from Bangkok); Kanchanaburi (day trip from Bangkok); Damon Saduak Floating Markets (day trip from Bangkok) and Krabi-Raileh (1.5 hours by flight to Southern Thailand).
Stay tuned to read more about all the above mentioned places.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Where Orchids grow wild - THAILAND

How did we land on Thailand….well for one, it would be our debut travel venture into South East Asia. Secondly, it would give us the opportunity to meet friends from nearly 20 years gone by (enough reason to travel anywhere really), and thirdly, it was a break-journey option that we exercised on an extended vacation home.
After all was said and done, Thailand was one of the best decisions ever. We loved, treasured and cherished every moment of our stay and travel. We were awestruck, amazed, blown-away and drawn-to Thailand by its fascinating people, culture, tradition, beauty and grandeur. We were welcomed, nourished, entertained and enriched by everything in it.
What we took back with us permanently from this trip, though, was the abundant and radiant smile, the simple life and the peaceful nature of this nation’s people.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Camping in the Rockies...for real this time!

Describing our weekend, all I needed to say to our friends was – “we went camping in the rocky mountains…” and there…just like that they had framed “the” picture in their minds, as if I special-ordered it for them!
Clear blue skies interspersed with powder-puff clouds, monolithic towering granite structures piercing through the painted canvas, evergreens and fields of Aspen lacing the slopes, lush green meadows and wild flowers lining the valleys in between highlighting the contrast in shapes, color and contours, fresh snowmelt laden waterfalls for a road-side diversion, and the mighty (and at times turbulent) Colorado river raging parallel alongside the road throughout. What more could one ask for…except for perhaps wildlife that is native to this wondrous land. Trust me, we saw plenty of those as well.
Setting up camp is a ritual I have now begun to really enjoy....tearing one down, is still something I am working on. 

If this isn’t the picture that you framed in your minds, then you are amongst those that really need to visit the place and see it to believe it for yourselves!There are numerous camping options that this scenic place offers…our friends and hosts chose Bogan Flats campground in Glenwood Springs, Colorado for our visit. Let me start by saying that the campsite locale was excellent. Although nearly 4 hours by road from Denver, there are detours plentiful to indulge in along the way. The campsite has the crystal river flanking it on one side, the mountains and gorgeous scenery on the other. Once you get used to the sound of gushing water, it almost lulls you to sleep. If I didn’t know better, I could have easily mistaken the sounds for the ocean waves…very peaceful and Zen. What you don’t get used to…is waking up to behold the stunning mountains and evergreen panorama that greets your morning. It is an imposing image that envelops you to make you one with nature.

Each campsite was spacious enough to accommodate 2-3 medium sized tents or a couple large sized tents…we were 6 of us in 3 medium sized tents as you see in the picture and were very comfortable with plenty of room to spare. In addition to that, there are trees, a picnic bench, fire ring with grill and space to park your vehicle. These campsites in addition to being spacious were quite private as well. With plenty of space and trees in between adjacent sites, you had your own little private world amongst the surrounding beauty.

Taking an early morning walk alongside the river revealed many campers and RVs parked in different sites with plenty of room for kids to have their play tent set up…adults to have their own tents and additional space for other “stuff”…I guess I have made my point, these sites were huge!

How you make the camping experience memorable is entirely up to you and your group. Ours will be a memorable trip mostly because of the great company and the choice of place. We grilled, made smores (the holy grail of camping outdoors), sat around the campfire and shared stories…and really took in all the place had to offer.
Setting up camp is a ritual I have now begun to really enjoy…tearing one down, is still something I am working on. This place tests you severely on the “tearing-down” part. Who would want to leave such a remote, wild and pristine place unless maybe a strong urge to shower!! Worry not mates, known for its Hot springs, Glenwood springs (the nearest town) has plenty of options to soak in commercial sulphur baths for some serious R & R. During peak season, these tend to get crowded. If you are adventurous enough, there are other options amidst rivers but you have to find just that right mix of hot ‘n cold to enjoy your dip.

TIP: Although Bogan Flats campground didn’t have shower facilities, it had the cleanest and most well maintained restrooms (vault kind) that we have come across. Hardly 5 miles shy of Bogan Flats, the Redstone Campground has showers and allows Bogan Flat permit-holders to share some of their facilities.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The First DETOUR - Mt. Evans

The first DETOUR…
Located about 3.5 hours from the city of Denver, it is not exactly close to the suburbs…however the drive comes packaged with a truly unique experience that blogs are written about! So, who’s complaining? Not me! Plus, there are several must-have detours and attractions along the way to keep your appetite for outdoors and nature going.
Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is also known as the Road-into-the-sky-drive.
One such detour was the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway also known as the Road-into-the-sky-drive. No points for guessing why it is called so. In just 28 miles, this beautifully paved byway climbs more than 7,000 feet to reach an altitude of 14,264 feet! The upper section of this road is the highest paved highway in North America.
Although, the vantage point from the seat of our car was very picturesque and comfortable, don’t be surprised to see avid cyclists, training uphill along the way to the summit. (Click on view more photos) With steep gradients amplified by the elevation, it calls for sheer endurance, determination and lung power.
Along the way, you pass through alpine lakes – Echo Lake and Summit Lake, several trail heads, trees and forested areas to finally reach elevations above the tree line. The Byway is dispersed with an amalgam of hardy mountain wildflowers, lichens and grasses where rock-jumping mountain goats and bighorn sheep can be spotted calmly grazing in the tundra. This along with the partial snow-capped mountains adds dramatic color and vibrancy to the viewing palette.
Closer to the summit you get to see the big picture—the entire Front Range and Continental Divide stretching out for miles in all directions. This highest of Rocky Mountain highs brings you to the rarefied world above timberline. We were told that it could be 90 degrees in Denver and 40 degrees at the top of Mount Evans...and it was!! Also, we are talking“Rockies” here….they are capable of creating their own weather systems…one moment clear and sunny, and next total clouds with white-out conditions and blowing snow!! Be prepared for sudden weather drifts. We were lucky to enjoy beautiful sunny, clear skies on our visit in July.
I overheard a fellow hiker mention that there are plenty of recreational activities to indulge in at Mt. Evans – Hiking the many trails, horseback riding, fishing in clear mountain lakes, camping, biking to name a few. Of-course the winter weather brings ski enthusiasts as well to this part of the Rockies.
Photographing the summit marker on top of Mt. Evans at 14258 feet adds proof to the pudding (or in my case to this blog). It’s definitely a memory you want to keep and relive for a long time to come.

TIP: Fall is a particularly delightful time of year to explore this area. However, due to the unpredictable weather conditions do call ahead for road closures and other park restrictions before heading out on a long drive. Located just off Highway I-70, in Idaho springs area, the article is aptly named a Detour for a reason. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Camping in the Rockies

“Camping in the Rockies”….just the phrase has a ring to it…that perks your curiosity and paints a vivid picture in your mind about a far-away gorgeous place untouched by nature, pristine and wild in its beauty and utterly refreshing in its atmosphere.

Bogan Flats campgrounds in Carbondale, Colorado did live up to that utopian-like image and our weekend camping trip was enough reason for me wanting to go back again!