Left San Jose at 8:30pm after bidding farewell to Jaya family, Vels, Haripriya and Vidya who came to send us off. Stayed at Biju's home after a nice dinner at Denny's. My choice tonight- Apple Cranberry salad. I guess we'll be eating more at Denny's over the next 2 weeks.
Divya prepared a delicious Semiya upma for breakfast. We left Concord at 11am, shopped for some fruits and vegetables at a nearby Mexican stall and continued our road trip. We took an exit near Reno for lunch at Taco bell. Weather was warm and pleasant.
As we entered Nevada and crossed Reno, it was quite nostalgic. This is one of the places that we visited in our first US trip. We drove through snow-clad mountains and then the desert. Nevada has casinos everywhere, especially near the state boundaries. We stayed at Days Inn (Rent $63) at Elko, NV - The heart of Northeast Nevada. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We went at closing time, so got a "To go" of fried rice, spring rolls and wanton chips. We also had Avocado that we bought at Concord, CA.
We woke up at 8:20 and after yoga practices, had oatmeal for breakfast. We had lunch at a Thai restaurant at Twin falls, ID. The waitress was very friendly with the small town attitude.
We had Panang and red curries with rice. We then spent some time at Twin falls that had a beautiful canyon with a wonderful falls view. Back in the car for the scenic drive towards Yellowstone national park. Instead of the south entrance as planned earlier, we decided to drive to the West entrance. Entered Montana and stayed at Evergreen motel at West Yellostone(rent $59).
NOTICED WHILE DRIVING ON HIGHWAYS at 70 mph :-(
So many flies are killed as we drive fast on highways. The front glass is smashed with blood and body fluids of these flies that crashed on our car. Is this why the ancient Hindus(as per Vedas) refused to create airplanes though they had the technology to do it. We don't see these insects as we drive past them, but hundreds of these flies are killed for our need to drive fast. In most ways, our current way of life is not doing any good to Mother Earth. However, even as we walk, we kill, so what is the difference. I don't know :-(
Checked out of the hotel at 11am. The receptionist suggested the 'Running Bear Pancake house' for brunch. I had two pancakes(peach, walnut, blueberry topping) and Narayan had omlette. My pancakes were so big, Narayan had to pitch in to finish it off. It's the best pancake I've ever had. IHOP is nothing compared to this. It was fresh, soft and delicious.
We then drove into Yellowstone through the west entrance and finished the south loop today.
Just as we were walking towards 'Old Faithful Geyser', it started erupting. It was a sight to behold forever. We would have had to wait another 90 minutes if we had missed this. The whole day, we saw geysers, hot springs and fumaroles in different sizes and shapes. The smell of sulphuric acid(rotten egg smell) was too strong in some places.
We saw colonies of extremophiles - organisms that live in extreme conditions, generally considered unsuitable for most living beings on Earth.
Thermophiles are organisms that live in extreme heat. There were too many of them in these geysers and springs. They were in different colors and they live in large groups that give a multi-coloured mat appearance.
Thermoacidophiles - Organisms that love both heat and acidic environment. Hydrogen sulphide emanates from the Earth's crust and on contacting water in the Springs, turns to sulphuric acid and this is what becomes home to these millions of thermoacidophiles.
We saw bisons, elk and an wolf on the road as we were driving through the park. It was exciting to see them in wild. We stayed at Yellowstone River motel (rent -$69) at Gardiner - a small city at the North entrance.
After a fresh Subway sandwich for breakfast, we headed towards the Mammoth Hot springs. We went for a 1.5 mile walk around the spring. The spring was so massive and beautiful. It was quite hot throughout the walk and we were tired after this short walk. This is where we saw fumaroles in the parking lot too.
We then went to the Norris Geyser basin. This was unimaginably amazing. Too many thermal areas - looked like a graveyard with smoke everywhere. We walked over the boardwalk through these thermal areas. This is a very unstable area and a geyser could erupt any moment. Any thermal activity is possible in unexpected places. This unexpected nature brought silence into me. The Earth and my Life - so Fragile!!!
We then drove to the Canyon village - we went to both the North and south rims. The view at south rim was great. It's called that Artist's point - a challenge for artists to capture the too many colours and hues on the canyon. The different colors are a result of the different minerals on these canyons.
One of the most amazing places I loved here is the frozen lake. The lake that vanished in the movie 2012, was frozen at this time of the year. There were fumaroles in this lake and those were the only places where we could see water, it was frozen otherwise. We exited the park thorugh the east entrance which was closed during the day for maintenance work. They were supposed to open at 8pm, but they opened at 8:40pm only. There was a long line of cars. The drive towards Cody, the nearest city was very scenic. We were driving along the lake for a long time and then it was snow all over. We even crossed areas where there was an Avalanche warning(at about 8700 feet above sea level). We reached Cody by 10:20pm and stayed at the Big bear Motel(rent $52).
Had pizza at a nearby Pizza hut and started our drive towards Mt.Rushmore, South Dakota. Earlier, we were debating whether to go to Kansas or South Dakota. If Babu had been around, we would have gone to Kansas. The drive was very scenic - canyons, trees, snow, drove through a pass that was at 9600 ft. There was lots of snow. Saw many ski resorts along the way. It was fun and interesting to drive without any planning. Everyday, all we wanted to do was start the day with yoga practices and and then drive towards Kentucky - seeing some places along the way.
Mount Rushmore - it was amazing to see the sculpture on the big mountain. Walked through the President trail, rather rushed through since Narayanan wanted to go to the Missile museum. Since we couldn't make it on time to the museum, we went to a missile launch site where a 'Minuteman II missile' was on exhibit. During the cold war, this was the launch site for this missile. Hundreds of such missiles were setup all over South Dakota. The missile has a hydrogen bomb that is 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima. These missiles were not used, but their presence stopped USSR from attacking US. The missile was capable of hitting Moscow within 30 minutes of launching. It would fly over the North Pole. I shivered realizing the amount of destruction humanity is capable of bringing onto itself.
We then continued driving to Mitchell, SD. We drove through the Prairie grasslands - grasslands as far as the eye can see. We stayed at Thunderbird lodge at Mitchell, SD.
As we were driving on the highway, just before Mitchell, we saw a cop's car and both of us looked at him. All along this drive, we saw very few cars on the highway. So when we saw the cop, we thought he might follow us. First we did not see him, but after a minute or so, he was just behind us. He then came to our blind-spot. After a while, he came to our side and looked at us and then went back again. It was interesting to see how he checked us out without even stopping our car. He must have checked our car registration number on the move itself.
We met an elderly couple at breakfast at the hotel. They told us about the corn palace and few other places that we can see in Iowa. We kept bumping into each other at the Corn palace. Just like in rural India, these people also spoke very slowly and patiently.
At first sight, we were disappointed at the Corn palace because there was very little corn and some parts of the wall was painted. Also only the front and south side of the building had corn murals. Later we learnt that due to the Fire code, they couldn't put corn all over. All the corn murals were atleast 6 feet above the ground level. We took a short tour of the palace. We saw beautiful corn murals inside. The corn is replaced every 10 years in these murals. The design of these murals are not changed like the ones outside the palace, which are changed every year. The mural design usually begins in June when the first corn is harvested. By August, all types of corn are harvested and the mural is completed then. The idea of corn palace begun just to show to the rest of the country that corn grows in abundance in this state. It was a tactic used by the locals to invite more people to move to their state which was considered uninhabitable by most others.
We then continued our drive and wondered where to have our lunch. That day, I longed to eat Indian food to celebrate our one week on the road. Luckily found one on our way. We had buffet lunch at "Shahi Palace - India Grill" at Sioux Falls, SD. Decent taste, but very limited items.
Narayanan wanted to see the corn fields in Iowa and was excited as we entered the state. But the crop was just a few inches tall. We did drive through miles and miles of corn fields which was beautiful.
The couple we met earlier at breakfast also suggested a place called 'Grotto of the Redemption' - a marvelous building decorated completely with gems and precious stones. This is in a small village called 'West Bend' in Iowa. As we entered West Bend, we saw huge corn elevators where corn is cleaned and stored after harvest. As we reached the Grotto, we were dumbstruck. This village looked too small to have one of the best sight-seeing spots in Iowa. The Grotto is famous, but due to the remoteness off the village, it does not get a lot of visitors.
The Grotto was designed by a Catholic Priest who came from Germany to this little village's church. When he was young, he fell sick once and he promised Mother Mary that he will build a temple for her if he recovered. This place is to keep up that promise.
Many Jesus stories were depicted using beautiful stones - stones from all over US and a few from India, China, Mexico and other countries. There was a 2000lb stalactite from a Mexican cave(which is now a protected national park in Mexico). I was amazed at the kind of stones that were used there.
After this, we drove to Cedar Rapids, Iowa where we stayed at Days Inn(rent $55) for the night. This would be our last hotel stay in this road trip.
Narayan was excited to make his own waffle at the complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel. Fresh made waffles are way better than the frozen ones that I'm used to. We then hit the pedals again on our 8 hour drive to Vandhana's home in Louisville, KY. On the way, we first stopped at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. It was interesting to read about Hoover - especially a lot of positive aspects. We also saw childhood pictures, letters of other presidents. I'm glad we visited atleast one President's museum before leaving USA.
We then stopped at the 'largest truck stop' in the world - 'IOWA 80' on highway 80. There was a trucking museum there and we saw many old trucks and old gas pumps. We then crossed Illinois, Indianapolis and reached Vandhana's home by 12midnight.
Relaxed and had a wonderful time at Vandhana's home. We bought an outdoor inflatable water pool for Rohan and we could see Satish getting worried about the extra work. Nevertheless, we were quite sure that Rohan will love this pool. Had home made food after a very long time :-)
We were supposed to leave for Tennessee today, but decided to spend one more day with Vandhana and help her with dress shopping. Narayan cleaned our car and got it ready for it's new owners.
Rohan had a wonderful time in the inflated pool. Luckily the sun was out today, so he had fun.
We left Vandhana's home at 9:30am and drove towards Mammoth Caves national park in Kentucky - the last national park in this trip. We had to wait for 2 hours to get on a tour since it was a long weekend. Meanwhile, we had a veggie wrap and brownie with ice cream :)
The 2 hour 'Historic tour' at the park took us through the mammoth caves - it was magnificent, huge and long.At one point the ranger switched off the lights and we were in complete darkness. COMPLETE DARK!!! I loved those few moments when I couldn't see anything, I felt so merged with the darkness. There was no way our eyes could get adjusted to that darkness because there was absolutely no light.
We then continued our drive to Isha Institute of Inner Science, Tennessee.
After 3300 miles cross country road trip :-)
We used iPhone heavily in this trip - to find routes, hotels, restaurants. We would also yelp and get reviews before going to any place. It felt like a perfectly planned trip, while the truth is we only planned to go to Yellowstone park, Vandhana's home and iii.
Every evening, as we drive, we would wait to get to a place where there is good phone signal. Then we would call a few selected hotels (based on reviews) and check out the rates and availability. We used google maps to find the cities on the way.
One more decision we took at the beginning of the trip was to not attend calls from anyone. We called our parents twice during the trip to let them know we were safe. I stayed away from emails too :-)
All the residents and visitors at the ashram had a surprise meeting with Sadhguru - What a wonderful way to spend our last evening in USA. I'm so glad we decided to leave from iii.
Morning, we were told that the shrine is now open to all and we were going to be the first visitors. There were 4 or 5 other meditators who joined us for the shrine visit. We spent 30 minutes inside the shrine. As always, I have no words to explain how I felt in there. I remember all the precious moments I have spent in this room and I was so happy to spend this time there before leaving USA.
Jagga drove us to Manchester from where we took the airport shuttle to Nashville.