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Autumn is here and it is time to enjoy fall foliage colors in the US. The trees around your place must be already best in their colors – yellow, brown and red. I am personally enjoying those hues of fall. The fall colors are dependent on the mositure, amount of the rainfall and transition to colder weather. The green leaves gradually turns into yellow and then brown/red and fall away from the trees. The word ‘fall’ resembles the falling on the leaves from the trees.

I have been googling for the fall foliage places in-and-around NJ for quite a few weeks now. Also visited few places and thus writing this post.

1. Plainsboro Preserve – To my surprise this heaven is closest to my place. It is a wonderful place not just to cherish fall colors but ‘nature’ overall. There is a huge water body and forest with loads of varieties of flora and fauna including birds. There are short and long nature trails. I enjoyed the ‘Maggi trail’ as it takes you on the path which is surrounded by water on both sides at dead end. And I feel short of words to express how it feels to be there.

2. Lake Hopatcong State Park – Thanks to my GPS which headed me to US route 206. The route itself is full of fall colors. Lake Hopatcong state park was in shades of green, brown and yellow. Maple trees were awesome. What I liked about the places is – there is a artifical short sand beach around the lake at park side, with some sliders and swings n stuff for kids. The good place for family outing. Get your food packed and eat on the benches under the fall trees.

3. D & R Canal State Park – The Delaware and Ranitan state park path runs along the flowing canal to the deep woods. Good place for biking and nature trail. You can see lot of deers. Very much into the city and easily accessible from Route 27.

Also people say that there are chances of citing good falls colors this year at places like – High Point State Park, Split Rock Reservior in Rockaway, Monksville Reservior too. So guys…enjoy fall colors this season! 🙂

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We headed for airport in early afternoon of 18th and I bade good-bye to Aritra with a heavy heart. I came back to Pune at 4:30 AM on 20th Apr. It was again a very loooooong and tiring journey. Flight which was supposed to reach Mumbai at 9:45pm but was delayed by 4 hrs. Journey was Dallas – Atlanta and Atlanta – Mumbai. After 2 hr of take-off from Atlanta, an old lady got heart trouble in plane and we had to do emergency landing on JFK airport, NY to hospitalize her. Weather was bad and plane was too heavy to land so they just threw excess fuel out of the plane to make it lighter. So NY was long break of 4 hrs. An old lady was hospitalized and rest time was spent in re-fueling the aircraft. Total journey back home was 27-28 hrs. 😦

The dinner which was supposed to be served at 10 pm was finally served at 2 am. They didn’t even bother to serve water to rest of the passengers. Thanks to inefficient staff of Delta airlines. Only the good part of it was – a life was saved.

We reached airport and havoc was waiting for us. The cell# of the cab driver was not accessible. It was turned off. We came out of airport and found a driver with company name and our names appeared as “Mr.” instead of “Ms.” Obviously he was looking for guys and not gals. We assured him we are the one whom he was looking for, and finally he was convinced. We started from Mumbai and reached home.

It is such a feeling on happiness and relaxation to come back home. 🙂

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
.

John Howard Payne US actor & dramatist (1791 – 1852)

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“Parting is such sweet sorrow” says William Shakespeare.

Meadow CreekFinally the last day arrived. I got up early in the morning. Baggage was all set to go since last night and had nothing much to do. I got ready and walked down the hotel. I decided to give a try to capture swallows and Blue Jay (if possible). There were light showers and it was a lovely morning. Moreover it was my last morning in Dallas and this thought made it more special. I went to Meadow Creek. This is just 2 mins walk from my hotel place. As the name suggests, there is a flowing creek. I went and sat quietly on the grass. There were few Barn swallows. Slight rains played hide and seek with sunlight. Swallows are hard to capture as they don’t rest in one place for long. I clicked few snaps but was not satisfied with them. At last, I just prayed God that I just wish to get some nice shots of them in next 10 mins or else I will leave.

Barn SwallowThe wait was on…and suddenly this cute colorful swallow rested on the iron rod. I captured it through my lenses. It was so damn cute! I thanked god and left the creek. It was already 9:00 am and I had to check out at 10. I went to breakfast room and got an apple for me. I was about to enter my hotel building and a noisy bird caught my attention again. I knew it was none other than Blue Jay. I kept my apple literally on the ground and went to the tree. I could see it but branches in between made it impossible for me to click its snap. Even then I clicked one to keep as record shot. This bird is supposed to be very intelligent among the birds. It stared at me for while through the branches and became silent. After a while it immediately flew away as if it just came to bade me good-bye!

Funny thing, I came back to pick my apple and guess what – Mocking bird was already enjoying my apple. I waited as I watched it. I left the apple for it and came back to my room.

Aritra came to pick us up from hotel and we went to his apartment. We cooked lunch together and enjoyed it. I came to balcony for a while to see some birds. Last but not the least was Purple finch and Red-winged black bird. Red-winged black bird came to the roof of apartment and disappeared in few moments. I clicked some record shots. The day before that day on similar lines, Northern Cardinal pair gave me a generous visit near my office. I spotted a cardinal pair and just enjoyed their beauty.

Many thanks to all these birds, God and nature for letting me enjoy all the birding moments.

I felt bit sad while leaving Dallas. I made some good friends here and parting from any place or good people is always painful. I really enjoyed my stay in the US. Thanks to all the people like Arita and Sandeep who made my stay memorable.

Texas trip was good work and great fun and I enjoyed both equally. As they say “Don’t mess with Texas”, I preferred not to. 😛

Note: It rained in the last 2 days and this time I could enjoy the rains there to some extent. There was very light fragrance of soil compared to India but ‘something is better than nothing’. It was moreover like “Badla mausam, badle najare aur badala hai najariya!” 😀

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Fossil Rim Wildlife Centre, Glen Rose, TXFossil Rim wildlife center was on my hot list since I came to know about it. Last weekend we decided to end this much-awaited wait. We made a plan and started at 9:30 AM for Glen Rose. The approx distance is around 65 miles from Irving.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is dedicated to conservation of endangered species, scientific research, training of professionals, creative management of natural resources, and impactable public education about environment and wildlife. This is the ~1700 acres of open spaces which lets us interact with deer, rhinos, giraffes and other wildlife. We can drive our own vehicle through the 9.5 miles tour. We can see long distance views of Savannah-like pastures, forested areas and hillsides for the animals to roam.

Some thing about the place, ‘Fossil Rim’ – One hundred million or so years ago, the Fossil Rim area was covered by the saltwater Comanche Sea. Tidal flats and lagoons characterized the region and are memorialized now in the abundant fossils one finds. Hence the name. It is said that dinosaur’s fossils were found in Glen Rose.

Ostrich - Ramp walkOkay…coming back to my visit – We reached Fossil Rim wildlife center at 11:30. We went to information center/office and got our tickets. We also purchased an animal feed bag. This feed is restricted to one bag per car in order to avoid over feeding to the animals. At the office door, there was a interesting coin machine, which accepts one cent copper coin (with some 2 quarter coins as charge) and embosses the Fossil Rim emblem the copper coin which we entered. We tried it and I got ostrich emblem copper memento.

We took our car inside. First to welcome us was huge and equally curious Ostrich. It came near the car and rubbed its neck with our car. We didn’t feed it with our hands as they may bite. We poured some feed on ground and it allowed us to enter its territory. Further, I found an exceptionally beautiful bird. It was snow white with black wings and long scissor shape tail. Its back and tail appeared scarlet pink in flight. Later I found its name to be Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I clicked its snaps. In mean time, another bird caught my eye. It was none other than red colored Cardinal. Unfortunately I couldn’t click its snaps.

GiraffeWe headed more to find cranes, blackbucks, wildebeest, bison, zebras, red deer, bongos, greater kudu, addax, sable antelopes, zebras, and gazelle. We found another beautiful white gazelle called “Addra Gazelle“. Its name didn’t appear in the animal guide pamphlet provided by the center (Later on I mailed them and they replied with its name). In the afternoon, we halted at food joint in the sanctuary. It was located on the hilltop and we could see picturesque view of entire sanctuary from here. To our astonishment, we got veggie burger here. We were on cloud 9 then. As this place was on great height, I could see some eagles and turkey vultures hovering in the sky. Outside the food joint, there were ocelot and blue-and-gold macaws in cage.

We descended and resumed our trail. Next members were giraffe, wolves, axis deer, axis fallow, giraffe, rhinos, and emu.

Feeding the animalsI was experiencing and enjoying the wilderness very closely. Watching was more fun than clicking. I don’t use (read – don’t have) DSLR and along with limitations of my dear P&S cam, I did dare to click wildlife snaps (all wildlife photographers please excuse/ignore/spare/bear with me and my snaps).

It was a great fun altogether. All other visitors were having equally good time. There were families with kids, teens, also there were school picnics. I am short of words to describe the happiness on the children’s faces while feeding the animals. Everyone was busy in enjoying the god’s gift in the form of nature, wildlife, and wilderness. I wished if time could just wait here forever but as they say “all good things come to an end”, our trail too came to an end. We started our return journey and reached home in the evening.

Note: You can also club Fossil rim tour with Dinosaur Valley State park in Glen Rose. The park is great place to view the fossilized dinosaur footprints, as well as to hike, camp, picnic, fish, swim, and enjoy beautiful scenery and wildlife. The world-famous dinosaur tracks in the park occur in a branch of the Brazos River called the ‘Paluxy’ which flows through this park.

For more snaps you can visit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruhiclicks/sets/72157616520487694/detail/

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Nashville, Tennessee:

The Music City of US

I went to Nashville last weekend. One of my colleagues (Sandeep) got a BMW and he wished to go to Nashville to do its ‘Pooja’ at Sri Ganesh temple there. He asked whether I would like to join them. I was not sure in the beginning but then I remembered one of my friends (Sachin) stays in Nashville. He was actually my teacher when I was studying. He taught me in my college immediately after doing his masters. He was always proud of me and happy with my progress. Years later the relation turned into more of friendship than teacher-student so he is now “teacher-turned-friend”. We didn’t meet for 4-5 years in Pune. Finally got to meet him here. I confirmed with him and he seemed to be pleased by the news that I was visiting him. I told my colleague that I would be able to make it for Nashville.

Park at Rest AreaWe started on Friday night and it was long journey. We had to cross states of Texas and Arkansas to go to Tennessee State. Total drive one way is around 620 miles, i.e. approx. 10 hrs from Dallas to Nashville. We couldn’t see much outside the car as it was dark in the night. In the morning, we took break at a rest area along the freeway. A rest area is a public facility on the highway or freeway for drivers and passengers to rest, eat, or refuel with minimal facilities like rest rooms, parking space, drinking fountains, telephone, picnic areas (grass lawns with benches), and sometimes more facilities like gas stations, vending machines and restaurants. We got freshen up and had muffins as our breakfast. It was a pleasant morning. American Robin caught my attention and I couldn’t stop myself from clicking snaps of this beautiful singer bird. We started again and reached my friend’s place at 10:30 am.

We took some rest and enjoyed home-made lunch. We decided to go to Nashville Downtown in the afternoon. Since the time I came to US, I had no chance to travel in public transport. I got this opportunity here. We took up bus to downtown. As we walked on the Lower Broadway, and saw many music clubs, bars, musical instrument’s shops, gift shops, live music lounges, etc. We did some window shopping. There was live music going on and people were enjoying it. We could see people playing different musical instruments like Guitar, mandolin, etc  on the roadside. This is why Nashville is called a “Music City” 🙂

Then we stretched our heads up to see some of the remarkable sky scrappers in downtown. Some of them were AT&T building (also known as the Batman Building), Life & Casualty Tower, BOA Plaza, Hotel Hilton, Hotel Renaissance, and The Pinnacle (under construction).

Then we went to riverside of the Cumberland River. We strolled at Riverfront Park and went to ‘Davidson County Public hall and Court house’. There were many beautiful fountains around this building. We crossed Commerce Street and passed by the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville. It is the home of the Tennessee legislature, and the location for the governor’s office. This architectural master piece is classic model of Greek lonic temple. There is War Memorial plaza near to it. We had good time in the downtown.

Ganesh Temple NashvilleFrom downtown we went to Sri Ganesh Temple at Nashville. This is again a very beautiful place (of course much contradictory from what we saw in downtown). We entered and it was really divine atmosphere inside the temple. As in every temple in US, there were all Hindu deities. There was ‘Satyanarayan pooja’ going on by a priest for some family. I bowed to all gods. My colleague performed pooja of his car. We could hear some classical musical concert which was taking place in hall on first floor. I roamed around the temple and found a cute bird couple called “Cassin’s Finch”. I clicked some snaps of temples from outside as camera was not allowed inside.

We returned home and had tea. Savani’s (Sachin sir’s daughter) music teacher had come for dinner with us. Her name is Heather Bond. She is a famous singer and piano player in Nashville. She worked with Vanderbilt University for living and wishes to devote her life to music. It was nice meeting her. After dinner, we spent some time talking about good old college days. Sachin sir asked me where-abouts of my batch mates. He also told about his life, his marriage, his journey till US, etc. By that time, it was already late and we went to sleep.

Next morning we bade a good bye to my friend and his family and thanked them for their time and loving hospitality. We left Nashville at 9 am. We drove slowly as we wanted to enjoy the scenic views outside. On the way, we saw dense forests, trees, green grasses, jersey cows, horses, stables, beautiful farm houses, lakes, and all that which I never imagined to see here. We could relish real countryside of the US. Spring season is gradually painting the trees with different colors – green, yellow, white, pink, purple, red.

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas:

We crossed The Mississippi River while entering the Arkansas state. There are many rivers like Buffalo National River crossing this state and it is a land of mountains and valleys, thick forests and fertile plains. This is why Arkansas is called ‘The Natural State’.

We had planned to wait at one of the state parks in our journey. State parks are different from our normal parks. These are protected parks for an area of land preserved on account of its natural beauty, historic interest, recreation, or other reason, and under the administration of the government of a U.S. state. People come here to do all kinds of adventurous activities like hiking, camping, sailing, water sports, nature trail, birding, photography. I found few American Black vultures and Turkey vultures on the way.

Waterfall at Lake Catherine State ParkWe halted at ‘Lake Catherine State Park’ in Arkansas. We went to the park admin office and got map of the park. We located spots of our interests and headed. We enjoyed walking in the woods as part of the nature trail. There was a huge water body along side of the forest. We aimed to go to a waterfall. There was a small hanging bridge on the way. Also a wooden bench for resting. It was THE spot. We could see picturesque panorama from here. After 2 miles of walk, we finally reached a splendid waterfall. We went inside the water and it was freezing cold. I drank the water and it tasted heavenly. Remember free flowing water is always purest. 🙂

We came back from the park and resumed our journey back to Dallas. We returned back late night. It was an amazing weekend. Thanks Sandeep for taking me to Nashville, State park and moreover for considering a nature lover in me. I don’t think anyone would have showed me ‘this’ marvelous side of the US. I have the memories to cherish for whole of my life. And yes, your BMW rocks!!! 😀

P.S. : For more snaps please visit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruhiclicks/sets/72157615867820870/detail/

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One of my friends in photography group pinged me yesterday on GTalk and asked me about my general where-about. I told him I am in Dallas and his next question was “For project work or a photo shoot?” I replied “Obviously, I can’t afford the holidays or a photo shoot in the US of A”. I knew he was just trying to pull my leg. 😀

Jokes apart, I am in Dallas, TX for work. Weekdays are jam packed with work and weekends with site-seeing, outing, photography and fun.

Note: Guys, this time I am not going to write “How to reach Dallas: for the obvious reason that you don’t need driving instructions. Your airlines pilot will know them better. Ha..ha!!! 🙂

Okay. Mine was long journey to Dallas. Mumbai-Atlanta flight was total 18 hours and we were almost dead by that journey. Atlanta-Dallas was more 3 hours and this pilot was most dangerous pilot I have ever experienced in my life. He was almost about to crash our plane on the runway of Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport. Thank god, we survived and landed one-piece from that 200-seater plane. Lesson learnt – it is always better to come to US via Europe and have break journey.

So finally I landed up in “USa cha malaa” मराठी: ऊसाचा मळा (as me and my close friends popularly called it since past few years. It literally means “Sugarcane field”. Similarity in words “US” and “ऊस“. The word “Sugarcane” stands for obvious different fascination things in the US). 😉

Dallas is widespread and flat terrain kind of city. Irving is suburb of Dallas where I am put up. There are very few sky scrappers in this area. Most of them are villas and 3-storey apartments.

Here are few of the places I have visited/seen/experienced here –

  1. The Mustangs of Las ColinasMustangs of Las Colinas – This is first place which I found on net while searching for site-seeing places in Dallas. It was love at first sight. We went there on very next day. The Mustangs of Las Colinas is the largest equestrian sculpture in the world. It is a realistic bronze sculpture of nine horses running through a granite stream at William Square plaza.
    Quick historical background – This place was once ranch owned by rich family of Mr. Ben H Carpenter and was fondly called “El Ranchito de Las Colinas”, meaning the Little Ranch of the Hills. He dreamed to turn this grassland into a world class development. As a result, Las Colinas was transformed from the open grassland of the past into the world renowned master-planned community it is today. In order to establish a unique identity for this urban space, a sculpture that captured the free spirit embodied in the heritage of Texas would be the centerpiece. Wild mustangs that roamed the early days of Texas would be the identifying piece for this grand gathering place. Mr. Ben Carpenter unveiled his plans in 1973 and Robert Glen was given the assignment to create the mustang sculpture in the summer of 1976. Finally, on September 25, 1984, the sculpture was in place and the plaza was open for the public to inspect and enjoy. We can also see the museum near by where they show history of it. Also they have a shop which sell mementos of Mustangs like show pieces, T-shirts, etc. The Mustangs of Las Colinas is worth a dekko.
  2. DFW Hindu TempleDFW Hindu Temple – We went to Dallas Fort Worth a.k.a DFW Hindu temple. It is beautiful and neat temple. We went inside and found that there are all types of Hindu deities. Each deity is sponsored by the community it is worshipped. For e.g. Ganapati Bappa is sponsored by most of the Maharashtrians, Radha-Krishna by Gujaratis, Balaji by South-Indians so on and so forth. There was some Pooja going on with Pujari (priest) and some folks attending it. Then in another hall there was some pravachan of Geeta or some holy hindu book.We prayed to each deity, took Prasad and came back. Outside in the lawn, we saw few Indians and some cops. When we went close by we found that Indians were busy making Bonfire for holi. Cops were there to keep watch and security on them. 🙂
  3. White Rock LakeWhite Rock Lake – Our friend took us to this beautiful lake. White Rock Lake is a unique, 1,015 acre city lake, centrally located at East Lawther Dr. We parked our vehicle and headed to the lake. This is the place for bike (bicycle) trail, bird watching, fishing, picnics, pet trail, boating, etc. Two things must to have here I felt was a cycle and/or a cute doggie. Most of the people surrounding us actually had either one of these two or both. We cross a hanging bridge and reached the other side. Few people were fishing on the bank with their fishing traps. As we walked on the pathway, I found different types of birds like Mallard ducks, Cormorant, Darters, Sea gulls, American Coots, Terns, etc. It was fun watching them. Some facts about this lake are – it is a man made reservoir and freshwater lake located in east Dallas, used for a small portion of Dallas‘ drinking water and for condenser cooling at a steam-electric generating plant. Construction on White Rock Lake began in 1910 due to a major city-wide water shortage, and was completed in 1911. The estimated cost of the dam and spillway project was $260,000. huh! The lake is surrounded by White Rock Lake Park, which features a 9.33 mile (15 km) trail for hiking, running and bicycling, Dallas Arboretum and a botanical parking. Fishing and sailing is legally allowed. They have a sailing club to promote the sport of sailing and sailboat racing. As its name says White “Rock” lake, this lake really “rocks!!!”
  4. Dallas Downtown Dallas Downtown and High five – We crossed Downtown on the way to White Rock Lake. As any other downtown in the US, there were huge skyscrapers in this area. I could click few snaps from car. We crossed “High Five” or “High 5” in downtown. High Five interchange is the five-level freeway interchange in Dallas. Five level roads run above each other. The $261 million project began in 2002 and was completed in December 2005.
    High 5The interchange comprises 37 bridges distributed across 5 levels (thus the name “High Five”), with the highest ramps 120 feet (37 m) above ground. The High Five consists of nearly 60 lane-miles of new roadway and stretches 2.4 miles (3.9 km) north/south and 3.4 miles (5.5 km) east/west. I praised the modern architects and civil engineers for such amazing construction work.
    Dallas World Aquarium (DWA)
  5. Dallas World AquariumCommonly called as DWA. It is located in the heart of downtown. DWA is a huge aquarium cum zoo which shelters number of varieties of sea animals, fishes, birds, animals, snakes, turtles, etc. We entered the place, we reached rainforest and I saw lots of species of birds which lived in the rainforest, flying freely overhead from island in the river to the top of the seven-storey structure. Then there were primates, Roseate spoonbills, penguins, leopard, flamingos, Ibis, snakes, crocodiles, sharks, swans, otters, manatee, frogs, bats, owls and colorful fishes. We didn’t even realize that we spent some 6 hours there. The collection and conservation of these exhibits made me speechless. I was happy that I visited here.
  6. Dallas ArboretumDallas Arboretum – Dallas Arboretum is huge garden with variety of floras. The spring bloom starts in first week of March up to mid-april. This is a 6 weeks festival is the largest outdoor flora festival showcasing over 4 lacs of spring blooming bulbs including tulips, daffodils, Dutch iris, hyacinth, flowering with thousands of other seasonal flowers. I saw tulip in real was first time in my life and they were so beautiful. Tulips always remind me of “Dekha ek khwaab to ye silsile hue”. I captured as many tulips through my lenses. There were tulips bulbs of vivid colors like red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, double colored, white, parrot species, etc. Many flora photographers were all set with their DSLRs, lenses, wide-angles, diffusers, tripods and what not. The Arboretum has many fountains, awesome landscapes, children playing areas along with botanical treasure. It seemed to be paradise on the earth. I returned back with memories of all those beauties embossed in my heart and mind forever.

BirdsI found a bird very close to Indian crow here. It is called “Grackle“. Sub-species is “Great Tailed Grackle”. These are migratory birds and make sound like hyenas. Other common birds are Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Blue Jay, Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Dove, Pigeon.

This was all till date. I would write Dallas – Part II once I visit few more places here.

P.S. : For more snaps please visit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruhiclicks/sets/72157614915602469/detail/

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