|18th May 2012, 07:50||#1|
Yellowstone National Park : A Drive to Remember
Every now and then I keep making wishes. And sometimes they do come true. The trick is to make so many wishes that at least some will come true
DVR is a magical device. I record hours of TV and keep building my "to go" list. Although that list is virtually a geography book now, some places stand out (considering I am in Minneapolis).
1. Watching Northern Lights (also known as Aurora Borealis):
I knew that Northern Lights can be viewed from places @North Shore Scenic drive and winter months are my best bet. But their forecast is uncertain to a point that it is almost like shooting in the dark; coupled with harsh sub freezing temperatures never helped my cause.
So when in March 2012 I read the news that a huge solar storm is dashing towards earth, I cannot let go the opportunity. The memory of that freezing, windy night when I stationed my car at Lake Superior's shore just before Split Rock Lighthouse is still vivid. It was midnight and for next 40 minutes I saw cosmic dance in the sky. I have had many humbling experiences in life and with every passing experience my love and respect for the rarity of my existence increases manifold.
I wasn't carrying my camera and it is difficult to share from the memory imprint but here's the link to pictures taken by others of that night...
2. Yellowstone National Park
There has to be something in the name itself. I am drawn to it since I first heard it. It is the world's first national park. Plentiful wildlife, Rocky's, Geological miracle at every step and it goes on.
I have been virtually planning to go there since I saw the first Yellowstone episode on Nat Geo (some 18 months ago). Planning for Yellowstone is little more difficult for variety of reasons
1. It is huge
2. There's only 3-4 month window that you have unless you are a hard core snow sport enthusiast.
3. There are so many things to do that picking and choosing is difficult if one is having a short trip (5 day is a short trip)
4. It is not recommended for kids younger than 5 years - this can be very subjective...
Things fell in place and all excited, I went on shopping spree (actually I am certified spendthrift). From my amateurish excursions in Western Ghats, I already had a list of things that I will need for trekking when I come back. So I am hoping to carry some trekking gear back with me (and hopefully without much hassles @airline check-in)
Some of the shopping done...
A bear spray near the shoe (on the right). I am hoping to see some wildlife.
And that swiss knife is made in Switzerland
God Bless America's libraries. I have said this before and I will say any number of times again - I love the libraries here. Those two books (Yellowstone Treasures and Top Trails) are great books on Yellowstone. And those maps are from library as well.
Last edited by akbaree : 11th June 2012 at 08:58.
|10th June 2012, 21:38||#2|
This is one of those rare trips where I made hotel bookings in advance.
1 Night @ Billings,MT
1 Night @ Gardiner, MT
2 Nights @ West Yellowstone, MT
1 Night Colter Bay, WY
The total drive was around 2500 miles spread across 6 days.
Day 1: Minneapolis to Billings (~867 miles)
Day 2: Billings to Gardiner (~232 miles)
Day 3: Gardiner to West Yellowstone (~90 miles)
Day 4: West Yellowstone to West Yellowstone (134 miles)
Day 5: West Yellowstone to Colter Bay (90 miles)
Day 6: Colter Bay to Minneapolis (~1100 miles)
Most of the above distances are not point to point distances. High level map of the drive (please click here to open the map)
The Yellowstone park has a 8 shaped drive roads with 8 junctions. And five entrances - North East, North, West, South & East.
As you can see in the map above, Yellowstone National park was created in 1872 as world's first National Park. During our stay, we covered all the junctions and all but the East entrance. The West entrance is the most popular.
I referred many books but I felt the Yellowstone Treasures (by Janet Chapple) is the most complete. If you have time for just one book (and if you are not doing hiking) then this is the book you should keep with you on the trip.
On the trip: myself and my roommate
Last edited by akbaree : 11th June 2012 at 09:00.
|10th June 2012, 23:27||#3|
Day 1 (Minneapolis to Billings)
Driving: 867 Miles
Hiking: 0 Miles
On the Road:15 Hours
Lazy start to the day. But pace picked up soon. As it mostly happens, in-spite of all the preparations, there was a lot to be done.
We were finally able to leave at 9:00 AM. On the way one last important thing pending was giving our chariot a wash...
Then a small glitch in GPS settings meant that we landed on the wrong road. The GPS showed 15+ hours to destination @10:30 AM and I knew something was wrong. A short stop at a gas station and we knew how to get back on track. I was then able to fix GPS setting as well.
Note: I had 10+ maps of Yellowstone and not a single map of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming - the states that I am driving thru. Some of the maps I was able to collect on the way but it is a good idea to keep all the maps with you in the car.
As we entered I-94, my GPS showed...
I was like: Wow! There's nothing happening on the road for next 800 miles. No keep lefts, keep rights, interchanges, exits, no anything. And I told myself this is going to be interesting. Any petrol-head's heaven. You drive till you can
Click here for the map
Minneapolis - St Cloud - Fargo - Jamestown - Bismarck - Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Billings
And interesting it was...
Between St Cloud and Moorhead (last Minnesota town)/Fargo (first North Dakota city; both separated by Red River), the drive through West Minnesota Prairies was a delight.
From Fargo to Jamestown we drove through drift prairies of Eastern North Dakota - a mix of complete flat lands and rolling hills. The speed limit became 75 miles as we entered ND.
From Jamestown to Bismarck, the prairies continued.
Thanks to Perkins @ Bismarck, we had hot pancakes to enjoy along with a delightful drive.
The drive from Bismarck through Theodore Roosevelt National Park was the tipping point. The camera came out, we were having a ball like never before. The great plains region started showing it's true colors...
Such beautiful roads, and due to the latitudes here, late afternoon and evening sun always create marvelous light effects. Throw clouds to the mix and you have not to be beaten combination. I struggled and failed to shoot any pictures of the landscape. I am not sure but it is very difficult task - the landscape is stark - flat and still hilly (the hills look like mounds). But if anyone thinks only women can have curves, a drive from Bismarck to Theodore Roosevelt National park will redefine the meaning of curves.
Starting from Theodore Roosevelt National park, the landscape changed a bit. You can get a glimpse of badlands through painted canyons (as they are called). And we were already in the Bison land
Some more shots of the canyons (from a canyon overlook)
But one thing was constant - beautiful roads with no end in sight... and the hide and seek effect that sunlight managed for us
We were travelling west and it meant we were chasing the sun. It became dark for a moment but they were only clouds. We soon entered Mountain Time Zone and gained an hour full of sunlight
During spring/summer, long days in this part of the world meant that the sun barely sets @ 10:00 PM
I can tell this without second thought, if I ever buy a Porsche or Ferrari, I am taking it to I-94 for a drive. It was one of the best drives of my life. And icing on the cake - the patrolling on this highway was lax (and the traffic as well). I didn't see a single patrol or pulled over vehicle in the entire drive. I don't remember how many times I did 85 miles to 125 miles sprint while consistently maintaining 85 MPH
Finally reached @hotel @11:00 PM and crashed. Tomorrow we will enter Yellowstone.
Last edited by akbaree : 11th June 2012 at 02:36.
|11th June 2012, 02:31||#4|
Day 2 (Billings to Gardiner) - Part 1
Driving: 232 Miles
Hiking: 4 Miles
On the Road: 11 Hours
Part 1: Billings to North East Entrance
As planned, we started our day early. All the hotels I had booked had complimentary breakfast (and wi-fi). So that we have one less thing worry in the morning. I also like continental breakfast.
After filling our stomachs to brim, we hit the road before 8:00 AM. The plan is to drive to North Eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park via Beartooth scenic byway.
Click here for the map
Billings - Red Lodge - Cooke City - Tower Junction - Tower Falls - Tower Junction - Mammoth Junction - Gardiner
As we left I-94 (exit 434) to take 212, the Rocky's started presenting themselves at a distance (that's Absaroka Range)
Wiki has a nice article on mountain ranges (all part of middle Rocky's) of Yellowstone
And soon reached this beautiful small town of Red Lodge. We stopped to take a picture and also inquired about Beartooth Highway.
Now this is one of the most friendly town I have come across in United States. All the people we strike conversation with went out of their way to help us. But one bad news was that Beartooth highway is closed. We had to postpone our trip by one week (and couldn't do it on the long labor day weekend) because of bad weather. The weather on that day (and forecast for next few days) was wonderful but the DoT authorities were not able to clear the snow from the highway .
So we fall back on our plan B. We had to take small detour for Chief Joseph scenic byway. There were no regrets as the detour was itself a pleasure to drive. Undivided highway with almost no shoulder and speed limit of 70 MPH. It was dotted with ranches on both the sides and we started encountering lot of folks driving (even doing daily chores) with their hats on. We realized we are in the land of cowboys (and cowgirls) where rodeo is not just a word.
Red Lodge town
And finally on Chief Joseph scenic byway
The scenic byway itself was nothing special but climbing Rocky's surely was...
I tried my best to take shots of flowing water with a slow shutter speed, but failed. I have to learn the technique. Any suggestions are welcome.
Soon we stopped for our first probable hiking adventure (we have still not entered Yellowstone)
But as the (Crazy Creek) falls were accessible without any need of hiking, we gave up the idea.
That's Electric peak (part of Washburn range)
Finally @1:00 PM we entered Yellowstone National Park from North East entrance (Cooke City). The entry fees was 25 USD and valid for 7 days (multiple entry).
Is there any proof needed that we are in the Bison land
Next: Awesome Lamar Valley
Last edited by akbaree : 11th June 2012 at 03:49.
|11th June 2012, 05:42||#5|
Day 2 (Billings to Gardiner) - Part 2
Part 2: North East Entrance to Tower Junction (Lamar Valley)
Of the four entrances we toured, the North East entrance is the most scenic. The Lamar River Valley strikes your heart like lightening. It is awesome, huge and gives ample opportunity for wildlife sighting.
While driving through the valley, you cannot but stop every single mile.
Bisons were everywhere
At the risk of repeating myself: such beautiful valley and heaven is believed to be in some other world. They cannot be more wrong.
I tried my hand at close up (no macro lens) photography. With kit lens it was. Although the results below are not very encouraging, I did improve on it: let me reach day 3 pictures...
The idea is to share the variety of wild flowers in spring. Although material suggested that Yellowstone is a dash of colors during late June/early July, but even in early June, the wild flowers were ample.
This is my first sweep panorama. So please pardon it's quality. And now I know that sweep panorama may be easy to shoot but I need more technique to make most out of it.
Anyways, can you see bisons in the photo below?
(All sweep panoramas in this log have come out poor because I lacked any technique whatsoever )
The section to the right of the panorama.
Everyone crowding the road to get that a click of Pronghorns (please click the link to read more about Pronghorns). They are quite unique and fastest in western hemisphere.
We were to hike Fossil Forrest trail in the Lamar River Valley. The Fossil Forrest trail is a 3 mile return hike where I was keen to see petrified trees (please click on the link to read more about Petrified trees). This serene setting hides the violent past (and who knows even the future) of Yellowstone.
It is unmarked trail and so it took us half an hour to find the trail head, although we had detailed instructions. The trail was completely non existent. It makes sense because tourism in the early years of Yellowstone history had done irreparable damage to these fossilized remains as tourists (and thieves alike) took home these remains as souvenirs.
Out determination meant we were not gonna give up. And there are benefits as well. While looking for the trail marks, we came across this huge herd of Pronghorns - males and females
And then things like this reminded us that we are in the jungle
After hiking in blind for few hundred meters we finally found a faint trail and followed it up the steep hike. It was almost vertical for more than half a mile. My roommate gave up but I continued. I was nervous to leave him alone while keep hiking to the top, but he was prepared - had loaded Bear spray with him.
Not quite sure if I was headed in the right direction (due to lack of trail marks), my first hiking experience continued to get tenser. But excitement kept me going. The final reward was just too sweet. It is as close to time travel (on this scale) as possible. You are looking at something that existed millions of years ago.
These trees are around 50 million year old converted to stone by volcanic eruptions. The tree species that are fossilized here are not the pine that cover most of the park today but deciduous trees indicating very different weather then.
Another interesting video on Petrified Trees
The views were equally exhilarating. Looking carefully will reveal the road, my parked car, bridge construction, small lakes created by glacial drift, and the Lamar river
While retreating back, this magnificent male Pronghorn was icing on the cake.
Note: There's a large Specimen Ridge Trail for those who want to explore this further. This trail is very long and would need camping. We had selected trails only for day hiking.
Last edited by akbaree : 11th June 2012 at 05:52.
|11th June 2012, 07:32||#6|
Day 2 (Billings to Gardiner) - Part 3
Part 3: Tower Junction to Tower Falls to Tower Junction to Gardiner
After reaching the first junction of Yellowstone 8 drive, we went couple of miles south to Tower Falls
The hike to the bottom of the fails was not open but part of it's section that takes to the Yellowstone River bed was open. So we decided to hike down - the trail was little less than a mile for a return hike.
It was uneventful hike. Tower falls is on the circuit and so had hordes of people coming. The views were good
We stayed @Gardiner (just outside the North entrance). While driving to Gardiner, we stopped to admire the SRK of petrified trees @ Yellowstone.
We retired for the day after having rather heavy (cheese loaded) pizza @ Outlaw's Pizza
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|13th June 2012, 00:41||#8|
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Re: Yellowstone National Park : A Drive to Remember
Yellowstone was one place I'd wished and hoped to visit at least once during my stay in the US several years ago. Though I was able to visit Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, etc, Yellowstone was one that has always remained a wish and a dream, hope I will be able to visit one day.
Last edited by NPV : 13th June 2012 at 00:44.
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|13th June 2012, 02:05||#9|
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Re: Yellowstone National Park : A Drive to Remember
Lovely TL and some really nice pics anant. Yellowstone is one of the most beautiful place I have visited so far in the US. And boy this place is a paradise for wildlife spotting.
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|17th June 2012, 10:55||#10|
Day 3 (Day 2 in Yellowstone) - Part 1
Driving: 90 Miles
Hiking: 9.5 Miles
On the Road:10 Hours
Part 1: Mammoth Springs
Note: If you see something underlined, please check it may be a link to read more about the feature.
I am amazed how well we struck to the plan on this trip. But then after a long time I was travelling alone. It's easy
@7:30 we left the hotel. We have a special hike planned today. More on it in the next post.
Click here for today's drive route
Gardiner - Mammoth Hot Springs - Tower Junction - Canyon Junction - Norris Junction - Madison Junction - West Yellowstone
As we drove from North entrance to Mammoth Junction, we passed through the 45th latitude
And then this deer: anyone knows which deer is this?
Mammoth hot springs is our first rendezvous with Yellowstone's geological miracles. Although the miracles are scattered and have some really fancy names to them, but most of them exist due to the same geological phenomenon - do you remember that I said Yellowstone is an active volcano which last erupted some 640,000 years back.
The feature @Mammoth Hot Springs and others on Mammoth to Norris Junction road are called Terraces. Simply put, the hot water for the terraces come from the Caldera zone of Yellowstone (through some fault line) but as the underlying rock here is limestone, it forms travertine. You can google for more information. Here's the National Park Service link
View from the top
Liberty Cap: This is actually not a terrace but as spectacular.
After hiking around terraces for some time, we were off to a trailhead. But on the way there was a jam. Apparently there were bears who had now retreated and so no luck with bears yet. But in Yellowstone like geological features, the luck changes every moment.
Last edited by akbaree : 17th June 2012 at 10:58.
|17th June 2012, 12:00||#11|
Day 3 (Day 2 in Yellowstone) - Part 2
Part 2: Hellroaring - Yellowstone River Confluence hike
We wanted to hike in the wild and reach a spot where Hellroaring river merges with Yellowstone river. Return hiking distance for this hike was around 9 miles and were to beautiful vistas.
The initial descent was extremely steep and we kept pinching ourselves: we will have to climb it on return. In no time we completed first mile and reached our first milestone on the hike: a suspension bridge on Yellowstone River
Yellowstone Rive gushing through the canyon home it carved for itself.
FYI: at this point Lamar river has already deposited it's waters in Yellowstone: please refer post#5 for Lamar Valley.
The map for the hike. I was not carrying gps and so this map is approximate but mostly accurate. The middle right section of the map shows Lamar river merging into Yellowstone river.
Click here to open the map.
After the suspension bridge the trail became murkier. As usual with novice hikers, we became tensed. The hike soon reached a dead end. We had Hellroaring river in front of us and we were not sure which way to go. The notes suggested one thing and the trail marking was confusing. As we continued to follow the river, the trail continued to become faint before it just disappeared. With nowhere to go, my room mate suggested to return. But I was not yet ready to give up. We decided to follow the river for another mile/mile and a half. After all we had all the right indications: we crossed the Yellowstone river (suspension bridge) where Yellowstone river was flowing North; then we hiked East (reached Hellroaring river) after which we turned North and the Hellroaring river was flowing North/North West.
The only bad thing: in all the confusion and anxiety, no pictures, just hiking and crossing fingers that we were headed in the right direction. After 4.5 miles (from the trailhead), we finally reached where we had set out for. What a satisfying moment
Couple of more pictures
(my fetish for shooting waters with slow shutter speed continue to let me down)
As you can see there are two set of footprints here: mine and some pug marks. It is a strange thing. We wanted to encounter bears but were not sure what we will do if they actually surface. We were in middle of nowhere where we cannot run or seek help.
I told myself that a picture here would be well deserved; as we leave the amazing place behind us...
On return, the hike was relaxed and so camera stayed busy...
I wish I can live the life of this marmot
We were reminded time and again that we are in the wilderness (may be we were breaching someone's territory)
Can you spot three bears in this picture: it was taken at maximum zoom (55mm)
Last edited by akbaree : 17th June 2012 at 12:08.
|17th June 2012, 12:23||#12|
Day 3 (Day 2 in Yellowstone) - Part 3
Part 3: Wild Flowers (from Hellroaring hike)
I tried my best to focus (manual focus with different settings, but it wont). Any tips why? (I had taken care of the minimum distance the lens needed to focus)
Difficult to separate the background (or make it appealing) from the subject. I tried various angles in vain...
Finally with the help of a rock, created this background
The blue ones looked beatiful
And they were everywhere on a section of the trail; in hoards
But before I could recompose, we had a guest and had to leave so as not to offend (and get into trouble)
Here's the last one
Last edited by akbaree : 17th June 2012 at 12:30.
|17th June 2012, 13:06||#13|
Day 3 (Day 2 in Yellowstone) - Part 4
Part 4: Drive to West Yellowstone (2 night stay here)
By the time we finished our hike, it was already 4:30 PM. And it was a long hike that drained all energy. So we decided to just drive to the hotel and retire for the day.
In Yellowstone even a simple drive can be wondrous. You will feel that you are lucky but luck is in plenty here. In the morning we missed the bear, but not this time
Nothing should be taken @ face value @Yellowstone National Park. It is indeed very special. There were people with all kind of telescopes and binoculars tracking bisons, bears and wolfs in this meadow. If you look hard, you will be actually be able to spots bisons but not the others.
Grand Loop road between Tower Junction and Canyon Junction goes through the Washburn range (some of the tallest Rocky's in Yellowstone) and so in spring you can expect lot of snow intimacy.
(Tomorrow we are hiking Mount Washburn).
Between Madison Junction and West Entrance, there's this meadow where you can always find hundreds of bisons.
After freshening up search started for a good restaurant. Today and tomorrow we had our dinner at Gusher Pizza. And if you do decide to go there (while in West Yellowstone), don't miss there brownie...
|18th June 2012, 07:19||#14|
Day 4 (Day 3 in Yellowstone) - Part 1
Driving: 134 Miles
Hiking: 7 Miles
On the Road:10 Hours
Part 1: Hot Spring, Artist Paint Pots & Hoodoos
Today we started a little late - over sleeping by one hour did help us rejuvenate energies.
The plan was simple to drive following and hike Mount Washburn
Madison Junction - Norris Junction
Norris Junction - Mammoth Junction
Norris Junction - Canyon Junction
We planned to conserve time by keeping stops minimal so that we can be at Mount Washburn trailhead by 2:00 PM.
We had driven through the smoke and sulphur yesterday. Most of the Yellowstone geological features astonishingly present themselves right on the Grand Loop road.
Few hundred meters away is Artist Paint Pots. The name was tantalizing and it lived to it as well. The area looked like a war zone at first (we later realized entire geyser basin, especially Norris Junction to West Thumb section of the Grand Loops road, look like a war zone).
The beauty however lies beyond the smoke. Here's a small video (the first few seconds is the Beryl Spring)
With such serene backdrop the nature is hiding such the violent past
We are going to see a feature called hoodoos. But before we can get there, we see a jam @distance. So we stop to take some pictures. I was the only one at this large meadow when I started framing.
With all due to respect to these Chinese (they of-course have equal right of pleasure as I do): before I can even frame my picture, like lightening, they just struck. I just went ahead with my frame anyways...
You can see the jam towards the right in the picture below
We guessed there's something interesting going on. On many occasions (including this one), I missed ground clearance while driving on the Yellowstone Grand Loop road. Of course I managed to park and find out
Yes those are grizzlies
I have learnt my lesson. There were more 800mm lens'd cameras than number of grizzlies and black bears put together. Okay I am exaggerating. The point is everyone seemed to have those 1000 kilo cameras or a telescope (unless you are in the geyser basins where you will find all the tourists)
Okay finally the hoodoos
Quite naturally the shape was odd, but I am not sure if they were worth driving 50 miles (return distance). Actually the trip became memorable for the Chinese, the grizzlies and the Moose
While headed to Mount Washburn trailhead, we came across our first Moose
Last edited by GTO : 19th June 2012 at 10:47. Reason: Correcting youtube link. Simply cut-copy-paste the youtube url, that's it :)
|18th June 2012, 08:15||#15|
Day 4 (Day 3 in Yellowstone) - Part 2
Part 2: Mount Washburn hike
Mount Washburn is considered one of the most popular hikes in Yellowstone. One of the reasons of its popularity is the spectacular views of the Absaroka range from its summit.
It is a 6 mile return hike. We found that the trailhead beginning was dumped under 10 feet of snow. But there were 5-6 cars parked and we assumed that they must have gone hking. So we started hiking on the snow. The snow disappeared after hiking for a few hundred meters
Only to return and never disappear till the summit. I thanked myself for gifting those waterproof hiking shoes
The glimpses of Absaroka range
The road below (between Tower Junction and Canyon Junction)
In the beginning we came across few hikers but as we kept climbing, it was just the two of us. One of the returning hikers warned us of the amount of snow near the summit and that she had to return just 500 meters from the summit.
I had promised myself to go till I can see a single footprint
My roommate has started to giving up. There was no one hiking ahead (or behind) of us and no one was coming down either.
And then came the final blow. After one of the bend, the trail was under almost 18-20 feet of snow. I climbed vertically to find a way over the top. My roommate tried and slipped. It was scary as that slip could have been fatal. So here on, it was only me. I finally came across a returning hiker who told me he could make it to the summit. It boosted my morale. However the weather gave up: dark clouds, winds, lightening, storm like conditions). It was so dark it seemed almost night and so camera went inside the hiking bag (no more pictures of the hike after the below one)
The final sections of the hike were absolutely stunning. For few hundred meters I felt as if I am walking on the top of the world. And reaching the summit was such a sweet experience. May be this is first ever summit I ever climbed. The winds were so strong that many times I felt I will be just swept away. And the views were heavenly. I was the only one at the summit then.
The return hike was anxious - I didn't find my roommate at the point where I had left him and requested him to wait till I return. I started hiking hastily to find him. The buck leather shoes, although kept my foot dry, had became real heavy after soaking water (from the snow). And balancing with left leg on the outside of the slope was difficult as well. I and my roommate did made back safely.
Calling it a day, we started driving back to the hotel @West Yellowstone. While driving in Yellowstone, always keep an eye of the rear view mirror. Many times the views in the rear view mirror are much spectacular (I cannot help overusing this word) then in front view: like this double rainbow
Last edited by akbaree : 18th June 2012 at 08:22.
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