of Dallas, Houston, fun time and bad exposures

Through some mumbo-jumbo magic I acquired a free ride with Continental airlines. It was December, I had no immediate academic concerns and it was time to cash that free ride. So, I found myself on a flight to Dallas on Dec. 17th. The flight was rather uneventful and I got down at Houston where I had to change planes. My next flight was around an hour later; so I ate my lunch, which I had bought in Atlanta and started reading "The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn" on my Palm. Sometime later when I raised my head, I found that I was sitting alone next to the flight gate. Panic! I thought I was so engrossed in reading the book that I had missed the flight. Running to the gate, I found that I was still in time for the flight and I was on board within a few minutes.

Getting down at the Dallas airport, I am always greeted by the familiar smell of cow-dung. Now, I don't mean to be impolite to fine Texans, but that is the way it seems to me. The other day I was reading the second-to-last book in the "Foundation Series" books by Isaac Asimov. In the book, there are two travellers who are visiting different planets on a spaceship. One of them is a veteran traveller while the other one is a novice. Upon disembarking on the first planet, the novice makes a face and remarks that the planet stinks. The veteran answers that because of the local flora, life style etc., each planet has a distinct odour. He claims that within an hour or so, the novice would not even notice the odour. He claimed too that when they return back to their home planet, the novice would notice how bad their own planet stunk. Oh well, there goes that big story.

So anyway, Rajeev arrived in a Chrysler convertible. Hmm, impressive. It turned out that the branch of Enterprise rentals where he had reserved his car was out of everything else and hence they were forced to give out the convertible. Hey, I am not complaining to that.

It was a fun drive back home. Rajeev has not driven much from airport to his home. Going by the gut feelings, he took a few turns and roads and we were soon out of the crowded area heading towards the downtown. A few minutes passed, and we passed the downtown to the left. Another few minutes and the downtown was behind us. Ok, not good. I took the map of dallas out of Rajeev's bag and looked up where we were. Soon, we located the right highway we needed to take and we were back in the right direction.

Durga is a friend of Rajeev. Her sister (Vijji) and brother-in-law (Shivi) were in town and we all went for a dinner at a Mexican place. Now I don't remember the name of the place, but that joint was as mexican as you could imagine. It actually looked like a adobe hacienda (mexican house made of bricks), with guns, six-shooters and cowboy hats.

On the weekend, Durga, Rajeev and I went for a ride towards the country side. Rajeev was just happy driving outside dallas looking at the country side. We were going on the highway, happily and merrily when we took an exit to go visit Lake Joe Pool. While passing on a relatively slow road, a lady pointed out that one of our tires was flat. Interesting! A quick call to Enterprise resolved the matter and a cowboy was dispatched to fix the tire.

The tire fixed within half-hour of the problem being diagnosed, we were in elated spirits and continued on our journey. We roamed, without a destination in the mind, looking at the country side. Let me tell you, I had thought that Texas is a rather dry place; however the number of artificially created lakes are so many that it becomes a hard concept to maintain. Eventually we got off the road near a restaurant called Oasis. It was right by the lake and the jetty. We spent some time there and with the evening approaching, headed back to Dallas.

The next few days are a blur because I don't very well remember the details of each day. All I remember of the next couple of days is that I copied all the music from my iPod to Rajeev's computer, fixed a sunblade workstation (it had crashed with many filesystem errors. Also, I installed many packages on it to make the machine usable), first formatted Durga's computer and then partitioned the drive and installed Linux and Win XP back. And yeah, we had two parties at two places in this duration. One was at Aparna's place (Rajeev's friend, pity I did not take my camera with me) and another one at Mahsan's place (Rajeev and Amitabh Dixit's friend).

Eventually, another weekend arrived. This time I was ready. I reserved a car with Enterprise and we went to pick it up. "Sir, your reservation is at another location", the fella at the counter informed me. "No, no, I am pretty sure, it is at this location", I tried to convince him. To avoid the tussle, I brought out the receipt that I had printed at Rajeev's office. Again, they were running out of cars and they ended up giving me a Subaru SUV. Cool! an SUV! an All wheel drive and very spacious. I was at top of the world.

Time to say "Far, far and away..." Whee! We were going to Oklahama, baby! As you drive from Dallas to Oklahama, you notice the change in terrain. The flat land and ranches of Dallas suddenly gives way to ups and downs of oklahama which suddenly gives way to igneous rocks jutting out of the ground. Eventually we arrived at our destination of Chickasaw National park in Sulphur, Oklahama. Incidentally, while I was in Dallas, it snowed! Hey, I left Atlanta because it was cold and dreary. Snow in Dallas, what is the world coming to!

Chickasaw national park is pretty. We entered the visitor center and asked the lady at the counter for directions to the trails. She explained the directions patiently and then exclaimed "You guys are crazy to hike in this weather." Well, it had snowed, but it was not really all that cold, so we went ahead on the trails. This park has a few sulphur springs and some very different vegitation and some very different features. There is an island called travestine rock, which was made by calcium deposition. It was the first time I crossed a main road across which a water stream ran, and it was the first time I saw a sulphur spring.

The rather small trails consist of two springs, Buffalo springs and Anetelope springs. Both springs are rather circular and in Buffalo springs, there is a circular pool underneath which warm water bubbles from the underground. At Antelope springs the mineral from the allowed some very ingenious flora to thrive. In the light of the setting sun, the waving leaves of the vegitation seemed like emeralds moving in a sea of gold.

Just outside the park, there is a fountain of water. If you don't have your windows closed, you can smell the scent of the bubbling water, the smell of rotten eggs. Of course this is why the place is named Sulphur, the bubbling sulphur spring smells bad, looks good and according to Rajeev, who tasted the water, tastes horrible.

The park closes at 5:00pm. Also, it had snowed. Apparently, this consitutes an abnormality for the people of these regions, so there were very few people in the park. We drove around the park, sat around a lake in the middle of the park for a while, walked here and there and in general had a good time. As the night fell, we decided that it was time to head back home and that is what we did.

Next day, we had to go visit Nisha. I met Nisha first in Pittsburgh. She now lives in Houston with her hubby Yathin, in a very pretty house. So, we started in the morning and kept driving for a while. Rajeev realized that there was a road running parallel to the Interstate. The interstate was fast, lonesome and boring. The parallel road was slow, interesting and alive. We decided to take the slow road.

There was a horse ranch close to the road. There was no traffic on either side for quite a distance. I parked the car and went out to take pictures. The horses got curious at us stopping and looking at them, so they started staring at us as well. Stopping and going, stopping and going, eventually we reached Nisha's place. Already at Nisha's place were Yathin's sister, Sapna, Ravi and Sundar.
They were going to a party and we tagged along. The party was at Ira's place. She is a friend too. Apparently, it was a surprise party. Actually, it was a double surprise party. Raghu, who has just gotten engaged was told that it was Nisha's baby shower party. Nisha, who is pregnant, was told that it was Raghu's bachelor party. Both of them were surprised one after another.

Next day we woke at 8:00am and got ready. Nisha prepared some idlis and dosas. Well, if you never had food prepared by Nisha, you have missed a lot in your life. So anyway, I stuffed myself until I could not budge anymore. Just then Sapna woke. She walked to the kitchen and I dared her that she could not cook as well as Nisha. She took the dare and I was forced to eat another yummy dosa. By this time it was almost afternoon and we said our goodbyes and started for the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Apparently, Big Thicket national preserve was the first national preserve. Being in Atlanta, I have become accustomed to parks with ups and downs and brooks and waterfalls. Big thicket came as a surprise. It has a combination of many regions. It has the flora and fauna of marshes, hilly regions and waterlogged rainforests.

We decided to take a 5 mile trail to explore this forest. There is plenty of water around in this preserve. You would be walking in a dense forest and all of a sudden you see a big patch of water with many trees standing in the middle of it. The water here is muddy, eroding the land and shifting the scenery. It is a rather pretty place to visit and easy to get engrossed in. We enjoyed the scenery. In fact we enjoyed it so much that we did not notice the day coming to an end. I already had an experience being on a trail in the night and had decided that it was not very pleasant. So, we quickened the pace and finished the trail while the sun was still half an hour shy of setting.

Five hours of driving and we were back in Dallas. Rajeev dropped me at the airport next afternoon and I was back to Atlanta.

I called this a trip with bad exposures because I realized that I still need to learn a lot about exposure. There are plenty of tricky lightning situations where I over or under-exposed pictures. Well, live and learn...

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