Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Land of the Ancients

Mesa Verde and Montezuma Valley, Colorado

The people who inhabited the Land of the Ancients are called "Pre-Columbus People" or the "Ancestral Puebloans", but traditionally they are known as the Anasazi. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a reminder of the 1,400 year old culture that thrived in the area long before the Navajo or the Ute, who also call the Montezuma Valley home. The homes that the Anasazi created were built brick-by-sandstone-brick into the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Today, these are called cliff dwellings, and the cliff-side villages of Mesa Verde represent some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.

We visited Mesa Verde 10 years ago and today we decided to do a different part of the park from what we had done before. Step House is more out of the way, smaller, and less visited than other more well known cliff dwellings. Step House is a cliff dwelling that includes clear evidence of two separate occupations on the same site: a site dating to around A.D. 626 and a masonry pueblo dating to Classic Pueblo times A.D. 1226. The round trip trail to Step House was said to be about a mile. The first half was a half a mile straight down and the other half about 5 miles straight back up. The people that lived here must have had incredibly strong legs and lungs.
When we finished the tour of Step House the plan was to ride a park tram to view several other cliff dwellings. But, that was not to be as the tram broke down just when we were about to board.

So we concluded our visit to Mesa Verde and went instead to that venerable historical site - Dairy Queen. If you have not tried one of the new DQ Waffle Cups – you just ain't livin'. Sorry but no picture of the waffle cup.

As almost always, more pictures in albums at:

Four Corners

The Four Corners is the only place in the United States where four states come together at one place. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet at the Four Corners. Here a person can stand in 4 states at one time – although we did not manage to do that – only got 3 out of 4 - bummer. This landmark is on Navajo Nation land and is open for visits – for a price of course ($3 per person).

“The Four Corners Monument was originally surveyed and established by the US Government Surveyors and Astronomers in 1868 with the survey of Colorado's southern boundary. Surveys followed of New Mexico's west boundary and Utah's east boundary in 1878. The northern boundary of Arizona was surveyed in 1901. A small permanent marker was erected in 1912 where the boundaries of the four states intersected. The Monument was refurbished in 1992 with a bronze disk embedded in granite. Each of the state boundaries radiate from the disk and each state's seal rests within that state's boundary.” Quote taken from

In all honesty, I actually did take this picture. However, it is a picture of a picture postcard. And, I added the writing, and cropped the picture so it is only slightly stolen/pilfered/plagiarized.

Sleeping Ute Mountain

We are camped in the shadow of Sleeping Ute Mountain on Ute Tribal land just south of Cortez, Colorado.

The fact that the campground is adjacent to the Ute Mountain Casino has nothing to do with our choice of campgrounds! Honest! We are strictly here for the cultural and historical aspects of the area. After all - this is The Land of the Ancients.

Sleeping Ute Mountain resembles a sleeping Indian with his headdress to the north and his arms folded across his chest. The legend is this was a Great Warrior God who helped fight against evil ones, and during the battle his feet formed the mountains and valleys. The Great Warrior God was wounded and while resting he fell into a deep sleep. He continues to care for his people. Blood from his wound became living water and rain clouds come from his pockets. The changing of his blankets bring the seasons: dark green, yellow and red, and white.

An added cultural event that we were honored to witness at the campground was an extreme motorcycle show. You just can't get much more highbrow cultural than this!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canyonlands National Park

Just nine miles west of Arches National Park is Canyonlands National Park (is there any area in Utah that is not a national park?)

One section of Canyonlands is Island in the Sky which is a broad wedge shaped mesa located between the Green River and the Colorado River. The rivers are about 2,000 feet below the canyon rim and not visible from most vantage points.

The views are awe inspiring but, do not translate well into pictures. You look across canyon after canyon and it is said that the horizon you can see is 100 miles distant. It is a pretty long drive through the park and honestly large parts of the drive were pretty boring. You are on top of a mesa and the canyon rim is so far away that you cannot see anything other than the flat grassland around you. Just when you think – “why am I bothering with this” you come upon a view that is so spectacular it makes you gasp. The drive is well worth the time and gas.

The only section of this National Park that we did is called Island In The Sky. The other sections, Needles, The Maze, and The Rivers are reached by other, more remote roads and we were about red rocked out by now.
So, Utah – thanks for the memories – until next time.

Arches National Park

Water, ice, extreme temperatures and an underground salt bed are responsible for the sculptured rock scenery of Arches National Park. These forces have been sculpting the rock for over 100 million years. Today there are over 2,000 cataloged arches ranging in size from 3 feet (the minimum to be considered an arch) to the longest, Landscape Arch which measures 306 feet at the base.

In 1991 a rock slab 60 feet long, 11 feet wide and four feet thick fell from Landscape Arch.
The hike out to Landscape Arch was almost 2 miles round-trip. The brochure listed the hike as “relatively flat”. Relative to what I don't know but it certainly was not relative to flat as my calves will attest to today. However, it was worth the hike.

Delicate Arch is the remnant of a sandstone fin and stands on the brink of a canyon. The brochure listed this hike as 3 miles and strenuous. So – we skipped the hike and did the view point thing. The view point is about a mile away from the arch but with modern photography – you think you are right next to it (kind of).

Wilson's Arch is outside the park boundaries but still part of the park and is a pretty spectacular arch. You can judge the size of the arch by the people standing under it.
We saw lots of arches of all shapes and sizes.

Just as interesting as the arches are some of the other rock formations, especially the rocks that seemingly defy gravity.

Some of our fellow tourists...

Many more pictures in the Arches NP album at

Monument Valley

Utah – it is almost as hard to get from southwestern Utah to southeastern Utah as it was to get out of California. Basically you must either go way up and around from where we were or drop down and go around. We chose the southern route which took us back into Arizona passing through the Vermilion Cliff area and then up through Monument Valley.

Monument Valley - think John Wayne in Stagecoach. This area provides perhaps the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. This is called a valley but since there are no cliff walls to enclose it – it seems to me to be more of just a wide flat area with these huge red monoliths rising out of the sandy floor. We were there at mid-day so the colors are not as vibrant in the pictures as they can be at morning or evening.
Monument Valley belongs to the Navajo Nation and to see all of it you must pay them to drive a 17 mile long dirt road. We decided that we could see plenty from the main highway and kept on truckin'.

Mexican Hat is not part of Monument Valley but I did not have any place else to put this picture. Mexican Hat is a town in Utah named for this rock formation - or so we believe.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bryce Canyon National Park

Sunday we were off to Bryce Canyon National Park.

The last time we were here was several years ago and it was early May and the day we went to Bryce it was snowing. Not so today. The day could not have been nicer with lots of sun, some fluffy clouds formed in the deep blue sky, and the high was projected to be 74.

When we were in Zion we started way above the canyon and descended a couple of thousand feet into the canyon to for viewing. Bryce is exactly the opposite. We started at the entrance to Bryce at around 7,500' above sea level and ended at 9,100' above sea level. Unless you want to hike, and heck we cannot even breath at these altitudes, you do not get down onto the floor of Bryce Canyon (you can ride a horse down into the canyon but we are still recuperating from last year's horse ride in Garden of the Gods).

Hoodoo – a pillar of rock, usually of fantastic shape, left by erosion. Hoodoo – to cast a spell. Bryce Canyon National Park is full of hoodoos and they do cast a spell on one.

The vistas here both across the canyon and down into the canyon are breathtaking. Some of Mother Nature's finest work can be seen here. And her work is ongoing. The average rate of erosion here is 1-4 feet every hundred years. It is estimated that in 3 million years, hoodoos will cease to exist here. So, if you want to see Hoodoos, I suggest that you run, don't walk to Bryce Canyon.

Red Canyon State Park, UT

If you come into Bryce Canyon from the west, or leave Bryce and go to the west, you will pass through a treat that is unheard of by most people – Red Canyon State Park.

The first time we were here we had never heard of Red Canyon and therefore did not expect it. Out of seemingly nowhere, these huge red walls and hoodoos rise. And they are, in my estimation, about as red as you can find rock to be. It is a very short stretch of road that passes through Red Canyon and although we were not surprised by it as we were last time, we found that Red Canyon is just as spectacular if you know what is coming.

As with all the red rocks around here, the correct time of day to see the colors is of utmost importance. Trying to keep the sun at your back does not always work so we do a lot of stopping and looking back. Best times to view colors are either early morning or sunset. Mid-day sun pretty much washes out much of the color of the rocks.

Zion National Park

Left Las Vegas and the heat but did not leave the desert behind although it changed color from mostly brown with some reds mixed in to mostly red with some white and brown mixed in.

We are in Mt. Carmel, UT, a jumping off place for visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Although it gets pretty warm here in the afternoons – around 90, the night times so far are blissful with temps around 50.

Up and out the door early Saturday morning in order to beat the other tourists to tour Zion National Park.

Lots and lots of years ago this area was all sand dunes. Eventually, still lots of years ago, a sea covered the dunes. The water from the sea solidified the dunes so that when the sea receded, still lots of years ago, what was left was sandstone. This soft sandstone was carved by the Virgin River and today we have Zion National Park. This is the most simplified, and probably most inaccurate, geology lesson that you will ever have.
Water not only flows through the river but drips from the canyon walls where hanging gardens grow. When it rains, the sandstone walls of the canyon absorb water and as the water percolates downward over time (a shorter time than lots of years) it finds sandstone that is totally saturated and so the water finds it's way out and down the outside of the canyon walls.
This is a true oasis in the midst of the desert.
The word Zion is a Hebrew word for refuge and very appropriately applied to this place.