Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mesa Verde Part 2

I knew it was going to be a great day when I crossed paths with this handsome creature.  

We spent some time gazing into each other’s eyes. 

After making the long and lovely drive up to Chapin Mesa, I stopped to see Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde’s largest (and most popular) cliff dwelling. 

Tours closed in the Spring this year due to renovation work, but I was content to admire from afar.

The previous day, I booked a Ranger-led tour of Balcony House. 

Billed as the ‘most adventurous’ tour, the trail winds along and up 60-feet of open cliff faces against the perilous canyon walls and includes 3 vertical ladder-climbs.  One ladder is 32-feet high and straight up.  

My come-and-go acrophobia wasn’t going to stop me from seeing this cliff dwelling.  Thankfully, it didn’t, though there were some treacherous moments. 

But the heart-pounding ascent was worth every breathtaking step!

Ranger Bailey explains about how the building came to be and gives a glimpse into the daily lives of these miraculous architects.

Balcony House got its name from these innovative structures (below) used as balconies for single-family dwellings.  From a complex building method using mortar, wood, and tree bark, the balconies survive here because of the particularly sheltered nature of Balcony House.  The wood supports seen here are building material that is 700 years-old.

One of the physical challenges of this dwelling is worming your way through a 12-foot long 18-inch wide tunnel.  The speculation is that the tunnel was defensive in nature.  

(I told this nice lady above that I have a travel blog and that her ass will almost surely be featured on it. She laughed and replied just make sure you spell my name right.  So, here ya go, Mari-with-an-i.  Thanks for agreeing to be the butt of the joke.) 

Later I hike the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail to see Balcony House from across the massive canyon.  You can barely see another 2 tours in progress, though I zoom-in as much as I can.

Reluctant to leave this magical place, I make one more stop into the Visitors Center to have a last look at the superb pottery once made here.  

Imagine the thrill of working to preserve these beautiful artifacts!

Our knowledge about the Ancestral Pueblo People is incomplete.  What we do know is that they were skilled artists, builders, and farmers.  Their vibrant civilization and accomplishments are supreme expressions of human culture in the Americas.

The End

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mesa Verde Part 1

This 3-month long exploration of the Colorado Plateau has opened my eyes to an important part of America’s past. The journey has been as much about learning about the Pueblo People as it has been about the geology that shaped this region.

This bronze sculpture depicts a Puebloan builder struggling up a cliff face carrying a basket filled with wood for building.  This profound piece conveys the heroic efforts required to construct these sites.    

As the trip draws to a close, I see clearly now how the landscape and the people are one and the same. Walking the pathways alongside the ghosts of the ancients, experiencing nature as they saw it, has been a saturating cultural experience. 

 So, Mesa Verde is an appropriate last stop on this summer/fall journey. 

Spruce Tree House
In its day (550 AD to 1300 AD), Mesa Verde was nothing special. Like any old subdivision in any old town.  What makes it special today is that it is so well-preserved, lying empty, forgotten, and undiscovered until 1888.

Spruce Tree House is glorious.  A Ranger told me something surprising - only 10% of the structure has been reconstructed.  Primarily to bolster extensive cracks in some of the 130 rooms. 

Below lies Montezuma Valley, a vibrant center of culture at the height of its development.  It’s estimated that 35,000 people lived in surrounding villages – more than reside there today!

The road to the mesa is long, winding, uphill, and spectacularly beautiful 

The leaves are at their peak.

The ubiquitous Yucca plant, such a key element in the Puebloan culture, used for clothing, vessels, and medication. 

Learning about these early inhabitants – their daily lives, complex trade networks, archaeological evolution, and technological advancements – has been enriching beyond description. 

A ceremonial Kiva - in the cliff dwellings, each family had one.

More to come from this NP treasure. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

200 Stamps!

I celebrate a milestone today as I collect my 200th National Park Passport Stamp. 

Procuring the stamp at Mesa Verde NP has deep meaning for me.  

My wonderful father-in-law so wanted me to visit this special place.  He and my mother-in-law were here in the summer of 1982.  (Thanks to sis-in-law, Joan, for the photo-share). 

We would talk about history and travel and, every time he spoke of Mesa Verde, his eyes lit up.  Shortly before he died, we talked about my long-range plans to visit there.  John says his dad would be very proud that I made it! 

I got my first stamp in 2003 at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, GA.  

And, in spite of spanning the busiest time in my professional career, I've managed to collect 199 more.

I’ve written about the NP Passport program on the blog before

When I first learned of the passport, I saw it as an ideal framework for all the traveling I wanted to do.  Since that time, each trip has focused on visiting as many NP sites as possible.  There are 408 National Park sites within the NPS system, so I consider this a life-long quest. 

It’s the perfect hobby for someone like me – with the heart of a collector, but the sole of a minimalist. 

This collection takes up very little space and doesn’t require dusting!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Heading East

After leaving Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the GDB turns East for the remainder of the journey.

It’s always a great feeling when that happens, knowing that every mile I drive puts me closer to the 3 H’s: Hubby, Hearth, and Hound.

Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area

I spend the night at Lone Rock Campground on the shores of Lake Powell in the Glenn Canyon NRA.  I never expected to set up a beach camp in the Southwest!

Thanks to blogger friend Terri for suggesting this spot!

The next day I head toward Page, AZ for a much-needed WalMart stop and a day spent catching up on work and blog.  But I am eager to get back on the road – anticipating some interesting stops along the way.  Just about the entire route for the next 2 days travels through the Navaho Nation, an immense, lonely, remote part of Arizona and Utah.

Navaho National Monument

A fascinating National Park site in a serene canyon many miles from nowhere where I learn more about far-ranging Puebloan culture.  The Pueblo People built these well-preserved cliff dwellings, later abandoned for unknown reasons, in about 1300.  Visitors are unable to get close to the dwellings and must make-do with this viewpoint.  

The museum houses excavated artifacts including many examples of exquisite pottery.

Monument Valley

I met a couple of RVers at the beginning of the trip that made me pinky-swear I would not miss driving through Monument Valley.  As we all know, the pinky pact is a solemn one.

The day was a fine one for motoring - cool and crisp - and the two-lane road, though in need of repair in spots, offered several hours of gliding along.  You feel as though you are driving through every John Ford western you've ever seen.

Unfortunately, through this long stretch of buttes and mesas, there is no place to pull over to admire the otherworldly formations.

As is the lot for solo drivers, equipped with just one free hand and a point-and-click, these photos are the best I could manage.

Here is an iconic webshot of the road through the valley.  And yes, the road is exactly as depicted.

Goosenecks State Park, UT

A fantastic place to stop in order to sleep on the edge of a cliff.  Thanks to Nina and Paul of Wheelin' It for the excellent info regarding this stunning place!

If you want directions, here they are: start at Godforsaken Place and follow the road to Remote. Once you get to Nowhere, take a left and go about 20 miles.

The San Juan River carves its way through the canyon 1,000 feet below.

The ghostly spires of Monument Valley are clearly seen some 35 miles to the southwest.

The sunset over this rarest of geological formations is a magnificent sight.

The skies don’t get much darker than here, and I do some prolonged stargazing late into the night.  Perfection, as the sky was clear and moonless.  The Milky Way blanketed overhead like I’ve never seen it before.

Ahhhh .... sweet solitude!