Monday, May 3, 2010

4 Day Road Trip -this is a long post....

A place that we had not visited but was on our list, was Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Bill and Sarah hadn't been there either, so Sarah did some research and put together a 4 day Road Trip for us that would take us to interesting places on the way up and back from Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde has the greatest number of Native American cliff dwellings in North America. The trip would take us all around the 4 Corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. (BTW, I overheard a guy say in the hotel lobby that he had been to "4 Corners" the previous day and it was CLOSED. Seemed funny as it is really just a spot on a map. But, they have found out that the marker for the intersection of the 4 states is in the wrong spot and they are changing it. Oh well.)
Day One - we left Sedona and headed up Oak Creek Canyon to pick up I-40 in Flagstaff. We headed east and got off the highway in Winslow, Arizona. Route 66 goes through the town and there are spots that highlight the line from the Eagles song, Take it Easy, "I was standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, such a fine sight to see." There's a huge logo of Rte 66 in the center of the intersection.

From there we found a nice little town picnic area along Clear Creek, which has a boat landing but doesn't live up to its name. Our first adventure was a visit to Rock Art Ranch located somewhere down a territorial road (read "dirt" road) east of Winslow. One needs an appointment to visit the site as the owner is not always there. We arrived at a locked gate with a threatening "No Trespassing" sign and had to call the owner to let us in. We interrupted his lunch but he showed up about 15 minutes later. (The mailbox at the gate had a sign that said, "US Male". We thought it was pretty clever until we saw some of his other spellings. For example, "thanks for comming!"). Click on the photo to read the signs. BTW, the mailbox is sitting on petrified wood.

Brantely Baird was the owner and he brought us and another car load to his museum, a large open floor building that contained tons of cowboy and pioneer equipment, clothes, furniture, etc. He then let us into a locked room that contained ancient artifacts that had been found on his ranch. He had a picture of himself with the first pot he found when he was 12 in 1948 (you do the math). He probably had millions of dollars worth of artifacts in that room. He also had some antique guns. One caption was, "Indian said only used to shoot one white man."

He raises some cattle and buffalo on the ranch and sells them for meat once a year. He rode his horse to and from school as a kid. He's the last of a dying breed.

Anyway, from there we headed to the Chevellon Canyon where the Rock Art is located. His dog hung out the driver's side window with a paw on the rear view mirror and looked like he was about to fall out, but didn't. We stopped at an old ruin that had its own sweat house, looked more like an oven but I'll take his work for it. He also pointed out "loco weed" which I didn't think really existed, but evidently does. On the dirt road to the canyon, we stopped to see the buffalo that were grazing. Brandy, the dog, jumped out of the car and started to chase the lead bull. The bull charged the dog and Brantley jumped in front of the buffalo with his hands in the air. The buffalo stopped in his tracks. This was all about 10 feet from us (we were still in the car though). That was pretty amazing. To us it seemed either heroic or stupid, but I'm sure Brantely knew what he was doing.

Does this guy look threatening?

We arrived at the Rock Art site. We had to descend a home-made, rickety, metal stair case that was so shaky that OSHA probably wouldn't even bother to inspect it. It took the place of the hand holes in the rocks so I guess it was the lesser of two evils. But once down the stairs and across a swaying, sagging metal bridge across Chevellon Creek we were amazed at the number of petroglyphs carved in the rocks.

This site has the most rock art in all of Arizona. They were so many, so varied and so clear. Brantely and Brandy led us over the rocky shore to point out the artwork on both sides of the narrow canyon. The art work, along with the artifacts, dated from 800-1000AD. This site was a very nice surprise and a real treat.

From the ranch we headed to the town of Snowflake to stay in a B&B there called the Heritage Inn. I told Brantely that we were heading there and he asked if we had any relatives there. I said no, but it turns out he did. In fact, the B&B used to be his uncle's house. Brantely is related to the Flakes (Flake as in Snow and Flake, the two men who founded the town) Snowflake was founded as a Mormon town in the late 1800's and is still 60+% Mormon. Brigham Young had sent out some men to find suitable, arable land and after finding no water in much of the area of NM and AZ, stumbled on a large ranch with water and land for sale. They bought a large parcel of land and then sold plots to church members who farmed the land and lived in the town of Snowflake. The Inn is owned by a nice couple. She is a Brit and he is from Las Vega, an unlikely duo.
Day Two - We left Snowflake and headed towards the Petrified Forest National Park (once again, the only thing good about getting old is that lifetime get-in free pass for the national parks. I'm sure we've already saved enough to buy a walker and a wheelchair.) I was not sure what to expect, except the unexpected. When I think of a forest I think of standing trees. Well, in this case the trees may have been standing at one point, but were all knocked down over the millennium by wind and oceans. When covered with layers of sand and water, silica seeped through the bark of the submerged trees and converted the cellulose in the tree to stone. Other metals seeped in too and converted to stone, so you have slices of tree that contain different types of stone. They are laying all over the barren area (looks like the Badlands) and some can be seen sticking out of the sides of formations still in the process of being exposed. Many of the petrified trees had been carried off before the area was protected and they say that they still lose 1 ton of petrified wood per month now. Their video of the area shows a guy getting arrested for picking up a stone. Outside the park you can buy petrified wood that was found on private land.

Bill took his life in his hands to take this one of the Agate Bridge.

From there we headed east into Gallup, New Mexico, stopped at MacDonalds, then headed north to Colorado. All day the wind had been fierce and we had heard the I-40 had been closed between Flagstaff and Winslow due to sand storms. Luckily that was in the opposite direction from where we were heading. But, we still hit tremendous sand storms blowing across the highway. At times we could barely see and had to almost come to a stop. It was like a snowy white out with sand. It wasn't til after we got home that Sarah noticed that the painted logo on the hood of their Beamer had been sand-blasted back to bare metal.
But we finally reach the town of Cortez, CO, then up to the top of Mesa Verde to the lodge. It was so windy and cloudy that we couldn't see much scenery. We ate dinner in the lodge and could hear and feel the wind rattling the windows. The whole room seemed to shake from the wind. Bill and I both had rather chewy buffalo steaks. I had eaten buffalo burgers before. I was expecting a nice tender cut, but it had a little too much gristle, even for me. Then off to bed for our tour of Mesa Verde the next morning.
Day Three - Day three started out a little confused. The lodge had just recently opened and the new help really wasn't up on the different packages that were offered for tours. We finally got everything squared away and were met by our tour guide, Marty, a semi-retired veterinarian. We got into his van, he stopped at the exit of the parking lot and told us that he normally starts the tour at that point for people to see the layout of the mesa but we really couldn't see much because we were in the middle of a BLIZZARD. The weather changed all morning from windy to snowy to sunny to snowy to windy, etc. It gave the whole tour a different ambiance. Marty was very knowledgeable about the history and archaeology of the area. He explained the damage done by a series of forest fires (caused by lightening) from the mid-90s up to 2002. The types of trees that burned, mostly Junipers, take hundreds of years to reach maturity and that the reseeding of the trees was only done naturally by the wildlife in the area. We will not see these trees again in our lifetime. The elevation was between 8100 and 8400 feet so getting around took a bit of an adjustment.
The main part of the tour was to visit and understand the dwellings and to see the progression of life from living in underground pit houses, above ground stone houses, adobe walled houses and finally the large cliff dwellings that dot the walls of the canyons.
Here is the Square Tower house. A moment after Bill took this picture the wind blew a snow storm up the canyon.

The most impressive part was climbing down off the mesa top to the cliff dwellings at Cliff House, climb up and down replica, wooden ladders to get to the different levels of the "town" and then climb out over a chain of rocks and wood ladders that took us through a crevice for about 100 feet back to the top of the mesa. Bum leg and all, Judy made it through all these descents and climbs.
Here's a view of Cliff House from the top of the mesa.

Getting out was a bit of a challenge.

It was really fascinating to stand on one side of the canyon and look across to the other and see numerous cliff dwellings everywhere up and down the walls on the other side. Click on the photo to see the people standing on the top left to give an idea of the size.

Like the Sinaqua in the Sedona area, the Anasazi, just sort of moved out of their homes and headed somewhere else around 1300 AD. We don't know why, for sure, or where they went. They probably left due to a prolonged drought and eventually merged with other tribes further south in NM, AZ or Mexico. As an aside, the name Anasazi, means "ancient ones" or "ancient enemies" in Navajo. The Anasazi descendants, the Hopi, Zuni and other pueblo Indians wanted their own term to describe their ancestors, so they tried to come up with a better name. Unfortunately, the closest thing that archaeologists could come up with, that not everyone likes, is "Ancestral Puebloans".

Day Four - The storm cleared overnight and the moon was so bright I thought the sun was coming up. I stood on our balcony for a while at 3am to see if I could spot any of the deer who had passed through earlier in the evening.

From Mesa Verde, we headed west to another Anasazi site called Hovenweep in southeast Utah. On the way, we passed through some beautiful countryside which was a combination horse country and mesa country. Hovenweep was one of the last sites of the Anasazi sites constructed. It is mostly made up of towers that were probably used as lookout towers to protect and defend their crops. There are some residential sites but mostly towers. It is felt that by this time, late 13th century, there was actually warfare between tribes and that defense was more of an issue than before. There is a very nice walk around the canyon.

Then it was only 275 miles or so to get home (but we did pick an hour due to time zones). It was pretty uneventful until I had to use the facilities at the MacDonalds in Tuba City. This is in the middle of the Hopi Reservation which is in the middle of the Navajo Reservation. I waited a while for the stall to free up until we realized that it was unoccupied. Some kid had locked the door from the inside and crawled under the door to get out. I had to get another kid to crawl under and open it up for me. Everything is an adventure out in the wild west.


  1. Tony, I never thought about all those saved entrance fees being used for walkers and wheelchairs--what a great idea! Nice post and great summary of 4 very packed fun days!

  2. Wow!! It's taken the last 24 hours to digest it all.

    Loved 'standing on the corner' in Winslow, Arizona. I used to really like the Eagles. We still have a Best Of... CD

    The pix are great. Love being able to blow them up and zero in on specific spots. What an experience that must have been.

    Are you ready to start painting it? Have you done much painting?

  3. It took a long time to write too. I did most of it while sitting in the waiting room when I got my oil changed for the trip home.

    I just said to Judy tonight that I haven't done much painting this time. Got lots of reference photos and hope to get a few more started before we leave. Too much travelling around, I guess.

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