Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Back in Colorado, but a brief visit back to New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and a moment of being in all four states at once!

A sleeping bird in Holbrook
We had many routes north from Holbrook to Cortez, but the one we chose was a longer but scenic drive in mostly Navajo Indian territory, which is a massive area, complete with their own time zone. The territory straddles Arizona and New Mexico and, although we were in Arizona, they are one hour ahead of Arizona time, which is New Mexico time, so our clocks went forward an hour (again), we’ve been switching them back and forwards like a yo-yo these past few weeks!

Looking down Canyon de Chelly
We drove up the 191 in Arizona to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘Shey’) NM which is one of the many canyons in this part of the world where there are the remains of 800-900 year old buildings, mostly built in caves in canyon walls. They are the ancestors of the Navajo people and, as a result they can be fairly certain of the history, it being passed down through the generations by way of ceremonies and folklore.
A little lizard looks on
Looking down at some of the buildings
They are very interesting and you can’t help wondering how they built them and how they lived, being hallway up a canyon wall with no visible means of how they got to it and how they didn’t fall to their deaths! However, we had a certain feeling that once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, as there are hundreds, many very well preserved and protected so you can’t get to them or only in a guided tour, others just in view walking through canyons with only a notice saying ‘do not pass this point’ and yet others that have been excavated and then reburied for protection so you can only see an outline. We were in danger of getting ‘ruined out’, so we limited our time and the number we visited, as we wanted to save our enthusiasm for Mesa Verde NP near Cortez, which is supposed to be one of the best.

And here they are in close up
Old ruins in every hollow
Canyon de Chelly was one of those well protected one’s, run by the Navajo people who seem keen to make as much money as possible by charging vast amounts for a guided tour into the canyon. We didn’t, but took one of the scenic drives round the rim, with good views down into the canyon (probably better views than actually being in it), which fitted in with our journey to Cortez, which was going to be a full day’s drive anyway. Three overlook viewpoints on the way with fabulous views, the third one being called ‘Massacre Cave Overlook’, which was a thought provoking stop.
Massacre Cave
It was a promontory of rock jutting into the canyon ending at the overlook with sheer, probably 1000ft cliffs and amazing views. Just to the left the canyon wall had a shelf in a shallow cave halfway up that was the scene of a massacre. The notice there says: “Spanish soldiers may have fired from this very site during the infamous massacre of 1805. Their Navajo targets were killed in the alcove below and to the left.” The Spanish claim a battle occurred for a full day against Navajo warriors, but the Navajo people claim most of the warriors were away at the time and 150 defenceless women, children and old men were murdered in cold blood. They must have felt pretty safe hidden there, but when they were found they had nowhere to go. All pretty horrendous! On with the drive we went into New Mexico and past Shiprock, a blade of rock in an otherwise flat plain that from a distance does indeed look like a ship in full sail on a sea, finally arriving at our Motel in Cortez around 5:00pm (we lost an hour due to the time change), in time for a Chinese meal at one of the many restaurants in town.

The scrub oak autumn colours
Here we were asked for ID in order to have a beer! Do we really look under 21? I wish. I suppose this balances out when we went to Meteor Crater though where we had a $2 off coupon each, on top of that she said so that’ll be two seniors then? Far be it for me to argue (more money saved) but not good for the ego!

The fabulous autumn colours on Mase Verde
Mesa Verde is only a few miles away from Cortez, high up in the mountains and has absolutely stunning views of the countryside around as well as being a major site of the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It’s a National Park, created in 1906 and has over 4500 archaeological sites, of which 600 are cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde is a Spanish name, the whole of this are once being a Spanish colony, meaning ‘green tableland’, and that’s just what it is, a high plateau over 7000ft that is normally green, but when we visited in late autumn the scrub oak trees had changed to yellow, gold and red colours, giving a mass of colours over the hillsides.
A photo of a photo of Mase Verde showing the fabulous night sky. They make a big thing of dark night sky in these parts
A guided tour on the Palace ruins tour
The ruins were very well preserved (well, they are mainly in open caves, with rock roofs to protect them!) with scenic drives round the rims, giving spectacular views into canyons and the buildings there, with a couple of guided walks into the ruins. “Don’t touch anything, no food or drink and be careful where you walk”. We did the ‘Balcony House’ tour, mainly because we were told it’s physically challenging, requires climbing many exposed ladders, one 30feet high and crawling through a tunnel. ‘That’s the one for us!’ we thought and off we went with about 20 others.

On our Balcony House tour, about to ascend the 30ft ladder
It was nice enough, there were big drops and a climb out on original rock steps in a very steep rock face that now had a chain guard rail. Would we have felt as relaxed without that chain guard rail looking straight down a steep face, who knows, but everyone managed it, a few looking a bit anxious during and thrilled afterwards. The ruins we went to look at weren’t bad either!

Walking behind the buildings
Listening to the talk. Those two holes are Kiva's, ceremonial places
That small hole is the way out, it's about three feet high
Jackie ascending the ladder on the other side of the tunnel
And that's the view down at the top of the rock steps. Would we feel as happy without that chain guard rail?
A coyote trots off
A Jay
More ruins. This is the only four storey building they have there
More ruins!
Here we are at the Four Corners, two states each!
Yesterday (Monday) was a long trip to Monument Valley, scene of many a great John Wayne western, ah yes, we recognised that scenery and could almost hear the noise of horses, stagecoaches and the whoop-whoop of Indians attacking the cowboys! It was over a 300 mile round trip from Cortez and took us through the Four Corners Monument. This is the only point in the USA where four states meet and it is possible to stand in all four states at once (except that a more recent land survey has shown that it’s about 1000ft out and the actual point may be in the middle of a river! Never mind, it makes a good photo!).

Monument Valley, must have another look at some of those old westerns
Every view demands a photo
The four corners monument and the whole of Monument Valley is on Navajo land, so we were ready with the dollars (they do like to make as much of it as they can!), $5 each entry to the monument, which was a slab of concrete in the middle of the desert, surrounded by Native Indian stalls with souvenirs for sale and, yes we (actually me, Jackie wasn’t terribly interested!) got on the spot and had a photo, then watched others lay crab fashion and other positions in order to get part of their body in each state. Plenty to spend your money on at the stalls and some of it was very good stuff, but we can’t carry it, so off we went for the 80 odd mile drive to Monument Valley.

I could go on and on with these photos, I've hundreds of them!
One of me for a change!
It’s a very photogenic place and the camera was clicking away at every turn, it’s a fabulous place! You can just drive through on the scenic and paved 163 road and the views are to die for, but in the middle is the Navajo Tribal Park, which we’d read is a 17 mile journey on dirt roads through the most scenic sections.
Shall we do it? Might as well, we’re only here once, so we paid the $20 to get in, (not the $10 we wereexpecting) parked at the Welcome Centre where we were asked by many a tour company if we wanted to take a bus tour round the loop as the road is very rough and not really suitable for ordinary cars like ours (why didn’t they tell us that at the pay booth?) The price? $75 each! No, we’ll drive it thanks, how bad can it be? Well, the first part was bad and I think that’s the ‘nervous driver stopper’, but after that it was relatively OK and I could look round at the scenery rather than just looking for the next rock or pothole!
The classic view
There were plenty of pullouts and views that you can’t describe and photos don’t do justice. At a couple of the viewpoints there were Native American stalls selling all sorts of stuff and, of course, that’s where the bus tours stopped for a considerable time to allow money to be spent. Oh and on that very scenic viewpoint there’s a guy with a horse, “have your photo taken on the horse, only $5 each”. Er, no thanks!
There's a town on the way out called Mexican Hat, and this is why!
Despite all this we had a great time, we’re really glad we went and we got some great photos and memories. The drive out went in a loop near to the Natural Arches NP, shall we go, it’s about 7 miles out of our way. We went to the Visitor Centre and there are three arches to view with half hour to hour long walks to each. It’s 3:15pm and we’ve got a two hour drive back to Cortez. We’ve seen natural arches before, the photos in the guide looked pretty similar, let’s leave it and get back at a reasonable hour. Are we getting blasé?

Believe it or not a road runs up to the top of this stuff. A gravel road with many switchbacks
This is a view down of the switchbacks, they were pretty steep with no guard rails and big drops!
Sunset over the wilderness behind our motel
The waterfall in twilight
Dinner and then an evening walk at sunset out on to wilderness land at the back of our motel. We’d been told that mountain lions and occasionally bears and coyotes inhabit this area and we might see some at sunset! Off we went, oh forgot the headtorches, but never mind I’m sure we’ll find our way back in the dark! Got to the waterfall, walked back through the trees, saw nothing but the afterglow behind the mountain from the long set sun, the sky steadily growing darker and the afterglow getting deeper orange. Did we see anything? No, but we did find the leg of a deer that something had left behind after eating the rest. Mountain lion? Who knows!

Evidence of a mountain lion?
At the start of todays walk
Today, Canyon of the Ancients NM and a 5 mile walk (hike?) round Sand Canyon, as recommended by our hosts at the motel. It was pleasant enough, the sky was blue, as it has been for all the time we’ve been here, but last night was below freezing, so it was cold, but quickly warmed up to high 60’s F during the day. It’s really hot in direct sun, even though it’s only 66-68 degrees (19-20 C) but it now gets very cold at night.
A woodpecker in disguise
It’s over 6000ft here, so even though it’s not too hot, the sun is still very strong – wear sunscreen, although this morning we didn’t. How can you put sun cream on when it’s barely above freezing? Anyway we set off on a very nice, but nothing special walk through a canyon of sand (unsurprisingly), and walked past many an ancient cave dwelling on the way. It took us less than two hours and we thought we were going to see no-one, but then saw two other elderly couples walking the other way. Plenty of enticing paw prints in the sand, but we saw no animals of any sort, only a lone woodpecker pecking away in a nearby tree!

Ruins on the top
The horse riding stables we went past on the way back do a three hour trip up into the mountains for$90 each. Jackie’s very tempted and I’d have a go. She’s got to ring tonight to see if they can fit us in tomorrow morning, before our 4.5 hour drive back down to Albuquerque in New Mexico. Will she phone and arrange it?

Jackie with the horses

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