History Lessons

We left Bryce Canyon in a hail of swirling snow and wind – seeking a lower elevation for the night, but with no firm plans in mind. Checking the map, there’s a huge swath of green, indicating the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument about 160 miles down the road, so we get the bright idea that we’ll boondock and explore that area for a day or two.

Snow gives way to bright skies and 50ish temps. 20160426_100610We zoom down into Kanab and head to the Visitor Center to check out camping scenarios. The Ranger that is not encouraging. On the board is posted the 5 day weather forecast, and it’s a mass of green (for rain). Most of the backcountry roads are already impassable, even for four-wheelers. Not only do we not have 4WD, we’re towing a trailer. She finally recommends one spot – 12 miles out of town, then 12 miles down a paved road to a gravel road beneath the white cliffs. We’re excited – we only hear ‘paved’, so we figure we’ve got it made. Not so fast…..

We pass through some gorgeous territory, including an old Mormon settlement, which is slowly sagging back into the ground.20160425_130719 Finally, we get to the turnoff, and it’s sand and deep red clay. John pulls off the road slightly, and we get out to feel the surface and assess potential campsites. It’s a great place to camp, BUT there are some deep, worrisome ruts in the clay surface of the road. A local rancher pulls up and offers advice, using words like “tow”, “stuck”, “marooned”, and “isolated”. It doesn’t take too long for us to carefully back out and head back to Kanab to find a safe haven for the night. Good choice – it rained hard for ten hours, and I’m sure we’d still be spinning our wheels in red muck trying to get out of Grand Staircase.

So, Day 2 we head over to Navaho National Monument. This the site of the spectacular Betatakin settlement of the Ancestral Puebloens.20160426_15201920160426_15091320160426_150818 There’s a small adjacent campground which is free. This is the best of all worlds.20160426_142343 A great campsite is ours for the taking – complete with our own huge stone patio overlooking the canyon. The Visitor Center is terrific, and we’re camped in a significant historic site. We wander down to the pubelo overlook, check out the surrounding area a bit, and settle in for the night.20160426_194026I’m excited to make the drive through Monument Valley again on Day 3. This remote section of Utah highway passes some through some of the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine. Flat desert is broken up with massive red monuments. There’s no way I can capture the majesty and sheer grandeur of this setting – there’s nothing to use for scale.20160427_111659 It is no wonder that this is sacred ground to Native Americans – it is a breathtaking and mystical experience to pass near these enormous mystical mountains.

John had read something about Goosenecks State Park in Utah, so that became the next stop for the day. Six miles of the San Juan River meander through a deep valley in a series of undulations, stretching horizontally over only about a mile and a half.20160427_120054 It was well worth the $5 fee we paid to wander and admire for a half hour. The lighting at the time we were there was perfect – even the parking lot was photogenic.20160427_120419After checking weather reports and consulting our maps, we decide to press on to Mesa Verde National Park for two nights of camping and exploration of the magnificent pueblos there. 20160427_165942Mesa Verde was one of the original twelve Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1976 – one of the twelve most significant sites in the world worthy of preservation. This relatively small area is home to over 5000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. 20160428_12264220160428_11250420160428_105947Having the privilege to see this well-preserved site, visit the gorgeous museum and take a Ranger-guided trip to Balcony House will certainly be two days I will remember for a long time. The Mesa Verde area was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans from about 600-1300 AD, with a population that likely exceeded today’s number of inhabitants. Of course there’s a huge difference in the structures from the earliest to the most recent, but to see them all in such a small space is amazing. You review hundreds of years of history within a day.

Our tour of Balcony House was terrific. We headed down under the cliff, then up a worrisome 32′ ladder to reach the dwelling.20160428_13334920160428_133838Probably housed 30-50 people lived there in the 1200s with their domesticated turkeys and dogs. Our Ranger Paul was passionate about helping us understand the forces in play during the time of this settlement.20160428_13394620160428_135247 It’s amazing what we do know about these early settlements, and how much we really don’t know about what caused their seemingly abrupt  desertion of this area around 1300. All you can do is look, absorb, and try to understand. It’s an amazing opportunity.

We did have one low point when using the campground showers today, which had just opened for the season. Chalk it up to the joys of camping.20160428_165158 Tomorrow (Friday), we’re moving on. Once again, we don’t really have a firm plan. The weather forecast is lousy for the higher elevations – snow. Rain in the lower regions. We’re thinking about just moving to nearby Durango for a few days. Perhaps we’ll ride the Durango steam train, although it’s too early in the season to take the classic trip to Silverton. Maybe we’ll just lie low and look for a bar where we can watch a baseball game. Funny how far removed we feel from simple pleasures like this.

Hard to believe we’re entering the last few weeks of this trip. We’ve seen so much, yet all I can focus on is what we’ve left undone, and what we overlooked through ignorance or laziness. There is hardly a place we’ve visited that I don’t want to revisit, yet I know that’s not going to be possible. Food for thought.



25 thoughts on “History Lessons

  1. Gorgeous! I’ve been to Mesa Verde, but want to see all those other places you visited! I really enjoyed the Balcony House tour – when we were there our ranger was Native American and approached the tour with a lot of information on how the tribes see Mesa Verde as a sacred place and the spirituality surrounding it. It was really neat to hear it from that perspective.


    • Our Ranger guide at Mesa Verde mentioned a Native American Ranger who had been (or perhaps still is) there. That would be special. I was I pressed with our guide – he had been to Machu Picchu, and had extensive knowledge. He was great, but still…

      Thanks for your comment, Camille.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re having terrible luck with the weather, but your photos are very inspiring! I plan on visiting all of the places that you’ve mentioned in this post, one of these days, so I really enjoyed the preview.


    • Thanks, Jerry. We made the right decision in ducking out to Durango. Other than a brief ice storm in the morning, it’s warm and sunny. Just 40 miles away. Lots of microclimate weather things happening at the high elevations.

      Mesa Verde is astonishing. So many years packed into such a relatively small area. The preservation and restoration of this entire area is a great story in itself. I look forward to your visit.


  3. Great pictures and wonderful narrative! I wish I had your talent for words! The pictures of Mesa Verde brought back memories of when Patty and I visited there years ago. We climbed that very same ladder, or an earlier version of it.


    • It sure is an amazing place. The ladder didn’t bother me, but I was nervous about crawling through the tunnel, which turned out to be not bad at all. Thank god it wasn’t actually a 12 foot long, 18″ wide tunnel as they portray it in the Visitor Center. That would have been tough for the Clostrophobia Kid.


  4. Scotty and I visited Mesa Verde a few years ago. We didn’t climb any 32 ft ladders though. Beautiful interesting place. We spent a day or two in Durango also.


    • Hi Carolyn. Mesa Verde isn’t 100% open at this time of year, so the only Pueblo we could tour was Balcony House. Aptly named.

      Sure is a great place to wander and contemplate all the mysteries of history. I’d go back anytime.

      See you soon.


  5. Oh dear Judy, my friend, reading your blog is like watching George Periot (sp?) the armchair travel show from Indian Village, Detroit, from his home, I watched when I was a kid. Did you ever see or watch it? You’re a Michigander as well as me, do you remember him? I can’t believe you left the winter weather in Michigan and are finding it in Spring on your travels! We can only live through you vicariously…..wondering how the heck you do it in that T@da. Your are our heros….or just crazy people! Anyway, we love your blogs, it’s like Prairie Home Companion Theater! Love it! Can’t wait to see you in a few short weeks in NC, so don’t get stuck in the mud girlfriend!


    • Don’t know about the armchair traveler – maybe it was just a local thing in Detroit. My grandparents lived on the east side of Detroit, not far from the old Chrysler plant, so we spent a fair amount of time there. If not, I would never have seen Soupy Sales, as he wasn’t on in Grand Rapids.

      Prairie Home Companion?? Hardly!

      See you in couple of weeks.


  6. Beautiful and amazing photos. Your brain must be swelling from all the sights it’s been absorbing! I can’t wait to see you guys and hear more about your adventures. I see from Susan Gray’s comments that the telephone game is in full swing here. . .we were the ones with the repair issues that might prevent us from getting to the BRR, but I swear: BRR or BUST! Thanks for sharing. . .especially that brainworm shower sign that I just can’t get out of my mind’s eye now. . .:)


    • I think you are safe in your own home shower, Jen. Creepy signs like that bother me more than the creepy showers. But I never leave home without my Dawgs sandals.

      John told me that he heard about Susan/Bob’s repair issues from you. Something about a bad converter. Maybe we should just leave men out of the conversation sometimes.

      Your fat-headed friend Judy


  7. These are definitely the best pictures yet. BEAUTIFUL! Hope you are reading House of Rain by Craig Childs. Wonderful investigation into the path of the Anasazi migration. He hiked it!


      • nearly, packing up. Leaving Thursday for Yellowstone for a few days then to West Glacier and beyond. You’re a great inspiration! L



      • I can’t wait to get to Yellowstone. From what I’ve heard, you’re very smart to go early in the season. Hope you find beautiful secluded corners to paint. Look forward to seeing the outcome.


  8. Boy, you two know how to cover some ground. We’ll be taking a pass on Bryce due to the weather. We’ve boondocked at Goosenecks SP several times and always enjoy it. You would’ve loved overnighting at Valley of the Gods.
    Safe travels through my home state of Colorado. If you haven’t visited the Great Sand Dunes NP yet, you might enjoy an overnight there.


    • Thanks, Ingrid. Great Sand Dunes is hopefully our next stop, but a snowy forecast isn’t making it look promising. Think we might hole up in Durango and see what things look like on Sunday. I can’t stand the thought of getting so close, yet missing it. A bit of snow is okay – raging storms are certainly to be avoided.

      Happy travels.


      • Wolf Creek Pass is not to be approached lightly. Be sure the sun has warmed the road before traveling it, and definitely do NOT take Hwy 550 north to Ouray. I know the roads in Colorado might be a bit of a challenge for you. Take your time and enjoy the view!


  9. Thanks for the wonderful tour of our magnificent heritage. By sharing your experience, you are giving so many the opportunity to see things we may never have the chance to explore ourselves. Grateful for your generosity.


    • Generous? Not really – just showing off this fantastic experience. We’ve been to four or five areas where the cliff dwellers lived in our travels. But Mesa Verde is the only place that covered so many years, and so many changes. It’s hard to get your head around all of it.

      I’m happy to be at a stage in my life where I really am interested in learning and understanding our history – both cultural and political. Too bad that I had to wait so long to figure that out.

      See you soon. Time Trials Monday, right??


    • Ah, Susan – we’re all talk – more bluster than brave. But, all we could think about was the disastrous towing experience we had in Louisiana. Not doing that again!

      See you at the BRR? We heard thru the grapevine that you have some repair issues, and might not be there?


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