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.

 

 

Bryce is Best

The first Canyon views bring a gasp of amazement. Can this be real? Is is some kind of lighting trick?20160424_102544.jpg20160423_140750.jpg20160422_113539 Reality set in, and my head swiveled from side to side to take in the extraordinaryness that is Bryce Canyon. My second thought? I don’t have the camera or skills to capture this. I wish I had a stereo, or 3D camera.

imageOur three-night stay in the North Campground turned into four, as we swiftly figured out that we couldn’t possibly drink in all the sights in such a short time. I don’t know how much time would be enough, but we didn’t reach that limit. At Bryce, the attraction is the hoodos, those tall skinny spires of rock that reach up from the Canyon bottom and are wind and weather eroded into spectacular formations. 20160423_124638.jpg20160422_10350720160424_124336.jpg20160424_124716.jpg20160422_11290320160422_102850Some have names, such as Tower Bridge.20160424_120753Others set your imagination reeling with images from your own knowledge. Some days, we shuttled to trailheads on the amazing bus system, and bicycled back and forth other days when it suited us. It was always cold in the morning, warming up into the mid 60’s – 70’s during the day. Spectacular winds blow through the Canyon, swirling dust devils through the air. Parents clutched their kids, and everyone hung on to their hats. John convinced me to step out to precipice for a photo op. I had to brace myself from being blown off the edge, and hang on to my favorite hat at the same time.imageWe hiked the northernmost trail (Fairyland Canyon) and the southernmost trail (Bristlecone), and several inbetween those two. The details of each day have already blurred, so I’ll just share a few of my favorite photos.20160423_124959.jpg20160423_130219.jpg20160424_110209.jpg20160424_102731.jpg20160423_131258.jpg20160423_130219.jpg20160424_110209.jpg20160424_115055.jpg20160424_124336.jpg20160424_124716.jpgEven if you never hike, amazing views can be had from the Rim Trail which travels along the 18 mile length of the Canyon. Take the shuttle, jump off and on and you please.image20160423_132918.jpg20160423_140750.jpg20160423_141607.jpg20160423_141757.jpgEven the jet contrails above Bryce resemble hoodoos. I was sorely tempted to turn this photo upside down to make my point, but you’ll get it anyway.20160422_120634My quest for the Bristlecone Pine, the oldest living trees on earth was answered, but not in the manner that I had hoped. This is what I had hoped to see, but the Bristlecones we saw were far less spectacular.20160423_134804.jpg20160422_103817But we did observe many in varying stages of life, and felt privileged to do so. We saw some variety of spruce that was forming cones, and the branch tips were bright pink. Perhaps it was new branch growth, but it appeared to me to be cone formation with the striking color. A visit like this will remind you of all you do not know, and probably will never really understand.20160424_104123.jpgNow we have seen the oldest (Bristlecone), tallest (Coastal Redwood), and largest (Giant Sequoia) trees in the world. My heart still belongs to the Sequoias, but it quiets me to be in the presence of any of these giant trees.

I have so many more photos that I perhaps will share on a separate photo-only post, if I find a place with some good WiFi. A post like this gobbles up an amazing amount of our monthly data plan. ;-)

Our post-Bryce plan was to camp on BLM land in nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But, we awoke to snow and freezing rain. We packed up our stiff and frozen awning,  and rolled as quickly as possible to a lower elevation. As we dropped down (over 3000′ for the day), the snow turned to sleet, then to sunny breezy 50 degree temps, then back to rainstorms as we reached Kanab, UT. The knowledgeable Ranger at the Visitor Center there advised us not to venture onto any of the backcountry roads, as the storm threat and past rainy weather had made the roads unpassable for two-wheelers such as us. She showed us where we could find a great camping site just off a paved road, which we checked out. It was raining by the time we got there, and the deep ruts in the clay site were enough to scare us off camping there for the night. There are signs everywhere warning of impassable roads under rainy conditions. We headed back to an RV park in Kanab. It’s probably a good thing, since it’s been raining steadily for six hours since. One bad experience with a tow truck has made us wary of volunteering for another

Tomorrow, we plan to venture back up into Grand Staircase to see if it’s possible to actually stay and explore for a night or two. But, having had one bad towing experience, we’re not about to expose ourselves (willingly) to another. We may roll eastward. Destination unknown.