Thursday, September 29, 2011

Monument Valley

The first day at Monument Valley was a little rainy, but made for some great moody shots.

On the way here, I had my doubts.

But then, YAY, the sun came out!

I even got to see the leprechaun and his pot of gold!

When in Monument Valley, you can either do a tour yourself, or pay to go on a tour. We chose to go by ourselves. If you go on a tour, you can see more of the park.

This is John Ford's Point, made famous in 1938 when the movie "Stagecoach" was filmed here. If you want, you can pay a Navajo to take a horse out and stand on the point.

Horses run around loose on the reservation, and sort of belong to everyone. This guy was working the crowd in front of the Three Sisters.

Maybe he was hoping for some Indian fry bread.

More wildlife, this one posing in front of the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, the pointy things in the background.

The roads on the self-tour are dirt, but in good shape as long as it isn't raining. That's me, running back to get the perfect shot.

The only hazards are people who stop in the middle of the road and set up their tripod.

But here's the best thing about Monument Valley. You can choose the "Primitive Campground" and park right in front of the Mittens, the most famous formations on the park -

Where you can keep an eye out for wildlife, like these horses, rainbows, and leprechauns!

My favorite tree has died since I was here last in 2007, but still makes a good subject.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Goosenecks, A Mexican Hat, and More!

One of my favorite boondocking spots is at Goosenecks State Park in the SE corner of Utah. The view on one side of the rig looks pretty bland.

But look out of the window on the other side and this is what you see! The Goosenecks of the San Juan River.

Can you see us parked on the rim? We're about 1,000 feet above the river.

I'll zoom in.

You are so close to the Goosenecks that it is impossible to get them in one picture. This is 3 pictures stitched together.

Or you can do a movie clip.

Nearby is the tiny town of Mexican Hat. Wonder how it got its name... People actually climb to the top, but I can't see how.

Also near Mexican Hat are these interestingly-colored hills.

But we aren't done yet! Nearby is the Valley of the Gods.

A great scenic 17-mile drive through rock formations, a lot of which have been named. There's a chicken, a rooster, and a lady in a bathtub, among others. No gods that I saw.

The last thing on this part of the tour, is the Moki Dugway, a series of sharp switchbacks on Hwy 261 carved into the face of Cedar Mesa. The 1100 foot rise is not for larger RVs. This was a side trip for me - I'm headed south to Monument Valley.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Rest of Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park contains over 4,500 archeological sites, of which 600 are cliff dwellings. Cliff Palace, shown here, is the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

It originally contained 150 rooms, and 23 round kivas.

The tour to Cliff Palace also involves stairs and ladders, but is not nearly as difficult as the trip to Balcony House.

You can take a self-guided tour to Spruce Tree House, the park's best-preserved and third largest cliff dwelling.

Built in the thirteenth century, as were all of these cliff dwellings, it contains 130 rooms and 8 kivas.

One of the kivas has been recovered, and you can go down and see how you like it.

I would have loved to go on the tour of the tallest structure in the park, Square Tower House, just to see the "Crow's Nest," a unique feature you can't see from the overlook. Built high in a crevice on the cliff face, it was probably used for protection.

The dwellings in the park are constantly being preserved, but not rebuilt. Here some volunteers work on Far View Ruins.

Several fires in recent years have destroyed most of the trees in the park. Since there is so little rain here, it takes a long time for the vegetation to recover.

On the way to Mesa Verde is Four Corners, the only place where you can be in 4 states - Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado - at the same time.

Back in 2009, the Associated Press ran a story stating that the true Four Corners is really 2.5 miles away. But it turns out they were wrong (mostly). The true Four Corners is actually 1807 feet west of here. Wow! I want my money back!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Ancient Balcony House

When viewed from across the canyon, Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park looks impossible to get to.

But a sign at the trailhead explains how it's done.

The steps down and walking along the ledge are "no big deal."

Then you get to the 32-foot ladder.

But still "no big deal" except that the air is kind of thin up here at 8000 feet.

This is the balcony that Balcony House is named for. By taking core samples of the log beams, they have determined that the balcony was built in the 13th century.

The second room has several "kivas," round ceremonial rooms that were originally covered. They think that each clan had its own kiva.

Look out! Don't step back!

Why did these ancient ones move from homes on the mesa tops to cliff dwellings underneath the ledges? The theory is that as food and water became scarcer, the need to protect them became more important.

Back in its day, Balcony House had only one entrance, which was our exit. It was easy to guard.

Only 18 inches wide and 12 feet long, it was a tight squeeze.

But the hardest part was getting your feet out first, so you don't have to take a dive.

If you want to go on the tour, and are worried about getting stuck midway, they have a "virtual tunnel" at the visitor's center.

But you aren't done yet! Another ladder -

A 60-foot climb along an open face rock, and yet another ladder, and you're done!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'shay) National Monument is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation in NE Arizona.

Archeological evidence shows that people have lived in the canyon for nearly 5,000 years. A few Navajo still live here, farming and living in traditional log hogans. But the canyon is known for the many ancient pueblo ruins it contains. Several can be seen from the canyon rim.

White House Ruin was built by ancestral Puebloan people and occupied about 1,000 years ago. It is so named because the upper dwelling is covered with white plaster.

Antelope House Ruin can also be seen from the rim. (Both of these shots have been zoomed in a lot.)

But to really see the canyon, you have to go down into it. You can go on a tour in one of the big open trucks from Thunderbird Lodge (called the "Shake and Bake" tour), or you can go on a smaller tour in a jeep with a local Navajo guide. Guess which one I did...

You can drive your own 4X4 vehicle into the canyon, but you still must have a Navajo guide. Information on the company I chose, which I highly recommend, is here.

The first ruin you see on the tour is called "First Ruin." Imaginative, huh? When we were leaving the canyon at the end of the tour, our guide called it "Last Ruin."

Here's White House Ruin from the canyon floor. You can see that the top structure is whiter than the rest.

Zooming in on the top, you can see some names and dates left by archeologists, according to our guide. However, one date I see is 1873.

Driving on, we saw one thing that amazes me on the Navajo reservation. Sheep are left to wander with just a dog in charge. And the dog knows where to take the sheep and when to bring them home.

In addition to many other ruins, we got to see Antelope House from the canyon. That is not a Nazi swastika on the wall, but a Navajo symbol. It represents a wandering clan. The fact that one foot is missing means the clan was not done wandering. Hmmm... Maybe I should paint one on my rig...

This is why Antelope House is so named - because of the several beautiful pictographs of antelopes, like this one on the left, painted on the canyon wall. Before you think that the ancient ones have vastly improved artistically, it turns out this was done by a Navajo artist in the early 1800s.

We saw lots of other pictographs. This one is interesting because it contains a Kokopelli, a hump-backed flute player fertility god. I don't know why his feet are on backwards...

Possibly the prettiest natural structure in the canyon is Spider Rock, an 800-foot high sandstone spire. While you can get to it in the canyon on a longer tour, it is best seen from the rim.