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Day 11 :: October 03, 2004: 07:50 PM

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004
Day Eleven

Well..plans can change…especially if they are as loose as ours.

We broke camp, had breakfast at the local diner, got a latte for the journey and uploaded yesterday’s blog entry and set off down south on 191. The idea was to travel from Moab until we felt like camping for the night, but by then being pretty close to the Grand Canyon area so we could try and get on the best National Park campsite there tomorrow.

This journey would start with Moab – Monticello (55 miles) then Monticello – Blanding (25 miles) then choosing to take in Four Corners Monument – perhaps- and then back to drive through Monument Valley which is Navajo land and has awesome scenery.

So we set off. We paused to take pictures of Wilson Arch beside the road and then we saw the sign for Newspaper Rock. We only learned about this yesterday evening when I read about it. We took the detour to Newspaper Rock which is a small area of cliff opposite a huge rock. On the cliff are many ancient pictographs carved in the stone. Really neat.

Back to the 1919 we went after our 35 miles or so detour.

We continued down to Monticello. This little town was named after the one in Virginia when an inhabitant of that Monticello came west in a wagon train. I guess this is what the old TV shows, The Virginians is about? Anyway, Monticello has quite a bit of recent construction, for tourists mainly: motels and food, Subway and even an espresso café with internet (did not stop.) The local historical society recently moved an old barn and converted it to be the new information center and we stopped. We thought that maybe not so many stop here and look in the info center and Pioneer Museum, as they had brochures left that I had not seen elsewhere: presumably used up over the summer season.

We got back in the car and I started reading them to Mike. We had traveled a few miles down 191 when we did a 180, went back to Monticello, picked up the – well it did not happen like that exactly…the leaflet said to take the 666…an interesting number…but there was no 666 in Monticello. So out came the laptop and GPS. All the local road numbers in this area (Utah- Colorado border) had been changed! The GPS got us on track and off we went: we were headed to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

Before I write about this place I should perhaps let you know we finished the day at 10: 30 pm in a motel in the rain in Blanding just 21 miles further south than where we were at lunchtime. But what a fun day we had had!

We traveled east into Colorado where the scenery changed dramatically from sandstone cliffs to cultivated farmlands. The Rockies loomed ahead once more. I saw the first pointer towards a United Methodist Church in Dove Creek, Co – the first UMC notice since leaving New York State. The sides of the road were lined with a slightly different kind of bulrushes (cattails) than I know.

We continued to follow a paper map and then found out it was not just the 666 that had changed name. The GPS rescued us again.

Mesa Verde is an impressive mesa covered in trees (hence the name) which was home to the Anasazi peoples for hundreds of years. The remains of their homes cover this mountain. We went there to see the pueblo homes built in large open faced caves. Previous dwellings are also on the site and even the final, unfinished building of their time there (they left and moved to Arizona) – a complex sun temple.

The whole park would have taken days to explore. Some of the dwellings cannot be accessed except by ranger led hikes or serious climbs.

We entered on a steep and winding road as we climbed the mesa. The short undergrowth had turned beautiful fall colors and the plants were larger versions of the ones in the desert...juniper tress that were taller than me for once, Mormon Tea plants that were not a sickly yellow but a vibrant green, yuccas that were not dried out and wan but thick and bushy.

As we went to the first lookout – the highest point of the park: Park Point Overlook, a short but steep climb, we saw lightning below us going from lower clouds to the plain below. Another dark cloud was heading our way and obviously it was raining hard beneath it, so we hurried back to the car.

The rain stayed away until we were on out way out of the park several hours later.

After the first overlook there is a 10 mile drive to the Visitor Center then about that again to start the tour we had chosen to do as we did not have time for one of the guided hikes of several hours.

We walked down a very steep bank to actually walk into the cave front of one of the wide caverns of houses named Spruce Tree House. In this small but deep space around 100 people made their homes between AD 1200 an 1276. The natural cave measures 216 feet at greatest width and 89 feet at greatest depth. The houses are built up to three stories high from cave floor to ceiling. The ceremonial buildings (kivas) were especially important and all the sites we visited had them and they showed a progression in complexity of the Anasazi architecture.

Most impressive is this: there was no access to this or any of the SEVERAL HUNRDED such caves on Mesa Verde. To get in and out the pueblo people would climb over the overhanging rocks and up on to the mesa top. For water, to hunt, to gather…using small toe and hand holds in the rock, some natural, some made by them. Pretty nutty.

Some of the earliest homes were pit houses from around 600 CE. We saw, but could not visit other such caves, some having more homes and greater complexity. Digital camera and batteries had their usual work-out. Each time we got in the car we were recharging the batteries with the inverter and when they were not being charged, the laptop had a turn. What with those wires and the GPS and hot ‘n’ heavy laptop on my knee the front of the car is a mass of wires and electronic equipment. Camping did not used to be this complicated!

We came back in the dark (again having to rely on the GPS as the Utah tourist maps were wrong) to re-plot our route.

In the rain, many people had left nearby campsites and lodging was hard to get. It seems, though, we were fortunate and found a very reasonable motel almost immediately. The Weather Channel guy was all excited about the desert getting rain today.

Our detour to Mesa Verde had been 160 miles plus quite a bit of rushing up and down hill-sides and much absorbing of new information.

It was a wonderful day and we took 160 pictures.

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