Our October trip
As I said, we took lots of pictures! Here is my attempt to share our trip with you, or at least as much as I can. We saw so much this trip, it's kind of overload. We hiked a lot of miles and saw some amazing things. When I get more time, I'll put more of our pictures on photobucket or something and share the link if anyone wants to look at more of them. For now, I'll do my best.
We drove from Fort Collins to Mesa Verde, near Cortez, Colorado, in one day. It was a beautiful drive, lots of fall colors and ranches to look at. We went through the wolf creek pass at 10,800 feet.
The entire time I was beyond excited about getting to Mesa Verde. I love history, and archaeology, next to goats and cooking, it's at the top of my list. Mesa Verde is an adventure. We got there in the dark, and as we were setting up our camper in the complete dark, just a few stars above us, we realized there were eyes all around us. Kevin quickly shined the flashlight only to see we were surrounded by Mule deer, bucks, and, does, milling about, lying down, watching us. It was perfect. I didn't sleep all night, I just lied in bed starring at the stars knowing soon I would see something I would never forget.
The next morning we got up and quickly headed the rest of the way into the park. We went to the visitors center first. The Wetheril Mesa loop is closed in October, so the Long house is not accessible. The Spruce tree house is the only self guided ruin open this time of year. Thankfully the Cliff palace, the biggest site was still open, along with the Balcony house, which closes in November. Visiting them requires going on a ranger guided tour and climbing up and down the sides of the cliffs to get to them. I was a little worried about Balcony house since getting up to it requires you climbing up a 32 foot ladder just to get to it. Never mind the three ladders to get out and the stone wall you climb up. I am not afraid of heights, usually, but I was nervous.
Then you realize that the ancient people who lived in these cliffs, they climbed up hand and toe holds. Little slots they made in the side of the cliff just big enough for their hands and feet to hold onto. And if you didn't start up the path with the right foot, you'd get stuck half way up and not be able to go up or down. Now that is really scary, never mind the ladders.
My first glimpse of Cliff Palace which I've looked at millions of pictures of before, was breathtaking. It was unreal actually laying my eyes upon it. It was fairly easy to get down to, and getting out required three ladders but all inside stone walls which blocked the view. No problem. The only thing we had to keep in mind was that at 7,000 feet the air is thinner and coming from a low elevation like we do, our lungs had to work a lot harder.
climb out of Cliff Palace
In the Cliff Palace you can still see the soot on the walls from their fires. You really can feel the people there. It's quite incredible.
Balcony house was a real adventure. As I stood looking up at the big ladder my knees actually got weak, but I would never allow myself to miss something because of nerves. I got up no problem and so did Kevin. Balcony house is really something, it's smaller, but quite fascinating. In this cliff dwelling you can see signs of the ancient people making sure unwanted people did not get in. You must go through an narrow entrance to get in, and to get out, you need to climb through a very narrow tunnel, on your hands and knees. To get back up we had to climb three more ladders and go up steep stone steps.
Kevin coming out of Balcony house
the ladder into Balcony house
the ladders out of Balcony house
In Spruce tree house you can actually go inside a Kiva. A Kiva is their ceremonial room. Inside you find benches, a fire pit, and a Sipapu, which is where they believe (at the least the modern Hopi do) that they came from the last world, into this one.
Mesa Verde is really an amazing place. We took so many pictures because there is just so much to see. Aside from the cliff dwellings there are Petroglyphs pit houses, farming terraces. It's really something everyone should see.
We stayed 2 days at Mesa Verde. From there we drove to Hovenweep National Monument, which is on the Colorado/Utah border. We got there late just before dark because we decided to follow the GPS at first and it got us lost. We camped there in the park. There was a sign that said I could have my dogs on the trails on leash. In most places you cannot have your dogs outside of the parking lots or campgrounds. So I figured even though it was almost dark, we'd go for a short hike to some ruins. Me and the boys took off down the trail which was only marked with small stones along the side. We kept walking, and walking, and climbing up rocks and down. Finally as the light was fading and I wasn't sure where I was, we stumbled upon some ruins. I got some pictures, but the next morning I went back to get a better one since it was nearly dark when I took the other ones.
From there, it was on to Monument Valley Utah, and the Valley of the Gods.
That night we ended up at the Navajo National Monument in Arizona, near Kayenta. We stopped in Monument Valley at Gouldings camp ground, they have a complete monopoly there in the midst of Navajo lands. We could not get a campsite there because instead of selling us a site we could fit into, which they had many of open, they tried to put our truck and camper in a tent site. I'm glad we had trouble there because it caused us to push forward and keep going to the Navajo National Monument. They have a wonderful campground, which is open year round, clean, quiet, and free. All they ask is for a donation.
Aside from having a great spot for camping, the Navajo National Monument is where you will also find the cliff dwellings of Betatakin and Keet Siel. We were fortunate enough to see Betatakin from a view point, Keet Siel, which is one of the best kept dwellings is an 8 mile hike in, and then out. Our friend Harrison who we met there, was kind enough to spend some time with us and tell us about the plants and the medicinal and traditional uses for them. It was a highlight of our trip.
From there it was on to the North rim of the Grand Canyon. I've never been to the Grand Canyon but Kevin has been to the South rim several times so it was important to him on his list of things to do, to go to the North rim. The North rim was beautiful and I am glad we went there first. The North rim does not have the large amounts of people that the South does, and you are in beautiful fir forest most of the time. I also managed to get a peek at one of the squirrels that only lives there, but of course no picture, it was too quick. The Kaibab squirrel is a really cute little creature, black with a big fluffy white tail. We had a great night camping there in the cooler weather at 8,000 feet. We enjoyed a campfire and drinks. The next morning we had frost but it warms up so quickly in the sun you'd never have known it froze the night before.
One thing I learned about both rims of the Grand Canyon, you can get beautiful pictures, but it's really difficult to capture on film just what you are seeing, it's quite magnificent. The silence in the canyon is really heart stopping, you know down there it's just like a whole different world playing out it's day to day existence.
The South rim has some great views, more open views that the North rim allows. You really need to see both, both have their own unique features. The North rim has a lot less visitors because it's difficult to get to and you have drive all the way out the way you came in. But it's worth it.
From there we drove to Wupatki National monument and spent a few hours walking out to some of the ruins and seeing the largest one which even includes a ball field. A lot of the ruins have been closed to the public in recent years because of theft and damage. It's unfortunate that people who destroy these irreplaceable remnants of history, ruin it for everyone by taking away our opportunity to see some of the amazing things the ancient people created and did. We say that at a lot of the National Parks and monuments, things were getting closed off because people were destroying it.
Wupatiki National monument and Sunset crater volcano are on the same road.
Sunset Crater volcano National Monument is quite a place to visit although you can no longer climb to the top or walk inside the lava tube as you once could. You can still see the crater and the lava flows and the interesting remains of a volcano, the ash, lava, flowers that grow in the midst of it all.
We got done there late at night and then drove to Phoenix to our friend Steve's house. We got there about 9 PM. Up at the crater it was cool, about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Then we dropped elevation and got to Phoenix, and it was 85 degrees.
Steve spoiled us the entire time we were there, taking us to dinner every night, letting the dogs run around the house. We should have stayed longer though!
Steve eyeing up my pizza Margarita, yes, that's buffalo mozzarella baby!
From Steve's house we drove about 1/2 hour to Kevin's brother Bill's house. We visited with him and his wife Joanne for a couple days and then hit the road again.
Our last major stops were at the Petrified forest and Painted desert. We hit the Painted desert just before dark so we didn't get to see it with all it's colors shining, but it was still pretty. The Petrified forest is an amazing place, seeing these great big huge logs turned to stone, full of colors inside like hot wax was spilled in them... it's really an amazing thing to see.
From there we drove into New Mexico and Texas, two new States for me, and then home. We made it home quickly, in three days. We had to get home to get things ready for winter here. We had such a great trip, but it feels good to be home. We've been away from home so much in the past several months, even in August and September we were always on the go. We are hermits, both of us, at heart so it's good to be home and be able to stay put for a while now. We've done 15,000 miles the past few months.