Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mesa Verde: The Green Table

Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site and the only of our National Parks that "preserves the works of man" as proclaimed in the National Parks brochure. 

Way back in the 1980's we visited Mesa Verde and I have fond memories of that vacation trip.  I've been looking forward to this return visit but I'm amazed at how much I've forgotten about the area. 
Overlooking the Mancos Valley
The only entry into the massive Mesa Verde National Park is from the northern side with a very long drive through the mountains and canyons into the communities. 

Just inside the park we explored Morefield Campground, but it does not accommodate rigs as large as ours.  Even though it's not yet Memorial Day Weekend, the rental campers are plentiful. One even has a licence place from France.

The first one (right) is from France.  Wonder how they got it across the pond...

 Any time I leave the car, Ozzie is quick to occupy my seat. Lexie prefers the console so she can see out the windshield

Our first overlook stop in Mesa Verde is at Knife's Edge Road, a narrow dirt road that proved to be both challenging and inviting back in the very early 1900's when America was first becoming obsessed with automobile travel.  Knife's Edge Road provided the first access to Mesa Verde.  Two Studebakers and two Fords were among the first cars to make the treacherous to Park Headquarters and back to the nearby town of Mancos, paying $1 each for the round trip.  The Knife's Edge Road was continually collapsing (horrors) and was finally replaced with a tunnel through the mountain.

The edge along the right side is (apparently, not marked though), Knife's Edge.
I just thought the dead tree was photo-worthy.

My explorer husband with the "ever present" binoculars in hand.
I've convinced him to wear a brimmed hat to protect his head from the sun.
The mountain in the far distance is Sleeping Ute. Somewhere between here and there is our campground.
As is common in our travels, this morning we ran upon several nice and interesting folks.  Leaving the Knife's Edge area we couldn't help but notice this Volkswagen van. It's been restored by a young Alaskan couple for family travel.  They were kind enough to allow me to take a picture. 

Then we ran into Mike and Sara, a couple of Oregon Ducks with whom we enjoyed a few minutes sharing notes and ideas about travel places.  They aren't full-time RV'ers but do spend several months each year traveling.  We'd love to meet up with them again -- notwithstanding their "Duck Devotion". They graciously allowed me to photograph them.

The highest point in Mesa Verde National Park is Park Point Fire Lookout Tower at 8,572 feet.    With the creation of of the park in 1906 came the claim that it held "the grandest view" -- so that's what's in store for visitors here today:  The Grandest View.  It's a 360 degree extravaganza.
My explorer husband.

Old guy on patrol.  Nothing escapes the eagle eye.
By mid-day, we had reached the canyons and mountain cliffs of Mesa Verde.  Puebloans came to Mesa Verde (Spanish for "green table") around AD 550 and remained there until about 1300. During the 700 years the Puebloans were here they lived in elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. Then in about AD 1200, they were gone. No one knows why.
Spruce Tree House (zoomed for close-up)
It is the best preserved of the cliff dwellings..

Spruce Tree from a distance.
The park brochure says they farmed on the mesa above.  
And I thought I had a tough time getting to work..
For thousands of years the cliff dwellings were (apparently) uninhabited and hidden away.  Then in the 1880's, local cowboys found the amazing cliff dwellings. Later, archaeologists would spend decades excavating, analyzing, classifying and comparing scientific data about the remains at Mesa Verde.  There is an extensive story about life here, but we will never know it all, including, but not limited to, the reason they left so abruptly.

It's really warm in the sun today so we looked for shady places to stand.

As usual, we have Lexie and Ozzie with us, so we are unable to visit the cliff dwellings. That's okay because we're not up for climbing ladders, hiking rocks or crawling through holes in the rocks. The sun is high and the temperature is in the 80's.  We'll take it all in from a distance this time.

Cliff Palace is the largest of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings.

I think this one is part of Cliff Canyon Overlook.

Trouble and double trouble.

Look closely at the very center of the photo to see this cliff home.
Also part of Cliff Canyon Overlook

Famous archaeologists?  No... not really.  It's just us.
I can't find the tripod so I'm holding the camera. 

I think this cliff home is near Sun Point view
Just another great view of Mesa Verde.
We have to double-back to leave the park at the end of the day.
Everything looks different in the afternoon.
Not surprisingly, there have been many fires here in recent years and the tree remains are evidence of it.

While touring the area the first day, we ran into Gwen and George friends we met at MCD Innovations in McKinney, Texas. Gwen and George are full-timers and we looked forward to spending a little time together, either at their campground or ours, but it never did work out.  They ended up leaving the area and we can only hope we'll cross paths again.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Aztec To Towaoc: Where In The World Is This?

From Aztec, New Mexico we traveled across the continental divide and into Farmington, then Shiprock, New Mexico. We followed alongside the San Juan River. At Shiprock, just in view of the 7,178' namesake Shiprock Peak, we turn  northward on our way up to Cortez, Colorado. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of Shiprock Peak because I procrastinated -- thinking we'd get closer.
Surprisingly, there seems to be plenty of water here though most of the land is desert. The picture above shows that stark contrast of green grass against a rock mountain. Hard to see, but there's a farm home in that clump of trees and some vehicles to the right. Seeing these things gives a better perspective of the overall size of that mountain.
We're within 30 miles of Four Corners; the only point in the United States where four states come together.  We're also inside the Great Circle that encompasses parts of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. It's called the Great Circle because of the natural beauty inside the imaginary ring.

I don't know that these giant rocks have names.  If they don't.... they should. They are beautiful.

These pictures might be misleading as they make this place look very hot.
It is not hot here today. It's pleasant -- low 70's probably.
 Our destination lies in the small horizontal sliver of green between and below the two peaks.
We are traveling in the Ute Indian Reservation and our campground destination
 is Sleeping Ute Mountain Campground at Towaoc, Colorado.

Ute Mountain Casino Complex at Towaoc, Colorado

We a few miles south of Cortez, Colorado, due west of Durango and not too far from Mesa Verde National Park.  We're at Sleeping Ute Campground which is part of the Ute Indian's Casino property. 

The photo below, while taken through the windshield of the car and seemingly is just another of my many bad photos is really a story in itself...

Sleeping Ute Mountain.
Ute tribe lore tells this story:  The great Ute warrior was fighting evil when he was injured. 
He laid down to rest and recover from his wounds. 
He is on his back. His head is on the far right of the picture. His arms are folded across his chest.
The two very small peaks near the far left are his toes.  I can see him clearly, can you?
The Indian story is that the Sleeping Ute will awaken and continue his fight....

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aztec, New Mexico: It's Ruined!

A really small, seemingly unimportant northwest New Mexico town named Aztec has an attraction: The Aztec Ruins. Don't be fooled by the name though. This wasn't home to the Aztec Indians of Central Mexico. No, Cortez didn't conquer New Mexico. Instead the name Aztec here was bestowed by Anglo settlers.  I don't know why.

In addition to touring Aztec Ruins, we will scout the area just north of here, around Durango, for a place to settle for a week or so.  Once again, we're in search of that illusive perfect temperature. This time of year, the temps are too warm in the desert plains but still a little cold in high elevations.

Another National Park checked off the list!

The Aztec Ruins of New Mexico date from 1000 to 1200 with all the Puebloans leaving this site sometime in the late 1200's.  They left well-preserved structures and artifacts that have told their story. 

The National Park Service provides a nice "loaner" book to help with the self-guided tour of this enormous ruin location.

Perfect weather.  Chilly in the shade -- just right in the sunshine.

The tiny people in the lower left corner gives an idea how large this complex is.

Behind Wayne is "The Great Kiva" located in the West Ruin Plaza.
Inside "The Great Kiva"
This was a sanctuary and community meeting place.

Those Puebloans sure must have been short to get through the doorways!
This section had at least four connecting rooms.
The Aztec Ruins National Park has a nice educational film and small museum that we toured on the way out. 

This is one of the very earliest ladders known to exist.
It's a notched log. 

This is an authentic ladder too.
It was found on the site.

Authentic pottery found on the site.

Early people were so creative. 

Aztec, New Mexico is so close to Four Corners we can hardly pass it by so it's likely to be the next stop.  From there however, we're not sure where we'll go: New Mexico, Utah, Colorado or Arizona?.... Hummmm. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Choo-Choo Chama, New Mexico

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad Train
Chama, New Mexico, with its population of 2000 and an elevation of 7,850 feet is a tiny town in the northwest corner of the state. It's probably less than 20 miles from the Colorado state line.  
The train above and red clock area are Chama's highlights.
Chama seems to hibernate in winter -- coming alive over the Memorial Day Weekend.  It's claim to fame is the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which was not yet open for the season when we were there. It runs a tourist route from Chama to Antonio, Colorado.
We, along with five other rigs, were camped at Sky Mountain RV Park in Chama.  It's a peaceful park just a few miles from the center of downtown activities.  During our only full day here, we took a whole day to see this quaint town that could have easily been seen in 30 minutes. 
The railroad came to Chama in December 1880 but in 1889 a fire burned the depot and most of the city.
It was rebuilt the same year.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad named for the highest (Cumbres) pass and the lowest (Toltec) gorge along the rail route. It was built as a "narrow gauge 36" (standard is 4'8.5") railroad and could take on the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains going around the tight Rocky Mountain curves.

An old car of the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad, predecessor to the Cumbres and Toltec.

This is a Rotary Snow Plow. It operated by steam boiler and could move the heaviest snow and highest snowdrifts.
However, it could not move itself, so as many as three locomotives were needed to push it.
In it's time, the rotary snow plow was the only railroad equipment that could clear high cliff drifts.

Another view of the railroad yard.

We got a little carried away with the trains...
All the Chama retail stores are lined up along the main street across from the railroad depot. I stopped for coffee and browsing at Mountain View Mall, buying only a jar of chokecherry jelly.

For lunch we took a local's recommendation: Fosters. It's a hotel, a bar and a restaurant operating in one big old building. The "Foster burger with onion rings" was good and so was the restaurant ambiance.
Been awhile since I've seen one of these wood burners.
This one is extra fancy...

Also inside Fosters Restaurant.
Being so close to the Colorado state line, we couldn't pass up a short drive up the mountain, traveling parallel with the railroad most of the distance up to Cumbres Pass at 10,022' elevation.

The weather and the scenery were pretty nice today. 
Just as we crossed the railroad leaving town, we could see the headlight of an oncoming locomotive.  Wayne pulled the car off the road and I jumped out, ran back and snapped a few pictures. This one is my favorite.
As the train approached, the whistle nearly burst my eardrums.
I feared for Lexie and Ozzie in the car a few yards away.  I forgot all about the whistle.  
Spring comes! We're still in Northern New Mexico here.

The drive going up into Colorado.
Cumbres Pass - Elevation: 10,022'

...and so our visit to Chama comes to an end. We'll leave tomorrow heading to our last stop in New Mexico for awhile....