Saturday, December 8, 2018

Big Bear & the Birthing Rock

[Mid-late September]

While we wait for our next entrance into the back country of Canyonlands (hard-to-get camping reservations on the White Rim) we go in search of rock art around Moab.  We read that some of it is >2,000 years old.  A handy guide to finding various sites is available at the visitor center.  The guide includes mileage and directions, history - and photos of the art work. 

It is a beautiful blue sky sunny day to be out exploring.  And the landscape is dramatic.
In a voice that must sound like a real know-it-all I explain that the directions that say 200 East 100 North clearly mean that we should go east.  Not so!  Moab, like other cities and towns in Utah is laid out on a grid with the temple at the center of town.  The visitor center is just off main a little north of the temple.  Ah-ha.

And that is the starting point for the guide that will allow us to see the rock art (and dinosaur footprints) in and around Moab.

On Kane Creek Rd we find the famous birthing scene.  Experts disagree about whether it represents a single event or if it is a metaphor for the birth of a clan.  That is one huge baby.

The birthing scene is on the east side of a huge boulder that sits just to the side of the road.  There is rock art on all sides.

Footprints and other anthropomorphs decorate all sides of the huge boulder.

At the Potash Rd site we find the big bear.  The guide book explains that the bear represents cultural vandalism because it is carved over more ancient petroglyphs.  Still the bear is here to be appreciated because it is also very old.

Another sort of vandalism happened in 1980 when a visitor to the Courthouse site self-assigned the cleaning and near destruction of the ancient works.  It remains impressive.
D-Stretch filters reveal more:

Each time we pass Arches National Park on our way to/from Horse Thief Campground we see many cars waiting to enter the park.  

Today the line is just a couple of cars deep.  There are just a few others parked by the entrance sign so that travelers can pose for photos at yet another magnificent national park.  Today seems an opportunity to see the big arches without masses of people competing for parking spots.  Wrong again.

←Here is what the road sign says - just in case you can't tell from the photo.  We read that by next year the number of cars entering the park will be limited because the traffic is negatively affecting the park experience for everyone.

So we exit the park and go in search of rock art that is plentiful in and around the rest of Grand County where fewer people go.

We're seeking rock art, but find some that probably was inadvertently created in the course of daily life so many years ago - dinosaur footprints - photo by Alex, as are most of the rock art photos from our travels, BTW.

As Alex climbed the steep rocky trail in 90 degree heat to find these footprints, he shared the trail with a local hiker who observed, "Those are some delicate slippers you're hiking in."  Well really, they are pretty sturdy flip-flops - a reasonable balance between hot weather foot wear and foot protection.

At Sego Canyon north of Moab we find a few other rock art viewers/photographers.  One of them offers to mark up our map to be sure we don't miss anything.  "Oh," she says, "I see you already have it all marked."  We hope our sighs aren't too obvious.  It would be a choice between being rude and a long delay if our map hadn't been already marked, such is her enthusiasm.

The rock art panels line both sides of the canyon.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Horse Thief Redux


Returning to the BLM Horse Thief Campground is sweet. 

It is a big clear sky as we go gaga over the sunset. At one point we see Venus in the west and Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in an arc across the dark sky.  And gazillions of stars.

Here's a benefit of tiny house living.  A middle off the night trip to the vault is prime opportunity for meteor sighting.  Whoosh.

We have 2 days until our next camp reservation inside Canyonlands.  When you go, start the campsite reservation process a full 4 months and you might get your favorite backcountry spot.

Ah well.  Horse Thief is a really lovely spot to spend some time.  We'll resupply and do a little maintenance work on the Q.

Quig is well equipped with a pull-out drawer under the pillow end of the bed.  The back doors open and the drawer pulls out.  Here Alex prepares to tighten all the bolts that hold Q's top rack in place. 

The Island in the Sky mesa in Canyonlands National Park is the most visited part of the park.  Paved roads and lots of pull-outs, hikes, and amazing views make this an efficient way to see the park.

The views are big and small.  Alex captures a snake or lizard trail in the soft sand.

And he manages a photo of Mesa Arch that nicely captures its beauty - and makes it look like no one else was there.  He waited a while for the shot.

It is 90 degrees of warmth for this 2 mile hike to Grand View Point. At several points we thought we could see the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers.  We may not have been high enough to confirm our view. 

We find a scrap of shade for a rest mid-point.

Monday, November 26, 2018

White Knuckled Horse Thief

[September 14-15]
The big blue sky extends beyond Colorado into Utah.  I knew that.  But now I know that. As we head for Canyonlands we're also scoping out potential campsites. As it turns out Horse Thief Campground  (BLM) is very close to the Island in the Sky east entrance - and handy for our later drive to the west entrance.

Moab is a first stop for groceries and water and all the fuel we'll need for the first section of the White Rim Road. You can imagine the white knuckle part if you know that we will drive from up here down a narrow squiggly road that leads to the long stretch below.  Steep drop-offs.  No safety rails.

We have all day to reach our assigned Airport campsite.  That means that we can take time to explore on the way there.  What i didn't know, but now know: There isn't really an airport inside Canyonlands.  There is a gigantic rock formation that looks a lot like an airport tower.  The funny guy to whom i'm married exploited my ignorance by hinting that our sleep could be interrupted by the noise of airplanes landing and taking off.  Wild back-country humor.

It is a slow drive down to the White Rim Road.  The info sheet from the ranger station tells us that we are seeing several geologic layers evident in a variety of rock formations.

The one-lane dirt road that you see here is also in the photo below.  

The top of the photo is the Island in the Sky - the top of the canyon.  The Colorado River flows through the bottom of the canyon.

See that last canyon edge?  We'll be driving down to spend the afternoon at the edge of the Colorado River...well we won't drive straight down.  There is a more gentle drop coming up. And we survive.

Borregos of Canyonlands

Can you spot the bighorn sheep in the photo?  We almost miss seeing them in their desert camo.

From the river's edge  we look up to see the top of Airport Tower.  It is the shadowy, blurry square-topped rock formation.  It doesn't look all that huge from here.

This seems so civilized.  A riparian picnic table. To cool off we walk just beyond the palo verde trees to swim in the river.  It is a surprise to see a group of kayakers along the opposite shore.  

We think they are part of a guided trip.  For kayakers and bicylists  in Canyonlands, there are guides and SAG drivers carrying everything for trips that last 3-5 days.

The angle of sunlight on the river tells us that it is time to get Quiggy to drive us back out of the lower canyon to our campsite at the Airport Tower.

The first few bends in the road foretell the adventure awaiting.  We move from long shadow to bright sun in the eyes.  "Can you see?"  
"No, can you?"

Fortunately we are in one of the long shadows when the bend in the road is also a steep turn up hill.  It is when we need to reverse to make the turn that we find ourselves on three wheels.  A few moves alternating wheels brings us around the bend before the next blinding splash of sunshine.  In reality, it isn't scary - just a confidence booster for Q's agility.
Airport Tower Campsite

Monday, October 22, 2018


[September 13]
The destination now is Canyonlands National Park, but on the way we see the opportunity to visit  yet another part of the Canyons of the Ancients.  The land encompassing the national monument is huge (176,000 acres) and has been inhabited by people for 10,000 years!  The ruins here occupy 76,000 sites, but we'll stop by to see two.  Hovenweep (means "deserted valley") is an amazing collection of buildings in a shallow valley -  and, well, a beautiful place.  It is hot - in the 90s, but the hike is easy.
The masonry here is as beautiful as in the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.  Some buildings have perfectly square corners on one side and beautifully rounded turns on the other, a D shaped building.

It is thought that these buildings date from about 1200-1300.  They may represent building styles and skills shared across the miles.  

Archaeologists' findings show extensive trade routes (copper and sea shells, for example).

I guess I remain ready to be surprised by the all that was accomplished here - and by the size of the civilization because I wasn't paying attention when this ancient history was taught in school?  One of the rangers mentions that in the Four Corners region the population exceeded (2x) that of London in the 10th - 11th centuries.

Here at Hovenweep there are buildings standing as they were constructed along the curve of massive boulders and still hanging on 700 years later.

As we head north to see the Lowry Ruins we notice that several of the back roads are marked closed with a red danger warning sign.  The ranger tells us only that it involves a "threat to personal safety."

But it seems so very peaceful out here in the desert.

At the Lowry site we are happy to find that we can enter one of the big kivas and descend in to peek through the doorways.  Now this is a peaceful place.  Another kiva is open to the air though it once must have been similarly enclosed.  The uses/meaning of the stones in the floor aren't explained.  Any guesses?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Moving Along the Road to Ruins

[September 12, 20180]
As we again realize the absence of easy connectivity and relax into the enjoyment and amazement of exploring by camper van Quiggy, blog dates diverge from real time.

Our second day at Mesa Verde begins with a tour of Cliff Palace.  The sun bleached photo shows the expansive nature of the cliff house - with a tour group of 50 at the bottom left for size comparison. 

We learn that the construction may have occurred over years - and that the masonry skills varied by builders.  Or maybe it is the styles that vary.  Some corners are precisely and beautifully square.  Some walls flow in shape to match a cave wall or  the curve of a heavy boulder.  It's thought that the Ancestral Puebloans lived here from about 600 - 1300; and we hear many reasons why they may have moved on.  The best insight may be as told by their descendants: it was time to move on. They also say that the ancestors still return here to visit, which is why i'm including my sun-ray- draped photo.  It seems appropriately ghostly.

After the tour we drive the mesa loop peering over the cliff edge at other dwellings that are not open for park visitors.  Binoculars are helpful for getting a view across the valley and inside the buildings.  Rangers tell us that some of the people lived on the mesa tops where the farming work was done. 

All of the cliff dwellings we visit have storage areas constructed to be safe from rodents and other hungry visitors, so the traffic up and down the cliff edges must have been steady. The food storage areas are usually in an upper level room - often tucked into a ledge above the living areas.

The tower makes it possible to almost reach the storage area. 

Our evening tour is Long House.  Like Cliff Palace it seems designed for a sizable group - and the tour group is also sizable.  We follow an earlier recommendation to bring along our bikes to ride the 5 mile loop to see other ruins on the mesa top after we drag ourselves back up and over the cliff edge.

By the time we complete the bike ride and tour we feel the value of spending time high in the Rockies before coming to Mesa Verde.  This elevation is >7,000 feet.  Those extra RBCs are working well distributing Oas needed.

The first people must have been incredibly fit farmers, climbers, builders, and artists.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

An Owl is the Eagle of the Night

On to Mesa Verde National Park...a park where you can easily find a camp site if you don’t require electricity or water. And there are free showers near the camp store. As soon as we find our campsite in the Apache Loop, we’re off along Chapin Mesa to see Balcony House. On the way we stop by Far View House. Far View is on an elevated area where the two mesas split and the view is forever in all directions.

The rangers tell us that the tours go on all day but that timing will make the hikes easier: east facing in the afternoon, west facing is fine for morning. The ruins can be toured only with a ranger-guide so we meet Ranger David Night Eagle - a blue eyed descendant of The Lakota to tour Balcony House. He is partly comedian-entertainer and partly knowledgeable park ranger. His name translates to “owl”.

He warns that a fear of heights could make it impossible. The narrow ledge he describes gives me pause, but he adds that he typically leans out over the protective fence to display its safety. 

It turns out to be an amazing construction - easy to imagine people living here in the coolness of the cave. There is a seep spring in the back of the cave that still provides water. We’re asked not to touch walls or anything else without permission. If we faint, we must just lower ourselves to the ground without grabbing anything for support. We see hand and toe holds used by the people to climb in and out of the dwelling. We are allowed to grip the ladder edges as we climb. They are in the style of the time, but not original.

At the conclusion of the tour he reveals that the item he has been carrying over his shoulder in the insulated bag is one of many flutes that he has made. He plays for us...not for us...but for the ancient ones whose spirits continue to visit this place.

[Video and photo credit: Alex]

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Last Dollar And Cute Shoes

[Sept 10th]

We head west to drive the Alpine Loop Rd through Cinnamon Mt pass (12,640 ft elevation).

At the top another traveler comments, “You made this drive in a van?” - as if we deserve to slip off the top all the way to the canyon bottom for being so naive. Perhaps it is selective attention and she sees only Q’s big white side. 

In my imagination any of the other many Q admirers comes along at that moment and says, “What an amazing vehicle! It’s lifted? Four-wheel drive and low range too? Big tires - and it must turn on a dime. And you brought your bikes, too? Where’s the boat? Oh - it’s up there with the solar panels?”
After moving on, in my mind as well, we re-inflate the tires and unlock the hubs, and enjoy the ride to Silverton on the scenic paved road. The scenic nature is sometimes interrupted with remnants of mining, like this gondola across the deep canyon.

Our route takes us back north to Ouray and then Ridgway so that we can drive the Last Dollar Road and find a peaceful and beautiful back country camp site.

Last Dollar Rd below Ridgway, CO

View from our campsite (Telluride to the southeast)
Last Dollar Rd ends near Telluride - a city that looks just great after the big film festival last week. Breakfast here is surprisingly yummy, quick, and inexpensive. The little restaurant is eat-here-or-take-out. 

The sign in the restroom seems appropriate for this land of tolerance and understanding. Instead of asking that we not flush any trash... it suggests that “an overflow might ruin those cute shoes you’re wearing.” 

And these cute shoes are quickly on the way towards Cortez and Mesa Verde.

We stop at the Anasazi Heritage Center to re-center our focus on petroglyphs, pictographs, and ancient ruins. 

The Escalante Ruins are right on the museum site. Helpful signs along the walk describe native plants and the uses made by the people. Skunk Sumac, Gamble Oak, Mountain Mahogany, Pinyon Pine, Sage Brush, Juniper, Fenderbrush, and Yucca all have generous descriptions of medicinal or nutritional uses. The Service Berry sign has only a pie recipe, leaving us a bit uncertain if the recipe originated with ancient Puebloans or if the sign-maker just loves pie.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

From Hannibal to Alpine Loop Fall 2018

It’s Tuesday & we’re off at 9:10 am, 10 minutes behind our so-called schedule. We say “oh well” as we head west through MI, IN, IL, and into MO. Our first night destination is Hannibal MO, but we continue on to a campground near Macon - the Long Branch State Park. It is remarkable to see the park so clean after the long Labor Day weekend.

It is hot (80+ degrees) with a forecast for 73 near 4 am. We select site #70 with an electrical hook up so that we can use fans and give the solar storage batteries a rest, running the refrigerator off camp power. It lets us use our little fan too.

[Saturday] It is now day 5 of this trip. In the meantime we drove across Kansas and into Colorado finding the Bonny Lake campground gone. The only guests were hungry mosquitos and goat head stickers. A KOA experience is our lot. The tenting part of the campground is pretty quiet.

After a couple of days checking up on some feisty old relatives (only slightly older than we are), we head for the Rocky Mtns. Our camp is Lottes Creek Camp which we reach via Cumberland Pass. Letting a little air out of the tires makes the bumpy dirt-rocky road just fine.

Colorado Rocky Mt. blue sky

[Sunday] Today we drive through Gunnison and then south to find the Alpine Loop Road. The drive is as beautiful as you imagine.

The campsite views along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River are stunning.