Getting Acquainted

Mesa Verde National Park, Part 1

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde as a National Park to preserve and interpret the cultural and archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived here between 600 – 1300 AD.  The Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. (park brochure)

The Park is divided into 2 sections:

…and towers over Mancos Valley…

…and Montezuma Valley…

We head to Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, 20 miles from the Park entrance. Beginning around 7,000 feet above sea level in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau…

…we eventually reach an elevation of 8,572 feet half way there at Park Point Overlook’s Fire Tower. But before reaching the highest point in the Park, we stop at a historical viewpoint, Knife’s Edge.

What looks like a trail in the picture above is really the remains of the Knife Edge Road, completed in 1914, as the first automobile access into the Park from Mancos, CO.  The trip took 3 hours and each vehicle was charged one dollar. Eventually surfaced with asphalt, this section of the road was abandoned in 1957 with the completion of the present day tunnel.

Here we are at the Fire Lookout at Park Point Overlook, 8,527 feet above sea level. The panoramic views are beautiful, even on a cloudy day!

The Far View Sites are our next stop on our way to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

A thousand years ago this community was a place of family homes and public buildings set among small farm fields. Beginning in the early 1900 s, Far View was a place of active research. Work on these sites helped establish the science of archeology in the Southwest and inspired present-day thinking about how to preserve and appreciate a cultural landscape. (booklet written by Lillian D. Wakeley and Carol E. Sperling)

A woodland trail leads to 6 excavated archeological sites.

Far View House

Starting around 800 AD Ancestral Pueblo people lived here for several centuries. In the mid-1100s there may have been more than 35 occupied villages and surrounding farming plots within a half-square mile in this area. (park plaque)

Built in 1000 AD, Far View House was the largest building in this community with at least 40 rooms on the ground floor and 30 rooms on the upper story. Specialized architectural features tell us this was a Great House, a central structure at the heart of this village. (park plaque)

Pipe Shrine House

Pipe Shrine House received its name because a dozen decorated tobacco pipes were found in an enclosed area when this site was excavated in 1922 by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes. Along with the pipes, there were some small carved stone figures and pottery which Dr. Fewkes interpreted as a religious shrine. These artifacts were found in one of the kivas pictured below. (park plaque)

Kivas were strongly built circular rooms, often underground. Upright stone pillars, called pilasters, supported a thick roof of timbers and soil. Entry was via a ladder through an opening near the center of the roof. Insulated by the earth, a kiva was easy to warm in winter with a small fire, while smoke rose through the entryway. A ventilation shaft drew fresh air in from outside, and a deflector directed airflow away from the fire. (booklet written by Lillian D. Wakeley and Carol E. Sperling)

Like a “Where’s Waldo” puzzle, this spiral design is carved into one of the outside walls.

Coyote Village

This village was excavated in 1968. Researchers found and studied multiple layers of soil, buried pottery of different styles, walls built over older walls, and bits of wood, all of which helped determine that people built multiple structures here from 700 AD into the early 1200s. (booklet written by Lillian D. Wakeley and Carol E. Sperling)

Below are mealing bins for storing ground corn and other seeds. Manos and metates were the names of these grinding stones. (park plaque)

Like most of the homes and villages in the Far View Community, Coyote Village was constructed long before Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings. Starting before 975 AD, this village was built, occupied, abandoned, rebuilt, and reoccupied several times. Each time people returned, they reused some of the stones and timbers, adding to or remodeling rooms their ancestors built. (park plaque)

Far View Reservoir

Pottery shards found under and outside these walls reveal that the oldest sections of this building date to about 959 AD and final construction was completed about 1200 AD.  Pollen studies show the presence of water in the reservoir is indisputable. Some researchers also note similarities of the youngest inner walls to dance plazas in modern historic pueblos. This site was used for 250 years, so isn’t it possible that Ancestral Pueblo people used it in different ways at different times? (booklet written by Lillian D. Wakeley and Carol E. Sperling)

Megalithic House

This site gets its name from Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes who excavated the site in 1922 and thought the large stones at the base of some of the walls were unusual. (Later, archeologists learned that ancient peoples often used large flat stones, possibly because they reduced the number of individual stones needed.) (park plaque)

This small collection of rooms was probably home to an extended family. Its layout, several living and storage rooms surrounding a kiva and courtyard, is known as a “unit pueblo”, and represents a typical family home of the late 1100s. Only half of this home is visible. Leaving a structure unexcavated or backfilling it after study protects it from exposure and deterioration. (The Far View Sites are more exposed to wind and weather damage than the alcove dwellings. After the Ancestral Pueblo people left this area, weathering gradually knocked down the upper walls.) (park plaque)

Far View Tower

Okay, it’s hot, we are at 8,000 feet altitude, and getting tired! So, here’s a cool picture. That’s all I got!!!

By the time we arrive at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, we are on information overload! We take a quick peak at Spruce Tree House, (a self-guiding tour of a cliff dwelling that is currently closed indefinitely) purchase tickets for a guided tour of Cliff Palace for tomorrow, try to absorb some of the museum exhibits, and finally call it a day.

Spruce Tree House

Next Stop… Cortez

Just Outside Mesa Verde National Park…

Another travel day, but a short one, and then 7 days to explore Mesa Verde, take a day trip, relax, do laundry, clean the windshield on the RV, and prepare for my trip to London to visit my son, Andy. (I fly out of Denver, nonstop, May 13th, soon after we arrive in Jernigan Land.)

We continue northeast on US-163 through the rest of Monument Valley and head to Mexican Hat, Utah.

The last time we traveled this way was in 2016. We were headed southwest on US-163 and we caught the famous scene from Forrest Gump where he finally stopped running.

Here’s a pic to refresh your memory…

We also spent an awesome night in Goosenecks!

After crossing the San Juan River…

…we see the famous rock formation the town is named after!

Still in Utah, we pass through Bluff and take Route 162 past Aneth and into Colorado.

Below is a pic showing why Bluff is so appropriately named…

An hour later we are across the state line and into Colorado heading north on US-491 to Cortez.

I can’t help myself from taking more pictures of cool rock formations!

And now we arrive at La Mesa RV Park…

We take off our shoes, unhook the car, and settle in…

Monument Valley Part 2

Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley is a 30,000 acre Navajo Tribal Park  on the border of Arizona and Utah. Established in 1958, it is located within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation.

In the afternoon we take a 2.5 hour guided tour of many of the famous rock formations named after animals and other familiar images they resemble. (For example, the 2 rocks above are Left Mitten and Right Mitten.) Others are named for important persons or historical events.

We begin our tour by visiting a hogan.

This one is a female hogan because of its rounded shape representing a woman’s womb. Male, or forked-pole conical hogans were more predominant in the 1800s.

Wood from the piñon pine and to a lesser extent, the juniper tree is used to build the hexagon-shaped hogan. The doors always face east toward the rising sun. This first sun provides good blessings for the start of each new day.

The frame is covered in bark, weeds, grass, and mud, leaving an opening in the center of the roof for smoke to escape from the central fire pit on the floor.

This lovely woman, named Marian, demonstrates how shorn sheeps hair is spun into yarn that eventually is woven into an intricately designed Navajo rug.

Dyes from native plants are used to color the yarn.

Corn is ground on a large flat rock by using a hand-sized rectangular rock to crush and roll the dried kernels into flour.

A small brush made from a bundle of sticks is used to sweep the residue into a pile and clean the stone tool.

Below, by our guide’s feet, are 4 more household tools used by the native Navajos:

The top bundle of sticks looks like the brush used in grinding corn, but is actually longer. This brush is used to comb hair. The stone to the left is used to dye or bleach the sheep wool. The yucca root is used as a soap and shampoo. And the long bundle of thick sticks is a cooking utensil.

Hanging on the wall is a cradleboard made from 5 pieces of wood and laced with leather. Babies from birth to a year-old can be carried safely when necessary.

The 2 bottom boards strapped together represent the mother and the father. The bottom flap is for the baby’s feet.

On the back, representing the baby (the union of the mother and father) is a small piece of wood joining the 2 larger pieces. The handle-like headpiece could be covered with a blanket to protect the child from the sun or cold. It also provides extra head protection should anything bump or fall on the cradleboard.

Next, we hop back aboard our touring vehicle and head for the red dirt road.

Ten of us are on this tour and, believe it or not, 2 gentlemen are from Palm Springs. But wait, there’s more! They are driving back to Ohio where the one guy is from Dublin, OH, just outside of Columbus. Small world!

Sometimes we stop for a photo op and sometimes we get out. Unfortunately our tour guide is driving in an enclosed truck and his soft voice does not amplify well as we bounce along in the open-sided vehicle.

So, buckle up and enjoy the scenery with me. Later I will name some rock formations and explain how they were formed.

Some formations I can name…

Three Sisters… not siblings but Catholic nuns dressed in their habits

From my Catholic schooling, that’s (right to left) Sister Miriam Therese, Sister Saint Jude, and Sister Mary Stephen…

Totem Pole

Yes, the tall and slender formation to the right…

Rooster… on the left



Left Mitten

The Right Mitten is the site of a dramatic automobile commercial where the car was airlifted and placed on top of the rock formation.

John Ford’s Point… named for the first Hollywood film director to use the Monument Valley location for a film set

That first film was Stagecoach starring John Wayne.

And now I can identify these formations I captured earlier today…

How the Valley was formed

Before human existence Monument Valley was a vast lowland basin. For hundreds of millions of years, layer upon layer of eroded sediment from the early Rocky Mountains was deposited in the basin and cemented into mainly sandstone and limestone rock. Then a slow, gentle uplift created by a constant pressure from below the surface elevated the horizontal strata. What was once a basin became a plateau of solid rock 1000 feet high. Wind, rain, heat, and cold have spent the last 50 million years cutting and peeling away the surface of this plateau. The simple wearing down of alternate layers of hard and soft rock slowly created the natural wonders of Monument Valley that today stand between 400 and 1200 feet tall. (Goulding’s tour brochure)

Jeff and I don’t usually take tours and today we are reminded why. Today’s adventure was okay to disappointing for what it cost us… $76 apiece… ouch! Our guide never introduced himself, could not be heard while we were riding in the vehicle (and that’s when he explained everything), and he didn’t even drop us off at the campground when the tour was over. He told us to take a shuttle back, but the shuttles only run from 5 pm-10 pm! I had to go into the Lodge and ask the concierge about shuttle service. Even he was surprised by our guide’s lack of courtesy.

On the positive side, however, the 8 other guests on our tour were fun to be with as we all chatted away and got to know each other a bit. And while the concierge personally drove us back to the campground, we learned that he lived in a hogan with his family until he was 10 years old and they had enough money to buy a house. He also shared his desire to leave the Reservation, join the Navy, and see the world. (We should have tipped him instead of our guide who we really overtipped… I’m just saying…)

Monument Valley Part 1

Goulding’s Campground

That’s us! I like how the rock formations are reflected on the windshield. They surround our little “RV spirit guide” pot head I bought in 2013 in Madras, NM when Jen and Brian lived in Albuquerque. He sits below our alien “RV spirit guide” I purchased in Roswell on the same trip.

Ah, 2013… the year Jeff and I conceived of our plan to full-time RV when I retired. AND 2013 is the year that the Center for Natural Land Management completed its purchase of the 880 acres of Thousand Palms Oasis!

Yes, we miss the Preserve and our friends. Yes, I still have posts to finish writing. Yes, we will return.

So, back to the campground…

We are located about a half mile uphill from the Lodge. Several short trails surround us but we take the road downhill before discovering a trail that leads down to the Lodge, Stagecoach Dining Room, Gift Shop, Museum, and Theater. (Shuttles run from 5 pm – 10 pm.) At 5500 feet above sea level, the morning sun beats down on us.

We arrive at the upper level of the Lodge and enjoy some spectacular rock formations.

I don’t know what this building is all about, except that it’s built into the hillside.

We check out the amenities (did that, done…) before heading back along one of the trails leading back to our RV. Of course I take some pics along the way…

What a beautiful place! Who knew we were walking parallel to the road!

Through the Navajo Reservation

On to Monument Valley…

Leaving Kingman On I-40 East, we still have a pretty clear windshield and scenic views.

In Flagstaff we head north on US-89. The scenery changes as we travel through the Painted Desert and the Navajo Nation.

Off the highway dirt roads lead to scattered clusters of trailer homes, hogans, sweat lodges, and 3-sided shade dwellings (upright logs with a roof of dried tree branches.) Colorful horses roam freely.

The windshield is starting to collect insect specimens that mar the marvelous views from the front seats when seen through the lens of a camera. But that doesn’t stop me from capturing images of the flavor of our drive.

Check out this series of 3 photos I quickly took out Jeff’s side of the RV:

Outside Tuba City we pick up US-160 as we head northeast toward Utah. I start opening my window to get better pics.

But sometimes a cool sight catches our eye and I have to sacrifice quality.

Below a cloud shadows part of the sandstone hills.

And these rocky mesas start appearing above the hills while hoodas start rising.

Finally we reach the last 25 mile stretch in Kayenta, Arizona as US-163 takes us across the border into Utah and the heart of Monument Valley.

We are staying 2 nights at Goulding’s Monument Valley Trading Post and Lodge Campground.

Harry and Leone, aka Mike, Goulding purchased land and started Goulding’s Trading Post in the 1920s. During the Great Depression they saw an opportunity to bolster the local Navajo economy by bringing in movie production companies. Harry met with director John Ford and soon after the film, Stagecoach, started production in Monument Valley.

Since then Goulding’s has hosted film crews, photographers, artists, and tourists from around the world. The Trading Post has expanded to include a lodge, campsite, tour operations, restaurant, convenience store, and a private airstrip. In 1981 the LaFont family bought Goulding’s Lodge. (

Not too shabby!

The Mojave Desert

First night… Kingman, Arizona

We leave the Sonoran Desert behind as we travel northeast into Arizona.

The Ocotillo are blooming in blazes of orange on US-95 North.

Gnarly rock formations have seen it all standing guard throughout the ages and stages of the life of the Mojave Desert.

The Colorado River separates California from Arizona near Needles.

About 50 miles later we arrive in Kingman, Arizona…

My photography skills from the passenger seat of a moving RV are out of practice. At least the windows aren’t too stained with bug juice yet!

We spend the night at the Zuni Village RV Park. “After the solitude of the Oasis, this is a bit depressing,” says Jeff. But we have a pull-through site and we don’t have to unhook the car and tow dolly.

Easy Peasy…

See You In September

I still have a few entries to post about our 7 months at Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, but we are getting ready to hit the road again and I want to stay current with our travels. So, I will journal about our daily adventures as we drive to Colorado to visit Jernigan Land and backdate the rest of of my posts about the Preserve when I finish writing them.

Bye-Bye, So Long, Farewell…

Today is the last day of the 2018-2019 Coachella Valley Preserve October 1st through April 30th season. The glass half empty — we are leaving tomorrow… the glass half full — we are coming back!

Lots of hugs have been exchanged with once new acquaintances who have so quickly become family, and what a wonderful family we have here! We will miss you. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and experiences with us. We learned so much and enjoyed our role as onsite hosts. Thank you for loving us as much as we love you…

Goodbye, Thousand Palms Oasis…

Goodbye moon, rising over the valley…