Hello… Goodbye

Next Stop… Jernigan Land and the Airport!

State Route 160 takes us through scenic countryside:

Fort Garland

Blanca

La Veta

Then the big cities, like Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Castle Rock and finally the burbs of Denver catch up with us as we travel I-25 North.


Early afternoon we arrive at the friendliest and least crowded spot to park the RV for the next 11 days, The Campbell Campground, aka, Patty and Mike’s driveway. Jeff’s son, David, also lives in his own apartment there too.


Meanwhile, my bags are packed and I’m ready to fly to London to visit my son, Andy! After saying hello to everyone, I quickly say goodbye and Jeff drives me to the Denver International Airport. I am booked on a British Airways flight that leaves at 7:35 PM.

usatoday.com

Nine hours later I arrive at Heathrow Airport.

Sludging Up and Up and Up… And Sliiiiiding Down

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Tucked away between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo  Mountains is the San Luis Valley, home to huge sand dunes, among them the largest one in North America.

So, where did they come from? Most of the sand here comes from the San Juan Mountains, over 65 miles to the west.  Larger, rougher grains and pebbles are deposited from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Once upon a time, some 440,000 years ago, sand and sediments from both mountain ranges washed into a huge lake that covered the floor of San Luis Valley. As the lake evaporated, southwesterly winds pushed the sand grains into piles beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and then washed them back toward the valley floor. As northeasterly storm winds continued to blast through the mountain passes, the sand dunes kept piling back on themselves creating the tallest dunes in North America. (National Park brochure)

Today wind and water keep the sand moving, continually forming dunes.

  park brochure 

Not far from the Visitor Center, the road into the Park ends and takes you to the Dunes Parking Area or the Park Campground which is tent camping only.

Since we intend to hike and explore the sand dunes, we opt for the Dunes Parking Area and are lucky to find a place to park.

Here’s a view from the parking area… the Sangre de Cristo Mountain peaks are covered with snow, the sand dunes loom into view, and the Medano Creek separates us from the beginning of our adventure.

We follow the hikers and cross the creek.

Once across Medano Creek there is no actual trail to follow. Some people rent sleds and sand boards and opt to just play in the dunes.

Wheeee…..!!!

We take off our wet hiking boots and enjoy the cool grains of sand massaging our feet as we continue hiking.

Right before I snapped this photo, 3 young guys, using centrifugal force, ran as fast as they could along the edge of this sand slope. One of the trio, however, ran down and, before he could catch his momentum, he somersaulted to the bottom! (That’s Jeff in the red shirt witnessing the gymnastics.)

Yay! The tumbler is okay! He only had to climb back up the steep side of a sand dune. Jeff, thank goodness, has enough sense not to try this for himself, but you know he wishes he could!

The sand starts burning our feet and we stop to put on our socks and hiking boots. (And what a great opportunity to catch our breaths!)

Meanwhile, we keep sludging, not realizing that we are heading towards Star Dune, the tallest at 755 feet. (At one point we had a choice to go right or left and we decided to go west, to the left.)

We are just about to turn around and head back. We’re getting tired of climbing through sand, only to slide back again. Another vertical rise looms ahead. We rest and discuss our options, not knowing where or how far it is to the top of Star Dune.

Jeff is ready to turn back but he knows me too well. I consider my options: I’m tired from climbing up through sand; But, we’ve hiked so far; Will I be disappointed if we don’t continue?; What lies beyond this last painful sludge? How much farther?

So, we sludge up yet again and… there it is! The ridge to the top of Star Dune!

WE DID IT! And so did 2 nuns in full habit!

I take a few pics…

…and my Aunt Lynne from San Diego calls me to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day!

We head back.

So many sand dunes. So many choices. No trails.

Thank goodness we are sliding down and not scrambling up!

Jeff and I take a shortcut back to Medano Creek and skip down a sand dune. These are our tracks on the left.

We finally slide our way down to Medano Creek.

Not all visitors come to hike. Some just hang out on the creek beach for the day.

There’s even a tarp-lined path through the sand from the parking are to the creek for wheelchair access.


Wow! It took us about 3 hours, but we did it! And I’m so glad we did!

Leaving Mesa Verde

Cortez to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the view from the passenger seat of the RV with me!

Durango…

The Animas River in Durango…

Bayfield…

Pagosa Springs…

South Fork…

Crossing the Continental Divide…

The streams now flow in the opposite direction!

U.S. 160 – State Route 150…

And here we are!


The Great Sand Dunes Oasis campground… Be sure and check out the website link to Strange and Unusual!

This is the ultimate playhouse and makes me think of all 7 of my grandchildren, yes, even Emjay who is a teenager now!

So cool…

Tomorrow we hike the sand dunes!

Loose Ends

Last Visit to Mesa Verde

Today we return to Chapin Mesa and the Mesa Top Loop to visit the spots we skipped on Monday.

nps.gov

Mesa Top Sites

For hundreds of years people moved in and out of Mesa Verde. They farmed, hunted, gathered, and re-settled on the same landscape over and over again. The big take away here is the realization that each group of Ancestral Puebloans learned from their elders, adapted to the conditions of their time, and passed their knowledge and experiences onto the next generation. At least 5 villages were built here over several hundred years, each built on top of the previous one. (plaques)

Here are 2 diagrams, taken from plaques, that depict 3 different building sequences and architectural styles from 900 – 1100 A.D.

I can’t really make heads or tails out of these excavated sites but the Mesa Top brochure explains that the earliest village was built with post-and-adobe walls. The second village, superimposed on the first, was of single-course masonry. And the third was constructed with thicker double-course masonry. At least the diagrams  above make more sense now.

What’s amazing to me is the fact that families lived here for centuries on this mesa exposed to the elements. The closest water supply, according to the Mesa Top brochure, was a quarter mile away. Did good farmland keep them here? Or was it  just the tendency to live in the same place where others lived before?

Why did the Ancestral Puebloans leave and return? Could it be as simple as they stayed where their basic needs could be met and moved on when conditions became unfavorable? But something brought later generations back again and again…

Kivas were the religious and sacred centers of Pueblo communities. Today they are still used for religious and social activities. In the drawing below, taken from the brochure, you can see examples of 3 different kivas, one from each century.

The kiva excavated below was built about 1074 A.D. as part of the last village built on this site.


Sun Point Pueblo A.D. 1200s

This is one of the last mesa-top pueblos built at Mesa Verde. The plastered walls contained small niches and a tunnel was dug into the soil to connect the kiva with the round tower. (brochure)

According to plaques around the excavations, this small town village was inhabited for less than 2 generations before the people living here moved into the cliff dwellings.


Sun Point View again A.D. 1200-1300

Visible from this spot are a dozen cliff dwellings set in alcoves high up in the canyons. (Trust me, they’re there but hard to spot with the naked eye.) Between 1200 and 1300 A.D., half the population of Chapin Mesa lived here. (brochure)


Oak Tree House A.D. 1250

There are about 600 alcove sites in Mesa Verde National Park. About 90 percent contain fewer than 11 rooms. At least one-third are simply one room structures, probably storage rooms for a nearby cliff dwelling. There are only about a dozen cliff dwellings that contain 40 or more rooms, including Oak Tree House. (plaque)


Fire Temple and New Fire House A.D. 1250

According to the plaque and brochure, Fire Temple was probably not a place where people lived. Its open courtyard may have served as a dance plaza for the surrounding community near and far. Figures of rain clouds, cactus, humans, and animals were painted on the plaza wall.

New Fire House is a cliff dwelling that contains 22 rooms and 3 household kivas.

Look closely and you will notice a hand-and-toe hold trail chipped into the rock connecting the upper and lower alcoves.

Here’s a birds’ eye view of the canyon where the cliff dwellings are tucked inside the alcoves. Just below the horizon to the left is a mesa top structure called Sun Temple.


As we head toward Sun Temple we notice some spectacular flowers. We really need a bumper sticker that reads, WE BRAKE FOR FLOWERS!

The large white flowers are Tufted Evening Primrose, Oenothers Caespitosa and the small pink petals peeking through the leaves are Erodium Cicutarium, Filaree.


Sun Temple A.D. 1250

Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes led the excavation of this mesa top structure in 1915 and this is what he had to say about the discovery: “This building was constructed for worship, and its size is such that we may practically call it a temple.” The D-shaped floor plan consists of nearly 30 rooms within a thousand feet of finely masoned walls, four-feet-thick. However, a lack of roof beams or evidence of any household goods suggests that Sun Temple was never completed. Why? (brochure)

plaque 

Sun Temple is unique among all the other structures in the Park. It was part of the community of cliff dwellings but unlike the few similar D-shaped buildings found in the region, it is the only one not built within a pueblo. Could it have social, ritual, or symbolic functions? (plaque)

Dr. Fewkes also speculated that the existence of a natural rock basin in the southwestern corner of the structure served as some kind of solar marker for celestial observations. (brochure)

I totally missed observing this, so here is a diagram and drawing from the brochure:


Just past Sun Temple is an overlook with a great view of Cliff Palace.


Mystery not only surrounds Sun Temple but also the disappearance of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in Mesa Verde for centuries. What prompted their final migration in the late 1200s?


Final thoughts…

I didn’t know what to expect visiting Mesa Verde National Park but this sacred place is not to be missed on a list of “Must See National Parks.” Long before Europeans explored North America, an ancient culture built elaborate stone communities and flourished here for almost a century. Archeologists named these peoples Anasazi from a Navajo word meaning “ancient foreigners.” Today we call them Ancestral Pueblo or Ancient Puebloans as a tribute to their modern day descendants.

Local ranchers discovered these cliff dwellings in the 1880s. Since then archeologists and historians have pieced together an evolving story of an incredible human culture adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at carving out a life in a difficult land.

If you stop and listen, these ancient rocks have so much to say!

Fog, Rain, Sleet, and Snow

Mesa Verde National Park, Part 3

Today we decide to explore Wetherill Mesa and a few viewing points we missed previously.

 nps.gov

Before the main road into the National Park splits into 2 mesas, we pull into the Geologic Overlook.

nps.gov

And this is what we view as we look down and beyond…

Nothing but fog…

Close up, the shrubs, trees, and bushes however, really stand out against the misty lighting. I think these bright yellow flowers with large leaves are some kind of sunflower, at least they remind us of the desert sunflowers from Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve. Or maybe a daisy? Or an aster? I really need to get the plant identification App.

The view from the road as we drive toward Wetherill Mesa isn’t much better. We can barely see the hills.

We pull over and stop at the Fire Recovery Viewpoint and learn how fires affect the landscape.

Frequently a dry lightning strike will ignite a solitary tree. The fire may smoulder and remain undetected for several days until hot, dry, and windy conditions cause it to spread rapidly. Under the right conditions, a wind-driven fire can char thousands of acres within a few hours.

Sometimes a fire burns into a previously burned area. When it does, the intensity of the fire will drop. These burned areas serve as fuel breaks. The patchwork of burned-up and recovering areas creates a natural mosaic of grasses, flowers, mountain shrubs, and a forest of mature pinyon and juniper trees. It takes centuries for a pinyon-juniper forest to fully recover from a fire. (plaque).

Unfortunately, it’s still too foggy to get a picture of this mosaic effect, but I have a few photos of fire-damaged areas taken near the end of the Petroglyph Trail and from the road to Chapin Mesa.

Over 95% of all recorded wildflowers in the park have been started by lightning. The remaining 5% have been caused by humans. Seventy percent of Mesa Verde National Park has been burned by wildfires since the Park was established in 1906. (nps.gov)


Finally we make our way out of the fog.

These bright red-orange flowers are Desert Indian Paintbrush and definitely brighten this sunless, cool day.

Rain greets us as Wetherill Mesa Road ends into a parking lot. We also discover that the self-guiding tour of Step House is closed until summer. (We misunderstood the Park volunteer at the Visitor Center. He told us Wetherill Mesa was open and we thought he meant the trail to Step House too. What he was referring to was Wetherill Mesa Road which is open, weather permitting, from May through September.) It’s too cold and rainy to get out and walk anyway, so we head back to the RV.

 nps.gov

Rain turns into sleet.

Sleet becomes snowflakes.

But the weather works a special magic on the colors of the landscape, emphasizing each unique hue of green.

And these pale and fuzzy clusters of leaves hug the side of the road as they catch the raindrops and snowflakes.


Out of the Park and on Route 160 heading west, we get a great view of Sleeping Ute Mountain.

According to the Ute Mountain Tribe legend:

Sleeping Ute was a great warrior god who came to help fight against the evil ones who were causing much trouble. As the tremendous battle took place the great warrior and evil ones stepped hard upon the earth and braced themselves to fight. Their feet pushed the land into mountains. Unfortunately the great warrior god was hurt so he lay down to rest and fell into a deep sleep. The blood from his wound turned into living water for all creatures to drink. When fog or clouds settle over the sleeping warrior god, it is a sign that he is changing his blankets for the four seasons. The light green blanket is spring. The dark green blanket is summer. The yellow and red one is autumn, and the white one is winter.

Remember these photos from a few days ago taken from Mesa Verde National Park?

Can you find the sleeping Ute?

Petroglyph Point Loop Trail

Mesa Verde Part 2…continued

The National Park Service hiking brochure describes the Petroglyph Loop:

This adventurous trail winds just below the edge of Chapin Mesa and leads to a large petroglyph panel 1.4 miles (2.3 km) from the trailhead. The trail is rugged and rocky along the canyon wall to the panel. After the panel, you’ll scramble up a large stone staircase to the top and enjoy an easy return through forest to complete the loop.

We purchase a trail guide from the museum that corresponds to 34 numbered markers along this 3 mile (4.8 km) loop that introduces hikers to the natural environment of Mesa Verde and the ways it was used by native peoples.

Don’t worry, I am not going to bog you down with all these details. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the hike without breaking a sweat!

Wow, this feels like a lot longer than 1.4 miles to reach the petroglyph panel!

According to the trail guide, the Anazasi, or Ancient Ones, stood on the ledge and chipped these designs through the exterior desert varnish to the light sandstone beneath.

In 1942 four Hopi men from northeastern Arizona visited the panel and interpreted some of the glyphs. These are modern day Hopi interpretations and may or not be what the original rock artists meant.

The following pics and explanations are from the trail guide:

After the panel, it looks like the trail ends. I mean, we don’t see a large stone staircase. All we see is a pile of rocks leading up and up to who knows what! We definitely don’t want to turn back, so we scramble vertically taking big steps and bracing the edges of rocks to propel us upward.

At a resting spot, I catch my breath and take some pictures.

We arrive on top of the Mesa. Just below are the petroglyph panels.

It’s an easy-peasy walk from here.

We descend from the top of the Mesa and notice cliff dwellings…

…and storage granaries.

We end up near Spruce House where we began and ascend the steep path up to the museum one last time.


I promised I wouldn’t bog you down with the flora of the trail markers, but I lied. The following plants and flowers spoke to me along the way. I mean, they begged me to take their picture…

This spindly cactus greeted us in the parking lot next to the museum. Could it be the Plains Prickly Pearopuntia polyacantha?

Utah Serviceberry is one of the first plants to bloom in early spring. The tiny fruits resemble apples and are eaten by wildlife. The ancient Americans ate the fruit fresh or dried as well.

This plant is growing out of the rocky cliff. (I really must get the App that identifies plants and flowers!) The flowers resemble an Apache Plume or a Primrose but the leaves and bark don’t match.

Skunk Bush… there’s a plaque identifying  this… Tiny yellow flowers appear before developing into dark red, sticky, slightly hairy berries in the summer. The berries produce a drink similar to lemonade. The twigs are used for making baskets and the buds are used for deodorant and perfume.

These tubular red flowers could be Beardlip Penstemon but the shiny green leaves on the lower stem have me confused. It’s definitely not Sky Rocket or Indian Paint Brush… must be a type of beardlip.

Not sure about this plant with the cluster of yellow buds and prominent leaves… The closest match I can come up with is Creeping Barberry, Mahonia Repens.

Once again, I have no clue about these slumped pointed lavender petals. Some sort of Gilia or Dusty Penstemon perhaps?

These five-petaled pale pink or lavender flowers are Mountain Phlox, Phlox Austromontana.

See, that wasn’t so bad was it?


It’s supper time and we still have to return to the RV, about an hour away. A busy day, filled with archeological information, dramatic views, a tour of a cliff dwelling, and a challenging hike…

A Really Busy Day

Mesa Verde National Park, Part 2

We have tickets for the 12:00 guided tour of Cliff Palace, but we arrive an hour early to explore the six-mile Mesa Top Loop Drive.


From Pithouse to Pueblo…

Ten excavated sites and a number of cliff dwellings are visible on this loop, revealing the full range of architecture from the earliest pithouses of around 600 AD to the latest cliff dwellings 700 years later.

Pithouse

The Ancestral Pueblo people began building these modest dwellings in Mesa Verde between 550 and 600 AD. They dug shallow pits into the ground, covered with pole and mud roofs and walls, with entrances through the roofs. Since these first homes were partially underground, they offered coolness in summer and warmth in winter. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

The presence of a smaller circular space adjoining the larger living space suggests the presence of an antechamber for storing crops, such as corn, squash, beans, fruits, seeds and nuts. Farming allowed these early peoples to establish communities and live in one location for years at a time. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

Navajo Canyon View

These mesas, canyons, and expansive views were the familiar landscape of the Ancient Puebloans. The deep canyons connected them to other communities within and beyond Mesa Verde.

Square Tower House Overlook

Built in an alcove in the upper walls of Navajo Canyon is this cliff dwelling representing the final phase of building at Mesa Verde. People lived here between 1200 and 1300 AD. The name comes from the 4-story-high tower with windows standing against the curved back wall. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

Pithouses and Early Pueblo Villages

This site shows 2 significant architectural developments that were taking shape between 700-950 AD: the trend toward deeper pithouses, and the move from pithouses to above ground dwellings. Pithouses were dug about 4 feet down. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

By 850 AD above ground dwellings were built from a foundation of slab-lined pits. Walls were built from a lattice of wooden poles plastered over with mud. Deep pithouses were also a part of these slab-lined villages. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

Ancestral pueblo families often returned to locations of previous dwellings to re-construct homes and fields. By 950 AD new architectural techniques favored stone masonry walls rather than wood and mud. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

Another significant change occurred in the 900s: the round pithouse as a family home transitioned into the circular underground room called the kiva. (Mesa Verde Museum Association)

By now we are on information overload and we are running out of time to get to the Cliff Palace tour. We decide we have time for one more stop and we choose a scenic overlook.

But first we see an old friend growing in the ground. We stop and admire the Lupine and clear the cobwebs from our overstimulated brains.

Sun Point View

This viewpoint is considered one of the best in Mesa Verde. From here a dozen cliff dwellings are visible tucked inside the alcoves below. Unfortunately a bus tour of French tourists arrive when we do, so I quickly take 2 pictures and we leave.

Actually we have to hustle now anyway to drive to the Cliff Palace Loop for our 12:00 tour.


Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Around 1200 AD some of the people then living on Mesa Verde moved away from their Mesa top fields and into the cliffs and alcoves.

Many of the building stones were shaped by hand using harder quartzite hammer stones. Water had to be hauled in and mixed with sand, clay, and ash to make mortar. Gaps in the mortar were chinked with smaller stones. (NP brochure written by Rose Houk)

A thin coating of plaster, requiring more water, was spread over many of the rock walls, inside and out. Although much has eroded away, some original plaster is still visible with finger impressions where it was carefully smoothed on by hand. Sometimes plasters were colored red, yellow, and white or painted with decorative symbols. (NP brochure written by Rose Houk)

Cliff Palace resides in an alcove about 215 feet wide by about 90 feet deep and about 60 feet high. It includes about 150 rooms (living rooms, storage rooms, and special chambers) plus nearly 75 open spaces and 21 kivas. (NP brochure written by Rose Houk)

Both round and square styles of tower structures are found in Cliff Palace. Archeologists estimate this complex was an ongoing construction project from 1190 to 1280 AD. (NP brochure written by Rose Houk)

Inhabited by an estimated 100-120 people, today’s researchers believe Cliff Palace was more than a large village. They speculate that the site was an administrative or community center for the surrounding villages. (NP brochure written by Rose Houk)

On the mesa above the alcove, rock climbers rappel to inspect the damage from a recent rockslide. Lower and to the left, another cliff dwelling is barely visible.

Today visitors access Cliff Palace by ladders and stone stairways. The original residents, however, descended from the mesa top by means of hand-and-toe holds carved in the rock face.

We return from the Cliff Palace Tour ahead of the others and head back to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to Hike the Petroglyph Point Trail.