Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings At some point, the ancestral pueblo peoples moved from the mesa tops to below in sheltered alcoves. Most likely it was for protection, as the Ute and Navajo peoples started encroaching on their territory. These were very defensible spaces, but I can’t begin to imagine how much work it was to build them. Huge stones were shaped and brought up the cliff faces, then big timbers had to be hoisted somehow. After they were built, they still had to descend using ladders and tricky footholds carved into the rock to grow their crops, hunt, and bring up water.
Mesa Verde Cliff-top Ruins A thousand years ago the ancestral people had a thriving culture. Kivas were the hub of the community; specific clans held religious rituals that kept the world in working order. The Hopi believe that this is the fourth world; they had been preserved from prior destruction’s in various ways. Most recently, they emerged from being sheltered underground by the Ant People through a Sipapu, which is represented by one of the holes in the floor of the kiva.
Desert Gardens Fall in red rock country has its beauty, but for me, I’ll take the spring. This is tough country in which to survive, much less thrive.
Snow Canyon State Park This was supposed to have been Zion National Park, but it’s so popular, no one goes there anymore. We drove through Zion, and identified off-the beaten-path opportunities for next time, but just couldn’t face the hot, crowded shuttles leading to crowded attractions. So, we checked out opportunities near our condo in St. George, UT, and found a promising lead. Checking it out, it was the perfect way to end the exploration part of our road trip. Red rock galore! We found a promising hike, but someone (probably a local, not wanting to share with outsiders) removed the cemented in cairns that marked the most confusing part of the trail. No worries, next trip we will allow more time – I’m positive we can route-find on our own to the connecting trail.
Well, that’s it! Like so much in life, the trip didn’t always go as planned or as we initially hoped, but it was a beautiful, wonderful trip. And now we’ve gotten to share it with you!
I’ve been struggling for a month on whether or not to write this post, as it seems quite gratuitous and self-congratulatory. However, a few of you who follow me on Instagram wanted more details and photos, so let’s go. PS: My first time trying this format. Unfortunately, landscape photos (like the missing sandhill cranes) can only be viewed correctly by clicking into the photo. Sorry
Days 1 & 2. Drive 10 hours to McCall, Idaho. Nestled by Payette Lake in a valley ringed with mountains filled with small ski resorts, the small downtown seems to have more ATV’s and pickup trucks than pedestrians. Our top picks: Ponderosa State Park, Salmon River Brewery and Bistro 45.
Days 3 & 4. McCall, Idaho to Wolf Creek (Eden, Utah). The road from McCall to Boise is spectacular following a twisty, turny stream that carves a steep canyon as it grows into a river. Leaving Boise, follow I-84 to Ogden, then turn left and climb through another crazy road to Eden. Again, there are several ski areas here; I’m guessing that they were all part of the Winter Olympics that were held in Utah years ago. We were right by Powder Ridge Ski Resort. It looks like they bulldozed the entire mountain, built lifts and a day lodge and restaurant at the very top, then built dozens (hundreds?) of luxury second homes all around. Snowbasin, on the other hand, is stunningly beautiful with verdant forests leading up to jagged, snow-covered peaks. Mountain bike paradise, and decent hiking. Dining out? Pizza, Mexican food or sandwiches. No beer allowed without a food order (this IS Utah…).
Days 5 & 6. Wolf Creek to Durango, CO, 425 miles, about 7 hours. We love the whole Moab area, but were on a mission to make it to Durango, but what a confusing route! At one point, I felt certain we actually driving in a circle, but we finally made it! Only had one full day in Durango at this point, due to last minute changes … well, if you read my last post, you know. We had fun just relaxing, enjoying the downtown, and being tourists.
Days 7, 8 & 9. Durango to Taos, New Mexico, 200 miles about 4 hours. Seriously, read my post about Maps vs. GPS. Short version; we had no idea the map app route would take us over the top of a 10,584’ mountain. Once in Taos, we tried to make contact with a friend we had made years ago at the Taos Pueblo, but it was closed to visitors due to COVID. I left a message at the guardhouse; later, Carpio contacted us, and we met him for coffee and a two-and-a-half hour conversation. He is a born storyteller, and had at least a years worth to share.
Sadly, Carpio lost his beautiful daughter Coral about a year ago. He is still trying to get her death properly investigated, but law enforcement generally does not have a good track record when it comes to indigenous females. He shared many other stories – his romance with a young Helen Mirren, detailed in her book “In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures “. The time when he worked with Peter Fonda while they were filming Easy Rider at Taos. Meeting Neil Young, and appearing in his movie Human Highway. And so much more. Can’t wait to read HIS autobiography!
Oh yeah, we also checked out the Earthships, dirt roads on the Taos Plateau, had one lousy New Mexican dinner, and one fabulous one, then left.
Day 10. Taos to Durango, back over Jawbone Mountain. A special section just for the drive over Jawbone. On the way back, I was determined to try and stop to capture some photographs of old line shacks and ranches we had seen on the way to Taos. When I was young, I read every book Zane Grey had written. For some reason, the small shacks cowboys spent the night in as they rode the huge ranches checking fences (and for rustlers) captured my imagination. It was a treat to see a few of these along the road, which had probably just been a narrow trail in bygone years. This place gets its own photo gallery.
Days 11 & 12. Mesa Verde planning pitfalls for Mesa Verde were detailed in “What I learned on our 4,000 mile road trip.” Regardless of our disappointment, Mesa Verde lived up to the expectations of being on our bucket lists for 50 years. If you are also entranced by the Pueblo/cliff dwelling culture, check out “Book of the Hopi” by Frank Waters, and “House of Rain” by Craig Childs. In addition to being able to see multiple sites, we got in a great desert hike which even included a small cliff structure/dwelling and pictographs.
You made it this far? Amazing! This has been quite a process for me, and as I was reviewing all the photos of this fabulous trip I haven’t touched, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Still to come … cliff dwellings, mesa-top ruins, stunning desert flora and landscape, PLUS, at no extra charge, the red rock country of Snow Canyon near St. George, Utah.
I love planning ahead (this post talks about that a bit). I literally have pages of planning for this trip, and thought I had all the details covered. BUT, I missed a few very important details. First, we had hoped to join a guided tour of at least one of the pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde. About a week too late, I discovered that two of the four possibilities would not even be open to tours until the end of May, after our departure. And for the two left, there was a very narrow window of opportunity to book, which we missed by about a week. On top of that, although I knew we would need to catch a shuttle to get into the main part of Zion National Park, those tickets also needed to be booked before I discovered that. LESSON 1: Research every last detail well in advance of your departure to avoid disappointment.
Late in the planning game, I found out two things: one of our planned destinations was much farther away from Mesa Verde than was really practical, and somehow I had a two-night gap in our overnight accommodations. So I coined a new motto: When your plans change, change your plans. So, I was able to put in a patchwork of stays, which ended up taking us to Taos for a couple of days (the results of that may find their way into a whole new post), and we added St. George to our itinerary. We had planned to visit Zion Valley, but the logistics just didn’t work out. Instead, acting on a tip from my sister Jae, we headed to Snow Canyon State Park, and enjoyed hiking the red rock country on slick rock, a joy beyond expressing for us. LESSON 2: Be flexible, and see what other opportunities arise when something doesn’t work out as planned.
Some of our best experiences were not of the grand vistas and big iconic names of the west, but in places only the locals may be aware of. For us, Ponderosa State Park, the dirt roads of Taos Mesa, hiking in the Snow Basin area, deer and cougar prints on Powder Mountain, and slickrock hiking in Snow Canyon showed us beauty we would have missed by going for the Big Attraction. Then, taking time for the tiny – plants with a bloom the size of my little fingernail blooming in the most inhospitable looking places. Watching tiny lizards slither quickly across hot desert sands. Spotting tiny bluebirds swiftly sailing the skies. Discovering microbreweries making exceptional beer: McCall Brewing, Steamworks Brewing Company, and Taos Mesa Brewing (BTW, they all sell “Crowlers” to go [a canned growler], but be warned they vary in size. I was stunned to get three 32 ounce crowlers from Taos Brewing when I expected 16 ounce). LESSON 3: Think “hidden”, think local, think small.
CHIRP. Unfortunately, I have a slight hearing loss, so I have to be right on top of most small birds to hear their call. But I’m not talking about that kind of chirp. We discovered this app/website that has tons of audio books we download onto my phone, and listen to when the miles get long. We were often in the car for 8 – 10 hour days, for multiple days this trip. Having a good mystery (or your choice of genres) to listen to can ease the tedium facing even the best of relationships. And they are really affordable, especially compared to Amazon! Check it out! LESSON 4: Avoid boredom with audiobooks.
Yes, I’m trying to get away from my previous vacation mantra of “Drive as far as you can, as fast as you can to get to (and from) your destination”. BUT. Stopping at a restaurant or fast food place for lunch on a road trip adds significantly to the overall drive time, adds significant expense, and brings in a ton of calories and sodium. Instead, we found a fabric lunch box with compartments for slim ice packs, and we pack a very small, basic meal. We choose to be very simple; flour tortillas with peanut butter, a sliced apple, and sometimes mozzarella cheese sticks for variety. Quick to make, easy to pack, easy to eat on the road, and economical. Not to mention flexible! We also often take this lunch out when we are exploring, find a spot to park with a fabulous view, and have our lunch in the car. LESSON 5: Pack a lunch.
I have no idea why it took me sooo long to figure this one out. This trip I packed our laptop and an HDMI cord. After the business of our vacation day, I power up the laptop, connect it to WIFI (either at the location, or via my Personal hotspot on my phone), connect the laptop to the TV with my HDMI cord, pull up Xfinity or Amazon prime, and watch our favorite shows instead of the junk available on the in-house choices. What a difference! LESSON 6: Bring your laptop and an HDMI cord!
It is all-to-easy for me to pack every single day with enough activities for two days for most people. While that maximized the sum total of sights seen and boxes checked, I would often come home needing a vacation from my vacation. So, we intentionally scheduled very light days here and there, allowing us time to sit on the patio/deck and just relax, enjoying our surroundings. It’s only taken me 50 years to figure this out; hopefully, if you’re like me, you may now be inspired to slow it down a bit, and enjoy this sweet moment in time we call “life’. LESSON 7: Plan to Slow it down a notch.
Well gang, guess that’s about it for now. Our Worldmark timeshare condos come with a fully-equipped kitchen, so we are just about ready to go inside and cook a delicious, nutritional and low-cost dinner. What travel tips do you have you’d like to share?
PS: To make reservations for tours of Mesa Verde, and other National Park attractions, go to Recreation.gov. As of late May, reservations were not needed for the Zion Shuttle, and the fee was removed. Some essential trail markers had been removed from the slickrock at Snow Canyon in a very essential spot. You may be able to route-find using a trail map; carry 2-4 quarts of water per person plus an electrolyte replacement drink for safety, and wear a hat. Even (especially?) in the hot desert sun, lightweight long pants and a breathable long-sleeve shirt works better than sunscreen.