Monday, October 5, 2020

Road Trip Part 5, Heading Home: September 29-October 4, 2020

Mural in Shiprock, NM

From our overnight in Albuquerque we headed toward Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado first stopping at Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, just to see what it had. The "ranger in a glass box" directed us to La Ventana Arch. The photo he showed us captured the separation of the arch from the rocky background. When I got to the arch I discovered that in order to get the separation, we had to go beyond the fencing and scramble up rocks for that shot. As I was scrambling up the slope I heard a guy below tell his kid, "what that woman is doing is very dangerous." I didn't want to find myself an example of what not to do, so I stopped.

La Ventana Arch at Malpais National Monument

In Shiprock, New Mexico, even though it was midday and hazy, we found a closer position to photograph the enigmatic Shiprock formation. As we resumed our travel northward, I stopped to photograph a colorful Beware of Covid-19 mural shown above.


We arrived at Mesa Verde late afternoon. It's a long, slow drive from the front entrance to the sights within the park. Along the way there are signs identifying the name of and date of past fires that have ravished the land.


The light had faded by the time we got to some of the cliff dwellings. As we turned and headed out, the full moon was rising.

We checked into the quirky, cheerful Retro Inn in Cortez, Colorado. Each morning they gave us a bag lunch of snacks, water, and breakfast burritos (to be heated up in the in-room microwave) which made it very easy to get to the park early and stay late.


The construction of the Cliff Palace occurred between 1260-1280 CE. The dwellings were inhabited for one to two generations before being abandoned. 

Square Tower House
View of Cliff Palace from the other side of Cliff Canyon
Panorama of the Cliff Palace from above

National Park Service information states:

Sometime during the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Pueblo people began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended.
Spruce House

The Spruce House has been closed to visitors for several years because the right side of the ledge is not well supported so the entire ledge is slowly falling. 

The 3-mile loop Petroglyph Trail begins below the Spruce House cliff dwelling along narrow paths gradually working its way up to the mesa above Spruce House.



Axe Sharpening Grooves
Cliff dwellers used stone for tools. Axe heads were made out of hard rocks, sharpening them by rubbing the stones on sandstone.

Wall of Petroglyphs

This eroded mountainside reminded me of Roman Coliseum Ruins

Our next night was in a B&B near the east entrance to Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way we detoured to Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. 

Our first stop was a hike to Sipapu Bridge which is 220ft/67m tall and 268ft/82m wide and involves descending/ascending 3-4 ladders, polished sandstone, and flights rock steps. Bridges are formed by the erosive action of moving water. Standing under the bridge the bridge looks too narrow and fragile for its span of 268ft.



Leaving Natural Bridges, we continued north on scenic Highway 95 crossing over the Colorado several times.




We still had light when we arrived at the eastern entrance of Capitol Reef so we kept going into the park to see petroglyphs. From 600 to 1300 CE Fremont Culture people made their home at Capitol Reef. This panel has anthropomorphous and bighorn sheep. Some petroglyphs have been lost as panels of sandstone crack, erode, and fall.



We checked into our room at a B&B in Notom just in time to see the sun setting. The view is toward the Golden Throne in Capitol Reef.

The next day Capitol Reef had smokey, hazy skies. In the morning we hiked 1.8 mi round trip to Hickman Bridge a 133-ft natural bridge.


We drove the scenic drive taking photos of fascinating geologic features along the way.




Smokey view from the Goosenecks Overlook

We began the long drive to Ely, Nevada for our last night on the road. Skies and air continued to be disappointingly smokey at this point and continued all the way back to our house.

Wind Power and Smokey Skies in Utah
It was quite cold overnight in Ely, Nevada, but we got going early because we were headed home. Just west of Ely on Highway 50, we passed a guy slowly headed east riding a Segway. There was an advance car in front of him and a chase car behind. 

We had lunch in Fallon, Nevada, at The Running Iron Cafe. When we got there, tri tip slabs were being smoked out back. Masks were optional for staff, but lunch was fabulous. It is almost worth making the trip there just to eat lunch. In our 34 days of traveling, we haven't had many meals worth raving over, but this one certainly was.

Along Highway 50 in Nevada west of Ely

We got home just in time to feed Syd and Pandora their dinner. It was good to be home, but if we didn't have appointments to keep and cats, we might have kept driving a few days longer. In total our road trip loop logged 7300 miles.

Unlike our time around Salt Lake City in the north, masks were mostly non-existent in southern Utah. There were no masked workers at restaurants, at the visitor center in Blanding, or even at the B&B we stayed at in Notom. As I write this journal, we've been home almost one month. We are well. Except for our family visit in Arkansas we were masked or socially distant from others. At this point in time, North Dakota, Utah, and many of the other states we visited are on the list of top 10 hotspots for Covid-19 cases per capita.

I look forward to more road trips and eventually more travels abroad.