Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mesa Verde National Park

When I was a small child, my parents bought a set of books that were sold weekly in the grocery store. One was about paleontologists. Another showed a picture of Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace. I grew up, went to school, and became an Earth Science teacher with a degree in Geology. I took my students on field trips, collected fossils and still do today. Yesterday Renita and I toured the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. Bless you Mom and Dad.

We arrived in Cortez on Sunday, and set up at Sundance Rv Park. The next day we went to the Welcome Center and then drove out to the park. We hadn't planned on touring any ruins, only figuring out possible things to do. However it worked out we ended up going on the Cliff Palace Tour.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the desert southwest. The only other tour open, at this time of year was Balcony House which involved a thirty foot climb on a wooden ladder. This was not attractive to Renita. We bought tickets for the Cliff Palace and it ended up a great choice.

The tour was packed with 60 people and one ranger so we used "Spanish rules" and made sure we had great viewing spots on the tour,(When we traveled to Spain with the kids we went to a town fiesta in Segovia. When the food was set on the table everyone rushed it with no lines or order. We called this chaos, Spanish rules.).

The wood in the ruins was actually from 1200ad. You can see the tags where it has been removed for dendrochronology. Renita overheard a Hopi women on the tour who stated that the round rooms were not Kivas, or ceremonial rooms, disputing the rangers lecture. I asked about any cut marked bones found at the sight, but the ranger said she was not going to answer as there were Hopi's on the tour. Apparently the park service is treading water as usual........

We finished the tour by climbing up a series of steps and wooden ladders. The ladders seemed well used to me but held my weight. We drove out, stopping and viewing several other cliff houses. A fine day. Clear skies.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Four Corners

The story we had heard, is that the four corners was a Navajo Tourist trap. The fee was three bucks apiece. This allowed us to drive to the Four Corners Memorial, get our picture taken, and spend some more money at the flea market.

The parking lot was rough, in places, and graveled. This had also been mentioned to us. With all the whining about this place who would ever enjoy it? We did!

After the pictures, we spent time buying more Native Art and jewelry. Finally we ran out of money and left for Cortez, Colorado. Clear skies.

The Canyon Jeep Tour

On our last full day at Canyon De Chelly we decided to view the Canyon from the bottom up! So we bought tickets for the full day jeep tour,(6.5 hours and a lunch).
It was money well spent!

We loaded up at the Thunderbird Lodge. Both of us were concerned about the cold so we wore multiple layers of clothing. We were fine. We were even warm when the jeep plunged into the river.

The first part of the tour was up Canyon De Muerto to Mummy Cave Ruins. The jeep trail went in and out of the river, if you could call it a trail. We passed a stuck truck, it was getting pulled out, and at one point we even got stuck, (I was glad I didn't drive our truck but our son Matt would have loved it with his).

As we drove and stopped, the guide told us that there were over 600 ruins, identified in the two canyons. He also explained the many pictographs and petroglyphs. They belonged to three different periods. It was a real learning experience.

At one stop Navajo girls waded out into the river to offer us necklaces that they had made. The people are so poor that everywhere you go you encounter blankets covered with jewelry and stone art. We were eve able to buy freshly made Navajo Fry Bread. We watched as the Navajo Women fired the bread dough in hot grease and then covered it with cinnamon and sugar. Lunch was at the Mummy Cave Ruins. The guide explained that the mummies were unusual in that the average height of the people was about five feet and that one of the mummies found here was six foot tall. At one of the stops we could see the handholds and fotholds used to climb the cliffs. We loaded back up and headed back down the canyon stopping once to stretch and view more pictographs.

At Junction, we turned and headed up Canyon De Chelly. We passed more ruins and continued up to White House Ruins. That was the place we had hiked down the day before. Luckily the merchants were still there and we were able to buy much needed jewelry and stone art.

The drive back to the lodge was all too short. However our senses were overloaded and it was time to get back home and pack the house for the trip to Mesa Verde.
Clear skies.

White House Ruin and the South Rim

The next day started pretty easy as we got up and did some chores. We were waiting for the afternoon as the plan was to hike the White House Ruin trail and the guidebook said that the afternoon was best for photos.
We finally left the house at noon and drove to the trail head. Oh my! The trail is a 500 foot vertical drop and is about 3 miles roundtrip. Looking down, from the overview you could easily see the ruins at the bottom.
The trail started easy, about 1000 feet along the rim. It then went down through a tunnel with switchback after switchback. It was part dirt, but mostly sandstone ledges that had been blasted and chisled from the rock wall. It is one of the most spectacular hikes we have ever been on! Near the bottom we passed through a long tunnel to be greeted by the sight of an Hogan. Smoke curled from its smokestack inviting a photograph but the sign said no photos!
After passing through the tunnel it was a short and easy stroll to the ruins. There we were greeted by quite a few Navajo Venders, selling the usual silver jewelry, pottery, and rock art. The rock art was really neat, a dancing figure, but there was no way we were going to carry it back up the cliff, (the Navajo drive the dirt trail, alongside the river to get to this spot. It can also be reached by taking a jeep tour but I strongly recommend the trail!).
We ate lunch near the ruins before beginning the hike up. There was no hurry so we took our time and made use of the benches. While we had both worried about the return it turned out to be pretty easy.

After returning to the truck it was a short drive to the Spider Rock viewpoint. Spider Rock is a sacred site of the Dine. Renita spotted ceremonial ruins near the base and I looked for a line to climb. An unforgettable tower of sandstone that seems to defy gravity!
The drive back was anticlimatic. Sliding House Ruins, Tsegi Overlook, Junction, and Tunnel were all worthy sites but we had seen too much as we stumbled from spot to spot. We returned home exhausted from the day. Clear skies.

Canyon De Chelly, The North Rim

Ya'aah'eeh. On Wednesday we left Holbrook headed toward Canyon De Chelly. The road , north of the interstate, turned into the worst road we have traveled on. When we arrived at the monument we went straight to the campground and fo9und a really good spot. Large enough, that we could park next to the fiver, allowing us to plug into our portable generator. The best thing about the campground is it is free, along with the monument. This is because it’s part of the Navajo Nation.
We rested the rest of the day, our usual routine after traveling. However we did attend a program at the campground amphitheater. There a ranger and a Navajo Musician entertained us with guitar and drum music songs and dance. It was really neat as they also interspersed their songs with stories and language of the Navajo.
The next day we got up and drove the North Rim Drive. The Canyon is actually two, Canyon De Muerto and Canyon De Chelly, which join at the park enterance. The North Rim trail has three turnoffs for viewing cliff dwellings and historic points. The Canyons starts shallow, but the walls rise quickly to over 1000 feet high. The first turnoff was closed but we were able to view the Antelope House Overlook. The second turnoff viewed Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave.
Antelope House if the biggest ruins in the park. It has about 100 rooms and kivas and was abandoned due to flash flooding, it’s pretty much at the bottom of the Canyon. Mummy cave is more spectacular and is named for the mummies found eroding from the ground beneath the ruins. It is pictured above.
Massacre Cave got its name from the massacre of 100 women and children, some older men also, who huddled in the cave as the Spanish fired round and round ricocheting them into the place where the people hid. The place is called Where Two Fell, by the Navajo. This name was given to honor the Indian Woman who grabbed a Spanish soldier and then hurling herself and him down the canyon.
We also visited the visitor center where a Hogan is constructed, that allows you to view the construction methods and the interior of an actual Hogan. They are really large and look quite comfortable! Maybe someday we will build one! Clear skies.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Petrified Forest National Park, continued

The guidebook, for the Petrified Forest, says that the best part of the park is the Long Log Trail. The authors sure got that right! For our second day at the park we walked the Long Log, Agate House, and the Giant Log trails.

The Long Log and Agate House trails are connected so you can walk both at the same stop. The Agate house was constructed of petrified wood as a pueblo for hunting parties. It is actually a reconstruction, done by the park service. The reconstruction used beautiful pieces of fossil wood and modern materials and is hardly authentic. In fairness all the wood in this location is beautiful, but the cement detracts from the structure.

The trail to the house winds among beautiful and highly agatized logs filled with multicolored agates. It screams, "Take me home, you will never be caught!" That's why the park service has a display of the 325 dollar fine for taking a small piece of wood,(We resisted the urge and purchased a cut and polished piece from Jim Greys Rock Shop, the best rock shop I have ever been in).

The long Log trail is just that, with logs of up to 100 feet in length. Once again filled with beautiful agate. One area has pieces of agate covering the ground, like the Crystal Forest used to have before visitors stole all the small and not so small pieces. As we strolled along a high school group was working on the trail, causing me to shudder and remember why I retired.

We finished both trails, about three miles, and then went to the museum and the short Giant Log trail. The trail has a self guided tour and displays the largest log in the forest, about eight feet in diameter. Nice, but a little disappointing after the Long Log Trail. We left the Park and returned home tired but glad that we had spent two days at the park. Clear skies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Petrified Forest National Park

After arriving at Holbrook we set up camp at the Petrified Forest KOA,(Basically a gravel parking lot), and checked out the rock shops before heading to the National Park. We had planned on spending a day at the park but there was too much to see so this blog is divided into two parts. The first day, we drove to the park headquarters. From there we stopped at the North Rim Trail, Pueblo Puerco, Newspaper Rock, Blue Mesa, and the Crystal Forest.

The North Rim Trail is about .6 of a mile long and gave us our first good view of the painted desert. The rocks were horizontal layers of the Chinle formation exhibiting typical badlands topography, dendritic stream patterns, and rock bands that were colored with various shades of iron oxides. In other words a pretty desert landscape. The trail was an easy hike and was well signed with guides to the plants and wildlife.

From there we stopped at other places but the next main stop was a the Pueblo Puerco, a prehistoric 100 room pueblo. It was a nice stop with some interesting petroglyphs.

Next we stopped at Newspaper Rock, which is pictured above. It was one of our favorite stops of the day as the two large rocks are covered with petroglyphs. The cliff side reminded us of the sandstone cliffs by Devils Tower. As we viewed the petroglyphs a raven flew by clutching an unlucky lizard in it's beak.

Blue Mesa, and it's trial was a three mile loop from the main road. We really enjoyed it but didn't walk the interpretive trail as we were hungry and so we drove to the Natural Bridge, a large petrified tree, and ate lunch in the parking lot.

Our final stop of the day was at the Crystal Forest. It is an area where there are hundreds of pieces of large petrified logs. At one time the ground was covered by shards of crystals from the weathered logs but unfortunately most have been stolen by visitors. The logs that are left are some of the most beautiful we have seen. We resisted any urges to grab any ourselves, (did I mention the minimum fine of 325 bucks?), and instead took image after image of the jasper filled logs.

After returning home, we both agreed that the highlights of the day were Newspaper Rock and the Crystal Grove. We were both filled with the beauty of the place. Tomorrow it's off to the Long Log Trail! Clear skies.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Meteor Crater, Arizona

One of the places we had to stop at was the Beringer Meteor Crater. So as we left Williams it was a short drive, 75 miles to Meteor Crater Rv Park. The drive was another windy one but the truck and house handled it without any problems, (We even got 14.7 mpg as going downhill helps).

The Meteor Crater Rv Park, as is everything here, is owned by the same company and is the only place to park, (The land along both sides of the road is also owned by the same company and has no trespassing signs everywhere). It was a surprise to find out that it was a nice park. It was uncrowded and it only cost 12.50 a night!

The next day was windy and cold so we waited till 10am to go to the Crater. As you drive towards the crater the low circular hill is obvious. This was caused by the rebound of the local rocks, after the impact. The crater was initially thought to be an an impact site but its origin theory was changed to a volcanic steam vent explosion. This was because it was thought that an impact would leave a huge magnetic iron mass, and none was found. It took 60 years to discover the evidence that it was an actual impact site.

The cost to get in was 13 bucks each and well worth it. The museum was well done, had numerous specimens of meteorites and shocked materials, (after teaching about this place for 30 years I still learned new stuff). Renita is posing next to the Apollo Space Capsule that was used for training the astronauts for the lunar missions.

To view the crater we climbed a stair that took us outside. From there you could walk, not very far, to upper and lower viewing platforms. The biggest problem is to get a sense of scale. The Meteor Crater Museum has placed a six foot high Astronaut in the center of the crater for this purpose. We also wanted to go on the rim walk but the wind had picked up and the rim tour was canceled,(I had also hoped for a tour of the crater itself but no luck there as it's off limits).

The Crater was an enjoyable place. After our visit we celebrated with a subway sandwich, followed by an afternoon nap,(Did I say retirement is good?). Clear skies.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The drive to Sedona is as pretty as the town itself. We were both taken by the beauty of Oak Creek Canyon, with its stunning rock formations. WE also both liked Sedona and its beautiful setting.

As we drove north of Flagstaff, the ponderosa pines reminded us of the Black Hills. Needing to find a restroom we saw the turn off to Oak Creek Canyon. What a viewpoint! The sheer cliffs and the stunning view were as pretty as any place we had been. There were also Native American stands set up, surprising tasteful, and we both enjoyed the craftsmanship displayed.

Leaving there were a series of sharp hairpins, too sharp for us to tow the fifth wheel,(I put the truck in manual and drove down without using my brakes, staying at the speed limit. There were three vehicles following me that were not happy, but if you live in a tourist area deal with it). The road was narrow and crumbling like the road around Crater Lake National Park. We took several turnoffs and marveled at the rock formations. The rocks are also at the Grand Canyon but here you can get up close and personal. The drive is, in parts, a lot like Kaycee Wyoming and the Hole in the Wall.

Reaching Sedona we found a public parking lot that was half full and roomy enough for the truck. We ate at a Mexican food place that was actually reasonable and good, (I have developed a taste for hot food, Renita is still working on hers).
After eating we shopped. A lot of beautiful and extremely high priced items. Once again most of the stuff was imported. The rock carving were from Pakistan, the ammonites from Morocco, and the quartz from Brazil. How disappointing, but still beautiful.

We left without buying anything, and Renita drove home so I could see the scenery.
A fun day! Clear skies.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon

We left Lake Havasu and drove to Williams, Arizona, setting up at Canyon Gateway Rv Park. The drive was uneventful but we did have to fight a strong side wind. After setting up we rested and decided to go to the Grand Canyon.

It was our third time seeing the Grand Canyon. In 1983 we were also at the south rim. The kids were with us and we drove quickly along the rim, only stopping for a few quick pictures. In 1996, we returned, this time with Jenny and visiting the north rim. We spent a day there and rode the donkeys along the short trail.

This time we were able to spend the full day. We drove 60 miles north, taking a leisurely time and upsetting a lot of other drivers. Don't they know that it's all about the journey? We first went to the Visitor Center where we listened to a ranger describe plate tectonics and then talking to another about the California condors.

Leaving the visitor center we decided to spend the day on the rim trail, first hiking bout 2.8 miles round trip, to Maricopa Point and then taking the free shuttle to Hopi Point.

The hike was a little strenuous as the first part had some uphill and we were not used to 7000 feet elevation. It was an easy trail and gave a great view of the Bright Angel trail below. The trail below beckoned me, but not this time.....
The pictures we took, 50, are beautiful but don't give the Canyon the justice it deserves. AS we hiked we watched for Condors but didn't see them, next time?

The shuttle bus ride took us farther than we could have walked, to Hopi Point. From there we watched the river below and Renita spotted rafters, running through a rapids. The river beckons...... We finished the day tired but happy as we reached our house and smelled the homemade soup. A fine day. Clear skies.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

London Bridge

We have spent the last few days on necessary maintenance projects. About the only thing we have done for excitement is to walk across London Bridge.

The Bridge itself cost over a million dollars to move to Lake Havasu. The impetus for this, and money, was from the Murdock of chainsaw fame. He reasoned that if the Bridge was brought to Lake Havasu, it would become a tourist destination. Definitely a well thought out idea. The canal, called the bridge canal, was also dredged during the reconstruction. After walking across the bridge, we looked closely at the underside and one can see the numbers on the blocks that were for the reconstruction. You can also see a little history of the bridge as there are bullet pockmarks from a strafing by a German pilot in World War II.

Another day was spent sterilizing the fresh water tank, a full day's project. We didn't know if we really needed to do this but it was time as we are getting ready to rely on the internal tanks. It involves emptying the tank, and then refilling it with a solution of one and one quarter cup of bleach with 75 gallons of water. After this you fill all lines and let it set for three hours. The house had the definite odor of bleach so we had all the fans going. Finally we drained and then flushed the system. Not the most exciting day of our travels.

The rest of the time has been spent researching the next leg of out travels. Our niece Krista shared pictures from her field trip to Bandolier National Monument. A place we want to visit, but not on this trip. We are getting hitch itch and hope to head out on Friday. Clear skies,

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Bridge Canal

We finished putting in the battery bank and the switch. No fires, sparks, or burned wires so it appears all is well! We went from a single battery with 70 amps to two battery banks with 290 amps. Now it is simply a matter of waiting for the weather to warm, north of here, and we are ready for the migraton.

In the meantime, there is still a lot to do here so we went for an extended walk along the Brdge Canal, the waterway under London Bridge. It was really pleasant!
We disvcovered a nice park, Rotary Park and saw lots of possible fishing spots.

The walk is a little over a mile and even though it was early was quite busy. As we walked along we spotted a lot of largemouth and smallmouth bass. It is the height of spawning season, 65 degree water, and the bass are on their beds. There were also the usual boats parked along the shore with people drinking and sunning, hmmmmm... human spawning activities?

As we walked we saw a guy exercising by balancing himself on a cement wall and jumping back and forth as he walked the wall. Renita double dared me and it looked like so much fun that I had to try it. It turned out to be not so easy as I fell on a jump and scrapped my leg but I was able to continue. It also turned out to be hard work.

We continued the walk, did some shopping and people watching before calling it a morning and heading back home. We did make an additional stop at Mesquite Bay. The dock was full of fisherman, trying to catch the big bass on their beds. Pretty huge bass! All in all a nice day. Clear skies.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Laughlin and Bullhead Cities

We have been quiet for the past week and it's time for an update. The reason for the quiet is that we have been working on the fifth wheel, preparing it for our trip to the wilds of Wyoming. What that means is that we are adding more battery storage i.e. a bank of batteries.

There are lots of ways to do this. One is to add 2 deep cycle 12 volt batteries, in parellel. Another is to add two or four golf cart batteries. The golf cart batteries are 6 volt and so if you add them you need to hook them up in series, so you get 12 volts. We decided to go the golf cart battery route as the golf cart batteries are supposed to last longer than regular deep cycle batteries,(I have talked and seen two rigs set up with the golf cart batteries and the owners are vocal in their endorsement of this method).

So the first step was to go to the Sams Club in Bullhead City. The trip was 70 miles, north and then west through Needles, California. Finally North from there to Laughlin, Nevada, before crossing the Colorado River into Bullhead City. We were not impressed as the towns seem to be built simply for irrigation, agriculture, and the casinos,(I keep thinking about what will happen when Wyoming starts to use its 2 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River. How will Arizona keep going when it dries up..).

Anyway, we got there and went to the Sams Club, bought the batteries and headed home, after eating a lunch at Chilis. On the way back we drove on the Arizina side till Needles and then on interstate 40 and Arizona 95. As we drove I kept thinking about the desert and how tough it must have been to survive. The Mojave is the most desolate of the four deserts we have been in, buts that's for another blog.

So we are home now and working on the battery bank. We installed a switch last night and today the batteries get hooked up. The switch allows us to choose which of the batery banks to use, so we will have backup power. Keep your fingers crossed! Clear skies.