Needles Overlook

If you’re in the Moab or Monticello area of southeastern Utah the Needles Overlook is a must-see.  It’s not well marked but about halfway between Moab and Monticello on route 191 there’s a turnoff to Needles Overlook. From there it’s about a 20 mile drive up a two-lane asphalt road that was slightly bumpy but otherwise in fairly good shape to the Overlook.  Most of the drive was through sage brush, Juniper trees and Pinyon pines with numerous rock formations, some more interesting than others.

About 5 miles before we reached the Overlook, we got our first glimpse of the canyons of Canyonlands.

Needles Outlook is on a promontory peninsula and is perfectly situated to give an absolutely spectacular view of both Needles and Islands in the Sky.  Looking north, we could see where we had been a couple of days ago in the Islands of the Sky.

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Canyonlands, Islands in the Sky

We are staying in Moab, Utah, mostly so we can see Canyonlands again.  Three years ago we visited the Needles section of Canyonlands and were completely awestruck.  We didn’t have the time to see any other parts of Canyonlands so this time we started with the northeastern section, Islands in the sky.  If we have the time we will probably visit Needles again.

What we saw this time was why it is called Canyonlands in the first place.  Needles has all sorts of bizarre and tortured rock formations, and we did travel through canyons to get to it, but we didn’t see any canyons in Needles.  Islands in the Sky is all about the canyons.

We started, though, by a steep climb with several switchbacks, up a rock-walled canyon. From the first viewing area we could see The Monitor and the Merrimac, two rock formations on top of the canyon walls.

The Monitor and the Merrimac

The drive the rest of the way to the park was interesting, but it wasn’t until we got near the park’s Visitor’s Center that we really started to see the canyons.  Across the road from the Visitor’s center there was a viewing area next to the cliffs.

Canyon walls seen from near the Visitor’s Center

None of these formations had any names that we could tell.  Most of the placards at the viewing areas were about the ecosystem and the need to care for the park and did not name anything.

Following the road further into the park there were frequent viewing areas, but the Buck Canyon Overlook was the first viewing area that had a handicap accessible path and Susan was able to join me in looking at the scenery.

Looking north to a solitary butte at Buck Canyon Overlook

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Ship Rock

We’ve seen Ship Rock from a distance.  Once when we were on the road to Four Corners and more recently from the top of Mesa Verde.  Both times we were quite a distance away (25 miles or more) and we didn’t get more than a hazy view of it.

Yesterday we took a drive down to Ship Rock in order to get a better look at it.  Ship Rock is southwest of the town of Shiprock and is about 1600 feet high (the peak is at an altitude of 7200 feet and the altitude of the surrounding land is around 5600 feet).

Ship Rock is the remains of a 27 million year-old volcano and is what’s left of the lava that was in its throat.  The rest of the volcano has long since eroded away.  Interestingly, although it is a prominent landmark we never once saw a sign for it.  I checked with Google Maps and took the road that was closest to it.  The road was on the southern side of Ship Rock and as far as I can tell there is no way to get to the base of it that isn’t on private or Navajo reservation land.  Ship Rock is sacred to the Navajo and is present in a number of their myths and legends.  Access to Ship Rock was banned in 1970 following a rock climber’s death and there is a council of the local Navajo that works to keep it un-molested.

So we got some good photographs and had a nice ride but this is the closest we could get to it.

Re-visiting Mesa Verde

We’d last been to Mesa Verde three years ago and had driven 80 miles from Monticello, Utah to do so.  We never had a chance to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum which is 20 miles inside the park because when we got there the parking lot was full and they weren’t letting anyone in.  We still had a nice tour of the archaeological sites along the loop drives however, so it wasn’t a wasted visit.

This time we’re staying in Cortez, Colorado, about 10 miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde park and this time there was plenty of parking at the Museum.  Unfortunately, I’m also not sure it was worth the trip if all we were going to do was visit the Museum.  This is because the Museum had been built by the CCC in the 1930’s and handicap accessibility was not on their to-do list.  We were able to get into part of the Museum and see a film about Mesa Verde, but most of the exhibit halls could only be reached by stairs, and only one had a ramp leading to it, so Susan didn’t get to see very much, at least of the museum.

The museum however, was built right next to one of the major archaeological sites, Spruce Tree House, and there was a good view of it on the walkways outside the museum.

The central part of Spruce Tree House
Wider angle view of Spruce Tree House

The museum is close to the far end of Mesa Verde, and we’d already been on the loop drives, so we headed back towards the entrance of the park but that was only so we could take Wetherill Mesa drive.  Along the way we stopped at Cedar Tree Tower, which isn’t very intact, but does show that these structures were built in many different locations around Mesa Verde.

Cedar Tree Tower

A short distance down the road was the Far View Settlement, which consisted of two very large structures; Far View House and Pipe Shrine House.

Far View House

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Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument is about 45 miles from where we’re staying in Cortez, Colorado.  It is just across the border in Utah, and on the other side of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.   There are about a half a dozen ruins of what used to be Anasazi villages inside of Hovenweep.  A cluster of stone structures is just a short distance away from the park headquarters, arranged around the head of a canyon.

Square Tower Group

The reason they were built remains unknown.  As best as archaeologists can figure out they were all built within a short time span around 1150 AD and then abandoned shortly thereafter when the Puebloan indians all migrated to the Rio Grand area of New Mexico.

Twin Towers

It’s been speculated that they were defensive structures, since in many cases there are no ground floor entrances and the windows, such as they are, are narrow slits.

Remains of a building

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Four Corners

We’re parked in Cortez, Colorado and only about 45 miles from the Four Corners Monument, so how could we not go?  Four Corners is southeast of Cortez and although it’s all two-lane highways the speed limit was 65 MPH most of the way so it didn’t take all that long to get there.

The Four Corners monument is on Navajo Land and we had to pay $10 for the two of us to get in.  The actual monument is a square concrete courtyard or plaza with a set of bronze disks set in the middle.  I placed Susan on top of the center disk, so here she is, in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, all at the same time.

Somebody nearby offered to take a photo of the both of us, so here are the two of us in four states at once.

The Monument is surrounded by Navajo stalls selling jewelry, pottery and T-shirts.  We wandered around and Susan got a turquoise necklace to go along with her earrings.  One stall had traditional sand paintings on rock tiles and we bought a large one to display on one of the walls in our casita in Benson.

Really though, it was the scenery to and from Four Corners that made the trip worthwhile. First sighted was East Toe Rock.

East Toe Rock

East Toe Rock is on the southeastern slope of Ute Mountain.  The Ute actually call it Sleeping Ute Mountain and when we were working our way up the hill to the Escalante Pueblo, there was a placard that showed why they thought that.  From a certain angle, Ute Mountain does look like somebody sleeping.  Of course, East Toe Rock is where that person’s foot would be.

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We meet up with Kevin and Chris in Cortez

The reason that we’re in Cortez, Colorado is that my youngest brother, Kevin said that he and Chris (Ingebritsen, Karen’s brother) would be there on a motorcycle trip around July 14th and it would be nice if we could get together.  Their plans got moved forward a couple of days, so they didn’t arrive in Cortez until Sunday the 16th.

Motorcycling is Kevin’s passion and he and Chris are taking a three week tour of the Rockies, more or less following the Continental Divide.  Kevin dropped by and we got caught up with each other on Sunday evening.  Cortez is actually they’re starting point and both Kevin and Chris came by for coffee the next morning on their way up 145 to Telluride.

From Telluride they’re planning on following any number of dirt roads as they work their way north.  Susan and I wish them well but overall, we much prefer traveling in a motor home.

Anasazi Heritage Center

After trekking up to Escalente Pueblo and back, we visited the Anasazi Heritage Center.  We happened to get there about the time that a film about the Center and the archaeology in the area started.  Many of the artifacts at the Center were found when the McPhee Reservoir was being built in the 1980’s.  At that time a number of archaeologists came and “rescued” artifacts as fast as possible before the pipes were laid, the dam constructed and the reservoir was flooded.

The museum isn’t overly large and had a movie theater, one large exhibit hall and one small exhibit hall, a meeting room and a gift shop (of course).  One small exhibit room was devoted to the earliest archaeologists in the area, in particular the Wetherill family who “discovered” the Anasazi dwellings on Mesa Verde in the late 1880’s.  The looting of artifacts from Mesa Verde was instrumental in getting the National Antiquities Act passed and Mesa Verde declared a national monument in 1906.

The larger room was filled with display cases of the Anasazi artifacts found in the area.

Pottery at the Anasazi Heritage Center
Spoons and Ladles
More pottery display cases
Not everything was pottery!

The walls of both exhibit halls were lined with photos of the local inhabitants from over a century ago that had been blown up to at least 10 x 10 feet each.

As I mentioned the Center isn’t overly large and even dawdling a bit, it didn’t take long to see everything there.  We’re enjoyed our visit, however, and it’s one of the better small museums we’ve been to.

We’d give the Anasazi Heritage Center an B+ for handicap accessibility.  There was a ramp leading from the parking lot to the front door, which was opened by a push button, but without a railing.  The inside of the Center was almost entirely level so getting around was easy.  There was an exhibit set in the floor of the main exhibit room that was reached by stairs but there was a also wheelchair elevator that would have let Susan get to it if we had decided to do that.  The movie theater was sloped and there was no space set aside for wheelchairs and no railing along the wall.  The lack of railings inside and outside are the only reasons the Center did not get an A rating from us.

Escalante Pueblo

We visited the Anasazi Heritage Center yesterday which is just a few miles up the road from us and near Dolores, Colorado.  While wheeling Susan up the ramp towards the Center we passed a sign that said “Escalante Pueblo 1/2 Mile” with an arrow pointing to the left. Sounded interesting and there was a concrete pathway so how hard could it be?

A lot harder than I expected.  The path was uphill all the way and we’re at about 6400 feet in altitude.  At least that’s my excuse.  I huffed and puffed all the way up and had to stop several times to rest and get my breath back before being able to continue.

Susan at one of the path’s switchbacks

Escalente Pueblo sits on top of the hill.  It was named for the Franciscan leader of an expedition to the area in 1776 and and it had long since been abandoned when they found it.  It has since been dated to about 1120 AD.  The Pueblo has been “stabilized” since (many of the stones have been re-set and re-mortared) and there was a group of people at the top learning how to take archaeological photographs.  It wasn’t overly large but it still probably took a great deal of work to build it.  The craftsmanship (which hopefully reflects the early builders and not the later restorers) was better than we expected.

Looking west across Escalente Pueblo
Looking south across Escalente Pueblo

Going back down was, of course, a lot easier than going up.  It was a sunny, hot day and we’re glad we brought along water.  We each still got a bit of a sunburn and Susan needs to remember to bring a hat any time we’re going to be outdoors for any length of time.

Getting up and down was a bit of work.  Given that there were no handrails I’d say it would be difficult for anybody in a wheelchair to make the trip by themselves.  There were many benches and wheelchair cutouts along the way though (even though none of them were in shade when we were there) so for a handicap accessible outdoor path going uphill it was about as well constructed as it could be.   We’re glad we made the effort since it was an interesting site and there were numerous placards along the way highlighting the local vegetation and its uses.