Monthly Archives: July 2017

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.

Continue reading Four Corners

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.

Dolores River Canyon

We are currently parked at a RV campground in Cortez, Colorado.  The Dolores River is nearby and originates in the Rockies.  Route 145 follows the Dolores River Canyon, and eventually all the way to Telluride.  Route 145 is at about 6400 feet altitude as you pass through the town of Dolores and rises steadily thereafter.  The canyon starts off relatively broad with shallow slopes that are sparsely populated with small trees but relatively quickly the rocks underneath start to show and the trees get taller.

The river was still fairly wide at this point.

As we continued to travel north on Route 145 the canyon narrowed and the walls got steeper.  Most notably the color of the rocks changed to red.

The trees became mostly pine and spruce and became tall enough that it was hard to see the walls of the canyon.  We still saw a lot of exposed rock and were able to find a few places to turn off and get a look at it.

We finally turned around at about 8200 feet of altitude, in part because it was getting dark and cloudy.  Overall it was an interesting and scenic drive and we’re glad we made it.

We passed several RV parks along the way and some looked inviting, at least for a short stay.  Trees would probably block our satellite dish and we were getting 1 bar of 1x cell coverage so we probably wouldn’t be able to stay too long (I still work on-line, remember?).


Mount Blanca

Mount Blanca. 14,344 feet high.  Still a small amount of snow and it’s the middle of July. Seen along Highway 160 while we were driving from Pueblo to South Fork, Colorado.

We took Highway 160 because it was the most direct route from Interstate 25 to Cortez, Colorado.  In retrospect we probably should have taken a more southerly route even if it was longer.  Route 160 reaches 9600 feet altitude before we reached Mount Blanca and Fort Garland.  We stayed in a campground near South Fork, at an altitude of 8400 feet.  The next day after we left the campground to head for Cortez we climbed to 10,800 feet  before we reached the pass.  It was slow driving up to the pass and necessarily slow driving down (7% grade! and the downhill speed limit posted for our motor home was 25 mph!).

I’ve told Susan to whack me upside the head if I ever suggest a “scenic route” for the motor home.  I thought we were taking the most direct route and although I looked at it relatively closely I didn’t realize just how high up we’d get while traveling it.

We broke down and we had to be towed

We were driving from Limon, Colorado to Fort Collins and had taken some back roads partly because there was an expensive toll road coming up we wanted to avoid and partly because we’d been driving exclusively on Interstate 70 since Missouri.

We got to Fort Lupton and got an error message on the motor home’s dashboard display that basically said stop the engine immediately.  I found a spot to pull over and the engine stopped before I could stop it.  We were blocking a business’s driveway and after a couple of minutes of sitting I was able to start the engine back up and limp into the back of their property.  I called Freightliner and they thought it was a coolant level problem.  I had some coolant and added it to the reservoir and we waited a half hour before we started the engine again.

Everything seemed okay so we pulled back out on the road only to find that the top speed we were able to reach was only 30 MPH.  I pulled over again as soon as there was an open spot and then looked up the closest Freightliner facility, which was Transwest in Brighton, Colorado.  I thought we could limp over there since it didn’t seem that far on Google maps (Google maps lied!).  We continued down the road but our top speed kept dropping until we were down to about 5 MPH.  Fortunately we were right next to a park with a large parking lot and we pulled in there and made arrangements for the motor home to be towed.

It took a couple of hour before the tow truck arrived, and a half hour of work for the driver to get our motor home attached.

It was an involved process that included him having to remove the drive shaft, lift and lower the front of the motor home a couple times to get the right adapters in place, remove the rear rock guard and put on some directional signals on the rear.

We then drove to the Transwest facility which turned out to be closer to 12 miles away, where the driver then spent another half hour unhooking us.

We spent Thursday night in the parking lot, and the next day they re-attached the drive shaft (it needed to be torqued so the tow truck driver couldn’t do it) and we backed up in front one the repair bays.  On Friday they identified what appeared to be the main problem and that was our Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) had failed.  They ordered a new one, but we had to wait over the weekend, until a new one was delivered on Monday.  Fortunately they let us live in our motor home over the weekend and it turned out to be the longest period we’ve dry-camped in it.  They replaced the DPF on Monday and it looked like we were good to go, but as we started to drive away again our max speed dropped to 30 MPH, so we returned.

They came out and ran diagnostics again and found that the pressure sensor for the DPF had failed, and they replaced it on the spot.  I again tried to leave, but still found our top speed limited to 30 MPH and returned again.  This time there was nothing in the computer diagnostics and it wasn’t until we tried revving the engine with the brake on that one of the techs noticed what was wrong.  There is an air intake tube that runs to a vent near the top of the motor home.  The air intake tube had fallen down and the end was being blocked and starving the engine of air. They re-attached the tube and strapped it in place so it wouldn’t fall down again and finally, we had speed back and were able to leave.

Fortunately on Saturday we were able to drive to Berthoud to visit our friends, Tom and Kathy, who were the reason we were in the area to begin with.  On Sunday, Tom and Kathy drove to us and took us on a tour of the region.  So despite the problems we had with our motor home, we were still able to have a good time.