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.

We drove along next to Mesa Verde (which was green on top in contrast to the dried desert below, hence its name) and about 5 miles before we made the turn towards Four Corners, there was this butte sticking out from the mesa  that was rather spectacular.

Right next to the butte (which was unnamed) there was another rock formation which is called Squaw Rock.  The little rock next to it was unnamed although I’m surprised that somebody didn’t name it something goofy like Papoose Rock.

Squaw Rock

And just as we made the turn off the main road towards Four Corners, there was Chimney Rock.

Chimney Rock

And finally, while on the side road to Four Corners, off in the distance south of us was Shiprock Rock (although that seems redundant, that’s what’s on the maps).

Shiprock Rock was 25 miles away at the time which gives you some idea of how tall it must be.

So Four Corners itself wasn’t a big deal, although Susan got a nice necklace and we got some nice artwork for our casita, but the scenery was more than worth the trip.

We’d give Four Corners a C+ for handicap accessibility.  There was handicap parking, but it was on rocks and gravel and getting Susan from the car to the Monument’s plaza was a bumpy ride that took a bit of effort.  There was no trouble with Susan’s wheelchair in the plaza, so that was a plus.  There was a set of handicap accessible bathrooms, which I will give them credit for, but they were off to one side down a hill and we had to traverse the rocks and gravel to get there.


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.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri

We’re camped in St. Simon, Missouri, about a 20 mile drive to St. Louis.  On Tuesday we drove into town to see the Gateway Arch.  They were doing a lot of road work and for this reason the usual directions to it didn’t work.  It took us a while to get next to it and then to find parking and then to walk over to it.

The Arch is right next to the Mississippi River and is very dramatic.  We first came up to it from the northern side (after huffing and puffing to get Susan’s wheelchair up a very steep hill on a cobblestone road).

It was more dramatic up close.

And dramatic looking up from the center towards the sky.

The visitor center was undergoing renovation and the museum associated with the Gateway Arch was closed so other than walking around and under the arch there wasn’t much for us to do.  There is an observation deck across the top of the arch and a tram/elevator that gets you there.  Neither Susan nor I are terribly fond of heights so we turned that down.

Despite the fact that there were ramps down to the waterfront I’d have to give it a C- at best for handicap accessibility.  The ramps were steep and there were no pauses along the way. Without assistance there’s no way that anybody in a wheelchair could get from the waterfront to the Arch by themselves.  Ditto on getting down.  Because of the renovations there were no restrooms, only porta potties, and there was at least one handicap accessible one, so I’ll give them some kudos for that.

The Gateway arch is very dramatic and worth a visit if you’re in the area.  Once the renovations are done it’ll probably be worth a visit even more.  We’re not sorry we went and I certainly got my share of exercise for the day getting Susan to and from it.  One recommendation is to locate the Gateway Arch on a map first so you have a good idea where you’re going and not to depend so much on the signage since the signage is misleading.

I will also add that we saw this sign several times while driving and trying to find the base of the Gateway Arch.

We didn’t actually see anybody “aggressively begging” in St. Louis while we were driving through it, but this is a phenomenon we see all over the country (although more in the southern cities in the winter than otherwise).  During the winter In Tucson it’s hard to drive any distance without seeing somebody or several somebodies at an intersection with signs asking for money.  I can’t say whether there really are more people who are truly down and out or whether this has become an accepted a way for some of them to eke out a living.

I’ve had mixed experiences with this.  In particular when commuting in Boston there were several “beggars” who had staked out their particular territories and I remember one who “owned” a spot in the Back Bay T station pulling out his IPhone once and chatting with somebody about his weekend party plans.  A nurse friend of ours who worked with the disadvantaged in San Francisco said that 95% of the men and 90% of the women panhandling have a drug habit and whatever you give them goes to support that habit.  I can’t say whether or not that’s true, although it’s certainly plausible, but I will say that if and when a person drops off the financial edge into poverty and homelessness for whatever reason there is no easy way back.  I don’t have any kind of an answer for this phenomenon and can only comment that it appears to be occurring across the country in all of the cities that we’ve visited.


Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the Art part

As I already mentioned, we didn’t realize that the Carnegie Museum of Art shared the same building(s) as the Museum of Natural History so we weren’t really prepared for it.  The Museum of Art has pretty much the entire second floor of the Museum complex.  What was immediately striking, were the art nouveau murals around the second floor lobby we saw as soon as we got off the elevator.

A couple of the murals around the lobby on the second floor
Another mural around the second floor lobby
Another mural from around the second floor lobby
Wall of murals from around the second floor lobby

Continue reading Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the Art part

Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the architecture part

When we came to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History we didn’t know that it shared a building (buildings?) withe the Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture.  We had already gone through the Natural History museum by the time the fire alarm sounded and we had to evacuate so afterwards we went through at least part of the Museum of Art and Architecture.

The arrangement is a little odd, since the Museum of Architecture is mostly on the same floor as the Museum of Natural History.  It also isn’t so much about architecture but about architectural elements across the ages.

Medieval Frieze from a church

There was some attempt to place the exhibits in chronological order but there were also several doors you can enter from so where you start in history is somewhat left to chance.

Medieval Balcony from a church

Continue reading Carnegie Museum of Art and Architecture, the architecture part