On our way back from the Needles Overlook I saw what I took to be some small buildings at the base of a large rock formation. We were some distance from it and so it was hard to be sure, but I set my camera on 10x zoom and took a couple of photos.
When I got a close look at the photos the next day, I was surprised by both the number and the size of the houses.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?).