Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017 Road Trip Summary

We got back to home base the very end of October and have been busy doing "stuff". This has not included hiking as I'm trying to get my cardio and knee into shape. I'm really close so I'm expecting January and February, prime hiking in AZ, to be filled with lots of good hikes.

Now it's time for the annual Road Trip Summary. The highlight, of course, was spending lots of time with the grandchildren. We did, of course, enjoy the intermixed sightseeing as logged here. The fifth wheel logged about 4,650 miles on this trek and the truck not much more. We drove the car separately on this one because we knew we were going to be doing a lot of driving between stops and the big truck isn't ideal for that. As predicted, we put 13,000 miles on the car so that means we saved driving the "big beast" 8,000 miles. We visited 29 National Park Service sites (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites, Reserves, etc) and toured 3 state Capitols. It was a very fun and memorable trip.

Here is the annual map. This is now year 3 on this one. Follow the orange line starting in Phoenix, over to California and up. If you are curious, scroll down the blog to the 2014 year end summary for the previous 5 years route map. Remember, you can always click on pictures to see them larger.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Navajo National Monument and Page, AZ area

Navajo National Monument -
Betatakin Ruins from overlook
Navajo National Monument - view
on trail to ruins overlook
As we drove from Aztec, NM to Page, AZ for our next base camp, we stopped at Navajo National Monument. This monument protects three villages of the ancestral Puebloans. One is the Betatakin cliff dwelling that was occupied from about 1250 to 1300. This can only be seen close-up  by guided tour, otherwise, you hike 1.3 mile round-trip to an overlook and look far down into the canyon - bring binoculars! One site is not open to the public and the third, Keet Seel, is accessed only via another guided tour that requires a strenuous 17 mile round-trip hike. Keet Seel is one of the best preserved ruins in the southwest and the pictures certainly show that. I may need to get back and commit to that hike. We, like most people, only did the overlook of Betatakin but the views on the hike, and of the dwelling are fantastic. The visitor center is small with a few basic exhibits and three films. We are glad we made the 18 mile (round-trip) side trip to the monument. 
Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon
In the Page, AZ area we did some close sights. First we did a tour to Antelope Canyon. This is on Navajo land and is only accessible via a guided tour (we used Antelope Slot Canyon Tours and were pleased). There are a number of companies that do tours so it is a busy place - be prepared for a crowd. The canyon is wonderful, even on an overcast day. It is amazing how it may seem a little dark in the slot but, if you angle the camera right, you can get some cool pictures.
Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

The next day we went to a couple areas in the Glen Canyon National Recreation AreaHorseshoe Bend is just a few miles south of Page. You hike 1.5 miles, round-trip, up and down a hill to the river's edge for a spectacular view of Horseshoe Bend, an extended meander. We drove to the north side of town to an overlook of Glen Canyon Dam and then to a road, before crossing the dam, that goes north along Lake Powell to a parking area where you can walk on the sandstone and get a great view (see pic). This is a great place to just wander around and enjoy the view. 

Horseshoe Bend

Lake Powell 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chaco Culture Historical Park

Pueblo Bonito - part of it, it is too
big for a simple picture
There is a place that has been on the radar for many years. We were in the area a few years ago but couldn't make the day trip down for some reason, I don't remember why, so this was a specific target this year. Once again there was a question because the road was closed a week before our planned visit but fortunately it was reopened in time.  The place - Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site, in northwest New Mexico. Yes, this is out of the way and, coming from the north, the last 10 miles are very rough (longer coming from the south) but man, is it worth it. This is the premiere ancestral Pueblo people site and we were not disappointed. The visitor center is small but the film is fantastic. Watch it before heading out on the nine mile loop road to see the different pueblos.
Pueblo Bonito looking down from
the bluff

Pueblo Del Arroyo from bluff
There is a variety of restoration at the various pueblo stops. Some had significant restoration during the archaeology work in the 1920's but now the park service has a "stabilize only" philosophy so no such efforts are done any longer. If you can do it, take one of the hikes to the top of the bluff and look down to get a great view of the pueblos. I did the one to Pueblo Alta and got great looks down on three pueblos. This hike was, for me, very special as it went up one of the creative Chacoan Roads through a narrow crevice in the bluff to the plateau, then a very easy hike along the plateau followed by a (mostly) gentle hike to the pueblo complex at the top of the next level. Walking where the Chacoan people did a thousand years ago is awesome, to me anyway.
Casa Rinconada Community kiva

FYI - you can see the New Alto ruin way up on the opposite bluff from the kiva at the Casa Rinconada.

We stayed in an RV park in Aztec, NM an easy walk to the Aztec Ruins National Monument which is another great site for ancestral Pueblo people structures. We visited this site three years ago and loved it. Now, after seeing more ruins at various places, we decided to visit again since it is so close. We agree this is one of the best sites for ruins because of fantastic exhibits in the visitor center that other sites don't have, the condition of the structures, uniqueness of the structures, and they have a completely restored large kiva that gives a perspective you cannot get anywhere else. This is a must visit for anyone interested in ancient ruins. BTW, the name Aztec is a mistaken name given by Spanish explorers that just stuck.

Hint: anytime you go to a National Park Service location (park, monument, historical site, etc.) be sure to ask if they have a film/video/movie. They usually do and they are usually very good.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Southeast Utah

Bluffs on north side of town. They
are on three sides of town, thus
the town name.
We moved almost straight south to southeast Utah and made the tiny town of Bluff our base for a week. We stayed close for a day to
Bluff pioneer cemetery on north hill
recover from a long day on the road the day before, going over two mountain passes, and chose to just walk around Bluff. We discovered several streets with some awesome old stone homes, a cemetery with tombstones going back as far as the original pioneers, and Bluff Fort and Visitor Center that has a great film about the journey of the settlers that founded the town. The Fort has replica log cabins along with one that was built by the original settlers in the 1880s. We were pleasantly surprised to find such treasures.

Hovenweep NM - view across
canyon to several ruins. Twin Towers,
Eroded Boulder and Rim Rock House
Square Tower
Our first day trip in the area was to see ruins at Hovenweep National Monument. If I were to  summarize that experience in one word it would be spectacular. The reason being is the ruins date back to the 1200s AD and are in amazing condition. The precision workmanship by the ancestral Pueblo people was amazing. The film in the visitor center is outstanding also.

Hovenweep Castle
From Hovenweep NM we intended to see ruins in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument also but everything we read said to go to the Visitor Center in Dolores, CO, which is part of the Anasazi Heritage Center, to find out how to get to the ruins. This was an hour drive, through the Canyons of the Ancients, and we found out once we got to the Visitor Center we had driven right by some of the ruins. By the time we checked out the museum and ate a very late lunch, we didn't feel like backtracking on the slow roads to the ruins which would also put us on the slow road home. The museum (Anasazi Heritage Center) is very good with lots of artifacts and outside there is a half mile walk to a ruin and great views.

Seven Sailors at Valley of the Gods
Valley of the Gods - Battleship Rock
Our next day trip was to the Valley of the Gods which is about 15 miles southwest of Bluff. This is touted by locals as just as good as Monument Valley. It is a valley with a 17 mile very rough dirt road that goes through it to view rock formations. Only a few formations are as interesting as Monument Valley and the road is much worse so we don't agree with the locals. Personally, I wouldn't send someone to do this drive. FYI, I would, however, send someone on one of the tours of Monument Valley that leave Gouldings Lodge and are done by a Native Navajo. We did one a couple years ago and it was amazing.  
Valley of the Gods

Goosenecks State Park - Goosenecks
panoramic pic
We stopped at Goosenecks State Park which is just a few miles from the Valley of the Gods. It is just a little viewing spot of a very unusual section of the San Juan River called the Goosenecks. The Goosenecks are an "entrenched river meander" where the river advances only 1.5 miles over a distance of six miles in a one thousand foot deep canyon which took 300 million years to create. If you are driving by it's worth a stop. 

Natural Bridges NP - Sipapu Bridge
Natural Bridges NP - Kachina Bridge
The next day we were off again for the day. This time we went to Natural Bridges National Monument which has three natural bridges within a few miles of each other. There is a nine mile loop drive along the top of a canyon that offers views of each bridge from overlooks and there are also optional hikes down the canyon. At each stop you may choose to hike down and through the canyon to view each bridge from the bottom. Another stop on the loop is to see a small ruin at the bottom of the canyon that is viewable from above after a pretty easy hike of three tenths of a mile. The visitor center has exhibits and a 10 minute film which are both very good. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and gave thanks to Teddy (Roosevelt), once again, for preserving more of natures wonders. 
Natural Bridges NP - Owachomo Bridge

On our last day we made a short 2.5 mile drive on south US 191 to the Sand Island Petroglyphs. This is a huge panel of rock art, estimated at 100 yards long, has hundreds of images estimated to be between 300 and 3000 years old. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and well worth a stop. This is an access point to the San Juan River so you can check it out while you are there.

Sand Island Petroglyphs - one small

Sand Island Petroglyphs - one small

Sand Island Petroglyphs - one small

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More Northern Utah

Utah State Capitol
View from Capitol
Our next stop was to tour the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. This one is on a hill with a great view of the city and mountains from the top of the steps. The inside is very pretty with a combination of white/grey marble, murals and subtle paint. The House and Senate chambers have classic wooden desks with nice subtle decorating. Another very nice Capitol. 
Utah State Capitol Rotunda 
We had planned on going to Timpanogos Cave NM next but it was closed due to the trail to the cave being washed out. We'll keep it on the list for another time. This freed up a day to do chores which ended up filling the day so it worked out well.

Utah State Capitol House Chamber
We moved on to the east side of the state and made Vernal, UT our base for a week. The drive from Provo up Provo Canyon (Hwy 189) and then east on US 40 was yet another beautiful drive in Utah. This state is, arguably (you have to say that, right?), the most beautiful state of the contiguous forty-eight.

The first visit near Vernal was to Dinosaur National Monument. The main attraction at this site is the Quarry Exhibit Hall where they have built a large building over a rock wall with 1,500 embedded fossils. You walk along the wall and marvel at the size and number of bones. There are both electronic aids
Fossil wall

Fossil wall

Sound of Silence Trail

Sound of Silence Trail view
and paper maps to identify what type of dinosaur to which a particular bone, or set of bones, belonged. There are also displays about the discovery of the bones, the archaeological digs, and where full dinosaur skeletons, removed from the area, are being displayed around the world. This is a very impressive place. Additionally there is an auto tour to some petroglyphs and other things with trails to hike along the way.

Utah Field House - Diplodocus
There is another great attraction that is right in Vernal. It is the Utah Field House of Natural History. This museum has great exhibits of fossils with good explanations for each. There is a nice film about archaeological digs in the area. There is a fun dinosaur garden outside with a lot of life size prehistoric animals. This is a wonderful place for a cheap price.  
Utah Field House - Stegosaurus

Utah Field House - Dolichorhinus
 Our next day trip was to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area which is about an hour north of Vernal. The recreation area runs north into Wyoming along the Green River which has a dam to create a very long, narrow reservoir. We spent about three hours along the southern (Utah) part of the recreation area seeing Red Canyon, the Sheep Creek Geological Loop and then over to the dam. This is a beautiful area and the drive from Vernal on US 191 is pretty also.  
Flaming Gorge Rec Area - Red Canyon

Flaming Gorge Rec Area - Sheep
Creek Geological Loop

Flaming Gorge Rec Area - Sheep
Creek Geological Loop

Flaming Gorge Rec Area - Sheep
Creek Overlook

We took a fairly short drive from Vernal to the McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs. There is an unimproved trail, fairly tough, to some 1500 year old petroglyphs. 
Ancient Art at McConkie Ranch

Ancient Art at McConkie Ranch

Ancient Art at McConkie Ranch

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Golden Spike National Historic Site, UT

We are working our way south and finally making it to a site we've seen the signs for a few times before. As a kid I remember the story of the building of the first transcontinental railroad and the
Site of Promontory and the meeting
of the tracks

Site of the last tie and golden spike
driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory. I remember being impressed by the story so this was one of those places that I had to stop at this time through the area.

Golden Spike National Historic Site brings to life the amazing accomplishment of building a railroad across country without aid of modern equipment. Using picks, shovels, hand carts, horse drawn scrapers, black powder and a workforce of over 10,000 men they built the 1,776 mile railroad. Ok, that summary is why it was so fascinating to me. There is a small exhibit room and a great film at the visitor center that should make it fascinating to anyone.

At this historic site you don't see the original ties, tracks and spikes. They were reclaimed/recycled for the war effort. However, you do see original railroad grades across the Promontory Mountains. You can actually drive on part of the grade to get a bit of an appreciation of what can be done by hand. It doesn't match the effort of blasting 15 tunnels across the Sierra Nevada Mountains where they made progress at only inches per day, but at least we get to see some of the work that was done.

A low cut along the
East Auto Tour loop

A low cut along the
East Auto Tour loop. Piles of rock
dug out.

A section along the East Auto
Tour loop. On the original grade.