Leaving Santa Fe we traveled diagonally northwest towards the Four Corners area: the spot where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah all meet. 275 miles from Santa Fe was the town of Cortez CO and it seemed like a good spot to stop for a few days before my reservations in Utah came up. We were on I25 for a short distance, then an astoundingly beautiful drive along US550 north-northwest to Durango CO. It was a good one/two lane highway all the way, no harsh passes to go over, just one smaller down pass as you head into Durango. It was wonderful being back in Colorado and seeing those mountains again! From Durango it's about another hour on US160 right into Cortez. We stayed at the Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA, and it was really nice. I had tried contacting two other campgrounds in the area, leaving messages about a reservation. Neither ever returned my message, and they were all in the same price range, so I went with the KOA and was very happy I did. We had a beautiful view of Mesa Verde from our big picture window, a beautiful mile long dog walk around a pond, and we were right next to a huge dog park run by the town. I can definitely recommend staying here if you are in the area. It had very clean laundry facilities, was close to a brand new CitiMarket grocery store (where once again we scored with Boarshead cold cuts and loaded up before leaving), and pretty close to the activities we had planned.
Our first day there we headed to the Anasazi Heritage Center located just south of Dolores CO.
The Anasazi Heritage Center houses a wonderful museum, teeming with exhibits and demonstrations of the life of the Ancestral Puebloan people found through meticulous excavation all throughout the Four Corners area.
There is also a traveling exhibit hall, and the presentation right now is on the mountain lion. It, too, was very interesting, especially the video on how to protect yourself if you find yourself being stalked by one!
This building is also headquarters for one of the newer National Monuments, Canyons of the Ancients. This park is pretty much undeveloped, being run as an "outdoor museum concept". This allows visitors to experience cultural and natural resources through self-discovery. The park's sites are pretty far apart, and there are no facilities and very few interpretive materials. There are roads between the sites, but they are gravel and/or dirt.
Our first stop was 28 miles from the Anasazi Cultural Center, Lowry Pueblo.
Lowry Pueblo is a 1,000 year old Ancestral Puebloan village that is named after the homesteader who found it in the early 20th century, George Lowry.
Lowry Pueblo is a bit difficult to photograph, as the main portion of the dwelling has been covered by a roof, protecting it from further deterioration.
Our next destination was Painted Hand Pueblo, about 30 miles away from Lowry Pueblo. Along the route we had good views of Sleeping Ute Mountain, the subject of Ute Indian legend.
Painted Hand Pueblo turned into our more interesting part of the day. The pueblo was down below the rim of the cliff. It was a short hike to this point, and then it seemed like the direction sign was pointing for us to go straight down....I don't think so!
Al scouted around a bit and found the trail leading down further up the rim. There was still some rock scrambling to do, but at least not vertically down the cliff :-).
The tower building from below, rather than looking down on it.
The overhang in which they feel the main living area was in...
and the feature that gives the name to the pueblo...can you see the two blue-outlined hand prints?
After climbing back up to the rim, we headed down the road another 30 miles to Hovenweep National Monument.
Casey and Honey like the National Monuments, where they are usually allowed to join us on the trails, much better than the National Parks.
We hiked the 2 mile rim trail to view the Square Tower group of buildings.
There are several ancient pueblo buildings here....I captured four different ones in this picture.
Many dwellings stand right on the canyon rim and others were actually built on top of isolated or irregular boulders, like the structure above. Not a practical site for safety or access! Most of these locations are located near springs and seeps and suggest the Ancestral Puebloans were protecting their water sources.
Resting in the shade before beginning our descent 100 feet down to the canyon floor...
and then back up to the Visitor Center. It was an interesting day of exploration, and gathered two more stamps in the National Park passport!
The next day, the day before winter storm Zephyr was forecast to hit the area, we visited Mesa Verde National Park. We had visited this park for the first time in 2012 while spending the summer in Colorado, but there were a couple of things we missed, being time-constrained because we had to put the dogs in doggie daycare in Durango for our visit. Since then, the new Visitor's Center has opened, and it is just beautiful.
Spruce Tree House, the best-preserved cliff dwelling on site is a self-guided walking tour that we missed on our previous visit. Round-trip distance is short, about 1/2 mile, but steep.
The alcove is 216 feet long and 89 feet deep, housed 120 rooms, 10 associated ledge rooms, 8 kivas and two towers.. The estimated population is thought to be 60-90 people, comprising 19 separate families.
Spruce Tree House is considered the best preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, with many intact walls and roofs, wooden beams and plastered walls. The entire complex is original construction from the AD 1200's with the exception of the central portion of the two-story wall behind this kiva. It had partially collapsed into the kiva, and excavation and stabilization efforts in 1908 replaced the fallen section to prevent further collapse.
Two other areas we explored this day were the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and the Far View Sites. After that we headed back down the mesa ( it's a 21-mile drive up the mesa from the Visitor's Center entrance to the first of the exhibits.)
Sunday was a hunker down day; it was supposed to be cold, windy, rainy with the possibility of snow showers. Although it was far better than the several inches of snow forecast for areas immediately north of us, it didn't sound great for going out and doing anything! It was actually quite productive, as we got laundry and shopping done, stocked up for our week coming up in Torrey UT (no close facilities for any type of major grocery shopping), and did some cooking as well: soup, homemade tomato sauce and some pre-cooked meals. Al watched some golf, and then we watched the newest Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug.
Monday's weather still wasn't fantastic, but we decided to take a hike in Sand Canyon, the last section of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It started out cloudy, but the sun finally broke through.
The scenery was beautiful, and here's another cliff dwelling for your viewing pleasure!
As we hiked, I found what I believe to be yucca plants in different stages of bloom. In fact, the amount of wildflowers here in the desert has amazed me.
The cactus is all starting to bloom as well.
The scenery was just amazing. The entire hike, one way, is 6 miles. We did not do that :-). In speaking to people it was recommended if you have two vehicles to park one at the trail head we started at, then drive to the trail head at the north end. Then it's a 6 mile hike, BUT it is mostly all downhill, which is a much better direction to be going :-).
I know this was long, and I appreciate the perseverance of anyone who slogged through to the end. This brought to an end our stay in Cortez, and we headed out Tuesday morning towards Torrey Utah. It was an easy ride up US 491 to US 191. As we headed towards Moab the red rock scenery became drop dead beautiful! After a short journey on I70 (why oh why are the Interstates so much nicer out here than in the East??), we exited onto Hwy. 24 to Torrey. It was one point so far where I have regretted driving behind; it was hard to pay attention to the road when your head is swiveling trying to take it all in! And that, my dear readers, will be the subject of my next chapter.