Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park

Just over an hour's drive from the motel I'm staying in in Farmington, NM across the Colorado state line, lies a small national park that I'd never heard of. Mesa Verde means Green Table. So I was sort of expecting to see a big flat topped mountain covered in flora. And that was one of the first things I saw.

But I wasn't prepared to drive up to it and see all of the fall colors covering miles and miles of mountains.


It quickly became clear that there was a theme to this park. Dwellings. People lived in the rocks.


And I loved the big, dark vertical markings in the rock that seemed to be stained on somehow rather than part of the make up of the rock. 
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This park was not a rugged, outdoorsy park. This was not for camping and hiking. This park was more about driving to a site, parking, walking a few feet down the designated path to the designated viewing area, getting back in the car and driving a few miles to the next one.  So I couldn't go see most of the stuff because of the whole no dogs on the trails situation. It was very popular with the older and invalid crowd. It was quite busy, actually and I don't think I had a moment to myself all day, outside of my car.

River was remarkably calm. I was so proud of him. And at one point, when we ventured onto an empty trail to get a good view of the Cliff Palace, we walked around the corner and stumbled into a throng of people, one of which was a bowlegged rancher sauntering in our direction. I calmly said, 'let's go back this way' before River could react to this archetypal trigger. I left the leash loose so River could follow along with my change of direction in his own time. As we walked back up toward the direction of the car, River sniffed a few plants but never got more than six feet from me. Without being asked, he fell in line right at my right heel. He never does that. Not even usually when I ask him to! And I'd literally spent two years trying to get him to do that, using two ineffective methods. But now, not only did he fall into a heel, but he looked up at me with a big tongue flapping grin as he walked right along with me. It lasted almost a full thirty seconds and it was awesome. And then another bush....
The park started at about 7000 feet elevation and climbed to over 8200. The part I visited took two giant loops around the rims of canyons. I couldn't get much of a sense of the depth of the canyons from the car, but there were times I could sneak a park and get a quick look in.
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This is definitely one to come back to again. Especially when I don't have River.  We had a great time today.

 There was a whole section of the forest that was completely dead.

 And then back to lush foliage again

 Autumnal.

There is a whole other road that I didn't get to today. It looked longer and more winding and then there was another loop around canyon rims. I wonder if there is more camping and hiking and nature exploring along that route. A good reason to go back again.

No burgers today.

 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Capitol Reef, Glen Canyon and Natural Bridges

Oh Utah, you are so beautiful.  Today I explored a triple threat: a National Park, a National Recreation Area and a National Monument (Capitol Reef, Glen Canyon and Natural Bridges, respectively).  I'm not clear on what the difference is between the three things, but I liked them all.

The day started off in a shit-hole town called Nephi.  In all fairness, the town might be fine, but after my experience with the worse hamburger I've ever been served (J.C. Mickelson's) and the prison style Motel 6 I stayed in, I really have no reason to ever return.

First stop was to get gas at a Chevron. I pulled up to the pump but the credit card swiper had a piece of paper taped over it that said "please pay inside". So I go inside and she tells me that I need to give her an amount before she can get me started. And if I over estimated the amount, she couldn't return the change to me, it would stay as a charge on my card. I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. She was telling me that her intention was to steal from me. I have never heard of a gas station unable to adjust the charge based on how much gas was actually dispensed. But rather than pick a fight with her, I just moved my car to a different pump; one that had a functional credit card reader. I filled up my tank, washed my windshield and got the hell out of there.

Next stop was at a burger drive-in. I had to get that bad J.C. Mickelson's taste out of my mouth and restore my faith in hamburgers. Reed's Drive-in was able to do that by selling me a good burger, piled high with bacon. It wasn't an award-winning burger, but it was good. Nothing tasted off or funny. I'd go back to Reed's but NEVER to Mickelson's.

So then I got the hell out of that town and enjoyed some delightful sights in southern Utah.

The experience of these parks is immersive. At times I felt like I was standing on top of the world, looking into it and at other times I felt like I was being swallowed up by the earth and could only see the walls surrounding me.

The walls were multiple colored and textured rocks. Some were red, some yellow, some orange, some pink, some white, some brown, some green! Some of them looked like they were sculpted by an artist, some looked like they were melting. Some looked like they were shattering into shards and others seem to be crumbling into dust. But no matter which way I looked, I was impressed by the awesome beauty and the rich history represented by these rocks.

 This first picture was taken before I got to Capitol Reef. It is a beautiful scene despite how drab it looks in this picture. I almost didn't include it in the blog, but I wanted to show it as such a stark contrast to the photos taken of Capitol Reef. Considering that the first picture is amazing, majestic and beautiful, look at the next eight photos and you'll get an idea of the magnitude of gorgeous we're talking about

Capitol Reef National Park:
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He seemed a little spooked already by how many people were running around, but River really didn't trust the boy running along the path. I distracted him after this and everyone was OK.  We got back in the car and continued our adventure.
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 "petroglyphs"

"a lonely cabin"

On the website, I saw that there was a $10 entrance fee for Capitol Reef, but I didn't see anywhere to pay.  I assume that if you go to the visitor center and request a map, that you can pay there, but I don't usually go to the visitor centers at the national parks. I try to minimize the amount of time I leave River alone in the car.  So I didn't pay (although I wouldn't have paid anyway, since I hold an annual pass) and I didn't get a map.

My next stop was supposed to be Natural Bridges National Monument.

I got on UT-24 and was delighted at how scenic is was. I switched to UT-95 in Hanksville and soon after that was stunned by the setting.
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 Hanksville
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Eventually I saw a sign that explained that I was driving through part of....

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area:

I was surprised to encounter this recreation area. On the map it looks as if it would be a huge detour for me.  And I guess if I wanted to visit the center of the Rec Area, I'd have to take a jaunt to the south, but the route I was taking did go through a section of it. I didn't even know it was there, and I certainly didn't realize I was going to be passing through it. And since I didn't look at the website in advance, I don't know if this place has a fee requirement, but as with Capitol Reef, I saw no place to pay or present my card and I couldn't find any maps. But I just drove through.

I had to stop at one point to delete things from my iPhone as I had taken so many pictures and videos at Capitol Reef that my hard drive was full. After purging, I got back on the road. But not before stopping here to take in the grandeur of the canyon called Glen.
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And then we got back in the car and headed to Natural Bridges National Monument.

Again I knew that there was a $10 fee to use the place, but there was no road side toll booth, so I didn't pay and I didn't get a map at the visitor center. I drove the loop and stopped to take in the vista.

 It's hard to see in this picture but right in the very center is a bridge. Because of the position of the sun, the shadows seem to obscure the opening, but if you look carefully you can see it.  It's right above the green trees in the very center of the shot.
 I let River get dangerously close to the edge of the canyon.
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It was still another three hours drive to our final destination.  A LONG day of driving, but it didn't seem long because of how entertained we were along the way.  It was dark before I got to the Motel 6 in Farmington, New Mexico, where we're going to be staying for the next three days.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Shoshone Falls and the City of Rocks

We started the day by visiting Shoshone Falls Park. When we first got to the park, I commented to the guy in the ticket booth on the sign that said the water level is "Dry". I asked, does that mean there wont' be any falls to see today?  No, he insisted, there are falls, but just no water. The falls, he said, were why people come back here. Without the falls, we'd just have a river. But I wanted to be clear because the logic was new to me. There is no waterfall, right?  It's dry.  He said.  There's two parts to a waterfall; the water and the falls. There are falls, but no water. 
To me, the water is the waterfall. Otherwise, we're just paying to look at a rock cliff.  But I went in anyway. It was only $3.
It wasn't too disappointing. There was actually several waterfalls running.  But the big one, obviously, wasn't.

 This is the Snake River gorge made famous by Evel Knievel when he jumped over it on his motorcycle in 1974.  Or I should say ATTEMPTED to jump over it, and failed. Poor guy.
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And of course we couldn't leave without getting our feet wet in Snake River.
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So, satisfied regarding Twin Falls, we took off for the south, headed for Nephi, UT on Interstate 84 again. But on the way, I saw a brown sign. And you know I love those brown highway signs, because they mean recreation. Usually parks. This one was saying 'this way to "Castle Rock" and "City of Rocks"'.  I stopped at a gas station and filled up my tank with Sinclair with Dino-care.

And I checked in with Siri regarding the two places I had seen mentioned on the brown sign. Castle Rock is a state park, so I passed on that. But City of Rocks is a National Reserve, so I decided to take the detour.
I thought it would be wise to eat something before heading off the main highway into a park.  So I pulled around the the glamorous "Pit Stop" drive through to order a burger at the Sinclair gas station.
When I pulled up to the drive-thru window, the woman told me she'd be right with me. I said OK, and waited. And waited....and waited... and finally, I had second thoughts about my decision to order a gas station burger.  Who have I become?! I am badly in need of some reparations when I get home from this trip.
So, with an empty belly, I took off for the City of Rocks

I took the Back Country Byway of the same name.  Based on my recent experiences with back country byways, I was prepared for a much worse ride.  But this was paved almost all the way.







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I hit a little bit of traffic going through Salt Lake City. And I noticed that the mountains in the distance had some fresh snow on the tops. I rolled into Nephi around 7:30.  I picked up a burger at the local restaurant but it was gross.