Apr 30, 2012

Apr 30 - The Biggest Hole in the World

At times it seems that we've got a fascination with holes in the ground. The Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, Hells Canyon, and, more recently, The Goosenecks are just a few of the larger ones we've visited. The common thing about all of them has been that they were created by nature. Mankind is a distant second to nature in the ability to excavate (erode) earthen material and move it from one place to another.

But when we're camped so close to a notable example of man's work in this category, intrepid explorers really should make an attempt to see for themselves just what people can do. Well, mankind's premier work, in this regard, is the Bingham Canyon Mine... about a 30 minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City. The statistics are staggering by themselves... a hole 3/4 of a mile deep, 2-1/2 miles wide. But when you actually see the place it's hard to comprehend... the scale of the it makes comparisons futile. This is the largest man-made excavation in the history of the world, one of only a handful of man-made things visible from outer space.

The mine was opened in 1906 and has been operating for most of the time since. It's copper ore is low-grade... a ton of ore contains about 10 pounds of copper, but enough to make it profitable to mine. Operated by Kennecott Utah Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Ltd., the company employs more than 2,000 people in it's round the clock operation these days. Every year they produce 275,000 tons of copper, and lesser amounts of gold, silver, and molybdenum.

The drive to the visitor center is a 2,000 foot climb from the valley below. There's a museum, theater, and viewing platform perched on the side of the pit. They charge $5 per car to come in, but the proceeds go to charity.

I'll always remember looking into the mine and hearing, amid the crushing and loading and crunching of rocky material, railroad locomotives. What? That's right... railroad locomotives, straining under full load... the loud low rumble and whine of big motors. But it wasn't locomotives... it was huge mine trucks that lug up to 325 ton of material out of the pit in each load, working their way slowly (it seemed) uphill. They sound like locomotives because they are a lot like locomotives... huge diesel motors driving huge generators making huge amounts of electric power for the huge electric motors that turn the huge wheels. What's that I said about scale??

It's a beehive of activity with dozens of those big haul trucks going here and there, huge shovels loading the trucks, big drills boring blasting holes, an in-pit crusher busting up the bigger chunks into smaller chunks, support vehicles running here and there... the whole operation is controlled from a central traffic control center, like a busy airport.

I wonder if they're going to fill the hole back in when their through?

More photos on our online photo album.

Apr 30 - Temple Square in Salt Lake City

"Well, at noon there's an organ recital in the Tabernacle... you know... the Tabernacle... the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir"

"Oh, that Tabernacle"

"Yes, it's the 12th largest pipe organ in the world... almost 12,000 individual pipes. They like to show off the organ's range and power at these recitals... it's really quite impressive... and you really should go."

So, on the advice of the knowledgeable one at the visitor center, when we finished our State Capitol exploration we slid down the hill a few blocks, and found a street parking spot on South Temple Street. It's easy to know that you've homed in on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City as the street that runs along the south side of the Square is named "South Temple"... the street that runs along the north side is "North Temple"... and the street that runs along the west side is (all together now...) "West Temple".  Unfortunately, the street running on the east side of the Square is "State Street"... not sure why the pattern didn't hold.

This is the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also referred to as the Mormon or LDS Church. The Square's 35 acres contain the impressive Salt Lake City Temple, the Tabernacle, a huge Conference Center, a 26 floor church office building, and other visitor centers, museums, libraries, and administration buildings. The grounds are neat as a pin, clean, and, on this spring day, adorned with blooming flowers bursting from every unpaved chunk of dirt you could find. The people we talked to were all cheerful, friendly, and helpful.

We did make the organ recital with a few minutes to spare. Ushered into the Tabernacle and seated, the first thing the organist did was demonstrate the acoustics of the purpose-built domed shaped building. Remember, this is the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and great efforts were made to get the sound just right. An elongated dome of 150 feet by 250 feet, it seats 7,000 people and is considered to be nearly acoustically perfect... a surprising feat since the building was constructed in the 1860s (that's right... the 1860s). We were sitting toward the middle-back of the building, furthest away from the front (the choir and organ end), and could clearly hear pins dropping into a small wooden box from about 200 feet away.

The organist then fired up the pipe organ, the 12th largest instrument of it's kind in the world, with 11,623 pipes. Being a recital whose purpose it was to demonstrate the capabilities of this organ... and being in an acoustically perfect building... well, this was an experience of rare occurrence. I wish I could describe it... but I can't. You just have to experience it for yourself. The recital lasted a bit over 30 minutes and was free.

a panorama composit photo... click to enlarge. Over 21,000 seats.

We then wandered around the grounds for a while before finding our way over to the new Mormon Conference Center. Believed to be the largest theater-style auditorium ever built, anywhere... it seats over 21,000 people in comfortable cushioned theater-style seating. Built between 1997 and 2000, it contains more than 1.4 million square feet of space. From outside, you'd never guess what's inside. With a tour guide, we walked on the roof-top garden... a pleasant park-like space with trees and plants and grass. The building is wedged into a 10 acre hillside and buried deep into the ground. Walking into the auditorium almost takes your breath away. Another "must see" if you get to this corner of the world.

Feeling the gnawing's of hunger we found a pleasant cafe on the grounds for lunch, and then spent some time in the FamilySearch Center (Dar's genealogical interest) and wandered around the grounds for a while longer before heading out for the next stop of the day.

click here to see more photos from our visit to Temple Square

The Utah State Capitol

It's easy to find Utah's State Capitol. Perched high on a foothill on the north side of downtown, it's visible from all over Salt Lake City and the surrounding valley. Our approach was from the West, on a narrow neighborhood street that was so steep our Ford Focus Toad was straining in first gear to make the hill. Coming from the South, from downtown, the approach is less steep but still significant. Once atop the hill we found a stately building that fits right in with the Capitols of many other states. Columns, broad stairs leading to the "front doors" on the second floor, a large dome... it looks like a Capitol. This will be the 22nd of these grand buildings we've explored.

Some other states have filled their Capitol grounds with trees... in some cases, so many and so mature, it's hard to see the building (Nevada comes to mind.). But not Utah. The building stands alone, without trees, on the acreage that contains it. The open feel of the setting is appropriate for the hilltop location and is symbolic of the wide open expanses of this western State. The formal approach to the building is made from the south on a long broad walkway and sets of stairs that can get a visitor's heart a-pounding well before reaching the doors. Slow down.  Remember, we are almost a mile high and there's less air up here.

But once there, stop. Don't be too quick to enter. Take a moment, turn around, and take in the view... of the Salt Lake Valley to the south and west... of the mountains to the east... and of Salt Lake City below. At least in my book, Utah gets first prize among all the States' Capitols we've visited in the category of "best view from the front door".

click to see full size panorama of view from the front door.

This building was commissioned in 1912 (several years after Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896) when someone noticed Utah didn't have real Capitol like the other States. The idea caught hold and before long local architect Richard K. A. Kletting was commissioned to create the vision. Construction took more than three years and it was completed in 1916.  The exterior is local granite... gray, strong, and impressive. The interior, especially the second (main) and third floors, is mostly marble. Tall columns with Corinthian Capitals adorn both in and out. The style is supposed to be Neoclassical revival... whatever that is.

The Utah State Capitol is the active house of State government. It houses the chambers of the Utah State Legislature, the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, as well as other supporting offices. In contrast with many Statehouses which have the House and Senate chambers on opposite ends of the building, Utah's design has the House on one end, the Supreme Court on the other, and the Senate in the middle. Most of the Supreme Courts day to day business has moved to another building, but the historic courtroom is still used for mostly ceremonial events.

Large paintings around the rim of the dome, the corners of the rotunda, and the ends of the vaulted atrium represent various scenes of Utah's pioneer heritage. Other sculptures and works of art are common around the building, and galleries on the 4th floor feature rotating exhibitions about Utah's history and heritage.

Between 2004 and 2008, an extensive renovation and reconstruction effort spruced up the building, returning it to it's original grandeur. Part of this effort was extensive work to make the building capable of surviving earthquakes. Essentially, the whole place is now sitting on 250 new "base isolators" which allow the ground to shake independently of the building.

It's a "must see" in our book... and ranks right up there among the better State Capitols we've visited. And there are many more photos in our online photo album.

Here's a link to the photo album from this visit.
Thom and Dar visited the Utah State Capitol on April 30, 2012

Apr 30 - A Big SLC Exploring Day

  • Explored: The Utah State Capitol; Mormon Temple Square; Bingham Mine
  • Toad Miles Today:  77
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  906
  • Tonight's camp: Pony Express RV "Resort"  elevation: 4,200
  • Weather: morning low 46f  afternoon high 74f;  more clouds than sun today
  • Notables: 1. The Utah State Capitol Building is awesome... right up there among the best.  2. For the second "awesome" of the day... the Mormon Tabernacle Pipe Organ.  3. Visited the largest man-made excavation ever... the Bingham Canyon Open Pit Mine.  Three "awesomes" in one day.  May have to take a Valium tonight to settle myself down.
  • Link to photos from today... 3 different albums:
  • State Capitol photos.... Temple Square photos....   Bingham Canyon Mine photos

Believe it or not... this image was taken from space by a NASA
astronaut. It's the Bingham Mine near SLC.

It was a big, full day of exploring. And, once again, there's much more to write about than I have time or energy to do tonight. Over the next day or two or three, I'll get them uploaded.  Oh, and Dar's got a big problem with photos too... way more than she can wade through in a normal day.

Be patient dear readers.

Our plan was to move tomorrow, to another RV Park up in the Bingham City area. We may still do that, but there's in increasing chance of unsettled weather moving in tonight, and we may wait another day.  Depending on what we wake to tomorrow morning, we'll make the decision at that time.

Apr 29, 2012

Apr 29 - A Sunday Drive to SLC

  • Move from Yuba Lake St. Park to North Salt Lake City
  • Route: UT-28 to I-15 (Nephi) to I-215
  • Miles Today: 117
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles : 1,763
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  829
  • Tonight's camp: Pony Express RV Park in North Salt Lake, UT.  elevation 4,200
  • Weather: morning low 34f, high 60f,  a sunny bright day.
  • Notables:  An enjoyable drive followed by a relaxed afternoon.
  • Link to photo album for today.

We're packed into the Pony Express RV "Resort" (I guess a gate, a pool, a playground, and a horseshoe pit qualifies as a "resort" to some people?) in the community of North Salt Lake, UT... just a little north of downtown Salt Lake City. We chose this place strictly for location... and some reports that it's a relatively neat and clean RV park. Not wanting to blow the budget, I opted for a second level site ($35 after discounts and taxes per night... ouch!) which is smaller... shorter and closer to neighbors than the premium sites. We'll make it work for the two nights, but we're slightly hanging out into the road both front and rear, and if the next-door neighbors ever show up we'll get to know them real well... quickly. In fairness, I should add that it is a well maintained and very clean joint, so we're not doing any version of "hard duty" here. It's just a little... close.

Of course, we're here to primarily see the Utah State Capitol... our 22nd out of 50. On our drive up I-15 this morning it was visible standing proudly just to the north of the nest of taller buildings in downtown SLC. Generally speaking, and with a few exceptions, these are some of the most magnificent buildings in the USA... and symbolic of the blood sweat and tears that went into turning a raw territory into a State of the Union. That was something to be strived for, and celebrated once achieved.  Somehow, things seem different today.  But that's the subject of another post on another day.

We'll probably also visit the Mormon Temple grounds, which a number of people have told us is very nice and worth the time. I also have it in the back of my head to run out to the Bingham Canyon Open Pit Mine, the deepest open pit mine in the world. The operators, Kennecott Utah Copper, have a visitors center there and we might find some good photo opportunities with our new big telephoto mini-camera I wrote about a couple weeks ago. In the meantime, we're enjoying a very agreeable afternoon... reading the Sunday paper, nursing a beer, and soaking up some warm rays on this cool day.

The drive up today was enjoyable and relaxed. Snow-capped mountains on both sides of the valley provided plenty of entertainment. Many miles of I-15 were being totally rebuilt in the Orem/Provo area, but since it was a Sunday, traffic wasn't hard to deal with. We only had to deal with lane-shifts, narrow lanes, and much shorter than normal merging ramps.

Let's make a date to meet here... same place... same time... tomorrow.

Apr 28, 2012

Apr 28 - A Stay At Home Pair

  • Tonight's camp: Yuba State Park, Painted Rocks Campground near Gunnison, UT    elevation: 5050
  • No traveling or exploring today
  • Weather: morning low 30f (brrr);  high 57f; sunny calm morning; sunny breezy afternoon
  • Notables: Just soaking in the view from our camp.

That's our camp down there. (click to enlarge)
We're truly enjoying our day at this Utah State Park Campground. Did very little today... a couple walks around the grounds to get the blood flowing... Dar's working on some family tree research... I'm readin' and writin'.  The cooler temps than what we've been used to, together with the brisk wind this afternoon limited our outdoor time. But the view out the windows tells us this was the right place to stop for a couple nights.

Tomorrow, we're heading for Salt Lake City. About a two hour drive, we ought to be settled early and should have a strong Verizon signal to update the Journal.

Hope you're all having a great weekend.

Sabbatical Journal Stats Curiosity

Just in the last 24 hours, the RV Sabbatical Journal has had the following pageview activity according to the statistics gathered by Blogger and Google...

9 from Russia
7 from the Philippines
5 from Malaysia
3 from Latvia
3 from Slovenia
2 from Israel

Would any of you from those countries be so kind as to send an email to me, using the link provided on my site??  I'd love to hear from you... to find out who you are and why you stop by this website.

I'm just curious.


Apr 27, 2012

Apr 27 - Out of Moab

  • Move from Moab, UT to Sevier Bridge Reservoir
  • Route: US-163/191 to I-70W to US-89 (Salina) to UT-28 (Gunnison)
  • Fueled (diesel) at $4.159
  • Miles Today: 194
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles : 1,646
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  829
  • Tonight's camp:  Yuba State Park, Painted Rocks Campground near Gunnison, UT    elevation: 5050
  • Weather: morning low 54, high 59, brisk north wind, mostly sunny
  • Notables: 1. Finding a great campsite, on a hill, with a view of snow-capped mountains and a lake.  2. The scenic drive.  3. Dar drove much of the way... so I could take a nap.
  • Link to photo album for today

Woke to a dense cloud cover early this morning. But as I enjoyed my first cup of coffee and read the news, a stiff northerly breeze blew the clouds... somewhere to the south... which was just fine because that's the direction we're NOT going. After a light breakfast including hard boiled eggs, we had the bus-house ready to roll, toad attached, by 8:30am.

The destination today remained unknown to both of us. We had a few options and alternatives, but nothing was set in sun-baked adobe (like the Southwest reference?). We agreed to either drive until we're tired (Salt Lake City was 300 miles away -- certainly no further than that) or we'd drive until we found a place we'd like to be for a night or two.

There aren't many route choices between Moab and Salt Lake. One, the route I selected before I knew better, is US-6 between Green River (on I-70) and the southern end of the Salt Lake City Metroplex. I mean, if you look at the map, anyone with any sense of spatial cognition and knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem would say that's the route to take... there's NO other good choice. But that turns out to be the problem with it. It IS the obvious choice... for truckers trying to cut an hour or two off the trip between I-70 and Salt Lake City... for the hoards of RVers, bikers, 4-wheelers, cyclers, and other outdoor recreational enthusiast who live in Salt Lake City and fill all the motels, hotels, RV parks, and campgrounds down in Moab every weekend... and it's the obvious choice for everyone else too.  According to an article I read, this 120 mile section of road is considered one of the most dangerous in the country. Mostly two lane road, it twists and turns, following rivers, canyons, and old railroad grades and pioneer trails... and there's little opportunity to pass in most places. Can you say "road rage" everyone?

The alternative is the route we took today. Continue west on I-70, west and a little southwest, until you reach Salina, UT., where there are a few ways to connect with northbound I-15, which takes you to the Salt Lake City area. It's a little over an hour longer than the shorter route, but it was relaxed and comfortable. Besides... why do we have to be somewhere... anywhere... so fast?  Not today, at least.

The drive on I-70 turned out to be a little surprising on two counts. First, there was very little traffic.  I don't know... maybe everyone took US-6... who knows? But even better, the scenery and geography we drove through was, once again, simply stunning. Utah is right up there when it comes to gorgeous geography and stunning scenery. In our short experience, we're WOW'd almost daily.

Our first option for stopping today was the Yuba State Park Campground just off UT-29 a few miles north of Gunnison. We had talked with no one about this park... just found it while doing online research on campgrounds... and had no idea what to expect. Considering how packed everything around Moab was, especially on the weekend, we didn't think there'd be much hope here either. But as we topped a hill on the short drive into the Park, we saw the campground... and we saw only one site occupied. I even wondered for a second if it was open.  But it was, and we had our pick of pretty much any site in the joint.  Each site has a new-looking rain/sun shelter with a picnic table or two, a big fire-ring, a separate table for grills that wasn't under the shelter. The sites are very RV friendly with mostly level asphalt parking pads. The only somewhat negative thing I could say about the place is that the trees are still pretty small so there's not much shade.

We picked site 8, on a hill close to the water... the Sevier Bridge Reservoir. We drove the rig in nose first, so the lake, the snow-capped mountain, and the miles of vistas are right there out our picture-window windshield and out our dining table windows. Tonight, as the sun sets, the show should be far better than anything that might be on TV.

I think we might extend another day.

Apr 26, 2012

Apr 26 - Well, That Didn't Happen

  • Tonight's camp: Portal RV Park near Moab; elevation 3900 feet
  • No traveling or exploring today
  • Weather: morning low  62f;   high 82f;  morning partly sunny, afternoon mostly cloudy with a good old thunderstorm about 3pm.
  • Notables: Enjoyed watching the thunderstorm as it approached and passed through.
  • No photos for Today

We originally planned to move today, to push a little closer to the Salt Lake City area. But that didn't happen. The weather service was forecasting a chance of rain for a few days in here... with the highest risk being, of course, today...the day we wanted to move. So we decided to go with the flow and extend one more day. I've said this before, (so pardon the repetition)... it's not that we fear driving in the rain or slick roads or anything like that, it's just that wet highways have a way of converting the Ford Focus toad into a grimy, gritty messy toad... with warts and more.. If we can easily avoid rainy days, we do it. There's no rush, so what's the harm?

Instead, we read, wrote, worked on photos, and prepared for leaving Friday. When we do leave Moab tomorrow, we will have been here a full week. And after a week in an area like Moab, it begins to feel like an adopted home town.

It turns out nature wasn't bluffing about the chances for rain today. About 3pm, the skies darkened and the wind came up strong and the rain came down... lightning... thunder. It's been so long since we had a good old-fashioned thunderstorm that we actually enjoyed the whole affair. The chance for rain stays high tonight, but eases off for most of the day tomorrow.  If there are any lingering showers, we're taking off regardless and will do our best to stay between the drops. It's time to start making tracks toward the Northwest and our two munchkin grandkids, who are reportedly growing like weeds right now.

Apr 25, 2012

Apr 25 - More Arches (Day 2)

  • Explored: Arches NP for a second day
  • Toad Miles Today:  52
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  829
  • Tonight's camp:  Portal RV Park near Moab,    elevation: 3900
  • Weather: morning low  60f   afternoon high  87f;  increasing cloudiness
  • Notables: 1. The hike to Delicate Arch.  2. Fell into a Ranger-guided hike and learned a bunch about the Park.  3. Standing under any arch produces a wave of anxiety as you wonder what could possibly be holding those loose-looking chunks of rock up there.
  • Link to photo album for today.

click to enlarge... that's us under Delicate Arch
Arches is a big enough Park that even for a relatively quick "survey course" overview visit, it really takes two days. Our first day was Sunday and the crowds crimped our plans some when we couldn't find legal parking at the Delicate Arch trailhead. But knowing we'd be back for a second day, it involved only a minor re-shuffling of the plans.

Today's climb up into the Park from the front gate was a different kind of enjoyable than the first, as the cameras were off and our eyes were turned up to high-soak. I suppose those who work in the Park and make the drive in every day get used to the views... it's probably human nature. But we were still blown-away by the awesomeness of these piles of rocks.

First stop was the Delicate Arch trailhead parking lot. Not quite as busy as Sunday, it was still busy... but we had no trouble securing a parking spot. Boots laced up, water and snacks loaded, cameras, brimmed hats, check, check... and we're off. It's only a three mile round trip with 500 feet of elevation change, so it was an enjoyable walk. And today the increased cloudiness kept the sun intensity in check. There were a lot of people on the trail... as there almost always is (it's the most popular hike in the park)... so there was this constant din of greetings and acknowledgements emanating from the long string of people... "hi, hello, howdy, hey, nice day, good morning".

Because of the increasing elevation, as you walk up the park unfolds below you. You can see further, from a higher angle, which produces a different perspective than you get from "ground level".

Rounding a corner where the trail clings to the side of a rock wall, Delicate Arch comes into view. By Arches standards, it's a small arch (65 feet high), but yet an impressive natural work of art. What makes it unique is that it's an isolated free-standing arch. It's the signature arch of the Park and is on Utah auto license plates.

Lingering near the Arch for almost an hour, we snacked, took photos, and just absorbed the view. With a constant flow of fellow hikers cycling in, we all took turns exchanging cameras and taking photos of people posing under the Arch.

When we first got to the Arch, there were a few people lingering and looking at it from the end of the trail... a safe place to sit, view, and take photos. No one was over at the Arch. So I worked my way over, on the side of a sloped sandstone bowl, to the arch... a distance of maybe 50 or 60 yards. I could feel the audience watching. Slipping under the Arch itself, I stood... posing, so Dar, over by the others, could snap a photo. Because the distance wasn't great, and the bowl-shaped rock surrounding seemed to amplify her words... I heard her say as she raised the camera to her eye, "Oh Shit... the battery died... and YOU have the spare". Everyone chuckled, and I had to make the trip back to Dar, exchange the batteries, and return to the Arch. It was a small thing... but something to remember.

After that hike, we headed for the last major area of the Park that we hadn't visited yet... The Windows Section. This might be the most stunning collection of rocks in the entire Park. Arches, alcoves, and holes wherever we looked. There's Double Arch, Cove Arch, Turret Arch, and the two Windows Arches and more. We found a Ranger preparing for a ranger-guided hike around the two Windows arches... was ready to go except for one thing... a willing audience. "When are you starting the hike?... "Right now". Let's go.

So we spent almost an hour with Ranger Kait (her first name), and learned some important things about the "small things" in Arches... the soils, the plant life, the composition of the rocks. It turned out to be a well-spent hour. Once turned loose, we then spent some time climbing around North Windows Arch, and walked over for an up-close view of Double Arch.

While on the hike with Ranger Kait, we learned she was hiking by herself near Devils Garden on August 4, 2008. She stopped under Wall Arch for some shade and to have a ham and cheese sandwich. That night, only about 12 hours after her rest stop, Wall Arch collapsed... totally and completely. It happened at night, so no one saw it and no one was injured. But it reminds us that ALL of these arches are only here temporarily. They all will fall at some point. You find yourself thinking about that fact any time you're under one of them.

It was a full day... but a rewarding day. Good-bye Arches NP, we'll be back soon.

Our Intrepid Explorers at South Window Arch

Wall Arch Before Collapse (photo by NPS)

Wall Arch After Collapse (photo by NPS)

Apr 24, 2012

Apr 24 - An All-Nighter

  • Explored the backs of my eye lids this morning
  • Tonight's camp:  Portal RV Park near Moab, elevation: 3900
  • Weather: morning low 54  afternoon high 92; warm sunny weather continues; a little more wind today.
  • Notables: 1. Slept in this morning... it felt so good.  2. Getting caught-up on tasks is also a good satisfying feeling.  3. As warm as it's been, we're OK with being in an RV Park... with full hookups that make it possible to run our A/C without running the generator.

Today was one of those days that fulltime RVers must have once in a while... a day for chores, getting caught up on photos, writing, and emails, paying a bill or two, restocking the larder with supplies, and a little R&R... you get the idea. Even fulltime explorers can't explore full-time.

Dar says that by the time she hit's the hay she'll be caught up with uploading  photos into our online albums, right up through yesterday's trip into Canyonlands NP. Considering the hundreds of photos that she's waded through today, that is a monumental accomplishment. Just click on the "Photo Journal" tab at the top of each page to check them out.

And I wrote the skipped Arches NP update from our trip into the Park a couple days ago. I also exchanged a few web-snagged photos on some recent posts for our own handiwork. Mostly it was the last 5 or 6 posts that were affected.

It's funny how phrases can mean something to one group of people, and something completely different to another group. Here's an example: "pulled an all-nighter".  When I was in my 20s, it would have been used something like this:  "Man, I'm soo tired.  I pulled an all-nighter last night getting ready for the final in my PoliSci course."

That's right, in those long lost days, it meant I stayed up all night... watched the sun set and then watched the sun rise again a few hours later. I'm sure we've all done it for one reason or another.

But now, as I'm getting fully immersed in my 60s, the phrase... yes, that same phrase... has taken on a new meaning. Now, when I say I "pulled an all-nighter", it means I slept strait through... never woke even once... even for natures call. It means I was zonked out by the time the sun set, slept through the night, and didn't even see the sun rise. When you're 61... it's an amazing thing... something to be proud of.

Well, last night I "pulled an all-nighter". What do you think of that?

Wonder what it's called if you do two in a row??? A double-header? 

Good Night, All.

Apr 23, 2012

Apr 23 - Canyonlands National Park

  • Explored Canyonlands National Park, Islands in the Sky unit.
  • Toad Miles Today:  102
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  777
  • Tonight's camp: Portal RV Park near Moab
  • Weather: morning low 46, afternoon high 92; (yes, a 46 degree spread); Sunny... Intense sun... SPF-99 and a big dumpy full-brimmed hat needed.
  • Notables:  1. An awareness that the more we explore... the more there is to explore.  2. Canyonlands is very different than Arches... but no less stunning.  3. Getting our boots on the ground and walking, hiking, increases intimacy with our environment... by a lot.
  • Link to photo album for today.

The past few days we have run into a bunch of friendly and sociable people. Starting when we were down at Goosenecks State Park almost a week ago now, and continuing up here in Moab... almost everyplace we stop... trail head, pull-out, scenic overview, along the trail... we've had enjoyable chats with folks from all over the country.  Of course, when we run into someone from our home state, Wisconsin, there's even more to talk about. Today, we ran into two sets of fellow-explorers from Packerland... and many more from all around, including Germany, Kansas City, Colorado, and some I can't remember.

We're also becoming aware that the more we explore... the more there is to explore. We came to Moab to see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. While here, we've also explored the Colorado River Canyon. But during an extended stay like this you tend to become aware of new things to see and do... things you didn't know about before. So we'll be leaving with many more things on our "to-do" list for our next visit.

Canyonlands National Park is split up into three separate and distinct units. For most people, it's not possible to move from one unit to another without leaving the Park and re-entering at the gate for the other unit. The northern unit is called Islands in the Sky. It's the most accessible and the most popular with tourists. The southeastern unit is called Needles, and the southwestern unit is the Maze. The Needles gate is about 40 miles south of Moab. And, to tell you the truth, I have no idea where anyone would start getting into the Maze, the most wild and inaccessible. I may figure it out some day.

Our foray into the Park today was into the Islands in the Sky unit. It's about a 45 minute drive from Moab just to reach the gate. Then, it's easy to kill the better portion of a day hiking around and seeing the place. For the most part, being at Islands in the Sky is being atop a mesa and looking down into the most stunning collection of canyons, buttes, basins, rims, pinnacles, rivers, hoodoos, and nature-carved art you can imagine.

After our requisite stop at the visitors center, a short drive followed by a short walk got us to Mesa Arch, a friendly little arch perched on the side of a high cliff. A good photo opportunity as you could frame you're sweetie in the hollow of the arch while taking advantage of a backdrop view you don't get just anywhere.

Of course we stopped at almost every pull-off and view-point... and shot hundreds of photos. But after the snaps and clicks, we found ourselves putting the cameras down, and just soaking in the view... the immensity of where we were and what we were seeing. Living in the moment, you know.

At the furthest south point you can drive to with anything like a low clearance two-wheel drive Ford Focus, the Grand View Overlook, we parked the car, loaded up on sunscreen and water (it was over 90 today), and hit the Grand View Point rim trail. No guard rails, no fences or walls, no warning signs... we walked along a sheer canyon wall a bit over a mile to the end of the trail at Grand View Point. And after all the camera clicks, and all the Ooohs and Aaahs, we had 10 or 15 minutes of being completely alone... no one else in sight... listening to the wind rushing around the rocks and through the junipers... a raven or two... gazing out at the wonder of nature, some of it more than a thousand feet below... pondering history, the ancients, and changes this land has endured... and we felt so happy... so lucky to be there... and to be alive.


Tomorrow, Tuesday, will be a day of rest and catch-up for us. Writing, processing and uploading photos, perhaps a trip to a grocery store... we need a day like that once in a while. And I will complete the post for our first day in Arches NP.

The plan now is to extend one more day here and go back into Arches NP to take a couple more quick walks on Wednesday. That would mean we'd be leaving Moab and heading northwest again on Thursday.

Apr 22, 2012

Apr 22 - Arches National Park (Day 1)

  • Explored Arches National Park... our first full day in the Park
  • Toad Miles Today:  69
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  675
  • Tonight's camp:  Portal RV Park near Moab
  • Weather: morning low 48,  afternoon high 91; no humidity, cool mornings, intense sun and heat in the afternoon.
  • Notables:  1. a pleasant, intimate experience with Pine Tree Arch.  2. walking amongst the fins.   3. Being up-close and personal with the fragile Landscape Arch, the largest arch in Arches with a span of 306 feet.
  • Link to photo album for today.

Pine Tree Arch
Having already done the Arches visitors center thing yesterday, we headed right into the Park this morning. As it was Sunday, and as it's another National Parks Week when the Parks Service waives entrance fees to all the National Parks, I suspect more people were in the Park today than usual. I have no reference for judging the crowd, except that as the morning wore on, finding a place to wedge the car into a parking spot at some stops became a challenge.

From the entrance gate to the Park, the road quickly climbs up the steep side of the red rock cliffs that frame the Parks "front door". I didn't check the GPS, but it must be something like 500 feet of twisting mountain climb. A few pull-offs provided a place to stop and soak in the view. Once on top, there's a parade of places to stop, things to see, and natural wonders to explore. I think we stopped at almost all of them... Park Avenue, The Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Petrified Dunes, and more. (most of these have been included in our online photo gallery from today)

The first place we wanted to put our boots on the ground was at the Parks signature arch, Delicate Arch.  The Park Service meters the flow of people on the 3 mile trail out to the arch by restricting parking at the trail head. When we got there, the small parking lot was full and overflowing onto the road, in clear violation of "No Parking" signs that lined the shoulders. Not wanting to be part of this size crowd anyway, we proceeded another mile to a much larger parking lot for the overlook trail, where after a short walk you can see Delicate Arch (... up there, on the hill.  See it? Oh yeah.)  The trail to the upper, higher, overlook rewarded us with a more vigorous walk than expected, throwing in some elevation change as a treat. We decided the hike to the arch itself would be done on a second day.

We continued driving generally northward and further into the Park, eventually to the end of the paved road at the Devils Garden Trailhead. There is one campground in Arches... it's 52 sites arrayed along either side of a single road that ends at a turn-around and trailhead. It's possible to get campers like the bus-house in and level on a few of the sites, but like most National Park campgrounds we've seen, it was designed and built with tents and much smaller campers in mind.

Lucking into a parking space close to the trailhead for Devils Garden Trail, we donned camel pack, an extra bottle of water, snacks, hats, cameras, and sunscreen, and headed off up the trail. We probably walked something like 3 miles, but the sun and heat (90's), and some tricky steep rocky areas provided a little challenge to these out-of-shape hikers. Along the way we visited Landscape Arch, the largest spanning arch in the Park at 306 feet. In 1991 a large chunk of rock on the underside cracked and gave-way, crashing to the ground and onto a section of trail. No one was hurt, luckily, but some visitors caught the action on film... both photos and a video.

The trail under the arch is now closed. And the Arch looks about as delicate and fragile as it could while still standing. It's thin and graceful... a real treat to witness. Whether it's later this year, next, or a dozen years in the future, this arch will collapse like so many others have in the past. (As Dar says... it's the life "span" of an arch.  Get it?)

Landscape Arch

Along the trail we also saw Partition Arch and Navajo Arch a short distance from Landscape Arch but higher on the cliff and a moderate climb from there. We also stopped at Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.

The stop at Pine Tree Arch was our favorite. For 15 minutes or so there was no one else around. We could get up-close and personal with it, walk under it, touch it, and let it shade our rest stop. It's a memory we'll have forever.

Dar under her favorite arch... Pine Tree Arch
This truck was made by General Motors the year I was born. Com'on, be honest... which looks better to you?

Apr 22 - Arches National Park (pooped edition)

Today we explored Arches National Park. It was a full and long day for us... miles of hiking, intense sun, temps in the 90's, and some muscles used that maybe hadn't been used much lately. So I'm tired... and Dar's tired... and we're going to bed. The full journal post for this exploration will come along in a day or two or three... if I get around to it.  When it's done it will replace this weak excuse for a blog update. So, Please Stand By.

In the interum, this photo of Delicate Arch that I pulled from cyberspace might provide some idea of what we saw today.

Tomorrow, we're going into back-to-back exploring mode... this time down into Canyonlands National Park. It's a rough life... but somebody oughta' be doin' it.

Life is NOT good... it's great.

Good Night All.

Apr 21, 2012

Apr 21 - Up a Lazy River... with You

  • Explored: The Colorado River, upstream from Moab. Also, the Visitor's Center for Arches NP.
  • Toad Miles Today:  48
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  606
  • Tonight's camp:  Portal RV Park near Moab, UT.
  • Weather: morning low 44, afternoon high 88, the sun is intense this time of year.
  • Notables: 1. The red rocks of the Colorado River Gorge are stunning.  2. Did our orientation to Arches at the Visitor's Center this afternoon.
  • Link to photo album for today

Our original thought when selecting this RV park from the many in and near Moab was to secure a place for the weekend (assuming the weekend would be busier than the rest of the week) that we knew (based on online reviews) would work for us for a couple days. We would then use that time to scope out a lower price alternative... maybe even something a little more rustic and more to our liking. That didn't work for two reasons.

First, the Moab area is busy from March to October... weekends, weekdays... it doesn't matter. RV parks here are busy, they're expensive, and the spaces tend to be small.  Almost everyone we talk to confirms it. Second, the hassle of moving a tub (said with affection) like the bus-house... by the time you break camp and secure everything for travel, make the move, and then set up camp again... can take the better part of a day... at least a half day. So we decided that since we're established here at Portal RV Park, we're close to what we want to see, sure it might cost a few more shekels... but extending here is the thing to do if we're going to focus on the National Parks and not the logistics of the RV lifestyle. I think that's enough about that.

Today we drove up the Colorado River. At the risk of over-using superlatives (Zowwie...I know... it's too late for that...), the rocks really rock! The canyon or gorge cut by the river is steep-sided, dramatic, and spectacular. The river runs along the south-eastern edge of Arches NP. Along the river are a series of BLM campgrounds... at least two of which we would be able to make work if we could select the right (level and large enough) site. But they were both full and one is closing Monday for "weed control".  We still stopped along the way at almost every pull-out, and took too many photos.

But one thing the river was NOT doing was flowing strongly. I'm told the snowpack on the western side of the Divide in Colorado was very low this past winter.  And we all know what that portends... a tight water-budget year for anyone relying on the waters of the Colorado.  Lake Mead (the reservoir water behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas) was already lower than any time since the 1930s when we visited a little over a year ago. It looks like it's going to be even lower by the end of the year.

Stopping at the Visitor's Center over at Arches, just a few miles up the road from camp, we spent a couple hours getting "orientated"... perused the exhibits, watched the film, and talked with a ranger about the Park. An unusual set of geological features make Arches NP unique, and I'll write more on all that tomorrow, after we've had a day with our feet on the ground inside the Park.

It's supposed to be warm tomorrow so we'll be lugging a few litres of water for survival.

Apr 20, 2012

Apr 20 - North to Moab

  • Move from Goosenecks State Park to Moab, UT.
  • Route: US-191 north direct into Moab
  • Miles Today:  128
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles :  1452
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  558
  • Tonight's camp: Portal RV Park in Moab
  • Weather: morning low 55; afternoon high 85; clear skies, warm
  • Notables:  1. A lot of elevation change today... a high of 7300 feet... a low of 3900 feet (here in Moab)  2. Found Moab a busy and touristy town.  3. Gorgeous rocks everywhere.
  • Link to photo album for today.

Our last night at Goosenecks State Park had the bus-house really rockin'. The wind came up with a vengence about 9pm, rattling and shaking us to sleep. By dawn it was pretty much quiet again. I walked around just after sunrise to snap a few photos in the morning light.

We got rolling by 9:30. With good weather we made decent time on US-191... traffic was light until we neared Moab.  But there was no rush anyway and I'm really trying to slow down and live in the moment... and not get wrapped up in the "hurry up -- get there" attitude that's communicated to me by the driving habits of those so afflicted. I've found a simple mental reminder to live in the now can make a walk to the trash can almost spiritual... a drive from point A to point B a pilgrimage... and a sunrise so much more colorful and stunning than before.

But much of that was lost as we neared Moab. This is one nutty town this time of year. Drawn by it's stunning scenery, it's big National Parks, hundreds of miles of jeep trails and back country, many square miles of open public land, and it's closeness to the poplulation centers of all four four-corners States, it's a near-zoo from March until October. On the weekends, accomodations are often booked, and the search for a solitary hike or bike ride fruitless. People are everywhere. The town is full of jeep rental places, jeep fixing places, jeep parts places, and jeep buying and selling places. The same could be said of all four-wheelers in general... and dirt bikes... and mountain bikes... and ATVs... and OHVs... and off-road pogo sticks... and on and on.

After parking the bus-house, we did stop for lunner at the Moab Brewing Company where I found the beers more tame and pedestrian than we often find in less touristy areas. Is there a connection? The food was good... it was just the heart of the beer that seemed lacking.

Wherever we went, parking lots are full of bikes or cars carrying bikes or pickup trucks loaded with bikes... and so many people in trendy tight biking togs. Don't these people have anything better to do in late April?  How about studying for finals?  How about jobs?  Why aren't the little ones in school? Haven't they heard that these spring and fall weeks are reserved for old retired bastards?

I'm just grumpy tonight.  I'm sure a good nights sleep will improve my perspective.

Sure missing the solitude of the Goosenecks...

Apr 19, 2012

Apr 19 - Quiet Day at Goosenecks

  • Tonight's camp: Goosenecks State Park in Utah
  • No traveling or exploring today; one short hike from camp
  • Weather: morning low 55;  afternoon high 79; light morning shower, clouds break to give us some clear afternoon sky; wind out of north
  • Notables: 1. A Writer's marathon this morning... punched out 4 posts (including this one).  2. Still in awe at being camped next to a 1,000 foot dropoff into the Goosenecks of San Juan Canyon.  3. We hiked to the end of the Gooseneck bluff we're camped atop. Incredible views and some neat photos.
  • Link to a few photos from today.

Hey a treat!  A short post tonight. Today was a day we had few objectives. First, to write and process photos from our last few days of exploring. And second, to just enjoy the place we're camped... to perhaps take a hike out to the end of the bluff we're camped on.

I'm happy to report we nearly, almost completely accomplished what little we set out to do. The hike was the highlight of the day... about two and a half miles round trip. With this place, photos do a much better job of describing what we're experiencing than my words can. So take your time to check out the photos and quit reading now. (photos will be delayed until we find a better internet connection)

After one more night here in this quiet paradise, we're heading to Moab tomorrow.

Apr 18, 2012

Apr 18 - Four Corners to a Gooseneck

  • Move from Cortez, CO to Goosenecks State Park in SE Utah
  • Route: US-160 to Four Corners to CO-41 which becomes UT162 to US-163 (Bluff) to UT-316 near Mexican Hat
  • Miles Today:  114
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles : 1324
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  520
  • Tonight's camp: Goosenecks State Park (Utah). Free drycamping
  • Weather: morning low 34, high 79 , half clouds, half sun, brisk southerly gusts.
  • Notables: 1. Fulfilled a nearly 50 year "to-do" by stopping at the Four Corners Monument. It wasn't especially notable, except to say I've done it. No need to rush back anytime soon.  2. The scenery along the San Juan River and UT-162 raised the "lookey-wow" bar another notch.  3. The Goosenecks along the San Juan River, where we're camped, is simply stunning.
  • Link to photo album for today.
    Like so much of our existence... it's all about theory and reality.

    In theory, the Four Corners Monument is placed exactly at the point where the four states meet. And after some recent controversy about it's location, the Federal Government and the affected States have all closed ranks and agreed that the current monument is indeed the right place. That's the theory, held in place by just saying it's so.

    But in reality, the monument is off by some distance... I've read by a couple hundred yards or even up to a quarter mile. The early surveyors were incredibly accurate given the tools they had. But it's true that even two of the best surveyors will come up with slightly different results... even with sophisticated instruments available today. It's just the nature of the discipline.

    So here's my take on things: in theory we visited the exact point where the four states meet. In reality, we didn't. And to add another metaphor to the mix... you can add "surveying" to that old adage... that being close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and now, surveying.

    We actually did some "linear exploring" today, when we visited the Four Corners Monument. I checked the aerial view on Google Maps a few days ago and found they had plenty of dusty parking available for rigs of any size. So with Toad in tow, we drove into the Monument, paid our $3 per person (it's operated by the Navajo Nation), and parked in the big vehicle parking lot.

    I could see why no one was interested in hearing anything about the monument being in the wrong place, as there's about an acre of concrete, with cemented in seating, and cemented in bronze plate with a little X in the middle of it. It might have been better to make the marker something portable so that if error is ever proven they can simply roll it over to the new spot... portable bleechers and all.

    On three sides of a square surrounding the monument are rows of Indian vendor booths... all modern and neat... again, made out of concrete and steel. They're not going to move those either.

    We took a few pictures, looked around, and Dar had to buy an authentic Indian "Fry Bread"... which was nothing more than the funnel cakes we bought at the county fair in Wisconsin years ago. I never knew that American Indians invented funnel cakes. Amazing what you don't learn as you're traveling.

    The entrance to Four Corners is in New Mexico. When we left, we retraced a few miles of our path back into Colorado, and then took a left on a road that soon got us into Utah. The drive up that road... most of it in Utah on UT-162 and along the San Juan River... had some great scenery. Trying to keep the big ol' bus-house on the narrow and shoulder-less road was no easy feat. But before long we were dropping down into Bluff, UT. where we turned left and headed south for a few miles. Again... spectacular scenery along the way.

    Just a few miles before reaching the town of Mexican Hat we found a road to the right that takes us to Goosenecks State Park.

    Coming over a rise and then dropping down into the Park, the full extent of where we're going to spend the next couple nights comes into view. This small Park is perched on top a bluff in full view of about 4 "gooseneck" bends in the San Juan River... a thousand feet far below. Over eons of time, the river has cut it's way through a thousand feet of rock. The eroding sides of the cliffs, or bluffs, are banded in colors ranging from deep reds, to greens, grays, tans, and browns. The sides are steep, but appear terraced by harder layers of rock offering more resistance to the forces of erosion than the softer layers. It's eye candy for wandering explorers.

    The view from our campsite.

    The only facilities offered by the State are vault toilets and a few trash cans. Other than that, you pick a spot and park... it's all drycamping -- no hookups. The closest electric line is probably back on the highway about 5 miles away. At night it's dark... totally dark. Unless some errant camper is running his generator, it's quiet... silent... except for sounds of nature or a jet plane passing overhead.

    We're parked about 50 feet from the edge, and the view into the Goosenecks of the San Juan River greet us every time we look out. It's the most spectacular place we've camped in the almost 5 years we've been on sabbatical.

    click for full size

    Apr 17, 2012

    Apr 17 - Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

    • Explored two Pueblos (villages) in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
    • Toad Miles Today: 70
    • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  520
    • Tonight's camp: Sundance RV Park in Cortez
    • Weather: morning low: 33  afternoon high: 78, mostly sunny and warm
    • Notables: 1. I don't get the same feeling exploring ruins that have been extensively reconstructed for tourists that I get from the original, undisturbed article.  2. Like folks in all cultures, most of us are just trying to get through the day while striving for as much happiness as we can find. 3. A picnic lunch on a flat rock at Lowry Pueblo, listening to nature and pondering this native culture.
    • Link to photo album for today.

    West of Cortez is a large area of public land known as Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Established in 2000 by Presidential Proclamation, the Monument exists to preserve more than 6,000 archeological sites of the early Puebloan culture.

    At about the same time as the Mesa Verde cliff dwellers, there were thousands more Ancient Puebloans living in the valleys and canyons in the surrounding area. The ruins of their dwellings are scattered all over the 4 Corners area, but a particularily large number of them are located in the 164,000 acre Monument.

    Some of the sites are the remains of pueblos... villages... where a group of families, perhaps as many as 40 or more, would live together in one place. The structure would be an interconnected set of rooms, kivas, and plazas where the inhabitants worked, lived, and celebrated together. Each family, it is presumed, had it's own room for sleeping... a more or less private space. But most of life was lived with the community.

    We visited Lowry Pueblo, about 20 miles northwest of Cortez, the last few miles of which were gravel and dirt road. We were the only people there... at least in our current space/time dimension. It's a 1000 year old ruin of a 40 room pueblo, named after George Lowry, an early 20th century homesteader in the area. Extensively excavated in the 1930s by Dr. Paul Martin of the Chicago Field Museum, it has also been extensively rebuilt and stabilized in 1965. A portion of the pueblo has a protective roof installed.

    From Wikipedia...
    The Lowry Pueblo National Historic Landmark consists of 8 kivas, a great (community) kiva and 40 rooms built as high as three stories. The underground great kiva was built about AD 1103 and had murals painted over about 5 layers of plaster. About 1110 another kiva was built on top of the original kiva. Based upon the size of the kiva it's thought that the Lowry Pueblo may have been a local center for religious gatherings and celebration.

    After exploring the pueblo and the grounds, we utilized a flat rock, located a respectable distance from the pueblo, to enjoy a picnic lunch, to listen to nature, and to think about those early folks. I think, like most of us, they were just doing their best to get through the day... and to do so with a measure of pleasure and happiness.

    We then headed back over to the Anasazi Heritage Center and Visitor Center for the National Monument. When we were there the other day it was getting late and we didn't tour the hill-top pueblo just above the Visitor Center. Today we had time.

    Escalante Pueblo was visited by the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776, and thus so named. More typical of ruins from that time, it's basically an outline of low walls and footings exposed by the removal of the collapsed masonry from above.

    Most surprising to me, now that I've learned and understand so much more than I knew before about this culture, is it's scale... the geographic area, the number of people, the huge number of remaining sites... it really was a hot-spot of civilization at a very early time in the history of these lands.

    Apr 16, 2012

    Apr 16 - Mesa Verde National Park

    • Explored Mesa Verde National Park
    • Toad Miles Today: 70
    • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  450
    • Tonight's camp:  Sundance RV Park, Cortez, CO
    • Weather: morning low 31  afternoon high 60; Mostly sunny and cooler... especially at the higher elevation of the Park
    • Notables: 1. Impressed by the building expertise, the creativity, and the advanced nature of this early Puebloan culture that blossomed almost a thousand years ago.      2. Wondering and pondering about the ways of the Ancients as reported by their current descendants... the lack of the concept of ownership... living in the "now" but wrapped in their verbal history, with minimal thought or concern about the future.   3. It all reminds me that while we may think we have the answers to life's most important questions... we probably don't.
    • Link to photo album for today.


    So much has been written about the Ancient Puebloans (also referred to as Anasazi) that I won't attempt another version. Instead, let me try to touch on some of the thoughts and questions we had while enjoying Mesa Verde today.

    But first, an overview.  From where they came, no one really knows. There is evidence that they were descendants of the early humans that crossed the land-bridge from Asia into Alaska during the last ice age. Supporting that is the fact some descendants of these early Puebloans (I don't remember if it's Hopi, Navajo, Ute, or some other...) can communicate, in their native language, with Inuit Natives in Alaska, indicating a common source to their two languages.. But there is no definitive proof of their origin. In any case, early ancestors of these people settled in the 4 Corners area about 4,000 years ago, as the climate warmed and made survival possible. Initially they built crude shelters, pithouses, in the broad valleys where they gathered food and other materials that made life possible for them. They began cultivating corn and squash to supplement their diet. Called the Basketmakers by archaeologists, they were particularly skilled at weaving baskets.

    The Pueblo culture grew from the Basketmakers are really got it's start about 1300 years ago as the climate warmed even more and made survival at higher elevations possible. They lived on the same mesa tops where they gathered the wood and plants they needed, and grew the corn, squash, and beans they ate. Dwellings were still rather crude, but were becoming progressively better.

    Over the years their building style evolved to sturdier and more sophisticated structures. They learned to use adobe and stone... eventually becoming skilled at masonry construction. Multiple family dwellings became common with additional rooms added as needed. Often the structures were built in a curved or almost round fashion, surrounding a central communal or ceremonial room known as a kiva. There was no master plan for these structures... they were organic, evolving according to needs and the whim of those doing the construction. But their ability to work with stone and mortar grew over time and toward the end of their time in the Mesa Verde area, the craftsmanship had reached a high level... even by today's standards.

    For some unknown reason, the Ancient Puebloans moved from the mesa tops to the rock alcoves of the cliffs... the sides of the mesa. Here they built stone structures that housed a hundred people or more in a single alcove. Most of the cliff dwelling work took place between 1200 and 1300... a short period for these folks who had already been here for 600 years. And they built with vigor... just inside the boundaries of the National Park, there are over 600 cliff dwellings documented with many more in the surrounding area outside the Park.

    The population of this area was greater then than it is today... as many as 30,000 people in this relatively small corner of the world. They were hunter-gatherers, farmed the mesa tops, and made a community in this corner of the world for 700 years. But by the year 1300, they were mostly gone. They didn't just vanish, but migrated south and west, and assimilated into other groups and tribes including the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Zuni, and a dozen or more others.

    We can only guess as to why they left. It may have been extended drought. They may have exhausted the supply of wood, which they used for building and for heat. Crops may have failed from disease or drought. Living in larger groups, was disease or friction between groups or families a factor?  Like most large change it was probably a combination of factors, and took place over a longer period of time than we believe.

    During our day in the Park, we saw three of the large signature cliff houses, Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House. All three of these are down on the end of Chapin Mesa. A second area of the Park, on Wetherill Mesa, doesn't open until later in May.

    When viewing the sides of other mesas across the canyons it is common to find cliff dwellings scattered here and there... a lot of them. As mentioned earlier, there are more than 600 of them inside the Park.

    It's necessary to buy a ticket for a tour (50 people max) of Cliff Palace, and the hike to it from the mesa top involves a hundred feet of elevation change accomplished with the aid of narrow stone steps (courtesy of the CCC during the depression) and stout wooden ladders. But once to the dwelling we were treated to a close-up encounter with the Ancients through the remains of their community. While there has been some restoration of the ruin, large areas remain intact and original.

    Spruce Tree House is a dwelling that can be walked to and toured at your own pace... no ticket required. And while Balcony House was not open yet this time of year for tours, we did hike out to a point on the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail to get a next-best look at the place.

    Why did they feel the need to move into the cliffs after having lived for 600 years or more on top the mesas? Was the climate changing? Was it for defensive reasons... was there strife between groups or families? Was it a fad driven by the human trait to differentiate themselves from others? Once some did it, was it a "keep up with the Jones'" thing? You wake up one morning and everyone is driving a mini-van; you wake up another morning and everyone is driving an SUV? Here too, we'll never know.

    Is there something that happens when people group themselves in higher density living arrangements that exposes problems and issues that never had to be dealt with before?

    It occurred to both Dar and I that as we drive through the dying small communities of the rural USA that we might be witnessing a similar population movement, driven in this case by economics and opportunity.  Are the ghost towns of our civilization really any different than the cliff dwellings?

    Is there something that happens inside people once survival is more or less taken care of?  Do we get soft, unwilling to work as hard?  Do we naturally begin to place more importance on the self, the individual, as opposed to the community, the group? Do these changes sow their own seeds of change?

    Apr 15, 2012

    Apr 15 - Anasazi Heritage Center

    • Explored the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, CO
    • Toad Miles Today: 24
    • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  380
    • Tonight's camp: Sundance RV Park in Cortez, CO.
    • Weather: morning low 33;  afternoon high 54; morning clouds and showers gave way to more sun in afternoon.
    • Notables: 1. Studied Ancient Puebloan Civilization at the Anasazi Heritage Center this afternoon. 2. After two pretty dreary days, seeing the sun again.
    • Link to photo album for today

    After a slow Sunday morning and a few more rain/snow showers, things started to dry out about noon. There were still a couple showers visible off in the distance, looking like misty waterfalls under dark clouds surrounded by a sun-lit landscape... but it wasn't enough to keep us confined to quarters any longer. Starting tomorrow, the rest of the weather week looks great.

    Late morning we drove north about 12 miles to near the town of Delores, CO. where we found the Anasazi Heritage Center. Built as part of the McPhee Reservoir Project in the 1980s, this building and the surrounding grounds are managed by the BLM and also serve as the visitor center for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

    When stopping for the first time in an area, a National Park, Monument, or similar, we find value in getting the "survey course" information at the visitor center... the orientation films, the exhibits, and learn as much as we can about the history and science of the area... before venturing into the field. The Four Corners area of the USA is loaded with archaeological sites relating to the Ancient Puebloans that lived and prospered in this area a thousand years ago, and this is a great resource for the knowledge-hungry explorer.

    The other valuable thing we get from these visitor centers is the knowledge and recommendations from those who know... those who work here... those familiar with the area. "That road requires a high-clearance vehicle"  or "This hike will take an average person 4 hours to complete."... it's good stuff to help get the most out of a limited time in the Park... and to help keep you out of trouble.

    We were there for almost three hours, and carried home a thick stack of information and maps to pour over during the next day. We have our introduction. Now, over the next two days, we'll get into the field and put a few miles on the hiking boots.

    Apr 14, 2012

    Apr 14 - Snowy Weather Delay

    • Tonight's camp: Sundance RV Park in Cortez
    • No traveling or exploring today
    • Weather: morning low 45; afternoon high 34 (that's right, 34); cloudy, snow showers
    • Notables:  1. Snow;  2. Only left the bus-house once... to snap a photo or two of the snow; 3. Developed an allergy to snow.
    • Link to today's photo album.

    From the weather service for Cortez, CO:
    Mostly cloudy with snow and rain, then snow after midnight. Low of 27F with a windchill as low as 19F. Winds from the WSW at 10 to 20 mph. Breezy. Chance of snow 70% with accumulations up to 1 in. possible.
    Today was a day of rest and hunkering down against a bit of unsettled weather. Dar has a ton of photos to process and I'm behind on my journal updates. So all the elements came together nicely to provide us this day of working inside the camper and not feeling guilty at all about not being out exploring.

    I woke this morning to an itching nose and a building sense that this was going to be one of "those" days... and allergy attack day. After a bit, I started sneezing... strong powerful serial sneezes... like what happens when I stick my head in a bag of dried ragweed back in the Midwest. But what could I be allergic to up here??? at better than 6,000 feet?

    I pondered this question while trying to get a few chores done at my desk. Then, a quick glance out the window answered the question. Snow. That's what I'm allergic to up here. And part of that unsettled weather I referred to above is a series of snow showers predicted during the next day or so... in fact it's snowing right now... as I write this.

    Snow, for us, seems to go hand-in-hand with Colorado. A few years ago, we were married on a hot humid August day back in the Midwest. Three days later, after driving my VW beetle (with about 3.5 cylinders functioning the way they should) through 100+ degree Omaha heat... we were standing on Loveland Pass throwing snowballs at each other. We pitched the pup tent near Dillion Reservoir and endured 3 or 4 days of cold, rain, and on the last day snow. (But we were in love... right?) I really should have thought to pack something heavier than a T-shirt. Anyway, we finally threw in the towel, (didn't have to smother the campfire... it never really lit right or grew to more than a smoking pile of wet sticks), and headed for the first Holiday Inn we found. We looked so bad you could see them trying to come up with an excuse to send us away. But the gods were shining on us that day... and that shower... that glorious hot long shower... was the best I've ever had.

    Yes, we're old hands when it comes to Colorado and snow.

    Apr 13, 2012

    Apr 13 - Mesas, Buttes, and Bad Roads

    • Move from Santa Fe, NM. to Cortez, CO.
    • Route: I-25S to US-550N to US-64 (Bloomfield) to US-491 (Shiprock)
    • Fueled (diesel) at 4.019 (a real bargain for the area)
    • Miles Today: 271
    • Total Spring12 bus-house miles : 1,210
    • Total Spring12 toad miles : 356
    • Tonight's camp: Sundance RV Park
    • Weather: morning low 34, high 58, mostly sunny day, brisk SW wind
    • Notables: 1. Spectacular colorful mesa landscape along US-550; 2. Saw nothing appealing in the Bloomfield to Farmington corridor along US-64; road was horrible too. 3. First time in Colorado with the bus-house since we started the Sabbatical.
    • Link to photo album from today.

    The weather forecast for the weekend didn't look good for our intrepid explorers, and we had to decide whether to ride out a day or two of rough conditions down in Santa Fe, or up in Cortez, CO., our next planned stop. A short window of calmer conditions seemed to exist on Friday and, if we were up to the task, we could make the drive into Colorado, wait out the Saturday-Sunday problem up there... and then be ready for Mesa Verde National Park on Monday. And that's what we decided to do.

    For the second time in a row we got an early start, on the highway by 8:15am. A quick stop for fuel in San Felipe, and we were again heading northwest toward the Four Corners area. The landscape along US-550 was desolate and beautiful. Colorful mesas and buttes were everywhere. With a little research I found a consensus about what the difference is between a butte and a mesa (and a plateau).  It's all a matter of size. Think of a high plateau with rivers starting to erode all of it's sides. Eventually, the rivers erode enough material that the flat top is isolated from the surrounding geography. The plateau has become a mesa. When the mesa continues to erode and becomes smaller and smaller, eventually the flat part on top is smaller than the sides are high... and the mesa has now become a butte. Buttes may have small flat tops, but eventually, the flat top gives way to a jagged or peaked top. Now you know.

    A butte (foreground)... a mesa behind.
    We stopped at a diner in Bloomfield for lunch, followed by a heading change to the west on US-64. We've been on a lot of bad roads over the years of the Sabbatical, but the stretch from Bloomfield through Farmington was among the worst. There were signs that they might be thinking about working on it... but it's a POS road in my opinion. We saw a lot of oil field work in this part of the world and while this activity provides jobs and adds to the economy, it, in my experience, does nothing for "quality of life" conditions in the affected towns.

    Off in the distance was Shiprock Peak, standing stark and tall on, what one could easily imagine, a broad flat rough sea. Arrrgh!

    Shiprock Peak

    A turn to the North at the town of Shiprock (wonder how it got that name?) took us the last 45 miles or so to Cortez, CO. This road, US-491, was a bit of a challenge too. Occasional dips in the road surface, ranging from small whoop-dee-doos to very deep "OMG... we're going to bottom out and rip the jacks off the bus-house" drop-offs made for a challenging and slow journey. We learned to identify the dips and judge their severity by the amount of oil (from ripped open engine oil pans??), rubber (from tires going airborne and coming back to earth again??), and vehicle wreckage on the side of the road.

    Arriving in Cortez about 2:30pm we found the more affordable Passport America RV Park closed for major renovations. But our back-up, Sundance RV Park, was open for business and had room for these two tired travelers.

    We'll settle down for a day or two and let the weather do what it will do. Can't do anything about it anyway. And we like having a day or two like this once in a while to get caught up on our work. With plenty of  photo-processing and writing to do, we'll keep busy.


    A few housekeeping notes: Dar's been working hard at updating our photo journal. Over the next day or two, new albums from recent travels and explorations will be available. We keep this photo journal as an adjunct to the blog, and it really adds another valuable dimension to our story. I'm also starting to put a link to each exploration day's photos in the bullet-point header info at the top of each post.

    Second, I've got an updated interactive map for our 2012 travels on our map page. Just click on the "Maps" tab, and see a chronological record in graphic map form.

    Life is not good... it's great!

    Yes, it's colorful, but it can also be snowy.

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