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2004 Travelogue #37 Mesa Verde A & A Mesa Verde RV Park Cortez, Colorado

Places of Interest:
Utah: Canyonlands National Park., Arches National Park.
Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park

9/26 Today was a long traveling day, beginning at 9 am. We went north from Cedar City on I-15 to I-70 and turned east. This was the end of our westward movement and it was sad. There is just something about the west, its vast spaciousness, which seems to draw us. We stopped at the Flying J on I-70 in Richfield, UT for diesel, now going for $2.04 per gallon; I noticed that crude just went to $50 a barrel.

The route along I-70 is impressive. We climbed mountain passes, and then dropped into canyons and gorges as we passed through the upper northern portions of Canyonlands National Park. We turned off I-70 onto US-191 toward Moab, Utah, and then crossed the Colorado River, near Arches National Park.

Arriving after 3 pm at the Spanish Trail RV Park on South Highway 191 in Moab, we parked in the front row, facing east toward the La Sal Mountains. Unfortunately, our site was about 50-yards from US-191; the truck traffic was heavy.

Driving into town that evening for dinner, we cruised Main Street and found Eddie McFaddens with a full parking lot. McFaddens is a microbrewery, which also serves very good food. The Sunday special was prime rib for only $22 but we opted for their fresh-ingredients pizza, unique because they use their micro- beer as an added touch in their pizza crust.

After dinner two very tired travelers returned to their motorhome. A plus for this location was that it faced the snow-capped La Sal Mountains and, since it was full-moon time, we watched a gorgeous red sphere rise over the mountains. This sight compensated for the highway noise; there was the added bonus of glorious sunrises.

9/27 This morning we drove about 5-miles north of town to Arches National Park. Geology is the attention-getter here. Imagine being greeted by more than 2000 stone arches and hundreds of stone towers, pinnacles, monoliths and unbelievable shapes of reddish-brown Estrada Sandstone at every turn of the road. The 18-mile trip took us to the north end of the Park. Along the way there are many scenic overlooks and places for short hikes into the sliprock canyons, offering an opportunity to walk-up and touch these colossal rock formations.

Our first stop was a place called Park Avenue, so named because early visitors said it reminded them of the New York City skyline. The rocks are huge and looking up from the canyon floor, they do resemble the sheer sides of skyscrapers.

This whole area, 150-million-years ago, was tidal flats and sandy beaches and over time, layers of rock, perhaps a-mile-deep, covered these deposits. The tremendous pressure from rock layers compressed the buried sand into sand stone. More than 2-million years of erosion removed and withered the overlaying rock layers of the Estrada Sandstone. Freezing temperatures caused cracks in the sandstone, leaving vertical slabs called fins, the first step in nature's formation of arches.

We walked several trails but our favorite was at the end of the 18-mile road, called the Devils Garden Trailhead. Walking back into the silence of the canyon we grasped the aura of time, while looking up at these wonderful formations against the brilliant blue sky. At the end of our trail was Landscape Arch, measuring 306-feet from one base to the other. There are more than 2000 cataloged arches in the Park and this is the largest, an awesome wonder.

Life is so delicate in this arid land; plant life needs all the help it can get. Here biological crusts provide stable soil, nutrients and moisture. There is another name for this soil, called crypto biotic, composed of cyanobacteria, mosses, soil lichens, green algae, microfungi, and bacteria. All these elements come together to grab a foothold on the soil and add a small crusty patch that can retain moisture to begin the evolution of plant life. It may take as long as 250-years for these little crusty biological soil patches to develop.

Our time was running out; sunset was approaching. Driving the 18-miles out of the Park the long shadows of evening were moving across the rocks, casting different shades of color at every turn.

9/28 Today we moved again, but a lot shorter than Sunday's drive, about 120-miles into Colorado. However, we hadn't planned on the wind. Shortly after sunrise, the wind started whistling up the canyon from the south. The temperatures were in the high 40's, the wind about 25-mph with gusts to 30-mph. The chill factor was the first I've had to experience in a while. It seemed that the wind was getting worse, obliviously sucking into a low pressure; bad weather was coming.

We threw ourselves into gear, packed up, and were on the road by 10:15 am. The wind came straight at us from the south, moving us as we dipped down and up a canyon or a draw. We were fortunate on one stretch of road to have slightly wider shoulders, because as we crested a hill, I saw a patrol car coming toward me with lights flashing, followed by a second patrol car and a scout car with a wide-load sign and flashing yellow lights. I was wondering whether to pull over or not when suddenly it appeared over the hill: a tractor-trailer carrying a huge front-end hauler that looked liked it belonged on a drag-line in a coal mine. It took up two-thirds of the highway and there wasn't just one. There were three; each with a patrol car escort. Luckily, I did pull over just before the shoulder ran out on the narrow highway.

Driving into Cortez, Colorado we looked east toward the San Juan Mountains and knew in a couple of days we'd be trekking through them on our way to Pagosa Springs, but first we'd see Mesa Verde and complete our "Grand Circle" tour.

We chose A & A Mesa Verde RV Park, on US-160 about 9-miles east of Cortez. It's a scenic park facing Mesa Verde Mountain, directly across the road from the Park entrance. Our site had a beautiful view, FHU, 50 amps and much quieter than last night along that busy highway in Moab, Utah.

After hooking up, we went into Cortez to the Super Wal-Mart. Upon returning, we sat outside watching the full-moon rise above the mountains and the constant trail of car lights creeping down the mountain from Mesa Verde Park. That night it started raining and it rained the entire night, leaving us to wonder if we'd see Mesa Verde tomorrow.

9/29 Mesa Verde National Park is the nation's largest archaeological preserve. I first came to the Park in 1950, as a kid, when it was a lot more rustic. I remember going up Mesa Verde Mountain on a gravel road, stopping at an overlook and being told by my father that we could see four states from this location. How cool is that when you're 9-years-old? Back in those days the Ute Indians came to the Park, and for a small fee, people could have their picture taken with them, which we did. I'm sure Dad "ponyed" up a few bucks, because I have an old picture of my sister and me taken with a young Indian in full dancing regalia, with his father standing next to him, in front of the Cliff Palace ruins.

This morning we awoke to continued rain. Since we were camped across from the Park entrance, I could see that the mountain was engulfed in clouds and barely visible. We waited until 11 am before heading up the mountain. By then the rain had stopped and some of the cloud cover had moved on leaving just a few pockets of dense clouds. Everything became brighter as we moved onto the mesa.

Once up on the mesa, we saw major damage from previous forest fires. Mesa Verde has had several large fires during the last 10 years. In one particular area there were no trees, just oak underbrush, which at this time of the year looked like a patchwork-quilt of yellow, gold, and red leaves.

About four miles into the Park, we came to the Morefield Campgrounds with 435 sites in a grassy area amid oak trees. The campground opens in April and closes October 16 and costs $19 per night. It's a climb for larger RV's and I would not recommend it…unless you are a brave soul.

The Headquarters and Museum are National Heritage Landmarks because of the Modified Pueblo Revival architecture used in their construction between 1922 and 1938. The structures are enriched by the hand-tooled craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the 30's. The tin light-fixtures in the Museum are classic 1930's CCC workmanship, the same as in the Painted Desert Museum in Arizona. In fact, the architect was the same for both and Mary Coulter was the interior designer for both.

After visiting the Chapin Mesa Museum, we took the trail down to the Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde's best-preserved cliff dwelling and a trip back in time. Since it was still raining, there was only Peggy and me, our golf umbrellas and two Rangers; we had an excellent tour of the dwelling. The National Geographic Traveler named Mesa Verde as one of the fifty "must see" places of a lifetime.

Mesa Verde in Spanish means "green mesa" and this is where the early inhabitants did their farming and hunting. Their stable crops were corn, beans, and squash. From 600 AD to 1300 AD, for 700 years, they lived and farmed this rugged country, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. These canyon walls were once the heart of the Anasazi civilization.

Two primary mesas occupy part of a large plateau rising high above the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys. Today we toured the Chapin Mesa, seeing Cliff Palace plus several other sites along the drive, finishing with Balcony House. Their cliff dwellings were built on the ledges and caves along the canyon walls. In one canyon, about two-miles-long, there were over 40 cliff dwellings.

Today, these major ruins have been restored, showing how the structures looked when used at their peak in1200 AD. Even though some of these dwellings date back to 800 AD, from a distance, their reconstruction looks like someone could move into them tomorrow. Some of the smaller ones, tucked back into the canyon caves and ledges, look like they have never been disturbed.

For some unknown reason by the end of the 13th century, the people began to leave the Montezuma Valley. The Puebloan people picked up everything they could carry and migrated to the east and south to join other Puebloan living in, what are now called New Mexico and Arizona. These ruins have slept for 600-years and left a legacy of stone-spirits adrift within these canyon walls. . ,

Hanging over the sides of these cliffs to view the far canyon walls through binoculars, we wondered how these people moved up and down the rocky ledges, carrying food from the mesa far above and water from far below. They had ladders and also small hand and footholds carved into the sandstone. The poor mothers and grandmothers must have been constantly worried about "junior" falling over the ledge.

Coming to the end of the day and our journey, I reflect back on the words of Tessie Naranjo from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico.

"Movement is life. Without movement, change, and transformation, there would be no life or death. Movement is seen everywhere. The clouds rise out of the mountains and move across the sky, forming, shifting, and disappearing. The clouds become the model for the way people need to move through life."

Mesa Verde National Park completes the "Grand Circle" for us and it has been a journey through the landscape of the Southwest following the great rivers of the Colorado, the Rio Grande and the San Juan. We have come through deserts and over highlands, through canyons and over mesas; like clouds drifting across this beautiful landscape.

We hope you have found something of interest in our Travelogues and along the way, a little taste of Americana. Our next stop will be Pagosa Springs to see our son and daughter-in-law and the beautiful aspens, oaks and sumac; then on to Texas for the winter. If we see, eat, or do something worthy to write about, we'll pass it along.

Until then…God Bless.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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