Wednesday, August 17, 2022—The Ancients: Chimney Rock National Monument, and our Terminal Destination

Wednesday morning we departed Cortez, and drove east to Chimney Rock National Monument.

There are many “Chimney Rocks” in the US, including the more famous but perhaps of less historical significance Chimney Rock National Historic Site. It has become one of the most notable landmarks in the American West, largely due to its stop along the Oregon Trail (see our blog entry 

There’s also Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina which we visited in 2000 (see blog entry for August9, 2020.)

And then, there is Chimney Rock National Monument. The monument represents one of the largest Pueblo II (900-1150 AD) communities in southwestern Colorado and is considered a Chacoan cultural “outlier.” The Chaco phenomenon was a complex system of dispersed communities bound by economic, political and religious interdependence centered in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

The pinnacles that give Chimney Rock its name frame multiple astronomical alignments. The Ancestral Puebloans incorporated their knowledge of astronomy into the design of their community. Today, Chimney Rock National Monument is one of the best recognized archaeo-astronomical resources in North America, with alignments with the northern lunar standstill, summer solstice, equinoxes and Crab Nebula.

Pinacles at Chimney Rock NM

The Chimney Rock National Monument encompasses 4,726 acres of the San Juan National Forest between Durango and Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Chimney Rock covers seven square miles and preserves 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings, some of which have been excavated for viewing and exploration: a Great Kiva, a Pit House, a Multi-Family Dwelling, and a Chacoan-style Great House Pueblo. Chimney Rock is the highest in elevation of all the Chacoan sites, at about 7,000 feet above sea level. 

There were a bunch of wildflowers blooming at the Monument’s headquarters.

It began sprinkling as we were departing Chimney Rock National Monument. We continued east and north, in the rain, to our terminal destination, Creede, Colorado, where we will spend the next two weeks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022—The Ancients: Mesa Verde National Park and Chimney Rock National Monument

Not in a hurry, we departed Moab shortly before mid-morning, driving south on US Highway 191, and continuing southwest on US Highway 491 to Cortez, Colorado.  

After checking into our “retro” motel, we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde has always been a fascination for us. I visited once in the 1970s, and Kay and I visited in 2009 on our 2009 Southwest USA trip (see journal entry for Friday, September 26, 2009).  Mesa Verde National Park is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace. 

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, having exhibits on the ancient Native American culture, was closed. Mesa Top Loop Road winds past archaeological sites and overlooks, including Sun Point Overlook with panoramic canyon views; regretfully, a significant portion of Mesa Top Loop Road was also closed. We did stop at a couple of the few overlooks that were open, and snapped off some photographs. Our first stop was at on overlook for Long House. Long House is nearly equal in size to Cliff Palace with about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. It may have been home to 150 to 175 people. Some of the architectural features in Long House suggest it was also a public place where people from all over Wetherill Mesa gathered to trade or hold community events. The formal plaza in the center of the site is larger than most villages and has some features not often found in other Mesa Verde archeological sites. For instance, the benches, vaults, and a raised firebox may indicate that this large open space was a dance plaza or great kiva, similar to Fire Temple on Chapin Mesa. The high number of rooms and kivas in Long House, plus the presence of the formal plaza suggest the community was a particularly significant place for Ancestral Pueblo people, perhaps serving both civic and ceremonial functions.

Long House at Mesa Verde NP
Long House at Mesa Verde NP

Our next stop was at an overlook for Cliff Palace. Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, the largest and most famous cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, has over 150 individual rooms and 23 kivas (rooms for religious rituals) with an estimated population of approximately 100 people. Because of so many closures, Mesa Verde National Park was a bit of disappointment, but fortunately our prior visit was thorough.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde NP

Monday, August 15, 2022—Dead Horse Point State Park and a Return to Canyonlands National Park

Mid-morning saw us off to Dead Horse Point State Park. Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below and Canyonlands National Park.  It is most famous for its view of the gooseneck bend of the Colorado River, a much sought after photographic icon.

Colorado River as seen from Dead Horse Point
As seen from Dead Horse Point

The park covers 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet.The legend of Dead Horse Point originates around the turn of the 19th century when cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa. It is said, a herd was driven down the neck of the peninsula, its sheer cliffs forming a natural corral, and the 30-foot-wide entrance was fenced off with branches and brush. For reasons unknown, the herd was left or forgotten. After a period of time with no food or water, they succumbed to the harsh desert elements, with the Colorado River in view 2,000 feet below. It is rumored those horses can be seen and heard still roaming the area.

Colorado River and Canyonlands NP as seen from Dead Horse Point

After the long awaited photograph of the gooseneck bend described above, we returned to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, just a few minutes away. Our goal was to photograph Mesa Arch, the crown jewel of Canyonlands National Park. This pothole arch on the easter edge of the Island in the Sky mesa perched at the edge of a cliff with views of canyons, Monster Tower, Washer Woman Arch, Airport Tower, and the la Sal Mountains in the distance.Sunrise is the ideal time to photograph Mesa Arch, but the crowd of photographers can be overwhelming. Even at mid-day, the site was crowded, mostly by a large foreign “family” group of about a dozen and a half people. It seemed they took forever to pose singularly and in groups. We have seen groups like this before in other national parks, traveling in two or three vans. Anyway, we waited our time and snapped a couple of photos.

Kay at Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP
Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP
Mesa Arch in Dead Horse Point SP

After a few more photos of the canyons below, we returned to the motel for the afternoon.

Colorado River and Canyonlands NP as seen from Dead Horse Point

Later in the afternoon, we did a quick driving tour of Arches National Park; it was Kay’s second visit and my third. Knowing it would be crowded (you have to reserve a time slot to visit), we did not have any particular goals in mind—just sightseeing. That turned out to be a good thing as a storm rolled in and it rained on us most of the time we were there. We did manage to get a few photos between rain storms.

Storm at Arches NP
Rainbow at Arches NP
Arches NP
Arches NP
Arches NP
Balanced Rock, Arches NP
Double arches, Arches NP

Sunday, August 14, 2022 (Part II)—Canyonlands National Park

After checking into our motel and grabbing a “take away” bite to eat, we drove north to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. I visited there briefly in the mid 1970s, but did not take enough time to smell the roses or take many photographs; Kay had never been there. At Grand View Point Overlook, the majesty of the canyons spread to the horizon. Grand View Point is the southern-most spot on Canyonland’s high mesa, the Island in the Sky. This whole area of the mesa has a 1,000 foot vertical wall, and the trails go right up to the edge—just a little gust of wind, and camera equipment and photographer are over the edge! Laid out below the Grand View Point is a complex network of canyons carved by the converging Colorado and Green Rivers.

Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook
Canyonlands NP, from Grand View Point Overlook

From Grand View Point, we began chasing the sunset despite very cloudy conditions. Our final stop was at Orange Cliffs Overlook, but we were unable to see the sunset.

Sunset at Orange Cliffs Overlook, Canyonlands NP

Sunday, August 14, 2022 (Part I)—Continuing Westward

We were awake early, having switched time zones when crossing into New Mexico. We brought coffee beans, grinder, and French press from home, making a great home brew for the road. After stowing overnight items, we continued west from Tucumcari on I-40. At Albuquerque we left the interstate in favor of US Highway 550 northwest to Bloomfield, New Mexico, where we stopped for a picnic lunch on the banks of the San Juan River. From there, it was off through Farmington to Shiprock, New Mexico, where we stopped briefly for photographs. Shiprock is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico. Its peak elevation is 7,177 feet above sea level. Shiprock is a point of interest for rock climbers and photographers and has been featured in several film productions and novels. It is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. In 1975, Shiprock was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Shiprock National Natural Landmark

From Shiprock we traveled northwest, crossing into Colorado, and then north and west into Utah. Driving northward through Monticello, Utah, the topography and scenery changed dramatically with the appearance of numerous monoliths such as Church Rock. Church Rock is a three-tiered solitary column of sandstone in southern Utah along the eastern side of US Route 191 north of Monticello. There is a 16 by 24 foot opening chiseled slightly into the rock. Interestingly, we were in a traffic stop there as the highway had just opened after being temporarily closed due to flash flooding.

Church Rock

After the brief delay and just past Church Rock, Wilson’s Arch appeared roadside east. The “structure” is a natural sandstone arch just off US Route 191, some 24 miles south of Moab. It has a span of 91 feet and height of 46 feet. The elevation of Wilson’s Arch is about 6,150 feet.

Traveling further northward, we stopped in Moab, our terminal destination for a couple of days before proceeding to our ultimate destination.

Saturday, August 13, 2022—Westward Ho!

We departed Hot Springs Village early Saturday morning, driving north to Morrilton where we stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s. Then it was on I-40 west through Arkansas, across much of Oklahoma, and into eastern New Mexico. It is always interesting to observe the changing topography. Past Amarillo and about 30 miles from New Mexico, the topography changed dramatically from rolling hills to high plains with arroyos, small canyons, and rock outcroppings. The day’s travel ended at Tucumcari, New Mexico, after driving some 700 miles.

At Tucumcari, we overnighted in the Historic Route 66 Motel; it is a mid-century modern hotel that is similar in style and atmosphere to hotels and homes designed by Mies van der Rohe, Joseph Eichler, and Oscar Niemeyer. Built in 1963, both the exterior and interior is more than a little reminiscent of “California Modern”, a style that was so popular until the latter sixties. It was clean and we would stay there again. Dinner was at the renowned Del’s Restaurant, which has served locals and travelers along Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, for more than 60 years. The food was good and reasonably priced. We would eat there again.

Flying outside our hotel room

Monday through Friday, August 8-12, 2022—Another Upcoming Travel Adventure?

Same song, same verse—heat and humidity continue to dominate the weather. Thus, no afternoon activities and only a few morning ones. Kay played pickleball Monday, Tuesday, and golf on Wednesday. I had church meetings all morning on Monday and lazed about on Tuesday, piddling around the house. Kay had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, and I had one on Wednesday—all’s well! Things changed on Thursday as I had a difficult early, early morning with the beginning of a vicious intestinal bug; consequently I remained in all day, close by the “facilities.” Kay used the “down” time to finish packing. The nasty bug continued to dominate my activities on Friday, but Kay and I had to reorganize the potted plants and set up an irrigation system for them. And waiting to the last minute, as usual, I packed fly fishing gear, camera equipment, and other electronics, and clothes. Together, we packed the car. A few minutes were squeezed into an otherwise busy day to photograph hummingbirds.

Male Ruby-throated Hummimgbird

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Monday through Sunday, August 1-7, 2022—Pickleball and a Photography Exposition

Yet another hot and humid week! We venture out early mornings and stay in the rest of the day. It’s getting a little tiresome being housebound. Consequently, there is little to report.

Kay continued her sports this week, playing pickleball Monday and Tuesday, golf on Wednesday, and pickleball again on Thursday. There is marked improvement in her games, both pickleball and golf; she’s amazing.

I played pickleball only on Monday and Wednesday, and came home drenched with perspiration both mornings. Bedford Camera and Video hosted Photo Expo 2022 in Little Rock Friday and Saturday, with enough speakers and vendors to whet any photographer’s appetite. Taking advantage of trade-in offers, sales, and a sales tax free weekend, I completed the transition from Canon to Sony. So it’s been an Argus C3 in the early 1960s, Minolta SR101 in the 1970s, Nikons in the 1980s, then various digital point and shoot cameras in the 1990s and early 2000s, Canon in the mid 2000s through 2019, and now Sony—quite a journey.

After church on Sunday, we had brunch at the Desoto Club in Hot Springs Village. Not only was it prohibitively expensive, it was also the worst buffet I’ve experienced. After two meals, dinner and Sunday brunch, I do not recommend it, and likely won’t return.

Towards the end of the week, I did make it out to the back “yard” for a few photos.

Fiery Skipper butterfly
Slaty Skimmer dragonfly
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird