Roadtrip Life :: Home

From the Green Mesa to the Red Desert

Posted on November 14th, 2007 after 13660 miles by Dean Croshere.

I woke up early in the morning, determined to get as much done as possible before heading to my next destination. I was determined to get to a camping site this time, but not till after I drove to the Mesa Verde.

I’ve always wanted to see a mesa. I’d read about them and seen pictures of them. I find them to be so majestic, rising directly out of the flat earth, ending abruptly in a flat top.

Mesa Verde seemed like the place to start. I wasn’t positive, but I thought I remembered a Native American art history class that mentioned Mesa Verde was the place the Pueblo people had built their towns right into the cliffs.

I was right.

The ranger at the gate was another extraordinarily pleasant fellow. He told me the winter schedule had started that day, and there was only one “house” that had tours. The tours started at 10:00 AM, 1:00PM, and 4:00PM. They started from the museum, which was 45 minutes down the road. I smiled, thanked, and paid him the park entry fee.

I didn’t want to wait around for the 1:00 tour, as I still planned to get over to Utah and up to the Canyonlands before the sun set. As the ranger said, there was a 45-minute drive ahead of me, and it was 9:45. I made it in 20 minutes. I easily caught up with the tour group.

These cities are certainly incredible. All of the brick for the buildings, mud for the mortar, wood for the fires, food, and water had to be carried up or down the primitive stone ladders or along long paths. The cities had multiple floors and large meeting areas.

Their circular “kivas” or prayer pits, had side passages to allow the cool air to be pulled into the bottom, then spread around the outside of it, so as to not disturb the fires as the smoke escaped the hole in the roof. Rather genius.

I think I was the most surprised by how small everything was. I guess it makes sense, but I always expected the windows and doors to be about the size of the windows and doors we put on things.

After the tour, the guide pointed out an optional two-mile loop called the “petroglyph loop.”

I headed towards it with another group of 3. Being young and tall, I headed out in front. I found myself quite a ways in front of them, despite the fact that I kept stopping to take pictures of the giant valley beneath me.

At one point, when I was coming around a corner, I heard a screech. I use the word screech here, because it accurately denotes the pitch of the call. The connotation that a screech is a horrible noise could not be any less correct, though it took me a moment to realize it was a bird call. It was magnificent. It was long and high, with the pitch increasing more as the volume trailed off. The sound didn’t echo so much as it reverberated throughout the canyon.

I turned and looked through a perfect frame in time to see what I think was a giant condor gliding effortlessly through the valley. It was huge. I was transfixed. My camera was in my hand, powered on, and focused as I had just taken a picture in that direction a moment earlier.

All I had to do was raise it to my eye and press the shutter.

I couldn’t do it. I was, as I said, transfixed. Paralyzed. The bird was so amazing, following it’s arcing, swooping, gliding, path through the air before it passed out of sight.

I would rank the sight of that bird right up there with my favorite moments from this trip. It was so magical. I heard its beautiful call a couple more times on the hike, each time I turned as quickly as possible, camera at the ready, hoping to snap a picture of the beast.

It was always out of sight, never willing to have his photo taken.

I came to namesake of the trail and paused to read up on the meanings of it. It tells the tale of how these people left the Grand Canyon (the squarish spirals in the upper middle), and splintered off into various clans. The people got lost (on the far left) in the desert before the Kachina gods found them and told them the right way to go.

I had just finished reading up on all of this when I heard the other group coming up behind me. I decided to wait around to see if they were friendly enough to join for the rest of the trip.

When they came around a corner, we exchanged pleasantries, and joked around for a moment.

“I won’t tell if you don’t” the eldest of the group held something out to me. It was an energy bar. I was incredibly hungry. I took it, thankfully. “It’s almost kinda sugar free.”

Nice enough to join, that’s for sure.

It wasn’t long before I joined into conversation with this man, learning that he was 77 years old, hiking this rather rough trail with his son and daughter-in-law. He certainly loved to talk and began telling me stories of his youth, how he never drank or smoked, but still found a way to have a great time. He told me about one girl he dated, “an Indian girl.”

“Not all Indian girls are pretty” he told me, “but this one sure was, my oh my.”

He taught me how to swear in “Indian,” words he said she taught him, but I promptly forgot. I’m no good at remembering these things. I can barely remember any Spanish, and I studied that for almost 3 years.

His daughter-in-law and I stopped at all of the scenic points along the tour to snap pictures as he kept telling stories. I love the little rock balanced on the big rock on the end of the peak there.

He told me that women and old men were displaced over here by the recent fires in Southern California, “I think I’m gonna go find myself a girlfriend.”

The fires are a bit of a sore spot for me, for reasons I’ll explain when I get to So. Cal, but his comment was awesome. He sure was one hell of a 77-year-old man. He said his father died in his late 90s from smoke inhalation while he was burning the weeds from his property. We can only aspire to be as active and powerful as these men.

After finishing this hike and grabbing lunch from the cafeteria, I got back on the road. I had spent a little longer here than I expected, but I still stopped a few places along the way to take pictures of the remarkable views from up here.

At one point, a short jog from the road, there is a little landing with nearly 360 degree views that cover a remarkable distance.

If I remember anything from my class correctly, these clouds coming in from what I believe are the San Francisco mountains (no relation to the California city), carry the Kachina gods that are represented in those Kachina that are so popular in museums.

After leaving the park, I headed over to Utah and up to the canyonlands.

My first priority was to find a place to camp.

I checked the first place I had planned to try. It was out of season so there was no running water, but there were envelopes and a container to accept those envelopes. There were 15 or so camp sites with picnic tables, fire pits, and little else. There was noone else in the site besides me, and the it was five miles out along a tiny road. It was perfect, but I didn’t have any wood, and there were signs posted all about that there was a $100 fine for scavenging for wood.

I wasn’t worried about getting a fine. After all, I’d have a good 15 minute warning before anyone got here. It was more of a problem that there wasn’t anything besides shrubs to gather wood from.

I headed towards Moab, about 30 miles further along the road. I wasn’t in any rush, as time no longer had any consequence. I bought myself a couple bundles of wood, an act that was extraordinarily painful as I grew up on an overgrown Christmas Tree farm. Wood rotted before we could burn it.

I also stopped for dinner at a nice place that opened moments after I first tried the door. The waiter was incredibly energetic and happy, it put me in a better mood. I decided to have a beer.

“What’s on tap?” I asked. I noticed they had a full liquor license, and there were a couple of microbrews in town, so I expected a fair selection.

“Bud, and Bud Light.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll have a Bud Light then.”

He brought me my beer and my “Navajo taco,” and made the peach cobbler sound real delicious, so I had him bring me some of that too. The Navajo Taco was the same thing as the Indian Taco I had back north of Des Moines, Iowa, all the taco fixings on a big thick dense bread shell. It had to be eaten with a fork.

Stuffed to the brim, I headed back to my campsite.

There was another site 20 miles further down the road. I figured that since it was further away, it must be better. It was only 2 or three more miles later that the road turned into gravel. It had probably not been redone since the spring previous, so it was pretty badly “washboarded.”

The bumpy road made for slow going, which was probably a good thing. It wasn’t long before I came around the corner to see a large, misty-eyed doe standing right in the middle of the road. She looked at me, looked away, took a step forward, stopped, turned, took another step, stopped, looked at me, turned again, then bounded off into the darkness.

Eventually I got to my campsite. Not only was the moon new, so it was on the other side of the planet with the sun, but there were some clouds covering up a lot of the stars. I couldn’t see a damned thing. Luckily I had my flashlight and headlights.

I paid the fee, picked what seemed to be the best site, and built a fire.

I’ve never had less trouble getting a fire started than with whatever these bushes were. They had little dried leaves on the end. The branches themselves got thick real quick into hard yet hollow tubes.

I stuffed a couple of them under some of the logs I had bought and held a lighter near them.

The leaves practically exploded into flame, quickly setting the hollow tubes into a hot fire that lit my logs better than lighter fluid ever has.

I had been charging my laptop in my car on the way over; I left the hotel that morning with only half charge. Charging my computer using my car is likely the most inefficient thing I could possibly imagine.

The engine converts liquid potential energy into rotational energy. The alternator converts rotational energy into DC power. The DC power comes to the cigarette lighter where I have a DC-AC power inverter. My computers power cable is plugged into this, which runs directly to an AC-DC power brick. The DC then charges the battery, which then runs through another DC-AC inverter, which powers various things like the screen.

Whatever works, I suppose.

I grabbed this fully charged laptop and started writing by the fire. It was a really nice way to work, with the computer and the fire working together to keep my legs warm. I worked till my battery died, before I fell asleep in my car, both because there was no grass and no stars. I was right. It rained in the middle of the night, if I had been outside, I would have woken up in a mud pit.

Instead, I woke up to this.

P.S. I've been putting little bonus comments and quips under the discussion links, to encourage people to click on the link, perhaps to leave a comment. I do read those and I appreciate everything written there.

::Discuss::Permanent link::Location

Grandpa
Carlsbad, CA
Central Ala- 'Bama
The middle of the state.
Heaven on a Bun?
Next to the CdA lake
Driving in Idaho
Just south of Coeur d' Alene