Happy Christmas everyone. We are six months into our thirteen month trip and on one one hand we don’t ever wish to return; and on the other, cant wait to get back. We are very grateful for both of these sentiments. We miss you all horribly and wish you were here with us. All of you would love this kind of trip. To celebrate our six month mark we have for you, in its very rough form, some photos and trip notes.
This first post will be entirely dedicated to the first part of our trip to the Utah Canyonlands with the incredible Tracy’s. Here they are:
Rufus and Nancy Tracy have been making their annual pilgrimage to Utah for the last 50 years give or take and finally, after repeated invitations, we got to go with them. We were joined by their daughter Jane and her friend Ian; Jake, their grandson; and Bob and Alison Corcoran (Trimpi), Rebecca’s cousin.
For this first leg we parked the RV in Moab….
(this is not Moab – it’s a dry lake bed in Nevada – very first camp spot on our trip)
.. and rented a 4 wheel drive Jeep to get around the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest lands.
Camping in the Cedar Mesa area of Utah was spectacular – driving out onto the slick-rock mesa top and just setting up overlooking the canyon:
Needless to say, this completely changed our concept of camping.
This was our first “hike” – you can just about see us on the left:
We’re making for a vertical crack in the mesa top that drops 30 ft to that horizontal undercut in the rock. We’re going down the crack to hike along this second layer to a Pueblo Indian ruin that Rufus and Nancy and family discovered years ago. It’s so incredibly isolated, difficult to get to, and just plain unknown, I like to think that less than 100 people have seen it since the Pueblo left 900 years ago or so.
Here’s the crack:
Here’s my “we’re going to do what now?” look. I’ve heard that smiling got it’s evolutionary start as a fear response – bearing teeth when you feel uncomfortable or threatened.
And here’s Olivia descending the crack
The image is blurry due to technical difficulties. Not terror.
I should say that Olivia and Stella and Jake were all amazing and went down (and back up) without any drama. In fact, Olivia had done this 2 years ago when she went on the Tracy’s trip without us. They had told us about this bit when they got back but I had no idea it was this terrifying.
This was the last photo Rebecca or I were able to take for the rest of the hike (for reasons alluded to) and I’m hoping Bob who, like everyone apart from us, took it in his stride (while lugging around a camera tripod), has all sorts of photos he will be able to share.
Another day, another breathtaking hike:
We’re heading for the ruin that lies at the end of the promontory, aptly called “The Citadel”. Not to be found on any map, just another awesome discovery by the Tracy’s in their travels.
Jake scans the canyon floor 800 ft below while Stella secures the perimeter. From up here you’d have about 3 days advance warning of an enemy attack and after the second day they’d give up trying to reach you anyway (unless they had Bob with them).
Note the tripod.
Hike to “Moon House”:
Another incredible Pueblo ruin on BLM land. The Tracy’s spent many a year not finding anything before discovering these wonderful spots.
The great thing about these BLM sites is that they are remarkably uncontrolled. Just a sheet of paper (as you see in the doorway here) telling you not to remove artifacts and what rooms you can or can’t go in. The rest is up to you and your conscience. The honor system as applied to the preservation of national treasures.
Of course, there’s always Olivia to make sure you don’t step out of line. (Here reading the instruction booklet cover to cover)
After a week, Jane, Ian, Alison and Bob left us while we continued on to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado with Rufus, Nancy and Jake. The Pueblo ruins here are the most extensive, complex and complete to be found anywhere. Quite a deal of restoration work has been done and there are constructed walkways, ladders, railings etc so no-one falls off or down anything. It was quite spectacular if a little controlled in light of the stuff we’d done previously. Well worth it though.
We seem to have not taken many pictures here but a quick online search will reveal the classic spectacular shots of the ruins which are much better than our point-and-shoots. But, just to prove we’ve been there, here’s the long view of Cliff Palace I believe.
The interpretive rangers here are really great which is handy because the only way to see a lot of the Mesa Verde sites up close is via the ranger-led tours. There was one ranger we saw a lot of, whose name I wish I could remember but alas.., who was excellent. He gave us a unique insight in to the current Pueblo peoples’ view of these ancient dwellings. They do not regard them as abandoned because they believe their ancestors still live on here as spirits. They see the processes of erosion and decay of these sites as wholly natural and not necessarily something to repair or prevent. An interesting upshot of this attitude is reflected in the National Park Service’s current dilemma as they decide what if anything to do about a natural arch/bridge that has formed inside the cave directly above the Cliff Palace. Over the years, as more of the arch is undercut by erosion, it is becoming unstable and will eventually detach from the cave roof and destroy an estimated 75% of the Cliff Palace structures. In order to shore up the arch, the Park Service would have to install visually conspicuous supports at a massive cost and in pretty much direct opposition to the present day Pueblo peoples’ wishes regarding the site. According to our ranger friend, at this point in time, the feeling is to let nature take its course and allow the arch to fall, all but obliterating Cliff Palace (hopefully not while you’re visiting). It’s a fascinating debate though. On the one hand there’s the idea that we need as much reminding as possible of the rich, complex and successful society that existed on this continent way before the arrival of our European forebears and their Colonial entrepreneurship, so shouldn’t we do all we can to preserve these rare treasures? On the other hand, there is an intuitive “rightness” to the idea that these structures were built from the mud and straw and stone of their environment by people who are fundamentally connected to nature in a way we’ll never be and that these things should be allowed to return from whence they came, while the real remembrance of these ancient people is carried in the hearts and minds of their descendants – maybe a much more meaningful memorial (while these communities continue to survive at any rate).
After Mesa Verde we finally parted with Nancy and co and decided to head back to Utah. We had a few more days with the jeep until we had to return it in Moab so we thought we’d do some more BLM/National Foresting – down the dirt roads to the unknown. On the way we stopped off at Hovenweep National monument on the border of Utah and Colorado at the recommendation of the nice ranger man.
This collection of Pueblo buildings is unique because the structures are completely freestanding, more closely resembling 12th century European ruins than the dwellings we’d seen up to now.
These pictures don’t begin to do justice to this awesome site (we tried). There was almost no-one here in stark contrast to Mesa Verde which is extremely popular, about a million visitors a year I believe.
This crow hung out for so long without moving that we did start to wonder if they’d just put it there for the tourists. You can see it in the first Hovenweep picture above and it was still there after we’d hiked all the way around the canyon to this spot. It eventually flew off.
We had parted with the Tracy’s in Colorado with Rufus’s instructions on how to find “Olivia’s Meadow”, a camping spot they’d found by happy accident when Olivia had accompanied them 2 years previously. Go up through the Bear’s Ears he said, and search around in there. Right.
Well the Bear’s Ears is a peak in the La Sal mountains – specifically the range south of Canyonlands NP so we headed up the dirt road and eventually found, if not Olivia’s exact meadow, something very like it. We camped and were visited by cows and even a cowgirl in the morning -didn’t get a picture of her and you’ve all seen cows before.
Utah is awesome. You go from the amazing red sand desert mesas and canyons to these alpine areas with spectacular open meadows, aspens and pines.
and it’s all federal land. This land is your land.
We shall be returning.
Unforgettable trip. Thanks guys.