Sunday, December 21, 2008

35-08 Peace On Earth, Tucson AZ

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth Good Will to Men. That’s a phrase you hear all the time around this time of year. And for good reason. Of all the gifts one could receive, peace is one that all mankind can relate to and desire for ourselves our families and the world.

Well we’ll get back to that thought in a bit. My stay here in Tucson has been full of activity. The time is moving along so quickly. The park I’m staying in for the winter, Desert Trails, is filled with good people and lots of activities to keep me busy. I’m enjoying the writers group I’ve joined, along with a computer club and a bike riding club. I’ve done some hiking in the desert and look forward to much more of that in the coming weeks. Entertainment is provided almost every night of the week.

The writing club has been very inspiring and one of the writers has encouraged all of us to write stories about our family to share with family and friends. Encourage your older relatives to tell their story and to write them down. Time goes so quickly, it’s a gift you can give your children. I’ll be forwarding another story I wrote shortly.

We had a crafts show up at the club house the other week along with a white elephant sale. I sold about $35.00 worth of stuff. How do I keep collecting all this stuff in such a small camper/home? Actually part of it is that I have to continually see if I’m using something, if not, it’s time to pitch it. So it either gets donated to Good Will or sold at a garage sale. And no to the “other Doug” I did not get rid of the small plastic bins that you wanted. They are very helpful and I may even purchase a few more in the future. Well, about 10 minutes before we were going to wind up the elephant sale, someone backed into my truck as it sat in the parking lot. Darn. After a bit of hassle, the guy who hit my truck has paid me $1,000 and still owes me a few hundred more. Decided not to go through the insurance company. Probably a good thing for both he and I since neither one of us wanted our insurance to get canceled or go up. The truck has already been repaired and looks as new as the day I purchased it.

I’ve finally gotten out and done a bit of local exploring. Tucson is an easy town to get around in as long as one avoids the congestion of construction on I-10. I’ve discovered a great back road to get to town, Gates Pass which goes through the Senora Desert over the Tucson Mountain range and drops down into the valley where Tucson sits.

Out in the desert is Old Tucson Studio’s where they’ve filmed a number of westerns. It’s still an active film studio but mainly a tourist attraction. I visited it the other day and really enjoyed wondering around, watching the various outdoor shows and looking at the sets used in those old John Wayne movies.

Much of the desert has become populated with 1-5 acre home sites. Double wide mobile homes, simple homes to communities of newer adobe homes. Most are single story affairs that at first glance are hidden behind the desert landscape of mesquite trees, scrub and cactus. After driving around the area for the past month, I’m able to see that the desert is much more populated than I ever imagined especially in the outlying areas surrounding Tucson.

South of town is a huge open pit copper mining operation. And at the edge of that is the site of the last remaining Titan Missile Silos. It has been preserved as a historical museum and I visited in yesterday. Originally there were 13 Silos that surrounded Tucson, manned 24 hours a day for over 20 years. A small team of military personnel manned each site in 24 hour shifts. Turning over control to the next team who had to inspect every aspect of the site each time they did the turn over.

I descended into the underground control room, down metal stairs, the clanking sound of our feet echoing against the 4 to 8 feet thick reinforced walls. Locked doors at each entry point. Black phone on the wall used to identify and provide security codes for entry. We reached the control room, a round room built on huge spring shock absorbers to protect it from the day the Titan rocket would be launched.

I sat at the control panel with key in hand, simulating a real launch. I turn the key synchronized with the backup person. Target one, two or three. They wouldn’t tell me what the targets were set on. Lights flashing, codes verified and accepted, bells and sirens piercing the air. The launch sequence had been accepted. Lift-off. Thank God it’s a simulation only. We walk down a long concrete tunnel filled with metal girders and thick black cables to the silo containing the Trident missile. It’s warhead and fuel removed 25 years ago. A symbol of Peace through mutual deterrence. We’ll annihilate you if you annihilate us. The cold war over, we and Russia have dismantle hundreds of sites like this. Over 100 Titan Missile sites have been destroyed. The missiles have all been able to be used for peaceful purposes, launching satellites into space. Probably many of the satellites you utilize to watch TV, make phone calls and for your GPS signals.

Is it all over. Hardly. They tell me over 400 other missile sites exist throughout the U.S. Still providing that deterrent. Keeping the peace we all hope for. Peace on Earth, good will to men. A bit eerie to be visiting a site like this a week before Christmas. But this is the reality of the world we’re living in.

I haven’t purchased anything for Christmas, just being able to enjoy this wonderful desert scenery is gift enough for me. They tell me that Mount Lemon has snow on it and I may drive up there to frolic in it in a few days. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas.
From Tucson AZ, your buddy, Doug P

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Desert Trails Rv Park:

Tucson AZ

Heading on down the road, I’ve left Mesa Az and one of those truly snowbird communities. I didn’t really feel I fit in there, as these folks only travel from their northern home to their winter residence. Definitely not travelers like myself.

After filling a tire with air that has been getting low lately, I ended up having to stop at a rest stop half way to Tucson. After realizing it was the valve stem, I removed the tire and headed to a tire shop to have the valve replaced. Oddly this is the second valve stem that has developed a tear in it and needed replacing within the past month. A fellow Rv’er at the rest stop told me that their was a recent recall on 6 million valve stems made in China. I apparently got two of them. The other possibility is that I had rodents chew on the valve stems and they created the tear. Rodents are a big problem out here. They like to chew on the wires on your vehicle. People do everything to try to stop them, from making mixtures of red pepper and pasting it on the wires or using things like dryer sheets and wrapping them around the wires. Rodents hate the chemicals in dryer sheets.

I finally made it to my winter destination (a two hour trip that turned into 4 hours) The Desert Trails Rv Park. It’s about 10 mile west of Tucson. After checking in and setting up on my site for the winter, I started to explore my home in the desert. The park is heavily landscaped with desert plants. Saguaro cactus those tall cactus with arms that reach up to the sky, some are almost 200 years old. Birds are making nests in the holes high up in the cactus. The saguaro don’t grow arms until they are about 75 years old. Lots of other vegetation including a wall of oleanders making me think of my beautiful Florida.

The park at first glance looks old and a bit run down. More like an old western town. Lots of old buildings mostly painted brown to blend into the landscape. Behind my campsite are all these covered picnic areas. Looks like a great place to relax in some shade around the fish ponds. But on closer inspection, it looks like the concrete ponds were once shallow swimming/wading areas as there are a number of old weathered life guard stands around them. Water spouting into the ponds.

As I turn a corner, I see what looks like a half buried Aztec ruin. How intriguing. I begin to realize this used to be a water park. Walking further around a hill, I see what’s left of the water slide attraction and many of the swimming pools have been filled in with sand.

It’s like I’ve arrived at a quirky park that was given up on, forgotten and overgrown with vegetation.

Later I find out the water park was the income for the summer months and the Rv resort took care of the winter months. Quite a unique concept. The owners finally gave up on the water park about two years ago, deciding they’d rather enjoy the adult Rv’ers than have to deal with the kids all summer long. Besides the water park was getting pretty run down and would have required tons of work to keep it up. It’s all mixed up together. Some campsites are on the edge of abandoned pools with sloping concrete edges leading into a now sandy bottom. The water long since removed.

I love it!. It quirky, odd ball and the Rv park itself is all mixed in with these unusual buildings and water park structures. None of the rows and rows of Rv’s next to each other like most parks. The roads wind in and around the cactus gardens, old buildings and remains of the water park, there are only a few areas where the Rv’s are actually lined up in a row.

See photo’s at:

On the other side of the oleander bushes, there’s a horse boarding ranch from what I can tell. I’m in the country, miles of hiking trails back up to the park and I’m not too close to the city. Chickens run out from under the oleanders and I saw two cute puppies peak out today.

I attended the Monday morning greeting for coffee and donuts to discover the rec. hall completely filled. Not a single seat remaining. One of the owners, Pericles, ran down all the events coming up, welcomed all us new winter residences and pretty much had a humorous monologue going for over an hour. Because there were so many people there and I getting there after the meeting was about to start, I didn’t get a chance to actually meet or talk to anyone. Not a good start for me, but then again it’s only my third day in the park.

I’ve joined a creative writing class today. It’s a group of about 8-10 writers. Some are writing stories about their families, poetry as well as Haiku. We each read something we’ve done and get feedback from the other members. It’s a great support group and I think I’ll fit in well. They all have a great sense of sharing. When I read one of my travel reports, they all gave me a thumbs up on my descriptions of places I’ve visited. I may try my hand at a bit of poetry or Haiku as well and of course I’ll share it with you.

Thanksgiving was great and I hope yours was as well. Over 100 filled the Rec. Hall for good food and conversation. The following day, it’s a pizza party in the park with live music at Noon. And it’s right behind my camper, so I don’t have far to go. Yum. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard “Proud Mary” played by a three piece band. Drums, Tuba and Accordion. What a hoot. Their best song though was the Beer Barrel Polka.

Desert Trails has tons of activities for me to get into so I think I’m going to be very busy this winter season. I’ll keep you posted occasionally throughout the winter and let you know what I’m up to. Have a great winter. It’s been fun sharing my experiences with you this past year.
As always, I’d love to hear from you when ever you have a chance to write.

Till the next big adventure begins, enjoy life, explore and learn something new each day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

33-08 Mesa Arizona

Mesa Arizona

How exciting to be back out on the road. But before I head out, I stopped by to have my eyes checked and the doctor gave me a positive report. My eyes are a stable 13 pressure. Each person is different, but the Dr. was pleased with my progress with the new eye drops.

Note for campers: Be sure to protect you medications especially if they have a temperature sensitive range. One of my eye drops has a range of 56-77 degrees. Very hard to maintain in a camper.

Note: Remember, you can view any of the pictures in the blog fullsize by clicking on the picture.

But enough of that. Excitement is in the air as I hook up the camper and head south to Phoenix and Mesa Arizona. I’ve become addicted to being on the road. It’s about a two and a half hour drive for me, not much I know, but just getting the camper out on the road again is enough for me.

You would be proud of me as my Chevy diesel truck smoothly passed semi-trucks and fellow Rv’ers (pulled by a Dodge truck) going over the mountain range. I couldn’t be happier with the way the Chevy handles.

As I descend into the Phoenix valley, I’ve dropped a couple thousand feet and we’re back at about sea level. Smog fills the valley around the city proper but is less out east of town in Mesa where I’ll be staying for a week. Traffic isn’t too bad on the major highways leading through the city, as big planes fly low over the ribbons of concrete heading to the airport in what looks like the center of town. The roads are now monitored by electronic cameras that will give $250 tickets to speeders.

The suburbs spread out from Phoenix in all directions across the flat valley floor. Dry bare brown mountain ranges circle the valley. I arrive at my campground the Good Life Rv park. It’s a Passport America park, so I’m getting it for half off for the week. Not the prettiest of parks, most of the camp sites have “park models, over 1,000” crammed into each space available. My camper is snuggled in between them surrounded by concrete and immaculately kept paved streets. Previous owners put down tons of fake green grass carpeting, so my entrance looks nice.

The valleys skyline is dotted with tall Mexican Palms. Hundreds of them line the rows of streets in the park I’m in. The silhouette of palms against the red evening sky is gorgeous. I took a day trip around town and visited an RV sales place checking out 5th wheel campers. Found a few really nice ones I like, but not to worry, I’m not buying anything until the market stabilizes. The dealers are desperate though so if you find one, expect to pay a lot less than a year ago.

The Good Life’s park pool area is large, with two swimming pools heated differently for those who like it cooler or warmer. They even have two in ground hot tubs also at different temps. Lots of shade areas for those of us who can only handle so much sun each day. The water felt good to splash around in for a while. Then relax in the shade and read a good book. Oh, it’s about 84 today, as I see on TV the east coast is getting a cold snap all the way into Florida.

So here I am basically in a community with lots and lots of Park Model homes (miniature mobile homes) and of course the Mexican Palm trees and miles and miles of suburbs. It’s a true flat concrete jungle. One that gets over 95 days a year of three digit temperatures…. That’s 100 degrees plus each year. Yikees and folks live here. Well except for all the folks in the park I’m in and the dozens and dozens of others here in the valley. They’re snowbirds from Canada and Minnesota and have bought their piece of the American dream and it’s warm all winter. Leaving the minute spring arrives.

Needless to say I had to get out in the country so I headed east on Main street towards Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains. Thought I’d check out the Lost Dutchman State Park. Yes this is the area that the Lost Dutchman Mine is… out there somewhere. Lots of good clues, but no one has found it yet. The drive out to Apache Junction was like a slow drive towards Old Arizona. The further I got away from Mesa and Phoenix, the older and sparser the surroundings. Old motel buildings, diners and run down Rv parks. More desert and sand. The palm trees were replaced by the Saguaro cactus, iron Mesquite trees and sage brush. I discovered that the Lost Dutchman State park was basically just a lot of hiking trails up into the Superstitious Mountains and a campground (no electric). So I bee-booped over to the Goldfield Ghost Town. Much of it has been restored/recreated, but it is on the original site of the town. The mine brought in over 4,000 folks, but when the mine flooded, it closed down and everyone left. One of the shop attendants suggested a trip on up the road about another 10 miles to Canyon Lake for a ride on the Dolly Paddle boat.

I was in the mood for driving through the mountains and desert and decided to head towards Canyon Lake. Good luck was on my side, as I got to the boat ramp 10 minutes before the only cruise of the day was to depart. They call the area the little grand canyon and the ride on the boat was really cool. Huge cliff walls, winding canyons, the dam that created the lake and best of all, I got to see a couple Big Horn Sheep climbing along the steep cliff walls. Now how cool is that!

After that, I felt like a million bucks. Now if I could just find that Lost Dutchman mine. The ships captain pointed out the mountain in the shape of a needle and said the mine is within the shadow of the needle. Now how hard could it be to find it?

But alas, my riches have all vanished in the stock market plunge and all that I have left is the richness of my friends. So thanks for being out there good friend.

I head to Tucson in the next day or so and will post another report or two describing my winter residence. Till then…. I’m still traveling the highways and byways…

Saturday, November 8, 2008

32-08 Verde Valley Arizona tour ending

The sun is setting behind the mountain range around 5 PM now. The evening air is 63 and dropping. It’s a dry crisp air. From my campsite, I usually walk over to the dumpster in the next camp loop where it’s usually empty except when a group takes over on the weekends. After dropping off my small bag of garbage, I walk around the silent campsites and look over at the ancient Pueblo, Tuzigoot. It’s easy to get into a contemplative mood and think about the Native Indians who lived up on the hill off in the distance over 1,000 years ago and built that beautiful Pueblo which caps the summit of the hill. I’ve watched it many an evening changing color as the sun turns the adobe bricks red in the setting sun.

Did you know Arizona does not have daylight saving time? It has been so odd not to change my clocks this past week. Either way, I still get up shortly after the sun comes up. Well ok, actually I lay in bed thinking, isn’t it nice not having to get out of bed and go to work. Opps, sorry about that to all my working stiff friends.

I have one more place to explore while in the Verde Valley, AZ. That’s the V bar V Ranch. It’s been cold the last couple of days and nights, but today, Friday, it’s warming up a bit and of course the sun is shining. A perfect day for a hike to the Petroglyphs that are a part of the V - V Ranch. Can you imagine owning a ranch and discovering Petroglyphs on your property. The owners eventually gave the land to the Gov to preserve the site.

I can’t tell you what a gorgeous refreshing day it is. The sun shining, a cool breeze that rattles the tall dry grasses as I walk along the mile long round trip path to the ancient site where Native Indians recorded what they saw. Deer, prong horn antelope, egrets, turtles as well as creating a solar calendar right on the side of the stone walls. The guide told us some of the markings are from very ancient Native Indians possibly going back as far as 10,000 years. Most are from the 800-1,000 year old range.

I talked to the gal at the visitor center and she told me how her and her husband are enjoying volunteering at this site for a couple of months. They are full time campers and usually try to stay in an area for about two to three months at a time. They work 4 days F-M, then the Ranch is closed for 3 days, giving them the run of the place.

I was told about Scared Mountain, about a ¼ of a mile from the Ranch, so I trek on down the red clay dirt road, dust billowing behind me and find the white mountain among all the other red mountains. Pulling off the road, traveling down and around dry washes, over land strewn with small fist sized rocks, I park next to an old fence. This is wilderness. I sort of find the path leading up the Scared Mountain, finally finding the path as it leads me over a dry wash and up the side of the Mountain. The trail is filled with white lime stone and I’m thankful I have on a really good pair of hiking boots. Half way up the mountain is a sign with a sign in sheet. I sign in and continue along the path that winds around the mountain, gradually leading to the summit.

As I get to the top and rest for a couple of minutes, I realize the Native Indians who lived up here had a really great view of the entire surrounding area. This is an unexcavated site where numerous Pueblo buildings once stood. At first all I see are piles of rocks around depressions in the ground. The top of the mountain is covered in small brush and very prickly pear cactus.

As I wonder around the top edge of Scared Mountain, I’m able to see more and more sites. A few are fairly well defined walls. All of their mortar is long since gone. Their roofs collapsed centuries ago. One after another, I see depressions, then more walls. As I look closer, I see bits and pieces of pottery shards everywhere. Some have been placed on rocks by other hikers. Just as many are on the ground.

This is the first site I’ve been to where there has been no attempt to excavate the site. Though I’m sure scavengers, pot hunters, have already searched the area. What a great hike. Alone, listening to the silence, looking out over the vast landscape of rugged desert landscape with an immense blue sky above. And yet thousands of Indians survived for a time out here.

One of the best hikes I’ve had all summer or should I say fall. This is what exploring the wild west is all about.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

31-08 Meteor Crater Arizona


Meteor Crater, Flagstaff AZ

Well I’ve been able to extend my stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park for two more weeks. One of the volunteers coming in has been delayed so I‘ll fill in for until they get here.

We had a pot luck dinner the other night in honor of those volunteers leaving at the end of the month, they have over 10 couples and a couple of us single volunteers here in the park. We of course had the pot luck at one of the large Ramada’s (you know that’s a covered picnic area). The sun set early and we all anticipated that it would cool off quickly.
But it was one of those perfect evenings. Not a chill in the air. Lots of good conversation about travel and our favorite places to camp and visit.

On my days off I took another ride up to Flagstaff, then east on hwy 40. Hwy 40 parallels parts of the original Route 66 which is so cool. When I get to the exit for hwy 40 it says, Los Angeles or Albuquerque. Odd to see that I’m that close to LA that the signs point to it.

But I’m heading east towards Albuquerque and the Meteor Crater. It’s privately owned and maintained. As I head east, the high desert goes from being dotted with cedar and Pinion Pines to dry desert with grasses that have dried and become a golden straw color. Flat would be a good description with hazy mountains ranges far off in the distance.

It’s a windy day, Rv’s are being pushed around by the wind, tumble weeds are on collision courses with our vehicles as I climb to an elevation of 6 and 7,000 ft. It’s cold. The highs for the day never reached above 56 degrees and I only had a sleeveless jacket with me. Burr. Now one must ask why a person would pay $15 to see a big hole in the ground. Well, it all boils down to curiosity. I’ve never seen a meteor crater and I just felt it was something I needed to see in life.

After paying, I climbed up the couple flights of steps to the museum which is on the edge of the crater. They have some really good displays and a short movie describing asteroids and meteors. Did you now there are meteor showers hitting our atmosphere all the time? They are usually so small that they burn up in the atmosphere before hitting land. I remember as a child seeing a shooting stars over a couple of evenings.

What makes this meteor crater important is that it was the first proven meteorite impact site and it’s the best preserved. And for being 50,000 years old that’s saying a lot. My own impressions were like most, seeing a meteor crater for the first time, awe inspiring. Inside the museum, I was able to touch the largest remaining piece of the meteorite, a solid piece of iron, a crater pocked piece of metal sitting simply at the entrance to the museum.

After seeing the movie and walking through the museum, I exited and walked around the building to the edge of the crater. Talk about a huge hole in the ground. Wow! Two of the viewing areas descended down over the edge of the crater and provided shelter from the cold wind blowing at surface level. The sun feeling warm on this cold day. I like many of the other visitors just stood looking from various vantage points trying to absorb what it must have been like at impact. Looking down into the crater which is 60 stories deep and 4,000 feet across.

For more info check out their web site at:

It may be just a big hole in the ground, but for me, it was exciting to see. It reminded me of the dynamic large universe we live in. The changes that were made to our planet when a large meteor hit. It’s now believed that dinosaurs and most plant life died after large meteors hit with devastating impact. Impact, about every 50,000 years… hmmmm, it’s been about 50,000 years since the last one?

Or did one hit Russia 100 years ago? And was it big enough to qualify as a 50,000 year event? Discover for yourself at:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

30-08 Sunset Volcano more Pueblos Flagstaff Arizona

Sunset Crater Volcano

Wupatki Heritage Site

Palatki Heritage Site

Flagstaff AZ

This past week has been one of the most pleasant weeks out west. The crisp fall air has arrived with sunny blue sky days. My work at Dead Horse Ranch State Park continues to go well. I’ve been able to take my days off and I continue to tour the area. I decided to take the back roads through Sedona and on up into the Coconino Forest on my way to Flagstaff. I was hoping to see some change of color, but little was evident as most of the trees are evergreen. But the day was still breathtakingly beautiful. One of those days you just want to go for the proverbial Sunday drive. Thanks to my friend Ron in Cadillac Mich. for sending me some great photo’s of fall color in Michigan, so I didn’t miss the change of seasons too much.

By the way, Flagstaff is at an elevation of around 7,000 feet and Cottonwood where I’m staying is at an elevation of 3,000 feet. The drive up was on a winding mountain road and the drive back along hwy 17 was a dramatic continual straight drop down, down, down which provided for some spectacular vistas. They tell me Flagstaff is in the 70’s most of the summer and they do get below freezing during the winter with a dusting of snow.

Flagstaff has a number of geological attractions and I ended up heading into Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. For the price of the entrance fee, I got a loop tour that also included the Wapatki Heritage Site. Now, being so close to the Grand Canyon (about 90 miles away) this is one of those parks that doesn’t get huge crowds unless your staying in the immediate area.

It was a cold day since it was one of the first cold spells in the area. As I drove through the Sunset Crater park, viewing the recent lava flows (1,000 years old) it was like observing one that had occurred much more recently. Much of the lava had little or no growth on it, so it appeared really new. Huge hills of lava rock from small black and to pebble size that had spewed from the volcano to larger flows that were solid streams running along the ground. These are some of the newest volcano’s in the continental U.S.

Taking the loop road through the park, the landscape changed from Pine forest, to lava fields and volcano cones to desolate dry desert and there in the desert were the ruins of a number of ancient Indian villages. Wupatki being the largest and having the visitors center near by.
This site in northern Arizona showed how far the influence of Mexican culture went. At Wupatki, in the middle of this desolate land, with only a small spring for water the Native Indians created a 100 room Pueblo, an unusual ball court below the pueblo as well as a large Kiva. The ball court was fashioned after the ones in Mexico where this Indian tribe had learned to play the ball games.

The day I visited Wupatki, the light was such that everything in the desert appeared richly colored. The adobe structure, made of the red sandstone and clay appeared so rich in color, I actually took off my glasses a couple times to see if I something had happened to them. It was the most unusual feeling. As if I was walking in an Alice in Wonderland type experience.

I loved the story of how when the Gov. made Wupatki into a National Monument, they rebuilt two or three of the top rooms in the pueblo so that a park ranger husband and wife could live on the property. This of course would never be done today. As soon as the couple moved into the two rooms (no electric, heat, or water except for a 50 gallon drum that they had to fill by hand), the Gov. began to charge them $10 a month to stay there!

More photo's at:

Yesterday, I took a drive through high country desert on SF 252, a dusty well graded forest road of dirt and gravel. This is a gorgeous part of the desert landscape and is a part of the Coconino Forest. It’s surrounded by those awesome red stone mountains that make Sedona so enticing to so many people. I saw a number of the Pink jeep tour vehicles out in this wilderness and was glad to be exploring it on my own. I stopped numerous times just to take in the scenery and take a few pictures. I noticed a couple places where there was undesignated camping sites. One had about 4 RV’s parks in an awesome site. No hook-ups, but then again no fee for camping either. I love taking these dirt roads. I’m just going to have to get a 4 wheel drive one of these days. It’s like exploring places the average person never gets too. (Of course the truck was covered in red dust by the time I got home)

Heading towards the Palatki Heritage site, I had to make reservations ahead of time, as the site has a small parking lot and they only permit so many to hike around the area at any given time. Two couples (camp-hosts) had their big rigs parked next to the visitor center. Talk about a fortunate location to be camp hosts. The visitor center is in the old white clapboard siding house built by a pioneer who came out here at the age of 68 and started a fruit orchard. Planting over 2,000 trees.

More photo's at:

The site has yet another cliff dwelling and a good number of pictographs. The pictographs were well worth the effort and they have some great guides who really know their stuff. Really helped to understand the rock art which was produced by multiple waves of Indians migrating in and out of the area. Each having their own style in creating the pictographs. One could actually see the layers and differences between each group that created the painted art on the walls.

I’ll post some of them on my Picas web site.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

29-08 Exploring Verde Valley Arizona train ride

Verde Valley, Cottonwood AZ

One of the interesting things I’ve learned in exploring the history out west, is that the Native American population was seemingly everywhere. In the Verde Valley where I’m staying, there were over 50 pueblo villages most on the tops of hills.
Even though this valley is very arid, these ancient communities filled the valley. Of course the Verde River as well as the deep well at Montezuma’s Well provided the needed water for these communities.

Just think, if this valley contained over 50 communities and you multiply that by the rest of the land out west, there was a huge population containing many varied Indian tribes out here.
I did take a short day trip over to Montezuma’s Well. It’s the site of a few small cliff dwellings overlooking the well which was created when a limestone cavern caved in thousands of years ago and created the well. It has a constant 76 degree spring water flowing through it. This is just one of the many historical sites in the area. I’ve visited many of the others on previous trips to this area.

Walking along the rim of the well and descending into the well along a stone stepped path, I was able to view the cliff dwellings from both on top and down next to the deep pool of water. Passing under shade giving shrubs and mesquite trees along the edge of the deep blue water, I discovered a few more stone carved dwellings tucked into caverns on the south end of the well itself. Signs written on the limestone walls from the early 1800’s let me know that early explores also discovered the ruins.

Just being able to have the time to explore in depth these sites and at my leisure is such a joy. And to contemplate the immensity of the cultures that lived out here thousands of years ago helps me to understand our world a bit better. I’ve even had the opportunity to read some books on the history and even a novel or two about the ancient cultures out here, bringing these sites to life.

Some of it is not always pleasant. Like finding out that many of the Indians believed in witches, some may have been cannibals and when they left the area for good, some believe they went into outer space on space ships. Strange stories passed down around campfires late at night.

Train Rides. Verde Canyon Railroad:

Yes, I’ve been on another train ride. This one is called the Verde Canyon Railroad and is my 4th or 5th train I’ve been on. I’m dedicating this whole article to my buddy Ray Vargas who is an avid train buff. After seeing the Vintage FP7 Locomotives, (numbers 1510 and 1512), I can see why train aficionados get hooked on trains. All of the other trains I’ve been on have been steam locomotives and fit a particular era in time with their coal fired steam hissing and belching thick black smoke, they provide a visual sign of the power it takes to pull a train down the tracks.

The FP7 on the other hand is a diesel engine with a sleek design from 1953. They were built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors and there are only 12 in existence. It takes two of the engines to pull our train and the first surprise of the day was at how quiet and smooth the engines were. Originally built for an Alaskan rail line, through a number of transactions they’ve ended up here in Arizona.

I talked to a train buff before boarding the train as a few of us were scrambling to take pictures of those awesome engines up front. The guy told me he and his wife along with only about 8 others have reserved 4 private cars on a train that will travel out west for Christmas this year and end up in Santa Fe. A dream trip for anyone into trains.

But my trip was on the Verde Canyon Railroad and it started out pretty comfy in 1st class. Of course I got a discount 10%, so I paid $71 for the 40 mile round trip ticket. I sat at a two seater copper covered table with a great window view, others had loveseat couches facing each other with a coffee table in between. The couches were so comfortable that some passengers ended up dozing off. As the train left the station, as smooth and quiet as could be, a gentle rocking of the cars back and forth, we were offered a full breakfast buffet. I was only two seats away from the buffet and was right up front to be one of the first to enjoy the breakfast along with a champagne toast to start the day.

The canyon follows the Verde river to Perkinsville, passing two or three homesteads still remaining in the canyon which is now a part of the Coconino National Forest. One of the homesteads belongs to the Rosendo Alvarez family. Of course I thought of my good friends Trine and Linda Alvarez and wondered if Trine was related to this Alvarez family. Their story is told in the magazine given out at the beginning of the trip.

The train has an excellent PA system so one could hear the special recorded messages about each section of the trip. The Train attendants also got on the PA and provided additional info as we passed by Indian ruins, eagles nests, the rock formations, the few homesteads along the Verde River and all the other attractions. It was seamless and I really enjoyed the music that was played periodically throughout the trip as well. One song in particular sang about the journeys we take in life, the journey to find ourselves, the journey to find our souls, to find our way through life and those we meet along the way. A journey that is never ending but always moving forward. It was kind of haunting in a sense, looking out the window of the train car, seeing the canyon walls pass by, looking down into the cotton wood trees and the shallow Verde River below, realizing I was on that journey. Where would it lead, what would I find along the way.

Each train ride I’ve been on has been different. This one had an overall sense of being comfortable, pleasant in a relaxed way. The music and narration for the ears, the sights of the canyon filled the visual need and walking out on the open air viewing cars I was able to feel the breeze and still warm fall air as it brought the smells of dusty rock canyons, Cottonwood trees, dry cactus desert land, the Verde River and sunshine as we traveled the rails to Perkinsville.

It sure beat watching the stock market this past week.

Your traveling reporter, Doug p hoping you get to take a walk in the wood, or along the beach and refresh your mind and soul.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

28-08 Cottonwood Arizona

28-08 Cottonwood AZ

Sedona AZ (all pics are of the Sedona area)

Jerome AZ

I’m back in the land of Enchantment. The area is a blend of western dessert, Red rock mountain ranges, and forested mountains. It’s a rugged landscape where a Cottonwood lined river looking lush and green, boarders a dry dessert landscape.

I’m working as a camp host at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a month, giving me time to explore the area on a slower pace. I drove into Sedona, only about 15 miles north of where I’m staying into the Coconino National Forest. I’m doing a bit of pre-exploring to determine the best time to see the change of colors out here. The best time should be the 3rd week in Oct, as they’ve had a wet summer and fall (I believe around 7” total), so the trees aren’t expected to peak until mid to late Oct. I’m hoping to get some great pictures of Aspen changing color.

Sedona is a striking town surrounded by the red rock mountains. Of course it is a pricey destination, so if your camping, try to stay at a campground like Dead Horse and drive up to Sedona. Lots and lots of hiking trails right from the edge of town and up through the Coconino Forest.
My favorite town to visit out here though is Jerome. It sits above Cottonwood and is only about 10 miles from my current location. Jerome is an old mining town built on the steep slope of the mountain. The drive up to Jerome is a breathtaking road which if I could take my eyes off of the road would provide great vistas. I’ll wait until I reach the old mining town, park and then take in the scenery. It’s billed as the most active ghost town out west. Lots of artsy shops and restaurants, a few bars with entertainment most nights and the neatest old buildings I’ve ever seen.

Watching local Tv, I get the Phoenix stations. Phoenix has the highest rate of car thefts in the country. Lots of shootings and stabbings are reported on each night. They even mention there are many houses used to hide illegal aliens in and to call if you see anything suspicious.

Phoenix also has the deepest drop in house prices in the Nation with lots of houses foreclosed on and many more about to be foreclosed. And of course heavy congestion and accidents on their highways circling the city. Glad I’m out here in the country.

Here at the Dead Horse St pk, we have a busy weekend. It’s Biker week in Cottonwood and we also have boy scouts in the park along with all the bikers, quite a mix. My camp host duties are going fine, cleaning our 8 cabins, restroom duty and cutting firewood. Nice group of folks to work with, so I expect this month to fly by rather quickly.
Enjoy your week and find a little adventure along the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

27-08 Payson To Cottonwood Arizona

27-08 Payson to Cottonwood.

Well you probably guessed it already, I moved back to Payson for a few more days. Although Roosevelt Lake was only 50 miles down the road, it was also a couple thousand feet lower and right in the heart of the dessert.
Can we say HOT. Ekk! It seems like I haven’t been in really hot weather in a couple of years now. It got up to 98 during the day and it didn’t cool off to about 75 at night and that was after midnight. Without A/C it just wasn’t my life style. I’ve been dry camping the past couple of weeks.

Payson is a comfortable mid 80’s and very cool at night. I was sitting out yesterday, just reading a book and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of being in a forest. Tonto Forest. This is really great country. Payson is a town of 15,000 folks at 5,000 ft elevation. The town has all the basics including the Super Wal-Mart, Home-Depot, Indian Casino, a fair amount of restaurants and a couple good grocery stores.

Anyone interested in the outdoors, this is the place. 5 or 6 fishing lakes up on top of the Mogollon Ridge, lots of interesting places to visit within an hours drive, plenty of hiking and other outdoor activity. Seems to be reasonably priced living wise as well. And it doesn’t feel crowded.

I had an oil/filter and fuel filter change done on the truck by a local garage and was shocked at the price. $230.00. That’ll teach me to inquire as to the price first. I’m pretty sure I could have gotten the work done at a Chevy dealer for less. I know I could have gotten the oil/filter changed at a Super Wal-Mart for much less, but they don’t change fuel filters on diesel engines. We live and learn don’t we.

The owner told me I should be putting in an additive to the diesel fuel each time I filler up. Told me that the new diesel fuel is causing lots of corrosion with the pistons if I understood him correctly. If anyone has any further information on this, please let me know. By the way, with the oil/filter change he automatically put in an additive to the oil, that cost about $25.00, without even asking if I wanted it.

So around mid week, I moved on down the road again, 70 miles, to Cottonwood.
I was hear a year or so ago and had truck repairs, so I didn’t get a chance to see much. This time, I decided since I have lots of time, why not check into a bit of work camping in the area. To my surprise, I lucked out and the State park has one opening for a month, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now lets not all start writing me and telling me I’m back into the working world…. It’s only part time and I get my campsite free for a month.

The next day, I moved my camper over to the Camp host site I’d been assigned, listened in on my walkee talkee and hiked over to the weekend festival taking place in the park. I volunteered to help out at the kids jumpee blow-up toy thingee. When I was finally relieved of my duties, which I didn‘t do too well, as I let too many kids play on the blow up thingee, but I did get better at it, I toured the exhibits, listened to a really great trio sing some old songs, watched the re-enactment of the civil war and then to top it all off, I visited a Vintage Trailer exhibit and enjoyed an ice-cream social with the members. And on a hot day, the ice cream really made it.

I’m hoping I’ll have lots of stories to tell about this area, but don’t expect a report every week, while I stay in the area for the month. So until I have more to write, have a super great day and find your own adventure out there.
Your travelin buddy, Dougp

Saturday, September 20, 2008

28-08 Show-Low to Payson and Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Arizona High Country, outside of Show-Low AZ. Nice commercial campground. Full hook-ups with small additional charge for 40+ TV channels. Cost $22 I had a discount because I had joined up with an Arizona camping group.

Houston Mesa Campground (Tonto National Forest): $18 per night, dump station available. On the edge of Payson AZ. No TV reception, Verizon cell and air-card excellent.

Roosevelt Lake, Windy Hill Campground. $6 vehicle fee per day. Campgrounds have showers/toilets and water. Many campgrounds along the lake. Each site has a Ramada (shade) over the picnic tables.

Petrified Forest, AZ

Looking at my Road Master Road Atlas, I realized the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest were on my way to my next destination. So of course I took the minor detour off of hwy 40. The painted desert portion was not all that exciting, as the mountains and canyons throughout the west are so dramatic that the painted desert was just another colored landscape.

However, the Petrified Forest had a lot to offer as I drove along this most desolate looking landscape. Just off of hwy 40, along the Petrified Forest route is a wonderful historical marker for the old section of Route 66. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of it so you’ll just have to discover it when you make the journey yourself.

Further on down the road was the 100 room Puerco Pueblo which was inhabited through the 1300-1400‘s. When the Spanish began to explore this area in 1540, there were no Indians. Remember my mentioning the book 1491? In it, the author believes that many of the European diseases spread across the Americas quickly, way before the explorers reached the more remote interiors of America. After all, the Native American Indians had extensive trading routes throughout the Americas. As soon as the first Native Indians contracted the diseases from the Spanish, they quickly spread the diseases themselves throughout the lands. Whole sections of the Americas became “empty” of Indian habitation due to the deadly Spanish and European diseases.

Well enough of that, further on down the road were pull-offs where I was able to view more Petroglyphs. One interesting one where a large bird has a man caught in his large beak.
Finally, reaching the overlooks and Museum and short hiking trails winding through the tons of petrified forests was really neat. Interesting how they were formed. If your interested in learning more, check out their official web site: Just to know that the petrified logs are over 225 million years old, a time when this desert land was once a sub tropical wilderness with some of the earliest dinosaur fossils found along with the petrified forest.

Another site I didn’t stop at and could just kick myself for missing was the historical Painted Desert Inn. At least I saw the wonderful Adobe style architecture from the outside. It of course was on the original Route 66 and has some original murals painted by a local Native Indian.

Just a note: You can purchase petrified logs outside of the park. They have been
collect on lands outside of the protected park. Just don’t take any “samples”
from within the park. It’s tempting, even the smallest samples have the most
beautiful colors of stone that eventually replaced the individual wood cell
structures creating a permanent history of a living thing.
Payson AZ. This is one of those stops along the way where I have no idea what I’ll find. It’s off the main highways in the back country of AZ. It’s called the Rim Country because there is a long geological formation called the Mogollon Rim that runs east/west across the state into part of New Mexico. We’re talking about a 1,000 ft shift upward in land mass and it’s quiet visible. Coming down off of the rim, the temperature has risen about 10 degrees so I’m now in the mid 80’s to 90 degree range and an elevation of 5,000 ft.

The famous author Zane Grey lived in the area and when his cottage burned down of property that was being developed for a planned community, the locals in Payson decided they needed to build a replica of it. So after much wrangling around, they got the money and built the replica next to the Rim Country Museum in town. So if your interested in seeing a cottage that looked like the one Zane Grey lived in, drop on by. Sometimes it just not worth the effort if you know what I mean.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. An easy drive north and I finally made it to Tonto Natural Bridge. When I was out here a year or so ago, I drove from the other end, taking over an hour to get here only to find it was closed for the day, due to paving the main road leading into the place. I was up and early and got there shortly after they opened the gates. I was the only one there for about an hour. Did a bit of hiking along the canyon trails and down into the viewing area at the bottom of the canyon to see the natural bridge. Great views, a misty waterfall spraying over the bridge, big boulders and quiet pools of water along the creek bed. Well worth the hike down and back up into the canyon.

Here’s a little history. The Apache moved into the area after 1500, replacing the Mogollon, Hohokams and Pueblos who had already moved out of the area. Shortly after their arrival in the area, the Spanish and then the Union Soldiers began to interact with the Indians in the area. The Apache were considered hostile Indians and had to be removed so the settlers and miners could move in. Thousands were killed with only about 50 Apache remaining. They eventually moved back into the area after being herded to a reservation in southern AZ. They became known at Tonto Apache. Tonto meaning “foolish or crazy” for wanting to live so close to the American settlers. By 1972 they were finally given their own reservation (just outside of Payson AZ) of 85 acres for the now 100 Apache. In 1999 they acquired 272 additional acres from the Forest Dept. They have built the Mazatzal Casino and it now provides millions of dollars in revenue for the small Apache tribe and the local economy. One of the few success stories for the Native American Indian.

A couple miles down the road from my campsite, here in the Tonto National Forest, is the Shoofly Ruins. This ancient Pueblo structure, a mix of round houses, oval and rectangular is spread out over a gradual hill. Surrounded by Pinion pines and grasses. I drove over early in the morning and found the site overgrown and deserted. I had a feeling it would be this way. The site had been developed and excavated a number of years ago. Descriptive signs were put up. An asphalt parking lot, a few picnic tables and paths were put in. Then it was all left to go back to nature. I kind of liked it that way. It was almost as if I was discovering it again for the first time. Only low walls that surround the place and the base foundations were visible. I easily found small shards of pottery lying on the surface of the ground next to the stone walls and between the grasses overgrowing everything.

A pleasant way to spend a morning. Scavenging around a site, feeling what it must have been like to live surrounded by a forest, grass lands and the Mogollon ridge just to the north. A stillness occasionally interrupted by a lonely bird flying by. The sun already bright in the solid blue sky, promising another warm sunny day as fall gradually sneaks in the back door. A breeze coming by that says, yes this is what fresh air really is like.

I slowly walk around the site which has a large plaza that at one time was bordered by a low wall of stones. Over 800 rooms were lived in here. Anywhere else this would be considered a huge find. Out west where there are hundreds of ruins like this one, it’s just another example of the dwellings the Native Indians constructed.

I’ll be heading on down the road tomorrow to the Roosevelt and Apache Recreation Area. I’ve been told it’s a wonderful location with a dozen campgrounds around the lakes. Another place to explore.

Side note: I’ve been dry camping. No hookup at the campsites at all. The solar
panels continue to work extremely well out here with all the sunshine. I have plenty of power to run the TV, radio, computer, fans and lights in the camper. Occasionally the furnace comes on in the middle of the night. It hardly uses any power to run the furnace fan. By morning time, I’m still in the “good” range as far as power goes. I did have to purchase a couple water containers to fill up at the water spigot as there was no way to connect a hose to it to fill my holding tanks. Other than that inconvenience, it’s been very pleasant being off the grid.

I’ve arrived at Roosevelt Lake where I have had a number of campers say what a great site it is. Unfortunately, I think I got here a little early in the season, as it hotter than hates, 95 degrees. I’ve signed up for and paid for 7 days, but I may head back up to Payson which is about 5,000 feet higher elevation and about 10 degrees cooler. Roosevelt is situated in the desert, with cactus and bare mountain ranges opposite the huge lake/reservoir which I‘m told
the water level is very high. I spent the day just sitting out under the awning,
reading a book and trying to keep cool. Not an easy task.

I did head out, literally across the street to the Tonto National Monument. It is yet
another cliff dwelling. It was a half mile hike up the mountain to get to the lower Cliff dwelling, the much larger one would require a guide and is only open during the cooler winter months. The view along the hike up the steep
mountain path, covered in stately Saguaro cactus and Teddy bear cholla is just stunning. For a desert setting, it is remarkably lush in vegetation.

Later, I stopped off at the Boston Lake House Grill. There are only two places to catch a bite to eat and I think I picked the best. The owner is a Boston Red Socks fan, now how he got out here, east of Phoenix AZ is anyone guess. I didn’t ask, but enjoyed the sports style bar setting. Raised booths along one wall and bar opposite with it’s row of bar stools. A bit dark, huge TV screens around the room and lots of a/c to keep
a heated patron cool. The workers all worked in a haphazard unison that made sure
each diner was well taken care of.

Will I end up back in Payson… find out next week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

25-08 Bonus Report, Canyon de Chelly Arizona

Canyon de Chelly AZ campground:

Price: Free. Yes it’s right on the grounds of the National Monument and is surrounded by modest Navajo Indian homes. The campground does have water and a dump station and the Thunderbird Lodge which is next to the campground has a dining hall/buffet.
Chinle AZ

Canyon De Chelly National Monument.

Part of the huge Navajo Nation Reservation. This was to be my final big adventure for the season. I parked the camper in their free campground and headed out to one of the two loop trails along the top of the canyon, each is approx. 18 miles long. The next day I would take one of their jeep tours.

Canyon De Chelly has been occupied by people for nearly 5,000 years. Beginning with the Archaic, Basketmaker, Pueblo, Hopi and finally today the Navajo. The stone structures, cliff dwellings, were begun by the Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi or Ancient Ones around 750-1300 AD. The town, of Chinle AZ sits directly outside of Canyon De Chelly and all of this is on the Navajo land.

I was fortunate to get on a jeep tour led by a Navajo who not only give tours in the canyon, but grew up during the summer in the canyon in his parents summer home with his 6 brothers and 6 sisters and his grandmother. Frank told us how as a kid growing up, the family would move down into the canyon where they would grow corn, beans and squash, raise their horses and sheep. They had no vehicle, so to get out of the canyons, which are many miles in length, the only transportation they had were their horses. He told of sliding down smooth rocks on the sides of the canyon. They would find a flat stone to sit on and then slide down the smooth sandstone slopes. For adventure, they would explore some of the Ancient Ones cliff dwellings, finding old pottery and arrow heads.

They could get water by digging about 2 feet down into the sandy clay mixture. Today, they would have to dig deeper, but since the Gov. has decided to destroy some of the cottonwood trees planted by the CCC’s in the 50’s the water has been poisoned by the chemical they’ve used to kills some of the undergrowth.

He explained that neither the Hopi before them nor the Navajo really claim the Anasazi as their relatives. To the point that many say that if they get really ill, that it’s the Ancient Ones who have brought on the illness and they (the Navajo) will ask for a healing dance to cure their ills.

A number of the dwellings were on the floor of the canyon, indicating that they were actually trading posts set up by the Navajo. Items such as Macaw feathers from Mexico and sea shells from the Pacific were found along with other items from distant lands.

The saddest stories occur when the you find that the Hopi were not pleased that the Navajo moved into their canyon and continued to have skirmishes with them. Later, as the Spanish came into the area searching for gold and silver (and that’s all they were interested in), ended up killing many of the Navajo Indians. Finally in 1863 Colonel Kit Carson under U.S. military command herded the Navajo into one end the canyon, killing them and sending the rest to trial. Along the way his troops destroyed their homes, farms and livestock.

Today, the Navajo live in peace on this huge reservation, which they simply call, their land. It’s a bit overwhelming to learn of the history and meet the people who are descendants of these ancient tribes. But they are gradually loosing their identity. Kids can, in many cases, understand the Navajo language, but can’t read, write or speak it. They play their Nintendo’s and don’t experience the nature that surrounds them. And they have long days. I noticed this evening a school bus dropping of kids who live on the edge of Canyon de Chelly at 6:30 in the evening.

They can build a house on any part of their land as long as they have the ok of two nearby families and themselves, making for a vote of 3. They never own the land they build on as it is owned by the tribe. But once they build it, it is then passed down generation to generation.

Frank told us his mother knows all the medicinal uses of the various plants, he’s learned a few. His mother kept saying one day she’d go out with the kids and teach them, but now she’s in a wheel chair and the knowledge will be lost. I asked if anyone was writing down this stuff and he said no. Frank described the songs they sing, the summer songs and winter songs that can only be sung in their time of the year. I asked were the words being written down and he said no. They’re sung in Navajo and need to be written out in English so as not to loose them. They’re gentle people, kind people, linked to the earth and the sun and the moon and to their ancestors and the past.

More photos at:

Ps I found diesel for as low as $3.99. This is all Navajo Nation land so the price of fuel is a great deal while your in the area.


Along with all these adventures, I’ve finish reading another great book called “1421: The Year China Discovered America”. The author Gavin Menzies is a retired British sailor who is fascinated with old world maps. His sleuthing, findings and discoveries are just on the edge of incredulity. A fascinating book for the person who loves history and a good detective story.

He gets a bit long winded on his descriptions of his findings, but if you can get past that and go along for the journey which literally takes you around the world, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It was completely different than the previous book I’ve mentioned, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. Both books are true gems for the history buff.

Side note: The author believes some Indians may have Mongollian or Chinese DNA and they are doing testing right now.

25-08 Utah, Monument Valley and much more

Devils Canyon Campground, Manti La Sal National Forest:

North of Blanding UT, this forest campground is not far off the main highway 191. I was surprised to see that the road was paved all the way into the campsites and each campsite was paved and had a concrete pad for the picnic table. Each site also has a raised concrete fire pit. Very nice looking. No water this time of year, it’s after Sept. 1st. Sites are $10 a night, no hookups.

Newspaper Rock
Wilson Arch
Westwater Ruins (Cliff dwellings)
Butler Wash (Cliff dwellings)
Natural Bridges National Monument
3 miles Graded Switchback (ekk!)
Muley Point
Gooseneck State Park
Valley of the Gods
Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park
Monticello Utah
Blanding Utah
Bluff Utah
Mexican Hat Utah

Yes, in less than 3 days, I visited all of the above sites. I’m pooped! Actually it’s all been very exhilarating. I haven’t even had time to take an afternoon siesta. What’s up with that. I’m not going to try and describe each place as it would just wear you out reading about each site, so I’ll just touch on a few highlights and let you look at some of the pictures I’ll post on my Picasa site.

From Monticello Utah (south east corner of Utah), I headed across the Manti-LaSal National Forest and descended into the Needles district. Canyon views from down in the canyon itself with a stop off at Newspaper Rock. It’s in Indian Creek Canyon and the wall contains numerous Petroglyphs. The brief description stated that they had no way of dating the Petroglyphs, but if you look at them, you’ll notice that some depict a man riding a horse. Since horses weren’t introduced into North American until after Columbus discovered American (again) we can assume that some of the Petroglyphs were created after 1500.

I had to get a couple good pictures of some natural Arches and since I’d already been to Moab a couple of years ago, I decided to explore a couple others in the area. Wilson Arch (possibly named after my friend Ken Wilson) Not that he’s that old….. And I also visited Natural Bridges National Monument. They have a couple huge natural bridges. I learned that a natural bridge is created when water does much of the erosion and that an arch is created solely by wind and sand carving and the freezing of ice in the cracks then thawing and that’s what makes an arch.

More photos at:

After visiting a few out of the way cliff dwellings, they’re everywhere out here, I descended off of a huge pinion pine and cedar treed mesa descending 3 miles of switch backs. If you like to get your adrenalin going this would do the trick. It was built by miners and is pretty much like it was 100 years ago. A red clay and gravel road hugging the vertical cliff. As slow as I was going down the 10% grade, I felt my truck slipping and sliding a couple of times. The only buffer was a small pile of sand on the edge of the cliff, made by the grader. Barely enough room for one vehicle, so passing someone was done very gingerly.

Muley Point, off of 281 was one of those side tours that one has to decide to take or leave behind. I’m so glad I took the side trip. The views of Glen Canyon Rec. area below were just stunning. Looking back at my Chevy truck sitting near the edge of the cliff, it looked just like those TV commercials selling Chevy trucks. Looking miles down into the canyon below, I could see a deserted dirt road winding it’s way along the bottom. The view as spectacular in it’s own right and easily as beautiful as the Grand Canyon.

More photo’s at:

Gooseneck State park, just a hop on down the road and I was able to see one of the most stunning river “meander” ever created by nature. The San Juan River created gooseneck before it merges with the Colorado river a bit downstream. One of my last stops on this part of my journey brought me to Monument Valley which is on Navajo Tribal Land. This is where so many movies have taken place. I paid the entrance fee and drove my own vehicle down to the bottom of the canyon along a bumpy rock and red clay and sand road. I felt like I was driving a 4-wheeler over boulders and washouts at times.

No fast driving here. Taking my time and stopping dozens of times to get out and take pictures and just enjoy the stillness and scenery. Wow! It was just overwhelming. Well worth the effort and time. I can see why the Navaho Indians consider this to be a scared place. A few Indian dwellings are right in the canyon, numerous open air gift shops selling Native American jewelry, pottery and blankets. One small Indian dwelling had their clothes out on a line to dry. Wild horses meandered by, only slightly spooked by our vehicles driving by.

Oh and while driving over to Monument Valley on hwy 163, all traffic was stopped as a camera crew was filming for a commercial. Didn’t know what the commercial was for, but the station wagon was topped with tons of summer toys, kayaks, surfboards, inflatable rafts etc. Very colorful, check it out in the pictures….

What adventures! I'm loving it!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

24-08 Simple Pleasures, Mesa Verde revisited Colorado

Simple Pleasures:

Being retired has it’s own unique simple pleasures. When I used to be in the work a day world, a good cup of coffee, being able to sleep in late on weekends, going out to dinner with friends would make life a little bit better. As a retiree, those simple pleasures come in the form of traveling down a road to a new destination and campsite. Seeing new vistas, mountain ranges, each looking different and new. Going from a commercial campground with all the hook-ups to a campsite in a forest, surrounded by nature. Now those are simple pleasures that refresh the mind and soul.

I traveled about 80 miles west along the southern boarder of Colorado, through Durango and up into the San Juan Mountain range. I found a small forest campground called Target campsite, perfectly laid out and close to the main road. I was even able to get a pull-thru site. Surprisingly I have a really strong Verizon signal for both cell phone and air card. The campsite are immaculate and well worth a stay if your going to be visiting the area.

Historically the campsite is adjacent to the Ute Indian migratory route. After setting up which only took a few minutes, I took a short hike back down the dirt road to the trail head that leads to a site where you can see evidence of Indians traveling through the area. A pine tree, stripped of it’s bark on one side of the tree provided sap for creating a sweet candy like desert. The trees also showed evidence that the Ute’s used to have target practice with their bow and arrows and guns. Small bits of history everywhere if one knows where to look.

Mesa Verde:

Link to more photos:

My trip back to Mesa Verde began with a bit of trepidation as the last time I was there, I was really freaked out by the steep road wrapping around the edge of the mesa. This time, four years later, the access road leading up to the top of the Mesa has been completely repaved and a sturdy guard rail now skirts the steep drop off along the roads edge providing some of us just the extra safety to be able to enjoy the ride up and down the access road.

I arrived a couple days after labor day, as I had checked the web site for the park and it indicated that I would be able to get a discount on the entrance fee after Sept. 1st. Darn, they decided to keep the regular prices in place. Ok, it was only $15 instead of the anticipated $10 entrance fee. Well worth either price.

I signed up for two tours, Cliff Palace and Long House, the two largest cliff dwelling both containing over 100 rooms and at opposite ends of the park, so I’d get a chance to see more of the park than the last time I was here.

I think the most frustrating thing about a tour like these, is that because the Native Indians had no written language, it is very difficult to truly know who these people were. But there are enough clues to wet the appetite that I want to find out more each time I come out west.

As we descended into the canyon heading towards Cliff Palace, along a path chiseled out along the steep side of the cliffs by the CCC’s, I really got a sense for the dramatic location these cliff dwelling are in. We passed signs of hand and foot holds chiseled into the sides of the cliffs by the Indians. Many almost a vertical climb up the cliff to enable the Native Indians to reach there cliff dwellings. Can you imagine carrying food, game, water and building materials up the sides of the cliff. Could they eventually have had 100 ft ladders constructed or rope ladders?

These cliff dwellings were constructed over 1400 years ago. The Mesa Verde site was occupied for over 700 years. Then well before America was discovered by the Europeans, the Indian tribes gradually began to leave around 1200 AD over a 200 year period. Only about 9 sites are available to either tour on your own or with a Park Ranger, the rest of the sites are only viewable from the scenic loop roads on top of the mesa.

I was intrigued to get up close and see some of the physical evidence of the Native Indians having lived here. Like the impression of small corn cobs left in the sand/clay mixture, preserving a moment in time when a human hand had touched this area. Seeing the original plaster on some of the cliff dwelling, easily over 800 years old. Now that’s a good plaster job!

Or being able to touch the rounded out holes in the sandstone floor and the channels connecting about a half dozen of them to catch the seep spring run-off in the back of the cave overhangs. The guide told us that the seep spring could produce about a gallon of water an hour and gourds or clay pottery scoops were found that perfectly matched the rounded out holes. One gallon of water an hour wasn’t much for a couple hundred people living in these dwellings. On the inside of a tall square tower, I looked up through a square door inside the tower. Above, in what would have been a second floor, (the floor no longer exists) the plaster walls on were painted red on the lower section and above it was a very clear pictograph of what looked like a rug with vertical and horizontal lines. There are very few pictographs at Mesa Verde but one was pointed out to us on the overhanging wall of the overhanging cliff. It was a hand print painted in red of a six fingered hand. Very unusual.

I must admit many times the experience one has visiting these historical sites really depends on the knowledge and enthusiasm of the park ranger or guide. The second tour I took to Long House was guided by a Park Ranger named Janet. She tried to convey what it would have like to live back in AD 550. Farming their crops of corn, squash and beans, hunting when game was available. Building additions onto the Cliff Pueblos as the space was needed. The Ranger really brought a sense of what it would have been like and made the site come alive for the time we spent gawking, taking pictures and sensing the people who lived here. Most of whom only lived to the age of 34 or 35.

What’s also neat is that the drive to the top of the mesa and drives around the loop roads and down again into the Wetherill Mesa really provided a sense of the scope of the park. It’s huge. There are hundreds of sites along the cliffs and I even was able to see Ship Rock which is New Mexico, many miles south of Mesa Verde. A ranger told us with one of the recent wild fires on the mesa, two more cliff dwelling have been revealed. How cool.

I’d still say that Chaco Cultural Park in New Mexico is the premier site off all of them combined, but Mesa Verde is definitely on the top of the list of historical sites to see.

I’ve moved up the road just a hop and a skip to Blanding CO (38 miles). I’m staying at the McPhee Reservoir. It’s run by the Forest dept. and they have a basic price of $14 a night plus $8 extra for electric. I think that’s a bit high for the electric, but for a couple of days it’s ok.

The reason I’ve stopped here is that I wanted to visit the Anasazi Heritage Center and I’m glad I did. They have one of the best run museums on the Indian culture. I really enjoyed a special exhibit of photo’s of Native American Indians from young children to their adulthood. Along with the picture montage was a story told in the persons own words of what it is to be a Navaho Indian. Compelling and enlightening. Their collection of artifacts were superb and well displayed.

I got up the next day ready for a day of hiking in Canyon of the Ancients. It includes the Hovenweep National Monument which I’ve already visited and you can do a search on the Blog for that story. Today was more of a behind the scenes tour. Places in Canyon of the Ancients that few people get too. I visited two sites. Lowry Pueblo and Painted Hand Pueblo.

Follow the link to see pictures:

Lowry was the easiest to get too, as the dirt road led to the parking lot which was mere feet from the site. Painted Hand on the other hand could be viewed from on top of the canyon rim, but I chose to hike down into the canyon to get a better look at the tower and of course make sure I had some good pictures to show you. The 1500 square miles contains the highest density of pre-historic and historic sites in North America which includes Mesa Verde and Hovenweep the two largest and best preserved sites. Only one other couple were at each of the two sites I visited, so it was pretty much like being on my own. At Lowry, I was impressed by the vistas looking out over the Great Sage Plain, much of it is now rich irrigated farm land with the mountain ranges poking up from the flat horizon beyond. Silence, complete silence. The only sound I heard was the gravel crunching as I took a few steps then stopped to listen. I broke of a piece of sage and broke it a couple of times to smell the punchant smell. A flock of blue jays swirled by. Their bright iridescent sky blue feathers catching my eye as if to say “look at me, aren’t I the brightest thing you’ve seen today?”.

On to Painted Hand Pueblo. A walk along the rim of the canyon then descending down over the edge of the rocks and boulders, finding foot holds and steps down through narrow crevasses. Hiking over sand stone slag and chipped rock to the tower site. The other couple was looking for the painted hands and we finally found them under a cliff that the tower was built on top of. Small hands, probably that of a child’s hands outlined on the back side of the overhang. Dim with age, they could be over 1,000 years old, still visible. How long do our accomplishments last today? What will history remember of us.

By the way, the more I travel out west, the more I realize I’d like to have a 4 wheel drive truck. Of course an ATV would be just as great as there are so many off road places that one can explore out here. I just know Kelly and Rusty would love it out here as well. It would really be fun to explore all those Forest and off road sites with them. Who knows, maybe one day.