Unusual rock formations line the road.
A deer says "hello" at Mesa Verde.
The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park
Stone masonry from sandstone bricks.
They were as good at round walls as straight ones.
Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.
Looking closer in.
Above the cliffs is flat land -- some has
been burned by wildfires.
A closer look at the buildings below.
Split-level living with some buildings on a higher ledge
and others on a lower one.
A closer look at Cliff Palace.
A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.
An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.
The Far View Sites.
No climbing -- unless you're a
Landscapes as we leave Colorado and enter Utah.
The real deal.
Winter wheat at twilight.
An old truck out back behind Jack's shop.
What else to do while waiting for work
on the trailer - take photos!
The round plastic handle was becoming square.
Jack and the finished product.
How it works and what it does.
The Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 in Utah.
Typical sights along the "Bicentennial Highway"
Scenic Route 95.
"Oh oh oh oh -- it's perfect!!"
View out the window.
No one for five miles in any direction.
Why we love RVing in Utah.
Mesa Verde National Park & Eastern Utah.
Early June, 2012 - The mysterious cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly
National Park in Arizona had inspired us, so now we pointed our buggy
in the direction of Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park where another
massive cluster of cave homes lines the canyon walls.
We passed many
formations on our
way, and we were
greeted by a deer
when we first
entered the park.
Mesa Verde is a vast park that requires a lot of driving on hilly twisty roads to
see all the sights. We were surprised by the huge number of tourists crammed
into the Visitors Center, especially compared to the quiet and laid back nature
of Canyon de Chelly. This is a park where you could easily stay a week or
more. The place is packed with different cliff dwelling structures as well as
above-ground ancient Indian ruins.
We tried to get our bearings quickly and headed out to the
Square Tower house. After driving some 10 miles or so
through the park winding along hill crests on curvy roads, it
was quite a surprise to walk down a short trail, turn a
corner, and find ourselves staring down at a beautiful intact
The little community stood tightly pressed against a back-sweeping cliff
wall. The tower building was four stories tall with a large window on each
floor. But it all looked like a miniature doll house compound down there, far below our feet.
The buildings are made of sandstone bricks, each one about the size of a
loaf of bread, and they are mortared with a mixture of dirt and water. The
Ancestral Puebloans - or Anasazi - built these structures around 1100 to
1300 AD, but sadly left no written documentation behind.
At the Mayan ruins of southern Mexico we had been shocked to discover
that entire dynastic histories are known in detail today, right down to kings'
birthdays, city-state conquests and squabbles for power. However, at
these Indian ruins in Colorado we learned that very little is known with
certainty about the people who built and lived in them.
As we wound along the tops of the canyon walls, we were amazed to look
out across the narrow ditch and see all the tiny dwellings tucked into the
opposite canyon wall. At first all we could see was the faces of the cliffs,
but as our eyes adjusted to spotting the cave homes across the way,
suddenly they become obvious in every nook and cranny.
The park offers inexpensive tours of most of the ruins, but we contented ourselves
with getting an overview of it all from the top rather than climbing down in.
When we finally reached the Sun Temple overlook, the best place
to view the magnificent Cliff Palace ruins, we were amazed by the
complexity and density of the buildings. It was a complete town
nestled into a cave midway up a rock wall.
A tour group was passing through the ruin, and the tiny, brightly
colored people walking among the buildings gave us an interesting
perspective on this place. This canyon and its massive rock
formations is immense and timeless. But the people who built their
homes here stayed for just a few generations and filed through this
ageless place rather quickly. Fortunately for us today, they left a
most unusual signature behind: uneven, jam-packed housing.
We learned that the
first people to settle
this region were the
Basketmakers who wove very fine
basketry and built pole-and-adobe
houses above ground starting
around 750 AD. By 1,000 AD, just
before the Norman conquests of
England, they began building their
homes using stone masonry.
Interestingly, archaeologists say
their basketmaking skills showed
a marked decline once they
began to specialize in masonry.
It's intriguing to me that one skill rose while another
fell. And isn't it still so true today. We are all expert
at moving over ground at 60 mph but most of us
would balk at killing, plucking and carving up a
chicken for dinner, something our great-
grandparentss happily did years ago. We have all
become so adroit with electronic and keyboard
technology, but gosh darn if we aren't all forgetting
how to spell.
We wandered among the above-ground dwellings
and hiked around the Sun Temple and Megalithic
house. Like the Mayans at Bonampak who had
created an elaborate series of murals inside one
of their ruins but abandoned the building before
it was finished, here at Mesa Verde the Anasazi
had also abandoned their property before it was
totally completed. It is baffling to ponder how a
society can reach such heights of sophistication
and then vanish.
Unlike the Mayan ruins, however, where today's
visitors can scamper all over every building at
will, we saw signs posted everywhere telling us
not to touch or climb on anything.
Rangers, of course, are excepted…
Somewhere in our meanderings through Mesa
Verde we realized that we had reached total saturation with seeing the ancient
dwellings of antique cultures. We had seen some of the best of the best in the
last six months, and we were ready for a change of pace.
We left the Indians and Colorado behind and
crossed over into Utah, stopping at a gas station
to fill the truck. From somewhere in the distance
we heard the clank-clank-clank of spurs coming
towards us, and suddenly we found ourselves
face to face with a cowboy. Not a cowboy-hatted
urbanite donning the clothes and stance of his
country idol, but the real deal: a young,
hardworking cowboy who had just finished a dirty
week of cattle work.
When he started gassing up his truck, Mark struck up a conversation. It turned out he'd been
ranching all his life and now commuted every other week between Ogden at the north end of Utah
and Blanding a few hundred miles south at the other end of the state, to work on a ranch. He beamed
as he told us he had just found a house in the Blanding area so he could move his family down this
way. "Heidi is real happy," he drawled slowly, his bright blue eyes twinkling.
We asked him if our planned drive along Route 95 would be okay with our big truck and trailer (we
had read something about 8% grades). "Oh yeah," he said very slowly. "It's a real pretty drive.
That's how I go back and forth to Ogden." What a life: outdoors all day in some of the country's most
dramatic landscapes, and commuting to work on a National Scenic Highway.
Reassured that we would't be facing any gnarly
driving, we left the gas station and promptly
bottomed out the back end of the trailer on the
lip of the driveway. Our brand new bike rack that
we both just love scraped the pavement loudly
and the truck ground almost to a complete stop.
Mark made a face at me, and we leaped out of
the truck to check the damage. "We gotta fix
that!" He said nervously. But we were both
relieved that there was no damage worse than a few scratches. Our fantastic
new bike rack has been such a great addition to our travels this season, but it
hangs way out from the back of the trailer. This was the fourth time we'd
scraped it hard on the ground, and the once-round plastic knob on the back
was becoming rather square.
We drove over to the Visitors Center and found an old fellow deep in conversation with
the lady behind the desk. We asked if there was a good welder in town who could
fabricate something for a trailer hitch. They told us that JM Welding just on the edge of
town by the airport would do a great job for us.
Still uneasy about the Scenic Route 95 ahead of us that was known to
be so beautiful but scurried diagonally across the Utah map as if it
were a cat chasing a butterfly, I asked the pair if that route was okay
for a big truck and trailer. "Route 95?" the man said, "Why, I built that
road." Turns out that the construction of this road, known as the
Bicentennial Highway, had spanned from the 1930's to 1976 when it
finally got paved, and this man, Ferd Johnson, had been part of the
team that built it.
"We all lived out in the canyons for two and a half years while we built
that road." He said, telling us how rugged and wild and beautiful the
land was. "There are three bridges crossing the Colorado river, and
those were tough…" he trailed off. The lady behind the desk piped
up. "I did the drive once with him," she said nodding in his direction,
"and he talked the whole way. He had a story about
every mile of that road."
We left really excited to see this
scenic highway for ourselves. But our
first stop was at JM Welding. Jack,
the owner, understood exactly what
we wanted and said he could order
something like that and have it for us
tomorrow. "Or I can build one for you
right now that would be better quality
for about the same cost." Go for it!!
He grabbed a piece of chalk from his
pocket and drew an outline of a z-shaped
hitch extension on the shop's concrete
floor. Within moments his son had cut the
pieces and welded them. Jack powdered
coated it and cooked it for an hour while we chatted with Jed,
one of Jack's long-time customers who had just showed up.
"I'm really looking forward to driving that famous scenic Route
95 tomorrow," I said, making idle conversation. Jed looked at
me blankly. "Scenic road? There's a scenic road out
here?" I did a double-take. "You know, that Scenic Route
95. You take a right just a mile south of here…" He
scratched his head. "Oh, right…of course…oh yeah. I
drive that road all the time. It's pretty."
As we drove this magnificent road over the next two days,
our jaws dropping repeatedly at the stunning beauty around
us, we had to laugh. Utahans live in some of the most
spectacular scenery America has to offer, but I guess after
a while it becomes an ordinary backdrop for their lives.
In no time Jack had finished our hitch extension
and Mark mounted it on our trailer. Suddenly all
our fears of grinding our new bike rack into the
dust while boondocking down rough dirt roads
Next morning, after a peaceful
night parked out behind Jack's
shop where fields of winter wheat
waved softly in the twilight and
dawn, we struck out on scenic
From red rock cliffs to exotic
pink-and-white striped swirling
rock formations to dramatic
descents into vivid green valleys,
we drove with our heads turning
I literally hung
upper body out
the window a
few times to
snap photos at
The road swerved here and
there, curving deliciously
between cliffs and canyons.
Suddenly I saw a dirt road
scooting off to a wide flat
plateau. "Oh oh oh!!!" I
cried, not quite getting any
words out. "It's perfect!"
Mark skidded to a stop,
squeaked out a u-turn and
drove back. What a
Down the dirt road we went, bumping along to the most fabulous
and dramatic boondocking spot. There wasn't anyone around
us for at least five miles in any direction, and we had the
canyon, the cliffs and the sky to ourselves. That is the magic of
RVing in Utah. 50% of the state is public land, and you can
camp anywhere you dare to take your rig. It was so beautiful we
stayed for a few more days before exploring Natural Bridges