Newspaper Rock Utah – Petroglyphs and Rock Art from the Ancients

March 2016 – The one thing about desert camping is that it can get very dusty when the wind blows. And out in the desert, once the wind picks up, there is little to stop if from howling. A rule of thumb we’ve heard is that if it is windy one day, it will be windy for three days.

During our stay in the Valley of the Gods and Goosenecks State Park region of southeastern Utah the clouds gathered steadily each day, and then the wind pick up. Oh my, how the dust was flying. It was in our eyes and our noses and in everything in our rig. We packed it up and hightailed it out of there to the north as fast as we could.

Of course, every region has their own manifestation of bad weather, and the dusty wind storms in Valley of the Gods morphed into threatening dark storm clouds outside of Monticello.

Storm Clouds in Utah

Dust storms give way to menacing storm clouds as we climb in elevation.

Temps plummeted from 80’s in the desert to the 40’s near Monticello and were rapidly dropping as we climbed in elevation to the pine forests. Storm clouds were gathering overhead and the world suddenly looked very ominous.

We looked around, and suddenly, in unison, we both blurted out: “It looks like it’s gonna snow!”

We laughed at this absurd nortion, but I checked the weather forecast on my laptop anyway. My eyes flew open when I pulled up the forecast for Monticello, Utah.

“It IS gonna snow…in the next hour!!!”

Snow on RV in Canyonlands National Park Utah

OMG – It’s snowing!

And snow it did. As the skies turned black and the wind picked up and the temperature fell further, we found a place to hide for the night.

What a shock it was to see the snow flying thickly around us. It began to pile up on everything, from the trees and leaves to our bike seats on the bike rack on the trailer to our front door steps.

Snow on RV steps in Utah

One small step for an RVer…

The next morning we were in an icy winter wonderland!

Fifth wheel RV in snow in Utah

Who ordered this? I don’t know, but if you can stop shivering it’s very pretty!

It didn’t last, though. In no time at all the snow melted and we were on our merry way. We had come into the high country of eastern Utah to visit Newspaper Rock, a fabulous rock art panel that appears to be just what its name implies.

Newspaper Rock is an enormous slab of rock covered in natural “desert varnish,” which gives it a dark, smooth surface, perfect for pecking out images. It stands under a natural rock overhang, just like a huge sheltered bulletin board, out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by woods and other rock cliffs.

Newspaper Rock Indian Rock Art Petroglyph Panel Utah

Newspaper Rock is the Facebook of the Ancients!

The slab is absolutely covered with ancient Indian petroglyphs and rock art.

Newspaper Rock Ancient Indian Petroglyph Rock Art Panel in Utah

What a cacophany of conversations!

Apparently, the older art on Newspaper Rock is attributed to ancient Puebloan Indians who lived in the area for 1,600 years, from 100 B.C. to 1540 A.D. The more recent rock art on the panel is thought to have been created by the ancestors of the Ute people who still live in the area.

Newspaper Rock Art petroglyph panel Utah

If you look closely, there are all kinds of crazy and fun images here.

We were mesmerized by all the different images. They are packed in tightly, with animals and odd looking creatures and images of hands and feet and geometric shapes all crammed together. There’s barely an open inch anywhere on the panel.

Another woman and I excitedly pointed out various images and even possible stories to each other. There was the weird snake charmer guy who wore a fancy horned headdress and fringe leggings and had a very curvy snake crossing right over his neck. All around him were frolicking horned animals, bison, a four toed foot and another guy with a horned headdress.

Ancient Indian Petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah Mixture

With horns on his head and fringe on his legs, this guy has a snake winding across him!

In another area there was a very clear image of a hunter shooting an elk or a deer. He had a bow and arrow and the animal had a huge rack of antlers on its head.

Right above this image there were two odd looking space alien creatures. Each had horns, of two different types, and one had four fingers on each hand while the other had only three. Their bodies (or clothes) were very boxy and they had impossibly short legs with no feet.

Hmmm…

Around them were images of feet with only four toes as well as a spoked circle that looked like a wagon wheel.

Petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah Elk hunt and people with horns

A hunter on horseback aims at an elk, but who are those chunky guys with horns on their heads?

I find this three, four and five finger and toe thing fascinating. Some rock art depicts the modern day number of human fingers and toes and some just doesn’t. I doubt these people had trouble counting. Scientists working with African Grey parrots have proven they can count to seven very easily. I think there must have been another reason they omitted the toes and fingers — but what was it?

The amazing thing about petroglyphs like these is that they are pecked out of the rock. It isn’t easy to peck this rock. All over the American Southwest there is rock art that has been vandalized with graffiti in the last 200 years, and none of the graffiti comes close to the quality of the original rock art.

In another part of the panel four horned animals are marching in a row. Three are alike, but the one behind them is bigger and looks like it might have been created at a different time. They look a little like Santa’s reindeers!

Next to them is a flying squirrel caught mid-flight. I discovered Northern Flying Squirrels can be found in the conifer forests in Utah, so there he is on the rock art panel!

Petroglyphs Rock Art Newspaper Rock Utah Herd of deer

A deer track and then a line of deer like Rudolph, Dasher, Prancer and Vixen.
Graffiti in the upper left area barely penetrates the “desert varnish” of the rock.

Two other images of flying squirrels are prominant on this panel. One has a Superman S on him and the other has three fingers on each hand!

I imagine the flying squirrel had significance to the ancient people who pecked these images on the rocks. I couldn’t find any Ute or western Indian references to flying squirrels, but several eastern Indian tribes have flying squirrels in their folklore.

Beneath them is the ever-present foot — with 5 toes.

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph rock art Flying Squirrels Utah

Flying squirrels, one with a Superman S on his chest and the other with 3 fingers on his little hands.

Hands and feet are everywhere on this panel of rock art petroglyphs, and in one section it is a veritable track of two people wallking up the rock, a larger person on the left and a smaller person on the right. Some have four toes, some have five and a Very Large Person to their left sometimes has six!

A graphic artist or characature style hand outline also appears above some feet.

Feet and hand petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah

Tracking the human race with a bigger person and a smaller person together and a Very Big Person to the left.
What about that cool hand?!

Nearby there are two very cute and small deer, each with a very elaborate pair of antlers on his head.

Below them is a bison that has the same outline styling as the hand in the previous image.

Rock Art Newspaper Rock Utah with deer, foot and bison

A slick bison outline and two deer with very intricate and mature antlers

Bison are very popular on the Newspaper Rock art panel. One image near the bottom of the panel shows a hunter on horseback with a bison. This image is in the lighter color that the Bureau of Land Management says is more recent rock art dating to some time after 1500 AD.

Buffalo roamed all over the North American continent for thousands of years, and many Indian tribes were totally dependent on them.

In 1840 there were 60 million free roaming bison thundering across America. By 1886, 46 years later, there were fewer than 100. They all died at the hands of hunters who were encouraged by the US Army, as they knew the extermination of the buffalo would be the end of the Indians. Buffalo hide also became more popular than cowhide in the eastern states and in Europe, and an average hide hunter could kill 60 bison in a day.

Newspaper Rock Art petroglyph Utah horseback hunter and bison

Buffalo hunting was essential to the Indians.

One bison is depicted with cloven hooves, and it’s little details like these that make these images resemble children’s drawings where one feature or another is drawn with careful detail at the expense of other details that sometimes go missing all together.

Along with bison, those animals with the curved horns are really popular images at Newspaper Rock. They are commonly referred to as Big Horn Sheep, but as I noted in another post about rock art in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, the horns don’t resemble big horn sheep horns at all. Oh well. They are a mystery bovine!!

There is also a creature with a wide tail, perhaps a beaver, and animal which was once abundant throughout Utah.

Petroglyph rock art at Newspaper Rock Gazelle, bison and beaver tadpole

This buffalo has cloven hooves, and is that a beaver near him, or something else?

There is also a very cool bird with a long beak standing near a horned animal and a very small person.

Bird petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah

A very birdlike bird, a horned bovine and a small person here.

Some of the imagery is geometric and some is, well, who knows what it is. There’s also a difference in pecking skill when it comes to creating these images on the rock panel.

Rock art Newspaper Rock Utah Deer, feet geometric designs

Some images are obvious while others a little obscure.

Down near the grass there’s an intriguing double sun that appears to have something inside it.

Newspaper Rock Art Utah Twin Sun Design

A double sun. There is something wonderfully mystical about this.

I loved studying all these crazy images. What do they mean and why were they on this particular rock? There are millions of square feet of smooth flat rock walls covered in desert varnish throughout Utah where there are no petroglyphs. And then there’s a place like this that is packed to the gills with images from different people of different eras.

A newspaper indeed!

One of my favorite images was one I spotted just before leaving. It is a ladder with three fingered hands at the top. What the heck?! Nearby is a guy with his three fingered hands in the air. He sports a tail and horns.

There are also some deer tracks marching right throught the image from bottom to top, and a doodle that looks like a flying saucer or satellite.

Petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah Ladder with hands

A ladder with hands, some bizarre shapes, a few feet, and deer tracks running through it all.

In the bottom right is a very elaborate paw print, complete with claws. There are an aweful lot of toes on that paw. Maybe it’s a flower!

Newspaper Rock is a fantastic roadside stop for RVers and other travelers heading into the southern Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It is right on the way in to the National Park, and it is without doubt the best rock art we’ve seen anywhere.

When we were there after a snowstorm in late March there was hardly anyone there because it was absolutely freezing. But I imagine in warmer seasons the place can get insane because the parking lot is not very big and there are signs up and down the sides of the road before and after the site saying, “No Parking.”

Note: Newspaper Rock is within the boundaries of the 3,000 square mile parcel of land that the Navajo Indians and 25 other tribes have asked the public land agencies to convert into Bears Ears National Monument. It is currently a State Historical Monument managed by the BLM. More info at this link.

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Saguaro National Park Petroglyphs – Tucson Mountains, AZ

February 2016 – We have spent a lot of time in the Sonoran Desert in Central Arizona, but have not spent much time in Tucson down in the southern part of the state, other than racing the wildly insane El Tour de Tucson 100+ mile bicycle race long before we dreamed of becoming full-time travelers.

So, a trip to Saguaro National Park was long overdue for us.

Saguaro National Park Tucson Arizona field of cactus

A view in Saguaro National Park (western district in the Tucson Mountains)

Saguaro National Park is split into two sections, the Western section (the Tucson Mountains) and the Eastern section (the Rincon Mountains). Amazingly, these two vast national park systems hug the east and west flanks of the bustling city of Tucson, which is home to about a million people.

Field of cactus Saguaro National Park Tucson AZ

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The first thing we noticed as we drove through the park is that because the land is under strict preservation management by the National Park Service (as opposed to the looser standards that exist in the National Forests like Tonto National Forest up by Phoenix), is that there are lots of old saguaro cactus skeletons standing and lying around.

Saguaro skeleton Saguaro National Park Tucson Arizona

We were surprised to see cactus skeletons all over the place.

These unique relics are prized as garden and household decorations, and in the open Sonoran Desert that lies all around central and southern Arizona, they get hauled away by energetic folks to be re-purposed for interior decorating and outdoor garden ornamentation.

It was neat to see so many cactus skeletons in their natural desert home.

Cactus skeleton Saguaro National Park Tucson Mountains Arizona

The skeletal trunk of a saguaro cactus

Saguaros like to be warm, and they often get bent out of shape when there is a heavy frost. They drop their arms and never put them back up again!

swoopy cactus

After a heavy frost or snow, the saguaros surrender with their arms down.

Saguaro National Park was first established in 1933. as a National Monument, and President Roosevelt’s CCC built some wonderful stone picnic ramadas that still stand today. The undersides of the roofs are lined with saguaro cactus ribs.

Picnic ramada built by CCC Saguaro National Park Tucson AZ

The CCC created wonderful stone picnic shelters lined with saguaro cactus ribs

Reading about the early history of this National Park, it was interesting again to see the differences between the National Park Service, which is a bureau of the Department of the Interior charged with preserving America’s natural treasures, and the US Forest Service, which is an agency of the Department of Agriculture charged with sustaining the health and productivity of the nation’s forests.

CCC picnic shelter Saguaro National Park Tucson Arizona

Cool view from the picnic ramada

Back in the 1930’s, the US Forest Service had been managing the land where the proposed Saguaro National Monument was going to be, and they didn’t want to give up cattle grazing on it, something the National Park Service would require. Fortunately, they eventually agreed to the concept of a National Monument in this forest of bizarre human-like trees. In 1994 it became a National Park.

The main loop drive through the cactus forest is a graded dirt road called the Bajada Scenic Drive, and there are several short hiking trails that go from there.

The Signal Hill hike follows a short path up to a pile of big boulders. Eons ago, the ancient Hohokam people pecked out a bunch of symbols and artwork on these boulders.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill Saguaro National Park Tucson Mountains Arizona

At Signal Hill there are lots of intriguing petroglyphs

Some of the petroglyphs are like wheels with spokes while another popular image is an animal with long swept back horns.

The horned animal is a common motif seen in rock art all over southern Utah and Arizona, and usually it is referred to as a big horn sheep. But if you look at the horns on a big horn sheep, they are tightly wound and are nothing like the gently curved horns of these rock images.

big horn sheep petroglyph Saguaro National Park Signal Hill AZ

A “big horn sheep” petroglyph

I found an interesting photo-essay by a fellow who thinks these are not big horn sheep at all but are actually an extinct animal that roamed before the last ice age, an idea that would date the rock art to a far earlier period than is currently thought.

Talk about rocking the boat of the academics!!

Big Horn Sheep

The horns on a big horn sheep are a lot more curved than ancient rock art images typically depict…

I don’t know if his theory holds water or not, but I love it when new ideas make us look at history and pre-history with fresh eyes.

A very large and tightly wound spiral image dominates the rock art on these boulders.

Signal Hill Spiral petroglyph Saguaro National Park Tucson Arizona

A large spiral image is the biggest petroglyph by far

Looking at this carefully pecked imagery, it is interesting to ponder what motivated those early people to make their art, and why they did it on these particular rocks, and whether it was just graffiti, or a warning, or a bit of news for the next folks coming down the path. Or perhaps it had some deeper spiritual meaning.

Spiral Petroglyph Signal Hill Saguaro National Park Arizona 2

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Petroglyphs Saguaro National Park Tucson AZ

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wheel sun sheep petroglyphs Signal Hill Saguaro National Park Arizona

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Back on the path that leads from the parking lot to the mound of boulders, there is a bunch more rock art that is easy to miss on the way up. Just turn around as you begin to descend and keep an eye on the rocks. There is quite a bit there, fairly high up.

Signal Hill petroglyphs Saguaro National Park Arizona

If you don’t catch them on the hike up the hill, turn around on the way down and look up.

If you are really into rock art, taking along a pair of binoculars or a long camera lens is a great idea! I was glad to have my 28-300 zoom..

Spiral and people petroglyphs Saguaro National Park Signal Hill Arizona

Cryptic message, or spiritual symbols, or plain old graffiti?

Saguaro National Park is very large, and there are other hiking trails that can really get you out into the cactus forest. For this trip, we were just doing an overview and getting feeling for what is there. We’ll dive in more deeply next time.

Hikers at Saguaro National Pak Tucson Arizona

We enjoyed this little foray into Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is a really beautiful place to see Arizona’s Sonoran Desert scenery, whether you are an Arizona resident or are in the Tucson area as a snowbird RV visitor in the winter months. There are oodles of hikes and lots of ranger led events too, and there are links for more info below.

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Sometimes on this blog I put up a post with some beautiful photos only to discover later than I missed a few special ones that I’d really like to share. That happened with our earlier stay during the rains at Roosevelt Lake. The other day Mark and I were reminiscing about the bitterly cold week of rain and snow we experienced out there last month, and we came across these stunning photos of his. So here they are. Better late than never!!

Desert rain Roosevelt Lake Arizona

After the rain at Roosevelt Lake

While were camped at Roosevelt Lake, Mark snuck out of bed in the wee hours of the night and got this jaw dropping image of the stars:

Roosevelt Lake starry sky at night Arizona

Starry, starry night…

What a fabulous image!!

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Dinosaur National Monument, UT – More than fossilized dinosaur bones!

Dinosaur National Monument has great road cycling

Dinosaur National Monument is great for cycling.

Early September, 2012 – Dinosaur National Monument is a big park that sprawls between NE Utah and NW Colorado. Many visitors buzz through this park, seeing only the bone display at the quarry.

However, the scenery, homesteads and petroglyphs elsewhere in the park kept us hanging around for quite a few days.

Dinosaur National Monument Road Cycling

We had fun on the bikes.

Dinosuar National Monument Lizard Petroglyphs

Lizard images crawl up the wall

We rode our bikes on the ~12 mile road that heads into the western heart of the park. This is a fantastic road for cycling.

Dinosaur National Monument skulls in a tree

Skulls hung in a tree.

Only a handful of cars passed us in four hours of pedaling and stopping for photos, and the sweeping turns, rolling hills and stunning vistas were a total thrill.

Dinosaur National Monument Petroglyph

What’s that on his head??

There are lots of petroglyphs along this road.  Most are a bit faint, and you have to do the billy goat thing to get up close to a few of them, but they are intriguing, with odd designs of people wearing strange things on their heads.

Dinosaur National Monument Josie's Cabin

Josie’s Cabin

 

Someone had hung a slew of animal skulls in a tree that we passed.  It was a little weird and gave the area an air of mystery.

The clearest petroglyphs we found on this road were on a sheer wall filled with lizards (photo above).  They march upwards from the bottom of the wall towards the top.  One six foot long lizard heads off to the right.  A perfect photo op would have been if a real lizard had snuck across the petroglyphs for us, but we didn’t get that lucky!!

Dinosaur National Monument Josie's Cabin

It’s a tiny, wee cabin

At the far end of this road, after it turned to dirt, we came across the Josie Morris Cabin.  This tiny four room cabin was home to a very plucky single woman for fifty years.  Married five times and divorced four, a rarity in her time, she bought this small ranch when she was a single mom nearing 40 in the early 1900’s.  She lived here first with her son and then alone until her death at 90 in 1964.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Road

McKee Springs Road – Where the artists rocked!

The building is wee, and walking around the property to her chicken coop and pasture, it was hard to imagine what life had been like out here, miles from nowhere.  But she was a tough old biddy.  She brewed apricot brandy during Prohibition and got arrested twice for cattle rustling when she was in her 60’s.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

McKee Springs Petroglyphs

 

 

 

 

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

One morning we came into the park from another angle, taking the road to McKee Springs.  Here, in a wide valley, we found the finest petroglyphs we have ever seen anywhere.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

This must tell a story.

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

Dinosaur National Monument McKee Springs Petroglyphs

A ghostly double? Two sets of arms? Huh??

Like all petroglyphs in this part of the country, they date back about 1,000 years to the Fremont culture, but lord knows what they say. All the figures wore headdresses or spiky things in their hair (antlers? feathers? antennae?). Some had elaborate decorative things around their necks, wore earrings, or dressed up their hair on the sides of their heads.

These petroglyphs are all lined up along the sheer faces of a cliff at eye level, and a path leads from one set to the next.  It is like walking through a museum, but there are no curator’s notes explaining what you are looking at.  That is left up to the imagination!!

Dinosaur National Monument Rainbow Park

Dinosaur National Monument’s Rainbow Park

At the far end of this road there is a tiny campground on the Green River at Rainbow Park.  Not a soul was around.  We thought about bringing the rig down here, but we wanted to get to the other side of the park, and for that we had to go into Colorado and come in from the southern end along Harpers Corner Road.

Dinosaur National Monument Echo Canyon Scenic Drive

The drive to Echo Canyon was beautiful

The highlight of this road was the 13 mile drive down the steep dirt switchbacks into Echo Canyon (4×4 required).  At the top the views stretched on forever, and as we dropped lower and lower into the canyon, the cliffs soared upwards on either side of us.

Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

The cliffs towered on each side of the road.

Dinosaur National Monument Chew Homestead

The Jack Chew Homestead

 

Partway into the canyon we stopped at another early 20th century homestead, this one built by the Chew family.

Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

You gotta stoop to get into Whispering Cave.

 

 

Dinosaur National Monument Whispering Cave

This cave features vaulted ceilings!

Unlike Josie’s solitary life, the Chews brought 6 of their 12 children to live here, starting with a dugout in 1910 and moving into a cozy one room cabin in 1911.  How a family of that size could squeeze into one small room during the long dark winters baffled us.

Steamboat Rock Dinosaur National Monument at Echo Canyon on Yampa River Green River

Steamboat Rock

But this gorgeous, harsh land has sheltered people in tiny places for eons.  The Whispering Caves a little further on had a low entrance but high ceilings inside, and a steady cool breeze blew from between the towering cliff walls.

Steamboat Rock is the centerpiece of Echo Canyon, and we hiked around the valley get a look at it from many angles.  The Yampa and Green Rivers swish around its base, and folks were swimming and kayaking around it.

Dinosaur National Monument Harpers Corner Trail

Views of thousand foot cliffs from Harpers Corner Trail

Instead of swimming, we got our exercise hiking Harper’s Corner Trail, a fantastic out-and-back trail that goes along a ridge overlooking canyons on either side.  From this high vantage point it was easy to see how the rivers had carved out their route between the craggy, horizontally striped cliffs.

Dinosaur National Monument Green River Views

The Green River weaves its way towards us.

 

 

 

 

On the other side of the trail the Green River made its curvy way towards us.  We watched a group of river rafters floating down stream, a thousand feet below us.

The night skies in this park are among the darkest in the country, and when we ventured out of the trailer one night, the Milky Way was a thick white band, like a wide belt, that crossed the entire sky.

Star Trails at Dinosaur National Monument

Star Trails

Mark had been reading up on various photography techniques, and this was a great place to try a star trails photo.  Pointing the camera at the North Star on his tripod, he left the camera shutter open for an hour to catch the movement of the stars in the sky.

Well, he meant to do it for an hour.  He came into the trailer to warm up, laid down on the sofa, and promptly fell asleep.  When he woke up, an hour and a half had passed!  Oh well — it just made the star trails a little longer!!

We were both very well rested by the time we pulled ourselves away from Dinosaur National Monument, and we were ready for a little in-town activity in nearby Fruita, Colorado.

Our story Dinosaurs and Much Much More was featured in RV Life Magazine in the September 2013 issue.

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Oaxaca’s “Mitla Tour” – Ancient Zapotec Ruins & More!

Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Santa María del Tule

Town center Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Home of the "Tule Tree"

Church in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico The Tule Tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

The "Tule Tree," 190' around!

Baby Tule tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

The baby Tule Tree, just 1,000 years old.

Gnarled trunk of the Tule tree in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

What fantastic creatures lurk here?.

Tuk-tuk taxis in Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

"Tuk-tuk" taxis zipped everywhere.

Zapotec weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Zapotec weavings in Teotitlan

del Valle.

Natural wools are dyed with flower or bug based dyes in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

All these colors were obtained from flowers or bugs.

Sea turtle rug made by Zapotec weaver in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our sea turtle rug.

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico is a unique, mystical place.

Hierve el Agua is a unique,

mystical place.

Manmade pool in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

A manmade pool to control the water flow a bit.

Swimming pools in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Kids play in the water.

Up close shot of mineral deposits, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

A thin film of water leaves a

microscopic layer of minerals behind.

Waterfall frozen in time, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Waterfall frozen in time.

Petrified waterfall, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Petrified waterfall at Hierve el Agua.

Petrified waterfall, Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico Pools in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

Reminded us of Yellowstone but the water was cool..

Travel companions on our Mitla tour in Oaxaca, Mexico

Our charming tour companions.

Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mitla is square and ornate, very different than Monte Alban.

Intricate stonework, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Intricate patterns like this adorn every wall inside and out.

Perfect stone joinery, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Precise mortarless stonework from 2,000 years ago.

Huge lintel over short doorway, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Massive lintel over a short doorway.

Interior room, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the interior rooms.

Stone dovetail corner wall joinery in Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

Impressive dovetail corner joinery made

of precisely cut decorative stone.

Fine stonework, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

No two patterns on the buildings are alike.

Underground tomb, Mitla ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the underground tombs.

Mezcal makers!

Mezcal makers!!  The king of Matatlan.

There are hundreds of varieties of Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico.

There are hundreds of varieties of mezcal.

Young blue agave plants at mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Young blue agave plants.

Blue agave plants ready for processing, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Pineapple-like core used to make mezcal.

Agave is burnt over a fire, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

First they are cooked over a fire.

Grinding up burnt agave plants to make mezcal in a distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Then they are crushed under a rotating wheel.

Mezcal fermentation barrels, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

The duration of the fermentation makes all the

difference in the taste.

Sampling mezcal, mezcal distillery,  Oaxaca, Mexico.

Here, try this one!!

Mitla Tour, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mid-February, 2012 - We enjoyed the Monte Alban ruins and history so

much we decided to take another trek out to the other side of Oaxaca to

see the ruins at Mitla.  The easiest way to do this was with a van-based

tour, and our day-trip included several colorful stops in addition to the

tour of the Mitla ruins.

The first stop was in the cute town of Santa María del Tule, home

of the famous "Tule Tree."  The funny thing about an organized

tour like this is that you follow the pace of the leader.  Our

designated stop here was just a half hour or so.  But it was such an

appealing little town that I'm sure if we had been on our own we

would have probably stuck around for a day or two!

The Tule plant is a grassy reed related to cat tails that was used by the

indigenous peoples to make mats, shelters and boats.  It grows in

abundance in and around Santa María del Tule.  The "Tule Tree" is

actually a Sabino (Montezuma Cypress) tree, totally unrelated to the

Tule plant, but it is affectionately known as the "Tule Tree" because it

was once surrounded by tule reeds.

According to the sign in front of the tree, this monster is

over 2,000 years old, 190' in girth around the trunk, 138'

tall, 28,846 cubic feet in volume and 636,107 tons in

weight.  It is considered to be the widest tree (the one with

the largest girth) in the world.  Our tour guide suggested

that if we couldn't fit the whole tree in our cameras we

could always buy a souvenir postcard instead!

Just around the corner stands the offspring of this famous tree.  It is a

mere 1,000 years old and not quite as large -- and it was all by itself

without a crowd around it elbowing each other to get a photo!  Of course

neither of these trees is quite as humongous overall as the giant

sequoia named General Sherman that stands 275' tall and has a

volume of 52,000 cubic feet.  Nor is either quite as old as the bristlecone

pine called Methuselah which has had its rings painstakingly counted to

total 4,841 years of age.

The trunk is

very gnarled

and people

see all kinds

of shapes

and creatures

in its depths.

Scooting around the streets of town we saw these funny looking three-

wheeled vehicles.  These tiny taxis, called "tuk-tuks," buzzed all over the

place, not just in Santa María del Tule but in other towns we passed along

the way.

Our next stop was at Teotitlan del

Valle, home of about forty families of Zapotec weavers.  We had met the son of one of

these families in the harbor town of Santa Cruz in las Bahías de Huatulco where he had set

up a loom and quietly turned out one brilliant woolen rug after another.  Here we were

given a demonstration of the traditional methods used by the Zapotecs to spin and dye

their wool.

The demonstration started with the

original Zapotec method of spinning

wool which involved a balancing a

spool precariously on one knee.

What luck the Spaniards showed up

way back when and brought the

familiar spinning wheel with them.

Even so, two daring members of our

group tried to spin a little wool using

this more conventional old fashioned

spinning wheel, and neither met with

much success as the wool kept

separating in their fingers.

It was amazing to learn what the Zapotecs used for dyes to create the vibrant colors of

their wool.  Starting with either white, grey or brown wool right off the sheep, they get

bright blue from the indigo plant, using ash to fix the color.  Green comes from moss,

using salt to fix the dye.  Yellow is from marigolds.  Most intriguing, however, was that

they squash an insect that makes a cocoon on prickly pear cactus leaves, and the

squished bug produces a vibrant blood red dye.  How much trial and error did it take

over the years to perfect these methods?

Again, we could have lingered for a long time in this shop and in the town in general.  I

love wools and yarns and weaving, and the intricate designs, both modern and

traditional, were fantastic.  We did end up holding up the tour van for a few minutes

while we negotiated to buy a lovely small rug featuring sea turtles.  It had been woven

from undyed sheep wool by Rafaela, whom I met (but didn't think to photograph--darn!).

In all the thousands of miles we have sailed our boat in Mexico, the most common

wildlife sighting we have had everywhere has been sea turtles.  In places

there are literally hundreds of them.  So this seemed a perfect souvenir.

Jumping into the tour van for more adventures, we drove a long way out to

Hierve el Agua ("boiling water"), a phenomenal oasis of pools and petrified

waterfalls out in the mountainous hinterlands.

Apparently

"undiscovered"

until the mid-1980's, this grouping of shallow pools and

calcified deposits is reminiscent of parts of Yellowstone

National Park, except the water is cool.

In the distance three large waterfalls stand frozen in time,

suspended forever mid-fall.  A thin trickle of water drips over the

edge, leaving behind a microscopic layer of mineral deposits to form

the next cascade.  There is a mystical, ethereal quality to this place.

Kids played in the pools and

everyone crawled all over the site, testing the

water with their hands and taking endless

pictures.

Just as the sun

started to come out,

giving the whole place

a wonderful glow, it

was time to jump back

into the van with our

tour buddies to make

the trek to the

Zapotec ruins of Mitla.

One of the highlights of this tour was meeting the other folks that

were along for the ride with us.  Three charming young women

from England filled the back seat and an older Danish couple was

up front, giving our van a decidedly European flair.  The English

gals were in their first week of a three month trans-Central America

tour, and we all bubbled with excitement as we talked about the

places we'd been and where we wanted to go.

Mitla's construction was begun by the Zapotecs in more or less

the same era as Monte Alban, a few hundred years BC,

although Mitla's first inhabitants settled there much earlier.  And

like Monte Alban, Mitla was built by the Zapotecs but ended up

under Mixtec control.  However,  in the years between 750 AD

and the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500's, Mitla was thriving

whereas Monte Alban was already in decline.

Monte Alban is built

on a hilltop while

Mitla is built in a

valley, and Monte

Alban was a city

made up of pyramids

whereas Mitla has

long and narrow

rectangular rooms

and appears possibly

to have been palatial

housing for the most

noble families as well

as a religious center.  Mitla was still functioning when the Spanish arrived (the Zapotec

population in all the outlying areas was some 500,000 people by then), and after

determining that the high priest at Mitla was similar to the pope back home, the

conquistadors promptly took up residence, dismantled and sacked as many of the buildings

as they could, and used the stones to build a church on top of one end of the ruins.

Just as stunning as the massive

pyramids at Monte Alban is the

incredibly fine stonework of the

frescoes at Mitla.  Each wall is

trimmed in intricately detailed

stonework patterns, all of which

were made by cutting perfectly

sized stones that fit onto one

another like jigsaw puzzle pieces,

held together without mortar.

Huge lintels lie across very low doorways,

and the corners of each room are made

with a dovetail style stone joinery, again

without mortar.

This construction is so finely and so tightly fitted, and

the walls are so massive, that a 1931 8.0 earthquake 50

miles away that damaged 70% of the buildings in the

city of Oaxaca didn't even make these buildings  flinch.

"Mitla" means "Place of the dead" in the Aztec's Nahuatl

language, and the Zapotec name for the area has the

same meaning.  The early Spanish conquistadors

interpreted the name as "Hell," and there are several underground tombs -- all

highly decorated with the intricately interwoven stone patterns -- where nobles and

high priests were buried and sent off to the afterlife, wether it was up to the

heavens or down.

I could have easily roamed

these ruins for quite a bit

longer, but the van was on a

mission, and this time it was

headed to a Mezcal tasting.

Actually, in hindsight, giving

up a few more moments with

the ancients for a quick

education in the art of

Mescal making

wasn't such a

bad trade-off

after all.

Like France's Champagne which is made only in Champagne,

Mexico's Tequila is made only in Tequila, about 40 miles outside of

Guadalajara, and a few other areas designated by Mexican law.  All

other identical libations made from the blue agave plant in other parts

of Mexico are called Mezcal instead.  And there are hundreds!

We stopped at a little place that still

makes Mezcal the old fashioned way.

After about 7 or 8 years the agave plant

has a pineapple looking core that is

removed, trimmed and cooked over a

fire.

It is then crushed using a heavy wheel

going round and round, driven by a

horse who has the fun job of walking in

circles.  This creates a stringy material

that looks like hay that gets boiled in a

kiln.  Eventually it is strained and placed

in casks to ferment.

The effect of the length of fermentation

was the amazing part to me.  Blanco

("white") mezcal -- the common, cheap

transparent stuff -- is aged less than two

months and burns a fiery path down your

throat and tastes terrible.  Reposado

("rested") mezcal is aged 2 months to two

years in an oak barrel and is barely

tolerable.  Añejo ("aged") mezcal is aged

for one to three years, barely tickles your

throat and has a pleasant flavor.

Extra Añejo ("extra aged") is aged for three

years or more, goes down waaaay too

easy, and tastes terrific.  It's a good thing

they were serving this stuff in thimble sized cups.

We tried some "crema" mezcals too, that is, flavored mezcals

made with cream.  The mango one was good enough that the

Danes purchased a bottle to take home with them, while we

and the English gals sampled the pineapple and some others I

forget now (we were having fun!).  The folks at the counter

would happily have kept on serving, but we needed to be able

to find our way back to the van, so we eventually said

"Enough!" and staggered off.

It was a great day on the outskirts of Oaxaca and the perfect

conclusion to our inland travels.  But Groovy was waiting for us back in Huatulco and it

was time for us to face the much feared crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec and head

to Puerto Chiapas and then inland to Antigua, Guatemala.

Find Oaxaca (Mitla) on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Rafael Swell, UT – Pictographs & Dinosaur Prints

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San Rafael Swell, Utah

September 25-30, 2007 - We rushed south to get away from the snow

and cold in Park City and found the perfect temperatures in the Green

River area.  The San Rafael Swell is a vast area of redrocks and desert

brush that we explored for several days.  The rock cliffs are enormous.

We found rock faces that sported pictographs painted by ancient

peoples 2000 years ago.  Pictographs are made using some kind of

paint on the rock, but it impregnates the rock face enough to last over

thousands of years.  It may have been made using saliva or blood.

The images were mystical.  The people were tall and thin with

garments that reached to the ground.  It was hard to tell what they

were doing, but in one image all the people had holes pecked in their

chests.  Apparently the holes were pecked deliberately, though

researchers don't know what they represented.

We also found petroglyphs chiseled in the rocks by ancient peoples

1000 years ago.  The images were a little more real-life.  Elk and big

horn sheep were easy to distinguish.

One image was a little mystifying,

however:  the figure had four

fingers, three toes, antennae and

either a tail or a shield in the other

hand.  There is graffiti around

many of these rock images, and

the poor quality of the modern rock

doodles makes it clear that the

rock artists spent some time and

had some skill in making these

images last.

Further on we found a dinosaur

track (the guidebook helped us

find it!).  Whatever type of

dinosaur it belonged to was very good sized.  Mark's hand

disappeared into the footprint.

We drove through an area called "Jackass Flats" and, sure

enough, we saw three burros nibbling the grass.  They came right

over to us to check us out.  Eventually they decided we weren't all

that interesting, and they wandered off.

Back out on I-70 we stopped at the north end of Spotted Wolf

Pass.  It took 13 years to build this portion of I-70 through the

rock cliffs.  It takes five minutes to drive through it.

From there we dropped down to Goblin Valley, Utah.