2007-2012 – RV and Sailing Adventures

This page contains links to all the places we have visited since we started traveling full-time by RV and sailboat in 2007. Our travels have taken us to the Caribbean.

Florida in the upper left, Venezuela along the bottom.

We spent time traveling in the Grenadines. We have cruised our sailboat Groovy along the entire Mexican coast (except the northern Sea of Cortez). Cruising Southern Pacific Mexico and Northern Central America is quite different than along the northern coasts of Mexico.

Southern Mexico & Northern Central America

Our Travel Route: May 2007 - June 2012

SUMMARY

Starting in May, 2007, our travels have taken us to these places:

2007 - RV: New Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona

2008 - RV:  Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Kansas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona

2009 - RV:  California, Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Arizona, California

Car/hotel: Michigan

RV: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona

Airplane/hotel:  SE Caribbean

2010 - Sailboat:  California, Mexico's Baja Pacific Coast

2011 - Sailboat: Mexico's Mainland Pacific Coast, Sea of Cortez

RV: Arizona, Utah, Arizona

Sailboat:  Sea of Cortez, Mexico's Pacific Coast

2012 - Sailboat:  Mexico's Pacific Coast + inland trips by bus

RV:  Arizona, Colorado, Utah

A complete chronological listing of all our travels (with links) follows:

FIRST YEAR TRAVELS - Western

Loop and Southern Loop

In May, 2007, we left our just-leased home in

Phoenix, Arizona and picked up our new Lynx

travel trailer in Kemp, Texas outside of Dallas.

We arrived at Marshall's RV with everything we

needed for our new lifestyle packed into the back

of our truck.  After staying near the dealership for

ten days, just to make sure all the systems

worked okay, we headed west.  We traveled

between I-10 and I-40 on small country roads

through west Texas and New Mexico.  We

arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, and installed a solar

panel and finished some personal odds and ends,

wrapping up our old life in Phoenix.

We left Flagstaff in June, 2007 and went to

Mammoth Lakes, California where we enjoyed

snow-capped mountains and crystal clear lakes.

From there we went to Yosemite National Park via Tioga Pass on the eastern side, and then took the tiny roads out of the

mountains to the west, skirting Sacramento and landing at the California coast at Fort Bragg, 150 miles north of San Francisco.  We

wandered north along the Oregon Coast in July, 2007, awestruck by the rugged beauty of the craggy cliffs and crashing surf.  At the

top of Oregon we turned inland, following the Columbia River along the northern part of Oregon.  Next, we ventured into southern

Washington, exploring the often-foggy coast and the steaming cauldron of Mt. St. Helens.  Then we made our way up to northern

Washington, where we visited Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier.

In August, 2007 we took a ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Vancouver Island and spent most of the month on the southern

half of the island.  At the end of our visit we spent several days in Victoria, BC, before boarding a ferry for Anacortes, Washington.

From there we traveled east along the North Cascades in Washington to northern Idaho.  In September, 2007 we traveled further

east to visit Glacier National Park in Montana.  Then we dropped south to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming where we

enjoyed both the tamed wild animals and the hot springs and geysers.  Just a little south of Yellowstone we spent a day touring the

incomparable mountain and lake scenery of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and then made our way east to Devil's Tower

in northeastern Wyoming.

At the end of September, 2007, we reached our turnaround point at Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the

southwest corner of the state.  We could feel the chill of fall in the air.  We headed west through Wyoming along I-80 and dropped

down into northern Utah, wandering from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area over to Park City outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caught in an early snow storm we quickly dropped south again to Green River, Utah, and the San Rafael Swell where we were awed

by the easy access to ancient petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks.  We dipped down from there, in October, 2007, to Goblin Valley,

Utah and then to Zion National Park and Kodachrome Basin, all along the unbelievably scenic Route 12 which zig-zags across

Utah.  Chased by cold weather, we went south to the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada, where we found the stunning Valley of Fire

State Park.  Here we saw sunrises that looked like sunsets and cycled on an exquisite road through geological formations of every

shape and color.  As the nights grew cold in November, 2007, we sought warmth at Death Valley National Park in California and

then cruised into southern Arizona in early December, 2007, where we made our first visit to Quartzsite, Arizona.

We had completed a loop tour of the western states, and we were pooped!  We recovered completely during Christmas, 2007, visiting

with family in Phoenix before returning to Quartzsite, Arizona in January, 2008 for their big RV show.  While freezing in howling

winds under grey skies, we kept looking at the weather map on the back page of USA Today and seeing that Florida was toasty

warm.  It was time to leave.  We made our way east through Texas the long way, skimming the Rio Grande and the Gulf Coast,

dashing across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on I-10 and arriving in Florida in February, 2008.  We spent three months in

Florida, criss-crossing northern Florida several times.  We visited Daytona just in time to see the Daytona 200 motorcycle race and

Spring Break.  Then we cruised along the southern and western coasts of Florida, swimming at beaches near Miami and

Sarasota as we looped around to the Florida panhandle.

At the end of April, 2007 we visited the Gulf coast town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, amazed at this town's enthusiastic revival

following Katrina.  From there we traveled north to Natchez, Mississippi where the great river was cresting higher than it had since

the 1930's and the historic mansions told stories of a different culture in a different era.  We drove along the Natchez Trace Parkway

north to Jackson, Mississippi, exploring ancient Indian mounds and cycling this unique commercial-traffic free road.

SECOND YEAR TRAVELS - Southwestern Loop, Florida Dash & Heartland Detour Back West

In May, 2008, we arrived in Chanute, Kansas, putting our sightseeing on hold for a month as we immersed ourselves in learning all

we could about NuWa fifth wheel trailers.  After a lot of thought, we decided to take the plunge.  We made a deal at the factory with

local dealer H&K Camper Sales to buy a new Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer.  We moved into the new trailer on May 20, 2008, the exact

same day that we had left Phoenix to begin this new fulltime RV lifestyle a year ago.  Thrilled with our new purchase, we needed to

get it set up for solar battery charging, so we returned to Flagstaff, Arizona where we upgraded the solar system we had had on the

Lynx.  We felt a little like we were repeating history--but with greater knowledge and sophistication: we stayed in the same

campground and had a similar (though more complex) solar installation project as we had had during the same time period one year

before.  We had learned something important during this year of travel, however: to slow down.  Taking a break from our solar

installation work on the buggy, we cycled and hiked through the sights of Sunset Crater National Monument.

In late June, 2008, we left Flagstaff, Arizona and went all the way around the Grand Canyon to its North Rim.  We stayed for three

weeks in an idyllic setting about 18 miles from the Rim.  From there we wandered north through Kanab, Utah and discovered one of

Utah's great animal sanctuaries.  After hugging and petting many non-human friends, we continued north to Ruby's Inn and Bryce

Canyon where we spent a month in a bucolic setting.  In a past visit in our former lives, we had squeezed the North Rim and Bryce

into a few days.  We were really learning to sloooow waaaay down.

At the end of August, 2008, we wandering among the small communities that dot the mountainous and red rock strewn terrain of

southern Utah.  We basked in the small town comfort of Kanab and Alton, meandering along their pretty streets on brilliant blue-sky

filled days.  And we enjoyed the hometown fun of a three-day Labor Day county fair in Parowan, Utah.  During September we

stopped in at Pioche, Nevada, a once bustling mining town might have been the wildest frontier town in the heyday of the wild west.

From there we revisited our former lives with a stopover at Interbike, the annual bicycle industry trade-show in Las Vegas.  We

caught up on the latest bike gear and saw Lance Armstrong in a night-time cyclo-cross race (but forgot to bring our cameras, so

there's no proof!).

Sweltering in the 100 degree Vegas heat, we dashed across the California desert (hot hot hot!) to San Diego's Shelter Island and

Mission Bay where the cool breezes, bright sunshine and salt air seduced us into staying for the entire month of October, 2008.

Heading inland, we spent November in Yuma, Arizona, where we enjoyed the last warm days of 2008 before the start of winter.

We stayed in the Arizona Desert for most of December and January.  In Quartzsite we installed a vent-free heater just as the first

freezing winter storm hit.  This kept us warm through the holidays in Phoenix, til we hit the San Diego waterfront once again to attend

the sailboat show in January.  We were reluctant to leave the unusually warm, sunny coast, but great friends, good times and the RV

show awaited us back in Quartzsite.

Ready for a change of pace, we made a mad dash across country, and spent six weeks on the quiet rivers and sugar-white sand

beaches that fringe the Florida Panhandle's emerald waters.  State parks and seaside villages highlighted our visit and made our

photo journal spill onto two pages (Florida Panhandle 2).  Heading north, we visited the Natchez Trace in Mississippi a second time

and made some enjoyable stops in central and northern Arkansas.  Warranty work on our trailer took us to Chanute, Kansas next,

followed by a long slog back along I-40 to Arizona.

We stopped at Roosevelt Lake in Arizona and had two blissful weeks of cycling, kayaking and photography.  Spurred by a desire to

expand our travels onto the seven seas, we went boat shopping around San Francisco & Los Angeles.

THIRD YEAR TRAVELS - IN AND OUT OF THE TRAILER:

Midwest (by car/hotel), West (in trailer), SE Caribbean (by hotel) & Mexico (by sailboat)

An accident in May, 2009 put us in Michigan for seven weeks with friends and family but without our trailer.  We looped around Lake

St. Clair, which borders both Detroit and Canada, and then dropped down to N. Ohio & Elkhart, Indiana where we visited the RV/MH

Hall of Fame and toured Amish Country and the Heartland RV factory.  Later in June, we traveled up Michigan's west coast,

stopping in the charming waterfront town of South Haven.  Continuing north, we traveled along the scenic coastal roads of Lake

Michigan (with a detour through Detroit) to hit Saugatuck, Higgins Lake and Traverse City, alternating between seeing new sights

and having Mark take me on nostalgic trips down memory lane.  We continued north along the Lake Michigan coast, visiting the

harborfront villages of Charlevoix and Harbor Springs and driving under the unique green limbed canopy of the Tunnel of Trees.

In late June we crossed the Macinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula and visited the towns of St. Ignace and Hessel, making a brief

stop at the Great Lakes Boat Building School.  A trip to the Soo Locks revealed both north and southbound freighters in the locks

simultaneously, one going up and one going down.  We ended our Michigan visit with a trip down the Lake Huron shoreline,

marveling at lighthouses, shipwrecks and hydroplane boat races, and finally wrapping it all up with a stroll through the German

immigrant town of Frankenmuth.

We flew back to California and moved back into our trailer just in time for San Diego's 4th of July bash.  Taking the long route north

and east, we traveled to Ketchum, Idaho, where we unwound in bliss and rediscovered our inner joy for a month.  We worked our

way down much of the Visitors Center's 50 Fun Free Things To Do in Ketchum/Sun Valley list.  There was the symphony's free

summer concert series, the Sun Valley Lodge itself, and winter sports memorabilia all over Sun Valley, ID.  A little further north we

stopped in Stanley, ID, enjoying several blissful kayak rides in the crystal clear lakes among the mountains.  We got a lesson in

salmon lifecycles too.  As August, 2009 ended, our lessons shifted from fish biology to cattle ranching in Stevensville, MT (just south

of Missoula) at our good friends' neighbor's ranch.  They took us to the annual Labor Day Weekend Hemville Rodeo to see how

ranchers unwind on the weekend.  This event was so much fun we had to create a second Rodeo page.

In September, 2009, we hustled south along I-15, stopping several times between Logan and Cedar City, Utah to take in the sights

and drive the scenic roads through the mountains.  A stint in Las Vegas, Nevada split us up between the glitzy annual Interbike

bicycle industry trade show and the soaring peaks at Red Rock Canyon.  A brief detour along I-15 finally landed us at Valley of Fire

State Park for a second visit (first was in 2007).  Red rocks, petroglyphs, jaw-dropping drives and exhilerating bike rides.  A little

further down the Colorado River, we stopped at Laughlin, Nevada where the RV snowbirds were flocking on their flight south.  By

the end of October we were back in Arizona for a free stay at Havasu Springs Resort in exchange for listening to an RV

membership program presentation.  We returned to our home front, Phoenix, Arizona in November, 2009, and visited two Phoenix

area parks.

Looking for new excitement and warmer climes, we jetted to Grenada in the southeastern Caribbean to begin a 10-week tropical

adventure.  Going aboard a 75' wooden yacht that Frank Sinatra used to sail on was one of many highlights as we stayed on

Grenada's main island.  Paradise Beach on Carriacou Island captivated us, and we enjoyed several walking adventures.  We spent

many days in total relaxation and pure joy in Carriacou, Grenada, and eventually took the ferry to Union Island in the country of St.

Vincent & The Grenadines where Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations were in colorful full swing.  Next day, a 15 minute

flight landed us on the island of Bequia, at one time a charming oasis of peace and tranquility where we planned to spend a month.

Accosted by scam artists at the airport and finding the locals both sullen and mean, we searched hard to find the pretty side of this

island.

Meanwhile, an online search had turned up our dream boat for sale at a rock bottom price in San Diego.  We submitted an online bid

as a lark and suddenly found ourselves thrust into the boat buying process once again.  A wild 33 hour walk/ferry/taxi/jet ride to San

Diego put us face to face with Groovy, our new home.  After two weeks of non-stop preparations, on January 31, 2010 we left San

Diego and went south to Ensenada, Mexico via ports at Puerto La Salina and Hotel Coral & Marina.  We lived on our new boat

Groovy at Hotel Coral & Marina in Ensenada, Mexico for the next six months.

Getting out and about in Ensenada, we found small thrills in the markets and in "Gringo Gulch," the tourist zone.  Over Valentine's

weekend we got downtown to witness the amazing spectacle of the Carnaval Parade.  Returning to the US a few times we learned a

little about the border and were grateful at last to return home to the boat in Ensenada.  Despite an El Nino year, a tsunami and an

earthquake, life in Ensenada was very sweet.  In April, 2010, we watched two races back to back: the Rosarito-Ensenada bike race

and the Newport-Ensenada sailboat race.  Settling back into our routine, we continued to prepare the boat for cruising and

discovered some colorful neighborhoods in Ensenada.

FOURTH YEAR TRAVELS - Ensenada Mexico, San Diego & Mexican coastline (by sailboat)

As May, 2010 ended, we continued exploring the area around Ensenada, Mexico, including La Bufadora, the famed blow hole.  In

back-to-back contrasting adventures, we experienced both the genteel and the raucous at the Riviera Cultural Center and Baja 500

off-road race.  Sticking to the genteel, we took a daytrip a few miles inland to experience the flavor and beauty of Ensenada's wine

country.  Back at Marina Coral we met many interesting travelers passing through Ensenada, and we discovered a vibrant running

and racing scene in town.  In early August, 2010, we moved Groovy to Ensenada's Baja Naval boatyard for a few projects that were

beyond our skill set, and said farewell to Ensenada.

Towards the end of August, 2010, we sailed up to San Diego and enjoyed the free anchorages that are available to cruisers there,

learning how to boondock on the water.  In September we continued visiting the various anchorages around the bay as our many

projects to prepare the boat for cruising kept us in the San Diego.

In addition to the above map, there is more geographical detail on coastal Mexico here:  Mexico Maps.

Finishing our major outfitting projects on Groovy in October, 2010, we started sailing down the Baja coast on November 2nd.

Harbor hopping a little and doing a few overnight trips, we continued along the Baja coast further until dawn of November 19th when

we motored past the gorgeous cliffside properties on approach to Cabo San Lucas.  Following a brief stay there, we tackled 330

miles of open ocean to cross the Sea of Cortez to Chamela Bay on Mexico's mainland Pacific coast, called the "Costa Algre" ("Happy

Coast") for Thanksgiving.  55 miles further south, we were charmed by Manzanillo.  "THIS is why we went cruising," we agreed,

remaining anchored off Manzanillo's Las Hadas Resort for 10 days.  New friends persuaded us to keep moving south another 180

miles, taking us first to mini island paradise Isla Ixtapa where we swam and snorkeled and enjoyed the tropical air, and then on to

charming Zihuatanejo for Christmas and New Year's.

We stayed in Zihuatanejo for most of January, 2011, finding ever more enchantments in its nooks and crannies.  At last we hauled

anchor and motored 200 miles back north to Manzanillo where we met my mom and took her to visit lovely Santiago Bay.  We

hovered between Santiago and neighboring Las Hadas resort for a few weeks, enjoying a wide variety of scenery and activities.

Wandering just a little north for Valentine's Day, we discovered the unique charm of Barra de Navidad, an enclosed, serene lagoon

anchorage.  From Cuastecomate to Tenacatita, once considered paradise, we experienced the human and ecological challenges

facing this area.  A tsunami caused by a record earthquake in Japan sent us out to sea and up the coast where we discovered a

hidden island paradise among the islands in Chamela Bay.

At the end of March, 2011, we left the "gold coast" anchorages of the Costa Alegre, rounded Cabo Corrientes to the north, and found

ourselves immersed in the sailing and gringo oriented town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle outside Puerto Vallarta.  Further north we

visited the famed bells of San Blas and Isla Isabel's frigate bird colony and blue footed boobies.  An overnight passage took us to

Mazatlan where we found a city in turmoil.  So we quickly hustled across the Sea of Cortez on another overnight passage to the

bottom of the Baja peninsula.  La Paz & Puerto Balandra were total delights in mid-April where we got caught up with provisioning

and learned firsthand about the potentially horrifying springtime Coromuel winds that haunt the area.

At the end of April, 2011, we started heading north into the Sea of Cortez, stopping at Isla Partida's Ensenada Grande and Isla San

Francisco.  A late season (May) Norther packed a wallop, but we emerged unscathed in the gorgeous, friendly bay of Agua Verde.

Just a few miles up the coast we witnessed both the natural side and the resort side of the Sea of Cortez at Isla Coronado and

Ensenada Blanca, set against the backdrop of reading Steinbeck's Log of the Sea of Cortez.

FIFTH YEAR TRAVELS - Sea of Cortez (boat), US Southwest (RV), Sea of Cortez again (boat),

Mexico's Pacific Mainland (boat) and inland (bus/hotel)

On May 22, 2011, we toasted the end of our fourth year of travel and beginning of our fifth while anchored off Loreto, a pretty, laid

back town.  We stayed in the Loreto area for several weeks, enjoying the civilized pleasures of Puerto Escondido as well as Loreto,

and then we ventured north to San Juanico and Bahía Concepción where we immersed ourselves in nature and hung out with the

local ex-pats.  At the end of June, 2011, we left the boat in San Carlos Marina in Mexico and went to Phoenix to catch up on a long

list of chores and re-lease our townhouse.

In August, 2011 we jumped in the fifth wheel and went to Bonito Campground / Wupatki Nat'l Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona.  We

explored caves, marveled at 2,000 year old pine trees and hiked red rock canyons in Dixie National Forest, Utah.  Seeking more

red rock vistas, we did two hikes at another hidden jewel, Cedar Breaks National Monument where we were surprised by the

abundance of colorful wildflowers.  Still not saturated with red rocks, we hiked all over Red Canyon and visited nearby Panguitch and

Tropic for some Mormon pioneer history lessons.  We ended our RVing season with a county fair in Parowan, Utah, the Interbike

bicycle trade show in Las Vegas and some Route 66 nostalgia and discovery of Sycamore Canyon in Williams, Arizona.

We returned to Groovy in San Carlos, Mexico in early October, 2011.  After crossing to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, we

stopped in at Punta Chivato and Bahía Concepción, where we found a cool wilderness school and met Geary the Cruisers'

Weatherman.  Continuing south to the Loreto area, we swam and snorkeled in pretty La Ramada Cove and Isla Coronado before

seeing civilization again at Loreto and Puerto Escondido.  Further south, the island anchorages near La Paz reveal a tiny

community, a long distance avian traveler, surprise treasure under water, and tropical beauty.  The La Paz area gave us great tacos

and the La Paz Waltz, while nearby Playa Bonanza and Bahía Falsa soothed our souls.  At the beginning of December, 2011 we

crossed the Sea of Cortez to La Cruz and then Paradise Village Resort Marina in Puerto Vallarta where we luxuriated in the

gorgeous resort surroundings.  Swinging through Manzanillo Bay we were entertained by a whale, reconnected with old

acquaintances and made some incredible new ones.  Christmas on Las Gatas beach followed by a tour of the could-be haunted

"Parthenon" of Arturo Durazo in Zihuatanejo wrapped up a fantastic 2011.

We started 2012 in the beautiful, warm and friendly Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa area.  Heading south, we found high end yacht races,

soaring cliff divers, a fancy yacht club and several pretty anchorages in Acapulco.  After the frightening discovery of a corpse at sea,

we arrived in the lovely Bahías de Huatulco at the end of January ready to soak up their natural beauty.  In Huatulco's two little

towns we met some young Zapotecs and out of town we explored an Eco-Archaeology Park.  Taking a bus over the mountains in

mid-February, we fell in love with the cool colonial city of Oaxaca.  We found all kinds of color and action at Oaxaca's Zócalo and

were thrilled to witness a wedding in the Cathedral.  Just outside town we discovered Zapotec pyramid ruins at Monte Alban and

wonderful relics at Oaxaca's Cultural Center.  We took a daytrip tour to see the world's widest tree, learn traditional weaving

techniques, admire petrified waterfalls, marvel at ancient ruins at Mitla and taste some mezcals.

In late February, 2012, we crossed the Gulf of Tehantepec and stopped at the brand new Marina Chiapas next to the Guatemala

border.  Taking the bus to Antigua, Guatemala we found a tourism-driven city that has an pretty veneer but a bullied soul.  After a

few days back in Puerto Chiapas, we drove inland through the Mexican state of Chiapas on another unforgettable 200 mile bus ride.

In early March we took intensive Spanish classes in San Cristóbal and walked the pretty colonial streets.  Five hours up the road on

a gorgeous mountain bus ride we stopped in Palenque where we saw amazing Mayan ruins and heard scary jungle sounds.

Narrow, bumpy roads and a boat ride up a river took us to the exotic, inspiring ruins of Yaxchilán & Bonampak.  We said goodbye to

the Mayan world by visiting the gorgeous waterfalls of Misol-Ha & Agua Azul and celebrating the Spring Equinox at the Tenem

Puente ruins.  In April, 2012 we left Groovy in Marina Chiapas for the summer and flew hurriedly to Michigan to see Mark's suddenly

ailing parents.

SIXTH YEAR TRAVELS - US Southwest (RV)

In May, 2012, we began our summer RVing travels with visits to Arizona's Mogollon Rim & Petrified Forest National Park.

Heading into Indian Country we visited Window Rock and stunning Canyon de Chelly National Park.  Seeking a little more ancient

Indian exploration, we visited Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and followed that up with some special encounters with the

locals in nearby Blanding, Utah.  Following Utah's spectacular Bicentennial Highway, we visited Natural Bridges National

Monument.  Turning west on Scenic Route 12 we arrived at Capitol Reef National Park where we immersed ourselves in red rock

vistas and pioneer history.  Leaving red rocks for green rolling hills, Fish Lake, UT took us into the rural Utah countryside where we

heard the funny story behind Five Wives Vodka.  With scenic drives as our theme, we continued north along the Provo Canyon

Scenic Byway and Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, home of Sundance Resort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following posts came after our transition to WordPress in the summer of 2012:

An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!

Summaries of Each Year on the Road - All of our travel posts in chronological order:

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Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Life on the Edge with the Ancients

Great pics and stories from our trip to Mesa Verde National Park. Also includes our visit to Blanding, Utah and Utah's Bicentennial Highway.

Unusual rock formations line the road.

A deer says

A deer says "hello" at Mesa Verde.

We peer out over The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

We take a closer look at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

Stone masonry from sandstone bricks.

The Ansazi built round walls as well as straight ones at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

They were as good at round walls as straight ones.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Looking closer in at Balcony House.

Looking closer in.

Mesa Verde was scarred by wildfilres but the cliff dwellings survived unharmed.

Above the cliffs is flat land -- some has

been burned by wildfires.

You'll need a telephoto lens or binoculars to see the cliff dwellings across the canyon at Mesa Verde.

A closer look at the buildings below.

The Ancestral Puebloans built split-level homes in caves along the canyon walls at Mesa Verde.

Split-level living with some buildings on a higher ledge

and others on a lower one.

The Cliff Palace is the biggest Anasazi ruin at Mesa Verde Nat'l Park.

Cliff Palace.

Here are a few of the rooms at Cliff Palace.

A closer look at Cliff Palace.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

The Far View Sites.

Don't Touch!!!

No climbing -- unless you're a

ranger.

There are beautiful fields and farm country between Colorado and Utah.

Landscapes as we leave Colorado and enter Utah.

We met a young, hard-working cowboy in Blanding.

The real deal.

Winter wheat at twilight in Blanding, Utah.

Winter wheat at twilight.

An old truck out back behind JM Welding.

An old truck out back behind Jack's shop.

Twilight in the fields around Blanding Utah.

What else to do while waiting for work

on the trailer - take photos!

The round plastic handle was becoming square.

An excellent welding shop that does awesome metal fabrication:  JM Welding in Blanding, Utah. What our hitch extension will look like.

The design.

Jack brings us the finished product.

Jack and the finished product.

Here's how our hitch extension works and what it does.

How it works and what it does.

Finished product.

Ta da!!

Photos from the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

The Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 in Utah.

These are typical rock formations seen along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Typical sights along the "Bicentennial Highway"

Here's one of many spectacular views along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Scenic Route 95.

We spot a perfect boondocking spot.

"Oh oh oh oh -- it's perfect!!"

We're happily camped alongside the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah. Views out our window from our boondocking spot on the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

View out the window.

We have found one of the most amazing camping spots ever, on Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

No one for five miles in any direction.

Here's why we love RVing in Utah.

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

dramatic rock

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

ruin.

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

vanished.

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

Route 95.

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

constantly.

I literally hung

my whole

upper body out

the window a

few times to

snap photos at

55 mph.

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

sweetie!

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

National Monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Lake Scenic Byway

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, UtahWhile visiting central Utah on a recent summer day, my husband and I drove the Fish Lake Scenic Byway, one of the state’s many beautiful highways and byways that are officially (and rightfully) designated as “scenic.”  This road, Utah Route 25 between Loa and Fish Lake, weaves and curves through pine tree studded hills and into thick aspen groves.  A bike trail runs alongside the lake and we quickly unloaded our bikes to ride this waterfront path.  We soon found ourselves jumping on and off our bikes to take in the views, smell the fragrant air and check out the thick carpets of wildflowers that rolled down to the shore.

Fish Lake Lodge is the centerpiece of the Fish Lake community.  It is a wonderful old building made of logs and filled inside with trophy heads, an inviting fireplace and a large dining room that looks out over the lake.  We were there in summertime, but the fireplace looked like it would be perfect for snowy winter evenings too.

Of course the main activity at Fish Lake is fishing, and it seemed everyone we saw was carFish Lake Lodgerying a fishing pole or a tackle box.  A large family huddled around one of the fish cleaning stations near the Lodge, and two men busily carved up the day’s catch.  The kids watched in fascination as one of the men sliced open the belly of a fish and then explained it was a female as he pulled out a fistful of eggs.  The little girl scrunched up her face and squealed, “Gross!” while the boy next to her grinned, “That’s cool, Dad!”

The Fish Lake Scenic Drive lived up to its billing and each view around every bend was better than the last.  The aspen shivered and shimmied their brilliant green leaves while the pointy dark green pines seemed to pierce the sky.  First inhabited by mammoth hunters some 9,000 years ago, people have traveled through this area for a long time.  A portion of the Old Spanish Trail, used by Utes and cowboys alike, wanders along the western side of the lake.  Out of the corners of our eyes we both thought we spotted a train of horseback riders, but on second glance we saw it was a memorial sculpture in the middle of a field commemorating the Utes and settlers who traversed the Old Spanish Trail.

butterflyNotes from Kit Carson in 1848 described the shallow streams in the area as “swarming with fish.”  Using just “an old bayonet fastened to a stick” he caught five dozen fish at sunrise in the icy water one morning.  We didn’t see quite such plentiful fish, but we found the flower-strewn banks of the lake and streams teeming with butterflies.  The warm summer air buzzed with busy insects, and seagulls cried in the distance.

Trading our bikes and helmets for our hiking shoes and camera gear, we strolled along the shore, watching the cormorants fishing and seagulls soaring overhead.  The sun glinted freely off the glittering lake and the sun was hot on our backs.  In contrast to all the activity of the creatures around the lake, the campgrounds along the shore were quiet and had plenty of vacancies.

Our refreshing mid-summer’s trip to this bucolic spot reminded us yet again that Utah’s scenic byways are always worthy of a detour.

Natural Bridges National Monument & Utah’s Bicentennial Highway

Early June, 2012 - We left Mesa Verde and drove the dramatic Bicentennial Highway to Utah's unique Natural Bridges National Monument.

At the top of Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

A wwoden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail.

Some folks were put off by the

trail's wooden ladders.

Looking down a wooden ladder on the Sipapu Bridge trail of Natural Bridges National Monument.

Looking down is a bit unnerving!

climbing a wooden ladder at Natural Bridges. On the trail at Natural Bridges NM.

The trail hugs a sheer canyon wall.

Hiking behind a barefoot person at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Barefoot tracks...

Exotic rock formations along the trail. Dramatic cliffs line the walls along the Sipapu Bridge Hike in Natural Bridges National Monument.

Dramatic cliffs and rock

formations everywhere

Down by Sipapu Bridge. Natural Bridge Nat'l Monument Natural Bridges National Monment

Full sized trees at the base of the cliffs.

Stiped cayon wall at Natural Bridges NM.

Massive leaning walls are painted in vivid stripes.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument

Sipapu Bridge

Ladders are central to the hike to Sipapu Brige.

Ladders...

The NPS has carved stairs in the sandstone on the trail at Natural Bridges National Monument.

…and carved stairs.

Cactus flower, Natural Bridges National Monument Striped cliff walls, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Striped cliff walls.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Kachina Bridge

Kachina Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Mark is dwarfed by Kachina Bridge.

More ladders and steep hiking at Natural Bridges National Monument. Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge - delicate and soaring.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge.

Owachomo Bridge at Natural Bridges National Monument.

The base of Owachomo Bridge.

"Bears Ears"

The Cheesebox, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The Cheesebox.

Jacob's Chair, Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

Jacob's Chair.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway.

Scenic Bicentennial Highway

Driving through Glen Canyon on the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Bridge over the Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Bridge over the Colorado.

Colorado River, Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Colorado River.

Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah. Scenic overlook along the Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 Utah.

Scenic Overlook on the

Bicentennial Highway.

Ghost town Hite City was buried by Lake Powell.

Ghost town Hite City lies underwater here.

SR-95 Bicentennial Highway. Rock formations along State Route 95, the Bicentennial Highway, Utah.

The gods were messing with finger paints.

Scenic Route 24, Utah.

Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Driving along Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Natural Bridges and Utah's Bicentennial Highway

Early June, 2012 - After leaving Mesa Verde National Park we were

totally enthralled by the scenery that surrounded us on Utah's

Bicentennial Highway.  This area is rich with exotic rock formations, and

three special ones are clustered at Natural Bridges National Monument.

While getting our hitch extension fabricated in Blanding we had learned

that our welder, Jack, had grown up playing among the bridge

formations before the modern park rules became so strict.  "It was in

our backyard and we could camp anywhere in those days.  I grew up

climbing all over those bridges."

Now it is a formal tourist attraction,

set aside and protected by the

government, with signs telling you all

the things you shouldn't do.

However, rather than having to scramble down scary drop-offs and wondering how the heck all

these formations got here, the National Park Service has built beautiful trails to the bridges and

offers all kinds of literature and books that explain everything about the geology, the wildlife, and

nature in general at their terrific visitors center.

Just like Canyon de Chelly where the canyons

are equally as stunning as the cliff dwellings, we

found the setting, the vistas and the hikes as

thrilling here as the bridges themselves.  There

are only three natural rock bridges, but there is

an infinite number of spectacular views.

All together it's just four miles of hiking, but you

can skip doing your stair stepping workout on

the day you go.  Each bridge hike is a nearly

vertical descent to the base of the bridge, and

then, after admiring it, you've gotta climb out.  We quizzed

everyone we passed whether each hike was worth the

effort.  Most said "Yes!"  But one couple was put off by the

rickety looking wooden ladders.  We found the ladders were

actually really fun!  They're rock solid and shiny smooth

from thousands of hands and feet using them.

The trail to Sipapu bridge is

sandy and hugs a sheer canyon

wall.  There are all kinds of

footprints from previous hikers,

but the ones that caught my eye

were the barefoot ones.  I felt like

I was following an Indian.  But it

was just someone wearing those

newfangled Vibram FiveFingers

shoes!

We scampered all over the place, soaking

up the towering cliffs and basking in the

silence.  It is hard to imagine that the

immense natural force of flowing water

created these formations.

Many of the rocks are beautifully striped,

carefully painted in vibrant hues by

mother nature.

The size and scale was hard to

capture with the cameras,

especially trying to draw into the

lens that sensation of being

embraced by soaring cliffs and very

hot sun.

Mark got to the

Sipapu bridge

first, and when

he called back

to me his voice

echoed

wonderfully

between the

rocks.  He let

out a few extra hoots

and whistles, enjoying

the effect.  I hooted

and whistled back and

marveled at hearing

the sound perfectly

duplicated.

Climbing back out we noticed

how the Park Service has not

only installed fantastic Navajo

looking wooden ladders, but

has carefully sculpted out lots

of stairs in the rocks as well.

And we learned these bridges

were first found by Cass Hite in

1884 when he was searching for gold.

Kachina Bridge was up next, and

again we descended on a nearly

vertical path into a vibrant green

wash filled with trees and refreshingly

cool shade.  The rocks here had

been painted in stripes too, and bird

songs echoed off the canyon walls as

they flitted from tree to tree.

We staggered around in the sandy wash at the base of the bridge, craning

our necks as we tried to take it all in.  This bridge is thick and squat, and the

underside is decorated with scraggly petroglyphs.  People have lived here

off-and-on for 9,000 years, including a few Mesa Verde cliff dwellers who

moved over here for a few generations around 1200 AD.  This must have

been a great spot to while away the hottest summer hours back in the days

when air conditioning was unavailable and people entertained themselves

by pecking out images on rock walls.

The steep climbs and descents began to blend together in a

haze of sweaty huffing and puffing as we put one foot in front of

the other and hiked up and down the canyons.

The last bridge in the trio is

Owachomo Bridge.  Where

Kachina Bridge had been thick

and massive, Owachomo was

thin and delicate.

Still mighty at its base, from a

distance the narrow stone

seemed almost wispy as it

soared across the expanse.

As we left Natural Bridges National

Monument we caught a glimpse of the

twin peaks the Indians called "Bears

Ears."   What a perfect name!

Many rock formations, cliffs and mesas

around here often beg to be named

because their shapes are just so

familiar.  The Bicentennial Highway

took us past the Cheesebox and

Jacob's Chair.

Back on the scenic Bicentennial Highway the views really got us excited as we

approached Glen Canyon and the Colorado River.  I was practically jumping up

and down in my seat with excitement as the truck swept around one gorgeous

curve after another.

Mark just puttered along, patiently driving, while I whirled around from side to

side snapping hundreds of photos out the windows.  I even climbed up to sit in

the truck window a few times to get pics over the roof.  It is just that gorgeous!

This section of the road must have

been a huge challenge to construct,

and I kept thinking of Ferd Johnson

from the visitors center back in

Blanding who described living out in

these canyons for over two years

while building the highway and the

bridges across the river.

What a place to work!

We stopped at a scenic overlook after

crossing the river and learned that

when the river was dammed back in the

1960's, the new Lake Powell flooded

not only countless ancient Indian

settlements complete with artifacts,

petroglyphs and other priceless

treasures of humankind, but it flooded

an old mining ghost town as well.  Hite

City had boomed when local miners got

"uranium on the cranium" and started

searching the area for "hot rocks."  Now

the entire town lies underwater.

Back in Blanding, both our welder, Jack, and highway builder Ferd

told us they remembered this canyon vividly from the days before it

was filled with water.  What an event it must have been when the

dam was completed to see the water rise against the cliffs and

transform the landscape.

Eventually the scenery along the Bicentennial Highway simmered

down to downright boring, and I settled down in my seat.  From

Route 95 we turned west onto Route 24, and then the views began

to build yet again.

Swirling patterns filled

the rock landscape.  It

seemed the gods had

gotten their hands

colorfully dirty, messing

around with finger

paints, and then had

smeared their prints

across the rocks.

We approached some

towering pale cliffs and

then found ourselves

deep in the heart of red

rock country.

We had arrived at Capitol Reef National Park.  What a

spot!  The bright green trees, burnt orange rocks and crisp

blue sky made a vivid feast for the eyes.  We happily

agreed to settle in here and explore the area for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Petrified Forest NP and Mogollon Rim – Cool pines & hot rocks in AZ!

RV blog post - We camped in the cool pines of Arizona's Mogollon Rim and hiked amid the colorful rocks of the Petrified Forest National Park.

Getting to the US required 3 planes.

Tulips bloom in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Tulips bloom in Fraser, Michigan. Bleeding hearts bloom in Fraser, Michigan.

Bleeding Heart.

Saguaro cactus blooms in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Saguaro cactus top in

bloom.

Starling chicks emerge from a fallen saguaro cactus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Starling chicks in a saguaro nest.

Starling chicks emerge from a fallen saguaro cactus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Mom takes good care of the babies in their fallen home.

A cardinal enjoys a seed snack on our picnic table at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.

A cardinal enjoys a

snack on our table.

Looking out over the Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

The Mogollon Rim.

Getting a photo from the scary edge of the Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

It's a little scary right at the edge, but

few can resist a shot.

Smoke from the Gladiator Fire approaches the Mogollon Rim.

Smoke from the Gladiator Fire approaches.

Smoke from wildfires obscures the sun at the Mogollon Rim.

Wildfire smoke obscures the sun.

The paved and scenic Rim Lakes Vista Trail on the Mogollon Rim.

The awesome little paved rimside trail.

Standing on the edge of the Mogollon Rim in Rim Lakes Recreation Area, Arizona.

It's great to be alive.

Looking out at the views from the Mogollon Rim, Arizona

Mogollon Rim.

Spring brings new growth to the Rim Lakes Recreation Area on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

Spring - a time for new growth.

Wild lilacs in the Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. An elk calf rests in the grass at Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area, Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

An elk calf in the grass.

We ride our bikes down to Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

Woods Canyon Lake.

Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company has lots of petrified wood for sale.

Jim Gray's Petrified Wood

Company.

Petrified wood logs ready for splitting at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Petrified logs ready for splitting.

Geodes at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Geodes ready for opening.

Dinosaur displays at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Dinosaur country!

Don't get bitten by a dinosaur at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

They're cute, just don't get bit.

Dinosaur head, Crystal Forest Gift Shop, Arizona. Petrified logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Petrified Forest National Park.

We traveled to see colorful petrified logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. A single tree trunk split into logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A tree trunk that has cracked into drums.

Agate House at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Agate House.

We hike down to Agate house at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

They built 'em small in 1200 AD

We hike the Long Logs trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

The National Park calls these rock structures "teepees."

We meet a collared lizard on the Agate House hiking trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Collared lizard on a petrified log.

Cows watch us as we drive through Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Cows watch us approach.

We hike to Puerco Pueblo Indian ruins at the north end of the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Puerco Pueblo housed 1,200 people.

We hike past petroglyphs on Puerco Pueblo trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A stork carrying a baby, for sure!!

The Santa Fe Railroad rumbles beneath us at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Santa Fe Railroad.

The Santa Fe Railroad disappears in the distance at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. A rusting hulk of of a car sitting along historic Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A rusting relic near the old Route 66.

Spectacular views at Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Painted Desert.

Mogollon Rim & Petrified Forest National Park

April-May, 2012 - It took us a few days to decompress after our awe inspiring three

weeks in inland Chiapas.  We had studied Spanish in colonial San Cristóbal, seen

Mayan ruins in Palenque, Yaxchilán and Bonampak, and visited sparkling waterfalls

at Agua Azul and Misol-Ha.  But we had received alarming news while in the jungle

that Mark's parents had unexpectedly taken very ill.  Their prognosis for survival had

become bleaker by the day.

We scrapped our plans to

sail 200 miles further to El

Salvador where a rollicking

annual rally of 50 boats was

in full swing, and instead

prepared our boat Groovy for a six month wait at Marina Chiapas while

we made a hasty retreat back to Mark's family homestead in Michigan.

It was jarring and disorienting to rejoin

modern American life after months of

immersion in southern Mexican culture.

Far more upsetting, however, was suddenly finding ourselves face-to-face with the specter of

death.  We passionately pursue our dreams everyday, always feeling the immense pressure of

time, but now the grim reaper was at the door trying to collect.  For days we huddled inside the

drab sterile walls of a modern health care facility trying to be positive while pondering the

incomprehensible.

Fortunately, spring was in full bloom outside.  Flowers were bursting with

color everywhere, and flowering trees seemed to grace every front yard.

Every time we stepped outside we were greeted by the cheerful image

of tulips, a heartwarming flower neither of us had seen for years.

Very gradually, and totally miraculously, both of Mark's parents began to

recover and were able to return home.  As they gained strength we did

too, and the dark, raw emotions in our hearts began to ease.  Out in a

friend's garden a cluster of bleeding hearts reminded us that often the

most precious things in life are also the most fragile, and that life itself is

a gift we receive every day.

When we eventually returned to our own hometown in Phoenix, Arizona, we

found spring had sprung there too.  Our beloved saguaro cactuses were

wearing their little springtime crowns of white flowers on every limb.

Just a few weeks earlier an ancient saguaro in a friend's

yard had died and toppled over.  It now held the fledgling

chicks of a starling that had moved into her condo when

the cactus was still upright.

Despite living in a house that was now eight inches from the ground,

not a great spot for a small bird, she bravely got those chicks raised to

adolescence, and in no time they had all moved out.

We got our trailer out of storage, dusted it off, and set up camp at

nearby Roosevelt Lake.  Still recovering from all that had gone on, and

feeling a bit battle weary, we reveled in watching a cardinal come to

our little seed plate every day.  We could have stayed for a month, but unfortunately the desert temps

were climbing and soon became intolerable.

Fortunately, just 80 miles north of Phoenix we found ideal temps

up on the Mogollon Rim (pronounce "Mugeeyone").  At 7500'

we were in the cool pines, and we found a camping spot right on

the edge of the rim with views to the valley floor far below.

The rim is a jagged shelf of flat rocks that stick out in layers.

The views are expansive and the smell of the ponderosa pines

is invigorating.  There is something about the edge of the rim

that is very alluring and draws people to it, even though the

sheer drop-off is a little unnerving.  At all the scenic overlooks

everyone gets out of their cars and walks right out to the edge

to take in the view and get a photo.

While we were there four huge forest fires were

burning in the valley below us.  The Gladiator Fire

made the national news, and we saw the hotshot

firefighting team's base camp nearby.  Firefighters

had been flown in from all over the country to help

out, and some 1,000 people were fighting the

blaze.  The smoke was intense

at one point, and it billowed

over us like a huge wave.

That evening the sun was

almost totally obscured by the

smoke.  But the hotshots

managed to wrestle all the

fires under control, and in just

a few days the air was clear

again.

We discovered a wonderful

paved trail that runs along the

edge of the rim for a few miles.

Luckily for us, it had just been

lengthened by a mile.  The edge of the rim

is magical, and at every rock outcropping

we found ourselves stopping to get another

look.  This same trail also heads into the

forest towards Woods Canyon Lake where

it weaves past several campgrounds.  We

rode our bikes along the trail and savored

the crisp air and pretty views.

Spring was happening up here too.  The

pines were all adorned with their new

feathery soft needles, and we found flowers

that looked like wild irises growing in a

meadow.

We passed a mother elk

sitting under a tree

chewing her cud.  Nearby

her young calf was

hanging out chewing its

cud too.  They were

totally indifferent to our

presence -- or to that of

the cars that had started

to stack up in the road as

everyone grabbed their

cameras and jumped out

for photos.  We stood

there for quite some time

watching the mouths of

these two large animals slowly working around and

around while their gazes wandered calmly between us

and the cars.  It was as if they were kids hanging around

at the street corner, chewing gum, and waiting for

something to happen.

Woods Canyon Lake is cool and serene, surrounded

by pines.  Families were out fishing and an energetic

guy rowed a skull back and forth.

We stayed in this beautiful mountain forest

for two weeks, settling into our homestead

as if it were our own private mountain home.

Every day we ran, biked and walked.  Then

we read, napped, played on the internet and

watched the boob tube, something we hadn't

done for eight months.  Isn't it amazing, we

kept saying to each other, that we can get 12

Phoenix digital TV stations via our antenna

and good internet from our nifty new Verizon

MiFi unit, while we are camped several miles

down a dirt road deep in the woods on the

edge of a cliff?!

It was hard to leave, but once we

got the wheels rolling on our

buggy, we couldn't wait to get out

and see our beautiful country.  Our

first stop was the Petrified Forest

National Park.  Actually, we

stopped just before the National

Park because the guy who owns

the vast acreage next door has

been mining petrified logs from as

deep as 30' down in the ground for

decades, and the collection he has

on display and for sale at his store

"Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company" is astonishing.

Petrified logs are created when a log gets buried in sediment, preventing rot, and then becomes

infiltrated by silica in the groundwater, replacing its organic material.  This stuff eventually

crystallizes and "petrifies" the whole log.  Over time, as erosion peels the ground out from under

the log, it cracks into short drum-shaped pieces that for all the world look like they are ready for

splitting.

We wandered through the

endless display of petrified logs

and even found a pile of geodes

out back.  This pile stood almost

10' tall and maybe 30' around at

the base.  What a treasure trove!

This is also dinosaur country,

and the local gift shops have all

kinds of fun making crazy

displays for tourists.  Mark found

a few out by the geodes.

Petrified Forest National Park is an easy park to miss

inadvertently because it sits on a road that cuts between an

Arizona highway and an interstate.  We had made that mistake

years ago.  We had driven along at 55 mph waiting to see a

Forest, and we skipped the pullouts because there was no

evidence there was any Forest there.  After an hour we emerged

at the other end of the park having seen nothing but wide plains

and a few scattered logs in the distance.  That goof-up has been

a standing joke between us ever since.

The only way to see this national park is to get out

and do some hikes.  The hilly field behind the

visitors center is strewn with huge logs, many

resting in a row and fitting together to make an

entire tree trunk.  These things are massively heavy

and are 8 times harder to cut than granite.  From a

distance the crystalized bark, knots and tree rings

look lifelike, but up close the agate colors merge

and swirl in non-treelike patterns.

We hiked on the Long Logs trail which features one tree

trunk after another, each one segmented into shorter

logs that lie end-to-end.  Looking around the sweeping,

empty, grassy plains it is hard to imagine that 260 million

years ago this area was a logjam in an ancient riverbed,

back when all the continents were joined and Arizona's

latitude was somewhere around modern day Panama.

13 species of large but extinct pines forested the area.

Out at the Agate House we

found an ancient Indian

pueblo made of petrified

wood pieces.  Archaeologists

believe it was constructed

between 1050 and 1300 AD.

Those guys built very small

buildings.

The trail took us past tall,

horizontally striped "sand

piles" that are now solid

stone.  It looked like a gravel

yard that had been carefully

layered in different types of gravel.  The heights of the

dark stripes matched from one pile to the next.  There is

an otherworldly quality to this landscape.

As we walked back to the

truck Mark spotted a collared

lizard sitting on a hunk of

petrified wood.  His little pink

mouth seemed to be grinning,

and his long skinny tail trailed

almost twice his body length

behind him.

This is cattle ranching country

too, and before we could get

to the petrified log that spans a chasm -- the Agate Bridge -- we had to

get past a group of cows standing in the middle of the road.  These

guys didn't move an inch as we drove past.  Only their heads turned to

watch us as our enormous truck and trailer nearly brushed them when

we drove by.

The Puerco Pueblo hike took us to an ancient Indian settlement built

around 1250 AD.  It was home to some 1,200 people.  6'x8' was a typical

room size, and unlike the mammoth Mayan and Zapotec buildings we'd

seen a few thousand miles to the south, these ruined walls have been

reconstructed to

just a foot in height.

Far more intriguing

for us were the

petroglyphs that the

ancients had

pecked into the nearby rocks.  One showed what

looked to me like a stork carrying a baby.  I'm sure

the archaeologists would disagree about that, but

these images are often a bit like ink blots -- what

you see in them is up to you.

The park road crosses I-40 and deposits visitors in

the middle of the Painted Desert.  But first you get a glimpse of the

Santa Fe railroad and some relics of the old Route 66.  While we

were wandering the hiking trails closest to I-40 we kept hearing

the horns and rumbles of endlessly long trains rolling past.  I

climbed up on a bridge overlooking the tracks and caught a train

as it approached.  Running to the other side I watched it

disappear around the bend.  These tracks date back to 1882

when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad went through.  Early visitors

to the park arrived by train and took guided tours hosted by the

Fred Harvey company.

Mark was fascinated by an ancient rusting hulk of a car

that had been abandoned long ago on the side of the

old Route 66.  Stretching 2,200 miles from Chicago to

Los Angeles, that historic road passed right through

this area, bringing tourists to the park in their own

private cars instead of by train.  Now this part of Route

66 is overgrown by prairie grasses.

Our final miles along the park road

took us past some incredible vistas

overlooking the Painted Desert.  This is

a colorful area of more gravel-pit

looking solid stone "sand piles," and

we had taken so long

getting through the park

that we arrived while the

late afternoon sun was

lighting the vivid

landscape to its most

brilliant hues.  Gazing out

at this exotic land, the

sun beating down on us

and our sinuses rapidly

shriveling up in the dry air, it was hard to imagine what the ancients or the early

settlers must have thought or how they even survived.  So harsh and yet so

beautiful.

By now our spirits were fully restored.  As we studied our maps we decided to

head north via the tiny squiggle labeled "Indian Route 12" and head towards

Canyon de Chelly National Park.  This road was marked as a scenic route

but despite being Arizona residents before our traveling lifestyle we had never

heard of it before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yaxchilan and Bonampak – Haunting Ruins & Ancient Art in the Jungle

Sail blog post - the remote Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak in Chiapas, Mexico were highlight of inland trip from Marina Chiapas.

Kim Tours starts our day with a big breakfast.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Cowboys on horseback hustle cattle down the road.

Cattle are hustled down the road.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Boats waiting to take tourists to the ruins upriver.

Boats waiting to take tourists to the ruins upriver.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Boats waiting to take tourists to the ruins upriver. Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - We all pile into our boat for an hour's journey to Yaxchilán.

We all piled into our boat for an hour's journey

to Yaxchilán.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Boats waiting to take us to Yaxchilan Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Our guide.

Our guide.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - We spot the edge of the Yaxchilán ruins through the trees.

We spot Yaxchilán through

the trees.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour -

Hiking up to the

"Little Acropolis."

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - The

The "Little Acropolis."

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Entering

Entering "The Labyinth."

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - We emerge...

Light at last…!

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - ...in front of

We emerge in front of "The Labyrinth."

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Green moss clings to everything.

Green moss clings to everything.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Note the boxy hieroglyphs above the doorway.

Note the boxy hieroglyphs carved

in the lintel above the doorway.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Structure 33.  When built by Bird Jaguar (752-772), this made quite a sight from the river.

Structure 33.  When built by Bird Jaguar (who reigned

752-772 AD), this made quite a sight from the river.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Structure 20.

Structure 20.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - King Bird Jaguar IV plays ball amid symbolism about his rise to power.

King Bird Jaguar IV plays ball amid symbolism and hieroglyphs about his rise to power.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - King Bird Jaguar IV's mother, Lady Eveningstar.

King Bird Jaguar IV's mother,

Lady Eveningstar.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour -We're faster than that croc, aren't we?

We're faster than that croc, aren't we?

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Van ride for our leg into the Lacadón Forest.

Van ride for our leg into the Lacadón Forest.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Bonampak'a main plaza has shaded stelae and an enormous stairway with small buildings.

Bonampak's main plaza.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - The three doorways leading into the matchless rooms of Mayan murals.

Three doorways lead into three rooms of

matchless Mayan murals.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Room 1: Pomp and circumstance for the presentation of Chaan Muan II's infant heir.

Room 1: Pomp and circumstance surround the presentation

of King Chan Muan II's infant heir.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Mayans bound their foreheads to flatten them.

The detail -- nearly 1200 years later

-- was astonishing.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour -

Celebrating with trumpets.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Room 2:  Prisoners are tortured by pulling out their fingernails.

Room 2:  Prisoners are tortured by pulling out their fingernails.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Room 3:  Nobelwomen pierce their tongues in ritual blood-letting.

Room 3:  Noblewomen pierce their tongues in ritual blood-letting.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Lintel above Room 1's doorway:  Chan Muan holds a captive by the hair.

Lintel above Room 1's doorway:  Chan

Muan holds a captive by the hair.

Yaxchilan & Bonampak Tour - Modern day Lacandón girl.

She got a kick out of taking a

photo of Mark.

Yaxchilán & Bonampak, Mexico

March, 2012 - There are many beautiful things to see in the Palenque area and, for most tourists, rather than struggling to

drive on the little winding roads, the easiest way to see them all is by van tour.  Van tours are a big business in this region, and

almost all the vehicles on the small roads outside Palenque are vans filled with tourists.  Our van from Kim Tours picked us up at

7:00 a.m. for a 12-hour tour to the remote Mayan ruins of Yaxchilán and Bonampak.  After several hours on the road, everyone

in our group was grateful when the van stopped mid-morning for a sumptuous breakfast at a casual open-air restaurant.

Besides van tours, farming and agriculture play an important role

here too, and we watched with amusement as two cowboys on

horseback hustled a herd of cattle down the road while we were

getting back in the van after breakfast.  Those cows could trot

pretty fast!

After another hour or so of negotiating skinny, speedbump filled

roads, we finally arrived at the river that defines the border

between Mexico and Guatemala, the Río Usumacinta.  Here we

boarded a small outboard-driven boat with a canopy top for an

hour-long boat ride up the river.  Talk about remote -- these ruins

are really out there!

We were five

couples all together.

Two couples hailed

from Mexico City

and Argentina, and

they gabbed away in

Spanish with each other

and the guide.  The other

two couples were from

French Canada and

France, and they

chatted easily in

French.  We mostly

listened and enjoyed

the views.

The narrow river

meandered between

thick jungle greenery along its banks.  At long

last we spotted a tall pile of rocks between the

trees heralding our arrival at the ruined Mayan

city of Yaxchilán.

We climbed a steep, moist hillside trail and

suddenly found ourselves staring at the

familiar pyramid shape of a huge Mayan building, the "Little

Acropolis."  This building was extensive and had rooms and

windows and unroofed hallways that begged to be explored.

However, we were given only an hour to see the whole sight

and the "Great Acropolis" complex of buildings awaited us

further on.  If only you could go to a place like this easily on

your own and hang out for a few days...

Hiking back down and then up again,

we came to "The Labyrinth," a crazy

maze of winding tunnels that is pitch

dark inside.  We relied on flashes

from our cameras to light the way.

Finally shafts of light penetrated and

we emerged on the other side,

standing in front of a series of doors

into the Labyrinth and looking out

into the Grand Plaza.

The jungle here has been

conquered, seeded with grass lawns, and swept back to reveal these

impressive ruins.  But mossy overgrowth clings to everything.  As we

wandered past sturdy walls and rows of doorways, two thoughts kept

swirling through my mind:  what did this place look like when it was

newly constructed and filled with inhabitants?  And what did the

European discoverers think when they first found this large complex of

buildings in the tight grip of the

jungle in the mid-1800's?

It is mind-boggling to think that this

little bend in a nondescript, brown

silty river was once a very important

spot, a destination, a port for trade.

Today it would be indistinguishable

from the rest of the jungle

riverbanks if it weren't for the

sprinkling of tourists

arriving every few

hours in colorful

canopied boats.

Who built this stuff

and when?

Fortunately, Yaxchilán is loaded with doorway and window

lintels that are covered with square-shaped Mayan

hieroglyphic text, and they tell the story.  Unraveling the

meaning behind Mayan hieroglyphs began in the late

19th century, when the numeric system was first

deciphered.  Major breakthroughs came in the 1980's

(while studying lists of rulers in Palenque), and now

90% of Mayan writings can be read.  The history of

conquests, defeats and transfers of power in Yaxchilán

are surprisingly well known, right down to specific days

and years due to the detailed Mayan calendar.

The area was likely settled by 250 AD, but

the first historic text points to 359 AD when

Yaxchilán's first ruler ascended the thrown.

Rulers with evocative names like "Bird

Jaguar" and "Moon Skull" reigned for

centuries, each date of ascension to the

throne carefully recorded in stone.  One

ruler's wife, Lady Pakal, lived to the ripe old

age of 98.  That may not have been a typical

ancient Mayan lifespan, but the ruling class

obviously lived well.

The city reached its peak in the early 8th

century, and most of the ruins date from that

time period when the reigning king (who lived

into his nineties) went on a building spree.

The amazing thing at this site, besides the expansive

grounds filled with 120 or so ruined buildings, is the

detailed carvings on the lintels.  Passing under a

doorway you look up and see the most beautiful and

intricately carved stone just overhead.  The images are

clear, and archaeologists have sorted out what almost

all of them depict -- with the help of the descriptive boxy

hieroglyphs that accompany each one.

One relief shows King Bird Jaguar IV playing ball in the

ball court, a game that had deep mystical overtones in

Mayan culture.  The text around the images makes reference to

both blood letting and the decapitation of three deities leading to

three "dawnings."  Two dwarfs are marked with the signs of Venus.

It is thought that they figuratively sweep the path for this rising king

as Venus sweeps the path for the rising sun.

Now it helps to know a little background about this guy Bird Jaguar IV.  He was not born

in direct line to the throne, being the son of the 2nd wife rather than the 1st wife of the

king.  It seems his mother, Lady Eveningstar, was quite ambitious for her son, however,

and there might have been a power struggle after her husband's death.  She may have

even ruled Yaxchilán temporarily while she waited for her boy to grow up and take

over.  After nearly ten years her son was finally crowned King Bird Jaguar IV.

Another relief shows this woman, the ambitious Lady Eveningstar, dressed to the nines.

Yaxchilán and its neighbors alternated between being friends and enemies, making

alliances through marriage, and taking each other's kings captive by turns.  Victory

seems to have rotated between the city-states for a while, but Yaxchilán seems to have

come out on top in the early 9th century AD before

the entire ancient Mayan world slipped away into the

grasp of the jungle (possibly due to deforestation and

overpopulation).

One of the nearby rivals was Bonampak, and

fortunately for us, its unique ruins were our next stop.

First, however, we had to take another river boat ride

back to the van.  Waiting to see us off at the river's

edge was a very large, grinning crocodile.  Our

boatman took us pretty close to this fellow so we

could get a good look, but he assured us our

outboard engine was

faster than the croc!

The ruined Mayan city of Bonampak is situated in the

Lacandón Jungle where a very special group of

indigenous people, the Lacandones, make their home,

deep in the rainforest.  When the Spanish arrived in the

16th century, the Lacandón people retreated further

into the rainforest and were never discovered.

Although they had frequent contact with other Mayan-descended groups through the centuries, the rugged lands around them

helped them keep the world at bay, retain their identity and avoid the fate of most other indigenous groups for a long time.

Numbering just 650 or so native speaking Lacandón people today, it is only in the last fifty years that relentless logging,

ranching and tourism development have invaded their space and forced them to go through the conversions and changes that

the rest of Mexico underwent four hundred years ago.  Besides learning Spanish, many converted to Christianity (mostly

Protestantism).  Conversion was a change the men largely frowned upon because of its intolerance of polygamy.  But the

women favored the idea because there was very little ritualistic cooking involved (unlike their own traditions).  Ironically, the

recent introduction of TV and popular culture has largely brought an end to spiritual rituals of any kind among the younger

generation.

Today the Lacandones hang onto their traditions as best they can while

participating in the modern economy by working within the tourist trade.

They offer a peak into their world selling hand-crafted items, shuttling

tourists to ancient Mayan sites, taking them on tours of the rainforest, and

hosting them overnight.

At the edge of their land we were transferred into a van driven by a

Lacandón man in traditional dress (a white sack-like garment with wide

short sleeves).  He spoke perfect Mexican Spanish and wore an official

badge.  As I watched him behind the wheel I wondered what his

grandfather would have thought of his grandson chauffeuring international

tourists into his homeland in a van.  Would his own future grandkids want

to stay in the forest, hosting tourists and preserving the memory of a

vanishing culture, instead of joining mainstream Mexican society?

The main plaza of the

Bonampak ruins are

very compact.  A few

large, carved stelae

under shade canopies

are sprinkled across a

wide lawn.  An

enormous stairway

with small buildings

fills a hillside at the far

end.

We climbed the stairs and poked our heads into the first doorway of the little white

building half-way up.  Holy mackerel!  We were absolutely blown away.

Inside was a single room with a steeply vaulted ceiling, and every single square inch of

the interior was painted with extraordinary, brightly colored frescoes.  In the images

encircling the room people were engaged in all kinds of activities, wearing loincloths and

elaborate headdresses.

The side-view stance of each figure looked like those of the ancient Egyptians with the

feet placed one before the other and head in profile.  But unlike the Egyptians the

shoulders were shown in side-view rather than twisted with one shoulder forward and

one back.

We moved on to

the next doorway

and found another similar room with a

totally different story to tell, and likewise

inside the third doorway.  Wow!

Bonampak's construction began in the 6th

century, but the paintings were completed

in 790 AD.  This was the same time that

Charlemagne was rising to power in

Europe and the Vikings were beginning

their raids in England.

These murals were "discovered" in 1946

when a Yale researcher was brought to

them by a Lacandón guide.  The

Lacandones had revered the murals and

worshipped at the site and never shown

them to outsiders before.  Sadly, in an

effort to document and preserve them

(hadn't they been preserved already for

1,150 years?), the scientists covered the

murals with

kerosene which

brought out the

colors temporarily

but weakened the

plaster so it started

to flake off.  They

photographed like

mad, but today the

photos they took

are considered

incomplete and Yale

has renewed their

efforts to document the

paintings.

Standing there, jaw agape, however, I didn't

care how much the paintings had faded in

the last 60 years.  They are magnificent.

The expansive story-telling nature of the

paintings and their incredible detail had all of

us visitors oohing and ahhing to each other

in the doorways.

We later learned that the first room depicts

the presentation of the son and heir of King

Chan Muan II and Lady Rabbit (a

noblewoman from nearby Yaxchilán), in 790 AD, with great processions, trumpet playing and fanfare.

Unfortunately the city was abandoned before the infant came into power.  The second room depicts the

violent conquering of an unknown enemy.  Among several gruesome scenes, the unfortunate captives are

being tortured by having their fingernails pulled out.  The third depicts a royal celebration, including ritual

blood-letting that the noblewomen performed by piercing their tongues.

Like Yaxchilán, the lintels over the doorways are highly decorated,

and the image carved over the first door shows King Chan Muan

holding a captive by the hair.  Not only is the carving beautifully

executed, but the original blue painted background and some of the

red trim can be seen even today.  Astonished by their good

condition, I had to ask the attendant if the lintels were original -- and they

were.

While I was standing in awe of all this, trying to twist my body so I could

get the best possible shots of the murals despite the restrictive tourist

barriers, Mark had wandered off down the hill.  When I caught up to him

he excitedly showed me a photo of a little Lacandón girl he had taken.

These ruins were her playground, and she climbed among the trees and

played with sticks in the dust as she watched the tourists coming and

going.  Mark tried to talk to her, but Spanish and English got him nowhere.

Then he handed her the camera and showed her how to take a picture of

him and she grinned.  They traded taking pics of each other and giggled

at the images on the back of the camera, all language barriers gone.

We got back to Palenque exhausted but happy.  It had been quite a day.

But after a rest day in town we were ready to go again to see the famous

Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls.

Click here to see more from our adventure travels in Mexico.

Find Yaxchilán and Palenque on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agua Azul & Misol-Ha – Waterfall Adventures in Mexico

Sail blog post - traveling inland by bus from Marina Chiapas, we toured he incomparable waterfalls outside Palenque, Mexico: Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.

Misol-Ha waterfall, a thin, pure stream.

Behind the falls, Misol-Ha waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Behind the falls.

Through the trees, Misol-Ha waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Misol-Ha.

Four-year-old Amina.

Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Agua Azul's falls are wide and fast.

Crashing water, Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Agua Azul.

Tumbling into turquoise pools, Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico Serene aquamarine pools, Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Agua Azul's pools of turquoise.

Little Amina goes

swimming.

Visitors get photos of themeselves, Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Everyone gets photos of themselves at the falls.

Vendors at Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Vendors in palapas line the falls.

Eating mango-on-a-stick, Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

Mango-on-a-stick.

Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico

The falls tumble down many layers of boulders.

Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico Agua Azul waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico Van tour, Agua Azul & Misol-Ha waterfalls, Chiapas, Mexico.

Our companions get into another van.

Comitán's Santo Domingo Church, late 16th century.

Comitán's Santo Domingo, built in the late 1500's.

Santo Domingo Church, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Santo Domingo steeple.

Church steeple, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Lots of church steeples in this town.

Church bells, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Lots of churches to visit in Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Modern sculpture in the Zócalo, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Modern sculpture in the Zócalo

Mayan woman, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Happy old vendor, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Lovers in the Zócalo, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Patio of wooden columns, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Patio of wooden columns.

Flowering trees in spring, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Spring is in the air.

Hilltop view from Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Hilly streets offer views into the surrounding

countryside.

Tenem Puente ruins & Spring Equinox celebration, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Crowds take seats on the Mayan stadium stairs.

Tenem Puente Spring Equinox performance, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Performers appear on the 1200-year-old ruins.

Spring Equinox at Tenem Puente, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Blowing a conch shell, spring equinox celebration, Tenem Puente, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Blowing on a conch shell.

Dramatic headdresses, spring equinox performance, Tenem Puente ruins, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico Mayan rituals for the deceased victim in a spring equinox celebration at Tenem Puente Mayan Ruins, Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico

Rituals for the dead victim.

Marina Chiapas at dawn.

(Photo courtesy of Capt. Andrés Reyes Prudente).

Agua Azul, Misol-Ha & Comitán, Mexico

March, 2012 - Besides the mysterious ruins of Yaxchilan & Bonampak, the Palenque

area is bursting with beautiful natural features as well.  We hopped on another van

tour, this time to see waterfalls.  We went with a no-name tour company, one of dozens

selling tours in town.  It was cheap, this was just a day trip, and all we really needed

was transportation to the falls.  We sat behind a very seasoned Central American

traveler from North Carolina named Tom who was just starting a four-month tour from

Mexico to Colombia.  His itinerary, unlike ours for some reason, included both the

waterfalls and the Palenque ruins.

"I never have any expectations

when I get on a bus in these

parts."  He said knowingly.  We

had had plenty of bus

adventures, so we nodded with

him, almost as knowingly.

Our first stop of the day, after

bouncing over the rough roads

out of town, was the magnificent

Misol-Ha waterfall.  A thin wisp

of water flowed in a steady

stream off a cliff into a cool, wide

pool.  We followed a short trail

down to the falls and discovered

we could crawl underneath a rock

outcropping behind them.  The fine

mist that sprayed us all was

refreshing.

Our group was in high spirits in the

early morning air as we piled back

into the van.  Young European

backpackers dominated our group,

including a pair of gorgeous, tall,

leggy, blonde Danish girls up front

and three boys from Switzerland, Austria and Germany speaking German together in the

rear.  A little four-year-old Mexican girl, Amina, from Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan, sat

next to me and asked to see our waterfall photos on our cameras.

A very comical and rudimentary conversation in Spanish ensued as our chatter wandered

to our granddaughters and she told us about her cousin.  There's nothing like having a

four-year-old native speaker show you just how poor your command of Spanish really is.

Her giggles and funny faces made it clear we sounded pretty goofy to her.  Luckily her

grandma bailed us (and her) out a

few times when our conversation

reached a total impasse of

incomprehension.  We were quite

humbled when she later talked up a

storm with the van driver!

Our next stop was Agua Azul, a

series of cascading waterfalls that

rushes over stair-stepping boulders

and lands in the most exquisite

turquoise pools.  Wooden viewing

platforms encourage tourists to take

their time soaking in the views and

posing for photos.  The water

thunders down the rocks from

several directions and then rests for

a bit in shades of aquamarine before

sliding on.

The tour vans line up outside the park

while visitors are granted anywhere from

an hour to an afternoon to enjoy the falls

and pools.  Lots of young travelers

eagerly donned their swimsuits and

jumped into the water.

Vendors selling all kinds of snacks and

trinkets under makeshift palapas line the

sides of the waterfalls at various levels beside the endless wooden stairs going up.  We climbed up

and up and up looking for the top of the falls.  The clan of young boys from our van rushed ahead

and later reported that there was a fantastic swimming hole

a mile or so away.  We never got that far.  Instead we

settled at a picnic table to enjoy eating mango on a stick (a

great way to eat mangos!) and watermelon slices in a cup.

After a few wonderful afternoon hours at these rushing

falls and placid pools, we all made our way back to the

van, a little damp, and rather tired at the end of a great

day.  The drive back should have taken just an hour, but

this was a budget van.  It turned out that not only had our

North Carolina friend, Tom, not been taken to the ruins in

Palenque as he expected, but the European travelers with

us were not returning to the town of Palenque at all.  They

were headed in the opposite direction to San Cristóbal de

las Casas, some 5 hours away.  Huh?

Apparently our van was supposed to meet another van on the

road somewhere and transfer the travelers over.  Problem

was, "where" and "when" were not well defined, and although

we all stood by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere

waiting for over an hour, the other van never showed up.  Tom

just nodded knowingly with a smirk on his face.

Luckily we all had lots to talk about, comparing notes about

what we'd seen in Mexico, and talking about what we missed

most from home.  The young German fellow said he missed

his wiener schnitzel terribly, and we all missed our favorite dark

beers from home.  Travel is wonderful, but homesickness for

familiar things steals over you once in a while.

Eventually the driver hailed a van labeled "San Cristóbal" and payed

for five tickets out of his own pocket so our companions could get to

their promised destination.  That van was already full, so I can only

imagine what everyone thought when five extra people and their

luggage were piled into and on top of it for five hours of travel on

twisty, miserable roads filled with speed bumps.  Tom said he'd just

catch a cheap combi van to the Palenque ruins on his own the next

day.  No problema!

We could have easily stayed in Palenque another week, but

disturbing news from family in the US began to take on a more and

more urgent tone, and we decided it was best to begin our trek out

of the jungle just in case we needed to fly back soon.  In the bus

station I saw a poster for a huge Spring Equinox celebration at the

Palenque ruins.  Oh my!  We were leaving the Mayan world on the

eve of the equinox!  You can't do that!!  Oh well.

The distance from Palenque to Puerto

Chiapas where Groovy was waiting for

us is only 550 miles, but it is two long

days of bus travel.  We decided to

break it up by stopping in Comitán, a

colonial city we had glimpsed from the

bus window on our way to San

Cristóbal and that had perked our

interest.

After spending several weeks plunk in

the middle of the touristy Gringo Trail,

surrounded by fellow travelers from

foreign countries, it was a delightful

change to walk the streets of Comitán.

It has all the colonial charm of other similar towns, but has

not been singled out for tourism development in the same

way.  Everyone on the streets was a local, or at least

Mexican, and all the happenings around town were put on

by the locals for the locals.

It is a hilly town, with a multitude of church spires piercing the sky.  The

Santo Domingo cathedral is the oldest, dating to the late 16th century,

some 50 years or so after Comitán was conquered by the Spanish.

Santo Domingo sits on the edge of the Zócalo, or town square, and while

we wandered among the beautiful shade trees and colorful flowers in the

late afternoon, we listened to the priest giving a sermon to his flock,

broadcast over speakers on the outside of the church.

The Zócalo is the heart of the town, and people hang out in the park doing all the fun

things that parks are made for: relaxing, people watching, selling stuff, buying stuff,

and, of course, enjoying each other's company in a romantic setting.

While wandering around I

looked up to see a huge

poster advertising -- a

celebration of the Spring

Equinox at the local

Mayan ruins of Tenem

Puente!  That afternoon!!

What luck!!!

We quickly jumped into a

local combi van and

headed out to the ruins a

few miles away.  This was

a hugely popular event

and the van was stuffed

to overflowing with

people.  It was full body

contact on all sides for

everyone.  Every

bare limb, thigh,

elbow, etc., was

pressed tightly

against those of fellow

passengers on each side.

We all breathed each

other's breath, except

those lucky enough to be

near an open window.

Dads stacked their kids

on their laps, oldest ones

on the bottom and

toddlers on top.

We learned that the

Mayan city of Tenem

Puente was at its peak

between 600 and 900

AD, although it was

occupied until 1200 AD.

It wasn't discovered by

archaeologists until 1925.

Unfortunately, when we

got there the ruins had

been closed off for the

celebration, so we saw

just the first building which stood opposite a hill of

staircases so common to Mayan sites.  Those stairs make

perfect stadium seating, and as they quickly filled with

hundreds of people I got a chill thinking of

how the ancient Mayans had probably sat

there just like we were now for their own

gatherings over a thousand years ago.

Suddenly a trumpet sounded and some

figures appeared on the building.  The men

wore enormous feather headdresses and

scrambled over the ruin.  An announcer

had talked for a while about the

performance before it began, but I couldn't

quite catch all the details.  The performance

depicted a battle, a killing, and some rituals

related to the death of the victim.  I think I

had expected something mystical involving

the alignment of the setting sun and the

buildings and some fascinating connection

to the Mayan calendar.  But this dance and music celebration had its own special

magic, especially as I scanned the crowd and realized that more than a few among

them may have had ancestors that lived inside these ruined walls when they were first built.

We took the overnight bus

to Tapachula that night, and returned to our sailboat Groovy in

the morning.  The boat, the marina and the world of cruising

suddenly seemed very foreign in those early dawn hours.  The

Tehuantepec had quieted down for a few days and boats

were arriving from Huatulco at the marina hourly.  As we

caught the dock lines for the incoming boats our groggy minds

were still far away, filled with the vibrant images of the jungle.

Soon, however, we would be immersed in reality and thrust

back into modern American life on a long road that eventually

led to northeastern Arizona.

Find Palenque and Comitán on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palenque – Ancient Mayan Ruins and Terror in the Jungle!

Sail blog post - We traveled inland from Marina Chiapas to the thought-provoking and myserious ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, Mexico.  Beautiful photographs!

Valley farmlands between San Cristóbal and Palenque.

Lush mountains on the way to Palenque.

Lush mountains behind corn fields.

Palenque is closer to the Caribbean than the Pacific.

Palenque is closer to the Caribbean!

Pretty La Cañada neighborhood in Palenque, Mexico

Pretty La Cañada neighborhood in

Palenque

Back streets to Palenque town.

Back streets to Palenque town.

Flowers in Palenque jungle, Mexico

Hard little beaded plant, like

Mardi-Gras necklaces.

Flowers in Palenque jungle, Mexico Flowers in Palenque jungle, Mexico Flowers in Palenque jungle, Mexico La Cañada neighborhood, Palenque, Mexico Palenque is a busy town that is surprisingly unaware of its tourists.

Palenque is a busy town that is surprisingly nonchalant about

its tourists.

A tailor in Palenque, Mexico

Quickie on-the-fly tailoring

Temple de la Calavera, Palenque, Mexico

Temple de la Calavera

Temple XIII and Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico

Temple XIII and Temple of the Inscriptions

Temple XV, Palenque, Mexico

Temple XV

Temple of the Sun, Palenque, Mexico

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Cross, Palenque, Mexico

Temple of the Cross

Temple XIV, Palenque, Mexico

Temple XIV

The Palace, Palenque, Mexico

The Palace

The Ball Court, Palenque, Mexico

The Ball Court

Palacio, Palenque, Mexico

Vendors sell trinkets on shaded blankets before the Palace.

Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico

Temple of the Inscriptions

Burial place of Pacal the Great

Palenque, Mexico

Elephant ear leaves

Jungle, Palenque, Mexico Palenque, Mexico

A moth

Palenque, Mexico

A ruin yet to be excavated and studied.

Palenque, Mexico El Palacio, Palenque, Mexico

The Palace, a building worthy of a great king.

Palace courtyar, Palenque, Mexico

Palace courtyard

Watchtower, Palenque, Mexico

The watchtower -- or celestial

observatory.

Palenque, Mexico

Hallways with the characteristic almost-peaked roof

Palenque, Mexico

Thick walls

T-window, Palenque, Mexico

T-window

Mayan bas-relief sculpture, Palenque, Mexico

Bas-relief sculpture shows what the Mayans looked like.

Palenque, Mexico

Left unattended, the jungle always wins.

Mayan Ruins of Palenque, Mexico

Mid-March, 2012 - We left the cool mountain air of San

Cristóbal de las Casas and took a five-hour bus ride north to

the jungle town of Palenque, home of an amazing ancient

Mayan city.  This turned out to be another spectacular bus

journey through mountainous terrain.  We climbed and

descended, first through beautiful pine forests and then into

more jungle-like landscapes.

As the elevation rose and fell, the pines mixed with palms and

banana trees.  Eventually the pines disappeared all together and

the hills became lush and green all around us.  Then we

descended into the thick, hot, humid jungle.

It was odd to look at the map and discover we were now closer to the

Caribbean than the Pacific, our home for the last six months.

Through an incredible stroke

of luck, the budget hotel we

booked online was under

construction and we were

moved to the lovely, upscale

Hotel Maya Tulipanes for the

same price.  We took one look

at the plush king bed, the

large and beautifully appointed

stone tile bathroom and the

enormous flat screen TV and

said in unison, "We're never

leaving!"

The hotel is in the La Cañada

neighborhood of the town of

Palenque, a pretty, quiet,

shaded street that hosts a

handful of small hotels and

outdoor bistros.  We wandered

through the jungly back streets

behind the hotel and were

amazed at all the new-to-us plants and flowers we saw.

The weird warbling cries and calls of the birds in the trees

added to the exotic feeling.

After the buzz,

excitement and breezy

international flavor of

San Cristóbal, the laid

back warmth of this

jungle town charmed

us right away.  The

sultry heat kept people

outside on our little

neighborhood street until late into the night, and we

discovered that many of the people enjoying the

outdoor eateries were locals who had just gotten off from work.  A group of Mexican guys invited us

to sit with them at their table.  "Welcome to the jungle!" they said.  They hailed from Cancún and

Mérida, several hundred miles away in different directions, and they were as excited as we were

about spending a few days in the rainforest.

The town was wonderfully vibrant and self-possessed, despite being a tourist hub for the nearby ruins.  The stores sold

everyday items like shoes, clothes, and electronics, and the uniformed school kids hung out in Burger King in the afternoons.

We had to hunt around a bit to find a shop with a souvenir t-shirt that said "Palenque" on it.  On our walk down the main drag

the music poured out of every storefront in classic Mexican style, thumping modern pop tunes and loud Mexican songs.

One thing we love about Mexico is how easy it is to get immediate walk-

in service for anything from haircuts to dental work.  While walking

around one afternoon, Mark was frustrated that his shorts kept slipping

down.  We searched high and low for a belt, but after trying on at least

a dozen in several different stores, he just couldn't find one with the

right style and fit.  Then we passed an open doorway where a guy was

kicked back in a chair, shirtless, watching the world go by.  A sewing

machine sat idle in front of him.  The most delicious aroma wafted out

from a back room.  It seemed he was passing the time people-watching

until his wife served lunch.  Mark poked his head in and asked if he

could take in his shorts.  "No problema!"  The fellow sprang into action,

throwing a tape measure around his neck.  Mark stripped down to his

skivvies and handed him his shorts.  Ten minutes and two seams later,

the man handed the shorts back to Mark.  "Ahhh," he said putting them

on.  He turned around a few times and wiggled to see if they'd slip.

"Much better!"  We paid the tailor a few pesos and continued on down

the street.

The famous Palenque ruins were a short combi van ride from town.  When we piled out of the

van at the entrance to the ruins we found ourselves in a shark pit of hustlers trying to sell

guided tours.  These guides are freelancers who charge about 100 pesos ($8 USD) for a one

to two hour tour.  Some speak English, all speak Spanish, but it wasn't clear just how much

they had studied the archaeological record of the site.  "Why are there so many guides?" I

finally said in exasperation to the group crowding around us.  "No jobs!"  Fair enough.

We escaped the crowd and

discovered at the main front

gate that Mexican government

sanctioned tour guides offer

similar tours for 500 pesos

($40).  These guides wear

official government badges.  But

the guide we spoke to had been

in Tulum last week and

Guanajuato two weeks prior,

and on a two week jaunt around

Mexico with a Hollywood

celebrity before that.  Hmmm.

His knowledge of Palenque??

We decided not to use the services of a guide but to enjoy the ambience of these stunning

ruins in our own way and at our own pace.  Walking up the stairs from the entrance -- under a

thick canopy of jungle trees -- we emerged onto a grassy field where we were staring right at

the Temple de la Calavera.  Wow.  Next door, to the left, was Temple XIII and then Temple of

the Inscriptions.

Most of the structures were tall, yet massively

thick and squat.  The dark stone was

formidable and imposing, set against the

bright green grass and dark green trees.  All I

could think of was what it must have been like

to weed whack through the jungle to these

buildings, at the suggestion of a local Mayan,

as did the Spanish priest Pedro Lorenzo de la

Nada in 1567.  The 16th century Mayans

called the place "Otolum," or "Land with

strong houses."  The priest called it

"Palenque," Spanish for "fortification."

To my delight, just like

the Zapotec ruins at

Monte Alban, visitors

are allowed to scramble

up and down and all

around these ruins.  It is

amazing and inspiring to

climb stairs that were

climbed fifteen hundred

years ago by people a

world away.

Palenque was first

settled in 100 BC, but

reached its heyday

between 600 and 800 AD, becoming the main power center in much of modern

day Tabasco and Chiapas.  So while Rome was undergoing its various sackings

by the Vandals, Visigoths and Ostragoths in the fifth and sixth centuries, the

Mayan culture here was on the rise and not yet peaking.

Palenque was never a huge metropolis like Rome.  In its prime

only 6,200 people called it home.  However, the carved bas-

reliefs and inscriptions have divulged many secrets to insightful

archaeologists, and, to my amazement, we learned that the

entire dynastic line of kings is known by both formal name,

nickname and date, along with the history of the major events in

the city.

Powerful cities are prime targets for eventual sacking, and Rome

had company in Palenque a few centuries later.  Palenque was

sacked by rival Calakmul twice: in 599 and 611.  The second

defeat resulted in a break in the line of kings while the city

regrouped.  An amazing 12-year-old boy emerged as king in

615, and during his 68 year reign he oversaw the rebuilding of

the city and the creation of many of the

buildings that are visible today.  He

was nicknamed "the favorite of the

gods" and he was known as Pacal the

Great.

We walked through the parklike setting

of massive structures and crawled up

and down, in and around each

building.

The site is spread out over a square mile, and we were stunned to find out

that just 10% of the ruins have been excavated and rebuilt.  The rest are

hidden in the surrounding jungle.

One of the most impressive and most studied excavations here was the

tomb of Pacal the Great inside the pyramid atop the Temple of the

Inscriptions.  Unfortunately visitors aren't allowed inside.

Our cameras had led

us in different directions

by now, and I had lost

track of Mark's

whereabouts in this

vast site.  He finally

turned up amid a cluster of elephant ear leaves.  He cocked his head towards a path that

exited the grounds to one side, suggesting we head that way.  We had seen tour guides

slipping off into the tangle of greenery to the right of the ruins with their clients when we first

entered the site.  Now we followed the path in that direction.  Stepping into the jungle, we were

quickly swallowed up by plant life.

Suddenly we heard the most horrendous noise -- quite

definitely the roar of a jaguar.  It wasn't just a roar.  It

was a growl, a bellowing snarl made by a huge and angry

animal really close by.  And it wouldn't quit.  It just went on

and on.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Mark flashed a grin

at me.  "I want to see what it is!"  He disappeared down

the path ahead.  "Are you kidding?"  The roaring just

wouldn't stop.  In fact, I suddenly realized that whatever it

was wasn't alone.  There were two of them.  Two jaguars

circling each other, somewhere terrifyingly nearby, jaws

agape, huge canine teeth bared.

I couldn't move.  I just stood there transfixed, imagining wild, angry animals, and

wondering when Mark was going to come back.  I imagined the headlines: "American

hiker found half eaten in Mexican jungle…"  And who would find him if I kept standing

here?  Oh dear.  I screwed up my courage and continued down the path.  At long last I

saw him standing with his camera held high recording the sound.  Did he know what it

was yet?  No!  He continued moving towards the noise and I tromped through the brush

behind him, my heart in my throat.

Suddenly we saw another hiker up ahead, and then three more.  All were

standing with their heads thrown back, craning their necks to look up

high in the trees.  And there it was, an enormous, black howler monkey,

bellowing away without stopping even to catch his breath.  He was big,

and apelike, with a long furry tail wrapped around a branch.  We had

been told there were monkeys in the jungle, but I'd expected something

little and white, something nervous and yippy.  Not a big hairy roaring

beast like this guy!

We stayed and watched the monkey and his mates moving about the

forest canopy for a long time.  Finally the big guy grunted a few times,

settled down and fell silent.  He had said all he wanted to say.  The

heavy, damp, jungly woods were still.  We tiptoed back out again,

thrilled at what we had seen.  On our way out we passed the

unmistakable rock wall of an unexcavated building.  What a cool place!

The impressive thing about

Palenque is the completeness

and detail of the buildings.  The

Palacio is a huge structure with a

tall watch tower, or celestial

observatory -- or maybe it was

both.

Hallways and rooms and tunnels fill this enormous

structure, and we wandered freely through it.

This is a hot environment, and we found an intriguing

interior opening in a wall that seemed to act as a

vent, blowing a continual stream of cold air up from the stone rooms below ground level.

The Palace also had several T-

shaped windows that looked to me

like the perfect place to point a

weapon outwards while

remaining well protected behind

the rock wall.  However, these

windows are theorized to have

something to do with the Mayan

god of the wind whose glyph is

also shaped like a T.

Many of the buildings are

decorated with ornate sculpted

images, most of which depict

historical events that archaeologists have miraculously been able to unravel.  Several

have been set aside in the courtyard of the palace.  What we found intriguing was the

surprising resemblance, in many ways, of the ancient peoples to some of the people

walking around Mexico today.  Ironically, while the Spanish thought the builders of these

awesome ruins must have been Egyptian or Polynesian or anything other than the ancestors of the people they found living in

the area, it wasn't until 1831 that one Juan Galindo wrote of the resemblance.

We followed a narrow path that headed down, down and more down into a lower set of

buildings deep under the trees.  Here we saw just how aggressive the jungle can be, as the

roots of very tall trees wrapped around the low walls of the ruins.  Palenque was overtaken

by the jungle sometime after it was fatally sacked for the last time in 711 by the rival

community Toniná.  The city was abandoned when the entire ancient Mayan civilization

fell, sometime in 10th century, almost six hundred years before the Spanish arrived.

There is a wonderful magic to

these ruins, and despite their

ongoing study and reconstruction,

we felt a deep mystery within their

walls that echoed in our souls.

We decided to stay in Palenque a

little longer so we could visit the

ruins of Yaxchilán & Bonampak.

Find Palenque on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Cristobal – Colonial Delights & Spanish Immersion

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, is a charming colonial city filled with worldwide travelers.  We spent several weeks enjoying the sights in this town.

Virgin of Guadelupe Church

Arches in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Pretty architecture abounds in

San Cristóbal

The cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

The Cathedral

Walking streets in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

There are lots of places to take a stroll.

Colonial streets in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Colonial doorways

El Arco del Carmen, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

El Arco del Carmen

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

A less-visited back street.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Chocolates in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Chocolatier "La Sonrisa del día" (the smile of

the day).

Windows, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Rooftops San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Real roof tile - what all those new Arizona

homes try to imitate.

Instituto Jovel Spanish School, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

A placement exam?!

What are we getting ourselves into?

Instituto Jovel Spanish School, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Mark with one of his teachers, Jorge

Instituto Jovel Spanish School, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Getting ready for class.

Instituto Jovel Spanish School, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Got it?  Good!  Next topic...

Instituto Jovel Spanish School, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

My instructor Jorge taught me a lot

about life in Mexico.

Back streets in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Mayan women on a back street.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Mayans selling textiles in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Little Mayan salesgirl in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

That's a lot of inventory for

a small girl.

Mayan girls pose for a photo - for 5 pesos each - San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Hippies play music in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Young travelers love San Cristóbal

Yummy rotisserie style grilled chicken in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Rotisserie grilled chicken - cheap and yummy.

Music on the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

A brass band suddenly starts playing.

The jingle of the propane truck provides the

soundtrack of San Cristóbal.

"Agua Agua!!"

Mountain biking club group ride in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

A group of mountain bike riders on a Sunday morning.

Jaguar graffiti in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Jaguar graffiti.  Jaguars have special meaning to the

local indigenous people.

Casa Na-Bolom Museum, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Courtyard arches in Casa Na-

Bolom.

Casa Na-Bolom Museum, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Casa Na-Bolom Museum dining room table, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Dining room table at the Casa Na-Bolom Museum.

Beautiful flowers in Casa Na-Bolom gardens, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Outside we found lush gardens.

Exotic flowers in Casa Na-Bolom museum, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Ingenious hot water heater / tortilla cooker at the

back of the garden.

Señor Fuego, garden caretaker and groundskeeper, Casa Na-Bolom Museum, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Señor Fuego makes kindling.

San Cristóbal de las Casas (and Instituto Jovel), Chiapas, Mexico

Early March, 2012 - During our bus ride through

the southern part of Chiapas we could easily

see why many people consider it to be the most

beautiful state in Mexico.  We soon discovered

that picturesque San Cristóbal de las Casas is its

crown jewel, a little colonial city right in the middle

of the state.  Mexicans call it the "most magic" of

their specially honored "magic towns" around the

country.

Founded by the Spanish in 1528 (just 7 years

after Hernán Cortés barnstormed across Mexico)

and, for once, not built on top of an ancient city,

San Cristóbal is chock full of pretty churches and

antique architecture.  Several streets are paved in

patterned stone slabs and have been set aside for

pedestrians only.  From morning to night these

charming roads are filled with people.  Outdoor

bistros line the walking streets, and there are

countless perfect places for sitting back and

people watching.

San Cristóbal is a lot like Oaxaca, but it is much

smaller, and it sits right on the so-called Gringo

Trail that takes travelers through southern Mexico

and Central America.  After living on a boat on the

coast for so long, it was quite a dramatic change

for us to begin a period of extensive travel by bus

and hotel in the interior of Mexico.  We suddenly

realized we had left the floating retirement

community of west coast cruisers and were now in

the center of the youthful international

backpacking crowd.

Europeans were everywhere, and we listened to

snippets of conversation in German, French and

Italian.  The arrival point for these transatlantic

travelers was Cancún, and they were all making

their way by bus through the various colonial cities, stopping to

visit the ancient pyramid ruins, the waterfalls, lakes and volcanoes

that make this region famous.

Along with international

tourists there are lots of

international residents as

well.  This gives San

Cristóbal a rather

sophisticated feeling

compared to the sandy

coastal beach towns we had

been seeing in our cruising

travels.  Like other towns

that enjoy lively fun-filled

nights, this town is a late

riser.  Few places open until

after 8:00 a.m., and lots of

coffee shops don't even start

pouring until 8:30 or 9:00.

But once things get rolling,

the streets are lined with

people sipping tasty

beverages and enjoying the

ambiance.  We were delighted to find a terrific French bakery and

we gorged ourselves on flakey crusts and hot-out-of-the-oven

pastries.  Baking is not a Mexican specialty by any stretch of the

imagination, so finding a native French baker in any town is always

a big score.

We had stopped into a fancy chocolatier's shop on our first night and then

bumped into another one the next day a few blocks away.  Two wonderful

shops creating handmade chocolate just doors apart, how cool!  Inside this

second shop there was a beautiful photo of a bicyclist riding on a path

towards a windmill and another photo of a large castle -- unusual decor for a

chocolatier in Mexico.  The owner's father, a bent old man, came over to

explain to us in Spanish that he and his family had come from Bella Chiqué

in Europe and that their chocolate was not Mexican.  They had brought all

their recipes and techniques from the old country to San Cristóbal.

"Bella What?" I was very puzzled about where he was from and where this

delicious chocolate was made, but his accented Spanish and my untuned

ears couldn't get it together.  He repeated the name and explained it

was a tiny country on the north coast of Europe tucked between

France and Holland.  Very small.  Very lovely.  I scratched my head.

My knowledge of European geography is fair, but this one stumped

me.  I knew tiny places like Leichtenstein turn up at the Olympics to

dominate things like cross country skiing despite a quiet existence

wedged between larger European countries.  So it seemed this tiny

country was another one I'd somehow missed.  Mark and I laughed

about how little we really know about this big world of ours.

A while later the old man's daughter

came over to refill our coffee cups

and I joked with her that I would

have to look up Bella Chiqué on the internet and learn a little more about it, as it obviously was a

cool place I knew nothing about.  Her eyebrows shot up and she looked at me in utter surprise

and then said in very halting English, "You...never hear of...Belgium people?"  Oh my!  What a

funny blunder!  The Spanish word for Belgium is "Bélgica,"  pronounced something like

"Belheeka."  Better work on that Spanish!!

San Cristóbal turned out to be a perfect place

for taking intensive Spanish classes.  The small

Instituto Jovel is run by a German woman,

and the school teaches English, Spanish,

German, Italian, French and two indigenous

languages local to Chiapas: Tzotzil and Tzeltal.

We stopped by and signed up for "classes" at

the school, but after taking placement exams

we were each put in a class of one, as there

were no other students at our levels at the time.  $100 for

a week of tutorial instruction - sweet!

The ten or twelve tiny classrooms in this school can hold

anywhere from 1 to 10 students each, and they are built around

a charming little garden.  The upstairs classrooms have a view

over the garden and across the rooftops to the mountains in the

distance.  It was an ideal place for us to take a breather from

traveling, tune our ears a bit more to the local lingo and loosen

our tongues to get that Spanish flowing.

We were each given two different Mexican tutors who had

certificates in teaching Spanish.  Every morning we each spent

an hour and a half in tutorial with one teacher, took a five minute

break and then spent another hour and a half with the other teacher.

This was a wonderful system, as switching teachers mid-morning meant

we never got bored, and each teacher had a slightly different approach.

Any more than three hours a day of such intensive

instruction and our eyes would have glazed over

and our ears would have closed.

How much Spanish can you learn in a week?  A

whole heckuvalot!  Before Mark started, he knew

lots of Spanish nouns and adjectives but no verbs.

It's hard to construct sentences without those!

Raised in that era of American public education

when the teaching of English grammar was quietly

eliminated from the grammar school curriculum,

Mark was a little shaky with what, exactly, a verb

was when he walked into his first class.

"Who is the first person?" his teacher Gabriel asked,

leaning back in his chair.  Mark fidgeted and looked

around uncertainly, and then said.  "Dios mio!" (my god!).  Gabriel burst out

laughing, "No - It's you!"  With that, Mark was off and running.  By the end of the

week he had covered most of a semester's worth of material.  Suddenly he

started translating newspaper headlines and street signs and ads for me as we

walked around town.

My teachers did an intensive review of everything I had learned and forgotten in

the classes I took before our travels.  Conversing exclusively in Spanish, we

practiced grammatical concepts while learning about each other's lives and

countries.  We were very curious about each other, and we shared stories and

thoughts about life in the US and life in Mexico.  We had some great laughs as

we uncovered our similarities and differences.

Mark and I spent the afternoons huddled over homework.  Fortunately, the

weather had turned nasty and it drizzled for a few days, sending the

temperatures plummeting into the mid-fifties.  We had absolutely no incentive to go

sightseeing in the afternoons, which was perfect.

By the time our week of classes ended, our heads were

spinning and our notebooks and pens had become

permanent fixtures in our hands.  We stumbled out into the

streets of San Cristóbal and talked to anyone and everyone

who would listen

Little Mayan women in dark skirts

with infants strapped to their

backs wandered up and down the

streets selling their woven goods.

Their well trained children made

the rounds as well.

Modern day hippies meandered

through the streets too,

instruments strapped to their

backs.  Sometimes they stopped

spontaneously to play a little street music.

The young international travelers like this town

because there are good cheap hostels and good cheap

eats.  One of the best restaurants we found was a place that did rotisserie style grilled

chicken, vegetables and rice.  Two big plates and two large cokes came to $5.75.  No

wonder the under-25 crowd hung out here.

One day we were drawn into the street by the loud noise of a band trumpeting away.

Right there, under the shade of a large tree, a group of men were playing brass and

percussion.  It sounded like a parade.  People appeared in windows and emerged from

doorways to listen.  Then someone started shooting off bottle rockets.  Fsssssst-BAM!  It

was like our own private 4th of July band concert!  What a fun town.

The real sounds of San Cristobal

-- the ones that punctuated our

everyday lives -- were the jingling

of the propane truck and the

loudspeaker announcements of

the water truck.  These two trucks

drove up and down the hilly streets all day long

every day, selling propane and water to homes

and businesses.  You could hear them from half a

mile away as they moved around the city.

The propane truck got its jingle by dragging a

metal chain behind it on which were strung a

handful of metal rings.  These rings clinked and

clanked on the cobblestone streets and against

each other as the tall propane bottles jiggled and

bounced around in the back of the truck.  You

could definitely hear it coming.  The water truck had a

different sound.  A loudspeaker was mounted to its

roof and it would yell, "Agua Agua!!" followed by some

twiddly musical notes.

This was a town that managed to court the tourists while the residents lived

real lives.  One Sunday morning we watched a group of mountain bikers

pedal past.

Possibly the biggest tourist attraction in town is the Casa Na-

Bolom Museum (Tzotzil for "House of the Jaguar").  This

unique property was once the residence of Frans and

Gertrude Blom, an explorer and a photographer who met and

fell in love while on independent expeditions into the nearby

rainforest in the 1930's.  Their focus was the indigenous

Lancandon people, a very small group that lived so deep in

the rainforest that the Spanish never found them.  When

Frans first met the Lancandones in the 1920's they were still

living much as they had for centuries.

The goal of the Bloms' work was to gather and make available as

much information as they could about the Lancondones.  They wanted

to create a center for studying indigenous people, and host visiting

researchers who came to the area.  Lovely bedrooms surrounded a

courtyard, and there was a big dining room and expansive research

library in the home.  Since their respective deaths in the 1960's and the

1990's, their gracious property has become a museum as well as a

hotel and restaurant.

What we really loved in this museum were the gardens.  Lush plants

surround the house in a wonderfully wild and rather chaotic landscape.

Overturned flower pots were mounted on light poles to create clever

landscape lighting, and the paths were bordered with upside down wine

bottles dug into the ground.  There was a quirky sense of whimsy to this

place.  Mark was soon lost among the flowers with his camera.

While wandering the pretty paths he came across the

garden's caretaker, an old man who appeared to live in a

ramshackle hut at one end of the garden.  His nickname at

the museum was Señor Fuego (Mr. Fire), because he

always had his fire pit going.  He had built the most

ingenious system for heating up water by rigging up a

tank, pipes and a valve.  He ran the water through pipes

over his fire pit.  This way he not only had hot water but he

had a place to cook tortillas as well.

He looked utterly

at peace in his

little corner, and

we watched him

tend his fire and

move about his

garden, weeding

and trimming.  At

long last I said to him, "Tiene una buena vida." ("You

have a good life.")  He smiled the happiest smile and

said, "Estoy muy contento" ("I'm very content").  If only

we all could find such joy and peace in such simplicity.

Our ten days in San Cristóbal finally came to an end,

and we hoofed it down to the bus station for another

twisting, winding bus ride up and over more mountain

ranges, heading north until we were slightly closer to

the Caribbean than the Pacific.  Then we descended

into the exotic jungles of Palenque.

Find San Cristóbal on Mexico Maps.