Monday, 2 November, 1998. Monument Valley, Arizona.
After taking pictures of Mexican Hat I headed towards Hovenweep National Historic Park in southwestern Utah. Now we're getting into the middle of nowhere. In Hovenweep, castle like structures and towers were built eight hundred years ago, pretty cool. Leaving on dirt roads, I headed into Colorado to Mesa Verde.
Driving through Colorado, I could see several snow capped peaks. Perhaps I haven't gone far enough south? I had planned on exploring Mesa Verde this afternoon and the following morning. But the campground in Mesa Verde had been closed the weekend previous. Bummer. I had planned on staying with my friend Jenny Vierling who moved to Durango this spring. When Jenny heard that I was in nearby Mesa Verde, she exclaimed that I must stay with them. Crisis averted.
The biggest worry about entering Colorado were the "hunters welcome" signs at liquor stores, gas stations, etc. Hadn't seen that kind of reception for hunters before. Gotta get some obnoxious orange.
When Jenny had told me about Durango she had raved about the 300 days of sunshine -- a big deal for someone who had previously lived in Seattle. Of course I brought the rain with me, and never saw any of this incredible sunshine. We went for a nice hike in the mountains rising up from their backyard. Great location!
After spending two days warm and dry, I returned to Mesa Verde to see the well preserved Cliff Preserve pueblo house. I'm not much for organized tours, but this one was pretty good. I'd rather have explored it myself...
Chaco Culture National Park in New Mexico can only be reached via dirt roads. Driving in at night, after an afternoon thunderstorms was interesting. Luckily the wash wasn't running too high. While eating dinner in my truck, I heard some sort of critter. I looked outside with my headlamp, but couldn't see anything. So I went back to my dinner. Again I heard some sort of critter, this time I looked closer and there was a mouse scurring around on my stove. My attempt to shoo him away caused him to dive into my truck. Ooops. I went to sleep anyway. In the middle of the night, I bolted awake when the mouse ran across my neck. Yuck! It took a long time for me to get to sleep after that!
Chaco has impressive pueblo dwellings which are not built into cliffs like previous dwellings that I'd seen. Some of the great houses had over five hundred rooms, an impressive scale. Best of all, no tours are needed and you're permitted to wander over most of the structures. I took a long hike through the backcountry to visit several other structures. While on my hike, I saw a 60' staircase carved into the sandstone. Recently the Forest Service changed policy such that climbing anchors in wilderness areas are illegal. I'm not sure what the big deal is; this obvious example of chipping predates technical climbers by 700 years!
After visiting Chaco, I headed to the Painted Desert in Arizona. This park has hardly any trails, but after getting a backcountry pass you're free to hike anywhere. I decided to try to hike to Pilot peak, about six miles away. From the trail head, I picked out a route and started hiking. I was able to keep to my planned route for a while, but the highly folded terrain was working against me. Only from the top of a ridge could I see pilot peak. After two hours of hiking I thought I was getting close, but when I came over a ridge I realized how wrong I was. So I gave up on Pilot peak and just enjoyed the solitude of the desert.
Making my way to Phoenix to pickup my next passenger, I drove towards Sedona. For some time I'd wanted to just pull off the road somewhere and camp. I finally found the spot. Driving on a backroad towards Sedona, I noticed a few campers (hunters?) camped out. I found an deserted spot and pulled through the gate. Pulling into a likely camping spot, I could see a herd of twenty elk. This is definately the right spot. The elk didn't start to move away until I got out of my truck. Later, I saw a great shooting star arc across the night sky.