Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Last Corner: Utah! Cave Towers and Mule Canyon near Blanding.

 As we drove towards Utah from Canyon de Chelly, I looked at Jeff's face. He was breaking down. He had driven almost the whole week, and none of us was sleeping as well as we do at home, although the tents and sleeping bags were doing their job pretty well. Another thing? My roots. I had like 1/2 inch white/gray roots all along the front of my face, and with greasy hair they looked so so much worse! Jeff asked if he should just drive straight home. The kids were kind of burned out with hiking, Should I give up the dream?
"Well", I said, "What if we rent a jeep in Moab, and tour Arches or Canyonlands that way?" Jeff got pretty excited. He called all over Moab trying to rent something, but everything was booked. We were getting close to Blanding, Utah (never heard of it? it's the next big thing :) ), and I mentioned that maybe there would be something there.
We found Four Corners Adventures there (looks like they only have a working FB page, but they do have a brick and mortar in downtown Blanding), and they had one jeep left for us the next day. We checked into a seedy, but mostly clean motel, and I got my shower. My roots? actually still looked pretty bad. I guess I was kidding myself with the oily being the problem. It felt so good to be clean though! We slept in beds. It wasn't that great.

The next day, we went to get the jeep, and asked the guy where he recommended that we go. I had planned Canyonlands, but it was 40 plus minutes away, and I didn't want to waste time getting there. The guy said that there were close places that were just as cool, and showed us how to get to Mule Canyon, and Cave Towers. 

Jeff had a blast driving that thing offroad, and the kids had so much fun bouncing around, that they declared it better than the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. 

The first stop was Cave Towers. So many ruins! Just to clarify, in a lot of these pictures it looks like we are climbing on, or touching the walls. We are not. Sometimes they are built on a slope, or we are leaning over the edge of windows etc. I know that these structures are delicate and precious. 

The canyon itself was gorgeous too. We looked over the edge, and saw cliff dwellings all over the place. 

It's hard to convey the size of this place!

One ruin we saw was just over to the side of us and down the cliff. Jeff states that he thinks we could get to it. "No." I said. "We're not going over the freaking edge of a cliff! Forget it!"
But, he finds some stairs kind of carved into the rock, and a sort of path that looks like it leads over to these ruins. I get brave and we go for it. 

This ends up being one of the most cool experiences we have had on the whole trip. It feels like we are going where nobody else has been for hundreds of years. I'm sure that isn't exactly true, but it feels like a real adventure. 

When we get there, the kids look inside the dwellings, and discover pieces of ancient corn cobs, and old piñon  shells.

We made our way back to the Jeep (haha --the kids had a major hike after all!), and wound our way to Mule Canyon next. 
 We drove the whole road, then went back to the trailhead for Burning House, which I had seen on pinterest, and really wanted to see in person. We followed a pretty stream bed through the canyon (ha! two major hikes for the kidsies).
Lots of little wildflowers blooming.

When we reached the ruin, it was as spectacular as it was in the pictures. I thought those pictures must have been photoshopped, but the cliff that the house was built into really looked like flames coming off the roof of the little stone building.

As we looked into all of the rooms, I noticed that it had started to rain. I worried about Ari and her processors getting wet. I heard her yell something, and then I didn't see her anymore. I was sure she had run for the jeep --about 2 miles back. I really felt I had let her down not having a bag for her to put the equipment into. I hurried after her with Kai (while Jeff explored a bit more), watching for her footprints. By the time I was about a mile and a half away, I was frantic. It was raining so hard! If these things get wet, they can be damaged pretty quickly. Her jacket wasn't very waterproof. 

When we got almost in sight of the Jeep, Jeff came running up behind me...with Ari! She hadn't left at all. Her hood was over her processors, and they weren't too damp. I dried them in the blower on the jeep while we went to look for lunch/dinner.

We were so cold and wet! This is my cold face. We ate at a little burrito place that wasn't very good, and then got gas station hot chocolate on our way out of town.

Blanding was a good call. If I had a million dollars to invest, I would build a nice hotel or RV park there. So many beautiful places off the beaten path. We however, were very ready to come home!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Canyon de Chelly --corner 3.

 The first thing you need to know, is that it's pronounced Canyon de "Shay". I read about this canyon in college when I was on a Willa Cather binge, and it has haunted me ever since. The way she wrote about her character living here for a summer in "The Song of the Lark" was beautiful. I wanted to connect with the spirit of these ancient peoples the way the character did. In fact, that novel kind of inspired this whole trip. Looking back on our trip now, I feel like I got a much stronger connection to my kids, and nature itself --the size and scope of the cliffs we saw still bring tears to my eyes -- than I did to the ancient peoples. That kind of makes me sad, but maybe it's because they weren't my direct ancestors? I wonder if I'd feel differently about ancient Swedish, English, or Italian dwellings.

 This was another National Park on Navajo land, and the interesting thing about this canyon is that people still live in it. I had planned for us to camp at a campground right near the park entrance, but we talked to a guy at Chaco who had just come from Canyon de Chelly, and he recommended a little campground in the middle near spider rock, run by a Navajo guy named Howard. We really liked Howard. In fact, every Navajo we ran into on this trip was striking for their kindness and softspokenness. The campground itself was a little rough. The toilets were very primitive, and the only water was in a tank on the back of a truck. At least you could drink it. We got there after dark (again), and I had carried a store bought birthday cake (this was my birthday) on my lap for the last 50 miles. Once we got the tents up and made a fire, everybody sang to me, and we ate hunks of cake while warming ourselves by the fire, and looking up at the amazing stars.
 There were billions of them up there although we didn't have the camera to capture them. This was the prettiest place for stars on our whole trip.
 We had all gotten cold the night before, so Jeff boiled water and filled up our Nalgene bottles to put in our sleeping bags with us for heat. We were all warm as toast that night.
 The next day we drove along the rim, stopping at lookout points where there were cliff dwellings to see, and amazing canyon.
 In Canyon de Chelly, there is only one hike into and out of the canyon you can go on by yourself. For everywhere else you need a Navajo guide. We decided to do the White House hike first, then decide about a tour guide.

 There was a local school group right in front of us for the first part of the hike, but we soon passed them and didn't run into them again until our way out.

 The hike took us about an hour and 20 minutes round trip, so just pleasant.

 There were some tunnels, AND a river --the two things Kai likes most in a hike.

 It is so easy to see that these were old sand dunes.

 Everything was on such a massive scale! 600 plus feet from top to bottom.

 At the bottom, you cross a river, and you can get pretty close to the White House Ruin. It is called White house, because some of the light colored plaster is still intact on one of the walls.

Notice the rounded kiva-like structures near the front?

 Climbing back up out of the canyon was more challenging, but I just put myself right behind Ari, and after this siungle water break she just cruised right up to the top. 

Looking back down on White House.

Afterwards we decided to just drive the rim, and see the rest of the lookout points instead of getting a guide.
It was so lovely to see the big farms down in the bottom with their neat farmhouses and sheds. Not all of the farms were picturesque, but many were.
Look at this. What do you think the bare circles were? I theorized it was where they'd tied up a goat on a chain maybe?

 One thing we didn't love were the vendors. I appreciate people working hard to sell things and make a living, but we weren't in the market to buy anything, and I felt bad often. Killed some of the joy. 

We finished driving the south rim, and headed towards Utah --our last corner.