Memory Lane – Oct 12, 2008
I’m reposting a day from my trip to Four Corners, from another blog, every Wednesday.
Day Five – Mesa Verde
A really easy day today; there was only about 100 miles driving. We started with a quick trip to Wal-Mart and then fill the tank, and got going about 10:40am. It seems like no matter how early you get started your time gets eaten up before you know it. The drive north from Farmington was all four-lane with cross-traffic. We travelled through little towns and past farms with cows and horses, very pastoral. Crossing the Colorado border, the road changed to a two lane with winding curves past hay farms and ranches bursting with vivid yellows and oranges from the autumn foliage. Dropping down into Durango, the Animas River Valley narrows and the town is built up on the sides of the hills. We turned west onto US160 and started climbing up over the hills with very little drop down to Mancos. It’s a picturesque little town in a wide valley. In no time we were at the exit for Mesa Verde National Park. From US160 at 6950 ft, we drove up and up, around switchbacks, back and forth, through a tunnel to Park Point Overlook 8572 ft, only two thirds of the way to Far View Lodge.
It’s a good thing I got my butt in gear; I didn’t realize how long it could take to drive 15 miles from the highway, but we made our scheduled tour bus with a whopping 6 minutes to spare. Didn’t bother to check-in, its grab our tickets, our stuff and get on the bus. Suzanne from Florida (who now lives near Mesa Verde) was our driver and Ranger Marie was our Tour Guide. You can drive the entire Chapin Mesa route by yourself and stop at every site along the way, but the road is very narrow and treacherous in places, especially for such a large vehicle. Suzanne is a capable driver and piloted us on our tour. I just sat and looked out the window and enjoyed myself. I was surprised that our first couple of stops were Mesa top covered exhibits. They were archaeological digs that had been covered by floorless buildings and preserved. I really wanted to get to the good stuff and wondered if these stops would be a waste of time. I was wrong; Ranger Marie gave us a solid back grounding in the history before the cliff houses were built.
We learned how construction techniques progressed through the ages and some information of the cliff dwellers’ culture and way of life. So at our first glimpse of Square Tower House, we were able to ask intelligent questions.
The Spruce Tree Palace was amazing among the fall colors. The Sun Temple was spectacular and when we got our first view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon, I was amazed. The bus then came around to the other side of the canyon and we stopped at an overlook above Cliff Palace. It was from there that another tour (with some bus people and some new people) departed with a different guide. Ranger Al took us down a steep narrow stairway cut into the sandstone. Some places even skinny people turned sideways to traverse and there were other places with no handrail and a large drop to the canyon floor. Then up an eight step ladder and around a corner to face Cliff Palace at eye level.
We assembled under an overhanging sandstone outcrop and Ranger Al spoke of life and culture at Cliff Palace while we waited for the previous group to clear the area. We then got to examine up close the buildings and kivas, as Ranger Al described the theoretical uses of the different areas and rooms.
Then up another eight step ladder to a different level, more talking and then up about 40 steps, beside hand and toe holds carved into the cliff face. Then we went through a narrow crevasse, then up 3 twelve step ladders to the top and man, did that last part take your breath away. I think 100 ft vertical in 30 ft horizontal is a lot of exertion for about 7000 ft elevation. The tour with Ranger Al took just over an hour. After that, I was ready for supper; missing lunch didn’t help. A half hour later we arrived back at the Far View Lodge after four exhausting, exhilarating hours. We then checked in and drove the 200 yards to the room, dumped our luggage and drove, the 200 yards back to the Metate Room in the Main Lodge. It’s a good thing we were seated promptly; someone could have been injured if we had to wait. As soon as we were seated the waitress brought us bread and butter, then came back and took our order. Sherri ordered a Buffalo Bratwurst, Mom had the special, a Seafood Pasta (linguine with prawns, mussels, crab claws and chopped clams, in an Alfredo sauce) with an unoaked Chardonnay from Guy’s Vineyard in Colorado and I had Elk Tenderloin with a Cabernet Sauvignon also from Guy’s. The meals were superbly done, perfectly cooked and full of hearty flavours. We all managed to save room for dessert; Sherri had the Pumpkin Torte, Hobie the White Chocolate Macadamia Cheese Cake and I had the Chocolate Ganache Cake.
I took 123 frames today; I just haven’t hit my stride. The last two days, with the wind and everything has been just sucko for photography. That’s all for tonight. Tomorrow is Monument Valley; hopefully I can get an Internet connection there. If not, Grand Canyon? Although the Far View Lodge lacks modern amenities like WiFi or even television, I had one of the best sleeps on the trip! Maybe it had something to do with sleeping at over 8000 feet altitude.