A year of adventure and misfortune - the story of our Eastern Europe trip, the accident and subsequent recovery, and our lives up until September 2008...
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After a reasonable night’s sleep, helped no doubt by the beer and staying up to watch the movie (made ten times longer due to all the adverts every time it got exciting!), we once again put our luggage in the car and hit the road again. Heading further east some 10 miles or so we arrived at Mesa Verde National Park, showed our “Interagency Pass” which by now had more than paid for itself and made our way into the park itself.
The drive to the visitor’s centre in Mesa Verde is worth the trip in itself, as it winds its way up the mountainside for 15 miles or so, whilst all around are spectacular long-distance views across the Colorado plateau. Once at the visitor’s centre, we grabbed a couple of guide leaflets and made our plans. Using the excellent free guide provided on entering the park, we reasoned that in the time we had available – we thought it best to be on our way around 2pm – we could fit in a trip to Spruce Tree House, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, Mesa Top Loop road (including stops) and with a bit of luck Far View Sites complex too. All of which would avoid the crowds at the most popular sites – which as they all had ladders to climb/descend were off our list (Tracy’s lack of movement in her right arm one reason, my hatred of ladders another!). And so, armed with all sorts of interesting stuff to read we set off in search of Spruce Tree House.
For those of you not familiar with Mesa Verde, it means “Green Table” and refers to the “mesa” or table-like hill which here is topped with vegetation and good soil. It was populated some 1,400 years ago by the “ancestral Puebloan” peoples, who settled here for almost 700 years. Initially they lived in “pithouses” which were little more than holes in the ground with small walls and roof made of timber and covered in mud. Eventually they started to make “cliff dwellings” in the shelter of the overhangs of the cliffs, and that’s what Mesa Verde is most famous for. Spruce Tree House is one such dwelling, and we found it easily following a short trail through a wood. It had been discovered in around 1880 by a couple of ranchers looking for lost cattle – and it would have been an incredible find, all but lost to the forest.
Arriving at the site we discovered a remarkable structure that had a number of rooms and was probably home to around 100 people. There were living rooms, storage rooms and even underground “Kiva” (not named after the coffee shop we visited yesterday!) which were round ceremonial rooms entered via a ladder in the roof.
Having explored the house and read the very informative booklet we rejoined the trail and made our way back up to the archaeological museum that was at the start of the trail. Here we learnt more about the culture of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples who created these amazing dwellings and who, it seems, simply moved on following 24 years of drought – I guess that would cause any farming community to question the viability of staying!
By now the sun was high in the sky and it was very hot. With the roof down we headed off on the scenic “Mesa Top Drive” which forms a loop round the top of the mesa and has a number of marked spots where archaeologists have unearthed more evidence of the culture and life of the Ancestral Puebloans. First up was an excavated “pithouse” that showed clearly how they were dug into the ground, and where the 4 roof poles would have been placed to hold the short walls and roof – and the antechamber used for storage. In the centre of the room was a fire-pit for cooking and heating (and apparently for burning down the house as several of the remains found showed clear evidence of being burnt down!). Nearby was a “kiva” following a similar design to that we’d seen at Spruce Tree House although built out of mud as they hadn’t yet developed the technology to use bricks/stones in building.
Moving on from the pithouse we passed close to Square Tower House overlook from where we got an excellent view of this multi-story dwelling built under an overhanging cliff. What is amazing about these dwellings is to think that the residents farmed the land at the top of the cliff – making their commute to work a rock-climbing exercise using hand and toe-holds pecked into the cliff walls… They really must have needed the shelter and shade from the cliff to resort to living below their land!
Back on the scenic road the next stop was to look at some more Pithouses and early Puebloan villages which showed evidence of the changing culture of these early people, and the consistency of some of their buildings – Kivas are very consistent, and still form part of the building approach of the current Indian populations.
The final sight on our tour was Sun Point View from where we could clearly see Cliff Palace (one of the houses that can be visited but only by using several ladders). From here it is clear to see how a large community would exist living in this small town built into the rock-face… but still hard to imagine them growing their crops on the top of the mesa, high above their dwellings and having to make trips up and down the sheer rock-face in order to tend to their crops…
Suitably “cultured out” and with time passing, we left Mesa Verde National Park and made our way back to the highway. We stopped in Cortez for a late lunch – in a place offering “Loadsa Pasta” and “That’za Pizza”. Tracy had Macaroni with 5 cheeses (brave girl!) and I had a Pizza with various toppings. And both were excellent, although as I still had a fair bit of driving to do, I had to make do with lemonade while Tracy enjoyed a Peroni… We then made our way via the back roads to Bluff, where we were staying for the night. On arriving in Bluff it didn’t take us too long to find our B&B, the “Calf Canyon Inn”. And once again we’d struck gold. Our hosts, Monty and Kathy were most welcoming, and we were very soon settled in our hotel room. As with several of these B&Bs they have wireless internet, so Tracy took full advantage of it to check on her emails, whilst I made excuses to avoid updating the blog (the driving and sightseeing having taken it out of me…).
After a short rest we decided to head out and try and catch the sunset at the “Valley of the Gods” which was billed in our guidebook as a mini Monument Valley. A short drive down the highway led us to the start of a dirt road that lead out into the wilderness, winding its way towards some great red-faced mesas of various shapes. Enviously passing a couple parked up in their 4x4 with their tent out and thinking what a spectacular place to camp, we continued to follow the road whilst enjoying the early evening sunshine.
Before long we reached a dried up river bed that the road crossed, but not before it dropped several feet. Having got out to have a look, I decided that on this occasion discretion was the better part of valour, and turned the Mustang round. Another passing 4x4 headed out across the river bed, bouncing hard on its long-travel suspension and I congratulated myself on a sensible choice, before flooring the throttle and leaving a satisfying cloud of dust in our wake… boys will be boys, after all!
With one last photo stop to capture the setting sun, we reluctantly left the dirt road and headed back to Bluff…
By this time our lunch had finally settled sufficiently for us to consider at least stopping for a bite to eat, and when we saw the steakhouse on entering Bluff there was little debate. Settling for a pitcher of beer to share (it being only a very short drive back to the B&B…) we ordered a Steak and Shrimp combo and a “share plate” which was basically an empty plate with the “sides” (in this case, refried beans and potatoes) so we could share the meal for once. That proved to be a great decision too, as the food was excellent but filled us both – had we ordered a meal each we’d have had to leave at least half of it!
We then bought a few cold beers “to go” and headed back to the B&B where we sat out on the back patio, enjoying the stars and the beer and generally chilling out before bed…