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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

4 Days, 4 Corners

We decided we needed a regular hotel-staying vacation. Katie, as a 4th grader last year, qualified for a free Parks Pass. The pass was set to expire at the end of August and we wanted to put some more mileage on it before it did. We decided to hit Mesa Verde National Park and maybe a few others. We left town on Monday, July 25. Great weather and beautiful drive to Cortez, Colorado where we had a sweet hotel room to serve as a base of operations for the next several days. The kids were thrilled with the hotel room as they had their own area with TWO bunks beds so they could each have the top bunk. They also had their own TV. This was the first time in their life they actually begged to go to bed early!


DAY ONE- Tuesday
The next morning we got up early and left to go to Mesa Verde National Park. We stopped first at the Visitor Center and picked up our Jr Ranger booklets. The drive into the park is really beautiful. You basically twist and turn your way up to the top of the Mesa. Our first stop was the Park Point Lookout, which as the tallest point in the park, served as a fire lookout for many years. Great views all around. You can see mountains several miles away, but it was rather hazy that morning.

Back in the car we drove along the road to Step House. The other larger cliff dwellings required tickets which we didn't get. But Step House was a short hike and no ticket needed! We filled our water jugs and the girls and I walked down to Step House. It is a pit house/cliff dwelling combo. There was a ranger stationed there and we talked to him for a bit and asked questions. One of the pit houses has a partially built roof- what the archeologists think it would have looked like. You can still see handprints in the plaster of the pit houses! It was an interesting sight and the girls and I wondered about the people who built this and called it home.

Back up the (steep!) trail, we were glad to see the car! Back in, we drove out to Spruce Tree House. Now usually you can go in this and look around, but the Park Service has closed it due to some falling rocks. I asked a ranger nearby what the deal was. She told me that there is an arch over the house and that the middle section is coming loose, hence the rock falls. There are plans in place to assess and stabilize the loosey-goosey area, but no idea when work will be done; could be years. So in the meantime we looked at the house from above and took pics. There was another Ranger nearby showing the kids how to use an Atl-atl and both girls tried it. Katie actually got her arrow to stick into the plant, her other try and Maggie's two tries resulted in misfires! haha!
A Ranger overheard Katie state some amazing fact and insisted she made a better Ranger than him!

By this time we are getting hungry, so we cruise through the picnic area and found a nice shady spot to have lunch. Since we figured this trip was full of remote places, we packed a cooler of sandwich stuff. We finished our lunch and took a few minutes to work on our Jr Ranger badge requirements and then back on the road.


While the morning was overcast and cool, that started to change after lunch. The sun came out and it was getting hot. We continued to drive around the park, stopping at all the overlooks and pit-houses we saw. Katie was really interested in the whole idea of how these ancient peoples lived.


We finally decide we're done and started the drive back to the park entrance. More twisting, winding roads. Maggie even saw a herd of wild horses on a hillside! We got back to the Visitor's Center where Katie and Maggie were sworn in as Jr Ranger's and got their badge.


 We are all wiped out by this time. We get back to the hotel and I went across the street to pick up KFC for dinner. We make a plan of attack for the next day and go to bed.


DAY TWO- Wednesday
After a good breakfast at the hotel we are off! We decide today that we will drive out to Hovenweep National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument. It was a beautiful morning and a fun drive to HNM. I even saw a few wild turkeys along the road. We were practically the only people on the road this morning and when we got out of the car, it was so darn quiet! We stopped in at the Visitor's Center and learned what there is to see here, and what do we need to do to get a Jr Ranger badge.

The girls and I went on the Ruins Walk while Jeff stayed at the Visitor Center. The walk was mostly on the slick-rock on the rim of a small canyon. There were several amazing ruins to see, but it was sunny and getting really hot. Every time we stopped at a ruin I had the girls drink water. I had a good time with my two little pals! We saw lots of ravens and lizards. Maggie tried to catch all the lizards, but she is going to need to get quicker hands! Once we got back to the Visitor Center we completed the Jr Ranger booklet to get another badge.


We leave HNM, and drive toward Natural Bridges National Monument. It was a beautiful day for a drive in the deserts of southern Utah. We got to Natural Bridges and talked to the Ranger and found they had a Jr Ranger program, picked up booklets and got to work. This small park displays three natural bridges that developed over the river. We started out on the loop, and saw a picnic area and decided we should stop and eat some lunch. We made more sandwiches and filled our water jugs from our big orange water jug we take camping.

We check out the bridges from above, it is really getting hot and we were getting too tired to do much hiking. We were all wilted from the heat, but make our way back to the Visitor Center to turn in our books and get our badges. The girls really enjoy doing Jr Rangers and learn a lot from this. Once back in Cortez, we went for a steak dinner!

DAY THREE- Thursday
We thought we got an early start, but not early enough to beat the tour group to breakfast. It was really crowded and we had things to do! So we did a McD's run and got on the road! Our crazy plan today was to do a drive north through the Colorado mountains. Within a few minutes of leaving Cortez, we found ourselves entering forest. And we were climbing. And we kept climbing. And I see now why John Denver wrote all about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High. Jeff and I were both amazed at the mountain peaks. We took a short detour to Telluride, cool but a lot like Park City.


We eventually ended up in Montrose to go to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Could we do it? Could we get our 4th Jr Ranger badge?! We collected our booklets and got to work. This is a rather cool canyon. Originally the water would scream through here during run off and has carved a very deep narrow canyon. But dams upstream has slowed the water rate. Jeff didn't do much walking around, but the girls and I went out to as many lookouts as we could. It was really amazing.


Back in the car and back to the Visitor Center, we finally get our badges and get sworn in! In the car and off to Montrose, got some quick lunch at Wendy's and then hey let's drive to Durango through the mountains!


While this seemed like a good idea while looking at the map, what is not evident is the fact that about 5 miles of this is a road that is so narrow and steep, there is no room for error or you are over the edge and a long way down to the bottom of the canyon. The only shoulder we had was the white stripe at the edge of the road. I couldn't look! Jeff did really good at driving, especially when we came around the corner to see a snow plow coming at us pushing rocks along. I may have screamed.


Pretty soon the road widens out and we all breathe a sigh of relief. But we're still climbing! At one point the road has a sluice built over it to help with frequent avalanches!


We finally got to Silverton (alive!) and got an ice cream cone. It was either that, or a shot of whiskey after that drive!


US-550 Ouray to Durango was an AMAZING and beautiful drive. Jeff and I both grew up here in Utah and we love our mountains. But they pale in comparison to Colorado mountains! We went over four 10,000+ ft passes by the time we got to Durango. And we passed many small mining operations that have long since closed.

Once we got to Durango, we turned right and headed back to Cortez. Wow! What a day!


DAY FOUR- Friday
When we planned this trip, we told the girls there was a spot where you could stand in four states ALL AT THE SAME TIME! So they were anxious to go to this magical place and see for themselves. We got to 4 corners about 9am and indeed stood in four states at the same time! Then we cruised the Native American crafts stands. Lots of jewelry, some paintings. There was a woman who was weaving. I talked to her for a few minutes. Fascinating process, I wished I could have sat with her the whole day and learned how to weave!


After the four corners we went off to Monument Valley. Gorgeous day, big blue sky, and occasional clouds. We paid our fee to get in to the Navajo run visitor center. There was a wonderful display on the Navajo code talkers of WWII, and also a big display on the film industry in the valley. But the highlight of this trip was the 17mi dirt road we drove! All of us loved this drive. Sure you can see Monument Valley from the highway, but to get in and drive amongst the buttes and spires is really amazing. Once we finished our drive, we stopped across the highway at the Gouldings super market and got some lunch and then drove on up towards Mexican Hat where we stopped to look at the Goosenecks of the San Juan.



Back in the car (it was 104 out there!) we made our way back to Cortez. Finally got back and went to dinner at Thai Cortez. Delicious.

Saturday we packed up and started for home. We had an uneventful drive and it was so good to be back in our own beds. The kids are now begging to get two bunkbeds- haha! We had a really wonderful time and we were sad to see it end.