Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mesa Verde and the Four Corners

From Santa Fe we headed down the road to Albuquerque and we went into the historic downtown which was busy with tourists, however as it was a very hot day we just visited Mission San Felipe which is situated on the plaza. A gentleman at the church recommended a restaurant behind the church for lunch after which we walked along the little shops around the plaza and went back to the cool of RV. We parked at the Hard Rock Casino RV Park and ate and gambled all 3 nights we were there; we came out pretty even, won well the first night then lost all we won the next two nights.

Adele likes to read books relative to our travels and at the moment is listening to “A Voyage Long and Strange” by Tony Horwitz, which is the Spanish History of America; their quest for gold and the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. He brings to life the journeys of the Conquistadors - De Soto, Coronado, Don Diego de Vargas, General Santa Anna and others. We Irish believe that St Brendan the navigator reached America in the late 5th or early 6th century so we’re delighted that Horwitz wonders why the history of the US starts with the Anglo version of Plymouth Rock and fills in the gaps telling of how so many places are named after Spanish explorers who sailed up the east and west coasts and explored two thirds of the interior of the landmass of the US.
From Albuquerque we traveled west along Route 66 to Gallup a town almost on the Arizona border and surrounded by Indian Territory; having once again packed our bags we set off in “BlueBug” for Cortez, Colorado to visit nearby Mesa Verde. We made good time on the road and managed to obtain tickets for the 4pm tour of the Mesa Verde Cliff Palace. Having 3 hours to fill before taking the tour we adjourned to the cafĂ© in the visitor center where both of us had Navajo Tacos they were delicious, from there we went to the museum and watched a 20 minute video of how archeologists imagine Mesa Verde came to be, the peoples story, the building methods and some thoughts on why it was abandoned, then we took a quick look around the museum. The Spruce Tree Ruins are right beside the Visitors center, but down a steep incline so as we were up at over 8000ft we decided to “save our breath” for the Cliff Palace tour. For our tour we had a ranger with a keen sense of humor which made the tour very enjoyable and informative; we had to descend steps, hike along the side of the cliff, ascend more steps and climb 3 different sets of ladders to get back to the top of the cliff - that effort took a lot of people's breath away! That night we stayed at the Tomahawk Motel in Cortez a really nice budget motel run by a German couple. The following morning we are up good and early which for us is 8.30 am, we had breakfast at the Ute Cafe (called after the local mountains) where we could not finish the “Senior” breakfast (it must have been for Senior truck drivers!) We next drove SW to the Four Corners where the States of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet; there’s a plaque marking the spot which we stood on, with one leg in each state, Adele even crawled on it. Photos to come! We enjoyed the whole experience. 

From Four Corners we continued into Arizona to drive south to Canyon de Chelly - which is a mini Grand Canyon (only 900ft deep) with beautiful colored walls, working ranches on the Canyon floor all with wonderful views of great rock formations. At the visitors center Adele got into a dialog with a gentleman called John - a Navajo – who was building a traditional Hogan; which is a round house has one door, a chimney and no windows. The Hogan is built wholly of cedar logs - no pegs, dowels or nails - they had no metals. It is possible to take a guided horseback ride down into the canyon; we reckoned that if we got up on a horse we might not walk again for a few days; in fact we might not even be able to drive back to the RV or not be capable of getting out of the car when we arrived back at the RV, so we drove along the rim, getting out every so often to enjoy the views.
We then drove southeast to Window Rock which is one big hole in a rock! Window Rock is the Capital of the Navajo Nation where they also have a lovely memorial tribute to the WW 11 Navajo Code Talkers; as the Navajo language was not a written language the Japanese could not break the code, places like Iwo Jima might never have been captured except for the Code Talkers. It was not until a short few years ago that their contribution to victory in 1945 was acknowledged; the fear during the Cold War was that they might be needed again. In recent years all Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Silver Medal, sadly quite a number of them were awarded posthumously. What a great journey! Next day we just hung around and caught up with friends and family.

For our next trip we drove south from Gallup to the Pueblo of Zuni. Zuni is the Capital of the Zuni tribe who have lived in the area over thousands of years. The pueblo consists of adobe building only, not a trailer to be seen. Most natives walked to wherever they were going as it was quicker, we understood why when having turned off the main road we found ourselves going round in circles. There were bee hive ovens outside every house and several had bread baking in them sourdough or wheat are the choices. The visitor center had memorabilia from the Spanish explorers both religious and armor. From Zuni we drove to El Morro (Spanish for a bluff) which has a water hole which never runs dry; this was a stopping point for the Native Peoples, Spanish Governors, Spanish and later Explorers many of whom marked their passage with inscriptions on the wall of the bluff, the earliest cannot be dated but many are from the late 1500’s. Our final stop was at the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano "The Land of Fire and Ice" situated on the Continental Divide. The ice cave is made from a hollow lava tube and it was cold in there, the temperature never rises above 31F (0C) - the floor of the cave is ice 20ft deep. The Indian tribes were known to use it as an ice box. The road we drove to and fro on was an old trading route as far as Arizona; however lack of water beyond New Mexico prevented explorers from travelling to California
Once again we were literally on Route 66 which is where our RV Park was located in Gallup. The town is known for many things; it’s Murals which tell the story of the development of the town - first as a railroad town (which it still is), then Route 66 coming through the town and the many movies made around Gallup. Right on Route 66 there’s a wonderful old hotel called El Rancho Hotel the lobby of which is furnished in south western style with chairs made from the horns of steers, Indians rugs, Pottery and a big fire place. Another feature is a mural telling the story of the Spanish explorers who passed through the area. The piece de resistance has to be the portrait gallery of movie starts all along the balcony including Ronald Reagan. We watched a great show of Indian dancing on the patio outside the Hotel at 5pm. We really enjoyed our visit to Gallup and are delighted we decided to travel this way.  Oh! By the way - us pale faces were very much in the minority in the areas we visited; we were, after all right in the middle of Indian Territory.

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