Thursday, June 9, 2011

National Parks Day

DAY FIFTEEN: Wednesday, June 8th, was a stellar day, despite a bad beginning. We had spent the night in an America’s Best Value Motel, in Farmington, NM. Our room had one bed, but the room clearly had originally been outfitted with two beds – there was the usual two-lamp fixture which was originally between two beds. At some point, they had removed a bed and put in what amounted to a kitchenette, but it was just a frig, a microwave, a cabinet and a table (no sink). The remaining bed was close to the window and to the air conditioning unit. Unfortunately, this meant that the person on the window side of the bed (that was me - I’m always on the left side of the bed, from the perspective of the foot of the bed) was just a couple of feet from the air conditioning unit. It was a hot night, the outside temp was in the high eighties, and the room was stuffy. So we had to turn on the air conditioning. If there is one thing I dislike, it is air blowing right on me when I’m trying to sleep. I like fresh air in a room; I like a room cool for sleeping; but I dislike having a fan blowing right on me. I like the fan to be indirect, moving the air, but not right on me. So, I couldn’t sleep. Finally, I turned it off, but then I was too hot. (Ellen was sleeping all through this). At about 2:30am or so, I got up and took a sleeping pill. I left the air off, but was able to sleep with no covers. However, I was not in the best of moods the next morning. I reflected on the fact that the room would not have had to be set up like this. When they put in the kitchenette, they could have moved the bed to the opposite wall. Then the air unit would have been a good distance from the sleepers. Maybe most people don’t mind, but some do, and when you’re in the motel business, you need to think about things like that.

Anyway, we got in the car and started off. Of course, the car was hot – it had been sitting in the sun in the motel parking lot. Ellen (who always drives and controls the heat/air), turned on the air conditioning, and she aimed the vents right at me so that I would get the full benefit. It was an act of kindness, but after my tussle with the air conditioner the previous night, I took it badly. So we had to work through that, which we did, thanks to Ellen’s unfailing patience.

As we drove north into Colorado and approached Mesa Verde National Park, the beauty of the scenery drove out all negative thoughts.


MVNP is a spectacular place, in terms of geology and scenery, but even more in terms of cultural significance. This area was home to a group which are now referred to as “Ancestral Puebloans,” a.k.a. Anasazi people. The new term reflects the fact that present-day Pueblo Indians feel a deep kinship with these earlier people, and believe themselves to be their descendants, whereas the former term, “Anasazi,” is a Navajo term which means "ancient enemies." I’ll have to say that I am impressed by the way the National Park Service tries to respect the feelings of various groups, although I’m sure it seems to some of those groups to move at a glacial pace.

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished there, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. The reasons for that move are not well understood. A long-standing drought and soil depletion are often mentioned as reasons, but there is no certainty. The earliest settlers lived in simple pithouses. Around 750 C.E. they began building houses above ground made of poles and mud. By 1000 C.E., they had advanced to skillful stone masonry, and large villages were built, some of them on the tops of the mesas. Around 1200 C.E., a shift was made to stone masonry built in caverns under huge overhanging rocks. These are the so-called cliff houses, and that is what we saw. (One could spend days at Mesa Verde and not see everything). The cliff houses are spectacular. One, called Spruce Tree House by the Park Service, is open for a self-guided tour. It gives one a sense of the construction and the communal life of the people.


In another part of the park is a larger community called Cliff Palace. This can be accessed only by a guided tour with advanced reservation. It is popular and we did not have time to make that tour. However, Cliff Palace can be viewed from afar and I got a good photo of it using my telephoto lens:


We left Mesa Verde at about four in the afternoon and drove west into Utah, heading for Arches National Park. By the time we got to Arches, it was evening, and the light of the setting sun had the effect of exaggerating the color of the red rocks. We could do no more than drive through Arches and stop at two spectacular sites: the Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch, but, Oh! what a place! It was a wonderful time to be there. There were very few people. The light was magical. It was majestically quiet. It was awesome.



Phenomena like Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch are created, of course, by wind erosion, which cuts away softer materials, while harder rock remains. Eventually, the balanced rock will fall, and the arch will break, but probably not in my lifetime.

It was probably 9:30p.m. by the time we left Arches, and we headed north to I-70 and then west, hoping to find a motel along the Interstate. It was after 11:00p.m. when we found a room at a Super 8 motel in Green River, UT. It was the last non-smoking room available, and it had three queen-sized beds. It was big enough for a family reunion! It cost $74, about $20 more than the average of what we have been paying for a room, but it was worth it, because we were tired after a long and wonderful day of spectacular beauty. And tomorrow night, we'll be in Alpine!

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