September 13, 2019 – Canyon de Chelly to Pie Town, New Mexico

After the excitement of arriving in Pie Town, I pretty much forgot the beautiful drive down from Canyon de Chelly. I looked on the map and saw that we took Highway 191 to Burnside and then took Highway 264 to Gallup, where we got on I-40. So far, New Mexico has been scenic no matter where we travel.

The ride down Highway 117 from I-40 at Grants is especially picturesque. We stopped in Grants for fuel and to call Roy and Susan to let them know we were on the way. The phone was dead. Then, after a mile or so, it rang once. I could see clouds in the distance and said, “It was probably Susan calling to tell us not to come”. There was no cell phone signal, even if the phone was working. We drove on.

The clouds were getting darker, and we began to see a great lightning show in the distance. You can see just about forever out here. There were a number of rain showers, but we could not tell whether they were near Pie Town or not. I kept driving. It was raining when we got to the turnoff from Highway 117 onto the unpaved road. Andy wanted to turn around. I wanted to press on. It is 16 miles from the pavement to Roy and Susan’s house. The road is nicely graveled but has terrible washboard ruts in it. The dishes were rattling in the cabinets, and Scamp was shaking so hard, he could have had a nervous breakdown. I slowed down and tried, unsuccessfully, to find a smoother path.

I was encouraged when a pickup truck towing a huge fifth wheel RV trailer approached from the other direction. Eventually, we got to the end of the gravel and the washboard. The road was much smoother, and I picked up a little speed. Finally, we paused at the entrance to the development (not really an appropriate word to describe the neighborhood). It looked OK, and we opened the gate and continued on – a short distance.

Rain is a big deal here. The sandy soil has a lot of clay in it. When it gets wet just enough, it becomes slick as snot or slick as anything else you can think of. Roy and Susan just don’t go out when rain is in the forecast. And, this is no ordinary mud. It sticks to everything.

Needless to say – this was the sight behind the van.

It took me a moment to realize I was going sideways. Fortunately, we were on a good section of the road to slide to the edge. There we were and could not move any farther. After contemplating our situation for a few minutes, Andy decided he would walk the rest of the way. He opened his door and got out. He had not even gotten as far as the front of the van before he had a thick layer of mud on the bottom of his shoes. He wisely decided that he would not make it the last mile or two in that mud and attempted to get back in the RV. When he opened the door, his feet slid out from under him and he fell down. That mud sticks to your rear end too. I held my hand out for him to hold and, with some struggle, he finally managed to climb back in. There was a little glob of mud on his nose.

Well, what are we going to do now? Wait right here. Roy will come looking for us. We passed the time reading the van owner’s manual, figuring out how to put it in all-wheel drive. Not that it would do any good in that mud. Sure enough, less than half an hour later, Roy appeared in his gator. Smirking, by the way. He looked us over and said he would go back to the house to get a tractor to pull us out. I didn’t get a picture until he disappeared around the bend.

When Roy gets a tractor, Roy really gets a tractor.

Holy cow! It was a road grader! Here he is turning around to hook up his chain to the front of Scamp. I was nervous about being towed with a chain in the slick mud, but it went well. I did not crash into the back of the tractor. He pulled us to a point where he figured the road was good enough for me to continue on my own.

We are safely in Roy and Susan’s house with a new story to tell.

September 12, 2019, Afternoon – Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation

(It is pronounced “d’ shay”. I asked at the visitor center. The Navajo people call it Tseyi (and call themselves Dine (with an accent over that e)))

Two national parks in one day? Are we marathon tourists, or what? As always, our first stop was the visitor center to watch the movie and get the lay of the land. After watching a most-beautiful movie, we decided to take a guided tour. That is the only way to actually get into the canyon. If you drive on your own, you must take the rim drive and look down into the canyon from the overlooks.

Visitor Center

This beautiful painting on the wall really gives you the big picture of the extensive canyon and its many branches. It did not, however, help me with my bearings once we were inside. We took the four-hour Sunset Tour that started at four o’clock and did not see all of it.

Painting of Canyon de Chelly

You can read a little history here.

This little hut was outside the visitor center. We saw others in the canyon, from a distance.

It looked nice and cozy inside.

This may be one of the most awesome ceiling/roofs I have ever seen.

We had time for lunch before the tour so we ate in the lodge cafeteria. I ordered what was billed on the menu and an “authentic, Navajo taco”. Yeah, that’s on a dinner plate. It was a large piece of fry bread overhanging the plate and covered with beans, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomato, and onion. The fry bread was very light, like a soft dinner roll. No way I could eat the whole thing, so I left the soggy center of the fry bread. Oh yes, I almost ate the whole thing.

There were only three other people on the tour with us, a delightful family from Arizona.

This is our tour guide. He needed those big gloves to wrangle the steering wheel as he plowed through the soft sand for four hours.

The entrance to the canyon was like a beach. The sand was white, soft, and deep. It is a river bed when the rains come.

It took constant shifting and steering to keep the truck going through the sand.

The canyon walls were not too high at first.

Our guide stopped for us to look and take pictures whenever there was something interesting to see (besides beautiful scenery). These are petrographs (drawings rather than etchings (petroglyphs). The squiggly line is water. Handprints, either patted on or sprayed around and hand) are common in the canyon.

The walls got higher and sometimes the canyon was wide and other times narrow. The sand was almost always deep.

We saw more, larger trees as we got farther in.

I loved this hunting scene. It was made after the Spanish arrived, as it depicts men riding horses.

This figure-eight chiseled into the sandstone is a bit it of a mystery. Our guide said they think it might be some kind of calendar.

I took a picture of this tower of a rock because it has character.

We began to see larger shrubbery too.

Then the wide, wide beach sand gave way to multiple tracks through the shrubs and trees.

These swirly rocks were not especially tall, but I love swirly rocks

Look, up ahead, there are some ruins high in the canyon wall.

Here’s a closer look.

And, here is the round building up close.

Sometimes, when the canyon was wide, there would be an enormous rock inside. Maybe that was one of the many side canyons. That fuzzy spot near the center of this photo is dust being thrown up by an SUV.

There was often fencing. The Navajo people actually live and use this canyon for farming and raising animals. The tour guide said that most live above the canyon on the mesa in the winter and only one family lives inside year-round.

We spooked a flock of turkeys that flew over the fence when the truck approached.

This may be the mesa rock inside the canyon where the Navajos hid when Kit Carson and his army tried to round them up to ship to a reservation. This excerpt is from the Wikipedia article about him.

Canyon de Chelly[edit]

Main article: Battle of Canyon de Chelly

Carson wanted to take a winter break from the campaign. Major General Carleton refused, ordering him to invade the Canyon de Chelly, where many Navajos had taken refuge. Historian David Roberts writes, “Carson’s sweep through the Canyon de Chelly in the winter of 1863–1864 would prove to be the decisive action in the Campaign.”[53]

The Canyon de Chelly was a sacred place for the Navajo. They believed that it would now be their strongest sanctuary. Three hundred Navajo took refuge on the canyon rim at a place called Fortress Rock. They resisted Carson’s invasion by building rope ladders and bridges, lowering water pots into a stream, and keeping quiet and out of sight. These three hundred Navajo survived the invasion. In January 1864, Carson swept through the 35-mile (56 km) Canyon with his forces. The thousands of peach trees in the canyon were cut down. Few Navajo were killed or captured. Carson’s invasion, however, proved to the Navajo that the United States could invade their territory at any time. Many Navajo surrendered at Fort Defiance, Arizona.[54]

By March 1864, there were 3,000 refugees at Fort Canby. An additional 5,000 arrived in the camp. They were suffering from the intense cold and hunger. Carson asked for supplies to feed and clothe them. The thousands of Navajo were forced to walk to Bosque Redondo. Many died along the way. Stragglers in the rear were shot and killed. In Navajo history, this horrific trek is known as Long Walk of the Navajo. By 1866, reports indicated that Bosque Redondo was a complete failure, and Major General Carleton was fired. Congress started investigations. In 1868, a treaty was signed, and the Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland. Bosque Redondo was closed.[55]

Here is our tour-mobile.

Here are some ruins at ground level. However, the tour guide reminded us that the canyon floor level varied with rains, and over the eons.

A closer look:

As you probably noticed in the previous two photos, there is a white wall at the back. This ruin is called the White House.

The white house stands out from a distance.

We followed two branches of the canyon. Couldn’t tell you where we were.

Another vehicle was going in the canyon and we came close to it several times. The little SUV gives you some scale.

There are a number of houses in the canyon, some modern and some rustic. What I want to know is how they got that RV trailer in the canyon through all that deep, soft sand.

Here is a closer look at the ruins in the alcove of the canyon wall behind that house.

I do love swirly rocks. Were they mud when they formed or was it erosion or water that did that?

This canyon wall was leaning over precariously. Note the SUV again.

The guy in the petrograph here is standing on his head.

I could see this hole way up high on the canyon wall. So, I zoomed the camera and took a photo. I think it is an eagle’s nest; I saw one flying by as we were riding.

I was shocked to see this very modern petrograph of a horse. The tour guide thought it was from the 1800s.

It doesn’t show up very well here, but the canyon wall makes a right turn. It looks as though there may be a waterfall in the corner.

When the Navajo hid on top of the large rock to escape capture by the soldiers, they used these toe-holds to climb down in the night to get water from the stream. It is a mighty high wall. The guide pointed out ladders still high on the wall, but I couldn’t see them.

The guide told us this is Martini Rock and drove the truck so close underneath that I thought it would scrape the underside. Why Martini Rock? Because you get a hangover.

The guide told us that he grew up on the mesa above and he and his brother would climb down the rocks and a couple ladders to get to the canyon floor. It was so high, I could not see the camera until I zoomed and took the picture. It made a Mama’s heart weak. I asked, “Did your mama know you were doing that?” He sheepishly answered, “No”.

I think this is the hideout rock again.

This old ruin was a fixer-upper and now has a modern door and a window.

This may be the story of the Spanish arriving. One of them looks like a priest. Or, it could be the American soldiers forcing Navajo’s to take the Long Walk (same as the Cherokee’s Trail of Tears) to some reservation. The ones who survived eventually returned to Canyon de Chelly.

This represents an eclipse.

Some of the sandstone canyon walls look like Swiss cheese.

The tour guide pointed out Poison Rock atop the wall. Why poison rock? One drop will kill you.

At the end of the tour, we stopped in the gift shop at the lodge for something to drink. Something was going on on the lawn. The gift-shop lady said we should go watch. A man talked (too much) and then the dancers would come out to perform. I can’t remember the significance of the dances, but they were extremely energetic with a lot of jumping and spinning. The dancers posed for pictures at the end and I ran to the RV for my camera. I caught them just as they were breaking up, but they got back into the pose for me to take my pictures.

The park brochure says that the earliest nomadic people lived in the canyon from 2500-200 BCE. People settled down via agriculture and inhabited the canyon form 200 BCE to CE 750. The Pueblo people built and lived in villages 750 to 1300. Then the pueblo people left, the Hopi lived here from 1300 to 1600. The Navajo (relatives of the Athabascans in Alaska) lived here from 1700 to 1863 when they were evacuated by the US Army and were either killed or forced to walk over 300 miles to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. They returned to Canyon de Chelly in 1868 and established a chain of trading-posts, focal points in Navajo communities.

Aside from history, brutality, and recovery, Canyon de Chelly is an extraordinary and beautiful place. You can feel. it

September 12, 2019 – Morning, Monument Valley

I am at a loss for words to describe Monument Valley. It is called Monument Valley because it is MONUMENTAL!!! Large portions of the road are terrible and Andy cussed and fussed whenever we got to a bad spot. I had a blast driving through. Though he swayed back and forth, rattled our teeth, and seemed to be shaking apart, Scamp seems to have made it through unscathed. I have gone overboard with pictures on this post.

The Sisters

This one is just an everyday huge boulder alongside the road.

Elephant
The Thumb

Sorry, my pictures simply do not sufficiently show the enormous size of these rocks.

September 12, 2019 – Mesa Verde National Park

This morning we headed directly to the section of the park with the ruins. I forgot to mention yesterday that the drive itself is memorable. It is 23 climbing, winding, and high miles inside the park to get to them.

There were not many cars pulled over for the pit houses. I suppose people are just interested in the more famous cliff dwellings. I am gla we stopped. It had not occurred to me that ancient people also lived on top of the mesa, not just in the cliff alcoves. From the signs, we learned the time period and peoples that people used different house construction and could see how they advanced over time.

This shallow pit is the earliest. The Puebloans had learned to farm and lived in these home permanently, unlike their ancestors who followed the animal migrations for food. There were small villages in spots where the farming was good. You can tell their harvests were successful from the food-storage alcove at the back of this ruin.

The signboard gave me a better idea of what it was like. It reminds me of the houses we saw in Patrick Point a few weeks ago.

Whoa! Look at the mug the archeologists dug up. Those folks were just a bit too early for Starbucks.

The pit house ruins were covered under roofs with sliding covers for the windows. I guess they will be preserved for a long time. This one had three phases of improvements in home design.

This house was built deeper into the ground for better insulation from the bitter winters. It had a vent (I call it a chimney) to get the smoke out without the heat going out the top of the house. It’s that semi-circular hole in the back. The hole at ground level is the “chimney”.

Next, they got the idea to build with stones at ground level.

This is the kiva, a ceremonial hut where meetings and rituals (or maybe meditations) were held. Pueblo people still use these today. I asked and was told that these are not the sweat lodges we had seen in California.

I think this was an example of housing built on top of housing over the ages.

The stone in front of the fire pit was labeled a “deflector”.

I am not going to attempt naming these ruins as I am having trouble matching pictures of signs to pictures of ruins. I didn’t think to photograph the sign for the overlook.

Here is my first look at what I was expecting. Seeing it was an emotional, heartfelt experience. Cliff dwellings really do exist, just like I saw in my school books.

It is not clear why they moved to the cliff alcoves. Weather? Protection from enemies? A roof over their heads? They still farmed on the mesa above.

Please read this Wikipedia brief description of the peoples who inhabited this area over the eons. I found it fascinating – and a lot more depth than what I got from the signs.

Here is a closer look. Even though trees obscure the fact, this village is still far above the canyon floor.

Another closer look.

We saw this Sun Palace from across the canyon.

Later, we found it by road. There was apparently no way inside as we walked around the tall walls. The sign showed us what is inside.

We walked past the pylons into that little square notch just above the You are here dot in the above photo and looked into the apparent entrance holes. I stuck the camera in and took a picture.

This is the view down the canyon from the Sun Palace, so named because of its orientation to the sun. The experts have no idea what this was used for. No household artifacts have been found here.

Another village.

and another closer look.

We did get a closer look at this village we had seen from across the canyon. There were groups of people waiting for their tours. I looked at the steep metal stairs leading down the cliff to get to the village and realized there was no way Andy could make it down – or back up.

That was the morning in Mesa Verde. Then we took off for Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation. The campground in the park was full so we went back out to the KOA near town. Better, because we had a full hookup and running water. This was our view of the moon rising in the early evening. The moon was sharp and clear, not fuzzy like my picture show. Huge monoliths dot the entire landscape, not just in the park.

This one is just as red when the sun was on it.

Here is Scamp tucked in for the night.

September 11, 2019 – Black Canyon to Mesa Verde National Park

We left Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and 0900 and had another epic scenic drive to Mesa Verde National Park. We stopped in Telluride and picked up some sandwiches at the grocery store for lunch on the road. Then we continued on to Mesa Verde through more mountain roads and scenery.

This is our first view of the gigantic mesa.

The visitor center fits right into the landscape.

This sculpture is “The Pueblo Potter” made of Indiana Limestone. I was enchanted with her.

Here is another thing I haven’t seen before. Well, I have seen chains used as downspouts. But, this chain goes down to a “bucket” of rocks and into a fancy-grated French drain that directs the water off the plaza.

There were some displays inside including this Mesa Verde pottery.

We watched the movie and then asked about the ruins. There were none to go into that did not require steep hikes, lots of stairs, or very tall ladders. Our option was the driving tour, stopping at overlooks to view the ruins from a distance. I was sorely disappointed but did not want to go on a tour and leave Andy waiting somewhere for a few hours.

This butte, mesa, or mountain was so big, I could not take enough pictures of it.

We had not gone uphill long before we had views like this.

We decided to stop at this overlook for lunch.

Here is a closer look. There was a picnic table under the pavilion, but we chose to sit in the sunshine. The wind was blowing brisk and cool.

This is our lunch view. The sandwiches were good too.

This rattlesnake slithered by while we were eating.

After lunch, we drove to Park Point and walked up the long paved trail to the fire tower. I say that loosely since there was no tower at all. Just the box sitting on top of Park Point. At 8,572 feet it is the highest point in Mesa Verde National Park.

We walked back downhill a bit to the overlook with a big telescope thing to look through.

There was a picture sign identifying the objects and their distances. There were also a few showing what used to be more visible before the air quality decreased. When the park was created in 1906, it was recognized as having “one of the grandest and most extensive views in the country”. One photo showed mountains 152 miles away. Today, the only thing I could make out clearly with the naked eye was Ship Rock 46 miles away.

We had just gotten to the section of the park with the overlooks to see the ruins of cliff dwellings in the alcoves. Andy was anxious about our fuel level so we turned back to town to top off the fuel and postponed the cliff dwelling until tomorrow.

September 10, 2019 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The mule deer were out in the morning.

The park visitor center is an adorable log cabin with a deck on two sides.

Our water tank has sprung a link, so we bought a gallon of water from the grocery store to make coffee when we are not in an RV park with a water hook-up. I topped off the water jug and then Andy filled his Bubba cup at the visitor center.

Of course, we watched the movie before going out to look in the canyon. The visitor center had a few exhibits and some rocks in cases.

Holy cow! Another first for me. Look at that log picnic table. I bet it weighs a ton.

Here is the view of the overlook from the back deck of the visitor center. You can see the split-rail fence where people are walking down to the overlook at the edge of the light brown bluff.

No, it is not the Grand Canyon, but this place is truly awesome. I looked up some statistics:

The Black Canyon is incredibly deep and sheer, with plunging cliffs, soaring buttresses and a thundering river. The following lists will help you understand the physical size of the canyon in comparison to other canyons and man-made structures.

Greatest Depth:
Warner Point
Chasm View
Gunnison Point
2,722 feet (829 m)
1,820 feet (555 m)
1,840 feet (561 m)
Narrowest Width:
At the rim (Chasm View)
At the river (The Narrows)
1,100 feet (335 m)
40 feet (12 m)
Total Lenth of
Black Canyon:
Total Length
Length in National Park
48 miles (77 km)
14 miles (22.5 km)
The River:






Average descent over the entire length of canyon:
43 feet/mile (8 m/km)Greatest decent: Occurs in the park at Chasm View –
240 feet/mile (45 m/km)

There is some interesting history, HERE, if you are interested in the early explorations of the Gunnison.

We walked down the trail from the visitor center.

I got a nice shot of the visitor center sitting at the rim.

Out at the overlook, the Gunnison River is just a sparkly ribbon of water.

At the top, I noticed that the “bushes” were oaks.

Our wildlife sighting was the grasshopper-looking guy sitting in the sun on the trail.

From the top, you have to be right on it before seeing that there is a deep, steep, and rough canyon down there.

We moved on to the next overlook.

This viewpoint is at a wide section of the canyon. The narrowest is only forty feet wide.

We stopped and listened to a ranger talk about rock climbing. This high wall is one of the most popular spots for climbers in this park with dozens of marked climbs (for expert climbers only). I could not see the bottom.

After two overlooks, Andy said he could not walk anymore. We took the rim drive to the end of the road but did not get any more looks into the canyon. I did see the Painted Wall but did not get out of the RV for a better look. Here is one borrowed from the web.

September 9, 2019 – Provo, Utah to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

This was a driving day and I did not take any pictures. Too bad, because the drive from Provo through the Wasatch Mountains on US 6 was amazing. A genuine mountain pass, following the waterway that carved it.

Then we came out into a plain and connected to Interstate 70. As I scanned the enormous landscape, I saw a strange land formation that looked just like the Waterpocket Fold. Then I saw a sign for Capitol Reef National Park and realized IT WAS the Waterpocket Fold.

We passed the road to Moab and Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. I wanted to go back there. We continued on I-70 to Grand Junction in Colorado. There we followed US 50 to Montrose, the closest town to the park.

The park has three loops in the campground and B Loop has electricity! We got one of the last spots.

It was the first time we had a split-level campsite.

There was a bit of a mountain view in the distance, but this picture doesn’t show it.

We were no sooner seated outside in our folding chairs when two mule deer stopped to look us over. They disappeared into the brush before I could pick up the camera.

I was excited about this park because it is a Dark Park, meaning the night sky has more stars than we see elsewhere. The temperature dropped as the sun was setting so we were inside waiting for Dark to come. It never did. A big ole moon was so bright that we could only see one or two stars. Andy got up a 0330 and the moon was low in the sky, behind the trees. We went out and, indeed, saw more stars than we ever see back east, including the Milky Way when our backs were to the moon.