Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cortez, Colorado to Moab, Utah

"Oak Tree House", Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Outside my motel room this morning, a group gathered around the bike. A family from Arkansas, the father has (he thinks) an R1100GS. His daughter said bluntly “you’re crazy!”

Nothing to eat. Left for Mesa Verde National Park about 10:00. It's 10 miles from Cortez to the park entrance, then 20 more in to the park's museum. The road climbs high atop a mesa with dramatic views in all directions.

Mesa Verde's museum is fascinating. I knew nothing of the Anasazi and Pueblo Indians. (During all those years in school, I don't think a minute was devoted to them!) This region thrived as the "Ancestral Pueblo" Indian homeland from 1100 to 1300 A.D.

Exhibits show the clothing, pottery, utensils, tools, weapons, foodstuffs, habitations and art of these Indians. I was amazed at their resourcefulness and ingenuity. And what some would term a "barren landscape" provided most of the raw materials (though a robust trade with other Indian nations introduced some new materials and "technologies".)

Early generations hunted with an "atlatl", a remarkable device that allowed a spear to be thrown with greater force. (It was later replaced by the bow and arrow.)

Not all the roads were open in the park, and some cliff dwellings that are normally accessible were closed today. The roads follow the mesa's edge, below which are found entire villages built into the cliffs.

"Cliff Palace", Mesa Verde National Park

In the early days, the Indian villages were constructed on top of the mesa, but were eventually moved to the cliffs to better defend against attackers. No one knows for certain why they were abandoned about 1300 A.D., but it may have been a result of crop failures. (The cliff dwellers had continued to farm the mesa top.)

Returning to Cortez, I went to Denny’s for a meal, arriving alongside a couple from Farmington, New Mexico riding a Harley. They were formerly of Maine. What a difference! On the way in, the the woman asked "do you want to join us?" For reasons unknown, I declined. My standard Denny's meal was sub-par here. I knew I should have tried a "local" restaurant!

Left Cortez, bound for Monticello, Utah, retracing about 35 miles of highway I had driven yesterday. It was a chilly crossing through the high country, past Dove Creek, a thick blanket of cloud sweeping in from the west. I looked forward to coming down off these mesas! Monticello, Utah is still in high country, on the eastern slopes of 11,000-foot Abajo Peak. It's another town I've been through (a couple of times) in the past, of which I have little recollection. (Though I think I remember it raining here!)

Turned north toward Moab, the wind now at my back. The red rock country scenery along this stretch is amazing. Traffic also amazing! "Where do all these people come from?"

The air grew noticeably warmer as the highway descended toward Moab. A welcome relief.

7:30 PM

Camped along the Colorado River, about 30 miles east of Moab. In 1971, I traveled through here with Drew. We camped along this remote stretch of river. (I think he even went skinny dipping.)

Today, it is designated a “Scenic Byway” (in his honor?) and there are campgrounds filled with tents and motorhomes, boat launching sites, resorts (including the Red Rock Adventure Lodge) and even a vineyard! I guess the designation is better than leaving the land entirely to private development.

Moab is a zoo! Nothing like when I passed through over thirty years ago. Expedition and adventure shops, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking. Hotels are completely filled, There’s an extreme outdoor event, unicycle championship, rodeo and volleyball championship this weekend.

The streets and sidewalks are bustling with outdoorsy-looking people. It's Spring Break for many Colorado students. Cars, trucks and SUVs cruise the highway through town, loaded with bicycles, hauling motorcycles and ATVs in trailers, rooftop racks hold kayaks.

I stopped only long enough to get the hotel situation and fill up on gas.

Campsite on the banks of the Colorado River, east of Moab, Utah

I’m camping illegally, not in a campground. I found a sandy road down the riverbank, branching into several trails leading up and down river. After setting up the tent, I unpacked the stove  and cooked some Thai noodles. I think I’m still using the original isobutane canister (which suggests how rarely I cook!) The noodles and some raw cashews were dinner.

In a narrow canyon with vertical red rock walls, it's a fantastic landscape, even more dramatic than I remember. This is much better than camping along a railroad track! The sound of the river is like a lakeshore, waves lapping over rocks. The atmosphere breezy and dry. I look out and contemplate all this powerful river is subjected to before it finally trickles into the Sea of Cortez.


Dustin said...

good picture...thanks

timtraveler said...


By the way, you've got some great stuff on your website!

(But don't watch too much "O'Reilly Factor". It will rot your mind!)