Archive for August, 2015

Prehistoric America in Mesa Verde National Park.

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

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About 16km from Cortez is the Mesa Verde National Park. This is one of the areas in Colorado that has well preserved buildings and artifacts from the Pueblo Indians. This prehistoric civilisation preceded the Navaho and were in this area 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. However it was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians around 9,500 BC.

The Mesa Verde or Green Table in Spanish, describes the plateau where these ancient civilisations live their semi nomadic lifestyle.

The National Park was created by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s 21,240 ha in area, with 4,000 sites and 600 cliff dwellings.

Montezuma Valley was home to 35,000 Ancestral Puebloan people during the 1200s. The development of the Pueblos or houses took place over many centuries. Starting with pit houses and culminating in the brick built cave dwellings – these brick houses are the main attraction of Mesa Verde.

The Puebloans used an atlati, a form of throwing stick, similar to the woomera of the Australian Aboriginals. They subsequently went on to develop the bow and arrow and learnt how to crop, domesticate animals and make pottery.

It’s amazing the difference a ready supply of wild fruit, vegetables and animals had in their development. That, combined with the contact the Puebloans had with more advanced civilisations from the south, led to them developing a rich diverse culture.

The modern day Hopi and Jumi Indians are the ancestors of the Puebloans.

We travelled along Chapin Mesa, which with the Wetherill Mesa are the two main inhabited areas.

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum has a number of excellent dioramas detailing the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It also contains fine examples of their basket weaving and geometric pottery in black and grey. There were also many stylised animal motifs that are widely used by the locals today – especially in marketing their adventure tours and accommodation.

Our park ticket allowed us to visit Spruce Tree House. This is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings on the Mesa Verde. It shows how the Ancestral Indians built brick ‘apartment blocks’ within the caves below the the Mesa.

These housed many families and were part of a community building program that included the Square House, which has a tall tower of five floors.

We also visited Sun Point View, Cliff Palace View and Cliff Canyon Overlook.

On our second night in Cortez we had dinner at the Main Street Brewery. We had a drink there the night before and I found their craft brews exceptional.

Their food wasn’t shabby either.

It had been suggested to us that because the serves are so large in the US, the best strategy is to share the main course, or entrées, as they are known.

We shared the Smoked Ribs and there was more than enough for two.

Monument Valley, the wild west as we know it.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

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We stayed overnight in Kayenta, which is on the 30,000 acre Navajo Tribal Park and part of the Navajo Reservation. This reservation is the largest in the USA, and covers 16 million acres.

This was the starting point of our Monument Valley drive.

Monument Valley is the archetypical American west, as depicted in many Cowboy and Indian  movies since the 1930s. John Ford movies such as ‘Stagecoach’, 1939 and ‘The Searchers’, 1956. Then there’s the 1969 road-trip cult classic ‘Easy Rider’.

The next morning we drove to Goulding’s Lodge where we picked up an off-road tour to visit the valley.

There are 17 miles of unpaved roads that aren’t accessible with an ordinary car. However I did see a number of sedans, including a convertible Mustang driving along the track.

The tour did take us to some areas that are within Indian private land. This exclusivity was somewhat diminished when our driver/guide had to reprimand some French tourists for trespassing.

Within one such area we were shown some 1,500 year old Petroglyphs.

In the afternoon we drove to Cortez in Colorado, with a slight detour to Four Corners. There are plaques in each state

This is a completely man made attraction, originally established in 1899, that celebrates the border convergence of four states – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

In many ways this is a totally underwhelming experience, but one you have to do if you are in the area.

There is even controversy as to whether the location of Four Corners is geographically accurate.

It’s also a money spinner for the local Navajo as they charge $5 per person for tourists to stand astride four states and have their photo taken doing it.

The Grand Canyon – what the Colorado River carved out of Arizona.

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

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On the road from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon we detoured to Flagstaff and the Red Rock Ranger District, of the Coconino National Forest.

These high escarpments truly are red, especially in contrast to the bright blue sky.

On arrival at the Grand Canyon entrance we were greeted by uniformed staff, complete with ‘Smokey the Bear’ hats.

The Grand Canyon certainly is grand, measuring 446 km long, 29 km wide and 1,857 meters deep. Two billion years of geological history have been revealed as the mighty Colorado carved its way through this part of Arizona.

President Theodore Roosevelt championed the conservation of the canyon but it wasn’t until 1919 that President Woodrow Wilson had it made a National Park.

At 6:30am on our first morning, there was a large brown, very bare looking tree moving outside our cabin window.

It turned out to be an Elk that was grazing on a fir tree.

When you enter the Grand Canyon National Park each vehicle pays $30. This allows you to come and go for one week.

We were staying in the park and only going to be there for one full day but it was still great value.

There is a shuttle bus service, on three routes, that runs around the south rim.

The red route goes as far west as Hermits Rest, while the orange goes east to Yaki Point. The blue route links the Visitors Centre with the Village and the train depot.

We travelled east and west on the south rim, using a combination of shuttle buses and walking.

The Grand View Lookout is where most of the tour groups go. It’s close to the road and easily accessible to most tourists. It has some good views but is also one of the most crowded places on the southern rim.

We moved on quickly.

The Californian Condor, extinct in the wild in 1987, was reintroduced into the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, parts of California and Baja California in Mexico.

This is one of the world’s rarest birds and at last count, in 2014, there were only 425 living wild or in captivity.

Adults have a wingspan of 3m and they can live up to 60 years.

We were lucky enough to see two sitting on a ledge.

On our first night we ate at the El Tovar Hotel and got chatting to our waiter.

I was interested as to how waiters earn a crust in the US.

We had been told that ‘wait staff’ or ‘servers’, as they are known barely earn enough to survive on, so tips make a huge difference.

What we didn’t know was that the lead waiter shares his/her tips with other wait staff and people in the kitchen.

No wonder they are so pleasant and little wonder that the minimum tip starts at 18%.

On our last morning we dropped into some viewing spots to the east of where we were staying. The Desert View Watch Tower was one of the most interesting.

Built in 1939, it was designed by Mary Coulter (1869-1958). Ms Coulter was a rare breed, being one of the few female architects of her time.

She did much of her work in the Grand Canyon National Park for the Fred Harvey Company, with its origins dating back to 1875, Fred Harvey built hotels and restaurants along the the rail routes in the western United States.