USA 2017 Part Two

Leaving  Lake Powell, Page behind us, we headed toward Monument Valley. First stop is to view the cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument in Arizona. Navajo lands cover over 27,000 square miles. The cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) people of the Southwestern United States are just a tiny part of the wonderous varying landscape. Once at the visitors centre it is a reasonable walk to the overhanging  platform. Here you can view the dwellings surrounded by beautiful countryside. At 66yrs I found the walk quite easy and well worth the effort. I believe there are also several walks which take you down further into the valley floor.

We move on now toward our next destination. On the drive approaching Monument Valley you get a little taste of the magnificence of the Buttes (flat-topped, steep-sided towers of rock) reaching toward the sky. Buttes are created through the process of erosion, the gradual wearing of earth by water, wind, and ice. There are several accommodation options outside Tribal Park, but we chose this time to stay up close and booked 2 nights at The View Hotel. It is situated on the edge of the park blending in with the natural red earth and towering buttes surrounding it. Our room was at the south end, it was beautiful and spacious with a huge balcony looking straight onto the brilliance of the park. We then ventured out to master the valley drive, a 17-mile loop road of dirt and gravel within the confines of the park. It is difficult to describe the uniqueness of the area. The colours and shadows change completely at every angle. The stark red against the cloudless blue sky is magic. The earth is desolate and yet seems alive and active. There is a spattering of primitive homes throughout the area and a small trading post shop. With every twist and turn in the road a new and amazing view is revealed.

We hurried back so as not to miss the opportunity for a little sunset photography. Before venturing out we opened a bottle of wine and stood on the balcony marvelling at the vision before us. We meandered through the grounds, photographing, and waiting for the sunset which did not disappoint. Absolutely mesmerising and stealthily quiet atmosphere as the Sun slowly headed to the other side of the world and allowed the gigantic rocks to sleep for the night. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was simple but tasty food with a casual atmosphere, (note no alcohol as the Navajo have a strict policy regarding the serving of alcohol).

The next day we were booked on a tour with a Navajo guide. We were wondering if we had wasted our money as we thought we had seen the park already. Our young guide led us to an open windowed jeep and headed off to the gated parts of the park we had not previously seen. It was interesting to hear of the structure of the Navajo community regarding their laws and the expectations of their people. We were part of a small group, only six of us and therefore we were able to experience the Navajo ways up closely. We were able to visit a typical hut dwelling and see some authentic weaving. Watched the Navajo ponies in their natural environment and visited some sacred sites. Discovering more details about the archaeology and the anthropology of the landscape proved very interesting. The guide was informative, easy to relate to and a wealth of knowledge. We were thoroughly entertained and educated the whole time. We returned to the hotel, on the way watching the Sun setting slowly behind the Buttes. Early the next morning we were able to witness a spectacular sunrise. The atmosphere was beautiful. Everyone waiting for the first light to hit the ground. Anyone who has watched a sunrise will know the calmness that envelopes you.

It was sad to leave such a captivating place. A quick trip to the Visitors Centre to purchase something to remember the experience and back on the road again.

We head up to cross the border again into Utah making our way to The Mexican Hat (a huge pile of red rock with a large flat rock sitting on top). Close by we visited Gooseneck State reserve which sits  about a 1000 ft above the San Juan River. It is a fantastic place, quite vast, dry, and deserted with the river weaving in and out of huge grey rock structures. After this we drove via the Moki Dugway which is a steep, gravel road traversing 1,200 feet from the valley floor to the top of Cedar Mesa. It is not very wide and zig zags back and forth continuously. Quite a scary drive fearing the presence of a large RV or truck heading toward us with nowhere to go. I have included a photo from the internet as we were unable to stop to photograph on the way up. We lived to tell the tale and headed straight onto the Natural Bridges National Monument again crossing over into Utah.

Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honour of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home. There is a great little visitor centre which was very informative. On the road again, we headed to Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The park has some of the best preserved ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the US. You will find a lot of information on the history of this area on google which is fascinating reading. We were booked on a  guided tour the next day which was superb.

Starting with a bus drive around the surrounding area, visiting ancient Pit Houses and Pueblos (AD700-795). After a reasonably easy descent to the ruins, we were able to wander through the site and photograph the cliff dwellings. Once again, we were fortunate to have a great guide who offered plenty of information and amusing stories about the ancient inhabitants. We completed taking our photographs and headed to the way out. They had warned us at the beginning that the exit from the ruins may be difficult, so we were prepared for a challenge. It turned out to be straight up several daunting ladders, squeezed in between the rocks weaving through some very tight spots. I must admit the ordeal was a little harrowing but extremely rewarding once we reached the top.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and after a shower we headed to the lodge restaurant for a well-earned scrumptious meal by the window overlooking the surrounding area, finishing with a cocktail on the outside rooftop platform. The next morning, we headed to Window Rock in Arizona. This is a beautifully designed park with interesting monuments and a great walk to view the large natural opening known as Window Rock.

The next step in our journey required us to travel to Socorro in New Mexico via Albuquerque. There was a couple of little walks and displays we discovered on the way, but the main attraction was The VLA (Very Large Array, a radio telescope). Astronomy is a passion of my husbands and to see this site was quite amazing. In a sparse area on the plains of San Agustin, 50 miles west of Socorro, stands one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of  27 radio antennas in a Y shaped configuration with each antenna being 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The first antenna arrived at the site in 1975. When the moveable antennas are spaced furthest apart that they can be, it is able to make very high-resolution measurements that can pinpoint objects in space very accurately.

The VLA is a monumental site which you are not likely to forget easily. There is a self-guided tour which allows a close look at one of the antennas. After a multitude of photographs had been secured, we took a quick look around the visitor’s centre ending our visit very satisfied.

PHOTOS Inserted here.

Come back and join me on the next blog where Ken and I visit White Sands, some observatories, Carlsbad Caverns and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

USA Trip 2017-Part one.

Nevada, Utah and Arizona

This was a trip Ken and I took just after we sold our business and moved to our current house. We had visited the USA back in 1997 with our youngest daughter. This trip exhausted our budget and with a retail business it would be another 10 years before we could afford our next trip. We decided this time to spend more time in the midwest while encompassing the eclipse of the sun in Casper Wyoming.

There are a lot of places we visited which are not listed on this map as google would not allow me. I am sure you get the picture. It was a big trip and for the purpose of this blog I will only give the highlights and I will do it over a series of blogs. I have to say at this point, our accommodation was varied, mainly 3 or 4 star motels. Rooms were always clean and staff pleasant on all occasions. Some were beautiful laid out and others standard. Food was plentiful and of reasonably good standard. Car travel around the West and Midwest of USA is easy. Roads are all fantastic. So we begin our journey.

We flew into Los Angeles and moved quickly onto Las Vegas where we stayed at New York New York Hotel. We had been to Las Vegas before so it had lost the wow factor that you experience on your first visit. It is however worth the trip as the hotels are unique, opulent, entertaining and nothing like you will see elsewhere. Our main aim in Las Vegas this time was to see the Hoover Dam and the outskirts of Las Vegas. We were not disappointed, We did a tour of the power station and then walked over the bridge.The whole experience was very informative and interesting. Photos do it little justice. We then travelled through some absolutely stunning countryside via Moapa Valley, Red Canyon and Dixie National Forest to reach Bryce Canyon. Again this was somewhere we had briefly visited before. At the time it was snowing and was stunning to see the red rock against the white snow. We were really looking forward to seeing it without snow coverage. We were ecstatic as it is a breathtaking place in any season. We spent many hours walking above and down into the vast array of red pinnacles jutting up from the earth with the green of the trees giving a stark contrast. We highly recommend a visit to Bryce Canyon. Proceeded on through Kaibab National Forest,a serene drive with a corridor of continuous rows of dark green pine trees to our next stop the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Having previously visited Grand Canyon and all its enormity we were intrigued as to what this aspect would offer. No disappointment here. The first views from Bright Angel point right through to Point Imperial, the highest point of the Grand Canyon were all spectacular with all of the walks being easy and rewarding.

From there we made our way to Page via the Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Highway, Marble Canyon. On this drive even though the cliffs are distant it is stunning to see the depth of colour changing before your eyes with the sun and clouds creating a beautiful serene drive through the valley. At Marble Canyon we stopped at the historical Navajo Bridge. This bridge was opened in 1929 and at that time it was the highest steel arch bridge in the world. Progress saw the need for a second bridge with the first then becoming a foot bridge. The purpose and construction is well documented in the local museum. The view of the stunning jade blue of the free flowing Colorado river below is worth the walk across the bridge. Near to our destination we made a stop at Horseshoe Bend Overlook. A small sandy hill starts the flat rock hardened trail to the edge of the cliff face. There were no guard rails or safety barriers around the rim which proved a little scary in places. The drop down is 1000 feet and there have been several deaths reported. I do understand from Google that there is a fenced viewing area now. It is a picturesque place and worth the effort. We are now on the last leg of this part of the trip. We stayed at Page for a couple of nights, there is many places surrounding and it is quite an established vacation town. Our first visit was to check out the town and Lake Powell itself. The Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado river is 220m high and was built from 1956-1966 by US Bureau of Reclamation. Lake Powell is considered one of the largest man made reservoirs in the U.S.Its impact on the Grand Canyon and other ecological changes has been much debated over the years. That afternoon we had Antelope Canyon was on the agenda. It is a protected by the Navajo Parks and recreation and only authorised tours can be arranged. Navajo Indians are the tour guides. Tour begins on an open air 4 wheel drive tour truck for a bumpy 20 minute journey to the canyon.The guide then walks the party through the slot canyons pointing out favourable photography spots and giving a running commentary on how the canyons developed. The light streaming in through small crevices in the ceiling creates a magical atmosphere. Once through the 800 metres of spectacularly formed walls of varying contours swirling in and out and around, you finally emerge to the outside surrounds with a picturesque resting spot.I understand in todays tours a further walk is given around the canyon to the exit. We however returned to walk back through this wonderful natural phenomena. Last but by no means least for this part of the journey was a visit to a lesser know area at Big Water visitor centre about 20 minutes north of Page. The centre is one of 4 in the Grand Staircase Escalante national monument. This particular centre focus’ on the early geologic and paleontological discoveries within the area.It was well presented, knowledgeable staff and good exhibitions. Interesting as it was what we were looking for was directions to see the Toadstool Hodoos trailhead. With directions in hand we headed off to see what we could find. The trail which could be easily missed starts a short drive further along Highway 89. It is a flat walk following a small river-let winding in and out. Eventually we get to the Hoodoos. Quite a surprising scene opens up before us. The Hoodoos are formed by Dakato Sandstone boulders sitting on Entrada sandstone pedestals. Over millions of years the softer Entrada sandstone is eroded away leaving a boulder sitting on top resembling a mushroom. Each one is unique in its form. The area surrounding has varying colours, primarily large white cavernous rocks dotted with red toadstools. It is an absolute secret gem not to be missed. Best visited early morning or late afternoon to avoid visitors and the heat. You will see these formations in other area’s of Utah but this particular trail has a good concentration of them and felt isolated and untouched when we visited.

Every place we have visited so far has been spectacular in its own special way. I hope you enjoy the gallery of photos below.Most of these were taken by Ken as he is able to catch the beauty much better than I can.

This is where I will take a pause until the next blog as the next destination was Monument Valley and then Mesa Verde which were both highlights of this trip.

Please feel free to ask any questions or make comments. Feedback is always good. Thank you for reading.