Sunday, September 17, 2023

Fremont Indian State Park, Utah, July 16, 2023

Fremont Indian State Park is just off of I-70, about 17 miles from where east of where the Interstate starts, at I-15. During construction of I-70, in the 1980s, archeological evidence of ancient habitation was uncovered. Following excavation, the village was large either re-intered, or removed. The petroglyphs (carved in rock) and pictographs (painted on rock), however, remained in the canyons.

In the case of that first photo, in fact, the painting is so large it is visible even if you are speeding along on I-70.

Some glyphs date relatively recently, to the Paiute who passed through the area in the between 1400 and the late 1800s, while some date back to the Fremont People, roughly a thousand years ago.

Many large panels are visible in the short, paved trail behind the visitor center. Some are up a bit in height, so binoculars or a telephoto lens is helpful. Indeed, one wonders if there were rocks closer to the cliffs, or if the original artists used ladders of some sort to paint so high.

Photos are also helpful because you can later crop and zoom in to see some sections of the panel in better detail. For example, the third and fourth photos of this post are crops of the second shot.

The interpretive signs nearby stated that the higher glyphs were written after the lower ones. But it is interesting to know that, by the time the more recent paintings and carvings were made, the oldest were well over 500 years old!

There are several shortish walks you can take, some more well-defined than others. There are also dirt roads, either travelable by passenger cars, or, in some cases, ATVs. That brings you to more rock art, so if you have the time, you can do some exploring and look for lesser-known displays.

There are also a few cave or alcove paintings, where a metal fence keeps you out, to protect the art. In one case, where the art is on the interior wall of an alcove, there's a parabolic mirror so you can see the inside wall of that alcove. You could also reach in with your camera and snap some shots, for a clearer photo of the art. Looks like I didn't include any pictures of that, though.

Finally, there are several areas were you can park along the road and scanned the high cliffs above. Again, a telephoto lens or binoculars are helpful. Can't always find all of the art referenced in the interpretive signs, though.

The park is pretty small, so unless you plan to take longer walks along ATV trails, you can see all of the major exhibits in a pretty easy day. In that respect, it's not necessary a destination so much as a place to make as a day trip from other areas nearby, or as an extended stop on a longer trip through the area. In my case, it was a long day trip from Cedar City. It's the same trip I looked at wildflowers and did some night sky photography in Cedar Breaks National Monument.

I had started thinking about a visit here as sort of a tie-in to my Mesa Verde trip, which occupied the last five posts of this blog. I also gave it serious thought as a possible destination to view the Annular Solar Exclipse of October 14, 2023. My initial hope was to combine that with a trip to Capital Reef, which I had only visited, briefly, once before. Of course, like here, Capitol Reef has a lot of roadside rock art.

But then my wife had limited vacation time available, so I thought maybe here, instead.

In fact, they are planning a "view" event here for the annular eclipse. But, by July, I had already made a commitment to the Night Sky Festival, and Joshua Tree National Park. Still, thought my wife might like to join in on a rock art hunt.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Mesa Verde to Navajo National Monument, Arizona, July 3, 2023

Mesa Verde National Park is in southwestern Colorado, not very close to any Interstate highways. But it's a relatively manageable two day drive from southern California to get there early enough for the 3pm tour of Cliff Palace. It would have been an easy two day drive, but construction in the Virgin River Gorge makes that drive unpredictable.

The return would also take two days. The first day was going to go all the way to the Las Vegas area. But, along the way, was Navajo National Monument.

From Cortez, we took U.S. 160 east. As we reached the far southwestern bit of Colorado, we could again see Shiprock, in New Mexico, off to the south. We probably got no closer than 25 miles away. I just pulled to the shoulder, walked across the highway, and snapped some shots. The first shot was relatively wide; the second, a long telephoto. This was probably about 12 miles from Four Corners.

We continued west, past Kayenta, and on to AZ 564. About 9 miles north on 564 takes you to Navajo National Monument.

From the visitor center, the main trails head right out the back. That's because this park, like many with archeological artifacts, is a sunrise to sunset park.

The short, 1.3 mile roundtrip trail to the overlook for the Betatakin ruins is paved or on wood planks, so it's semi-accessible. Probably too steep in parts to qualify as handicapped accessible, but pretty easy, with just a slight descent to the overlook. In the morning, the alcove with the dwellings is at least partially in shade. A telephoto lens or binoculars are highly recommended

Getting closer requires a guided tour with NPS personnel, but you'd have to get there at 7am, which would be really hard unless you're staying right there, so the tours generally do not fill.

There's a separate, overnight tour to a different ruin, Keet Seel. Obviously, I did neither tour.

Instead, once back near the visitor center, I headed down the Aspen trail. It's reported as .8 mile roundtrip, but with a 300 foot descent in that short distance. The trail is NOT paved, but with steps in sections. At the end is a pretty overlook into the canyon that contained Betatakin. And right below you is a relict forest of aspen and Douglas fir, a remnant of when the area had a cooler and wetter climate.

After completing the hike, I changed clothes behind my car (took off my long pants and shirt I wear for sun protection when I'm hiking, and put on shorts and a t-shirt for driving). I drove off, not noticing that my cell phone was sitting on my hood. My Prius hood slopes such that you can't see the top from the driver's seat. Phone flew off at about 55mph as I headed down 564. The phone, a Samsung S21, somehow managed to survive, so I was able to photograph the Navajo Taco I ate in Cameron Trading Post, an hour and a half later.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Mesa Verde, Besides the Petroglyphs and the Cliff Dwellings, July 2-3, 2023

This is a non-exhaustive collection of photos, other than those I took on the Petroglyph Point hike, and on the Balcony House and Cliff Palace Tours. There are still lots of photos I'm not posting, and a good chunk of the park we didn't visit. In particular, Wetherill Mesa is closed due to road construction this year, and I did not hike the trails around the campground.

That first shot up there was the view from behind the visitor center, at the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. One place to get info, although the inside can be crowded at opening time. The little walk around the visitor center was basically just me, though. Nice view of Lookout Point, a very prominent sight.

The second shot was of Shiprock, New Mexico, from atop Park Point, the highest spot in Mesa Verde National Park. That's a short 1/3 of a mile or so up a paved walkway, to a fire lookout. Shiprock, a volcanic plug, is about 45 miles away from Park Point. One of these days, I'd like to see it much closer.

The next five shots are from around the Far View Complex. Numerous dwellings, farm areas, and reservoirs from over a 300 year period preceding the cliff dwelling phase.

The Far View complex is a bit past the modern Far View Lodge, the only in-park motel, with accompanying restaurants and gift shops. Never stopped there, but I later learned it's not terribly expensive, and would save a bit of driving versus staying in Cortez, CO. But I have a bucketload of Wyndham Rewards points, so my wife and I stayed in the Days Inn in Cortez. It's only 14 minutes from there to the park entrance, but 45 minutes from there to the Far View Lodge. So you'd save about 90 minutes of driving a day if you stayed in the park's inn, but you'd have more limited food options.

At any rate, the turnout for Far View Complex (the ruins) was not super-well signed. It showed there was a road coming in, but I don't recall if a sign actually told you what that road was for, so I seem to recall blowing by it and having to make a U-turn to get to Far View. Short road, that ends in a small loop, with room for only a handful of cars around the tiny loop.

If you park there, Far View ruin is right there. A trail from there heads north, past a small tower, the remains of an ancient reservoir, and then Megalith House, which has a sort of metal barn built over the excavation site (it's a pit house, that mostly went below ground, for "free" insulation).

Another trail loops from there to Coyote Village, to the south. I took a less-than direct route there. Still, all told, maybe 1/2 mile of walking to visit all parts of the Far View Complex.

Finally, on the Mesa Top Loop, along with the stuff around Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace, there are numerous other overviews of various near and distant cliff dwellings. The most of impressive, to me, was Square House. And that's just because you can't see it from the road, but a short, paved walk takes you out, and, all of a sudden, you're practically right above Square House. I think it's the closest you can get to any of the cliff dwellings on Chapin Mesa (Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa being the two main mesas of Mesa Verde with cliff dwellings in the alcoves beneath the rim).

So this and the previous two posts were from the recent Fourth of July weekend. But that's not all! One more post upcoming from that weekend, for Navajo National Monument, in northern Arizona. Then I'll still have Fremont Indian State Park, plus, for August, several hikes in the eastern Sierra, and Black Mountain in Sloan Canyon NCA in NV, and, for September, at least one hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Won't be able to get all those posted before I hope to have a few more hikes to blog about.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, July 2, 2023

Similar to my last post, this little walk also required an $8 tour ticket, which meant logging in to at 7am MDT, two weeks before the hike date, and trying to snag my slots. Actually succeeded the first time, as opposed to Balcony House, where I originally could only get one slot and had to keep reloading, before eventually lucking into a second slot in the same tour time.

As noted in the previous post, tickets were hard to come by, in part, because the target date was over the Fourth of July weekend. This was also early season, and tours of these ruins were unavailable the previous year, due to construction on the mesa. As a result, there may have been some serious pent up demand. In checking on recently, getting slots in the next two weeks would have been pretty easy, especially if you avoided a Saturday.

Unlike Balcony House, you can actually see Cliff Palace from the start of this hike. You can see the earlier tours down there, and clearly see how far down you need to go. Unlike Balcony House, there is no crawling involved, and far fewer stairs and ladders. The latter, especially, means less exposure (less of a chance of a serious fall), but also means that claustrophobia and acrophobia should be less of an issue. However, there is more walking among narrow gaps, which means a slower walker in front of you will slow the whole group down.

Our ranger walked us down into an alcove, then described the site largely from within the shade of an alcove. It was hot in July, but not super hot, on account of the altitude. It's mostly 6500-7500 feet among the cliff ruins.

Cliff Palace is significantly larger and taller than Balcony House, and better preserved. However, we weren't allowed to go deep into the ruin; we just stayed on the front end.

After speaking for several minutes in the alcove, the group was directed over to the far side of the ruin. I took a number of pictures along the way.

Once at the far end, and partially shaded by some pine trees, you could see several of the large kivas, and we learned more about how those worked, and why they were there. Took some pictures during the talk, and some after we dispersed.

Then, exit time. The way out obviously required about as much altitude gain as we had lost on the way in. So it's non-trivial climb, at a moderately high altitude. And, as with the way in, the walk way out was generally going to be singled file, along narrow rocky steps.

One neat thing is that you could see some tiny footholds chistled out of the rock, adjacent to the larger, modern steps. That's how the original inhabitants came and went. Kind of made you wonder how often they fell on the way into and out of their cliff-side homes.

Once back at the top, your car is still on a one-way loop. Near the end of the loop is the start of the hike to Balcony House, so if you're planning to do both tours during your stay, you'll know where both begin. Helpful to keep that in mind, that when you drive out there, Balcony House is at the end of the loop, so a little longer to get to that you might have thought. Don't want to be late for your tour!

At the end of your loop, you're back near Spruce Tree House, again. So, again, that's your place for flush restrooms, food, drinks, and gifts.

Distance is again given as 1/4 of a mile. It's probably a bit more than that, but not particularly long. Not too strenuous, although the return climb may slow you down. If you think you're going to be slow, you can check with the ranger about starting up earlier or later. Because it's so narrow, no one can pass you if you need to rest on the way up. By contrast, there are several wider spots on the return up and down to Balcony House, so if you need to rest, you can stand aside and let others pass.

In that respect, although Balcony House is considered more strenuous, other than the crawl and the length of the first ladder up, I don't think it's tougher than Cliff Palace.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Balcony House and Soda Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado -- Hiked July 3, 2023

One of several hikes I took over the Fourth of July weekend, this post covers both the Balcony House tour and the Soda Canyon overlook hike, which lets you see Balcony House from across the canyon. The former has a distance given of 1/4 of a mile, though it feels a bit longer than that. The latter has a given distance of 1.2 miles roundtrip, though it also seems perhaps a bit longer.

As always, clicking on the pictures gives you a larger version of the image. Most are still reduced in size for faster uploading, but the last picture is a slightly larger file, just to give you a big enough view to see some of the details.

Mesa Verde is obviously known for its ancient (ca. 1300) cliff dwellings, although there are older (ca. 1100-1300) archeological sites on the mesa tops, as well. Most of the cliff dwellings can only be seen up close via a National Park Service tour. Tickets are currently $8 each, and can be reserved up to two weeks in advance.

Practically-speaking, early summer, and, especially on a holiday weekend, they will sell out within minutes of when they go on sale, at 7am Mountain Time, two weeks before the tour date. So I made sure to be on line and ready, with a account, promptly at sale time, two weeks before this tour, and before the Cliff Palace tour I also wanted to be on.

You need to select your desired tour location and time and number of tickets, then place it in your "cart." Then you have fifteen minutes to complete your purchase. If you don't, the slots are released back into the pool, and someone else can try to get them. This means that, again, in my experience, within five minutes of 7am, all but the occasional single slot is in someone's cart. However, since I suspect several people in groups will simultaneously log on and try to save spots for various times, with the first or best times for the group are purchased, and the remaining spot purchases are not completed, so spots will start returning (BRIEFLY!) to the pool by about 7:16am. Here, they were snapped up promptly. So start checking a few weeks or days before your desired time goes on sale, just to get an idea of demand. And if they're going instantaneously, don't dally on your login day!

Additionally, as people's travel plans change, some slots will continued to be returned to the pool as people cancel their reservations for a partial refund. Again, if you find some, don't dally. Also, single slots are more common than large groups, so if it's just a few of you, you might wish to take the single slot when you can, and return to find additional singles at the same or adjacent times.

[Note as I check today for slots into September, I find lots of slots available for most days, so apparently it's less of an issue in late summer. Also, the dwelling tours here were not available last year due to road construction, so there may have been pent up demand.]

Tours start at the top of the cliff above Balcony House. You can't actually see Balcony House from there, of course; the cliff is in the way! You walk a bit on a paved path, then come to a gate, which the ranger will have to open. Then there's a hell of a lot of metal steps down, to another paved walk way. That brings you to a tall, 30-40 foot tall wooden ladder.

The ladder takes you to a beautiful "patio" view, with cliff dwellings on one side and the canyon on the other. There's a four foot tall wall separating you from the cliff.

On the "left" side of the patio is a wall with windows, where you can see where the second landing area will be. After hearing the ranger describe what's on your side, you'll go up a short ladder, along some rocky steps, and through to that other dwelling area. Large kivas are on that side.

More information there, then the exit. This entails a little scuttle along some rocks, then crawling along a passage between a pair of walls. The description of it being a passage, 18-inches wide and 12-20 feet long is not literal, since you can stand at least partially up as you go between the two walls.

You exit on to another "patio," a fair-sized flat area. Only way out from there is a ladder, so you'll have to do some climbing, again. At the top of that first ladder, you then scuttle along some steps, carved into the rock. There's a secured chain to keep you from plummeting to your death.

From this perspective, you'll see a narrow wall constructed between the cliff and a large boulder. The residents used existing "walls," where practical.

Next, there's another significant ladder, followed by more trail, either paved or over rock. Then, another gate. Another ranger will be there to let you out.

There's a fun little video of this tour, here.

It's not really "Indiana Jones," but it definitely not just a walk. Obviously, if you have an issue with heights or confined spaces, this tour is not for you.

Balcony House is well-preserved, but not as large or well-preserved as "Cliff Palace," the other nearby cliff dwelling where tours are possible. Currently, "Spruce Tree House" cannot be visited, due to the danger of rockfalls.

After walking along the top walkway back to our car, we continued along the Mesa Top Ruins Road to the Soda Canyon trailhead. As previously-noted, it's a reported 1.2 mile out and back hike to an overlook, where you can see the Balcony House Ruins face-on. If you click on that last photo in the post, you'll see the ascending ladder below and to the right of the ruins, and the final exit ladder up and to the left of the ruins, on the other side of that big, partially-separated rock slab.

Returning to the ruins road, a short drive takes you back to the Spruce Tree House area. The trailhead for the Spruce Canyon and Petroglyph Point trails is here, as are a museum, flush toilets, gift shops, and a cafe.

The Navajo tacos in the cafe are far from authentic, but good enough for a hungry version of me.

There are numerous other overlooks to other cliff and mesa top dwellings on this branch of the loop, which you will likely want to visit, either coming on going. The Square House Ruin, in particular, was neat, because when you finally do see it, it's closer than the other cliff dwellings you can see from the cliff top.

From the Fourth of July weekend trip, I still need to blog the Cliff Palace tour, some of the mesa top ruins and other short hikes, and Navajo National Monument.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Petroglyph Point, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, July 3, 2023

About a 2.2 mile loop that starts and ends at the Spruce House overlook. One of several hikes I took while in Mesa Verde. I did this one on the morning of the third, before doing the Balcony House tour.

This is a loop, which could be walked either clockwise or counter-clockwise. The NPS suggests counter-clockwise. If doing it that way, you start off from near the archeology museum/park offices and head down, towards Spruce Tree House, then turn right. In the past, a trail ran from here up to Spruce Tree House, but that trail has been closed for about a decade, due to the threat of a massive rock fall on to Spruce Tree House.

From there, the trail runs along the west wall of Spurce Canyon. (A separate trail runs along the canyon bottom). You are treated to impressive vews down the canyon, but have no view of Spruce Tree House from down this trail.

Parts of the trail are quite narrow. You pass at least one small stone structure, likely for grain storage, along the way.

I passed several hikers along the way, but it was pretty empty for most of the way. It's always surprising how, no matter how many people are at the start of a trail, it usually thins out pretty quickly once you get away (Delicate Arch in Arches National Park was an exception to that, of course!).

The funny part is, I almost blew right by the petroglyphs. There was a gathering of people, who seemed to be just resting in the shade. So I had to keep my eyes on the path, to avoid stepping on people or slipping as I picked my way between the rocks.

I got to the other side of these peole and came across a sign saying, "Museum," and an arrow. "Well, that doesn't make any sense," I thought to myself. Then I looked back and saw the petroglyphs.<\p>

Took many pictures, and some video (the voices on the video, talking about a selfie? I volunteered to take their shot. Hopefully, it came out good!

Then, as previously noted, right after the petroglyphs is a sign for the museum, meaning you're already sort of on the backstretch of your hike. There's a single bit of class two or class three (not too hard to scramble up, but would potentially be tricky to scramble down, since your feet have no eyes).

After that, it's mostly level, and largely exposed to the sun. You're walking on the mesa top. No views of Spruce House, again, because of the sandstone cliffs, but some views of the canyon, before passing through short forests and occasional patches of grass. Then you cross over the top of the canyon, where a small check dam creates a flat crossing, and you're back on the other side of the canyon. You can again see Spruce Tree House. Then you're done.

In addition to the museum at the top, across the parking lot is a cafe and flush toilets. Good place to get lunch, if you didn't bring anything with you. I ordered "Navajo Tacos." They're crap compared to "real" Navajo Tacos, but they were about what I would expect from an NPS concessionaire.

Not sure how many posts I'll break the Mesa Verde trip up into, but I figure at least 2-3 more, then Navajo National Monument, which we hit on the way back towards California.