Saturday, September 22, 2012

Edge of the Cedars and Hovenweep

We got up at 7:00 am Saturday morning.  We really appreciated having organized so much the day before.  It made breakdown that much easier.  Put everything we hadn't already packed into the car out on the picnic table.  Ate some grapenuts with that handy milk you don't have to refrigerate.  Brilliant move by Vicki.

A man who had had to camp across the road overnight asked if we were leaving and if he could have our site.  I said yes, we're off as soon as we get packed up.  We were getting pretty good at it.
Once again, the vinyl cover for the camper was cold and didn't quite stretch all the way over the back.  The trick for that is to get it out in the sun down the road a bit, and then pull over and stretch it out.

We drove through Moab and headed out on the open desert road.   Not terribly far down the road is Wilson Arch, which I didn't know about.  I pulled over to take a picture or two and stretch the tarp over the camper.  I had left the camera on 3200 speed from the night before and forgot about it.  I hate when I do that. The pictures ended up turning out lousy.  We also drove by a tourist attraction called "Hole In The Rock".  Didn't know what it was, and wasn't that interested.

We were headed to Mesa Verde, and planning to stop at Hovenweep Monument along the way.  We had Puebloan ruins to see.

As we got closer to Blanding, we kept noticing signs for an "Edge of the Cedars State Park".  The landscape continued to be that harsh, uniniviting, semi-barren, waterless expanse of scrubby cedars and ephedra.  Who would want to have a picnic out there?  But as we got into Blanding, we saw signs for a visitors center ... I think it mentioned Hovenweep and Edge of the Cedars, so we stopped there.

Glad we did.  It was a nice visitors center with some artifacts displays and re-creations of frontier life in the Utah Desert.  I asked about Hovenweep, and the lady there said if we were going to Hovenweep and Mesa Verde, we just *had* to go to Edge of the Cedars, which was only a few blocks away (I thought we had passed it several miles back).

Turns out it's an Indian ruin as well, with an impressive museum of Puebloan artifacts from around Utah and Colorado.  We drove the few blocks through Blanding to it.  Oddly, it was at the end of a suburban style neighborhood.  Seemed so out of place.

The museum was great.  We probably spent over an hour just going through it, looking at pottery, weapons, tools, clothing ... turkey feather blankets (fascinating -- and brilliant) reading about how they were found, how they were made, and how the modern Puebloan people still have these things in their history and know how they were made, Puebloan culture, Kivas, Kokopelli ... Then right before you go outside to see the ruin, there's a large room with glass windows in the walls showing shelves full of pottery, and a computer database you could browse through in the hallway while you looked through the window to tell you what you were looking at.

After looking at a display talking about the various incarnations of the Kokopelli figure and how ... we mostly have it wrong.

We went outside.

It was a small community ruin, with no above-ground roofs intact, but the Kiva had been fully restored ... and they let you go down in it.  There were very few people there - so we got the place to ourselves for quite a while.

But we really did need to move on to get to Hovenweep and eventually Mesa Verde.
So we got back in the car, and headed to Hovenweep.

Hovenweep is on Navajo land. There are signs on the road that tell you you are entering Indian Nation land.   You see lone houses, very sparse.  And some in clusters.  Very depressed.  Sadly ... kind of trailer-parky. 

Don't take this the wrong way, I am fascinated by Native American Cultural History - but it is very sad what these people have become if this area is any indication.  You can almost tell when you've entered Indian land.

You remember the old commercial where someone throws some trash out the window and there's an indian standing by the side of the road and a tear rolls down his cheek?  Well, sadly, it seems the roles have been reversed.  When we entered Indian lands, the first thing we noticed was a marked increase in roadside litter.  Fast food containers, soda boxes, beer cans and boxes ... I chalk it up to depression.

We pressed on, past the Hatch Trading Post, starting to wonder where the heck this place was, but the GPS insisted it knew the way, and I have found it to be trustworthy.

When we got there, we found that since it was a National Monument, Vicki's lifetime National Park Pass got us in for free.


It was pretty warm.  The ruins themselves basically ring a canyon, and the 2 mile trail goes around the rim of the canyon, ending in a descent to the bottom and a hike back up.  Most of the buildings were round and square "towers" and structures much like the one out in the middle of the desert at Edge of the Cedars.  The surrounding landscape is scrubby desert vegetation.  At the head of the canyon was slick rock and the surrounding mesa drained to it.  It must be a spectacular waterfal when it rains, and imagine they got water from the bottom of the canyon during drier periods.

After stopping at Edge of the Cedars and spending an additional 2 or 3 hours here, we really needed to move on to Mesa Verde and get a campsite and set up the popup.

Hovenweep is practically in Colorado - I think the National Park office that operates it is, in fact, somewhere around Cortez, which is the gateway to Mesa Verde.   We headed northeast into Colorado making it maybe five miles instead of the mile and a half into Colorado if we were flying.    I think it was about 20 miles to 491, and then we cruised toward Cortez, and caught 160 east to the park.

As we got closer, we could see fingers jutting out from the "cuesta" (mesa verde isn't actually technically a mesa) in the distance even before we got to Cortez, and it was maybe 10 miles from there to the park entrance.

The actual entrance to the park is several miles from the store/gas station/laundry & showers, and it's a couple of miles past there to the campground loops.   I thought we would have an assigned campsite, but we didn't.  We had a reservation, but the reservations are first-come first serve.  We looked through the loops.  We could have shown up a bit earlier.  Not surprisingly, the nicer campsites (the ones with decent sized trees on the west side) were taken.  There was a handicap campsite right across from the bathroom that had nice trees ... but, of course ... we're not.  And there were some well-protected tent sites, but they weren't for trailers.  Our little trailer, small as it is, is considered an RV.

We ended up picking a spot for the trees by the picnic table.  Had we known the fire pad was not actually a fire pit, but a grill for charcoal that you couldn't tip up.  We'd've picked the next one over.  But we didn't figure that out until later.

We started to set up, and the campground host/ranger came up in a golf cart -- turns out he was fascinated by our popup and wanted to see how it went up. 

He was a retired jeep trail fanatic and knew the surrounding area well, including the Silverton/Ouray area.  We had quite a talk about possible campgrounds up that way after we left Mesa Verde.

Ray &  Donna from Chicago pulled up in the campground next to ours with a fire ring.  They were quite friendly, offered us beer, started a fire and we spent the rest of the evening with them.  Turns out their daughter went to Mizzou and works at in TV news in Kansas City somewhere.  And it was Ray's birthday, to boot.  I remember camping as a kid and mom and dad kind of making friends at campsites.  This was kind of like that.   If they had been there more than one night, we might have gotten to know them better and exchanged emails or something.   We had a very nice time with them.

There is also free wi-fi in the campground.  When we finally turned in, I got on the internet to update our friends on our trip.   It was also getting pretty chilly, so I turned on the heater.

It ran for about 30 minutes and stopped.  And I could not re-light it.  The gas flow kept blowing the flame from the lighter away from the pilot.

It was going to be a cold night.

I remembered we have a small propane "survival cat" heater in the trunk for winter emergencies.  Not nearly as powerful as the Little Buddy™.   I put some mylar emergency blankets up on the ceiling and in front of the door to reflect the heat our way, and we slept in the same bed for warmth on top of that.  Those beds ARE pretty small ... I was on the inside since Vicki is more clostrophobic than I am.  I couldn't move much.  Didn't sleep well, either.   It got cold, down in the 40's in the popup.

But we didn't freeze. 

Tomorrow, I would have to see if we could find a new heater down in Cortez.

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