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No Place Like Home

Lest you think I got lost in California (not entirely inconceivable – it is such a beautiful coastline and state), fear not! I am safely back in Seattle. Have been for about six weeks.

From Mendocino (see last post) we traversed winding switchbacks lined with gorgeous trees and breathtaking views, which were only slightly hampered by motion sickness-inducing turns and drop offs! The further north we got the bigger the trees became as we headed into Redwood Country. 

Trying to grasp how long these trees have been growing taxed my brain mightily. At one rest stop, this side view of a felled tree helped put some perspective on how long ago many of these trees were seedlings and have since been growing, nourishing the earth and its inhabitants as they have lived in community with their fellow trees.

IMG_1622I had been reading a book called The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben in which he explains the interconnection between trees living near one another in the forest. They literally communicate with one another, support one another, sending nutrients through their roots to trees that are weaker and warning each other of potential danger from tree illnesses or insect attacks, causing them to create defenses and protect themselves. 

Standing in the middle of the forest, I was awed by the silence, knowing that these trees are in touch with each other and have been for thousands of years. They are a sacred community. And if you stand long enough in the forest, you can feel that sacredness. You can “hear” the silent communication. It’s like being in church. Only better.

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There was one kitschy roadside attraction that caused Dan to turn, screeching tires as he did so (only because I begged). It was called Confusion Hill and was ridiculous but so much fun to stop and walk around. We made sandwiches in the parking lot and laughed at the utter silliness.

We drove through grove after grove of beautiful redwoods, finally stopping in Fortuna, a little Humboldt County town north of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We stayed with a young couple who rent out a little cabin on their property through Airbnb. They were not home when we arrived, but their six chickens came running to greet us at full speed. I doubled over laughing and the next thing I knew, one of them had hopped into the passenger side of our car. Like she owned the place!

When we got back from dinner, where we watched the Red Sox (my Dad’s favorite team) play the Dodgers (my mother’s beloved former Brooklyn team), our hosts had left us a message to join them for their band practice. We grabbed a bottle of wine from our stash and headed to the main house, a geodesic dome where they live in true Humboldt style! Wonderful music, conversation and a feeling of being welcomed into the family.

The next morning, we woke to a deer family nibbling on apples just outside our window. I watched them for a long time, just standing still, trying not startle them, to break the spell, although they seemed hyper aware of even my chest expanding and contracting with my breath. IMG_1638When I came out of the shower, Dan greeted me with a cup of coffee. Check out the mug, found in the random mugs and plates cabinet in our little cabin.

IMG_1642Marilyn was my mother’s name. Yet another in a long list of healing and magical moments on this trip that have allowed me to know that my mother is with me, will always be with me. I need only look for her, whether it be on the beach, in the Redwoods or in Crate and Barrel (one of her favorite stores)! 

I drank several cups of coffee in the Marilyn mug and when I wandered outside in the yard, one of our curious chicken friends joined me, also drawn to the Marilyn mug.IMG_1658

As we bid Fortuna and our lovely hosts goodbye, we worked our way up the coast, through Eureka, ocean on our left, stands of trees along the road with colorful peeling bark that seemed to be curling longingly, lovingly toward the earth.

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I remembered a time when I first moved out west that my east coast brain got confused when the ocean was on my left. It felt like I was traveling in a southerly direction. But now, more than 30 years later, the ocean to my left definitely tells me I am heading north. North! Homeward bound! We saw peekaboo views of the ocean from time to time, stopping for the occasional scenic lookout, or coffee, or, once, an elk sighting.

On up along the Oregon Coast, along winding route 101, occasionally dusting the seaside, and driving through small towns catering to summer tourists. The terrain became more hilly. Farms became more prominent than tourist shops with the occasional antique store beckoning us to explore. 

One man we met in a coffee shop told us he worked for the National Parks Service for more than 25 years. When I told him about my experience in Canyon de Chelly  (where I suddenly and unexpectedly got cell reception and heard my mother’s voice on an old voicemail), he said, “That’s impossible. There are no towers even near there. No one gets reception in Canyon de Chelly.” Just in case I had begun to doubt…  

Here’s the thing about this guy. I could tell that he really wanted to sit with us. And I really didn’t want him to. He was trying hard to get my attention and I was trying hard to ignore him. He had an annoying little cough and a grating voice and he giggle-laughed after everything he said. Finally he caught Dan’s eye and said, “Can I join you? (giggle-laugh, cough, cough).” Dan, being the kind and open man that he is, said “SURE!” I groaned silently to myself. But then…  this conversation. This affirmation that what happened in Canyon de Chelly was truly profound and mystical. This man was a gift to me. For me. Why, oh why do I have to learn this lesson over and over again? To be kind to strangers. To welcome even those I’m not drawn to. To love everyone and see the good in everyone. To know with all certainty that everyone has something to offer. 

We stopped in Rockaway Beach, OR, where we spent the night at a hotel with a view of the ocean. There is a Rockaway Beach in New York where my mother and her parents and their large extended family spent the summers of her childhood. Dan’s mother also spent summers there! So it was a fitting, if unplanned (I thought the hotel was in another town) place to stay on this particular trip. IMG_1717

That night we went to dinner up the road and watched another World Series game. The couple at the table next to us were really into it and so we started talking. I learned that they were big time Red Sox fans, having come to the west coast from Boston. We got to talking about our parents being fans of these two teams and when I told her my mother had died recently, she revealed that her mother had died a year and a half ago. “It gets easier. I promise,” she said with loving understanding. Another angel. Another gift of this trip.

The following morning, we drove north on twisty, windy back roads until we had no choice but to head over to I-5. We passed green farms, woods dressed out in vibrant fall colors, rain implausibly falling from light blue skies. As we passed Centralia, the sun came out. Fall colors were illuminated by the sun shining through, and were magnified by the wet air. The colors were deeper, richer than they had been when we left a month earlier as fall was just beginning.

And then, the sign we had not seen for a month. 

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In addition to the 5,000 miles we put on our car, we logged a myriad of experiences both mystical and ordinary, we saw mind expanding vistas and terrain unlike anything either of us had ever seen. Our joint history together and our love for one another deepened even more than I thought possible. We celebrated Dan’s 70th year on the planet and I experienced some significant healing from the grief I was suffering after my mother’s death.  

As we pulled off the highway and took our exit we passed a mural that I have seen many, many times. But stopping at the red light just beside the mural, I saw a piece of it I had never noticed before. img_1813.jpg

Indeed.

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California Here We Come!

Leaving Yosemite was difficult because a) it was SO beautiful and b)  it was our last park on this trip. But we were ready to be homeward bound, so as the sun began to slant lower in the sky, we drove out of the park and headed for Angels Camp, CA, randomly chosen as within striking distance of Yosemite and a good place to lay our heads for the night.

Driving up and down steep hills and along switchbacks with names like “Priests Grade” as in the grade of the hill, we frustrated local drivers behind us with our newbie pace. Oh well! One of the nice things about getting older is not worrying about what people are thinking about you, be it the outfit you are wearing, your voting preference or the speed at which you drive. My Brooklyn-born grandmother used to make me laugh when, at a stop light, if someone behind her honked after the light turned green she slowed down to a crawl – just to stick it to them. We would laugh so hard as we crept along, knowing the person behind us was fuming.

We arrived in Angels Camp in the dark, driving through the charming little one street town with its frontier style buildings to get to our hotel which was just north of town. That night, I called my daughter on FaceTime and told her where we were. Her partner jumped up off the couch and said, “YOU’RE IN ANGELS CAMP? My mother grew up there!”

After checking out the next day we spent the morning strolling around this town, famous as Mark Twain’s inspiration for his story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras.IMG_1444

We strolled along the street lined with very old buildings, updated inside to accommodate today’s businesses. We sampled the local bakery’s delicious scones and checked out an antique store filled with fascinating objects from days gone by in this gold-mining camp town.

Next we drove through Murphy’s, a town our waitress in Yosemite’s Majestic Lodge Restaurant had told us about and in which my daughter’s partner’s mother spent a good deal of her childhood. Lots of wineries, eateries and lovely shops. Fall colors were glowing and I was reluctant to leave – it felt mysteriously like home there. But we had our day planned so we hit the road.

One night in Santa Rosa and then we drove to the coast, beginning our trek north in Bodega Bay. Needless to say the California and Oregon Coasts are breathtakingly beautiful. Whoever decided to put Route 1 and 101 right there, on the coast, was brilliant! We stopped along the way at beaches, so happy to breathe the salt air again and be in what felt like familiar terrain.

Dan was enjoying seeing certain locations, such as Point Arena (below), that he had seen from various boats during deliveries up and down the coast back when he was doing that. We stopped at Point Arena and had a picnic lunch, basking in the warm sun and watching whales breach in the distance.

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Point Arena Light

Next stop: Mendocino. I had heard about Mendocino for a while, how lovely it is, the “Mendo good life,” a place where people want to be. Being there was proof positive of why people love it and find a way to live there. We stayed in a lovely Victorian Inn owned by a couple who have made their Mendo dream come true.

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Hard to leave here but the Redwoods and Home were beckoning so we continued our drive north.

Next up: The Redwoods and beyond.

Finding a Global Community in Zion, Death Valley, Yosemite

As we settled into the rhythm of our road trip, my senses were awakened. By the astonishing sights we were seeing. By the scent of sagebrush and pine and desert. By the flavors of regional foods we tasted! And by the touch of my fingers on ancient rock carvings and pieces of pottery!

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So many people in Zion!

It was in Zion, our next and most populated park, that my ears awoke to the preponderance of languages and accents overheard on hiking trails, at lookouts and in eateries. People come from all over the world to see the sights that our beautiful country has to offer. This piqued my curiosity enough to start conversations that inevitably leaned towards politics, travel, shared experiences, family and our global community.

Zion is a lush and lovely park and was high on my list after the desert-like, red rock parks we had seen up until now. It did not disappoint. The park was very full – I can only imagine what summer time is like. Car traffic is discouraged in Zion so we boarded a bus which took visitors to desired stops and hikes throughout the park. Even on the bus, the cacophony of tongues being spoken lent an exciting, celebratory atmosphere to the experience. We walked beside rivers, past hanging gardens, and through lush paths leading to emerald pools, striking up conversations with people from different parts of the U.S. and the world.

 

Next stop: Death Valley. What a change! We drove down, down, down into this rocky, cracked earth park which plunges below sea level as the temperature rises to 90° in the shade! Death Valley is desolate and beautiful in its starkness and brown, crusted earth, occasional trees and brush, dark ridges and remnants of a long ago ocean. It was at the side of the road, marveling over the vastness of the sand dunes, that I dug into my high school and college French to chat with a couple from northeastern France who were on their second national park trip.

 

That night, we climbed up to Mammoth Mountain where we stayed the night before heading on to Yosemite. We awoke to a brisk 17° morning, bundled up and stopped in town for coffee and breakfast before heading to Yosemite, which was in its full Fall Glory. There, we met folks from Ireland and Australia looking up in wonder at El Capitan from the valley floor, marveling at the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in preserving this beautiful place.

 

It was in Yosemite at Tenaya Lake, pictured below, that I sensed my mother close by. I teared up unexpectedly with longing and missing her, knowing she had wanted to travel to the Southwest, but never made it. And questioning some of the choices we had made in our own travels. I walked beside the lake alone for a while, trying to compose myself. When I looked up at the point pictured below, I felt suddenly calm. Peaceful. And I knew with certainty that this trip was as perfect as the view and all was as it should be. I felt lifted up and joyful. A total about face from the deep grief I had felt just minutes before.

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Tenaya Lake

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Bridal Veil Falls

Yosemite Tunnel View

Tunnel View

At Tunnel View, pictured above, I took a photo for a Pakistani couple who were visiting their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, all of whom posed for the photo in their native dress. Next, a German couple asked for a photo, and then took this one of us, and in so doing taught me something about my phone camera that I had not yet discovered! In their travels all over the world, they said, nothing they had seen compares with our national parks for their vastness and beauty.

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World Visitors at Tunnel View, Yosemite

I imagine many people in the U.S. think they have to travel outside their country to expand horizons and get a sense of the wider world. In truth, as we crossed state borders and arrived at destinations, other than a shared language, I felt very much a visitor, a stranger. Not only because of the scenery, but also because of the culture that arises from climate, environment, history and traditions.

And as I met travelers from other countries, I had an opportunity to act as a host, to welcome them, to show them that Americans are not necessarily what is portrayed by the media in their countries, or what our current government may lead others to think.

This is one of the main benefits of travel. To unite us in our humanity. To represent our best selves to one another. To demolish stereotypes. As Mark Twain so famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I am grateful for so many aspects of this trip. For demystifying the geography of the vast Southwest. For seeing things that photos can only begin to capture. For meeting people not only from my own country, but also from others all over the world and for realizing that one does not have to travel far to expand one’s mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Canyon de Chelly – Native Mysticism

Next on our list was Santa Fe. But we weren’t sure. To Santa Fe or not to Santa Fe? Did we really want a city? Was it as special as we had been told? Was it worth the drive?

We made our decision based on the knowledge that if, when we are this close, we didn’t go we’d never know and always wonder. So we booked a few nights in the area.

On the way down from Taos, we visited Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, paying homage to Georgia O’Keefe.

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Approaching Ghost Ranch
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O’Keefe’s Inspiration

We also visited Chimayo, a place that was a sacred and healing site for the native people who lived there long ago. Catholics built a Church there and miracles continued. In one of the three churches on the site, there is a tiny room where pilgrims may obtain “holy” dirt, purported to have healing power. The anteroom leading to the hole where pilgrims dig and fill containers with this dirt (the level never seems to lower no matter how much dirt is dug out) is lined with crutches and walkers and wheelchairs. We took some dirt which I rubbed on my sore back and Dan dusted across his brain-injured forehead. And then we placed the bag in the glovebox for protection on our journey.

From Chimayo we made the trek Santa Fe – made longer because of road work – oh yes, urban life! That night, we dined with a former colleague of my father’s whom I had not seen for decades. She greeted me and looked at me with recognition saying, “Oh – you are an equal combination of your mother and father.” I was moved to tears to be with someone this far away who knew these two people whom I miss terribly and whose loss I am working through on this trip.

We woke the next morning to rain and bitter cold. Enough to make us want to skip our day out and about. But we were there and so we bundled and braved the art galleries, high priced tourist shops and restaurants. I am sure that at another time and in different weather we would have had a different experience, but we decided after Santa Fe to chase the sun and get warm. Especially when we awoke to a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Brrrr….

Our next destination – and the title of this post because of its strong impression on us – was Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “Shay”) National Park. Similar in some ways to Mesa Verde because of its ancient dwellings, the canyon is still home to Navajo families. The only way down into the canyon is with a Navajo guide, but we opted to view the canyon from above on our own. We left our Navajo run hotel, The Thunderbird Lodge, which we chose because of its location right in the park and our desire to support the tribe. Driving the North Loop we were awestruck once again by the magnificence of nature, by the continual habitation of the native people in this stunning canyon, and by the vastness of the views.

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Canyon de Chelly
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A woman standing nearby said, “This is better than the Grand Canyon.” I asked why. “It’s more intimate. More powerful. Just as beautiful, but smaller.” I smiled because we had just made the decision to forego our visit to the Grand Canyon which had been one of my goals. This felt like affirmation for our choice not to add hours and distance to our already lengthy road trip.

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“White House” Ruins
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It was at the next viewpoint, Spider Rock, that something remarkable happened. In the canyon, cell phone reception was nil. I noticed when I took photos the “No Service” on the top left of the screen. And that was that – but who needs cell reception in a place like this?

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Spider Rock

Spider Rock, a massive monolith shooting 800 feet into the sky from the canyon floor grabbed hold of me like no sight I had seen on this trip. According to Native lore, Spider Woman was one of the Dine (Navajo) tribe’s most revered deities. She loved the people infinitely and intensely and saved them from their enemies and using her divine powers, continues to protect them for all time. She chose the top of Spider Rock as her home from which point she watched over her people saved them from troubles.

I began to think about my mother. What a spider woman she was. How she loved us all with a fierceness that at times caused us pain. But what I would give to have her back for just a short while. To feel that love. As if on cue, my phone lit up and signaled a text message.

One of my sisters had sent a text with an audio attachment. I pushed the “play” button on the screen and heard my mother’s voice. An old voice mail from my mother that my sister had saved and sent earlier that day.

Standing on that spot, I listened to my mother’s voice and looked at this surreal and sacred sight. When the voice mail ended, my phone once again went dead. No reception.

Do I miss her? Yes. Is she with me? Most definitely.

And so, at Canyon de Chelly, as at Chimayo, and as with the reconnection with my father’s colleague, I came to see that miracles do happen, that people we love don’t have to be physically in front of us in order to be with us. I felt myself move into a new phase of my healing during this chapter of our trip.

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I heard my mother’s voice here.

New Mexico Morning – Coffee and a Kiva

“I think it might be too far,” I told Dan when we were planning our next destination. “Why don’t we do it another time?” But for Dan, Taos was non-negotiable. Some time ago, Dan became interested in Earthships, which are super smart, off-the-grid housing designed by a man named Michael Reynolds that happen to be based in Taos. In researching Earthship Biotecture and the area surrounding Taos, Dan became fascinated by the area in general and the quintessential southwestern adobe architecture with its vigas and kivas and thick walls. So it was off to Taos and the Earthships.

The drive through Colorado and into New Mexico was beautiful. Up we climbed, into the mountains. The temperature dropped. Tawny fields flecked with green spread out below, aspens turning yellow and mingling with the snow dusted pine trees gracefully lined the road. We were heading into different territory for sure.

One of the things about this trip that I have cherished, is that from state to state as we have entered different terrains we have begun understanding a bit more about how this country is put together. The native people who lived in these areas adapted to their surroundings and that adaptation in turn informed their cultures. I imagine that at one time, this  country felt like many countries that overlapped. Navajo, Anasazi, Cherokee, Puebloans, Hopi. They had different ways of dressing, different languages, different types of abodes.

In Taos, Dan adamantly wanted to stay in a traditional adobe casita for our three nights there. We found one a little bit outside of town, 15 minutes north.The roughly 1,000 square foot home was aesthetically lovely and so comfortable and we wasted no time making ourselves at home. A hot tub in a little “tea house” across the garden took the evening chill away after a day traipsing around.

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Our Taos home.

The stars of both living room and bedroom were the kivas, traditional wood-burning fireplaces which require the wood to be stacked on end instead of on its side. I awoke on our first morning there to a fire Dan had built and a pot of freshly brewed coffee. We sipped our coffee in front of the kiva warming our insides as well as our toes.

At night, after sitting in the hot tub, Dan built a fire in the bedroom which was…  heaven.

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It took me a while to figure out Taos. I had expected a quaint, artistic community, rich with adobe architecture and charming, small galleries and eateries. It was all that, but far more commercial and touristy than I had anticipated.

Walking around the town I saw lots of tourists, hippies, women with long gray hair, lots of chunky turquoise jewelry, native people. An eclectic conglomeration of people and hard to pinpoint locals from visitors.

We strolled around the Plaza, which is filled with tourist trap shops. We visited Taos Pueblo  whose multi-storied adobe buildings have been inhabited for over 1,000 years and whose inhabitants live as their ancestors did, without the benefit of electricity or running water. We visited the Millicent Rogers Museum, which explores the history of Taos through its weaving, pottery, basketry, jewelry and painting. Millicent Rogers, and heiress and model, came to Taos to heal from her painful breakup with Clark Gable. I loved learning about her life as much as I enjoyed the museum named for her.

Thanks to a friend of my sister’s who lives in Taos, we gained a bit of local insight into the town. We had dinner at a favorite local restaurant, met some of her friends who have lived in Taos for a long time and went to a concert of traditional Brazilian music where we met several Taos locals and snowbirds.

Someone we ran into the next day while walking the town asked me what I liked about Taos besides the Plaza. “I don’t like the Plaza,” I replied. “I don’t know what it is exactly, but this place just takes hold and makes me want to stay longer.

Which we did! We extended our stay for one more night, sadly not at our little home, but happily at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

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Mabel Dodge Luhan moved to Taos in 1917, joining her third husband who was living in Santa Fe, working as an artist. Upon visiting Taos, she fell in love with a raw, early version of the town we saw and immediately arranged to rent rooms in a home next to what is now the Taos Inn. She never left. Eventually, she and her husband divorced and Mabel married Tony Luhan, native man from the Pueblo, and they built a beautiful home in town, drawing creative, independent thinkers such as Mary Austin, Georgia O’Keefe and DH Lawrence. Most came and went, except for O’Keefe who stayed, living nearby in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch (both of which we visited). It was here that she famously painted Southwestern scenery and buildings and landscapes.

Mabel and Tony’s home is now an inn and guest house and that is where, at Dan’s insistence, we stayed for the last night.

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Front Entrance

As with travel anywhere, the experience becomes as much about the people one meets as it does about the places one sees. At the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, where great thinkers and creatives once met, I met Carol with whom I talked on several occasions. “We must have known each other back in Ireland in another life,” she said with her faint but unmistakeable brogue. Dan connected with Keith over the mysticism of the Southwest and he gave Dan a book on the subject. There was Steven, a climate scientist, who gave us some grim details about what the future holds for our planet. Lois and Dorothy gave me a new mantra over breakfast one morning: “Be politically active, but spiritually calm.”

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Outside door to Mabel’s Room

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Windows painted by DH Lawrence

It was hard to leave. But, alas, it was time to move on so we reluctantly left this place that surprised us with its subtle charm, fascinating history and spirituality. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

MESA VERDE

I had seen the pictures and knew that this national park was devoted to preserving remnants of human habitation as opposed to the other parks that preserve natural wonders. When I looked at photos online, my brain refused to see anything other than miniature replicas of the ancient villages nestled into clefts in the rock walls of a canyon. We just had to go and see for ourselves.

Arriving in Cortez, Colorado after a three-ish hour drive from Green River, we checked in to our Airbnb. The day was coming to a close so we scurried over to Canyons of the Ancients Monument where we an hour touring the excellent museum. Preserved pottery and baskets, tools and household items, all of which were found on the sites at the monument, were on display.

There was an interactive exhibit where I opened a drawer and saw bits of pottery. The idea was to pick up individual pieces attached to small boards with velcro. Under each was an explanation of who had made the pottery and when. Picking up several pieces, I stroked my thumb along their surfaces, feeling the curve made by another hand so very long ago. My thumb felt different for hours afterwards. Smoother. Tingly. Alive with connection to the past.

The following day, just after breakfast, we headed to Mesa Verde, stopping at the Visitor Center and then beginning the lengthy drive up the mountain. It was a steep climb up switchbacks. Higher and higher we went, missing a few views due to fog and low hanging clouds…

…but eventually getting to our first cliff dwelling overlook, Spruce Tree House. I went ahead while Dan changed his shoes and grabbed his rain jacket. When I reached the point where I saw the first village I gasped. “Oh!” I said, turning a few heads. I dashed back and met Dan, grabbed his hand and said, “Wait ’til you see this.”

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Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

That started us on a day of wonder. The more we saw, the more we wanted to see. We gazed across the canyon in awe at cliff dwellings from vantage points along the road. At several places, examples of pit houses, pre-dating the cliff dwellings, could be see where they were preserved under cover, dating back as early as 650 AD. In case you think that is a typo, see below! We walked around the perimeter of the floor of one of these homes with evidence of which areas were used for what purpose. Gave me goosebumps.

Cliff Palace was the largest “neighborhood” with 150 rooms. I wondered about what it took to build these dwellings, high up a steep hill, in impossibly hostile conditions. I read that the inhabitants carved notches in the canyon wall which served as footholds and handholds. They had to carry babies on their backs, haul water, transport food up these steep walls. It is unclear what caused them to move to these habitations, and unclear what caused them to leave. There are theories but no one really knows. What is clear is their level of sophistication in their building technique, societal structure, basket weaving, pottery making, food storage and preparation based on findings of archaeologists.

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Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

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Square Tower House, Mesa Verde, AD 1200 – 1300

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at Sun Temple, a site unlike any of the others and purported to be a ceremonial, spiritual location. The structure is shaped like a letter “D” with no evidence of a roof. Along the perimeter was a small bowl that held water, clearly shaped with fingers from long ago. I placed my fingers in the grooves made by an ancient hand. Again the feeling of connection.

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Sun Temple interior

We had planned to spend only a couple of hours in Mesa Verde, but ended up mesmerized for the better part of the day despite the rain and cold.  One sign encouraged visitors to imagine the sound of laughter, of dogs barking, of parents calling to their children, of people talking. This is more than just a place of stone and mortar. This was a home, a village, a safe place for the people who lived, worked and raised families.

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As the afternoon waned along with our energy level, we visited the last place on the road. At Far View Sites we were able to walk through the remains of small villages where, again,  I could not resist touching the stones, tracing finger trails in the mortar in an effort to connect with the ancients, to somehow touch them. I thought about the thriving cultural society that lived here. The sun made a brief appearance, lighting up the stones and the surrounding area, giving us a moment to see how beautiful this place must have been and why people chose to live here.

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Far View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL PARKS VIRGIN NO MORE

Despite some extensive traveling in my time (numerous European countries, the British Isles, Mexico, Panama and British Columbia, Canada to name a few) and despite considerable knowledge of both U.S. coasts, I have not traveled extensively in my own country. And, I had not been to one – not a single one – National Park. Until now.

Our first park was to be Arches National Park in Southern Utah. Because motels in nearby Moab were either booked or exorbitantly expensive, we settled on Green River, a 45 minute drive from Moab and the park, where we booked three nights at the Robbers Roost Motel. The reviews were mixed and it was remarkably inexpensive, which always makes me wonder.

After a long day on the road, we pulled into Green River, a four lane strip of road with a mixed bag of thriving establishments, barely patronized but still functioning businesses, and long-ago-abandoned motels, diners and shops.

IMG_0622The rooms were very basic, but very clean. But very basic. Did I say that already? I could imagine my daughters’ telling me to, “Get over it Mom, it’s fine!” So I set to work nesting and make it our home for three days. The price was certainly good and the sign alone was worth the price of admission! And the bed was so comfortable that this tired traveler slept until 9:45 the next morning.

But we did not go to Green River for the hotel. We went there so we could see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

We woke to pouring rain, complete with lightning and thunder. Deciding to make the most of it and drive into Moab for a museum or two, we had breakfast at a nearby cafe and lingered over coffee. Dressed in museum hopping clothes, we decided to throw some hiking gear in the back of the car just in case. Sure enough, on our way down route 191, the sun came out and the sky cleared as we approached the entrance to Arches. Screeeech! We hung a left, bought our pass and stopped at the visitors center.

I went up to the desk and told the ranger that this was my first National Park. “Oh!,” she said. “A National Parks virgin! Congratulations!” She mapped out a few easy hikes for us since we weren’t exactly prepared for a big hike and we drove up the switchbacks to the first overlook.

Arches, Park Avenue

Arches, Park Avenue

Nothing prepared me for the magnificence. I’d seen pictures, but to be right there, next to deep red rock formations reaching up from desert terrain toward the sky. To be dwarfed by these works of art sculpted by time and nature. I was stunned into silence and tears.

Arches

The wonder of the scenery and the realization that we were here, we were actually here, we had finally made it, took away my breath. Dan and I hiked in silence looking at the scenery, taking photos and meeting other, equally amazed folks from all over the world.

Arches, WindowsArches, Windows

Arches, Windows

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On another note, I was captivated by a homestead in the park where a man named John Wolfe had moved, seeking a dryer climate to relieve a Civil War injury. To think what he must have had to do just to get through each day in this desolate place with an injury. A Civil War injury! What must life have been like for him and his family?

Top left: the original cabin. Top right: the new, improved cabin with wood floors, built at the insistence of his daughter upon visiting for the first time and finding the original dwelling far too primitive. Bottom: view from the homestead. 

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Another view from Wolfe cabin. See the arch in the distance?

As the sun sank lower in the sky, we headed out of the park, continuing to photograph the rocks. The late afternoon sun’s slant enhanced their color, offering a golden orange glow as a parting gift.

Arches

End of an amazing day

The next day we were too tired to do too much (still recovering from prepping and driving) so we decided on Sego Canyon, just a half hour down the road, where a rancher named Henry Ballard discovered coal in the early 1890’s when everyone else was searching for gold and silver. He gave mining a go for about 10 years before selling the land to new owners who worked the mine until 1947.

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Sego Canyon

The sun was so warm that we lingered for quite a while and then drove deeper into the canyon. Aside from it’s natural beauty I found it hard to imagine living in such a rugged, dry terrain.IMG_0684

But what do I know? Long before Mr. Ballard settled in Sego Canyon, three ancient indigenous tribes lived here, the Ute, Fremont and Barrier people, and left behind evidence in the way of well preserved rock paintings estimated back as far as 1100 A.D. This was the real draw for me in visiting Sego.

Sego Canyon

Sego Canyon Rock Art

What do you think? Some have said the figures look like aliens. One man we met said that he thought the inhabitants were letting potential intruders know that a great horned god lived here so they better back off. I wish there was some way of knowing.

We met a couple from Austria who were on their sixth trip to this region. The had done the “big” stuff and were now experiencing the smaller, less popular sights. Knowing how long people have lived here and knowing that people from as far away as Austria keep coming back told me that we were in for many more treats this month and that this would most likely not be our one and only trip to this region.

Next up? Either Canyonlands or on to Mesa Verde in Colorado. Tune in tomorrow!

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