Spring Break 2009
Snow squall Blue Mountain
Natural Bridges National Park
Hovenweep National Monument
Friday, April 17, 2009
We awoke to a dark grey cloudy sky. The wind was blowing again so dreams of warm sun on skin were not in the forecast. After breakfast of cold cereal we headed south on Hwy 191 to the Hovenweep turn off. The worn road, similar to the road you take to Jones Hole Creek, meandered across a high mesa. We came upon Hatch Trading Post; an old barn wood building surrounded by some sort of vine. Neon beer signs hung in the window. It looked like it hadn't been open for business in sometime and there was no sign of anyone working or living there. When I saw it on the map, I'd hoped we could stop by the place to get the flavor of southeastern Utah and a treat! It was not to be.
We continued to head east, driving from under cloud cover into scattered patches of sunshine and finally arrived at Hovenweep National Monument; the Square Tower Unit. We layered up as the wind was still a huge factor in the outside temperature. We stopped at the Visitor Center, watched an 18-minute video about the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) and Danna led the way into the cold.
The ruins were all visible from the top of the mesa. One trail led from the visitor center and wound its way around the rim of the canyon. Another left the rim, crossed the canyon floor and then made its way up the other side. We, of course, took the road less traveled. There is always a sense or a feeling I get at prehistoric Native American sites. It is hallowed ground--sacred. One can feel the presence of the primitive people. Being down in the canyon provided us protection from the wind and bit of warmth. The perspective of looking up at the ruins brought to mind how small we are in the universe, yet how eternally connected we are one with another. (Thou canst not stir a flower, without troubling of a star. - Francis Thompson)
We took our time wondering along the rim trail, battling the frozen wind...ears aching, and watched, as shafts of sunlight pierced gray boiling clouds, changed the color of stacked stone from yellow brown to warm shades of orange . Our time there could not have been any better.
Our next stop was Cutthroat Castle. We drove another 8 miles, made a right turn and bumped along a 4WD high clearance vehicle road; our first "off-road" experience in the jeep. We were feeling pretty proud until we found ourselves in the middle of a rocky downward slope and we had never put the jeep in 4L. We continued our decent, rounded the corner, and Cutthroat Castle appeared just below the rim of the canyon at the end of the road. (We got the jeep book out and read the directions about how to get the jeep into 4L.) It was going to be a steep climb up slick rock to the pavement above.
We climbed down through squared stones that had once been part of this unit of ruins. It was quiet except for foot on stone. The sun was shinning brilliantly and the sky a perfect blue. We were alone in this ancient holy place. We marveled at the simple construction of towers and the perfect alignment of stone on mortar. We ate our lunch beneath a Pinyon Pine as peace enveloped us!
Saturday, April 18th Moki Dugway and points south...
Sunlight filtered into the trailer and a peek through the blinds revealed a picture perfect blue sky. An ideal day for the Moki Dugway. We ate another simple breakfast of cereal and apples and we quickly dressed, gathered hiking boots, jackets, and put lunch in the ice chest. We were off!
We'd driven UT-95 a few days before to Natural Bridges National Monument. Our destination this time was to the junction of Ut-95 and UT-261 where we'd travel south towards Mexican Hat, Utah. Once on UT-261, we drove 23 miles to the beginning of Moki Dugway. The Moki Dugway drops 1100 feet in 3 miles and is a grated dirt road built in 1958 by a mining company. I read somewhere that the drive down Moki Dugway would feel like a roller-coaster...it was a great ride, but the views along this red dirt and gravel switch-back road, with the color of light changing every few seconds as the clouds moved across the valley before us, was more fun than any vacation Disneyland ads promise! And in the distance you could see the red buttes of Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is overseen by the Navaho people. When we arrived, we paid the entrance fee and drove the very limited 6-8 mile loop to view the sandstone monuments. Just off the paved road, we were stopped by a Navaho man who asked us if we'd like a tour. The cost...$65 per person. Now, he would have taken us places we could not go on our own, but that is just way too much money. I pointed to the jeep and said, "This road is why we bought the jeep." We drove the very restricted road and vistas across the valley were impressive. I'm glad we took the time to drive to Monument Valley...once is enough.
What I found to be more interesting is the little town of Mexican Hat, Utah. There is a small resort on a cliff overlooking the San Juan River that looks like it would be worth the trip.
Next stop, Goosenecks State Park. After leaving Monument Valley we were unable to find a good stopping place for lunch. Goosenecks State Park is a short drive north east from Mexican Hat. From the pictures I had seen on the State Park website I was expecting to view a winding river 1,000 feet below. All I could see was just one wind. To see the Goosenecks meandering back and forth you'd need to be in an airplane. There was a rail and one informational sign on the rim of the overlook. Camping spots were just anywhere you wanted to pitch a tent or park a trailer. The pit toilets were in good shape and the breeze from below the biffy was a cool surprise on one's rear end.
Valley of the Gods! The jeep took us off-road just one more time this trip. It was near the end of the day and the color of light and clouds in the sky provided a beautiful ride back to Blanding via the Moki Dugway.
Sunday morning came too soon and it was time to head for home. It was our first trip in the "Little Guy" and many memories were created. We had a wonderful trip and we can't wait until June 23, 2009, when we head out again to Escalante, Utah.
He's the "Little Guy!"