Friday, January 18, 2013
The Great Trek West, Part 5: Mesa Verde, Four Corners, and Monument Valley
The other day we were in a state that borders Mexico (Arizona). By the end of the week we'll be in a state that borders Canada (Washington).
It's hard work to cover three national parks (well, three tourist attractions) in a winter day, given that there's only ten hours or so of daylight. But we managed it. We got up really early and drove from Moab to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, a not-very-exciting three-hour drive. In the summer, this drive will probably take far longer, as it's over a two-lane road, through a lot of small towns, with trucks and farming vehicles. We blew through because there was no one on the road at 6 am.
Mesa Verde is set on top of a high plateau--which means it's windy, cold, and at a high altitude. We got winded just walking around. Because it's winter, we were two of about six people in the entire park. We were able to park wherever we wanted, get out, leave the car running, take pictures, and hop back in the car. The cliff dwellings are at the bottom of the park, at the end of a very long and windy mountain road. It will take you about 40 minutes to get from the entrance to the first dwelling (but there's a lot of pretty scenery along the way). One half of the park is closed during the winter, so we were restricted to one road. Only one house, Spruce Tree House, was available for a tour. Still, we took the tour and it was pretty awesome. (But cold--did I mention cold? When you're touring a cave in 16-degree weather, your toes go numb in a hurry.)
Then we zipped back out of the park and headed for Four Corners, about 45 minutes away. It's on tribal lands, so again, two-lane roads, no real cell phone reception, and you'll need to cough up $6 cash to park your car. In the summer, there are parking problems and you have to wait in a line to take a picture on the medallion that marks the spot where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. In winter, we were the only ones there. We took two quick pictures and set off for Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is also on tribal lands, and it's another 100 miles of two-lane road, through the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception, from Four Corners. The drive, and the valley, were the same as I remembered. In fact, the pictures are exactly the same--only this set has snow.
Awe-inspiring, etc. And we got there around 3:30 pm, giving us plenty of daylight for the drive back to Moab--which is pretty awe-inspiring itself.
However, it's hard work spending 12 hours driving between three states. We bought beer, some cheese, and a salami at a grocery store on the way back and called it dinner.
I'll end with this, the iconic road shot of the American West.