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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bike and Hike to Westwater Ruins

Hi Blog!

Thursday, September 28, 2017 was our last full day in Blanding, in southeast Utah near the Four Corners. We've spent the last week driving all over this area. There is so much here to explore. When we checked into our campground last week, the owner told us that there are ruins just a mile and a half away. We decided it would make a great last day adventure. We could go out in the morning and explore and still have time to do our pre-move chores. Right after breakfast, we jumped on our bikes for the mile and a half ride to the trailhead. Along the way, we passed an overlook for Nations Natural Bridge - so named because it is on tribal land.

We thought about climbing down to explore further, but the trail was rather steep. From our vantage point on the canyon rim we could see across to the opening in the natural bridge. We could also hear Westwater Creek burbling below.  It might be possible to get to the bridge from the other side of the canyon, and we have since found that a dirt road follows the western canyon rim behind the bridge, but - again - we've run out of time to explore further.  So we had to satisfy ourselves with this view of the bridge from the eastern rim of Westwater Canyon:

The road continued for another half mile before ending in a large parking area. The trailhead was marked, "Five Kiva Pueblo."  We parked our bikes and started to scout our route to visit the ruins:

We could only assume, from the name, that the large pueblo across the canyon contained five kivas. However, we wanted to be sure, so we locked the bikes to the trailhead sign and began to work our way down into the canyon.

The trail was not marked but it was fairly easy to follow. At one point, Kathy tripped over a rock and discovered this large arrow shaped object, which might be a spearhead or a scraper. After taking this picture, we carefully put it back, noted the GPS coordinates, and, when we returned to camp, filed a report with Utah State Parks' archaeologist.

Before we left on our adventure, we tried to find information about the site. The Blanding Visitor Center Map refers to it as the Westwater Ruin. We searched both Five Kiva Pueblo and Westwater Ruin. We found one reference to Westwater Ruins - a cliff dwelling that was occupied about 1150 A.D. to 1275 A.D. 

This area has been pretty much overlooked by the scientists. Due to its close proximity to Blanding, the pueblo buildings were pretty much picked clean. Over the years, people took many precious artifacts illegally. What was left was spray painted by the kids that like to come and party here.

You will be happy to know that we did, in fact, count five kivas.

This one is by far the largest and most intact.

It's hard to tell exactly how many families lived here. It was probably used as a central gathering place. From this vantage point, we could see a number of family pueblo units up and down the canyon. We decided to head off and explore a few of the other building areas.

This little two room unit was located down one level and to the north of the main pueblo on the east side of the canyon.

We noticed this rock art painting. We can only speculate that it was a clan symbol. We did look for more rock art and petroglyphs, but the walls have been pretty much carved up and spray painted by the vandals.

Just above the two room unit was a studio apartment with a great view down the canyon.

We noticed another set of buildings back across the canyon, high on the cliff wall. We bushwacked our way down to the stream bed, hopped across, and worked our way up to the main housing level.

Once inside, we could see several rooms.

Some of the walls even had their original plaster.

It's hard to say if that was an original window or was an addition made by some later squatter or visitor.

From each site we visited, we could look up or down the canyon and see another site that was probably occupied. On our way back out of the canyon, we noticed yet another complex. In fact, we probably passed the trail to this on our way to the Five Kiva Pueblo.

This was definitely a two story housing complex.

There were loads of storage spaces.

This retaining wall may have even held water from a seep under the rock ledge.

Wow. We came expecting to find one ruin, and we ended up finding a half dozen. It is hard to imagine how this vast empty desert once housed thousands of people all living and working together in their little canyon communities.

We're moving south tomorrow. There are two more areas we want to see before heading down to Albuquerque:  Monument Valley (more rocks) and Canyon de Chelly (more ruins). So, stay turned.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Moki, Gods and Goosenecks

Hi Blog!

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, we set out on a driving adventure. There were three attractions we wanted to check out - Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods and Goosenecks State Park. Here's one of the "gods" from Valley of the Gods, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our day started with a drive south out of Blanding toward Cedar Mesa. Utah Highway 261 runs north to south across and down the cliff face of the mesa. The Moki Dugway was constructed in the 1950's to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat. The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. All the same, we saw two RV's PULLING TRAILERS, and one bicyclist weaving all over the gravel road, try to negotiate the road.  So the road's classification as "dangerous" is due to more than its steep, narrow, winding nature; it also is due to the lamebrains that are on the road.

Here we go!

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa.  It consists of 3 miles of steep, unpaved, but well-graded switchbacks (11% grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the valley floor near Valley of the Gods.

This route provides breathtaking views of some of Utah’s most beautiful sites.  Scenic views of Valley of the Gods and distant Monument Valley open at every turn of the dugway.

The term, "moki" is deried from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture.  "Dugway" is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

If you look closely, you can see a little white SUV working its way up the cliff face in the photo below.

Once down the Moki Dugway, we turned northeast into the Valley of the Gods.  Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area in southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat. It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.

Monument Valley is located on Navajo Nation land and visitors exploring the area usually travel with a Navajo guide. A permit from the tribe is needed before you can hike into the backcountry.  Valley of the Gods offers similar scenery without the tribal restrictions; it is located on BLM land and is open for hiking, backpacking and camping.  In fact, we saw several sets of boondocking campers who found spectacular sites with views of their favorite sandstone formations.

A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It was sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It was fun!

Valley of the Gods has appeared in a couple TV shows. The 1984-1987 CBS show Airwolf used a mesa in Valley of the Gods as the secret hiding place of the super-helicopter Airwolf. And two episodes of the BBC science fiction TV show Doctor Who were filmed here.

After our drive through the Valley of the Gods, we went over to Goosenecks State Park. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River provide a view of a geological phenomenon known as entrenched meander. It looks a lot like a continuous series of horseshoe bends, and it put the famous Colorado River "Horseshoe Bend" to shame.

There is more than one horsheshoe bend in these goosenecks. Throughout millions of years, the San Juan River has cut into the landscape. The rock surrounding it is so strong that the river's direction changes often, causing an appearance of a "gooseneck."

Over a distance of one and a half miles, the San Juan River flows for more than six miles through the twists of the entrenched meander.

The canyon walls reveal the 300-million-year old rocks of the Pennsylvanian period.  Near the Goosenecks State Park is the Honaker Trail which leads from the river to the top of the canyon.  It was along this historic trail that early detailed studies were done on the Pennsylvanian period limestone, and is known as the “type locality” for the Honaker Trail Formation, a rock layer laid down in the Pennsylvanian period. Under the Honaker Trail Formation lies the Paradox Formation. Geologists flock to this site for education because the Gooosenecks provide a very accessible place to study the Paradox Formation.  Geologists are interested in the Paradox Formation layer because rich amounts of oil have been found in this layer of rock in other areas.

We hiked the rim road out to its furthest point. Off in the distance was Monument Valley. We took one look at this rock formation and said - "Live Long and Prosper!"  Giving equal time to other opinions, the campground host at Goosenecks State Park related that many people see this rock as two feet, as if the owner of the feet were lying in bed and you were looking at them from the foot of the bed.

According to our GPS, we were standing next to the Second Narrows, a spot that is much-photographed by the river rafters. Just past the Second Narrows is an intermittent stream that pours over the edge of the cliff, in the right of the photo below:

In this photo, Dave takes a peek over the edge to see if he can see any boats going by. Over his shoulder are the RVers parked next to the rim. Be careful - that's 1,000 feet down!

We hiked back to the picnic area and enjoyed our lunch while watching different groups of school kids work with several park rangers on various projects, like constructing a dinosaur from dinosaur bones, and identifying the different rocks in the area. They were having so much fun, we were tempted to join them.

Our ride back to camp was uneventful. There is so much to see and do in this area of Utah, we just don't know what to do next. So stay tuned!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hovenweep National Monument

On our way back to Blanding from Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, we found backroads to Hovenweep National Monument.  President Warren G. Harding established it as a national monument in 1923. The monument protects five prehistoric ancestral Puebloan canyon-head villages located along a 16-mile stretch of land intersecting the Utah-Colorado border west of Cortez, Colorado.

The Square Tower Unit is the largest section of the monument.  The Square Tower group sits in the heart of a 500-square-mile raised block of land called Cajon Mesa and is part of the Great Sage Plain. Several streams drain the mesa and flow into the San Juan River to the south.

As we walked around the canyon head, we looked east to see the familiar Sleeping Ute Mountain, which we learned about earlier today at Canyons of the Ancients.  This reminded us how connected many of the ancestral pueblo sites were in this area, despite their segregation into different parks and monuments.

Our first view of the ruins in this area, were at Stronghold House, the ruins of which are in the foreground of the photo below, with Twin Towers in the left background and Eroded Boulder House in the right middle ground:

The most impressive ruins at Hovenweep were Hovenweep Castle:

Hovenweep Castle consists of two D-shaped towers perched on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon. The stone walls, two and three courses thick, show detailed masonry techniques. Growth rings on a wooden beam in one tower indicate that the log was cut in 1277 AD, one of the latest dates on any structure in the San Juan region.

From across the canyon, Hovenweep Castle is even more impressive:

The ruin we came to see was Square Tower.  The two-story-tall tower stands down in the canyon. Situated on a large sandstone boulder, it was built in a slight spiral shape, perhaps for added strength or for aesthetics. The single T-shaped doorway faces west. There is evidence of an earlier doorway facing the spring at the head of the canyon.  A kiva was excavated beside Square Tower. Unlike many tower-kiva associations elsewhere, Square Tower and its kiva were not connected by a tunnel.

Hovenweep includes several other ruin areas, but, unfortunately, we had no time to explore them.  We've decided to put this on the list for our next visit to the area, perhaps park our RV in the campground, and spend a few days exploring all of the ruins at various times of the day.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Today we looked east from Blanding, Utah toward two national monuments that have ancient pueblo ruins in common:  Canyons of the Ancients, near Dolores, Colorado, and Hovenweep, just east of the Utah-Colorado border.

We started with Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which protects an archaeologically-significant landscape located in southwestern Colorado, was created in the year 2000. The monument's 276 square miles are managed by BLM. The monument was proclaimed in order to preserve the largest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States, primarily Ancestral Puebloan ruins. As of 2005, over 6,000 individual archeological sites had been identified within the monument.

We started at the Visitor Center near Dolores, which is also known as the Anasazi Cultural Heritage Center, and, after watching the video introduction and touring the museum, walked around the ruins of what is known as the Escalante Pueblo located at the center:

The ruins include a large internal kiva, which we had only previously seen in the La Bonita ruins at Chaco Canyon National Monument:

Looking out from the ruins, we could understand why Ancestral Puebloans had located their home here.  Below was the beautiful, life-giving Dolores River, and, to the north, a view of the snow-capped La Plata Mountains which had just received their dressing of snow in a recent storm:

From the ruins, we could also see Sleeping Ute Mountain, which has its own story in the legend of local native peoples:

In the very old days, the Sleeping Ute Mountain was a Great Warrior God. He came to help fight against the Evil Ones who were causing much trouble.  A tremendous battle between the Great Warrior God and the Evil Ones followed. As they stepped hard upon the earth and braced themselves to fight, their feet pushed the land into mountains and valleys. This is how the country of this region came to be as it is today.  The Great Warrior God was hurt, so he lay down to rest and fell into a deep sleep. The blood from his wound turned into living water for all creatures to drink.  When the fog or clouds settle over the Sleeping Warrior God, it is a sign that he is changing his blankets for the four seasons.  When the Indians see the light green blanket over their "God", they know it is spring. The dark green blanket is summer, the yellow and red one is fall, and the white one is winter.  The Indians believe that when the clouds gather on the highest peak, the Warrior God is pleased with his people and is letting rain clouds slip from his pockets. They also believe that the Great Warrior God will rise again to help them in the fight against their enemies.

With the ruins and legends of the Dolores area in mind, we drove on to one of the most well-known pueblo ruins in Canyons of the Ancients - Lowry Pueblo.  It has been partially reconstructed and is protected by a steel roof structure: 

Portions of the ruins are accessible to tourists, so we walked through them to try to gain a feeling for what it was like for the ancient ones to live in these structures.  Below, David peers through a window of one of the pueblo rooms:

The Lowry Pueblo boasts one of the largest great kivas discovered to date.  It is large enough to permit it to delineate areas for the "winter people" and "summer people" in the native tribe - those who supervise the activities in wintertime and those who supervise summertime activities:

The foundations in the kiva for the winter and summer people have unique designs.  This one is reminiscent of Kokopeli:

From Lowry Pueblo, we moved on to Painted Hand Pueblo, which was a little more challenging to reach because it required us to climb down through slots between rocks from the mesa surface above this cliff dwelling:

The dominant surviving structure of Painted Hand Pueblo is a round tower that dominates the canyon below:

Here is another view of the tower:

This is an even more interesting view of the tower, from below, because it shows the flat rock on which the tower is constructed and reveals that a residence had been constructed in the hollow under the flat rock:

Nearby are a number of petroglyphis and pictographs, many of which, unfortunately, are starting to fade from time and wear.  This one is of a four-legged animal that we could not identify:

Here is another four-legged creature:

Not far from the tower is another residence built with masonry under an overhanging rock.  Kathy explores the residence in the photo below:

Painted Hand Pueblo was a very satisfying ruin to explore because it was so accessible, because it was quite different in composition from other pueblo ruins we've seen - in that it included a tower - and because it was a cliff dwelling rather than a pueblo constructed on the top of a hill or other rise of ground.

We drove west toward Hovenweep National Monument filled with excitement about what Hovenweep would show us that would be even more dramatic than the ruins we saw in Canyons of the Ancients.