Morefield Campground – we spotted another Alto! Nice couple from Quebec, on their way to the Big Five. Such fun!
We left the scenic landscapes of Arizona and crossed through Four Corners before entering southwestern Colorado. We did stop to get a touristy Four Corners shot, which cost $8 per person and took around 20 min waiting in a car line before we could go in. I guess it was worth it? At least it was a break in driving and a good Dory pic. There are booths where people sell all kinds of jewelry, pots, T-shirts, etc. There are also a couple of food booths, but we didn’t feel the need to wait in line for those.
A Four State Fish
As soon as we left the monument, the landscape really did change. It was almost as if the state border lines were geologically legally binding boundaries. Like pinks and reds were no longer allowed across the border into Colorado. Now it was time for yellows and tans. Zionesque waves of salmon colored rock faces immediately stepped back to make way for bluffs and grass lands, like we were now entering Prairie Land in a state-by-state theme park. The snow capped Rockies loomed menacingly in the background, but we had no plans to get any closer to them. It looked like there was intense weather happening up that-a-way, so we were happy to turn the opposite direction as we headed up into the park.
“There’s weather over yonder, Pa.”
We stopped at the Visitor Center at the bottom of the final climb of the day, where Richard got out to ride up to the campground. I drove on ahead to get a site. Once you leave the edge of the mesa and descend into the little valley bowl that holds the campground, there is no more cell service. I went into the campground store to check in, and I was given a tag to put on whatever site I chose. I then had to figure out which site suited me. Some are not nearly big enough for a trailer, and some might be if you can pull off some fancy backing. Some are tippy and some are mostly level. Some are grassy and some are dirt. I settled on one in the Walpi Loop, but Richard had beaten me before I had a chance to get set up.
Knife’s Edge Trail – perfect for sunsets and cell service
We had time to go catch the sunset by taking the Knife’s Edge Trail, which was something he had done (without me) last time (I was bitter). It’s a short hike out of the campground to get up just enough over the hump that you can see the whole valley below the mesa. You can also hit every cell tower from Cortez to Mancos. This came in very handy later, and made for a nice sunset.
Cliff Palace Overlook – definitely sign up for a tour if you can.
We had reserved tickets for the next day to do the Cliff Palace Tour at 11:00. Unfortunately, Richard had to do a work call at noon and wasn’t going to be able to make it. He was able to snag one ticket for a 2:30 tour, but not two tickets. We decided I should go without him and at least he’d be able to go later. For the meeting, he hauled his laptop and a chair out to the trail and planted himself there for an hour.
Dory: Look! No problem!
Very small child: I DON’T WANT TO GO ON THE LAAAAAADDDEEEEERRRR
Everyone: so glad not to be her parents
Meanwhile, I drove the 20 mile park road out to the Cliff Palace Overlook to start the tour. It took about forty five minutes to drive the whole way, so that’s a note to not play that last minute. I’d read that there were ladders involved in this tour, but not the really tall ones described as “not for the faint of heart” on the Balcony House Tour. Getting down to the dwelling was not a big deal. All but one very very small child was able to do this. Sadly for that family, the very small child was extremely vocal in not wanting to go up a ladder, and ultimately they had to give up and send someone back with her. I brought out stuffed Dory in an effort to help calm her down, but she was not having it. Other kids on the tour seemed amused though.
Extremely cool to get up close
The ranger did a great job giving history and context to this incredible place. We learned how each and every sandstone brick had to be carved, using other harder stones from farther away. We learned that the mud used to make the mortar involved bringing water from somewhere else. We learned that the rock material mostly probably came from the natural rock fall that must have been present in the alcove before the pueblo people started building. And we learned about the lifestyle of the people who lived there, from the things they farmed, to how they gathered together in shared Kivas.
An ancient Kiva – there are ventilation shafts and small walls to deflect and channel the fresh air. Entry/exit would have been via a ladder through an opening at the top, directly over the fire, which also allowed smoke to exit.
Kivas are still in use today, and serve largely the same purposes they did way back in the 1200s. The architecture involved, from directing the airflow, to building a super sturdy roof, is remarkable. None of the roofs remain in tact in this cliff dwelling, but every single room would have had one. Buildings contained two or three stories for living spaces, in addition to rooms designed specifically for storage. It is a mind blowing feat of architecture perfectly matched to a naturally sheltered space.
This site is about 85% original construction. All the walls would have been finished and all the rooms would have had wood beam ceilings.
The rangers also stressed that the common myths about the pueblo people suddenly and mysteriously disappearing are false narratives. The most likely reason for the migration and abandonment of the site are extended periods of drought. There were thousands of people inhabiting the larger area around Four Corners and they still exist today. This site is but one of many sacred connections to their past and their ancestors. Many of the traditions and the ancient way of life is currently preserved in their own communities, including the ongoing importance of the kiva. The rangers made sure to contradict the stories that has been perpetuated for years, mostly by the National Park Service, to give a less uncomfortable narrative around taking over the land from the original inhabitants. They are trying their best to correct the misinformation now.
Exit up stone steps with two short ladders at the top. Note the hand and foot holds in the walls.
Climbing out of the site was also not a big deal. There are a couple of flights of uneven stone steps that follow what is likely the very same path used centuries ago. There are small foot and hand holds cut into the rock face, leading up a crack between rocks. Since it is a tight space, I imagine butt girth was used as an assist up to the top. Now, there are ladders and metal railings, and I did not find the ascent to be hard at all.
Did the whole tour again, just so I could get a Richard butt shot.
My tour was over around noon and I started the drive back to the campground. I knew Richard would have left before I could get back to Dory, and I knew it would be hard to communicate, but there is only one road, so I figured I’d see him. Once I got to Park Point, I got service and a bunch of texts from him. Rather than go all the way back, I just waited. There we decided he would appreciate a ride back from the hike, instead of having to bike another twenty miles. We also decided to take our chances and see if the rangers would let me just tag along for the 2:30 tour. After all, we had an unused ticket for the 11:00.
Balcony House Tour – Item #4 “Open cliff face with uneven stone steps” looks like the scariest part.
We met at the Cliff Palace parking area where Richard changed into civvy clothes and refilled water. The ranger was in fact very nice and totally let me do the tour again. The information was about the same from the earlier tour, but the pictures were better, so there you go. We looked at the information poster for the Balcony House tour on our way out and we both think we could do that some day.
Computing with a view
We wrapped up the day with another cell service walk on the Knife’s Edge trail. There I blogged and Richard finished a big project for work. We commenced our Elvis film festival project that night with “King Creole.” Eventually, we are going to do a tour of Graceland, so we are studying. I don’t know, you guys. Really? Maybe it’s hard for me to understand the appeal, not having grown up in the 50s. I mean, I get it that he was super talented. Is “Viva Las Vegas” that much better? We’ll keep watching. Maybe we’ll become converts and need to acquire many rhinestoned things. Yes, we’ve seen the new “Elvis” movie, and it was quite good. That actor is almost a better Elvis than Elvis.
Great stop in another national park. It will be a while before we hit another one, but we are super looking forward to connecting with friends in Santa Fe!
Total miles from Wahweap: 242.0, 17.2 mpg, 8 hours 24 min. Site 308 no hookups. Several dumps and all good, with potable water. Reservation does not specify site. Check in at store to get tag, then go choose site. No cell down in campground. Park Point hits cell, as does the Knife’s Edge Trail. A few places along the park road hit cell, where there are viewpoints down into the Cortez Valley. Wifi at the campground store, but very slow and next to useless.