The Goosenecks and Valley of the Gods

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October 8, 2019, Blanding-

There have been several goals that I have kept on embers, for several years now.  Camping out, above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, is one of these.  The otherworldly ambiance of this unique landscape has captivated me, every time we passed by there, en route to visit the Dineh of southeast Utah.

Once out of Monument Valley, one comes upon Mexican Hat, a small, mainly Dineh town that offers astonishing cliffs, a small, expensive motel and a fairly economical cafe.  I enjoyed dinner there, then pursued my camping option.

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Small outcroppings of Monument Valley appear to the southeast of Mexican Hat.

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Three miles due east of the town, I turned left, drove three miles north and came upon the Goosenecks.

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As the soil at the campground is powdery, for at least a foot down, I opted to sleep under the stars.  It was a bit chilly, towards morning, but the brilliance of the stars and the sheer stillness of the place made it more than worthwhile.  I felt there were two rivers, one below and the other above.

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The easternmost promontory of Monument Valley is visible to the south.

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Once morning arrived, I greeted a few of the other campers, ate some stale leftover cinnamon buns and called it breakfast, changed clothes in the port-o-potty and headed uphill, to the Valley of the Gods.  This small, unorganized park is accessible by gravel road, just before engaging the 3-mile series of narrow switchbacks which leads to Natural Bridges National Monument.  I opted to take several photos from the side of the road.

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The last two photos were taken from turnouts, along the switchbacks.

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This view of the area was made even more otherworldly by the early morning cloud cover.

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In about twenty minutes, I had scaled the switchbacks in my Elantra and was en route to Natural Bridges.  I look forward to returning to this area again, in the near future.

 

The Grandeur of Monuments in Red

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October 7, 2019, Mexican Hat, UT-

Several years ago, Penny and I took a guided jeep tour of Monument Valley, another of the Southwest’s signature geological wonders.  We encountered rock formations which resembled all manner of creatures, both past and present. There are, of course, myths and legends which explain these formations, though geology does quite well to keep things in the realm of reality.

My drive along U.S. 163, in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah, offered a glimpse of the formations which are visible from the road and some of which allowed for a better view, from overlooks.

The Mittens and Agathla Peak are the southernmost, and among the most famous, of the “monuments”, which are mostly sky islands that remain from the Oligocene Period, nearly 25 million years ago.

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Various ridges also remain from  the Oligocene.

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This pinnacle resembles an otherworldly sentinel.

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Agathla is 7055 feet in elevation.  It is what’s left of  an ancient volcano.

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This butte is also part of the same dormant volcanic outcropping.

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Second from right, the column looks like two spouses, engaged in a conversation.  The column to the far left resembles two onlookers.

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No matter how captivating and iconic the red columns and benches look, one must always remember that this is a working environment.  Ranching is a huge enterprise for Dineh people, struggling to thrive in an extremely arid environment, with poor soil.

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As the valley rises, and gets closer to the San Juan River, the promontories become more spread out, but no less majestic.

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Monument Valley, even fenced off, has a decluttering effect on one’s psyche.

 

Back Along A Golden Road

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July 17-18, 2019-

It had been three years, since I was last in Colorado. In the words of a waitress at one of my favoured spots, Del’s Diner, in Fort Garland, “That’s just too long!”  Del’s had been a bit of a dive, but had remodeled and was doing just fine.  The food was every bit as good as I remember.

U.S. 160 is one of those roads that make me feel at home, regardless of where I am, along its passage.  The same thing is true of Old 66; Highway 1, along the Pacific Coast; U. S. 30, through the Midwest,; and MOST of U.S. 1.

So, I took the road, from Ulysses, Kansas to its western terminus, in Tuba City, AZ.  A side hop was necessary, for me to take in Sand Creek National Monument.  From La Junta, though, I zipped down to Trinidad, then back up I-25 to Walsenburg, from which I could re-visit my favourite part of 160:  Colorado’s southern tier.  Thus came dinner at Del’s and a long search for a place to stay that wouldn’t mean my budget would need a budget.  Colorado seems to be even more popular than usual, this summer.  That does my heart good.

The Spanish Peaks are a fine greeter, just east of Walsenburg.

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The San Juan Mountains, between Del Norte and Pagosa Springs, are a reminder that snow regards the Rocky Mountain State as its summer home. (I’ve been in Colorado, at some point, each month of the year, and seen it snow, each and every month.)

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I stopped briefly in South Park, just west of the formidable Wolf Creek Pass, and found a Cal King was the only bed available.  Since I’m not part of a package deal, up and over the Pass I went.  Going through the pricey resorts of Pagosa Springs and Durango, the night drive came to an end at Mesa Verde Motel, Mancos.  There, I was generously offered a room at discount.  It is a “dog room”, the owners being pet lovers, but there was no sign of dog hair anywhere in the room.  Mesa Verde’s owners are just gentle, laid back people, and I  recommend the place for anyone finding themselves tired and on the west side of heaven.

The home stretch began with a stop at Mc Elmo Creek Flume, an irrigation channel, built in 1921.

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Seeking to stretch my legs a bit, before lunch, I walked around the City Park, in downtown Cortez.  A laid-back Ute gent, seeking to impress some ladies in his company, started to mock me, while I was walking up the hill. When that had no effect, he asked if i were a veteran. “Yes, I am, and you? ” “You know it, Bro….. Devil Dogs!”  He had the tattoo of a Marine, and though I recall the name being used specifically for those in the Corps, who fought at Belleau Wood, during World War I, I gave him a pass on that.  Everyone deserves a semblance of dignity and respect.

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Lunch time was here.  I sadly noted that my go-to place, Jack and Janelle’s, had gone belly up.  A walk downtown showed that there was someplace fairly new:  The Farm Bistro.  I gave it a shot, and am glad of it.  Alex and crew are spot-on, with great cuisine and set a spunky, welcoming ambiance.  Each party selects a plastic animal for its table, as a cue to the server.

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My visit to Cortez came to a close, and shortly, thereafter, I was back in Arizona.  Along the drive down the Navajo Nation, I noted that two once grocery-deprived communities, Red Mesa and Dennehotso, now have local markets.  One place that has nothing is Baby Rocks, yet this little village, east of Kayenta, could easily be the next big outdoors thing.

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This little wonderland is close enough to tourist-mecca Monument Valley, that a Dineh entrepreneur could easily remove the “Best Kept Secret” label from Baby Rocks.

Going onward, for four more hours, I brought this phase of Summer, 2019, to a peaceful conclusion.  Carson City, and my  Nevada extended family, await next week, after a few days of meetings here at Home Base.  My eyes and heart are always open, to what counts most in life:  Love of humanity.