October 31, 2016

10/31/16 - Hovenweep NM

Hovenweep National Monument is one of those places that you don’t stop at on the way past as you’re going somewhere else.  You actually have to plan a trip there because it’s not really on the way to anyplace else you’re going.  Even from where we were staying in Cortez, Colorado, it was 45 miles.  

The monument is made of six separate units, spread across 20 miles of mesas and canyons in two states (the sign says).  They’re all open to the public, but all except the Square Castle one are remote and difficult to reach.  You can actually read that as:  “The only one that you can get to on a paved road is Square Castle, and therefore the only one George was willing to consider.” 
Many of the national parks seem similar and you think you shouldn’t need another one just like the other—but when you get there it’s really unique and well worth the designation (and the drive).  There are round, square and D-shaped towers around the rim of a canyon.

The ranger gave us a Little Ruin Trail Guide and told us that the Rim Trail Loop was a mile and a half with part of the trail going down into Little Rim Canyon and then a climb back up to the rim.  But...she said, if we didn’t want to go that far, we could turn right at the canyon and just do the half-mile Tower Point Loop.  George opted for the shorter walk.  (Sigh...)

Behind the Visitor Center was a trail heading to the canyon rim.  We could see the ruins of several structures nearby and some towers across the canyon.  The closest to us was Stronghold House.  We couldn’t get very close to it, but it was right on the edge.  Actually, what we could see here is the top story of a pueblo built on the slope below. 
After taking pictures at the Stronghold House, I looked around for George and saw he’d turned left.  He waved at me and I started that way—he was heading for the trail down into the canyon.  He said he’d changed his mind.  Okay!  Worked for me. 
It’s not a deep canyon—about 80’ back up to the rim after we crossed a little streambed.  We could see Twin Towers and the Eroded Boulder House above us. 
Since I don’t know much about lichen—except that there’s thousands of kinds of it.  I also have no idea why there were so many different colors of it on the rocks.  (I’ve had stuff in my refrigerator that looked a lot like this.)
When we got to the top, we looked across to the other side of Stronghold House.  You can see the bottom part from here.  On the left is Stronghold Tower—or at least what’s left of Stronghold Tower.
The first set of towers we saw are the Twin Towers, a pair of rock towers that are almost touching.  They remind me of castle keeps in Europe.  Together these two buildings had 16 rooms.  From some angles they look round, but one is oval, and the other is shaped like a horseshoe. 
A little further along is Rimrock House, although they’re not sure if it’s really a house because it doesn’t have any room divisions.  Two stories tall, rectangular in shape, it has many small openings but they don’t know their purpose.  Eight hundred years is a long time, and most have the neighbors have moved on.
From Rimrock House, I took a picture of what I thought was Round Tower.  It’s round, it’s a tower, there’s a sign.  Seemed logical to me.  Now that I’m reading the guide to refresh my memory (and frankly, paraphrasing it), it seems that Round Tower is supposed to be in the canyon, not on the rim like this one...
We could see Hovenweep House and Square Tower as we walked along the trail.  It was the center of one of the largest Pueblo villages in the Square Tower group.  The part that is still standing is on bedrock.  The rest slid down into the canyon.
To the right of those structures is Hovenweep Castle, two D-shaped towers right on the edge of the canyon.  Named for size rather than function, farmers rather than royalty lived in it.  Below the rim are piles of rubble from other structures that were here.  The debris helps give an idea how much larger the complex would have been.
There’s a good view of Sleeping Ute Mountain from the south.  His headdress is to the left now, with his toes sticking up far to the right. 
Just before the end of the canyon, we got to Hovenweep House from the other side.   I guess this is the front.  Nearby is a checkdam across a small streambed.  Hard to believe that this mesa top was actually farmland.  Please don't ask me to explain the concept of a checkdam...it's one of those things I think I understand, but not enough to make a fool of myself trying to explain to anyone else.
Around the corner is Square Tower, built on a big sandstone boulder down below the rim.  They say it’s two stories tall, but to me it looks taller.  Maybe it’s the tree.
Continuing around the rim we finally got to Hovenweep Castle, where we can see the towers up close.
They lined the trail with rocks to show the way across the rimrock.
We made a little detour to Tower Point.   
And look!  I finally found Round Tower!
Almost back around Little Ruin Trail is Unit Type House.  Archeologists named it as a basic building used in many sites in the southwest.  It has a few living and storage rooms and a kiva, home to a family or a clan.  I’m guessing the rocks on the left are the kiva, but maybe not.  I’d think a kiva would have neater stacks of rocks.  Maybe these are just rocks.
A little further along is a view of Eroded Boulder House from a different angle.  The boulder is used as part of its roof and walls.  Looks like someone missed a cliff dwelling.
We headed back to Cortez through McElmo Canyon. Pretty little farms--both old and new--along McElmo Creek.

More pictures of Hovenweep Natl. Monument:  Hovenweep Natl Monument 

October 30, 2016

10/29/16 - Mesa Verde NP

When we went to the Anasazi Heritage Center, I picked up a Visitor Guide for Mesa Verde National Park.  Obviously one of the things we wanted to do there was tour a cliff dwelling.  The guide showed dates and times for the three cliff dwellings that have tours:
  • Cliff Palace (Largest Cliff Dwelling)  – Closed for season September 26
  • Long House (Most In-Depth Tour) – Closed for season October 16
  • Balcony House (Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour) –                               Closed for season October 30
Obviously whatever else I’d had planned for the next day got postponed!  To make sure we got tickets, we even drove down to the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez to buy tickets for the next day’s noon tour. The lady there told us it was a two hour drive from Cortez to Balcony House, allowing for stops along the way at some of the viewpoints.  (It didn’t.)

Mesa Verde’s elevation varies from 7,000 to over 8,500 feet at the Park Point Viewpoint.   Cortez is a little over 6,000 feet, so we had a bit of a climb just to get to the top of the mesa.

We stopped at the Visitor Center for passport stamps, but didn’t linger.  (We should have.  We definitely had time to kill before our tour.) 
Skipping the viewpoints on the main road, we arrived at Balcony House way too early.  We decided to go back around Cliff Palace Loop Drive to stop at the viewpoints we’d driven past to get to where the tour starts.  First up was an overlook for Cliff Palace.  This is the iconic cliff dwelling everyone wants to see.  (It was closed.)  They figure most of the cliff dwellings and some of the mesa top villages were built about 1,200 AD.  Tucked into a huge alcove not far below the mesa top, it’s an impressive address.
Those round holes aren’t swimming pools—they’re kivas.  Apparently kivas had a lot of uses, and for a cliff dwelling that had 100 people living in it, they needed several.
If you use your imagination and finish up the buildings, add some people and think modern-day planned community, you’ve probably got it pretty close.  Took a lot of thought and planning to develop something like this.  
After taking umpteen pictures of Cliff Palace, we got back in the truck and stopped at the House of Many Windows viewpoint, also in Cliff Canyon.  Those windows aren’t windows, but doorways.  Some of the walls are gone, but there used to be 11 rooms in this dwelling. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.) 
Next up was a viewpoint of Hemenway House, which is on the other side of the loop and across Soda Canyon.  This first picture is what we saw first.  I have no idea where the dwelling is.  The information sign is weathered and almost impossible to identify anything from the picture there.   So I stood in front of the sign, aimed my camera at the cliff, and hit the zoom.  I still have can't find the house, or even know if I’m in the right section of rock. Kind of nice rock though. (In this case, I don't think enlarging the picture will help much.)
When we got back to Balcony House, it was still only 11:15, so we sat in the truck and had an early lunch.  The tour is only ¼ mile long, but you have to climb a 32’ ladder, crawl through an 18” wide and 12’ long tunnel, then climb up a 60’ open cliff face with stone steps, finishing up with two more 10’ ladders to exit.  George was a little worried about the tunnel so he asked the ranger if he’d fit.  (He did!  And I have pictures to prove it!)

First we had to go downstairs.
Some of the trail has railing, a good thing to have handy when you're walking along a cliff.
We climbed up the 32 foot ladder.
And then we were in Balcony House!
Not all the walls are high enough to stand under.
Kiva below.
From inside looking out.
There’s a wall, sort of.
The ranger who led our tour told us this was his last tour—last tour on the last day of the season, and he was transferring to another national park in California.  He had a archeology background so we was full of fascinating information that really let us understand how the Ancient Puebloans lived. 

To leave, we had to stand in line because you can only go through the tunnel one person at a time.  George handed me the backpack and I went through a doorway like the one George is coming out of.  After that, there’s a space of a few feet, then you crawl across a big flat rock, another space, and then the door.  The ranger explained that the current exit was the entrance for the people who lived here.  Cuts down on attacks from enemies that way.
After getting out and catching our (his) breath, we had to stand in line again to go through this slit in the rock.
And then we went up another ladder...
...and some stairs cut into the rocks...
(which actually looked more difficult when I looked back at George)
...then one more ladder to get to the mesa top.
Deep breath, then back in the truck and the Mesa Top Loop Drive to see the pit houses and villages.  These were built about 600 AD, about 600 years earlier than the houses below the rim.  No one knows why they changed the way they lived.  Made of sticks and timbers and covered with adobe, the remaining foundations are now protected by a building.
A little further along the loop, we stopped at Square Tower House Overlook.  No ranger-led tours in any season.
Next up was a pithouse village.  The homes here were made of stone rather than wood and were clustered together, probably built a couple of hundred years later.
A little further along was a place called Mesa Top Sites, built between 900 and 1100 AD, parts of it over the same foundations as their architectural skills grew.  (Please note:  the building in the background was built in the 20th century.)  You can see how the style of the kiva has changed.  In my opinion, and probably 99% of the rest of the tourists that come here, the cliff dwellings are much more interesting.
From Sun Point View, you can look across Cliff Canyon to see Cliff Palace and other cliff dwellings in the alcoves and Sun Temple up on top. 
Oak Tree House is nearby.  Emphasis is on the Oak Tree, rather than the Tree House, but I wasn't looking for trees.  
Fire Temple and New Fire House are neighbors too.
Once we drove around to Sun Temple, we could only walk around the outside.  It’s shaped like a D.  Weird to see a whole building that’s not down on a ledge.
Then back in the truck and stop again—this time at Cliff Palace View Camera Point, which sounded promising.  However, the sun was shining directly on the Cliff Palace now, so the details weren’t as clear as they were in the morning when it was in shade.
We stopped at the overlooks we’d overlooked on the way in...you can see those and other pictures here:  Mesa Verde Natl Park