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Circus Trip 2018: Hovenweep National Monument

Day 83, Saturday, October 6, 2018
Hovenweep National Monument, Montezuma Creek, Utah

Hovenweep is one of the most amazing places I have ever been in my entire life.  I know people say things like this a lot, but it is truly incredible.  When people ask me what my favorite place on this trip was, Hovenweep always comes up at the top of the list.  It is a hidden gem for sure!  It is also remote; I drove for miles down farm roads and gravel roads, even wondering if I was going the right way, but I was.

Hovenweep was first discovered by white men in 1854, when William Huntington came across the ruins while on a missionary trip for Brigham Young.  It was designated as a National Monument on March 2, 1923, President Warren Harding after years of concerns about the artifacts being stolen and destroyed by explorers, ranchers and others.  Despite a long history of protection, archaeological studies really weren’t done here until the 1970s. Visitation now is still very low, 39,970 people visited in 2017.

When I was there, camping was first come, first served; there are 31 campsites and there is a length limit for campers.  That said, it is soooo worth it to camp there!  It has flush toilets but no showers, and when I was there it was only $15 a night.  I got there about 3:30 in the afternoon and my first stop was at the Visitor’s Center to get some postcards and my National Parks Passport stamp. 

Then I did the loop hike of the Tower Group – it was 2.5 miles and went along the edge of Little Ruin Canyon and past several dwellings, tower and other structures built by the Puebloan people.  It was sunny and warm!  I was so fascinated by the dwellings, which provide a peek into a different style of Puebloan building.  These structures were not built into alcoves of the canyon, like the ones at Mesa Verde.  They were also not pit houses, although they were mostly built on the mesa top.  A few structures were built in the canyon itself, and many were built over the seeps and springs that are in the area. 

These people were certainly expert builders; they didn’t level the ground to build their structures, instead they shaped their construction to work with the topography.  They often built on top of large stones and outcroppings that already existed at the site.  Historians believe that the people who built these structures lived here around 1300 A.D, although there is evidence of human habitation in this area as far back as 8000 B.C.  These towers and stone houses are very well preserved.

As you walk the rim of the canyon, you pass by multiple towers and stone houses; I was in awe of these beautiful structures and once again found myself wondering what the lives of these people were like.  When you hike out here, there is almost no external noise.  I was completely alone for most of the hike and it was so quiet, save for a few birds.

I saw lots of lizards because of the warm temperatures too – I loved seeing them! 

At the end of the hike, there is a section where you climb down about 80 feet to the canyon floor and cross over to the other side to climb back out.  It wasn’t too tough though; 80 feet is nothing! 

I made dinner and sadly missed most of the sunset, and then I got a text from Carol saying she had changed her plans and had arrived at Hovenweep!  We ended up sharing my campsite that night, a bottle of Michigan Marquette wine from 12 Corners Winery.  It was a bottle I had purchased when I spent the day with my cousin back in Michigan; it was delicious!

Carol and I sat at the picnic table talking, and watching the most incredible dark skies.  You could see the Milky Way spread out across the dark sky and it was huge.  I have never seen the Milky Way pop the way that it did that night; it completely filled the sky with bright stars.  I can’t even describe how beautiful it was.  I need to get back into timed exposures with my camera and night photography!

Having a bottle of wine with a friend while watching the Milky Way that night was truly one of my favorite life experiences.  Simply incredible! 

 

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde, Long House

Day 82, Friday, October 5, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Wetherill Mesa

It was my last day in Mesa Verde National Park.  That morning I got up about 6:30, because I had a big day waiting for me!  I got changed and on the road about 7:30 am.  My ranger-led tour of Long House was at 9:30, but it was about an hour and 10 minute drive to the meeting point on Wetherill Mesa.  I arrived in plenty of time.

My tour of Long House was awesome!  It is a 2.25 mile hike, mostly flat and on a paved trail.  Long House is one of the later cliff dwellings, and it is as large as Cliff House.  The ranger explained what historians know about the Puebloan people who lived in this dwelling.  To get into Long House you have to climb up two ladders and climb down one small one to get back out at the end.  The ranger also showed us some black and white pottery shards that were found at the site. 

On the tour I met Carol, a young woman from Wisconsin who was living in Chicago and finishing her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.  She was on a solo road trip like me!

Carol and I hiked to Step House afterwards, which is a one mile round trip hike near Long House.  It is self-guided, but a ranger is there to answer questions.  Step House has a rare reverse pictograph where someone long ago put their hand up and blew pigment around it.  It was cool!  There used to be a Bighorn Sheep petroglyph there, but the National Park Service removed it for safekeeping in the 1960s.

After our Step House hike I said my goodbyes to Carol and got back on the road.  I really enjoyed my time in Mesa Verde, but it was time to see new places.  I was headed to Hovenweep National Monument next!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde NP

Day 81, Thursday, October 4, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Chapin Mesa

Can I just say that I love Mesa Verde!?  I visited this park once before in 2014, and I was so excited to come back and explore more.  I wrote about the history and my visits to Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace, as well as seeing the wild horses that live in the park, if you want to take a trip down memory lane…

On Thursday morning I left camp about 8 am, and on the way out I saw several Mule Deer – there were about a dozen of them!  I stopped to take photos from my car of these beautiful animals with their huge ears.

I drove up to the Chapin Mesa, and did the loop road to visit the various viewpoints and overlooks.  The various stops show the different time periods of habitation in the park, from the period when the Puebloan people constructed pithouses, which were partially sunken in the the earth and had poles erected with mud covering them. 

Over time, they began building pole and mud homes directly on the top of the mesa.  Later still, their most advanced construction came along; the cliff dwellings that these people are most known for.  The cliff dwellings were first built on top of the mesa, beginning about 1200 they were built into alcoves in the cliffs to provide protection from the weather (and possibly from other ancestral tribal people).  They were elaborate dwellings made from handmade bricks and support timbers.  Some of the largest cliff dwellings here had dozens of rooms, and may have been home to hundreds of people.

Each stop along the tour has interpretive signs, so you can see the progression of the society.  In all, the Puebloan people lived here between 550 and 1300 A.D., but the period of time when they lived in the cliff dwellings was the shortest period – only about 100 years.  By about 1300, these dwellings were deserted and the inhabitants had moved on.  Researchers do not know why.

My favorite stops are at Spruce Tree House, which is the best preserved cliff dwelling, and also one that you were able to hike down to when I was there in 2018.  Unfortunately, it is current closed to visitors due to falling rocks above.  I also really enjoyed the Sun Point Pueblo, Sun Temple and the Fire Temple.  From the Fire Temple you get an excellent view across the canyon of one of the cliff dwellings in the park.  I went on a tour of Cliff Palace in 2014, so I didn’t do the tour this time around.  There is an excellent downloadable audio-tour available on the Mesa Verde National Park website if you would like to learn more!

Square Tower House is another cliff dwelling that you can tour during brief periods during the year.  It wasn’t open for tours when I was there, but there must have been researchers there, because when I looked down from the overlook there were people there.

While I was on my driving tour of the viewpoints, I almost got caught in a huge hail, thunder and lightning storm, but luckily I made it back to my car just in time!  The sky had looked pretty ominous and I had been watching it, so I’m glad I got under a roof quickly when the sky looked like it was going to open up!  I sat in the car to wait it out, there was water running everywhere!

After my tour of the loop road, I went to the Cafe at the Chapin Museum for an early lunch.  I had a steak salad; it was good, but the steak was a little tough.

Next I did one of my favorite hikes of the trip; the Petroglyph hike!  This 2.5 mile hike was definitely on my bucket list. The trail starts at Spruce Tree House, but is considered a back-country hike and you are supposed to sign in at the Museum so they know who is out there.

Sadly, a man named Dale Stehling disappeared on this trail in June 2013.  Although the area was extensively searched, no trace of him was found.  In fact, Stehling remained missing until September 2020, when a hiker called in an anonymous tip.  Stehling’s bones were finally found with his identification in a remote canyon that is closed to the public, about 4.2 miles from where he had gone missing.  This area had also been searched in 2013, so there are certainly more questions than answers.

Despite the tragedy, the Petroglyph hike is an amazing hike.  It is remote, despite being so close to the Chapin Museum, one of the most heavily populated parts of the park.  It leads to a panel of Petroglyphs about 1.4 miles from the trailhead, with about 30 petroglyphs.  It is fascinating to see this language left by the people who lived here over one thousand years ago.  The hike is a bit strenuous, winding through the canyon at the base of a cliff, often with steep dropoffs on the other side.  The trail isn’t always super obvious, and I could see how easy it would be to get lost if you weren’t paying attention.  I was alone for the entire hike.

The most challenging part of the hike is where you have to use the foot and hand holds that are carved into the rock to scale the cliff and return to the top of the mesa.  I was pretty nervous to try this part, but I also didn’t want to double back!  I really had to psych myself up but I managed just fine, and I was so proud of myself!  It was amazing!  Once you are back on top of the mesa you just walk around the canyon to get back to the museum.  It was such a fun hike!

That evening I took a shower a the campground facilities, and was treated to my first, “don’t poop in the shower drain,” sign.  This friends, is why you always wear shower shoes when camping!  EWWW!

That evening I got to bed about 10 pm, because I had to be up early for my Long House tour in the morning!  I was awakened at 2:12 am by a coyote howling, but managed to get back to sleep after he stopped.  There’s nothing like camping in a National Park!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Durango, CO and Mesa Verde NP

Day 80, Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Durango, CO and Mesa Verde National Park

That morning, I got up at 7 am and left the campground just after 8; I passed a lot of cute towns on the way and the Aspens were a beautiful yellow.  I stopped along the side of the road several times to take photos of the scenery.  It was so stunning!

I tried to go to Chimney Rock National Monument, but it had just closed for the season!  One day I will have to go back and check it out, because it looked really cool!  For now, the view in the distance will have to suffice.

I got to Durango, Colorado at 1 pm, and stopped in at Animas Brewing Company.  I had an IPA and a Traditional Pastie, with sirloin steak, potato, onion, and carrot.  It was delicious, even though it had onions.  Durango was another town I want to see more of!

After lunch, I drove on, and went through Mancos, a cute town that I definitely want to see more of.  I got to Mesa Verde at 3 pm.  At the Visitor Center, I signed up for the 9:30 am tour on Friday of Long House, one of the Ranger-led tours of the cliff dwellings.  It was a dwelling I had never seen before, so I was excited to get a spot. I also booked two nights in the Morefield Campground, which had plenty of empty sites to choose from.

With a few hours before dark, I drove up to see the view at the Park Point Fire Tower.  It is such a nice view and I lingered there for a while, enjoying it. 

That evening I dealt with the more mundane tasks of living on the road – laundry!  I met a couple from McMinnville, Oregon and enjoyed talking with them while I waited for my clothes.  When I got back to camp at 8 pm it was dark and I was ready for a good night’s sleep!

Acclimating

Seems like the whole country is in the middle of a cold snap.  Temperatures are forecast in the Pacific Northwest going down to -10 degrees with the wind chill.  It was 15 yesterday morning.  Where I’m at in Minnesota, it is -8 with a wind chill of -25.  I haven’t gone outside yet today.  It’s sunny, but I don’t think I should allow that to mislead me.  It’s a trap. 

I did a beautiful hike in the snow the other day.  I love how snow makes the whole world go quiet.  We humans could learn something from quiet, but most people don’t stop and stand still long enough to really listen.

It’s been three months since I quit my job and retired.  I’m not regretting it.  I’ll admit I have been a bit lazy lately.  I haven’t done anything to save the world, or end hunger; I’ve been resting.  I did visit Duluth, Minnesota for the first time the weekend before last.  I saw Lake Superior and one of its small lighthouses, and even went to a walk through Christmas light show. It was unseasonably warm – about 31 degrees, which made walking around tolerable for me.

I have been doing some puzzles, and reading lots, and I watched all the episodes of Yellowstone!  I’m really enjoying the show, but now that I’m caught up, I’m going to have to find something else to start watching.  Outlander is in the running, and The Crown (that one has a backstory for a different day), or maybe picking up where I left off on This is Us.  So many options for someone who watches as little TV as I do!

I watched Going My Way the other night, with Bing Crosby.  It had been a few years since I saw it, and I loved it all over again.  It seems like life used to be simpler – I could go for that.  I have two more books to read before the end of the year to meet my goal of 38 books.  Admittedly, I’ll read a couple of shorter ones to squeak by.  Then it will be back to the beefier history books after the beginning of the year.  That’s not cheating, right?  I just started The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams.

There has been a lot of change for me this year.  Mostly good, some really hard.  People don’t necessarily do well with change, and I’m not any different.  As for Christmas, well I’m not any better this year at getting into the holiday spirit.  For some reason, I always struggle with being the Cindy Lou Who…  I still say that my perfect Christmas would just be to travel.  To spend the day hiking in a National Park, eating a picnic lunch, and heading back to a warm shower, a dinner of cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine at the hotel.  I have yet to have this dream Christmas. 

So we’ll just postpone any more positive change until next week.  Maybe the New Year.  I did get my ornaments made for the family homemade ornament exchange, so I’m feeling pretty productive.  That might be all there is. 

I do want to start planning a spring trip, and figuring out what new section of the country I want to visit!  I have been googling distances, but I haven’t begun any planning in earnest.  Who knows, maybe I’ll just set off without a real plan again like I did in 2018.  I have the ability to just go with the flow! 

I hope you are all safe and well and enjoying the holiday season. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Garden of the Gods

Day 78 & 79, Monday & Tuesday, October 1 & 2, 2018
Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’m rarely if ever sick, but when I do get sick, I go all in.  Thankfully this time it wasn’t for long!  I had stayed at a La Quinta the night before, because the price difference between camping and a hotel in Colorado Springs is not significant.  So when I woke up the next morning feeling dizzy and nauseous, it was easy to just stay for another day.  I slept, and relaxed and watched television for the day. I also had the gyro platter from the Caspian Cafe next door; it was so delicious! 

The next day, October 2, I was feeling better, and got on the road again.  My stop for the day was at the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. The Garden of the Gods was discovered by white settlers as early as 1859, when two surveyors were in the area.  One of them announced that the area would be a perfect place for a beer garden!  His companion exclaimed instead that it was the a place for the Gods to assemble, and therefore it should be called the Garden of the Gods.

The park’s natural rock formations were caused by the upheaval of a fault line millions of years ago.  Native Americans are known to have been using the area as early as 1330 B.C.  Several tribes, including the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Ute people, all claim a cultural tie to the park, and petroglyphs that are similar to Ute styles have been found in the park.  In 1879, Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres that included sections of the current park.  When he died in 1909, he donated his property to the City of Colorado Springs, with the stipulation that it become a free park. 

This free park is amazing!  There are paved and gravel trails, and plenty of rock formations to wander among.  It is so stunningly beautiful!  There are 21 miles of trails winding by rock formations, rock overhangs, and scenic views.  I really enjoyed hiking in this park and taking photos.  The views are amazing, and I had so much fun hiking here.  There is something incredible around every corner.

There was a rock formation called the Siamese Twins, where you can see Pike’s Peak through the arch in the rock. 

Kissing Camels is on the main trail.  The Sentinel and the Three Graces both have huge fins. 

 

And Balanced Rock is right off the parking lot.  There is a lot to see and do here. 

After leaving Garden of the Gods, I drove through Old Colorado City, which is the historic section of Colorado Springs.  I would love to go back and do some exploring there someday.  Upon leaving Colorado Springs, I drove on Highway 24, which was very scenic.  The aspens were starting to put on their show and I was lucky to see some!  I passed through several cute towns, including Divide, and would love to see more in that area too.

I stayed that night at a KOA in Buena Vista, Colorado, with a very good view! 

Circus Trip 2018: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Calhan, Colorado

I made it to Colorado! 

I gotta say, I was pretty excited to get to Colorado, and even more excited to check out Paint Mines Interpretive Park.  I first learned about this park in 2015 on another trip to Colorado, but we didn’t have enough time for a visit.  But this time I did!  Plus the weather had gotten much better since I left Kansas, and it was now a beautiful sunny day in the 60s. 

This 750 acre park is filled with colorful rock formations and hoodoos, created by iron rich soils that stained the rock in different colors.  The softer clay eroded faster than other rock to form the hoodoos.  You can walk among these spires and explore the slots and shallow caves that were created by this erosion.

I found a bunny who was kind enough to pose for me too; so I was able to get a good shot of him. 

All in all, this small out of the way park was a great one; it was about 30 minutes from Colorado Springs.  It was so fun to explore!  I absolutely loved just wandering, and felt so at peace among the rock formations.  It had been a while since I had really been on a hike, and I really enjoyed it!

 

Resurfacing…

I know, I know… I’ve been missing in action for a bit.  Sorry about that!  I’ve had some adventures going on! 

It’s been six weeks since I left my job, and I’ve been gallivanting all around the country since then! 

I took four days to go camping on the Oregon Coast at the end of September.  I spent two weeks in Minnesota at the beginning of October, spent a little over a week in Knoxville, Tennessee, had time in Washington in between each trip and am now back in Minnesota.  It’s been a whirlwind and I’ve had so much fun! 

I walked miles on the beaches, found a whole bunch of little agates and other small rocks, and tried out some new to me breweries and restaurants.  I camped on the coast and enjoyed the late September weather, which was a little bit foggy but unusually dry for the Oregon Coast.

Minnesota has had sunny days, mostly warm temperatures and pretty fall leaves and a relaxation that I have long needed.  I hiked, and checked out a place on the Mississippi River that is known for its Staurolite rocks; they form in the shape of a cross!  I found one too! It is small and not a perfect cross, but I love it. 

And Knoxville!  Tennessee was a new state for me!  My mom wanted to go to a jewelry convention, so I tagged along to be the chauffeur and sight-see while she was in her classes.  I saw Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and of course didn’t get to see everything I wanted to so I will have to go back!  I toured most of the historic homes in and around Knoxville and enjoyed them all; there was such a variety of time periods!  I tried out a couple local breweries and had some nearish to Tennessee hard ciders, although the state could up their cider game…  I had such a great time!

I suppose I can’t always be traveling though, even though I want to.  So I’m hoping to get back to a more regular schedule of posting.  I have so much to catch you up on!

Happy November!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Indiana Dunes NP

Day 73, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Indiana Dunes National Park
Author’s Note: At the time of my visit in 2018, Indiana Dunes was designated as a National Lakeshore.  To avoid confusion, I am using the National Park designation it currently holds.

From my family in Galesburg, Michigan, I drove about an hour and 40 minutes to Indiana Dunes National Park.  I was back in Indiana and had a chance to do some state sign posing!  It is located along about 20 miles of Lake Michigan, with the western part of the park located in Gary, Indiana.

Indiana State Sign

Indiana Dunes protects the sand dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, located about an hour from Chicago.  This area of the lakeshore had many steel mills, and glass companies at the turn of the 20th century found the sand ideal for their glassmaking.  As a result, the dunes were shrinking from all the sand that was being trucked away, and pollution was a huge problem.

Indiana Dunes was authorized by Congress as a National Lakeshore in 1966, and its designation upgraded to National Park status on February 15, 2019 by President Donald Trump.  In 2020, annual visitation was approximately 2,293,000 people.  As it is only about an hour from Chicago, it makes for an easy day trip.

Indiana Dunes National Park

I checked out the Century of Progress Architectural District, a collection of five homes that were relocated to this area after the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.  These homes are privately owned, so you can’t see inside, but it is interesting to see the outside!  The architectural style of the time was very unique and these are good examples!

Indiana Dunes has several trails to the lake, and is a well known spot for birdwatching.  So I wanted to check it out!  I hiked the Dune Succession Trail, a one mile trail that included some dune habitat, grasslands, deciduous forest and of course, the beach and excellent views of the lake.  There were also quite a few mosquitos – YUCK!

I didn’t do too much exploring that day, as I was getting acclimated to traveling again, but there is lots more to see at the park, including more historic homes and farms and many more trails.  I will have to go back there sometime to check it out!  After my visit I got back on the road and headed south to the KOA campground in Springfield, Illinois.  I was going to be heading west along I-70 and was making my way south to do that!

COVID Diaries: Day 707

I got home late Monday night from two weeks on vacation in Minnesota.  It was a much needed respite, and yet so very cold!

Getting home on Monday wasn’t easy though.  There was a winter storm warning in Minnesota that was due to bring 14 inches of snow.  Thankfully the snow came later and it wasn’t bad getting to the airport.  My first flight was great!  My second flight was canceled due to high winds.  I ended up taking the shuttle bus home, but my bags didn’t come with me.  I got one bag back last night and my second got home today.  And all the Minnesota cider I had nestled into it survived!   

Unfortunately, I got home to a cold snap so encountered temps of 25 degrees and black ice on my commute, making for a treacherous drive on Tuesday.  But the sun is out!  And it warmed up to 44 this afternoon, making it much warmer than Minnesota now.

It was so nice to have a getaway, but it just reminded me how much I want to go on a long road trip again!  But probably not in the dead of winter.  Well, maybe in the dead of winter in the south.  At any rate, a road trip is on my mind.  Hopefully soon.

My vacation was spent doing many cold weather activities.  Hiking, snow shoeing, visiting an ice castle and an ice maze, ice fishing, frozen waterfalls and other fun winter activities!  I had a great time, but didn’t always stay warm!  In the evenings, I got to work on a puzzle, watch movies, play games or just read. 

In other news, my state’s Governor finally announced that he would lift our mask mandate no later than March 21, long after most other states.  So that may mean that the COVID Diaries may finally come to an end, and it will be time to have a new “thoughts on life” series.  One can only hope.  Stay tuned!