Monday, July 31, 2017

A Visit to Hovenweep National Monument

Posted from Ignacio, CO
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Not all of our time in the Cortez, CO area was spent visiting Mesa Verde NP. One day we decided to take a drive of about 45 miles to Hovenweep National Monument. Believe me, when you visit this area it will NOT be overrun by tourists. We might have seen 10 people total during our visit. This is the route we took from our CG (near Mesa Verde NP). We traveled to the NM by heading south out of Cortez and returned by the northern route to Cortez. The Visitor's Center is just into Utah.

Map Courtesy of NPS

We knew very little about the area or what we would be viewing, so our first stop was the Hovenweep Visitor's Center to pick up a map, and to watch a short video detailing what we would be discovering.

We discovered that the Hovenweep National Monument (HNM) consists of a collection of several sites spread throughout many miles.  The most visited area (which also contains the most structures in one location) is named Square Tower. This area can be hiked from the Visitor's Center via the Little Ruin Trail. The trail is slightly over 2 miles, but will take a couple of hours to complete.
Map Courtesy of NPS

We also discovered that the majority of the other sites can only be reached via 4x4 or high clearance vehicle.  Because the Honda Fit meets neither of these requirements, we spent the entire day exploring the Little Ruin Trail.

The trail begins at the Visitor's Center and led us to the rim top of the canyon.  We followed the trail counterclockwise and stayed on the rim until the last 1/2 mile (near the north end of the canyon). At that point you have to hike into, and out of, the canyon to complete the loop.

Map Courtesy of NPS
The Hovenweep structures are amazing in their construction.  When you consider that you are looking at structures built between 900-1300 AD and think about the primitive tools used, all I can say is WOW! Sometime around 900 AD as the population grew in the mesa and more land was needed for agriculture, groups combined into communities when water sources were located. (In this case near the head of the canyon on the south end.)

Tower Point commands a great view up and down the canyon. Notice the circular construction technique employed.

Twin Towers structure originally contained 16 rooms. The structures were built right on the edge of the canyon on bedrock with their walls almost touching. Wooden lintels (shown at the top of the rectangular opening) are original to the structure.

Square Tower was built on a large sandstone boulder down in the canyon. There was originally a door facing the spring on the south end of the structure.

One of the most interesting structures was Hovenweep Castle. It consisted of two D-shaped towers sitting right on the edge of the canyon rim. A wooden beam in the castle was dated at 1277 AD, one of the oldest dates on any structure in the San Juan region. The residents who lived here were not kings and queens, but were farmers.

By 1300 AD, the inhabitants of this area departed. They moved south into central Arizona and to the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. The ruins remained undisturbed until Mormon expeditions came upon the area in the 1850s.

We really didn't know what to expect when we came to visit Hovenweep National Monument, but were very pleasantly surprised. If in the area, this is definitely worth a visit. NOTE: It was pretty hot during our visit, so earlier in the day or later in the afternoon worth make for a more enjoyable time.

This is the last blog entry for the Mesa Verde area. We will be moving on next to Ignacio, CO, just a few miles southeast of Durango, CO.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mesa Verde National Park

Posted from Ignacio, CO

When we booked our stay at Mesa Verde RV Resort Campground for TWO full weeks I was a bit "nervous" that we wouldn't have enough to see in the area. After all, the main attraction in the area is Mesa Verde National Park and it didn't look to be one of the larger parks. All I can say is I was wrong!

When we arrive in a new area (or park) we head first to the Visitor's Center to pick up maps and plan our visit. The close proximity of our campground was a major plus during our visitations to the park. We were located within a 1/2 mile from the Visitor's Center. Mesa Verde NP's attractions are generally located in the far end of the park from the Visitor's Center. There are two main areas of concentration, one on the Chapin Mesa and the other on the Wetherill Mesa. From the Visitor's Center to Chapin Mesa is approximately 23 miles and it's approximately 27 miles to the Wetherill Mesa area. Because of the very winding and hilly drives to both plan on at least an hour to reach each area from the Visitor's Center.

This is an overview map of the park showing the Chapin and Wetherill Mesas relationship to the Visitor's Center.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
This blog entry is going to take a somewhat different reporting approach because we visited the Park on 5 different days and hiked, picnicked, took tour ranger-guided tours, and visited stationary displays.  Rather than creating a VERY lengthy blog with tons of pictures I decided to keep the pictures to a minimum and create links to our blog albums for those who wish to see more.

The map below has different areas we visited as shown by BLUE NUMBERS. These numbers indicate the chronology of our visit and the following blog will correspond to these numbers. At the beginning of each "section" I will list a photo link should anyone wish to view additional photos.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
Click on Map to Enlarge


As stated above, we always make the Visitor's Center our first stop. 

On this particular day, after picking up maps and reserving tickets to the Cliff Palace Tour, we also made the drive from the entrance gate to the Chapin Mesa area. We made a stop along the way at Park Point Overlook. This is the highest point in the park at 8572 feet and is used as a fire lookout station.  

There have been many fires in this park thru the years and the view from here is gorgeous.

The second day in the Park we decided to take a ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace. The pictures of Cliff Palace are associated more with Mesa Verde NP than any other in the Park.  Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwelling communities in Mesa Verde NP.

Several of the cliff dwellings can only be viewed when accompanied by a ranger. The fee for these tours is $5 (and well worth the cost). This particular tour is considered one of the easiest and includes two fifteen foot ladders to climb. Karen is not really happy to climb ladders and crawl thru tunnels, but this tour was very doable for her. 

This is an example of a Kiva, a structure common to many of the sites we visited. When used as structures, logs are placed on the vertical stone pillars and a roof is constructed. A ladder is placed in the center of the roof and creates the entry and exit point for the Kiva.

After visiting Cliff Palace, we drove down the road a short bit and followed a sign for Fry Bread. This area is just outside the boundary of the Park, and on the Ute Indian Reservation. Fry Bread is similar to a Funnel Cake, although a bit lighter in consistency. We sprinkled a bit of confectioner's sugar and honey on top to create a very tasty treat.

Our goal on another day was to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and to hike the Petroglyph Trail. The trail is listed as "moderate" in difficulty and is a 2.4 mile loop. I believe it's closer to 3 miles, but still very enjoyable. Like most of the trails, steps were created years again by the CCC to assist in navigation.

Of course, one of the benefits of hiking these trails are being able to view the surrounding canyons.

The largest wall of petroglyphs in this park are viewed on the hike.  

Near the end of the hike, the only current view of Spruce Tree House is possible.  These dwellings are currently closed to visitors as the rock cliffs above the structures are crumbling.

Here's a bit closer photo of Spruce Tree House.

We completed this day with a quick visit to the Far View Sites. This area of construction belonged to the period around 1000 A.D. The cliff dwellings, by contrast, were constructed later than these dwellings which were built up on the flat Wetherill Mesa. 

This trail on the Wetherill Mesa is reached by taking a VERY windy road. It's approximately 12 miles from the turn off near the Far View Lodge. There is a Wetherill Mesa information kiosk near the beginning of the trail. Step House is in the middle of a short hike and is self-guided (although there is a ranger at the structure to answer questions). After descending a series of metal steps, the complex comes into view. 

A partial reconstruction of a "pit house" can be seen at Step House.
This style of house is believed to have been originally constructed around 620 A.D. and was later used alongside the pueblo-styled buildings constructed 100s of years later.

Just a single ladder to climb here, but quite doable.

Beginning again at the Wetherill Information Kiosk, we trekked toward the Badger House Community.  The hike is probably 2 miles in length and is relatively flat. This community depicts archaeological finds thru 600 years of occupation from the first pit houses around 550-600 A.D. 

The construction evolved to single story villages around 750 A.D. The single-stoned exterior walls give us a clue that these were single story.

Next came the multi-story buildings around 1100 A.D.

Finally, a small percentage of the population moved to the cliff dwellings in the alcoves of the surrounding canyons. This occurred sometime around 1200 A.D., but most of these dwellers moved from the area around 1275 A.D.  Fires have continued to strike the Wetherill and Chapin Mesa areas throughout the years.

We wrapped up this day by hiking a short 1 mile trail named the Nordenskiold #16. Gustav Nordenskiold was a Swedish photographer and geologist who photographed many archaeological sites as shown to him by the Wetherill family. This site was labeled as #16. The site can only be viewed by visitors from a viewpoint across the canyon at the end of this trail.

A closer view of the structures.

This little guy was standing guard near the viewpoint.

On our last day to visit the Park, I believe we saved the best tours. Long House Tour is ranger guided, but the groups are much smaller and more time is spent down in the actual cliff dwelling. The hike to the site begins at the Wetherill Info. Kiosk and follows a paved road to the entrance. The hike is approximately 2.25 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours (including the tour of Long House).

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in the Park at 150 rooms and 21 kivas. This was our first glimpse as we hiked down the steps.

This tour was different also, because you were able to climb a couple of 15-foot ladders and view an upper level of the dwellings.

Here's a view looking down into one of the kivas.

Evidence of water seeping through the rock to provide a source of water to the cliff dwellers.

Jeanette, our NPS Ranger, allowed us to take our time looking thru the dwelling and was a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  Actually, all of the guides throughout our entire park stay were excellent!

Balcony House Tour was again a ranger led tour. I was left alone to take this tour as Karen is not a big fan of tall ladders and narrow tunnels. This tour is billed as the "Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour" by the NPS. During the tour you must be able to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl thru an 18-inch wide by 12-foot tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps (and cable railings on each side), and finally climb two 10-feet ladders to make an exit.

Here is Ranger Jack giving us an introduction to Balcony House and "warning" those who might not want to continue given the constraints outlined above. 

No one in our group chose to drop out, so here's the first ladder to enter the dwelling.

Here's a view from the top of the ladder. Yes, it really is that steep.

This cliff dwelling is somewhat unique as balconies were built along the walkways which gave fantastic views of the canyon below.

Here's a view of one of our group exiting thru the narrow tunnel. This was also the same way in which the ancient cliff dwellers exited their dwelling to climb to the flat mesas above.

I can't imagine scrambling up this cliff face with only foot and toe holds while carrying provisions along the way. Today, the cables are a great aid!

One more ladder and you're at the top!  This was truly a great tour. It did get the blood pumping a bit. I won't lie!

Well, that's it for our visit to Mesa Verde NP. If you've managed to stay with me to this point, thank you. We really enjoyed exploring the park.  There was definitely much more to see and do than we had initially envisioned. This park is a bit different from many other of our National Parks because it deals with the humankind struggles and evolution, rather than just the natural beauty. If you can't tell by now, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would recommend this park to those who have not yet been able to visit.

(Don't forget to click on the numbered link at the beginning of each section. This will take you to many, many more photos on that area of the park.)

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Crisis Averted

Posted from Mancos, CO

RVing in general, and fulltime RVing in particular, requires a constant vigil of the equipment. Sometimes, this also includes the vehicle being towed (for you motorhome RVers).

The last couple of times we hooked up our Honda Fit to the Blue Ox tow bar, I noticed a small amount of vertical "play" in the attachment tabs.  With the tabs in place, I could pull upward and feel some type of looseness in my baseplate connection.

Needless to say, this is not a good thing. I installed the Blue Ox baseplate on our Honda Fit back in 2012, so I was none too happy to have to tear off the front of the car to find the problem. It had to be done, however.  Here's a picture of the car with the front fascia removed.  I still have yet to remove the vehicle bumper. I found out once again how much I hate those plastic connectors on these cars!

With the bumper removed I was able to take a closer look at the baseplate connections.  On this vehicle, there are three 3/8" Grade 5 bolts which attach each side of the baseplate to the Fit's frame.

The "problem" was quickly located. On both the driver's side and on the passenger's side, the bottom bolt was completely missing. Here's a look at the driver's side of the bracket.

The same bolt was missing on the passenger's side of the bracket. Not only were the lower bolts gone, but the middle bolt on both sides were a bit loose.

I replaced all six bolts and nuts with brand new hardware, again using Loctite Red on the threads. (Just as I had done back in 2012). The bolts were all torqued to Blue Ox's specs of 33 ft/lbs as well.

When taking the fascia off the front end of the Fit I found 3/4 of the broken bolts and nuts laying in the horizontal plastic fascia beneath the bumper and radiator area.

I'm not sure what caused the broken bolts, but I did notice that the nylon locking nuts were backed off to the ends of the bolts, and the one bolt head appears to have broken on the outside of the baseplate bracket.

We (definitely with the help of Karen) were able to re-assemble the Fit without incident (and even had no parts left over).

There really is no moral to this story other than to check your equipment from time to time, and if a problem is found, don't procrastinate (like I did for a bit) and do something to fix it.  I was fortunate enough to be able to repair this problem without having to drag it to a service place and saved quite a bit of money in the process.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!