Thursday, September 14, 2017

National Parks and Monuments in 1990: Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico

In May and June 1990 we took one of what our family refers to as the "National Parks Trips." Our kids and Judy will roll their eyes when this comes up, but I think it was pretty great.  We covered a lot of ground and haven't been back to many of these places. 

May 24, 1990 (Thursday):                (East on I-10)

We embarked on our second year of family trips with a real mega-vacation (17 days worth), with a new twist – camping. Rachael was 9, Sam 5 and Andrew 2. We left Redlands at 11:00 p.m. without any sleep.

May 25, 1990 (Friday):         (Betatakin Ruin, Monument                          Valley, Goosenecks, Natural Bridges)

Diet Coke is the only thing that kept me going. Just outside Needles at a rest stop (and about 4 cans of Coke later) I stopped and barely made it to a restroom. My bladder was about as full as it could get. I turned the driving over to Judy near Kingman, I was too tired to continue. She drove almost to Williams before she got too tired to drive any further. The sun was coming up and driving got easier. We stopped in Needles for gas and another pit stop. Then on to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we got gas again.

From Flagstaff we traveled north to Tuba City where we stopped at a grocery store/gas station on the Indian reservation for milk. We then had cereal out of plastic bowls in the back of the car. We made a detour off Hwy 160 onto Hwy 96, about 15 to 17 miles, to find Inscription House, a part of Navajo National Monument. As we got to the area we thought it should be we could not find it. I finally walked into a store, having just taken off dark glasses, to ask  where it was. I got stared at as badly as I’ve ever been stared at before. I really felt like I was a foreigner in a foreign country – one that wasn’t welcome. I was told the ruin was closed to visitors. I didn’t trust that information but had it verified down the road at another store. Oh well, over a 30 mile detour without success.

Back at the intersection of Hwys 160 and 96 we stopped at some vendors selling belts, iron wood, blankets and jewelry. I bought a belt with a snake pattern for about $8.00 which the vendor said the Indians wouldn’t buy because of something in their culture (the belts are made in Mexico). The ironwood was significantly more expensive than that we purchased in Puerto Penasco. The vendor said that the Mexicans are deforesting all of the ironwood and that it is getting rarer. Racheal and Sam also got belts. It was nice to cover so many hours in a beginning stretch when the kids were asleep. When it was about time to see anything, we were already near Navajo National Monument, many miles from home.

We made another detour off Hwy 160 to Hwy 564 (about 10 miles). There we went through the visitors center at Navajo National Monument (a Navajo guide or park person) near Betatakin Ruin. The visitors center is at 7,300 feet and it was chilly, made more so by the wind. We examined re-created mud Indian dwellings outside of the visitors center. We were one day too early for the hike in to Betatakin Ruin. However, the 1 ½ mile trip up the steep canyon would probably have been too much for us. Instead, we took a ½ mile walk to Betatakin Point, on the opposite side of the canyon from the ruin, where we could look down at it. Betatakin Ruin was discovered in 1909 by John Wetherill (whose name is familiar in Mesa Verde) and held up to 125 people. It contains some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in Arizona. The alcove opening is 450 feet high. Tree-ring dating reveals that the cave was first inhabited about 1250 A.D. In 1275 a large group arrived and most of the construction took place. The village was abandoned about 1300.

We headed north on Hwy 160 to Kayenta for gas.  Then north on Hwy 163 right before the Utah border, I was stopped by a Navajo Policeman and issued a speeding ticket for going 72 in a 55 mph zone. He was very polite and told me I’d be safe anywhere from 65 mph or under. The ticket cost us $59.60. A few more miles and we were at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Unlike the parks or monuments run by the federal government, this is run by the Navajos and the difference is evident. There is not a nice visitors center or nice roads. Just a lot of Indians waiting around to give guided tours. No pictures are allowed without paying a fee. Judy found some small white goats (fake) with real fur and horns for about $30.00. She didn’t buy one and kicked herself the rest of the trip, particularly in Ouray, Colorado, where she found them for sale for over $100.00. A 17 mile dirt road goes through the monument, but we were not inclined to take it at that point.

We headed northeast past Mexican Hat, a neat little place right on the San Juan River. We passed over the river on a bridge high above the water, a motel near one end. Outside of town stands the town’s namesake: a 2,500 ton boulder that resembles a sombrero. The formation, 60 feet wide and 12 feet thick, balances on a 200 foot cliff. Shortly past Mexican Hat we turned onto Hwy 261 and took a 4 mile detour  to Goosenecks State Reserve, over looking the San Juan River. The river meanders through a 1,000 foot canyon flowing over 6 miles back and forth while advancing only 1.5 miles. At one point the river makes a 3 mile curve around a ridge only 100 yards wide. Eventually, some of the necks will be breached, creating new natural bridges. I took a picture of Sam and Rachael near the edge, but it took some coaxing to get them there, the drop-off was very intimidating. The new “Man’s Search for Happiness” film at the end shows the family here. I distinctly remember going here as a young boy and being awed by it. That memory has been with me better than 20 years and I’ve really been looking forward to getting back. While we were there, a busload of tourists piled out ooing and awing. It is amazing how such a small area in Southern Utah got so much in terms of natural beauty. Even though the area is desert, with little vegetation, it is so beautiful with the colorful rock formations and colors, it doesn’t seem as much like a desert. It is much more tolerable than the desert near Needles or Baker.

From Goosenecks, we traveled northwest to the Mokee Dugway, an incredible road up a mountain which switchbacks the end of a box canyon. As you go up it, you can’t tell where the road is going to go. The road is dirt, has no railing, is barely wide enough for two cars and gets so high up that someone with a fear of heights would need to be drugged and put to sleep. As it was, I was nervous going up it. I think that it is probably the scariest road I’ve ever taken, short of a jeep up the side of a mountain.

We continued on Hwy 261 to Hwy 95 to Hwy 275 to Natural Bridges National Monument. Prospector Cass Hite discovered the natural bridges while exploring White Canyon in 1883. In 1904, the National Geographic publicized the bridges and in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the National Monument. In 1909 Pres. Taft enlarged the boundaries and gave Indian names to the bridges which were then known as “Edwin,” “Augusta,” and Caroline,” after early explorers or their relatives. The names, which are Hopi, are “Owachomo,” meaning “rock mounds” (for the large rounded rock mass near the mesa). “Sipapu” means “the place of emergence” and “Kachina” is named after pictographs resembling kachinas found near the bridge.

The difference between a natural bridge and an arch is that natural bridges are formed by erosion from running water, while arches are formed by other erosional forces. Natural bridges are enlarged and shaped by the same forces that cause arches to grow and mature, but they begin through stream erosion. We drove through rather quickly and just looked, without hiking. Near Kachina Bridge overlook, I caught a lizard (a side blotched) and was showing it to the kids. I let it go on my shirt and it was climbing on me. The kids, particularly Andrew, were screaming in delight, and I looked up to see a group of tourists with big smiles on their faces. We stopped at Mule Canyon Ruins and I looked around, but there was no indication camping was allowed, even though there were restrooms. We continued driving to Blanding where we were told we would find a campground at Devils Canyon Campground in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, about 15 miles north of town. We eventually found it, as it was getting dark. It was full, so we continued along a road, found a place we could pull off, and pitched our tent – one long day, covering a lot of ground. We’d planned to eat stir fry, but couldn’t get the stove to work, so ate peanut butter sandwiches and potato salad.

May 26, 1990 (Saturday):     (Newspaper Rock, Canyonlands –                   Needles District, Hole N’ The Rock,                 Colorado River)

In the morning while we were cleaning up camp, Rachael spotted four deer, which the kids went after. We headed north on Hwy 191 to Monticello where we went to a store and bought lunch meat, salad and dressing, chips and dip, bread, etc. Then we continued north to Hwy 211 where we turned southeast. At the junction was a distinctive formation known as Church Rock, which looked more like an arab mosque or a buddha’s head with a small hat. There was a road block near the turnoff with the police checking to see if we had alcohol (the Memorial Day weekend). We continued on to Newspaper Rock where we stopped and took a nature trail. We saw several whiptail lizards, went near the stream and looked at the wares of several vendors. My regret no-purchase was some elk horns for $15.00 or $20.00. The elk are in herds near Monticello. The fellow had elk horn buckles and other jewelry. He also pointed out a golden eagle nesting high on a cliff on the other side of the road. With our binoculars, we could barely make out the eagle and its white droppings coming down from beneath its nest. Newspaper Rock is probably the nicest petroglyphs we’ve seen. Near Newspaper Rock, we saw some climbers scaling a very steep rock using ropes and other climbing equipment.

We continued up the highway into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We drove to the end of the paved road to Big Spring Canyon overlook. Rachael and Sam got out of the car and did some scrambling over the rocks. We finally decided it would be a nice place for lunch and got a sleeping Andrew out of the car. We set up our food on a large flat rock area and had one of our more enjoyable meals. The temperature was pleasant, the surroundings beautiful, and a nice variety of food-salad, meat sandwiches with cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, chips and dill dip, soft drinks, etc. The only problem was the wind began to blow and we had to secure our plates. After lunch we drove a short way to the Pothole Point Trail. There was a beautiful view of the Needles in the background and fun climbing areas for the kids in the rocks. We saw a number of lizards, including one which I caught and let go on Sam’s shirt. The lizard eventually jumped to the ground and escaped in a crack in the rocks. The kids had wanted to catch another lizard and have it climb on them, like the lizard had on me at Natural Bridges.

At this point in our trip – Rachael’s favorite thing so far was seeing the deer in Devils Campground; Sam’s the lizards; Judy – tootsie rolls in Canyonlands; and Bob’s – Pothole Point and the lizard.

Traveling north on Hwy 191 after leaving Canyonlands, we stopped at Hole N’ the Rock, 15 miles south of Moab. It was the home of Albert and Gladys Christensen, he a former miner who gradually expanded the house through dynamite. The house has over 5,000 square feet. His stuffed mule was in the house, a self done one that looked like it. In its initial stages, it was open as a restaurant. The kitchen rock was painted a lime green, as was the bathroom, the rest was the natural sandstone color. The Christensen’s son still owns and lives in the home (so they say) and the Christensens were apparently Mormon, evidenced by a Book of Mormon and a number of other books in their book collection. Shortly after Hole N’ the Rock, we stopped the car by the side of the road at Wilson Arch. Judy snapped my picture and we were off again. We tried finding lodging in Moab which was futile. Everything was full on this Memorial Day weekend. While looking for a place to camp, just past the Arches National Park entrance (toward Moab), a bighorn ram ran across the road just ahead of the car in front of us. At first I thought it was an antelope because it went so fast. Then it clearly turned out to be a bighorn ram, with about a ¾ curl. Using my new binoculars, I watched the ram browsing on the other side of the road, about ¼ way up the mountain until it then disappeared into the rocks. It was quite a thrill for me. At the direction of a ranger in Arches, we ended up camping beside the Colorado River off of Hwy 128 just outside Moab and Arches National Park. We were camped in the middle of Tamarisk (I believe), it was hot, lots of bugs, very dirty – and our spot was not very level. We had a hard time getting up and down the dirt road from the highway as it was pretty rough. Although close to the Colorado, the tamarisk were thick and the embankment down to the river steep, so we didn’t get to enjoy the river.

May 27, 1990 (Sunday):       (Arches, Dead Horse Point,                               Canyonlands – Island In The Sky,                    Grand Junction)

In the morning we drove to Arches National Park and drove to Balanced Rock. There we found a picnic table and pulled out our cereal and bowls. After finishing breakfast and utilizing restrooms, we drove into the Windows Section and stopped at Double Arch for a hike. We hiked in about a ¼ mile, a beautiful stretch of ground, all fairly steep sides. Our hike into Double Arch was a lot of fun. It also had to be up with some of our most fun events on our trip. The hike was long enough to be a hike, but not so long to be tiring. The beauty was evident, and there was an element of thrill in climbing the fairly steep sides. At one point a man also hiking there had to help Sam down from a steep place he had climbed to and gotten frightened. We left there and drove up to Delicate Arch Viewpoint. We could only see if from a far distance, about1 ½ miles. We decided not to hike it. It was getting warm and it didn’t look too spectacular. Back three miles along the dirt road to the main highway, we drove up to the Devil’s Garden area at the end of the paved road. We didn’t stop, turned around and drove out to the main highway (191) to Hwy 313.

There was road construction going on at times, so the drive in to Dead Horse Point was slow (22 miles). Before the 1900s, mustang herds ran wild on the mesas near Dead Horse Point. The promontory was a natural corral into which horses were driven by cowboys. The only escape was a 30 yard neck of land controlled by fencing. The mustangs were roped and broken and kept for personal use or sold to eastern markets. Unwanted culls or “broomtails” were left behind. According to one legend, a band of broomtails was left corralled on the point. The gate was left open, but the mustangs remained. They died of thirst within sight of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

One trip that would be fun in the future would be to take Hwy 279 outside Moab, down below the cliff that supports Dead Horse Point. The road travels around to the Colorado River. When I was a boy and visited, the point was unimproved and just a spectacular view down. Now it has been developed as a State Park, rock walls built around the ledge and trails. Also a visitors center, which we did not visit and some covered picnic tables.

In some respects, Dead Horse Point and the Goosenecks are similar. Each has a high viewpoint overlooking a river. The Goosenecks is less crowded and more of a whitish rock. Deadhorse Point is more of a red rock, although in some respects not as high and less spectacular, particularly because some of the barriers take away the real thrill of being close to a steep ledge.

From Dead Horse Point we drove into Island In The Sky in Canyonlands National Park (the northern section of Canyonlands). We didn’t have a lot of time, so we drove straight down to Grand View Point Overlook, the farthest the road goes in that section. From there you get a lesson in geography as it is so easy to see how erosion works. The flat White Rim Mesa is broken up by canyons carved by rivers and other natural forces. Geography would be fun to study if it could be studied in a natural laboratory like this. A short way from there we stopped for a picnic. The table was only 30 yards or so from a spectacular cliff, and we had ants as well, but these were large ones.

From there we drove to Green River Overlook. A short walk leads down to what I thought was the prettiest view from this northern section.

The northern portion of Canyonlands is not as fun as the southern portion. The  southern portion, with its trails and more numerous dirt roads is a hikers and jeepers paradise. Some time in the future I would like to spend a week in a Blazer covering all the dirt roads in Canyonlands, including the Maze, and seeing all of the various arches. If done with a video camera and good still camera, it would be a tremendous way to remember it. As a teacher, I remember going to Canyonlands (the Needles) and having a tremendous experience. Jeeping up Elephant Hill and other portions of the park. 

We got back on the road out to Hwy 191 again. I wanted to take the scenic Hwy 128 from Moab to Cisco (along the Colorado River). Judy opted for a quicker route up to I70 and over to Grand Junction, Colorado. I was impressed as we drove in to Grand Junction at how accessible the Colorado River was. Many people were out canoeing and it looked like there were a lot of access points. That would be a nice recreational opportunity. That night we stayed at the West Gate Inn. I drove into town to a supermarket, bought some cooked chicken and seafood and potato salad, took a wonderful shower (after two straight nights of camping, we were getting ripe) and had a great night sleep. We arrived hot and sweaty.

May 28, 1990 (Monday):      (Colorado NM, Dinosaur NM,                         Pinedale)

In the morning, we started out by going to the east (Grand Junction) entrance of Colorado National Monument and taking a quick drive through. It was another spectacular view of land below from a high mesa. The road winds along the edge of the mesa as you look down the deep canyons out into the valley where Grand Junction lays. The road winds about 23 miles along the rim from Grand Junction to Fruita. Judy had a stiff neck and the kids weren’t too interested, so we really didn’t stop to enjoy it, other than a short stop at the visitor’s center. A man named John Otto came here in 1907 and fell in love with the area. He decided to promote the place because he felt it should be a national park. With his urging, the citizens of Grand Junction deluged Washington D. C. politicians with letters urging support of the proposal. Otto, meanwhile, was building miles and miles of trails throughout the park so others could enjoy its beauty. In 1911, Colorado National Monument was established. Otto was named park caretaker, which he did for $1.00 per month until 1927.

Outside the monument, we stopped to look at some pet buffalo which were near a dinosaur quarry. Then we pushed the pedal to the metal up Hwy 139 from Loma to Rangely. We drove through some beautiful country up through 8,268 foot Douglass Pass. Toward Rangely, we saw some petroglyphs from the road which were quite spectacular. I wish now we had stopped for a picture, but we were in a hurry to get to Dinosaur National Monument. After Rangely, we went through Dinosaur, Colorado (with dinosaur statures in several places in town) and Jensen, Utah up to Dinosaur National Monument. The name is kind of incredible when you realize the dinosaur exhibit is only a small portion of the monument, and there are miles of country with the Green River to be explored. In the monument we saw an Indian cave with petroglyphs (pretty badly worn) and the beautiful Split Mountains. From the road they look ethereal and the rock very unreal or different.

Then to the visitor’s center where we visited the quarry. The quarry had some nice skeletons and it was fun to see the bones embedded in the mountain. They had a wonderful tyrannosaurus rex skull, if my recollection is correct, but it was not much better, or even not as good, as the Denver Museum of Natural History, or even the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. This area was once a sand bar in a river where the bones got snagged and trapped. Dinosaur Quarry has produced more dinosaur skulls than any other quarry in the world. Earl Douglas of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh discovered the quarry near the Split Mountain in 1909 – the Jurassic Morrison Formation (145 million years old).

To prevent the eastern museums from taking all the fossils, the Utah Field House of Natural History was established in 1945. There are 14 life size models of dinosaurs in out door settings, as well as an inside museum with stuffed animals and real dinosaur bones. The museum is located in Vernal. We ate at the Diamond Hills Café in Vernal where Judy had a good lamb stew and I had some mediocre lamb.

In the Flaming Gorge area, near Dutch John, I got a speeding ticket for going 51 mph in a 40 mph zone. I was going down hill, the limit had been 50 or 55, and I was steamed, with the two tickets on this trip and the two prior tickets this year, I’ve had four speeding tickets in four states in less than five months (California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah). I later got nervous driving in Wyoming and Colorado, not wanting to add to the list of tickets in different states.

Past Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the grasslands, we spotted several groups of pronghorn antelope feeding along the side of the road in the sagebrush. We stopped the car and looked at them through binoculars. One was a group of about 13. A little later we saw a golden eagle carrying a rabbit near the side of the road. Near Pinedale there was a stand with a large stick nest perched on top with a sign from Mountain Fuel Supply (or something similar), that it was a breeding area for ospreys. An osprey flew over the car and a small pond down the road doing a weird fluttering exercise while staying in one spot in the air.

In Pinedale we stopped at the Half Moon Lodge Motel. The proprietor suggested an evening drive for viewing wildlife out past Fremont Lake to Half Moon Lake. It was  beautiful scenery with pines and aspen. We saw seven deer, six of them along the dirt road down to Half Moon Lake.

May 29, 1990 (Tuesday):      (Wind River Mountains, Fort                                                           Ashley, Jenney Lake)

We visited Faler’s General Store in Pinedale which had numerous mounted moose, elk, deer, mountain goat and mountain sheep heads. Also a grandslam of fully mounted and stuffed bighorn sheep (stone, desert, rocky mountain and dall). Later, we found that Falers also run a taxidermy shop in Pinedale. We drove up the Skyline Drive past Half Moon Lake near Elkhart Park until we were stopped by snow in the road. There was a beautiful view of the snow covered, rugged, Wind River Mountains, which are some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen (even prettier than the Tetons). We saw three deer on the drive.

We ate lunch in the Pinedale City Park which was beautiful, with a planted fishing pond (for 13 year olds and under), pine trees, stream, swing set (and apparently quite often a young bull moose). On the outskirts of town we stopped at Fort Ashley, a re-created pioneer town with authentic old buildings turned into curio shops. I struck up a converstation with a trapper who was selling furs and ended up buying a set of pronghorn antelope horns for $20.00.

About six miles west of Pinedale we visited the site where six of the 15 trapper/Indian rendezvous were held on the upper Green River. I wanted to visit the Green River Lakes but was voted down (the source of the Green River deep in the Wind River Mountains). On the drive to Jackson, we saw 12 pronghorn antelope – one group of 8 with four bucks. The Hoback River against the mountains outside of Jackson offered some wonderful spectacular views. We eventually camped near Jenny Lake in Teton National Park, the area where Judy camped every year as a young girl.

May 30, 1990 (Wednesday):      (Jackson Hole, Grand Teton                      NP, Old Faithful Inn)

It rained on us all night. Andrew had a fever and woke up at 11:00 and 4:30. Judy stayed awake after 4:30, but the rest of us slept until 8:00. In the morning we were faced with a very wet tent and a difficult time in trying to dry it out (condensation was all over the inside of our tent). Andrew and I saw a rabbit at the store. It was mottled, changing over from its winter white coat to a gray coat, with some black in it. We spent the morning around the campfire as it was cold and overcast. We cooked pancakes with cold syrup, fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. We didn’t leave the campsite until noon. A mockingbird or Clark’s nutcracker raided our camp and at our butter. It was quite bold.

We took Andrew to Jackson Hole to Instacare and found he had tonsillitis, a small ear infection, and got a prescription for Amoxicillin. Back to Jenny Lake, Rachael, Sam and I took a one hour horse ride with Teton Trail Rides. We went around Moose Pond and the edge of Jenny Lake through quite tough terrain (rocky and lots of fallen trees, uphills and downhills). We saw a marmot on a rock toward the end of our ride near Jenny Lake. We’d been told a moose lived near Moose Pond, but unfortunately did not see it. The ride was $10.00 each for the hour ($30.00 combined). I rode an appaloosa named Happy, Rachael a white horse named Kelly and Sam a brown horse named Bart. To appease Andrew, he was allowed to sit on the horse at the end and was given a box of animal crackers.

We drove through Teton Park, saw a group of four pronghorn antelope, three Canada geese and Judy saw a coyote. In Yellowstone, on the way in, we saw a bull elk in velvet and after checking in to the Old Faithful Inn, went on a drive toward Madison and saw elk in a pasture (three young calves and the rest cows). There was a large bison right next to the General Store eating grass. Our room was very hot, there was no way to regulate the heat other than by opening the window. It was very cold outside.

May 31, 1990 (Thursday):    (Yellowstone)

We met the Kenisons (Dave, Bonnie and Sarah) at noon near Old Faithful and then waited another 1 ½ hours for the Joneses. We finally checked into our cabins (each family in one) right next to the Old Faithful Lodge and a direct view on Old Faithful. We fed three yellow bellied marmots near Old Faithful. For lunch we opened the doors between cabins 200 and 201 and had a meal of hot dogs, chips, dip, potato salad, drinks, fudge apples and oreo cookies.

We took the road toward Madison to visit some mud pots, geysers and hot pools. We took the Firehole Lake Drive and saw the Great Fountain Geyser erupt (it only erupts every 9 to 12 hours). It was higher than Old Faithful and much thicker with more volume. When the hot water hit the cold air, the steam turned into instant fog and nothing could be seen but white. We also saw the Indian Paint Pot and Emerald Pools. It was snowing (not sticking to the ground), windy, rainy and very cold.

June 1, 1990 (Friday):          (Yellowstone)

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and met Stan Jones to go on a wildlife lookout drive. We left Old Faithful, up through Madison Junction, Norris Junction, Canyon Junction, through the Hayden Valley down to the edge of Lake Yellowstone. We saw a female cow moose, numerous buffalo, some elk (all at a distance), and a coyote. The coyote ran across the road and wandered through the trees. In the Hayden Valley, Stan and I watched through binoculars as a cow elk waited patiently for its calf to cross a river. I was surprised to see pelicans swimming on the Yellowstone River. We were also amazed at the number of bison in the park. We probably saw more of them than any other animal. Following way behind would be elk. I really wanted to see some moose and a bear. Ironically, back home in the San Bernardino Mountains, with the drought, the bears are coming way down. At our women’s youth conference, men leaders stayed up all night with flashlights scaring them away.

When we asked the ranger the best place to see moose, she said Grand Teton National Park. But as we’d already been there, she suggested Hayden Valley. When Stan and I saw the first cow moose there early in the morning, we didn’t pay it as much attention because we thought we’d see lots more. However, it turned out we were fortunate to see it. We viewed the devastation of the Yellowstone fire. About half the park was burned. One of the worst hit areas had a tornado before the fire. It was so bitter cold we did not diddle daddle outside of the car for very long.

After getting back to the cabins, we went out with the kids to feed the three marmots. We later saw several more running between the cabins. For lunch we bought frozen chicken, got a fire going in a firepit and cooked chicken in a pan, hot dogs, s-mores and drinks.

Later in the afternoon we drove to West Yellowstone, Montana, and ate dinner. Many of us had a buffalo burger. On the way back, Dave, Stan, Scott, Sam and I went to the Norris Geyser Basin (gigantic) and saw just a portion of it. I was a little disappointed we saw so little of Yellowstone, but it was fun to be with family. The cold weather rally hampered what we were able to do. We saw more bull elk and lots of buffalo.

June 2, 1990 (Saturday):      (Yellowstone, Cody, Old Trail                                                           Town, Douglas)

We drove from Old Faithful to the West Thumb, through and around Lake Yellowstone. We saw some bull elk, numerous buffalo, three deer and two moose (a cow and bull with beginning antlers in velvet). Dave Kenison was leading our train of three cars near Lake Yellowstone when I saw a moose back through the trees. Dave continued on (then later found us) and Stan Jones and I (after stopping our cars) went through the trees and got within 15 yards of the cow moose for a picture. We drove to the east entrance of Yellowstone which I think is the most beautiful part of Yellowstone. It is mountainous and least touristy.

Outside the park the beautiful scenery continued through to Ataska Teepee (Buffalo Bill’s hunting lodge), Wapiti and on to Cody. In Cody we stopped at the Buffalo Bill Museum and ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches in front (inside of a teepee). The museum included the Whitney Gallery of Western Art (beautiful paintings and sculptures) including Remingtons, Plains Indian Museum (including black footed ferret and wolverine artifacts), Firearms Museum and Buffalo Bill Museum which included trophy mounts of mountain goat (world record), pronghorn (world record), deer (world record), caribou, elk and moose (high on the list). The museum was very impressive. As usual, it would be easier to see it without kids, but I saw a lot of art I really liked, unlike many galleries I’ve been to. Also the trophy mounts were very impressive.

We were lured to an LDS Church by a sign on our way into Cody, advertising the “Historic Cody Mural,” a dome and painted ceiling. We were somewhat offended at the brazen attempt to lure in people using a frontier type theme when the mural depicts the non-Wyoming history of the Church. We were also dismayed when the guide talked for 45minutes and bored us to tears, even though he knew we were LDS. Apparently, a wealthy LDS man commissioned a non-Mormon painter to paint the mural and local people staff the visitors center constantly.

We went to Old Trail Town in Cody where they have a main street with restored log cabins, stores and the graves of many frontiersmen, including Jeremiah Johnson. I was fascinated by it, it really brought the flavor of the old west. It was the frontier version of Pioneer Village. Bob and Terry Edgar, the proprietors, have been developing it for 20 years, similar to what Pop did with Pioneer Village. Most of the buildings came from within 90 miles of Cody, each building dismantled, numbered and put back together on site. One cabin was Butch Cassidy’s and the Sundance Kids’s from Buffalo Creek in Hole in the Wall country. Judy didn’t like the place much, she thought it was uninteresting.

We then drove by a shop where a trapper was selling furs and antlers. It was extremely expensive, but he did have a wolf pelt from Alaska, moose antlers, etc. We drove through Meteetse, Wyoming, where the last group of black footed ferrets was discovered on the Pitchfork Ranch west of town. Previous to that time, the ferret had been thought extinct. Four colonies exist in captivity – one at the Sybille Research Center in southeast Wyoming, and three at zoos in other parts of the country. They are expected to be reintroduced into the wild in Meteetse in 1991.

Between Meteetse and Hell’s Half Acre we saw numerous antelope along the roadside (probably 50 or more). We stopped at Hell’s Half Acre, approximately 320 acres of badlands country with Bryce like rock formations, just as dark set in. We bought a treat at the store and continued on to Douglas, Wyoming, where we slept the night at the I-25 Inn, just as they were closing up around 11:00 p.m.

June 3, 1990 (Sunday):         (Longmont, Estes Park, Rocky                                                         Mountain NP)

We drove from Douglas, Wyoming, to Longmont, Colorado, to Dave and Bonnie Kenison’s home. Judy drove and I counted 97 pronghorn antelope along the way (and I was only scanning one side of the freeway). We attended the Longmont IV Ward where I stood in the circle for the blessing of Matthew Walter Kenison. After eating lunch with Dave and Bonnie, we drove in the Kenison station wagon up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The Park was extremely impressive. We were up near the tops of 11,000 to 14,000 foot mountains. Long’s Peak (which Longmont was named after) is 14,255 feet in elevation, not much shorter than Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental U.S. We drove up to approximately 12,000 feet in the car (above timber line). It was breathtaking. I’d like to take the whole loop to see the spectacular views. We counted about 85 elk on the way down, mainly in two or three pastures in herds up to 35 in number. Dave and Bonnie have seen bighorn sheep, previously, in the same pastures.

At Forest Canyon Overlook, we walked through paths shoveled in the snow, with snow walls six feet in height on both sides. The kids had a difficult time in the car. Both Rachael and Andrew had tantrums, which made the experience less pleasant. The Estes Park shops looked fun, but the kids would not have allowed us to stop.

June 4, 1990 (Monday):        (Denver, Canon City)

We went with Bonnie, Sarah and Matthew Kenison to the U.S. Mint in Denver. We had to wait in line for about a ½ hour and then were not allowed to take pictures. It was basically a big noisy machine shop stamping out pennies. We also saw slugs of dimes and quarters. In the gift shop we bought an uncirculated set of 1990 coins. Then we were off to the Denver Zoo.

The Denver Zoo has a beaver enclosure, an island surrounded by a moat. We saw the beaver actually swimming. It is the first beaver exhibit I’ve ever seen at a zoo. I was impressed by the coati mundi, grizzly bear, dall and bighorn sheep, polar bear and seal exhibits for natural settings and plenty of room for the animals. Also, the wolves had a beautiful natural setting. The wolf exhibit had five white wolves with holes for dens and a large area to roam in. The zoo also had elk and antelope (unusual zoo exhibits). The layout of the zoo was weird, difficult to tell where you were on the map and the signs were also difficult to read. The heat was in the 90’s – warm, but not extremely uncomfortable. We bought Andrew a plastic sea turtle which he loves.

Our tour of the Denver Museum of Natural History was one of the quickest in history (50 minutes), all three floors. The tyrannosaurus rex skeleton is the most impressive skeleton I’ve seen. Also a diplodocus, stegosaurus, mastadon and plesiosaur skeletons. Exhibits of Colorado and other animals taxidermied in natural settings were spectacular. This, with the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, were both more impressive than anything we’ve seen in Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

We said goodbye to Bonnie, Sarah and Matthew (who went with us to the zoo and museum of natural history) and drove down through Colorado Springs. We fell in love with the verdant green valley and surrounding mountains. Judy and I were both yearning to live there. The Air Force Academy sits impressively against the mountains to the west and 14,000 foot Pikes Peak also loomed to the west, still mostly covered in snow.

We camped near Royal Gorge outside of Canon City. We set up tent in the dark about 9:00 p.m. and read a chapter out of “Where the Red Fern Grows.” It was especially fitting in this atmosphere. We are in beautiful country and very impressed with Colorado (what I thought would be the least exciting part of the trip).

June 5, 1990 (Tuesday):       (Buckskin Joe’s, Monarch Pass,                                                       Cimarron)

We woke up at 7:15 a.m. (Judy had woken up at 6:00 a.m. and just laid there). We visited Buckskin Joe’s, a re-created western town near Royal Gorge. The cabins and stores are authentic buildings from the 1860s. It was created for the film industry to film westerns. “Cat Ballou,” John Wayne’s “The Cowboys” and “True Grit,” t.v.s “The Sacketts” and “How the West was Won,” the “White Buffalo” with Charles Bronson, “Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox” with George Segal and Goldie Hawn, and other films were filmed here. It was a ripoff, $18.00 per family, but we figured it was our only opportunity. We did witness a gunfight on main street (several people ended up dead in the street outside of the saloon) and rode a stage coach (painted red with yellow painted wheels) for a trip around the outside of the village. The kids spent some time in jail (it was difficult, but we finally decided to let them out) and Andrew sat on a coffin in the back of a wagon.

After leaving Buckskin Joe’s, we tried crossing the Royal Gorge Bridge and found that it cost quite a sum of money ($6.00 for each adult). It is the world’s highest suspension bridge. We decided with our other expenses of the day it was not worth it. We visited a small store which had a marvelous coiled rattlesnake with its mouth open, for sale. If we’d been rich, I’d have purchased it.

We stopped at a Safeway in Salida, bought food, and then ate lunch in the city park. We drove up to the Monarch Pass, 11,312 feet in elevation (just under the height of Mount San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California) and took the tram up to the top of the mountain (11,921 feet high). The pass is the continental divide. The tram was tossed in the wind and got us somewhat queasy. At the top, we got a wonderful view of the mountains for 150 miles. Mount Ouray, 13,955 feet, was most spectacular, as well as 14,200 foot Mount Shavano. The family didn’t want to go outside the building at the top of the mountain, but I did to take pictures and was buffeted by very strong winds.

Driving down Hwy 50, further, I spotted a couple of elk or bighorn sheep going from sage brush into the pine trees. Later, going through Curecanti National Recreation Area, after leaving the barren shoreline of Morrow Point Lake, and going into a side river gorge which was heavily forested, we saw three elk down in the trees. One was beginning to grow nubby, velveted, spikes.

We stayed in a very nice cabin at Pleasant Valley, near the little Cimarron stream. We barbecued chicken out by the stream and the kids played on some swings and other playground equipment on the other side of the stream. We would like to go back there some time on an elk hunt and use it as a base.

June 6, 2002 (Wednesday):              (Black Canyon of the                                                                          Gunnison, Ouray)

We didn’t leave Pleasant Valley until 10:45 or 11:00. I went on a nice jog in the morning behind the cabin and then down the road. We drove to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument and drove the south rim. We were awed by the steepness and beauty of the canyon. Wallace Hansen wrote, “Several western canyons exceed the Black Canyon in overall size, some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness and the somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.”

Judy bought a couple of books in Montrose and we drove on to Ouray. The drive was breathtaking, snow capped mountains on either side with lush green grass and trees.

Just north of Ouray we went to the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine and took a mine car 3,350 feet into the belly of the mountain. Our guide was a miner who had worked the mine prior to its closure in 1981. It was closed due to inability to compete with foreign sources. We wore yellow hats and rain slickers and climbed on a mine car with a single bench running lengthwise down the middle. As we entered the mouth of the mine, the cold air hit us immediately. Water was dripping from the top and sides of the mine. Our guide, J.R., explained mining techniques and the fact that his hearing is shot (he reads lips), he is nearly blind in sunlight (has to wear sunglasses) and has rocks in his lungs. Despite it all, he says he wouldn’t do anything else. For anyone considering going into mining, it would be an eye opening tour. I have great admiration for the miners. The tour was well worth the money and one of the best things we did on our trip. We ate at their outdoor restaurant and had their Texas barbeque beef. We shared one plate. The food was wonderful. The surrounding mountains and green valley here and in Ouray make it one of the most beautiful places on earth. On the way down the hill from the mine, we had to stop and take pictures because the greenery and the snow capped mountains were a picture I wanted to capture forever.

We drove into Ouray and went to the Box  Canyon – later realizing we hadn’t walked in far enough. But we did see a beautiful narrow canyon and the beautiful mountains towering to the east. We shopped some stores in Ouray and I bought a mountain goat pencil drawing print which I put up in my office at work.

The drive between Ouray and Silverton was beautiful. The whole drive I could have gotten out of the car every few minutes to snap pictures. I believe it was the perfect time of year to go as the snow still in the mountains left a beautiful backdrop. Beneath in the valleys, the green plants and trees leave an enchanted look that could easily be mistaken for the European Alps. The road between Ouray and Silverton is known as “The Million Dollar Highway.” Ore rich mountains had beautiful hues, including Red Mountain, which was very red. We camped in the South Mineral Campground, two miles north of Silverton, down a one mile dirt road. We cooked hotdogs over a fire and had chips and dip for dinner. The wood was very scarce at our campsite, we had difficulty finding enough to light a small fire. Interestingly enough, there was much more wood in the campgrounds at Jenny Lake in the Tetons. We drove into Silverton, bought some fudge and gas. We also tried unsuccessfully to spot the beavers that made the dams near our campground.

June 7, 1990 (Thursday):     (Silverton, Durango, Aztec Ruins                      NM, Mesa Verde NP)

In the morning I walked down to the beaver ponds but saw no beaver. I did see eight rabbits. On the way into Silverton, we stopped at the Christ Shrine above town, about ½ mile down a dirt road. We saw six to eight large woodchucks (my guess as to what they were). They were the size of marmots, but look different. I’d never seen one until the Denver Zoo. We also saw a coyote walking in the field below. We browsed the stores in Silverton and Judy vetoed a drive down the nine mile dirt road to Eureka.

The drive to Durango was beautiful, but except for the first portion of the trip through high craggy snow capped mountains, it wasn’t as beautiful as the Ouray to Silverton road. We continued down Hwy 550 to Aztec, New Mexico, and went to Aztec Ruins National Monument. We ate lunch in the park next to it. The ruins were not Aztec at all, but Anasazi. The ruins are near the Animas River which flows down from the San Juan Mountains to the north. The west ruin was built about 1106 to 1124 A.D. There were three levels and more than 24 kivas, including the great kiva in the plaza. About 1175 or 1200, the pueblo was abandoned, it is guessed because of drought. About 1225 the pueblo was again occupied, and the Mesa Verde culture Indians developed the east ruins. About 50 years later, these people too abandoned the pueblo. The great kiva is the only restored great kiva in the southwest. The ruins reminded us a lot of Tuzigoot in Arizona, except there were more of them and more of what remained. Northwest New Mexico was quite a contrast with the San Juan Mountains we’d been in earlier that day. The country really changes in just a short distance.

At Mesa Verde National Park we set up camp at Morefield Campground. The kids ran around looking for deer and saw many of them, including some going near our tent. We camped on the Zuni Loop to the left and northwest of the lower restroom, a short walk from the showers and store. We cooked hamburgers for dinner and saw about 80 deer that evening as we drove around the campground in our car.

June 8, 1990 (Friday):          (Mesa Verde NP)

We got off to a late start, near 11:00 a.m., before leaving camp. We drove to Cliff Palace ruins at the south end of the park. At the beginning of the trail we saw a 2 ½ foot to 3 foot long gopher snake – the biggest snake Judy or the kids have seen in the wild (it also got a lot of attention from the tourists). The trail down and up was difficult – through narrow crevices in the rock, down steep and narrow stairs and up and down tall wooden ladders.

Cliff Palace was discovered by two cowboys, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, on December 18, 1888, a snowy day. They looked across the canyon near Sun Temple and saw what looked like a “magnificent city.” In 1906 Congress established Mesa Verde National Park. In 1909, Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution excavated and first stabilized Cliff Palace. Moisture seeps down through the sandstone until it hits shale which it can’t penetrate. In the winter, the moisture freezes and expands cracking and loosening chunks of sandstone. The pieces collapse and form the large alcoves where the ruins are located. Cliff Palace has 217 rooms and 23 kivas and contained 200 to 250 people. Anasazi moved out to the mesa around A.D. 500 but did not build cliff dwellings until A.D. 1200. They lived in them only 75 to 100 years and abandoned the area by 1300 A.D. The average size of the people was 5’4” to 5’5” (for a man) and they lived only 32 to 34 years. Infant mortality rate was 50% by age 5.

Next we stopped at Balcony House which could be seen only in groups of 50 guided by a ranger. We waited in line 25 minutes to learn Andrew couldn’t go. Hikers had to be able to climb a 32 foot ladder without help. Judy stayed behind with Andrew and I took Rachael and Sam. We also had to crawl through a 10 foot long tunnel that was 10 feet long and 14 feet wide at its narrowest point. Half the ruin had a two foot wide wall which archeologists speculate was used to prevent young children from falling off the cliff. Balcony House is 600 feet above the floor of Soda Canyon, it contained 35 to 40 rooms and 40 to 50 people. A prospector, S. E. Osborn, discovered Balcony House in 1884 while looking for coal deposits. Balcony House has two springs, one for which the National Park Service has had to build a cistern to catch the water. Therefore, Balcony House must have been a prized location. The 32 foot ladder to Balcony House was put there by the Park Service. The Anasazi used to use the 12 foot tunnel as an entrance and would climb the rest of the mountain using toe holds. The mortar between rocks is a mud and water mixture with tiny stones called “chinking” stones which fill in the gaps and help prevent the walls from collapsing. Over the top, they placed a thin coating of plaster which was the first thing that eroded away as time passed. Many kivas have a small hole in the floor between the firepit and the wall which is called a sipapu (see-pah-pooh), the symbolic entrance into the underworld.

We then went to Spruce Tree Ruin down a windy, steep path. There was a pretty grotto set under one overhang with lush beautiful foliage, including poison ivy. The ruin had a reconstructed kiva with roof and a ladder going down into it (the same hole we have a picture of Judy’s dad climbing out of about 38 years ago). The rest of the ruin was very well preserved due to the depth of the overhang above. The dwelling was first reported in 1888 when two ranchers found it while searching for stray cattle. A large Douglas spruce was growing from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top. Apparently, the first men entered the ruin by climbing down the tree, which was later cut down by another early explorer.

We next took Top Mesa Drive, stopping at several easily reached sites: (1) Early Pithouse, two huge holes in the ground; (2) Square Tower House – from an overlook; (3) Sun Point, where we could look across the Mesa and canyon to Cliff Palace, Oak Tree House, New Fire House and others; (4) Sun Temple – not completed before abandoned, but with walls 11 to 14 feet high. We were able to walk across the tops of the walls.

We then drove to Far View Ruins – I took a short walk to Coyote Ruins (down a trail a ways) and the family climbed on top and went through the rooms inside.

In the evening, we had a fire, cooked eggs, bacon, beans and hamburgers and then went driving to look at deer.

June 9, 1990 (Saturday):      (Hovenweep NM, Four Corners,                                                       Kingman)

We got off to one of our best starts, getting camp cleaned up and off by about 8:15 a.m. We saw several deer before going – a nice send off. We drove through Cortez and took a turnoff to Hovenweep National Monument, about 41 miles from the turnoff, 20 miles of which was a gravel or graded dirt road. The country got very desolate and Judy began to wonder out loud how I had conned her into going there. The visitor’s center was tiny, with just a small cleared dirt parking lot. After Mesa Verde, the ruins were not as spectacular, but the desolateness of the country said something about the Indians who lived there. William H. Jackson discovered this area in 1874 and used the Ute Indian work “Hovenweep,”meaning “Deserted Valley” to describe this mysterious valley.

On the hike around the ruins, we saw a leopard lizard, a green lizard with dark brown spots. I’ve only ever seen one before, when I was a boy in 6th grade at Lake Powell. I took a picture of it, and was then astounded as I actually caught it (unfortunately, our pictures didn’t turn out for the rest of the trip – I believe the camera might have been dropped). We didn’t stay long – it would have been fun to complete the hike.

We drove to Four Corners where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet at one point. Indian vendors surround it. Judy took a picture of us – one in each state, but we don’t have the film to record it. Judy bought some earrings and I bought a key chain while there.

We stopped and ate at Burger King in Kayenta and later stopped to see dinosaur tracks at Moenkopi near Tuba City. We paid an Indian boy $2.00 to show us the tracks, several of which were tyrannosaurus rex. They were now hardened stone. The Indians just had a small wood hut and sat around waiting for visitors. They were also selling t-shirts which were quite expensive. We stayed the night in Kingman, Arizona, after a large thunderstorm began to hit. The storm left great torrents of water going down the road, one of the bigger storms I’ve seen, and great thunder and lightning.We ate at Piazza Hut for dinner and went to bed very tired.

June 10, 1990 (Sunday):       (Kingman to Redlands)

In the morning we ate at Bob’s Big Boy for the buffet breakfast. We stopped to get gas and ended up buying two new tires (one tire had a nail in it, the other had badly worn tread). I can’t tell if my odometer reading is for the beginning of the first day or the end of the first day, so we traveled either 3,687 miles or 4,213 miles. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a trip. I assume you kept a journal? Can you believe we did this WITHOUT a TV in the car to entertain the kids? I'm sure we were listening to books on cassette tapes, but still, the kids were quite young. Kudos to me for my patience (or barely patience) with your penchant for dirt roads and desolate destinations. And only TWO speeding tickets on this trip? You must have been restraining yourself.