Montezuma’s Castle – a cliff dwelling

There is a small section of cliff north of Phoenix that contains a cliff house. I saw this cliff house many years ago and thought it was unique. After this summer’s travels I know there are several places where cliff houses exist that were occupied by Native Americans between 800-1300A.D.

This dwelling was called Montezuma’s Castle although it is not Aztec. The people who named it that thought it was and the name has stuck.

In addition to the cliff dwelling, there are rooms at ground level along the cliff and other alcoves that were occupied.

This area would have been very pleasant for the people who lived here, as there’s a spring that provides fresh water all year round, flat land near the cliff for farming and lots of trees because of the abundance of water. There is evidence that the people who lived here hunted deer and antelope and farmed beans, corn and several kinds of squashes.

As with other cliff dwellings in the area, it was abandoned sometime in the 1300s. It’s not known why but modern Native Americans believe they just felt it was time to move along, and they still return to this and other Native American ruins where they believe their ancestors still reside.

Here are some pictures we took:

Native American ruins near Grand Canyon

Just a couple of hours away from the Grand Canyon are some Native American dwellings from 800-1100 years ago. The Wupatki and Wokaki ruins are free-standing structures with many rooms to house several family groups. The Wokaki ruin is built up on a rock escarpment which provided the residents a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. These areas were occupied at the same time as many of the other ruins we’ve seen this summer, between about 800A.D. and 1300A.D.

The Walnut Canyon dwellings were built into the sides of hills where softer sandstone layers eroded more quickly, creating alcoves which meant the people only had to built wide and front walls – the ceiling and back walls were natural rock. These dwellings were built high above a creekbed so the people were adept at getting up and down the hills. Visitors today have to walk down 240 steps to get to the level where the ruins are located. This meant 240 steps back up to the VIsitors Center! Boy, my calves hurt the next day.

Here are pictures we took of these areas:

The Grand Canyon!

We’ve both been to the Grand Canyon before and I’ve been here more than 5 times in my life, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to come here again.

We spent a week here so we could see the views from as many viewpoints as possible and attend a few Ranger Talks as well. We visited the south rim only (not the north rim or the very western area where the new Skywalk is) but we still had plenty to do and see.

We drove to the eastern section of the south rim and stopped at several viewpoints. We took another trip to the western section on a shuttle bus that made several stops so we were able to step off to see a viewpoint and in 10-15 minutes another bus came along and we hopped back on. The shuttles run all day long and they are free. We also walked through “The Village” with several viewpoints – this section was very busy as it contains several lodges and restaurants.

We got tons of great pictures of the canyon and the steep walls of the canyon. We drove to Mather Point one morning to get sunrise pictures – for some reason I thought we’d be alone but oh no, there were over 100 people at the point waiting for the sunrise. We went back at sunset one day to get pictures at that time of day and again it was very crowded.

We stayed at an RV park inside the park and got to see lots of elk and deer. Every day we saw at least a few. Laddy wanted to go meet them but we didn’t let him for fear he’d scare them or that the elk would attack him (it’s getting into rutting season!)

While looking down into the canyon where we could see the South Kaibab Trail, we saw a mule train heading up the switchbacks. We got a picture and I’ve included both it and the closeup area. We also got a picture showing rafters in the Colorado River way below us, and I’ve included that pictures and a closeup area as well.

Every time we walked to the rim and looked out over the canyon we were amazed. No matter how many times I come to the Grand Canyon, I still am thrilled every time I see it!

Here are pictures we took:

Hidden Arch – a short easy hike from our RV park

While staying in Monument Valley, we learned that there is a natural arch just a short hike from the RV park. It’s called Hidden Arch. We decided to go see it one day while here. It was a very short hike indeed and took us less than 15 minutes to get to the arch. It’s certainly hidden, and the rock markers weren’t very clear, so we hiked in one way that required clamboring over rocks that Laddy couldn’t manage, so Jeff went in and took pictures and noticed a different route. So, we backtracked a bit and found the other way in to take more pictures. It was a nice surprise to find an arch here.

Here are a few pictures:

Monument Valley – towers, spires and buttes

Monument Valley is not as large as I thought it would be. From pictures I’ve seen of the rock formations I thought they were very spread out with lots of land between. This is not the case. There are maybe 18 named rock formations in Monument Valley and 8 are viewable from the state road coming into the Monument Valley town. More are viewable from a 17-mile dirt road going through a large part of the valley, and there are a few more that can only be seen if you take a tour with a Navajo guide that goes deeper into the valley.

We’re staying in an RV Park connected to a hotel, grocery store, theater and restaurant all owned originally by a couple named Goulding. They homesteaded in this area during the time when the Navajo were just coming back into the area after being forced to walk to a small reservation in N.M. When the U.S. gave them a reservation here in their ancestral homeland, the Gouldings were allowed to stay on and they did a lot of business with the local Navajo. During the depression the Navajo people suffered terribly and the Gouldings heard that a movie studio was scouting for a location to film a western. They went to Hollywood with photos of Monument Valley and the result is that “Stagecoach” starring John Wayne was filmed here and several more movies were made here in Monument Valley, making it a tourist destination.

We chose to drive the 17-mile dirt road. We saw that people still live in the valley, some still in the traditional hogans without running water or electricity. We got some great views of the rock formations in the valley, the most well-known is the Totem Pole, which is a very tall thin straight rock spire. It’s right next to three more spires.

We also drove a few miles from Monument Valley and took a dirt road through what is called Valley of the Gods. This area was so similar to Monument Valley that I am combining the pictures into this blog entry.

Here are pictures we took of the Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods:

Canyon de Chelly – a tour of the canyon floor with a Navajo guide

While in the area we drove down to Canyon de Chelly, a large canyon with high sheer cliff walls that has been occupied by Navajo and Anasazi (Navajo for The Ancient Ones) for over 1,000 years. Vehicles can only enter the canyon on one end where the cliffs are low – at the other end of the canyons the cliff walls are hundreds of feet high. There are many trails in various parts of the canyon for hiking and horses and sheep though. The canyon is only accessible to tourists in 4-wheel drive vehicles with a Navajo guide. We took a tour of the canyon in an open Jeep with our guide named Bennie. Bennie has family that still lives in the canyon parts of the year. He told us many stories about living in the canyon and how his ancestors lived. There are people who live in the canyon either part of the year or year round.

The canyon floor is a riverbed and is very deep sand. In the spring the snow melt and rains make the river flow, but this time of year (October) the river is dry and the only water for the residents is either to truck it in or as Bennie told us, put pinholes in the side of a 50-gallon drum and bury it – water will seep in through the sand and it can then be pumped up through the barrel. It is naturally filtered.

The Anasazi built several cliff dwellings along the canyons and in more recent times they lived in traditional hogans, round buildings shaped by logs and covered in mud, with a door and a smokehole at the top. Now some residents live in campers and trailers.

There are a lot of horses that live in the canyon, and part of the year cattle and sheep live in the canyon as well.

It was a beautiful area with the high sheer cliffs, trees and grasses on the valley floor.

Here are pictures we took on our tour:

Petroglyphs in the Moab area

We found that there are several areas around Moab containing petroglyphs, called rock art around here. Along the drive to the Needles area of Canyonlands there’s one large rock face that contains over 1,000 years of rock art, so much that it overlaps in some areas. Along the Potash Road there’s a section of rock art that is naturally protected from modern-day gratffiti because when it was drawn it was easy to climb the cliff base (loose rock) but that cliff base was removed to build the road so it’s up a sheer cliff wall about 30 feet. A third location we saw with lots of rock art was when we took a back-country drive into the Kane Springs area, which is along a creek and has lots of places to camp out (but all very primitive!). On that drive there’s a huge square-ish rock that has rock art on all 4 faces. One picture seems to show a woman giving birth so it’s called the birthing rock.

Here are pictures of rock art that we took at the various locations:

Back Country Drive through Canyonlands

We took a drive one day through the back-country area around Moab. There is a dirt road called the White Rim Road (I have a couple of pictures of it in another entry) that circles the Island in the Sky mesa but it’s listed as for 4-wheel drive only. One way to enter the White Rim Road is to go down steep switchbacks from the Island in the Sky road, and another is to come from Moab on what is called Potash Road…called that because there is a potash processing plant along the way. Potash is a natural chemical that is found in the rocks around this area, water is forced through the rock and up into shallow ponds and when it is forced through it brings potash with it. The shallow ponds are then left to dry, and when the water evaporates, only the potash is left. Then it’s scooped up and processed and sold.

The Potash Road connects to the White Rim Road near the switchbacks, and we heard from an experienced 4x4er that a high clearance truck like ours would make the trip down Potash Road, through the short section of the White Rim Road, and then up the switchbacks with no problems. We decided to give it a try. We found the road a bit bumpy in places but on the whole pretty easy going. There were lots of really interesting rock formations along the way and great views down into the canyons and to the river. We stopped at one viewpoint to get pictures of the river and were told that this was where Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff (it’s the scene at the end of the movie). I had wondered where that scene had taken place as it had high sheer cliffs all around so it made sense that it was done here.

When we came to the switchbacks I was a little nervous and as we went up through the very steep, very narrow switchbacks I got real nervous when I was on the outside of the road, looking straight down for about 2,000 feet! We passed a few motorcycles going down and passed a couple of cars when I had to hold my breath and close my eyes. I never have been afraid of heights, but that was unnerving. Jeff was great and got us up safely.

It was a real cool drive and I’m glad we went along it. Here are some pictures:

Arches National Park – should be on everyone’s Bucket List!

We also visited the Arches National Park while in the Moab area. This is a very famous national park, and the Delicate Arch is featured on the Utah license plates. This area is unique in that there are dozens of arch formations within a fairly small park – the road from the visitors center to the end is 18 miles.

Rock arches are formed when sandstone is acted upon by water over millions of years. First, water trickles into cracks in the rock and when the water freezes it spreads, causing vertical fissures in the rock. Over time these fissures become larger and larger and then erosion takes over and starts eroding the rockface. Erosion can create many types of rock formations: spires, towers, and arches.

Several of the arches are viewable right from the road going through the park, and some are only viewable by hiking to them. We did several hikes to see arches while here.

We learned that several of the arches have had rocks fall out of the arch recently. The Skyline Arch had a huge rock fall in 1940 instantly doubling the size of the arch. The huge Landscape Arch had parts of the arch fall in 1991 while people were underneath! They heard cracking and got away from the arch so no one was hurt. Other arches have had rockfalls and we saw lots of cracks and fissures in several arches that may lead to falling rock at some point. Most of the arches have trails that lead right up under and through the arch. The exception was the Landscape Arch which is unstable enough that they closed off the base of the arch.

There are lots of really interesting rock formations in the Arches Natl Park as well as arches, several are named. It’s definitely a National Park that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

Here are pictures of some of the rock formations and arches we saw here at Arches National Park: