Monument Valley and much more

As we wrote in an earlier blog, it was cold in Bryce Canyon, very cold.  We camped in the snow and the temperature fell to about 5 degrees (F) below freezing at night.  Of course, since this is Vinni and Carsten traveling, our wonderful heater began acting up during the night.  We had to get up several times to relight the damn thing and a couple of times it took several tries.  As a result, we decided to drive south towards Arizona where it is warmer and we are not completely dependent on our heater (i.e. freezing to death – God, I miss Polynesia!)  We’re hoping we can find a repairman in Page who is knowledgeable about heaters.

Before reaching Page, we spent a couple of nights alongside Lake Powell.  Lake Powell is an artificial lake created by flooding Glen Canyon by building a large dam at the mouth of the canyon (Colorado River).  The landscape is pretty, desert like and dominated by the red mountains that make up the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

This is Saturday and the good atmosphere is ruined by the Off Road Vehicles (OFV) that blow by our campsite.  Since it is the weekend, the locals from Page are out in force, racing up and down the hillsides.  The next day, Sunday they are either all sleeping or in church so the campground is quiet and almost deserted.

The next morning, I spend time in the laundromat, while Carsten finds a mechanic who can repair our heater.  He claims it is having problems lighting because there is crap inside and uses a blowgun to clean it out.  It immediately fires up and runs without problems.  Good thing too, since it is only three months ago that we paid to have the damned thing repaired in Port Angeles.  Since we seem to have found competent mechanic, we ask if he has time to repair another “small” problem on Caprise.

For the past several weeks, Caprise has been shaking when we drive between 50 and 70 kilometers per hour.  Carsten is sure it is the universal joint on the driveshaft.  The mechanic rolls under Caprise, rummages around for a few minutes and agrees.  Surprisingly, he is able to source the spare parts at the local auto parts store and 5 hours (and $400) later, Caprise rolls out of the shop and purrs like a kitten when we drive down the road.  But like everything else on an RV (or boat for that matter) it was an expensive morning so a free night camping at “Hotel Walmart” is in order.

Early the next morning, we roll out of Page and enter the huge Navajo reservation located in the northeast corner of Arizona.  We will drive almost 300 kilometers across this empty reservation before reaching our next goal –  Monument Valley.  The landscape surrounding us all morning is desolate, brown and rock-filled.  It seems as if no one lives here except perhaps the rattlesnakes.

After several hours of driving and seeing literally nothing but desert, we finally pass through Kayente.  We are now halfway to Monument Valley.  In Kayente the houses are exactly alike, the only difference is the color of the roofs so the inhabitants can find their house.  The houses are typical prefabricated houses, boring and probably built by the federal government in the latter part of the 60’s or early 70’s.  The Black Power movement in the 60’s and 70’s also served as a wake-up call for the American Indians who began making demands of the Federal government.  One result was that the government built “real” houses for the Indians so they would not have to live in their adobe houses.  The town was no artificial and boring that I completely forgot to take a picture.

The area is not pretty here.  Just like the Guna Indians in Panama, the Navajos here are slobs when it comes to their garbage.  As soon as we passed the “Welcome to the Navajo Reservation”, the roadside was filled with liquor bottles and beer cans.  The Indians are also known for driving while heavily intoxicated.  Many of the houses are surrounded by an assortment of discarded junk, old cars, washing machines, refrigerators etc.  Not worth taking pictures of.

There is one advantage to driving through the reservation.  Since the reservations are actually independent nations, the tribe determines how much tax there should be on a gallon of gas.  Generally, they tax the gasoline low so gas is fairly cheap here (wonderful when your RV only gets 8 miles per gallon).  Likewise, the nations decide how restrictive they want to be regarding Covid.  Most of the pueblos and many of the reservations are closed to non-tribal members, unless you are passing through on a public road.  Buying gas at the Hopi reservation, Carsten not only had to wear a mask to go inside to pay, but also had his temperature taken (automatically by a machine) and then had to disinfect his hands before touching the credit card machine.  The Indian nations take Covid seriously now, but at the start they were more relaxed and therefore they were hard hit at the start of the pandemic.

Monument Valley, where we are going, has been closed for over a year.  But the Navajo Nation wants to earn money, so they have opened for tourists.

Back in 1991, we visited Monument Valley together with Carsten’s older brother and his family.  The area was undeveloped then and we camped on the edge of a mesa looking out over Monument Valley.  I shall never forget the sunset we were treated to that evening.  I hope that I won’t be disappointed when we now revisit the valley.  We’ve been warned though, that the area we camped in now has a hotel built on it.  The Indians have learned what the word profit means.

Sundown as we saw it in 1991 (pic from internet – since we don’t have our old picture

with us).

Arriving at Monument Valley, we discovered that while the rest of the reservation is closed, the admittance booth where they charge $20 for entry is very much open.  Aside from collecting the $20, they also tell us that we are not allowed to drive down into the area, but we can park in the parking lot and walk over to the edge to see the view.  However, for a mere $100 per person, a local Indian will take us for a 1 ½ hour drive down into the landscape.  Uhhh, thanks but no thank you.

There actually is still a campground next to the hotel.  Despite the hotel being open, the campground is closed due to Covid-19.  We’re not sure we can understand the logic of this, but one thing is certain, the hotel guest pay a lot more money to stay overnight than a camper does.  We console ourselves with walking over to the edge and enjoying the view.

Time for a little geology lesson.  These flat-topped mountains are called “buttes” not mesas.  A mesa is broader than it is high, an excellent example is Mesa Verde (see earlier blog).  A butte is higher than it is wide.  The highest of these buttes we can see are about 1000 feet high.  The flat top is made by the wind, whereas the rest of the formation is caused by erosion.  The very top of the buttes is hard stone while the rest is porous sandstone that is easily eroded by rain.  The past several million years of wind and rain have combined to make these hat-like mountains here in Monument Valley.  The red color is due to the high iron content of the sandstone.

Were we disappointed by Monument Valley?  Not really, even though we have to admit that our experience this time did not live up to the unforgettable experience we had 30 years ago. Amongst other reasons, we saw the sundown back then.

Since we are not spending the night, we need to keep moving and we quickly drove the 60 miles further to Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park where we can camp for the night.  This will be another revisit since we also visited here in 1991.  This time we will spend the night.  The Park Ranger charges us all of $10 per night.  There are few campers here and we park Caprise next to a picnic table literally right on the edge of the cliff with the postcard picture view (not too shabby for $10 per night).  We will stay here two nights and spend our days trekking along the cliff enjoying the view from many different angles.

Looking down into the canyon from the edge, we can see the San Juan river a thousand feet below.  In the nearby town of Mexican Hat, you can rent kayaks and float the 15km down through the canyon.

It is difficult to imagine that 300 million years ago, this area was a shallow sea, filled with coral reefs and marine life.  Over time, the sea disappeared and left a multitude of sediment layers that are still clearly visible in the cliff walls.  Volcanic and other seismic activities have raised this area thousands of feet above sea level.  The San Juan River has spent the past several million years cutting its way through these sediment layers and creating this magnificent canyon.

From the Goosenecks, we drove eastwards to Hovenweep National Park right on the border between Colorado and Utah.  The park is small and so is the campground.  The campground is made for tent campers, but there are a couple of RV spaces and we were fortunate enough to get one.  There are only 3 RV spaces so they are at a premium.

The park was established in 1923 and protects the ruins of five Indian pueblos that lie along a 20 kilometer canyon that cuts through the Cajon Mesa.

Hovenweep means the “abandoned mesa” in Ute/Paiute language and was so named by the first photographer that came to the area in 1874.  This area, as with Mesa Verde, has not been inhabited since the late 1200’s.  Just like at Mesa Verde, the inhabitants suddenly decided to migrate further south along the San Juan river to Arizona or southeast along the Rio Grande to New Mexico. 

We arrived early enough that we were able to take the “little ruin trail”, a short walk of only 4 kilometers along the edge of the canyon and can view some of the ruins.

Hovenweep Castle.  The name castle has no meaning for the Indians since they were farmers and neither Kings nor Queens.

The next morning we set out for Holly House, supposedly only six kilometers away. 

Apparently not all the tourists make it out to Holly House, quips Carsten.  Probably a skeleton from a coyote.

The ruins at Holly House show that the Indians had developed their building styles and crafts.  The sandstone blocks are squared off and the same size.  The building seems to be built robustly.  No one knows if these building have been used for habitation, but they have been built so it is virtually impossible to gain access.  Looking at them, there is no doubt in our minds that they have been built as defensible positions – although who they were expecting to attack remains a mystery.

The trail ends here and we have to walk back to Caprise and the campground.   We can choose to walk back by the same trail we came by or we can continue onwards a bit and then walk back on the narrow asphalt road.  The road is “only” five kilometers longer, so we (Vinni) decide that exercise is in order.  Life, when you are Vinni and Carsten, is not always as easy as it should be.  The number of miles shown on the maps are not equal to the number of miles we walked and we end up with another 22-kilometer trek.  We arrive back tired and with sore feet, knees and hips.  Carsten announces loudly that from here on in, he makes the decisions on the route.  For some reason he has lost confidence in me as a pathfinder.

The next morning we are off towards New Mexico where we plan to spend a couple of weeks exploring the northern portion of the state before visiting Carsten older brother, Ulrich, who lives about an hour’s drive north of Santa Fe.  Our first night in New Mexico we stay at the “Hotel Walmart”, as we need to provision and wash clothes etc., before driving up into the mountains. 

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray……………..

Next morning as we are gathering our clothes to go to the laundromat, a text message ticks in for Carsten’s niece, “Carl was found yesterday unconscious in a parking lot having seizures and is in a coma in intensive care in a hospital in Santa Fe”.

Right. Dump the clothes back into the hamper, fire up Mr. Google for the shortest route to Santa Fe and we were off.  Five hours later, we pulled into the hospital parking lot.  Ulrich had a small hematoma (bleeding in the brain) caused by his fall – fortunately it was so small that surgery was not required.  Five days later he is awake and can breathe without the help of a respirator.  Thereafter he is in rehab for two weeks before being released to come home.

While he is in the hospital for three weeks, we enjoy, when not visiting him in the hospital, living in his wonderful adobe home.  Ulrich built the house himself many years ago and it was one of the very first passive heated solar homes in the US.  It took two years to build and was finished in 1979.  Since then he has added some rooms on and several outbuildings. 

Yesterday we finally brought Ulrich home and are spending a week with him before we fly to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with Carsten daughter, son-in-law and the grandchildren for two weeks.  Thereafter we will drive up to South Carolina to visit Marshal and Debbie, whom we know from Copenhagen – they were our neighbors for three years.  We will be back in New Mexico December 15 to celebrate Christmas, New Years and Carsten 70th (I can’t believe I’m married to such an old man!) birthday.

So you will not hear from us until we are well into the new year and therefore there only remains to wish you all:

A Merry Christmas

and a

Happy New Year

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