October 16, 2006

To Mesa Verde

I told Jean I was driving from Washington DC to Santa Barbara, California, to pick up Sean LaFreniere "on my way" home to Portland. She said I absolutely must stop at Mesa Verde in Colorado and see the cliffside towns of the Anasazi. So I cut across Kansas at the right angle to bypass Denver and entered Colorado in the south.

The first third of Colorado looks little different from Kansas.

Driving Colorado Plains.jpg

The plains are so big and so wide it’s hard to believe they’re even real. There’s something almost otherwordly about them.

House on Plains Colorado.jpg

I wanted to pull over the car and walk. Just keep walking until I was so far out that I could see neither road, nor tree, nor house, nor telephone pole. Just slightly rolling ground in every direction. How beautifully eerie a view like that must be. Someday I’ll do it in one of the national grasslands.

Every once in a while I found a lone tree. All just begged to be photographed.

Lone Tree Colorado.jpg

The Western-style ghost towns came before the mountains.

Ghost Houses Colorado.jpg

Right next to the 19th century ghost homes was a 1950s ghost gas station.

Ghost Gas Station Colorado.jpg

In front of the ghost gas station was a ghost car from about the same era. The whole American West (excluding the coast) is full of such things. The history of the place and its people are laid bare for all to see.

Ghost Car Colorado.jpg

The mountains don’t rise all of sudden from the Great Plains. First there are little bits of microtopography.

Microgeography Colorado.jpg

Then the moutains rise above the microtopography.

Colorado Mountains from Plains.jpg

For a brief transitional period the mountains and the plains exist side by side. I can see why Colorado’s major cities are in the eastern flat part of the state. Denver is the “This is Far Enough!” city. It must have taken a special kind of person to cross thousands of miles of plains in a covered wagon and want to continue after looking up at the imposing wall of the front range.

Mountains and Cows Colorado.jpg

I have only spent a few days total, altogether, in Colorado. But after spending some time in the eastern and central part of America, Colorado felt like my home. I was back in the world I grew up in and know.

Driving Colorado Backdrop.jpg

I made it just in time to see the Fall colors. I love how the deciduous trees change while the evergreens don’t.

Colorado Valley Fall.jpg

The contrast is so dramatic.

Road From Above Colorado.jpg

The Roman Empire labeled Lebanon’s Bekka Valley the “Land of Milk and Honey.” I’ve always thought the Willamette Valley in Oregon could be called that as well. That lovely turned phrase could also describe parts of Colorado.

Barn Colorado.jpg

Other parts are much drier. But those explosive Fall colors followed me everywhere.

Brown Mountains Orange Trees Colorado.jpg

In the south-central part of the state is an enormous pile of sand dunes. I took a brief detour to look at them and passed one of the West’s UFO nuts on the side of the road. I get a kick out of these goofballs in the mountains. You just know this guy has tried at least once to be a caller on the Art Bell show.

Check Out Hwy 17.jpg

From a distance the dunes look half as tall as the mountains.

Dunes from Distance Colorado.jpg

Up close they look like mountains.

Dunes Up Close Colorado.jpg

Towering Dunes Colorado.jpg

The weather turned on me as I approached Mesa Verde in the southwestern corner of Colorado.

Mesa Verde Distance Rain.jpg

This was the home of the Anasazi Indians in their cliffside dwellings up in the sky.

On Mesa Verde.jpg

Here is one of their towns. We have so few ruins in the United States I often forget we have any.

Mesa Verde Cliff Ruins.jpg

But we do.

Mesa Verde Cliff Ruins Rangers.jpg

I wanted to get to Arizona before the sun set. But I made a wrong turn and ended up driving into New Mexico. I only drove maybe fifty feet inside the state. I had never been there before, and I only stayed for two minutes. But I've technically been to New Mexico now. This is what I saw. It is all that I saw. Funnily enough, it looked exactly like I thought it should look.

New Mexico Corner.jpg

And it wasn't until I saw the "Entering New Mexico" sign that I saw any topography that looked anything like this. The border seemed to start in just the right place.

I backtracked for twenty minutes and entered Arizone at the Four Corners monument, the geographic place where Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona converge. So, okay, I lied. I did go back to New Mexico. One half of one of my feet returned to the state.

Four Corners.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 16, 2006 10:51 PM

Comments

Ah, you went through Pueblo and Alamosa did you? I lived in Alamosa for abotu 6 months. Kind of amazing to be up at 7500 feet in the mountains and yet have the valley be board flat until you hit the dunes.

You should have stopped by the alligator farm!

Posted by: JC at October 17, 2006 04:04 AM

What a fantastic trip. So many beautiful places.

I've only done the south (east). I'd love to be able to go west one day, as you did.

Thanks. I guess my next vacation will be state-side thanks to this.

Posted by: The Perpetual Refugee at October 17, 2006 06:30 AM

Glad to see you came through my area (Canon City). You were only 5 miles from Ramsi Yousef, and Terry Nichols ( in case you did'nt know)if you went down Highway 50.
But you did hit a beautiful part of the state at a good time.

Posted by: plainslow at October 17, 2006 09:11 AM

Nice pictures and writing Michael. I wish more people took the time to see more of our country, and to make a few trips overseas; gives one a much greater appreciation of how lucky we are

Posted by: Ron Snyder at October 17, 2006 09:39 AM

That part of Utah is gorgeous as well; Zion and Canyonlands. Hope you got a chance to explore a little before you moved on.

Posted by: mesablue at October 17, 2006 09:47 AM

Any scientific explanation for the huge sand dunes in the prarie? Are they growing or drifting in any particularly interesting way? Or are they just 'there'. I guess I could do my own research, but it is more fun to ask you!
-L

Posted by: lindsey at October 17, 2006 11:10 AM

Lindsey,
Yes, I am sure its the same explanation I got for the Kelso dunes.
The wind picks up the grains of sand as it flows over the flat desert.
When it gets to the mountains, its deflected up.
The wind isn't strong enough to carry the sand grain over the mountain, so it falls to the base of the mountain where it collects for thousands of years.

Posted by: Terry at October 17, 2006 12:59 PM

"Microtopography"

Otherwise known as foothills. ;o)

I suppose every writer is entitled to coin at least one word in his career...

Posted by: Walrus at October 17, 2006 05:30 PM

I believe the microtopographical term for foothills would be toehills.

But I just wanted to congratulate Terry, contestant number one, for the correct answer to what are the Southcentral Colorado dune dynamics. And the bonus question would be...Terry, what is the source of these microgranules of stone? And please state your answer in the form of a question.

Posted by: allan at October 17, 2006 05:44 PM

I forgot about my original question. Which was me wondering if Ralph Nader realizes there is at least one Corvair escapee still roaming the plains (or did). I'm betting there are few Corvair aficionados that, if they saw that photo, would be making plans to hunt it down and capture it for a total makeover. By the levelness of the car body, I'd guess there's still some sort of motor lurking in the back.

Posted by: allan at October 17, 2006 05:56 PM

I know right where that car is if anyone wants to go get it...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 17, 2006 05:58 PM

You didn't check out Bishop's Castle?

Vilmos

Posted by: Vilmos Soti at October 17, 2006 06:58 PM

Bishop's Castle is a big rook. Couldn't help it.

I have a few car crazy friends who just might be interested in that blue beauty rusting itself into oblivion. Thanks for passing on that bit of GPS if indeed they want to snag it.

Posted by: allan at October 17, 2006 07:50 PM

Incredible pictures, particularly of the fall colors.

Posted by: Charles Malik at October 17, 2006 07:55 PM

One of my boys and I took a road trip through the four corners area last September (blogged about over there.) Your trip brings back great memories of road tripping down to Moab and beyond from Calgary on two occasions. And it prompted me to post some off those pics on my Flickr page.

Posted by: Teddy at October 17, 2006 08:35 PM

Allan:
'what is the source of these microgranules of stone? And please state your answer in the form of a question.'
OOO! OOO! What are pulverised rock deposits left behind by the retreat of the Wisconsin II (WurmII) glaciation? Did I get it? Huh? Huh?!
Sorry Terry, I couldn't resist!

Posted by: lindsey at October 18, 2006 09:15 AM

Michael,

Glad you made it to our part of the country. Next time pass thru the San Luis Valley, be sure to spend some time at Valley View Hot Springs, near Saquache. It's a slice of heaven.

Mike

Posted by: Mike at October 18, 2006 12:51 PM

BRRRRRZZZZZTTTT

Lindsey, contestant #2, the panel of judges has ruled that your answer is quite acceptable, and has actually exceeded the expected answer of "What are sand particles deposited by rivers and streams in the Rio Grande River Basin." However, please stop hopping around the studio in joyful celebration and high fiving the cameramen, for the judges have also ruled that you were not eligible to answer since the question was in fact a bonus question which could only be awarded to contestant #1. So sorry.

Posted by: allan at October 18, 2006 03:28 PM

Michael,

You might appreciate this story from the Colorado prairie, The The Last of her Water.

Posted by: chuck at October 18, 2006 07:48 PM

My Corvair was a convertible ::sob:: If I had the cash I'd like to have that one, but I can't afford to fix it up, and I already have enough old cars in the yard to meet the minimum requirements for the Foxworthy and Friends Society.

Quibble: Both the Corvair and the gas station are Sixties -- the Corvair certainly, the gas station by inference. A Fifties gas station would have different rolling doors and a slantier portico, and the doors would face the front. Fifties cars have fins, and so do Fifties gas stations, motels, etc. In most of that part of the world you can find leftovers from that era -- just look for a street called "Central". Remnants of US66/80/90 from the days when those were the routes.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at October 18, 2006 08:10 PM

If those are the same giant sand-dunes I think they are your picture reminded me of an incident, my little brother and something that will put a smile on my face for at least fifty years. Btw, that doesn't look like the New Mexico I remember from my childhood. Where are all the crackheads?

Posted by: mike at October 18, 2006 09:58 PM

Michael, I have not visited your blog for awhile, since the Lebanese debacle, but I'm happy that you've visited my birth state of Colorado. Too many Americans have not enriched their lives by experiencing our own rich heritage.

"In the south-central part of the state is an enormous pile of sand dunes. I took a brief detour to look at them and passed one of the West’s UFO nuts on the side of the road. I get a kick out of these goofballs in the mountains. You just know this guy has tried at least once to be a caller on the Art Bell show. "

What you saw here was what Colorado natives call the "Californication" of our great state.

Living in Texas now, I can say without equivocation, that the appreciation of our country and the spirit of our country and its history (which is no longer taught in our government schools) is what drives many of us to the polls.

The reality of the depth and breadth of our nation is what gives us strength to overcome the fight against the mufsidun in their pursuit of their hirabah worldwide.

Posted by: DagneyT at October 19, 2006 06:21 PM

Michael, I have not visited your blog for awhile, since the Lebanese debacle, but I'm happy that you've visited my birth state of Colorado. Too many Americans have not enriched their lives by experiencing our own rich heritage.

"In the south-central part of the state is an enormous pile of sand dunes. I took a brief detour to look at them and passed one of the West’s UFO nuts on the side of the road. I get a kick out of these goofballs in the mountains. You just know this guy has tried at least once to be a caller on the Art Bell show. "

What you saw here was what Colorado natives call the "Californication" of our great state.

Living in Texas now, I can say without equivocation, that the appreciation of our country and the spirit of our country and its history (which is no longer taught in our government schools) is what drives many of us to the polls.

The reality of the depth and breadth of our nation is what gives us strength to overcome the fight against the mufsidun in their pursuit of their hirabah worldwide.

Posted by: DagneyT at October 19, 2006 06:22 PM

Michael, I have not visited your blog for awhile, since the Lebanese debacle, but I'm happy that you've visited my birth state of Colorado. Too many Americans have not enriched their lives by experiencing our own rich heritage.

"In the south-central part of the state is an enormous pile of sand dunes. I took a brief detour to look at them and passed one of the West’s UFO nuts on the side of the road. I get a kick out of these goofballs in the mountains. You just know this guy has tried at least once to be a caller on the Art Bell show. "

What you saw here was what Colorado natives call the "Californication" of our great state.

Living in Texas now, I can say without equivocation, that the appreciation of our country and the spirit of our country and its history (which is no longer taught in our government schools) is what drives many of us to the polls.

The reality of the depth and breadth of our nation is what gives us strength to overcome the fight against the mufsidun in their pursuit of their hirabah worldwide.

Posted by: DagneyT at October 19, 2006 06:25 PM

Michael, sorry for the triplicate posts, but my wireless was sluggish enough to cause your system to ask me again and again to republish our security code...sigh...I'm blushing with embarrassment

Posted by: DagneyT at October 19, 2006 06:34 PM

Just inside the Front Range to the west of Denver there is a shrine to "Mother Cabrini," a Catholic saint. I had a friend get married there and just outside the parking lot there is the most incredible view of Denver at the edge of the plains.

It's a sight to make you think of the name "The City On the Edge of Forever." Truly beautiful.

Posted by: B. Durbin at October 19, 2006 08:07 PM
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