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

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