Our Grand Circle Tour, Part 2

In a wild, remote, and somewhat forgotten part of the Southwest, Hovenweep National Monument contains six separate prehistoric ruined villages dating from the Pueblo period of the mid-thirteenth century. The land is flat with bushy mesas split by steep-sided, quite narrow ravines, and the settlements consist of small ruins on or just below the rim around the head of a canyon.

Mokee Dugway drops 1100 feet in three miles into the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a loop route out of Bluff, in southern Utah, we visited Natural Bridges National Monument, Mokee Dugway, and Valley of the Gods. Natural Bridges National Monument is rather remote and not close to other parks so is not heavily visited (only 85,000 in 2007). We hiked down into the canyon and walked under Owachomo Bridge, the oldest bridge in the park, for some spectacular views. Natural Bridges far exceeded our expectations and we would return in a heart-beat!

We continued south to Mokee Dugway, an 1100-foot drop. It looks innocent enough on the map. Sure, there’s a squiggly part and it’s marked as “unpaved”, but it’s a state highway, right? Actually, it’s not so bad, but it is definitely an interesting ride. You look wa-a-a-a-y down, directly at the desert floor below as you drop into the Valley of the Gods.

At first glance, you might mistake this Utah destination for Monument Valley, which spans from southern Utah across the Arizona border. And you’d be very close to right.
The formations are so similar because, in fact, from Valley Of The Gods, the spires of Monument Valley can easily be seen in the distance. So, in effect, the same forces of nature that shaped the Navajo owned Monument Valley created this area, which is administered by the BLM.

We toured the area via a 17-mile dirt road that winds amongst the eerie formation; since the road is rather steep, bumpy, and washboard in parts, we put our Suzuki in 4-wheel drive.

Like a small scale-Monument Valley, the Valley of the Gods is worthly of a drive through. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience. We enjoyed this beautiful land.

At Aztec Ruins National Monument in northwestern New Mexico we took the self-guided ½-mile walk through rooms built centuries ago. What remains today is a walled village with almost 400 rooms on three levels, over a dozen kivas (circular ceremonial areas), in a very good state of preservation.

With the unseasonably warm weather still hanging on, we decided to stay at Farmington (New Mexico) another day to do a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. With more than 4,000 archaeological sites, Mesa Verde provides visitors with a great window into the past, to when the Ancestral Puebloan peoples built cliff dwellings and coaxed a life from what today we see as a harsh landscape.

A stunning view unfolded as we climbed the winding road to Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first word that came to my mind was “stunning”. And that was just the moment we entered the park. The road into Mesa Verde is steep, narrow, and winding. As we wound our way up to 8,500 feet, we began to realize this isn’t a place we can do in a day. A World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. After walking down the cliff to the Spruce Tree House, we did a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace, the largest and best-known of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The site has 150 identified rooms and 23 kivas.

This park has a surprisingly large campground—435 sites, and park officials say they rarely fill. Each site has a table, bench, and grill.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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