A Journey of Incredible Beauty: Trail of the Ancients

In earlier articles, A Journey Worth Taking: Trail of the Ancients and A Journey of Discovery: Trail of the Ancients, we introduced the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway.

We began our journey of incredible beauty east of Monticello and traveled to Blanding, Natural Bridges National Monument, Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods, Mexican Hat, and Monument Valley where we begin the final part of our journey.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep (also in Colorado) national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists.

An extension of this route continues into Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence.

Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in countless Western movies directed by John Ford. An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After exploring the wonders of Monument Valley retrace your route for 21 miles to Mexican Hat on U.S. Highway 163 and continue east to the pioneer-era town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Snuggled up against the San Juan River, the town was settled by the famous “Hole-In-The-Rock” expedition of Mormon pioneers in the 1880s.

Continue past Bluff and travel east on Utah Highway 262 towards the town of Aneth and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument.

Known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers, Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric clusters of Native American ruins. Established in 1923, the villages date from the Pueblo period of the mid 13th century. They are spread over a 20-mile area along the Utah-Colorado state line. Unlike the large ruins at Mesa Verde, these are approachable and the visitor can wander among the fallen walls and consider the people who built them.

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Hovenweep return to Aneth and drive southeast on Utah Highway 162 and Colorado Highway 41 to the Four Corners and northeast on U.S. Highway 160 to Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Part of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park has been set aside to preserve remnants of the Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25 mile stretch of the Mancos River. Within the park are hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs.

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings at Mesa Verde beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings at Mesa Verde beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Ute Mountain drive north on U.S. Highway to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park where we conclude our incredible journey.

Fourteen centuries of history are displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde offers an excellent opportunity to see and experience the life of the Ancestral Puebloans. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 450 and 1300, when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area.

The park is split into a series of sub-mesas all bearing different names. There are thousands of archaeological sites across the park and excellent interpretive loops and scenic pullouts. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option, or walks through less rigorous self-guided routes are also available.

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings at Mesa Verde beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using nature to advantage, Ancestral Puebloans built their dwellings at Mesa Verde beneath the overhanging cliffs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this note we end our fascinating discovery of an ancient land of incredible beauty.

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

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