|November 9, 2011
Today was a long day of driving and one which we lengthened so that we could visit a specific place. I guess sometimes we only have ourselves to blame for the miles racked up and the hours spent in the car! We had two routes we could’ve taken today and the first of these went through Mesa Verde, a place that Elizabeth had been before and loved. Unfortunately, they were on their winter schedule and many of the things to see were closed and those that were open were only by tour and these tour times were a bit inconvenient for us. We decided to head to the Petrified Forest instead. Elizabeth’s parents had driven through here a couple of weeks ago and had said it was great so we decided to detour a little and try this out instead. Along the way to the Petrified Forest we passed a town called Holbrook and here they had a wigwam village. We later found out that this was only one of three in the US and that you could stay in the wigwams, a truly tacky touristy thing to do, of course!
When we arrived at the Petrified Forest we decided to watch the video in the visitor centre which explained how the petrified forest was formed. Millions of years ago this area used to be a regular forest but the trees fell and were fossilized. Of course, there is more to it than that but who wants to be bored with geology? The resulting rocks were a variety of colours and the visitor centre had a piece of rock which had been polished. Around behind the visitor centre was a short trail that went past one of the largest remaining petrified wood. The colours of the rocks were amazing with many smaller pieces scattered around the landscape as well as the larger, almost complete trunks. The rangers were really keen when we came in to explain to us the harsh penalties we could face if we were found stealing any rocks from the park and it was plain to see here why. This area used to have loads of examples of the petrified wood but over time people have taken a small bit here and a small bit there and this has continued to such an extent that now many areas are almost bare of any petrified wood at all.
We’d been told quite clearly that we should not try and take anything from the park and the signs stated pretty stiff penalties for being found with anything. The park rangers asked us as we entered the park if we had any petrified wood or rocks already in the car and we said no, hoping Elizabeth’s dad hadn’t left us any surprises!
The road through the Petrified Forest is pretty much a loop which leaves Highway 40 at one end and drops you back on it at the other end. The far end from the direction we travelled was known as the Painted Desert. This was a really cool area with rocks brightly coloured, similar to the Artist’s Drive in Death Valley, but not quite as vibrant. It was still really interesting and a stark contrast to the forests which would’ve been here millions of years ago.
We didn’t have too many other things planned for the day before crossing from Arizona into Colorado via the Four Corners Monument but as we drove along, we noticed a couple of other things. The first of these was the Hubbell Trading Post. This was a historic trading post where different trails and routes met and the site here had been active since the 19th century and probably a lot earlier. This specific site was setup by John Lorenzo Hubbell in the 1870s and the various buildings were here to showcase various wares. Nowadays, the main building houses most of the items for sale and most of these are locally produced goods. Elizabeth saw a hand woven rug that she liked but of course it was ridiculously expensive and she decided it was too much to spend. The whole place was interesting though, and despite it not looking quite as worn as 140 years old, it was certainly stuck in some kind of time warp!
By this point, Elizabeth had taken over the driving and as we carried on along the highway we saw signs for Canyon de Chelly. We’d already visited two national parks today but Elizabeth felt like we should at least stop and see what this one was about. I was a bit annoyed that we were taking another detour as the one thing I wanted to do today was visit the Four Corners Monument and I told her that I’d be really pissed off if we didn’t get there before it closed at 5pm. Of course, at Canyon de Chelly we stopped at the visitor centre and got our national park stamp and then decided we should drive through the park. I noticed that there were two roads and that the North Rim Drive would eventually link up with a road that would double back to the road we were currently on. I put this into the GPS and it said this would only add a short time to our journey and we decided to go for it. However, as we ventured along the North Rim Drive the GPS changed its mind and added about 90 minutes onto the journey, meaning we’d now arrive at Four Corners about 10 minutes before closing time, assuming we didn’t stop anywhere! It was going to be a close run thing and as I had taken over the driving I decided that I would, er, hurry up a little and my speeding was soon helping us make up some time. We didn’t want to drive through the entire park and not see anything and so we made a quick stop at the Mummy Cave overlook. The Mummy Cave is carved into the face of the cliffs and is one of the largest ancestral Puebloan villages in the region and was occupied until about the 1300s. There were a lot more ruins along the South Rim Drive than there were along this one but we were able to see one fairly close to the road and this was about all we had time to do!
Most of Canyon de Chelly is in a Navajo Reservation and despite it being a national park there were lots of small “villages” around. These villages consisted of battered old trailers, burnt out cars, a variety of old appliances dumped at the road sides and graffiti on just about every road sign. I know that the Native Americans have plenty to be upset about when it comes to what land they own and what was taken away from them but to see how they treat some of the land now is abysmal. As we left the canyon there were many small viewpoints but all of them were just far enough off the road that they were within someone’s property and we decided we didn’t want to stop at any of them as we just didn’t want to be hassled for money just to look at a view of a national park or be expected to look at the “locally” made handicrafts being sold out of a burnt out, decrepit trailer. It is sad that we have come away with that view point but it is no worse than having to look at ignorant graffiti on every single road sign.
By the time we left Canyon de Chelly I had made up quite a bit of time and even with a stop to fill up the car we managed to make it to Four Corners Monument by around 4.30pm. Four Corners is the meeting point of four US States – New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. The have a monument on the floor there where you can be in all four states at once. The site is actually on Native American land and so after paying our couple of dollars, we drove in and got some pictures, including one of me spread-eagled across all four states! I’d never been to New Mexico or Utah before and now I’d laid all over them!
We didn’t have too much longer until we arrived in Durango and we soon found our hotel for the night, the historic Strater Hotel. After checking in and admiring the old lobby and reception area which was almost like a museum, we found our room was similarly decorated with antiques everywhere you looked. By this time though, we weren’t in the mood for hanging around and admiring a load of old stuff as we were both hungry. We found a brewery called Steamworks and tucked into some beers and found there. I decided to sample some of the beers and tried six different ones, including Slam Dunkel, Third Eye PA, Steam Engine Lager, Lizard Head Red, Night Train and Spruce Goose. Elizabeth tried the Colorado Kolsch. The beers were really good except the Spruce Goose. Our waitress kept asking me if I’d tried it and when I finally did I realized why! The beer was actually flavoured with spruce trees and smelt like pine needles and tasted as you’d imagine they’d taste!
As we arrived back at our hotel we noticed the hotel bar had some live music going on. Elizabeth remembered the name, The Diamond Belle Saloon, from our guide book which mentioned that the female wait staff dressed in old fashioned outfits, including fishnet stockings and all! Of course, this sounded interesting to me and I was a bit disappointed when it was just a bloke behind the bar although when his female colleague turned up it wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined. However, I’m sure what we saw was closer to reality! We had some beers here from the Ska Brewery and enjoyed the live country music. The guys playing were quite characters and obviously knew all the locals and at times it felt like we were invading their own private jam session! After listening and chatting and finishing with some cocktails, we decided to head upstairs to bed – it’s nice when you don’t have to walk too far when you’re drunk!