WOW - What a Day!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Remember me saying I would be heading back to Phoenix today?

Ahh, well, I re-wrote the script and have NOT YET returned home. I had all good intentions of just hitting the road and driving 6 hours straight home. But 30 miles down the road this morning outside Bluff, Utah, an unpaved side road caught my attention and beckoned me to leave the pavement and it kept drawing me in further and further into the backcountry. A good part of the road was hard pack and easy to drive on, but other parts were not so smooth, as a matter of fact, rough.

Starting out it was just curiosity to see where that road might lead. And I even kept reminding myself that at somewhere along the way would be the point of no return. Of course, one never knows where that may be, especially when this road was new to me. It was easy going for many miles as I went deeper and deeper on the road. I paid a fee at a kiosk several miles in but it did not have much information including where the road led. I read something about an ancient Indian cliff dwelling, but there was nothing about it’s location, so I just kept driving knowing (hoping) this unpaved road was going to come back out onto a paved road - eventually.


At times, I was going 25 mph and other times less than 5 mph, but, even being a bit scared and uncertain, it was thrilling, another adventure for me. I stopped several times to take photographs but not one other soul, vehicle or animal was on the road. About an hour and a half or two just following this road, suddenly an orange jeep is coming the opposite direction. The road, being narrow, one of us had to make room. They pulled over and I stopped to chat with them, a man and wife. They asked if I had come from the ruins as that was their destination. I hadn’t but told them I’d join them in the search which they said should be just up the road where I had been. So, we proceeded back to what they understood was the marker leading to the ruins. Obviously, I told them, there was no indication of the ruins on the part of the road I had traveled and that was already a good 30 miles into the drive for me.  

We turned around and headed back and then saw another jeep and it’s owner at a pull out. We talked with him, and wouldn’t you know, this was the starting point for the trail to the ruins, directly across from him on another side dirt road. The drive back was exciting - narrow, sandy and rough at times with many, many sharp twists and turns our vehicles brushing against junipers and pinion pines closely bordering the trail. After about 15 minutes we reached the end of the road. The couple were Bob and Maureen who are RV’ing in Bluff, Utah, not far away. We started following the cairns marking the trail, not knowing how far in we were going to be hiking. 

It was not a short hike.

Nor was it an easy hike. 

We had to descend over the edge of the canyon before us, easy enough at first, but other times we were scrambling down from a drop off to the next level below. This went on for most of an hour, then, rounding a corner we got our first glimpse of the cliff dwelling. The “ancient ones” as some of the current tribes refer to them constructed the cliff homes on southern facing cliffs, high up as possible and under an overhang or into cave like openings. This offered them protection from the elements, but also, with the summer sun higher in the sky, it meant shade from the heat and then in the winter when the sun is lower in the Southern sky, it helped warm the buildings. They also attempted to be near a water source. Additionally,  the location of the dwellings also acted as a fortress from marauding tribes. 

We were able to enter the ruins and found the outer wall was a barrier wall and inside that was a sort of hallway from which other small rooms were built into the back of the cliffs. The inner rooms had practically no light, so we imagined they were outdoors most of the time. We talked about how tough life had to have been, but when that is the only way of life, it was probably taken for granted. Daily activities probably included basket weaving, pottery making, preparing food, gathering food, tending to any crops they could plant, maintenance on the buildings, skinning animals for the hides and probably lots of other duties just to exist. 

Thinking, at first that this was the only dwelling, we looked further down the same overhanging cliff and found two more, smaller structures. At least one had some art painted on a ceiling but we could not find a supposed crescent moon painting, as has been written about in some publication. There was other decorative painting also in the main building. 

Being totally thrilled to actually find this place and then to see it up close and personal amazed us. The timbers, twigs, plaster all are over 1000 years old and there it was, intact over the centuries. We were glad that this is in such a remote place. A person really has to make a huge effort to reach it, which, I hope, is the deterrent that will keep less respectful visitors from the site.   

Leaving everything as we found it, we started on the trek back out of the canyon. Only a few spots slowed Maureen down, one where Bob and I had to hoist her up a cliff. It was good we all hooked up for the day’s adventure. If that chance meeting on the back road had not happened, I would not have had this fantastic adventure. And sharing the day with Bob and Maureen made it all the better, as I don’t know that I would have been that brave enough to get so far back into that wilderness in search of the ruins.

I followed them out about 8 miles to the highway, they directed me south on Utah 261 toward Mexican Hat, Utah and Monument Valley beyond that. Several miles down the road, signs began popping up telling that 10% grades lie ahead with 15 mph speed limit. As I reached that descent, I found myself at a the entrance to another favorite viewing spot called Muley Point. There is about a 3 mile drive out to the end and there viewers can look down at a deep canyon where the San Juan River cuts deep into the earth. The first time I discovered this place, 20 years ago, as I was gazing out over the view, two military jets came from out of nowhere and were flying IN, yes, IN, the canyon and then took a sharp turn and continued down another branch, still below me and as quickly as they had appeared, they were out of sight. Even now, I marvel at those pilots being able to fly low within the deep canyon and then make a sharp turn and be gone in seconds.

Not having a lot of time to linger, and being nearly 5 p.m. I knew I had to get down from that mesa top and either head back to Phoenix or find a motel and call it a day. Slowly descending in low gear, the road hugged the cliffs to my right and offered up a lot of very sharp switchbacks as I wended my way 3 miles down to the paved road going south. I realized, also, as I drove that, though I was not hungry, I had only had a light breakfast, some PowerAid, and lots of water during the day. As I drove I felt very much alert and willing to make the complete return trip but decided I would hit Flagstaff, over 100 miles distant and make up my mind. But I also knew those last 140 miles from Flag to Phoenix would be the time when I would soon tire and struggle to stay awake. After having dinner in Flag, I then did start to feel tired, so have decided to spend the night and then get a fresh start tomorrow.

To my knowledge, I have no other places that will tempt me to wander away to another adventure on the last leg on this trip. 

This day has had me pumped with adrenalin and excitement, with going off on one of my unscheduled, impromptu decisions to go exploring on the roads less traveled but especially in meeting Bob and Maureen and sharing the Cliff Dwelling exploration together. These are the kind of adventures that prompt my thirst for discovery, exploration and going off alone to just see where that road will lead me. I think, in another incarnation (I’ve often felt this), that I was an explorer maybe even one of the men on the Lewis and  Clark Expedition in 1805, or a wandering cowboy who preferred to go off alone and explore the vast Southwest. I’m glad to have a reliable, comfortable, rubber wheeled, high horsepower vehicle, however, in which to do MY exploring.

What a GREAT Day!

u © Donald E. Kline 2012