SOUTHWEST USA CARAVAN
April 21st though May 18th - 1992
This caravan rendezvoused in Tallahassee, Florida on April 21, 1992 for a trip to the southwestern United States. Led by Jerry and Ellen Honaker of the Tampa Bay Unit of the Wally Byam Caravan Club, 31 Airstream trailers ultimately gathered to make the journey. We joined the group in Morton, Mississippi on April 24th.
At a rally in Dade City, Florida earlier in April, Jerry held an introductory meeting of the group, outlining our route and the things we could expect to see. He passed out maps and detailed directions for each leg of the trip. He has pre-arranged for camping sites along the way about 200 miles apart and has also made reservations at numerous attractions and eating places. Jerry spent ten years of his working life teaching school to the Indians on the Navajo Reservation in the southwest and has an intimate knowledge of the history and customs of the tribe. One of the main events of the trip is to be the annual Indian Corn Dance at a tribal site near Albuquerque, New Mexico. This ancient ritual has been going on for at least 1,000 years.
April 23, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 132500
We left our home in the north Georgia mountains on Thursday morning, driving south to Atlanta and then west through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa to Meridian, Mississippi. The weather was clear and the drive was pleasant. Many shades of new green adorned the trees, marking the impact of spring.
After several weeks in the peace and quiet of the mountains, it was more than a little disturbing to re- enter the noise and tumult of the rest of the world. The night noises from the highway, train whistles, airplanes, and cars crunching on gravel were more noticeable than they might have been. It was also much warmer than we'd been used to.
From Meridian we drove eighty miles further to Roosevelt State Park near Morton, Mississippi and joined the other caravaners. We were camped on the shore of a beautiful little lake in thick woods. All the roads were paved as were each of the campsites.
Our job assignment for the caravan was postmaster. We will keep a supply of postage stamps, maintain the caravan mailbox, post any letters as needed, and collect the mail for everyone at the two maildrops: Albuquerque, NM and Page, AZ.
Some of our friends from previous caravans were along this time too. Jim and Evelyn Humphrey, Phil and Marge Schwartz, Lew and Verna Appleton, and others.
After a prayer presentation by Joe Hermann, the caravanners left one by one and in pairs to make the next leg of the trip to a spot near Shreveport, Louisiana. We travelled westward on I-20 through Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi. At Vicksburg, we (the Cockrells, Bergs and McGills) stopped to tour the National Military Park and wound up spending four hours there.
During the Civil War Vicksburg was the last Confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River and the last obstacle to unimpeded use of the river by the Union forces. It was therefore an important Union objective to capture Vicksburg, and it was equally important for the Confederacy to defend the city. The battles around Vicksburg lasted a year, ending with a six week siege which destroyed the city, devastated the people, and ultimately brought surrender of the city on July 4, 1863. In addition to civilian losses, there were some eighteen thousand battle casualties, making it the most costly campaign of the war. The Union victory at Vicksburg was also the most decisive of the war because it opened a major supply route to the federal forces, while it divided the confederacy.
The park, which is far more extensive than the one at Gettysburg, surrounds the city and memorializes the battlefields. Each state represented in the battle has placed a memorial to its dead at sites where those troops fought. Many of these memorials are magnificent structures. There is also a national cemetery that covers several acres of ground. Many of the grave markers are identified only by number, indicating the burial of unknown soldiers. The road circling through the park is about eighteen miles long, mostly one-way. We drove through with our three Airstreams, provoking many double takes as we negotiated the steep hairpin turns on the narrow road. It was a beautiful drive in a picturesque setting, but it was also sobering to consider what went on there.
At one end of the park is the yankee gunboat, Cairo, sitting high on a bluff about five hundred yards back from the river. The Cairo, an ironclad vessel that carried a crew of 175 and 122 tons of armor, was sunk by the first ever electrically detonated mine. It lay in 36 feet of water for a hundred and two years, then in 1964 was raised and moved to its present site. A huge frame was constructed to support the parts of the boat that were salvaged, all in their original conformation. Setting up the exhibit was itself an amazing feat of engineering. The cannon still sit on their original oak planking, the original boilers are in their proper position, and the engines are in place. Nearby, buried in the side of a hill, is a museum which contains hundreds of items salvaged from the vessel. These things give insight into the construction methods of the time, the type of armament then in use, the content of naval stores aboard, and the work routines of the crew. Much of the personal gear of the crew was also recovered and is on display. The vessel was a steam driven stern-wheeler with boilers which required a ton of coal an hour, all shoveled in by hand.
We had a picnic lunch in the park near the cemetery beneath huge magnolia trees, then got back on the road for the remaining 150 miles to Shreveport. We were the last to arrive at Hillside Campground, but that didn't matter. We had much to tell about our stop at Vicksburg.
Sunday was a rest day which began with a western omelet breakfast prepared by the Schwartzes and their committee. Then, some found local churches or gathered in small prayer groups for worship. In the afternoon, some of the girls found a nearby mall for shopping while the men sought out a local golf course.
At the driver's meeting later in the evening, Jerry gave the group some instructions on proper behavior when we get to the pueblo where the Corn Dance is to be held. This pueblo, called San Felipe, is near Albuquerque. The event is not a tourist attraction, and we are going there as guests, so the people need to be treated with respect. No cameras or camcorders will be allowed. It is a religious ceremony which asks the blessing of their gods on the new corn crop. These Indians live in the old way just as their forefathers have for hundreds of years. Governor Chiles has written a letter of thanks to the leader of the pueblo thanking him on our behalf for allowing us to attend.
Jerry reminds me of what Will Rogers must have been like, with his laid back humor and gift of gab. While talking about the beauty of Alaska, he quoted a poem about a goldminer from Tennessee who died in the Alaskan gold rush, and he had all of us spellbound. Alaska was on his mind because he is going there after this caravan is over.
April 26, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 133250
After prayer for the road, the caravanners left for Lone Oak, Texas, 160 miles away. We left the interstate system some 75 miles into Texas. Our campsite for the evening was at a place called Wind Point Park, a campground on the south shore of Lake Tawakoni, a huge lake on the outskirts of Dallas. The weather continued to be excellent, warm in the day time and cool at night.
We had a "POD" party at 3:30pm. POD means people out doors, a neat name for an afternoon snack party. Each couple brings a snack to be shared under the trees, helping folks get acquainted.
April 27, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 133427
The road through Texas was as long as ever. About the only thing worthy of remark was the flowers. The roadsides were covered with a profusion of many-colored wildflowers. That and the lack of road signs is probably attributable to Lady Bird Johnson.
We stopped for the night in Vernon, Texas, not too far south of the Oklahoma border. A catered Texas barbecue dinner at the campground which our leader had arranged for was really good and bountiful. There was enough barbecue beef for seconds and another plateful to take home.
After that scrumptious dinner we carpooled to a local museum called the Red River Valley Museum. This turned out to be a first rate facility. They had opened in the evening especially for us with several members of the Vernon Chamber of Commerce there to welcome us. There were displays of Indian artifacts, animals from all over the world, articles of ranch life over the last hundred years, and paintings of local interest.
It was just about bed time when we heard that a storm warning was in effect and that hail was possible. Not long after golfball size hail started bouncing off the trailer. What a racket!! I was certain that our solar panels would be broken and that we would have dents all over the top. But when it was over, there was no damage. I picked up some of the large balls of hail and put them in the freezer to save.
April 29, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 133630
Another day in Texas. Lamar and I had parking duty in Vega, Texas, while Ann and Frances had charge of the refreshment table which is setup at each stop to welcome everybody into camp. We, therefore, traveled early with Jerry. We camped in a rather primitive campsite eighteen miles east of Amarillo in the grain growing region of northeast Texas.
April 30, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 133849
Interstate 40 from Amarillo, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico follows the route of old Route 66. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 brought millions of Americans westward from the early days of the automobile until the mid 1960's when it was displaced by the interstate system. From Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, to the music of Nat King Cole, to the 60's TV series starring Martin Milner and George Maharis, Route 66 was immortalized in the memories of Americans. It inspired the logo of Phillips Petroleum and triggered the building of hundreds of motels, cafes, curio shops, gasoline stations, and shops. The tragedy of the road lies in the lives of those small business people who sacrificed their livelihoods for the public's greater good when the new highway was built.
We left I-40 at Santa Rosa to drive along the old Route 66 for a few blocks. It is marked by closed businesses and a few historic monuments. Santa Rosa is on the site of a unique geological feature. The Blue Hole is a pool of clear water created by an artesian spring with water flowing out at the rate of 3,000 gallons per minute. It was a surprising sight in the middle of the desert. The early pioneers travelling through here must have found this water hole especially welcome.
Our campground, when we arrived in Albuquerque, though not a luxury park, was adequate. It was located on the old Route 66 about five miles west of town.
May 1, 1992
Odometer @ Start:134061
This was the day that we went to the San Felipe Pueblo for the Corn Dance, and it turned out to be something far beyond expectation even though Jerry had tried to tell us about it. Since no cameras were allowed, I've spent more than the usual space below trying to describe it.
San Felipe shows on the map as "The San Felipe Indian Reservation," but the people there refer to themselves as a pueblo. A pueblo is a village, but it is also a tribal unit. These people are not nomadic, and these villages have been in this area for at least a thousand years. There are nineteen such pueblos in New Mexico, each with their own tribal laws and each completely self-governing. There is a tribal council or union of the pueblos, and the governor of each pueblo is supposed to be a member of the council, but in reality the individual pueblos are independent units. San Felipe is located on the banks of the Rio Grande River about twenty miles north of Albuquerque. The present buildings are relatively new because of a flood about a hundred years ago that destroyed everything. The buildings are all adobe houses which simply melt away if they get wet. A distinctive feature of the village as we drove in were the outdoor clay ovens near each residence. These are dome shaped, about four feet in height and maybe three feet in diameter at the base. They burn a fire inside for a period of time then remove the ashes and coals. Bread is then placed inside and the residual heat within does the baking.
There are about two thousand people living in San Felipe Pueblo. Each year on May 1st they conduct the Green Corn Dance. The thing that we were the most unprepared for was the number of people participating in the dance. They were not putting on a show, but were rather performing a ceremonial dance for their own benefit to call down the blessing of Earth Mother and Corn Mother on the upcoming corn growing season.
We carpooled from our campground in Albuquerque to San Felipe, arriving there about 9:00am. There were no designated parking areas, so we just had to find a place along a narrow street. We then walked to the "plaza,"
a sort of empty town square in the center of the pueblo. The ground was sandy and dusty, and was somewhat bowl shaped, dipping lower in the center. The square was about seventy five yards down each side. A short distance away was a catholic church and two ceremonial kivas, round walled structures accessible only by ladder. At one end of the plaza was a small tent in which the pueblo elders were seated. There was an altar, a statue of Saint Philip, and several crosses. The catholic influence which was introduced to the southwest by the Spaniards in the 1600's was evidenced by the church, the crosses, and the name of the village. Each of the participants in the dance made gifts of candles to Saint Philip. Some gave as many as five or six candles, symbolically asking for a blessing on five or six family members.
We were not the only visitors in town. They allow as many people in as they feel the arena will hold. There were maybe 150 or 200 people there as spectators, most of them other Indians. The visitors placed chairs about four deep in designated areas on each side.
Upon our arrival, we asked when it would get started and were told that it would start when they got ready, meaning "on Indian time." About 10:00am we heard the regular beat of a drum coming from the direction of the church. This lasted about twenty minutes, and we later learned that the dance starts there. Then the drum beat grew louder, and the first of the dancers entered the plaza from one corner. The first group was the chanting chorus, led by the drummer and standard bearer. The drum was a highly decorated object about the shape of a thirty inch high barrel. It had a tightly stretched piece of skin on the top which was being pounded by the drummer. The standard was on a twenty feet long pole which held a colorful banner decorated with birds, designs, and a cornstalk. There were about seventy-five chanters in the chorus group wearing brightly colored shirts. They were followed by some two hundred dancers moving around the plaza two abreast. There were men and women, boys and girls, from four years old up dancing. When the first group of dancers finished their dance, two hundred more came in, then again until over a thousand dancers had done the routine. Then, anybody danced who wanted to until sundown when everybody danced at once.
The men were bare-chested with white skirts, highly decorated with beads and sashes. Each one wore a belt with bells and held a gourd with seeds for a rattle which added to the ceremonial sound. A fox pelt hung from the back of each belt, and branches from fir trees were plumed out of their belts, armbands, and moccasins. The evergreen branches represented eternal life. They all wore necklaces, wristbands, and assorted other pieces of jewelry made mostly from silver and turquoise. The women wore highly decorated black dresses tied at the waist, blue headboards, more silver and turquoise jewelry, and were barefooted.
There were also six or seven clowns, or Koshares. They wore rather hideous looking skins, horns and rattles, and had black and white stripes painted on their bodies. There function was to keep order and to keep the dance moving. As each dance ended, the dancers made their way to the tent to make their gifts and pay respects to the elders.
We learned that any pueblo Indian who wished, could participate by preparing the proper costume and coming to a four day practice session. Many of the dancers were members of the pueblo but no longer lived there. Between the villagers and the visitors there was a large crowd of people milling around the village. Vendors were taking advantage of this on the outskirts, selling lemonade, fry bread, out-oven bread, jewelry, rugs, pottery, and lottery tickets.
After sitting through two dances, we walked around town a bit, bought some fry bread and lemonade, then decided to leave although the rest of the day was to be full of activity. But it was hot, sitting and standing in the sun, and some of the group got restless. Needless to say, we left greatly impressed by what we had seen. These dark skinned, black haired people obviously have much depth to their culture. They were self sufficient and proud of their heritage, and their children were all well behaved and respectful. They all looked well fed.
May 2, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134070
New Mexico played a key role in the development of the atomic bomb with the brain center of the Manhattan project at the Oppenheimer ranch at Alamagordo and the test site at Los Alamos. The complete history of U.S. nuclear achievement is on display at the National Atomic Museum on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. We spent three hours there reading articles, looking at bombs and missiles, watching movies, and talking with guides. Bombs like the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on display as is the giant hydrogen bomb that was developed later. I had read or heard the story piecemeal but had never heard it in such a complete context. A classic documentary film called "The Ten Seconds That Shook The World" told the incredible story of how the atomic bomb was developed. Spurred on by the fear that the Germans would get the weapon first, this country poured more than two billion dollars into the project just to build the first one. Then came the agonizing decision to use it against Japan. There's no question that the bomb changed the world. Much of the military supply and support for the Manhattan project was funneled through Kirtland Air Force Base, and the base thus became a logical site for the museum.
The caravanners ate lunch as a group at the La Hacienda Mexican restaurant. We had enchiladas, tamales, burritos, tacos, sopapilla, frijoles and rice, and peppers covered with cheese.
After lunch Ann and I drove up into the mountains in the northeast quadrant of Albuquerque to visit a cousin, Christina Berg Badgett. Chris and her husband, Bob, live in a beautiful house at the base of the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque and the surrounding valley. Chris grew up in Logansport, Indiana, and has four grown children and three grandsons. They cooked pork chops on an outside grill, and we had a good visit and discussion of family matters. Chris has done a lot of work compiling information about her side of the Berg family.
May 3, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134360
About forty miles west of Albuquerque is the Acoma Indian Reservation, another of the nineteen pueblos in the area. After giving everyone a chance to attend church and eat lunch on their own, we carpooled out to the "City in the Sky." The village of Acoma, or Sky City, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States, dating back at least 700 years. Acoma pottery is an outstanding example of Indian art, and was on sale outside many of the houses.
Located on top of a 365 foot high mesa, there are about 400 homes, all made of adobe brick and mud. Most of the homes are cubicals about twelve feet on each side. Many are built on top of others with ladders for access. In the old days they would draw up their ladders to keep enemies from getting to them. There was no electricity or plumbing. Only thirteen families live there year around. The others come only on "feast" days when they gather for ceremonial dances. Again, they have their own tribal laws and government. Ownership of the houses passes to the youngest daughter of a family. To retain that ownership, the daughter must spend some time there at least once each year.
We were allowed to go up to the village, but only after parking on the valley floor below and registering at a visitor's center. We were then taken up in a small bus and led around the village by an Indian girl who served as guide. No video cameras were allowed, but we could take still pictures after paying $5 for a stamp to affix to the camera. The views of the surrounding countryside from the village were outstanding. There were many mesas (table top mountains), arroyos (dry river beds), rocks and hills. There are no fences on the reservation, so we had to be watchful of cattle and horses that were near the roads. The ground was mostly dry and dusty, but while we were there a rare rain shower caused umbrellas to come out. The rain cloud could be seen coming from several miles away.
The Acoma Reservation is a large one, maybe twenty five miles long, and has about 4,000 Indians in residence. Most of these live in villages on the valley floor with modern conveniences like electricity, television, indoor plumbing, etc., but the old city of Acoma on the mesa top was unique.
Back at our campground, the Schwartzes again prepared a meal for the group. This time it was a light supper of Tomato bisque over rice with grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream bars for dessert.
May 4, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134460
From Albuquerque we moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, about 75 miles further west. Along the way we stopped at the Coronado State Monument, an abandoned pueblo with the distinction of being where Francisco Coronado and his 300 Spanish soldiers spent the winter of 1540-1541. Called Kuaua Pueblo, the village was inhabited by some 800 Indians at the time. Coronado's mistreatment of the people of the valley left a legacy of bitter memories.
Portions of the pueblo ruins have been reconstructed, and there is a small museum at the visitor's center which has several exhibits of the pre-history and history of the Rio Grande Valley. The monument is right on the Rio Grande River with an excellent view of the mountains beyond.
Santa Fe is the capitol of New Mexico and is one of the oldest modern cities in the U.S. Most of the buildings, houses and business alike, are designed to resemble the adobe structures of the pueblos, brown stucco walls with flat roofs. The caravan parked in a full hookup campground on the Tusuque Reservation about 10 miles north of Santa Fe at the foot of mountains still capped with snow. After getting set up we drove back into town to the old section near the capitol building, the old Palace of Governors, the end of the old Santa Fe Trail, the St. Francis Cathedral, the mystical staircase of Loretto, and much more. Indian vendors peddling jewelry lined the sidewalks at the Palace of Governors.
At the suggestion of Jane and Ray Geiger, we went to dinner at the La Casa Sena. The waitresses were all professional singers who performed throughout the meal. The menu gave each of the girls a write-up describing their musical credentials, and most of them had college degrees in music as well as a long resume of singing experience. It was terrific, and the meal was good too. We prolonged our eating as long as possible to hear more entertainment. It's not often that there is an urge to ask a waitress for her autograph, but we did that at the La Casa Sena.
The following morning some went back into town to shop, some made a side trip up to Los Alamos to see the site of the first atomic bomb blast, and others went exploring. We stayed in camp to relax for a while, then went into town to look for the replica of the liberty bell at the capitol. That was to no avail, however. We were told that the bell had been stolen. That's hard to imagine, but that's what they said. A new capitol building has recently been completed, while the old one has been turned into a memorial to the Bataan death march. Some 500 New Mexico servicemen were captured and put through that ordeal. So we learned something despite not finding the bell.
May 6, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134545
The drive through the northwest corner of New Mexico was beautiful. Leaving the desert behind, it was a welcome sight to see green pastures again and green trees all around. The mountains took on a different look at every turn in the road. We made two stops along the way, one at Ghost Ranch Museum and the other at Echo Amphitheater.
The museum is a National Forest Service undertaking, providing a place to house wild animals who have been injured and cannot fend for themselves in the wild.
There were eagles, owls, roadrunners, foxes, wolves, wildcats, raccoons, skunks, elk and deer. The Echo Amphitheater was a huge cleft in the mountainside which clearly resounded with echos of anything said in front of it. The cliff must have been 1,000 feet high, truly an awesome sight to walk up to.
We arrived in Durango, Colorado about 3:30pm in the afternoon with enough time to explore the town a bit before settling in. Durango is much like it was when we saw it sixteen years ago with a few new motels. It is a clean city with wide streets nestled in the mountains of southern Colorado. Much revolves about the narrow gage train ride to Silverton, the main tourist attraction.
By seven o'clock the next morning we were all at the depot to board the train. It took the train 3 1/2 hours to run the 45 miles to Silverton, running alongside the Animas River the entire distance. The track in places was on a ledge hardly wider than the train itself. At times we looked down 1,000 feet to the river below, and at other times were at river level, and the scenery was outstand ing. We climbed almost 4,000 feet going, and of course descended the 4,000 feet coming back. Some of the folks rode in an open gondola car which made it easier to take pictures. Others road in regular passenger cars. We got showered with cinders, but nobody seemed to mind. This is an authentic railroad, operated by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. It is one of the last remaining narrow gauge railroads in commercial use. The tracks are laid on three foot centers instead of the 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches of a standard gauge track. As the engine struggles up the mountain, it puts out huge clouds of smoke and steam. It took 4 1/2 tons of coal to get us up to Silverton, and only 1 1/2 tons to get back to Durango. The engine had to take on water twice along the way. We arrived back in Durango about nine hours later, having spent a couple of hours in Silverton eating and walking the streets.
Silverton has not changed much in a hundred years except that many of the stores are now gift shops. It looks like a classic western town. The streets are wide and the sidewalks are boardwalks. Up 9,280 feet, the town is surrounded by 13000 foot snow capped mountains, and the air was cool and clean. The ruins of many abandoned silver mines were in evidence on the mountainsides. Silverton was settled in 1876 and had about 1,000 residents when the railroad arrived in 1882. As a mining town, Silverton reached a peak about 1900, then began to fade. Tourism now keeps it alive.
The railroad was installed to haul ore from the mines of Silverton to the smelters in Durango. It is now exclusively a passenger service, transporting tourists to historic Silverton. The trains run from May 1st through October. During the peak of the season in July, five trains make the round trip daily, hauling over 2200 people. When we made the trip in 1976, there were only two trains each day. Owned by a Floridian citrus grower, the railroad is a complete self contained business with shops that are capable of making any part needed for maintenance. It has become a major attraction both because of the beautiful scenery along the way and the experience of reliving a part of the past with the train and the old western mining town. It was a unique experience.
We finished the day with a celebration of the Cockrells' 44th wedding anniversary. The Bergs, the Richters (Rudy and Mildred), and the McGees (Pat and Lillian) joined the Cockrells at Sweeneys Restaurant in Durango for a delicious evening meal.
May 8, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134750
From Durango, the caravan moved to Mesa Verde National Park, about 36 miles to the west. Thirty of those miles were over a steep rising grade, an endurance test for the tow vehicles. We gathered in the campground of the national park for our first dry camp of the trip. Camping with no hookups was a new experience for some of the folks. By nightfall the campground was full of grazing deer.
The elevation of the mesa top is about 8500 feet, making it possible to see for miles across the plateaus below. To the west we could see about 125 miles to the mountains of southern Utah. To the north were the snow capped mountains of Colorado. At Park Point, the highest spot in the park, there were exceptional views in all directions. The air was clear when we arrived, but cool.
Mesa Verde is the site of ruins of many cliff dwellings. The story of the people who built these dwellings in the cliffs is fantastic. It is thought that the Anasazi Indians lived here from 550 A.D. until about 1300 A.D. From available evidence, there were about 40,000 Anasazi throughout the area at their peak. No one knows for sure why they abandoned the cliffs and disappeared from the area, but there are several theories. By studying tree rings, it has been determined that there was a twenty-four year drought in the area beginning about 1276. There is also evidence that larger game had become scarce at that time. Perhaps there were just too many people taxing the resources of the land. It was probably a combination of these and other factors that caused the people to abandon their homes. Jerry's theory was that the rent just got too high.
Natural alcoves in the sandstone cliffs provided a protected place for the Indians to live. The complexity of the buildings they constructed to conform to the shapes and sizes of the alcoves is remarkable. The largest of the cliffside dwellings is Cliff Palace which housed 200 to 250 people. Other dwellings were so small that only one family could have lived there. The people farmed and hunted on the flat ground above and below, then climbed up or down to their homes in the cliffs at night, pulling their ladders in behind them.
The name, Anasazi, a Navajo word meaning "the ancient ones," has been used to refer to these people for just the last hundred years. It is not known what they called themselves. The ruins were found and reported in 1888 by two cowboys searching for lost cows. Not long after, amateur archeologists came in and removed many priceless artifacts and in the process destroyed some of the old buildings. The national park was created in 1906 to protect the area from this sort of destruction. The road through the park is laid out so that a visitor can follow, in a chronological progression, how the ancient people developed their mode of life.
The sites are numerous. Several families or groups of families lived in each alcove. The sites have names such as "Spruce Tree House," "Sun Temple," "Cliff Palace" and "Balcony House." We remember Balcony House well from our trip here in 1976. It was here that we followed a group of about fifty people led by a park ranger on a tour. We were warned that there were some strenuous climbs, a 32' ladder, and a 14' tunnel just 3' high. The ladder turned out to be on the side of a cliff 1,000 feet above the ground.
We listened to an outstanding lecture about the park by a lady park ranger, then saw a slide show which told the Mesa Verde story. Then, despite a drizzling rain, most of the caravanners walked down to Spruce Tree House for a closer look. Balcony House was not yet open to the public, so we had a good excuse not to repeat that experience.
On Sunday the weather cleared and Jim Humphrey organized an "in house" church service at the campground. Although it was cold sitting out in the open, the service was well planned and meaningful. Ellen Honaker and Frances Powers played the organ, Jane Geiger sang, Evelyn Humphrey read an inspiring poem, Mary Smith read scripture, and Lew Smith delivered a sermon. We concluded by singing America the Beautiful as it most certainly is.
We drove back up to the mesa top and walked down and through Cliff Palace, climbing five ten foot ladders to get there. Seeing it up close enhances appreciation of the advanced culture of the people who did the building.
Back at camp, I hiked the mile long Knife Edge Trail to the west side of the mesa cliff. Looking out over the plateau 2000 feet below, the views were nothing less than spectacular. There were a few reports of wildlife sightings. A bear was seen near the tunnel to Far View point. There have been many deer grazing around the campground in late afternoon. I saw fresh hoof prints along the trail but no animals.
May 11, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 134977
Descending 2,000 feet from Mesa Verde, we drove through Cortez, Colorado onto the desert plateau and westward through the Ute Reservation and into Navajo country at Four Corners. Four corners is the only spot in the United States where four states come together. Most of the caravanners stopped to make pictures standing on the spot shared by Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, and to look at more jewelry displayed by the Navajos in concession stands all around the area.
From Four Corners, we continued westward into Arizona to our destination - Canyon de Chelly, pronounced "Canyon de Shay," and what a place that was! The name, de Chelly, is a Spanish corruption of the navajo word, "Tsegi," meaning rock canyon. The canyon was the home of the same extended tribe of Anasazi Indians that inhabited Mesa Verde. Though not as numerous as those at Mesa Verde, they built similar cliff dwellings and abandoned their homes in the canyon about the same time - 1300 A.D..
The Navajo moved into the canyon in the 1700's, finding for themselves a virtual Garden of Eden. Compared to the arid desert of the surrounding countryside, the bottom of the canyon is lush with greenery. A river, called Rio de Chelly, flows through the canyon and apparently was the force that over centuries carved out the canyon. The vertical canyon walls display varying shades of red and range in depth up to about 1,000 feet. The massive rock formations visible from the rim and rising from the canyon floor are magnificent. Many Navajos have their hogans in the bottom, farm the fertile land and raise sheep, goats, cattle and horses for their livelihood.
The Navajo fought Spaniards and Americans to retain their right to live in the canyon. At one point they were defeated by the Americans and imprisoned at Fort Sumner, but their discontent led to an eventual restoration of their ancestral homes. They presently live in peace and are prospering from the tourists. Tourists are allowed on the canyon floor only with an Indian guide, but a freely accessible road goes along both rims of the canyon, and there are numerous spots to park and walk to overlooks and look down. Navajos were at all of the overlooks selling jewelry and keeping an eye on things. One exception to the Indian guide rule is a 2 1/2 mile foot trail down to an old Anasazi ruin called the White House, but a strict rule prohibits leaving the marked trail.
One of the massive towers that rises from the canyon floor is called Spider Rock and is where the familiar Toyota commercials were made. Jerry arranged for the caravan to tour the canyon floor with guides. We rode down sitting on wooden benches in the back of old four-wheel drive army trucks.
May 12, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 135120
Canyon de Chelly as seen from the canyon floor is a sight like no other I've ever seen. I've always thought that this country did the Indians wrong by placing them on reservations in the most undesirable places. Not true in Canyon de Chelly. This is a paradise, and the Navajo know it. We rode 52 miles along the canyon floor on the back of four-wheel drive 1950 vintage army trucks, most of the time splashing through the river. We must have forded the river a hundred times and drove right down the middle of it for a few miles. Although a rough ride, it was the only way to really see the canyon. At the farthest point in we were looking up at 1,000 foot cliffs on either side. Each truck had seats for 24 people so our group alone took three trucks.
Our Navajo driver and guide grew up in the canyon and knew every bend and turn. He stopped at strategic spots to point out old Anasazi ruins or spots where significant battles had been fought or at unique rock formations and did an excellent job of describing the area and answering questions. The prevailing color of the rock and soil is red, but the contrasting bright green of the trees and shrubs makes for a beautiful setting. There were cottonwood trees, olive trees, and many varieties of fruit trees, and much of the land was being farmed by the Indians. They grow corn, squash, beans, cotton, alfalfa, apples, pears, and other crops, but we were surprised to learn that they only consider the canyon floor home during the spring and summer months. Temperatures in the winter often reach 30 below zero, so they move up to the upper plateau where it is warmer for the winter. Their winter homes have modern conveniences like water and electricity, while they prefer to live without those things on the canyon floor.
The Navajo who live in "the old way," as they do in the canyon, live in one room hogans with one door that always faces east toward the rising sun. They sit on blankets on the floor, and roll up in those blankets on the floor to sleep. If anyone dies in a hogan, their religion demands that they move out. That building then becomes a storage shed and a new one is built for the family.
The tour through the canyon lasted nine hours. We stopped and got off the truck three times for rest stops and once to eat lunch. The guides had prepared sack lunches, and we ate in the shade of a large oak tree in front of a ruins called Mummy Cave. The trip began at nine o'clock in the morning and arrived back at the campground at six that evening.
After dinner, Jerry gathered the group together and shared some of his experiences as a teacher on the reservation. He taught in a school in Shiprock, New Mexico, not far from where we were, for ten years. When the five year old Indians came to school for the first time, they could not speak English and knew nothing of white civilization. Their language is so completely different and unique that special teachers had to be trained to teach the children English.
The distinctiveness of the Navajo language served this country well during the second World War. It was then that the Marine Corps recruited young Navajos to become "code talkers" and send secret messages. Over 800 secret messages were sent by the Navajo during the invasion of Iwo Jima, and the Japanese never broke the code. Not only are the words and sounds different, but the thought patterns behind the language are different. Ninety five percent of the people now speak English along with their native tongue.
Grading in school was also a problem because the Navajo children are taught from birth that any form of competition among themselves is wrong. Everything they have is shared. Not only was this a problem in the school, it was historically a cause for many misunderstandings with the white man. Often what the Indians considered sharing was considered stealing by the white man.
The Navajo people are friendly, intelligent and are great artists. We saw ornate pottery that was exquisitely carved and priced at over $1,000 an item. Their beadwork, jewelry, rugs, blankets and paintings all reflect this talent. Our Navajo guide was sharp, informed and obviously an intelligent man. He did a good job of explaining the many things we saw, including numerous pictographs (painted pictures) and petroglyphs (engraved symbols) on the canyon walls.
While Canyon de Chelly is a national monument, it is completely under the control of the Navajo nation, and the land is owned by the Navajo under terms of a treaty signed in 1868. The 256,000 Navajos that now make up the nation are descendants of the mere 2,000 that survived the massacres and five year imprisonment at Fort Sumner that ended with the treaty. Compared to other Indian tribes, the Navajo seem to be prospering. The children wear happy faces. We saw several groups of children playing in the water along our trip through the canyon. Of course, the discovery of oil on the reservation and other minerals has helped the status of the people. In land area, the nation consists of about 25,000 square miles.
May 13, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 135180
From Canyon de Chelly we moved northward into Utah to the Navajo Tribal Park in Monument Valley. A number of motion pictures have been made at Monument Valley including many starring John Wayne. They were filming a Peugeot commercial while we were there. The scenery in the valley was unusual. This was a red sand desert, mile after mile of open land, but scattered here and there were huge monolithic columns of red sandstone. The various shapes of the structures prompted names that were fitting for each.
The only way to see the valley was to descend from the Visitor's Center on an unpaved red dirt road and circle through the park in a loop. We drove through rather than taking a tour. It was hot and dusty, and the road was rough, but the scenery was striking. Indian sheepherders could be seen here and there, and there were several Navajo hogans in evidence. If the road through the valley were paved, it would have been a much more pleasant stop.
May 14, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 135320
From Monument Valley we headed westward to Page, Arizona. Page is the site of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The waters backed up behind the dam, called Lake Powell, appear out of place in the desert, but the lake with its 2,000 miles of shoreline makes a beautiful picture in contrast with the red cliffs around it. With water behind the dam backed up 180 miles, the lake is the world's second largest created by man.
Completed in 1963, the Glen Canyon Dam was the last in a series of such structures built to control the erratic natural flow of the Colorado River.
It took seventeen years for the basin behind the dam to fill to maximum depth. Droughts in recent years and greater usage of water downstream have drained the lake to some extent. The level of the water when we were there appeared to be about 80 feet down from its high water mark on the cliffs. Even so, the lake level was about 500 above the river below the dam.
We boarded buses in downtown Page which took us below the dam to start a memorable float trip down the Colorado River. The first part of the adventure was a 1,000 foot descent to river level through a two mile long tunnel dug originally to facilitate the construction of the dam. The canyon just below the dam was 700 feet deep and maybe 1,000 feet wide. The nearly vertical canyon walls of red sandstone and the huge concrete face of the dam are imposing to say the least. We felt very small scrambling aboard inflated rafts for the fifteen mile trip downstream to Lee's Ferry.
By the time we reached Lee's Ferry four hours later, the river had dropped 700 feet, and the canyon walls were 1,400 feet high. Words like awesome, incredible, fantastic, and the like are inadequate to describe the scenery. The water in the river was crystal clear and cold, a result of the two hundred miles of Lake Powell that act as a gigantic settling basin. There was no white water on this trip, but there were places along the way that the current was substantial.
About halfway into the trip, we landed on a narrow beach and walked to a spot where ancient Anasazi petroglyphs decorated the walls. That was also a convenient place for a pit stop in a couple of portable "Johnny-on-the-Spot" cubicles.
Lee's Ferry holds a significant place in the history of the West. From 1872 when it was established, until 1929 when it was discontinued, it was the only place where the Colorado River could be crossed for 600 miles in both directions. At that point the canyon walls are crumbled to the extent that, even though treacherous in its descent, a trail could be negotiated to the river level.
A cable was stretched across the river, and the ferry was no more than a large raft which was pulled across the river by hand using the cable. The cable broke in 1929 and was never repaired. By then, a bridge was build a couple miles further downstream replacing the need for the ferry. Lee's Ferry remains the only spot between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream, where a road can descend to the river level, so it is the spot where private boats can be launched, and it is the spot where rafts are launched for the white water ride through the Grand Canyon.
At one point we saw wild cows that had somehow found their way down to the river and were apparently thriving. They had plenty of good water, and with sufficient forage, they had no incentive to try to get back out, and there was no way to catch them and take them out. The only other wildlife we saw were a few ducks. Through most of the distance, the water lapped right up to the base of the sheer cliffs.
The buses which took us down to the starting point also met us at Lee's Ferry to take us back to Page, and the air-conditioned ride back was nearly as spectacular around that have never been as the raft trip. This land has a breathtaking beauty to it that is hard to describe.
Page became a town during the construction of the dam. Needing space to house the men who worked on the dam, the federal government negotiated a trade with the Navajos to obtain the land. So, everything in the town is relatively new and clean. Using water from the lake for irrigation, the trees and shrubs that beautify the town make it look like a lush oasis in the middle of the desert. The marina on the lake appeared to have several hundred boats of all sorts at dock. The lake is a mecca for watersports enthusiasts, especially during the summer. Exploring the labyrinth of canyons throughout its length must be a thrilling adventure, and it may be compelling for many of us to return.
May 17, 1992
Odometer @ Start: 135500
Our last stop on the caravan was at Bryce Canyon National Park. Here in southern Utah was some of the most unusual scenery yet. For the first five or six miles after entering the park the scenery was quite normal looking with stands of large pines and Douglas firs on a relatively level terrain. Then, all of a sudden, there was an abrupt drop four or five hundred feet to the floor of an eroded "canyon." As the land has eroded, thousands of unusual shaped bright orange spires have been left. This process has been occurring over the course of the several million years. Each "spire" was a different shape, and they vary in color from light ivory to deep red. We walked along the rim looking down into the maze, then took one of the many trails down to the floor. From the floor looking up, the spires really stood out against the deep blue sky. At every turn there was another "must" picture.
"Canyon" does not seem to be the correct word to use to describe Bryce. I think of a canyon as being a narrow valley between two high walls or mountain for sides, but Bryce Canyon is not like that. Standing on the rim, this unusual formation extends outward for many miles, eventually leveling off. There are no mountains on the downside to provide another wall of a canyon. At some of the view points along the rim the Grand Canyon is visible toward the southeast. But nonetheless, the name, Bryce Canyon, will probably endure.
We celebrated our successful caravan at a final banquet in the rustic lodge inside Bryce Canyon National Park. The meal was good, and the skits and songs produced by the caravanners provided hearty entertainment.
It's safe to say that everyone left the caravan with a greater understanding of Indian culture and a greater appreciation of this land of ours. We had great fun, fellowship and adventure and look forward to others with Jerry. Leaving our friends after a great month together was like saying goodbye to family, but all good things must end. As each said goodbye, the common phrase was, "See you down the road!."
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