Cool Working At Natural Bridges

Hikers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge.

Hikers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge.

Today I was “roving” in the park, which for Rangers, volunteers, and interns means being out on the roads and trails and at the parking lots and overlooks. Having a presence outside, away from the Visitor Center. Seeing what’s going on with the visitors, answering questions and providing any needed assistance.

I was taking photos of the earliest wildflowers in the park, for a display in the Visitor Center. People are always interested in the names of what is blooming at the time.

I walked out the lovely trail to the Horse Collar Ruin Overlook. It’s a favorite of mine, only 0.3 of a mile, and it stays above the rim of White Canyon. It goes to the edge of the canyon, looking down on the cliff dwelling ruins slightly above the bottom of the canyon on the other side of the stream.

There were two families down at the Ruins. They had been in the Visitor Center earlier, and were hiking a loop between two of the Bridges. I’m always impressed when people hike down into the canyons instead of merely going to the overlooks above.

The next trailhead from the Horse Collar Ruin is Kachina Bridge. I drove to that parking lot and hiked down to Kachina, figuring that having the families underneath the massive bridge would make for some good photos when they got that far down the canyon.

And it did. I talked with the adults for a while, pointing out the ancient artwork (both petroglyphs and pictographs) on both buttresses of Kachina, and about some of the geology.

Then it was time for me to hike back up out of the canyon to the parking lot. The young girls had been sitting in the sand along the stream, playing and enjoying the sun. As I started to walk away one of them said “Is it cool working here?”

“It’s very cool, I said”.

What a nice touch to my time with those families, and to another stellar springtime day. Later, back at the Visitor Center, they stopped in to refill their water bottles. One of the women recognized me, and told me that the other woman had remarked how nice it was to see somebody enjoying their job so much.

Meeting such nice people makes the job even cooler.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

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Chasing Moonrise, Valley Of The Gods, Utah

Full Moon rising over Cedar Mesa, from Valley Of The Gods.

Full Moon rising over Cedar Mesa, from Valley Of The Gods.

So it was Full Moon time again. I schedule my life around it. Doesn’t everybody?

For the March Full Moon I decided to change scenery. Though not too much. After all, I live at the Center of the Universe: southeast Utah. Four Corners country, some of the very best of the Colorado Plateau.

I hate to brag, so I don’t. I show.

South on Highway 261, bisecting the high desert Pinyon pine-Juniper country of Cedar Mesa. A clean air, open sky, lonesome (not lonely) emptiness into which tortuous and amazingly beautiful canyons have been carved. Still wild, no roads down into them. Wilderness areas waiting for formal designation. For further protection. But that’s another story.

At the south edge of Cedar Mesa, one drives down the steep gravel road switchbacks of the Moki Dugway.  It frightens many people. (Though not most Colorado residents, they shrug it off).

The top of the Moki Dugway,  Cedar Mesa.

The top of the Moki Dugway,Cedar Mesa.

So 1,100 feet lower in elevation in less than three miles, I’m back onto the San Juan River valley not that far from Mexican Hat. A dirt road to the left is the western entrance to Valley Of The Gods. The road has dried out nicely. I’ve chosen it in part so I could report to tourists how it is after the most recent snowstorm.

Oops, the Dugway just got narrower here. Stay on the road. Or else.

Oops, the Dugway just got narrower here. Stay on the road. Or else.

I pass the Bed And Breakfast ranch inn there. I’d stopped at its locked gate during the winter and noted its sign: “Always open”. Except when it wasn’t, like when I passed by this winter. Still, it looks like a cool place. I hope to stay there one day. Maybe this year. Spend your money locally whenever you can.

Valley Of The Gods Road. Wide open high desert spaces.

Valley Of The Gods Road. Wide open high desert spaces.

Across the up and down dirt road across ‘Gods’. Nobody around, unless you count me. Some of the hills and curves in the road are blind, so go slowly. Trying to take it all in, yet again. Red sandstone buttes and spires at the foot of the towering escarpment of Cedar Mesa that I’d come down.

Sandstone spire at sunset, Valley Of The Gods.

Sandstone spire at sunset, Valley Of The Gods.

All the while calculating exactly where moonrise would occur in relation to the most dramatic features in the eastern horizon. After a few more miles, I decided to backtrack. I found the best spot available, and stopped. Time to wait. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but around here second best is still really good. Alone in the high desert red rock country, clean air, etc. Peace.

Over the ridge, moonrise at sunset.

Over the ridge, moonrise at sunset.

Some more photos of the moonrise before it got too dark to be more than a yellow circle on a black background.

Moonrise at dusk, Valley Of The Gods.

Moonrise at dusk, Valley Of The Gods.

Then back up onto Cedar Mesa. Back up the Moki Dugway. One more evening of trying to be slowly immersed into this silent, powerful landscape done.

Photo locations: Cedar Mesa and San Juan River Valley, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Investigating Hovenweep

Hovenweep National Monument Visitor Center (such glorious light!)

Hovenweep National Monument Visitor Center

Hovenweep National Monument in southwestern Colorado is way out of the way. Which is all the more reason I wanted to make my way there.

“Hovenweep” means “deserted valley”. Stone ruins remain perched on canyon rims in a high desert country that even 800 years ago must have seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. But underneath those stone canyon rims was water. Springs, seeps, and seasonal watercourses that could be used to live, to grown corn and other crops.

Hovenweep pueblo ruins and environs.

Hovenweep pueblo ruins and environs.

They used manual labor and stone age tools to build amazing structures. They knew what they were doing.

Then, for whatever reasons (they left no written language for us to read the stories), they moved on. About 800 years ago. They built as if they intended to stay for a much longer period of time. Then decided to migrate sooner than that. Who’s to say they won’t be back?

Hovenweep, winter sky.

Hovenweep, winter sky.

There are Indian tribes in the area who trace their roots here. And to other places in this region. They consider this a sacred place because of that. I consider it sacred, too, because they do, and because of such amazing scenery. Nature. The setting of place.

And on a beautiful snowy storm clearing sunlight dark clouds day in early March, I was there, too. Wondering. Admiring.

A canyon of The Ancients, Hovenweep.

A canyon of The Ancients, Hovenweep.

Location: Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg