Tuesday, November 24, 2015


A final trek (FINALLY - yes, life gets in the way of blogs sometimes) through THE largest cliff dwelling in North America, which sits in Mesa Verde National Park.  The park is nearing their snowy season now, if not already into it.  Living in the desert SW tends to skew my view of the weather in the rest of the country.  The park is always open, but access to some of the areas is limited during the winter months.
December 18th will mark the 127th year since Richard Weatherill and Charlie Mason, ranchers in the SW corner of Colorado, stumbled upon these magnificent ruins.  Riding atop this mesa, searching for stray cattle during a blizzard, they were met by an astonishing sight across the canyon pictured... 
Three stories high, a magnificent stone city was hidden under a massive rock overhang.  The cattle search was quickly abandoned while the men climbed down, and then up, to explore their discovery for several hours. 
This is Cliff Palace - 150 rooms, 23 kivas and, speculated, home to over a hundred people, it is thought that Cliff Palace was probably a social and "administrative" site of pretty great ceremonial importance in its heyday.  The centerpiece of Mesa Verde, it is one of the finest examples of late prehistoric cliff dwellings in the American Southwest.  Much restoration has been done over the years to preserve it, this is one of the ticketed/guided tours within the park. 
Much controversy surrounds the legacy of Wetherill and Mason, and little credit seems to be given (depending on the story teller) the men in the actual discovery of Cliff Palace.  In the years following their discovery, Wetherill collected thousands of artifacts from this and other area ruins.  However, most all of Wetherill's artifacts ended up in museums, where they could be studied by professional archaeologists and viewed by the public...and MORE sadly, squirreled away in huge, dark storerooms WITHIN these museums, not to be seen by anyone in the public, since acquisition.

The same cannot be said of countless other priceless artifacts stolen by visitors over the years, which ended up in private collections.  To protect the site from further looting and degradation, Congress named Mesa Verde a National Park in 1906.
These canyon walls are literally dotted with ruin after ruin, if you keep your eyes wide open, and take the time to look.  Some are nothing more than small storage spaces, or single family dwellings...some a little larger...you just have to look.  This was in the canyon walls opposite the massive dwelling, and sitting under the mesa top where Cliff Palace was originally spotted from.
 Today, this Park protects some 5,000 known archaeological sites, which includes 600 cliff dwellings.
The House of Many Windows, in the same general vicinity.  These, and the "afore-blogged" dwellings are all on the Chapin Mesa, and open year-round, whether viewing from a distance, or taking an up-close and personal tour.  Go in with eyes wide open - you never know where you might spot something a little more spectacular than just beautiful scenery.
On the opposite side of the park, but all within a little less than 20 miles by car, sits Wetherill Mesa - home to beautiful tourist lodging, and even more ancient treasures.  This side of the Park is only open from May to September, weather permitting.  We ran into a hell of a thunderstorm that day, that stopped us from hiking the last ruin, due to waiting out the rain and hitting there at closing time.  If you go, plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time.  It was actually a blessing in disguise for me to have missed it, as my cowboy boots had just about had it by this tree. 
 Like I said, they're everywhere....
EVERYWHERE!  One of the greatest gifts we have as Americans is the freedom to travel as we please. To get out and discover this great land of ours - the history and treasures it holds - and to LEARN - even the women!  Thankful, as I look at these photos, for a lifetime of being allowed to soak up everything I can!
A parting shot of the ruins of Hemenway House - yep, eyes wide open (go back up a few photos and look, but they are in the center of the mesa, under the large shaded overhang).  Want to explore for yourself...

Happy Thanksgiving from my house to yours...may it be SAFE, happy, and spent with someone you love!

Friday, October 30, 2015

You did WHAT with that most treasured childhood toy?!! HAPPY HALLOWEEN...

We played Land Before Time, and fed it to the dog dinosaur - just for a few photos before we saved it from certain doom.

October 31st...the day the kids love most, and the dogs hate worst - at least those living in Empty Nest homes!  The littlest green dino was my son's "security blanket" when he was tiny. "Dinosaur" was unpronounceable when he first got it, so "Deena Wa" it was, from then on.  None the worse for wear after the photo shoot, and the 9 lb. Stegosaurus was happy with the dog treat.  Deena Wa is back, safely, in a drawer...here's wishing YOU a safe, and 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I DO own a pair of hiking shoes...I just didn't pack them with me this trip.  And besides, I LIVE in these old Lucchese boots in the fall and winter - they are truly the best boots I have ever owned...great support, but they feel like bedroom slippers at the same time.  Good soles, sturdy boots, and I'm a Colorado girl, so it's what we do!

The first trail I hiked that day took me down to the Spruce Tree House ruins.  An easy enough walk - it is only a half-mile round trip, but it zig-zags straight down 100 feet.  Remember this vista - not only did I hike down INTO the canyon, I walked the top, way over there, to the other side of the canyon and back!
This was poison ivy in a small alcove along the trail - it was posted, and there was a group of tourists in shorts and Birkenstock hiking sandals, who were agonizing about going in to see it. "HA!"  I had cowboy boots AND jeans, so I blazed right past them, leaving their snivelling little selves on the paved path.  Each leaf on these poison ivy bushes (and it was EVERYWHERE) was the size of my palm, seriously!
I had numerous people, on my way down (the trail was paved, and they could hear me coming), question the fact that I was doing this in cowboy boots - they in their hiking shoes/sandals. "YES!", I replied each time.  "I live in these boots, and I'm a Colorado girl - it's what we do!"
Looking back at the ruin through the trees - the canyon is absolutely beautiful, and now I'm in the bottom of it...
looking UP and facing the fact that my parents are in that little covered vantage point at the top, and I now have a 100 ft. vertical climb, albeit a switchback one - a 100 ft. climb, nonetheless.  It's OK, I had my reliable and COMFORTABLE cowboy boots on.
Endured a few more comments directed at my choice of hiking footwear (I HONESTLY do own a pair of hikers) on the way up.  As I was rounding the last switchback at the top, I realized that there was a small, hidden trail head off to the side, that would take me around and over the top of the ruin...WAY around - I went THAT way.  Those dark dots on the bottom left photo?  The crows in the next photo, scavenging something next to an old storage room off of the main ruins...these were both telephoto shots.
This trail was dirt, so my boots were quieter...until I came to these rocks that I had to traverse to get around the canyon and over to the far side, which was STILL rocks.  A little slippery at times, but my cowboy boots comfortable, and leaving me as sure-footed as any mountain goat - OK, I slipped around a few times, but caught myself looking around to make sure no one saw ("I meant to do that!").  I was totally by myself on that trail.
Beautiful scenery and different vantage points - sometimes it more than pays to take the road less traveled...in cowboy boots.  I wish I had had my pedometer with me (I own one of those, too...those "hiking types" have nothing on me, really) - I don't know now far I walked around there, but it was a hell of a hike.
Surviving my earlier morning hike, it is now mid-morning, and we had travelled on down the road a bit, and came upon this.  Skipping the actual tour down into this more strenuous ruin (it's probably one of the cooler tours, however, with ladder climbing, etc. - done it a few times before), I found that I could take a "short" hike for a different perspective.

1.2 miles round trip - I don't know who was lying to who here, but the actual map stated it was 3/4 miles one way, which adds up to 1.FIVE miles round trip on MY calculator.  "Short" hike.  In my cowboy boots.
Dad decides he was going to join me on this "short" hike.  It was a BEAUTIFUL "short" hike...in my cowboy boots.  Mostly loose, packed dirt.  Then came the slick rocks.  Then these beautiful clouds started moving in, so it wasn't as hot as the upper right picture looks (you would expect a vulture on the branch in that one, huh?).  Unfortunately, we were too taken with the beauty of the clouds to realize that these were actually thunderheads...duh!
You can see my dad had on appropriate footwear.  This is a man who is 81 years young - has 21 pins and screws in one leg, from a mishap with a ladder ten years ago.  He also fell on ice (while shoveling a neighbor's walk last winter), and cracked his hip on that same side.  I love walking with him, because he makes us rest every 60 steps.  As you can see, he was in FRONT of me and my cowboy boots, as I was starting to huff and puff at this point, and he was fine.  He stopped at one point to grab a blade of grass to make a whistle, while I was gasping for air.  Notice the sky is no longer as blue, and I was wondering "Where IS the d*@#n balcony?", just like the sign above asked.
OK, 6 miles later, here we are...the Balcony House sits in an overhang on that far wall (more telephoto shots to help - see if you can pinpoint it).  We oohed and ahhed for about 2 minutes and realized the skies were now pretty ominous, and we had 14 miles left to hike back.

About 19 miles into that return trip, the BIGGEST thunderclap let go, right on top of us. No lightning, very little rain, and NO warning - scared the hell out of me and my cowboy boots - no joke.  Dad laughed, like Dads do in the face of danger.
We did more walking and hiking that day, and the storm caught up with us on the other mesa.  We closed the park - they turned me away at the last trail I wanted to hike.  My cowboy boots?  Well, my old reliables didn't let me down!

My back, at about 8:00 that evening???  I thought I was paralyzed. There IS, evidently, a reason for hiking footwear instead of 1-1/2" riding heels if you're going to be out trekking trails for 8 hours in a day.  The back was fine, 48 hours and lots of Advil later, and I'm no worse for the wear today.

I AM a Colorado girl, it's what we do...
and, hell if I didn't look cool doin' it!!!
The End.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


The pueblo in the last post (Canyons of the Ancients), is considered "small potatoes" in the area of Cortez, Colorado.  Mesa Verde National Park is the "big gun", if you will - home to over 4,000 known archaeological sites, ranging from pit houses and mesa top dwellings, to the spectacular cliff dwellings.  I've lots to show (I will break it down so it's not overload), and hopefully can impart a little history in the next days, along with my photos.  I'd been to the park many times as a child, and had the fun of taking my own little ones through with my parents, but hadn't been back for 20+ years. This past June I was lucky enough to visit, once more, with my folks.
The area surrounding the park belies what jaw-dropping secrets lie within.  The scenery is barren but beautiful, in its own right.  We stayed at Ute Mountain Casino Hotel on the SW side of Cortez...a hotel I would highly recommend. Quiet, clean, spectacular views of the mesas (the middle photo right also shows Shiprock in the far distance), and tribal owned and operated...yes, that's a TripAdvisor endorsement, right there!  We were treated to sounds of a drum circle from the pavilion in the park, on the weekend night we stayed.  Photos on the left are vistas from the drive up and into the Park.
The Anasazi Indians of Mesa Verde made this their home from about 550 to 1300 AD, flourishing there for approximately 700 years before disappearing.  These cliff dwellings are some of the most notable and best preserved in North America.  Sometime in the late 1100s, after mainly living on the mesa top for 600 years, these Ancestral Puebloans moved over the edge and built pueblos into the overhanging cliffs (most probably for protection from the elements - heat, rain, and snow - and enemies), while still farming the mesa tops.  These cliff dwellings ranged in size from simple one-room storage units, to villages of more than 150 rooms.  
This is the view as you first approach the Spruce Tree House ruin site - the sheer enormity of this ancient ruin is lost in photo depth.  Sadly, most times photos don't translate the same as what you actually take in with the naked eye.  As with all my photos, click (and click again) to enlarge.  The Spruce Tree House site has a museum, restaurant, and several bookstore/souvenir shops located atop the mesa - in addition to covered vantage points where those not wishing to make the trek down can sit in a little shade.  My parents chose to stay on top that day while I walked down the path, into the ruin.
Again, the sheer enormity may not translate as well here - these overhanging cliffs are massive.  When first discovered by ranchers in 1888, a large tree was found growing from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top, allowing access down into the ruin by the ranchers.
Spruce Tree House is the third largest cliff dwelling inside Mesa Verde, and is thought to have been constructed between 1211 and 1278 AD.  The dwelling contains about 130 rooms, and 8 kivas - the large, circular, underground ceremonial chambers.  This is one of the free and unguided tours in the park - you are welcome to wander through it on your own, but DO need to observe the rules and regulations regarding staying off the ruins themselves.  There are Park Rangers available for questions, within the cliff dwelling itself.
Spruce Tree House was built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet at its widest, and 89 feet, front to back.  It was thought to have housed approximately 60 to 80 people.  These were smaller people, by today's standards...the keyhole looking openings in these photos are actually doorways.  It is thought that the extra sides on these were actually built to provide a "boost" in getting through - hands or elbows placed on the sides, as feet were swung through "on the run", even.  I have been through some of these doors in another of these ruins, and they are tiny.
Spruce Tree House was excavated, and walls stabilized, and opened to visitors in 1908.  Due to the protective overhang of the cliff above, the ruin has deteriorated very little over time, and has required pretty minimal supportive maintenance.
I usually avoid, for some silly reason, people in my shots, but this was needed for perspective.  Upper right (below the vertical log and to the left of the round end of the support beam end, you can see the remnants of an old painting).  Lower right shows some of the small keyhole doorways, above the kiva, (this one would have probably had some sort of thatched roof). 
By the end of the 1200s, the population began migrating south into what are now New Mexico and Arizona.  By 1300 AD, Mesa Verde lay completely silent.  Where exactly did they go?  Lots of theories, but it is believed that they became today's "modern" pueblo inhabitants.  Hang tight - tomorrow we're going on a hike, and then there are more photos and some of the history of the actual discovery of these ancient marvels...lots of ground to cover for an old pair of cowboy boots this week!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


All out-of-town company has gone home, sadly...time for a much needed blog update - the buffalo needs a rest!  Welcome to the Anasazi Heritage Center/Escalante Pueblo at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Dolores, Colorado.  As always, clicking and double clicking on any photo here will enlarge it for you.  
The Four Corners area, where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet (the ONLY spot in the United States where this happens), is also home to the modern day Navajo and Ute Mountain Indian Nations, as well as untold Anasazi ruins throughout the area (one of the largest being Mesa Verde, which I will cover next week, ALL week, with a bit more history on the Anasazi peoples - these are pueblos, with Mesa Verde being more cliff dwellings).  On this day, we stopped here - the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center, located 10 miles north of Cortez and 3 miles west of Dolores, both in Colorado.
The Visitor Center houses a beautiful museum displaying archaeological finds from the surrounding ruins, and chock full of historical information regarding the Native Americans who first inhabited these lands.  A small, excavated pueblo sits just outside the front doors of the Center, and was thought to have housed a family of four to six people at the time.  Through the side doors, and up a winding 1/2 mile hill (paved and wheelchair accessible), sits the Escalante Pueblo - a hilltop ruin overlooking the beautiful Dolores River.
The stunning vistas on the way up the "hill" (OK, I have to come clean - this little trail climbs right up the side of this "hill", but with switchbacks so it's not STRAIGHT up.  It IS paved, with park benches along the way for those who need to rest - make SURE you take water!) provide a view of the Sleeping Ute Mountain.  This is a sacred mountain to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of today, as well as their ancestors before them.  The Sleeping Ute is said to resemble a Ute Chief lying on his back, with his arms folded across his chest (see the diagram above the actual mountain photos).
The Escalante Pueblo is believed to have been occupied three different times, based on tree-ring dating of wood used in its construction.  Ancestral Pueblo people built the main complex in 1129 AD, and then remained there for at least nine years.  Spanish Explorers Escalante and Dominguez noted this site during their trek across the American Southwest in 1776.
The pueblo is a rectangular block of about 28 rooms, surrounding a large kiva - usually the center point of any pueblo.  The kiva was a subterranean room used for religious ceremonies.  Other rooms of the pueblo were used as work areas, sleeping quarters, and for storage.  
Architecture and masonry indicate that this pueblo was one of the northernmost settlements influenced by the culture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, some 100 miles to the south.  There is speculation that such villages were part of an interdependent system of pueblos spread across the Four Corners area.  It is thought that the Escalante Pueblo may have been the hub for religious or social gatherings of people from smaller, surrounding villages.
The hilltop where the pueblo is located (yes, the trudge up the "hill" IS worth it) provides a 360 degree view of everything below and beyond (those are the San Juan Mountains visible to the east, in the top photo).  With the incredible view, for safety purposes of the pueblo from above, and the Dolores River for water below, this was probably just about the perfect setup for these people.
You are free to walk about the top of the ruins, on well-worn paths - there are several covered picnic sites at the top, as well.  As with any archaeological site, staying off walls, and not disturbing the area is paramount to the survival of these ancient sites for future generations.
It is believed that in about 1150 AD, after a short abandonment of the pueblo, that it was briefly reoccupied by people from the local Northern San Juan group of Anasazi Indians.  The third (and final) occupation by these same people was very short, and occurred sometime around 1200 AD.
On your way back down (before leaving the parking lot), do look over the smaller Dominguez Pueblo, which you might have missed when you first arrived (these photos are the Escalante Pueblo - the Dominguez walls can be seen in the second photo up top, among the trees in front of the Visitor Center).  This small site has four rooms with low stone walls - all that remains of a roofed structure that was built about 1123 AD.  Just south of these little rooms sat a dirt-wall kiva, 11 feet in diameter.  It was not possible to stabilize this kiva, so it was reburied to keep it intact.  Although MUCH smaller and simpler, the site is significant in that it shows that these people lived close to the upper pueblo, and their overlapping dates suggest that the two settlements did share some community activities - yep, just like subdivisions of today.
As I said before, the much larger Mesa Verde National Park is in this same proximity, but this is a FAR less crowded (in fact, we saw no one else, save a Park Ranger, that morning) journey back through time.  There is a nominal fee of $3.00 per adult (you can use your Parks Pass for this one) for entrance, and looking over the website for the Canyons of the Ancients, this is just the TIP of the proverbial iceberg for this National Monument, with plenty of hiking trails through a much larger area beyond these two pueblos.  We may have to go back!  Want to go, yourself?  Click here: 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


West of Denver, and fittingly, just down the hill from the grave site of Buffalo Bill on Lookout Mountain, you can find one of the state's most beloved attractions - Denver's American Bison (commonly referred to as Buffalo, also) herd.  They have an area on both sides of the highway, with passage underneath, so it's always a game of "I-Spy" on any given day, whether they will be within sight.  This day, we got extremely lucky - not only in sight, but close enough to photograph (after a small hike back), from behind the protection of a heavy fence.
In 1914, Denver acquired both Bison and Elk from the herds in Yellowstone, hoping to propagate the Bison and improve their odds against extinction.  The herd was split in 1939, and moved to another spot in the state of CO (Daniel's Park, by Castle Rock) - both herds are said to be maintained now at about 24 adult animals.  Small numbers, but a mighty and moving sight.
The American Bison once freely roamed the Great Plains and much of North America, numbering in the tens of millions.  Imagine a hillside like the one above, completely covered, as far as you could see.  These animals were critically important to the Plains Indian societies, being considered a sacred animal and religious symbol.  Not only did they provide food for these peoples, but the entire animal was revered and used, when taken - and they were only taken as needed.
During the 19th century, some 50 million of these great beasts were killed, mainly for sport, by the white man...MOST left simply to rot on the open prairies, the thrill of the slaughter being the main motivation.
These enormous herds were reduced to a few hundred animals in record time.  Pre-1800 estimations on numbers of bison is in the 60,000,000 (that's 60 MILLION) range.  By 1900, there were 300 left in the US.  Their numbers today are said to be somewhere around 200,000, with protected herds mainly on preserves and private ranches.
Standing about 60 to 70" high at the shoulders, the males can top the scales at over a ton.  Both sexes have horns.  For the first two months of life, the calves are a light, reddish-brown color, before turning dark, like the adults.  They do have a thicker coat in winter, which is what you see them shedding in these photos. Life expectancy for these mighty animals, under today's conditions, can be around 25 years.
Enjoying a lazy day - this was obviously "THE Man" - that's a female behind him.  They look docile, but are definitely not a force to be reckoned with - each year there are reports of gorings of ignorant tourists (mainly in Yellowstone National Park, where they roam free). Fences are in place for a reason (it also takes a LOT to contain Bison - ordinary fences don't usually deter them if they want out) - respect the fence that was put there for your protection.
These magnificent beasts are another reminder of the great stupidity and greed of man - almost doomed to never be seen by any of us, or our children and future generations.  Brought back from the brink, most thankfully.
Want to see this group?  Start looking at Exit 254 on I-70, around the Genesee Park area west of Denver.  Stop and marvel at this remarkable remainder of what once was the American Wild West.