This whole trip started with the idea that it would be cool to see Mesa Verde, Colorado. The incredible cliff dwellings have long been of interest but little did we know how fascinating they would be. The landscape changes dramatically from Monument Valley, into Utah and then through the four corners where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet (Kim’s feet fit in all four states below). And it gets greener as you start climbing to Mesa Verde (funnily enough).
The cliff dwellings, one of which contains 150 rooms, where built by the ancient Pueblo people 800 years ago. They’re literally in the cliff sides, tucked under alcoves in the sandstone, with steep drops to the canyon below, just over the retaining walls they built. It appears the only access was by hand and toe holds in the rocks in some places.
It’s spooky to stand in their villages and utterly fascinating that thousands lived in the canyon walls. Why did they build here? And why, by 1300, were they all gone? Kudos to the National Park Service, for managing crowds in very challenging terrain (we climbed ladders, crawled through openings and refused to look down in some places) and for the marvellous tours of both Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Oh, to spend a summer there as an archaeologist!
If I was having a hard time finding superlatives for the Grand Canyon, it didn’t get much easier the next day. The Vermillion Cliffs (apparently a national “monument” according to cartographers) are such a striking surprise emerging from the Kaibab Forest. Photo after photo and nothing comes close to capturing the scale and expanse.
Good thing then that our destination was the very photogenic Monument Valley. It’s huge, serene, and utterly mesmerizing. Rising up from the red earth or carved away from it, buttes, mesas, and all manner of erosion mess with the human notions of physical and temporal scale. Little wonder it has been the the backdrop for countless films.
Waking up in this remote place is spectacular, with the rising sun showing off the mittens, castle, rabbit, bear and other formations to full effect. And we weren’t alone. Every visitor seemed to be stirring before sunrise – admiring the light and snapping photos. It’s not bad at sunset either.
Leaving Vegas, is as hard as they say, especially when the interstate is closed. But efficiency’s loss was a scenic tour through the Valley of Fire’s gain. No we hadn’t heard of it either, but it started a romance for side roads marked with green circles on the map. Red, red earth and all manner of buttes, and then through desert and hills and into the typical western landscape.
Interesting thing: approaching the Grand Canyon north rim, it’s all forest and meadows and green. And yes it is huge, deep, and utterly lacking in proper superlatives.
What can you say about Vegas that hasn’t been said before? Whoever described it as a giant theme park for adults hit it on the head. You have to marvel at the built environment – the Italian villas at Bellagio, Doge’s Palace at the Venetian, chandelier bar at Cosmopolitan, roller coaster at New York New York and the hints of Guimard at Paris, but it’s all designed to pull you into the depths of the complexes so you can never leave. The food is excellent and the restaurants are cleverly tucked into dead ends behind the casinos, shops and other enticements. Anything goes, including sticking your hands into the bartender’s garnish tray to steal olives -ewww.
After the initial surprise of torrential rain, with dire flood warnings and the purchase of an umbrella – in the desert – we embraced the commercial and ate and shopped well. But 36 hours was enough.