Day 9: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Heading out of Mesa Verde NP in an early start, we narrowly miss the Four Corners (an arbitrary intersection of lines on a map, really, of significance only to armchair cartographers). Our route turns northward into Utah and we come to Valley of the Gods.
A 17-mile road loops off Hwy. 160, leading one through a stark landscape of redrock spires, fins, towers, and flat-topped mesas. There is little interpretive information regarding this mystical place, but it is easy to see how the minds of early native Americans were transported to unearthly realms by the otherworldly character of Valley of the Gods. NOTE: This loop road is very rough in places, and can be challenging to drive. Assuming no stops for hikes or further exploration, allot at least two hours for the driving tour.
Perhaps the single greatest attribute of travelling by Westy is its versatility. One moment it is a fuel-efficient transportation device, cruising across the continent at (nearly) the speed limit, the next it is a cozy cabin in the woods with roomy sleeping accommodations. Later, it is a nimble off-road vehicle, crawling about over rocky terrain, venturing off the beaten track where RV’s fear to tread.
We return to the pavement and continue northward on Hwy. 160. Within a mile or so the road appears to run smack into a 1000’ redrock canyon wall, but instead begins a series of 12% grades and switchbacks which claw their way to the rim of Cedar Mesa above. Called the Moki Dugway, the roadway was still under construction or major maintenance when we visited in October of 2002, so several sections were unpaved or deeply rutted. Guard rails are seldom seen. Only your nerves of steel, attention span, and white knuckles stand between you and the wild blue yonder. Cresting the lip of the canyon we make speed across the vast plateau thru high-desert terrain of sandstone, juniper, and sage.
Lake Powell is comprised of 162,700 acres of water impounded by the infamous Glen Canyon Dam. Completed in 1966, it took 17 years for Lake Powell to completely fill for the first time, flooding 186 miles of the Colorado River and creating 2000 miles of shoreline–more than the entire west coast. Numerous natural and archeological treasures were lost forever when the flood gates closed, and the controversial dam is regarded by many as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement.We continue north to Hanksville, UT, and, finding no vacancies in a state park campground, we simply drive out onto adjacent BLM public lands and pop the top to prepare dinner and enjoy a quiet and solitary evening on the prairie under the stars.
Cost to enjoy a crackling campfire in our secluded spot overlooking a small canyon: zero.
Gazing slack-jawed at a million stars wheeling overhead in the blackest of skies: zip.
Bedtime serenade by distant and harmonious coyotes: zilch.
Sipping a steaming mug of fresh-brewed coffee while watching the sun rise on the prairie: priceless.