To Vegas and Home – completing the circle

Our last Airbnb


Sunday 9th – Tuesday 11th. Monument Valley has been a highlight that brings our road trip nearly to its end. As we leave our Navajo host and take scenic route 98 to Page, we have a sense that today we are completing the circle. After crossing the dam on Lake Powell and being reminded of our boat trip, we continue to Kanab and a picnic in the park under the cliffs that surround the town. I even buy a Hank Williams c.d to play us into Hurricane and our last Airbnb.We pass through Fredonia where we stayed with the memorable ‘Cowgirl Ronnie’, and then through the Cane Beds and infamous Colorado City where the Mormon population has had some scandal recently.


Our Airbnb is a suite in a rare Victorian detached house. The owner deals in antiques and she is restoring the house to its former glory. We are delighted to stay in such a comfortable place for our last night of bnb. We decide to head back into Springdale and Zion Canyon for a meal. We can sit outside on the terrace as the sun sets on the red rocks of the Canyon. It is still 70 degrees as it gets dark.

Monday 10th – Back to Vegas. 


Breakfast is the full works this morning, taken at the little cafe next to the house. I can honestly say I’ve never seen Marilyn eat so much for breakfast before. Fortified, we decide to make the best of our last drive by taking the scenic byway along the North Rim of Lake Meade rather than the faster Interstate. 
There is a spectacular drop of 3000 feet through an eleven mile section of Interstate before we turn off along the track that brings Lake Meade into view on our left. 

Satnav tells us we are in the lake


We picnic at Stewart Point and the Satnav tells us that we are actually in the lake because the water has fallen a full 50 metres since the data was entered. The temperature is hitting the nineties with a dry desert heat so we make what shade we can to enjoy our last picnic.
As we pass through Redstone Parks the temperature rises towards a hundred and I am glad we are not doing this drive in July or August when it rarely falls below a hundred.

And then we are in Vegas and checking into the Luxor which is basically a city in a pyramid. We need to walk through the enormous Casino to get to the check in. Thousands of people are pouring their dollars into noisy machines. I hope to see one of those moments when someone wins a jackpot and millions of dollars spew over the floor but alas I am disappointed. 
I won’t waste more words on Vegas. It is not what we came to the States to see and we are only here now because our flight from Phoenix was cancelled. We return the car, Marilyn eats her first burger of the trip and we get some sleep in preparation for the long flights home via Toronto and the ensuing inevitable jet lag.
Tuesday 11th. Home.

Flying over the Canyons

Lake Meade

The only incident of note on the flight happens as we go to get our Newquay flight at Gatwick. We have passed through security in Vegas and Toronto with no difficulties but Marilyn is put in the naughty line at Gatwick and has to wait until her tray of possessions is eventually gone through by a security lady. Apparently Marilyn has used the wrong type of plastic bag to put her toiletries into and they want to insist that she uses one of theirs. Eventually they concede that the bag is fine and that Marilyn has no evil intentions to down the Newquay flight and after a twenty minute delay she is allowed off the naughty step.
It is always lovely to get home after a time away and, although we have had the most amazing time, it is refreshing to see the green fields and the trees that have not been part of the landscapes we have explored. The sea too lifts the spirit after a long flight as the plans circles out over the North Coast before making its descent over the cliffs into Newquay airport.

We are met at Newquay by the lovely ‘ Auntie Colleen ‘ who is returning our little dog that she has so caringly looked after. Elsie pup goes berserk with excitement when she sees us, pogoing and peeing in equal measure while brandishing a welcome home balloon that tangles round her feet and neck.

And so home. A cup of tea, fire lit, electric blanket airing the bed.
There’s nothing like home.


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Monument Valley 

Saturday 8th. We are woken by the most spectacular sunrise that makes its presence felt directly between two of the Buttes at the entrance to the Valley named ‘The Mittens’ as they look like two giant hands pointing to the sky. I brave the chill of the early morning and the thistles under my bare feet to catch as many photographs as I can from the front porch.


Before entering the park we decide to clamber up to Teardrop Arch that towers behind our lodging. We pass through the garden of a neighbour, over a sand dune and find ourselves scrambling up the screed of red rock. We get so far before Marilyn has had enough and needs to descend on her backside. I am secretly quite relieved as the last climb is probably beyond my capabilities and, if I do manage to make it, the coming down will present difficulties and looks a mite scary. We follow a lower path around the bottom of the Mesa and are rewarded by wonderful views into Monument Valley itself as well as close ups of the various flora that clings to life up here. 


We notice huge nests up in the high rock. I estimate they are at least six feet wide and later we are told they are the nests of eagles. We continue to follow the path that clings to the edge of the plateau. Marilyn is very brave when it necessitates passing inches from huge drops but draws it to a close when I have to clamber under an overhanging rock close to the edge. I leave her doing her ‘yoga breathing’ to get back her composure as I search the back ledge. I would love to go on and higher but we have other adventures in store.


We scramble down and take the car into the ‘ Valley’. Technically it is not a Valley at all but a series of gorges formed after erosion created the series of rock protrusions that make up the aptly named ‘ Monuments’. For Monuments they are. Higher than any Cathedral, each Mesa or Butte, Hoodoo or Fin of rock has its own character and energy. The seventeen mile drive takes us hours as we stop and admire the changing scene and allow our imaginations to maybe see some of the images that more ancient people have been admiring and revering for eons.


The area was made famous in the 30’s by the coming of John Ford and the Westerns but this has been very sacred Navajo land since their earliest history and we begin to appreciate that John Ford’s version of history, so fictionalised and wester romantic, has served to steal the Navajo history. Money was made by the actors like John Wayne and Henry Fonda but little of it seems to have trickled down to the majority of the Navajo who still live here now. They are the largest Nation of indigenous people and the most politically organised but the levels of poverty and the paucity of good education or health care or housing has left them at the bottom of the heap in terms of average salary, employment, and life expectancy.

I am amazed to find that they were not given the right to vote until 1953.

We learn by talking to our host Ilene that the Navajo have not always made it easy on themselves. They are still learning how to enter the modern age in terms of their own governance even. She complains of the many hoops her own legislature make anyone who wants to start a business jump through. 

Strange things happen when two cultures clash.

They are a diffident people. Ilene, like many of the people we speak to is very soft spoken. They are taught not to make a noise or to be obtrusive. Eye contact and touching is not the norm for them. They are generally shy and reserved.

It must be hard for them to meet head on the often brash and monied tourist that tramples over their sacred lands searching for the best photo opportunity. I think hard about my own place in all this and have no easy answers except to try to listen first hand to their stories and to experience the lands we pass through as an emotional and spiritual event.

It does make me sad to hear how alcohol especially, but western diet and other materialistic ideals, are eroding the bonds that link the Navajo to each other and to their land and culture. I have seen this in Australia, New Zealand, South America and Africa. There is no stopping progress but it is hard to reconcile within myself the feelings one experiences sat quietly watching a sunset change the face and shape and character of a huge rock with those felt in a casino in Las Vegas, surrounded by canned noise, glitter, monstrous architectural ‘Monuments’, fast food, machines gobbling money and the hedonistic search for a different ecstasy.


Moments of quiet contemplation as we slowly drive around Monument Valley reinforce my fears that we are getting it very wrong.

This day has been a highlight of an amazing few weeks.

We finish by visiting the ‘Goulding Lodge’ and learn more about the man and his wife who set up a trading lodge here in 1923 and seemed to live in harmony with the indigenous Navajo. It was he who persuaded John Ford to come and film ‘She Wore A Yellow Ribbon’ with a young John Wayne in the early 30’s and the subsequent tourist boom. It was because of the Goulding we got to see these iconic rocks in our front rooms and cinemas during our childhood. He seems to have been a generous and beneficent man and his entrepreneurial spirit opened up opportunities for some Navajo. They do have control of the Valley. They have built and own a huge panoramic hotel at the entrance to the Park that brings in much needed revenue and employment. It will be interesting to see in what direction ‘ progress ‘ goes.

It is certainly bizarre to do one’s mundane shopping in a supermarket at the Lodge and to exit to the most beautiful view of the sun setting the rocks in the Valley alight.

Strange things happen when two cultures clash.

To Monument Valley – four States in a day

Friday 7th – Four States in a day.Our drive from Durango to our new lodging in Monument Valley will take us into New Mexico from Colorado, into Arizona and finally just across the State Line into Utah. Four States in a day. We decide not to visit the Four Corners National Monument which is where these four States intersect – the only spot in the U.S where four States intersect.

Route 64 takes us into New Mexico and the poverty of the people here is apparent immediately. The small towns are filled with pawn shops, scrap metal dealers, rusty second hand cars, and trailer homes. 

Time gets scrambled here and the satnav doesn’t know how to cope. Arizona is in a different time zone to New Mexico and the Navajo have their own time zone. They are all different to Nevada. Our phones leap backwards and forwards while the satnav adds hours on to our arrival time.

It somehow seems to fit with the somewhat sad state of these Indian reservations that time has forgotten them.


We turn onto another scenic highway – Route 163 – and the rock formations take on a redder hue, hills surround us and strange hummocks of rock. In the distance is the silhouette of the iconic Monument Valley surrounded by a huge sky. 


We pass through a small town named Mexican Hat, named after the rock that is its portal. This has been the location of many westerns, ‘ She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ and ‘ The Searchers’ among the most famous. We notice two tiny figures who have climbed to the top of the rock. Rather them than me.

Soon we are descending into the area around Monument Valley and we eventually find our Airbnb perched under Tear Drop Arch and with the most spectacular view of the entrance to the Navajo Park. 


Our Navajo host, Ilene, makes us comfortable before heading off for a night of celebration for her upcoming birthday. She is off on a two hour drive into a town in another State that has a casino ( gambling is not generally allowed in Utah or Navajo lands) where she and her friends plan to gamble away the night. She leaves us in the hands of her daughter who is trying to catch up on sleep on the couch, between texting and watching old movies.

We have a cosy room and the most amazing view from the front porch of the sun setting on the Monuments.

Tomorrow we explore. It has been a lifelong ambition of Marilyn’s to visit this place, bought up as she was on a t.v diet of Westerns that featured these iconic rocks.

Tomorrow she gets her wish.

Durango to Silverton – steam trains and snowballs

Thursday 6th October.
It is a well know secret that we love train journeys, especially if it involves a steam engine and a trip through lovely scenery. I get very excited as we park up at the station to see some cars covered in snow.

” There’s been a blizzard in the mountains round Silverton”, we are told. 


We board our vintage carriage hoping that we are not underdressed for the few hours we have in the old mountain mining town.

Durango got its name when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad ( D&RGW) decided that a railway to the isolated mining centre at Silverton would help getting the valuable gold and silver out of the hills. As the road improved and mining slowed down the railway and Silverton itself fell into decline and was threatened with closure. It was the arrival of a burgeoning film industry and an unknown film star, Marilyn Monroe, who starred in ” A Ticket to Tomahawk” that saved the line. As tourism boomed the line was improved, long neglected rails and equipment were restored and the fine heritage line has indeed become a magnet for a quarter of a million or more visitors a year.


The narrow gauge steam train sets off with blasts from the whistle that are so evocative of all those old films and my early childhood when my family would ride the Blue Train to the South of France in the days of steam. 

The train is pulled at a crawling pace up a steady incline that follows the river gorge through forest that is turning more autumnal as we gain height.


We pass the scene of the famous film moment when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid make a plunge into a canyon river 

Butch: I’ll jump first

Sundance: Nope

Butch: Then you jump first

Sundance: No I said!

Butch: What’s the matter with you?

Sundance: I can’t swim!

Butch: (laughing) Why you crazy *******, the fall’ll probably kill ya.

At this point and at several others the train passes inches from the steep ravine and the river torrent hundreds of feet below.

We are on the lookout for bears and elk or moose but see none today. The passing scenery is mesmerising however and we are left wondering about how it was possible to build and maintain such a railway in the 1880’s and the pioneering spirit that would see such a vision through with the limited technology at hand.


We arrive in Silverton to bright blue skies. The blizzard has passed but left the surrounding mountains covered in a thin layer of snow and I find enough lying in a North facing station wagon to make a couple of snowballs with which to pepper Marilyn.

A steam train AND snowballs. What more could a man want!


We take an hour or so after an American lunch to walk around the old town. With a population of just 637 it has four impressive looking churches all of which can see each other’s spires. Perhaps folk here go on a church crawl to pass their Sundays. That would be before or after their visit to the several brothels that sprang up in the shadows of the church spires. They must have been interesting times in these mountain mine towns and times would not have changed much from the 1880′ s through to the 1950’s when tourism sanitised the place and brought a different kind of prosperity.


We get a return journey and arrive back in Durango as the sun begins to go down. We have time for a brief visit to the excellent railway and heritage museum before enjoying a delicious meal at ‘Ken and Sue’s’ – a restaurant I would recommend.

And then it’s back to the ranch, bed and the circling Coyotes.

Durango – hospitality, trains and snowy mountains


Wednesday 5th – Chilling and window shopping.

We decide not to go far in the car today. Tomorrow we are going on the steam train to Silverton in the mountains and so we go into Durango – a short fifteen minute drive from our lovely Airbnb – and we collect our tickets and check out times and parking etc.

A kind parking warden from Guernsey as it turns out, warns me that I am busy feeding my dollars into the wrong parking metre and I should move my car. I’m sure in England the warden would have hidden, chuckling with glee, and as soon as we were gone would have slapped a ticket on us.

We then walk through the old town. It still has its Western charm but is a wealthy place now. It is in a magnificent setting at the foot of mountains and with the substantial Animas River supplying the water that nourishes it. All around, hidden underground, are substantial deposits of natural gas that have also fed into its economy.

We get to witness the call out of the whole Durango fire service half way up the Main Street. We learn that a restaurant has caught fire and spread to another.

” More excitement than we’ve had for a long time”, exclaims a traffic officer.

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We have been invited to eat with our hosts tonight so I enjoy buying some wine for the meal from a winery and tasting some beers in one of the six local breweries before we set off to walk back along the river.

Suddenly we are in the countryside. There are fishermen fly fishing for trout along this length.

One section of the river bank, until the fifties, was the red light district. In Durango’s hey day as a mining town there were several brothels here and the ladies were referred to as ” The Fancy Women”. This area is literally ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ as the railway bisects the town longways. Nowadays it seems to be a bit of a gathering point for itinerants and homeless people who are gathered on the far bank to start the daily drinking and to share stories.

” You know why we have to do this?” Shouts a female member of a small group.

” It’s ‘cos we’s fucked up by our stints in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’s all military”.

I have no reason to doubt her but resist a strong temptation to join them and hear their stories.

We enjoy the hospitality of our lovely host family for dinner this evening. It is a genuine, generous offer of friendship. We share stories and hear the dreams of the two youngsters in their early twenties who are just starting out into adulthood. We learn how the family has come to be living on a farmstead in Colorado. Much of the pioneer spirit that we have been hearing off on our trip still exists with this family and many others in their situation because it is a tough life and they are very resourceful and resilient. A strong bond of family and support from a church community helps them thrive. It is a memorable and privileged experience.

We take to our bed eventually and can hear the coyotes howling in the distance.

Moab to Fredonia – a journey through time

kokopelli – the seductive piper.

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Kokopelli- seductive piper seen in many cultures.

 

Tuesday 4th. We have a couple of hundred miles to travel today and Sam our host advises a short detour to Blanding and the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum and then a back road to Hovenweep National Monument. Both places will give us a great deal of information about the early people who inhabited this area.Once out of fairly busy Moab the road conditions are, as usual, pretty easy. With the cruise control on we meet little traffic and can enjoy the Mountains to our left with the swathes of yellow Aspens shining out from the usual evergreen. The only real danger is the real possibility of some deer running into the road. There are constant warnings and, indeed three run in front of us during a ten mile stretch of their migration route. The occasional corpse reminds us that a collision is a real possibility. I sense that Marilyn is sitting on her hands as she keeps her eyes peeled on ‘ lookout’.

As promised, the Museum is indeed enormously informative and beautifully laid out.

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We are shown the rock drawings and their importance in storytelling and maintaining identity. These drawings, the early pottery and basket work, the weaving, their ability to use astronomy and develop calendars all indicate an advanced culture while we were still awaiting invasion by the Vikings. We were able to climb into an ancient Kiva. This is a meeting room, entered via the roof by a ladder. It was used for all sorts of things but my favourite was as a meeting place for the men to ‘chat’ and share stories while imbibing the local hooch while the lady in doors prepared communal food.

” Nothing’s changed there then”, snorts Marilyn

I have no idea what she is talking about.

After a picnic in the sun we are soon on the way to Hovenweep via isolated small communities on a scenic back road.

Hovenweep is the remains of several tower like buildings and village houses that line a small Canyon. They form several little hamlets that shared this spot and the spring that sustained them. They thrived , it seems for a short while and then deserted the settlement. The reason for their move can only be surmised – a change of climate leading to famine, an attack by another culture, sickness? Little is known. But the quality of the buildings reminded me of the work of the Aztecs in Machu Picchu.


There is evidence of habitation on this site between 8000 B.C until AD 200 , long before the Puebloan peoples who came about the 12th century and disappeared by the 14th. There is so much to find out about this area but we need to move onwards through grasslands where Marilyn gets to see her wild horses running semi wild. They are all branded and are all probably Navajo owned.

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We arrive at our very comfortable farm Airbnb in time to settle before getting out for our first ( and probably last ) ‘ Serious Texas BBQ ‘ supper. This consists of mega portioned fast food either in a wrap or on bread. Marilyn had beef and her plate contained half a cow I swear. My pulled pork wrap was loaded with a ton of potatoes in cheese. Folk were eating these and then having the huge puddings while filling up twice or more their pint and a half glasses of Coca Cola. It is little surprise that the U.S is in the middle of a major obesity and diabetes epidemic.


They are literally eating themselves to death. We notice that the huge packets of sweets are all packaged and advertised as ‘Nil Fat’.

The cane sugar industry is poisoning its people it would seem.

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Arches National Park

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Monday 3rd. ( problems with internet in Navajo lands. pictures may be iffy)

 

We manage to meet our lovely host Sam. He is literally a giant of a man standing at over 6’10 and in possession of a booming voice and an infectious laugh. It transpires that the first folk we stayed with in Boulder Nevada were literally his neighbours. In fact he bought the house that they wanted. They had not seen each other for several years and I hope we might have put them back in touch as they had been quite close neighbours.There has been a strong wind overnight and the morning is forecast rain so we do a few catching up chores and chill for most of the morning before setting off to the Arches National Park as the day brightens.

A short tour of Moab and a visit to the library to book our train tickets for Durango leaves us impressed. A relatively small town of just over 5,000 people has a remarkably resourced library. Currently it is running a ‘ Freedom to Read ‘ campaign and has a display of the many books that have been banned over the years. They allow us free use of the phone to make our reservation and are most helpful as we have found all Americans to be thus far.

Our tour of Arches National Park only scratches the surface of this remarkable place. It has thousands of natural stone Arches within its boundaries and we will only have the time to see a few.

strange forms and balancing rocks

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The road rises from the entrance and suddenly the nature of the Park becomes evident in the first rock formations at Park Avenue. The redness of the rocks strikes home. The shapes of the rocks make the imagination work overtime and it is easy to see why the original people revered them as the incarnation of animals and people. It is as though a giant has been playing with clay and sliced and moulded it.

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The rock is constantly moving and eroding. In places huge rocks the size of a block of flats seem to defy gravity as they balance on an eroding sub soil. It can only be a short time before they tumble. Marilyn tries to do her bit to keep one such huge rock in place for a few more minutes at least.

 

We visit the Double Arch and have a picnic lunch beneath it.
Some of the massive rocks keeping it suspended look ready to fall upon the folk eating obliviously underneath. Thankfully they stay intact while we nosh our peanut butter sandwiches and move off to the North and South Windows and the Turret Arch, returning via a trail that takes us away from the main drag and behind some of the rock formations.

A slight disappointment is our choice to see the famous Delicate Arch from a distance rather than make the four mile walk to get up close. After a relatively short walk but a fairly steep climb we get to see the phenomenon as a tiny form on a distant horizon.


We travel the road to its end at Devils Garden via Fiery Furnace,   a labyrinth of narrow canyons and rock fins that can only be entered with a parlk ranger such are the dangers of getting lost.


We have been struck by yet another unique Park and one that we had never heard of before our researches into this area.

We return to our Airbnb where we are able to cook a simple meal and spend time chatting with our lovely host.

Tomorrow we hit the road for Colorado and the hill town of Durango.

easy to see a face in this