From Pueblos to The Sears Tower

Trip Start Nov 20, 2003
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Trip End Dec 06, 2003


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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Friday, December 19, 2003

Mesa Verde National Park is home to 6000 known archeological sites. They are still finding new ones even though the area has been under extensive examination for over 100 years now. It was one of America's earliest national parks having in incorporated in 1906. It is one of the few parks that is dedicated to preserving the works of humans.

Although the Four Corners area of the United States is part of a large Navajo reservation, the Navajo people are only recent residents of the area. Before them lived a group now known as the Ancestral Puebloans. They are also known as the Anasazi, a Navajo word meaning "the ancient ones." The descendants of these people are the Pueblo and Hopi tribes that are also located nearby. They weren't happy that their ancestors were known by a Navajo name so recently the term has been changed to Ancestral Puebloans.

The Ancestral Puebloans first arrived on the scene about 2000 years ago. They farmed the mesa tops and were part of a larger trading system that extended down into Mexico and northward through the Rocky Mountains. Originally they lived in pit dwellings, home that were dug into the earth and then covered with a tent-like structure made of grasses, bark and wood. Later they started building one and two-storey structures using flat stones and mud that are now called pueblos. Finally, around the year 1100 they moved from the mesa tops into the canyons and created the cliff-dwellings that we had already visited at Canyon de Chelly and that are most spectacularly on display in Mesa Verde.

The Ancestral Puebloans lived in these cliff-dwellings for about 200 years before they mysteriously moved onward. Historians and archeologists have not figured about why they moved but the most suspected reason is a prolonged drought that might have wiped out their fields. They moved southward and eventually the Navajo people re-settled the area.

There are 5 large "cities" of cliff-dwellings you can tour at Mesa Verde. Unfortunately, 4 of them are closed to the public in the winter. It was somewhat disappointing but at least it meant we could explore everything we could in a single day as opposed to having to spend multiple days here. The one dwelling that is open year-round is Walnut Canyon. This is the park's 2nd largest and was believed to be home to about 90 people at it's peak population. Tours occur 3 times a day.

Since these are important archeological sites the security on them is pretty tight. Park Rangers keep a close watch on everyone on a tour and there is a series of locked gates to pass through for each dwelling. As well there are two hikes that can be done in Walnut Canyon and you can only do them if you have entered the canyon with a park ranger.

We were there early enough to do the morning tour of the Walnut Canyon dwelling, known as Walnut House. It's quite impressive as there are several storey buildings and one even has a small section of the original thatch roof on it. Here you can also enter a real kiva. Kivas are rooms dug into the earth for religious purposes. All kivas are built with the exact same design with a fire-pit, air shafts, air deflector, and shelving. Each kiva also has a sipapu (pronounced SEE-pah-poo). This was a small hole dug opposite the fire-pit that supposedly lead back down to the third world (the Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants believe they now live in the fourth world). The sipapu within a kiva was not the actual portal between the worlds but a representation of the true sipapu that, according to Hopi lore, is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The most unusual thing most people find about these dwellings is the windows. They actually aren't windows at all. They are doors. No opening was made in a wall unless it was made for someone to move through. Also unusual is that some doors are rectangular while others are shaped like a T. There is no definitive answer for the T shape but the best, most logical guess is that it made it easier to move large bundles that one might carry on their back into the buildings. That is, one's legs can step through the thin part while the larger upper half moves through the cross-section of the T.

After the tour we hiked along the Petroglyph Point trail. This trail moves along the side of the mesa and eventually leads to a large petroglyph. Petroglyphs are carvings made by ancient peoples into rock walls. The trail then leads up to the top of the mesa, which you walk along until you return back to the Visitor Centre. Mesa Verde has been hit hard by forest fires over the past several years. The trail along the top of the mesa will take you through a fire ravaged area. You'll notice that everything in the area has a reddish tinge. That stain is caused by the fire retardent dropped by fire fighters to help stop the fire and perserve the dwellings in Walnut Canyon.

We returned to the Visitor Centre in time for the early afternoon tour of Walnut Canyon. We did the tour again so that I could take pictures in a better light and so that we could hike the second trail in the canyon. This trail takes you to the canyon bottom and then back up to the mesa top. It was kind of pretty but since we were at 7000 feet above sea level and the hike is incredibly steep we were mainly concerned with not coughing up our lungs as we reached the top.

After that we were pretty much done with anymore physical exterion so we drove around the scenic roads and stopped at the various viewpoints for The Cliff Palace (the largest dwelling site in Mesa Verde) and Balcony House (the last dwelling site created before the Ancestral Puebloans moved on). You can also visit sites of ancient pit dwellings, pueblos and kivas as well as a confounding structure known as The Sun Temple. This building must have had some spiritual purpose as there were no doors enabling one to enter it. Inside is a series of small corridors that form a design when viewed from above. Like most of what had been found in Mesa Verde, it remains a mystery.

We left the park and headed back into Cortez. For dinner we went to the Main Street Pub and Brewery. As I had mentioned last time, this town has a large German population. Thus the restaurant offered a Bratwurst Burrito that I just had to try. Nadia went with the Brewer's Plate, three succulent sausages with bacon-fried sauerkraut. Sauerkraut wasn't much to Nadia's liking so we switched meals. I enjoyed mine but we both agreed that our main courses were definitely upstaged by the appetizer: Maui-ribs. If you're at this place order these ribs as a main course and get a house salad to go with it. You won't be disappointed (unless you're a vegetarian). The local brew was also top-notch.

The next day was spent driving, driving, and driving. We were making our way eastward. There wasn't much to report beyond the fact that we spent the night in Topeka, Kansas.

We were up and on the road again early the next morning and by lunchtime we were in Kingdom City, Missouri. This town is the home of Nostalgiaville. I had accidentally discovered this store five years earlier and it was just as good as I remembered. They sell all sorts of crap and everything has a picture of Elvis on it. They also have a fine collection of Route 66 signs and they even reproduce the Burma-Shave roadside advertisement signs.

For example...

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
On a shelf
In some museum
Burma-Shave

or...

My job is
Keeping faces clean
And nobody knows
De stubble
I've seen
Burma-Shave

So, yeah, we bought a whole bunch of crap including a Spam Thermometer. We made our way through St.Louis and then headed northward up I-55 towards Chicago. We stopped not far outside the city in a small town called Pontiac. I must make mention that we stayed in a Super 8 Motel. This is notable as Super 8 will be ending it's VIP Club in the new year. This means that Pontiac, Illinois is the last place I will ever use my Super 8 VIP Card. Considering I've been a fairly loyal customer for over 7 years, they are throwing my business right out the window. Now I'm free to check out Motel 6 or the Knight's Inn.

We were in Chicago and checked into our room at the Congress Plaza Hotel by noon the next day. The hotel was built in 1893 and shows its age in every way. The hall reminded me of "The Shining." The room was large but in a quirk of architecture the door leading to our room was actually in the stairwell. Still we had a nice view of the Sears Tower.

We walked up Michigan Avenue and took in the architectural wonders of the Windy City. For lunch we stopped at the home of Chicago's Deep Dish pizza, Pizzeria Uno. It was actually a bit of a disappointment. The pizza was okay but the minestrone soup was dynamite. The pizza actually led to a severe bout of indigestion so we rested back in the hotel room for our big night out.

If you've got one night in Chicago, what do you do? You go see some BLUES! We took a cab over to Kingston Mines, the best blues club in town. It's a 15 dollar cover to get in but you get to see two bands play continuous music from 9pm to 3am. Kingston Mines is kind of split in two. On each side of the bar is a stage. A band plays on one side and then takes a break while the band on the other side starts up. You'll find people moving from one side of the bar to the other in order to see all the action. We found great seats on one side and opted not to lose them by staying there and listening to the other band and watching them on the TV screens.

On our side of the bar was the recently Grammy-nominated Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater. The guy and his band put on a phenomenal show but what else would you expect from 6-foot 4-inch, 50-year old black man wearing cowboy boots and a full Indian head-dress?

We stayed for a couple of Eddy's sets and had us an awesome dinner of rib tips and onion rings. If you go to Kingston Mines on a full stomach you are dumb. Get the rib tips (unless you're a vegetarian and then I suggest you stick to the beer-battered onion rings). It was the perfect night out to end the trip. The only complication was the 9-hour drive back to Toronto the next day. Most importantly, Nadia survived the full Bradley T Road Trip Experience and next most importantly I survived it without Nadia killing me.

What's next?
I don't know. I said during my summer trip to the Yukon that it would be my last huge road trip and obviously I was wrong there. I won't predict anything other than that I'll be back with one more entry showcasing my best photos from the trip.
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