We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto!
Trip Start May 19, 2009
11Trip End Jun 06, 2009
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From Blanding we headed west towards the Natural Bridges National Monument, stopping on the way at a couple of archaeological sites - Butler Wash and Mule Canyon. Butler Wash is a cliff dwelling site that can only be accessed by a hike through a delightful stretch of alpine desert terrain. They've had a late spring this year, and an unusual amount of rain, so the desert flowers were blooming everywhere. Lots of prickly pear cactus, which bloom in fuschia pink and peach colors as well as the standard yellow we see in southern Saskatchewan. They were everywhere! There was also lots of other flowers, most of which we couldn't identify. And plenty of Pinyon Pine (the kind we get pine nuts from) and juniper with giant juniper berries. All set against a very picturesque wash of cream limestone and red sand. The archaeological site could only be viewed from a distance - Pueblo (Anastasi) cliff dwellings similar to those at Mesa Verde, occupied about 700 years ago. They had 4 kivas (three the typical round kiva, and one square) located towards the front of the central cave, with dwelling and storage areas behind them and in the adjacent caves. The circular kivas and the ceramics found during the stabilization of the site indicated domination by the Mesa Verde culture to the east, but the square kiva was similar to those found in the Kayenta culture to the south in Arizona.
We had lunch at Mule Canyon, sitting on the grass archaeology style, not far from another archaeological site
Back into the vehicles - I'll include a shot of David waiting at the Sequoia, which is starting to look like a homeless person's vehicle, with all the luggage topped by various shopping bags of food for lunches. Next stop was Natural Bridges National Monument, where we picked up a Park Warden who took us to the three natural bridges in the park. The bridges are formed by water erosion from underneath at an oxbow bend in the river, which eventually cuts through the rock to the other neck of the oxbow, forming a stone bridge above the river. Quite spectacular scenery, but of course, what we were interested in was the archaeological sites which were associated with these bridges. The park warden took the Sequoia people (who tend to be the more adventurous of the group) down on a hike to the bottom of the canyon - just 5 miles, but most of it up and down the steep canyon walls
The site at the bottom was underneath the natural bridge - nice and shady and cool. It's a petroglyph site, with some fairly enigmatic and very crude clay structures along the wall below. Two of the structures were low clay walls with very little in the way of stone encorporated (as opposed to the more common stone structure with clay mortar and plaster). One of them was only about a metre across, and contained painted figures on the walls. The other was a rather sloppily made, uneven clay structure about the size of a small tipi ring - barely enough room for a person or two to sleep in. It reminded me of a clay version of the stone vision quest depressions we find back home. There was also a very small storage structure that was roofed over. On the cliff wall behind the structures, as well as on the stone boulders scattered around, were more pictographs and petroglyphs: lots of zigzag snakes and hand prints, some human figures, and something I hadn't seen at a pictograph site before - butterflies! Our guide told us that the site dated to about 800 years ago, and that they found remains of corn inside the storage structure. She also said that there wasn't much evidence of cooking at the site - not the fire blackened cave walls you usually find. However, there were many matate style dished out areas ground into the sandstone surface, some still containing corn cobs. Interestingly enough, some of the ground basins had petroglyphs of snakes incised within them! We speculated that the corn grinding could have been done for ceremonial purposes, rather than cooking. It did seem like a spiritual place to me, rather than a campsite.
Rested up from the hot hike down into the canyon and our archaeological sensitivities appeased, we set off back up the canyon walls
The Sequoia was waiting for us at the top - we all piled in, and after a quick and cursory stop at the third natural bridge (which didn't have any archaeology), we headed south to Mexican Hat. It had been threatening to storm all afternoon, and we finally met the storm on our way out of the park. Rather bad timing on our part, we also met another unexpected kink in the road - so to speak. We rounded a corner to a stunning view and a sheer drop off the edge of the mesa down onto the plains, accomplished by a series of very extreme hairpin bends. The road down was graveled, but fortunately, not wet enough yet to be slippery. But still hair raising - something like 1100 feet down. The speed limit was 5 miles an hour, and every time the speedometer happened to inch up to 6 miles and hour, Robert and Louise would chime in "5 miles an hour David - it's still 5 miles an hour!"
Once we made it down to the bottom of the mesa, we were driving across a surreal plain - more desert than ever, devoid of trees, just red sand and sagebrush stretching on and on, with mesas and buttes jutting up in the distance, fading into the haze
We went straight to supper at the Mexican Hat Bar and Swinging Sizzling Grill. Aptly named, as it had a bar with a group of bikers with foreign accents on high stools on one side, and through a haze of sizzling smoke, a grey bearded old timer slapping steaks on a huge grill which was swinging back and forth over an open flame. We walked through the sizzling haze to a set of outdoor tables waiting for us. The menu had a a variety of steaks, a veggie burger, and a nice dark beer called 'Polygamy Porter'. No kidding, that's what the label on the bottle said, along with the rhetorical question "Why have just one?", and the instructions "Take some home for the wives!". Behind the bar there was a sign saying "No peein' off the porch". A blonde waitress in jean cutoffs and a sleeveless shirt with blue and green cows came and took our order and then tucked her order pad between her back and the waistband of her shorts and headed for the grill to put our order in. Patsy Cline was crooning "Crazy" in the background. The Polygamy Porters appeared at our table, followed by big plates of steaks swimming in a sea of beans and the sorriest looking chopped lettuce salad I've ever seen - but the steaks hit the spot! All in all, very strange. David looked around and said "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!".