Jul 252011

The small cabin on the dock was our home away from home here at Five Branches Camper Park in Bayfield, Colorado on the Vallecito Resevoir

That sweet little cabin over on the dock was our home away from home for the past five days while we stayed at Five Branches Camper Park on Vallecito Reservoir. Our lakeside view, the beautiful forest, and the ride through the woods every day is hard to leave behind. Lucky for us, we leave with fond memories. The two bears that had been visiting the camp nearly every night, didn’t have the chance to eat us or any of our neighbors. The sun rose, it set, and inbetween we saw the sun, unless the stars were out. This place could easily stay on our list of places to return to someday. Sadly, we never had the opportunity to go out kayaking or canoeing. The problem here is that no one can take a boat out before 8:00 a.m. by which time we were already gone, and boats had to be returned by 5:00, we never got back much before 6:00. No matter though, we enjoyed our stay.

Two osprey starting to build a tree top nest next to Vallecito Reservoir in Bayfield, Colorado

Today Caroline was sporting her eagle eye as while we were driving along the narrow lakeside road she spotted two large birds sitting atop a barren tree. I turned around so we could inspect (and verify her rare find – think myopic), sure enough, she had seen two osprey, also known as sea hawks. The bird coming in for a landing is carrying a branch that we watched it snatch off a nearby tree with a pronounced snap. It circled around and was about to deliver the beginnings of a new nest for momma and poppa bird.

Aspen stand off the Redrock Highway in northern Arizona on the Navajo Reservation

The next hours we drove through the Ute Reservation and their town of Ignacio. Next was Aztec, New Mexico and the first and one of the last Starbucks we would find before passing through Flagstaff, Arizona later in the day. So, I’m addicted. It is a long drive from Durango, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona. After Aztec and nearly the same town, we drive through Farmington. It was in Farmington back on October 19, 2000 that we had the chance to spend a night at Kokopelli Cave while my mother in-law Jutta was visiting. The cave is one of the most unique places in all of America to stay at. But today, we are going home.

Looking south on the Navajo Reservation in eastern Arizona

We have left the Redrock Highway with some great views and beautiful red sandstone bluffs but quality photos were not in the cards this trip. Back down on flat land we were afforded some tremendous vistas, even a little rain was spotted way off in the distance left of the centerline. No rivers, no trees, not much of anything out here, can you guess why this made perfect Indian Reservation land? The answer is easy, there was nothing our forefathers wanted from this land. Caroline and I find it infinitely gorgeous, sadly, most tourists do not. The casual observer gets distracted by the poverty, desolation, and inane stereotypes that have been propagated over the years regarding the indigenous people of North America.

Two dead calves roadside on the Navajo Reservation

Two dead calves lie in front of the gate that leads to Keams, Arizona – they are a warning to white people to not trespass on Indian lands. Black magic as used by drunken Indians on welfare is a fashion on the Rez, it’s like white trash girls wearing big framed sunglasses sporting slutty clothes or some dufus guy wearing his white baseball cap backwards with his pants hanging off his ass so we can read what size boxers he wears – it’s just a fashion, nothing more – but it is effective in keeping others away. Or I’m full of cow-poop, yep, that’s more like it, but these two cows wasting away, who could-have-been-steaks, are probably clean out of poop or any other fluid. Even if one were to want to open the gate to take a shortcut to Keams, how would you maneuver the carcasses?

New Native American pictographs of Mickey are replacing the more old fashioned Kokopelli, dear, or sign for the sun, water, or some other dumb stuff

This is the new face of Native American rock-art, also known as pictographs. Out with Kokopelli, the sun, water, dear, or other tired old-fashioned symbols from the previous thousands of years. Modern Indians are putting down new icons, like Mickey Freakin Mouse. Strangely, Mickey is almost across the street from the two dead calves, could this be some mysterious signal to passing native motorists that running down animals to leave subversive and superstitious looking roadside messages is right on? Then they throw out Disney characters to disorient us tourists into fearing the red man. Maybe the tide is turning and the Indian is getting wise to our wacky rightwing belief systems and are starting to toy with our heads. Native America, rise up and takeover the media landscape, it’s time for revenge against what was taken from you. First step, corrupt our icons.

A curve in the road on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona

With the aerosol bombardment of peyote starting to wear off, a curve in the road returns me to my senses and out of the hallucinations I was obviously having back there deep on the Rez. I’m sure that later when I look back at those photos, the dead calves and Mickey will have proven to be a figment of my imagination. You can bet I’m happy to be returning to normal.

Up that way is the Navajo Rez, behind the camera is America. Fuck yeah!

In front of the camera is Rez land, behind me is America where I feel like a white guy. Soon, we will approach gas stations with hordes of hot tourists driving down Interstate 40 clogging some the grimiest bathrooms your nose wants to experience in the summer. Flushed of their overflowing bladders, they will flock to the freezer for ice-creams and coke – good old American food, no more of that sinewy old mutton and fry bread cooked in lard for me. Just me and my America, going home. Makes me well up and think about listening to this when I get home. Click here to listen and watch


Jul 202011

Cow Springs Trading Post with an old Standard Oil Products sign still standing in front of this now disappearing relic on the Navajo Reservation in north-east Arizona

Not much left of the old Cow Springs Trading Post and gas station here on Highway 160 between Tuba City and Kayenta, Arizona. The condition of things makes one wonder how long has it been closed. Standard Oil was John D. Rockefeller’s company that was founded in 1870, it was broken up with a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1911. So, it’s possible that this sign has stood here for more than 100 years by now. Though, I’m probably way off with this summation as Route 66 was still years away from being built and Ford’s Model-T was just barely a few years into production. Add to this that the breakup of Standard Oil resulted in 34 baby Standards, maybe the sign is only a mere 75’ish years old.

A billboard on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona telling us that uranium workers are eligble for in home nursing at no expense to the person hurt by uranium poisoning

Still on the road out of Arizona traveling through the Navajo Reservation. Just outside of Kayenta we passed and then turned around to grab a photo of this billboard. Ya’at’eeh is the Navajo greeting of Hello, but that’s not the most interesting part of the sign. The billboard reads, "Uranium Workers – In Home Nursing At No Expense To You." I’d like to say that makes me feel good that people who have dug out the 3.9 million tons of uranium ore and subsequently showed signs of uranium poisoning and increased cancers, are now being taken care of. But, it wasn’t until year 2000 that folks on the Rez were told of the dangers and then it would be another 11 years before cleanup efforts began. I guess the whole "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" thing works great for those of us who benefited from the nuclear energy and weaponry that gave us convenience and security at the expense of a bunch of Indians who now get some in-home care to deal with their misfortune. But I shouldn’t let this sad story get in the way of enjoying a road trip, time to speed back on down the highway.

El Capitan rock out in the center of the photo. This rock is north of Kayenta on the way to Monument Valley on the Arizona / Utah border

Off in the distance is El Capitan. As one drives north out of Kayenta on the way to Monument Valley, this towering rock is one of the first truly large monuments seen before entering Monument Valley. The small spire on the left of the photo is Owl Rock. We are heading towards Teec Nos Pos, the last town on the way out of Arizona before passing through Four Corners and entering New Mexico. We’ll only drive 1 mile through New Mexico before the road enters Colorado. After that, we’ll soon be on the Ute Reservation. You know you are in Ute country when you see a mountain range that looks like a face in profile laying on it’s back – the Sleeping Ute.

Wildflowers north of Vallecito Reservoir about 30 miles north east of Durango, Colorado

No denying that we are no longer in the desert. We are in the mountain meadows of the Durango, Colorado area. Caroline and I have driven the 478 miles (770km) into the San Juan mountain range for Caroline to attend a work shop over at the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango. We have stayed in Durango plenty of times, taken the train to Silverton our fair share of times too, this visit I decided that we should stay out on a lake, away from the metropolis of the little mountain town down the hill.

The view of Vallecito Reservoir from out cabin on the boat dock at the 5 Branches Camper Park

We are checked in and admiring the view of Vallecito Reservoir from our cabin. The specific location of our small cabin is on the boat dock at Five Branches Camper Park north of Bayfield, Colorado. We’ll be staying five nights and with any luck we might find ourselves one of these days out on a kayak exploring the lake. For now, we are thrilled with our location and the tremendous view.

Caroline Wise pulling down our Murphy Bed at Five Branches Camper Park on Vallecito Reservoir in Bayfield, Colorado

A monumental day for Caroline, she is pulling down the Murphy Bed, the first time she has ever slept in one. I would have to characterize her as being "tickled" that she gets to pull our bed out of the wall. Pushing it back up proved funny, she got stuck under the weight of it without the ability to put it back down or push it far enough up – so she yelled for me. The cabin is only $65 a night, but you had better reserve early as this cabin and the park in general fills up early for the short season they are open.

Dinner on the dock at Five Branches Camper Park on Vallecito Reservoir in Bayfield, Colorado

There is a private corner of the dock that features a BBQ grill and a table with a couple of chairs. The entire dock is closed off after 5:00 p.m. to ensure our privacy. After a lengthy delay in getting some faulty briquettes burning, we finally had a hot grill that let me put Caroline’s veggie burgers on next to my hunk of cow flesh and a couple of ears of corn. After arriving at the cabin, I had put some potatoes on to boil for making potato salad – no, I do not go the lazy way of buying off-the-grocery-shelf tater salad. Our dinner was all-smiles with a gorgeous backdrop to the day; it was yummy too.

Sunset over Vallecito Reservoir at Five Branches Camper Park in Bayfield, Colorado

The day finished its performance before turning over the lake to evening with a small bit of color floating on the lake. We sat waterside on the dock with some of the most polite mosquitoes we have encountered, but only for about 20 minutes before they decided manners would only be extended so far. Then we were fair game. Sorry guys, but we’ll have to disappoint you and run for the indoors away from your greedy little proboscides.

May 292010

The Colorado river at the head of Lake Powell in southern Utah

The sun rises after we do and we are on the road close to first light. My notes should have told us that our turn–off was just four miles north of Mexican Hat on road 261, instead we drove through Bluff and over road 95 adding a few too many miles to our morning drive. By the time we reach the top end of Lake Powell and the bridge that crosses the Colorado river the sun is just high enough in the sky to light the canyon below. The sun reflects hot white off the muddy brown water, the same river water that will carry us through the Grand Canyon in October.

Near the trailhead leading into Horseshoe Canyon at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

The real impact of our detour is that we don’t arrive at the trailhead at 9:00 am for a ranger-led tour through Horseshoe Canyon.  Resigned to our lack of punctuality we turn down the bumpy dirt road towards the trail head and finally make tracks down the trail shortly before 11:00 – so it goes. Our first adventure into this corner of Canyonlands National Park near the infamous Maze District is about to begin. We have lots of water, lunch, and fresh feet ready to tackle the six-and-a-half mile hike.

A Woodhouse Toad in Horseshoe Canyon at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

The canyon is beautifully bedecked in wildflowers and greenery set against the pink, red, and orangish landscape so common on the Colorado Plateau. We plod along slowly, well, no slower than usual for the two of us, as Caroline and I must inspect every detail and linger to observe the shadows, light, sway of the trees, and beat of the sun as they make their play on the pictures before us. Walking through the riverbed in the sand Caroline notices the movement of the last creature we expected to find in this arid environ, a Woodhouse toad.

Under a cliff overhang in Horseshoe Canyon at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Canyon walls stretch high above, the sand makes for slow going and the temperature is starting to inch higher. Our destination at the end of the trail isn’t the only thing we are here to see as on the way down we pass rock art known as petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are etched into the rocks while pictographs are painted onto the rock. They are found at several locations in Horseshoe Canyon, and at times quite high upon those canyon walls. We stop and wonder what the symbols, peoples, and animals meant to the Native Americans who created them. Maybe these ancient billboards were meant to speak to other native peoples who traveled these lands in the past  or maybe they were meant to convey a message to future generations of Indians still able to interpret this wordless visual language. In this photo look to the right of the image under the overhang – just left of the shadow next to the green vegetation are two hikers – so you might appreciate the scale of the canyon we are traveling.

Pictograph rock art at the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

The Great Gallery. Pictographs standing over six feet tall tower over us – and the other more than a dozen people who hiked out here with the park rangers earlier this morning. Overwhelming is the first impression these giants convey. Caroline and I have seen our fair share of Native American rock art, but it has never been of such magnitude. We stand below the ledge admiring the figures, trying to take in as many details as we can while at the same time trying to create some context for who they were and what they meant to the people who took the time to baffle and bedazzle us with their neolithic graffiti skills.

Caroline Wise and Ranger Nate on the ledge of the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon at Canyonlands National Park in Utah

After stepping back to have some lunch and sit amongst the other visitors, we inquire with one of the rangers if Caroline’s Junior Ranger kit that I had arranged to have brought along had made it down the trail into the canyon, sure enough it had. Ranger Lilly had it although she had tried to pawn it off on anyone else but found no takers – lucky Caroline. With pen in hand Caroline got to work, furiously she ran through the exercises until there was just one more task, a ranger program. Ranger Nate jumped to the rescue, he guided a group of us up to the ledge to speak in detail about the pictographs and allow us a closer inspection. After signing off in her Junior Ranger booklet, Ranger Nate swore Caroline in as a new Canyonlands Junior Ranger right up under those giant beings standing as witness.

A lone wildflower in the red sands of Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

The hike back was a slog through the sand. Our feet began to tire before we were to start the ascent up the canyon wall. We still stopped to admire the random wildflower or lizard baking in the mid-afternoon sun. The steep canyon walls vied for attention as did the song of the random birds nesting in the crags and trees above. We hiked on and on and up the trail until off in the distance we could spot our car at the trailhead. Almost finished we pause for a drink of water sharing a beaming smile that we finally made it deep into one small but significant corner of Canyonlands National Park and could now brag between ourselves that we had personally seen the Great Gallery with our own eyes.

May 282010

Sunset north of Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation

It’s getting late in the day by the time we are passing through the Navajo Reservation. Tuba City is the first town that in a few moments is a distant memory seen in the rear view mirror. Wide open dusty desert turns those magenta and golden hues that are commonplace up here. Shadows of the mountains and dim outlines of the landscape will soon blur against the darkening sky but for now we are being treated to a sunset that is as monumental as the land around us.

Sunset at Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona

Change is dramatic in the few minutes before the sun bids adieu and retires for another night. The colors of sky rapidly morph from golden warmth to hot pink and burning orange casting the towers of Monument Valley into stark relief before they shrink into the darkness below the horizon. The stars await their emergence to remind the people of their tiny place in this vast universe.

The local band knocking out some tunes for the visitors of Mexican Hat Lodge and the Home of the Swinging Steak in Mexican Hat, Utah

The ritual of nature over her sacred lands soon leaves our attention for the more tenebrous carnal pleasures taken from the lubricous merriment brought on by music, drink, and stuffing of the gullet at the Mexican Hat Lodge in the aptly named Valley of the Gods here in Mexican Hat, Utah. Couples take to the dance floor, beers are sallied forth for the next round and another steak is thrown on the grill as visitors continue to wander in to this tiny enclave next to the San Juan river.

A bottle of Polygamy Porter beer with the swinging grill from the Mexican Hat Lodge in the background

Blending in with the vibe Caroline opts for a bottle of Polygamy Porter beer while I cast my vote for the biggest steak on the menu. My hunk of flesh will sway on the swinging grill over a roaring mesquite fire for the next 20 minutes. Mexican Hat Lodge is the world famous home of the “Swinging Steak” – probably one of the best kept secrets of the travel world. The band plays on, more folks find their way to the dance floor and others are yet to show up as the festivities will continue into the middle of the early summer night. For us, the Dionysian spirit is quickly put to sleep in the lone teepee room of the lodge, happy and contended after the feast for eyes, ears, taste, and spirit.

Jun 232008

Roadside on the Hopi Reservation looking south west

This past weekend we visited Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation to attend the Sheep is Life celebration. Since we don’t like to double back, our way home led us through the Hopi Reservation, where I snapped this roadside panorama. The original image once stitched together formed a 59MP (mega-pixel) photo. You are looking southwest, on the hilltop on the right is Third Mesa. I dream of someday having the opportunity to photograph the Hopi Mesas as they offer an incredible amount of history and beauty for those who can see it. Photography on the Mesas is strictly forbidden, though.