Week 17: Native American history in Arizona / New Mexico / Colorado

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Week 17: Native American history in Arizona / New Mexico / Colorado

Flight mishap in Miami

We try to leave Panama early in the morning, but we are unpleasantly surprised by the news that the flight to Miami is delayed with a few hours. This would not be a problem if our following flight was not leaving at the time we would arrive in Miami… So the American Airlines employee spends an hour to find a solution for our connecting flight issue. We can also not stay in Panama, as our Covid test would be too old if we would leave the next day, so we have to fly to Miami on our original flight.

The solution provided in the end is an overnight stay in Miami, with a flight via Houston the next day back to Phoenix. Luckily enough the hotel we are provided with is a very luxurious one, so we enjoy this little extension of our holiday and spend all the meal vouchers we are given as well. Not having strict plans helps in times of trouble 😊.

This means we get back to our trusted Jerry one day later, and boy did we miss him! But it is clear he has been in good hands with our friends Chris & Jeanette, and we are super excited to catch up with them as well. Their kindness and hospitality is so great we struggle to get away the next day (provided with a Halloween costume for all of us!), but of course the road calls! We change the bike rack before we leave (finally!) and take a first stab out of the Phoenix area toward Tonto National forest for the night.

Tonto National Monument

Picking up our routine where we left it, we drive to the next National Monument in the morning – another site with ancient rock/cliff dwellings; Tonto National Monument. The movie in the visitor center together with the steep hike up are a good moment to stretch the legs and get yet another JR badge (and stickers, a gold pin and cards… what a treat!). After this we drive northbound for a lunch break in a park in Payson, some more grocery shopping, filling up gas and dumping our tank.

We are fully ready for some more dry camping and the drive up towards the Petrified Forest National park again manages to pleasantly surprise us. From desert like views with hills dotted with massive Saguaro (cacti), over a highland alpine forested area, then down on the grassy plains. And all that in the span of 100 miles… The US is truly a magnificent road tripping country 😊.

Petrified Forest National Park

After a night right outside of the National Park gate, we make an early start in the Petrified Forest National Park. The park itself is very easy to navigate, as all the highlights are set along a 28 mile road that crosses northbound from one road to the next. The stops vary between scenic viewpoints and short hikes to take in the beauty this park has to offer. With 28+ mile of tarmac ahead, Sven quickly made the decision to bike the road while we drive the same distance.

The park is surprisingly varied, starting with petrified wood – wood that looks like wood, but has actually turned into stone as the wood mineralized over time. The colors vary from yellow, brown and orange to bright white, purple and blue depending on the mineral that got hold of the wood. Several loops give a good sense of this phenomenon and a great stretch of the legs.

Further north, the scenery changes to a very colorful palette of different layers of sediment in the badlands of the park. Several sites are foreseen and as the drive up moves along, the colors changes from purples and greys to blues and bright reds. Every viewpoint is a surprise as you don’t know what lies around the corner. At the end of the park 2 historical parts are found: one pueblo, leftovers of tribal life in the area, and one more recent part of history – a small part of old route 66. All in all a great National Park and worth spending half a day in.

After a picnic in the park we drive further northbound to another historic site – Hubbell Trading Post. Right in the middle of Navajo Nation territory, it is a post that was set up to help trade between the Native Americans and the American population, after being sent to the reservation. J.L. Hubbell proved to be a kind and fair trader who set up a successful post for both parties and expanded the reach and popularity of Navajo crafts. Through this, the trading post has withstood the stands of time and is even today still in operation!

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

After an easy night along the road (good news: our heater works!) right before the National Monument, we head straight to the visitor center to get acquainted further with Navajo culture in Canyon de Chelly. As always, there is a Junior Ranger program to be done, plus we get handed a plastic bag to pick up any trash we might find along the way. Unfortunately we do, and a bag is quickly filled at one of the overlooks’ parking lots. The canyon alone is worth the drive along the different overlooks, but the star of the show are the cliff dwellings you can still see from high above.

Unfortunately the only hike into the canyon is closed to the public, so we can only enjoy the canyon from above and get the JR work done there. Back at the visitor center pledges are made and badges received, after which we start a long drive through Navajo Nation, on to the next state: New Mexico! We are only passing through, making our way further north to Colorado again for some more sites in the south of that state. No worries though – we will cover more ground in New Mexico towards the end of the year 😊.

We make a quick visit to the Yucca House, another National Monument, but unfortunately this site has lost its magic as it is self-guided, and so we move on to the first town in Colorado for some chores: Laundry & gas. With no campsite offering showers and toilets, we decide to forego this option and use an actual laundromat. In the meantime we do groceries and have dinner in the parking lot of the Safeway, while the dryer does its magic. With another great site in the plan for tomorrow we drive to a free BLM site which is full, even in this time of year, so we decide to illegally park and keep our fingers crossed (after being rudely turned away by another camper in a site with plenty of room ☹).

Mesa Verde National Park

We wake up to another beautiful day, and drive off after a quick breakfast. As we literally drive out of the forest we are greeted by the forest ranger that is coming to check the place… Guess we dodged that bullet! The national park is less than 2 miles away so we get a good early start at the visitor center. Lucky for us, the Mesa Verde visitor center actually has the Yucca House stamps we missed the day before! The boys get their JR work and off we go into the park, which is both a natural beauty and a historical treasure.

The drive into the park is a long one, and brings us to Chapin Mesa, the start of a 3 mile hike called ‘Petroglyph hike’. It is a very fun and challenging hike along the ledge of a canyon, passing old cliff dwellings and of course a wall of petroglyphs. At the end of the canyon there is a very steep climb up and the way back is along the canyons’ edge. Next up is the Top Mesa Loop, a loop road along a mesa, with many different archeological sites scattered across it, giving an in-depth and very insightful overview of the development of the Ancient Pueblo that lived in these parts and how their way of living evolved over centuries.

After a good lunch at the Sun Temple, Sven takes the bike off the new rack as he is riding the 26-mile ride back to the exit of the park, while the rest finishes up the JR work. On the way back, we take a quick detour to ‘Park Point’, which is the highest point in the park and gives outrageously beautiful 360 degrees views of the surroundings. It is a fantastic way to show the boys where we are and where we already traveled, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance give an extra edge to it.

On our way out, after pledging for the badge, we head to Durango for some much needed errands again: Filling our propane tank, picking up our business cards (sounds fancy we know, but was an idea born out laziness of explaining to people we meet who we are and how to contact us) and dropping off some Amazon returns.

As we spent more time in Mesa Verde than planned (worth it!) we drive for an hour, then have dinner along the road and put the boys to bed as we continue to drive. Right in front of us is a full moon guiding us through the Colorado landscape, becoming all the more magical as we climb to over 10.000 ft and drive through a snow covered wonderland. On the other side of the mountain pass, we drive on to Del Norte for a parkside overnight.

Next week: Heading east through Colorado & Kansas!


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