Southwest Spectacular

September 11-26, 1993

Overcast skies in Eugene would soon be replaced by pale blue in Chemult. East of Lakeview, a familiar landmark could be seen — Hart Mountain.

Mountains dominate western Nevada, towns trace their heritage to pioneer settlers and miners eager to stake out their claims. Increased population encouraged many changes including gambling, which was finally legalized in 1931 and today is a major industry in the state. Restaurants/casinos attract patrons by providing “seed” money (roll of nickels), inexpensive food and 24 hour service.

The heydays of Eureka were in the ’70s and ’80s. It was known as the “Pittsburgh of the West,” mining gold and silver and finally copper. In over 100 years of “boom and bust” periods mining provided over $110 million to the economy. Fortunes were made, the community flourished as population increased. Presently, historic preservation is underway . . . the Opera House, the Hotel, The Sentinel newspaper building, and the Court House have been restored to their original Victorian character. The Sentinel building serves as a museum, the others function as originally intended.

Kennecott Copper Co. dominated the Ely area. The renowned Liberty Pit produced over $550 million in copper, gold and silver. Eventually, the company donated trackage, buildings and rolling stock to create the Nevada Northern Railroad. The museum foundation now operates a trip schedule on two routes during the summer season. Our chartered trip covered 1.5 hours over the Keystone Route. The diesel pulling our two car train (one a Victorian coach/snack bar, the other an open flatbed with bench seating) was used to haul out ore cars. The route took us through mining country and passed Lane City, now a ghost town.

In 1986 Great Basin National Park was added to the park system. This brought recognition to this hydrologic area where all precipitation is “hoarded” by the land and has no apparent escape to the sea. Six surrounding states are identified as part of this ecosystem. The desert floor at 5300' forms a base for abrupt rising mountains, the highest, Wheeler Peak, 13,000'+. A bristlecone forest, 3000 years old, is near the summit. The park has numerous caves; the largest is Lehman. The passages offer colorful formations of marble and limestone.

Utah provides the most intense concentration of incredible multi-colored forms in the world: cliffs, buttes and peaks, many over 11,000'. Canyons pull the eyes down, as far down as the mountains pulled them up. Southeastern Utah scenery is “upside down”, and a photographer’s paradise!

Bryce, the smallest National Park, but considered by many the “creme-de-la-creme”! The canyon is formed by a series of horseshoe shaped amphitheaters of breathtaking beauty. Here it was possible to have an intimate look at a bristlecone pine as one tried to comprehend how survival has spanned over 1500 years?

Cedar Breaks National Monument is also an amphitheater type canyon three miles wide and eroded to nearly 2500' deep. Tints of purple and red are seen as one views the ragged spire columns, arches and walls of the 10,000' rim. Bristlecone pines cling tenaciously to ridges of the rim.

At the northwest corner of Zion National Park is Kolob Canyon. The road penetrates five miles into Finger Canyon. Red perpendicular walls end at the high view point where a picnic lunch was enjoyed. In the southeast portion of Zion rock formations come in every size, shape and color . . . arches, alcoves, potholes, plateaus and curved canyon walls rising 2000-3000'. Indian lore is closely associated with these formations, bearing such names as “Great White Thorn” and “Angel’s Landing”. The juniper tree is prevalent through these areas. For the Indian the juniper plays a role from the cradle to the grave, providing infant needs, housing, food, clothing, blankets and medicine.

The Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy. was completed in 1930. Considered an impossible project, it proved to be an engineering marvel of its time. Two narrow tunnels, one 1.1 miles long, were drilled and blasted to connect up and down rugged terrain of Lower Zion Canyon with the high plateaus to the east. Scenery changes dramatically from massive cliff walls to slick rock colored in shades of red and orange. The sandstone mountain is eroded into fantastic shapes etched with patterns and known as Checkboard Mesa.

Pipe Springs, an Arizona oasis; a memorial national site to cowboys, western pioneer life and early cattle ranches. Buildings, typical of 19th century, were intended as a fort to protect the valuable water supply. As a Mormon church ranch they produced cheese, butter and cattle. Eventually the ranch was sold in 1906. It was not until 1923 the President Harding finally declared the area a National Monument.

“One of the mightiest spectacles known to man.” One mile deep, 277 miles long, 10 miles from rim to rim and 2 billion years in the making . . . Le Grand Canyon! The north rim canyon is 5700 feet deep, 1200' feet higher than the south rim. A 22-mile road runs to Point Imperial placing the viewer at 8,803', the highest point on the rim. Canyon views provide a completely different perspective from the south rim especially as you continue the journey to Vista Encantadora and Cape Royal. At this last point is found the “Angel’s Window”, a 300' opening in the rock formation allowing a view of the Colorado River. Watching a sunset from the Lodge dining room and then arising early for the sunrise is awesome!

Marble Canyon is located at the northeast corner of the park. The highway carries traffic across the gorge at Navajo Bridge. The bridge is 616' long and 467' high as it passes over the 800' deep river gorge. The southwest is truly Indian country. Their footprints can be traced back over 2000 years to the Anasazi Indians. These are the ancestors of today’s Hopi and New Mexico Pueblos. Navajo and Apache descended from the nomadic bands with northern origins . . . they are considered relative newcomers to their present homelands.

The Navajo Reservation is the largest in the country: 17.5 million acres (26,000 square miles) of colorful, rugged topography, crossing the borders of four States. Most Navajos live in Arizona; more than 200,000 persons live within the reservation boundaries.

The Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by Navajo lands. Hopis live on or near three tree-less mesas in Arizona; the oldest of the villages dates back to at least 1150. The Hopi Cultural Center is making the effort to document their ancestral background. Exhibits highlight their fine craftwork of coiled baskets, pottery, carved Kachina dolls and overlaid silver jewelry.

John Hubbell was known for his honesty in business and wise counsel to his Navajo friends. He established a trading post on the Colorado Plateau in 1870. The town is now known as Granada. At the trading post you step into the past to experience an atmosphere similar to the yesteryears. His home and other buildings form the National Historic Site.

Traveling north a short distance is found Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’Shay). Thunderbird Lodge, as well as tours into the canyon, is an operation of the Navajo Indians. Our accommodations were adobe units; the menu in the cafeteria offered several Indian items and their gift shop provided a wide selection of Indian craftwork.

Canyon de Chelly is only one canyon-finger, 25 miles in length; several other canyons are in the total site. Sandstone walls raise from 30' to 1000' in a sheer, smooth ascent from the floor of the canyon. Three principal areas of ruins can be observed from various locations along the north rim: Antelope House; Mummy Cave (preserved bodies found dated back to 348–1284) and Massacre Cave. The canyon is a battleground of historical significance and is also considered one of the holiest places in Navajo mythology.

Over 450 Navajos call the canyon home . . . raising corn, sheep and goats. People, vehicles, fields, animals and hogans were miniaturized to the rim viewers.

Four states come together at only one place in the country. Four Corners Historical Site is land owned by the Ute Tribe. The monument formalizes the contact of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. After a picnic lunch one could browse along the booth stalls of Indian craftwork.

Travel continued into Cortez, Colorado. An unscheduled stop was made at the Mesa Verde Pottery Factory/Gallery; this proved to be both interesting and very informative. We had a first-hand opportunity to observe a Hopi potter etch and paint a vase being readied for firing. The decorating is an exacting, delicate process passed from one generation to the next. The Gallery offers a wide variety of outstanding, exquisite, expensive native American items including: sculpture, woven rugs, silver jewelry, paintings, bronze, pottery and carvings.

Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, is the only park totally dedicated to prehistoric man; preserved here is an ancient pre-Columbian culture. Entrance to the park is at the base of the mesa. Winding upward for 45 minutes, the roadway finally reaches FarView Lodge atop the mesa at 8100'. From your room balcony one has a commanding view of the Four-Corners area. After dinner a nine-projector multi-image program provided a historical commentary about the Anasazi people. The material proved valuable preparation for the three-hour guided tour the following morning.

Within the 80 square miles of Mesa Verde there are more than 4000 ruin sites including 600 cliff dwellings. The tour began with an introduction to the pithouse site which represented the beginnings of a settled way of life. These dwellings were used in Mesa Verde by Anasazis from 550 to 750 AD.

Building advanced to skilled stone masonry, Double course stone rose two and three stories high, while joining into 50 or more units . . . often sheltered into cliff alcoves (eaves). Some of these cliff dwellings could range up to 200 dwellings. Why cliff dwelling construction was chosen remains only conjecture.

Some travelers elected to explore Spruce Tree House ruins; this was a strenuous climb into the canyon. The structure was built between 1200 and 1276 AD into a natural cave at its greatest 218' wide and 89' deep. There were 114 rooms, which they presume was home to about 100 people. Those who did not select Spruce Tree House spent the hour in an excellent museum. Exhibits showed artifacts from the Anasazi culture and other comparable native cultures. The most interesting was a re-creation of Spruce Tree House to scale.

Finally, the group was transported to a secluded picnic area for a chuck wagon lunch of chicken, roast beef, baked beans, pasta salad, cornbread, fruit, monster cookies and beverages.

The road down from the top is extraordinary, just as if you had been close to heaven and were now returning to earth!

Arrival in Durango, the eastern terminus for the tour, was mid-afternoon. This allowed roaming time in the many shops and historic buildings, as well as to pick up the train tickets for the next day.

All aboard! The Durango-Silverton narrow gauge 8:30 a.m. train carried eight full vintage passenger coaches, an open bench car, a snack bar coach, baggage car and pulled by steam engine “481”. The railroad follows the Animas River — a very important water source for the area — for the three-hour trip to Silverton.

The view is rural pastures, horses, permanent residents and vacation homes. As the canyon narrows, the view changes to a variety of trees along the scenic river. The canyon gorge is partially glacial cut as well as water erosion. The water is crystal blue/white. Approaching Silverton the river rocks show a brown coating as a result of mining minerals . . . mostly silver, some gold.

Two stops were made . . . one to replenish water for the engine, the other to discharge six backpackers with alpenstocks in hand. We arrived in Silverton and found our way to the Bent Elbow. A fun time! Scott Joplin and many other old favorites were the choice of the piano player. A “Sunday dinner” of good food was served including a choice of six kinds of pie!

At an elevation of 9500+ feet the temperature was cool but sunny. Snow covered the mountain peaks which fell the day before. Unpaved streets are lined with a variety of shops, many vintage appearance, and historic buildings . . . San Juan Courthouse, jail, etc. Many houses have plaques, the oldest seen was 1867.

The return trip was relaxing: sun streamed into open windows as passengers recaptured the scenery . . . shimmering yellow aspen, tumbling rapids, watching the train bend around the “S” curves. Durango arrival was 5:40 p.m.

The second half of the trip took the group south and west of During, which was the eastern terminal of the tour. Very shortly, our route crossed into both the Ute and Navajo Reservations as the journey continued to Aztec, N.M.

The Aztec Ruins represent one of the major prehistoric American Southwest towns in A.D. 100 to 1300. The 23-acre ruins site was declared a National Monument in 1923. Early American settlers erroneously assumed these ancient buildings were Aztec. The town, however, had been built by the Anasazi people. (The settlers who came along the Animas River, looking for a water source, found the ruins in 1800).

What they saw were occasional fragments of walls and mounds overgrown with vegetation. Eventually, the ruins revealed multi-storied room blocks surrounding a central plaza. The closest modern comparison would be an urban apartment complex or condominium. The pueblo (city) covered less than the area needed for two football fields and contained 500 rooms. All rooms did not appear to be in use at the same time. Some were found in disrepair or abandoned; others were used for trash or sealed burial sites. This created uncertainty for estimating just how many people lived in Aztec. The best guess ranged from 400 to 700 persons.

Also, it was discovered that a network of roads seemed to link a number of villages in the Chaco Canyon with Mesa Verde, 40 straight-line miles to the northwest.

The kiva had a most unique feature, three concentric circular walls instead of one, which was seen at Mesa Verde.

This ruins site provided an opportunity to approach the Anasazi culture personally. One is allowed to walk through low doors into self-constructed rooms and temples, observe masonry style close-up, as well as carefully examine log building methods.

Why the Anasazis left this area remains a perplexing question answered only by speculation.

South of Aztec is a geologic formation . . . a basalt core of an old volcano . . . rising from the desert floor. What can be seen is a pinnacle of igneous rock flanked by long upright walls of solidified lava. The Navajos call the rock “Tse be dahi . . . rock with wings”, but commonly known as “Shiprock”. Early white settlers thought the “Winged Rock” resembled a windjammer under full sail. An optical illusion, created at sunset on a hot day, makes it appear as if this gigantic monolith is rising off the desert floor and floating.

After lunch in Gallup, we reentered Arizona. Time zones proved to be a real scheduling factor . . . Arizona does not use DST, however, the Navajo Reservation is located in four states all with DST except Arizona, therefor the reservation uses DST. But, the Hopi Reservation is within the boundaries of the Navajo borders and they observe MST. Some days we journeyed in and out of four time zone changes!

The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park was the next scheduled stop. A short film was shown providing an overall orientation to the area. We were disappointed to learn our guide was ill and a replacement was not available. However, we were provided with a taped self-guided tour and illustrated booklet. The initial loop started through the Painted Desert area. Little grows on the Painted Desert . . . it is barren, red clay. On the mesa edge survives a modest woodlands. Climate and rocks provide just enough nourishment to sustain these trees and shrubs. The Painted Desert area offers limited valuable resource. “It remains a wild run of dry country, a match for Death Valley in barrenness, with colors comparable to the Grand Canyon.” Yet, it has a distinctly different beauty!

The “petrifications” were discovered when the Santa Fe R.R. surveyed for a suitable route from east to west. The rail route was completed through Northern Arizona in 1852. In 1880 a rail stop was established at Adamana, 1.5 miles west of what is now known as the “Petrified Forest”. This rail stop was on the ranch of Adam & Anna Hanna. They soon became the best guides to the “fossil logs of Chalcedony Park” as the area was then known. A simple hotel was built and tourists were taken on tours via spring wagon. Hanna sold the property in 1907, a year after the Petrified Forest National Monument was established. Henceforth, whoever owned the hotel was considered official monument custodian, salary $1.00 month! For this high paying job, they were responsible for preventing theft of the fossil wood. The first Park Museum was built in the ’30s.

The Petrified Forest is “trapped history”; a great deal of the area remains covered by sediment. Slowly, paleontologists piece together the story of the late Triassic ecosystem which existed at this site 225 million years ago. Who knows what kind of strange creatures lived in the area? This is yet to be learned. In 1984, there was discovered a very primitive dinosaur in the northern portion of the Park. Rain and wind storms continue to reshape the landscape; this helps to uncover entombed historical information. Petrified coniferous logs now lie scattered over 93,533 acres. Estimates indicate some trees could be buried 300 feet below the present surface.

Winslow was a welcome overnight stop . . . indoor pool, sauna, laundry facilities and, across the roadway — a Mall.

An early start brought us to the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff by 9 a.m. This 60-year-old museum is considered one of the “jewels” of the museum world. Their focus is on prehistoric people with ongoing interest in the Hopi and Navajo tribes, the museum is capable of exhibiting only a handful of their artifact collection. The total collection fills 20 warehouses.

Our docent captivates the group with her obvious respect for the native people. Her descriptions give a glimpse into children’s activities, domestic chores and the division of labor between women and men. Artifacts passed for close examination enhanced the presentation.

The silver and turquoise jewelry display is priceless. The craftsmanship is beyond comparison. Their gift shop has the impeccable reputation for presenting an extensive selection of Hopi and Navajo art and crafts. This was readily obvious as one roamed through the facility and examined the displays.

The lobby book store was an equally interesting place to browse. The atrium offered a courtyard for feeding birds and squirrels; the walls served to display a wide range of original art works.

Picnic tables in the pine grove, at the back of the museum grounds, proved to be a relaxing lunch area.

It was a long westward pull through the afternoon, broken briefly by a loud “whump”: a “dust devil” released the emergency roof ventilator. By 4 p.m. we reached our motel in Needles, CA . . . the temperature 104 degrees. An unheated outdoor swimming pool felt cool by comparison, but most invigorating.

Again an early start took us the long stretch across the Mojave Desert. Periodically, one sees large peculiar installations for producing electricity via wind turbines or photo-electric cells. Another installation is experimenting with concentrated reflective light onto a mirror for high temperature disposal of hazardous waste. It was refreshing to get into Bakersfield and move north in the valley. When we leave Visalia the route follows the Kaweah River up into the mountains again.

The southern entrance into Sequoia National Park is a driver’s nightmare! Not only are you going up a reasonably steep grade, but the roadway is narrow with one switch back after another. The higher you go the bigger the trees and finally you see THE GIANTS of the forest . . . magnificent Sequoias. Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks are adjacent areas . . . here one will also find Redwood groves, granite mountains, glacier carved spires, forest lined canyons and glacial lakes.

The following morning our well prepared guide led us on an interesting tour into Grant Grove, location of four of the five largest Sequoias in the world. The General Grant tree is 107 ft. around and 275 ft. high, the second largest living tree on this earth. The Robert E. Lee tree is the second largest in the grove. And, at the center of the Giant Forest stands the General Sherman . . . 275 ft. tall (27 stories) whose trunk weighs an estimated 1,385 tons and whose circumference at the ground is nearly 103 ft. Sequoias grow naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada between 5000 and 7000 ft. elevation. The Giant Forest covers 1800 acres and has 8400 Sequoia trees. The General Sherman tree is estimated to be 2500 years old. The bark can be 31 inches thick, a protection from disease and fire.

There are 75 Sequoia groves in the world; 26 exist in Sequoia National Park. The Sequoia is considered a shallow rooted tree, only 3-5 ft., branch outreach can be 100-300 ft. The first, second and fourth largest trees in the world are located in the Giant Forest; the third largest is located in King’s Canyon.

Sequoia elevation is about 6700 ft.; Fresno is 294 ft. As the desert is made, down the mountain the view is endless. The valley is beautifully cultivated, acre after acre of irrigated agricultural lands around Fresno. Within 100 miles, the route goes back up into the mountains as the road comes into Yosemite.

John Muir called Yosemite “the grandest of all special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter”. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln set aside the Valley as the nation’s first State Park; in 1893 the area was declared a National Park. The present park covers 1189 square miles, 94-percent undeveloped designated wilderness. The Valley is seven miles long, one mile at the widest and covers seven acres. The first trail was built in 1870; now there are 800 miles of trail. The first road was built in 1880; now there are over 350 miles of roadway.

Our accommodation placed the group convenient to restaurants, gift shops, amphitheater, swimming pool, free park transportation, etc. Motorcoach and automobile traffic is regulated. During certain periods this year, visitors were restricted to only those with reservations; 4.1 million visitors came to Yosemite in 1992.

On Friday morning at 9:30 our park motor coach was waiting to take the group on their private 8-hour tour of the park. Our experienced guide was driver, commentator as well as being very adept at answering questions while driving.

One hour and 30 miles later we reached Glacier Point . . . “the view blasts one’s senses,” commented one traveler. At 7214 ft. you have a panoramic view of the entire Valley 3214 ft. below. This point also affords a view across Yosemite Park and the surrounding majestic mountains rising to over 13,000 ft. At one time a hotel was located in this area; however, fire destroyed the building in 1969. There are no present plans to rebuild the structure. Snow levels can reach 10-20 ft. Although snow fall this past winter was unusually heavy, seven drought years prior to 1993 have affected the water supply and waterfall levels. This September waterfalls are dry or show only mere evidence of a trickle.

It is almost impossible to comprehend everything to be seen from Glacier Point. Eager photographers consume quantities of film in an effort to “capture it all”.

The tour continued to the southern end of the park, the location of the Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark. The hotel, and an inn once located on the site, have served travelers since the 1850s. The present two-story hotel, an example of Victorian California architecture, was completed in 1879 and declared “the grandest hotel in the mountains of California”. The 104 guest and public rooms have been completely restored to the original Victorian decor. This portion of the park was added to the National Park in 1932. The Rockefeller brothers deeded the property to the government.

Following a delicious buffet lunch, the group continued the tour to Mariposa Grove. The grove is the largest stand of Sequoias in Yosemite and is the second largest grove to those located in Sequoia National Park. Open tram cars transport visitors through the grove. Some of these trees are over 2700 years old. One of the most interesting is the “Clothes Pin” tree . . . 20 ft. wide and 270 ft. tall. Also located in this grove is the “Grizzly Giant”, the largest Sequoia in Yosemite, and one of the largest in the world. The rustic log museum, located within the grove, houses exhibits about the natural history of these immense and ancient trees.

We also learned the need for controlled burning. However, the 1990 Yosemite fire was caused by two lightning strikes and burned 24,000 acres . . . 3 percent of the park (by contrast, the Yellowstone fire burned 50 percent of the park). Because Yosemite was closed for 10 days, due to smoke, the perception of the burning area was greater than actuality.

On the return trip to the Yosemite Hotel area we stopped to view El Capitain, the Three Brothers, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, etc. Looking up at these formations provided a different perspective than the view from Glacier Point.

The 6-percent grade down the mountain (4990 ft.) finally brings us into Mantea, elevation 38 ft. and back to freeway traffic. Traveling north on the freeway were open trailers filled with Roma tomatoes going to the cannery. Harvest appears to be in full swing. Many flooded rice fields are adjacent to large residential areas. Going through Stockton we see ocean-going freighters being loaded for overseas.

After lunch, in a beautiful wayside park, we turn west toward the coast and Ukiah. Weather is warm, but comfortable. The motel area is teeming with young soccer players here for a regional tournament.

On our last day we traveled north on Hwy. 101. Very soon we are driving in a “green world” again through the Avenue of Giants, the Redwoods. At the Redwood National Park visitor center an introductory film is shown to provide a background about the Redwood forests. After stopping for lunch in the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park we continued north through Crescent City.

Our guide was waiting for us at the Simpson Reed Grove. A walking tour was taken along the path in the dense Redwood grove. Redwoods are second in size to the Sequoia; however, Redwoods need fog and are usually found within 40 miles of the coast. With luck, one seed in 50 million produced may sprout into a Redwood tree. As a result, 95 percent of the Redwoods were cut. The popularity of Redwood is due to tannic acid which slows decay and makes the wood resistant to insects.

What a fitting final walk surrounded by these majestic reddish lacy crown giants reaching for the sky.

The Southwest is spectacular scenery . . . we come away with everlasting and unforgettable memories . . . . Auf Wiedersehen.

  Jan Gund

Home   About Us    Our Activities    Contact Us   Join Us    Gallery   Outdoor Links    Members Only

Copyright 2000-2016  Obsidians, Inc.      Last Updated  27 Apr 2009

Email: Obsidians          Email: Webmaster