Friday, July 28, 2017

Mesa Verde National Park

Posted from Ignacio, CO

When we booked our stay at Mesa Verde RV Resort Campground for TWO full weeks I was a bit "nervous" that we wouldn't have enough to see in the area. After all, the main attraction in the area is Mesa Verde National Park and it didn't look to be one of the larger parks. All I can say is I was wrong!

When we arrive in a new area (or park) we head first to the Visitor's Center to pick up maps and plan our visit. The close proximity of our campground was a major plus during our visitations to the park. We were located within a 1/2 mile from the Visitor's Center. Mesa Verde NP's attractions are generally located in the far end of the park from the Visitor's Center. There are two main areas of concentration, one on the Chapin Mesa and the other on the Wetherill Mesa. From the Visitor's Center to Chapin Mesa is approximately 23 miles and it's approximately 27 miles to the Wetherill Mesa area. Because of the very winding and hilly drives to both plan on at least an hour to reach each area from the Visitor's Center.

This is an overview map of the park showing the Chapin and Wetherill Mesas relationship to the Visitor's Center.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
This blog entry is going to take a somewhat different reporting approach because we visited the Park on 5 different days and hiked, picnicked, took tour ranger-guided tours, and visited stationary displays.  Rather than creating a VERY lengthy blog with tons of pictures I decided to keep the pictures to a minimum and create links to our blog albums for those who wish to see more.

The map below has different areas we visited as shown by BLUE NUMBERS. These numbers indicate the chronology of our visit and the following blog will correspond to these numbers. At the beginning of each "section" I will list a photo link should anyone wish to view additional photos.
(Map Courtesy of NPS)
Click on Map to Enlarge


As stated above, we always make the Visitor's Center our first stop. 

On this particular day, after picking up maps and reserving tickets to the Cliff Palace Tour, we also made the drive from the entrance gate to the Chapin Mesa area. We made a stop along the way at Park Point Overlook. This is the highest point in the park at 8572 feet and is used as a fire lookout station.  

There have been many fires in this park thru the years and the view from here is gorgeous.

The second day in the Park we decided to take a ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace. The pictures of Cliff Palace are associated more with Mesa Verde NP than any other in the Park.  Cliff Palace is the largest of the cliff dwelling communities in Mesa Verde NP.

Several of the cliff dwellings can only be viewed when accompanied by a ranger. The fee for these tours is $5 (and well worth the cost). This particular tour is considered one of the easiest and includes two fifteen foot ladders to climb. Karen is not really happy to climb ladders and crawl thru tunnels, but this tour was very doable for her. 

This is an example of a Kiva, a structure common to many of the sites we visited. When used as structures, logs are placed on the vertical stone pillars and a roof is constructed. A ladder is placed in the center of the roof and creates the entry and exit point for the Kiva.

After visiting Cliff Palace, we drove down the road a short bit and followed a sign for Fry Bread. This area is just outside the boundary of the Park, and on the Ute Indian Reservation. Fry Bread is similar to a Funnel Cake, although a bit lighter in consistency. We sprinkled a bit of confectioner's sugar and honey on top to create a very tasty treat.

Our goal on another day was to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and to hike the Petroglyph Trail. The trail is listed as "moderate" in difficulty and is a 2.4 mile loop. I believe it's closer to 3 miles, but still very enjoyable. Like most of the trails, steps were created years again by the CCC to assist in navigation.

Of course, one of the benefits of hiking these trails are being able to view the surrounding canyons.

The largest wall of petroglyphs in this park are viewed on the hike.  

Near the end of the hike, the only current view of Spruce Tree House is possible.  These dwellings are currently closed to visitors as the rock cliffs above the structures are crumbling.

Here's a bit closer photo of Spruce Tree House.

We completed this day with a quick visit to the Far View Sites. This area of construction belonged to the period around 1000 A.D. The cliff dwellings, by contrast, were constructed later than these dwellings which were built up on the flat Wetherill Mesa. 

This trail on the Wetherill Mesa is reached by taking a VERY windy road. It's approximately 12 miles from the turn off near the Far View Lodge. There is a Wetherill Mesa information kiosk near the beginning of the trail. Step House is in the middle of a short hike and is self-guided (although there is a ranger at the structure to answer questions). After descending a series of metal steps, the complex comes into view. 

A partial reconstruction of a "pit house" can be seen at Step House.
This style of house is believed to have been originally constructed around 620 A.D. and was later used alongside the pueblo-styled buildings constructed 100s of years later.

Just a single ladder to climb here, but quite doable.

Beginning again at the Wetherill Information Kiosk, we trekked toward the Badger House Community.  The hike is probably 2 miles in length and is relatively flat. This community depicts archaeological finds thru 600 years of occupation from the first pit houses around 550-600 A.D. 

The construction evolved to single story villages around 750 A.D. The single-stoned exterior walls give us a clue that these were single story.

Next came the multi-story buildings around 1100 A.D.

Finally, a small percentage of the population moved to the cliff dwellings in the alcoves of the surrounding canyons. This occurred sometime around 1200 A.D., but most of these dwellers moved from the area around 1275 A.D.  Fires have continued to strike the Wetherill and Chapin Mesa areas throughout the years.

We wrapped up this day by hiking a short 1 mile trail named the Nordenskiold #16. Gustav Nordenskiold was a Swedish photographer and geologist who photographed many archaeological sites as shown to him by the Wetherill family. This site was labeled as #16. The site can only be viewed by visitors from a viewpoint across the canyon at the end of this trail.

A closer view of the structures.

This little guy was standing guard near the viewpoint.

On our last day to visit the Park, I believe we saved the best tours. Long House Tour is ranger guided, but the groups are much smaller and more time is spent down in the actual cliff dwelling. The hike to the site begins at the Wetherill Info. Kiosk and follows a paved road to the entrance. The hike is approximately 2.25 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours (including the tour of Long House).

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in the Park at 150 rooms and 21 kivas. This was our first glimpse as we hiked down the steps.

This tour was different also, because you were able to climb a couple of 15-foot ladders and view an upper level of the dwellings.

Here's a view looking down into one of the kivas.

Evidence of water seeping through the rock to provide a source of water to the cliff dwellers.

Jeanette, our NPS Ranger, allowed us to take our time looking thru the dwelling and was a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  Actually, all of the guides throughout our entire park stay were excellent!

Balcony House Tour was again a ranger led tour. I was left alone to take this tour as Karen is not a big fan of tall ladders and narrow tunnels. This tour is billed as the "Most Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour" by the NPS. During the tour you must be able to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl thru an 18-inch wide by 12-foot tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps (and cable railings on each side), and finally climb two 10-feet ladders to make an exit.

Here is Ranger Jack giving us an introduction to Balcony House and "warning" those who might not want to continue given the constraints outlined above. 

No one in our group chose to drop out, so here's the first ladder to enter the dwelling.

Here's a view from the top of the ladder. Yes, it really is that steep.

This cliff dwelling is somewhat unique as balconies were built along the walkways which gave fantastic views of the canyon below.

Here's a view of one of our group exiting thru the narrow tunnel. This was also the same way in which the ancient cliff dwellers exited their dwelling to climb to the flat mesas above.

I can't imagine scrambling up this cliff face with only foot and toe holds while carrying provisions along the way. Today, the cables are a great aid!

One more ladder and you're at the top!  This was truly a great tour. It did get the blood pumping a bit. I won't lie!

Well, that's it for our visit to Mesa Verde NP. If you've managed to stay with me to this point, thank you. We really enjoyed exploring the park.  There was definitely much more to see and do than we had initially envisioned. This park is a bit different from many other of our National Parks because it deals with the humankind struggles and evolution, rather than just the natural beauty. If you can't tell by now, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would recommend this park to those who have not yet been able to visit.

(Don't forget to click on the numbered link at the beginning of each section. This will take you to many, many more photos on that area of the park.)

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Crisis Averted

Posted from Mancos, CO

RVing in general, and fulltime RVing in particular, requires a constant vigil of the equipment. Sometimes, this also includes the vehicle being towed (for you motorhome RVers).

The last couple of times we hooked up our Honda Fit to the Blue Ox tow bar, I noticed a small amount of vertical "play" in the attachment tabs.  With the tabs in place, I could pull upward and feel some type of looseness in my baseplate connection.

Needless to say, this is not a good thing. I installed the Blue Ox baseplate on our Honda Fit back in 2012, so I was none too happy to have to tear off the front of the car to find the problem. It had to be done, however.  Here's a picture of the car with the front fascia removed.  I still have yet to remove the vehicle bumper. I found out once again how much I hate those plastic connectors on these cars!

With the bumper removed I was able to take a closer look at the baseplate connections.  On this vehicle, there are three 3/8" Grade 5 bolts which attach each side of the baseplate to the Fit's frame.

The "problem" was quickly located. On both the driver's side and on the passenger's side, the bottom bolt was completely missing. Here's a look at the driver's side of the bracket.

The same bolt was missing on the passenger's side of the bracket. Not only were the lower bolts gone, but the middle bolt on both sides were a bit loose.

I replaced all six bolts and nuts with brand new hardware, again using Loctite Red on the threads. (Just as I had done back in 2012). The bolts were all torqued to Blue Ox's specs of 33 ft/lbs as well.

When taking the fascia off the front end of the Fit I found 3/4 of the broken bolts and nuts laying in the horizontal plastic fascia beneath the bumper and radiator area.

I'm not sure what caused the broken bolts, but I did notice that the nylon locking nuts were backed off to the ends of the bolts, and the one bolt head appears to have broken on the outside of the baseplate bracket.

We (definitely with the help of Karen) were able to re-assemble the Fit without incident (and even had no parts left over).

There really is no moral to this story other than to check your equipment from time to time, and if a problem is found, don't procrastinate (like I did for a bit) and do something to fix it.  I was fortunate enough to be able to repair this problem without having to drag it to a service place and saved quite a bit of money in the process.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A First For Our Motorhome

Posted from near Mancos, CO
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

To view pictures not included in this blog post click HERE.

We raised the jacks and left Hermosa, SD on Sunday 7/10 with our next destination being near Mancos, CO (just outside of Mesa Verde NP). This was the first time since we've had our motorhome that we've stayed in Colorado.  We've been RVing in one type of rig or another since 1991, but have never stayed in Colorado in the motorhome. Yep, we finally got to "color in" the map over on the right side of our main blog page.

From Hermosa, SD we traveled south on US79, then west on US18 and finally picked up I-25 just south of Douglas, WY. Although a lot of these roads were 2-lane, the drive was easy and traffic light.

Once we jumped onto I-25 the drive was easy until we hit Denver (at rush hour). I had planned a fuel stop in Aurora (really just a big continuation of Denver on the east side), then we headed south again on I-25 until we overnighted in a Walmart in Monument, CO. If you use Walmarts and are in that area, this was a nice one. Plenty of space and lighting at night. We felt safe with no concerns.

The next day we drove south on I-25 again, exited onto US160 at Walsenburg, then stayed on US160 all of the way to Mancos, CO.

This was the motorhome's first "true" test of mountain driving. Just west of Del Norte we had our first glimpse of snow capped mountains ahead.

The snow shed east of the summit at Wolf Creek Pass was at an altitude of 10230 feet.

Although we didn't catch a picture of the area, our GPS read 10870 feet just a short distance west of the snow shed.

The nice thing about the road in this area was that there was a "passing lane" for slower vehicles (like us) both on the way up to the summit and on the side heading down the mountain.  The motorhome did fine as long as you keep the RPMs in the 2000 range on the way up and your foot off the brake on the way down. We have an exhaust brake and it kept us in 2nd gear at a speed of around 30 MPH on the trek down. I rarely ever touched the foot brake.

You do not want to be heading down these mountains at an excessive speed and lose the coach's brakes.  When you see areas like these along the route you know that you're in for some steep climbs and descents.

The posted speed limits also remind you to keep those speeds down. This was just west of South Fork, CO. Notice the posted truck speed limit.

All in all,  the drive was much easier than I had anticipated. The keys to mountain driving are to keep the RPMs up on the way up the mountain (to prevent engine overheating) and to keep your foot off the service brake pedal coming down the mountain. I had heard that a good rule of thumb is to head down the mountain in the same (or lower) gear than you made the ascent. That proved accurate for us.

If you are ever in this part of Colorado in a motorhome, don't be afraid to travel this route.  The views are beautiful! There are plenty of passing lanes for speedier vehicles to pass. In this picture we haven't broken down, just a quick stop for some pictures.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wrapping Up Our South Dakota Stay

Posted from Hermosa, SD
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

To view additional photos, click on the links below:

Roughlock Falls Trail and D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery
Custer State Park-Cathedral Spires Trail
Custer State Park-Little Devil's Tower Trail
South Dakota Air and Space Museum

We always enjoy returning to our "home" state of South Dakota, but this time we came here with a purpose in mind. It's coming up on the time to renew our South Dakota Driver's Licenses (which we had intended to do online), but had not read the regulations as closely as we should have. Even with an online renewal, the applicant must still have a receipt from a campground, hotel, motel, etc. proving at least a stay of one night sometime during the previous 12 months. You can renew an OL anytime within 6 months before your birthday, but that would have meant no sooner than August for Karen, or October for me. We like South Dakota a lot, just not in the cold winter time.

Since we had been forced to alter our original summer plans by diverting to the East Coast we decided to "swing" back thru South Dakota and get the required paperwork for the OL out of the way.

With that taken care of it was time to explore.  We met up with Dave and Diane, fellow FTers and friends from Palm Creek, when they moved over to the park we're staying in near Hermosa, SD. At their suggestion, we took a day trip up to the Spearfish area and hiked a few trails up that way. We hiked the Roughlock Falls Trail. This was a nice easy hike and a place to eat lunch.

Oh, I forgot to mention that our traveling buddies had lunch there as well.

It was a beautiful day for hiking in a very pretty part of the state.

On the road between Roughlock Falls and Spearfish we stopped (along with a bunch of other folks) for a quick look at Bridal Veil Falls.

I was expecting a bit more, but the falls were easily visible from the roadway, so this stop didn't take too long.

While in Spearfish, we wandered into the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery.  There is no entrance fee and was actually very interesting (although I'll admit that I know nothing about fish hatcheries).

This was a restored fish transporting railroad car.  Beautifully done woodwork inside.

The fish were certainly transported in style back in the day.

We were given a guided tour of the home of D.C. Booth, the first superintendent of the Hatchery. He and his family occupied the residence from 1905-1933.

On July 4th we decided to not leave the campground. We believed that this area would be flooded with tourists crowding Custer State Park and the nearby Mount Rushmore areas. It turned out well, as a couple on a nearby site hosted a get together for anyone in the campground who wished to attend.

We even had a gentleman provide entertainment on his guitar.

Of course, when RVers get together there's always food. The host made this tasty cake to celebrate the 4th. The vast majority of the folks in attendance were FT RVers.

We love Custer State Park and always make a visit when in the area. We hiked the Cathedral Spires Trail and Little Devil's Tower Trail. I believe that we've now hiked all of the trails in the park.

This was at the end of the Cathedral Spires Trail. A nice hike and the temperatures were at least 10 degrees cooler than our campground in Hermosa.

The Little Devil's Tower Trail is relatively easy until the last climb to the top. A bit of rock scrambling is necessary, but still doable.

As with most trails in this area which elevate the hiker, the views from the top are always worth the hikes to get there.

Another great place to visit is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum located just east of Rapid City in Box Elder. The museum is located just outside of the gate to Ellsworth Air Force Base and contains plane exhibits on the outside and a nice collection within.  Again, the museum tour is totally free.

We decided to take an optional bus tour of the Minuteman missile silo located on the base. The tour lasts a bit over an hour and costs $9 per adult. We enjoyed the tour (which winds thru the AF base and takes everyone to a missile silo). The tour guide (retired AF) was very knowledgeable about the base and the history of the ICBM program.

This site was a training launch facility. The difference from this and a regular silo was the entrance. On a "regular" silo, entrance would have been made thru the hatch in front of this vehicle which transported the warhead and the guidance system for that particular missile.

This view is from inside the silo looking back up at the entrance ladder leading to the surface.

This is a look at the Minuteman II ICBM missile (located at the museum) which was positioned in the silo.

The exhibits inside the museum were very interesting and well presented. Here's a photo of the entire US Air Force in 1910, along with a Wright Brothers airplane.

We'll be packing up and leaving South Dakota on Monday morning. Heading to Colorado, with our first stop for a couple of weeks near Mesa Verde National Park. Hopefully, the higher elevation will also bring cooler temperatures in Colorado. It was 101 degrees in Hermosa, SD today.

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!