Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Natural Bridges National Monument

This is the post for Sunday, June 2.

Overnight it got quite chilly, so I had to get up to close the windows and turn on the heater.  Fortunately the View has both a heat pump, which works off electricity, and a propane powered heater--when we’re hooked up to campground electricity, we use the heat pump, but on nights when we’re dry camping like the last few nights, we have the gas heater.  A beautiful sunrise woke me, calling through the window shades to come on out!  So I did, looking for our bovine campground friends, but they had moooved on (Todd that was for you, and in memory of Daddy, who, were he still with us would have turned 99 yesterday!).  When I went outside it was still chilly, so I built a fire in the communal firepit that was in this camping area.  First time I’d done that since we’ve been on the road.  A lot of the campgrounds we’ve been in don’t allow fires, since often the sites are so close together.  So it was fun to build the fire and recall many memories of our tent camping days in the Shenandoahs along the Skyline Drive, when I was in the Army in DC, and later with the kids.  Kids, you remember making doughboys on wooden sticks over the fire in the mornings?  Used to find good sturdy sticks, clean the ends of them off, whittle the end round, then smear it with butter and, using canned biscuits, wrap the dough around the stick and roast it over the fire ‘til it was golden brown.  Then it would slide right off, leaving a great big buttery hollow roll, just beggin’ to be filled with jelly or honey!  Anyway, no doughboys these days, but the fire was very nice!

Then we took off for Natural Bridges National Monument, where there are three natural bridges, very much similar to the arches we’ve seen at Arches and Canyonlands, but each of these three were initially literally bridges over rivers or streams.  Two of them still are, but nature has shifted the course of the stream beneath one of them so it no longer runs there.  Anyway, when we stopped at the visitor center, the young woman behind the counter asked “Weren’t you guys in Canyonlands the other day?  I was there and recognize the beard!”  Too funny!  So we drove the scenic drive around to the first bridge, took some pictures at the overlook and then continued to the trailhead, where we hiked down to a point where we were just about on level with the bottom of the bridge.  The hike was a bit steep, including two sets of steel stairs that had been installed, along with a wooden ladder to go down a section of sheer rockface.  Trisha was not too sure about the ladder, but she made it just fine.  Coming back up was a bit easier, as we weren’t looking down!  

Then to the second of the bridges, and this hike down was much steeper, and lots of places had these very narrow steps and ledges right next to the edge which dropped off very steeply to the canyon floor.  So, after going part of the way down Trisha said for me to go on down to the bottom and she was quite content to go back to the RV to knit--she’s finished this darling little frilly tutu like top and skirt for our nephew’s daughter, with knitted roses for the top and a headband--just lacks the leggings which she’s working on now.  Anyway, I went on down and it was really quite steep.  Part of the problem too was that, as it worked out, when we got there it was already about noon, which is not the most ideal time to be hiking, but that’s just the way the day turned out.  Anyway, only met three people coming up, the last being a couple of women from Germany.  Greeted them in German as they passed, then I went on down to the bottom.  It was really cool to walk under the bridge along the river bed to the other side.  Though I anticipated that it would take me a good deal longer to hike back up, based on how steep it was coming down, it was actually a good deal easier coming up, and the trekking poles were a great help.  They really do provide a lot more stability and it gives me much needed feeling of confidence--ever since I suffered a couple severe bouts of vertigo several years ago I’ve had episodic disequilibrium problems, so they really help me stay stable.  

I came upon the same two German women as they were going up, while they were stopping to take a rest. Just making conversation, I said it was a bit more difficult going up than coming down. Well, they told me that they had started at the first bridge, gone down the trail that  Trisha and I had hiked there, and then continued on hiking to get to the bottom of this second bridge, which was another 3 or 4 miles, and then were coming up--we had driven from the first bridge to the second one!  Well, one of them appeared to be struggling a good bit more than the other one and was looking quite flushed.  Anyway, I continued on as they stayed to rest some more.  As I got to the top, it occurred to me that they likely had left their car at the first bridge, and were looking at another 4 miles along the road to get back to their car, in the hottest part of the day.  So I waited for them to come up and asked where their car was, and sure enough, it was back at the first bridge. I offered them a ride back to their car and they were just ecstatic!  All this was in German, and I was able to hold my own for most of the conversation--lost them a couple of times, but obviously they were understanding me and I them for the bulk of it.  Really tickled me when one of them asked if I were from Holland!  Anyway, turns out they are from Mannheim, and, though I didn’t go there when I was in Germany, they knew many of the places I had visited.  And they were excited to learn that Trisha had spent her junior year at the University of Freiburg, and had taught German in a high school in Tennessee.  The road here is a one-way loop road, so taking them back to their car involved going to the end of the loop and starting out again, but we figured it was the least we could do.  When we got to the RV Trisha got them some cloths with ice cubes and cold water, as she said when she looked at this one woman, she thought she was about to go into heat stroke.  So we had fun talking to them as we drove them back to their car and they really appreciated it.  We saw them a bit later on and the one who was suffering looked like she had recovered, thank goodness!  

So, by the time we were leaving the area, we just decided to head on down to Canyon DeChelly in Arizona.  Much of the drive was just on the flat canyon floor, with hardly any sign of civilization, pretty desolate looking.  Then, as we got closer to Chinle, the town by this canyon, beautiful red rocks and giant mesas and buttes started popping up.  Hard to put into words how these sights can be so mesmerizing, but they just are.  Don’t think we could ever get enough of them!  As we were driving toward Chinle we had seen signs warning of free range horses in the area, and had in fact seen several horses alongside the road, not in fences.  But when we got into the little town, it was quite amusing to see a number of horses just lazily sauntering across the road--you just have to stop and wait for them to cross.  Even saw one goat along with a couple of horses wandering across.  Reminded us a lot of Ethiopia, where it is common for cattle, goats and donkeys to be in the roadways.  By the time we got to the park, though, the visitor center was closed.  They have a campground here in the park, but it’s dry camping as well.  It’s a beautiful little campground, though we’re gonna need to find a place to refill our fresh water tank tomorrow.

Trisha was reading through the books as we traveled, and it looks like this is a place we won’t be able to drive the RV, so we’ll try to get to the visitor center early in the morning, to learn what we need to do to hire a guide or get on a tour.  Looking forward to that!

As I was driving, Trisha was looking at the maps and we decided to make some changes to the tentative itinerary we had been planning--gonna just take it easy from here and head back into New Mexico, to give us some more time and leisurely travel back through Taos and Santa Fe, and just wait until we come back from Asheville before going to Mesa Verde or the part of Colorado we had initially thought we might do before flying back to Asheville.  So this suits us better for the moment!  Works out well for us that I do most of the driving and Trisha does the navigating--any of you who know us know that I’m fundamentally challenged when it comes to directions, while she has an exquisite sense of direction, so this division of labor gets us where we want to go a hell of a lot quicker and easier than if it were the other way around!!

Some pics:

Beautiful early morning/sunrise at the BLM campsite

 Very nice firepit BLM had built here
 Another little creature out for breakfast!

Ruins of ancient puebloan dwellings at Butler Wash, on the road to Natural Bridges--we couldn't get that close to these ruins, but hiked down to an overlook across the canyon floor and took these with the telephoto

 Hiking back from the overlook

Another set of ruins along the road--Mule Canyon

 Looking down into the kiva
At Natural Bridges; this first shot is of the first bridge, taken from the overlook; the bridge is in the middle of the photo, you can see the trees through it, though it's hard to differentiate the top from the other layers of rock in the background.

 Telephoto of same view
 Hiking down to the bridge

 Looked like a couple of mushrooms!

 Here you can see the bridge better
 You can see the river bed with some water in it--water is quite brown, from the eroding sandstone.  The water level is low now, until the monsoon season hits in July
 Looking back up to where we started the hike

 The ladder!

Looking back down at the bridge as we're hiking back up
Interesting rock formation on the way down to the second bridge
 Looking down at the second bridge

 Steep descent on this hike!

 Looking up at one side of the bridge formation, as I'm hiking along the river bed going toward the bridge
 The bridge opening, from ground level.
 Looking through the bridge

 Shot from directly under the bridge, to the other side

Shot from the other side of the bridge, when I walked through it

 Starting back under the bridge
 Looking up to the observation point, where the hike down started

 Coming back up

The third bridge; you couldn't hike down to this one

Driving back from Natural Bridges, approaching this incredibly deep cut they dynamited through the rock for the road

 Scenes along the road to Canyon DeChelly

 Coming into Chinle, AZ, with the horses in the road!

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