A Cliff Palace Tour -- After All These Years

Above:  From Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, I headed east to visit the Four Corners monument, then drove north, arriving at Arches National Park in Utah shortly before sunset.

After spending a few days in the Cortez Library getting my website caught up and camping in the evenings at Mesa Verde National Park, it was time to head into Utah.  Before I left Mesa Verde, though, I just had to take one of the ranger-led tours of the ruins.  The first time I visited Mesa Verde, when I was nine months old in a stroller, everyone else in my family took the tour while I stayed behind (with my Mom, of course).  The second time I visited Mesa Verde was when I was in college, during a spring-break trip around the Four Corners area with my then-girlfriend, Katy, and we were disappointed that, this being chilly March, the rangers hadn’t started giving tours for the season yet. 

The third time, though, proved to be the charm.  I left the campground around 8 a.m. and drove down to the Visitor Center, where I waited in line for a few minutes, then bought my ticket for the Cliff Palace tour.  From there I drove about 45 minutes to the south end of the park, where the cliff dwellings are located.  The tour lasted about 40 minutes and it was terrific. 

If you want to see the Cliff Palace in 360 degrees, check out my panorama photos at Cliff Palace #1 and Cliff Palace #2.

Mesa Verde National Park:  Cliff Palace Tour


The Four Corners... Or is It?

I said goodbye to Mesa Verde around 11 a.m., stopped in Cortez at the Fred Meyer to get resupplied, then headed south about 40 minutes to Four Corners, the only place in the U.S. where four states meet.  This site is on Navajo land and they charge a small admission fee, which is well worth it.  I’d been to Four Corners only once before, back in 1982 when I took that spring break camping trip with Katy.  It’s a lot bigger now and a lot more popular. 

And contrary to some stories that were floating around the Internet a few years back, the Four Corners marker is exactly where it should be and not a few hundred yards off.  The brass BLM marker at the center of the facility marks the exact boundary of the four states:  Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.  I spent over an hour at Four Corners and took a panorama photo.  Yep, Four Corners is not only in the right place, it's also an absolute must-see for any Extreme Geographer!

Four Corners


Southern Utah with Edward Abbey

After munching down some fry bread sprinkled with cinnamon, I left Four Corners around 3 p.m.  I looked at my thermometer:  95 degrees.  I headed back up U.S. 160, took a left onto Highway 41, and an hour later I passed through the historic Mormon outpost of Bluff, Utah.  From there, I headed up U.S. Highway 191 through Blanding, Monticello and Moab before pulling into Arches National Park around sunset.

Southern Utah is one of my favorite places in America and I would've liked to stay here for a few weeks, but after spending most of the summer in Colorado, I was running behind schedule.  I had to get up north and back to the Eastern U.S. to hit several extreme geographic sites before the cold weather set in, so I figured I could only spend about three days in Utah.  I'd make the most of it, though, and Arches was one of my primary destinations.

I first stumbled across Arches back in 1981 with Katy and, despite the cold weather that March, I was blown away by the desert landscapes and have been back many times since.  The popularity of Arches has skyrocketed in the past few decades, but it’s still possible at Arches to find some Desert Solitude (a take-off on Edward Abbey’s famous book, Desert Solitaire, written about his experience as a ranger here in the early days). 

I’d been lucky enough to reserve a campsite in the always-packed Devil’s Garden campground a few days earlier, the only campground in Arches.  That was apparently due to a last-minute cancellation, and as it turned out, it wasn’t just any campsite.  It was the best campsite in the entire campground:  campsite 46, which has a private slot canyon in the backyard.  To celebrate my luck, I cooked up some brats that night for dinner, accompanied by chips and Pace salsa. 

It was wonderful to be back at Arches which, despite the crowds, is one of my all-time favorite places in America.  For a few hours that warm evening, as I sat at the picnic table in my t-shirt and shorts, it felt like that crusty old naturalist, the long-departed Abbey, was sitting right there with me.  Cursing the crowds, I'm sure, but he was enjoying it nonetheless!

On to Arches



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