Southwest Trip, Part IV--Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and home

posted Jun 25, 2018, 7:56 PM by Paul Wagner

Day 22:  Mesa Verde.  We had booked a tour through Aramark that was described as a “ranger led tour,” but it wasn’t.  Sigh.  But we were the only people in the group, and both our guide and driver were helpful and knowledgeable.  So what we got was the tour we would have taken by ourselves through the various viewpoints of the park.  Fine.  But during the visit to the museum, we also managed to make reservations for two Ranger led tours in the afternoon—Cliff House and Balcony House.   

When we started the van to join those tours in the late afternoon, the check engine light went on.  Oops.  The manual said to drive carefully and get it serviced soon, so that’s what we did.  We drove to the Cliff House Tour (where the ranger ranted more about philosophy and caring for one another than he did about the history of the Cliff House) and the Balcony House Tour (where Ranger Cindy gave us a really nice tour of the place) and then drove back to camp.  On the way, the overdrive warning light also came on.  Not good.  That meant transmission issues.  Now we were worried.

Day 23:  This was the day dedicated to Le Vin Blanc.  We drove (mainly downhill!) into Cortez and started looking for a mechanic.  The first three we talked to were all too busy to look at our van before the end of the week…but luckily, we managed to find Randy Pixley of Maxwell’s garage.  He took us right in and diagnosed the problem very efficiently, set us up with a very effective temporary fix, and sent us on our way before noon.  All for under $150.  God bless him. (When we returned home, our local mechanic confirmed everything that Randy said and did.)  Cool.  We were on our way again.  We drove to Hovenweep, a national monument in the desert, and liked the ruins and campground so much that we decided to stay there 

We did the usual---visitors center and local hikes—that afternoon. Took a nap and ate dinner.  And even took in a ranger presentation on Archeo-astronomy in the campground that evening.  Great!  We were greatly relieved about the van’s health.  Actually, I think it may have just gotten tired of hearing us complain about our limited mobility, and decided to make a point…

Day 24:  The next morning we were feeling just a bit more confident in the van, and so we drove down the dirt road to the Cajon section of the Hovenweep, where we spent about an hour exploring the sights there.  Nobody but us, the ruins, and potsherds.  We stopped at Edge of the Cedars to see the museum there, and were completely blown away by how comprehensive and effective it was. 
And then it was off to Natural Bridges National Monument, where we ate lunch in the picnic area, drove the scenic drive, walked out to all of the viewpoints for the three bridges, and stopped in at the visitors center to learn about the area.  They also had a campground which we considered…but we were only three hours from our usual spot above Capitol Reef, and the day was not over yet.  Off we went. 

What an amazing drive through the Colorado Canyon Country.  My goodness, there is a lot of scenery in this part of the world.  We were enchanted.  And we’ve already made tentative plans to come back.  And then we made the climb back up to the forest above Cap Reef.  This time the campground was nearly full (we arrived late and found only four sites available) but it still worked for us.  Plus it was so much cooler than down below in the heat.

Day 25: We began today with ambivalent plans.  We were going to eat breakfast again at the Capitol Reef Inn in Torrey, and then head West.  How far?  We hadn’t decided.  Maybe just to Great Basin.  Maybe beyond—but there aren’t a lot of nice stops between Great Basin and Tahoe.  And then Tahoe is only 3 hours from home---so maybe all the way home.

We got to Great Basin at noon, and ate lunch in the campground.  We found a lovely campsite, and were ready to set up and stay for the day, and I took a look at my phone and realized that we had just gained an hour via timezones.  In fact, it wasn’t 1 p.m.  It was only noon here in Nevada.  That set us to thinking, and soon we were back in the van, driving West.  We passed Ely and Austin…without many ideas on where we would stop.  And then M picked up her phone and started looking for a place between Fallon and Reno.  And she found Fort Churchill. 

We’d never heard of it, either.  But they had 20 campsites, and when she called the campground, 10 of them were still available, an hour away.  Perfect.  But as we drove through Fallon, we thought we should find something eat for dinner on the way, and Suzy’s BBQ was right there.  It was wonderful.  It was fast.  It was not expensive.  We wish it were closer to home!

And then an easy drive to the campground, with huge cottonwood trees shading every site, and a $15 fee to camp.  We were sold.  We set up, walked to the river, and enjoyed a very quiet, peaceful evening in the shade…and cool temperatures from the river.  We did see a few mosquitoes here, our first of the trip, but it was still a very nice place to spend a night in the desert—especially when the chorus of coyotes began and long serenade!

Day 26:  Got up and visited the ruins of the fort, which were interesting, and then stepped into the museum at 8 a.m. to check it out.  But from there, our thoughts were on getting home.  We drove right through Reno and Tahoe, and drove into the shade in front of our house in Napa just a few minutes after noon.  Hot showers.  A fridge soon to be full of food.  Heaven.

The rest of these photos are here: