Epic Desert Road Trip Part 6: The Grand Finale

We had been on the road for nearly a week and explored many amazing western canyons, deserts, and mountains.  However, it had been so cold that except for a tiny lizard that dashed under a rock and a roadkill gopher snake, I had not seen any reptiles or amphibians.

As my brother Will drove the Monte Carlo through the Painted Desert of Arizona, I was sitting in the back seat chatting with my Dad.    All of sudden, my Dad shouted “Will — turn the car around, we just passed a SNAKE crossing the road!”

Will was not sure if what he had just seen was a snake or a fan belt in the road.  But, since both my brother and my Dad love me (even if they don’t love snakes as much as I do), Will made a quick U-turn and, sure enough, Dad was right!

A beautiful 4 feet long Desert King Snake was stretched out across the two lane highway.  Luckily, there were no cars around, so I was able to move the harmless snake off the road and let it go safely on the other side.

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Our road trip from Reno NV to Surprise AZ via Colorado was nearing the end.

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Will said at some point during our trip that the word “Epic” is overused.  Maybe he is right, but I think no other word is better suited to describe the journey I was lucky enough to undertake.

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I’m looking forward to undertaking more epic journeys with Dad and Will again soon.

Epic Desert Road Trip Part 5: Petrified Forest National Park

Driving deeper into Arizona, we entered a fantastical landscape known as the Painted Desert.

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The Painted Desert is a vast area of Arizona that includes both Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks. Some people have described the landscape as rock rainbow, others have said it resembled a multi-colored, many layered cake. No matter what you prefer to compare it to, the colorful sediments and rocks combined with the Arizona sun create magnificent views.

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In addition to the natural beauty, petroglyphs also decorate the rocks.

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As mysterious as the petroglyphs seem, there is an even stranger phenomenon found in the Painted Desert — a petrified forest of giant fallen trees.

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The logs are actually a three dimensional representation of the original tree turned into stone.  They look totally real!!  Like you could burn them.  In fact, a lot of what was laying around the desert seemed as if someone had cut the logs and then split them into firewood.  But when you pick them up or touch them, you know you are not touching wood.  The “logs” are cold, hard, solid stone.

Next:  The Exciting Conclusion to our Epic Journey!

Epic Desert Road Trip Part 4: Four Corners Monument and Canyon de Chelly National Monument

One of the most isolated areas of the lower 48 United States is the only place where four states intersect at one point:  Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

four-corners-symbol-300x225Four Corners Monument is located on Navajo Nation Land and is operated by the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department.  The Navajo are in the process of renovating the area – they have added a granite and brass marker, interpretive signs, and booths for Navajo vendors selling handmade jewelry, crafts and traditional foods.

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After spending some time walking around in the four states, we got back in the Monte Carlo and headed south into Arizona towards our next stop:  Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

canyon-de-chelly-panorama-300x84Canyon de Chelly National Monument is managed by the United States National Park Service, however, the entire 84,000 acre  Monument is comprised of  Navajo Tribal Trust Land.

The area is one of the longest continuously inhabited regions in North America.  Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) built cities into the cliffs and overhangs throughout the canyon.  They left the area in the mid 1300′s.

The Navajo re-settled the area and about 40 families currently reside in the Monument’s boundaries.

While we were at an overlook, I saw a group of children playing basketball in field at the bottom of the canyon.  Right next to where the children were having so much fun were the ruins of an Ancient Puebloan city.

cliff-dwellings-at-canyondechelly-300x225While we were at another overlook, my Dad decided to be funny and moo at some cows he saw on the canyon floor.  Dad’s voice seemed to echo and echo throughout the canyon.  In fact, it just kept echoing.  “Wow, that is a REALLY LONG echo in this canyon!” I exclaimed.  Until my brother pointed to a rancher walking down the dirt road far below us.  He was mooing back at us.

Coming Next:  A Painted Desert and a Crystal Forest

Epic Desert Road Trip Part 3: Mesa Verde National Park

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We left Moab UT and headed southeast for about 140 miles until we reached Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.  The weather was very turbulent, changing from dark and stormy to bright and sunny and then back to stormy.  Aaaah, mountain weather…

As we drove up, up and up into the park, the  fog became so thick that I became a bit apprehensive about being on such a twisty, turney mountain road.  Luckily, we made it safely to the top and the weather cleared so we could see the ancient ruins.

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The sky had cleared enough and the rain/sleet mix had stopped long enough that we decided to do a quick lunch.  MAN – it was COLD!!

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Over 1400 years ago, people known as the Ancestral Puebloans (aka the Anasazi) started building villages and towns in the four corners region of the United States.  During the height of their civilization, the area was more heavily populated with people than today.  They built elaborate towns into protected alcoves in the cliffs.  Families lived in apartment buildings and row houses, kind of like we do in urban areas today.

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Agriculture, basket and pottery making took up much of their time.   They were able to survive and even thrive in this region for about 700 years.

inside-the-ruins-300x225For many years, the disappearance of the Anasazi was a mystery.  Did they all get wiped out by disease or war?  Were they taken away by aliens from outer-space?  Did they enter another dimension?

Archeologists today believe that the Anasazi never actually “left.”  That they are, in fact, still living among us.

“When the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde left, they traveled south into New Mexico and Arizona, settling among their kin who were already there. Whatever may have happened, some of today’s Pueblo people, and  maybe other tribes, are descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde.” – National Park Service & United States Department of the Interior

Next:  Four Corners Monument & Canyon DeChelly National Park

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