When they fly they seem as though they are having fun. With one of the largest brains of all birds they are known to work out problems. They are noisy, mischievous, can recognize and remember faces, and above all are opportunists.
They are loyal and mate for life. They protect their territory and young vigorously. When used to humans they are somewhat fearless. While you may see their cousins (crows and grackles) in the city, ravens prefer the wide open spaces.
In different cultures, superstitions, and mythologies, ravens have known as a trickster (one I can believe), a bad omen, or a god. Wooly just thinks they are opportunists.
When Wooly and Raeski arrived at a trailhead in Canyonlands National Park we were greeted by a Raven. He? was bold and vocal. As Wooly pulled out the camera Mr. Raven took a liking to Miss Mini and flew onto her. Now Wooly knew enough to make sure there wasn’t anything handy for Mr. Raven to make off with. Raeski on the other hand was more concerned with Mr. Raven scratching Miss Mini’s sensitive paint. And this wasn’t Miss Mini’s first encounter with ravens. Apparently her shiny chrome is irresistible!
However Wooly happens to enjoy the decidedly uncommon Common Raven of the Southwest. When I spoke to this one I got a very vocal CAW CAW back. My guess is he was telling me, “I know you have food and shiny bobbles in this car, now hand them over!”
While on our way to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park we stopped at a small roadside attraction called Newspaper Rock. The Navajos call it “Tse Hone” which means “rock that tells a story”. It’s a site where ancient petroglyphs were first carved about 2,000 years ago. I have never seen this many petroglyphs in one place before in my life. It is simply amazing.
The rock itself is sandstone whose iron and manganese content has oxidized through the ages. There is also a specific bacterial element also involved in the process. Thousands of years are required for sandstone to turn black.
There are over 600 figures carved into the ‘desert varnish’ by Native Americans dating back to both prehistoric and historic times at Newspaper Rock. The oldest figures are fading by the same process that turned the sandstone black in the first place. Nobody really knows why this site has so many figures and why it was used throughout the ages.
Currently this site is open to the public and access is not restricted. Sadly the site is also plagued by vandals who have no respect for antiquities and preservation of a remarkable site. What concerns me is the ‘what if’. What if vandals destroy an undiscovered ancient Anasazi equivalent to the Rosetta Stone? So much could be lost and possible many mysteries would remain unsolved forever.
More is unknown about the ancient Anasazi that inhabited the Southwest than what is known. They built cities, cultivated the land and had an evolved societal structure for close to a thousand years. Yet they completely disappeared sometime around the 13th century and nobody knows why. How tragic would it be to lose the answer due to a despicable act of vandalism?
Now I know my readers would never commit such an act. But come on people, show a little respect.
The timing was perfect. We planned the visit to coincide with one of the driest months of the year and the new moon. The plan was for Wooly to photograph the Milky Way in some of the darkest skies in the continental U.S. But there was one thing we had no control over. If you guessed Mother Nature you are right. Mother Nature can be a real ‘Mother’ sometimes which may be part of the reason for the term.
In the Southwest U.S. there is a summer phenomenon called the ‘monsoon’ season. By definition a monsoon is characterized by a southerly flow of moist air marking a change in season. In late June through early September weather patterns change and moist air is pumped up from Mexico into Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and sometimes reaching to Southern California and Nevada.
As luck would have it, the monsoonal flow started the day we arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument. While it was not enough to rain, it was enough for clouds to gather over the tops of mesas which of course Natural Bridges is on. With our plans in danger of being washed out we made the best of it and hiked down to one of the bridges just after sunset in the hopes that the clouds would clear after sunset.
As the bats started coming out we thought we would be treated to a nice show of the bats flying after bugs in the air. However there was one bat who was more interested in us than bugs. After several persistent dives at us we figured it may be prudent to leave just in case there was something wrong (rabies?) with the bat. So much for planning… again…
So Wooly and Raeski huffed and puffed their way back to Miss Mini after being evicted by the bat and cautiously drove back to the hotel keeping a watch out for cows on the road.
After a stop at Utah’s Goosenecks State Park, Raeski and I continued driving up route UT-261 to reach Natural Bridges National Monument. I didn’t know if we would be able to go this route because of an obstacle called the Moki Dugway. This is a portion of the highway that goes from pavement to dirt and our topless Miss Mini Cooper much prefers the nice paved roads she was built to drive on instead of rough dirt roads.
As you approach the dugway the first road sign the state of Utah deems to warn the casual driver of is impending doom and destruction if you are in something they consider oversize or overweight. I guess they are leaving it up to you to decide if you fall in that category. In the photo you can see the next sign warns you about 5mph switchbacks and 10% grades which means you’re in for a steep road that gains 10 feet in elevation for every 100 feet you travel.
Upon reaching the dusty dirt portion of the road we find it is in very good condition and not rough at all but with some rain it could be a very different story. Wooly loves roads that are like spaghetti. The switchbacks reminded us of our trip between Santiago Chile and Mendoza Argentina. However the Moki doesn’t have 29 switchbacks like that road. As you climb the views are impressive and fortunately there are wide spots in the road where you can stop and sneak in a photo or two.
There is one vista where you can pull completely off the road and are greeted with a view of the road below and some of the switchbacks and the plateau below. It was a bit of fortune that I was able to shoot a photo of a truck pulling a horse trailer up the road that gives size perspective. This seems to be a popular stopping point because if you look online you will find many photos taken from this spot and now I’m adding mine to the mix.
While it’s not Mt. Everest, when you get to the top the views makes it
seem like you are on top of the world. Looking east you see a portion of Monument Valley and to the south you see the twisted canyon of the San Juan River. To the north you enter a forest of Juniper trees, open range, and cattle standing in the middle of the road. Yes, we literally had to make our way around a cow standing in the middle of the road.
Okay, so how in the world did ‘they’ (the ever present unidentified corporate they) come up with the name Moki Dugway?
In deference to our Spanish speaking friends, it should really be spelled Moqui which was
a term the Spanish explorers used to describe the Pueblo Indians they met in the area. Of course Americans being Americans have to change the word to something more pronounceable to their tongue instead of learning the rules of Spanish pronunciation. So you get the new name of Moki. But wouldn’t Mokee have served that purpose better? Maybe they were just lazy and didn’t want to use an extra vowel.
And a dugway is a road or path excavated from a high land form for means of transport. From this you get the name Moki Dugway as the road cuts through roughly 1,100 feet of the sheer walls of Cedar Mesa.
At 7:30am, Wooly and Raeski left Phoenix and started their journey through the state and national parks in Southern Utah with a couple of national monuments tossed into the mix. Getting up early and beating the heat allowed us to start our trip topless. With the occasional pit stop along the way and a few photos of Monument Valley, the trip to Goosenecks State Park, Utah took almost 7 hours.
The Goosenecks are an out of the way, I mean you really have to go out of your way to find it, state park without much to offer except a single exceptional viewpoint. After turning off the main road and then turning off to an even narrower road and driving a few miles you reach the end of the road and the park. You can keep going if your names are Thelma and Louise and care to go ‘car diving’.
While on this drive you are treated to views of earth that has been uplifted and twisted. Wooly thinks this is cool because there is a bit of a geology bug in him. At the end of the road you reach the park and find a couple of picnic tables, an outhouse and nary a tree. And yes, it’s a hot 100 degrees or about 38C.
However what you do find is a spectacular view of the San Juan River meandering and cutting its way through 1,000 feet of sandstone. We were even able to watch a couple of rafters running the river. Capturing them gives a sense of perspective of what Wooly saw while teetering on the edge of the cliff.
We hope you enjoy the photos. But I have one question. Can a goose really bend its neck that much and live to see another day?
In my last post I wrote that we are planning three trips this summer in order to see as much of the West as possible. The possibility of moving to South America by the end of this year or early next year has created a sense of urgency to see as much of North America as possible.
Our trip to Utah will be in the southern part of the state because that’s where most of the National Parks are. So far our itinerary includes the Natural Bridges, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Cedar Breaks National Monuments. The National Parks include Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Other points of interest will include the slot canyons, Paria Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs in both Utah and Arizona.
We are planning this trip in June because it is the driest time of year which is important when you are in a slot canyon. These slots rapidly fill up with water when it rains and you don’t want to be in one when it happens. Sadly there are people who haven’t heeded this precaution and have paid the ultimate price for the oversight. I don’t want to become a statistic and neither does Raeski.
We plan on hiking at every destination. There will be none of just driving through and saying we saw that. Experience has taught us that sometimes the best “wows” are found away from the road. All it takes to see a wow is a willingness to walk or hike a little bit. Our easiest hikes will be at the beginning of our trip as we acclimate to the higher altitudes. By the time we get to Cedar Breaks we should be ready for 10,000 foot elevation. We both have been at 14,000 feet, and yes, Wooly lugged his camera gear in his backpack at that elevation.
It’s a full itinerary with a lot to see but with a month to do it we should be able to see a lot. Our next step is to discover what each destination has to offer and how long it will take to see it. Raeski and I like to “wing it” so I checked the cost of RV rentals which would give us the ability to linger. However the cost is quite a bit more than a hotel room. Further analysis is needed but I think in the end we are going sacrifice flexibility for the lower costs of hotel rooms. And no, we don’t care for tent camping. It’s an age thing…
We’re open to suggestions so if anyone has recommendations of things to see at any of our destinations we would like to hear them.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain