From The Noodleheads’ we headed south through winding valleys, stopping for treats like great apple pie and free gondola rides, working our way to Mesa Verde. This was the first U.S. National Park to be dedicated to “the works of man” and the works in question are stone and mortar houses built in steep valleys under overhanging cliffs. As we watched sunset over Sleeping Ute Mountain (it does look like a sleeping Ute chief with full feathered headdress) we were approached by Paul Phillips Jnr. He’s the first Navajo I’ve met so I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t make a good impression. First he acted as if he was forgiving me for being rude and ignoring him. I’d been typing out my travelblog and paid no attention to the voices of the minivan load of locals that I thought were talking to each other. Then he was slurring his words. I know it’s a stereo-type and I don’t want to perpetuate it but really did seem drunk. He dismissed the Cherokee tribe as ’small time’ but the thing that really bothered me was that he laughed at the idea of the guy at the entrance asking him to pay. It’s not a view I can subscribe to. The families that built these houses moved out 1400 years ago and headed south, they are not ancestors of the Navajo tribe and since he was using Park Service roads and facilities I reckon he should contribute to their upkeep just as I did.
Anyway. We left the park to sleep in a town not far away and once again got woken by a policeman checking the van at some horrible hour during the night. There was never any suggestion we were doing anything wrong, he was just making sure the van wasn’t abandoned. In the morning we returned to the park and visited a couple of the houses. They’re really quite cool and Sleepy Joe (our tour guide who blinked and talked so slowly I thought she’d start snoring during her own speech) couldn’t explain why they left.
That afternoon we found an oasis in the form of Lake Powell. Formerly a massive canyon. it has been dammed up and now serves as a recreational area for boat lovers in land-locked Arizona. The rocky shores, previously hundreds of feet up cliffs, now see tourists like us sunbathing and swimming once the heat of the day fades a bit.
Down stream from there is The Grand Canyon. Presumably named so because The Huge, Long, Deep and Generally Beautiful Canyon was a bit pretentious. We saw it from the higher and more shaded North Rim and I took the chance to ignore the barriers for a fun photo above a massive drop. Tania wasn’t as keen on the heights but did love the wildlife which included the first bison I’ve seen in the flesh. That night we camped in the woods just outside the park. It was the quietest night we’ve had yet, and the clearest. Though we’d seen a storm blowing across from the South Rim it didn’t reach us and I was please to hear Tania exclaim out loud the same way I had when I had really seen the stars for the first time.
I’d been to Zion Canyon before, but the red rock formations still blew me away. It’s so alien to me and so amazing to think all this was buried under sand and sea. After dropping by the emerald pools, now mere puddles after a long hot summer, we went to The Narrows. It’s a canyon that gets down to just 20ft wide in places and a shallow river fills it. We waded upstream for quite a way, enjoying the cooler air that comes with running water and walls so steep the sun isn’t down there for long. Since it was too hot to stay there much longer we headed back to the car and got moving again. Next stop: Las Vegas!