Thursday, June 21, 2012

Edge of the Cedars State Park

Cow in the road

As we left Hovenweep and drove back to Blanding, we encountered this cow who watched us nonchalantly from the road.  The cow didn't show any signs of moving any time soon, so we snapped a photo and drove around the animal and went on our way.  Our next destination was Edge of the Cedars State Park, which features a nice museum and a short, paved walkway around some excavated ruins.  

Effigy at the museum

We began our visit at the museum.  Many Anasazi (Puebloan) artifacts are on display.  This Pueblo II animal effigy is an interesting piece of ancient pottery.

Example of San Juan Redware

I found these red-colored pots, called San Juan Redware, to be very interesting.  I couldn't help wondering if the people who inhabited the ruins we visited near Bluff made this type of pottery.  The coloration was striking compared to the Anasazi black and white pots with which I was more familiar.

Anasazi (Puebloan) figurines.

I found the Anasazi figurines to be more primitive in style than examples I have seen of Fremont figurines.  Of course, these are just a few samples, and more detailed Anasazi figurines may exist somewhere.  However, I was happy that I could see clear differences between the two.  

Examples of Anasazi pottery

The museum contains many wonderful examples of pottery and textiles that have been excavated and conserved.  You can see Anasazi sandals as well as the pots and figures.  There are samples from the Pueblo I, Pueblo II, and Pueblo III periods.  I was impressed with the collection at this place.

Interactive area for children.

Kids can climb around and handle objects in an interactive area at the museum.  When we visited, it looked like the museum was in the process of adding to this area and developing more hands-on experiences for visitors.  

Interpretive signs at Edge of the Cedars.

The Edge of the Cedars site was occupied from about 852 AD to 1125 AD. Archaeologists have determined that buildings were remodeled and added on to over the years.  Signs like the one pictured above help you see the progression of the development of the site.  Only a small portion of the area has been excavated.  Off the paved sidewalks you can see mounds that cover other parts of the ruins.  Once you have finished looking around the interior of the museum, venture outside to see the ruins.

Ruins at Edge of the Cedars

We walked around the ruin at the Edge of the Cedars on paved sidewalks.  It is very accessible.  On the walk, we enjoyed seeing very large beetles flying around, and found a fuzzy caterpillar rapidly inching its way across the cement.  As you circle the ruins, you will come to a 1000 year old kiva which you are allowed to enter.

Kiva entrance at Edge of the Cedars

We climbed down the ladder into the dark space of the kiva.  Kivas are common in Anasazi construction, and can be connected to other buildings via a tunnel, as we saw at the Mule Canyon Ruin.  Kivas were communal areas, and used for ceremonial purposes.

Kiva interior - Edge of the Cedars

I greatly enjoyed my time at Edge of the Cedars!

If you go:  You can visit the museum and walkway at the Edge of the Cedars in a couple of hours.  It is located in Blanding, Utah. We followed the signs from Highway 191 to the museum.  It is not hard to find.  There is a fee for admission. The museum is closed on Sundays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's.  All other days it is open from 9am to 5pm.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Visiting Hovenweep

Ruins at Hovenweep

Sitting atop the Cajon Mesa, the ruins at Hovenweep rest in a stark, yet peaceful environment.  We visited the Little Ruin Canyon area next to the visitor's center at Hovenweep, and this national monument quickly became one of my very favorite places.  When we returned home from our whirlwind trip through southeastern Utah, Hovenweep was the place I missed.

Sign at Hovenweep

Hovenweep was designated as a national monument in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding.  Hundreds, if not thousands of ruins dot its landscape.  It is noted for its amazing towers rising from the sagebrush-covered ground.

Twin Towers at Hovenweep

Most visitors to Hovenweep walk the rim of Little Ruin Canyon to see the Square Tower group of ruins.  Because it is a rim walk, the trail is pretty flat, and is an easy hike.  Only the portion to the first overlook is paved and wheelchair accessible, however.  The rest of the trail is primitive and wends its way over dirt and rock.  Near the end of the loop, the trail dips down into Little Ruin Canyon, and there is a bit of a climb back to the rim, but it is still an easy hike.

Conglomerate rock on the trail out of Little Ruin Canyon

One thing I noticed as we walked out of the canyon was the layers of conglomerate rock at Hovenweep.  A pattern of oceans and uplifts created the geology here.  

View of Square Tower in Little Ruin Canyon

Hovenweep is near the Utah-Colorado border, and there is evidence of interaction between the people who occupied this site, and the residents of Mesa Verde.  The Square Tower group of buildings hit its peak occupation during the Pueblo III period.  Archeaological finds show limited occupation of this area during earlier periods.  Once this land was cultvated, not covered in sage brush as it is now.

Towers at Hovenweep

Another thing that sets the ruins at Hovenweep apart is their remarkable preservation.  This is highly unusual because the buildings are exposed to the elements, not sheltered under cliffs as many Puebloan ruins are.  There are places along the trail where you can view the incredibly skilled construction of these walls.

Detail of wall construction at Hovenweep

One of my favorite things about Hovenweep was the solitude.  If you want a stop away from the normal crowds at Utah's national parks, Hovenweep is well worth the drive.  We shared the rim trail with a handful of people on the day we visited (early spring), but since we were all hiking at a different pace, we had plenty of time alone. 

The Castle at Hovenweep

It is hard to choose a favorite building at Hovenweep.  I was impressed by Boulder House--a building literally constructed in a large rock in the canyon.  But the beauty of the Castle ruin was undeniable.

Boulder House - tucked in the rock.

We shared the canyon with crows and other birds, lizards, and a rabbit on the day we visited.  Watching the local populace was part of the  fun.

Rabbit at Hovenweep

  The Hovenweep site dates from the same time period as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde.  The buildings of this era are more varied and elaborate.  An astronomer found that the ports in the tower at Hovenweep castle mark the solstices and equinoxes.  The families who lived here controlled the water seep at the mouth of the canyon, built a large number of buildings, and farmed the land.  It was a significant community in the early 1200s.

Square Tower in Little Ruin Canyon

If you go:  Hovenweep National Monument is about an hour's drive from Blanding, Utah.  You can see the Little Ruin Canyon area in about two hours.  Camping is available at the monument, and the visitor's center has restroom facilities, water, and a gift shop.  Spring and fall are the best time to visit, as temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.  The monument is open year round, however the visitor's center is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Share Hovenweep with a friend!  Dave Darinko at Hovenweep.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Thousand Sisters - Book Review

Book cover of "A Thousand Sisters"

"A Thousand Sisters" by Lisa J. Shannon is subtitled "My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman."  This book chronicles the experiences of one woman (Lisa Shannon) who, after seeing a report on television about the plight of women in the Congo, decided to do something.  Her first attempt involved a 30 mile solo run.  She raised $28,000 and used it to assist 80 women and their children.  From there, she developed a program called "Run for Congo Women," continued her sponsorship of several women in the Congo, and traveled to Africa to meet her Congolese sisters.  This book demonstrates how one person CAN make a difference.

Congolese woman

Shannon's stories will in turn inspire you and break your heart.  She listens to eyewitness accounts of the struggles facing women in this part of the world.  Many people today are oblivious to the slaughter taking place in Africa.  They are aware of six million Jewish lives lost in the horrors of the Holocaust, but have not heard about the five million people killed in the Congo, many of whom were women and children.

Refugees in the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is resource rich, and many outsiders are taking their piece of the pie.  Militia groups and profiteers combine to make this a dangerous, lawless spot in central Africa.  Add in Interhamwe groups who left Rwanda after participating in the genocide, and eastern Congo is a pretty precarious place to exist for anyone, but particularly for women and children.

Mai Mai militia members.

In her book "A Thousand Sisters," Lisa Shannon details conversations with foreign aid workers about their efforts to convince people to return to their homes.  She is shocked to find rape is considered a cultural inevitability for the women here, not a security threat.  Shannon meets with militia members, fears for her own safety at times, and doggedly persists in traveling to meet with the women she is sponsoring.  Some come to her for more money...she has been warned whatever she gives will never be enough.  Many times she resists their pleas for more aid.  But another time, when she sees a chance to make a further difference for someone, she gathers more resources to build a home for a woman and her children.  The faces Shannon puts on the horrifying experiences of women in the Congo are unforgettable.  On the pages of her book, you will meet women of courage, dignity, and hope, and discover as Lisa Shannon did, that we, as women, are all the same.  I highly recommend this book!

Women for Women is an organization that helps women such as these in the Congo.  Lisa Shannon coordinated her relief efforts through this group.
Run for Congo Women - information about events and more.

Author Lisa Shannon and a Somali woman.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Visiting Monument Valley

Driving toward Monument Valley

You've seen it in the movies, this famous valley with rock formations rising from the desert floor.  I decided I wanted to visit in person, so off we went to Monument Valley.  The area is actually called Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and is run by the Navajo nation.  We could see these large formations ahead, and were excited for this next part of our road trip.  We planned to drive the 17 mile scenic loop in the park.

 Elephant Butte and dirt road inside Monument Valley

When we paid our entrance fee ($5 per person--children under 9 are free), the man told us we would be driving on a rough dirt road.  Our minivan is so brave!  Here we are, on yet another off-roading adventure in a family passenger vehicle.  As we drove, we passed tour group after tour group riding on seats in the back of open trucks.  The passengers were all being blown by the wind and were huddled up trying to avoid the dust.  We were grateful to be inside an enclosed vehicle sheltered from the dust and wind.  If you take a tour at Monument Valley, I recommend an enclosed vehicle! 


The road was dry the day we visited (thankfully, or we couldn't have driven on it), so the vehicles kicked up a lot of dust.  Sections of this road are pretty decent hard-packed dirt road, and other sections are fine sand and a bit treacherous.  I was glad we didn't get stuck anywhere.

The famous Mittens.

The Mittens are visible from the visitor's center parking lot, and are among the first formations along the scenic drive.    Seeing this place in person will make me pay more attention to the scenery the next time I see a John Ford film!

The Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters is supposed to be a nun facing two pupils.  We thought it looked like a letter W.  If you have seen "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," seeing a big "W" in the desert is good for a laugh.

Totem Pole

There are signs along the drive to help you identify the geologic formations.  We also had a map of the loop to follow.  You may drive the scenic loop yourself,  take a jeep/truck tour, or even see Monument Valley on horseback.

The artist at Artist's Point

When we got to Artist's Point, I made my husband get out for this photo.  He is a good sport.  Pretty funny to have a place called Artist's Point when there wasn't anything in view at all!  Of course, when we drove further into the parking area, we could see why it was called Artist's Point.

We are standing in front of the view at Artist's Point.

After completing the scenic drive, we visited the museum and gift shop area.  The parking area also contains a Navajo hogan you can visit.  The Visitor's Center is open everyday except Christmas and New Year's.

Hogans near the visitor's center.

I underestimated the time we would spend at Monument Valley.  If you are doing the scenic drive, plan at least two hours.  It is pretty slow traveling on the dirt road, and if you wish to stop for photos at all, it will take you some time to navigate this loop.  This was a great place to visit. 

Another view of the Mitten

We drove back to Blanding via Bluff, Utah, and stopped at the Twin Rocks Cafe for dinner.  We were tired and hungry, and the Navajo fry bread and cinnamon ice cream really hit the spot!  

Twin Rocks above the Twin Rocks Cafe, Bluff, Utah

In one day we visited Natural Bridges National Monument, drove the Moki Dugway, saw Monument Valley, climbed to an Anasazi ruin near Bluff, and visited the Sand Island Petroglyphs.  It was a lot to fit into one day, but I am glad we did it all!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Visiting the Sand Island Petroglyphs

Part of the Sand Island Petroglyphs

The Sand Island Petroglyphs are easy to access just outside of Bluff, Utah.  Follow Hwy. 153 from Bluff and travel southwest for about 4 miles.  You will see a sign for the campground. Turn off here, and follow the signs to the petroglyphs.

Turn at the sign for the campground.

The rock panel here is extensive, and the petroglyphs are between 300 and 3000 years old.  If you look carefully, you can see the desert varnish darkening the older glyphs.  Like Newspaper Rock, many different styles and ages of petroglyphs are present on this wall.

Sign at the Sand Island Petroglyphs

We parked, and followed the easy trail along the rock wall.  There are fences up to discourage visitors from damaging the rock art.  You can easily see the images from the trail.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

I love looking at rock art.  Obviously it took some effort to create, and I can't help but wonder what the symbols mean.

Spiral glyph

A rock art book I consulted suggests that spiral images could represent solstices, equinoxes, or sipapus (places of emergence).  This spiral doesn't look like the samples in my field guide, however!

Animal petroglyphs.

The upper left figure in this section of the petroglyphs is a frog or lizard figure.  Variations of a frog or lizard figure are found throughout the southwest, including in Chaco Canyon.  The other animals look like some kind of mountain sheep.

Large figures at Sand Island.

I couldn't find anything similar to these figures in my field guide. They remind me a bit of pictures I have seen of the Grand Gallery in Horseshoe canyon.

Another figure at Sand Island.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

This petroglyph panel contained shapes that looked more like animal or bear tracks than a human foot.  Could the squiggle lines represent lightning?  Is this some sort of map?  If you look closely, you can see the faint, darker outlines of older glyphs on the panel.

Kokopelli petroglyph

This was the first time I have seen a Kokopelli (flute player) petroglyph, so that was pretty exciting.  The Sand Island Petroglyphs are easy to access and have enough variety and detail to make a visit here well worthwhile.

Looking back toward the Sand Island Campground.

Vault toilets are available at the campground, but there are limited facilities here.  Bring plenty of water.  The Sand Island Petroglyphs are near the San Juan river.  When we visited the Anasazi ruin on the other side of the river, we wondered if any of the ancient inhabitants had contributed to the art at Sand Island.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Free Day at This is The Place Heritage Park!

Huntsman Hotel at This is the Place Heritage Park

Here is your opportunity to visit This is The Place Heritage Park for FREE!  Jon and Karen Huntsman sponsor a free day at the park once a year.   This is a fun place to wander, learn a little about Utah history, experience pioneer life, and more. You can see baby animals, restored pioneer-era buildings, and artisans demonstrating their skills.  Sample a sarsaparilla, or take a ride on the train.  Volunteers and staff dress in period clothing and tell you about the early life of settlers in the Salt Lake Valley.  There is plenty to do at This is The Place.  Be sure to look at the statues and monuments when you drive in.

This year the free day is Friday, June 8, 2012.  Free admissions are available between 10am and 5pm, and there is also free ice cream, so pack up the kids and enjoy some time at This is the Place!

This is the Place Heritage Park is located at 2601 E. Sunnyside Ave. in Salt Lake City (north of Hogle Zoo).