Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘US National Parks’ category

The Loneliest Road: The Colorado River

July 5, 2020

It was a beautiful morning, 66 degrees with a nice breeze. I enjoyed sitting in the shade, posting, reading emails and studying what is down the road. I saw our campground hosts, a nice young couple who are teachers in Minnesota, and asked if I could move across the street. They said it would be fine, and they would take care of the change online 😊. 

I straightened up and moved to the more shaded spot. I was baking in the very hot Colorado sun yesterday. This should be better. I had run my batteries down, running the air conditioner yesterday. Surely the solar system would recover today.

The forecast was for 96 degrees. The only thing to do in weather like this is to get in the river. The Colorado River runs at the base of this mesa. A mesa is an isolated, flat-topped elevation, ridge or hill, which is bounded from all sides by steep escarpments and stands distinctly above a surrounding plain. (From Wikipedia)

By noon, it was 92 degrees. There is no humidity, and the skies are clear blue, so the sun is brutal. At the foot of the mesa, I found Snook’s Bottom, with a full parking lot. Beaches surround a small lake where everyone was trying to cool off. I found a quiet spot and went in. It was pretty chilly, and I wondered if the Colorado River was colder than this. By the time I walked back up the hill, I was sweating again.

I wanted to see more of the Colorado, so I followed a gravel road that ran close to the river. I ran into a wildlife conservation area. At the top of a hill, I pulled over to investigate the river. It looked beautiful, with a sandbar dividing the river. I followed a trail down to it, but when I got there, the river ran hard against the near bank. It was deep and fast. it looked so serene from the top of the hill, so I would have to look for another spot.

As I walked up the hill, before me stood a semblance of King Tut’s tomb. The road is called Kingsview Rd, so this could be it. It is a rather imposing pyramid. A smaller one was perched on the hill behind.

I came to another access to the river, but again, the water was deep and fast. It’s hardly a challenge for a drift boat or raft, but no place for a lone swimmer. Two girls were tubing on the other side in more shallow water.

In the conservation area, I decided to walk the gravel road, since it was blocked to vehicles. I needed the exercise anyway and was sure I could get in this river somewhere. It’s interesting. Many states have these “conservation areas” to enhance food sources for ducks, geese, turkeys and deer. I soon realized it is an impoundment. They have planted fields with some type of grain, built a dike around it. In the fall they will flood it. Ducks and geese will go crazy to get into a place like this. It’s a smorgasbord of food. Then they lease blinds all around it for people to hunt. Yet if we throw out a bag of corn, we will be sited for shooting over grain! This impoundment must be 1500 acres.

The Colorado is an amazing river. “The Colorado River is famed for carving the steep vermillion walls of the Grand Canyon and the dramatic desertscapes along the 1,450 miles of river are a favorite setting among nature photographers. Spanning seven states and 11 national parks, the Colorado River flows from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and empties into Mexico’s Gulf of California.” (from https://www.thediscoverer.com/blog/8-us-river-trips-you-should-know-about/XvHyVpKgiwAG5as5?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=1121570110)

I70 is right on the other side of the river. Just around the bend, it takes a hard westerly turn and cuts right through a big mesa in a park called McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. I wanted to go there, but it meant a long drive around the mountain. On my way back out, I tried one more spot to get in the river. Bingo. A trail led down to a shallow area, and I walked right in. The bottom was muddy with rocks underneath, and the water color was brownish-green. The water temperature, at least in this shallow part, was more like smallmouth bass temperature than trout temperature. I didn’t find it inviting, so I walked back out.

I was happy to return to a shady campsite, and quickly took a cold shower. Then I searched for a cooler place to go tomorrow. My plan was to continue west on Rt.50 and go to Capital Reef National Park. The campground was full, unserviced and highly-rated. Maybe it’s cooler there. Maybe it’s not, but I wanted air conditioning. I found Sand Creek RV resort 7 miles west of the park and booked a full service spot for 3 nights.

The Loneliest Road, Colorado National Monument 2

Sunday, July 5, 2020

I spent the morning driving south through the park. It was reasonably cool and the light was good. A gentleman who had recently moved to Fruita, just below us, started talking photography. He said the night skies are amazing. “See that road down there? You can get between those two monuments and shoot the milky way as it rises through the canyon to our right. You might also want to go to Glade Canyon (?). It’s a rough, gravel/dirt road, but your truck will do great. It has almost as many arches as Arches, and you will have it all to yourself.” We talked a while longer, but those two things were etched in my mind.

By 10:00 every stop was filled with cars. However, I had one spot to myself – the bat cave. It’s a beautiful spot. Several of those white-throated swifts came right in front of me. It’s almost like they fly by just to check you out. I quickly switched settings on the camera to get some action shots, but I never saw them again. I guess there are bat caves here. The sign said they navigate by echo. “Try it”, the sign said. Since there was no one there, I shouted “Hello!” It took 3-4 seconds for a perfect “Hello” to return.

Visitor’s Center opened at 9:00, but only the shop was open. Business was frantic, so there was a waiting line. I took a quick look and went on. I passed up a few crowded spots, but visited a few. Then I made the turn to Glade Canyon, not knowing if I was in the right spot or not. It was now 92 degrees and hot, and I was not really prepared. I had nothing to eat, but had plenty to drink. I am carrying a giant cooler that now has three bags of melted water in it and some bottled water and few Cokes. The further I went up the road, the more I thought I wasn’t prepared for this, especially in this heat, so I turned around, a bit disappointed.

I thought I was getting relaxed about driving this winding road with vertical drop-offs, but I wasn’t. I’m OK when I am on the inside, but when on the outside, I begin creeping along, borrowing more than my share of the yellow line. You wouldn’t want to be drinking and driving this road. I looked it up. One article said 2 or three people die each year, some by accident and some suicidal.

I went back for lunch and then to the laundry. It was wonderful to have air conditioning and WIFI! A nice oriental lady greeted me and changed a $10 for me. I loaded two washers and quickly began uploading pictures. No time to think about it. Just upload! I have taken a bunch of videos, but only managed to load a few. I have one going through the tunnels, which I hope to upload later. A few people came in to pick up laundry. She will do your wash, folding them immaculately and have them ready for you. As soon as I moved my clothes from the washers to the dryers, she was there disinfecting them. She kept the folding disinfected as well. A Clean and Simple Laundry in Grand Junction is the name. I was luck to have found it and lucky it was opened on Sunday, July 5th.

I fixed a small bourbon, trout fillet, corn on the cob and a nice salad. It was hot though, and hot to cook. I took a cold shower, well as cold as the water was in the tank. Then I wrapped ice in a wash cloth, applying it to my head, neck and chest. It was 9:00 before the intense sun finally went down. I explored other options for getting out of this heat. It is 8.5 hours to Stanley, but I didn’t really see anything else that would get me out of the heat.

The Loneliest Road, Colorado National Monument

July 3, 2020

It is only a 2.5 hour drive from Blue Mesa Reservoir to Colorado National Monument, where I was booked for three nights of July 4th weekend. The speed limit is 65 on much of this section, but it’s curvy. I couldn’t do it in the truck yesterday, much less with the Airstream today. It is a very pretty drive, up over the big mountain, past the Cimarron River and a long descent into a dry valley. 

I stopped for gas and refilled propane in both tanks in Montrose. Turning north, Rt. 50 follows Uncompahgre River in a high desert. A sign welcomed me to the Gateway to the Canyons. Million Dollar Highway turns south from Montrose, but no time for that on this trip! There is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument to the southwest, and of course Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. The list goes on and on, but I followed 50 to Colorado National Monument. 

I arrived at the south entrance to the park, which I knew nothing about. The office was closed, but a sign stopped me: “Tunnels. Clearance 18’ in the middle and 10’6” on the side”. Most of you remember I tore the air conditioner off the roof in New Hampshire going through a covered bridge. It’s all Kelly’s fault really. I can get away saying that, because he can’t figure out how to comment. I did not want that experience again! 10’6″ is my clearance at the air conditioner, so probably would be OK.

I read the map, describing a winding climb up a huge mesa and a one-hour drive winding along the edge to the visitor’s center and Saddlehorn Campground, where I was staying. Several people gave me irritated looks for blocking the sign, but I wasn’t moving. I walked back down the road to reread the sign. Yep, 10’6” on the side. I’d probably make it. I walked over to a building with park service cars parked. A park service lady drove up, rolled down her window, asking if I needed help as she put on her mask. 

“Can I drive that trailer through those tunnels?” “Probably” she said. “I am amazed how people drive those things on that road. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.” I thanked her and went back to the trailer. GPS told me it was only a 20-minute drive to the north entrance, so I turned around and went that way, winding through beautiful houses with incredible views. 

No one was at that gate either, but you still have to go through two tunnels. I reminded myself there was a campground up there as I navigated the narrow, winding road with drop-offs of increasing heights. I hate heights. I couldn’t help but borrow more than my share of the yellow line. Fortunately there was little traffic. I drove through the middle of the tunnels, very slowly. With a sigh of relief, I found the top and a turn into the campground. I found A19 to be just a pullover. A huge Class A camper with slide-outs and all was across the street, where a lady sat in the shade reading a book. 

The elevation is 5,500’. It was full sun, 88 degrees with 18% humidity. I couldn’t level the camper, even after trying 20 times. I imagined the lady peering over her book, laughing at me. Sweating and tired, I gave up with 3.5” slant to the starboard. I was afraid to open the street-side awning and windows, but with no hookups, it had to be done. I imagined some drunken person taking out a window, or all three of them. Later the big rig would open his slide-out, further narrowing the road. 

I ate lunch and took a monster nap with both fans blowing full bore. I woke up groggy, putzing around searching for some energy. At 4:00 I thought I would take a short drive and see what this place is all about. My map said there was an overlook in the campground. Perfect! 

It was a nature trail. OK, I need some exercise, so I headed out, tripod and camera in hand. I didn’t have to go far before the trail led to the edge of a canyon. With a gasp of hot, dry air, I woke up. It was a spectacular view of “The Heart of The World”. The Utes treasure this as a sacred place, doing the spring bear dance every year.

It is on a grand mesa on the west side of a big valley, the Rockies on the other side with the great Colorado River running through it.

The Loneliest Road, Gunnison, Colorado

I was tired from three hard days of driving and1865 miles. 700 miles yesterday. I went into Gunnison to get gas, groceries, ice and find a library so I could post. I stopped at a pullover to watch a man standing in the Gunnison River fishing. He had little luck, but I had fun watching white throated swifts flying like jet fighters to catch bugs for breakfast. 

The grocery store was packed. It’s a big weekend and all the touristas are in town. Everyone had masks on, but I tried to get the job done and get out. The only library was at Western Colorado University, and it was closed. With my phone, I can post text, but uploading pictures eats data, and reception is often inadequate for the job. 

I went back to camp for lunch and a little relaxation. At 3:00 I drove about an hour on Rt. 50 across a big mountain to get to Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park. The road up to the park and through the park is winding and steep. This is not a place to pull the trailer! 

Pinnacle View right on R. 50 looking across Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir on Rt. 50

The beautiful Gunnison  River flows through Gunnison, into Blue Mesa Reservoir and somehow gets to the other side of this big mountain. As it turns out, it goes through it! A sign tells us of millions of years in development through volcanoes and earthquakes, it used to be a great sea, but is now a river cutting its way through a mountain of solid rock.

I arrived at Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park stopping briefly at the closed visitor’s center, but rangers were outside answering questions. It is a drive along the gorge, also known as Gunnison Gorge National Park. Looking down into this chasm in the earth is impressive. Rain clouds just made it more dramatic. There was no charge to get in this year, and there was a steady flow of people. I didn’t make all the overlooks as I was running out of energy. I also wanted to see it from the north side. Maybe next time.

OK, The Loneliest Road isn’t so lonely here, and it travels through some spectacular country, especially here

Natchez Trace – Mount Locust

“Of the 50 or so primitive hostelries established before 1820 along the Trace, only Mount Locust remains. It is one of the oldest buildings in Mississippi, dating to 1780. In 1956 it was restored to its form as a frontier hime of the 1820’s, which was the peak era of the Trace’s foot and horse travel. The old framework of the house is sassafras and was found to be in almost perfect condition where the other woods had succumbed to the years of southern Mississippi’s moist heat. The interior trim and walls are poplar, the exterior siding, cypres.”  From Guide to The Natchez Trace Parkway by F. Lynne Bachleda.

It is a gorgeous setting for a farm and “stand” (tavern or hostelry). You can walk the trace behind the house, and there are family and slave graveyards. The original brickwork remains in walkways and chimneys. The bricks were made on the site.

I should have walked the Mt. Locust Scenic Trail, which is described at pristine and stunning in Bachleda’s book, but I didn’t read about until later.

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Houses of Natchez

I spent the afternoon driving, but mostly walking around Natchez. One neighborhood along the cliff overlooking the Mississippi was most impressive. It’s only a guess, but I suspect the city codes for historic homes might stop some people from buying. Next door to some incredibly beautiful homes are once-beautiful homes that are in disrepair. There are also intermixed modest homes that are often quite pretty. Blocks away, I found a modest neighborhood that looked like Elvis’ birthplace. Rhett was right. This is a very cool town, rich in heritage and history, and I didn’t even get started on the cuisine. Next time 😊

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Loved my campsite at Natchez State Park.

Natchez Trace Emerald Mound

Like the Grand Village, this is a sacred and impressive site of the Mississipians beginning about 1300. Mound building was practiced for thousands of years. It was a place of ceremonies, trade among nations all the way to Indiana, and games. Here they placed stickball with only their hands. They still return every year for ceremonies.

Note: if you click a picture, you can then scroll through them as slowly or quickly as you want.

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Driving back up the Trace from Natchez, I wanted to see Mount Locust, one of the hostelries along the Trace. It is the only one that remains. The framework of the house is sassafras, and was found to be in almost perfect condition. The interior trim and walls were poplar; the exterior siding cypress. From “Guide to The Natchez Trace” by F. Lynne Bachleda. Unfortunately it was not open. I visited some other sites along the way, a beautiful cemetery on the Trace, the remains of Elisabeth Female Academy (1818-1845) and Loess Bluff, an ancient wind-blown cliff.

I went back to Natchez, visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Natchez National Cemetery that my tour guide recommended. Walking along the boardwalk, there are three impressive homes standing above the Mississippi.

Natchez, Mississippi

My friend, Rhett Riplinger, told me Natchez is a great and interesting town, so I spent a couple of days exploring. Still I left a lot undone. I walked around downtown and along the riverwalk. Then I saw a little horse and carriage with a man standing beside it in front of the old train station. I hustled over just in time. Within a couple of minutes I realized this guy was going to be a classic, and I started the recording app on my phone. He grew up here, adding a lot of color commentary, but he knew his history…..although some may have been embellished.

There was the ‘Hanging Tree” at the court house and old jail, where paranormal stories abound. There are Clan stories. Bowie’s Tavern has an old bar where Kit Carson inscribed his name. Sam Bowie, born in Kentucky, grew up across the river, gaining fame in the “Sandbar Fight” in the middle of the Mississippi River. He was shot twice and stabbed three times, once in the sternum with a sword cane. With the sword sticking out of his chest, he grabbed his opponent’s shirt, killing him with his large sheath knife.

The Natchez Indians had settled this site on a high bluff above the “Father of Waters” for 1,000 years before the Europeans came. Probably the “Mississipians” had been there long before. When De Soto came in 1540 with 600-700 armored and mounted soldiers, the Natchez “Sun God”, Quigualtam, had heard how he had treated Indians along his journey. De Soto sent emissaries several times asking for treasures and surrender. On his last attempt, he said he was the father of the Sun and was more powerful than the chief. Quigualtam told him to prove it by drying up the river. When that didn’t happen, the Natchez chased and raided De Soto all the way to the Gulf.

The Mississippi originates in Lake Itasca in Minnesota, traveling 2300 miles to the Gulf, which makes it the third largest watershed in the world. It carries a half million pounds of sediment every day. Over the eons, it is responsible for making what is now south central United States. From “Guide to The Natchez Trace Parkway” by F. Lynne Bachleda. It remains a relatively untamed river.

Samuel Clemens spent a lot of time in Natchez. My tour guide told the story of Clemens being invited to the 1st Presbyterian Church. Before the service, he noticed the Slave Gallery upstairs. He tried to go up there to join them, but couldn’t find the way up. It was said that was one of the inspirations for “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn”, where the kids fake their death on the river and view their funeral from the rafters. Later he was asked what he thought of heaven and hell. He said he didn’t want to comment because he had friends in both places.

Natchez was a rich town before the Civil War, with river transportation, lumber and cotton being the primary businesses. After the war, times were different. A lot of the shipping business went to New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The transition from slavery and today didn’t always go easily. I visited the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. You could spend the rest of your life reading all the books in that museum. I was their only visitor that afternoon, and was given a guided tour that lasted three and a half hours. I was thankful, but exhausted. History is rich here. We discussed recent issues we have had in Charlottesville, or what I call “Statue City”. They said it could have easily happened in Natchez. Diving back to camp, I couldn’t help but think of how terribly the Native Americans fared. Yet we hear little of it today.

Natchez State Park was a great place for me to stay. It was quiet with a good staff and good facilities.

Natchez Trace – Grand Village of The Natchez Indians

I didn’t tour the plantations and mansions, but there are lots of beautiful ones. I opted to tour the Grand Village of the Natchez. There is a nice information center. I listened to a person of Natchez decent telling his history to the lady at the desk. I wished I had recorded it. He was telling about his family’s land, going back to early European times and how the tribe wouldn’t accept him now. He thought the new casino might have something to do with it.

The Grand Village is impressive. It reminded me of sites in Mexico, though no buildings remain. You could imagine large numbers of Indians in ceremonies and games. It’s an impressive site. “The Natchez Indians inhabited what is now southwest Mississippi ca. AD 700-1730, with the culture at its zenith in the mid-1500s. Between 1682 and 1729 the Grand Village was their main ceremonial center, according to historical and archaeological evidence. French explorers, priests, and journalists described the ceremonial mounds built by the Natchez on the banks of St. Catherine Creek, and archaeological investigations produced additional evidence that the site was the place that the French called “the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.” from http://www.mdah.ms.gov/new/visit/grand-village-of-natchez-indians/

Stickball

Ball_players

The origins of Lacrosse is often attributed to the Algonquins, but the Indians of the southeast played stickball for more than 1000 years.

“Among the Indian nations of the Southeast (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Natchez, Seminole), there were two basic ball games which were played. These games had both social and ceremonial meaning.

Stickball was played with two sticks per player. The ball sticks, made from hickory or pecan, were about two feet long and were bent at one end to form a racket. The balls were made from deerskin which was stuffed with deer or squirrel hair. Players would catch the ball between the nettings of their sticks and then throw it. They were not allowed to strike or catch the ball with their hands. The players, however, could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball.

Points were scored when a player hit the opposing team’s goal post with the ball. Among the Cherokee, a team had to be the first to score 12 points in order to win. The Creek, however, required 20 points in order to win.

The field for the game might be as long as 500 yards or as short as 100 yards. The object of the game was to get the ball between two goal posts or to strike one of the poles with the ball.

Stickball was often used to settle issues between Choctaw communities. This approach to settling internal issues reduced the possibility of civil war. In these instances, the goal posts might be located within each opposing team’s village which meant that the goal posts would be several miles apart.

Among the Choctaw, the players were not allowed to wear moccasins or any clothing other than a breechclout. On the night prior to a game, there would be a dance in which the players would dance in their ballplay outfits and rattle their ballsticks together.

Among some of the tribes, players would not eat rabbit prior to a game as it was felt that this might cause them to become frightened and confused. They also avoided eating frogs because this would make them susceptible to broken bones. Players would generally fast before the game.

The number of players varied greatly. Sometimes there were games with as few as nine players per side, while other times there were games with several hundred players on the field. A game might last several days. Play was rough and it was not uncommon for the players to suffer severe bruises and even broken bones.

The Southeastern nations also have a single pole ball game which is played in ritual context. Like stickball, the single pole game is played with sticks and a small ball. In this game there is a single pole, about 25 feet high, with a wooden effigy of a fish at the top. Seven points are scored when a player manages to strike the fish with the ball. Striking the pole scores two points.

This game has been played for more than 1,000 years. The game is often played in association with the Busk (or Green Corn Ceremony). The game, which is played on sacred ground, brings a sense of balance and harmony by bringing the secular and sacred together.” From: https://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/949

 

 

Natchez Trace From Ross Barnett Reservoir to Natchez State Park

As I drove the Natchez Trace Parkway, stopping at each marker to learn the history and see the sights, I was impressed by the depth of history of this ancient road. The Native American history is told pretty well, although it left me wanting to know more. Then the thoughts and stories of the European settlers who walked this trail for 500 miles back to their homes is amazing. Making 20-25 miles a day on foot, carrying gear and a heavy rifle for a month is no small feat. As travel increased, “stands” were built along the way for travelers to sleep and eat. Usually they were small, with many sleeping on the floor, but that’s still better than sleeping in the woods with no shelter from the rains or cold.

Talk about walking, the Trail of Tears crosses the Trace, and Native Americans were made to walk to Oklahoma. They had inadequate food or shelter, and many died along the way.

Rocky Springs is an abandoned 1790’s town where about a 2’616 people had lived and farmed. When and the poorly managed land gave out, it was abandoned. All that remains is a beautiful brick church built in 1836 that is still in use today.

There was a stop to view the “Sunken Trace”. You could easily see how bandits could have full advantage in this area.