Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flying by the Seat of our Pants

Sept. 20
Today was filled with uncertainty and decisions made on the fly—but in the end, it all seems to have worked out great. Our day began in Moab, UT, where we first stopped at the grocery store. When I was imagining us being stuck without any interesting foods, I was NOT picturing Moab, Utah, as an oasis of culture and cuisine. But the grocery store was just fantastic—they had gorgeous produce, tons of interesting and offbeat specialty items (including a small kosher section and lots of organic foods), and a “Chef Prepared” foods section which had salads and all kinds of entrees, reminding me a lot of Whole Foods. My new theory is that when a town is a mecca for outdoor sports such as hiking, it also draws a lot of people into health foods, natural lifestyles, and crafts. That leads to interesting restaurants, good selections at the grocery store, and gift shops which are more interesting and less kitschy.

We left Moab heading for Cortez, Colorado, and nearby Mesa Verde State Park. We did make one stop before we left Utah, though—we finally passed a scrapbook store! Utah is almost the home of scrapbooking—it is known for huge scrapbook stores and is the place where this hobby first became really big. Much to my surprise, we had yet to pass a scrapping store anywhere we’d been. So of course we stopped, and I managed to find a few Utah- and RV-related items. They’ll be fun if and when I ever get a chance to make a scrapbook of this trip.

Wilson's Arch--your basic roadside attraction in Utah

We then drove for another hour, noticing how the red rocks had faded to prairie, and then the prairie became greener and more cultivated as we started to pass farms in the southwestern corner of Colorado. We got to Cortez and headed for the Visitor’s Center, since this whole direction was a change of plan for me, and I had no idea what else we might want to do besides Mesa Verde. I ended up spending an hour or so trying to figure out an itinerary and time-frame for the rest of our trip. It was very frustrating, and for the first time I felt that we simply do NOT have enough time, that there is so much to see that we have been forced to pass up. I know this was an ambitious trip, and because of the great mileage we are covering, it means we are seeing less. Even so, I haven’t felt quite as pressed for time as I did today!

I finally decided we should simply head for Mesa Verde, even though it was already 2 pm, and at a minimum do one of the self-guided hikes. Then, I thought, we could do a guided tour of one of the cliff houses tomorrow morning, see the museum, and be on our way. We didn’t make it out of Cortez that fast, though—we ended up stopping at a store with beautiful Indian crafts, and I did some shopping for gifts there. So it was already about 3:30 when we got to the park. As we came into the park, the ranger asked us if we were camping in the park. We said no—I hadn’t gotten reservations, obviously, and had assumed we’d leave the park tonight, find a private campground, and come back in the morning. But then I thought, maybe the campground here isn’t full—so we stopped at the camping store and asked. We were surprised to hear that it was NOT full, there were RV spaces available, and so of course we grabbed one for tonight! We also noted that there was a HUGE laundry facility right by the camping store, and we needed to do a laundry soon.

After we booked our site, we headed toward the Visitor Center in the park to book a tour for tomorrow morning and to get oriented. We had to hustle, because the process of finding a campsite and then checking in had taken almost an hour (this includes driving, and browsing in the store, of course!),and the visitor center closes at 5. Well, the irony is that today is the first day we’ve hit “construction traffic”—the first time was painless, someplace in Utah just as we were leaving the state. But the second time, and worse, was in Mesa Verde, where they are repaving the road! Joey pointed out how crazy it was that we’ve had the worst traffic on our trip at the top of a mountain! The mountain was high, too—the park’s main area is about 8,000 feet. Because we had to stop on our way up, we missed getting our tickets before the Visitor Center closed at 5:00, but apparently it won’t be a problem to come back tomorrow and get the earliest tour.

So we proceeded to the path for Spruce Tree House, which is a self-guided path down to the most easily accessible cliff dwelling. It turned out to be an easy hike, despite the very steep path, and it was more than worth it! We picked up a booklet to tell us about the trail, and there was a ranger posted at the site. We listened to him talking about the Ancestral Puebloans (it is now un-PC to refer to the people as Anasazi) and while he was answering someone’s question, he said he was from New Jersey! Of course, I then said that WE were from NJ too. It turns out that he “had a plant”, he said, in Edison, over near Costco, and now has a house in Bedminster. Then he adds that we should “notice his name”—which was Bruce Schundler (did I spell that right?)—he mentions that his brother ran for governor!! LOL! What a small world. He says he took an early retirement and now he spends 6 months/year living in his RV, being a park ranger. How cool—do you suppose I can get Joe to consider doing the same thing?

By the time we were finished seeing Spruce Tree House, it was 6:30. We started back down the mountain, and were treated to THE most spectacular sunset, across the countryside (the views from the park are sensational) with the Rockies to the east of us. We then decided that rather than go right to our campsite, Joe would make dinner in the parking lot by the Laundromat, and the laundry could wash while we ate! So we did that, and by 9:00 we were finished eating, and all our clothes were clean.

So now Joe is asleep, and I am writing this quickly, and then I too will head for bed. The real question now is, what will we do tomorrow? I am leaning toward staying in Mesa Verde for another night. I think it would be a nicer place for erev Yom Kippur, rather than taking pot luck in a commercial RV park, or worse, not finding one and being in a Walmart! As it stands, we will probably have to drive for quite a bit of Yom Kippur anyway—I seem to be “short” one day that I need for my itinerary from this point on. Something has got to give—probably it is going to be Santa Fe, although we may find ONE thing to do there late on Saturday (maybe break our fast in a great Mexican restaurant??) But for now, I need to give it a lot more thought. We are currently about 25 hours of driving from Memphis, TN—where we are hoping to visit with Elvis on the morning of Sept 26.

Sunset over western Colorado

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