A Travellerspoint blog

Goblins and ghosts of the long-ago past

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Goblin Valley State Park in south central Utah will pull your imagination into fantasies and fancies of other-world characters. The soft sandstone, sculpted over centuries of time, initially looks like a valley of giant mushroom shapes. Closer examination, and some imagination reveals duck shapes, bears, gnomes, spaceships, choirs, pipe organs...well, I could go on and on.

Amazingly, the state allows visitors to wander at will through three valleys of these fantastical rocks. Every turn adds a new perspective to these "goblins." One can climb upon them, around them, and up on the cliffs to look down on them.

The campground area, as well as some other locations in the park and surrounding area, easily reveal the layers of stone that has been laid down over the millennia. The goblins are reddish grey, a layer of material rich in ancient sea life is green, and layers of white are readily observed.

We drove north from the Park along the San Rafael Reef, a unique "swell" of land that bulged upward while this area was still a huge sea. This area must be a geologist's nirvana!

Posted by Joyful Feet 21:05 Archived in USA Tagged utah goblin_valley_state_park san_rafael_reef Comments (0)

The "other" view

Moab, Utah and Canyonlands

So -- with national parks and monuments closed due to the government shut-down today (stupid Congress), we found ourselves in southeast Utah, surrounded by such enticing vistas as Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridge National Monument, and several others --all closed.

This forced us onto other locales we might otherwise have passed . Off Highway 191 south of Moab, we drove back 22 miles on a small paved road to " Needles Overlook." This brought us to a magnificent view into the east side of Canyonlands, and a horizon-filling vista of red sandstone cliffs, green mesas and the winding erosion of Muddy Creek and the Colorado River beyond. Magnificent!

About six miles south of Moab, we turned to the east and drove the La Sal Mountain Loop, a stunning 60-mile loop through the 12,000 foot La Sal mountain range and down to the Colorado River. This narrow and winding paved road climbs through valleys choked with scrub oak, to stunning vistas of the mountain tops. We timed this at the height of fall colors-- aspens in their yellows and golds, but also desert low shrubs creating a mosaic of rusts, yellows, golds, browns and mauves across the up-slopes. The last 15 miles or so of the loop is on Highway 128, with the wide waters of the Colorado River flowing along the roadway through an impressive red rock canyon.

We found oohs and ahhs today, even outside the national parks.

Also in the Moab area, we appreciated the stunning views into Canyonlands and the Colorado River from Dead Horse Point State Park. Highway 279, locally known as Potash Road, is an interesting 15-mile in-and-out drive, with petroglyphs on the canyon walls, and a 3-mile round-trip hike to Corona Arch. We had the thrills of off-road slick rock 4x4 touring, and we hiked the Negro Bill Canyon back to the Morning Glory Natural Bridge. No national parks, but we kept busy!

Posted by Joyful Feet 20:24 Archived in USA Tagged utah moab dead_horse_point_state_park corona_arch morning_glory_natural_bridge potash_road Comments (0)

But why did they leave?

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park seems to produce as many questions as answers, as many wonderments as fatigue.

Located in southwest Colorado, Mesa Verde is desert, canyons and yawning irrigated valleys. The real draw to the park are the pueblo Indian ruins, dating from around 500 to 1300 AD. Imagine looking out across miles and miles of desert landscape, never suspecting that just beneath that sandstone overhang ahead of you are the ruins of an entire village of Indian pueblos.

We toured the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House with a guide --in fact, you must do these with a guide, just $3 per person each tour. The Spruce Tree House, the largest of the three, is a self-guided site, with no fee required. Any one of these sites gave me insights into the lives of the inhabitants around 1200AD:

A people very dependent on the land for all their needs...
Perhaps among the first North American Indians to cultivate corn, as well as beans and squash, thus allowing them to settle in one place instead of following a nomadic lifestyle...
An industrious people, to build extensive adobe-brick homes and community rooms (kivas) in the shelter and security of a huge sandstone cliff...
And the question, still unanswered definitely, why they seem to have disappeared so totally from this region by 1300 AD.

The national park service does a wonderful job of helping people explore these ruins. We climbed down steps and ladders to reach both the Balcony House and the Cliff Palace, and crawled, literally, through passages just big enough to squeeze through, to reach some of the structures. Tiring, yes, but well worth the effort, even on a warm autumn day.

A personal note: this park was high on our "bucket list," so with a government shut-down looming, we made sure to get into the ruins the last day of September. Sure enough, if we'd been one day later, everything would have been closed. Stupid Congress!

Posted by Joyful Feet 20:18 Archived in USA Tagged colorado mesa_verde_national_park indian_pueblos Comments (0)


Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway provided just enough history, touches of nostalgia, modern humor and plentiful scenery to be a great day excursion.

The coal-powered steam locomotive was already puffing smoke as we boarded the "Alamosa" car, the last one on a 10-car train, for the 8:45 a.m. Departure from downtown Durango, Colorado. We discovered our car was built about 1880, and looked pretty much the same, including the oil lanterns hanging on the walls and the classy little bar at the front of the car. As we left the station, I could imagine ladies in their bustles and gents in their vests oohing and aahing, just as we were.

Ellie was the attendant in our car, and provided patter off and on throughout the trip. She is definitely an independent spirit, but her humor was spot-on and not the usual canned, rehearsed gaffaws one often gets on tours. In a previous life, Ellie was a geologist, so she was well-versed in talking about the six climate zones we traveled through and the origins of the San Juan Mountains and valleys.

The narrow-gauge line follows the Animas River the entire trip up to Silverton. This is one of the few rivers we've encountered on this trip that is free-flowing, uncontrolled by dams. The water rushes over boulders and debris much of the way, adding to the excitement of being on this train. The forested mountains and valleys, once we climbed away from the ranch land valley, were laced with the yellows and golds of aspen in their fall colors, and the snow-draped mountain tops reminded me I was above 9,000 feet elevation.

The train winds its way up, up, up. Often, we were alternating between sheer rock cliffs on one side and the rushing river on the other. In some places, the width of the railroad tracks filled the entire ledge, and on curves this made for some great photo opps of the engine spouting out her steam and soot.

Some three-and-one-half hours later, we pulled into Silverton. This old mining town still has the dirt streets and many old-looking store fronts, but behind the facades are many tourist-catering businesses. We shunned the popular lunch restaurants for a 20-minute hike above town to the Christ of the Mines Shrine, and some wonderful eagle-eye views of Silverton and surrounding mountains.

We succombed to a Black Forest funnel cake and an ice cream cone as we walked back through town. We chose to take the bus back to Durango, a 90-minute ride back down Highway 550. I imagine the trip back on the train was beautiful as well.

The prices for this train trip are high, but I would definitely recommend this day trip. Though the train does not go all the way to Silverton in winter months, I was told the winter trip through the forest and along the river is a snowy-white fantasy scene.

Posted by Joyful Feet 20:04 Archived in USA Tagged durango_silverton_narrow_gauge_ durango_colorado silverton_colorado train_rides Comments (0)

Following the wagon train trail

What a trip!

We have had a growing interest in the Oregon Trail since moving to the Northwest a few years ago. This trip of wandering the West has allowed us to explore some of the sites we've only read about up to now.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho. The volunteers there do a great job of storytelling, and making one feel that you really are leaving everything behind on a possibly fool-hardy trip to unknowns in Oregon or California.

We spent a couple of hours at Fort Laramie, in eastern Wyoming, exploring the restored buildings, and understanding the importance of this trading post and army outpost as a welcome respite to wagon train travelers coming across the prairies. In the restored and furnished general store, I could visualize the line of women waiting to buy coffee and flour, the men examining the leather straps and saddles. (And, the Indian activities at this fort were important, but rather sad.)

Just a few miles up the road, outside Gurnsey, Wyoming, are the best-preserved wagon ruts yet found. The wagons were forced to travel single-file through narrow sandstone passages above the Platte River, and we actually walked in those same deep ruts that the hopefuls did 150 years ago. Just 2 miles down the road is Register Cliff State Monument, a sandstone cliff in which wagon train travelers carved their names, some the date they passed here, some the state they came from. It is interesting for me to note that the state most represented is Ohio!

The following day, we drove southwest of Casper, Wyoming to see Independence Rock. This is a significant "milepost" of sorts for the wagon pioneers, an easily recognizable granite rock, probably no more than 50 or 60 feet high and about two football fields in length. The pioneers thought that if they reached this rock by the 4th of July, they would likely make it over the Rockies before winter set in. We walked the entire circumference of the rock, again imagining the wagons camped down near the Sweetwater River, and celebrating their accomplishments at making it this far, trying to put aside the fears of the arduous route ahead over the mountains.

We crisscrossed the old wagon trails several times in Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. Each time our respect for these emigrants has deepened.

Posted by Joyful Feet 19:48 Archived in USA Tagged wyoming independence_rock oregon_wagon_trail Comments (0)

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