Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Bluffing!

We spend a day shopping, doing laundry and getting the oil in our truck changed in the town of Durango, Colorado which is in the southwest corner of the state only a few miles from the New Mexico border (New Mexico the state, not Mexico the country).  To get to Durango from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, we take highway 160 west, which winds us through the San Juan National Forest.  There is a scenic overlook at a series of steep switchbacks, and we stop for a view of the aspens in full fall colour and the valley below.  What an unbelievable sight this is.  In the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the aspens are finished for the season, having peaked almost two weeks ago.  Here they are late, perhaps because we are at a lower elevation.  I would never tire of seeing these brilliant trees.  Farewell Colorful Colorado!
Colourful Colorado!  The aspens are in full colour in the San Juan Mountains
From Colorado, we head south into New Mexico, but after an hour of driving change our minds and decide to go to southern Utah instead where we know the elevation is much lower (for my migraines because the interesting parts of Northern New Mexico are still in the Rocky Mountains).  Our route from Durango, CO takes us in a semi-circle, south to New Mexico, then west to Arizona and north again to Utah, but it is a nice drive just the same and only a few hours.  We have been to southern Utah twice and loved it both times.  Our original plan is to go to Gooseneck State Park, a cliff which overlooks the San Juan River where it meanders through a canyon, but we detour slightly into the town of Bluff for fuel first.

We spot a Visitors Center and decide to drop in.  This turns out to be the best Visitor/Tourist Information Center we have ever been in.  The woman staffing the center tells us about some great hikes just off the highway a few miles outside of town, but she also gets us to watch a 20 minute film about the settlement of the town of Bluff.  In 1880, Mormon settlers from Cedar City, Utah were "called" by their church to establish a colony on uncharted land southeast of the Colorado River.  There were previously two routes to this area, one to the south into Arizona, and one circling to the north.  Both routes were considered much too long, and the settlers attempted a new, more direct route due east through the then established towns of Panguitch and Escalante.  The video, which our host stopped periodically to narrate being a descendant of these Mormon settlers, depicted how the settlers built roads in the rock crevice big enough to fit their wagons through.  At one location, referred to as "Hole in the Rock", they literally created a narrow trough that descended into the canyon below; this pass now lies beneath Lake Powell because of dams.  A blind team of horses had to make the first two trips down because the other horses would not make the steep descent; but these horses finally followed the blind team!

Their hardships were many - food supplies, weather and the brutal landscape which ranges from slippery clay when wet to hard rock with deep crevices and steep canyons and gullies.  Finally, after six months (!!!) they reached their destination of land situated between the San Juan River and a high bluff; hence the name of the town, Bluff.  Two hundred and fifty settlers made the journey and not one person died during the journey; in fact two babies were born.  The average age of the group was 18 years old!  The livestock and the people were exhausted; although some returned to Cedar City and others continued further on.  It is an amazing tale made all the more special by our host who knew many personal stories of the strife that beset these brave adventurers.

Driving through Comb Wash
Along Comb Wash Road
We decide to stay a few days here near Bluff and find BLM land beside Comb Wash where we can camp.  We drive four miles along the creek at the foot of Comb Ridge on a sand/dirt road, park at the fork where the road goes to the river, and hike the rest of the way not wanting to take the truck up a steep, rugged, rocky incline.  Thanks to a map from the Visitors Center, we find the "Rincone" (Spanish for corner), an old trading post from the early 1880s beside the San Juan River.  Only a portion of the stone wall of the milk house and remnants of the water wheel structure remain.  Today, the river is much lower and does not reach where the water wheel would have been.

He looks like a leopard lizard!
Rafters on the San Juan River at the "Rincone"
We sit on a rock-ledge overhang above the San Juan River as four rafts full of supplies and rafters make their way past us.  They are on day 2 of a multi-day journey from the Sand Island BLM Campground to Clay Hill, some 50 miles.  We chat back and forth while they drift past us; this would be a peaceful way to see the views along the river, except I'd never last a week sitting in a raft, nor could I camp out along the river without my luxury trailer conveniences.

We continue along the hike and soon come across cliff dwellings.  A sign tells us that they were inhabited by Pueblo farmers between AD 900 and 1200.  They are in remarkably good shape, with many rooms still intact.  I am amazed that we are allowed to wander among them without any Ranger supervision like at Mesa Verde in Colorado (where we did not go) or the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico (where we did go two years ago). 
Ancient cliff dwelling
About 3/4 of a mile further down the road, we are told there are hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the varnish on the sandstone wall face.  Unfortunately, others in more recent years have carved their names, initials and dates into the rock also, but the original artwork still stands out.  We can identify many animals - snakes, lizards, dogs or coyotes, and pronghorn antelope, as well as people, some in ceremonial head-dresses and jewelery.  What an historical find!  We wonder what stories they are supposed to tell.

Petroglyphs in Butler Wash
We also hike Butler Wash on the east side of Comb Ridge.  Fortunately, this requires a short drive on a fairly decent dirt road and a short hike down into the wash.  There are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls beside an overhang area that looks like it used to be an ancient dwelling.  From the top of the ridge, we can see Pueblo ruins on the other side of the wash.  They are in pretty good shape.  On another trail across the highway we hike down into the same wash and try to find the petroglyphs that the woman at the Visitors Center told us about, but it is a difficult walk scraping past shrubs, bushes and trees alongside the creek and we give up after about a 1/2 mile.  The hike down the red and yellow sandstone rock is amazing though as are the views.  Brad finds a tree branch that has carved grooves in the sandstone rock beside it while the tree is swaying in the wind.  That's pretty cool!
Erosion in motion

1 comment:

  1. Amazing find. Love the petroglyphs. You might like reading Sandra Dallas (a Colorado writer about women pioneers to the West). True Sisters is about Mormon women and their path. And Jane Kirkpatrick writes similar books. So good!