Cliff Dwellers & Cliff Jumpers

When the locals tell you that any given scenic drive is crazy, believe them. The drive to Telluride was one of the windiest, steepest, slowest mountain drives I have ever had the pleasure of navigating. Unfortunately we hit at a weird seasonal point, when all the leaves have fallen but there is no snow, so the scenery is a bit dead and barren, without that winter magic that roadside snow can bring. Despite that it was a really fun detour and I enjoyed the drive, although Andrew kept popping ginger chews to keep his creeping nausea at bay. The town of Telluride is cute, although again I think we hit at a bad time. Many of the shops and restaurants were closed for a few more weeks until the ski season begins, so it was a bit slow and quiet there. Despite the tranquility, Zephyr, the wonder dog of wonders, decided he was terrified and walked around as nervous and anxious as if we were back in New Orleans. Our only guess is that he could hear the blasting they were doing on the roadside several miles away, which of course our human ears couldn’t perceive.

After we wound our way back down we headed into Mesa Verde, a unique National Park in Southwestern Colorado. We arrived late in the day and headed straight to the campground to get settled for the night. Our night at Mesa Verde was our coldest yet, with lows reaching below 20° F. We actually lucked out, as it turned out to be the last night of camping allowed for the season. The camping was considered “primitive,” despite having a heated bathroom with flush toilets. You will know from my previous posts that this is fact quite luxurious!

Mesa Verde was designated a National Park to preserve and protect a cultural site, rather than a natural one. Around 1,000 years ago the ancestors to the modern day Pueblo tribes lived at Mesa Verde in spectacular cliff dwellings they carved and built into the sandstone cliffs. Many people are familiar with the term Anasazi that used to be the common descriptor for these people, and I even remember learning about them in grade school in Arizona. It turns out that “Anasazi” is a Navajo word meaning something akin to “the strange ones,” so it’s no surprise that the ancestors of these people prefer the term Ancestral Puebloans instead!

The next morning we headed over to the visitor center to buy our $3 tour tickets of the Cliff Palace Ruins. Our guide was Ranger Craig, an aging hippie who was very mellow, knowledgeable, and completely in tune to the cultural and spiritual significance of the site. He gave an informative, meaningful tour, and I was grateful we visited this National Park in the slow season. When I was a child we visited in the summer, and although all I remember is climbing down the fun ladder, apparently it becomes incredibly crowded and noisy. Ranger Craig made it clear that the experience we had this time at the ruins was much more personal and reflective than can be achieved in the busy season.

After our tour we thanked Ranger Craig and headed out of Mesa Verde, on to the warmer pastures of Moab, Utah where we had plans to meet up with some of our pals. We arrived in Moab around dinnertime, and we had some time to kill before our friends showed up. At this point we were both fairly hungry and therefore grumpy (a term my sister calls “hangry”), so we opted for a sushi dinner. I was skeptical, after all how can San Diegans really enjoy sushi in the desert? But according to Yelp this place was legit, and fortunately for us we were pleasantly surprised by the fresh fish and delicious flavor combinations. No sooner had we popped the last slices into our mouths than my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number, so I hand the phone over to Andrew, knowing full well (as you, dear reader, probably do) what was on the other end. “Yes, that’s my dog. I’ll be right there!” This time Zephyr had ripped the window grate completely off, nosed open the window, and bounded down the street in search of us. I have to be honest; at this point I don’t worry about him escaping any more. Every time he gets out he finds someone who will call us, so I figure we’ve got a good system down! Fortunately since this incident it has been cold enough that we can shut his windows when we need to keep him in the truck, and he hasn’t been desperate enough to throw himself through the glass (yet)!

That night we met up with our friends Jordan and Lauren, and a few of their friends and camped out in the desert at the base of Periot Mesa. The next morning we awoke early and hiked up to the base of the mesa, where Zephyr and I stationed ourselves as the rest of the crew hiked and scrambled up to the top. Andrew sat on the edge with his feet dangling (as I watched nervously through my binoculars), and one by one our friends launched themselves over the cliff edge. I have never seen BASE-jumping in action, and it is a thrilling sight, even from below. The sound of the canopies opening in midair is booming, and it was so much fun to capture the crazy jumpers on camera as they sailed by on their way down. Later in the day Andrew and I knocked Arches National Park off our list, and enjoyed the amazing sites of these red geological wonders.

That night Jordan, Lauren, Andrew, and I threw ourselves a little party at a campground and got a bit rowdy. I won’t burden you with the details, but rest assured a good time was had by all, although Lauren did get attacked by some barbed wire. None of us are real partiers, as far as I know, so the next morning we were all feeling the effects. We hit up a local café for some good hangover food, and then spent the latter part of the day lounging in a park before heading over to the house of a really cool guy who builds custom bicycles. We had a good time hanging out in a tree net on his property, (which is like a tree house but hand woven out of old climbing webbing), practiced on various slacklines, and rode some crazy bicycles.

That night was an early one for us, and the next day was fairly lazy as well, although I did manage to try my hand at a tree line. This tree line was about 30 feet up, and I had a hard enough time climbing up the tree, let alone walking across! I was strapped in with a harness, thankfully, although as I finished walking the pulley that I was attached to decided to break. Fortunately Andrew was there and I was safely standing on a tree limb. Lesson learned: always use redundancy (i.e. two forms of protection) when walking a line high up in the trees! That evening we said a sad goodbye to our good friends (who are also wanderers and vagabonds) knowing that our paths will cross soon again, and headed west further into majestic Utah.