Last night as I was rearranging boxes in the van I had a flash on where my other winter jacket was. I was right. It was in the box with my pants and shirts. Song I don’t have to be quite as layered to be warm. About this jacket before I came long trail last fall. Assistant. It’s a synthetic Phil Phil F I LL rather than down. I thought I might need it on the long trail since there was a good chance of it being a rainy time. It wasn’t, so I used my down jacket.
This morning I wake to about half an inch of snow on the ground and van and trees and everything! No wonder it’s cold. The van thermometer says it’s 40 degrees. It’s usually about 10 to 12° warmer inside than outside.
Sherman kept coming in licking my face. Just a couple of licks. The persistence said, “Come on man, I got to go!” So we went out and yup, his feet hit the ground, went to the nearest bush and lifted his leg. We walked around the campground a bit looking at the snow on the rocks, the cliffs, the trees, the tents, the trailers…
It was still cloudy and windy but seems like we can do the hike I planned on a road along the wash across from the campground to a site called Wijiji.
Very different hike than the others. This one is on the canyon floor and along the wash where a small stream flows seasonally. It’s so different to be walking along the base of the cliffs instead of the top of the cliffs. They’re huge from the bottom.
I heard they’re 200 ft high in places. Not sure these are that high… Most of the rock is sandstone. So, it’s soft, absorbs moisture, spalls off in small pieces and also cracks in vertical fissures from top to bottom. Long horizontal cracks sometimes cross what seem like pillars.
The road surface goes from gravel covered to sandy to clay. How unexpected that is! My shoes are picking up a layer of clay with every step. Especially the heels. As the heel lump grown I’m moving from low to high to stiletto. Then the lump falls off and I’m back to about an inch over the whole sole. The other thing is the weight. I wear very light trail runners. As I walk I’m wearing two pound shoes. Not only a weird cycle of height and weight, but it really slows me down. Sherman and I normally clip along at 3-4 miles an hour except on steep inclines. I’m taking 10 steps with difficulty and either the heel clay falls off or I try to flick it off with a knee level karate kick. This is the only clay I’ve seen in the canyon and the cliffs here are the same sandstone as elsewhere. The trail goes along the edge of the wash for awhile and there’s no clay down there either. How did a thin layer of clay get deposited in this mile, on this side of the wash? Clay is from decomposing rock. The particles are carried down stream with the heaviest particles falling out first and the lightest particles falling out last. So the clay was deposited here by seasonal floods. But what happened that it’s only on this side of the canyon and there’s no layer of clay visible in the 15 feet sides of the wash? I don’t know…
The clay ends and we’re back on sandy trail. But my shoes and Sherman’s feet have a layer of clay on them. I hope the sand will dry out the clay a bit and have it fall off. Nope. We get to the ruin and there’s a bicycle stand. I scrape my shoes on the front metal bar. Then pick up Sherman and pull some clay balls out from between his toes.
We arrive at Wijiji. This building was built in the later years of the canyon’s occupancy. Their engineering and building skills had improved over the centuries. This building has very straight, geometric walls. Everything has been measured and built with exacting geometry.
The walls have a unique pattern of large and small rock bands.
We walk out through the sand, clay, sand, gravel road. At the van it’s foot time. I get out my chair (a 1.5 lb REI packable folding chair) and the collapsible dish pan (not back packable) and clean Sherman’s feet first. His feet and pads are impacted with clay balls just like snow does in winter. I dig them out and put his feet through a number of wash-rinse cycles until the water is clear. Then I hook his leash to the chair and let him watch me clean my shoes. I slide into my sandals and use the screwdriver/bottle-opener of my knife to scrape and dig as much of the clay from the valleys and grooves between the lugs as I can. We are now ready to head to Mesa Verde!
On the way we drive through Aztec, NM. This is another pueblo site that has a restored Great Kiva and portions of one of the great houses having intact original ceiling/flooring. He rebuilt the Kiva in the 1920’s (I think…) in as originally authentic manner as he could. I think it’s the only great kiva that has been restored. This probably would not be permitted today.
An original ceiling. 900 years old.
We’re going north and will skirt Durango, CO then had East to Mesa Verde. I’m shocked that it’s only an hour away. It’s still 50 miles and in Pueblo times it was a many day walk. About 10 minutes after we cross the CO border there are huge snow capped mountains visible in the distance.
I stop at a Starbucks south of Durango to work on updating the. Log for a couple hours. It’s too windy and cold sitting outdoors and we leave in an hour.
While there I find a BLM site that’s about 3 miles past the entrance to Mesa Verde. When I get there the road is a little muddy, but seems passable. We drive past 3 places where people have pulled off into camping spots. They’re muddy. The road is getting muddier. This is definitely not a place to stay. Now I need a place to turn around and it’s becoming a mud pit. The van is occasionally doing a little fishtail as if we’re on ice.
I come to a road that veers off to the left. This is the spot! It’s muddy too. But the couple tire tracks don’t look very deep. So, I do a 18 point turnaround. I can go fore and a couple a couple feet each time. Sherman’s up watching. He can feel my concern. I reach the angle where I can head back downhill. Sherman’s still watching. About half way we hit the deep muddy patch and the van starts fishtailing big-time. I feel the importance to do this right. Being stuck in a foot of mud is not on my agenda. Front wheel drive. Keep steering the way I want to go. We get out the other side and are now on squishy road but easily drivable. Sherman jumps over into my lap. The adrenaline hits and my heartbeat responds. At the bottom of the road I pull over and pet him. I’m soothing both of us!
After a few minutes I look at maps again. We still need a place to stay. I look at another BLM spot oven the mountain back toward Durango. But the weather prediction there is 3 inches of snow tonight. Where I am there’s no snow predicted. So… I head into the park and head for the campground. I have a National Park Senior Pass so camping is half price. We’ll stay here one night anyway.
Turns out it’s still early in the season. There aren’t many people in the campground. 30-40 out of 300 sites. So, I pay for two nights. We drive the loops looking for a site that invites us in. One does. I back in and it’s not level enough. Around again. Another invite. This one is good.
We settle in, eat and go to bed. It’s going to be below freezing. Predicting 28F.