Native Americans

A Couple of Weeks in the Rear View Mirror

The posts we are sharing here on our travel blog are on a delay with our current location; in other words, we’re behind with posting about our adventures once again!  I’m writing this from Flagstaff where tomorrow we pick up Claire & Kyle from the airport to commence our rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  But a lot has happened between our last post and today that we’re trying to capture because this travel blog also serves as our personal trip journal.  Fred has some great photos and is finalizing a couple of posts on our visits to Great Sand Dunes NP and Rocky Mountain NP — places we’ve been in the past two weeks — but before we get to those, let me share a few of our other adventures, albeit viewing them in the rear view mirror.

Fort Laramie NHS — Yet another fort we have had the pleasure to visit, this one in eastern Wyoming, Fort Laramie’s history dates back to 1834 when it was established as a fur-trading post bringing trappers and traders together.  By the mid-1800s, as weary westward-heading pioneers followed the North Platte River along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, they found Fort Laramie a good place to rest, repair their wagons, and resupply for the next portion of their journey.  The fort was acquired by the U.S. Army in 1849 as tensions with Northern Plains Indian tribes grew.  Finally, it was abandoned in 1890 and homesteaders took over the upkeep of the little settlement until local public agencies came along to protect it permanently.  Today, Fort Laramie National Historic Site tells the story of commerce, westward expansion, and the Indian Wars; it is a blend of beautifully-restored buildings and foundations of what once was.

Continue reading

Fred’s Glacier National Park


Laura has already written a wonderful piece on Glacier, so I will simply tell my Glacier story with photos. I will echo Laura that it was really wonderful being able to share this experience with our good friends from Chicago, Bill and Lisa. It was the second time that they have come out to meet up with us on this odyssey, and it is always great to see friends from back home. Glacier is indeed a stunningly beautiful park, one that in many respects defies one’s ability to capture its grandeur in a simple image. But I’ll have a go at it.

Keep reading for a collection of photos from our visit to Glacier NP. Continue reading

The True Northernmost Extreme Point: Barrow, Alaska

Barrow, the top of the worldWhen we started planning our return visit to Alaska, we knew that in addition to visiting our final two national parks up there we also had to trek to Barrow, Alaska.  Why?  Because our visit to the previous “northernmost city” in Minnesota [see Northwest Angle post] had an asterisks behind it — it was only the northernmost city in the contiguous United States.  If we wanted to make the claim that we visited the true northernmost place in the whole of the U.S. on this road trip (which we did/do!) then we had to trek all the way up to Barrow, Alaska; for Barrow is the true northernmost north point — the ‘Top of the World’ as they claim.

Barrow is 330 miles above the Arctic Circle; it’s right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean where the Chukchi and Beaufort seas meet.  It’s the undisputed northernmost city in the U.S.; the ninth northernmost city in the entire world.

Barrow is so far north that trees can’t grow up here.  One of the photos I’ve shared below shows an interesting perspective of this native village as we approached it from the air, and you can see how flat all of this land on the North Slope is — it’s permafrost underneath tundra that’s covered with snow for much of the year.  Barrow is not on the road system; the only way to get up here is via plane, barge, or an ice road in the wintertime.  Incidentally, said barge (also in the photo mosaic below) makes just one trip per year, bringing goods people order and need to have shipped up here in shipping containers — trucks, 4-wheelers, non-perishable food, etc.  Then once the natives empty out their containers, they use them for additional storage for their households.  Photos also show a lot of re-purposed shipping containers dotting the village.

Nighttime in Barrow, AK
11 o’clock at night in Barrow and still lots of light.  Note the lack of grass and trees.  See also the roads — asphalt would get too warm in the summertime and destroy the permafrost just below the surface, so roads are gravel and kick up a lot of dirt.
Locals all seem to bring their cargo limit of three 50# containers every time they come up here
Locals bring their cargo limit of 150# every time they come up to Barrow

As we checked in at the Anchorage airport for our flight up to Barrow, we were a bit befuddled when we first observed everyone with coolers and boxes of cold/frozen food that they were checking as their baggage.  My initial thought was why would they be coming down to Anchorage to fish and ship that all back up to their village which is right on the ocean?, for the Anchorage airport is full of people flying freshly-caught Alaskan fish back to the Lower 48.  But then we learned that it’s cheaper for Barrow residents to fly from Barrow to Anchorage when Alaska Airlines offers cheap fares, purchase food there (there are two Costco’s in Anchorage that are wildly popular), then bring their limit of 150 pounds of cargo (three 50# containers are allowed per person) with them on their flight back to Barrow.  And that now makes sense to us after a visit to the AC Co. store, which carries everything from basic groceries to Carhartts, from sofas to housewares.  Let me tell you, food up there is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E!  Transportation costs are the primary drivers, and short-shelf-life items are particularly pricey.  A gallon of milk will run you about $16; a very small pineapple flashed a price of $10.39; a 5-pound bag of carrots will set you back $14.39; and 1.75 gallons of Tide detergent (slightly bigger than what Costco offers) costs a whopping $58.99!  We wondered how people could afford to live up here and pondered the paradoxical notion that these Iñupiat natives, of all folks, could arguably least afford such outlandish prices.

Laura & Fred at Whale Bone Arch in Barrow, AKOur Top of the World hotel offered a 4-hour tour, lead by a lovely Iñupiat native.  Seven of us joined in, stopping to see the icons of Barrow including the Whale Bone Arch, the school, the Iñupiat Heritage Center, the big blue football field [made possible because of a very generous benefactor from Florida who saw that this eager team had no field and instead was having to play on the rocky, sandy Arctic road; ESPN profiled this story – check it out:  E-Ticket: Save The Whalers], and several other spots.  We had the opportunity to take a true Polar Bear Plunge in the Arctic Ocean, but passed — I was happy enough just feeling the cold water with my hand; Fred braved a short wade in the waters for a photo op then quickly got out of the frigid sea.

Fun fact: when the sun sets here in just a couple of months (around the 18th or 19th of November), it doesn’t rise again for 65 days.

Here are a few more facts about Barrow:

§  Barrow is the 8th coldest place in the world to live — the lowest recorded temperature is -56ºF

§  On average, Barrow’s high temperature is above freezing only 120 days per year, while temperatures are at or below zero 160 days per year

§  Barrow has around 4,200 residents, most of them native Iñupiat whose ancestors have lived here for over 1,500 years

§  Native Iñupiat survive largely by hunting whales, seals, polar bears, walrus, waterfowl, caribou, and catching fish from the Arctic Ocean

§  Scientists say the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and Barrow has been called “ground zero” for climate-change science

Here are some photos from our visit to the very unique place that is Barrow, Alaska:

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

These photos are from the wonderful Iñupiat Heritage Center, one of the stops along our Barrow tour:

While our visit to Barrow was a short 24 hours, I think we packed in all that we could, short of joining one of the more than 40 whale crews to pursue a Bowhead whale or row out to the ice floats to see polar bears.  [For the record, the ice was still 10+ miles off the shoreline, and so, too, the polar bears.]  Happily, we can now claim unequivocally that we have been to the true northernmost north of the United States!

The Parks of The Dakotas

We have visited three national parks in less three weeks — that’s hardly enough time to write about each of them as well as the other national park units we have visited [Devils Tower NM, Mount Rushmore NMem, Jewel Cave NM, and the other ones I wrote about in my latest post], let alone enjoy them all as they should be enjoyed.  And we’ve been making final arrangements and packing for our big Alaska trip — I’ve got so much to post about and so little time!

While each of these three national parks deserves its own spotlight, I’m going to have to lump them all into one post — sorry about that Wind Cave NP, Badlands NP, and Theodore Roosevelt NP!  Here are the highlights of each of our visits to these three parks:

Wind Cave NPWind Cave National Park — As the name suggests, this park protects a cave system of twisting mazes and passageways that exists beneath the ground, and that was the original mission of this park that was established as our nation’s seventh national park by Theodore Roosevelt — one of five he created — in 1903.  But it also protects a lush and beautiful rolling prairie above the ground.  

The original Wind Cave entrance
The natural entrance to Wind Cave, this small hole blows out nice, cool 53-degree air

While the cave was known to Native Americans as a sacred place for centuries, it was first discovered by white America back in 1881 by two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham, who heard a loud whistling noise which lead them to a small hole in the ground — still today the cave’s only known natural entrance — and the wind coming out of the cave is said to have blown Jesse’s hat off.  Once known, others took to exploring the cave and more of it continues to be mapped to this day.  Based on barometric wind studies, it is believed that only five percent of the total cave has been discovered.  Presently, the cave is the world’s seventh longest, with 143 miles surveyed.

Boxwork, the unique speleothem found in Wind Cave
Boxwork, the unique speleothem found in the cave system that is Wind Cave NP

A ranger-led cave tour was the main highlight of our visit to the park.  Ranger Earl guided us through this underground labyrinth to view the many features and underground formations, or speleothems, in what is one of the most complex cave systems in the world.  Unlike most caves with which we are familiar, this one has very few stalactites and stalagmites.  Instead, there is a profusion of “boxwork” — thin, 3-D honeycomb-shaped calcite structures — which is not found in any other cave in the world.

Above the ground, the plains of Wind Cave are right at the edge of the famed Black Hills of western South Dakota.  The entire region was once home to millions of bison — some sources say upwards of 60 million! — the enduring symbol of the Great Plains area.  But changes in human population patterns and over-hunting drove them to near extinction.  Thanks to conservation efforts on the part of the park system, bison herds roam freely and beautifully here once again, along with other wildlife such as prairie dogs, pronghorn, coyote, mule deer, and elk.  

And so it is at Wind Cave — one park, but two distinct places.

Badlands National ParkBadlands National Park — As the name seems to suggest, this place may not be to everyone’s liking, particularly those homesteaders, “sod busters” as they were called, who tried to settle in the area but found it too difficult to tame.  But we found Badlands to be a big, wonderful, beautiful surprise.

The area was first established as Badlands National Monument in 1939 to protect the colorful tiered cliffs, buttes, and pinnacles that extend out as far as the eye can see.  It was later designated a national park in 1978, and today not only protects these geological wonders, but also features one of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America, evidence that ancient, often strange (by our terms today) creatures once roamed here.

The Yellow Mounds of Badlands NPThe Badlands draws visitors from around the world, many of whom simply drive the loop road through the park, stopping at the various overlooks to look off in the distance and admire the rugged beauty of the rock formations seemingly growing out of the mixed-grass prairie.  Others, like my photographer husband Fred, or Fransel [Adams] as I like to call him, repeatedly went into the park to watch and photograph the way the light shines upon and casts shadows on the infinite peaks throughout the park.

Life in the otherwise harsh BadlandsWhile the summer sun bakes this land and it seems, and often is, quite harsh, particularly in the 100-degree weather we experienced during our entire visit here, the natural elements of this park are wonderful.  Erosion carves these buttes so they are ever changing.  And while it appears that no life could be sustained here in the blistering sun and endless winters, more patient visitors notice life all around.

Fred’s prior post features wonderful photographs of pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs — rewards for all the time he spent in the park.  

Fred & Laura at Badlands NP

Badlands National Park is actually comprised of three units, but with two being in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, most people, including us, just visit the North Unit, where there is more than enough to take in and enjoy.

Theodore Roosevelt NPTheodore Roosevelt National Park — This is the third in our trifecta of national parks in the Dakotas featuring grassy plains, noisy prairie dog towns, wandering pronghorn and grand bison herds.  But one thing that makes this park stand out is the name itself: Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park that is named after a person.

Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States [1901-1909] came to North Dakota as a 24-year old to hunt bison, but he returned to the area regularly throughout his life.  He mourned the loss of his young wife (she died in childbirth) and his mother here; tragically, the two dying hours apart.  He even entered into a ranching business here.  The time Roosevelt spent in this area gave him an appreciation of the hardships of life in the Badlands and a passion for conservation that informed his presidency.

“I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota,” Theodore Roosevelt  proclaimed in 1918.

Known as “The Conservation President,” Teddy Roosevelt did more for the national park system than any other president.  He doubled the number of sites within the system, creating five national parks including Crater Lake NP in Oregon, Wind Cave NP in South Dakota, Sully’s Hill NP in North Dakota [which was later designated as a game preserve], Mesa Verde NP in Colorado, and Platt NP in Oklahoma [which is now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area.]  But much more enduring, he enacted The Antiquities Act on June 8, 1906, enabling the President to set aside for protection “…historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States….”  These protected areas were then designated as “national monuments.”

Below are a few photos of our time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.



Journey Through Nebraska and South Dakota

Ever since returning from our short “vacation from our vacation” in L.A. to see Garrison Keillor’s last show, we have been turning it up on national park and park unit visits.  We are taking advantage of the nice summer weather by spending the better part of July in the north central part of the U.S., a.k.a. the Great Plains grasslands area which, incidentally, we just learned is the largest ecosystem in the U.S. — who knew?!  Anyway, we are having a busy three weeks in Nebraska and the Dakotas before we make our way over to Billings, Montana, from which we will fly back up to Alaska to visit the final two [of the eight up in Alaska] national parks we missed during our trip up there last year.  But I’m getting ahead of myself — Nebraska and South Dakota first.

NPS Passport Cancellation StampI’ve decided to do something a little different with this post.  Instead of uploading photos from this Nebraska/Dakotas leg of our trip, I’ve decided to share drawings from my sketchbook.  For those of you who don’t know, the National Park Service Visitor Centers sell passport books and then each NP Visitor Center has passport stamps for inking into your passport book.  Instead of the traditional NPS passport book, I have created my own; I’m actually on my third book of sketches and stamps now — I figure I’ve drawn over 200 pages for all of the national park units that we’ve visited.

Here are my renditions of what we have seen in Nebraska and South Dakota:

My sketch of Scotts Bluff NMScotts Bluff National Monument – Gering, NE — The Oregon Trail represented promises of a new life out west.  The California Trail promised gold.  The Mormon Trail lead many seeking religious freedom to the Promised Land out in Salt Lake City.  All three trails brought early pioneers through Nebraska where, after weeks of travel across prairie grasslands, they met up with 800′ bluffs.  Thousands of wagon trains passed by the daunting bluff known as Scotts Bluff which was accompanied by a tricky climb through Mitchell Pass.  Also passing by here, in the short-lived era of the Pony Express [1860-1861], riders changed horses at the Scottsbluff station.

My sketch of Chimney Rock NHSChimney Rock National Historic Site – Bayard, NE — Before they got to Scotts Bluff, settlers saw this iconic rock monolith.  Visible for miles around in the flat Nebraska landscape, this eroded remnant of a butte reaches 325′ into the sky and was certainly a prominent landmark for the westward-bound settlers.

During our two-day stay in this area I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to travel across the country in a bumpy wagon train — the dust from the dry tracks of the wagon trains that came before… the foul smells of the oxen… the unpredictable weather that no doubt included rain, sleet and snow… terrible terrible sickness and frequent death that beset travelers not up for such a strenuous trip… the list of unpleasantries goes on.  And yet in the name of “Manifest Destiny,” travel across the country these pioneers did, in search of a better life.  I guess I shouldn’t complain about my small closets in Charley, now should I…?


My sketch of Agate Fossil Beds NMAgate Bluffs Fossil Beds National Monument – Harrison, NE — Rich deposits of fossils have been found in this area by paleontologists suggesting that ancient but now distinct creatures once roamed in this area.  Given the volume of fossils here, it is believed that during a period of drought animals concentrated around the scarce watering holes that were available.  Over time they ate up all the vegetation around these few water spots, and then in the heat and drought grew too weak to walk farther out for food, thus they died by the watering holes, became covered in mud, and were then preserved as fossils.  Among the skeletons found here are strange looking creatures including a small rhinoceros, a carnivorous bear-dog, a land-dwelling beaver, a bad-ass hog, a tiny gazelle-camel, and other Miocene-epoch animals.  For over 100 years now paleontologists have been studying these fossils which has helped answer questions about the past.

A second part of this national monument is an incredibly impressive collection of American Indian artifacts given to one James H. Cook, a frontiersman in this area, by people of the Lakota (Sioux) tribe.  In 1874 Cook met Chief Red Cloud and the two developed a steadfast friendship over decades, during which time Cook received many gifts from the Indians.  Today the family’s collection belongs to the park and many priceless items are on display that tell of the Native ways of life.


20160717_185203Jewel Cave National Monument – Custer, SD — There are several cave systems in this area, including the nearby Wind Cave National Park — another Jolly Out There destination, of course — and each is known for something specific.  Jewel Cave is named for its gem-like calcite crystals that sparkle when illuminated.  These are just one of the many speleothems, or cave formations, that can be seen when touring the caves.  While Frostwork is the signature formation, others include Draperies, Dogtooth spar, Gypsum flowers, and even Popcorn and Bacon.

The only way to see the caves is through ranger-guided tours.  Jewel Cave offers a couple of touring options, but visitors only see a small portion of the 180 miles of mapped passageways; the rest of the cave has been set aside for research and is not open to the public.  Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world but it is still being explored and new passageways discovered by volunteer cave explorers.


My sketch of Mount Rushmore NMMount Rushmore National Memorial – Keystone, SD — What started as a preposterous idea to draw sightseers to the state of South Dakota became a work of art for the ages.  This is Mount Rushmore, the magnificent American symbol that honors our past presidents who were dedicated to the birth, growth, development, and preservation of our nation.  

Initially conceived to be a parade of Indian leaders and American explorers who shaped the frontier, the idea for a huge granite sculpture as a gateway to the West was met with skepticism and even hostility.  Undaunted by public opinion, champions of the idea called upon master sculptor Gutzon Borglum, a Danish (yay!) immigrant who was just beginning to achieve fame for his “big” work.  Borglum changed the location and even the subject of the initial idea, and in doing so elevated the memorial to a national cause.  

Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927 and work commenced.  It took 14 years to complete the four heads carved high into the granite outcroppings where the Black Hills rise from the plains [and incidentally, the original name of the rock Borglum chose was Mount Rushmore so the name stuck], but only six of those years involved actual carving on the rock face.  Borglum died in March of 1941 but his son supervised the final work which stopped in October 1941 on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II.  Mount Rushmore overwhelmed its critics and continues to dazzle the world with over two million visitors each year.

My sketch of Minuteman Missile NHSMinuteman Missile National Historic Site – the grassy plains of SD — “At the end of World War II — the first and only wartime use of atomic bombs — the United States possessed only six nuclear weapons.  After the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb four years later, the arms race took off.  Within four decades, the global arsenal had multiplied to a peak of around 65,000 weapons.”  The display inside the Visitor Center at the Minuteman Missile NHS charts the world’s nuclear stockpile and illustrates how the United States , its allies, and its enemies went to the brink and back during the Cold War.

Fortunately for mankind most of the missile silos have been deactivated and destroyed, but a couple of these 1960s missile sites were preserved and turned into a museum where visitors can explore the significance of the arms race, learn about Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), and understand their role as a nuclear deterrent that maintained peace and prevented war.  Delta-01 is the launch control facility and a couple of miles away, Delta-09 is the old launch facility, both preserved in time.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde NPMesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt as our nation’s seventh national park.  It was created to preserve ancient Ancestral Pueblo culture and prehistoric architecture that dates back from A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300.  As I mentioned in my last post, we have seen a lot of ancient Native American dwellings lately, but none hold a candle to Mesa Verde — it’s a very special national park, indeed.

Fred & Laura at Long House
Fred and I touring Long House while trying to avoid the sun

There are some 4,500 archaeological sites that are known to exist within Mesa Verde including pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures, but it is the large, beautiful cliff dwellings that are the big draw to this park.  Most of the smaller sites aren’t even visible with a typical visit to Mesa Verde (the exception being some pit houses that have been excavated and are featured along one of the scenic routes), but drives across the two main accessible mesas take visitors down to the five main attractions.  Cliff House, Long House, and Balcony House are accessible only via ranger-led tours; Step House is visited on a self-guided tour.  Spruce Tree House can presently only be viewed from across the canyon as a rock slide has forced this normally self-guided area to be closed for safety concerns.

Laura & Fred in Long House
Laura & Fred in Long House

While there is some hiking in this park, it is limited to protect the fragile archaeological sights from damage, thus all our hiking was done through the ranger-led and permissible self-guided tours.  That turned out alright, though, because the scorching heat that was present every day we were here was a big deterrent for wanting to take a big long hike anyway.

The ancient dwellings protected here in the national park represent over 700 years of life in Mesa Verde (Spanish translation: “green table” — a reference to the forested flat-topped part of the larger Colorado Plateau) and there is most certainly evidence of evolution in the ancestral Puebloan peoples’ time here.  From the early period of the “basketmakers” who lived in pithouses for the first 200 or so years through to the final 100 years when the large cliff dwellings were built, advancements clearly came about over time.  Pithouses evolved to kivas, then multi-story brick structures.  Building materials evolved from mud to stone and brick.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Developmental Pueblo people diaorama - wonderful!
Incredible diorama – one of five in the museum – created in the 1930s/40s by WPA workers

In addition to visiting the pithouses and cliff dwellings, the [air-conditioned!] Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum was a wonderful place to take in the park movie and learn more about the history and culture of these peoples who built their homes in the cliffs and lived off the mesas.  Through some wonderful older exhibits and displays, we learned all about how they planted their corn, squash and beans atop the mesas, gathered a variety of edible and useful plants nearby, and hunted their wild animals in the surrounding areas.  They made ingenious tools from stone, wood, and bone, and over time they became prolific potters.  Over time, too, they acquired the bow and arrow which was more efficient for hunting and replaced the old atlatl, an ancient type of spear thrower.

Also in the museum was an incredible set of five dioramas depicting the evolution of these ancient Puebloan peoples.  These detailed scenes were made back in the 1930s and ’40s by participants in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the artist in me particularly liked seeing these marvelous works of art made so long ago.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Visitor Center at the entrance to the park.  That one, too, housed more modern displays of the life and times of the ancient Puebloan people who are remembered and admired here in Mesa Verde National Park.

The Songbird of Mesa Verde


One afternoon during our recent visit to Mesa Verde National Park  I took a tour of the magnificent Cliff Palace ruins. I purposely chose the last tour of the day in hopes that I would have wonderful light on the ruins from the setting sun. Kailey, the park ranger who led the tour, did a wonderful job of explaining how the ancient residents lived in this large cliff dwelling over 800 years ago. Because we had the last tour before the twilight tour, Kailey was kind enough not to rush those who wanted to stay a bit longer, so I kept shooting taking advantage of the incredible light. I was alone with the ruins with one exception, a couple was there with me using the ruins as a backdrop for their own shoot. As I clicked away, a woman, who was barefoot, had long blond hair and was wearing a flowing black dress, sat down next to a kiva (a ceremonial area that is recessed in the ground), while her husband took pictures of her in perfect light. I took the above photo of the beautiful scene.

While I was chatting with the ranger, the woman politely asked us if we could lower our voices as she wanted to record something with her phone. I thought that she was simply going to record a message greeting for her voice mail or perhaps record a video of herself with the ruins in the background. I was wrong on both accounts. The surreal experience that followed in this extraordinary setting is something that I will never forget.


I need to apologize for the poor quality of the recording, as I have much more experience shooting photos than video. Steven Spielberg certainly has nothing to worry about. After she sang her first song, we asked her name and learned that it is Deya, and that she and her husband are from Australia and currently traveling around the United States with their two kids performing at various festivals and other venues. More about their music and performance schedule can be viewed at:

How incredible it was to hear this beautiful sound in this place that seemed to have almost perfect acoustics. We asked what language she was singing in, thinking that it might be a Native American dialect, but were told that it was not in a given language, but rather she just sang whatever came into her heart. We also learned that she was part Aborigine and was taking the opportunity in her travels to visit other sacred sites like this one and sing as she had done here. Both the ranger and I thanked Deya and I looked at the ranger and said, “Can you believe this? That was incredible!” Even though we were well past the time that we should have left the site, I half jokingly asked Deya if she would want to sing another song. When the ranger said that this would be okay with her, Deya was kind enough to oblige us with one more beautiful piece. 

How wonderful it was that I went on this tour only hoping to take a few good photos, and end up experiencing something as absolutely extraordinary as this. And that I could just be there in the moment allowing it to wash over me. 


Fred’s Mesa Verde National Park – Land of the Ancients


“…for a moment I was transfixed off this world of ours to another planet and stood gazing with wide open eyes and listening, expecting to see fairies or people of another world appear, before I realized that what I saw was real. You cannot wonder when I describe the buildings and how the sun shown on them, a pure white marble city. These buildings were made of white sandstone taken from a ledge in the bottom of the canyon. The debris appeared as a paved highway and the large, beautiful, yellow pine and spruce trees with their light green foliage was a picture and thrill that I will never again feel or see. The wonderful new world that I saw and felt as if I had gone to a new abode for the living as well as for the dead; such was my feeling when I first sighted the Cliff Palace.”

        – Photographer Thomas M. McKee upon seeing Cliff Palace Ruins for the first time

In an upcoming post Laura will provide a more complete overview of our time in Mesa Verde National Park, but since mine was ready to go,  I wanted to share some images of this wonderful park. While this was Laura’s first time in the park, it was actually my second visit, the first trip being when Claire was young. I did not remember much from that previous visit, so it was exciting to set out to see and explore the extraordinary ruins at various sites in the park. And I must admit that when I would come around a bend in a trail and gaze down into a canyon and see for the first time the remains of an ancient civilization tucked in a spectacular alcove under an enormous slab of rock, I could not help but feel as photographer Thomas McKee must have felt when he first saw some of these same ruins in 1896. Many of these settlements date to the early 1200’s, predating Machu Picchu in Peru by some 250 years.

For Your Consideration

The approximately 4,500 archaeological sites within Mesa Verde NP, 600 of which are cliff dwellings, are protected and expertly maintained by the National Park Service. We owe this group of dedicated professionals our sincerest thanks as without them, we and future generations would not be able to fully experience the incredible park system that we are blessed with today. As with most federal agencies, they are under constant pressure to secure funding that is adequate to address the required maintenance and improvements within the parks. Given this, Laura and I are contributors to the National Park Foundation, a Congressionally chartered national philanthropic partner of the National Park Service (NPS), which works to address the needs of the park system that cannot be met by the NPS. Our wonderful park system needs our help and if you would like to provide your support please consider making a contribution to the foundation at: By doing this you will be investing in a legacy for both current and future generations that is arguably, as stated by writer and environmentalist, Wallace Stegner, America’s best idea. “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Images from our visit to Mesa Verde NP are below.    

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.







They Came Before Us

Four Corners Visits
NPS park units in the American Southwest — we’ve visited those highlighted in pink

We have spent the better part of these last six months in the American Southwest, and we seem to keep criss-crossing the Four Corners region that is Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico — there is truly so much to see here!  In our many passes through this area, we have visited more than twenty different national park units that preserve and protect ancient Native American dwellings, artifacts and history.

No Refugees!In each and every one of our visits to these sacred places, a theme, obvious as it is, kept running through my head — they were here first.  A long time ago.  Between 12,000-13,500 years ago.  The First Peoples of our country.  Not the Spaniards who wanted this territory to expand their own in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Not our European ancestors who took over this land in the 18th and 19th centuries.  No, it was the American Indians who were here long before us.  Navajo and Zuni and Shoshone and Paiute… Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute… Apache and Comanche and scores more.  They all came before us and lived their lives here long before we ever did.

I won’t use our travel blog as a political platform, but with all the talk of refugees and building walls and the clear rise of xenophobia, not just in the United States but throughout much of Europe, as well… and now just this week as the reality of the true meaning behind the “Leave” vote associated with Brexit sinking in, I can’t help but think back to the Native Americans.  The cartoon on the right was posted on Facebook and it seems to punctuate my point.

Enough said in my non-political post.  Here are the highlights and photos from our visits to the last three national monuments we have visited, all designated to protect ancient Native American dwellings that belonged to those who came before us.  [Note the Native Americans don’t consider these places ruins, but rather sacred places.]

Tuzigoot National MonumentTuzigoot National Monument can be visited by taking a nice little ride south of Sedona, Arizona; we toured this place a couple of weeks ago when we returned to this area.  Managed in conjunction with Montezuma Castle which we visited back in February (see my Montezuma Castle National Monument post) this place was one of the homes of the Sinagua peoples; ancient farmers in the Verde Valley.  Evidence of their agricultural lifestyle has been found, chronicled, and preserved in this place that means crooked water in Apache.  Tuzigoot pueblo was originally two stories high, crowning the summit of a long ridge rising above the Verde Valley.  In addition to walking around this ancient dwelling, the Visitor Center is home to a wonderful little historic museum featuring incredible artifacts and explanations of the life of the Southern Sinagua peoples.  Most impressive to me was the intricately painted pottery.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Yucca House NMYucca House National Monument was a bit underwhelming, but then again, there is nothing at this monument other than two mounds of rubble covered with vegetation.  This site that is eight miles south of Cortez, Colorado, is unusual in that the pueblo being protected has never been excavated, so it remains just the way it was abandoned eight centuries ago.  One of our guidebooks had a photo of what looked like a sign on a locked gate, but we didn’t find any such sign when we attempted to visit.  This photo is it — the unearthed remains of the pueblo called Yucca House.  As no services whatsoever can be found at this location, we had to get our passport stamp at the Colorado Visitor Center in Cortez.

Fred & Laura at HovenweepHovenweep National Monument was just the opposite of Yucca House; this place was spectacular as it features dramatic evidence of once-thriving Pueblo communities grouped at canyon heads in this area along the Colorado-Utah border that is otherwise just full of pinion, juniper, scrub sage and yucca.  There are six sections to this monument that is in the heart of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, a property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  We visited two — the Square Tower Group, which is the main area with a wonderful Visitor Center, and the Holly Group which took a lot more effort to get to.  As one of the photos below shows, it’s a good thing we drive a Subaru!

Square Tower Group — After watching the overview movie in the Visitor Center, we hiked the 2-mile loop trail that took us up one side of Little Ruin Canyon, down through and across it, and up the other side.  Along the way we passed a dozen archaeological sites with ancient structures atop the mesas — these round, square, and D-shaped towers were the homes and ceremonial buildings to the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indian tribes.  Although these dwellings have not supported life for some 700 years, the remains show that the Pueblo people were skilled builders.  They shaped very uniform bricks and held them together with mud mortar, often studded with smaller, decorative stones.  Incredible are these remains as they demonstrate the skilled precision with which these three- and four-story towers were built centuries ago.

Holly Unit — This nearby unit was also built in the 1200s at the edge of another cliff on another mesa.  A couple of towers remain here at Holly Unit, and so well constructed are they that even after the foundation boulder split off the canyon rim long after its residents moved away, the bases still remain, if even at a tilt.  Another feature of this unit is the remnants of a solar calendar, including rock art that is illuminated at the solstices.

Throughout Hovenweep, examples of well-made pottery, jewelry, and clothing clearly suggest that these villages were part of a well-developed society.  Our day spent here was perfect, if not a little hot; truly an Out There day!