We were camping again. After a nice long stretch of people opening up their homes to us, we found ourselves in places where no one lives. Places like Mesa Verde. The campsite for the park was only four miles from the highway, yet it took nearly 15 minutes to get there because the road wound through the mountains. The Visitor Center was another 14 miles, and then the actually cliff dwellings were 10 more miles after that! Literally. Middle of nowhere.

While slightly inconvenient, the remoteness of our site did bestow some special opportunities. For one, the stars were an amazing sight to behold. For another, I was able to get up early the next morning and run on a trailed that curved right around the far side of a mesa. I watched as the sun balanced itself on the horizon, threatening to rise and warm up the earth. I saw the clouds roll themselves out amongst the foothills until they vanished into mist.

And I also saw the smoke. Severe forest fires have been plaguing the entire state of Colorado, but here they were particularly in evidence. The very next range of mountains, some 40 miles from us, were ablaze. I counted four red globes hovering over the tree line, casting gobs of thick smoke into the deep, azure blue sky. It was frightening, yet somehow darkly beautiful to watch nature run its course.

I came back from my run and cleaned up. (It does seem a little pointless to bother with showers when you’re about to start a hike, but I never know when I’ll get a chance to have another out here!) We picked up tour tickets at the Visitor Center, then drove the long stretch out to the site.

The Ancient Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi… apparently that’s politically incorrect now?) built these amazing house structures right into the sides of cliffs. We toured the Longhouse, which contained over 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and even a dance floor! It was an incredible site to see, and I often found myself comparing the techniques of the Native Americans to the Ancient Near Easterners that I so thoroughly studied in college. The hearths, the food storage areas, the technology they developed to moderate the extreme temperatures: all of these were interesting points of comparison.

After scouting out two of the cliff dwellings, we called it quits and got back on the road. We were still taking back highways, but instead of mountains, we were now witnesses to a barren, desert landscape. Dust storms crossed our paths a number of times; miniature cyclones of sand that my car barely noticed. The only detectable change in the scenery was a gradual shift in color. The land turned redder as we neared the Four Corners.

Of course, we had to stop at the Four Corners. Who wouldn’t pay $3 to be in 4 places at once?

A line had formed just out of picture range. I waited in line while Ten positioned the camera on a balcony-type overlook. I balanced on one foot, my toes pinioned out into each of the states (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado). As soon as Ten snapped a picture, I traded spots with him and laughed when he plopped down on the spot and smiled.

These kind of stops helped break up the long route through the barren waste. But something majestic was just on the horizon. Something resembling a grand canyon…

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