12.07.2013

Thanksgiving Trip Day 1: Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, & Four Corners

We left for Arizona last Monday night, straight from the girls' basketball game. I'm pretty sure it was the first time in the history of the Steve Ballard Family that we've ever left for a road trip on time. It was also the first time we've ever taken a road trip in Steve's truck. Which didn't work out too well. . . the kids kept elbowing each other, Lucy was being too loud, and nobody could get comfortable or fall asleep. We thought a road trip with only three kids would be a piece of cake. (The last time we went on a trip with only three kids was when we drove to California in November of 2005.) But it turns out that the amount of space between each kid in the car is almost as critical to overall peace and quiet as the actual number of kids in the car. 

On Tuesday, we saw Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Four Corners Monument. So how does a lady with some troublesome medical issues hit all three of those in one day? The key is doing all of them in one day. . . which means you mostly stay in the car. 

Arches National Park was not a planned destination. But how do you stay the night in Moab and not go?


It was Adam's first time at Arches, and he thought it was pretty fantastic. Especially when we drove right up into the low-hanging clouds: 


Of course the kids got out of the car to climb a few rocks: 


I love seeing national parks in different seasons. And I love the look of fog and snow up against the red rock:


As it got later in the day, we even got some blue skies: 


I told Steve to pull over so I could take this picture, and a vehicle behind us came speeding by, blaring on their horn because we were pulled over without a designated pull out. Clearly it wasn't really a problem. . . the park was empty.


Steve was actually interested in taking pictures, which isn't generally the case: 


He kept saying things like, "Do you think if you had a better camera, you could capture all of those different layers of clouds?"


Every time we stopped to take pictures, Adam decided that was his cue to go climb a rock. Sometimes we indulged him: 


But most of the time, it just meant Steve had to go chase him down: 


Our one real "hike" was the half-mile walk to Balanced Rock. This is my favorite picture:


Actually, I like this one I took with my iPhone even better: 


There really weren't many people around: 


Which meant that there wasn't anyone to take a picture for us, so I just took one of everyone else: 


Which is too bad. Because I think it would have made the perfect symbolic Christmas card photo: "Trying to stay balanced", or something along those lines. . . 


We drove by Hole N" The Rock, which has to be one of the most unique and random places in all of Utah:


And, speaking of random, I'm sure people thought it was pretty funny to see a package of Chips Ahoy cookies in back of our truck with all of the luggage. It stayed there all the way to Arizona: 


That photo was taken when we stopped for lunch at Once Upon a Sandwich in Cortez. Nice people, but it was definitely a mistake. We probably should have just eaten the Chips Ahoy cookies and kept driving.

Our next stop was Mesa Verde National Park. I move a little slower these days, and I barely made it into this timer picture:


We stopped at the Visitor Center so the girls could pick out their patches. Steve forbade me from letting Adam buy a stuffed animal, so instead, he got these binoculars. Which turned out to be super useful.  


We talked to a park ranger at the Visitor Center and realized we had a bit of a problem. The drive into the main part of the park is 40 minutes. Driving the Mesa Top Loop takes at least 20 minutes, without allowing time for any of the 12 stops along the 6-mile loop. Driving out of the park would take another 40 minutes. And then it was about an hour to drive to Four Corners Monument.

It was 2:25 pm.

And Four Corners Monument closes at five. 

We considered not going all of the way into Mesa Verde because we'd already seen a lot of cool things at the Visitor Center and many of the areas were closed for winter. And most of the cliff dwellings can only be visited by taking a ranger-guided tour. But Rachel is fascinated by archaeological sites and was dying to see the Anasazi ruins. So then we considered just spending our time at Mesa Verde and skipping Four Corners. But Lucy was set on going to Four Corners. (She kept saying she needed to be awesome in four states as the same time.) We were so close to both, and it would be such a shame to miss either one. 

So we drove fast.

The road into the park was narrow and windy. 

We got out and saw the Pithouse from 600 A.D. We were surprised by all of the snow: 


Rachel about peed her pants with excitement when she finally saw some ruins. Here are the Oak Tree House Ruins: 


Steve promised Rachel another trip back to Mesa Verde National Park when we can go on the Cliff Palace tour and see the Spruce Tree House ruins. The homes and villages were built by the Ancient Pueblo people (formally called Anasazis) in the late 1190s. Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States and contains the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world.

It's a good thing Adam had those binoculars:


So he could get a closer look at the Oak Tree House: 


Our next stop was at Fire Temple, for a view of the Dance Plaza: 


I feel like Rachel could have spent 45 minutes closely inspecting every detail. . . but we had to really hustle. 


The binoculars were clearly the best purchase of the day: 


Then we got back into the truck and drove fast again. A little too fast. Steve got pulled over. . . by a police officer who was traveling up in front of us. I was bothered with the thought of an expensive ticket (especially because he was only speeding up to pass a car in front of us, and I didn't know a police car could actually clock us when they are driving ahead of us??) The policeman let us off with a warning. Actually three warnings (speeding, no proof of current insurance, and the gigantic cracks across our windshield). He made sure we knew that the warning was recorded in the system, so if we got pulled over again, the second police officer would know we had already been warned. And then he proceeded to follow us all the way back to the Visitor Center. Which Steve obediently drove at 35 miles per hour. It was painful.

I fell asleep and Steve figured out a way to make up for lost time. .  . we arrived at Four Corners at 4:49 pm:


We were greeted by a whole lot of mud. Which was strange because it felt like it was ten degrees and I assumed that the ground should have been frozen solid. 


There has been some controversy over the misplacement of the Four Corners Monument. Due to the use of primitive tools, the monument is placed 1,807 feet east of where modern surveyors would mark the point. However, their ability to locate that point is considered a phenomenal achievement and any errors are now technically irrelevant. Because the survey markers are legally binding, the location of the monument has become the legal corner of the four states. 


Lucy got her chance to "be awesome" in four states at the same time: 


We enjoyed the views. Well, sort of. It might have been too cold to truly enjoy anything. 


Almost all of the stalls were empty: 


But the girls bought some jewelry from the lone vendor that was still open: 


We lamented that the Navajo Taco stand was closed: 


We posed for some quick pictures: 


And then we had to leave. Because they came and told us that the monument was now closed. There was a lady at the gate, actually waiting for us to leave. She turned her face away as soon as she saw my camera: 


We still had a long drive ahead of us. I wore my abdominal binder the whole time and was very careful, but it was still uncomfortable. Somewhere around Flagstaff, I told Steve that there was so much pressure from my intestines trying to pop out that instead of instinctively holding it in with my fists, I was ready for someone to cut me open. Add in some more whining from the kids, and it was a long drive. (Long enough that Steve vetoed our plans to drive into Mexico later in the week.)

Well over the six hours it was supposed to take, we finally arrived at Richard and Gloria's condo in Mesa, Arizona. I was surprised that they waited up for us (it was almost midnight!)

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