The Colorado Plateau Griswolds

Day One: Loveland to Durango – or so we had hoped.

Broze, Mesa Verde N.P.
Bronze, Research Center
Our departure was like most road trips by the Wood Family Circus, 5 hours late. Once on the road we headed south in our rented Town & Country minivan. I personally am not a fan of helicopter-mom status-wagons; however, for long road trips, it provides us a DVD player, Sirius radio, space for five plus luggage and zero mileage depreciation on our own vehicles. The biggest downside and reason to not own one in Colorado is the 2 wheel-drive snow power-slides.

As day turned into night, it became apparent that we would not make Durango. So we settled for Pagosa Springs. This seems like a quaint town and one I would like to further explore, but I am a sucker for hot springs. Perhaps a summer excursion to include The Sand Dunes, Lake City and Crested Butte, but that’s another trip, another blog.

 Our approach into Pagosa Springs was, as I heard from my husband, a little treacherous with recently fallen snow, slow drivers and ice. Let me explain further, my husband is a very excellent driver and for him to say a little treacherous means it was part power-slide /part prayer. Not to mention we dubbed our 2WD vehicle the Mobile Capsule of Kid Farts.  Thankfully, I was blissfully asleep as we travelled over Wolf Creek Pass, unaware of all the excitement and/or fragrance as the case may be.

Chimney Rock
We checked into a randomly chosen hotel and promptly went to bed. Our family does not possess an alarm clock; instead we have a 7-year-old boy. Our curly-topped 5am-wake-up-call bounded in asking when we were getting to The House; our vacation rental in Sedona, AZ.
“Not for two days and we're going to see lots of cool stuff in-between.”  I informed him.
“Okay, when are we going to eat?”
The drive to Durango brought the first signs of sandstone outcrops. Chimney Rock could have been named something else, but we’ll keep it clean. 9am brought us to the Verizon store for a phone charger, which begs the question where did those 5 hours go?

Day Two: Mesa Verde and the Griswold's.

Spruce Tree House
Our first National Park was Mesa Verde. Since our trip is in December, the crowds were scarce; unfortunately, Balcony House, the main attraction, was closed. But we did tour Spruce Tree House and our kids explored many pithouses along the main route. These are rudimentary earthen-dug homes with wood shelters. As well, the Visitor and Research Center opened only a week ago. It was clean and nice and all the lights worked in the dioramas.

Scientist’s no longer use the term Anasazi to describe the earliest settled population in this area, which is a derogatory Navajo term for “the enemy of the people,” These ancients are now referred to as the Ancestral Peubloans. These people lived in the Desert Southwest from around 500AD until 1300AD. They were first known as Basketmakers. As skills and tools advanced, these people became pottery makers and sandstone masons. Life changed from pithouses to brick/mud structures over pithouses and for their last 200+ years these pithouses became condominiums in cliff-alcoves. No one knows the reason why; however, around 1300AD these people left the area and moved further south, but, what was left behind was archaeological mysteries for Grad students and photo-ops for foreign-language tourists. (Yes, even in December very little English was heard.)

Kiva Entrance
Inside Brick Room
The most interesting things we learned was regarding the engineering of Kivas. Kivas are underground ceremonial chambers where fires were necessary. These people dug venting holes and strategically placed deflector stones to direct the smoke out through the ceiling, which was also the sole thoroughfare for humans via ladder. The architecture for the kiva roofs was even more impressive. Pinyon Pines are the tallest lumber in the area. Maxing-out around 8-10 feet, logs were overlapped in a hexagonal pattern to allow for larger chambers. Imagine a yurt-like structure buried underground.  Peubloans have a spiritual belief that life begins and ends inside mother earth and these chambers are characteristic of Ancestral Peubloans. Further, they had domesticated turkeys and used Check Dams for agriculture. These are stone channels that collected water and fertile slit for farming purposes. By all accounts they were ingenious people.

We continued down the road to Cortez for a late lunch. We hoped to find something other than Mexican or Chinese. Thankfully, we found the Main Street Brewery. The food was standard brewery fare and tasty. However, you need an Olla-full of patience as far as service goes on the Colorado Plateau. All our meals have been slow to hit the table and our voyage to the Four Corners Monument was delayed.
Four Corners

We made the 4-Cs buy 4:55pm and the Gate Keeper gave us 5 minutes to explore. We took a Griswold glance and snapped a few photos. I am pleased to report no Christie Brinkley in a convertible was sighted upon our departure.

The best part of traveling in December is the cost. So far we have not been charged very much. Granted we renew our Annual National ParkMembership every year, so park entry is essentially free, but so were the guided tours inside the park and the Four Corners was not only free but we also avoided the “vendors.” However, never fear, our children will see how the Native Americans really survive today. And it’s not pretty.