sandstorms to snowstorms

April 29, 2009

April 25th – 28th

We had changed plans and directions because of the severe weather warning in Yellowstone but the strong winds causing the snow further north were still in evidence here. As we drove Highway 89 in a haze of orange sand, Monument Valley was turning into a huge dust bowl before us.

If this had been our first visit we could have been disappointed that the colour was leached from the landscape and the familiar shapes were indistinct in the swirling sand – as it was, we’re lucky, we’ve been here before, so this just became a different experience.

We were surprised by the changes. The Visitors Centre has had a huge and very successful facelift – there is now a hotel which merges into the rock like Mesa Verde and offers rooms with fantastic views. For £140 you could sit on the balcony of your room, overlooking the Monuments and watch them in the sunrise, sunset, all the changes of light during the day AND starlight – wow. Anyone visiting in future should check this out. We had already booked in at Kayenta down the road and we wouldn’t normally pay anything like that price but it would be a spectacular treat!

Anyway. There we were gazing at the Monuments, the sky heavy with a maelstrom of sand and ….. we decided to go for a horse ride.

We can’t actually ride of course.

Sometimes I doubt our sanity.

I was Calamity Jean (my middle name is Jean and Eddie thought ‘Calamity’ was quite fitting) riding Blaze. Eddie was Jack Elam riding Romy.

Blaze and Romy eyed us nervously, clearly not convinced of our expertise in the saddle and clearly not relishing the idea of heading off into the blizzard of sand. It was so fierce that our Navajo guide Al couldn’t even get on his horse at first, then he couldn’t get it to move, then he nearly fell off. So – inspired with confidence we set off.

I thinks it’s fair to say that our rapidly acquired equestrian skills meant that our trusty steeds weren’t spooked by either the rattlesnakes, the circling vultures, the cattle skull, the tumbleweed that bowled past us at a rate of knots or the sand devils that whirled manically and randomly around us. We clasped the reins loosely, put one hand on the pommel and in the best cowboy style hunched our shoulders against the raging wind. Our mounts plodded through thick, drifting orange sand, clattered over smooth rocks and nimbly negotiated the ups and downs of the dry gulches. (How cool is that….real gulches!!) Aren’t horses clever?

We returned as jaundiced but triumphant desperados.

I imagine that the Corral Conversation went something like this;

Blaze; Good grief., I’m glad that’s over. Mine bounced about like a sack of potatoes.

Romy; Mine was OK…he gripped well….footballer’s thighs.

city slickers

Excited by our Lone Ranger adventure (Tonto didn’t mind) we continued by driving out to John Ford Point in the car, listening to epic music (Grails were most fitting) as we passed the Mittens, Three Sisters and the Elephant. We took ghostly photos as eventually the horizon disappeared completely and sky, Monuments and sand merged into one massive lavender grey blur.


By sunset we were tucked in our motel room, drinking firewater and eating beans round the camp fire, the wind shrieking like crazy outside while we shared tales of daring exploits. Sorry, that’s just not true, we were expressing our admiration for people who make horse riding look easy , while the wind made an eerie and unearthly noise outside. Then with red rimmed and bloodshot eyes and a strangely awkward gait, we hobbled stiffly downstairs for a drink.

We have a few days to get to Denver so wanted to make the best of our remaining time in the mountains – quiet, lonely roads, fewer people, more beauty. As we travelled the quiet, lonely roads we passed a sign which said ‘Correctional Facility. Do not stop to pick up hitch hikers’ !!!!!. We didn’t !

Durango is a cowboy town with authentic, old buildings where even today, women walk on the side of the road opposite to the hotel to show they are not like the ladies of the night who used to work on the pavement right in front of the saloon! In Ouray there is an Ice Park for climbers and an amazing waterfall. This journey took place in a brilliant snowstorm. It freshened the snow that still covered the tops of the stunning San Juan Mountain Range. We snowballed, fell in deep holes, took photos and lost the camera case. Next morning the views were terrific.

snow time

Stopped overnight in a Polish owned motel….lots of dzien dobres with Zosia!!

 Wanting to extend our last views of snowy peaks we booked our motel in Estes Park and chose the picturesque route to get there instead of the more direct highway route – we had plenty of time. Oh, what a good decision, it was so gorgeous. The drive was twists, turns, sun, snow – lovely – 20 miles to go and we were looking forward to a good walk when we got there.

Another bend………and we found the road barred. With a big barrier. Across the road. Our road. The only road. The road we had been on for 3 hours. The road just 30 miles short of Estes. And a smiling Ranger (who was cheeriness personified) waiting to tell us “Hi there folks, how are you doing? Now, the barrier is down because the road ahead is blocked by a frozen, 25feet high snowdrift. You can’t get through. Let me show you photos of it.” We gaze in disbelief. It is certainly impassable. “ But don’t worry , you can still get to Estes – just go back the way you came and then go up the other side of the loop. It’s only 148 miles and you’ll be there in 4 and a half hours.

And we were.

In 3.


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