|Glen Canyon Dam|
From the Grand Canyon we head for the small desert town Page in Utah, a distance of 160 miles, reach there late at night and by the time we eat and sleep in a small hotel in this remote place, it is past midnight! Next morning, we begin with a brief tour of Glen Canyon Dam, the key source of the Colorado River Storage Project, creating the huge Lake Powell in the midst of the canyon walls and the tall dam comprising of 4 lac buckets(each of 24 tons) of concrete placement at the best spot of the bedrock base.
The spacious Visitor Center, named after late Carl Hayden, an influential and powerful seven terms ‘silent senator’ of the U.S., is a very good place for the views of the arch dam, the 390 meters long bridge rising 210 meters above the river; being one of the highest in the world, is an engineering marvel in itself!
We also spend some time walking over the the bridge, then cover some distance on the lake side by car and move on to the Horseshoe bend, watching the huge power transmission towers on the way. Yes,fantastic amount of power, water, greenery in the desert are the positive gifts of the dam to the people of the four contiguous states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
|The Horse Shoe Bend|
|The Tortoise Hill|
In my mind, one of them I name as ‘The Tortoise Hill’ and another, ‘Flying Fish’! Though void of vegetation, it is a great place to trek around big distances on your own and have fun.
Next ,we proceed to the Lower Antelope Canyon, almost concealed from above till we reach the red rocky surface of the site with the Navajo guide, who instructs us sufficiently and leads us into the canyon via a small steel ladder. Also known as The Corkscrew, it is really a natural wonder in orange and red, about a mile in length, 3ft to 20 ft wide tunnel, drawing you into it spellbound, through its spiral curves and bends illuminated from 150 ft above by naturally spaced artistic crevices in the roof. With a soft tune being played on flute by someone in the tunnel, and the pleasantly psychedelic patterns we see as we move ahead in a trance to begin with, surely brings out the Picasso in me; hey, of course with the camera! This place is a delight of photographers all over the world. Well, the whole canyon is just a symphony in sublime flowing shapes of Navajo Sandstone, a variety of rock of this region,carved mainly by flash floods carrying sand with them over millions of years! Even today, the danger exists, but well taken care of by proper and timely instructions. It is about three hours as we climb the steep steel stair case and emerge into the open.
|How Many Faces !|
|From the Surface|
|Whirl of What !|
Our next destination is the red colored Monument Valley, presenting us with a 17 miles network of massive sandstone buttes rising elegantly in the plains; a part of the Colorado plateau region. One feels as if he is in an exhibition and eager to decide which piece of the nature’s art to attend first! From an earlier high altitude point we sight the landscape between the giant West and East Mitten buttes, with the movement of the dwarfed cars on the route in front. Then we come across the colossal Merrick’s Butte, rising in the sky, looking shaky and supported by the red gravel and dirt around it! As we move, we come across beautiful monoliths shaped like massive man made structures also with intricate carvings on the lower strata. We go on and on to see and wonder and admire the variety of monuments which seem to represent any thing you have in mind; only the most popular monuments, we can recognize with the traditional interesting names given to them! Well, with the feeling of joy that we are touring the worthiest of the natural establishments of the U.S.A., we reach back the Visitors Center in the evening witnessing the enchanting sunset effects in the thriving and well maintained valley.
|Signature Mitten buttes, Merrick's butte|
|With Classic Base....?|
|A Nature's Classic|
|The Hand n Others|
|A Beauty with a Fab Base|
|The Mesa God....?|
|Near Pancakes flats.....|
|The Three Sisters,Thumb n....|
|The North Window|
Starting leisurely after a memorable time, we reach the small, pretty town of Bluff in the night, have our dinner in the small, homely inn and go to sleep. Next day morning after a hearty and tasty, fresh countryside breakfast of scrambled eggs, toasts, cream-cheese and yogurts, we happily bid goodbye to the hospitable owners of the inn and reach the Valley of Gods. Being similar to the earlier valley, we just give a flying visit to the warm valley having temple like natural monuments. Next, we reach the Goosenecks State Park in Utah, where the river San Juan, a tributary of Colorado, has incised imaginative, deep, huge meanders making slender goosenecks as the thousand foot hills to flow around with its turquoise waters; we spend some time here, watching the attractive formations and far off ranges from there.
|Goose Necks Canyon|
Having a tidy lunch of sandwiches, guacamole(a dip of mashed avocado, mixed with tomato, onion and seasonings) and yogurts in the car itself, we move on to the green Mesa Verde( meaning ‘green table’ in Spanish), a hundred and eleven miles. This 81 sq. miles National Park with elevations ranging from 6000 ft to 8600 ft, is a World Heritage Site, promoted and established by President Roosevelt in 1906 to preserve the Puebloan culture and their cliff dwellings in the surprisingly inaccessible highs of the mountain since 1200 A.D. as the American Indians(Puebloans) lived in the open hills for 700 years before that.
Negotiating and zigzagging a distance of 15 miles through breathtaking mountains, we reach the picturesquely placed Far View Visitor Centre, from where we fix our tour of The Balcony House, another ten miles of scenic drive further and at an elevation of about 8000 ft.
|Visitor Centre, Mesa Verde|
|An Emerald Hill|
Shortly we begin the ranger-guided tour of the geological marvel, climbing down a 100 ft staircase into the canyon to get under the dwelling with a unique spacious balcony and a number of rooms made of hard sandstone blocks plastered with Adobe mortar within the caves.
First we reach the 32 ft ladder to climb into the balcony of the well engineered house, the walls giving support to the massive boulders above and ventilation well taken care of. We have a stunning view of the Soda Canyon overlook from here and the Canyon itself with Ponderosa pines all over. From here we climb a small ladder to enter the kivas( a large chamber for religious purposes) through a difficult entrance. From here we slowly move on to the 12 ft tunnel and after coming out of it start getting an idea of what a cliff dwelling must have been as we come out into the open to get ready to climb up a 60 ft over an almost vertical cliff.
I climb a ten foot ladder first, and bravely turn to have a look for the views and believe me, IT IS SCARY! But surely, the whole arrangements are so perfect and foolproof that unless a person has a morbid fear of heights, respiratory or heart problems, he can easily enjoy the thrill! The next 40 ft are the stairs carved in the cliff itself and we climb them gripping a heavy steel chain all along held to the cliff by firm steel poles with mesh at regular intervals giving one complete safety and confidence; unheard and unseen by me anywhere! Again a flight to climb by ladder after a scary view of the yawning gorge below and we are thru! Finally when we are with the ranger sitting completely safe, he tells us how, in the olden days, some Puebloans slipped and met their death in the valley from the Balcony House!
|A Finland breed|
We have an exhilarating return to the base and then a thirty six miles drive to Durango, ensconced in the lower Animas River Valley surrounded by the scenic San Juan Mountains; reaching there late in the evening,occupy a good inn,have dinner and sleep. In the morning, I happen to meet and appreciate the sixty two year old biker next door; his group have been biking for a thousand miles by now from South Carolina, on motorbikes varying from an 800cc BMW to the 1800cc Honda, which, he is riding! “You know what, in India my 4-wheeler is an 800cc Maruti Suzuki, which I have named ‘Lovebug’ and my motorbike is a 100cc Honda!” I tell him honestly. After a good breakfast and some friendly time with the huge, amicable black, hairy dog at the inn, we feel nice driving in the, busy-with-people downtown for a change, after a long time in the red sandstone region! We reach the free-flowing Animas River, again a part of the Colorado River system only, and take a 2 hour comfortable white-water rafting ride. The waters are not at all rapid due to their present low levels, but the pleasant, green and bright environ definitely peps us up as our buoyant, young guide, along with us, easily negotiating the expected rocks in the water coolly with oars, speaks about the hazards of the ride when the waters are rough to make us have a sense of thrill!
We head for our last destination Santa Fe 212 miles ahead, the buzzing, beautiful capital of New Mexico; reaching the pretty Adobe( sun dried brick made of clay and straw, Puebloan style buildings) style Visitor Center, we relax over a mug of hot coffee courteously offered and plan our two days program. We become confident that this unique place at an elevation of 7000 ft and high desert surroundings, with its mellow of history, art and culture will give us a ceremonious farewell as we occupy our cozy star hotel room and refresh ourselves further for an evening on the Plaza in the downtown. Soon we are on the W San Francisco street with an array of well illuminated shops on both sides with the choicest goods and goodies of Santa Fe and the impressive, radiant yellow Cathedral (Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi), about a kilometer in front. The whole atmosphere is that of joie de vivre with chic young men and women moving around, youngsters now and then noisily accelerating motorbikes, small crowds listening and swinging to live music played by the roadside and crowded pizza and ice cream joints. A young man greets us too! Strolling leisurely, we soon reach the historic 2-acre Santa Fe Plaza with a prominent American Indian War Memorial and a performing Arts Stage where a colorful Mexican ethnic dance performance is going on with lively music. Spending some time on the cool lawns, we get back to the street, and realizing that we are hungry, find a good restaurant for a nice dinner of pasta with seafood, crunchy salads with chicken and a delicacy of eggplants and mushrooms and a goblet of pinot noir for me.
Next day morning after a wholesome breakfast, we head for the Cathedral, a Romanesque style majestic structure in yellow limestone-blocks, broadly overlooking the whole, comparatively dwarfish downtown in Adobe style, mud colored. “The City Different” Santa Fe is based on Spanish territorial or Pueblo style with low flat roofs by a government ordinance. As we climb the main staircase, The bronze of French-born Archbishop Lamy (1840-88) welcomes us and the beautifully depicted bronze of St Francis of Assisi with a wolf stands guard! As the legend goes, the miraculous saint befriended the devastating wolf by negotiating with it for food by the afflicted people! The heavy ornamental doors installed in 1986 with the bronze panels on each side, portraying the history of the church, lead us into the splendid nave with exquisitely painted roof, pillars on both sides and ventilation through beautiful stained glass windows portraying saints and holy men. The large rose window at the entrance and the twelve apostles in the nave, of stained glass, are imported from France. Above the entrance door is a small circular window of stained glass with a dove as holy spirit and huge windows of stained glass portraying Jesus on one side and Holy Mary on the other. The massive eight sided font, made of Brazilian granite, with three steps to the basin and the rill symbolize different Christian mythological episodes. The whole ambiance gives us a sense of joy and tranquillity as we walk to the altar and pray, “Let noble thoughts come unto us from all Directions”. Slowly we come out of the serene, artistic Basilica and move around it to see the beautiful gardens and some saints in bronze aesthetically placed, to add life to the harmonious surroundings on the whole.
In the same stride, we move on to the nearby smaller, pretty Loretto Chapel with the miraculous helix shaped spiral staircase! Formerly a Roman Catholic church, it was named Our Lady of Light chapel by Bishop Lamy and handed over to the Sisters of Loretto , a Catholic religious mission to accomplish The Healing spirit of God into the World; surely a beautiful universal idea! Mother Teresa of Calcutta belonged to The Sisters of Loreto(single l) which is a different congregation!
|The Rose Window|
|Dove as Holy Spirit|
|A View from The Altar|
|The Classic Nave|
|The Cathedral With the Saint|
|The spiral Staircase at Loretto Chapel|
|Artistic dividing posts in a car park!|
Finally we end up in a homely chocolate cum coffee bar, surprisingly with a hanging bunch of hot red chillies at the entrance inviting us! We come to know that, to begin with they were hung to dry in front of the houses; but now, they happen to be a part of regular decoration and also during festivals! Yea, inside the bar I have a wonderful herbal coffee with chocolate-chilli taste and I love it! From here we got to a nearby hiking place, climb the hill by car and spend some lovely evening time watching the green mountains with pines, junipers and aspens.
Next day morning, after breakfast we again go to the Palace of Governors in the downtown Plaza area, a stocky adobe style eye catcher and National Historic Landmark, existing since 1618; consistently renovated and the oldest continuously occupied public building of the U.S.A. Here every tourist’s appetite for the pleasure of bargaining and shopping with the native vendors selling beautiful painted art mementos in clay, a variety of native fancy jewelry and a range of semi precious stones is satisfied. We spend some time in the plaza as we come across The Institute of American Indian Arts, created by an executive order of the late President Kennedy in 1962.
|Palace of Governers|
|A Spacious Art Museum|
Well, we loiter for some more time in the streets as Fanta Se(a nickname), with a well spread mesh of unforgettable impressions, bids us a fitting farewell with a good lunch in a cozy pink adobe structure! Shortly, we have to reach Albuquerque, return our car and catch our flight back to Houston.
Raja Ram Atre