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Clare
Clare

Day Thirteen: Tusayan to Cortez via Four Corners and Mesa Verde

We had a long drive ahead of us today as we left Arizona behind and moved on to our next state of Colorado. We set the alarm for 5am again and by 6am we were on our way, retracing part of yesterday's drive as we followed Desert View Drive through the Grand Canyon National Park for a final time. Within an hour or so we were back at the strange bumpy landscape we'd passed near the small town of Cameron yesterday.

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Unfortunately a lot of the photos taken while driving today aren't very clear because our windscreen wasn't very clean! I think insects keep splatting into it and then the windscreen wipers aren't doing a great job at removing the marks.

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Before too long we left yesterday's route behind and turned off eastwards, towards a place called Tuba City.

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The road we were driving on was very remote and this was one of the few settlements we were due to pass in the next couple of hours. The map indicated that the town had a concentration of restaurants along the main road and sure enough when we arrived, we found a branch of chain restaurant called Denny's. 

This was another new chain for me and I was keen to see what their breakfasts were like. They turned out to be enormous! I had something called the Grand Slamwich, which included egg, sausage, ham and cheese. Tim opted for a cinnamon pancake with eggs and bacon. Both came with what was described on the menu as hash browns, but in reality turned out to be rösti-like shredded potatoes.

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Everything was delicious and it was so big that we definitely weren't going to need lunch! I was particularly impressed that the waitress walked around the restaurant with a coffee jug and gave us free refills without us asking :) 

After breakfast we were back on the road, as we still had a considerable amount of ground to cover.  Tuba City is still in Arizona but it's located within the Navajo Nation, a large Native American reservation. The reservation makes its own rules in certain areas, one of which is that it adopts daylight savings time when the rest of Arizona does not. Somewhere around this neck of the woods we'd therefore changed time zone and lost an hour.

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After Tuba City there wasn't another town for around 75 miles.

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The landscape which the road took us through continued to be quite barren.

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We did pass a number of interesting rock features though.

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It was around mid-morning now and the weather felt increasingly hot, even though we were protected from the worst of it by the air-conditioning in the car.

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It really did feel like we were driving through a desert.

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There was lots of sand on either side of the road.

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The destination we were heading for was a place called Four Corners, where the state boundaries of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all meet in one corner.

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After another hour or so of driving we were quite close to it, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to take a short detour into New Mexico first.

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New Mexico looked very much like a desert too!

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Our attention was caught by the strange-shaped rock in the picture above and we drove for a while to see if we could get a better view. The road took us down into what looked like a large crater.

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We did get a slightly better view of the rock, which Google reveals is called Shiprock.

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Then we turned around to head back towards Arizona.

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Once we were back in Arizona, we took the turning towards Four Corners.

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I hadn't realised that the road to Four Corners was actually going to take us briefly back into New Mexico. You can probably tell from the picture below that the quality of road surfacing in New Mexico was not as good as in Arizona!

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The Four Corners Monument is owned by the Navajo Nation and there was a fee of $8 per person to enter and take photos of yourself standing in four states at the same time.

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This might not be the most graceful of photos :D 

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Tim went for a more relaxed pose :)

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This is the marker where the four corners officially meet.

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Around the edge of the monuments are the flags of the different states, as well as the flag of the Navajo Nation.

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You can also walk around in a circle and pass through each state. We started with New Mexico...

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...before going back to Arizona...

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...then making what is technically now our second visit to Utah...

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...and setting foot in Colorado for the first time :) 

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Four Corners isn't a place where you'd spend very long - especially not under a baking hot sun - but it was fun to see :) Once we got back in the car, it wasn't long before we properly entered Colorado.

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To be honest, this part of Colorado doesn't look too different from Arizona.

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There was maybe slightly more greenery appearing in the desert, but that was all.

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We're staying overnight in a small town called Cortez, which was a drive of just under an hour from Four Corners. When we got there we drove straight through the town, past our hotel and nine further miles down the road to another national park: Mesa Verde.

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When initially planning this trip, I decided that we didn't have space in our itinerary to fit in a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Then I spent a while debating where to stay on this night when we were arriving from Arizona and eventually opted for Cortez, purely on the basis of its location not being too far from the state border. In the interim I'd completely forgotten about Mesa Verde and I only realised a couple of weeks ago, when plotting locations on a map, that Cortez is actually the gateway town for this national park.

Seeing as we were going to be staying just down the road from it - and we now have an annual pass for the national parks which means we don't need to pay for individual visits - we decided that we couldn't pass up the opportunity to make at least a short visit today :) 

We entered the park and drove on a winding uphill road.

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After about 10 miles this brought us to Park Point, which is the highest point in the national park.

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It's around 2600m above sea level and when we got out of the car for a quick walk around, we could definitely feel the altitude.

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The views were amazing though!

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At the top of the hill there's a lookout tower where a park ranger sits on duty looking out for any signs of wildfires. The park has suffered quite badly in the past with fires started by lightning.

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When we arrived a ranger told us that we could see for 100 miles from here and it felt like that might be true.

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The view in some directions looked incredibly green after the desert we'd spent most of today driving through.

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It was a really beautiful location :) 

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After Park Point we drove another 5 miles or so through the park to a road called Mesa Top Loop. This is a circular driving route with a number of viewpoints where you can park and explore. The first viewpoint we came to was called Navajo Canyon Overlook.

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It's probably more impressive if you don't come here straight from the Grand Canyon!

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It was still pretty cool though :) 

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The second viewpoint was called Square Tower House Overlook and this is where we got our first glimpse of what Mesa Verde National Park is all about.

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The park is a World Heritage Site because it is home to some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world.

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The cliff dwellings were built by the Puebloan people around the 12th century and they're really quite spectacular.

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As we moved around the other viewpoints, we got glimpses of more cliff dwellings (if you zoom in, there's a big one towards the centre of this photo).

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They seemed to come in all different shapes and sizes.

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The biggest and most impressive is the Cliff Palace.

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This is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. In its prime it would have had 150 rooms and a population of around 100 people.

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It was all really fascinating and we definitely weren't here long enough to properly get our heads around all the history. If you plan in advance you can book tours of some of the cliff dwellings and there are some other archaeological sites you can explore. It was great to be able to visit and get a taste though :) 

It was after 4pm by the time we'd completed the Mesa Top Loop, so we decided to drive back to Cortez and check in to our hotel.  We're only staying here one night but it almost feels like a shame that we're not staying longer; the room is nice and spacious.

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There isn't much to see in Cortez itself, but we went out for an evening stroll to try and find some food. We ended up at a Taco Bell, which massively exceeded my expectations. We had burritos and chicken quesadillas which were really tasty. Tomorrow should be another exciting day as we start to explore more of Colorado :) 

 




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