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Monday, 27 January 2014

My Sacred Places - Part Three

Four Corners
At Four Corners Monument
The borders of, Utah, Colarado, New Mexico and Arizona meet to form an imaginary cross in the desert. The area has come to be known as "The Four Corners" and it has a look and a feel to it that is unlike that of any place I have ever experienced. I have had the good fortune to visit this mystical land twice over the last five years and I am hoping to make the trip again and again in the years to come.
Goosenecks State Park, Utah
Called the best example of entrenched meandering in the world
The San Juan river has carved its path into the Colorado Plateau as it rose up

The first time I visited was the result of a spur-of-the-moment decision in the winter of 2009. After weeks of looking out my front door at the same old picture of snow blowing across the field and a windy, less than -20 degree cold, I booked some time off and loaded up my little Honda Fit and started driving south. We headed across the border and down the Interstate 15,stopping over first in Great Falls, Montana and then in Orem, Utah. It was the third day of travel that proved to be a total revelation. We turned east off of the I-15 at a place called Spanish Forks and followed a road that cut through a gap in the Wasatch Range. We could see a threatening looking storm ahead, but we passed through the mini-blizzard unscathed. We emerged through the gap into what seemed like another world - a world of pinion pines and Utah junipers, a world without snow! We drove through Price and Green River and finally stopped at a roadside pullout North of Moab. We were giddy! We checked into the hotel in Moab and went to Arches National Park that afternoon (which was amazing). That's how my exploration of this unique area began.

The double arches
Delicate Arch
I haven't traveled that much of the US, but I think that Utah may be the most underestimated State in the Union for natural beauty. Most of the population (80%) lives along the "Wasatch Front" (over two million people), which includes Salt lake City and Provo. the rest of the state remains much more sparsely inhabited. Near Moab there are many interesting places to visit including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park. If you have seen the movie "Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade" , the opening scenes will give you an idea of what Arches N.P. is like. It contains hundreds of natural arches formed from the red Jurassic sandstone that is everywhere in this region, along with plenty of spires and cliffs and red sand dunes.

Looking under Mesa Arch from Island in the Sky.
LaSal mountains in the distance.

The Upheaval Dome
Canyonlands is a larger park and is divided into several districts. Island in the Sky is a high plateau from which one can view amazing vistas. Looking down at the Colorado or Green Rivers, you might think that you have landed on Mars. The landscapes are so much different from anything that I have ever experienced and I would find myself standing transfixed, staring off into the distance. I recommend visiting the Upheaval Dome which may have been formed by a meteorite impact. Chickadee-like  juniper titmouses visited us while we lunched there along with a couple of scrub jays.  South of Moab is The Needles District, which is near the junction of the Colorado and Green Rivers. It is lower down than Island in the sky and is full of interesting rock formations, Puebloan ruins, rocky desert and natural springs. I look forward to one day visiting The Maze District, which is more remote. It contains hundreds of pictographs in Horseshoe canyon and was the hideout of famous outlaw, Butch Cassidy.
Newspaper Rock -Needles district

Closer to the Four Corners itself is Monument Valley, which is situated on the Utah/ Arizona border. There we stayed at the historic Goulding's Lodge in the heart of Navajo country. Goulding's started as a small trading post run by Harry Goulding and his wife "Mike". In 1930's things were not going well financially at the trading post. Harry heard that John Ford was planning to shoot a new Western film so he gathered up what few dollars he could and had some professional photos taken of the area. Then he traveled to John Ford's office in Holly Wood. When he was told by a receptionist that Ford was a busy man, Harry just said "I can wait, I brought my bed-roll". When John Ford saw the photos, he was intrigued and the classic western "Stagecoach" starring John Wayne was filmed there in 1939. That was the beginning of a long string of movies filmed in the region. The cast and crew stayed at Goulding's and the local Navajo's got work as extras and wranglers in many of Ford's films.
"The Mittens"
The spire in the background was climbed by
 Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy in "the Eiger Sanction"
The mesa's of Monument Valley are  one of the icon's of the American West and I don't think I have ever seen a montage of America that didn't include at least one shot of  the area. I don't usually do guided tours, but I was glad that we did one of the valley. Our Navajo guide, Dave was informative and when he saw that we were as interested in the Navajo people as we were with the scenery, he adapted his spiel toward us (we were the only people there on that off-season weekday). We learned and saw things that day that I wouldn't have otherwise experienced.

The Whitehouse Ruins
Canyon de Chelly, in the Arizona corner can be viewed from the top of the canyon and the Navajo people still work farms at the bottom of the canyon. There are many excellent viewpoints along the canyon - two of the most famous are "The Whitehouse" and "Spider's Rock".  In my favorite science fiction film,  "Contact" Jody Foster's character sits on the edge of the canyon and runs sand through her fingers in the poignant final scene.
At "Spider Rock"
The "ring of fire"

The New Mexico corner is no less interesting. Views of  the aptly named Shiprock  follow you as you cross into the "Land of Enchantment". I have been to Chaco Canyon twice - once to view the annular eclipse on May 20, 2012 (which was an experience in itself).

Chaco was the cultural center of the "Anasazi" (as called by early European archaeologists) between 800 and 1200 AD. Today it is agreed that the ruins on the site were built by puebloan peoples, ancestors of the Hopi and Pueblo people. I really should not even wade into this subject, because there is an evolving understanding of what Chaco is all about. Was it built for trade, religion, ceremonial purposes? Trade definitely went on there - macaw carcasses, turquiose, copper and shells have all been found in the ruins of the canyon. I have been told that ancient trails emanate from Chaco heading east to the Mississippi, south to Mexico and west to California. There are pictographs in a canyon near Canmore, Alberta that appear to be made by peoples of the four corners, so who knows how far people traveled to visit this important site? I think that because these people passed on their traditions through oral rather than written means, people of  European descent such as myself will never comprehend the meaning of these places. I have little doubt that the people who need to know, understand exactly what the significance of this place is and why it is located in a particularly arid part of the high desert. Buildings such as Pueblo Buenito  are said to have astronomical significance and alignment and it felt like an honor to be there for the eclipse, after traveling 2 and a half thousand kilometres from my home. I try to never forget that I am only able to access some of these amazing places by the grace of the peoples of the desert and that I am traveling Indian land. Perhaps I am being naive in this, but this land and its peoples deserve our respect.
My wife, Bev at Butler Wash, Utah
Mesa Verde is another important archeological site in the Colorado corner. It is a high mesa which contains reconstructed ruins. I have only passed by snow-covered Mesa Verde in February. Perhaps one day I will visit the park. There are so many places that I have already visited on the high desert of the Colorado Plateau and so many more that I haven't, In fact I think one could spend a lifetime exploring and absorbing the scenery and spiritual aura of this vast area.

The Four Corners is a place that I first fell in love with from afar. The images and art that I became familiar with (long before I even knew where it came from) already were a part of my consciousness before I managed to travel to that sacred place. I was not one bit disappointed when we passed across the Wasatch mountains that winter day and into the land of my dreams.


  1. For anybody remotely interested in geology and scenery this would be a super place to visit.

  2. This brings back great memories of your trip to that area.