I cross Red Mountain Pass at 11,000 feet and descend into Silverton, an old mining town that has retained its historic feel. You can rent Jeeps here for four wheeling on scenic gravel roads. The trails pass ghost towns and cross over the mountains towards Telluride.
The highlight of Silverton has to be The Rocky Mountain Funnel Cakes & Cafť. I stop in for a powdered-sugar funnel cake and a hot chocolate. The place reminds me of The Worldís Best Donut Shop in Grand Marais, Minnesota. They keep track of the patronsí hometowns by giving out pushpins to tack into a map on the wall. Each year they start a new map and the maps are absolutely covered with these little yellow pins. The owner tells me that they had all 50 fifty states within two weeks.
Just up the way is Molas Pass with its 170-mile views and some of the cleanest air in the country. It feels good just to breathe here. The road starts a descent a few miles later, past Purgatory Ski Area and down through canyons into Durango. I take a quick detour into New Mexico for the stamp at Aztec Ruins National Monument and then head over to Mesa Verde National Park. The temperature is now in the 80s and Iím a little overdressed for the occasion. Nothing like a few hours and a few thousand feet to warm up your day.
Mesa Verde is a unique place. An immense plateau rising above the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys, the park preserves a number of Anazazi cliff dwellings, occupied by Ancestral Puebloan people between 500 and 1300 AD. The park road enters from the north, twisting up the mesa, then turning south along the plateau. The cliff ruins dot the canyons walls along the southern end of the park. The drive is long, slow and tedious, but the views are worth the trip.
I stop at the Far View Visitor Center and get the stamp. Tours of the dwellings are available, but the next one doesnít start for two hours and I donít feel like a strenuous hike down into the cliffs anyway. Plus there are a lot of people here and the crowds are getting to me.
I ask the ranger about the stamp for Yucca House, a pueblo ruin nearby which is closed to the public. My NPS map lists the contact info as Mesa Verde and I figure they might have a stamp here. The Iron Butt rules state that you must visit the site, even if you can get the stamp without going there. In Michigan, I could have gotten the stamp for Isle Royal NP, but that would have been cheating, and I donít cheat. But I figure that since this place is closed to everyone, the stamp might count, and thereís no harm in trying to get it.
The ranger tells me the stamp is at the parkís museum, five miles back down the road. There, I ask another ranger about the stamp, and he starts to laugh. Sure, he has the stamp, but "Do you just want the stamp or do you want to actually go to there" he asks. "Go there? I thought Yucca House was closed to the public," I reply. He digs though a drawer, pulls out the stamp and passes me a single sheet of paper with some Xeroxed type on it. The top of the page says "Yucca House National Monument." With that, my adventure begins.
Fodorís Complete Guide to Americaís National Parks, billed as "The Official Visitorís Guide to All 376 National Parks" says the following about Yucca House:
"This large prehistoric Indian pueblo ruin west of Mesa Verde is as yet unexcavated. There are no public facilities or services. The monument was proclaimed on December 19, 1919. The site is closed to the public."
Well, Fodorís doesnít know what the hell it is talking about. In my hands I have the directions to the site, but they come with a warning: "The National Park Service does not recommend travel to this monument for the casual visitor, and those who do visit will find the approach road almost impassable in wet weather." Well, the weatherís fine and Iím up for a challenge. Plus, I bet very few people, if any, have earned this stamp. The stamp itself is so old that the adjustable date only goes up to 1996. I leave the year blank, but Iím so distracted by the moment that I think it is September 19th. What do I know? I donít even know what day of the week it is. All I know is itís day 36. The day Iíll bag the Yucca House stamp.
I head out for the site, following the instructions:
-Follow US 666 south from Cortez 8.5 miles.
Okay, thatís the way I was going anyway, but Iím not too thrilled about this 666 thing. Remember Pennsylvania?
-Turn right (west) on Road B, a good dirt road identified only by a green street sign with white lettering.
No problem, my GPS has the areaís details loaded into it and I can see Road G coming up, then F, then E, D, C and voila, B! Donít love the dirt road though. Nothing like a fully loaded motorcycle on gravel!
-Follow Road B across its intersection with Road 21, to the junction of Road 20.5
Boy, they sure get creative on their road names around here. Actually, the roads donít even have any signs, but this is the only road about Ĺ a mile from the last one, soÖ
-Turn right (north) on Road 20.5 and follow it through several jogs north, west, north and west again (there is only that one road) to a small group of building, including a white house with a red roof.
Okay, thereís the house. Now what?
-Across the road from the house is a parking lot. Enter the small corral though the gate, and use the stile over the far corral fence to enter the monument proper.
What parking lot? There are some weeds here, but nothing resembling a parking lot. There is a small sign, though, that says "Yucca House National Monument." I put the bike on the center stand, follow a wooden boardwalk across the weeds, and thereís the gate. I MADE IT! The site isnít much, just a couple of large mounds with weeds and small bushes growing about them. I walk around the mounds and can see the crude bricks of the buildings, poking through the dirt. I sign the guest book by the gate and think to myself Iím probably the only person in America right now whoís got a National Monument all to himself. Then I realize there must be a real good reason they havenít excavated this yet. The place is probably infested with rattlesnakes. Okay, time to go.
About an hour later, I reach the Four Corners. You know the deal: this is the only place in the U.S. where four states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) join at a single point. But after the hunt for Yucca House, itís kind of a let down. I mean anybody with $1.50 can get here. I do the usual walk around the monument and then videotape myself standing on the survey point.
Itís getting late and Iíve had way too much fun today. I cross into the Navajo Indian Reservation and head south. By the time I get to Chinle, the sun has set and itís getting hard to see the wild dogs eating the dead horses along the side of the road.
Hey, nobody said this story had a happy ending!
Iíll take 574 to 170 to 140. And whatís this? The town of Breen, Colorado lies along the path. Itís right after Marvel, which is right after Redmesa. This is crazy! You see, I have a friend named Kelly BREEN. And she has RED hair. And a mesa is a flat topped plateau, kind of like the top, or head, of a plateau. And if youíve ever met Kelly, you know that she is a MARVEL. I must say, this is a little strange.
As it turns out, Kellyís great-grandfather, Theolonius Breen was a famous gold-miner who settled in the area and many of Kellyís relatives still live there.
Okay, that was a complete lie. The truth is Kelly paid me $20 to mention her in my journal. Turns out, there is some kind of competition going on for mentions in this thing.
Okay, that was bullshit, at least the part about me getting $20 from Kelly. The truth is I made this all up.
Just kidding, maybe.
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