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Four Square

July 25, 2014

Four Corners Monument

We finally did it.

Since our first road trip three summers ago the Hamster and I have been keeping an informal list of other places and things in America we want to see. One of the top items on the list is the Four Corners Monument, the exact spot where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet.

When we decided our road trip this year would go through Route 66, I knew we’d have to take a short detour to the Four Corners. OK, it turns out it’s not a very short detour–it’s a little more than four hours from Albuquerque, much of which is spent driving through the desert.

Of course, one detour leads to another, and we’re going to be spending the next several days hours north of Route 66 as we visit various National Parks, mostly in southern Utah.

On the way there we stopped off to get our first oil change of the trip. I say “first” because there will be at least one more and possibly a third, depending on our growing mileage total. Not to go off on a tangent, but if you ever find yourself in need of an oil change in Farmington, NM, do yourself a favor and go to Totah Lube Express. They were nice, they were thorough, they were reasonably priced, and most importantly they were fast. We were in and out in about 10 minutes and back on our way to the Four Corners. I absolutely love it when people are very good at their jobs, especially when I get to benefit directly from their competence.

When we finally got to Four Corners were jumped out of the car and ran, partly out of excitement and partly out of a desire to leave the car after driving for so long. In the end we enjoyed the visit but it was a little underwhelming.

For starters, Four Corners is on Navajo land, which means it’s not a National Park and it’s pretty bare bones. You drive up to a toll booth, pay $5 per person, and then park on an unpaved and badly rutted lot just outside the monument. The restrooms are essentially just holes in the ground surrounded by four walls. There’s no cell service for miles. And ringing the monument are 40 tiny concrete-block stalls, each populated by a Navajo who is selling the exact same junk as the person in the next stall. (I briefly wondered if I should choose which stall to patronize based on the sales tax in the state the stall is in, but then realized that the question is moot because there’s no sales tax on Navajo land.)

The monument itself is beautiful, but there was a long and slow-moving line to stand on the exact center and take pictures. On the plus side, the line the line itself straddled Arizona and New Mexico, so we visited two states while waiting to visit four.

Four Corners Monument

It was pretty cool to stand in four states at once, and even , but when it was finally our turn I felt kind of rushed because there were so many people waiting. We did still manage to take a few good pictures, though.

Four Corners Monument

Four Corners Monument

Weirdest game of Twister EVER.

Incidentally, that photo was surprisingly difficult to pose for, because it was over 90 and sunny today and that circular emblem is metallic and was insanely hot to the touch.

One of the fun bonuses for Sam when it comes to major attractions like this one is that it brings people from all over the country, so the parking lot is a good place to visit when you’re looking for state license plates you haven’t seen yet. We were missing several when the day began but we found four of the missing ones here and now all we need is North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii.

We had four states to choose from when we left, and we headed into Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. It’s relatively small as National Parks go, but it is home to several 800-year-old villages built into the sides of overhanging cliffs, and it’s only an hour from Four Corners, so we figured it was worth seeing.

I want to take a minute here and give a big shout-out to the National Parks. We have been to only a fraction of them but every single one of them has been run smoothly, cleanly, and intelligently. Every single Park Ranger we have encountered in any capacity has been friendly, deeply knowledgeable, beyond helpful, and 100% spot on with every single recommendation for what to do and how and where and when. Today was no exception. We started at the Visitors Center and the Ranger we spoke to made up a whole itinerary for us based on how much time we had. He even gave us some tips on which towns to look in for a place to stay tonight.

Anyway, the park was cool. I’m a history buff so I knew I would enjoy it. I wasn’t completely sure about Sam, but he loved it. In just a couple of hours we managed to see all the most impressive cliff dwellings and even sneak in a little hike.

Cliff Palace

Kiva

Sam Hole

Sun Tower

Cliff Dwellings

Meanwhile, we were so high up that the views of the world outside the park were almost as impressive as the cliff dwellings we came to see.

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park

Turkey Vultures. I don't know exactly what they are but I assume they're the vulture version of turkey pastrami--they're just like vultures, but they're made out of turkey.

A Park Ranger told us these birds were turkey vultures. I don’t know exactly what that means but I assume they’re the vulture version of turkey pastrami–they’re just like vultures, but they’re made out of turkey.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Our high perch also allowed us to be both dazzled and unsettled by a pretty serious lightning storm that was brewing in the distance all evening. We briefly got some rain but it was nothing too disruptive or unpleasant.

For me, the best part of the whole day might have been dinner. Sam chose a picnic area in the park that had fantastic views and turned out to be completely empty except for us and a curious young deer who came right up to us for a minute or so while our burgers were cooking.

Deer

Or maybe it was a turkey deer.

As we ate, we watched the sun set from our picnic table and marveled at the surrounding beauty.

The Hamster and the Sunset

It’s funny how the main focus of the day was the Four Corners but the best part of the day turned out to be Mesa Verde. Before we started taking these road trips I had never been to any National Parks. Now we’re spending almost a week going straight from park to park to park and I can’t wait. Mesa Verde was a surprisingly good start.

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