Day 15: Natural Bridges National Monument

We got to sleep in!! All the way until 7:00. We’ve talked about it and there is no way this can be described as a vacation. Maybe a trip, an adventure, a journey, but there is very little down time. We go, go, go everyday, with the most physically exhausting activities I’ve ever put my body through. The girls end up getting a tad less sleep than they do at home, but I definitely get more. We all pretty much get into bed at the same time and I read until I can’t keep eyes open. If it wasn’t for the car rides, I wouldn’t have finished a book yet as I typically fall asleep so quickly. We seem to get up between 5 and 6, but today we gifted ourselves the rise time of 7. It felt so good to get that extra sleep.

We ate our final breakfast at the Inca Inn and filled cups of the complimentary coffee for the car ride. I drove the 2ish hour drive to Natural Bridges National Monument. This was one of the early National Monuments, Roosevelt was the one who declared it a space that should be preserved forever. Based on what we experienced at Arches, we were expecting hundreds of natural bridges, but there are only three! However, they are formed in the most amazing way. When a river snakes around, twisting and curving with such power, the water eventually forces its way through the hard rock, making a shortcut, and a bridge. Technically, they are arches, just super special ones.

When we entered the monument we began the nine mile loop that brought us to the three bridges, cliff dwellings, and a handful of overlooks. This was one of the driving tours that was popular in the 50s and 60s and we could totally picture families in convertibles, complete with picnic baskets and puppies making their way through the park.

We stopped at each of the bridges and decided to hike the described “fairly strenuous” path to the first bridge. It was about a mile and a half long, with a 500 foot elevation accent and decent. Only some of these height gains were not simple scrambling, smooth paths, or rocky guides, but rather ladders! Rugged, unstable, made out of old logs, ladders. They were actually easy to manage, but a little unnerving at the same time. We opted for the easier, simpler overlooks for the other two bridges. All three of the bridges can only be described as beautiful and I’m so glad we were able to see them.

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The other really remarkable opportunity at Natural Bridges is seeing cliff dwellings. We will be spending two days at Mesa Verde exploring the cliff dwelling there, but this was our first glimpse. These were built by tribes between 1050 and 1300, and it was amazing to see how well they were preserved. This particular area is intriguing to historians because the site combines both round and square buildings, two architectural styles. It made me so excited for the next few days!

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We only spent a few hours at Natural Bridges, but they were wonderful hours.

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Afterward, we wrapped up the driving for the day and ended up in Cortez, Colorado. We found a great spot with no alcohol restrictions, like the whole state of Utah and met the sweetest couple who gave us lots of advice on the Denver and Grand Lake area.

We enjoyed a lovely evening at the Cortez Cultural Center featuring the Lopez family, members of the Ute Tribe in this region of Colorado. (Interestingly, their last name is Lopez, not because of any Hispanic descent, but rather because it was pronounceable to others a few generations ago.) The evening was full of tradition, respect, music, dancing, and singing. It was nothing short of an honor to be introduced to their history and culture. The event ended with every audience member creating a circle on the stage, holding hands, and dancing their traditional friendship dance. It was beautiful.

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It was late when the show ended and we had just had a small happy hour snack earlier, so Zak’s vacation goal was finally met. He got his Doritos Loco taco from Taco Bell. Please note that the girls have never, ever had Taco Bell and I haven’t had it since long before they were born. (Although the bean burritos were a staple of mine during a short lived vegetarian phase of my teens.) So, we ordered Taco Bell and took it back to the Retro Inn to enjoy on the quaint patio. I hope this fulfilled Zak’s taste, because, even though it was our cheapest dinner of the trip, I don’t think he’ll get the three of us back again.

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So that was our 15th day, as low key as it was, it sure was full of joy, learning, and exploring!

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