Birthday Road Trip ’16: Mesa Verde

The idea for this year’s road trip came to me a few months earlier. I saw pictures of the cliff ruins in Mesa Verde and wondered where they were located. After looking them up and discovering they were only in southern Colorado I figured I could do that this year. It looked fun.

The next step involved mapping my road trip out. Initially, I thought of doing more of a loop but after certain stressful events occurred a couple weeks prior to my trip, I changed my plans. I’d leave a day earlier and stay at my sisters’ for a day which meant no loop. But it did mean I’d spend my birthday with family and that sounded a lot better than spending it traveling alone anyway. So I left work Thursday and went to the apartment my sisters share in Utah.

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In the beginning…

It proved to be a smart move because between my sisters, niece, and niece’s husband I was spoiled for my 14th 29th birthday. The day began quietly since everyone was at work but after the ordeal I had gone through two weeks earlier it was nice to be able to sleep in and do nothing. I went to Great Clips for a haircut and received a not-so-great trim.

Then I waited for everyone to get home. Due to birthday girl privileges, I picked out where we ate dinner. I chose Red Robin because it’s Red Robin, YUMMM! Afterward we went to a glow in the dark miniature golf place and a movie in the park.

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Miniature golf

Very low-key and just what I needed to get my head in the vacation. Thanks to all the recent stress I had been through I was in a slightly depressed state and didn’t feel much like going on the trip. But I knew I needed to go. So I made myself go on vacation this year.

Taking a note from all my previous road trips with Bubba I bought myself a lot of road trip food. A lot. I even bought myself a six pack of Dr. Pepper despite my one Pepper a week rule. “I’m driving by myself,” I reasoned. “I will probably need help staying awake.”

Before I left town on Thursday, Nic and Bubba (who both happened to be in town visiting) stopped by work and gave me a road trip package. Road trip food with a liter of Dr. Pepper. Dad also gave me a Dr. Pepper before I left for my birthday. Lyn and Marg also gave me some road trip food and…another Dr. Pepper. If you’re keeping track, that was a total of 9 Peppers – and one of them liter size. There was a chance I might not sleep for a month.

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It’s ok. Calories don’t count on a birthday road trip

On Saturday morning I left my sisters’ place totally stocked with road trip food and Dr. Pepper. My goal was to get to Monticello, Utah so that I could attend the temple’s last session at 3:15. Because I was on a schedule, there would be no stopping. This meant I did not drink my water as I should have. I did, however, have Dr. Pepper. At least, I finished the liter that I started the day before.

I pulled into Monticello around two. Drove past the motel at least twice until I realized, ‘oh hey, that’s probably it.’ The desk clerk gave me directions to the temple which was basically, go to the gas station right there and turn left.

Once I dropped my stuff off in my motel room, I laid down on the bed for a moment. I thought of how different my 14th 29th birthday road trip was from my actual 29th birthday road trip. When I went to California on my 29th birthday I did not need to rest after traveling. I was ready to go.

On this trip, however, I had to convince myself to get up and going. “You are here for a reason,” I told myself. “Now, get up Lee and get going.”

I chose to stay in the not-so-bustling town of Monticello, Utah (population not quite 2,000 in 2013) because of the temple. A few years ago, I started a stake Young Women page and I played a game to get more likes and viewers. I went to different temples and posted a picture asking the young women to guess which temple and the first correct answer would get a bag of candy for their young women group. The game didn’t last very long because hardly anyone played. But it made me visit a variety of temples so that I could get more pictures. By the time the game fizzled out, I realized I was thisclose to visiting every Utah temple. When I told Lyn about it, she helped me with my goal. Monticello was the very last Utah operating temple I needed to visit to achieve my goal. Not to brag, I am currently 16 for 16.

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Monticello, UT temple. Utah Temple 16

I share this story with you so that you understand how important it was for me to get up and get going. And I did. Let me tell you, this temple is so cute you want to put it in your pocket and take it home. You probably could, too.

As I left the temple, I walked out with a couple of temple workers.   We struck up a conversation and I told them about my birthday road trip and my destination. Odd, neither one wished me a happy birthday. I usually get more traction out of that. But they were interested in where I was going. “You know what President Kimball said about Mesa Verde, don’t you?”

I replied I did not and I smiled. Oooh, juicy tidbit coming my way. Did he say it was a Nephite settlement? Maybe connected with the People of Ammon?

“He said he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It was a Gadianton Robber hangout.”

My smile faded. Not the direction I wanted that to go.

Just a note on that, I tried to find that quote on the internet when I had a chance.  I could not confirm or deny the quote.    Not saying he didn’t say it, just saying I couldn’t verify it.  My search actually led me to some anti-Mormon sites so I quit looking.

After the temple, I went to a little restaurant and ordered dinner. An older couple came in and sat down a few tables away and I could hear the wife tell her husband, “tomorrow is fast Sunday…” Hmm, I thought, I did a lot of traveling today but I am still in Utah.

I decided to drive to Colorado and collect my first state sign. So I drove down the road for about a 30-45 minute round trip to get pictures of the Colorado and Utah state signs. Because that’s the purpose of a road trip. To collect state signs (still looking at you Arizona). Of course, when I arrived back at my motel and locked myself in for the night I realized the road I traveled on to get the state signs would be the very same road I’d be taking on the way back in a few days.

And that’s my life summed up, right there folks.

(…video correction: Book on CD not CD on CD…)

My room had two king beds luckily because one had gross things on the sheets. I left a note with an arrow pointing at the gross things that said, “Eww.” The other bed looked cleaner.

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Eww!

My intent was to leave after Sacrament meeting on Sunday. But, I decided to stay for all three hours instead. After Sacrament meeting I stood up and tried to get a sense of which direction to go. Was Sunday School in the chapel or Relief Society room? The should I stay or should I go dilemma. An older lady saw me and we made eye contact.

“You look like you need a grandma hug,” she said and gave me a hug.

I didn’t tell her that I haven’t been able to have a grandma hug since I was 12. Technically, it was few years before that because once my grandma went into the nursing home the hugs became sparse.

“My granddaughters live so far away that I share my grandma hugs because then I get a granddaughter hug in return,” she explained.

I asked her where the Sunday School met.

“Are you new?” she asked a little excited.

“I’m visiting,” I replied.

She took my hand and led me down the hall. “I’d sit with you but I need to take my husband home,” she said and delivered me to the Relief Society room.

I thanked her and she disappeared from my life. An angel when I needed her.

I sat on a chair and waited for class to begin. A seating chart hung on the bulletin board in front of the room and I was impressed. When they set this classroom up they mean business. The chairs need to go in a particular fashion. No leaving it up to chance with novices or out of the box thinkers. There is no bucking the system in this room.

I introduced myself at the beginning and mentioned I was there so that I could attend their temple. It was, I couldn’t help but brag a tiny bit, my final Utah temple to visit. That impressed them more than the fact it was my birthday road trip.

The lesson was on Alma 43-52. The teacher talked about dealing with difficult people in our lives. Crud. That’s what my problem had been leading up to vacation and now here I sat in a room of strangers hearing a message I needed to hear. I enjoyed the lesson and I was thankful I decided to stay for all of church. (Little did I know that because of my schedule I’d listen to the Alma 43-52 lesson the next two weeks also. Once in my ward and again when I was back in Utah visiting Marg)

At the beginning of Relief Society I again mentioned the temple because that seemed to get the most reaction. “How long did it take you?” someone asked. No, no, no. I didn’t visit them all this trip. It started 20 years ago when I went to the Provo temple while at the MTC. Although the majority of them have been visited within the past few years.

After church I headed for my car. A few members stopped me and asked me about my temple goal. “You’ve even been to Vernal?” one asked. “That’s the other one in the middle of nowhere.”

“Actually,” I replied, “that’s my temple. I’ve been to that one the most.”

“Will Star Valley be your temple once it opens?” another asked.

“No, it will still be Vernal. I’m only 100 miles away from it.”

“How do you get there?”

“Just go down Highway 191,” I said.

This confused her a little bit since Monticello is also on 191.

“You can go from Canada to Mexico on 191,” her husband responded to her.

They wished me well and I was off again. In a skirt because I already checked out of my motel room. Listening to my Mormon Tabernacle CD’s because I was trying to keep the Sabbath Day holy.

I chose the route I did so that I could dip into Arizona and pick up my next state sign and then stop at Four Corners. It was a pretty drive and I watched my blue dot on my GPS as I approached the state sign. Arizona got closer and closer. I was ready to pull over and get my state sign. Closer and closer. I should be able to see it but I couldn’t. Closer. And then I was in Arizona and no state sign.

No state sign?! You’re killing me, Smalls! (The Sandlot). I’m still a little bitter about it. Robbed of a state sign on a road trip is serious business.

I even collected the New Mexico state sign and I was in it for a total of about two minutes to get into the Four Corners site. At least New Mexico gets it.

I stepped out of my car at Four Corners keenly aware I was still in my denim skirt. In a denim skirt in the middle of the desert. I could feel it and it felt uncomfortable. I went to the monument and stood in line to get my picture on the actual four corner spot. The sign asking us to only take 3 pictures each made me feel rushed and since I was solo my pictures are lousy. You can’t really tell where I’m at.

“Why didn’t you ask someone to take your picture for you?” I get asked.

Because I didn’t. I don’t know. I just didn’t. I blame National Lampoon’s European Vacation when someone took their camera and ran off I guess. I’m just not a trusting soul.

But I lived so I’m okay. I walked around the site and visited the four states and two Native American nations. All within ten minutes or so. It was so hot I didn’t stay for very long. Another picture or two and I was on my way again. Back into Colorado (another state sign I might add) and into Cortez.

I checked into my room. Of course, it was on the third floor. Sure there was an elevator but the stairs were closer to my room. I unloaded my luggage and went for a little drive since it was so early. On the way into town, my GPS took me on some back roads so this time I went down main street. Turned around and went the other way. I drove out of town and kept driving to see what I could see.

I past the turn off for Mesa Verde. Cool, I’ll know how to get there tomorrow and kept going. Found another little town called Mancos with a warm, welcoming toxic sign. “Huh,” I said. “That’s nice.”

https://roadtrippers.com/us/mancos-co/points-of-interest/abandoned-sinclair-station?lat=40.80972&lng=-96.67528&z=5

I drove a little bit farther but decided this town was even more quiet and smaller than Cortez. I turned around and headed back to the motel for the night. It wasn’t even 7:00pm yet.

Once back in the room I heated up some dinner that I brought and watched tv. I looked at some brochures for Mesa Verde that I found in the lobby and tried to plan out my trip. There was a 700 Year Tour that looked promising but I didn’t feel safe buying a ticket online in my motel room. I’d get it tomorrow when I got to the park.

I was finally starting to feel excited to be on vacation.

The next morning I woke up and did my daily reading. It included an article in the Ensign by Elder Bednar about not shrinking.

Accepting the Lord’s Will and Timing

I realized the solution to my problem I left behind at home may not be the answer I wanted. Maybe I needed to be willing to do Heavenly Father’s will and leave it up to Him. That was not the answer I desired so I closed the magazine and chose not to think about it anymore. That worked for about five minutes.

I dressed and got ready for the day and realized a serious blunder. When I packed for my trip I initially started putting items in my duffel bag. But I realized I could use mom’s suitcase with wheels so I got the suitcase set out and started using that. Trouble was I had already thrown some things in my bag like my good walking shoes with my $50 insoles. They remained in my side pocket in my bag and did not make the trip. This meant I was stuck with my sandals for driving and an old pair of tennis shoes that I brought for back up. The tennis shoes are not comfortable and if I have to spend more than a few minutes on my feet in them, my feet, knees, and back hurt.   And that’s what I had to wear to see Mesa Verde.

Even though I looked through all my bags and side pockets I could not conjure up my good walking shoes. I was stuck wearing the very bad for my body shoes.

I drove to the park and stopped at the visiting center just outside the park gates. There was a line for tickets and I tried to understand what I needed to do. I walked around a little bit trying to get a feel for what I needed. For some reason, I felt overwhelmed.  Finally, I asked the very nice park ranger at the front desk.   I asked about the 700 Year Tour.

“She’s not there, sometimes she is,” he looked back at the end of the long line looking for the person in charge of the tour. He told me where I needed to go inside the park to get a ticket. I nodded like I understood.

I entered the park and drove down the long windy road. It is a National Park and I’m used to the slower speed limits in parks. The road climbed a dramatic ascent to an 8,000 foot peak. I came to the stop where I needed to buy the ticket and for some reason I decided then to become shy. The question wouldn’t come out and I continued onward ticketless. I can’t explain it because it’s absurd.

I blame it all on the shoes.

So I didn’t go on the tour. I drove myself around the park and saved me $42 but I missed out on a lot of history. In my opinion, it would have been worth the money to sit on a bus and be driven to the different spots and have it all explained to me. Instead, I drove myself and read brochures.

Also, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I didn’t do the Cliff Palace tour. I needed to be able to climb a ladder and do a ¼ hike down a hill. This just didn’t seem like a good idea at the time because I didn’t want to have a panic attack or keel over since I was traveling by myself. In short, I chickened out. Plus, I could feel a headache coming on which kicked in my vertigo.

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At the Spruce Tree House, I took a short ranger tour that was more about the history of the rangers and park service and that was it. Then I took the Mesa Top Loop driving tour and read the brochure. I bought my souvenir shirt when I stopped back at the museum at Spruce Tree House and as I left the park I thought, “I’ll come back tomorrow and take the tour or at least go to the Cliff Palace.” I drove back to the motel.

Another sign my 14th 29th is different than my 29th birthday road trip: I need more water. No longer can I deprive myself of water for so long without any adverse side effects. My body was screaming at me. “You fool! You forgot to water me.”

I didn’t forget. I just chose not to so that I wouldn’t have to use the facilities so often.

“That’s a dumb, dumb plan,” my body declared.

It used to work.

“You do realize, you’re not actually 29 anymore, right?”

I have decided next year will be my 5th 39th. Next year I have decided will be my 5th 39th.  I am done with being 29.

I felt like a hot, sweaty mess and my headache was intensifying so I drove straight to the motel. Part of my road trip food I bought myself was a big 1 pound tub of Cheese Balls. I decided that was the night I needed to break those open so I grabbed the tub from my car before I went in and walked up the three flights of stairs to my room. My key didn’t work. Crud, I thought. Maybe it’s because I left it in the car all day. Since I was given two and I’m a little paranoid about things like being locked out of my room, I had put the other one in wallet. I tried that one. Still no luck. I assumed it was a user error so I tried both keys several times before being convinced it wasn’t me. With a big tub of Cheese Balls in hand, I made my way down the three flights of stairs to the other side of the motel and to the front desk. Three women were checking in so I waited patiently holding my tub of Cheese Balls. After a few minutes, they turned to go to their room and one of them noticed me standing there. “Holy Mother of Cheese Balls,” she said. I nodded my head. Another gentleman walked up to the front desk and almost cut in front of me but I shifted my tub and stepped forward with my keys. The front desk attendant didn’t blink an eye and reprogrammed them both for me. “You’re locked out too?” the gentleman asked. He had the same problem sans the Cheese Balls.

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My Cheese Puffs

When I made it back to my room and set my security system, I ordered Dominos because I wanted my food to come to me. Then I tried to do some damage control about my increasing headache. That’s when I realized I should probably start packing a heating pad on these trips because as my body not so nicely pointed out, I’m not 29 anymore.

I ran a washcloth under cold water and put it on my eyes for relief.

By the time I finished my pizza, I had a full-fledged headache. I kept the wash cloth on my face all night and tried to relax enough to sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, my headache was mostly gone. I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t come back before I left for the day and I went down to the pool. Since it was in the morning, I figured the pool would be empty and I’d have it to myself since the other guests were checking out. I could swim a couple of laps and sit in the hot tub to relax my neck muscles and ensure my headache would not come back.

I was wrong. A family with 20 million kids were in the pool. Even though I was a little disappointed to find the pool occupied I climbed in anyway. One of the kids started swimming toward me. ‘This is not relaxing, this is not relaxing, this is not relaxing,’ I thought. He surfaced just before he got to me and seemed surprised I was me and not one of his siblings.

I climbed out and went to the hot tub where a woman and her son sat. He stared at me for a moment and then got out. She started stretching in the middle of the hot tub and I tried to let something else, anything else, catch my attention. She also got out and I sunk down just a little so that the water covered my neck. Germs or not, it felt wonderful.

I climbed out because I decided I didn’t travel all that way to sit in the motel’s hot tub all day. After I got back to my motel room and showered I looked at all the brochures I collected the day before to plan out my day.

For some reason, I decided not to go back to Mesa Verde. I can’t explain why.

Instead, I went to the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores – another neighboring community – and went through the museum. Then I followed the trail next to it and saw another Pueblo House. Next to that, I went to the Dolores Reservoir overlook and sat and pondered about my life for a while.  My particular problem weighed heavily on my mind and I thought again of the article and spiritual impressions I had been having but not wanting.

After I got back to my car, I decided to find the Hovenweep National Monument. I saw signs for it on the way into town on Sunday and since I wasn’t going back to the park and I had a day to spend I figured why not.

The road to Hovenweep was a patchy blacktop surrounded by farm fields and I said a few prayers that I wouldn’t get a flat tire or have car problems because I truly felt in the middle of nowhere. I kept hoping the signs were correct and that I didn’t miss any. Finally, in the middle of nowhere, I found it. Or it found me.

I went into the tiny visitor center and looked around. There were signs telling what was available. “If you have 15 minutes take this trail… If you have 45 minutes take this trail…If you have all day take this trail…” Because of my shoes, I thought the 15 minute trail would be sufficient. And it would have been if I had turned the right way but I didn’t. I ended up taking the 45 minute trail that took me down a ravine and up. Luckily, I had my water with me. By the time I ascended on the other side, I understood why the Native Americans in this region went naked. Sweat poured off me.

I passed a group of two elderly couples walking and I gave them bad directions. It wasn’t on purpose; I just thought I was closer to the end than I was. “At least I’ll never see them again,” I tried to comfort myself.

After I finished the trail I figured I could have made it to the Cliff Palace after all. I went back to the visitor center and bought me another shirt. “I earned this,” I told the ranger as I could feel sweat dripping down my back.

“We don’t sell many shirts,” she said.

“I collect them,” I said still out of breath and pointed to the Missouri shirt I wore as if that explained everything. I ended with that instead of the fact that I thought I was going to die while walking on their little trail.

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It was still early in the day when I left so I decided to follow the sign for one more site, Lowry Pueblo. This was even more remote and desolate than Hovenweep. It reminded me of the time I stopped at Haun’s Mill in Missouri. A lonely out of the way place that made me think if anything happened to me here, good luck finding me.

But as I walked around the site another vehicle pulled up. Out stepped the two elderly couples I had given bad directions to at Hovenweep. This time though, I redeemed myself. I gave them correct information that they needed and since they trusted me I assume they didn’t realize I was wrong before. I may have caused them to miss a structure at the other site.

I left as another car pulled into the parking lot. It was now 6:00 and I decided since I had to drive so much the next day I could allow myself to go back to the motel room.

Again, I was a hot sweaty mess when I returned and I didn’t feel like going in anywhere to eat. I decided it was a perfect time for Jimmy Johns. Which would have worked out well if Cortez Colorado had a Jimmy Johns. The only place that delivered was…Dominos. I ordered a sandwich and chicken bites.

The disappointment that I didn’t do more in Mesa Verde hit me. I came all this way. But it was too late and it was time to head back the next day.

The next morning I made it down for the complimentary breakfast and had some cereal. Then I packed up and checked out. I headed north the same way I came. In order to extend my vacation to the fullest possible time frame, I headed back to my sisters’ in Salt Lake instead of heading straight home.

This time I drank water and I have to say, my plan for dehydrating myself on the way down was not a bad plan after all. The rest stops on my route were few and far between. I think I’d prefer dealing with a headache than to have to worry about finding a stop to pull over.

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So much construction, so little time

Traveling on a Wednesday turned out to be different than traveling on a Saturday. I had to stop for construction delays three times on the way home. This, I might add, did not help the lack of rest stop situation.

I made it back to my sisters’ and Marg had baked me a birthday cake. My birthday was now complete.

The next day I rode Trax downtown and had lunch with Marg and Lyn since they both work downtown. Then I went to the Family History Library determined to find my missing ancestor. After two or three hours of searching I can say, I don’t think my family exists. I can’t find him. There is a chance I may have even gone backward in my search.

The lack of results was a little disappointing. Marg text me when she got off work and asked if I was still there. I told her I was but that I was done and I rode Trax with her back to her place.

NJ and I decided to go swimming in their apartment’s pool that evening but found out it was closed for the day.

The next day, my final day, I dragged my feet heading home. I sat in the apartment complex’s hot tub for a bit. Watched an episode of The Facts of Life. Watched a couple episodes of Silver Spoons. Wondered if anyone would miss me if I didn’t actually go back but headed west on I-80 instead. Decided I kind of need to work so I made myself leave.

I did stop in Evanston though to watch the buffalo roam for a bit. They didn’t actually roam. They stood and ate. But that didn’t stop me from watching.

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Go home or watch the buffalo eat. I’m thinking, I’m thinking…

Finally, I decided I needed to get back. I had made a decision about my problem from before I left and I had come to peace with it. I needed to jump back into my life. Because there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

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Final tally!

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