Wednesday, 18-June – Hovenweep National Monument to Cortez KOA
Trip miles: 48 miles
Route taken: Hovenweep Rd (CR-212) N → CO Rd 413 S -> CO Rd 401 W -> CO Rd 402 W -> Rd G W -> US-160 E
Average Gas mileage: 27.9 mpg
Weather: warm (68F) in the morning, warmer (80F) with gusts and breezes in the afternoon
Elevation: 5200ft -> 6200ft
- discovering Canyons of the Ancients' Sand Canyon Trailhead on Rd G
- attending a Cultural Center performance of Ute dances
- attending a talk by Sam Sandoval, one of the remaining Navajo Code Talkers
- staying in a KOA Kabin and out of the wind and dust for a day
This morning brought calmer winds and better visibility. We could see the mountains again as we ate breakfast and broke camp.
Visiting Natural Bridges and Hovenweep had taken one day less than we had allowed for in our itinerary and we really needed a break from the wind and dust. We had planned to re-stock at the Cortez Walmart Superstore on the way to Mesa Verde, so a KOA Kabin in Cortez seemed like the perfect place to burn a day. Following our GPS did not take us along the route we had pre-mapped, but by following Rd G we found and stopped at the Sand Canyon Trailhead in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The trail is 6.5 miles one way and has many archaeological sites. We were sorry to have not included this hike in our itinerary. We were not prepared for such a long hike today so continued on to Cortez.
We were busy most of the day re-stocking our camping food, doing lots of laundry and catching up on emails. There is a City Market (Kroger, Inc) in Cortez that we preferred to Walmart. They had cherries, strawberries and kale on sale – a real treat for the next few days when ice would be readily available for the cooler.
In the evening we were fortunate to be able to attend a Mountain Ute family's dance performance at the Cortez Cultural Center, followed by a presentation by a Navajo Code Talker, Sam Sandoval. Through a few short stories between dances we heard about the Mountain, Northern and Southern Utes, a little about their clothing and how it is the same or different from other tribes where it may have originated. The elaborate beading on the clothing was done by the dancers themselves.
The brief story of Mr. Sandoval's life and his participation in the creation of a WWII military code was fascinating. Since the information was declassified in 1982 the Navajo Code Talker is allowed to talk about it. He told us that developing the code was not straightforward for two reasons:
1. The Navajo language has no letters equivalent to the alphabet, so when messages had to be spelled out in the military format, e.g. alpha, bravo, echo, romeo, etc., the Navajo coders needed to create a similar system. They used familiar items, such as the word for 'apple' to represent alpha and the word for 'turkey' for the military 'tango'. However, they knew that Japanese Intelligence would be able to crack the code if there was only one word for each letter. So they created three different words for each letter. Additionally, if the same letter occurred twice in the same word, such as in the word 'that' they couldn't repeat the word for 't' (turkey) again so they used the words for 'turkey' and 'hat' to transmit 'that'.
2. The Navajo language had no military words and no names for countries. For example, there were no words for ship or the different types of ships or aircraft. Their new code used words that described a particular characteristic of a country or its people instead of the name of the country or the citizens of the country. Vehicles and equipment were coded similarly, by characteristic.
We liked Cortez. It is a small town but seems to have an identity other than just being a tourist stop. We liked the mix of cultural and modern amenities with the classic/retro features, such as the 50's-style motels, the cinema and even a Denny's in a classic rounded, aluminium diner with neon lights.
Recommendation: Cortez is a nice place to use as a base camp when visiting the area. Hovenweep NM, Mesa Verde NP, Canyons of the Ancients, Anasazi Heritage Center, Monument Valley NM , Telluride, the Silverton-Durango Train Ride and several other attractions are all easy day trips from Cortez.