It took three days to cross from the East Coast to Utah. On the first I crossed the length of Virginia and Tennessee, winding through the Appalachian hills and stopping off in Knoxville before driving through a midnight thunderstorm to reach Memphis. I started off the next morning on a bridge over the Mississippi, then crossed from Arkansas to Oklahoma to the top end of Texas. I spend the second night just across the New Mexico border.
By the afternoon of the third day I was looking at post cards at a gas station in Cortez, Colorado. Instead of the usual postcard array of a mountain sunset, sombrero-ed cactus or a photoshopped horse on a beach, the rack was filled with ancient stone villages perched dramatically along cliffs. They all said "Mesa Verde." The lady at the cash register told me it was just a few miles up the road. Instead of getting to Utah in the early evening, I pulled in around 1AM.
The only way to get up close to the old Anasazi villages of Mesa Verde is by guided tour (expensive), so I had to settle for cliff-top views from the roadside (free). But seeing 800-year old ruins, even from afar--in the United States!--was worth the detour. The rocky canyons of Mesa Verde were home to Puebloan people since 600 AD, and later built into something of an American Petra. The Anasazi pieced together their homes in the shade of overhanging cliffs, and spent their days making pots, digging fire pits and hunting extinct animals. Little else is known about them, as they disappeared from Mesa Verde around 700 years ago, leaving their little canyon villages a secret to the world until the late 1800s.
I headed back along Ruins Road to the highway just before sunset, thinking about the Mel Gibson movie potential of the Anasazi at Mesa Verde and whether it would be strange to return to Utah.