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Letter 8 (page 2)

Trip to southwest corner

We took a three day trip after Christmas to the southwest corner of the state to see some spectacular mountain scenery. (Actually, it was snowing at the time so we didn't see much of anything. We brought snow chains (which wrap around the front tyres and provide adequate grip in snow) which was lucky as it was illegal as well as dangerous to travel over two mountain passes without them.) We drove on to Mesa Verde where American indians built houses in caves set into the local cliffs until about 1200 AD. European explorers found the caves deserted and indians at the time believed the houses to haunted by spirits of the dead and so would not go near them. It seems that the near-desert land was only marginal in good times and then an extended drought and too many people forced them to leave. Unfortunately, we could only see one small section of the ruins as other roads were cut by snow.

Heading further west and then north took us into Utah but as we entered Montecello, I noticed that our little car was making a terrible rattle somewhere in the engine. My heart sank as we were about 650 km from home and though it was still well above freezing, it looked like it might snow later. I could not determine what was wrong, so we called AAA roadside assistance (like the NRMA in Sydney) and a man eventually arrived. He had a tool I did not have and he loosened the bolt on the end of the crankshaft so I could investigate further. He had another commitment though so he left. I looked but could find nothing wrong, so I put it all back together and to my delight, the noise was gone! The car ran beautifully all the way home. That bolt should have been impossibly tight and so I had not even checked it. However, I had replaced the camshaft timing belt 20ΓΏ000 km previously and it must have worked itself loose with the extended high-speed driving.

The next day we visited Arches National Park which I enjoyed more than any other I have visited. Others must agree as they get 1 million visitors each year. There are many arches but I was most impressed by Landscape Arch which looks so fragile that it could fall down at any time. Indeed the National Parks Service has fenced off the area underneath for fear that it will collapse.

The Delicate Arch can normally be seen from a lookout near the road but it was foggy on the day we visited so we took a l-o-n-g trail up the hill to see it. The sign at the start of the trail said 1.5 miles (2.4 km) which we thought was the distance there and back. We were wrong; it was the distance in one direction only. We were tired but it was cool. It would be unbearable in summer.

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