There Are Still Blank Spots on the Map
By Mike Adamski
My blank spots. Your blank spots. Maybe they are places just outside your door that for one reason or another, you haven’t been. It could be geologically challenging -- a mountain or river corridor. Or it could be that an area is just off-limits to most.
These are the places that I want to see. Those mountain peaks that I can see from my living room windows. That river that routes my drive an extra 50 miles. Or in this case, that massive piece of land that has almost no identification on my navigation app -- no towns, only one or two roads, and crisscrossed by canyons.
This is the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, 125,000 acres of sacred land within the larger Ute Mountain Ute Reservation that is protected through very limited access. Adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, it is more than twice the size and as archeologically dense, but rather than 1000s of visitors a day, the Ute Park sees just a couple of small groups of visitors a week.
Even with my obsession with the Ancestral Puebloan history that lies in the rock art and ruins within a day’s drive of my home, I had somehow missed the Ute Park until recently. Just two months ago, four of us took a tour with two van loads of others and a couple of Ute guides. I was hooked. This place is untouched! With the exception of the well maintained road, the park remains essentially as it was when the European-descent settlers “discovered” it in the 1800s. Comprised of deep valleys and flattop mesas, I imagined exploring at a slower pace. I asked our guide three times if there was anyway that I could visit again, but on a bicycle. Each time, the answer was a definite “No!”
But was it really?
Later that week, in response to some posted photos, a friend wrote that his new guide business, Four Corners Guides, would soon be providing bikepacking tours into the Ute Park. Unbelievable! Within days, I went from, “No way you’re ever going to ride your bike there” to “You’re invited on our first trip!"
Last week, riding a loop from Mancos, we spent 4 days and 3 nights of exploring cliff dwellings, discovering potsherds, cruising down the middle of untracked gravel roads, cowboy camping, campfire bonding -- and really just enjoying this big blank spot on the map.