Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Adrift In The SouthWest
This was a trip to remember. Six nights and seven days of the great American SouthWest! North central New Mexico to be exact. I had a blast. This has to be the absolute best RV trip that I've ever taken by myself. I think the Passport in Time trip might have been better but I was not by myself on that one.
Incomparable scenery, history just dripping off of everything, perfect weather, no crowds....in fact almost no people, gas at $1.89/gal. I could stop with just that description but I know some might be disappointed so I'll fill you in on some of the details.
I left the Denver area at about 9 am on Tuesday morning with the thought of staying the night in The Great Sand Dunes National Park. I made good time and when I got that far I reasoned that since I started a day late, maybe I ought to push on some. I ended up in Aztec, NM a little after dark. It was a long driving day but it put me in position to make the most of the rest of the trip.
My first stop Wednesday morning was Aztec Ruins National Monument. I was at the front door promptly at 8 am when they opened. Aztec Ruins was not built by the Aztecs but rather by a pueblo people that were intertwined with the pueblo peoples in Mesa Verde to the north and Chaco Canyon to the south. They built and occupied this area from about 500-1300 AD and then kind of disappeared. Most historians say they moved south and intermingled with the pueblo people of the lower Rio Grande area.
Whatever the history, these people were unbelievable builders. The masonry was sophisticated enough to support four stories at some points. Walls were "arrow" straight and in later times had a very artistic veneer. They were also accomplished potters and the museum was full of pottery that was recovered during excavation.
This monument is actually quite small in size and only a portion of it has been excavated. In spite of the small size I still spend about three hours looking around. I walked out in amazement of what these ancient people accomplished. Little did I know that this was nothing compared to what lay ahead of me.
After that bit of history, next on my list was the Bisti/De-Na Zin Wilderness for a look at some incredible bad lands formations. This area, as the name implies is in the wilderness. About 34 miles south of Aztec and in the middle of one of the Navajo Indian Reservations. In simple terms, this place was so far in the sticks that they had to pipe sun light to it. 45,000 acres of only what God created. No roads, no established trails. The rules are simple. Walk anywhere you want, just don't cause any damage to the wonders you encounter.
I pulled up in the "parking lot" at about 2pm. This "parking lot" was just an area marked off with stones about three miles down a mediocre dirt road from the nearest paved road. For the next 3 hours I wandered around like a little kid. I was surprised by something new every time I turned around. Hoodos, volcanic moonscapes, petrified trees....everywhere.
The only reason I stopped was because it was starting to get dark and I sure wanted to be back at the RV by the time it was dark. In the picture below you can see why I needed to get back. The little blue speck under the arrow is my RV. (Don't forget, click on any picture to see a larger version.)
After a very quiet night, I was ready for my next major destination, Chaco Canyon. It was only about 30 miles away from where I camped...as the crow flies. To get there on a road my RV could manage however, I had to drive about 100 miles. The last 16 miles into the park took me about an hour and a half.....that's 90 minutes to drive 16 miles! The road was so washboardy that most of the time I was driving about 6 or 7 mph.
Even if it took 5 hours to go that last 16 miles it was so, so, very worth it. This was the highlight of the trip. This place is amazing, fantastic, incredible, wonderful, overwhelming, beautiful.....take your pick of adjectives, all of them work. The picture at the top of the post is Fajada Butte which greets you as you enter the park.
First let me give you the correct name of this place. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is it's official name. This place is right on 40,000 acres in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is 60 miles away and that 16 mile killer road keeps many people from venturing into this enchanting place. I spent two days there and saw maybe 10 other visitors. On the second day I took a 6 mile hike and didn't see another soul all day....but I'm getting ahead of myself. It will suffice to say that the Park Service staff that lives on site easily outnumbered all the guests in the park while I was there
I arrived at the visitor's center at about 1:20 pm and learned that this is not just one puebelo ruin. There are at least 12 different ruins in the area. Even better I learned that there was a ranger guided tour of the largest complex, Pueblo Bonito, at 2pm. Perfect timing on my part and what better way to get an introduction to what the park had to offer.
The Park Ranger explained that Pueblo Bonito, pictured above, is the largest pueblo that has ever been excavated. It was the center of pueblo life in what is now Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. It thrived for over 500 years until it was mysteriously abandoned like the other major pueblos to the north and west.
This was a complex civilization with unique building skills. In addition to the masonry that was sophisticated enough to build four story buildings and doorways in load bearing corners, they also built 30 foot wide roads that stretched for hundreds of miles. They carved stairs into steep cliffs and built ramps up to the cliffs to allow easy access to their cities. They had no written language but left plenty of petroglyphs in the area and they were students of the stars. Many buildings are aligned within one degree of true north and many ceremonial sites are aligned so that the sun would illuminate certain things on the walls of their kivas.
On Friday morning I decided to take a 6 mile hike that went to two other unexcavated sites and looped around a canyon rim. When I got to the start of the trail I started to have doubts of my choice of hikes....and my physical ability. The pictures above shows the VERY steep beginning. The trail then went behind a huge rock and climbed up a crack between the boulder and the canyon wall.
I was determined, however, and once I got to the rim of the canyon the trail became much easier. The day had started out pretty chilly....in the 20s but as soon as the sun got up in the sky a bit, it warmed up fast and I started shedding layers. I'm going to wear this word out but it was an incredible hike. The ruins were mysterious and wonderful. The scenery was awesome. I even saw many pot shards along the way. They were literally every where once you knew what to look for. I'll just let some pictures do the talking....
Saturday morning I reluctantly pulled out and headed back on the dreaded hour and a half/16 mile drive. There are at least 4 other trails that I really wanted to explore but time and the weather was not on my side. I needed to be back home before Thanksgiving and coincidentally the weather was supposed to start getting bad by Wednesday.
Next stop was Bandelier National Monument. Another ancient Indian site and a beautiful canyon to boot. I was leery that after Chaco everything would pale in comparison. I arrived with just enough light that I could check out the visitors center and then make my camp in the park campground. It seems I timed this right too as I was told that the campground would close for the year at the end of the next week.
Sunday morning was once again pretty chilly so I had to bundle up for the start of this short hike. Total round trip of this trail was only 2.5 miles so I figured I'd be done well before noon.
Bandelier is not nearly as spectacular in a grand scale as Chaco but it was in it's own way very worthwhile. Frijoles Canyon is the name of the actual canyon. Bandelier was an early self taught archaeologist for whom the park is named.
The geology of the area is volcanic and that is part of the reasons the Indians settled here. The soil was rich and made agriculture fairly easy. The surrounding cliffs are composed of soft volcanic tuff. This material is relatively soft and has many natural holes in it, kind of like swiss cheese. These holes became ready made shelters for the people.
There was a small free standing pueblo on the valley floor but the more interesting structures were the buildings built at the base of the cliffs and the expanded cave dwellings behind these buildings.
The highlight of this hike was a cliff dewlling site that was 140 feet above the canyon floor. To get there you had to climb 4 different ladders. This is not a climb for "ladder adverse" people. I'm thinking that my mother in law whom I christened "Ladder Lady" a few months ago, would loose her moniker on this site. The picture above is just one of the four ladders used in the climb. None of the buildings remained in this niche but there was a reconstructed kiva which I explored.
I was back at the RV by late morning and headed to Los Alomos to explore. One bit of poor planning on my part. I forgot it was Sunday morning and just about everything was closed. Not wanting to spend another night in the area I headed for Taos where I could stay in a for real RV park with all the amenities.....I REALLY wanted a leisurely shower!
I pulled into Taos in the early afternoon and then spent a couple of hours looking at shops and galleries. I was really tempted to buy a big gaudy bolo tie but looking at the prices jolted me back to reality.
I did buy one small item that I intend to have fun with. I'm not a musical person but I thought I might give an Indian flute a try. After some searching and talking with shop owners I found one that was affordable and a good beginner's flute. These instruments like most other things can get expensive if you want to go full bore. I saw several that were in the $1000 range, decorated with turquoise etc. What I ended up with was no where near that expensive and it seems to play just fine. We'll see how long The Bride will tolerate my practicing it at home?
That evening I had my shower.......more superlative words here.....watched the Bronco's loose another football game and generally chilled and got ready for the trip home on Monday.
Monday was a long trip over roads I've travelled many times before but the miles went quickly because I kept reliving the events of the past week. The entire trip ended up being 1190 miles.
Today I'm busy with cleaning out the RV, re-winterizing the plumbing and all the mundane stuff that's required at the end of the trip.
This may be the last trip I can squeeze in this winter unless I want to go a lot further south. I'll have to pull out the maps and see what I might be able to do in a month or so. At any rate, it will take a lot to top this trip. This is definitely one for my memories.
Since I started with a sunset picture, I'll finish with one as well. This shot was taken from my campsite in Taos on Sunday evening....
Thanks for visiting.