Saturday, September 01, 2018

Western Adventure

 (Above:  Steve and me at Gooseneck State Park.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Steve and I have been home for two days now.  It has taken this amount of time to launder all the t-shirts we sweat through and especially to cull through all the images we took.  (Yes ... I label and file all my pictures! Most other things in my life aren't so well organized, but my photos definitely are!)  The week away was utterly fantastic.  From sweeping vistas to ancient ruins, we hiked on all sorts of trails and were completely mesmerized by the overwhelming mix of time, place, and magnificence.

 (Above:  Steve relaxing in our quaint cabin at El Morro RV Park in western New Mexico.)

We flew into Albuquerque and picked up a tiny rental car.  Our first night was spent at the El Morro RV Park in a lovely cabin.  Unexpectedly, the place was truly artsy and the Ancient Way Cafe's food was beyond delicious.  


The property included an outsider art trail.  Across the road was a gallery with yet another trail.


The gallery was only open on weekends but the trails were enough to start our week off perfectly.  Some of the work was truly scraps of metal and found objects screwed together.  Other pieces were quite sophisticated. Many possessed a sense of tribal spiritualism.


We were really pleased to be the only people out walking.  It enhanced the surreal feeling of art-in-a-landscape.

 (Above:  Steve at the Ice Caves.)

Thirty-five years ago Steve and I visited this area of New Mexico, but only very briefly.  We were on our way from Columbus, Ohio to Pasadena, California to watch The Ohio State Buckeyes play in the Rose Bowl.  We went to the Ice Caves and have always wanted to return.

 (Above:  Steve and me outside the 1930s built trading post at the Ice Caves.)

Thirty-five years ago, it felt like we'd stepped back in time. Built in the 1930s and now operated by the fourth generation of the Candelaria family, it still has the feeling of yesteryear.  We hiked down to the ice caves and up to see the Bandera Volcano.


We also saw more hummingbirds than we could count!  Dozens buzzed overhead.  They sounds like little helicopters! Later during the week we saw coyotes, elk, mule deer, a woodpecker, red-tailed hawks, a kestrel, lots of lizards, and dozens of ravens.

 (Above:  Steve hiking down the carved sandstone steps at El Morro National Monument.)

Nearby is El Morro National Monument.  We hiked the entire circuit and admired the hundreds of inscriptions left by Ancestral Puebloan people, conquering Spaniards, traveling pioneers, and Civil War era surveyors.  No!  We didn't sign our names.  Today, such marks are considered graffiti and are illegal.
 

We drove through the Zuni reservation to Kayenta.  The next day found us at Hubbell's Trading Post, a national park historic site preserving a way of life that seemed straight out of a Hollywood movie.
  

I really had no idea how extensive a trading post really was.  The many buildings, stables, kitchens, blacksmith shop, and various homes for workers and the owners' families made trading posts more like island oases in the desert, real self-sustaining communities.  Again, it was like opening the door to another century.


The place is a historical site but it is still operating as a regular store, a "mercantile" ... selling all sorts of souvenirs, groceries, and retro soda pop.


They also specialize in Native American artwork and rugs made on site.  We saw a woman sitting at a loom engaged in one of the most complicated patterns.


The thing I liked best was the basket display.  Both in the mercantile and in the historic Hubbell family home, antique baskets were attached to the ceiling between large wooden beams.

(Above:  View into Monument Valley.)

Steve and I decided not to drive into Monument Valley.  Instead, we drove almost completely around it while on our way to nearby Valley of the Gods.  The isolated, seventeen-mile hard dirt road is generally not traveled but we actually met a nice couple from Maine and another young pair from Quebec when stopping at various scenic overlooks.  None of us made it from one end to the other.  At one point, the road crossed a dry wash basin where too many boulders had fallen in the way.  We all had to turn back ... but it was worth it!  With this extra bit of time, we stopped by Gooseneck State Park to gaze in amazement at the meandering river far below.  The first image in this long blog post was from there!
 
(Above:  The winding dirt road at Valley of the Gods.)

(Above:  The Moki Dugway pass.)

Although we couldn't navigate over the obstacles at Valley of the Gods, we were not deterred from going up the Moki Dugway pass.  We didn't really need the road sign announcing the dozens of hair pin turns.  They were a little obvious!

(Above:  The Moki Dugway pass.)

In the distance, we could see the roads all the way back to the Monument Valley area!  We didn't take this video ... but if you'd like to see what driving looks like, CLICK HERE!)

(Above: Hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument.)

The drive took us to Natural Bridges National Monument where we did plenty of hiking and saw our first "arches" or "natural bridges", including the massive Sipapu Bridge, the second largest in the USA with an opening spanning 268' and a height of 220', almost enough space to contain the US Capital dome.  We hiked to all three bridges.  Then, we also drove through Bear Ears National National Monument, a National Park Service site proclaimed by President Barack Obama in December 2016 which was drastically reduced by 85% by President Donald Trump a year later.  At least "we think" we drove through!  For a short time, even Valley of the Gods was in the National Monument.  Now ... who knows? Available maps differed, likely reflecting the dates of publication.  Politics aside, the area is gorgeous!  Preservation of natural beauty and indigenous people is valuable and important for future generations.


We were headed to Newspaper Rock (which, according to our map was "in the National Park" but evidently is now part of the Utah State Park system.) 


Some of the petroglyphs are 2000 years old.  They were pecked into a blackened surface on the sandstone.  This "desert varnish" is a build up of manganese-iron deposits from rainfall and bacteria.  The older petroglyphs are darker as more "varnish" is gradually created by nature.

(Above:  One of the cairn trail markers at Canyonland National Park.)

We stayed in the small town of Monticello for three nights.  This allowed up to visit several nearby parks including both entrances to Canyonlands National Park.  We opted for one of the more strenuous trails to the second lookout over Upheaval Dome, a volcanic crater with spectacular views of the copper-rich cinder cone in its basin.

(Above:  View from the second overlook into the volcanic crater at "Island in the Sky" at Canyonlands National Park.  In the winter, low hanging clouds fill the crater.  The cinder cone peaks appear as if "islands" surrounded by a sea of white clouds.  Of course, late summer mornings are really this crystal clear!)

Many of the trails, especially the more difficult ones, were marked by only an occasional cairn or a small series of stones.  Frequently, we found ourselves searching for the right direction, the proper place to climb, and the best foot placement.  Every time, it was worth the effort.  To get the photo above, we had to find our way one-mile in and then back again.  Steve and I are comfortable with up to five mile distances ... but the high altitude mixed with over 150' change in elevation does tend to take its toll!  We aren't as fast as we once were!  We take more breaks too!  Yet on this same day, we took several other loop trails ... in the bright sun.  Even with 70% sun block, my nose is now peeling!  Still, I wouldn't change a thing!

(Above:  Tunnel Arch at Arches National Park.)

We visited Dead Horse Point State Park, a place overlooking the dangerous cliff-side roads used in the movie Thelma and Louise.  A wedding was taking place under one of the board overview canopies.  It was lovely.  The next day was spent hiking in Arches National Park.  We went to the overlook to Delicate Arch, the picture-perfect, free-standing formation depicted on Utah license plates and just about every tourist brochure.  We didn't take the three-mile trail to stand beside it.  Instead, we drove to the furthest parking lot outside Devils Garden and took the 4+ mile, primitive trail to Double O Arch. 


The path was not always clear. Climbing was involved.  Trekking over narrow "ribs" of mountainous sandstone provided incredible views.  Best of all, we were able to visit seven arches instead of just the one, iconic arch.


Here we are under Double O arch ...


... and here we are at Partition Arch.  Even though we started out early in the morning, there were plenty of other people scrambling up the same boulders and willing to snap pictures of one another.  By afternoon, the parking lot was full.  We headed to the area known as "Windows" and sat in the shade of the massive "Double Arch".  It was a great day!  We left via Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancient and Hovenweep National Monuments ... hiking of course ... and snapping more photos of skillfully constructed pueblo ruins.

(Above:  Mesa Verde National Park.)

Mesa Verde National Park has been on my "bucket list" since reading about Ancestral Puebloans in elementary school.  It was awesome to finally see these 13th century dwellings in person.  There are lots and lots of ruins to see without buying a ranger-led tour but the only way to actually walk down and among the carefully set masonry structures is to buy a ticket.  We purchased two tours.  We went to Cliff House one afternoon.


The next morning we went on a more exclusive, one-and-a-half hour tour to Balcony House.  It was an impressive experience with a most knowledgeable guide and only seven people including us!


We stayed in the Mesa Verde Fair View Lodge on a night with a full moon and the Milky Way overhead.  Coyotes yelped and we sampled very good red wine from Colorado, from vineyards we'd driven by along the McElko River.  The time was magical.


The tour included crawling through a 15 - 18" wide tunnels extending 12' in length.  This was the original entryway used seven hundred years ago! We also drove to other well preserved ruins and learned about kivas and construction techniques.

(Above:  Aztec National Monument.)

Our final stops included Aztec National Monument and Salmon Ruins

(Above:  Hovenweep National Monument.)

I had no idea that there were so many ruins in the "four-corners" area.  Most locations had more people living there in the 13th century than there are now.  Mesa Verde National Park alone has more than 5000 individual sites.  Much of the area lay relatively dormant until the late 19th century.  Looting is a problem but some pioneers and homesteaders really did try to prevent vandalism and encourage preservation.

(Above:  Salmon Ruins, homestead.)

Salmon Ruins was such a place.  The homestead is still very much in tact and under the care of the county museum.  It sits beside a very large Ancestral Puebloan complex that was intentionally maintained and is now accessible on well marked paths.

(Above:  Salmon Ruins, Puebloan ruins.)

Many ruins are still buried underground.  To excavate means a future of preservation which is a huge responsibility and a task to hold erosion and nature at bay. We felt very lucky to see all the things we were able to visit.  I know that we can't return in another thirty-five years, but I hope all these sites are still around after we are gone.

(Above:  One of the graves at the Bloomfield Cemetery in northwest New Mexico.)

We were again reminded of this on our last day in New Mexico while visiting the little cemetery in Bloomfield.  Everyone wants to leave something to mark their existence ... even if it becomes a ruin, even if it is only a petroglyph or bit of graffiti ... even if it is a selfie on Facebook.  We took lots of selfies!

5 comments:

Yael said...


Thanks for this wonderful photo journal - brought back a lot of memories! :-)

Sherrie Spangler said...

New Mexico is truly a beautiful, special place. Thanks for the tour!

Christine said...

Thank you for sharing your tour. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

MysteryKnitter said...

That is amazing!

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