Last Days in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM

During our one week stay in Santa Fe the forecast was for a couple of days with good weather and a few with cold, rain, and wind.  The forecast was pretty accurate so we had nice days to visit the two spots on our must do list:  Tent Rocks NM and Bandelier NM (see previous blogs).  On other days we didn’t do much since it was cold, wet, and windy.  One morning we even woke up to a covering of snow!

One day as we neared the end of our stay, the temperature was just warm enough for a little bit of exploration outside.  So we headed north on I-25 about 30 miles for a visit to Pecos National Historical Park.

The park preserves the ruins of Pecos Pueblo. The first Pecos Pueblo was one of two dozen rock-and-mud villages built in the valley around 1100. Within 350 years the  Pecos village had grown to house more than 2,000 people in its five storied complex.   A 1.25 mile self-guiding trail begins at the visitor center and winds through the ruins of Pecos Pueblo and a mission church.

Visitor Center

As we entered the visitor center a ranger was about to lead a group of 37 eighth and ninth grade students on a tour of the ruins and invited us to join them.  Not a chance!  After spending our careers in education, we knew better than that and politely declined the invitation.  Instead we watched a video about the park and let the students get far down the tour path before we set out on it.

The ruins are on top of the ridge ahead

Restored Kiva next to ruins

Spanish explorers arrived in the area in 1541 looking for gold.  Finding none they moved on, but were soon followed by Franciscan friars who worked to convert the residents of the pueblo to Christianity.  In the early 1600 they built a large mission church next to the pueblo.  The church was destroyed by the puebloans during a revolt against the Spanish in 1680.  In 1692 the Spanish returned and later built a smaller church on the remains of the one destroyed.  Part of this later church have been restored.

The picture below, taken in the 1880s, shows Adolph Bandelier (namesake of Bandelier National Monument) who helped with the church restoration.

Same view today

We have followed a blog called Island Girl Walkabout for a number years and met the authors, Hector and Brenda, a few years ago in the desert of Southern California.  Since then we have crossed paths on a number of occasions.  Last July they decided to settle down and bought a beautiful house just north of Albuquerque.  During our stay in Santa Fe they invited us down to their house for a visit and dinner.  We were anxious to visit with them and see their new digs, plus we never pass up a free home cooked meal, so on our last day in the area we headed south to the town of Corrales.

Hector and Brenda in front of their new home

Their new house is just beautiful inside and out.  Plus it has a gorgeous view of the Sandia Mountains to the east.

Our real reason for this visit was to spend some time with Angel, their beautiful dog.  Angel is getting up there in years and has been experiencing some health problems lately.  But she is still enjoying life and was pleased to re-unite with the “treat lady” who always has something tasty in her pocket.

After enjoying a great meal and equally great conversation, we headed back to Santa Fe.  With rain in the forecast for later in the day, we wanted to get an early start the next morning.  We were up early and ready to head out a little after 8:00 for a 200 mile drive to our next stop, Farmington, NM.

Beautiful views on US-550 heading north

We are now set up in McGee Park, which is part of the San Juan County Fairgrounds.  We are waiting for good weather so we can drive south for a visit to the remote Chaco Culture National Historic Park.  A portion of the drive to Chaco is on an unmaintained dirt road so we need to let things dry out from some recent rains.

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Bandelier National Monument, NM

Santa Fe, NM

After two days of rain and high winds, we took advantage of a beautiful Thursday and drove about 45 miles northwest of Santa Fe for a visit to Bandelier National Monument.  The Monument is about 50 square miles of mostly wilderness.  The main attraction is a long valley filled with pueblo structures inhabited from 1150 to 1600 AD.

Bandelier was designated as a National Monument in 1916 and named for Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-American anthropologist who researched the cultures of the area and supported preservation of the sites.  Bandelier is very popular and parking is very limited, so during the summer months you park in the nearby town of White Rock and ride a shuttle eight miles to the visitor center.

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The visitor center opens at 9:00 am and the parking area was beginning to get crowded when we arrived at 9:20.  We knew the trail would be crowded so we quickly picked up information at the visitor center and set out on the main trail.  There are about 70 miles of trails in the monument but the Main Loop is the one almost all visitors come to hike, as it takes you through some ruins and up into the cliff dwellings along a 1.2 mile paved trail.

Beginning of the Main Loop Trail

The trail quickly takes you through the ruins of Tyuonyi, one of several large pueblos in the monument.  Structures in the pueblo were one or two stories high.  It contained about 400 rooms, a central plaza with three Kivas, and was home to about 100 people.  The trail goes through reconstructed sections of the pueblo but it is best viewed from above where the trail goes along the cliff dwellings.

Structures of the pueblo in the foreground and cliff dwellings at the base of the cliff

View of the pueblo from the cliff dwellings

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An artist’s reconstruction of what Tyuonyi would have been like in about 1400

We continued along the trail to the base of the cliff.  The cliff itself is volcanic tuff (compacted ash), which is a relatively soft rock.  The inhabitants of this area cut cave rooms (cavates) into the cliff, then build stone rooms in front of them.

An ancient Puebloan enjoying the morning sunshine!

Tuff is very susceptible to erosion

More Cavates (cave-ates)

The stone room below is very large.  A group of five people climbed into it just before we took the photo below but you can’t see them.

The trail continues along an area known as the Long House, where people built multi-story stone dwellings along the cliff base and carved petroglyphs into the cliff.

The holes along the top of the cavates were for wooden roof support beams.  Some of the structures were up to four stories high.

Vertical indentations carved in the rock for side wall supports

The panel below was part of the back wall of a second story dwelling.  Uncovered behind a layer of plaster, this pictograph was probably created for a very specific purpose then later covered over.  The park service has it covered with a piece of plastic.

Looking back down at the Long House

There are many examples of petrographs along the Long House.  Most are high up, as the artist stood on a roof top to complete the work.

The Macaw

After viewing the Long House we turned off to our right for a half mile hike on a gravel trail to see the Alcove House.  The Alcove House is 140 feet above the trail and requires climbing up four narrow wooden ladders.  We reached the base of the climb just behind a large group of high school students.  Facing a long wait to get up the ladders, we turned around and headed back down the trail.

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The Alcove House

We returned to the visitor center and viewed a nice video about the area and went through the small, but very well done museum.

Diorama of a dwelling built along the cliff

Leaving the monument we drove through the small town of White Rock.  The main street through town is lined with large replicas of pottery made by puebloans who lived in this area.

Just north of White Rock is a small area of Bandelier NM called Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites.  The site is not well-marked and most people drive right by unaware of its existence.  We had been alerted to the site by Pat and Sheldon (Tin Can Travels Too) when we met them on the trail in Tent Rocks NM a few days ago.

We’re glad Pat and Sheldon alerted us to this site, as it is very cool.  A self-guided 1.5-mile loop trail provides access to numerous unexcavated ruins, caves carved into soft tuff, and petroglyphs.  In three spots a ladder is provided to help hikers up or down from the mesa.

The sides of the cliff leading up to a mesa consist of tuff, compacted ash from an ancient volcanic eruption.  Information on the site states that generations of pueblo people walking barefoot or in sandals wore deep paths in the tuff.  John is a bit skeptical about that since some areas along the tuff path showed no evidence of ruts.  Maybe the residents carved out some of the rocks to make moving up and down with heavy loads of water or crops easier?  Who knows?

At one point the trail cuts narrowly between the rocks.  You can avoid this by a go-around trail with a ladder.

Upon reaching the top of the mesa, we were treated to great views of the surrounding mountains.

Snow covers the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

On top of the mesa is the unexcavated ruins of the village of Tsankawi.  The village contained about 275 one and two story dwellings.

After the inhabitants left in the late 16th century, the buildings fell into ruin. The roofs collapsed and the walls crumbled. Wind blown materials filled the cracks and crevices so that only mounds of rubble can be seen with pieces of pottery lying on the ground.

The trail forms a loop, so after passing through the ruins we climbed down off the mesa to a narrow path along the cliff.

The inhabitants of Tsankawi not only had a settlement on top of the mesa, but built their homes along the base of the cliffs. They dug caves into the soft tuff stone and extended the dwelling with walls made of rock mortared with mud.  The dwellings are gone but the caves remain.

We were impressed with the amount of artwork along this part of the trail.

Kokopelli petroglyph

Two lane trail?

More pottery shards along the trail

As we rounded a bend in the trail we could see caves with steps carved into the tuff.

We enjoyed the wonderful ruins in the main section of Bandelier NM, but the large number of people on the trails made it difficult to enjoy the visit.  We can’t imagine what it must be like during the summer months.  The solitude of Tsankawi was much more to our liking!  The combination of the two sites made for a great day of exploration!

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, NM

Santa Fe, NM

On Monday morning we left Milan, NM and drove about 130 miles to Santa Fe.  We had been out hiking and exploring a number of days in a row so Pam told John he could have the afternoon off after we arrived in Santa Fe.  He had visions of spending some time in a nearby chain coffee house completing the daily crossword puzzle.  But after setting up at the RV park, Pam looked at the weather forecast and found rain predicted for the next two days.  Cancel that afternoon of rest, we’re off to check out Tent Rocks National Monument!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed site that was established as a U.S. National Monument in 2001.  Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan.  The area owes its remarkable geology to layers of volcanic rock and ash deposited from a volcanic explosion 6 to 7 million years ago.  Over time, weathering and erosion of these layers has created canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks themselves are cones of soft pumice and tuff beneath harder caprocks, and vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet.

A sculpture marks the beginning of the trails

There are two trails in the monument, both begin from the main parking area.  The Cave Loop Trail is 1.2 miles long and is rated as easy.  A half mile up the Cave Loop Trail the more difficult Canyon Trail branches off.  It is 1.2 miles long and goes through a slot canyon before heading steeply up 630 feet to the top of a mesa where the tent rocks may be viewed from above.

White cliffs along the beginning of the trail

Heading into the Canyon Trail

Erosion from the wash

Entering the slot canyon

Heading steeply up to the mesa

As we made our way around a switchback someone asked Pam, “Are you the nimble hiker?”  Turns out the couple we were passing were Pat and Sheldon, who we met on a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona last year.  They live in Buffalo, NY but spend time traveling much of the year.  What are the chances of meeting on trails in these two fairly remote areas?

Sheldon, Pam, and Pat

After chatting with Sheldon and Pat, we continued our climb to the top of the mesa, where we enjoyed the great views of the surrounding landscape.

The hike back down from the mesa gave us different views of the colorful rock formations.

The steps seemed easier on the way down!

Back through the slot

Returning to the junction with the Cave Loop Trail, we turned right and continued around the loop, stopping at the large hole in the cliff.   Archaeologists call a small human formed cave a caveate (cave-ate).

As we approached the trailhead we turned and could see the high spot in the mesa above were we had been at the end of the Canyon Trail.

Approaching the parking area we passed through an area of tent rocks that looked like a village.

The main road into the park continues from the parking area for 3.5 miles to a scenic overlook.  We returned to the Jeep from our hike and headed that way. but it was late in the afternoon and the road was closed.

This hike through the monument was one of the prettiest we have done lately.  Don’t miss it if you are in the Albuquerque / Santa Fe area.  Bad weather is predicted for the next couple of days so we will not do much exploring.  But next up is a visit to Bandelier National Monument.  More on that later . . .

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El Morro National Monument, NM

Milan, NM

About 42 miles from Grants, NM on NM-53 rises a great sandstone promontory with a pool of water at its base.   The local Zuni Indians, whose Puebloan ancestors live here, call it Atsinna, which means place of writings on the rock.  The Spaniards called it El Morro, the headland.  Americans called it Inscription Rock.  Over the centuries those who traveled this trail stopped to camp at the shaded oasis beneath the cliffs.  They left the carved evidence of their passage.  Symbols, names, dates, and pieces of their stories are intermingled on the rock.

To preserve the historical importance of the area and initiate preservation efforts on the old inscriptions, El Morro was established as a national monument by a presidential proclamation in 1906.  The main attractions in the monument, ruins of a large pueblo and Inscription Rock, are both accessible by trails leading out from the back of the small visitor center.  If you visit, be aware that the trails close an hour before the visitor center.  The visitor center closes at 6:00 PM in summer and 5:00 PM in winter.

The sandstone cliffs behind the visitor center

We first headed out on the half mile paved Inscription Rock Loop Trail.  The nice concrete path leads directly out to the pool of water at the base of the cliff.

Pool is to the left of the boulder next to the trail

Visitors were attracted to the rocks by this permanent pool of fresh drinking water formed from rain and melted snow.  The pond, which is about 15 feet deep, is hidden at the base of the north side of the rocks and has water in it year round.

To the north of the pond is a long flat area at the base of the rocks.  For centuries visitors have carved their names and messages into the rock, forming an interesting chronology of their visits.  The first visitors were Puebloans who lived in a village on top of the cliffs until about 1400.

Puebloan artwork

Spanish explorers passed by El Morro on numerous trips and carved a number of inscriptions into the rock.  The photo below states, “We, Sergeant Major and Captain Juan de Arechuleta and Adjutant Diego Martin Barba and Ensign Agustin de Ynojos, passed by here, in the year of 1636.”

American pioneers and military men passing by throughout the 1800s left numerous carvings.  E Penn. Long of Baltimore chiseled the elegant inscription pictured below.

Long was a member of a U.S. Army expedition looking for a wagon route from Fort Smith, AK to the Colorado River in 1859.  The group was also testing the usefulness of camels in crossing the deserts of the Southwest.  Although the group wrote positively about the camels, the army abandoned the experiment at the onset of the Civil War.

P. G. Breckinridge, the man in charge of the 25 camels, wrote his name in deep block letters.  He was later killed in Virginia during the Civil War.

The examples above are just a fraction of the hundreds of inscriptions on Inscription Walk. The park provides visitors with a returnable booklet describing many of the inscriptions.

You can continue on a two mile trail that goes around the rock wall then up on top of the mesa, but the cold and wind drove us back to the visitor center.  From there we picked up the other end of that trail and made our way up to the top to visit the ruins.

Lunch with a view on the way up to the ruins

The trail winds its way up for about a half mile, with two long sets of steps going through the steepest section of the rocks.

At the top of the mesa is the remains of the pueblo Atsinna, which means where pictures are on the rock.  The pueblo was occupied from roughly 1275 to 1400.  Eighteen rooms were excavated in the 1950s.

Round Kiva

The small excavated portion of the pueblo is deceptive.   At over 800 rooms, Atsinna was a sizable town.  The outline of the town can be seen in the aerial photo below, with the excavated portion occupying a small corner of the pueblo.

We found El Morro NM very interesting and well-worth the drive down from I-40.  Now we head to the northeast for a stay in Santa Fe to explore a couple of national monuments in that area.

More on that later . . .

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El Mapais National Monument, New Mexico

Milan, NM

Following our stay in Holbrook, AZ our plan was to drive directly to Santa Fe, a distance of just under 300 miles.   While that is certainly a distance we have often driven in a day, we would rather keep a one day drive to 200 miles or less.  So we were pleased when Pam found a blog post from our friends, Jodee and Bill, (On the Road Abode) from last year where they stopped near Grants, NM to visit El Malpais National Monument.  Stopping there would cut the distance to Santa Fe in half, so we found an RV park in Milan, just a few miles from Grants, and made a reservation for two nights.

The name El Malpais is from the Spanish term Malpaís, meaning badlands, due to the extremely barren and dramatic volcanic field that covers much of the park’s area.  After setting up in the RV park, we headed to the visitor center in Grants to get information on El Malpais, then headed into the monument.  Our first stop was at the trailhead for the Narrows Rim Trail, located about 21 miles south of I-40 on NM-117.

The trail goes gradually up on to a cliff that provides views of the lava flow below.  The trail is four mile in length on way, but we decided to just hike up about two miles and return.

Our goal is in the distance

The trail is marked with cairns, some small and some large

The lava flow below

Another view of the lava flow

After hiking the two miles up the Narrows Rim Trail we returned to the Jeep and drove about ten miles south to the parking area for Lava Falls.

A one mile loop trail leads you right through the lava flow created by volcanic action 3,000 years ago.  The trail is marked by large cairns as the lava is very hard and, even though many people have hiked the trail, there are no marks from foot traffic.

Driving back to the north we were able to see the Narrows Rim Trail overlook (where we hiked earlier) in front of us.

As we continued north we rounded a bend and the La Ventana Arch came into view.

A quarter mile trail leads to the base of the arch, the largest accessible arch in New Mexico (the largest arch in NM is on reservation land and not accessible to the public).

Continuing our drive back to town we were treated to a number of outstanding vistas.

Tomorrow we’ll head out to explore another nearby national monument.  More on that later . . .

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Petrified Forest NP – Part III

Holbrook, AZ

We extended our stay in Holbrook to let some strong winds and rain pass through the area.  There is not much to do on a rainy day in this little town, but we did use the time to visit the local museum, the Navajo County Historical Society, located in the former courthouse building.

The museum (free admission) had some very interesting displays depicting life in Holbrook over the years.  As we began our tour the old safe pictured below caught our eye.

The safe was manufactured in York, Pa, our former home town.  Small world!

The other thing that attracted our attention was the old jail, in use until 1976.

When we spoke to the docent on duty about the jail, he laughed and said his mother spent some time in it.  He didn’t mention why she was locked up, but he did say she was a wild lady and owned a local bar!

The weather cleared the next day so we headed out for our final visit to Petrified Forest NP.  A girl in the visitor center had given us directions for some hikes they call “off the beaten path” hikes and we had two fairly short ones we wanted to explore.  The first was a hike to Martha’s Butte.  The origin of the name Martha’s Butte or who Martha was is unknown.  There is no real trail to the butte, we just followed a couple of washes then headed out across the desert with the butte in front of us.

Heading toward Martha’s Butte in the distance

As we approached Martha’s Butte we veered off a bit to the south to go around the smaller mound.

On the south side of the mound is a large petrified log embedded in the clay hill.  This was long thought to be a petrified stump still in place.  But an excavation in 1933 by a park naturalist named Walker revealed it to be a a log portion at a steep angle.  The log is now known as “Walker’s Stump.”

We knew there were petroglyphs around the butte but were surprised by how many examples we found.

One large, flat boulder was covered with art work, both on its sides and across the tabletop.

The flute player depicted below is a variation of a Kokopelli, a fertility deity.

A small arch!

During our visit we shared the butte with a four man archaeology team contracted by the park service to document the location of the art work.

One of the archaeologists at Martha’s Butte

On the return hike we found a number of really colorful pieces of petrified wood.  Also, a turn down the wrong wash (they all looked the same) caused us to turn a two mile round trip into almost four miles!

Upon finally returning to the Jeep we drove about four miles north to the Jasper Forest Overlook.  The overlook sits on a mesa looking down on the desert below covered with pieces of petrified wood.

Jasper Forest

We parked in the large lot and found the trail leading down into the desert.  The path joins an old road from the 1930s constructed by the CCC.  The road was closed in 1965 and is almost completely eroded away today.  Directions to our destination said to follow the old road, but where was it?

Where’s the road?

We followed a wash for about a mile looking for the old road but couldn’t find it.  But we did see many colorful pieces of petrified wood.

We eventually turned around, hiked back up the wash a bit, and headed across the desert.   Finally we spotted an old culvert that identified the remains of the road.  Once again we managed to turn a 2.5 mile hike into 3.5 miles!

The original gravel road over a culvert

We knew the old road looped around our destination for this hike, a feature called Eagle Nest Rock.  The rock was a famous spot for visitors, including the legendary naturalist John Muir, for many years.  The feature fell down in 1941 after a period of unusually heavy rain.  Below is what it looked like before the collapse.

This is what it looks like today.

The flat rock top to the original formation sits on the left side.

During the return hike we went past more colorful pieces of petrified wood.

Returning to the parking area we went out on the overlook and found an interesting display board that compared the Jasper Forest from the past to what it looks like today.  On the display board a photo of John Muir from the early 1900s is superimposed over a recent photo taken on the same spot.  It shows almost no change.

The two smaller photos on the display also demonstrate how little the desert has changed over the past 126 years.

We arrived at this park thinking we would only really need one day to see all the sights.  But we found enough to fill three full days and still didn’t see everything.

Now it’s time to continue moving east.  Next up is a brief stay in Grants, NM to explore a couple of national monuments.  More on that later . . .

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Petrified Forest NP – Part II

Holbrook, AZ

For our second visit to Petrified Forest NP, we drove 25 miles east on I-40 and entered the park through the north entrance where the Painted Desert section is located.  The Painted Desert is a large area of badlands that runs across northern Arizona from the Grand Canyon on the west to the Petrified Forest on the east.  The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors.

We stopped briefly at the visitor center before continuing a short distance into the park to the Painted Desert Inn.

The Painted Desert Inn

The Painted Desert Inn is the location of two trailheads.  One is the Rim Trail, a half-mile paved trail that runs along the mesa rim overlooking the Painted Desert.  The other trailhead is for the Onyx Bridge Trail, a 2.5 mile hike to the Onyx Bridge.

Beginning of the Onyx Bridge Trail

After enjoying the view from the inn we set out on the Onyx Bridge Trail.  The first few feet are paved but the trail then turns to dirt as it quickly drops about 300 feet into the desert.

Once on the desert floor the trail winds its way through hills of bentonite clay.

The defined trail continues through the hills for about a quarter mile before ending in the flat desert wilderness.  From there you choose your own way north through the desert until you reach a wide wash.

End of the defined trail

The Lithodendron Wash winds its way through the wilderness.  It is mostly dry but wet spots and puddles show that it flowed with water recently.

Footprints in the Lithodendron Wash

We followed the wash north until we came to a second pronounced bend to the east. From the bend we turned west and followed a small drainage until it split.  Following the right side until it split again, we came to an area called the Black Forest, named after the numerous large black pieces of petrified logs.

Petrified logs in the Black Forest

Just past the Black Forest we climbed a steep rock fall leading up to the top of a mesa.

At the top we turned to the right and came to the Onyx Bridge.  The exposed portion of fossilized log which is the Onyx Bridge is approximately 30 feet long and is about 210 million years old.

Looking back to the south we could see the Painted Desert Inn on top of the mesa in the distance.

Lunch with a view

Heading back through the Bentonite hills we could see the inn on the top of the hill

Once back up at the top we spent a few minutes exploring the Painted Desert Inn.  The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood.  Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation completed by the CCC.  The area around one of the lower entrances was left uncovered during the renovation, and you can see the original petrified wood.  Although it once served as a six room overnight facility, it functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation or food service. Displays inside highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and the CCC.

Hopi artist Fred Kabotie was engaged to paint murals inside the Inn as part of the 1947–48 renovations.  Kabotie’s work depicts aspects of Hopi life, including a journey through the Painted Desert to collect salt.

Snack bar during the 1950s

The snack bar area today

We left the Inn and drove about six miles further into the park to where the old Route 66 at one time crossed through the park.  Nothing remains of the old cross country highway, but the park service marks the location with a couple of “automotive” displays.

As we headed out of the park we stopped a couple of times to enjoy some great views.

That concludes day two of our visit to Petrified Forest National Park.  We have one more day of exploration before we move on.  More on that later . . .

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