New Mexico & Colorado Vacation 2016

I’ll save you the first 2 full days of driving through interstate traffic to make our way towards our destination of New Mexico and southern Colorado for our alternative vacation for 2016.  We were supposed to originally leave 4 days earlier and head north to Glacier National Park, but thwarted by Hurricane Hermine, car repair delays and no power, we made a change of plans and headed west instead.  So we packed up our truck on Wednesday the 7th of September, still with no power in our home and headed out to begin our time to relax and recharge.  I will pick up our trip below when we entered New Mexico on Friday, September 9th.

Tambra Means New Mexico 2016Day 3 – 9:13am MT

We finally made it into New Mexico. Pulling off interstate 40 after 2 days of driving on it was a welcome detour.  Heading North on 469 towards Logan, we got our first sighting of a Road Runner, Antelope (or Prong Horn) and a Tarantula crossing the highway.  We stopped off on the side of the road next to a railway bridge and not long after, a train passed us by. We are headed into Logan to gas up and continue North toward Taos.

Cholla CactusVast lands that were once native grasslands, like the Kiowa National Grassland, but now covered by miles of man-made fences and privately owned ranches.  The Cholla Cactus  still covers much to the ranch property along with cattle and wild flowering plants. Harley is in his element with the beautiful mesas covered with the red hue of geology.

It feels like a place that time forgot and I find myself asking how people survive out here in such vast wilderness areas, much as I am probably certain they ask themselves why we, modern ‘city folk’ don’t make time to unplug more.   It’s gorgeous country and I feel so lucky to have an opportunity to soak it all in.

Chipmunk LunchtimeState Road 120, our first off-road trek toward Black Lake, took us through a beautiful shift in elevation to ridges with Douglas fir trees, quaking aspens and an open prairie complete with a small community of prairie dogs.  Cute little varmints!  We still found ourselves surrounded by private ranch lands and a constant message of NO TRESPASSING, keeping us from exploring the hill country. Beautiful and sad all at the same time, especially since we have already been confined to the truck for 2 full days earlier.  On our way off the back road pass, another little guy greeted us while enjoying some lunch on a boulder overlooking the next valley, a husky little chipmunk.  The little critters that most natives probably find annoying, but are so cute and intriguing to us visiting low lander Floridians who also have begun to feel the initial climb of elevation at 8,300 ft.  To put that into perspective, we are at about 200 ft. In Tallahassee.  Thankfully I got setup with meds prior to leaving to help ease my symptoms. Ooooof the headaches.

Angel Fire and Taos

It is still Day 3, but around 2pm. Known in the winter months for its skiing and mountain sports and Taos as the place that Harley attended Geology field-camp in the summer of 1995.  Gorgeous county, rich in a wide assortment of mountain country.

rio-grand-river-gorgeTaos was just as Harley expected, full of people and tourists. We stopped for lunch at Michael’s Kitchen and Bakery then out to find a grocery store.   We then decided to head towards the a Carson National Forest to seek a site to camp. As we were leaving Taos we stopped at the Rio Grand River Gorge.  OH MY GOODNESS, was it spectacular!  We have seen some amazing sights on our adventures, but this left me a little speechless!

After leaving the Gorge we made our way to the Ranger station which was already closed for the day, we needed a forest map, but we missed them by 30 minutes. We decided to head in any way and try to find an open site on our drive. Nothing to be found, we made a new plan to head to a State Park for the night.

Elvado Lake Primitive CampDay 4 – 9:04am MT

We spent out first night camp in El Vado Lake State Park. A nice little spot overlooking the lake and across the way from all of the ‘Glampers’ (families camping in RVs). We setup our sleeping pads in the back of the XTerra and left the back open for a nice breeze. I was my normal on edge self, as I generally am when we are not sleeping in our enclosed tent. Constantly waking up and then checking my watch to see how much longer until sunrise. Around 2am I began to hear little noises around the outside of the truck. Some critter, I thought, fiddling around with our truck and gear, after all we were invading their home. These little noises kept on and off for the next hour. I finally calmed my mind enough to fall back asleep when whatever the little critter was decided to jump up on my sleeping pad and see what these invaders were all about.  This invader was about jumping up and screaming to Harley to go out and shew it away. Needless to say, the next few hours until sunrise were quite restless for me.

When the sun came up Harley fired up our camp stove to heat water for coffee and we began packing up to head out for our new day of adventure.   Driving 13 miles down a dirt road bordering the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, heading down towards Chaco Canyon and hopefully Bandolier National Monument. Hoping to find a camp in Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Chaco CanyonDay 5 – 9:55am MT

What a FABULOUS hike we had through the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Though the sun beat down on us pretty hard for our 6,155 ft elevation hike, the culture and views were worth every ounce of sweat!

Hungo Pavi at Chaco CanyonSeeing the ruins of the Chacoan world was truly overwhelming at times. To see the intricate architecture these people erected with little tools, compared to our modern availabilities is truly magnificent.  Sacred places built with special purpose, such as better prediction of celestial events, petroglyphs and a few great sightings of rattlesnakes, rabbits, jackrabbits, elk, coyotes and a magnificent little horny toad, truly an amazing experience that I am happy to have had the chance to see first hand.

We spent the night in the only campground available inside the park, which is also surrounded by private land, oil and gas operations and Indian Reservation lands, we were confined to a site that was also shared with 50 other campsites with folks that could use a few lessons in camp etiquette.   But, I won’t harp on those negative moments. It was my best nights sleep yet.  In our tent, on our sleeping pads, in the comfort of our sleeping bags with our camp fan for extra measure. With the noise of those around us, I opted for a Melatonin and ear plugs.  We woke up at sunrise and enjoyed a cup of coffee and a little breakfast before breaking camp and heading out of the park.

Today we head north, Colorado to Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients.

Day 7 – 7:12am MT

Food & BrewsWow, I missed an entire day catching up. So here goes . . .
Day 6 we crossed into Colorado and made our way into Durango. A quick fuel up at Steamboat Brewery before heading out to some of the backcountry in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument land. We explored and found a high point which also happened to have what appeared to be a tower, for lack of better description, overlooking the vast valley below. It was really an amazing place to happen upon during out hot short hike. Imagination taking hold, I was hesitant to approach it because I just wasn’t sure exactly what it may have been used for, a lookout, a sacred place or a burial, I just wasn’t sure. Something I will have to research for myself to find out.

We made our way back to the truck and out of the backcountry towards Cortez, Colorado. We opted to take a hotel so that we could get our first shower in what had become 3 days.  Mind you, we do bring baby wipes to clean up with each day, we aren’t totally disgusting humans (yet). We checked into our hotel around 7:30pm and showered up and dressed to head out to grab some dinner. I used Zomato (f/k/a Urbanspoon) to find a great local restaurant that happened to still be open late on a Sunday. There were very few choices, but I opted for La Casita and it didn’t disappoint!  Even though we walked in at 8:30pm, just a short time before their scheduled close, we were greeted with smiling service and delicious food. After dinner we made our way back to the hotel to grab some rest before heading out for Day 6, no set plan yet except for some sleep in the little luxury of a hotel.

We woke up at 8am on Monday morning and went out to the lobby to grab a quick breakfast and then packed up, gassed up the truck, iced up the coolers and decided that we would go and explore Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde, meaning green Mesa, and the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo People or as Archaeologists have called them, Anasazi or ancient foreigners.  It is speculated that these Ancestral people were seeking shelter and some speculate, safety.

mesa-verde-visitor-centerWe got into the park early, as the cliff dwelling tours require tickets and are guided by Park Rangers.  We also decided to rent a campsite so that we were not rushed or worried with having to head out of the park quickly in the afternoon to find a spot to camp. We found our spot, claimed it and the headed towards our first tour. Our first tour was on Chapin Mesa through Cliff Palace which had 150 rooms, these rooms housed people and families with other areas for sacred ceremonies, social events and markets.

Our second tour was of Balcony House, another community overlooking Soda Canyon, but less rooms at 38 built-in a rock alcove and a more cryptic entry compromised of  small tunnels. Our entry into Balcony House started with a long ladder climb to the top and then winding through the dwellings that archaeologists found were periodically sealed off and eventually abandoned.  Balcony House was amazing, a courtyard along with what modern era may consider a long mantle abutted up to dwellings and storage areas. Simply an amazing place for the imagination to guide you through what each area may have been used for.

Cliff PalaceWe left our last tour and stopped off at several spots to look at dwellings that were less accessible but still amazing to see. We made our way back to camp for some dinner and rest before setting out on Day 7, which will be more exploring but by hiking instead of guided touring.

Up for a quick bite of breakfast, reserving our camp for another night and then we are off!

First up, a quick hike around Spruce Tree House, thought to be one of the largest Villages in Mesa Verde, consisted of 130 rooms and 8 Kivas.  The one dwelling that appears to still have an intact Kiva roof on one of the Kivas in the dwelling. Due to a recent rock fall, the self guided tour is closed for the season. We pressed on to our 2.4 mile loop hike to Petroglyph Point.

What a magnificent hike, in and around Spruce Canyon. We came across many eroded and former dwellings and, sadly, saw many tourist marks on walls taking away from the beauty of these once untouched areas. I see why, in so many cases, the public is prohibited from getting close or entering.  People ruin it for other people.

petroglyph-pointAfter a mile hike in we finally made it to Petroglyph Point and boy, it was totally worth the wait!  Beautiful images depicting what could be interpreted as sacred animals or other objects with sacred meaning.  It was truly an unbelievable sight to witness first hand.  We then proceeded back toward the trail head and museum to finish out our 2.4 mile hike, which for this low lander, left me feeling a little winded and ready for some lunch before our afternoon hikes of very at Wetherill Mesa.

After lunch at the Far View Terrace, a little cafeteria type food stop with a coffee shop and gift shop, we headed off to our next exploring adventure, Wetherill Mesa which includes the Step House and Long House dwellings.

step-houseWe only made it through the 1 mile loop trail this afternoon to do a self guided tour of Step House.  What an amazingly grand village this appeared to be.  To me, looking along the lines of an amphitheater, it was yet another spectacular sight.  Seeing how these people all lived in these villages or dwellings together in such tight and cramped quarters, it certainly made me appreciate the finer things, such as space, that we often take for granted or overdo in modern times. They certainly didn’t practice ‘bigger is better’ when it came to individual family living space, I can appreciate that minimalist mentality which for them was not a choice I’m sure.

After our loop hike, we headed back towards our camp for the night, stopping off at a couple of take outs along the way to see a few last things on Wetherill Mesa. When we got back to camp we opted to hit the showers (which at this campground are free and the water is hot, that’s RARE) then we did our laundry so we have clothes for the rest of the week and then off to camp for dinner. We enjoyed a nice camp dinner and then as we were finishing up we spotted some lightning so we quickly picked up our cooking equipment and chairs and headed to hide out in the truck for what turned out to be well over an hour. Finally, the lightning dissipated and we made our way to bed down in the tent, which thankfully, is waterproof.

Day 8, our last official exploring day

After an ‘ok’ nights sleep, we got up to cooler temperatures and enjoyed some camp coffee and breakfast before breaking camp and packing up to head south towards Four Corners National Monument and Shiprock. This will be our last day out exploring before we begin our travel back home.

sweet-dream-necklaceWe made our way to the Four Corners National Monument which is also located on The National Navajo Nation Tribal Park.  The one place where you can place one foot and literally stand in four states at one time.  This site is surrounded by little vendor counters that allow the tribe members to come and sell their handmade goods to the tourists.  Since I had really held off on buying anything the entire trip because most of the time items sold in souvenir stores are not really authentic items handmade, I was really excited to check out what they all had to offer.  After walking more than half of the vendor stands I found my way to a bracelet that I really loved.  The Native Americans call them Sweet Dream Necklaces.  They are made from Juniper Berries and are placed in the cradle for sweet dreams.

shiprock-national-monumentNext we headed towards Shiprock National Monument, also located in the Four Corners region of San Juan County in New Mexico on reservation land and held sacred to the Navajo people.  But wow, so gorgeous!  My hubs, as a geologist, was making his pilgrimage to this magnificent place that is actually an 27 million year old ancient volcano that only the volcanic plug remains and lava fields or also known as lava dikes.  This place was a BUGGER to find and access, but finally we found a legal access point and drove up to get a close up glimpse of this greatness, but also not to disturb this known sacred land.  This place just speaks for itself and all of his beautiful greatness.

Shiprock would be our last stop on our exploring list and the next day we began heading for home.  This trip, while it was not our original plan, turned out to be a magnificent trip into the past to expand my appreciation for these places that so many may not even realize are out there waiting to be explored.

So get out there, walk lightly, leave no trace and soak up knowledge!