Friday, May 29, 2009

Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Bandelier National MonumentBandelier National Monument is located in North Central New Mexico, between Los Alamos and Santa Fe in a rugged high desert at 6,500 feet. This altitude gives Bandelier a pleasant climate with warm spring days and cold nights. Bandelier, similar to Chaco Culture NHP, is a site of ancient great houses, but unlike Chaco there are cliff dwellings and cave dwellings as well. Bandelier is also a marvelous park for hiking.Our first day at Bandelier, on our way to an 8 mile hike to the Rio Grande River we stopped at the visitor center to observe a Native American Dance celebrating the presence of the Deer in their lives. The Dance and Drumming was very interesting, and the workmanship of the clothing worn by the dancers was exquisite.The hike took us past a group of "Tent Rocks" which are volcanic tuff capped by harder rocks. As the volcanic rock wears away the harder caps protect the tuff underneath forming various spires,needles, and hoodoos.The hike took us past many wildflowers as we wound our way down several thousand feet to the floodplain of the Rio Grande.One of the high points of this trip has been the opportunity to see many of the great rivers of our country. I can remember many years ago, in grade school, reading about these rivers that were so much a part of our history and development as a nation. I was always fascinated by them.Living in New England I often visited the Concord, the Merrimack, and the Connecticut rivers, but I have only recently begun to explore the great rivers of the west. I never pass up a chance to swim, or at least wade, in these rivers.We were fortunate on this part of the trip to have our friend Linda Regnier, Author of Best Easy Day Hikes, Santa Fe with us as guide. We did three of her hikes during our stay and if you are going to Santa Fe I can heartily recommend this book. Linda dropped by the bookstore to sign a few copies.We vistited some of the cave dwellings with Linda and her husband Jim after our Rio Grande hike.The day after Jim and Linda left for another commitment Cheryl and I headed out for a hike up Frijoles Canyon which is the main canyon containing much of the National Monument.The unrestored Great House is in Frijoles Canyon as well as the Long House.The Long House is essentially a long narrow Great House built on the ground against a high cliff with many excavated cave rooms adjoining it. We also went to the Ceremonial Cave.We accessed the Ceremonial Cave by a series of 4 very long, very steep, wooden ladders.There is a reproduction Kiva in the cave and it was cool, after seeing so many ancient Kivas, to be able to enter the Kiva.On another day we drove up to the rim of the Valle Caldera National Preserve and hiked down through the ponderosa forest lining the inside of the rim to the Caldera floor.The floor of the caldera is a huge meadow sitting in a bowl ringed by low mountains. The mountains are the eroded rim of what was once a vast volcanic cone. Can you imagine it?
Blue Bellied Lizard.
After the hike to the caldera we found a little used trail head to the boundary area between Valle Caldera and Bandelier National Monument.We found the usual wildflowers (isn't it wonderful that such things are "Usual" on this trip). These are Western Blue Flags, a small wild iris. They are often referred to by their state's name so I guess these would be New Mexico Blue Flags. The trail passed through a series of lovely meadows that once again led up to the Caldera Rim. As so often happens the naked beauty of this remote area drew us into a much longer hike than we had anticipated. Two hikes in one day and we barely had time to make it back for supper with our friends Ian and Jenny from Vermont who came to Bandelier as a stop on the maiden voyage of their new camper which they had just picked up in Chilliwack, British Columbia.On our final day at Bandelier we took a trip into Santa Fe to see the sights.It was interesting to compare the architecture of present day Santa Fe with the ancient buildings we had been viewing in Bandelier.Santa Fe is a marvelous city. Like many such places in the county, development and traffic are taking a toll on these historic and beautiful places, but if you can find the "Old Town" you will be richly rewarded.
NEXT: We head north to visit Telluride, Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico

Chaco Canyon is located in the middle of nowhere at the end of a 13 mile bad road. Maybe that's why few people go there. But, if you are interested in the Ancient Puebloan culture of North America, you should go there. We spent considerable time earlier in our trip exploring cliff dwellings in Arizona and Utah, now we were in the region of the ancient great houses.Chaco Canyon is believed to have been more a cultural center than a residential center and it is widely disputed as to how many people lived there. As our Pueblo Bonito guide told us, "What we know is that people lived here, and they built big buildings". The rest is conjecture. Chaco canyon is a flat canyon bottom between low mountains. It is very dry and sparse. The campground is a short distance from the great houses, under the canyon wall.We were fortunate to meet our friends Linda & Jim and Sue & Roger from Montana who had been to Chaco before and knew the things we had to see. First on the list was a tour of Pueblo Bonito, the best restored of the great houses.Note the many round Kivas within the walls. Here's a closer look at the floor of one of the Kivas in Pueblo Bonito.Pueblo Bonito was constructed in stages between 850 and 1150 AD and was abandoned around 1200 ADThe tours took us through the ruins and into many of the several hundred rooms of the great house.Having friends along gave us a chance to socialize again since leaving Whazoo and Lynn in Arizona and it was wonderful to spend some time with good friends.The next day we took a hike along the mesa top for views into the canyon from above which gives one a much better idea of the scope of these great houses.Not to mention a chance to stretch our legs and brush up on our canyoneering skills.
As has been the norm on this trip, there was lots of wildlife and we were again fortunate to see many desert blooms.On day three we biked out a canyon road to a less rehabilitated great house called "Wijiji. Once again the amazing workmanship of these buildings was obvious. You have to be aware when you look at this that it was built over a thousand years ago and is still standing 800 years after it was abandoned.We could even see where different styles (perhaps different workmen or varied loads of rock) were seamlessly integrated into the walls.On our last day we hiked farther up the canyon to see some petroglyphs and pictographs on the canyon wall.Here's a link to the National Park Service website if you would like more information on Chaco Canyon Petroglyphs. Our final hike was a short one to see Casa Rincanada, the largest Kiva in the canyon. This Kiva stands alone on a hillside a short distance from Pueblo Bonito and (who knows why) has it's two entrances perfectly aligned East to West.
NEXT: Bandolier National Monument & Santa Fe, New Mexico

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Navajo Lake - Sims Mesa Campground, New Mexico

When we arrived at Navajo Lake in northwest New Mexico we went to the west side of the lake and found a busy state park with lot's of power boats and many houseboats.It looked a little bit too busy for us so we continued on to the east side to the Sims Mesa Campground and arrived at sunset in an impending lightning storm and found a wonderful campsite.Our campsite was nestled in some juniper trees right on the shore of the lake in a quiet bay.Navajo lake was a sandstone canyon that was damned sometime in the late 1950s to create the lake. The lakeshore is virtually all public land and there is little development on the lake. The water is clear and deep (396 feet at it's depest point) and perfect for kayaking. Our first day we kayaked south to a narrow canyon on the east side of the lake.There were many side canyons to explore and with the storm clouds past we kayaked about 15 miles. We found these cliff swallow squatters up one of the side canyons.After a spectacular sunset we slept like babies to the sounds of the lake and forest. Pretty good accomodations for $10 a night.The next morning we hit the water again for a look at the west side of the lake. The west side is more open than the narrow canyons of the east and has beaches here and there for picnicing or swimming.We got to explore only a small portion of the 15,000 acre lake and will revisit on another trip some day.
NEXT: Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico