We love the southwest. Love it. Want to eat it. OK, consume it visually and tactically. Every two years like clockwork we must return to the desert for a camping and sight seeing trip. We’ve been doing this since 1999 when we went to Zion and got engaged. We covered 7 states in 10 days, and put an amazing 3,534 miles on the clock as we burned across mountain ranges to get to the promised land of red and white sandstone down south.
There were slight detours.
On the long trip down to Pagosa Springs, Colorado we stopped for the night and were the second to last table seated at the famous (infamous) Maddox Ranch House in non-scenic Brigham City, UT. Maddox is actually noted on the map. My grandpa and dad used to stop here on the way back from the cabin in Montana for big steak dinners. It’s hasn’t changed since my last visit 20 years ago, only expanded to serve more people. The food is still great, it still closes at 9:00(!) and still only serves Coke. Mormons drink their caffeine cold.
The sign lets you know they are serious. Ginger got fried chicken (half of one) and I had spicy top sirloin. I think it’s still with me, it was that good.
The next day we blew into Pagosa Springs where it rained for three straight days. We took shelter at Lynne and Rick’s house at 7,000’ elevation. Ginger’s sister Holly joined the fray. The mornings (before the daily afternoon monsoon) were spent exploring for mountain wildflowers and playing pool, and capping off the night by watching the Nuggets lose to the Lakers.
Chimney Rock, elevation 6,800
During a sun break, we got a little prequel, a taste of what was to come at Chimney Rock State Park halfway between Mesa Verde and Pagosa. This was one of the far northeast outposts of the Ancestral Puebloans (don’t say Anasazi). They used it to tell time because every 18 years during the lunar standstill, the moon comes up between the two chimneys of chimney rock and aligns with ruins on the ground. C.O.O.L. The next day we left Lola behind for three days of dog-spa vacation with the grandparents and headed South to New Mexico.
I always love crossing political borders and having the expectation that everything will be different, but it always looks the same on the other side. Except in this case the road worsens and the No Passing, OK To Pass, No Passing, OK To Pass signs proliferate and never, ever, ever stop.
Chaco Culture National Historical Monument is a World Heritage Site in the middle of nowhere, accessible by bad dirt roads (which thankfully keeps the RV count way down) and amazingly, wonderfully isolated. No WiFi, no cell service. Bye bye world! Charge your camera battery at the one outlet in the campground restroom and otherwise detach.
The campground is in a little sandstone box canyon with resident canyon wrens and bats. They put the tent sites in the patches of green protected in the canyon and leave the RV’s to roast out on the greasewood plain. HA! Our little alcove was blissfully quiet with no RV generators pumping out diesel fumes and noise all night to keep the retirees cool while they watch Satellite. We watched the bats and the stars. I usually hate campgrounds, but this one worked.
We immediately strapped on the day packs and headed out, wearing Chaco’s I might add. Chaco Canyon is a vast collection of Ancestral Puebloan ruins, ancient roads, and rock art. There are several hikes around the canyon and we recommend getting off the loop road and up onto the mesas that overlook the canyon. We found on these hikes that it was just us, the ruins, the petroglyphs, and the cactus. Our first hike burned out our feet for the rest of the trip. Don’t wear Chaco’s on 6 mile hikes at Chaco. Bad bad bad. It was so warm and after three days of rain in CO, and 8 months of rain at home, sandals needed to be worn. We could have waited I guess. Halfway thru our hike we had a thunderstorm, which would happen every single day for the rest of the trip. No kidding, every single day. Even on drive days. This while Seattle had 70 degree weather the entire time we were gone. It ain’t right, but nothing is. We bring the rain no matter where we go.
We scarfed dinner and went to a lecture in the visitor center to escape the rain and wind. So did the rest of the campground. They’ve discovered Chocolate at Chaco. I thought it was a joke at first, but they analyzed pottery and found that chocolate from 1000 miles south was brought to the canyon. Another piece of the vast puzzle of this vast place.
The plan was to leave the next day but it was too great and there were more hikes. So we stayed and trekked out on the longest hike in the canyon to Penasco Blanco, up on the west mesa. A truly amazing place, sherds of pottery everywhere, just strewn about. This site has never been excavated, so who knows what is down there. It was magical. When I’m stuck at work my mind will probably wander here, to this desolate place inhabited 700 years ago. We were the only people out there.
We headed back as our daily rain descended in huge black thunderheads and gusts of wind knocking sand in our eyes. By the time we made it back to the trailhead we were bundled up like an afternoon in December. Then it blew off and we spent another night in our canyon oasis with the singing wren, sitting on a rock high above the tents and watched the Campground Show. Humans make good comedy without really trying.
Eventually, we visited every site in the canyon and walked all but two of the long hikes. We will be back and honestly, we should have stayed an extra day, because our next destination was a big disappointment.
Stay tuned, next post in a couple of days!