Journey thru Time at El Morro, New Mexico!

18 10 2015

DSCF1824Experiencing New Mexico’s historical heritage would not be complete without checking out El Morro! Simply put, El Morro is a gem. It’s not big, yet it’s packed with mind bending history, sweet hiking, views, and to top it off, it’s even got an 800-room Ancient Pueblo great house!

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What is El Morro? Well, it’s a bluff with a watering hole. In fact, for over a thousand years, this watering hole was the only known fresh water source for dozens of miles. That made El Morro a camping spot for travelers ranging from Ancient Pueblos to 17th Century Spanish Conquistadors to 19th Century settlers seeking a new life in America’s West.

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Each of these peoples left their mark. The El Morro trail leaves the visitor center, leading to a watering hole at the base of the mesa. From there, the trail winds closely along the base of the mesa. This is where my mind began to get a bit blown away.

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Starting with the Inscription Trail, all along the base of the 250-ft tall mesa I witnessed people’s autographs spanning a thousand years. The oldest scribblings are petroglyphs. There are over 2,000 of them! Some were by now familiar such as the snake. But there were new images – bighorn sheep, along with mythological creatures.

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Then I saw dozens of 19th Century inscriptions by settlers and army officers. But more amazing were Spanish inscriptions – the earliest I saw was 1609. Wow! That beats the founding of Plymouth Massachusetts by 11 years! Most of the names were men. But there was one woman who was in a battle with the Indians, was shot with an arrow, survived, and kept going.

The trail winds around the back of the mesa, connecting to the Headlands Trail, then climbs up to the top – gaining some 250 feet. From there, the view of the valley is unparalleled. Up on top one can see the effects of rain on the geology. There were a few pools of water from recent rain, each one filled with mosquito larvae.

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Eventually the summit trail leads to Astinna, an Ancient Pueblo great house with hundreds of rooms. Incredible! Even up here, hundreds lived out there lives. Astinna had 875 rooms and was home to 1,500 people! The town peaked about AD 1300.

In total, the hike is probably no more than three and a half miles, and totally worth it!





Chaco Canyon, New Mexico: Exploring the Magic and Spiritual

6 10 2015
A view from the trail on the canyon rim!

A view from the trail on the canyon rim!

Chaco Canyon is definitely the most significant example of ancient civilization in New Mexico, and probably the entire Southwest. I was uber excited to witness it! A United Nations World Heritage site, it is 11 miles long and 5 miles wide, and contains dozens of citadels each containing up to 800 rooms with up to 20 Kivas, or religious ceremonial centers. It’s also a nationally registered Dark Skies site. In Chaco, the stars seem an arms length away.

Ancient Puebo peoples from numerous tribes congregated at Chaco for seasonal and spiritual celebrations. None of these cultures had written language, so what we know is from oral traditions, stories, passed down to their ancestors – today’s Hopi, Navajo, etc. Anthropologists tell that Chaco was not a residential city. Although some people did live there temporarily to work on the buildings, they would eventually return to their villages many miles distant. Today’s SW Indian people see Chaco as an important waypoint on their tribal spiritual migration treks.

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At Pueblo Bonito there are hundreds of rooms

Getting to Chaco is not for the faint of heart. While the site is a Federally managed area, with paved roads, the way there is fraught with challenges. The route passes through county, Federal, and tribal lands. It is 33 miles of paved, “maintained dirt,” and “unmaintained” road. It passes over dry river beds. While Chaco has campgrounds, there isn’t water within the park, except at the visitor center. Be prepared.

Chaco is a network of citadels, known as Great Houses, aligned along auspicious astronomical and directional lines. Buildings may constructed to align with the solstice, and Kivas may be aligned north-south, for example. These were built on the valley floor but also up high on ridges. Signal fires were lit to communicate important information up and down the valley. Incredibly, geological features enabled voice communication across the valley!

Building in Chaco is thought to have begun around A.D. 800, with the peak of construction about 1150. By 1050 Chaco was the center of influence in spiritual, economic and administrative matters for an area comprising SE Utah, SW Colorado, eastern Arizona and New Mexico. Advances in building technology is evident in the ruins.

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The trail above, with stunning view, winds along, then climbs to Pueblo Alto Complex, another ancient town

One of my favorite things to do in Chaco is taking a hike. Some of the hikes climb the canyon walls, leading to more trails and citadels up above! The view is incredible. But then you come across a ruin!

We heard about the hike to Pueblo Alto, which is a complex on the canyon summit above. But how could we see it? The Ranger told us there is a trail leading up there.

We drove out to Pueblo del Arroyo, where there is parking and a trailhead. A self-issue back country permit must be completed.

We started the hike. Along the way, there are stakes indicating “trail.” Some of them are in unexpected places, like in rocks 10 or 15 feet above where I stood. So we just scrambled up to get to them.

Along the scramble, we glimpsed a number of petroglyphs etched into the canyon walls. One can see many things illustrated. Like familiar creatures such as snakes, spiders, or elk. But other creatures gone from the canyon are depicted, like bighorn sheep. And spiritual entities are pictured.

chaco canyon,petroglyphschaco canyon,petroglyphsBy far my highlight of the day was taking this hike above the valley floor.

The trail wound its way amongst boulders.

Then, the next “trail” stake was at the wall. I climbed up to it, and then, looking to my right, this “trail” seemed to climb up a crack in the valley wall to somewhere above.

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Scrambling up this slot leads to the top of the canyon, with a freaky beautiful trail up there!

I was in the lead, with Tully behind. I thought, “Well, what the heck!” What I didn’t know was what awaited above.

A careful stepping up the rocks led to the top of the canyon, where a relatively flat hike awaited – with an unlimited view!

One up there my emotions went from nervous to ecstatic. There is a whole world up there, which ancients walked for a thousand years. It is no wonder they held Chaco Canyon in spiritual reverence.

Chaco has Rangers that give informational talks, and we took advantage.

DSCF1820The ranger explained what is known about the Chaco culture, the geology, architecture. He took us amongst the ruins. We looked at Kivas and even wound our way through the multi storied “apartments!”

We spent one and a half days in Chaco. We stayed near Cuba, a town outside the entrance to the area.

My recommendation is to camp in Chaco, if you are up for that. Spend two nights there. That way, you can walk the trails up to the high citadels. The base is 6,200ft. Take full advantage of the night skies opportunities. The Visitor Center has Dark Skies presentations – it has an observatory!

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Learning the Ancient Ways: Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

24 09 2015

bandelier national monument,new mexico,hiking,ancestral puebloI’d never been to New Mexico. So, when my friend Tully moved his family to Albuquerque and he offered to spend a week exploring, I jumped at the chance. We traveled north to Taos, and then west to Cuba, and then on to Grants.

On day one, on the way to Taos, we spent the afternoon in Bandelier National Monument – where you can hike trails to Ancient Pueblo ruins on the Frijoles Canyon floor, and climb inside cliff dwellings!

People have been living in the area for 10,000 years. The earliest peoples followed prey animals in and out of the canyon on a seasonal basis. Later, agriculture was developed, and a more stationary lifestyle ensued. By 1200 AD, construction of 40-room “great houses,” and cliff dwellings was at its peak.

All along the north valley wall there is evidence of many homes. The valley is north-south aligned, and the north wall gets precious warming sun – especially in winter. So all the homes are on the north side. Some are still standing today, and I walked amongst them, and climbed ladders to peek inside. There remains black soot on some of the ceilings from fires.

The Ancestral Pueblo people did not use written language, so there is no written evidence of their culture, other than petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. petroglyph

The petroglyphs depict Thunderbirds, parrots, bighorn sheep, snakes, and more. The Pueblo people carried on their stories, religion and traditions through singing and story-telling. Much of what we know comes from the oral tradition practiced by today’s Pueblo people. These people lived in villages spread out amongst New Mexico, SW Colorado, and Arizona.

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Tyuonyi Plaza

Archeologists have discovered 3,000 sites here, but these were not occupied at the same time. As time went on, people tended to gather in villages and plazas. The largest is Tyuonyi, which may have had 600 rooms. Special rooms for religious ceremonies are called Kivas. Kivas are built into the ground and are round.

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Bandelier National Monument is about two hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The entire monument is much larger than the valley, however, and has 70 miles of trails for backpacking and hiking.

DSCF1764So whether you are interested in the ancient culture, or want to get out into nature via backpacking, Bandelier offers both.

In the next blog post I’ll cover Chaco Canyon!