Monday, October 16, 2017

Nageezi, NM (10/15/2017)

Nageezi is a tiny little Navajo village about 50 miles south of where I was staying, in Aztec.  Near there are some rugged badlands that have been on my "to do" list for some time.  I was reluctant to drive that distance, not knowing what to expect.  Since I planned to pass there in the motor home, I wondered if there was a place to park it, then take the LRJ to explore.  In the end, I decided to make the long drive.

The canyons in this area have a great variety of color, shapes and texture.  Because it's part of a large oil field, there are many roads through the canyons, most in pretty good shape.  The roads are, in many cases, right beside the formations, so it isn't necessary to hike a lot to enjoy the scenery.  I did get out and walk among the hoodoos for a while, and I'm sure more walking would be rewarded, but a lot can be seen from the car.

The surprise was finding a great spot to park the motor home.  If I decide to return, or to re-visit nearby Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, I could easily dry camp close enough to see it all.  I met a couple who had done just that after driving to Chaco Canyon (sixteen miles of bad road), only to find the campground there full.

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took at Lybrook Wilderness Area.

Despite its arid appearance, this area is obviously getting enough water to support large fields of plant life and hundreds of cattle.  The cottonwoods are sparse, but some do grow along the washes.  Also, I spotted several stock ponds to serve the cattle.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Aztec, NM (10/11 through 10/13/2017)

Northwest New Mexico doesn't get a lot of publicity, and not a lot of people live here.  Farmington is the largest city with a population around 45,000 (and TWO WalMart Supercenters).  Smaller towns, such as Shiprock, Bloomfield and Aztec, range from 5000 to 8ooo in population.  Over the years, I've stayed in all these towns, this time choosing to stay in Aztec.

When the first European settlers arrived here, they found large abandoned communities left by the Anasazi Indians.  However, they mistakenly assumed the structures had been made by the Aztec people from Mexico.  Therefore, the largest is called Aztec Ruins (now a National Monument).  They even named the town after a culture that was never here.

The region is mostly high desert, although the San Juan River and its five tributaries run through here.  Several lakes, both natural and man-made can also be found here.  The topography is similar to that of Southeastern Utah, with lots of colorful rock formations and many, many canyons.  Indian ruins, both Anasazi and Navajo, are scattered about.

One reason for staying in Aztec is the large number of sandstone arches.  They claim to have more than 300 arches in the area, of which I've seen only a few.  Many can be accessed via dirt roads created by oil companies in their vast oil/gas fields.  Of course, oil company maintenance trucks are constantly on the roads, leaving them rough and rutted in many places.

Here are a few examples of the arches and other formations I visited on this trip.

Having toured most of the larger Anasazi ruins in past years, I wanted to check out the Crow Canyon Archeological Sites that contain both Anasazi and Navajo ruins and petroglyphs.  Getting to Crow Canyon involves a forty-mile drive (each way), much of it over the Original Spanish Trail.  Many oil fields have been developed along this road, meaning that oil company trucks have created a huge "wash board" on it.  Still, it is reassuring to see how much oil resource exists in the country today, so I'll put up with rough roads.

The drive follows Largo Wash, mostly dry this time of year, but it obviously carries a lot of water during Spring thaw.  It ranges from 50 to 200 feet across, and I wouldn't be crossing it when its flowing strong.  The cottonwoods along its banks are nearing peak Fall color.

The first site, both ruins and art, is easy to get to since the road goes within 100 yards.  I'm not sure which culture built the dwelling, but the art is mostly Navajo (with some more modern graffiti added).

The remaining art panels, including the famous "44 panel", are just a bit tougher.  From the parking area, a trail sign says it is .8 mile.  However, while hiking in a sandy wash, I spotted a small sign with an arrow clearly indicating (to me, at least) that the trail continues up canyon.  I finally reached the end of the canyon and started back, trying a side canyon where there were footprints.  Apparently, someone else had passed the trail marker and walked an extra mile or two. 

There really was no trail at the sign, just bushwhack through thick sagebrush and juniper, with a rise of some fifty feet to the base of the cliffs.  I will say these petroglyphs, mostly Navajo, are much different than all I've seen at Anasazi sites.  I'm sure you can see the differences.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bluff, UT (10/8 through 10/10/2017)

I learned of a ruin near Bluff, called Poncho House, that was said to be the largest ruin in the state.  I was given two sets of directions.  One route was longer and went into Chinle Wash, a large series of canyons.  A hike of unspecified length would be required to reach the ruins.  The second route was shorter, ending at a place on top of the ruins, leaving a climb of unspecified length down into the canyon.  I took the shorter route, just to check it out.

After a couple of wrong turns, I felt like I had arrived at the designated spot.  However, there were multiple levels of canyon rims and a fair distance left to walk.  I could see a way to descend the first rim, but the second appeared to be a sheer drop.  Given the difficulty I could see, and the distance involved, I decided this approach was not for me.  I settled for some nice views into the wash, including Monument Valley off in the distance.

Later that day, old friends Win and Yo, along with new friends Robert and Doris, arrived in town for our planned visit to various ruins in the area.  Both couples have Jeeps and enjoy exploring Utah's vast wilderness areas.  We discussed plans over a lovely dinner at Comb Ridge Bistro.

The next day, we got an early start and drove to Cottonwood Wash near Blanding, then took the road to the top of Comb Ridge.  We were looking for a trail to Tower Ruin, situated near the bottom of a canyon.  This took a while because it had been several years since I was there.  The ruin is definitely worth the effort.

Next we went looking for Over & Under Ruin in the same general area.  Unfortunately, our directions were somewhat vague and we never located the ruin.  We did get a real workout, however, hiking up and down the large expanse of slick rock.  We finally stopped searching when the strong, chilly wind got to be too much.
We finished off the day by driving into Lower Mule Canyon for views of the several ruin sites there, then driving back to Bluff via Comb Wash Road, where we checked out some of the petroglyphs.  A pleasant dinner at the Cottonwood Steak House was icing on the cake, even though everyone passed on dessert.

The following day started with a drive on Lower Comb Wash to see River House Ruins.  Along the way, we stopped to see the remains of the Barton Cabin that served as a trading post in the 1880s.  The proprietor was fatally shot by a Navajo man in some dispute over a trade.  We did some exploring along the river, where Robert discovered some Anasazi ruins and rock art we had been unaware of.  Yo proved to be really good at finding potsherds among the rocks covering the ground.  All in all, it was an enjoyable adventure.

Continuing on the rough road, we quickly came to River House Ruins, one of the more popular sites in the area.  All the river rafting tours that pass here stop for a while.

 Some folks call this the Snake House Ruins because of the very large pictograph of a snake.
 The Anasazis were short people, but some of the doors were very small and would require going through on hands and knees.
 Later we stopped at San Juan Hill, where the Mormon settlers finally managed to cross the imposing obstacle presented by Comb Ridge.  It was the end of an arduous six-month journey that allowed them to establish the town of Bluff.
We then drove to Sixteen Room Ruins on the Navajo Reservation.  This site is actually just across the San Juan River from Bluff, but the footbridge across the river was washed away some ten years ago.  Now it requires a twenty mile drive to get there, rather than a short hike across the bridge.  This ruin is one of the few that face north, so the sun never hits it directly in its high alcove. 
It was a lot of fun spending a few days with good friends, sharing some adventures in the wilderness.  They were headed for Moab, while I'll be in New Mexico for a few days.