Thursday, August 4, 2011

Road Trip Report 3: Ancient Pueblos - Chaco and Mesa Verde

The road trip report continues: Here I am in full hiking regalia, ready to tackle what turned out to be a rather tough climb to a plateau to overlooking Pueblo Bonito, the best preserved ruin in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. We stopped there on our drive from Santa Fe to Durango, Colorado. Off the beaten path, the park lies 21 miles off SR550, mainly down on a rattling dirt road through a  desert of rolling hills where the sage brush is so grey I was amazed it grows there at all.
Of all the hikes we've done so far, my boys still list this one as their favorite even though we did it in 90 degree heat and full sun. But they loved having to make their way along an ancient trading route that leads through a crack in a giant rock formation.

The view of Pueblo Bonito - reached after marching along a plateau for about a mile - is truly rewarding. The ruins at Chaco Culture, especially Pueblo Bonito, look like an ancient fortress to me, and can really only be appreciated when you see their whole layout, which of course you can only do from above.

The next day was my second visit to Mesa Verde, and again I found it a magical place. To me, those dwellings tucked under the mesa overhangs are a fairy tale come true. Seen from above, they seem like real life dollhouses, and the hords of tourists mulling about don't take away from their allure.

We escaped the crowds by hiking the Petroglyph Trail only to run into the brother of a friend from Chicago - goes to show that this world is indeed small. The Petroglyph Trail was almost a repeat of the one we had done at Chaco as we were navigating over boulders, inbetween rocks, and up and down stone steps, but at least we were in the shade on the way to the petroglyph panel,
as the trail hugged the mesa about 100 feet below the top. Then a step climb to the top and back baking in the sun, with lots of lizards skipping the hot rocks as we approached.

With aching thighs we nevertheless marched down the mesa again to inspect Spruce Tree House, the best preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, and the one that you can tour by yourself. One tidbit that I remember from the guide book that disenchanted me just a bit - the Anasazi had trash dumps in front and in back of what we now call their palaces. But then again, they lived there, and daily life does create trash. Plus their trash helps archeologists figure out all kinds of things about them. That has me wondering what our trash might tell people a thousand years from now about us.


  1. What a lot of great experiences your kids are having, Annette. Your three city-dwellers are getting to see a lot of places very different from Chicago. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Don't be disenchanted with the Anasazi--I once had a tenant who used a bedroom as their trash receptacle because they were too cheap to sign up for trash pickup and too lazy to haul it to the curb. Goes without saying, it was a mess to clean up. Wish I could have hired an archeologist!LOL
    Great post and I love the photos of Pueblo Bonito-I don't think I've ever seen that. Amazing!

  3. Trash out front and behind was also a distraction for predators that came near their dwellings. It acted to keep the residents safe inside the walls while whatever ventured near was busy digging in their trash piles and also to alert them to when an invader may be near that they did not necessarily know about if it left tells for them to note the next day. Often times the trash piles were occupied by birds that alerted the residents and let everyone know when an intruder came near.

  4. Tracy - thanks!

    Nancy - yes, that was the whole idea of this trip - to give the kids an idea of the diversity of this country.

    The Desert Rocks - euw! Your landlording experience sounds exactly why I've always shyed away from being a landlord!

    STR - thanks for the education! Makes sense! I wish the guidebooks at Mesa Verde were as knowledgable as you. Next time we tour the Four Corners we'll have to take you along as a guide...

  5. Wow, I love these photos! I especially love the Petroglyph Trail; that is spectacular! I'm enjoying this road trip report a lot; I love road trips!!