CLICKABLE MAPS (all items can also be reached from the text below, while some items are not on maps):
Utah/Colorado/Arizona/New Mexico (230K)
Albuqueque, Sante Fe, Los Alamos Area (175K)
|Roadrunners and Other Wild Life||The Tale of a License Plate or New Mexico, USA|
|Breakfast at the Guadalupe Cafe||The Church of Loretto|
|The Sanctuary at Chimayo||Galisteo|
|Chili Works||Modern San Ildefonso Pueblo|
|Santa Clara Pueblo||Puye Cliff Dwellings|
|Tsankawee||Bandelier National Monument|
|Los Alamos Ski Slope (Pajarito Ski Slope) revised 7/23/04||Valle Grande|
|WhiteRock||Jemez Springs Ruins|
|Jemez Mountains||Taos Pueblo and Ski Area|
|Coronado Ruins||Pueblo Cultural Center|
|Museum of Natural History||Historic Old Town|
|Albuquerque Sandia Peak Tramway||The Utility Shack|
|National Atomic Museum||Petroglyph Park|
Going North from Albuquerque
|Mesa Verde||Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad|
|Garden of the Gods||Arches National Park|
|Natural Bridges National Monument New 6-1-99||Georgetown, CO|
|Canyonlands National Park||Taos Pueblo and Ski Area|
|Chaco Canyon||Pagosa Springs, CO|
|Carlsbad Caverns||White Sands|
|New Cave at Carlsbad Caverns||Trinity Site|
|Petroglyph Park||Petrified Forest and Painted Desert|
|Meteor Crater||Grand Canyon (Havasupai Indian Reservation--West End)|
|Grand Canyon (South Rim)||The Grants Lava Fields and El Malpais National Monument|
|Bryce and Zion in Utah||Price, Utah|
|Vermillion Cliffs and the Navajo Bridge||El Morro|
|Grand Canyon (North Rim)||Glenn Canyon Recreational Area|
|Utah Badlands||Monument Valley|
|Hubbell Trading Post||Canyon DeChelly|
|Valley of the Gods|
The Southwest is a study in extremes. Some of the hotter deserts in the country are in New Mexico along with some of the best skiing. Much of the Southwest is at high altitudes and/or desert, conditions with which easterners are not familiar. Places like Bryce Canyon are at 8000' and Silverton is over 9000'. Many of the mountain passes in Colorado are over 10000'. Sante Fe is 7000' where you have about 25% less oxygen than you have at sea level. This has a dramatic effect on functioning so it doesn't hurt to give yourself a day or two to adjust to the altitude change before you do anything overly strenuous. No matter how good a shape you are in, you might still experience benign altitude sickness if you spend time at higher altitudes. Although unlikely to be harmful, it is miserable.
Much of the Southwest would be considered desert by easterners, but there is high desert and low desert. Phoenix and Tucson are low and brutally hot in the summer (>110), and it doesn't cool off much at night. One of my brothers did roofing in Phoenix; they start work at 3 a.m. when the rooftops cooled off enough to go up on them. Don't hike in this heat if you can possibly avoid it but, if you do, have PLENTY of water. Less obvious is that the bottom of the Grand Canyon is low desert, while the top is a crisp mountain 7000' or 8000'. When we were there in the end of May, it was 35 at the top the night before we went in and 101 at the bottom the day before we went in. This was before the HOT months. Coming out of the canyon, they recommend that you drink a gallon of water minimum. Believe it! Even high desert gets warm in the summer, although the nights cool off. Again be sure to take along plenty of water even on relatively short hikes and drink it. When you are thirsty, you have waited too long to drink. Even if it isn't especially hot, the humidity is zilch. Growing up in Albuquerque, the humidity on a wet day might be 12%, a typical day 4%, and a dry day 0%. You wouldn't believe how fast this sucks water out of you, and you don't even know that you are sweating because it evaporates so fast. You will notice it in the evening when you take your clothes off and they crickle-crickle from all the salt crystals.
If you do any hiking at higher altitudes or in the deserts, use plenty of sun screen and a hat. The air is clear and generally doesn't block out much of the uv, so you fry very quickly.
In contrast to desert, get up over about 7000' and the weather can get positively treacherous. When we drove up to Silverton, CO from Durango at the end of May, it was beautiful. However, in the 10000' plus passes there was snow all over; they had had to plow the road the night before. Then, within 3 hours we got caught in a snow storm in the passes. So if you are going to do anything at higher elevations, take along warm clothes and watch the weather.
Be careful about hiking in narrow canyons. Even if they are bone dry, a sudden thunderstorm can turn them into death traps--even if isn't raining where you are. Get out if you hear any thunder at all.
If you are going to parks, their web sites will generally give typical conditions at different times of the year and suggested dress. They know what they are talking about, so respect them. The same is true for warning signs on trails. Countless people get into trouble hiking into canyons. They forget that it is a lot easier to go in than to come out.
Distances are also deceptive. It is not uncommon for you to go 50-100 miles between filling stations on well traveled roads. It gets worse in out of the way routes. So, especially in unknown areas, keep your tank well capped. Speed limits in New Mexico and Arizona (at least) are now 75 on the interstates. This really helps you eat up the huge distances.
In much of the Southwest you will be going through Indian reservations. While on Indian reservations you are subject to Tribal Law. Respect it.On the reservations, it is the law and you have no recourse. You don't want a speeding ticket. Picture taking, in particular, is not allowed unless explicitly stated. Frequently a permit is required. These are generally nominally priced. However, even with a permit there may be things that are specifically not to photographed. I have heard of people having their cameras confiscated for taking pictures without a permit! NEVER try to go into, or onto, one of the kivas. These are their most sacred places and are strictly off limits.
Many easterners return saying they felt "exposed!". The vistas and many of the objects are so enormous and so stark, that they don't like it. I have a saying: "If you cannot see 100 miles, it is because it is night and the moon isn't out." For many it is an acquired taste. For many others, nirvana! It took years for me to adjust to the claustrophobic surrounding trees here in Virginia. We are content now, but we do have a house on a hill with a view, which helps.
New Mexico, USA. A close inspection of the New Mexico license plate reveals that it says New Mexico USA. The USA part is due to the fact that many people still do not know that New Mexico has been a state in the United States for nearly 100 years. As recently as the Georgia Olympics, a New Mexican was denied tickets over the phone since they "did not sell tickets to people in foreign countries." There is even a little book "One of Our States is Missing" which is a compilation of letters to the New Mexican paper from New Mexicans relating their experiences in other states. In 1995, I was trying to transfer a bank account from New Mexico to Charlottesville. I was informed that they couldn't deal with the peso to dollar exchange problem.
Breakfast at the Guadalupe Cafe. This is only a couple of blocks from the downtown plaza so you can park in the parking garage, walk to breakfast, and then back to the plaza (passing the parking garage on your way back). Food is regionally hot with green chili--downside is that they do not serve chili on the side so dishes with chili come hot. Non-hot food is also served and meals are substantial. Hopefully, it will only be a short crawl to the car. It has moved but is still in Sante Fe. Check the phone book.
Sopaipillas. Not to be confused with the things they serve in Virginia. The Southwest is the source of this fry bread. Here, in its native state, it is bread with the meal; bite off a corner, and fill the insides with honey (Susan prefers without honey). Today some places are inclined to be stingy and charge for basket refills unless you hit a native eating place such as the Rio Grande Cafe in Espanola, near Los Alamos. It is on the left as you come into Espanola from Los Alamos. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get good REAL sopaipillas. They should not be doughy. Good ones are made with, and deep fat fried in, LARD. Now you know why it is difficult to get good ones. Personally, my arteries can put up with an occasional shot of saturated fats for the enormous improvement in taste.
Plaza. Good place for history and shopping. Feel at ease buying from the Indian vendors in front of the governor's mansion. They are licensed and the state frequently checks their wares. If they say it is real turquoise, real silver, really Indian made, you can have confidence that is true. Many of them are selling on family licenses passed down from great grandparents giving them permission to sell at the mansion. Shopping in the stores off of the plaza requires some care. If a deal seems too good to be true.... If you buy an antiquity make sure you receive and Save its papers, which will prove its age and that it was collected on private property (the only way these things can be sold and kept legally). As a matter of personal preference we never buy genuine religious items (kachina figures, fetishes etc. not made for sale) or, in old pottery, a killed pot (one that has had a hole drilled into it--this is a pot that has come out of a burial). Watch while you are in the store, especially on Saturdays, and see if the Indians bring stuff in--a good sign for reliable products. Other good places to shop for Indian artifacts are: Cottonwood Trading Post (the last time we were out there it was gone, but something may replace it at some point) at San Ildefonso Pueblo (between Santa Fe and Los Alamos), The Cliff Dwellers (Los Alamos), Pueblo Cultural Center (Albuquerque) and The Utility Shack (Albuquerque).
The Church of Loretto. Part of the mythology of Santa Fe is the unsupported staircase in this church. Regardless of the story, it is a magnificent structure. This is in walking distance from the plaza.
The Sanctuary at Chimayo. Another part of the mythology, this is very near Santa Fe and has a back room with a hole where a priest, who was killed during a mini-uprising, was buried. According to legend the dirt from this hole has healing powers and no matter how many visitors take dirt, the hole never gets any deeper. Chimayo itself is an old town of Spanish weavers and a good place to look for rugs, unless you prefer the Indian rugs (The Utility Shack is a good source for Indian rugs). There is a Good Friday pilgrimage made from churches within Santa Fe to the Sanctuary and some of the pilgrims walk in from Albuquerque and even further away.
Galisteo. If you have seen just about any recent western films, then you have probably seen the movie set at Galisteo. You can see it from the road, but unfortunately it is not open to the public. A good pair of binoculars will allow you to view the sets and see the facades facing onto the main street. Silverado and Tomb Stone were just two of the many films shot here.
La Tertulia. A restaurant in Santa Fe with very good food and wonderful atmosphere. This was once a convent and, even if you do not have to wait, spend some time in the waiting area and admire the tapestry and other artifacts on display. It is possible that children are not allowed in this restaurant. The last time we checked in the Sante Fe phone book, we couldn't find it. If it is gone, a real pity. Good food and stunning ambiance.
Los Alamos is where the atom bomb was developed and built during WW II. It has the highest concentration of Ph.D.s. of any city in the US. The lab (Los Alamos National Laboratory or LANL) still dominates the area and the economy. It was built on the site of a boys school, and it is still goes by the name used during the war, The Hill. It is the ultimate a small town. They roll up the sidewalks at 6:00 p.m.--on a good day. It is assumed that if you are there, you have a family and aren't interested in any night life. Virtually all of the restaurants serve only lunch during the week, and even then, we once went to lunch and the restaurant sign read "CLOSED. FRED HAS GONE FISHING". It's that kind of town.
In White Rock, the lab's bedroom community 10 miles away, the biggest news item a couple of years ago was that they were going to get a McDonalds! In the film Into the Badlands, which was filmed in the Los Alamos/Sante Fe area, there is an obvious in-joke. Bruce Dern enters a ghost town called White Rock. There is an similar reference to White Rock in one of the spagetti Westerns, but there are much earlier, were filmed in Spain, and it may just be a coincidence.
In the center of Los Alamos is Ashley Pond. Actually, it is Ashley Pond Pond since it is named after Ashley Pond! The pond is stocked with ducks and geese. Since the pond freezes over completely during the winter and the fowl have no protection from dogs and coyotes (which you can frequently hear howling in town at night), the ducks are wintered over in the valley. In the spring, one of the great social events, especially for little ones, is when they bring the birds back. Families frequently picnic on the ponds and geese and ducks are extremely well fed by children and parents.
Los Alamos is a great place to raise a family if you don't want to do much else but that, science, and outdoor activities. Many of the permanent lab hires come from sabbatical visitors and post doctorals; they find that they keep people who have had a good taste of the Hill and like it. Even for locals the boredom can be so great that the Albuquerque hotels run "Hill Specials" in the spring to entice the locals to sin city.
Los Alamos was a closed city until the 60s. You couldn't get in without a security clearance (and a reason to be there) or friends in the city. To visit friends, you waited at the gate while they were called and came out to escort you. You didn't wander around! Now the town is fully open, but much of the lab is in highly secured areas. With the security lighting, LANL, sitting up on the plateau, is clearly visible from Sante Fe, which is 20 miles away. After 9-11, Pajarito Road that comes up from White Rock is closed to all but pass holders near Los Alamos. If you don't belong, you shouldn't be there. You can still get into Los Alamos from the front hill road (Sante Fe side) or the back entrance which comes in from the Bandelier and Jemez Springs.
White Rock. White Rock has a magnificent Overlook Park. It has an absolutely commanding view of the Rio Grande River valley, and the Rio Grande River Gorge falls away 900' at your feet. You get particularly impressive views of Black Mesa on the San Ildefonso Indian reservation and of the Taos mountains to the north--generally snow covered. The opening scene of Silverado was shot from here. There is also a nice little waterfall visible from the park. Ask the locals what the in joke on the waterfall is.
There are several hikes down into the Rio Grande River Gorge from White Rock. One starts at the overlook park and the other starts off a road in White Rock itself. The steep, demanding hike (ca 900') to the river is magnificent with highly varied terrain ranging from lava to tuff flows. The gorge is rich in petroglyphs, and has a little bird called the dipper. It has transparent eyelids that allow it to see under water. It hunts by racing along the bottom of the streams. Imagine being a fish and looking up to see a bird bearing down on you! You can get books on the local hiking trails and the things to look for at the book stores in Los Alamos. An excellent little paperback is Los Alamos Outdoors by Dorothy Hoard (Los Alamos Historical Society, PO Box 43, Los Alamos, NM 87544. 1993. ISBN 0-941232-12-3) You will find this invaluable for finding some of the trail heads, which are not always well marked.
The Chili Works is situated in downtown Los Alamos. Their sign claims the best breakfast burrito in northern New Mexico. We cannot verify this claim, but we are working on its experimental verification. However, it is the best breakfast burrito that we have ever had. It has fueled many a day of skiing or hiking.
It is so small that we missed it for weeks after we came to Los Alamos. The building is an old adobe house no more than 16'x16'. But it has a basement! Everything is carry out or eat on their patio, which is only open in nicer weather. As with much Southwestern food, you can get it with red or green chili, either on the burrito or on the side. As with non-tourist places, the food is regionally hot. If you are not familiar with western hot food, get the chili on the side and flavor to taste.
Pajarito Ski Slope is a short drive from Los Alamos. You can see the slopes on the mountain from town.A rustic low key ski area that primarily serves the Lab and town of Los Alamos. A nice place to ski in the winter with a superb view of the Rio Grande river valley and the Taos mountains to the north. From the top and the rim trail you can look over into the caldera (collapsed volcanic crater) of Valle Grande. Pajarito is not a beginners' mountain. The bunny hill has sections that would rate as intermediate in many places, and the beginner slopes are solid eastern blues. Until they remodeled, the facilities were rustic to say the least. But now is quite nice. Day skiing only and no accommodations.
The photo is pre 1983 and does not show the slope on the left side that were added later. Vallee Grande is the large snow cover bowel. That is probably Mount Taylor in the distant background, an extinct volcano which is a good 90 miles away.
In the summer, the restaurant is open with good, reasonably priced food. The view of the valley is unbeatable.
Jemez Mountains. Los Alamos is situated in the Jemez Mountains. This area is an extinct volcano of enormous size with a caldera (collapsed cone) that is about 30 miles across. It is so big that you can find it on the topographic airline maps in the passenger magazines. You can drive through the Jemez to the town of Jemez Springs on the other side. You drive through awesome Valle Grande, which is a small portion of the caldera . It was privately owned and has been cleared for grazing(as of 2003, owned by the state, but still not open to the public). During the summer it is so green that it almost hurts to look at it. In the spring and fall this route is good for watching the elk move to greener pasture.
Spreading out from the volcano are enormous tuff flows of extremely soft porous rock. Over the eons the plateaus have been eroded away to leave a series of deep cut canyons with the high tuff sticking out like fingers. The deep canyons were frequently used for testing explosive devices since, if something went wrong, everyone on the plateau was protected. Los Alamos town was built on the top of one of the fingers. The steep, colorful weathered cliffs are one of the impressive sights of the area. The soft tuff was also carved out by the Indians to make impressive dwellings. Bandelier, Tsankawee, and Puye are just some of the ruins.
Modern San Ildefonso Pueblo is on the road from Santa Fe to Los Alamos. The village, as all pueblos are, is closed to the public unless you pay a fee at the information center right at the entrance. This makes it fairly easy to get into because some pueblos are only open one or two days a year to protect the citizens. If you arrive and the information office is closed, you can still see the village from the office without going in, although you cannot take pictures. When driving through New Mexico do not pull off of the road to take pictures of the Pueblo villages you pass; it is against the tribal law and the tribal police will leap upon you. The tribal courts are not always in keeping with many of our legal practices and you may not even be allowed to have an attorney present. They have been known to confiscate cameras and film as well as impose fines.
Santa Clara Pueblo, in the same area, maintains their old ruins at Puye (abandoned about 1500) across the valley from the modern village. This is an excellent place to go to see ruins on the cliff sides as well as the substantial remains on the mesa top, which is easily reached by car. Good opportunities for some hiking, photography, petroglyph sighting, and walking through ruins. It is a key element in the film Infinity about the physicist Richard Feynmann.
The Sante Clara and San Ildefonso Indians are noted for their magnificent black pottery. See the story relating to this under Puye.
Puye Cliff Dwellings is a fascinating pueblo ruins near Santa Clara pueblo (off highway between Los Alamos and Espanola). The entrance is on the Espanola-Los Alamos highway across from Black Mesa. It is run by the Santa Clara Indians and has a reasonable entrance fee and charges for photography and video taping. The abandonment of Puye was completed about 1500 when the last occupants moved down to what is now modern Santa Clara. As with Bandelier, much of the housing was cut into the sides of the magnificent soft tuff cliffs. The dwellings are gone, but you can clearly see the rows of roof post holes cut into the cliffs. There are also numerous excellent petroglyphs. Many of these appear way too high on the cliffs to have been done without a lift of some kind; but, note where the roof support holes are and you realize that the people just carved them from their roof tops.
The top of the mesa has the remains of an enormous pueblo. You also get a commanding view of the Rio Grande River Valley (including the sacred Black Mesa), the Taos mountains to the north, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside Sante Fe, and the Jemez Mountains (on whose tuff flow you stand) miles to the west. You can either drive up to the mesa top or climb up the ladders and paths on the front face. It isn't an overly strenuous hike--if you aren't afraid of heights. If you look closely on the top, you will find numerous pot shards, many with designs. You will also note occasional black shards. The Indians from the related pueblos of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso are noted for their black pottery today. However, making it was a lost art until this century when anthropologists, finding the unusual shards at Puye and other ruins, convinced the potter Maria from San Ildefonso to attempt to rediscover the method used by her ancestors to make black pottery. After years of experimenting she and her artist husband reproduced the black coating by completely smothering the firing hole instead of allowing the smoke to escape.
Tsankawee (commonly pronounced sank-ah-way or wee). Fascinating ruins near White Rock and a branch of Bandelier National Monument. These are fairly untouched, little visited, unimproved ruins that may, or may not, even have the Park Service in attendance--open the gate, pay in the drop box, and help yourself. The buildings on the mesa top are gone, but the caves and cliff dwellings can still be seen and explored. There are also petroglyphs to be seen. Most fascinating of all is that the paths you follow to the top are the deep walkways worn into the soft tuff by generations of Indians. Go early in the morning and you may be all alone. Watch for pottery shards and, in particular, keep your eyes open for what appear to be bits of sparkly tar paper--that is the old black pottery. Of course, you will admire the shards and leave them where they are.
Bandelier National Monument. Much better developed walking trails and much more heavily visited with a good, informative visitors center. The ruins are in much better shape than many places. This is one of the premier ruins in New Mexico and is a must see if you are in the area. You are likely to see deer. Keep your eyes open for squirrels with tufted ears. They are huge and have such large ears that they are easy to mistake for rabbits when they hop around on the ground. As in many places, the regular squirrels will try to carry you off if you have food.
The recent drought weakened many of the trees in the area, and the pine beetles finished them off. The entire Los Alamos plateau was a mass of dead and dying trees when we visited in 2003. If a fire ever gets started under the wrong conditions, it will make the one that burned hundreds of homes in Los Alamos look like a Sunday weiner roast.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/htdocs1/band/index.htm
Ruins at Jemez Springs and Valle Grande. From the Los Alamos area you can return to Albuquerque using the route through Valle Grande (photo) and Jemez Springs (near Jemez Pueblo), which is a massive collapsed caldera from the actively volcanic days of the Jemez. Passing through the area you can also smell the sulfur and see the warm spring water as a further reminder of the still active underground volcanic life. There are actually informed predictions of renewed volcanic activity in the near future. At the town of Jemez Springs on the far side of the Jemez Mountains there are the ruins of a church and the now abandoned old Jemez pueblo, which is worth a stop.
Taos, NM. Taos is famous for two things: the pueblo and skiing. Taos Pueblo is one of those photogenic multistory pueblos that, coupled with the backdrop of the mountains, has made it the basis of countless photos (e.g., Ansel Adams) and paintings. Regrettably, I have no photos of the pueblo. The clickable photo does show a good view of Wheeler Peak (13161'), which is the highest point in New Mexico.
Contrary to many eastern thoughts of New Mexico as all desert, it has many high mountains where the snow can stay most of the year. Taos Ski Resort is one of the top rated in the country. Even by western standards it is not an easy mountain, although it does have sections suitable for all levels. Your first sight is of the lift to the mountain going over a truly savage Black Diamond, Al's Run. People have been known to take off their skis and sell their ticket to the highest bidder on seeing Al's Run. So much so that they have a sign posted under the lift to the effect that there are easier ways down the mountain and easier slopes. Although not of the international stature of Taos, New Mexico has many other fine ski areas. It even has a nice area in the southern portion of the state where you can go from hot desert to skiing in 20 or 30 miles!
Pagosa Springs CO Central south Colorado, a common staying place for skiers and visitors to Mesa Verde and other ruins. Also noted for its hot springs.
Chaco Canyon. The buildings seen today in partial ruin were built on camp sites and pit houses that testify to about 2,000 years of human occupation in Chaco Canyon. The pueblo-style of building associated with the Ancestral Puebloans (commonly known as Anasazi) at Mesa Verde began appearing in Chaco Canyon about mid-9th century and show signs of habitation until mid-12th century. Early explorers were puzzled by the 1,500 plus rooms not being matched by a large grave site, and modern thought is that a small resident population was enlarged by periodic pilgrimages, much as today the Pueblo and Navajo travel here for religious purposes. Evidence of this religious purpose is seen at Fajada Butte on which the sun shines through 3 rock slabs and onto 2 spiral petroglyphs carved into the face of the cliff behind the rocks; the equinoxes and solstices light different parts of the spirals. Modern thought also believes that most of the separate buildings were once connected to form a huge integral living and working area.
Coronado Ruins. Just north of Albuquerque. This pueblo, which is in the process of reclaiming its Indian name, was abandoned about 1600 after the Spanish explorer wintered over. It has the usual assortment of walled ruins; however, the kiva contained undestroyed wall drawings that were recently removed and are now on display in an adjacent museum. Replicas of the original drawings have been put back in the kiva and visitors are allowed to go down and see them. Interesting atmosphere. If you come through the Jemez Mountains you will hit the Coronado Ruins just before the freeway that goes south to Albuquerque or north back to Sante Fe.
Pueblo Cultural Center. Excellent museum summarizing the pueblo history and way of life for all except one of the pueblos. Probably the best way to observe the lifestyle of these very private people. Good gift shop, although pricey. Saturdays are usually dance days--again something it can be very difficult to get in to see at the individual pueblos. The restaurant has good food that emphasizes the Pueblo nutritional balance of corn, beans and squash.
Museum of Natural History. We haven't actually been there in a number of years, but they have spectacular dinosaur skeletons from the Colorado digs. Our son was there recently and says it is still good with dinos and a volcano.
Sandia Peak Tramway. At 2.7 miles, this is the longest single strand cable lift in the world. It travels at 12 mph and take about 15 minutes to get to the top. The view is awesome, and you get a perspective that you would not by hiking the mountain trail or driving up from the back. You may see deer or golden eagles. Riding the Skylift up to the top of Sandia Crest, or hiking up and riding the Skylift down (or vice versa), or driving up through the canyon and the back roads to the Crest, are ways to see the fantastic view from the top of the Sandia Mountains (ca 10,700'). Do not ride the Skylift on a windy day. If you take the "back road" from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, you will pass through the ghost mining towns such as Golden and Madrid, which have been semi-reestablished for tourist trade. The old Turquoise Trail.
Historic Old Town--tourist trap probably best avoided if you are not rushed. Food can be so-so and art is expensive. However, if your time is limited, it has something of everything in one place. We had a very good, reasonably priced meal at la Placitas on the Square in 2003. Years ago La Placita and La Hacienda both had places where you could watch the through glass making sopapillas. We and our children spent many hours watching this. Both have dropped the practice. If I were to hazard a guess, it is probably for legal reason. Hot grease, even if shield from the audience is potential liability and no one takes a chance.
The Utility Shack. Up on east Central. Our all time favorite place to buy Indian rugs, jewelry, and other goodies. Owners know their artists well, have pictures of many of them, and it is common to see the Indians delivering new goodies, especially on Saturday. Their clerks are frequently family members of their artists. Price ranges and quality are good and trustworthy. They specialize in Pueblo and Navajo artifacts but also carry a limited range of Apache, Pima, and other tribal work.
National Atomic Museum. I grew up in Albuquerque during the weapons programs of the '50s. The weather forecast included the humidity (generally zero to 12%), the rainfall (usually zero), and the radiation count--which depended on the size and wind conditions of the latest tests in Nevada or the Pacific. One of my professors worked on the Manhattan project and was at Trinity. A high percentage of the adults that I knew had Q clearances (top secret security clearances). One can argue the logic and sanity of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), but the following quote seems to sum things up pretty well, although it was off by about 50 years:
It did not take atomic weapons to make war terrible.
It did not take atomic weapons to make man want peace.
A peace that would last.--But the atom bomb was the turn of the screw.
It made the prospect of future war unendurable.
John Oppenheimer, Early 1948
The National Atomic Museum is a retrospective on the development, the politics, and the use of nuclear weapons. It also provides an overview of weapon evolution. It is a fascinating walk for those too young to remember and a reminder of the bullet that we have successfully dodged so far. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in weaponry and modern politics. It also makes a nice counterbalance for the prevailing Ozzie and Harriet sitcom view of the 50s. As I walked through it with my father, he looked at a number of the weapons and nodded "Worked on that one." I spoke with an ex air man who was as impressed with the museum as I was. As he walked throught it, he nodded and thought "Loaded that one."
One of their fascinating exhibits was a Russian film on the development of their atomic program, On Guard for Peace. It was showing during our visit, but I do not know if it is a standard feature. Take away the Russian signs and the accented narrator and it looks very much like the early days of the US program at Los Alamos including the very isolated, closed, self-sufficient society.
The museum is populated with huge photos of different nuclear explosions. They have a stark eerie beauty. I am reminded of the quote by Nietszche: "When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
There are exhibits on robotics with some hands-on components and a hallway devoted to the physicist Stanislov Ulam. The gift shop is unique. Different films are shown throughout the day.
The photo collage represents the tiniest fraction of material presented. Also, check the museum's web site at
See also Trinity Site. Also, see the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos for a detailed account of the early weapons program and the direction Los Alamos National Lab is going.
NOTE ADDED 4/8/09. The museum was originally on Sandia Base. For security reasons in 2001 it was move off base to Old Town Albuquerque. They were cramped for space and lost all of their external exhibits including all the rockets and planes. The only thing left was one lonely Redstone rocket sitting outside. I never saw the interior. Fortunately they have now been relocated near Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque, renamed as the more inclusive National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, and acquired a 12 acre site which allow the return of many large exhibits including a B52 bomber. I have not had a chance to see it, but it is enormously expanded in content and covers not only the cold war but atomic energy and has a children's section. I can hardly wait to get back. I do not know which of the exhibits displayed above are present, but I do know they have casings of at least Fat Man as well cars used in nuclear tests in the 40s.
Mesa Verde A day's drive from Santa Fe to Durango, Colo. This is the original area for the recognizable Pueblo. Here they lived close together in hundreds of small villages built on the cliff sides and the mesa tops. Although the last of the Indians were driven out of these villages by drought in mid-1200's, the villages themselves still stand in varying stages of decay. You drive for hours through the park and spot village after village on the cliff walls as well as walk through some of the villages that can be reached and are maintained. It is a fairyland.
Official Site: http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm
Also see: http://www.mesaverd.org
Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Also from Durango you can catch a narrow gauge train that is a fun ride through gorgeous mountain country up to mostly abandoned copper and silver mines, lunch at the old mining town, Silverton, redone for tourists, and return to Durango. If you decide to do this, especially during the busy summer months, you should try to get train reservations well in advance. For photos and further details, click on the icon.
Official web site for train: http://visitorinformation.com/durango/train/trainpix.htm
Silverton Web Page: http://www.silverton.org
Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah). Outside of Blanding, UT on your way to Lake Powell Recreational Area is home of three magnificent natural bridges, Supapai, Kachina, and Owachomo. Supapai is the second largest bridge in the world. You can see all three bridges from overlooks, but to get the full impact, you have to go down into the canyon. The two largest have strenuous hikes with vertical drops of about 400'. We did not have time to go down and look at these. However, the "smallest" Owachomo (106' high with a width of 180') is only 180 vertical feet down into the canyon and 0.2 miles from the road. It also has the best view from the overlook. It is the most delicate, and for me, the most visually beautiful of the three. Small is a relative term. It is absolutely enormous when you are standing under it, but you need someone else as a ruler for judging the true size (check on icon).
There are also old Anasazi ruins at the bottom and a hiking trail that runs between the bridges past the ruins. There is a viewpoint above the ruins, but I recommend you take binoculars. The ruins are at the bottom, and it is deep. The hike between the bridges is about 3 miles, but it would work best if you had someone drop you off at one and pick you up at the next--even at the end of May it was toasty and the walk up top to your car is not that scenic. We'll do this hike the next time we can allocate more time.
There is a technical distinction between arches and bridges, although it is not always adhered to in names. Bridges are formed primarily by running water. Arches are formed by falling water and wind erosion. These three bridges are true bridges since they are formed by the stream.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/nabr
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Right next to each other outside Moab, Utah. Arches is UNIQUE. I first saw pictures of Arches in college and knew this was some place special that I had to visit. Arches is the largest concentration of natural stone arches on the planet. I didn't make it for about 25 years during which time my expectations did not decrease--to say the least. When I actually saw Arches it exceeded my wildest expectation. You are greeted by wild formations carved by rain and wind. There are an incredible number of arches of exquisite beauty, balancing rocks, and spires. It has been used in numerous movies (Thelma and Louise, Indiana Jones, and conceptually for the Podrace in Starwars Episode I). In Thelma and Louise you can make out The Three Gossips during sunrise. In the movie, they say they are in New Mexico. As much as I love New Mexico, I have to tell you it is Utah.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/arch
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/cany
Canyonlands is magnificent and variegated canyons and formations slashed out of the desert over eons. There are small arches and wild variations in coloration. With the exception of the crater, however, it is similar to other areas in the Southwest. I rate Arches above Canyonlands, but for easterners who have not sampled some of the other western canyon areas, it is a stellar opportunity to view some of the magnificent variations in Utah's terrain.
Georgetown CO. A short drive west from Denver on I-70, Georgetown provides a quaint turn-of-the-century mining town ambience. It is definitely a tourist trap, but a fun one. During the summer all the stores have hummingbird feeders and you have to practically fight your way past the spectacularly colored little lightning bolts to get in or out of the stores. Georgetown also has a little narrow gauge. Don't waste your time if you are going to do the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge, but otherwise it makes a fun diversion.
Also, on I-70 just outside of Denver, there is a beautiful mushroom-shaped house to the south on the cliffs. This was used for the modernistic structure in Woody Allen's riotous comedy Sleeper. I have been told that it is not occupied because they cannot run water to it and that it rotates to follow the sun--this last point is certainly plausible. However, I do not have hard evidence on either of these points. Also, I lack a good photo, which I would like to include with my review of Sleeper. If anyone can provide me information or a photo, I would greatly appreciate it.
Garden of the Gods and Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs . Off the freeway outside Colorado Springs, CO is a magnificent example of natural erosion. Stunning colored cliffs and formations rise out of an otherwise undistinguished plains, although you will be delighted by Pikes Peak in the background--the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. There is no admission fee. All photos in the first set are courtesy of Louann Mayes. There is also a direct link to more Garden of the Gods photos and some spectacular internal views of the Chapel at the Air Force Academy.
Official Web Page with a magnificent photo of The Garden and Pikes Peak: http://www.gardenofgods.com
Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad is magnificent, but don't expect the glitzy colored lights of many commercial caverns. The Park Service tries to keep it as close to natural as possible. The main cavern is about 900' underground. You can either walk in or take an elevator down to the main cavern. If you are in reasonable health, I highly recommend the walk in. You can get to watch the opening to the outside world get smaller and smaller, see a number of formations that you would otherwise miss, and get a better feel for what the first explorers saw. The park now provides electronic guides that you carry around and broadcast information to you as you go through each section. I really like this compared to old guided tours. You can set your own pace, and there are some rangers wandering around who can answer your questions. If you take the elevator down, there is an easy walk through some of the largest rooms in the caverns and the pleasure of eating lunch in a huge cavern deep underground. For more challenge, contact the National Park Service and make arrangements to do some rougher spelunking into some of the caves and caverns that they are just now exploring (e.g., New Cave). During late spring and summer you will want to stay around and watch the evening flight of the masses of bats that leave the caves.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/cave
New Cave (Now known as Slaughter Canyon Cave) at Carlsbad Caverns. New Cave is near Carlsbad. It is still completely undeveloped and you have to go through it with flashlights and lanterns with the rangers. It is a brisk, 1/2 mile climb up a steep hillside. It was once the site of a bat guano operation (20,000 year old deposits and no bats). It has the third tallest column, the 89' Monarch, (where a stalagmite and a stalagtite have grown together to form a column from floor to dome) in the world! The tallest is in Russia. The next tallest is in the cave across the canyon, Lechuguilla--but you have to be a highly rated spelunker, sit on a 6 month to year waiting list, and be prepared to drop 600 vertical feet just to get in. So third best isn't bad. If you have seen the 1950s movie King Solomons' Mines, you have seen a New Cave formation; Debra Kerr and Stuart Granger come around the bend in the cave to be confronted by a frightening formation, The Klansman, which looks like a ghastly partially white shrouded head.
Warning: Slaughter Canyon Cave is only by reservation ($15), so contact the Park Service early.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/cave
Desert Blooms. In May and early June this area, especially the Sonoran desert around Carlsbad, is filled with cactus doing their annual blooming. Contrary to the eastern view of desert as being bleak, the range of colors will change this view.
White Sands. An interesting American experience to wander through miles and miles of drifting hills of pure white sand. It is a nice complement to the miles of lava beds that you may drive through to reach the area. It is actually not sand, but pure gypsum and plants cannot live on it unless their roots can reach the underlying ground. The local water is contaminated by leaching from the sand and is not drinkable.
White Sands photos
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/whsa
Trinity Site is the site of the first atomic explosion. However, it is open to the public only two days a year. The original site was a shallow crater, which was lined with fused green glass (Trinitite). Amazingly, the concrete and rebar survived the explosion. When I was growing up, you could buy sets of rock samples that contained a piece of Trinitite--which was mildly radioactive. To cut down on the radiation, the site has been scraped clean and back filled with dirt. So you can stand on ground zero of the world's first nuclear explosion and get very little radiation exposure. Indeed, one writer measured the radiation there and again at 20,000 feet on his plane going home. It was much "hotter" on the plane from the cosmic radiaton. Also, see Atomic Museum.
Photos (ca 120K) of Trinity courtesy of J. N. Demas, Sr.
Petroglyph National Monument. On the west mesa just outside of Albuquerque are extensive lava flows beds and a number of volcanic cones. On the edges of the flows there is a magnificent collection of petroglyphs. This was a well-traveled area and petroglyphs from different tribes, Spanish sheepherders, and more recent "artists" can be seen. There are three sites and a visitors center along Unser Blvd., which is an I-40 exit. The sites are Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, and Piedra Marcadas Canyon. From I-40 the visitor center is just past Rinconada Canyon. We highly recommend that you stop first at the visitors center for maps and information. Some of the rather modern looking petroglyphs are a lot older than you would think. In warm weather, get an early start and take water as extended walks take you to some of the most interesting glyphs.
Rinconada is completely undeveloped and represents a long walk on the plain at the base of the lava flow. Definitely take water! We have not walked all the way around, but even half way there is a marvelous assortment of petroglyphs, including a large masked face, a thunderbird, a humming bird with a beautifully artistic circular beak, and innumerable human figures with and without masks and headdresses.
Boca Negra (formerly Indian Petroglyph State Park) is developed, compact, and with a self-guided walking trail map. There is one hike up a trail to the top of the lava flow and another section that is essentially flat. On the top, you look directly down into a housing development that is encroaching on the site. While not as varied and extensive as Rinconada, the explanatory self-guide is a wealth of information about the significance of the different petroglyphs. You will see serpents, plants, lightning, figures, hands, animals, and abstract geometries. One of my favorites is the pair of mirrored birds.
We have only done part of Piedras Marcadas, which is undeveloped. However, it has numerous and varied petroglyphs and is the only place I have seen very clear Kokopellis. It is also currently the site of a vigorous battle. Developers want to extend a road from the city directly through the site.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/petr
Nice unofficial site with info and pictures: http://www.collectorsguide.com/ab/abfa08.html
The Grants Lava Fields and El Malpais National Monument. Very impressive field from the spectacular extinct Mount Talyor (known more picturesquely by the Indians as The Turquoise Mountain), whose beautiful cone dominates the western view from Albuquerque-- and it is 70 miles away. South of Grants are additional areas of volcanic activity and extensive lava flows. In particular, El Malpais National Monument has flows, cones, and very large and long lava tubes that you can hike through. Based on the lava flows that you can see from the road and their web page, I put El Malpais (which I have not visited) on my short list.
There are also sites in this area where there is ice still trapped under the lava flows! It is really quite odd to walk down into a hole in 100 degree plus heat and barren lava fields only to find centuries old ice. I am not sure whether any of these sites are on El Malpais or are purely commercial now.
El Malpais Official Site: http://www.nps.gov/elma
Meteor Crater. About 50,000 years ago a 100-foot piece of iron screamed out of the sky and plowed into earth. The resulting explosion had the force of 10-20 megatons of TNT. There is some evidence in the petroglyphs that man (but not those too close) may have seen this cataclysmic event--I think this very shaky, but it makes a good yarn. Meteor Crater, also known as Barringer Crater after the man who proved that it was a meteoric rather than a volcanic crater, is situated between Albuquerque and the Grand Canyon in the Arizona desert just off of the freeway. It doesn't look like much even as you drive up to it. However, go up the slight hill around it and look down into a 570 foot deep hole, which is 0.8 miles across. The Washington Monument would fit comfortably inside.
Barringer made a number of drillings in an attempt to locate the body of the meteor. The remains of his efforts are visible on the bottom and sides of the crater. He was unsuccessful, and it is unclear that any substantial pieces remain. Most of it was vaporized, shattered, and scattered as small pieces. It is clear that after the impact it rained tiny iron beads, which can be found in the surrounding soil.
Meteor Crater was used to train the astronauts for the moon. The surface disruption, the exposure of underlying structures, the cratering and splattering of material, and the way in which subsurface material would be brought up are all similar to the impact craters on the moon. Meteor Crater was also used as a prop in the films Nightmare Alley and Starman.
Some great images of Meteor Crater:
Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Spectacular area with miles of bleakly awesome colored formations and miles of beautiful petrified trees containing every imaginable color.
Grand Canyon (South Rim). The name says it all. 5000 feet deep and over 10 miles across. There are more beautiful areas, but for sheer dwarf-you-into-insignificance, the Grand Canyon is unbeatable. You can hike into the canyon, but to stay overnight, you need a back country permit. They are very hard to get during tourist seasons. You might want to start trying 2 years before hand. Do be cautious if you start in on a lark. The signs are deadly serious. It is a lot easier to go in than to come out. A LOT! If you take the Kaibab Trail (strongly discouraged) out where there is no water, you need a minimum of 4 quarts in the summer months. It may be cool on the top at 7000', but when you go in it becomes a desert by the Tonto plateau. The morning hike down to Cedar Point is beautiful and reasonable. I have been frosted on at the top and been wearing short sleeves on the plateau. If you come up Bright Angel Trail through Indian Springs, there is water available at Indian Springs and on the upper half. But you will still sweat off that gallon of water.
An entertaining rule is that hikers have to stand on the outside of the trail when mules go by. I guess they are afraid that a hiker might scare one of those valuable mules off the cliff and to its death a thousand feet below! You are also supposed to follow the mule guide's instructions. On a narrow stretch with a steep drop, we were told to stand on the inside. He said the mules like to rub up against you. A man on the edge is no match for a 1200 pound mule.
The Canyon is amazingly hot. When we arrived near the end of May, we experienced a severe rain storm. I asked the ranger what the forecast was for the next few days since we had not come prepared for rain--I'd always hiked it during dry periods. The ranger said not to worry. It never rains in the Canyon. It is desert like Phoenix or Tucson. Even if it is raining over the Canyon, it doesn't reach the bottom--its virga (evaporates before it hits the ground). He was right. When we were at the bottom, we could look directly up into an impressive thunderstorm, but only occasional drops hit us. Also, the night before we went in, it was 35 F at the top. The day before we went in, it was 101 F at the bottom! Speak of thermal shock. We were lucky; it was cool the day we were in--93 at the bottom. In the summer it gets over 110. That is what a 5000' drop will do for you. You can also see this in flora. The cacti weren't even thinking about blooming near the top. They were in gorgeous bloom about half way down. And were completely past blooming and in the fruit stage closer to the bottom.
The Canyon kills. In 1996, 5 people died from heat. This does not include the number of people who ignored the barrier, scampered up to the edge, or horsed around near it, and fell to their death. In addition 500 people were carried out on mule or by helicopter. Being hauled out is not cheap. If you require unexpected towing, it is considered rescue and not recreation. The charge is $100/hour. When we there in '97 a fellow, through no fault of his own, sprained his ankle at the bottom. It was going to cost him $1000 to get out!
The bottom is full of bats that live in the cliffs. As we lay there at dusk, they began to cruise over us--some so close that you could feel the wind from their wings. Not to worry about them running into you! They are superb fliers and navigators and are not interested in hitting you. Years ago when I was at the Bright Angel Campground at the bottom, there had been a flood, which had washed out the rest rooms. We had to use the facilities at The Phantom Ranch, which has indoor sleeping accommodations. They had strung lights for us to get there. As we approached the first light, I thought "I have never seen so many bugs around a light!" As we got closer, I thought "Those are the biggest bugs I have ever seen!" Then it dawned on me. "Those aren't bugs! Those are bats!" The air was literally thick with them as they ate the bugs, and you walked through the cloud. Quite an experience, but no one actually made contact with a bat. As an aside, the bats really keep the bug population down. My son and I slept without covers and didn't get a single mosquito bite.
Ten high resolution jpg panoramic shots taken going into and coming out of the Canyon Also before and after shots.
Official Web Site: http://www.thecanyon.gov/nps
Grand Canyon North Rim. Only 10 miles from the South Rim as the crow flies. Drive it, and it takes 215 miles! You have to drive way to the east and cross the Colorado River near Vermillion Cliffs at Navajo Bridge. It is an absolutely magnificent drive past fantastic red cliffs, variegated badlands, lava flows, and cinder cones, but it is a long haul. This is why far more people have seen the South Rim. The North Rim is much less extensive, more rustic, has fewer overlooks, and there are far fewer people than at the South. It also is closed during the winter. But it is magnificent. There is plenty of wildlife. We stayed 4 miles from the park entrance and herds of deer regularly grazed in the fields outside our cabins. We also saw several wild turkey. The North Rim is 1000' higher than the South (ca 8000' vs 7000'). This means it is about 5-10 degrees F colder than the South. On May 18, 1999 there was still plenty of snow in the trees and nightly temperatures were regularly below freezing.
You get some magnificent views of the Canyon, plus of the Colorado River. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only place on the Canyon rim that you can view the Colorado River through an arch.
Some people hike across the Canyon with a pick up on the other rim. It is about 20 miles with 6000' down from the North and 5000' up on the south. So for most people a night at the bottom is a good investment. But do make arrangements well in advance. Phantom Ranch is booked solid 2 years in advance (the limit for reservations)--keep trying since there are cancellations and no waiting list. If you want to camp, I think reservations can now be made at least a year in advance, but they fill up rapidly also.
Official Web Site: http://www.thecanyon.gov/nps
Grand Canyon (Havasupai Indian Reservation at the Western End). Strictly by prior permit from the reservation. The canyon is much more open than the main canyon and the hike is long, but not as steep. Havasupai means blue-green waters and the stream down there has the most incredible opalescent blue-green color you will ever see. I assume it is an algae, but it might be minerals. There is a spectacular falls that drops over 20-30 feet into this beautiful opalescent blue-green pool. I have seen nothing like it anywhere else!
Bryce and Zion in Utah. Near (2-3 hrs which is near by western standards) the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Only an hour and a half apart, but Bryce and Zion could be on different planets.
Zion is massive overpowering rock formations, which look as if they were cleaved by mighty blades from the solid rock and then scoured with fine blades and paint to give them texture and color. Zion is just plain magnificent! Except for the Indians, the Mormons were the first to explore Zion and the names of many of the formations (e.g., The Temple, The Three Patriarchs, The Angel's Throne, etc.) reflect a coupling of their awe and religion. Zion will do that to you.
While we were at the Angel's Throne, we saw little specks on the sheer vertical face--and they were moving. There were a number of climbers scaling the 1400' front.
Coming into Zion from the Mt. Carmel Junction on the east you have to pass through about a mile long tunnel. There are holes cut through the walls so you can get glimpses of the valley as you move along, but you are not allowed to stop. Then you pop out of the tunnel and look into the awesome main canyon.
Incidentally, I enclose a photo of parked cars on the main box canyon. You won't see those after this year. Starting in 2000, the Park will limit traffic to shuttle buses up the 7 mile long canyon. Probably long overdue. Even on May 20, it was bumper to bumper with no parking spaces at many of the interesting features.
One nice walk is the Emerald Pool. If you take the low path to the bottom of the falls, it is only about 0.6 miles and wheel chair accessible. A really nice loop is to take the middle pool (NOT wheel chair accessible) and drop down from above the falls to the lower path. You get to walk under an overhang with the falls dropping over the top of you--neat.
Bryce Canyon is a fairyland of delicate colored spires ("hoodoos") of every shape and size cut away by nature. If you ever wondered where the model for the terrain in the Road Runner Coyote cartoons came from, it is Utah with a strong dose of Bryce. My son and I hiked the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles with 500 vertical drop) and part of the Peekaboo Trail (horse trail). The Navajo Loop is probably the best short trip to get a real taste of the Canyon. It is moderately steep and strenuous, but lacks some of the nasty dropoffs of the Grand Canyon (or even parts of the Rim Trail). But when judging difficulty, remember the bottom is about 7500', so at best you only have about 70% as much oxygen as you have at sea level. Also, the hike is an inverted mountain. It is easy to get into and a lot harder to get out!
We also hiked the Rim Trail between Bryce Point and Inspiration Point (1.2 miles one way). This walks you around the box canyon housing the formations of The Silent City, one of the most impressive in the park. It is truly amazing how different the canyon looks as you change the viewing angle. I have been told that the very best way to see the park is on horseback on the Peekaboo Trail--no way you will get me on top on one of those unstable things!
If you drive deeper into the Park, you can see Natural Bridge, a beautiful structure, and ultimately reach Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point, the highest point in the Park at over 9000'. It is a long drive and not so spectacular as the main portion of the canyon, but if you have time, it provides magnificent vistas and varied terrain.
Pictures do neither Bryce nor Zion justice.
Official Web Site (Zion): http://www.nps.gov/zion
Official Web Site (Bryce): http://www.nps.gov/brca
Utah Badlands. To get from Bryce to Natural Bridges Monument, you have to go through parts of Capital Reef National Monument and some Utah Badlands. Capital Reef is now on our "Must See" list the next time we are out there. Even without going into the park proper, you pass a number of historical markers, absolutely magnificent natural formations, some beautiful petroglyphs (which you cannot get too close to, so take binoculars), and then into truly awesome badlands. These badlands are where Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and their Hole in the Wall Gang hid out. They are BAD, but in the not too far distance are snow covered peaks--a truly striking contrast.
We also stopped in this area and purchased Indian jewelry from some of the many Indians selling their wares from roadside stands or spreads. We even got to watch a very old woman making her jewelry.
Glenn Canyon Recreational Area. Between Natural Bridge National Monument and Blanding, UT, you come down off the high plains badlands and into the top of the lake formed by damming the Colorado River. While primarily a water recreational area, it is truly magnificent with green water cutting through spectacular red cliffs. Our photos just do not convey the richness of the colors.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/glca
Vermillion Cliffs and Navajo Bridge. To get from Flagstaff, AZ or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a long haul even though as the crow flies they are next door neighbors. You have to go way north and east to cross the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge. This is a spectacular drive and most places like this would charge an admisson fee. You leave the snow covered peaks outside of Flagstaff, pass a cinder cone and lava fields, traverse badlands as stark and surrealistic as the moon, and then pass miles and miles of magnificent red cliffs, cross the Colorado gorge on the spectacular Navajo Bridge (which springs without warning out of what looks like a plains), pass more cliffs, and then rise up on the plateau at the north side of the Grand Canyon. In a couple of miles you go from desert to pine forests and can look back onto the plains and cliffs from the heights. Beautiful.
El Morrom, NM. Fascinating! A little ways off the freeway on a fast road. Well worth the time. A source of rare water in western New Mexico led to El Morro being the crossing point for countless people over thousands of years. With man's propensity to leave his mark, the rock faces are embellished with innumerable petroglyphs, signatures and comments of conquistadors, territorial governors, and immigrants on their way west. El Morro is a walk through history. Many of these marks are not just scratches in the rocks, but frequently beautifully ornate letters worthy of monuments. One of the most famous was the 1605 inscription by the first governor of New Mexico, Don Juan de Onate on his way back from thg Gulf of California. This was years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. The cosmopolitan character is demonstrated by one section with petroglyphs, a Jones, an O'Reilly, and a Lopez.
One of the most ornate was by Mr. E. Pen Long, who was a member of Lt. Edward F. Beale's 1857 caravan that was testing the suitability of camels in the western deserts. Camels actually worked very well, but ultimately the ubiquitous mule won out. Noteworthy from Virginia history is the beautifully sculpted name of P. Breckenridge, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. Breckenridge was in charge of Beale's 25 camels. Breckenridge returned to Virginia only to die in a skirmish at Kennon's Landing, VA in 1863 in our Civil War.
Also, are the rather poignant names of Juan de Archuleta and Agustin de Ynojos in 1636. Archuleta one one of the first colonists in 1598 with Onate. Archuleta and Agustin were beheaded in 1643 in the Sante Fe plaza for a plot to assassinate the governor.
We didn't have time to take the hike up to the Indian ruins at the top, but my sister-in-law says it is worth the effort. Also, it allows you to see the inside of the rock, which is just a thin shell around a box canyon. Be sure to get one of the park booklets, El Morro Trails, which has some magnificent photos by David Muench and J. C. Leacock.
As an interesting aside, the politics of the Southwest were demonstrated by a controversy during our 1999 visit. One neighborhood in Albuquerque wanted to have a statue in honor of Onate and this led to bitter feud. The Spanish descendents consider him one of the heroes for opening up the area, while the Indians consider a statue honoring him roughly equivalent to a statue honoring Hitler. Of course, complicating the issue is that much of the population is of mixed ancestry. As of May 1999, the issue sits in city council.
Official Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/elmo
Price, Utah. A wonderful little museum filled with dinosaurs and excavation information from the Utah/Montana dinosaur fields. Excellent Greek food in the town as many of the miners were Greek immigrants.
Monument Valley. The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park straddles the Arizona-Utah border in southeastern Utah. It is without a doubt one of the scenic wonders of the world. Its awesome, sheer buttes, flaming red colors, and stark grandeur are unlike anything else you have ever seen. MV was made famous by Glenn Ford in his quintessential western film, Stagecoach. It has been the backdrop, passive and active, in countless movies both Westerns and otherwise. These include The Searchers, The Eiger Sanction, and Vertical Limit. Word and photographs cannot do it justice.
It is reached from Rt 33 in Utah. If you come in from the east, you will be treated to a stunning vista even before you get there. Admission is inexpensive, and you can get a magnificent view from the visitorís center. However, the only way to get the true effect is to tour the area on the 15 mile dirt road. You can use your own car, but the quality of the road is uncertain, and donít even think about it in inclement weather. Also, it is one way so if the weather changes suddenly you could be in trouble. Best alternative is the Navajo jeep tours. The jeeps have plastic drop downs in case of rain, and my guess is that the wealth of information you will get from the tour guide makes this the very best way to go. In addition, the Navajo also run trips to parts of the park closed to casual visitors.
It was late in the day, storming, cold and windy when we got there at the end of May 2000 so we didnít take the tour. However, Monument Valley is at the top of my list of places to visit again and do right. Also outside of the park is a trading post that is apparently very rich in history and a must see on our next visit.
The attached photos were take on the eastern approach and from the visitorís center. They give only the vaguest flavor of its intimidating beauty.
Valley of the Gods. The little brother of Monument Valley and much more poorly known. Valley of the Gods is in Utah about 20 miles away from Monument Valley; you can see Monument Valley on the horizon. It is on a typical, unimproved dirt road running for about 15-20 miles connecting two highways. It is truly striking in its own right. I had never heard about it until I was looking up Monument Valley on the web.
Absolute and total isolation. To enter from Rt 33, we had to drive through an arroyo with shallow standing water (NEVER drive into one with running water!). There was a pickup truck coming the other way, and it was clear from the way he was driving that he had probably not come in from the other end. Much too tentative. We passed one car where the people got out to hike and never saw them again. Two vehicles passed us coming from the other direction. And that was all the humanity we saw for the roughly 4 hours we took. When we stopped, we heard only the wind and bugs and saw only our own car, the dirt road, and stunningly beautiful isolation in all directions. About half way through I noticed a thunderstorm building over Monument Valley. Too bad we canít stay! We got out as fast as we couldóstopping only to get a few magnificent shots. On a dirt road where you have to drive through arroyos, you donít want to be there during a storm, especially if you have no idea where its water shed is. As we exited at the far end, my son looked back and saw a sign "Road Impassable in Inclement Weather". Believe it. They didnít have one at the Rt 33 end so be forewarned.
There are a number of striking formations and views. One in particular looks like a phalanx of Kachina figures standing ramrod straight with their sculpted features, and I have no doubt where the name Valley of the Gods comes from.
Since the road is dirt, I highly recommend you get rental insurance that covers glass and paint damage.
Canyon DeChelly This appears to have been one of the stopping places for the Hopi Ancestral Puebloan on their move down from Mesa Verde to their current mesa-top homes further south. On top of much earlier camp sites and pit houses they built their pueblo-type construction on a much smaller scale and then abandoned the canyon by 1300. Later, the area, although not the buildings, was settled and farmed by the Navajo, who continue to live in and farm the canyon today. This leads to the unusual experience of seeing the old ruins brought somewhat back to life by being surrounded by active farming and animal care.
The Hubbell Trading Post at Ganado This was the first of a string of trading posts that John Hubbell established in 1876 and ran until his death in 1930. Although he and his sons eventually owned 30 trading posts, mostly in Arizona and New Mexico, this first one was his home base; he and his wife are buried on the hill behind this post. Born in 1853 in Pajarito (now part of New Mexico) from a Connecticut soldier and a mother of Spanish descent, he lived his life in the Southwest and his trading post was a center of Navajo social life from its opening.
Hubbell believed that if the Navajo prospered he would also, and so he spent a great deal of effort helping the Navajo resurrect the good times that they had lost during their exile to Fort Sumner. He helped them to reestablish their flocks of sheep, translated government letters and documents and helped them write replies, advised them on the direction their silver and weavings should take, and opened the trading post as a hospital during the 1886 smallpox epidemic. When Pendeleton blankets cut into the Navajo blanket market, he advised the women to begin making rugs. Hubbell used his eastern contacts to market the rugs in a catalog-order style, and he covered his walls with small samples of the traditional rug patterns so that visiting tourists could pick out the pattern of rug that he would then have made and shipped to them.
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