Pushing Eastward

The Campsh@ck is now firmly pointed eastward, and our slow trek to Michigan has begun. Some portions of this journey I dread, but we’ve tried to spice it up with some variations in our route that enable us to stay in some new campgrounds while visiting some old favorites (I say old favorites like we’ve been doing this for 20 years.) Hard to imagine that this is only our sixth winter of wandering away from Michigan winters.

Maricopa County AZ (Phoenix area) has several regional parks with great facilities. We’ve stayed at two so far, and decided to swing by White Tank Regional Park to check it out this time. While I don’t think this is my favorite, we enjoyed a few nights camping. It was a big change from the cool California mountains – this campground is hot and sunny. With a bit of blind luck, we stumbled into reserving one of only two sites (#24) that had a bit of shade to offer. What luck – it was really hot! I’ll admit that we were pretty smug watching our neighbors sit outsite in the broiling sun, while we were chillin’ in the shade.

White Tanks gets it name from the watering holes (or tanks) that collect the scarce rainwater here in Ford Canyon for all the wildlife here. So, we naturally decided to hike over there to see them, since they aren’t visible from the campground. The first few miles  of trail were flat and rather boring, as we wound our way to the back of the Canyon. Then, we came upon this odd warning sign – something about hazardous Indians and rumnoel runs – whatever that is. 20180328_1221111478470471.jpgPerhaps we should have been warned, but we forged ahead. The hike became difficult after these point – a sharp increase in elevation had us snaking around obstacles, and wedging toes into tiny footholds. We finally wound our way up then down to the tank area, which was worthy of the effort to get there. There was just a bit of brackish water in some of the deeper holes.20180328_134343799132786.jpg20180402_220211110194482.jpgAfter another mile or so, we decided to turn back, as we had drunk half our water, and the trip ahead was twice as far as the trip back. In hot/dry conditions, we don’t second-guess our water supply. All in all, it was a great hike.

Our next destination was to Fool Hollow State Park (AZ),where we had stayed for a single night several years ago. It’s a beautifully maintained, cool area at about 6300′ in Show Low AZ. We were eager to escape the Phoenix heat (projected to be 95 on the day we left). I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful park. Hard-working camp hosts and attentive staff treat this gem as if it were their own. 20180330_1700181071804728.jpg20180331_1708372085522344.jpg20180402_220447299212989.jpgThe drive up from the Phoenix area was filled with some spectacular rugged territory. This roadside project caught our eye as we passed – it’s hard to see, but that big shovel is very precariously perched as it moves dirt around. 20180402_220317178514275.jpg Not a job for the faint of heart!

We didn’t do anything particulary noteworthy at Fool Hollow, but we did meet Paula and Molly – two single women who are both full-time campers. After sharing dinner and camping tales for two nights, we have two new friends – Paula in her Oliver trailer, and Molly in her Casita. Why are most of the full-time campers we meet women? I can only think of one or two men we have met over the years who live full-time in their small trailers or campers. Interesting….it takes a lot of moxie to sell your home and hit the road fulltime. These ladies have it all together.

Here we are now, camped in the middle of of a fairly young lava field that’s 45 miles long, a mile wide, and 50-150 feet deep.20180402_104106-1435890512.jpg20180402_2206521560201472.jpg And the fact that we’re perched on an island over the top of it – amazing. Valley of Fires ranks among one of the more unique spots we’ve camped.20180401_1935221270226480.jpg Lava has spewed from vents in the earth (as opposed to flowing down a mountain) on at least two separate occasions in the last 1500-5000 years, creating a mysterious, crusty spot to explore. A well-signed scenic walkway winds around a mile or so of the area, with many spots to walk off the path and onto the lava beds.20180402_1152331452944319.jpg20180402_2209001309537280.jpgOur campsite is right in the middle of the above photo. You can barely see the curve of the Campsh@ck to the right of the ramada which covers the picnic table.20180402_1213261767284489.jpg It’s fascinating. I can’t briefly explain the geology to you in a coherent way, but would encourage you to check out the above link if you’re interested. The pristine campground is small (about 25 sites), but inexpensive. We have a big site with water/electric for $9/night with our senior pass. Of course, there are superclean bathrooms and showers.

Our time here is marred only by the strong New Mexico spring winds which we have come to dread every year. It really is no joy to be outside in 30-40mph winds, and there isn’t anyplace to hide from them. Although we have the windows open a bit, we have them tied down with bungies and ropes to keep them from blowing open and tearing off the trailer. Having that happen to us once in Death Valley, we’re not chancing it again.

The next two weeks are taking us to several new campgrounds as we move across the vast state of Texas. Hope our nasty winds subside, and I hope spring is finally going to move into the Midwest and Northeast. You have paid your winter dues in spades, my friends. Enough!




Cranes, Cliffs, and the CCC

The highlight of our week?  Hands down, this is it.    I didn’t shoot this video – it was taken by our neighbor, and emailed to me.   Hers was much better than mine!

In a full-out windstorm (blowing 25-40mph, gusting 45-55mph), we headed to Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, hoping to see the thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes that winter there.  It was a spectacular success.

But, let’s back up a wee bit.  Facing a short travel day, we actually elected to take the long route to Whitewater Draw.  This would take us through Tombstone, AZ, home of the famous Boot Hill Cemetery, and also the location of the Shootout at the OK Corral.20150302_110440 This town has more kitschy western-y stuff going on than all the rest of Arizona put together.  Tombstone may have been the center of the Wild Wild West back in the 1880s.  To wander through the cemetery, it sure would reinforce that idea.  Many of the tombstones have a name, followed by the designation ‘murdered’, ‘hanged’, or ‘shot’.  20150302_110842My favorite is the grave marker of the famous Lester Moore.20150302_111308Howling wind made it uncomfortable to stay out too long, even though the temperatures were in the low 60s.  How windy was it?  Ask Jezzy.20150302_130908We sought shelter in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  BNK was the girlfriend of Doc Holliday, one of the infamous participants in the Shootout.  John was persuaded to step behind the bar and pretend to draw a beer for me.  “Put your hand on the tap, but DON’T PULL!”, were his instructions.20150302_123910Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this, but the funniest thing was the stagecoach which could be hired for a brief tour.  The driver, in full stagecoach regalia, was pointing out places of interest to his four passengers.  But, it was a recorded presentation.  That didn’t stop this driver from giving it his all – he was waving his arms, and giving a full theatrical presentation, as if he was performing at the Met.  His passengers were most likely oblivious to this, being sheltered inside the stagecoach.  As he passed by, John and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.  But, maybe you had to be there……20150302_123514The Courthouse Museum was our next stop, where we learned everything one could possibly want to know about the Shootout at the OK Corral, starring Sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday against the bad guys, who were all killed.  Wyatt Earp was the only one not wounded or killed that day.  As I said, Tombstone was a tough place to live in the 1880s!

We rolled into Whitewater Draw around 2:30, and established our spot in the ‘campground’.  This is actually a small circular parking lot, with a vault toilet in the center, and about six parking spaces surrounding it.  Other cars can pull in and park for a few hours, but this is the only overnight spot.  Our neighbors were from Switzerland – halfway through a two year tour of the US.  Nice folks!20150302_144058We knew this was a Sandhill paradise, as we follow the excellent blog of Ingrid, who describes herself as a ‘non-birder’, but who takes the most fabulous bird photos.  Check out her post by clicking the link above.

We quickly set up, turning the Fireball around, so that our door would be downwind.  If not, we would not have been able to open it from the inside – that’s how violent the wind was.  But, where are the Sandhills?  We saw ZERO CRANES!  Ah, we remembered that Ingrid mentioned that they depart at first light in the morning to feed in area fields, and return to the water at dusk.  The flock here is estimated at times to be nearly 30,000 birds, although we didn’t expect to see that many.

Around 5:30, we wandered down to the water, binoculars and cell phone cameras at the ready.  We quickly met our Swiss neighbors, and our California neighbors in the huge RV directly across the parking lot.  Soon, we could hear the racket of Sandhill Cranes, coming in for a landing.  20150302_17522620150302_182138They were in packs of 100-200, flying directly into the fierce south wind. Wave after wave landed, taking spots in the water, where they stay for the night.  There must have been 10,000-12,000.  We speculated that they stay in the water as protection from predators – there were lots of coyotes hanging around, and we dreaded hearing any confrontations.20150302_175226 Unfortunately, the very dark clouds and late hour of the day precluded any decent photos.  But, we (and our new neighbors) kept murmuring ohmygawd as another batch landed.  The noise was incredible!!  I downloaded an app for my phone to record sound, which I did.  It’s magnificent.  BUT, it doesn’t allow me to share the sound files.  So, if you see me sometime, ask to listen.  It’s a wonderful raucous symphony.

We set our alarm for 5:30 am to be sure to be out at first light.  It was in the 40s and raining.  But, we stuck it out, and were rewarded with liftoffs of several hundred Cranes every minute or so, heading out to feed.  It poured all morning, finally clearing up around noon.  Jezzy and I headed out to explore.  Check out these feet – would you want them in YOUR camper?20150303_103725We decided to stay one more night to see if we could get a better view, hoping that the dark clouds of the storm would have passed.  We were rewarded, in spades!  The Cranes were all huddled along the far shore when apparently a sprinkler went on in the massive field, causing the uprising that you see in the opening video.  It was unbelievable.  Thousands and thousands of Sandhills.  wpid-wp-1425749304050.jpegAgain at 5:30 the next day, we stood on the water’s edge.  Cranes flew away in huge numbers, with the entire 10K (or so) leaving within a space of 10 minutes.20150303_183511 We could see the in the dim light through our binoculars, but there wasn’t enough light for photos.  I will never forget this sight.

We have to move on.  Leaving Arizona in our rearview mirror, we head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.  This area’s most famous inhabitant was probably Geronimo.20150304_13105020150304_161306It’s my day to drive.  Unfortunately (for John), this involved one of the most hair-raising 40 miles of road we hope to ever travel.  Twisty, turny, up and down…..it took us two hours to climb and descend into the Park area.  They sure didn’t build these cliff dwellings downtown!    Had to pry my sweaty, cramped hands off the steering wheel.  What we didn’t realize was that the ‘campground’ was (again) a parking lot with some walk-in tent sites.  There was only one other camper here, so we hogged an entire corner of the parking lot and set up camp.20150304_172403The Cliff Dwellings here are accessible on foot from a pathway about 1/2 mile from our campsite.  After spending a very chilly night (the temperature was 14), we set off to explore. 20150305_102603 The natural caves in this area had been inhabited over several thousand years, but were only built up inside the caves and inhabited for a very short period – perhaps as little as one generation.  The mystery of why the Puebloan people of the Mogollon era left this area is unresolved.  The site is spectacular, and we were fortunate to have a volunteer docent walk us through the area.20150305_110804 He explored lots of questions, persuading us to think about scenarios that may have affected the inhabitants.  Although this is a difficult area to reach, and one with limited facilities once you finally DO get there, it’s a worthwhile trip.  Here are several different views from the dwellings.20150305_10325520150305_10510920150305_10552720150305_10564420150305_11043420150305_11061020150305_110834 It’s interesting to note that the remnants of several thousand years of habitation in this area were destroyed by the building of the current road that leads to the cliff dwellings.  Knowingly.  Only in America….

Cold again at night.  Minus 14.  John is wishing that I would relax my prohibition on running the heater at night.  It’s only 35 inside the Fireball in the morning.  Fine, until our feet hit the floor!

The week is beginning to blur on me.  Our “3 Night Minimum Stay” policy is in the toilet after our first week.  We’ve had three locations of two nights each so far, and it’s getting worse.  We press on to Fort Davis State Park, in the middle of West Texas.  For those who haven’t visited this area, West Texas is the largest area of nothing one might ever hope not to visit.  Mile after mile of……nothing.  Our site is unremarkable enough, that (perhaps for the first time), we neglect to take even one photograph of our campsite.  The park is very clean, but very old.  Sites are small.  It’s packed!  Why does everyone DRIVE to the bathroom?  We’ve never been in a park with so much truck traffic!  omg!

This early Texas State Park has many CCC buildings and features.  We decide to explore the Trail that leads to a lookout over Fort Davis.  It’s an uneven, uphill trek.20150307_105914 At the peak is a stone lookout shelter, with a great 360 degree view.  There’s also an old CCC era stone water storage tank.20150307_132134 Instead of taking the 4.5 mile (long-way) return, we decide to hike out to the Fort Davis overlook.  What a smart decision that turned out to be!  The trail led through a lava field, with enormous black boulders squeezing a narrow trail.  After 3/4 mile, we came to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the historic Fort, a frontier post during the Indian Wars. 20150307_121905 From our high vantage point, we can see the entire complex, and learn one very interesting fact.  The officer’s quarters (red brick buildings in the lower right corner) were built pointing to magnetic north, while the enlisted men’s barracks (the foundations to the right of them) were lined up to true north.20150307_122056 We loved this big view.  The Fort was also briefly occupied by the Confederate Army, an was decommissioned shortly after that.

We’re trying to figure out how to push on to Texas Hill Country, where John wants to search for BBQ nirvana.  Brisket!  Bummer for us, we badly need to find a laundromat.  One of the pitfalls of having a tiny camper is the equally small amount of clothes we can pack.  We’re good for about a week between laundry stops.  Out here in West Texas, there are few towns large enough to support a laundromat, so we find ourselves camped for the night in Fort Stockton at the RV Park.  Yikes!  A couple hundred large rigs and us.  The RV three slots away has painted on the side, “Private Coach Not For Hire”.  We think we’re going to hand-letter a candy wrapper with this, and tape it to our door.  Ha!

Headed toward Austin for a couple of days.  We’re in the middle of an endless TX Spring Break.  There isn’t a State Park campsite available for the next two weeks (and we purchased a TX State Park pass for $70!)  We can get one night here, and one night there, but we’re exhausted with the effort of driving and moving.  Hope we can figure this out!




Fort, Volcano, Dinosaurs, Blizzard

Like so many other spots we’ve been, Santa Fe was one more place we hated to leave. Return trip is a must – at this rate, we’ll spend the rest of our trips forever revisiting spots we’ve been to one time before.  How will we ever see anything new?

Naturally, we decided to take the roundabout way to our camping destination. So, our first stop was Fort Union National Monument, a US Military post in NE New Mexico from 1851 to 1891.20140412_113501 Perched right on the Santa Fe Trail, its huge storehouses made it an important supply depot.20140412_120331 The only hospital for miles was also located here, with non-military patients paying $.50/day for treatment. Preservation began in the 1930s, although much of the huge site had deteriorated by then. It was an interesting morning in a lightly-traveled spot.20140412_121246One of the things I loved most about this site was that we could see the ruts of the Santa Fe Trail, although wagons had been gone for decades.  Unfortunatey, none of the photos I had picked these up, although they were clearly visible with the naked eye.  We were amazed that the wagon path could still be detected over a century later.20140412_120653
Our find of the day perhaps was the National Park System Map we picked up for $1.75. Now we have a visual guide for all the National Parks and Monuments – an actual map with the locations pinpointed.  We are happy map people.  Sometimes you just need a paper guide. Going to try to hunt them all down. Too many are lightly traveled – like this one.20140412_121727
Armed with our new map, we discover that we can go only 60 miles or so out of our way to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument. Off we go. 20140412_144002Along the way, see piles of lava rocks alongside the road in one of the most eerie landscapes ever. Bright blue skies with puffy white clouds, bright golden fields of prairie grass, and an absolutely flat surface, save for the occasional extinct volcano scattered around. It’s bizarre.20140412_151355 Who knew that New Mexico had an entire line of volcanos? Capulin is the most recently active of these – erupted 50,000-60,000 years ago. We watched the movie at the Visitor Center and perused all the exhibits. But, in order to take the scenic drive to the top, we would have had to unhitch the Fireball. 20140412_150936We agreed that if it would have been bare volcanic rock – we would have done it. But this particular site has already grown over with shrubs, pinon pines, and other high desert plants. We grabbed a brochure and headed on our way.

At this point, the wind was picking up, and we were getting biffed furiously around.  The bonus to this was that we passed an area where we saw an updraft that was completely filled with tumbleweeds.  A tumbleweed tornado.  By the time I grabbed my camera, we were passed, and it was gone, but we had an amazing sight for 20 seconds of a huge cyclone of tumbleweeds, high above the ground.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Clayton Lake State Park was our destination for the night (and for Sunday as well). Formed by a dam, Clayton Lake is a fisherman’s dream. We watched several boats on Saturday afternoon pull out, having caught their limit of trout (5/person/day). The two other campers there were both frying fish for dinner. We hung out with pathetic looks and empty plates, hoping for a dinner invitation, but it was not to be.20140413_110521

Sunday morning, we decided to explore the Dinosaur Tracks(!) at the Park. After the dam was built, the spillway was bulldozed. The spillway floor eroded, exposing dinosaur tracks that are 100 million years old. From an overhead viewing station, there’s a good view of the entire area, and a boardwalk around the edge gets us up close and personal.20140413_103417 One particular three-toed track really captured our imagination. We dangled our binoculars out next to it to capture the enormous size. Amazing.20140413_10273220140413_103546wpid-20140413_102447.jpg
Winter weather warnings have us concerned. During the day, we battled 40mph wind gusts, which are not uncommon in the Southwest spring. But, there’s a winter storm warning. The only other campers here abandoned their big 5th wheel trailer, and headed to Dodge City for the night and a warm hotel room. We’re here by ourselves, and it is roaring outside. We can barely open the door. We disconnected our water, put antifreeze in our toilet, and are hunkered down for the night. This shot is about 6pm, out our porthole window.  wpid-20140413_184112.jpgIt’s blowing snow straight sideways. Prediction is 4-6” of snow, with temps in the 20’s or teens. We’re hoping we can get out in the morning.  It’s uphill between us and the Visitor Center, and uphill again to the road out from there.  Ugh.

Monday morning, we awoke to this.wpid-20140414_073559.jpgThe Park Rangers (with their 4-wheel drive trucks) tell us that we have NO CHANCE of getting out of here with our 2-wheel pickup, trailer, and puny tire chains. Pure ice!  wpid-20140414_081135.jpg We resign ourselves to a solitary day/night.  It’s still whistling outside, and the windchill is -19 (according to the one radio station we can get).  We resign ourselves to the day – hiking up for a mile to the one point where we have a bit of cell service to send a text message to folks who might wonder where we are.  Freezing, but beautiful.  Snowy tumbeweeds are everywhere, less of a nuisance when frozen than not.wpid-20140414_080944.jpgHey, New Mexico sun!  Thanks!  By 1pm, the dark pavement has de-iced itself, and we decide to bust out and head to our next destination in Dodge City, KS. We see snow nearly all the way there, and it’s cold.  But, we’re not stranded.  wpid-20140414_163843.jpg

Pueblo Santa Fe

After days (or maybe a week without basic services) we find ourselves at an RV park just on the southern edge of Santa Fe.  Electric! Water! Sewer! WiFi! (probably the piece of this that we appreciate the most).  It’s our style to hang out in RV parks, but sometimes it’s all about location.  We want to explore Santa Fe, and don’t want to drive.  This park is right on a bike trail, not 10 miles from the city. Right up our alley.

If you’re not into photos, proceed no further. This is a big city with lots of BIG history. It boasts the oldest known house in the country (how telling that it’s a now a real estate office)20140411_154029The oldest church – built in 1610.  The original bell, which is now in the sanctuary was cast in Spain in 1356.  I actually hit it with a small rubber hammer to hear its sweet peal.20140411_15222620140411_15231120140411_15272420140411_153001Santa Fe is also the oldest US State Capitol – didn’t get a chance to visit the Capitol building).  The Palace of Governors is also the oldest continuously occupied building in the US.  Constructed in the 1600s, it has seen many renovations.  It now houses the incredible New Mexico History Museum (you could easily spend two days there).20140411_135952 20140411_14202620140411_13561520140411_135412

One section of the Museum was devoted to the Manhattan Project, the team that developed the first atomic bomb.  A stark white room is emblazoned with quotes from the scientists of the project and their families.20140411_14213620140411_142328 It’s sobering to see.  (There’s an excellent new book, written from the standpoint of the scientists’ wives. It’s called The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit).  It was enlightening to have read this just a few weeks before seeing this area.

One area of the Museum was devoted to a collection of religious artifacts from the early church and missions.  It was stunning to see these sculptures, with their faded colors in such a huge assortment. I spent an amazing amount of time in these galleries.20140411_131524

The plaza outside the building housing the musem is home to a huge market of Native American crafts. (I’d be delighted to show you my new bracelet)20140410_114502

We visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and were surprised to find that most of our time there was spent admiring the photos by Ansel Adams taken during the time in the ’50s that he spent with O’Keefe in Hawaii.  The next day, I visited the impressive Museum of Contemporary Native Art.20140411_12351220140411_12420320140411_120803

The Basillica of St. Francis of Assisi got plenty of our attention.  The old Mission churches of the Southwest use such vibrant color. 20140411_12041020140411_11580520140411_11584720140411_115956


Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian of North America to be promoted a Saint

They draw are warm and welcoming.  I’m not Catholic, nor a church-goer, but I found myself wishing I could attend a Mass there, especially after seeing two Native American drums, and five (!) marimba-type instruments stashed behind the church organ.20140411_120315

There’s also the Loretto, with it’s amazing floating staircase.20140410_123153 20140410_124135The legend is that the nuns prayed for a staircase to the church’s loft, to replace the ladder that was in use.  During the nighttime house, an unknown craftsman came each day and built this amazing staircase, anchored neither at the top nor bottom, in answer to their prayers.  This church is reportedly the first Gothic structure to be built in the US, modeled after Sainte Chapelle in Paris.20140410_123450

But, much of the beauty of Santa Fe is in the sheer joy of the outdoor space.  Colors play against the clear skies, sculpture and parks draw people who gather and actually talk to each other.  It’s a joyful, colorful, hopeful place.  I really had to tear myself away to head back to camp after traipsing around for six hours.

With all the history, much of the sheer joy (to me) of Santa Fe was in the beauty of the Spanish-influenced architecture, surrounded by spring gardens.  Abundant color and welcoming spaces are everywhere.  A better, more patient photographer would be a better tour guide than I am.  But, you gotta go with what you got.  So here’s the rest of the tour.20140411_15502020140411_15492820140411_15485320140411_153915A Vargas mural (outdoors)20140411_15375320140411_153832Beauty everywhere.20140411_15333920140411_15203120140411_15174920140411_15195120140410_124501And a special shoutout to the painted wall alongside the bike path as we neared the downtown area.  Whether these were sanctioned or graffiti, they had our attention, and appreciation.  photo-5photo-4photo-3photo-2photoAnd these unique pillars alongside some of the bus stops (why would they glorify cars on a bus route?  We couldn’t quite figure that one out).20140409_18411320140409_184632OK, enough!

Next stop, some remote State Park in the NE corner of New Mexico with dinosaur tracks!





History Lesson at Chaco Canyon

First, some unfinished business from Bayfield, CO.  When we walked by the National Forest Service office there, we noticed an enormous Smoky the Bear tree stump carving.  Too good to let it pass without a photo.  It was beautiful – no info on how old it was.20140405_164248

Onward to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  The Chacoan complex was a major center of Puebloan culture for about 300 years, beginning in the mid-800s.20140407_114704 Both Navaho and Hopi today are descendants of the early Chacoans. Many smaller pueblo villages are contained in the valley, most buried beneath centuries of sand and desert growth.20140407_112933 But, most of the attention is centered around the great houses, enormous pueblos with hundreds of rooms, perhaps home to up to 2000 inhabitants.20140408_135831 Pueblo Bonito is the largest and oldest of these – at least four stories high, with over 600 rooms. 20140407_14571120140407_144912 20140407_111021So much is unknown about the function and use of the various areas of the great houses.20140408_11052220140407_105003

That Chaco Canyon structures were built 1000-1200 years ago and are still standing to a large part, is mind-boggling. Repairs and some limited reinforcements are ongoing.20140408_140435 Pueblo Bonita, the largest of the Chaco great houses, was the largest structure in the United States until the 1880s, when it was surpassed by an apartment building in New York City.  Many of the structures have been weakened by excavation, and have been reburied.  Mounds throughout the Canyon area almost all buried pueblos.  There are dozens of them.20140408_105351

Chaco Culture National Historical Park was added to the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1987, in recognition of its value to humanity.  One the big questions is why the area was abandoned after 300 years.  Drought is one thought – climate change and/or the lack of water to support the increasing population led to abandonment.

We decided in advance to ride our bikes around the Canyon, stopping at each overlook or site to explore.

The wind was blowing so hard I couldn't hold my camera steady to get a good shot of this elk watching us

The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hold my camera steady to get a good shot of this elk watching us

For two days, we suffered in the cold and wind – getting back to the Fireball each day, scraping red dust from our eyeballs. But, the last day, the wind disappeared, and we had a wonderful day to explore. One marvelous sight was an ancient Chacoan staircase built into the side of a cliff.20140407_121133

One of the highlights were all the petroglyphs and pictographs,20140408_115801 especially the famous pictograph of the Supernova that appeared in approximately 1250.20140408_123827 That same day, we saw dozens of nests of the cliff swallow, mud structures stuck high under rock ledges.20140408_123904

One thing about Chaco Canyon?  You REALLY have to want to go there to endure the drive.  Never have we been on such horrific roads – washboard doesn’t begin to explain the surface of the last five miles closest to the Park entrance.

This was a really good section of the road

This was a really good section of the road

On our way out, we encountered two guys in a rental RV who had gotten caught in the soft surface at the edge of the road, and buried their RV. 20140409_095638 After an hour of digging, pushing, and trying to tow it out, we finally had to throw in the towel.  The entire undercarriage of the RV was buried.

We left Chaco with many more questions than answers.  It was a wonderful way to spend three days, expanding our knowledge. We both have new book lists on reserve at our home library, based on titles we saw at the Visitor Center.

This was a difficult post for me to write – for these three days, I was like a sponge absorbing foreign material.  The scope of of this canyon, and all that we saw is too extraordinary for me to really comprehend, muchless represent or explain decently. If you get a chance to visit, do so (but don’t take your Mercedes or Corvette).