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 > New Years Eve with the Ancient Ones (not my inlaws)

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Posted: 01/08/10 06:52pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

New Years Eve with the Ancient Ones (not my inlaws)

DW and I finally got a chance to take a few days off and take the TC for a spin. We thought that we would head south for some warmer temperatures (we hope). It had been a few years since we had been to Chaco Canyon National Monument and we have not been there in the winter so that was our target for the start of our trip. We had a couple days of snow before we left but on Thursday morning (New Years Eve) we woke up to clear skies and 5 degrees. Had 5 inches of new snow to bring the total to 15 inches on the level at home at 7500 ft.

Sheep were feed and arrangements for their care was left with our son who was down for a few weeks between wildland fire seasons.

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Of the 110 miles to Chaco Canyon we had 20 miles where you could find some pavement in spots. Most was shiny as glass. The last twenty miles into the Monument was snow packed and not too bad.

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We stopped by the Visitors Center and got our camping permit and information packet. Chaco Canyon is an ancient Puebloan site in NW New Mexico. It has 9 “Great House” sites which were built between 850 and 1150 AD. These massive sites are believed to be mainly for Ceremonial use with very few people living full time in them.

The first site we went to was Pueblo Bonito, the largest and most famous of the ruin sites. It had walls 4 to 5 stories high and 650 rooms. It is quite a site and we got a different view and feeling being there in the winter with no one else in the area.

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This is just a small part of the structures. The site covers over 3 acres. The round holes are kiva’s, in the past they would have roofs with holes and ladders to enter. Chaco Canyon had many Great Kiva’s up to 60 feet across with wooden and soil roofs. Quite well built 1000 years ago.


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The architecture of Chaco Canyon is different than most other sites in the southwest such as Mesa Verde. A high degree of planning and design was incorporated into the buildings. Notice the layers of larger stones spaced with rows of smaller rows. Also notice the thickness of the walls. They were designed from the first stone to be a certain height. The walls started wider at the bottom and tapered to the top by design.

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This is the back wall of Pueblo Bonito. One report states that over 50 million pieces of sandstone had to be cut and shaped to build a site the size of Pueblo Bonito. This is all in the high desert where most resources such as food and timber had to be brought in from 50 miles or father.

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At Chetro Ketl site, we ran into a Ranger on patrol that walked with us and gave us lots of information. He opened a glass door to allow us to get a better look at a room with the original floor and plastered walls. The main floor beams are covered with smaller willow branches and then adobe is packed on top to make the floor. The wood in the picture is about 1000 years old. Notice the plastered and white washed wall.


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The location of Chaco Canyon is near the center of the San Juan Basin. It is a high desert area with little resources in the area. These beams, some of the more than 200,000 needed for the sites in Chaco Canyon were cut, dried and transported by hand from the Chuska Mountains 50 miles to the west. The people that built these massive sites had a very strong commitment to their society. Notice the fine rock work all done by hand.
The Chaco Road systems are another interesting story for another trip.

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We visited a couple more sites and headed to camp for some good food and some quiet reading. Morning broke clear and 1 degree (so much for warmer temps). The camper did well, but this is about as low as I think is practical for our setup. Heater did well; nothing froze, but was on the edge of general comfort without insulated window covers and other modifications.
Just behind the camper is Fajada Butte, the site of the Sun Dagger, an accurate celestial calendar that records the summer and winter solstice and equinoxes. For people not familiar with the Southwest, yes that is our typical winter blue sky. Two days of storm, then a week of blue skies. Not too bad a place to live.

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Spent part of New Years Day exploring a bit more then headed out on our favorite type of road, “the road less traveled”. This is the south way out of Chaco Canyon and we were headed to an “Outlier” site call Pueblo Pintado. It is one of several sites that are unexcavated and located up to 30 miles distant from the Canyon. They are also some massive sites with interesting locations. (Whazoo, come on over, lets go exploring!!) For reference, this road is New Mexico Highway 57 !! Don’t always trust your GPS in the WEST!

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Pueblo Pintado is a three story 130 room unexcavated site located on a prominent hill SE of Chaco Canyon. We were the first visitor in 10 days by the log sheet. As we drove up to the site, a Golden Eagle was sitting on the top of the wall watching the surrounding snow for one of the many rabbits that were at the site.

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Standing near some unexcavated kivas

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We had a nice visit with lunch and headed south again. We stopped at El Malpais National Monument for a quick break. It looks like a great place to explore in warmer temps with its massive lava flows, tunnels and volcanoes. The last eruption was just 3000 years ago. Our goal thou is just over the Continental Divide (7500 ft) at El Morro National Monument and nice camping spot at the Monument’s 9 space campground.

After a good evening, we awoke to a balmy 17 degrees. A quick stroll around our camper found a small herd of elk enjoying breakfast a 100 yds away.


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El Morro National Monument is signboard for travelers for the last 1000 yrs as they crossed the SW. It is a towering cliff with a permanent water source that travelers have stopped at and left their signatures carved into the soft sandstone. From the early pictographs of the native Americans to the first Spanish explorers to travel through this area, all had to stop and leave their marks. Signatures of the early cavalry in 1849 and shortly after, the Army’s experiment with the US Army Camel Corps passed by and signed in.

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The most famous of the over 2000 signatures is Don Juan de Onate. The Spanish were exploring this area in 1605, 15 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

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It is an interesting site and a place we will return to when the weather is warmer to explore further without snow blocking some of the trails and surrounding mountains.

Heading out we ran through the Pueblo at Zuni for a little shopping for the DW and her Kachina collection. A quick stop at Hubbell Trading Post, a Park Service National Historical Site to visit with an old friend that is the Superintendant about sheep and weaving and then on to Camp in Chinle, Arizona, at the mouth of Canyon De Chelly. The National Park Service has a free 93 space camp ground that is located in a large grove of cottonwoods. Spots are big enough for a TC, but 35 ft is about max for length in the spots. Morning found the temp at 13 degrees and clear blue skies again.

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The Canyon De Chelly National Monument is a beautiful spot and quite different in the winter. The Navajos farm in the canyon in the summer as they have for hundreds of years. A lot of history in the area from ancestral puebloans living here 1000 yrs ago to Kit Carson rounding up the Navajos in the 1860’s for the Long Walk to Ft Sumner in eastern New Mexico.
The photos are of Antelope House. Sited on the north side (south facing) of the canyon. You see the benefits in the next few pictures of south facing in winter. With a Navajo guide you can drive into this site and several others. Don’t think of it in a TC, in the spring and wet times there is true quicksand which has swallowed cars in the past.

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Stark contrast of the snow and red sandstone. The small dark square in the lower left in the creek bed is a pickup headed up the canyon. The canyon is near 1000 feet deep in places.

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After a few stops to view the canyon, it was time to head for the house. Mummy Cave, located farther up the canyon is a beautiful ruin tucked into the alcove.

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Across the high desert, a different place in winter with the low sun and shadows with snow on the ground. All home safe and looking at the calendar for another time to return and explore more back roads.

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Happy Trails


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ccxnola

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:05pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

W O W !!! I do not think I will ever be brave enought to make such a trip. Thanks for the GREAT photos!!


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jeepsterchris

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:20pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That is AWESOME!! It has oficially been added to my lifetime to-do list!

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brirene

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:09pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Excellent report. Thanks for sharing, especially the great pictures. Now you've added ANOTHER site to my list!


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whazoo

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:18pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Well Doug, I want to congratulate ewe on ewer New Ewers Trip. (ok, that was a grasp) What great pictures, there's nothing better in my mind than the southwest under snow with blue sky. You got it all just right with the ancient ruins and everything. It looks like you and your wife had a great time and boy am I envious. I'll have to visit those places sometime, maybe have you give a tour. Thanks again for the book "My Side Of The Mountain" Doug, it has a place of honor in my house.

sleepy

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:34pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Doug,

thank you so much for posting. janet and I both enjoyed your trip. canyon de chilly was special for us after seeing in in the spring of this year.

sleepy


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FarcticOx

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Posted: 01/08/10 09:32pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That's a great trip there. We were at Chaco last spring and I can see now where a winter trip is called for. Let's see, where did I put that list...El Morro, El Malpais, Mummy Cave. Thanks. Wonderful way to spend the holiday.


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Posted: 01/08/10 07:38pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That is a big difference from when we stopped at El Morro in late May 2005. The pool was cool looking with some nice green vegetation back then, not white and frozen looking. It is amazing how much different a place loks in the winter versus summer.

Thanks for sharing the other places taht I would love to visit one day. For the tools they had to use back then, their construction methods and longevity are superior to what we build today.


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LabMan1945

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Posted: 01/08/10 07:44pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Another great trip report! Thanks for sharing. Odd it should appear the same day as I was going through my pictures of Canyon de Chelly from late April! Next trip to the great southwest I must try to make it to Chaco Canyon.
Thanks again for the report.
Grant


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GoinThisAway

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Posted: 01/08/10 08:00pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks a lot for showing me some of what we missed! Just returned from a 3 week trip to UT to visit relatives over the holidays (trip report to come). We had to make a dash there and back right thru the area you visited. Based on your report we sure did pass by some interesting laces. Your photos are beautiful and your commentary very thought provoking! Hopefully we'll have time to stop on our next trip through the area!


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