NM – Chaco Culture National Historical Park

After spending significant time visiting ancient sites in Utah, Colorado and now New Mexico, Joan encouraged a visit to Chaco, considered the epicenter of ancestral Puebloan culture and architecture. 

I wished I’d researched and planned a little better so I could have spent at least a couple days at this very interesting Park. I entered via the north entrance which was a very long slow bumpy 16 miles. I exited on the 20-mile southern road which took me a good hour. The campground was full and there aren’t any nearby dispersed camping options. After spending some time at the Visitor Center I drove the Chaco Canyon Road visiting the sites along the way. For the inquisitive, be sure to buy the very informative interpretive guidebooks.

There are around 500 rooms in this site including both excavated and unexcavated areas. An interesting factoid according to the interpretive guide, “There were an estimated 215,000-225,000 trees used in the construction of all the excavated great houses in Chaco Canyon.” Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is used to determine age of timber used in construction.

Treasures abound for those willing to search. 

The Park promotes quiet, respectful visitation of this outdoor museum. As I wandered around the word that stayed at the forefront of my mind was reverence, “deep respect for someone or something; a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.”

I talk about regrets frequently, and my goal of doing what I can to minimize that feeling. Oh how I wish I’d visited this site earlier in the day when lighting was optimal. 

Other cool find, petrified wood! 

Life among the artifacts. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24, 2018


  • Prepare for lengthy time consuming drive. I highly recommend camping at the Park.
  • Morning light on the petroglyph panels is best.
  • Buy the interpretive guides.
  • Ask for the Backcountry Hiking Trail handout if interested in further exploration and hiking.
  • Trails and sites typically are open 7am to sunset.
  • I’m always curious about which structures are original as excavated vs rebuilt vs stabilized, thus one of the questions I’ve learned to ask.






NM – Valles Caldera National Preserve

After learning about volcanic tuff during my visit to Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, how could I skip the place responsible for creating these geologic marvels?

“Valles Caldera began erupting 1.25 million years ago. Once the eruption ended, the massive pyroclastic flow material inside and outside the caldera began to cool and solidify, forming a rock geologists refer to as tuff. Solidified pyroclastic flow materials from the Valles Caldera and Toledo Caldera comprise the Upper and Lower Bandelier Tuffs. Much earlier, 7-6 million years ago, Bearhead Rhyolite erupted in the southern Jemez Mountains sending debris flows over the area now known as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.” Source: Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides

At the time of my visit, this park was touted as the “Nation’s Newest National Preserve.” The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 signed by President Bill Clinton on July 25, 2000, created 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. By the way, valles is pronounced VIE-yays or va-yes.

Beware of restricted access hours. I found myself at the gates saying OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. 

Little did I know a reward for my timely arrival was a road filled with hundreds of crazed prairie dogs racing back and forth creating a death-wish obstacle course. I wish I would have thought to video this frenzy. The rangers said it was the first time they had witnessed such an event. When I left later in the day all was quiet. 

As I looked around I noticed these porta-potty looking buildings. I learned they are used by grad students studying prairie dogs as part of John Hoogland’s Prairie Dog Project, which he began in 1974.

It was funny to see the prairie dogs labeled like race car drivers. 

Their homes were also labeled. JB will you come home?

Many roads had not been opened for the season so my options for exploration were fairly limited. Experienced anglers brought bikes as a way to reach more distant water features. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the 1.6 mile trail around Cerro La Jara, one of many hills left behind after the caldera collapse.

Be sure to pick up a free interpretive guide at the Visitor Center. 

Cerro La Jara was not much to look at. I’m guessing it’d be nicer during green grass and wildflower season.

To gain a view of the preserve, the rangers recommended I hike the trail up Rabbit Mountain. 

You know how much I enjoy hiking through burn areas. Sigh! 

Good reminder of LNT. I met some hikers collecting antlers on a nearby road, so this seems to be a thing in this area. I heard collectors are paid well.

The aspen trees are sure to put on a show in the fall. 

I hiked up to Rabbit Ridge, about 5.5 miles round trip with a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain.

For some reason I don’t think I’ll be visiting Bandelier National Monument from this trail. Just say no to bushwhacking.

The views from the ridge were less than stellar but I’m sure better than before the fire. 

Chasing butterflies in honor of Joan was a good distraction. 

The trail was well marked. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23, 2018





NM – Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit Tent Rocks, afterall the features are created by volcanic tuff which was also the focus at Bandelier National Monument (link to related post). Although it was a Sunday, I was nearby and it seemed silly to not take a look. Since it’s near Santa Fe and Albuquerque, I was prepared for busy trails.

This is a BLM managed National Monument. I’m still a bit confused as to how agency management is determined. Some are managed by National Park Service, other by BLM. 

I saw several people spending significant time collecting Apache Tears even though signage clearly said otherwise. I actually reported one guy to a ranger who was filling his pockets and telling everyone around him to do the same.

Looking down into the canyon. As you can see the formations are significantly different than Bandelier thus I was glad I’d made the jaunt.

First claret bloom of the season.


Adventure Date(s):

  • April 15, 2018


  • Parking is limited and there are staff directing traffic. Once full you are placed in a waiting cue. Early arrival and/or mid-week will minimize your chance of getting in without waiting.
  • Resources are limited. I don’t recall water being available but there are restrooms and picnic tables.
  • The slot canyon trail can be a bit frustrating when busy as lots of waiting for back and forth traffic. My notes indicate there were a few places a bit more challenging than expected.
  • Buying or borrowing the interpretive guide was worthwhile.



NM – Bandelier National Monument . . . backpacking a loop

I spent a day at Bandelier hiking the popular sightseeing trails (link to related post), but then it was time to delve deeper into the backcountry. First stop was the Visitor Center to obtain a free permit and information about water sources and trail conditions.

Camping is by permitted by zones. On trail signage makes it easy to ensure compliance.

Recent fires and flooding have created challenges.

My plan was a 30-mile loop beginning with the Frijoles Canyon Trail to Upper Crossing to Stone Lions Trail to Capulin Canyon Trail to West Alamo Rim Trail to Mid Alamo Trail. Some sections of this loop require navigation skills and long water carries. 

Wildflowers were an unexpected pleasure. 

Water is a precious resource and requires careful planning. I was grateful the Visitor Center provided known sources. Finding unreliable water is a bonus.

Getting in and out of canyons can be fun. This is the Ponderosa Trail, one I was glad to avoid this trip. 

Stone Lions Trail leads to this shrine. 

For years, Zuni Indians from westernmost New Mexico have traveled from Zuni to a place near the Rio Grande north of Cochiti Pueblo, on pilgrimages to a shrine 200 miles from their village. Even within the past 3 or 4 years, Zunis have camped in Frijoles Canyon, on their way to this same spot. The shrine that draws the Zunis so far from home is a pair of rough figures of mountain lions, rudely carved on an outcrop of tuff, crouching side by side with extended tails. Each is about 6 feet long and 2 feet high, rudely done and in poor condition, worn and disfigured and scarcely recognizable as a lion. Indeed, they have been mistaken for lizards. They are enclosed by a low wall of unshaped stones. This shrine is on the Potrero de las Vacas, one of the long, high, narrow mesas of the Pajarito Plateau, in the rough, little-travelled southern portion of Bandelier National Monument, west of Santa Fe. It is one of the very rare instances of full-size sculpture in aboriginal North America north of Southern Mexico.

The Zunis believe that the stone lions guard the entrance to a place called Shipapolima, the dwelling place of the important supernatural being called Poshaiyanki. Why these rude statues in north-central New Mexico are so important to the distant Zunis is unknown. The ideas of the local pueblos about the lions seem to be entirely different.

The stone lions are important to, and venerated by, the Cochiti Indians who live only about 10 miles to the south. But to the Cochiti they do not represent, as far as is known, an entrance to the dwelling place of a god. The Cochitis call them the “sacred place of Mokatc”. Mokatc is the panther-fetich of Cochiti hunters, and is one of the most important animals in Cochiti ritual and belief. The shrine of Mokatc was used as a place of sacred pilgrimage by a secret religious society of Cochiti, probably the hunters’ society. The stone lions apparently are still objects of veneration to the Cochitis; tracks of unshod horses have been seen there within the past two or three years. The lions probably were made by the ancestors of the Cochitis who occupied the nearby ruin of Yapashi, which was probably occupied from the 13th to the 16th century. Source: NPS

Look carefully and you might find offerings. Please don’t disturb the offerings and be respectful of the shrine which is still in use. 

There wasn’t much remaining to see at Yapashi Pueblo; however, I read that this site has not been excavated.

Although the general LNT philosophy is to leave everything in place, in some areas it’s become acceptable practice to display findings. 

Expect to walk a wash and follow cairns on the Capulin Canyon Trail. The washes splits into a few side canyons so be wary of wandering into the wrong one. There are long stretches where finding a flat safe campsite is challenging. The water in this creek does not continue all the way to the West Alamo Rim Trail so I recommend being alert to the terminus  (around mile 16 into this trip) as there won’t be any water until you drop back into Alamo Canyon 8-10 miles from this point. I needed enough water for the night, morning until I’d reach the next source.

By far the highlight of my trip was Painted Cave. 

I was told by an unofficial source the artwork is repainted regularly by the local indians as part of a ritual thus the reason they are in much better condition than most rock art I’ve seen. 

Once a large population inhabited this canyon of Capulin Creek, but most of the evidences of habitation have vanished except for the extensive pictographs on the weatherproof back wall of the Painted Cave. The arch of the cave is shallow but wide, so that a smooth area over 50 feet long was available to the artists; several dozen drawings in a variety of reds and blacks adorn this surface. It is probable that many generations of artists used the cave, since space finally ran out and later drawings are superimposed on their faded predecessors. Moreover, evidence of historic, or post-Spanish, artistry is here—a sketch of a conquistador on horseback, another of a mission church complete with cross. Source: NPS

Wind continued to be an issue. Finding an appropriate campsite was challenging. Gale force winds in an exposed area or near burned trees is not my idea of living to hike another day. I’m always grateful I can check the weather report on my InReach. Wind was due to decrease significantly in the evening, making my campsite selection a little less worrisome.

I was even able to get enough cell signal to confirm the forecast. 

From my campsite I had a great view of the Rio Grande River. 

Crossing the Alamo Canyon was my biggest challenge of this trip. The switchbacks were technical and relentless. It took me 1.5 hours to descend into and out of this canyon.

But oh what a view. Look carefully in middle right of photo and you’ll see the switchback trail. 

The volcanic tuff in this area was an incredible geologic sight. Look at those formations! 

Gotta love the work that goes into trail building. 

Did I say steep? 

This section is shown as the dip around mile 26 or so on the graph below. 

I was so excited to reach trail again after hiking miles through the sandy wash, then navigating across the rim, and finally tackling the technical trail through the canyon. 

I liked finishing the trail looking down at the archaeological sites I’d visited a couple days previous. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: April 16-18, 2018
  • Mileage (per Gaia): 30
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per Gaia, tends to underreport): 4,004’/3,920′
  • Elevation Low/High (per Gaia): 5,353’/7,314
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: some due to recent fire damage
    • Overgrowth: some including poison ivy
    • Signage: adequate on the maintained trails
    • Terrain: varied between smooth freeway to rocky to steps to lumpy
  • Navigation Skills: Minimal for all except Capulin and the Alamo Rim trails which I’d consider moderate
  • Water availability: Only two reliable sources but both run for quite a distance
  • Camping availability: Minimal! It was challenging to find appropriate camping especially in wind gust conditions
  • Solitude: High! Saw a group of 5 day hikers on day 1, a couple of backpackers on day 2, and no one on day 3
  • Bugs: A few gnats and mosquitoes; however, I was told ticks can be a problem
  • Wildlife: The rare, Albert’s squirrel, lots of lizards, a couple deer, old bear scat, a dead elk, cat prints
  • Precip: None, very dry
  • Temp: One night it dropped to 28F. Days were probably in the 50’s and 60’s.
  • LNT: No problems
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 3+ cherries (out of 5)


  • NPS maps, National Geographic maps and trail sign names do not match.
  • Be bear aware 
  • Be cat aware 
  • Lots of areas around Bandelier marked red indicating high security. You have to drive through a security checkpoint to reach Bandelier where they run your driver’s license. 



NM – Bandelier National Monument . . . it’s all about the ancients and waterfalls

Dust storms were new to me. From Bisti Badlands (link to related post), I ran to Farmington (not my kind of town) and on to Los Alamos (interesting town, home of a National Laboratory most famous for the atomic bomb used on Japan). Nearby I found Bandelier National Monument. 

After a quick stop at the Visitor Center, I joined the Sunday crowds for a wander on the most popular trails. Be sure to buy or borrow the interpretive guide.

A good indicator of the size of this site. 

These are called cavates. According to NPS literature, “These cave rooms, classified as cavates (CAVE-eights) by Edgar Lee Hewett, an early archeologist, were dug out of the cliff wall. Even though the tuff is soft it would have been quite a task to carve them using only stone tools. Most cavates had stone rooms built in front of them. The lower walls of cavates were usually plastered and painted while the ceilings were smoke-blackened. Smoking the ceilings hardened the volcanic tuff and made it less crumbly.

You can see the holes where there were roof structure poles back in the day. 

Petroglyphs and toe holds. 

According to NPS literature, this is a macaw. 

Amazing art work that has survived. 


Of course I considered climbing the ladders a highlight. They used some neglected muscles. I met a 75+ year old who used a cane and was recovering from back surgery who not only hiked both the Main Loop and Alcove House trails but also climbed all the stairs and ladders.

Volcanic Tuff was a new geologic term for me. It was interesting learning about it. According to NPS literature, “The pink rock of the canyon wall may look like sandstone but it is actually volcanic ash that compacted over time into a soft, crumbly rock called tuff. Tuff is very easily eroded by the action of wind and rain. Some components of the tuff erode more easily than others. Over time the exposed rock takes on a “swiss cheese” appearance. Ancestral Pueblo people used tools to enlarge some of the small natural openings in the cliff face. The soft rock made excellent building material. Stone dwellings were constructed in front of these enlarged openings.” 

Falls Trail

After hiking the Main Loop to view interesting geologic and archaeological features, I hiked to the waterfalls. 

The visitor center has loaner copies of their interpretive guide to use along the trail. 

The trail to upper falls was blocked but not officially closed. I was fortunate to be hiking with a ranger who was gathering data and photos to add an interpretive app to their public service aids.

Lighting wasn’t great to get very good photos of lower falls. 

Extra Credit

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 15, 2018


  • Public showers are available at the Los Alamos Aquatic Center
  • If interested in dispersed camping, ask for options at Visitor Center. There’s a tiny slice of forest land near Los Alamos.
  • Important reminders that aren’t always observed
  • Do your part to help with Leave No Trace 



NM – Bisti Wilderness . . . in search of WOW geology

Besides stopping to share a week of adventure with Joan in Utah, my spring goal was to spend extended time in New Mexico. My map was marked with lots of options. So at 3,400 miles into this jaunt it was goodbye Colorado, hello New Mexico. 

The first point of interest was in the northwest corner of the state. Photos I’d seen of this area had me adding this to my geology WOW list a few years ago. I couldn’t wait to explore myself. 

There aren’t any trails in this area and it’s an extremely fragile area, so it’s important to walk in the water channels and stay off the features. I recommended tracking your walk as it’s pretty easy to get turned around.

So a wandering I went. Here are a few of the WOW features I enjoyed. 

Extra credit:

I found a few wildflowers. 

And a survey marker. 

Petrified wood. 

Snow? Quite a surprise I awoke to after a night of heavy wind and dust storm in my semi-protected nearby dispersed campsite. I thought it was alkali at first as I’d seen it elsewhere during my hike.

Temperature check? Yep 30 degrees. 

I finally cried uncle and said it was time to move on. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 12, 2018


  • You don’t want to be in the area during time of heavy wind. My face was sand scrubbed and my eyes felt like sandpaper after getting caught in the wind for the last couple miles returning to my car. I was bummed as I really wanted to explore more the next day but Mother Nature had other plans for the next few days.
  • Looks like smoke, but it’s dust. First time I’d ever experienced such a thing.



CO – Mesa Verde NP, Chapin Mesa . . . take a step back in time

In my previous post I shared photos from the hikes I took near Morefield Campground (link to related post). When I wasn’t hiking, I was sightseeing along the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loops. Far View Terrace and Wetherill Mesa Roads weren’t open yet. I stopped at all the designated points of interest, hiked all the associated trails, and viewed the exhibits. It was early season so there wasn’t much congestion and I was able to fully enjoy everything over the course of a long day. I’m glad I dedicated a day to this area.

Mesa Top Loop Drive

This is a 6-mile drive where you can see a progression of homes and religious structures of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived her for more than six centuries.

Cliff Palace

According to NPS literature, “Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America, with 150 rooms, 75 open spaces and 21 kivas.” I’m disappointed tours weren’t yet being offered during my visit. In the future I’ll make obtaining a reservation a priority.

Balcony House

This is a well preserved unit worthy of a tour. This is a 30-room, 2-kiva structure.

Spruce Tree House

I’m grateful I was able to join a tour in 2015, especially now that it’s closed for the foreseeable future (related post).

From my 2015 visit. Getting to view up close was an incredible experience.

Back to today’s visit. This ruin includes 120 rooms, 8 kivas and 2 towers.

While in the vicinity, I decided to hike the trails.

Far View


What happens when you spend extended time in a Park, chat with the rangers, and visit/hike all open points of interest, roads and trails? You just might earn an honorary Junior Ranger badge. Lucky me! 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 9, 2018


  • If at all possible get tickets for the tours. Thus far my timing has been off but oh how I want to get the up close and personal view plus hear the stories. 
  • Buy the interpretive guides. They are well worth the minimal price.
  • Plan for plentiful walking and hiking opportunities. The miles will add up in a good way.