Albuquerque to Ridgeway Colorado

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Once again our new friends Pam & Craig hosted us in Albuquerque. Albuquerque is the balloon capital of the world and on two mornings their aging dog barks to warn the family of approaching balloons.  And guess what?  That barking keeps those invading balloons at a safe distance.  Good dog!

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Early morning balloons over LBR


Craig explained to me that the reason every home has a fence around it is that Albuquerque has always traditionally been a “fence out community.”  What that means is that if some livestock get loose and eat your flower garden, it is your own fault for inadequately fencing your property.  That is quite the opposite of the laws in New England where if an animal is loose on the highway and is hit by a motor vehicle a claim could be made against the animal owner for damage to your car.  Their Dexter cows all had calves this spring and it was a pretty sight seeing them cavort in the pastures.

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The next generation of Dexter Cattle on LBR


He also related that anyone purchasing real estate needs to determine if their property has “water rights”.  These properties have periodic access to the Rio Grande River via ditches and flood gates which allow water to flow on to your land. Every 2 weeks the “ditch warden” opens up the main gate for your zone, and then you open your “side gates” so the water flows in by gravity.  Craig and Pam’s six acre “LBR” (Little Bitty Ranch) has a gradient which allows them to sequentially flood their pasture fields.  The headwaters in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado had a heavy snow pack this winter so river water is abundant, saving them from running heavy duty pumps for their irrigation system.


On the road again with My Honey!

a.k.a. Traveling with Toni


An hour north of Albuquerque on the land of the Pueblo de Cochiti there are some unusual cone shaped rock formations in the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The area is managed by the BLM to protect the Pueblo historic and cultural artifacts.

The cone formations are products of volcanic eruptions leaving 1000 foot deposits of “soft rock” and the effect of subsequent erosion.  Once again, some of these uniquely shaped hoodoos have hard boulder cap rocks which slow the erosion of the softer volcanic pumice and tuff below.


The layering of volcanic material can be seen as bands of gray in the beige and pink rock on the cliff face.


The erosion by wind and water created canyons and smooth circular holes in the rock.  We followed one such “slot” canyon for a short distance.


The massive Jemez volcanic eruptions (to the north) several million years later spewed rock fragments (pyroclasts) along with searing hot gasses down these slopes.  Rapid cooling of this pyroclastic flow left deposits of translucent volcanic glass called obsidian.  This very hard material was worked by puebloans into sharp points which were favored by hunters in distant locations throughout the southwest—clear evidence of trade among the different tribes.  Because obsidian is volcanic in origin it has a unique mineral content which can be traced back to the specific volcano of origin.

Not far from the dispersed research centers of the Los Alamos National Laboratories (founded during WWII under the code name Manhattan Project with a goal of producing the first Atom Bomb) lies the Bandelier National Monument. We camped that night in Juniper Campground on the rim of Frijoles Canyon, finishing a simple dinner just as showers arrived while thunder and dark clouds passed us to the northeast. Coyotes howling as darkness descended reminded us of their eastern cousins which would respond to the whistle of the Montreal bound train as it progressed up our own White River Valley back home.

The next morning we headed down to the floor of Frijoles Canyon to explore the dwelling of the Ancestral Pueblo residents who farmed and lived here.  We stopped at an overlook and were amazed at the depth of this river valley. The Jemez volcanic eruptions which formed the nearby immense Valles Caldera (later in this post) created 1000 foot deep deposits of volcanic tuff which erodes (and carves) easily.  Water flowing from the rim of the Caldera created this deep ravine and river valley.


Puebloan culture was first explored by Adolph Bandelier (for whom the park is named), a Swiss born, self taught anthropologist who made his life work the study of the ancestral pueblo cultures.

Bandelier was established as a National Monument in 1916, but until the mid-30’s the only visitor facility in Frijoles Canyon was a lodge built in 1909.  By 1925 when George and Evelyn Frey acquired the lease to run the lodge, the only way for visitors to access the canyon bottom and the lodge was on foot.  They built tourist cabins as accommodations and supplied much of their food from their garden and livestock.  Everything else was carried in on foot via the “Frey Trail”.

Shortly after Bandelier was transferred from the United States Forest Service to the National Park Service a CCC camp was established in Frijoles canyon in 1933..  Over the next years they built the road into the canyon from the rim, the Pueblo Revival style stone buildings which still function as the visitor center and trails now used by tourists to see the ruins. Within its 33, 700 acres, Bandelier National Monument has the unique status of boasting 70 miles of hiking trails and only 3 miles of road.

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Visitor’s center built by the CCC


When writing this blog I often came across the terms CE and BCE which are used for dating ancient cultures. I actually (erroneously) thought it might be a politically correct term and in fact it has come under criticism by the religious community as an attempt to remove Christ from the calendar. As an explanation I offer the following from the Ancient History Encyclopedia: “There is no biblical authority for BC/AD; it was created over 500 years after the events described in the Christian New Testament and was not accepted usage until after another 500 years had passed. The use of BCE/CE certainly has become more common in recent years but it is not a new invention of the “politically correct” nor is it even all that new; the use of “common era” in place of A.D.  first appears in German in the 17th century CE and in English in the 18th. The use of this designation in dating has nothing to do with “removing Christ from the calendar” and everything to do with accuracy when dealing with historical events”.  For more details see:

Many generations of puebloan residents lived in this valley, at first a few scattered families as early as 1000 CE. They were potters, weavers and farmed the fertile valley floor, growing corn, beans and later cotton (which replaced the fibers obtained from the Yucca plant) to make fibers for their colorful weavings.

Over 3000 sites have been identified by archaeologists although not all were inhabited at the same time. The first villages contained up to 40 rooms built of stone with adobe plaster while later communities exceeded 600 rooms in multiple stories.


By CE 1400 the latter communities included multi-story dwellings and adjacent cave shelters which were carved into the (relatively) soft volcanic walls of the cliffs. The “Long House” was one of these.  Notice the evenly spaced holes in the cliff face which held “roof poles’ for the adjacent adobe structures.


The “Alcove House” is located 140 feet up the cliff face and contains a Kiva (ceremonial structure). Holes which once held the framing poles for large looms for weaving have been found in some of the Kiva in this valley.  I climbed to the alcove using the foot path built by the CCC and the firmly anchored log ladders.  There was evidence of hand and foot holes used by the first occupants.



Thirteen million years of volcanic activity in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico was culminated by a series of tremendous eruptions which ejected a volume of material more than 500 times greater than the May 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption. The collapse, about one million years ago, resulted in a 100,000 acre valley known as Valles Caldera which at one time was a lake. Erosion of the surrounding hills filled the lake valley with densely packed sediment which in conjunction with bitterly cold winter weather (- 50F) and a short growing season was the explanation given to me for the lack of trees.

As we climbed the ridge from Bandelier NP and descended the other side into the caldera we were met by the sight of a vast treeless valley which is hard to explain in words. It is barren, wide open and surrounded by hills which include volcanic domes which occurred after the original collapse.  You will note that most of the trees on the surrounding hills are dead as a result of an extensive forest fire a dozen years ago.


A series of ranches had ownership of the caldera beginning in 1876 and ending in 2000 when it was purchased by the federal government and became the Valles Caldera National Preserve.  At one time 30,000 sheep grazed here damaging the valley and its watersheds.  At another time the entire area was clear cut, creating further damage. The grove of trees surrounding the cabins was saved from fire only through heroic efforts by air and ground fire fighters.


A second look at Utah

Once again rain interfered with our itinerary.  The good thing is that the desert of SE Utah came to life with the best bloom of desert flowers in years.  It also meant we trimmed a few stops from our itinerary and sprung for motel facilities to take refuge for a few nights.  One such rustic lodging outfit is the Recapture Lodge—in continuous operation since 1959. Tony Hillerman writes in “A Thief of Time”, “The Recapture Lodge has been Bluff’s center of hospitality for as long as Leaphorn could remember”. The folks there were very helpful in steering us towards some Pueblo ruins as well as a great farm to table restaurant.


At the edge of the town of Bluff near the Sand Island Campground is a wall of petroglyphs which is full of ancient symbols.  A quick stop there provided some more of these undecipherable messages.


Comb Ridge is an 80 mile long exposed fold in the earth’s crust running in a north south direction.  The name comes from the jagged appearance of the ridge, reminiscence of a rooster comb. The 28 miles in southern Utah is the most dramatic segment of this geologic feature known as a “Monocline”.

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40-70 million years ago compressional forces uplifted a section of the earth’s crust.  Subsequent erosion exposed strata on the nearly vertical western flank ageing from 280 to 185 years in age.  The gentler incline on the eastern side exposed Nevada Sandstone which forms a hard “slick rock” surface.


Erosion on this side have formed dozens of canyons which penetrate deeply into the ridge.  Many of these shelter puebloan ruins which are have remained in fairly pristine condition because they are less accessible than many other sites.  One morning we hiked into Monarch Ruins one of these which was remote but required only a relatively short hike. There were some interesting petroglyphs and vertical sharpening grooves where the residents prepared arrow and knife points. We did not hike in to the ruins as this would have been a difficult scramble on the opposite canyon wall.  We did get off the trail during the return trip, however my memory for landmarks, a compass and a whistle soon had us back at the car.


As we came around the bend in the trail there it was!


Religion & Rocks

The rock formations in this area are varied and monumental in size.  We drove the loop road for Valley of the Gods on an overcast afternoon and then again the next day when the sun was shining brightly.  For many this is a religious experience; I was in awe.  This is federal land without restricted access—we saw many visitors boondock camping here with amazing views. Here are a few of the best.


We arrived at the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park in the late afternoon with an overcast sky and slight drizzle.  For these Native Americans the area has a strong cultural/ceremonial connection and is strictly regulated.  It is also a big employer and moneymaker for the tribe and I don’t begrudge them that for a minute.  The park includes a hotel, dining room, RV and tent camping sites and numerous independent guides who offer tours of the mammoth monoliths. Here are some comparisons of “The Mittens” taken in overcast, sunrise and mid morning.


And here are some of the other formations.


Our higher elevation campsite at Devil’s Canyon near Monticello, UT was a nice change from the desert.  At 7400 feet in elevation in the MantiLaSal National Forest, the large Ponderosa and smaller Pinion Pine were welcome greenery but allowed plenty of sun for our solar panels. The stars and Milky Way talked to me during my night time trips to the restroom.  I moved quickly in the 40F temperatures.  At $5 per night with our Senior Lifetime Park Pass we extended our stay to four nights. On a bird walk one morning above our campsite I got a nice look at the snow covered Mountains.


From this base of operations we visited Bears Ears National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument. Watching the introductory movie to Natural Bridges, I learned about “cryptobiotic soil crust”. A delicate, fragile combination consisting of cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, and fungi are critical to the arid ecosystems of the world.  They can hold up to 8 times their weight in water and enhance soil fertility.  The fragility of this soil is only one reason that signs continuously remind visitors to stay on the trails.


Bears Ears NM is named for two imposing buttes which can be seen from many locations throughout this National Monument.  They do look a bit like foreshortened ears of a bear don’t they?  The name is the same descriptive term in each of the three local Native American languages in the region.

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The total area of this preserved monument established by President Barak Obama’s presidential proclamation in 2016 was 1.3 million acres.  That was reduced a year later by 85% by President Donald Trump.  The courts will be arguing this reduction for years. The local San Juan County commission which originally opposed Obama’s creating proclamation has rescinded that vote and opposes the reduction by Trump.  National Monuments afford some protection but allow multiple use of the area and it seems that many minds have changed once they were better informed and considered the long term benefits.

Most of the exploring of this National Monument is done by hiking or OHV’s (Off Highway Vehicles) which require a special permit in many arias.  Tracking down one of the ruins recommended by a volunteer in the ranger station took us to posted land so we retreated even though it was recommended by a volunteer in the ranger station. The previously described hike to Monarch Ruins near Bluff is inside the southern section of the present Bears Ears NM.

In these National Monuments I saw amazing rock formations and desert flowers! In the much smaller Natural Bridges NM I walked the short trip down to the Owachomo Bridge and took one of the few selfies you will find in this blog.


Other bridges and the Horse Collar Ruin were seen from the overlook areas.


After all the desert exploring we were ready for a change of scenery.  Driving north into the MantiLaSal National Forest we passed the snow covered slopes of the Abajo Mountains and into a cottonwood canyon as we headed towards Canyonlands National Park.


Another “Newspaper Rock” displayed a very well preserved wall of petroglyphs.


Leaving Utah we headed east for a bit for a few days with an old college friend of Toni’s in Ridgway Colorado.   I hope to see you back here in a week or so.






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