Tag Archive | wild horses

SW National Parks Trip: The Road to Chaco Culture

As we left Farmington, New Mexico the next morning to make our way to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the weather was again bitingly cold and windy. My one warm sweatshirt, hat and gloves were getting quite the workout! We made our way out to the highway and began the couple hour drive to the park. Where we found that once again it was starting to snow…

As the snow got worse and worse, and started to blanket the fields next to the road, the wind continued and made it difficult to see. We saw a sign indicating that the turnoff for Chaco was 10 miles away, and my heart started to sink. The road out there is not a good one, and with questionable weather it would probably be impassable. We made the decision that we would need to skip our planned visit.

There’s a storm brewing – Driving in Northern New Mexico (and yes, that sticker the rental car agency put in the corner of the windshield annoyed me the whole trip!)

There’s a storm brewing – Driving in Northern New Mexico (and yes, that sticker the rental car agency put in the corner of the windshield annoyed me the whole trip!)

Almost immediately after deciding we wouldn’t go, the snow started to lighten up, and the skies began to brighten enough that we could see blue skies off to the West in the direction of the park. By the time we had driven the 10 miles to the turnoff, it was looking good enough to take the chance. We did decide that if the weather started to turn worse, we would turn around immediately.

Chaco Culture NHP is 21 miles from highway 550. The first 8 miles are paved. The next 13 miles are unpaved gravel, then hard packed dirt road. According to the NPS website, the road is suitable for all passenger vehicles, but the last 4.5 miles are very rough. The Park Service’s warning about the rough road is no understatement. As we jostled around in our rental car, we felt very anxious. There are no fences, and signs warn you about livestock in the road. We didn’t see any animals in the road like we did at Canyonlands, but we saw cattle, goats and wild horses very close to the edge.

Wild Horses on the Road to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Wild Horses on the Road to Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The ruts tossed us around, and we had multiple conversations about whether it was better to go faster and take the bumps in one spine compressing fell swoop, or slow down and feel each jarring bounce individually. This, even though we never went more than 20 miles an hour on the rougher sections. There were two discussions about turning around, even though the weather no longer seemed threatening.

Even though it was on Jon’s must-see list for the trip, he was having serious second thoughts. In short, you don’t go to Chaco Culture NHP on accident. You have to really want to go there.

Looks fun, right!?

Looks fun, right!?

We finally arrived, and what a relief it was to reach the boundary of the park and hit paved road again! We passed the primitive campground; I’m not much into camping, but I would camp there just to experience to absolute silence and the absolute darkness of Chaco Culture at night. I bet the stars are amazing!  Then we stopped at the Visitor’s Center.

This is what relief looks like. I love the way they styled this sign too.

This is what relief looks like. I love the way they styled this sign too.

The Visitor’s Center had the first picture stamp of the trip for my National Parks Passport; it was a picture of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture’s largest Great House, as it would have looked at the culture’s peak. I shopped for some postcards (you didn’t think I could pass up postcards?!) and talked to the ranger about the sites we should visit. And I asked him about the weather forecast and what that would mean for the road, as there was still a chance of rain or snow continuing through the day. He said that it was very unlikely that there would be measurable precipitation, and that the road would be fine. That allayed my fears; but I don’t think it did much for Jon.

I’ll tell you about the historic sites at Chaco next!

Have you been on a road like this?  What’s the worse driving experience you have had?

SW National Parks Trip: Four Corners Monument

After a full day exploring at Mesa Verde National Park, it was time to move on and make our way to our next destination; Farmington, New Mexico.  Farmington was going to be the jumping off point for the our next day’s adventure.

As we began to drive away from Mesa Verde, it began to snow.  The flurries weren’t sticking to the road, but it let us know that we weren’t crazy because we wearing our hats and layers all day.  Once we got down to a lower elevation in Cortez, it was no longer snowing, but instead it was raining hard!  We were glad we were done touristing in the area, but also sad to be moving on.

We had one detour to make on the trip to Farmington; we were going to head West for awhile and visit the Four Corners Monument.  The monument is considered to be the legal boundary between four states; Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.  I say “considered” because the site was surveyed in the 1860s, the marker placed, and it became the legal boundary.  But it was later discovered that the surveying was a bit off.  Of course some of that has to do with the fact that the surveying methods at the time were fairly primitive.

The Four Corners Survey Marker

The Four Corners Survey Marker

In addition to it being the boundary between the states, the Four Corners is also the boundary between the Navajo Nation and the Ute Tribe.  The monument is operated by the Navajo Nation and they charge $5 per person to visit.

On the afternoon that we were there, it was still really cold, and there were very high winds.  Like hurricane force winds.  We were almost blown over by the force of the winds!

Me at the Four Corners!

Me at the Four Corners!

As a result, we didn’t hang out for long – just long enough to get some photos of ourselves with two feet and two hands in each of the states.  I told Jon before our trip even began that he would pose at the Four Corners for a photo; and he kept his word.  A couple of pics and we were done.  Even the vendors thought it was too cold to be out; there were only a couple of Navajo artisans bundled in blankets waiting for the few tourists who might venture along.

Jon Posing at the Four Corners Monument

Jon Posing at the Four Corners Monument

Back on the road, we spent some time in Arizona, and then crossed back into New Mexico.  We saw a gorgeous scene; a lone wild horse standing on the hillside.  I just had time to turn in my seat and snap a picture, and was lucky to capture this:

The Beautiful Wild Horse we saw on the Navajo Reservation

The Beautiful Wild Horse we saw on the Navajo Reservation

Then we saw what must be one of the most obvious landmarks in the Southwest: Shiprock.  Before we figured out its real name, Jon started calling it Castle Greyskull.  You can tell we both grew up in the days of He-Man cartoons!

Castle Greyskull – Also Known as Shiprock

Castle Greyskull – Also Known as Shiprock

Shiprock the rock has a Shiprock the town named after it, and sadly, this area had some of the most abject poverty I have ever seen.  Seeing run down homes, hopeless looking people, and stray dogs made my heart hurt.  It made me not want to take for granted the blessings we have received in life.

Entering New Mexico!

Entering New Mexico!

We continued from Shiprock to Farmington, New Mexico, and made good time.  We arrived and got checked into our hotel – we changed things up this time and stayed at La Quinta!  Then we continued our brewery streak and made our way to the 3 Rivers Brewery.

Several things on the menu looked really tempting, but I settled on the 1/2 order of Fish and Chips, and a Strawberry Wheat beer.  Yum!  I splurged on a second beer, in a schooner size, of their Arroyo Amber.  I really enjoyed the Amber as well, as it had a heavier, maltier flavor.

Jon had the fish special – Monkfish with cauliflower mash  and veggies, including Brussels sprouts and onions.  Jon enjoyed the Papa Bear Double Honey Ale (made with local honey!), and also had a Scottish Ale.  He was pleased with both his choices.

Jon’s Monkfish meal at the 3 Rivers Brewery

Jon’s Monkfish meal at the 3 Rivers Brewery

Farmington seemed like a neat little town; it has a population of about 45,000 and is home to San Juan College, a two year college with an enrollment of about 10,000 students.  We were headed the next day to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, but there are several other Puebloan ruins in the area that would have been nice to visit.

But we didn’t have much time for exploring on this trip; we headed back to get some sleep before our trip to Chaco Culture!

I do have one question though…  A 16 oz. beer is a pint everywhere, but at home in the Pacific Northwest we call a 10 oz. glass a schooner.  In the Southwest, the waitstaff were consistently confused by the term.  What’s a 10 oz. beer glass called where you live?

 

SW National Parks Trip: Wild Horses

I am a horse lover.  I got the fever when I was a very young child, when I went on a trail ride with my family – I think I was four.  The fever just got worse when my parents asked if I wanted to go to Pony Camp.  A whole week of riding – for 3 hours a day!

So, when I heard there are wild horses in Mesa Verde National Park, I knew I wanted to see them.  However, the 100-150 horses there are persona non-grata, according to the Park Service.  They have resided in the area for over a hundred years, thought to be escapees from the nearby Ute tribal lands, but they can be very destructive.  They have trampled fragile archeological sites, destroyed water lines near the visitor areas in search of water, and been aggressive towards both employees and visitors.  Plus, they compete with the native deer and elk for water and food sources.

I wanted to see them anyway.  There has to be a way to manage them so they can coexist…

We had been at Mesa Verde all day.  We had seen Cliff Palace and Hemenway House from the overlooks, we had toured Balcony House and Spruce Tree House, and we had visited the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.  We were just wrapping up our day, cold from the chilly temperatures and the biting wind, but happy.

As we drove along the flat top of the mesa, heading back towards the entrance, Jon saw them.  A flea-bitten grulla and a black.  Just two.  The grulla ran away immediately, but I was able to get a few photos of the black horse.  Just two horses.  But that was enough.

Mesa-Verde-Horse (640x618)