Today has been cold, windy, and dreary making me wish for the dry aired air of our 2012 summer. After spending July 4th in Meeker, CO we packed up and started venturing south working our way around southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Along the way we took the opportunity to explore a few of the many ancient ruins. Each area had its own unique story that has developed after years of exploration and study. Karl and I visited Mesa Verde in 1991, we were both amazed in the changes in the theories about why the Ancestral Pueblo people came to Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Bandelier and why they were no longer there.
Our first stop was the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Co. The Heritage Center is a museum with hands on exhibits, many artifacts, and records from excavation sites throughout the Four Corners area. There are two Pueblo sites the oldest being built-in 1123 AD.
West of Dolores, on the edge of the Colorado/Utah border,lies Hovenweep National Monument. These sites were built around 1200 A.D. and are known for their square, oval, round, and D-shaped architecture. Each of the sites can be reached by an easy hike on a well-marked trail. The visitor center has a good introductory movie and descriptive maps for the trails.
Our long time friends from Texas met us in Durango, Colorado. As all “good hosts” would do we packed up a picnic lunch, grabbed hats, and the camera and headed for Mesa Verde National Park. The park is 1.5 hours from Durango east of Cortez, Colorado . The 5000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings are some of the best preserved Ancestral Pueblo history. The sites can be viewed on walking tours with and without a guide, and by bus, or private car. A visit to the visitors center will help you decide how you want to explore the park. We took a guided tour that was worth every penny spent. After lunch we did a road tour of major sites and visited the museum. We then spent about 2 hours at the museum watching the educational programs and viewing the many artifacts. If this had been our first visit we would have allowed two days to explore everything.
Our next stop was Chaco Culture National Historical Park located approximately 60 miles south of Farmington, NM. in a very remote area that requires traveling at least 13 miles on a washboard dirt road. Be sure take a lunch, a good supply of water, and a hat. The park is 34,000 acres with 11 major ruins and a wonderful variety of petroglyphs. The remoteness allows you to immerse yourself in the culture and history of the Ancestral Pueblos. You will leave with a better understanding of the culture but more important with more questions and curiosity to continue to seek knowledge about this culture.
One can not go to New Mexico without visiting Santa Fé. The food is to die for and there is an endless supply of sites to see and explore. Amanda, Eric, and Nora joined us in Santa Fé. One of our day trips took us to Petroglyph National Monument on the west side of Albuquerque. The petroglyphs were carved in the volcanic rock by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400-700 years ago. We explored the Boca Negra Canyon Trails area and viewed over 200 petroglyphs in an hour.
Our last ruins visit took us to Bandelier National Monument west of Santa Fé near Los Alamos, NM. The 23,000 acre monument is a network of canyons and mesas. The monument headquarters are in the Frijoles Canyon. Much of Bandelier National Monument was damaged by a wildfire in 2011 and flooding that followed. The Main Loop and the visitors center are now only accessible by a shuttle bus in nearby White Rock. Bandelier’s exposure to humans began over 10,000 years ago when nomadic hunter-gathers followed migrating wildlife into the area. The large open spaces in Frijoles Canyon and the availability of water, from a creek that is seldom dry, allowed the ancestral Puebloans to be fairly successful.This building of a more permanent settlement left this area with an abundance of ruins. Nora thought it was pretty great that Puebloans left a nice path and ladders for us to use while we were exploring their homes.