Thanksgiving 2017: Montezuma Castle National Monument

This is a continuation of my adventures from Thanksgiving last year. I got distracted with moving into my house sooooo not much got blogged from the trip. 

After having visited Casa Grande National Monument, I gave into the prehistory ruins compulsion and visited Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde. By this time, I’d decided to just pay for my national parks pass and get on with it.

Montezuma Castle actually allows dogs on the trail! There is just a single paved path that goes along the base of the cliff with the structure but because it is just the one path and because of the extreme temperatures, they allow dogs! It was a touch hot for Sprocket to wait so I was super excited.

The visitors center was smaller than the one at Casa Grande and I was left with a lot of questions about just how the people further north on the Verde were related to the people who had been to their north (ancient Puebloans) and south (ancient Sonorans). This bookstore didn’t have anything I could impulse buy to bolster my knowledge of the Sinagua people so I’m currently accepting suggestions for books about ancient cultures in central Arizona.

It was a super short walk out to the Castle; the toughest part was dodging people on the trail! Apparently it’s part of the post Thanksgiving trek to the Grand Canyon.

We wandered down to Castle A. Apparently, Castle A was even larger than Montezuma Castle during its occupation. The vigas that supported beams to the rock are still visible. However, this castle’s upper floors collapsed and the structure suffered a fire after the end of its occupation.

The National Monument has a second unit at Montezuma Well but I decided to continue north because I had a breakfast date in Moab the next day and I had another few stops in mind.

WCWS Road Trip: Capulin Volcano National Monument

After dropping Stacia and Andrea off at the airport I headed west immediately; it was time to get back to the mountains! I’d hoped to be able to hike New Mexico’s Sierra Grande, Union County high point but as I entered New Mexico the summer afternoon thunderstorm clouds began to gather.

Understanding that hiking it just wasn’t a good idea, I continued on. The storms had brought in some afternoon cooling so I decided to check out Capulin Volcanic National Monument along the way.

Since the visitors center was closed for renovation, I quickly perused the temporary gift shop and headed up the mountain. While the ranger at the top said that I could hike the rim trail, she did point out the gathering clouds “about 11 miles away” and asked that if it got much closer that I come down.

The rim trail was only a mile long so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to hike. Because I hadn’t had a chance to check out the visitors center, I was really excited to see the interpretive signs along the way. Capulin Volcano is only 60,000 years old!

It was a really different set of views than I’ve had in the past. I could see Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s state highpoint, off in the distance:

My views of Sierra Grande were excellent but the clouds continuing to gather around its summit confirmed to me that I’d made a good choice in taking a pass.

Back at the car, I grabbed Sprocket and walked him around the parking lot while inhaling a sandwich. My pup is one patient dude.

WCWS: Chimney Rock National Monument

The places nearest to where you live always get ignored. As I left Durango, I saw a sign reminding me about Chimney Rock National Monument. I’ve driven by the sign several times but never actually stopped. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why the Monument existed…

I debated for awhile and by the time I reached the turn off just shy of Pagosa, I’d resolved to stop. Unfortunately for my happy pup, the main part of the Monument can only be visited on a tour and dogs are not allowed. They do have a three dog kennels near the cabin where I signed up for the tour. Sprocket, as you might expect, was sad to be left but he was resigned to his fate. I waited until the last minute to put him there and then hid from him…

I hopped in the Forest Service van to head up to the ruin site (yes, this is a Forest Service National Monument!). We started at the lower site. Our tour guide, Rick was great and did an excellent job of tying the story of Chimney Rock in with Chaco (spoiler: they’re very closely tied!).

Since Rick was also a geologist, he was sure to point out cool geological features like these shrimp burrow fossils:

The hike to the upper part of the ruins was slow going since most of our crew was slightly older than me (as one might expect on a Tuesday!) but I was definitely into the improving views of the South San Juans (including Summit Peak that I summited a couple years ago!).

Finally, we reached the Great House near the top of the mesa. The very impressive rock work is Chacoan in nature and even more fascinatingly, is in signalling distance of a mesa that stands above Chaco.

At the very top, we discussed a proposed (and mercifully failed) proposed hotel project for the top of the mesa. (Thanks Peregrine falcons that nested here!) Our guide gifted us these nifty “I made it to the top” cards that made me laugh.

After the tour, I headed back down to the visitors center and retrieved my only slightly grumpy pup before we headed back down the road.

I’m glad I paid the $12 for the tour. After being in the region for a few years I’m starting to piece together the parts of the Chacoan story and every place I visit helps out a lot. Be sure to support all of our National Monuments these days; they matter. A lot.

Running Natural Bridges National Monument

Yes, I know, running is not the first thing you think of when you think of Natural Bridges. When I passed by the entrance sign on my way home after exploring the Henry Mountains a bit and checking out Bluebell Knoll I figured with Sprocket nursing his broken nail it was as good a time as any to check it out. I didn’t want to leave him in the car alone too long so instead of doing what I really wanted to, hike under all the bridges through the canyon, I ran down from the road below each bridge and then back up.

Well, ran up is a gross exaggeration but I did mostly run down! The first bridge, Sipapu, was my favorite hike but I think Katchina was the coolest looking bridge. I even tossed in the short run to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook.

Sprocket stayed nice and cool thanks to a stiff breeze on the rim above the canyon that was blowing through the open Jeep windows. I, on the other hand, spent the entire afternoon a sweaty mess: sports bra running forever.

Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..

The hikes are all pretty short (the longest is 3/4 mile, I think) so it didn’t amount to much but it was a fun challenge. I briefly felt guilty for “rushing through” the highlights of the park but it sure beats just looking from the overlooks and driving on!

All three complete!

Arizona: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

I spent a little time browsing the Canyon de Chelly visitors center and trying to get a sense for what I should spend some time doing. I really only wanted to allot time for one of the rim drives but I didn’t stress out about it too much because in the spectrum of western drives, this isn’t too terribly far from the San Juan Mountains.

I started out driving along the South Rim, pulling over at each overlook to enjoy the view. As much as this fit my MO for the morning, I can’t imagine letting something like this be my only interaction with canyons in the southwest! This really just gets back to my issues with national parks, I love them and understand why they’re run the way they are but I really struggle with the restrictions and the way that they seem to encourage very passive consumption of national treasures. BUT ANYWAY.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly had been a place I wanted to visit for a long time, after having read a NYT piece about it. It really is gorgeous if occasionally it was sort of uncomfortable to politely turn down seemingly earnest Navajo jewelry and artist vendors in the park; I just don’t really know how to respond to someone trying to sell me a painted pictograph (when this area is characterized by petroglyphs) on a slice of sandstone. I don’t want it or need it but somehow I feel guilty for not buying it because, History. The world is complicated sometimes.

I decided to hike down to White House Ruins. It’s the only place in the monument where you can hike down to the floor of the canyon without a Navajo guide. Sadly, because Canyon de Chelly is part of the National Park Service, Sprocket had to wait for me in the Jeep.

The trail down to the White House Ruins is pretty great. It’s short, gorgeous, and pretty well constructed. There’s stairs carved into the sandstone at the rim and a couple of tunnels not to mention the ruins at the bottom.

Being on the canyon floor was pretty amazing. I’d really love to see more of the canyon. (Anyone want to go in on a Jeep tour with me?)

After I got back to the car, we visited one more overlook and I let Sprocket walk out with me. I’m not sure if pets are allowed but I figured the warning sign implied that they were? Sprocket was delighted to get out and walk around on slickrock and no ranger chased us down so it all worked out.