Cochiti Lake is a reservoir created by damming up the Rio Grande River. This area is part of the Cochiti Pueblo reservation. The US Army Corps of Engineers built this earth filled dam starting in 1965. It was completed in 1975. The dam is more than 5 miles long and is the 10th largest dam in the US. As with most COE sites, providing recreation opportunities is an important part of the development. At most COE sites there are very nice campgrounds with electrical hookups. Many have water at each camp site, some have waste connections. And with our Senior National Park Pass these sites are $8-$13/night.
Apparently being nice to the people who lived there was not so high on the COE agenda back then. The Cochiti people lost significant areas of agricultural land and sacred areas flooded as the waters behind the dam rose. And a lot of farm land was flooded below the dam due to seepage through and under the dam. And then there were developers who wanted to take over large areas of land near the lake to develop a new town for recreation and vacation. They envisioned as many as 40,000 people. The current population of the Pueblo is less than 600. The Pueblo has worked to stop private development and to restore downstream farmland. The Pueblo now owns a gas station and store and laundry and a small housing development for members of the Pueblo. No other private development has been allowed. In an agreement and cooperative effort with the COE drainage and irrigation canals have been built downstream of the dam to help restore traditional agricultural lands.
We (the coach) are near the middle of this picture.
I was surprised the dam was as long as it is. The spillway to let the Rio Grande continue south is about in the middle of the dam. The water level seemed just below normal. The top of the dam was about at the height of the campground, 251 ft. above normal river level.
The campground was about 200 ft elevation higher than the lake. It was another 300 ft climb to the Visitor’s Center. It was closed but scheduled to open in another week or so. I rode my bike up to the Visitor’s Center (about a mile away) and then down a bit and out on to the dam road. I had to go through two locked gates so I didn’t go very far. Homeland Security sort of thing I guess.
This was a very nice stop for a few days to slow down after the Grand Canyon and before we get to Santa Fe where we will be for almost two weeks. Our friends Ed and Barb will be stopping for a 3-1/2 day visit on their way to California. It will be nice to see good friends.
It was Easter weekend when we left on Sunday for the grueling 35 mile drive to Santa Fe. 😜 The campground and the picnic areas were full. The boat launch area was busy. There were sail boats and fishing boats and kayaks out on the lake.
A helicopter was flying over to a small inlet way on the other side of the lake and dipping a firefighting bucket into the lake and then flying off a ways to dump it and back again and again. It was a reminder of the very high fire danger that exists in most of the areas we have been in over the past two months. Water is scarce here in the best of times. For now most of this area and Texas and California have been in a severe drought for the last four years.
This is a place where we would return.
Roger and Susan
Durango is about 40 miles east of Cortez so we took a day and drove over there. This is another place we have been to in the past. We thought we might take the narrow guage train up to Silverton but that run had not started for the season yet. There was a shorter trip but it left a 9 AM. So we just drove over, spent a few hours walking around, had lunch and drove home.
I am sure if we had stayed in the area that we would have found much more interesting stuff to do but Durango for a few hours was just like Prescott, a nice old town converted into a tourist oriented town. At least this helps to preserve the old buildings and to some degree the look of the old town. We walked quite a ways up and down the main street of old Durango where the old business buildings, the old stores, the banks the train station and all of the other early buildings were. Virtually every one is now a restaraunt, a store selling new age trinkets, sandals, an extraodinarily high priced mountaineering store, unusable antiques stores, crystals, beads and Sedona wanna-be stuff, probably a dozen shoe stores, some very high end clothing stores, t-shirt shops and every other thing you can imagine to milk every possible dollar out of the tourist who comes to Durango hoping for that old west experience.
I don’t think that in 10 or 12 blocks on either side we saw a single store or restaurant that any ordinary resident of the the area would have shopped or eaten at. I am sure some blocks away there is a real hardware store or places where people who live there shop. It is too bad that what we remembered about Durango is gone at least what we saw way back when is gone. We contrasted that to Cortez where the main street is where all of the commerce of everyday life seemed to go on.
But like so many towns Durango has adapted to changing times and survived. The Durango, Pagosa Springs, Chama area has always been a favorite place we remember.
The train depot was old with a silver mining past. Part of it is now a museum which was interesting.
This old Curtis airplane was the first airplane to fly into Durango, or so they claimed. There was a big model railroad sort of depicting Durango, old cars and trucks and lost of other old stuff.
The model of the drive-in movie theater had a modern day tablet for the screen. The museum was in the old roundhouse, a building where locomotives and rail cars could be maintained or repaired. The tracks leading into the roundhouse were like spokes on a wheel fed by a big turntable in the center. Buildings like this have rarely survived. I would have put in a picture but none that I took would have helped you understand.
We left Cortez and drove south towards Shiprock, NM and then a bit east through Farmington, NM (the fourth largest city in NM) and just a few miles more to the San Juan County Fairgrounds where they have cheap RV camping with electric and water hookups. The fairgrounds are immense. They have barns for many hundreds of horses and cattle and sheep and what ever else they show at the fair, room for 560 RVs with electric and water hookups and a dump station, a casino/race track for gamblers/horses and room for thousands of cars. The County Fair must be a really big event. They also have other events there as well. While we were there the Passion Play was being presented each evening. Several hundred cars showed up each evening and then left. As far as we could tell there was only one other RV there and they were quite a ways from us.
This is what road graders used to look like.
We stayed there so we could drive down to Chaco Culture National Historic Park. It was about 30 miles south from Farmington and then more than 20 miles west on a rough dirt road. Chaco Canyon is another World Heritage Site. From about 800 AD to 1200 AD Chaco Canyon was a cultural, ceremonial, religous and learning center for the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in much of the Four Corners area, some several hundred miles away. It was also a major trading center for other indigenous peoples from Mexico to the south, the great plains to the north east and from Nevada and California to the west.
Chaco Canyon is a shallow canyon among the mesas and buttes of this region. There is evidence of a small river that ran through the canyon although it would have been dry at most times of the year. When it rained (about 10″ per year) water would flow off the mesas that made up the sides of the canyon. This water was caught in catch basins where evidence of small dams has been found. At the head of the canyon is Fajada Butte. This along with some of the surounding peaks formed sacred alignments marking the canyon’s significance. The top of Fajada Butte has many monuments and structures that are used for marking solar, lunar and cardinal directions and events.
Unlike the great cliff houses of Mesa Verde, Chacoans built their great houses on the canyon floor mostly near the south facing canyon wall. There were dozens of Chacoan Great Houses built throughout the canyon. There were massive stone structures with hundreds of rooms in mutliple stories. The appear to have definite plans from the start but some took centuries to complete. Each is shaped like a D with the straight side facing towards the mid-day sun and precisely aligned with the rising sun on the spring equinox. Researchers have found markers on the canyon edges, sometimes several miles apart that mark the exact alignment of the spring and fall equinox of the sun as well as moon alignments. All of these markings were used to align buildings and roadways s well as to signal planting times and other seasonal events.
All of these dozens of great houses were built so that they could see and communicate with each other. Prehistoric roads led from Chaco in precise alignment to more than 150 other distant Great Houses in the region. These roads were essentially straight lines from Chaco on which many other distant Great Houses were located. Where cliffs or other obstructions blocked the way, stairways and ramps maintained the alignment.
The biggest of the Great Houses is Pueblo Bonito. Obviously, this is not what the Chacoans called it. Actually no one knows what the Ancestral Puebloans called themselves or this place. There are no written records of any type and only oral histories and legends give any clue as to what Chaco Canyon was called.
This is a painting of what Pueblo Bonito likely looked like around 1100. It had several hundred rooms and more than 20 Kivas of different sizes at different levels. They were built over hundreds of years, the designs evolved, the construction methods changed and they were likely for different clans visiting from distant pueblos. No way to really know.
When Chaco Canyon was discovered all of these Great Houses were buried under hundreds of years of blowing sand and dirt. The early explorations excavated and exploited what they found. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that scientific efforts took over and preservation became a prime motivation.
An arial view (not my picture) shows what Pueblo Bonito looks like today. We have always wondered if any of the cliffs ever collapsed and here we saw where the entire cliff face collapsed around 1960 and crushed the upper section of the Great House.
Trails through these structures are pretty organized, you can only go where they go. Here we climbed over the fallen cliff face along the back wall.
We have never seen Kivas this big. These were three or four times bigger than any we had seen before.
These Kivas had high walls and were covered by a complex roof system. The inside walls would have been plastered and decorated. Each Kiva had four foundations for the vertical wooden columns holding up the roof. The fire pits and Sipapu (the portal from which their ancestors emerge to the present world) were very similar in all Kivas no matter when they were built. Present day Navajo believe they are now in the fifth world. Kivas were used for ceremonial, ritual and religous purposes by both men and women.
The Chacoans used stone and a clay based mortar to build with. They had no metal tools to shape stones just stone tools. And yet their stone work is precise.
This is an older building style with bigger stones, still cut precisely.
Later styles used smaller stones tightly fit together as bigger stones were getting harder to find. These walls were all covered with a smooth plaster.
There were few windows, doors were of different styles which evolved over time. Floors were made with wooden poles embedded in the walls and covered with layers of bark and plaster. The ends of the original wooden poles are still in the walls.
There was room in Chaco Canyon for many thousands of people and yet archeologists think that less than 2000 lived there as permanent residents. People came from long distances to be there at special times. Many people came and stayed for a summer or a whole year to learn and to build. They would take the latest building techniques back to thei home pueblos for use there. There was clear Mayan influences from Mexico that are unique to Chaco which indicated a very wide influence.
There wasn’t enough agricultural areas to grow enough food for all of these people so it is assumed that visitors brought their own food, goods to trade and their own tools. Groups from different clans would build a Kiva for their own use perhaps, maybe the reason for so many. They would return with new trade items, new skills and building techniques, maybe new tools or ideas about ways to make tools. It must have been almost like a college town with a transient population and a fixed population.
We visited about a half dozen sites. There were many others to see as well and hiking trails to more. They quit digging up sites long ago now that thay have ground penetrating radar to see what is underground and map out what is there. Leaving them buried is the best way to preserve them. Even in Pueblo Bonito most of it that was excavated has been reburied after damage to the walls was repaired. The exposed walls are carefully cataloged and there are teams there continually repairing and restoring the walls. They use hand cut stones to fit as exactly as they can and mortar made in the original way but with additives to make it last longer.
This entire canyon remains a sacred place to Native Americans who still come here every year. This place is in their history, ritual, culture and myths and beliefs. All of this long before any Europeans arrived. I am not so sure about alien visitors though.
While we were there the sun was bright, hats were good.
When we were in this area in 1980 we visited Canyon de Chelly, another Puebloan site about 50 miles west. It was in a deeper canyon with a river, a very nice site with cliff houses and much easier to get to. On our way back from Chaco Canyon there were big black clouds on the horizon. It looked like rain. Lots of wind but it never rained and by the time we got back to the fairgrounds the sun was out again.
Next up, Cochiti Lake on the Rio Grande River near the Cochiti Pueblo, about 40 miles south of Santa Fe.
Roger and Susan
We were hoping that the weather would be OK so that we could get up to Mesa Verde National Park. It is another place we visited in 1980 and haven’t been back to since. The long time weather averages suggested it would be OK, cold at night but warmer during the day. The campground in the Park was not open yet nor were the two campgrounds near the entrance to the Park so we chose the Sundance RV Park in Cortez, CO about 10 miles to the west. It was a very nice RV park with a huge city park across the street. The park was almost full with a lot of trailers and RVs that looked as if they were set up for the long haul. I talked to the owner and he told me that a very big natural gas deposit was found just to the north and that a company from New Mexico was doing the development work and had rented about 2/3 of the park for nine years. He thought that was good and had spent money on the laundry, showers and bathrooms, They were very nice. He said the best thing was that almost everyone who was working at the new gas site were local people as well as most of the subcontractors It was a big deal for Cortez which is regional center for the Four Corners area.
Nice trees, starting to leaf out. We would go back there.
We packed snacks, hiking shoes and a bunch of water and set off for Mesa Verde. The weather was warm in the morning and upper 70’s forecast for the afternoon.
The Mesa Verde area covers 520 sq miles of high mesa areas cut with deep canyons. Mesa Verde was named by Spanish explorers and means green table. The Park today includes 81 square miles of land and canyon with more than 600 cliff houses, many mesa top archeological sites and many more undiscovered sites. It has been designated a World Heritage Site.
There is a new Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park. It explained how the Ancestral Puebloans lived here on top of the mesa and in the cliff houses in the canyons. They lived there from about 550AD until about 1300. The early dwellers lived mostly on top of the mesa in an evolving building style of pit houses. These gradually got deeper and larger. Their influence lasted to the Kiva designs of the later inhabitants of the cliff houses. At Mesa Verde’s peak there were 35,000 Puebloan people living on the Mesa and in the valley just to the north. Today the population in the same area is only about 20,000.
This was not here in 1980, just opened a couple of years ago. The original Visitor’s Center was 25+ miles into the park.
This sculpture near the entrance to the Visitor’s Center depicts the way the Puebloan people got to their cliff houses. They climbed up and down the steep cliff sides carrying bundles using just small hand and foot holes pecked into the stone face. They had no metal tools, only stone to make hammers, chisels and axes. Life was hard and short.
From the Visitor’s Center at 6,500 ft elevation a steep winding road leads about 6 miles to the campground and then 8 miles of more winding roads, a tunnel and some steep sections to Park Point Overlook where at about 8,600 ft elevation there is one of three fire lookouts in the park. These are important places for the park. Since 2000 there has been three major fires which have burned well over half of the mesa.
Technically it is not a mesa since it is not flat. It is called a cuesta since it has a consistant slope of about 3 degrees towards the south. The south facing slope gives the land more sun and increases the growing season on the mesa top by as much as 21 days compared to the lower elevation valley.
Another 8 miles out on the Mesa and you come to the Far View Sites. These are a collection of more than 50 farming villages from 900 to 1300 AD. These villages evolved from pit houses to pueblo style building sites with extensive dry land farming areas. There were reservoirs for water but the fields were generally not irrigated. They were more likely used to supply household water needs. Preservation experts have added a compatable cap of mortar onto the top of the remaining walls to keep them stable.
The road goes on and splits. One way heads down the Wetherhill Mesa which was not open at this time of the year. There are many cliff dwellings out at the end of this mesa and when it is open the only way to see them is by tram. Car traffic was stopped long ago to reduce the impact on the area. We rode the trams in 1980.
The other road heads down the Chapin Mesa. There is the original Visitor’s Center and an interesting archeology museum, gift shops and a small restaurant. The museum did a great job of depicting everyday life over time. It showed the development of tools, building materials, plant materials used for making clothes and sandals, the use of pottery, the beginning of the use of cotton and other materials for weaving and quite a bit of archeologists best guesses at family and cultural structure. Culture, the seasons, daily work, traditions and rituals and their spritual life were closely linked. Most of this is not really known since there were no written records but it is inferred from the oral histories of many Puebloan communities that exist today.
Lunch was a shared Frito Pie.
Chili on Fritos with cheese. Tasty.
Spruce Tree House is a cliff dwelling that has been excavated and stabilized. There are trails down to see it today. There were no trails when several hundred people lived here. Rangers were there to answer questions and to suggest appropriate behavior as needed.
There were several Kivas, places for ritual, ceremonial and religous events and three to four story buildings going back many rooms into the cliff openings. This particular cliff house had been opened up by looters before archeologists and historians got to it but even still their restoration and stabilization work is only about 5% of what is there today. The Puebloans closed most of the openings into these structures when they left. Much of what was left was buried under windblown sand and dirt. So careful excavation reveals what survived and what was left behind.
The Square Tower House had some modern day supports while stabilization work was being done. The square tower was unusual. While structures were more or less square cornered, towers and kiva were round. There is no explanation for this other than it was an adaptation of earlier buliding techniques or something learned from visiting other Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area.
Openings in the cliffs were formed by parts of the face collapsing and then more of the ceiling collapsing because there was no support underneath. Some of the openings in the cliff face were huge. We saw no place where the cliff had collapsed on a cliff house but it has to have happened. We saw a huge section of cliff that collapsed on a community built next to the cliff face in Chaco Canyon.
This is the Cliff Palace as they call it today. Likely something else back then.
This is Navajo Canyon, several miles long and a few thousand feet deep. There was no easy way to go from one side to the other. From these communities to the communities in the valley to the north of Mesa Verda it was a 30 mile or more trip. And yet they did travel far and wide.
There is evidence of trade for things like sea shells, turquoise, bird feathers, even pipestone from MN. The Puebloan people had a very wide spread cultural reach into New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Nevada and Utah and traded with other cultures from thousands of miles away. But it was more than goods they traded, they learned from each other about everything including building techniques, pottery making, weaving, medicines and more.
No one knows why but the Puebloan people of Mesa Verde moved south around 1300. They brought everything they knew and believed with them. Many settled along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. Today those Puebloan cultures are still there surviving the early Spanish explorers and all of the diseases they brought, the Mexicans, the Catholic missionaries, the western movement of America and the American government.
Their past and present, their history and culture and the people thenselves deserve our respect and understanding. They are the original people of this land and part of our heritage.
Well, lots of rocks and stuff, I know. One more stop on this part of the journey at Chaco Canyon, another World Heritage Site. This was the center of the widely spread and diversified Puebloan Culture.
Roger and Susan.
We left the Grand Canyon on 3/23 heading for Monument Valley which is just across the border into southern Utah. The big group of folks from Quebec were a couple days ahead of us so we couldn’t get a spot at Goulding’s Trading Post (and campground and lodge and restaurant and car wash and gas station and grocery store and pizza place and post office and airport). So we stopped at Cameron’s Trading Post (and campground and lodge and gift shop and restaurant and gas station and post office) at the Little Colorado River heading that way. Neither location had much of anything else nearby.
Cameron’s had a really nice looking lodge and a interesting restaurant decorated with hand woven Navajo rugs and Navajo art work. We ate in the dining room and stayed in their minimalist campground.
The stone work, woodwork and art work was impressive.
This is the original 1911 suspension bridge across the Little Colorado. There is a newer bridge on the other side. The Mormon Trail crosses near here as well. This bridge swayed and was creaky from day one. It is a single lane bridge. It has long since been used for a gas pipeline crossing. A National Historic Site now.
The next day we drove about 50 miles to Goulding’s Campground. The campground was in a narrow canyon whose opening looked out towards Monument Valley.
It was mostly dirt, electric OK, water hard, small,short sites and probably the most expensive campground we have ever sayed in, $48/night! We are averaging about $20/night.
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park. It is located in the Navajo Nation as is Goulding’s. It cost $20 for a four day entrance permit and then you can drive on the one way, rough and dusty road through Monument Valley. People live in the valley, there is no water anywhere. They all have water trucks that they fill up at Goulding’s. Oh, it is a water fill station too. If you don’t want to drive you can pay $56 or much more to ride around the park in the back of a pickup truck outfitted with seats and have someone tell you what you ware looking at rather than reading the brochure that tells you. We drove the Jeep. The main erosive force in the valley is wind. It was windy there. And wind erosion uses fine particles to do its work which creates more fine particles. Monument Valley is covered with a reddish very fine sand.
The Tribal Park has a Visitor’s Center and a Museum. The museum was mostly about the Tribal system of govenment, the geology and life in the valley. The Visitor’s Center was more about the recent history of the valley in movies. The Goulding’s arrived in the 1920s and started a small trading post. They were fair and honest folk and got along well with the Navajo people. The Great Depression hit the Navajo particularly hard and the Goulding’s as well. They set out for Hollywood with their last $60 to try to convince movie producers that Monument Valley would be a good location for the increasingly popular Western movies. They were persistant and finally met John Ford who looked at their pictures and decided on the spot to shoot his next picture, “Stagecoach”, starring John Wayne in Monument Valley. The Goulding’s got an advance payment for helping to make all of the arrangements, hire extras and to provide services to the movie crews. Goulding’s Lodge soon followed. Dozens of movies have been filmed there. More recently just scenes. The last movie was the third Transformers film. Lots of adds have been made there too. While this provides revenue to the Navajo Nation and they are able to control use and exploitation of the Valley it does not provide jobs. Production companies today and for a long time bring everything they need with them, all of the equipment and all of the people, even food and cooks and very tight schedules and budgets. Not much local spending.
Most of the features in Monument Valley are volcanic in origin, lava pushing up into cracks and holes in the ancient sea bed. All of this was easily eroded leaving just the columns. Many looked like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, same geology, even a close encounter with a movie there.
You can just about see the swaggering John Wayne kicking up dust, Pilgrim. These are called The East and West Mittens.
And Elephant Butte, with some imagination. The other side looked like nothing.
The Sisters. It is supposed to be a nun and her two students. We looked but couldn’t see the ruler.
Some of these spires are vary narrow. There be cowgirls, too.
A homestead in the shadow of the cliff.
There is a string of horses riding across the dune. Everything is very big.
And out towards the north, nothing but dust.
Monument Valley is another one of those places that is almost too big to show in photos. But being there was very impressive. Glad we went.
Next Cortez, CO and Mesa Verde.
Until next time,
Roger and Susan