Chaco Canyon and Bisti Wilderness Experience 2010
4 months in the making
18 hiking trails
30 Caguama Cerveza
Chaco Culture National Historical Park Gallo Campground as base camp
Having endured 4 months of "watchful waiting" (bad pun) with left eye surgery completed on 4/28 and right eye surgery completed on 5/19, I've had June 18th circled on the calendar since February. That was the date for medical clearance to get back into REAL HIKING again! For motivation I posted a 4 day weekend in Chaco Canyon incorporating the Summer Solstice plus a side trip into Bisti Wilderness on the HAZ Forum Board. There was plenty of interest, but few takers. Here's what they missed...Day 1 - Friday June 18th
- Our planned 7am departure from Chez Schulhauser's in Ahwatukee went without a hitch as Mike Mattes and my Ford F-150 trundled along AZ87 towards Payson. A coffee and gas stop in Heber and we were soon headed towards Holbrook and the I-40.
With the radio on seek to find some driving tunes; we had a wide selection of Country and Western, Country and Western, or Country and Western. We're introduced to "I'm Still a Guy" by Brad Paisley;
"When you see a deer, you see Bambi
And I see antlers on the wall...
...But I don't highlight my hair, I still have a pair
Yeah honey, I'm still a guy
Oh my eyebrows ain't plucked, there's a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I'm still a guy"
Needless to say this became our theme song for CHACO EXPERIENCE 2010! We pulled into Gallup NM at 11:30am to grab a couple of lunch time subs and continued along the I-40 towards the Continental Divide. At Thoreau, we turn onto NM371 towards Crownpoint. Having made great time, we consult our Chaco Culture Outlier Map (see viewtopic.php?f=4&t=5111&p=55955#p56070
) and notice Kin Ya'a marked just east of Crownpoint.
Hike #1 - Kin Ya'a Chaco Culture Outlier Ruin (1.05 miles, 1 hr) - Navajo for "Tall House", we turn at the Ikard-Newson Propane site and pass through the south gate. There's a maze-like network of crisscrossing double-tracks heading to the east. As we crest the ridge we make out the distinctive spire of the 4-story kiva... (see http://www.100megspopup.com/photo4phood ... index.html
) We bounce along in my F-150 towards the site avoiding the intermittent "sand traps". It's before 2pm and we're at our first Chacoan Great House - great way to start the 4-day weekend!
After having our fill of Kin Ya'a, we head back to NM371 north towards IR-9. I'm pleasantly surprised that IR-9 is paved as we travel 13.4 miles east looking for the abandoned trading post and derelict oil wells marking the intersection of NM57. NM57 is 19.3 miles of bone-rattling washboard that mostly parallels an ancient Chacoan Road towards the southern entry into Chaco Canyon near Fajada Butte. At the Visitor Center we have our first encounter with "Ranger Unhelpful" (aptly dubbed by PageRob). He doubts that there are any camp sites available in the Gallo Campground with this being the Summer Solstice with Zuni dancers and all, but wants to collect our $8 entry fee and $30 camp fees anyways. I pull out my annual NPS pass to get our $8 entry fee waived, but "Ranger Unhelpful" charges us anyways. He's a little annoyed when Mike points this out and I ask for a refund...
As we slowly wind our way through Gallo Campground we get a little concerned as it begins to look like every camp site is occupied. Mike spots an open one, then another, and another. Of the 49 sites in Gallo, only 6 are open at about 3pm on a Friday afternoon. We settle on Site#28 and declare it "HAZ CAMP CHACO 2010". I'm able to text a message from this location to PageRob letting him know our camp site.
Mike and I quickly assemble our tents, pop open an adult beverage and grab a seat in our camp chairs while waving to our new neighbours. We discuss a world of possibilities and decide that we'll BBQ dinner once the sun sets and try to get in a hike (or two) before then. Too bad we have such a tight schedule - NOT! (use your best Borat imitation here...).
Hike #2 - Wijijii Chacoan Great House and Petroglyph Trail (4.45 miles, 2 hr 15 min) - From the western edge of Gallo Campgrounds you pick up the trail weaving towards Chaco Wash. You're walking on a non-descript flat service road towards the ruins. Nothing of note until you arrive at the site. Barriers and the ever present "Keep Out" signs keep you away from close examination of the great house ruin. A father and son pass us heading back from the petroglyph trail. We enquire about the glyphs and they indicate that they didn't see any. Mike and I head that way and start examining what look like prospective panels. Again barriers and the ever present "Keep Out" signs keep you a "head scratching" distance away from anything of interest. Mike walks by the entire site not spotting any hint of rock art. My new found sight begins to discern some pictographs and then some glyphs. The changing light begins to amplify multiple examples of rock art.
Back at CAMP CHACO I whip up the evening grub - BBQ buffalo burgers, corn-on-the-cob, sweet gherkins, and some choice English beers. With a crackling campfire providing background "music" and stars beginning to appear in the evening sky, plus some good "eats", good beer, good company - what's not to like?
Hike #3 - Gallo to Visitor Center Stroll (3.49 miles, 2 hrs 15min) - Having received multiple tips that an Evening Ranger Lecture would be held back at the Visitor Center Observatory and in need of an after dinner "leg stretcher", Mike and I head down the road to join the rest of the campers...
Day 1 total mileage = 8.99 miles Day 2 - Saturday June 19th
- Gallo Campgrounds is buzzing with pre-dawn activity rushing off to catch the Zuni Solstice Dancers. I'm confused; summer solstice is on Monday 21st. Oh well, don't let facts get in the way of a good show... Mike is on breakfast duty grilling sausages and eggs with our traditional morning "eye-opener" - prickly pear vodka and orange juice. We soon pack the F-150 with some hiking supplies for our trek to Bisti and a couple of outliers. Our stop at the Ranger Station is a complete 180 from our Friday experience. Rangers are tripping over each other trying to help us. One heads off to the office to make copies of a new, updated map of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness while another talks about his plan to visit the same wilderness on Sunday. Yet another Ranger joins the conversation and answers my questions about the "lost" Fajada Butte Sun Dagger http://www.angelfire.com/indie/anna_jon ... agger.html
and why it remains off limits. We'll dub these the "3 Most-Helpful Rangers"...
Hike #4 - Kin Klizhin Chaco Culture Outlier Ruin (1.49 miles, 1 hr 15min) - Navajo for "Black House", we bounce along the double-track skirting the south side of the Chaco mesas (see http://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/k ... etrail.htm
and http://gamblershouse.wordpress.com/2009 ... n-klizhin/
). This is another tower kiva ruins very similar to Kin Ya'a. We continue west in my truck and see a nearby ruin that seems to incorporate some more recent times construction. A Navajo corral perhaps? The landscape becomes a series of sand dunes about 3 miles west of Kin Klizhin. The road begins to look impassable, especially as we can see evidence of makeshift "come-alongs" used by previous stuck vehicles. We decide to turnaround since my F-150 is only 2WD without offroad extrawide tires. Head south on NM57 to IR9 only to see a tragic rollover with EMS personnel scrambling to do what they can. NM371 takes us north towards Lake Valley Chapter House where we exit onto CR7059...
Hike #5 - Kin Bineola Chaco Culture Outlier Ruin (1.35 miles, 1 hr 30min) - Navajo for "Whirlwind House", only one word to say => WOW! This was the high-light of the trip... See http://www.100megspopup.com/photo4phood ... index.html
and http://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/u ... 202005.pdf
Hike #6 - Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (5.83 miles, 3 hr 15min) - Navajo for "Cranes" in reference to the petroglyphs containing these bird images. See http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/wilderness/bisti.html
We access the wilderness from the CR7500 trail head. The colours are reminiscent of Coal Mine Canyon or the Black Forest in PEFO, the mushroom rocks are reminiscent of the Paria, but the petrified wood was totally unexpected. The trek was hot, sweaty, and dusty, but the Caguama (http://www.caguamabeer.com/
) filling the cooler took care of that!
Hike #7 - Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (0.32 miles, 30min) - Access from the west off NM371. See http://www.takemytrip.com/064corners/06_09a.htm
With my gas gauge now indicating half a tank and not having passed a gas station all day, we decide that continuing 40 miles north to Farmington was our safest bet.
Hike #8 - Angel Peak Wilderness (0.28 miles, 20min) - Off NM550 about 15 miles south of Bloomfield on CR7175. See http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recrea ... _Peak.html
Back at CAMP CHACO waiting for PageRob to arrive, we meet some of our new camp neighbours. Rob arrives in the waning light. It's now time for BBQ New York Strips, corn-on-the-cob, sweet gherkins, and some choice English beers (or Caguama if you're slumming it). PageRob adds to choice beers with selections from Oak Creek and Grand Canyon Breweries. From our camp chairs we have a stellar light show. We pick out all the constellations we know and conclude that Orion's Belt must be below the horizon. After midnight, the moon sets below the horizon allowing the Milky Way to be exposed. With my new found sight, I've never seen anything like it...
Day 2 total mileage = 9.27 miles Day 3 - Sunday June 20th
- Once again Gallo Campgrounds is buzzing with pre-dawn activity, this time not to catch the Zuni Solstice Dancers (they packed up and left on Saturday), but to catch the sunrise Solstice light captured by the 7th niche in Casa Rinconada (see http://www.exploratorium.edu/chaco/HTML/rinconada.html
). We're up before 5am and decide the morning light at Pueblo Bonito will have our attention on this day...
Hike #9 - Pueblo Bonito (1.73 miles, 1 hr 15 min) - What can you say, the Chaco Grand House of Grand Houses all to ourselves. See http://www.dennisrhollowayarchitect.com ... onito.html
Rob and I are back at CAMP CHACO where Mike has prepared his specialty for breakfast - chocolate chip pancakes, grilled ham, and our traditional eye-opener - prickly pear vodka and orange juice...
Hike #10 - South Mesa Loop (5.60 miles, 3 hr 30 min) - From the Casa Rinconada trail head, we climb up South Mesa making a clockwise loop towards Tsin Kletzin (Navajo for "Charcoal Place"). See http://4cornershikesnavajo.blogspot.com ... anyon.html
The trail has a "feel" to it like Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa. At the Great House we have commanding 360 degree views. Our cell phones work and with it being Father's Day, make the call home to Dad. We make a side trek to view Weritos Rincon, remnants of a Chacoan dam...
We're back at the Casa Rinconada trail head at noon. A refreshing blast from the F-150's A/C and a minor debate about afternoon plans. Pueblo Alto Loop was on the list, but our stomachs are talking to us and there's Buffalo Burgers in the ice chest back at CAMP CHACO. Back at camp we BBQ those burgers and drain a couple of turtles (aka Caguamas).
Hike #11 - Pueblo Pintado Chaco Culture Outlier Ruin (1 mile, 1 hr 30 min) - A squalid and depressing Chapter House (quite the contrast from Lake Valley and others) with an interesting Great House Ruin. To me the high light is midden after midden containing multiple examples of large pottery sherds, Rob seemed to win his argument with the turtle (or was one of the Buffalo Burgers slightly sushi style?) and was able to give us a lesson in Chacoan pottery styles.
We have plenty of daylight remaining when we return to CAMP CHACO. The winds are a little too much as well, so we grab our camp chairs and set up in the wind shadow and shade near the Gallo Alcove Ruins http://4cornershikesnavajo.blogspot.com ... ve%20Ruins
As the sun sets, the winds die and with dual pyros Mike and Rob getting the camp fire going, I prepare some steak fajitas with corn-on-the-cob. Rob whips up an appetizer bowl of chilli and fritos. Plenty of unique beers to share. Life is good...
Day 3 total mileage = 8.33 miles Day 4 - Monday June 21st
- Once again Gallo Campgrounds is buzzing with pre-dawn activity and we're on the road about 10th in line waiting for the park gate to open at 5:30am sharp. Like a giant train, a procession of vehicles wind their way to the Casa Rinconada trail head to catch the sunrise Solstice light captured by the 7th niche.
Hike #12 - Casa Rinconada (0.5 miles, 1 hr) - It's a New Age event at the giant kiva waiting for the sunrise. http://www.exploratorium.edu/media/inde ... m=00000622
Certainly an "interesting" cross-section of life standing along the edges of the giant kiva waiting for sun to rise. Striking up some conversations I find out that just about everyone is a teacher or archeologist. There's even a large group of teachers that arrived in a "Follow The Sun" Tour Bus. Seems they are all part of an NSF funded "teacher enrichment" program headed by some archeologists. Talk to some of teachers in this program and their plans to interweave some Chaco Canyon elements into their high school programs. The Head Ranger from Chaco (neglected to write his name down, but he's been there for many years) gives a lecture to the crowd about the alignment. He certainly creates an element of doubt in the crowd when he mentions that although the niches are restored in their original positions, the light entrance window is pure speculation as it is 100% reconstruction from the 1920's (and nobody had the original architectural drawings!). Much to our relief we aren't sucked into any New Age Vortex and we are able to make our way back to the trail head and climb into the F-150 back to CAMP CHACO.
Mike looks after breakfast - oatmeal with maple syrup, home made muffins, grilled ham, and our ritual eye-opener. We break camp packing up our gear into our respective vehicles - today is getaway day. Over to the visitor center and book store for another encounter with Ranger Unhelpful. Seems that all 3 of us settle on the same book; "The Architecture of Chaco Canyon" by Stephen H. Lekson. We decide on a Tourist Speed Loop of Chaco Canyon so Rob can get some "Cag Shots".
Hike #13 - Una Vida (0.25 miles, 10 min)
Hike #14 - Hungo Pavi (0.25 miles, 10 min)
Hike #15 - Chetro Ketl (0.10 miles, 5 min)
Hike #16 - Pueblo Bonito (0.10 miles, 5 min)
Hike #17 - Kin Kletso (0.10 miles, 5 min)
Hike #18 - Pueblo del Arroyo (0.10 miles, 5 min)
We wave good bye to Rob as Mike and I head towards the South Road and NM57 towards Phoenix. I've got a 6am flight to catch on Tuesday to MSP...
Day 4 total mileage = 1.40 miles
Four Day Total Mileage = 27.99 miles