My friend Megan and I rolled into Kayenta around 8:10, which was pretty much on-time for me, to find Wendy's white truck and Mike's jeep parked in the McDonald's parking lot already. We went inside to find the group sipping coffee and talking. I met Wendy (writelots) and Angela (tibber) for the first time; Randy, Mike, and Anne were all veterans of my Grand Gulch sand slog earlier in the year.
After a detour to Well's Fargo (for Megan to get cash) and TrueValue (for Anne to become a pirate), we were on the road, wheels spinning northward. We made the turn at Monument Valley and drove up to the entrance station in our purposeful-looking caravan. Instead of stopping to pay the admission fee, we turned into the administration parking lot. The sign on the door said closed Saturday and Sunday, but I tried the door anyway. Locked. Just as we were about to head back and see if the fee station personnel could help us after all, the door opened up. "Can I help you guys?"
We walked inside. The head of the permitting process recognized me from prior trips. "Chinle Wash again."
"You got it."
"Going in by raft?"
"No. Been checking the flows, river's supposed to be real low."
"Yeah, it looks like you could walk across if you wanted to!"
I laughed at that. Fording the San Juan was not part of the game plan for us that day. "We'll just be hiking in."
After running out to the truck to check my new license plate, we had the form filled and cash paid. "Have fun!" our permitter said, as we headed again for the door.
We left the cool, red parking lot and headed around the backside of Monument Valley, along paved, gravel, and sandy roads, turning right and left until we found ourselves paralleling Comb Ridge. We pulled into my old parking area to find two Navajo fellows filling their water drums. We chat for a bit, and then get a tip that there's a better spot to park on up the road. We follow the lead, but it doesn't pan out to much, so we park on some hardpan and hit the "trail."
The weather is perfect,even a little cool, as we cross the sandy flats towards Chinle Wash. We find sherds and flakes and even two partial points. To the south, we spy a glint of sunlight off of metal and glass - two trucks parked by a lonely tree I know well. Across the was we spot another group hiking towards our goal. Busy day out by the Chinle. Never before have I seen another hiker in this canyon.
We slide down a sand slope into an arroyo and then hit the flats by Chinle Wash. The willows and tamarisk whipped us as we bushwacked towards the wash itself. What a disappointment, however, as the wash was totally dry. Here we'd been anticipating crossing a foot deep stream. So dry that the possibility of quicksand seems dim. None the less we forge across the wash and rise on the other side. After gaining another bench above the wash, we can see our goal for the hike - Utah's largest cliff dwelling. On a slope on the south of the wash, we can see the mysterious other hikers lounging in the shade. We press on, and after a stop at a rock art boulder, we drop back down into the willows. Randy finds a path that leads away from the ruins but appears to be obstacle-free. Remembering our last foray into the Chinle the previous spring, and our travails with quicksand, I opt for a bushwack towards the cliff. Angela follows my lead, thinking I know what I am doing, while the others progress along with Randy. A wise choice, as the willows are thick and end up getting us nowhere. Disheartened, we beat our way through the bush to find the trail again. Not long after getting back on it, we encounter the rest of the gang, sans Randy. Around the bend the ruin appears in its alcove, framed by willows. Picture time. We could see the other folks poking about up in the ruins, and as we approached the base of the arroyo escarpment, we found that Randy was already on top, and talking to one of their party. Turns out they're from Mexican Hat and work at the school there. We didn't catch everyone's name or job title, save for the principal, an overweight man who leaned on the ruins and managed to knock a section of wall down while scaling part of the cliff. We were all quite irked by this.
On up into the ruins while the other group begins to disperse. Megan, Randy, and myself set about finding a way to the westernmost section of the ruin without touching the structure. It is kind of like yoga, but we end up twisting, turning, passing cameras, and stretching our way to the last granary out on the edge of the alcove ledge. Gorgeous gorgeous views back over the entire site, the 2nd largest cliff dwelling in the US. We find some neat things, like a walled-in window, and prehistoric beam holes.
On the way back towards the rock-fall section of the ruin, we walk back by awesome pottery sherds and a prehistoric broom. We were then into the heart of the boulder, and into the heart of awesome finds. Crazy rock art on the cliff face and ghost walls stretching to three and four stories. Burnt beams as big around as my waist. Squash stem. Pottery sherds in the walls. Almost all the walls were round. Very interesting things to consider as we explore.
We'd set our goals on accessing the middle alcove ruins, seemingly inaccessible. Some demurred, but Mike and I proceeded on a precarious ledge towards the ruins while Randy scouts out alternate routes. There are Moki steps leading up, but the face is nearly vertical. Do we dare?
I lead off. Sketchy at points, but short, and I get up with few issues (though coming down may be a different issue. I watch Mike come up and we explore the alcove.
Its hot, and there isn't much too it, but what there is is awesome. Great fractures at the northern edge of the alcove. One building still has about a quarter of the roof intact. Most of the buildings were jacal construction, with strange white rock art on the back wall. The apron is steep, but we explore for a bit until Randy shows up on the ledge beneath the steps. He decides that the view is good enough from there, and spots us on our interesting downclimb.
Back on the flats and it is hot. We head upcanyon for a bit and found a seep that is barely flowing. It supplies a shallow pool with maybe a liter in it. We bushwack a bit and then pick up a cattle trail to the dry wash. The going is easier than the willows on the way in, and we make good time. Crossing the flats, we stop and do a Wendy, and finally get back to the trucks with a bit of time before sunset. After a refreshing beverage we're back on the roads, with a pit stop for a Monument Valley sunset. At Gouldings we snap pics of the moonrise over Monument Valley and Navajo Tacos. Yet another great trip out to the middle of nowhere.
||Autumn Foliage Observation Isolated
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