We (Ronda and Dave) flew to Albuquerque and rented an SUV for our Southwest travels. We stayed three nights at the Pasada de Albuquerque, a nice little hotel built in the 30's by Conrad Hilton and recently restored. It has large rooms and a very nice lobby with carved wooden beams. The only disadvantage was the location of our room. On Saturday night (our first night after arriving) they had a latino band in the lobby belting out salsa etc. and we could hear them until quite late.
Aubuquerque is at 5000 feet and this tramway takes you up another 5000 in about 20 minutes. It was pretty at the top with snow still in the trees from a recent storm. We had planned to do a little hiking around, but it was very cold and windy, and the trails were snowed over. So we had hot drinks and came back down.
We liked Albuquerque. It seemed very quiet in the downtown area. Their
'oldtown' area is an attractive shopping destination with lots of shops
around a town square. The city is spread out and doesn't have many high
As a day trip form Albuquerque we visited the Acoma Pueblo 'sky city',
where the Indians have their ancestral homes on top of a small mesa 700+
feet above the surrounding countryside. Although there is now a dirt road
to the top, you can't go on your own and have to take the tour. (We saw
in the newspaper two weeks later a picture of Hillary Clinton on the same
tour. Glad we missed that one.) It's an amazing place with views looking
down on the world. We saw the mission that was built during Mexican rule
with forced Indian labor. There is evident resentment among the Indians
about their treatment by the Mexicans and later by the US. But it seemed
that most of it is currently directed against the Mexicans; at least in
the English language tour. We were told about the Pueblo Tribes history
of organized rebellion, mass mutilation by the Spanish and Mexicans, and
enslavement even during US rule, little of which seems to have made it
into our school history books.
We drove the scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, the so-called 'turquoise trail' which winds through the foothills. The picturesque towns along the way which reminded me of the Mother Lode country in CA. We stopped briefly in Madrid; originally a coal mining town, then ghost town after the mine closed, and now a tourist boutique town. They've turned the abandoned mine into a museum of sorts, and this picture was taken in a defunct steam locomotive which was used for the mine.
In Santa Fe, we stayed at a nice B&B, quite close to the main shopping
square. It was quite cold, snowing lightly for brief periods on two days.
We very much enjoyed the Georgia O'Keefe museum, and the Archeological
museum. We were a bit disappointed however in Santa Fe overall as it seemed
less than genuine, sort of an overgrown Carmel (CA). We say mostly two
kinds of people: those with lots of money to spend, and those working full
time at trying to get it away from them. And the so-called Santa Fe style
gets to be a bit much.
We visited Bandolier National Monument on a day trip from Santa Fe.
It was a good introduction to cliff dwellings and it was fun in that they
allow people to climb in and around many of the caves. There were a lot
of families with kids and they were entertained by it.
We didn't perform any cave ceremonies, but we did get our picture taken,
I think a bit grudgingly by a woman I enlisted for that purpose.
We hiked a bit off the beaten track to the Ceremonial Cave. We had to
climb ladders up about 140 feet to reach the cave, and that in itself was
quite an experience. The picture only gives a partial idea of the steepness
Tsankawi was at a small park we visited after Bandolier. It is administered
by the Bandolier Park personnel but separated geographically and without
any so-called improvements. Actually it was a bit hard to find, but we
saw it from the road at the last minute and screeched into the small parking
area. The trails were only partially marked, but we followed the indistinct
path which lead us past the ruins and the petroglyphs. To our uneducated
eyes the ruins looked like heaps of loose stones. There were lots of potshards
and a few stone implements laying around. Although not photogenic, it was
kind of authentic. Later on our hike we found the petroglyphs. For the
ones shown in this picture, the sun was at a good angle to highlight the
prehistoric grafitti set off by lichens of two colors.
From Santa Fe we drove to Taos via the scenic route (the 'high road'). It went through the foothills and a few small towns. We liked Taos. The teenagers were cruising on Saturday night, the girls on display and primping in their little Hondas and the guys dramatically overrevving their aging Camaros. It's a lot smaller than Santa Fe and it seemed like the genuine article by comparison. The air was startlingly clear and blue.
We did the 'self guided' tour of the Taos Pueblo north of town. Among
the nifty old adobe houses the indians have craft shops open. We looked
at pots and jewelry and bought some. The highlight however was when we
came across two ladies selling fry bread. We had them cook us some and
chatted with them while we waited. They were both grandmas and one of them
had a string of stories to tell about her family and their troubles. Typical
family stuff but they seemed very sweet and probaly more interesting to
us due to the pueblo indian context. The fry bread was great.
It took several hours to drive from Taos to Mesa Verde National Park,
located in the southwest corner of Colorado. This was the beginning of
their season and it was quite cold and windy at 7000 feet. The lodge is
perched on top of a very large mesa and the ruins are tucked into narrow
canyons. The ruin pictured here is not accessible to tourists.
The Cliff Palace Ruins are probably the most spectacular of the ruins
in the park. This is the view from the rim road.
Tourists are allowed access to this and other ruins only as part of Park Ranger-led tours. There were about 50 people in our group so it was quite a little knot of tourists that had to shuffle its way down into the canyon. The path back up required climbing a little ladder and fitting through a narrow space between rocks, and it was interesting to see how Middle America coped with the challenge. It took a while, but no one died.
During the tour and while discussing the Anasazi (the prehistoric occupants
of the area), the ranger guide drew a distinction between the occupants
of Mesa Verde and the occupants of Chaco Canyon. This added to an increasing
number of mentions of Chaco Canyon. The guide said there was speculation
that at one point during the time Mesa Verde was inhabited there was an
influx of people from Chaco. I had never heard of Chaco Canyon before planning
this trip, but our interest was piqued by repeated reference to it as the
'cradle of the Anasazi culture'.
We left Mesa Verde a day early and reorganized the trip slightly. Dave's left eye had gotten quite swollen, probably due to dust and sand blown in earlier in the trip, and as it didn't seem to be getting any better, we got ourselves to a clinic in Farmington. We spent an afternoon waiting with the Navajos and got some antibiotic salve that did the trick.
Farmington is an authentic town spread out along the highway with lots of pawn shops. We found the world's best Navajo jewelery store (and pawn shop) in town. They had an amazing array of turquoise jewelery and we did buy some.
Fairly close to Farmington are the Aztec Ruins National Monument. They
also are of Anasazi origin (not Aztec despite the name) and have been restored
to great extent. We also saw the Salmon ruins which are nearby on private
land. All of these ruins are remnants of a large culture that thrived in
the area beginning about 1200 years ago and lasting several hundred years.
As we left Farmington we drove south to Chaco Canyon. After zipping along excellent NM highways, we then travelled 16 miles over a dirt road to get to the park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The dirt road was in good shape and we were able to maintain about 50 MPH in our SUV with its balloon-like tires. There is no lodge within the park though one can camp. Someone has set up a telescope with movable dome and apparently this is a hotbed of amateur astronomy due to the distance from any city lights and relatively high elevation.
The ruins are said to be the most extensively excavated and restored of any of the Anasazi sites. They are quite impressive in their extent, and it is almost believable that at some point in (pre)history this was the center of a culture of hundreds of thousands of people. About 400 miles of prehistoric roadway have been discovered, extending in multiple directions from Chaco as the center.
Although still quite windy, it had warmed up some. We continued south
out of the park on another dirt road. This one was in worse shape, keeping
us to about 30 MPH. After 19 miles, at last we found the paved road and
continued on to Gallup, NM.
From Gallup we drove to Canyon de Chelly (Dee Shay) on the eastern edge of Arizona for the day. This is a National Park within the Navajo reservation that occupies a large percentage of Arizona. The Navajos control access to the canyon and require that you visit only as part of one of their tours or with a guide. We arranged to have a guide come with us and use our own 4-wheel drive vehicle.
This picture shows Ronda with our guide Anna Carroll. Anna has lived
on the reservation her entire life. She was a Navajo cop for 13 years,
is a grandmother, and has close connections to the families that live in
and around the canyon (this sounds like a Jeopardy introduction). She pointed
out an older Navajo man who she said owns a large tract of land in the
canyon and that her oldest son would eventually inherit some of this land.
Tucked into the side of the canyon wall are prehistoric ruins. I must
admid it was great fun driving the non-PC SUV through the canyon, splashing
through the river in 4-wheel-drive and climbing through places normal cars
would certainly be stuck. We stopped frequently to get out and gawk at
the splendid scenery. Most of the rock had the reddish cast that these
Early in our drive we saw some Navajo men working at getting their pickup
unstuck, and later we came across some Navajo teenagers who apparently
had their dad's new pickup out for a spin. Spin was what they were doing,
having dug themselves rather deep into the riverbed. There wasn't a lot
we could do without towing gear so we left them in the care of a growing
number of concerned off-road motorists.
We drove back to Gallup tired but happy after our Canyon de Chelly outing. We were looking forward to a glass of wine, ice cream, and Ronda wanted a green salad (any sequence of these items would have sufficed). Gallup however was not ready for the Colemans. Our restaurant the first night had been a disappointment but we were ready to give the city another try. This time we chose Earl's.
I was too tired to object when we were directed to our table in the middle of a major traffic pattern. Only after we were seated did the true nature of the place manifest itself. Derelict Navajos selling trinkets approached us politely but persistently time and again. Maybe I lead a sheltered existence but I haven't seen this before as a sanctioned practice in restaurants. They kept coming even after our meal arrived. The food was a disappointment also and the only ice cream was the kind extruded from a frosty machine. No wine, no real ice cream, and Ronda's salad was not what she had pictured. If this had been our last meal, it would have been tragic. Being intrepid adventurers however (or maybe effete city folk), we left as soon as possible and began laughing. It was still very windy in Gallup, the trains were still coming through town every 20 minutes, and we had not found any redeeming virtue.
The next day we were back to Albuquerque, again at the great little Posada hotel, overnight before an early flight back home.