Southwest Part II: From Hopi to Hovenweep

posted Jun 16, 2019, 7:05 AM by Paul Wagner

After a really nice few short hikes at Lees Ferry, we packed up and headed to Second Mesa, where we were going to spend the first of two nights that we spent in hotels on this trip.  We had a reservation at the Hopi Cultural Center. 
But on our way, we stopped off to see Coal Mine Canyon, which sits just a mile or so off the highway, but gets very little attention.  We spend a really nice hour or two exploring the rim, taking photos, and eating at the windy picnic area above it.  We also enjoyed our conversation there with a nice young Navajo man who had been living in Washington State and was spending a few hours reconnecting with one of his favorite places in his homeland.  His enthusiasm for Coal Mine Canyon only added to our enjoyment. 

The Hopi Cultural Center consists of a nice, clean, basic hotel, a restaurant which serves local food to a mainly local clientelle, and nice gift shop, and a museum that did not open while we were there.  Oh well.  The clean sheets, hot showers, and large portions of food all filled a need!   And then we drove off to Chaco Canyon.

This was the main purpose for our trip, and it didn't disappoint.  The famously difficult dirt road from the South was really quite easy---we drove most of it at 35 mph or so--and there were enough campsites that we could pick and choose a bit.  We chose one quite close to the wall of ruins and petroglyphs that run along the West side of the campground. 

Chaco is the heartland of the ancient Puebloan culture, and it is just chock full of massive ruins, wonderful petroglyphs, and other surprises.  What a treat!  Over the next few days we visited Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo Arroyo, Pueblo Rinconada, Pueblo Alto, Penasco Blanco, Casa Chiquita, and Una Vida.  And we just loved it.  The rangers were full of information and helpful advice--we took two tours with them of some of the pueblos--and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm as well. 

Among the highlights were seeing the ruins, wandering the canyon walls looking for rock art, climbing up and down the Puebloan staircase on the trail to Pueblo Alto, gazing over the potsherds that littered the middens at Penasco Blanco, and find our own little petroglyph by accident.

I happened like this.  We were hiking the trail to and from Penasco Blanco, and it was a warm and windy day.  It was lunchtime, and P started to look for a quiet and possibly shady spot for us to eat our lunch.  As he walked along the trail, he noticed a small alcove with a natural bench in it, in the shade, just ten or fifteen feet off the trail.  Perfect.  he sat down and starting pulling lunch out of our daypack.  M walked up to join him just a minute or two later, and as we sat and started eating, her eyes got very large and she said:  "Look behind you!" 

Sure enough right there behind us were a series of small petroglyphs, probably left there by some Ancient Puebloan 800 years ago as he rested on the bench and ate his lunch on a warm and windy day.  Very very cool. 

The road North out of Chaco is a bit worse---the two miles closest to the park are the bumpiest--but from there we then drove up to Aztec to see the ruins there, and continued on to spend a few more days at Mesa Verde, which we loved last year.  This time we hiked the wonderful trail to Petroglyph Point, and visited Weatherill Mesa to see Step House, Badger Community, and take a ranger guided tour of Long House.  And we used the park as a base of operations for a day of exploring the Anazasi Heritage Center  of Canyons of the Ancients in Dolores as well. 

A great park, and the campground has both a laundromat and free showers.  Pure luxury. 

And to wrap up this part of our trip, we drove out to Yucca House, where the absolutely slick mud on the road from an irrigation line sidetracked us briefly--the local farmer very kindly pulled us out with his tractor--and then hiked into Rock Creek Canyon to see one of the most amazing collections of ruins. They were simply everywhere. 

And we drove through a dramatic thunderstorm to end up at Hovenweep to explore the parts that we had not see before:  Holly, Hackberrry, Horseshoe.  Unfortunately a new landowner has made access to Cutthroat impossible, so we missed that one, but we did manage to get eaten alive by the local biting gnats, all in one evening.  My goodness but they were nasty!

The good news is that we only experienced them one night, at Hovenweep.  But their bites stayed with us for days afterwards.