“You say yes, I say no. You say stop and I say go go go, oh no.”
John Lennon & Paul McCartney
State 26: New Mexico - January 2, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Gallup, NM well rested with a lot of driving, and a very exciting day ahead! Last night we drove West, and entered the 26th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home; New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment! For me, enchantment is a powerful word evoking feelings of the mystical, magical and metaphysical! I am talking, Harry Potter! Fairies with pixie dust! Snow White! Rumpelstiltskin! Let's see if the state can cast a spell and enchant the Cross Country Couple to call New Mexico our new home!
Our first item on the agenda is a 95-mile drive Northeast to visit the National Park depicted on the reverse of the New Mexico quarter; Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Between 900 and 1150 AD, Chaco Canyon was home to the Pueblo Native Americans. During this time, the Pueblo’s created 15 complexes, which remained the largest buildings constructed in North America until the 19th century! Most impressively, these cities were built without the aid of modern construction equipment! They quarried sandstone from the canyon walls by hand, and hauled timber by horse from forests over 70 miles away! 1000 years later, the ruins of these ancient Pueblo cites still stand as a testament to their craftsmanship, and offer visitors a glimpse into their ancient way of life. The ruins of Chaco Culture are sacred grounds for the Pueblo and Hopi people, whom still come to both physically and spiritually connect with their ancestors. Chaco Culture features the most exceptional concentration of ancient ruins in the United States, and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site! A World Heritage Site is a location which preservation is deemed important to the collective interest of humanity, and is protected by international law.
Due to Chaco Cultures’ remote location, getting to the park would prove to be an adventure in itself! The park has 3 access points to choose from, and NONE of the options were good.
The North route has 8 miles of paved road, 8.5 miles of rough dirt road, and 4.5 miles of very rough dirt road.
The South route has 20 miles of rough dirt roads, mislabeled highways, and missing road signs.
The Southeastern route has 10 miles of rough dirt roads, 7 miles of rough dirt roads, 3 miles of paved roads, and 13 miles of very rough dirt road!
In addition, AAA does not service any of these roads, so if something bad happens we are on our own! Not that it really matters as the reviews revealed there is no cell signal, and no one lives anywhere nearby! Remember, Rosie is not only our transportation, but is also our home. If she breaks down or gets stuck, the barren and bumpy rural roads of New Mexico by default will be our new home! Chaco Culture is the site of the oldest ruins in the US, and the reviews for the park were phenomenal; 4.7 star with 556 reviews! The fearless souls who braved the gaping potholes, and broken axles all stated Chaco was most certainly worth the deplorable drive! Skipping Chaco Culture was not an option! My job as the cross country navigator isn’t quite so easy as it seems. EEKK!!! Which of the 3 routes would you choose?
In the end, I chose to enter via the North route as it had 8 miles of paved roads, and at least all of the road signs were in place. We are off! Buckle your seat belts, because this is going to be extremely bumpy ride! The first 8 miles of paved roads went very smoothly. Next, we drove down 8 ½ miles of rough dirt road, which was bumpy but manageable. We finally arrived at the beginning of the 4 ½ mile stretch of very rough road, which began with a partly washed out bridge above a dried riverbed! As we made our approach, the jagged fragments of asphalt littering the roadway crackled beneath Rosie’s tires as we cautiously inched forward! It would be a very tight fit to get Rosie across the remaining portion of the intact bridge! There was a sign present that said “Road Damage Ahead”, and you did not have to be a structural engineer to determine the damage to the bridge. One of the two lanes was missing entirely! I assumed they would have closed the roadway all together if the bridge was unsafe. However, Rosie is a large girl, and there were no posted weight limits! We still had absolutely no way of knowing if the damaged and decrepit overpass would support Rosie’s weight, or if it would collapse sending us into the dried river bed beneath! I turned to Nate and questioned if this was worth the risk! However, something deep inside me said, “You need to do this!”, and so I did! It didn’t make sense, and perhaps it was reckless! It certainly was one of the most stressful moments on our entire cross country trip! It was Mark Twain who once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to continue in spite of fear”. I have clearly grown as a person over the past 7 months on the road in ways I could have never imagined. To see what I mean, you can read my very first blog post by clicking here.
Upon safely clearing the damaged bridge, Nate and I erupted in cheer! Nate gave Rosie 3 sharp horn blasts to celebrate, and we suddenly heard an extremely loud “BAH BAH BAH BAH BAH BAH!!!”. Apparently, the sound of Rosie’s horn scared the bageezes out of a goat hidden behind a nearby sage bush. The startled goat leaped from behind the bush, and darted directly in front of Rosie pooping the entire way as it crossed the street. The poor goat raced across the New Mexico desert in a plume of dust screaming “BAH BAH BAH BAH BAH!" until finally disappearing out of sight! I never knew a goat could run so fast! I said to Nate, “We just scared the shit out of that goat!”, and we both started cracking up. It was quite the experience in a matter of moments going from sheer terror to hysterical laughter! Poor goat!
The 4 ½ miles of very rough road from the washed out bridge to the park’s entrance were quite traumatic! Although we inched Rosie forward ever so cautiously, the decrepit road shook our locked cabinet doors open, rattled our screwed mason jars free from the shelf, and repeatedly bottomed out Rosie suspension with a loud clunky “THUD”. In an attempt to avert the mine field of crater potholes before us, Nate slowly but wildly weaved across the very rough 2 lane road as a drunk driver leaving after last call! Occasionally, there were just too many holes in the road, and Nate had no choice but to drive straight through them. We both braced ourselves as we were violently jolted from our seats, before being suddenly snapped back by our seatbelts! After which we both simultaneously apologized to Rosie for the abuse inflicted by this awful road! We stared at Rosie’s odometer intently as we counted down in unison until the odometer displayed mile 4.5! We were clearly on the road less traveled, and for a damn good reason! Long at last, we finally arrived at the entrance of Chaco Culture National Park! Please see the pictures below. Rosie wanted to be in one too!
After parking Rosie, we headed into the Visitor Center to speak with a Ranger about how to best explore the park. The main road within the park consist of a 9 mile loop road visiting the main ruins. Although there are 15 separate ruin cities within the park, we would be only visiting 5 of the more easily accessible sites.
Hungo Pavi is a set of ruins measuring 872 feet in circumference, and consists of 72 rooms as tall as four stories! The site was inhabited between 1000-1250 AD. Please see the pictures below.
Constructed between 828 and 1150 AD and consisting of over 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito is the largest, best preserved, and most well-known great house within Chaco Culture. The site was excavated and preserved between 1920 and 1927 removing 100,000 tons of debris. Pueblo Bonito is the largest and most accessible ruins in the park! The Ranger told in us in jest if we do not stop at Pueblo Bonito, he will not let us leave the park. Please see the pictures below.
One very interesting aspect of Pueblo Bonito was the trail led you through the doorways of the ruins. I know people were shorter way back when, but the doorways were only 4 feet tall! Nate is 6 feet tall, and it was hilarious watching his hunched over attempt to get through the doorways. Nate hit his head pretty hard on one of the doorways, which I captured in the pictures below! He deserved the knock on the noggin for taking a picture of me as the wind almost blew me off the side of a volcano back in Idaho, which you can read about by clicking here.
One of the low clearance doorways led into the only completely intact room accessible to the public within the park. It was too dark and creepy for me to go inside, but there was absolutely no way Nate was going to pass up going into a room over 1200 years old! Please see the pictures below.
Construction on Chetro Ketl began in 990 and was completed by 1075. Archeologists estimate it took 500,000 hours, 26,000 trees, and 50 million sandstone blocks to erect the 400 rooms of Chetro Ketl. Since the ruins rediscovery in 1823, the site has experienced significant erosion, and is at great risk of being lost to the ages. Please see the pictures below.
Pueblo Del Arroyo
Pueblo del Arroyo was constructed in 1060 AD, and once consisted of 300 rooms. Please see the pictures below.
Construction began at Una Vida in 800 AD, and is comprised of at least two stories, and 160 rooms. It is one of the three earliest cities constructed in Chaco Canyon. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the ruins of Una Vida, we continued on a nearby trail up the side of a cliff to view petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are images created by carving into the surface of rock, and usually performed by ancient civilizations. It is the ancient one’s way of recording significant events in their civilization, but their translation has been lost to time. I am not an archaeologist, but it appears they had a big problem with snakes! Nevertheless, viewing petroglyphs presents an additional personal and tangible means to connect with the people of the past. Please view the pictures below.
I have come to realize on my cross country trip the most amazing places are often the most difficult to reach. Chaco was definitely both amazing and remote! To date, I have driven 25,000 miles on a year long cross country journey, and the road to Chaco Culture was the worse stretch I had traveled! However, it wasn’t until I visited the park that I realized the rationale for the road's poor condition. The park protect the remnants of an ancient civilization over 1000 years old representing America's greatest concentration of such ruins. Chaco would not survive if millions of people tramped through the park each year. Chaco Culture's location in the sparsely populated region in Northwestern New Mexico combined with an awful 21-mile road, both serve as deterrents to keep visitors numbers low. Last year, Chaco only had 39,175 visitors, which is a fraction of the millions of annual visitors of other national parks. A prerequisite for visiting Chaco Culture is an inherent appreciation for the site's historical significance, and an intimate respect for Chaco as a sacred place once home to the ancestors of the Native American’s. United State's history dates back hundreds of years, but the Native American's history dates back thousands of years! My great grandmother on my fathers side was a Tuscarora Native American, so my visit to Chaco Culture had great personal significance to me. Being able to visit this sacred site to connect with an ancient civilization who once inhabited the land we now call America was more than just memorable; it was a spiritual experience!
After departing Chaco Culture National Park, we drove 165 miles Southeast to New Mexico’s largest city of Albuquerque in search of a Walmart to spend the night! According to my app, there are 14 Walmart’s in the city, and 4 allowed overnight parking. However, we ended up getting 3 “No’s” in rapid succession! We were all in on the last Walmart in Albuquerque allowing overnight parking! If they turned us away, we would have to start getting creative! I went in to the customer service desk to ask for permission, and was given the green light from a Customer Service Clerk named Cecilia. Yippee! After 6 hours of driving and an additional 2 hours crisscrossing Albuquerque, we finally had a place to park Rosie for the night! We got the bed and our commode set up and mummified ourselves in our sleeping bags for a crisp 28-degree night sleep! Ten minutes after we were snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug we were aroused from our peaceful slumber with a, “BANG! BANG! BANG!” on the side of Rosie. Damn! We got out of our sleeping bags, took the bed back apart, and I went into the cab to see who was knocking. Before me stood a frumpy looking middle aged female security guard who said “You can’t sleep here, and you need to leave now!!!”. I told her I had permission to spend the night from Cecilia in the customer service department. The security guard said, “Cecilia has no authority to give you permission to spend the night, and you must leave now!” This was the first time on my cross country trip I was given permission to spend the night, and then abruptly evicted! Most likely the security guard was just on a power trip, but we left nonetheless! We located a Love’s Truck Stop 4 miles down the road where we spent the night!