Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Whether you are a nature-lover, photographer, adventurer, or just looking for an amazing experience, a road trip to New Mexico will not disappoint.

Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Utah and Arizona, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs, or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats, or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is much to engage the outdoor lover.

The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.

On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with hiking shoes, a digital camera, and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces.

Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, head into Albuquerque and immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage, rooted in centuries of history. Soak in the blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year-perfect for outdoor activities. Breathe in the high desert air scented with sage and piñon, and you’ll understand why Albuquerque is a destination like no other.

Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be fortunate enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit.

Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino, and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette.

New Mexico is home to 22 Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, traditional attire, and way of life.

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. Reminders of Native American presence are throughout the state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about these tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant, gift shop, regular dance performances, and offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events.

Seventy-two miles to the east, El Malpais National Monument intrigues the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.

The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails.

Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.

Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Worth Pondering…
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Discover & Explore Northern Arizona

There’s much to see and do in Northern Arizona in addition to the Grand Canyon, particularly if you have an interest in Native American history and culture.

Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)
Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)

Flagstaff is also a jumping off point for day trips to see ancient petroglyphs, the ancient rock art of the Native Americans, as well as several unique attractions ranging from the Petrified Forest National Park and Monument Valley, one of the most scenic locations in the American Southwest, to the Meteor Crater, the best preserved crater created by a meteorite in the world where NASA Astronauts have trained.

While many travelers zoom through Flagstaff on their way to the Grand Canyon, the city is home to one of the country’s oldest astronomical observatories, Lowell Observatory, as well as one of the nation’s best museums of Native American art and culture, Museum of Northern Arizona.

Following is a sampling of some of the more interesting attractions in Northern Arizona.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep.

It is an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, air conditioned indoor viewing, wide screen movie theater, interactive discovery center, unique gift and rock shop, and Astronaut Memorial Park at the modern Visitor Center located on the crater rim.

The visitor center is located off I-40 at exit 233 (35 miles east of Flagstaff, 20 miles west of Winslow), Meteor Crater Road, then 6 miles south on the paved road.

The full-service RV park is located at the Interstate exit.

Museum of Northern Arizona

The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)
The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)

The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff provides an excellent introduction to the Native people who live in Northern Arizona, especially the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. The museum’s permanent anthropology exhibit documents 12,000 years of Native American tribal life on the Colorado Plateau.

The museum also offers two-day festivals that feature the music, dance and artwork of Native American tribes. These include the 81st Annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture, July 5–6; and the 65th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, August 2–3.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is a private, nonprofit, research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. A national historic landmark, Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States.

Research conducted at this observatory had led to several important discoveries, including the realization that the universe is expanding; the discovery by Lowell of the planet Pluto in 1930; the co-discovery of the rings of Uranus in 1977; the discovery of periodic variations in the brightness of Halley’s Comet; and the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extra-solar planet.

Lowell Observatory is located in Flagstaff at a 7,200-foot elevation.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano was born in a series of eruptions sometime between 1040 and 1100. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area.

Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers, and signs of wildlife—life has returned.

Self-guided Lava Flow Trail is a one-mile loop through the Bonito Lava Flow at the base of Sunset Crater.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)
Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)

Wupatki National Monument preserves many free-standing masonry pueblos, field houses, rock art, pottery, baskets, and tools. In total there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within the monument, but five of the largest—Wupatki, Wukoki. Citadel, and Nalakihu—are close to the main road and these are the only sites open to visitors.

All the dwellings were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Indians during the 12th and 13th centuries

Wupatki is reached by the same loop road that passes Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, adjoining the main north-south route US 89.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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Links to the Past: Petroglyph National Monument, NM

Petroglyph National Monument contains over 7,000 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment made from ancient lava flows, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In desert areas stones often are covered with desert varnish, a thin coating deposited on the rocks for hundreds or thousands of years. Artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints; other petroglyphs are more complex and less easily understood.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

The monument is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Las Imagenes Visitor Center

Begin at the Las Imagenes Visitor Center with a brief orientation to the monument and to check the schedule for guided tours and special events; then, lace up your hiking boots and hit a trail.

Boca Negra Canyon

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Rinconada Canyon

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs.

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Piedras Marcadas Canyon

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images.

This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Petroglyph National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Admission: No entry fee charged; Boca Negra Canyon parking fee $1/vehicle weekdays, $2 weekends charged by the City of Albuquerque

Pets: Dogs are not allowed at the Boca Negra Canyon area

Location: From I-40, Exit 154 (Unser Boulevard) north 3 miles to Western Trail; turn left or west onto Western Trail and follow road to the visitor center

Camping: No camping facilities

Address: 6001 Unser Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120

Contact: (505) 899-0205

Web site: nps.gov/petr

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

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Inscription Rock: El Morro National Monument, NM

“Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605.”

El Morro is Spanish for headland or bluff. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

While Oñate’s inscription is the oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro, he was not the first Spaniard to see the mesa. In March 1583, Diego Pérez de Luxan, chronicler of an exploring expedition led by Antonio de Espejo, recorded in his journal that the party had camped at a location he called El Estanque de Peñol (The Place at the Great Rock).

However, no record of the expedition’s passing has been found on the mesa.

People had been carving messages on Inscription Rock in the high desert of northwestern New Mexico for centuries before de Oñate, the first Spanish Conquistador to organize a colony in New Mexico, came along.

The Spanish reigned in New Mexico for nearly 200 years. After being driven out by the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, they took back control twelve years later and ruled for generations.

General de Vargas recorded his victory in this way:

“Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.”

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final inscription in Spanish was dated 1774. The Spanish lost control of their North American territories to the Mexicans who in turn lost them to the United States during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s.

At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico became a U.S. territory, and the arrival of the Americans opened a new chapter in El Moro’s long history.

In 1849, Lt. James Simpson, an Army topographical engineer, and Richard Kern, an artist, were the first Americans to carve their names on El Morro. More significantly, however, Kern sketched many of the inscriptions and brought them to national attention.

After Simpson and Kern, many American wagon trains carrying emigrants to California passed and, as the Anasazi and Spaniards did before them, they left a record of their presence.

On a daytrip from Sky Casino RV Park, we visited El Morro National Monument. El Morro is Spanish for headland or bluff.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

The main thing to see is Inscription Loop Trail, a half mile walk past numerous Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as pre–historic petroglyphs.

Before venturing out be sure to view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist you in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions.

Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can continue your walk up to the top of the mesa for some great views and to see the partially-excavated ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village.

Did You Know?
El Morro National Monument’s avian claim to fame is the White-throated Swift, which was described to science for the very first time here in 1851, by Dr. S. W. Woodhouse of the Sitgreaves Expedition.

El Morro National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $3/person (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Elevation: 7,219 feet

Location: From I-40 west of Grants, take Exit 81 south on Highway 53 for 42 miles to El Morro National Monument.

Camping: NO camping facilities

Address: HC 61 Box 43, Ramah, NM 87321

Contact:(505) 783-4226

Worth Pondering…

I am part of all that I have met

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro

Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades

Forever and forever when I move.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

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Arizona State Park Saved: Homolovi Reopens

In an earlier post (Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?), I reported that cooperation between the Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks would soon result in the reopening of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Hopi entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow. The state will pay the remaining $48,000 to operate the park for a year. The park will retain fees collected from visitors.

Hopi female dancer. Photo courtesy Todd Roth/Navajo Hopi Observer

The city of Winslow and Navajo County were also involved in efforts to reopen the park.
The agreement with the Hopi Tribe allows for two one-year extensions.
If the park isn’t profitable, it could close again.

The park, originally home to the Hisat’sinom (the “long-ago people,” better known as the Anasazi), which encompasses seven ancestral Hopi pueblos that were occupied from about 1260 to 1400, officially reopened yesterday (March 18).

State Park System

Homolovi was one of 13 state parks forced to padlock its gates as a result of statewide fiscal problems.

By February 2010, a phased series of park closures was started with Homolovi Ruins one of the first to close to the public.

But state officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to temporarily keep several parks open. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is being operated in conjunction with Santa Cruz County and the Tubac Historical Society. McFarland State Historic Park is being operated by the town of Florence and the Florence Main Street project, a non-profit tasked with improving the local economy.

Yes, Homolovi has reopened!

With Homolovi reopened, only three state parks remain closed—Oracle State Park in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Lyman Lake State Park in northeastern Arizona, and San Rafael State Natural Area near the Arizona-Mexico border. State park officials have indicated they are hopeful that an agreement will be in place to reopen Lyman during the summer.

Name Change

The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations this past November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be replaced with another word or removed from the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’

The state park is the ancestral homeland for the tribe. Tribal members still use the site and consider it to be spiritually alive.

The parks board voted unanimously Thursday (March 17), during its meeting in Winslow to drop the word “Ruins” from Homolovi Ruins State Park. The park will also have a new tagline that reads, “ancestral Hopi villages.”

Place of the Little Hills

Large Kiva at Homolovi II. Photo courtesy freeopinions, Flickr

Homolovi State Park, located on State Route 87 just north of Interstate 40, is 4,000 acres in size and has a visitor center, pull-outs for observing wildlife, picnic tables, and camping facilities.

Homolovi, a Hopi word meaning “place of the little hills,” features a cluster of some 300 archaeological sites including several separate pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric peoples from 1250–1400. The park serves as a center of research for tribal migration of that time period and while archaeologists study the area and confer with the Hopi to unravel area history, Arizona State Parks provided an opportunity for visitors to personally experience two of the seven ruins.

Most visited, Homolovi II, the largest excavated site with about 1,200 rooms, 40 kivas or underground ceremonial chambers, clusters of pit houses, and three large plazas. Petroglyphs can be found along certain sections of the nearby Tsu’vo Trail.

Many of the early peoples paused their migrations to stay awhile in these high grasslands and find a home along the Little Colorado River, tilling the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join peoples already living on the mesas, peoples known today as the Hopi.

The migrations ended when the people settled at the center-of-the-world, the Hopi Mesas north of the park. Today’s Hopi tribal members, referred to as the world’s greatest dry farmers, still consider Homolovi and other Southwestern pre-Columbian sites to be part of their homeland and make pilgrimages to the locations to renew ties with the people of the land.

Location and directions
Homolovi State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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