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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Crooked Water: Tuzigoot National Monument

For thousands of years, Verde Valley has been a human melting pot. Hunters and gatherers came first, searching for wild game and grasses. Traders followed, digging salt and minerals, and then settlers farming the fertile bottomlands.

Built by the Sinagua about the year 1000, Tuzigoot sits on a ridge high above the Verde Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perched atop a ridge high above the Verde River two miles east of Clarkdale is Tuzigoot National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua. Tuzigoot (pronounced ‘Two-z-goot’) is an Apache word meaning “crooked water.” The term applies to the nearby Peck’s Lake, which is a runoff from the Verde River.

The pueblo grew slowly over the centuries. Like most modern cities, there appeared to be no master plan—it just sprawled across the hilltop, wherever there was space.

At its peak in the late 1300s, about 225 people lived within the pueblo, which contained about 86 rooms on the ground floor and 15 or so rooms on a second story. The earliest buildings in the pueblo were constructed more than 1,000 years ago. The monument has more than 22,000 artifacts, with many of them on display in its excellent museum.

The Sinagua built their masonry homes on this ridge about the year 1000 and established a thriving agricultural community. The Sinagua appear to have abandoned the site around 1425. Whether it was because of drought, disease, overpopulation, depletion of resources, or some combination of those factors, no one really knows.

Most rooms in the pueblo sheltered single families and were used mainly for sleeping and eating. Some rooms had stone or clay-lined fireplaces for cooking and warmth, but outside fire pits were also used. Trough-style stone metates and two-handed manos for grinding corn were found in ruins.

Perched atop a ridge high above the Verde River two miles east of Clarkdale is Tuzigoot National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sinagua builders used soft, porous limestone for the walls which required constant repair.
By the time archaeologists arrived in the 1930s, the walls at the site had long since crumbled, leaving only low outlines of the pueblo’s rooms. Nearly all the walls at Tuzigoot today were reconstructed using original stones from the site.

Hiking

Two trails are found at Tuzigoot—Ruins Loop and Tavasci Marsh Overlook.

The Ruins Loop trail is paved and about 1/3 mile in length. It winds up and through the remains of the pueblo. A sign asks visitors to stay off the walls and on the walkway, to help preserve the remnants of this earlier civilization. A staircase leads through an upper room of the pueblo to the rooftop, where visitors can enjoy an expansive, 360-degree view. Mingus Mountain, the old mining town of Jerome perched halfway up its slopes, stands to the southwest.

The Tavasci Marsh Overlook trail takes the visitor to an overview of Tavaschi Marsh, one of the few freshwater marshes in Arizona.

Museum
The onsite museum is an archaeological find in itself. The museum holds a remarkable collection of artifacts, as well as a model of what archaeologists believe the intact pueblo looked like.

An intriguing exhibit is the full-size re-creation of a typical pueblo room, complete with animal skins, blankets, loom, fire pit, pottery, and a few household items. A ladder leads to an opening in the roof.

Artifacts include an assortment of obsidian arrowheads, as well as spear points, knives, axes, and hoes. The Sinagua also fashioned a number of items from bone, including hair ornaments, whistles, and awls for basket weaving and punching holes in leather.

Other tools include spindle sticks and whorls for spinning cotton. Weavers made blankets, skirts, sandals, matting, nets, bags, and ropes from locally grown cotton, and they colored those items with vegetable and mineral dyes.

From near the top of the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument looking southward toward Cottonwood. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also on display are a number of pots and bowls. Some are plain, others have intricate geometric designs.

Note: Renovation are complete and the Museum and Visitor Center are open.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., extended hours in summer

Admission: Adults $5.00 (valid for seven days), children (under 16) free; passes are available at a discounted rate of $8.00 for both Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle national monuments (If you are planning on visiting both parks, ask for this discounted pass when you purchase your entrance fee at either park)

Climate: Summers in the Verde Valley are generally hot and dry, although, it often cools down considerably at night; winters can be snowy at times with temperatures ranging between 14-45 degrees

Location: From Cottonwood on State Route 260, drive through Old Town Cottonwood toward Clarkdale; turn right onto Tuzigoot Road and follow to end

Camping: NO camping facilities

Address: P.O. Box 219, Camp Verde, Arizona 86322

Contact: (928) 634-5564

Website: nps.gov/tuzi

Did You Know?
At Tuzigoot National Monument scarlet macaws were found buried in stone lined pits under the floors. Extensive trade routes into modern-day Mexico brought these birds north to the Sinagua of Central Arizona.

Worth Pondering…
The heritage of the past is the key that unlocks the promise of the future.
—Inscription on a statue at the National Archives Building

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