Chaco Canyon Roadtrip
Dates: October 5th thru 8th, 2012 (Friday thru Monday)
Who: Caitlin and I
Roadtrip (Link to Map of Route):
- Stop 1: Penitente Canyon, San Luis Valley, Colorado = Climbing and Camping
- Stop 2: CHACO CANYON, New Mexico = exploring ancient cultures, hiking, camping, mind-exploding
- Stop 3: San Juan Mountains, Durango, Colorado = camping, Aspen leaf watching, ass-freezing
Friday October 5th, Denver saw it’s first snowstorm of the 2012-2013 year as we woke-up to a solid 2 inches of fresh on our lawns and cars. While refreshing to see some of the white-stuff it was a clear sign of a quickly changing season and forced Caitlin and I to head-up to the mountains to experience the last of the Fall season.
Based on some really quick planning and weather watching we ended-up heading south towards the border (and into New Mexico) with several different stops with some unique experiences:
Stop #1: Penitente Canyon in the San Luis Valley, Colorado
Friday afternoon we rolled into a nearly deserted campground at Penitente allowing us to be able to camp in one of the best spots. The drive in was pretty weird with Denver being ~35 degrees when we left, thick fog on HWY 285, and then clear-blue beautiful skies (plus~20 degrees warmer) once we hit Bailey; classic Colorado. Four hours later we find ourselves preparing to do some sport climbing in one of the most beautiful canyon’s in Colorado:
The weather was perfect (~70 degrees cooling down quickly), but we were able to get a couple routes in before the sun completely left the sky.
The next morning we had an incredible hike through the canyon along a trail I have never hiked. Starting off very cold, it warmed up nicely and the aspen’s back-dropped against the canyon was incredible.
We also stumbled upon an old wagon-rut in the rock from when the early Mexican settlers would use an ox and a small wagon to haul wood out of the area to their homesteads and the size of the erosion was impressive (click for pic here).
On-wards to the next stop we happened to cross over Wolf Creek Pass which had perfect Aspen colors and is a pass that everyone must see at least once during the fall leaf-viewing season:
Stop #2: Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico
The ever-present shaking of the car, mixed with the dust and grit from driving down 21 miles of wash-boarded road was not helping lift our solemn spirits. At the turn-off to the canyon was an apparent “CAMPGROUND FULL” sign and we found ourselves in the middle of no-man’s-land, bumping down a dirt-road, trying to figure out what to do. After driving 4 hours already that day we decided that we were just going to push-on and confirm if the campground was actually full. Pulling-up to the campground host at 4:45pm on a Saturday (yes our timing wasn’t the best), our suspicions were confirmed that yes, those signs were correct, however, there was a group campsite that was open and as long as no-one reserved it in the next 15 mins we could share it with the other late-comers. The Chacoan gods presented some luck to us and we had a place to camp!!!
After claiming our tent-pad we rushed over to Pueblo Bonito to experience the sunset that was about to happen. Most people had already left the area leaving Caitlin and I to run-around and experience a powerful place under a powerful sunset. Caitlin summoning the gods over the massive 5 story building with 700+ rooms and 35 kivas, built over 1,000 years ago:
The Great Kiva at Pueblo Bonito:
Caitlin and I:
Timing was again on our side and that night we went to a incredible outdoor presentation provided by park ranger G.B. Cornucopia on the Chaco culture’s obsession with the sun, tracking time, and many of the numerous questions around the park. The complexity of this culture was beginning to be revealed to us and our jaw’s were on the floor the entire time.
6:45am and the sunrise was just starting to push color into the clear skies and the entire campground was starting to rumble to life. We rushed-up to the nearest butte to experience the morning much like the Chacoan’s would have done everyday in their lives. Caitlin got really excited! Fajada Butte (a major ceremonial spot) under the morning glow:
Our major adventure of the day was hiking to the overlook’s of Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. Viewing the sites from above provides a much needed perspective on the layout and the differences between the different sites and was by far the best views of the sites. Caitlin over Pueblo Bonito:
While on top we also visited the Pueblo Alto and New Alto sites:
Nothing is more hip then wearing Chaco’s while hiking in Chaco Canyon.
It was nearing 2pm and we rushed back over to Pueblo Bonito to have a walking tour lead by Park Ranger G.B. Cornucopia, who after 2 hours taught us more about the site and the different opinions on what it all meant then we could have ever hoped!!! Exploring the famous dark hallways of Pueblo Bonito:
We showed-up to this park with minimal knowledge of this culture and left being inspired to understand more about this unique place.
Stop #3: Lime Creek Road, Durango Colorado
It was now 5 PM on Sunday as we pulled ourselves away from Chaco canyon. With barely more then an hour of sunlight left we headed north as fast as we could to Durango. Having minimal notes on where to car-camp, we bumped up a rocky-forest service road in the pitch-black until we came to an incredible site that had 360-degree’s of star viewing right next to a pond. We quickly built a campfire, cooked dinner, and enjoyed our last night of the trip.
It got extremely cold overnight, enough to start freezing water in certain spots, but the morning sun was a nice relief as we awoke to incredible views:
Driving home over Molas Pass to Silverton, over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray (with a quick stop at Mouse’s chocolates), back through Gunnison and over Monarch and Kenosha passes, we landed back in Denver satisfied with our last-minute, but incredible trip!