Saturday, December 8, 2018

Southeastern Utah; Part 1 - Fall 2018

October and November 2018

Fall is a great time to visit southern Utah and the southeastern part of the state is relatively convenient to reach from central New Mexico. I wouldn't be able to get away for a long trip, only for a couple of nights in October. But when November rolled around I decided to squeeze one more short trip in before the end of the season. Both trips are covered in this post, which will be light on narrative, but with lots of photos. I will break the post in two for more efficient distribution of photos.

(I also took a number of videos, but those will have to wait until I upgrade my computer this winter. I will update this post when those are uploaded to YouTube. If you are subscribed to my blog notification list (see link above) I will let you know when the post has been updated.)

For both trips I left the Albuquerque area mid-morning, driving my usual route up US-550 to US-64 through Farmington, then west to Shiprock, into Arizona and north on US-191 to US-163 and the east entry to Valley of the Gods in October, or to Mexican Hat Rock in November.

Part 1 of 2

Remember to click on a photo to view a larger version.

Thursday, October 25th

Valley of the Gods 

First look at the central area of the valley

This BLM recreation area is one of my favorite places to disperse camp. I love to admire the towers, pinnacles, buttes, and mesas with their strata, and colorful rocks and soils. The wide vistas also beautiful. There were quite a number of other visitors in the area, but there was room for all.

The road leads us into the towers

Glancing back, I noticed the great light on this bluff and the pattern in the clouds.

Looking far to the south we can see interesting landforms.

Beautiful view from a campsite along Lime Creek, but it was too windy this afternoon.

I looked for a campsite near the northern portion of the road. I found a beautiful spot overlooking Lime Creek, but it was strongly buffeted by the wind, situated as it was. I moved to another spot, near one of the towers, that was farther from the edge of the canyon and therefore less susceptible to wind gusts.

My campsite

Looking down on my campsite with the last of the sun's rays touching the far off bluffs.

Sunset silhouettes of the towers.


Just a little color left in the sky

Friday, October 26th

Dawn was chilly, but beautiful. When the sun had cleared the bluff to the east I tried to get an image of the moon above Castle Peak.

Sun touching the towers and the moon about ready to sink behind.

Here is a Spherical Panorama taken near my campside just after dawn. Click-and-drag to move your viewpoint. I highly recommend you click the four-cornered icon in the upper right corner to open the image in full screen.

Aerial view of my campsite in the early morning light

After breaking camp I proceeded toward the west entrance of the valley.

Castle Butte and tower from the other side.

Here is a Spherical Panorama taken from the other side of the towers. Click-and-drag to move your viewpoint. I highly recommend you click the four-cornered icon in the upper right corner to open the image in full screen.

Mexican Hat

Bridge across the San Juan River

When I reached the pavement I headed down to Mexican Hat. I got gas and had lunch at the cafe next to the bridge.

View east, up the San Juan River. Taken in the same spot as the photo above.

Mexican Hat Rock

After lunch I stopped at Mexican Hat Rock. I'd never even noticed it before this trip. If you're not looking the right direction at the right time, you wouldn't even see it. There is a small sign and a dirt road off the east side of the highway that leads to the rock.

Mexican Hat Rock with the San Juan River

The county road dead ends at a gravel pit, but if you take the small spur around the north side of the rock it leads down to near the San Juan River. There are about 3 dispersed campsites along there, none particularly close to the water. I chose to head back to Valley of the Gods for the evening.

This ends Part 1. Continue on to Part 2.

Southeastern Utah; Part 2 - Fall 2018

Friday, October 26 (continued)

Part 2 of 2

Continued from Part 1

Remember to click on a photo to view a larger version.

Valley of the Gods

There was a strong breeze again, so looked for a campsite that might have a bit of a windbreak. I found a spot with a great view, behind a small hill that deflected much of the wind. I took a few photos, but there were no clouds to create a sunset, so I haven't posted those.

Saturday, October 27

I took a few photos from my campsite around sunrise.

The sun is still below the horizon, but providing glorious color to the sky.

The sun is just touching the edge of Cedar Mesa across the valley.

As I was breaking camp I noticed a cyclist. I waved hello and spoke for a few minutes. I offered him water, but he said he had plenty. He was touring across the U.S. headed now for Mexican Hat. He was European; I cannot now remember from which country.

It was time to head toward home. I took more photos on the way out of the valley.

The cottonwoods were just beginning to change.

On US-163 headed east, Comb Ridge is in shadow. You can see the mountains west of Monticello, UT

When I turned south on US-191, I noticed a road dropping off the west side of the highway, just before the bridge, down toward the San Juan. I made a last second decision to check it out.

San Juan River

Turns out there are a couple spots to fish or camp along the river. The farthest one would be a very nice campsite. Though it looks like the area gets muddy and impassible at times.

San Juan River east of the bridge near Bluff.

There was a scenic campsite at the end of the little road.

Thursday, November 15th

Mexican Hat Rock

This trip I thought it would be fun to camp at Mexican Hat Rock. I'd seen an interesting rig there last month, which may have put the idea into my head. I drove up onto the middle terrace, south of the rock formation (high-clearance 4WD recommended.) I did a little hiking around the bluffs, then found a campsite. Fortunately there was no wind on this trip.

Campsite next to Mexican Hat Rock

Friday, November 16th

Interesting rock formations near Mexican Hat Rock

I did a little more hiking, admiring the views, then headed up to Goosenecks State Park.

Goosenecks State Park

Here is a Spherical Panorama taken from the parking area of the state park. Click-and-drag to move your viewpoint. I highly recommend you click the four-cornered icon in the upper right corner to open the image in full screen.

Butler Wash Road

From Goosenecks I drove back to US-163, headed east. I wanted to explore up Lower Butler Wash Road, CO-262. I'd seen the turn-off near the Bluff Airport on a number of previous trips, but had never driven up that way. I'd driven up Comb Wash Road before, all the way to UT-95. This seemed like a good time to give Butler Wash a try, maybe take it up to UT-95, if the road condition was OK.

The south end of the road has great views of the white sandstone of Comb Ridge to the west and before long steep, redrock cliffs of a large mesa rising to the east. Great scenery. For some reason I expected to be the only person along here, but I passed a couple of campers and some hikers, too. Please note: I saw many areas deeply rutted indicating that the road would be impassable when wet.

There are many side roads leading, I suspect, to dispersed camping spots and trails. I imagine some of those trails lead to ancient ruins and petroglyphs. The Wolfman Petroglyph Panel is shown on Google Maps (with photos.) There must be many others, unmarked.

Here is a Spherical Panorama taken from a campsite just north of a slot-canyon section of the wash. Click-and-drag to move your viewpoint. I highly recommend you click the four-cornered icon in the upper right corner to open the image in full screen.

I found a nice campsite and settled in for the night.

Late afternoon at my campsite

Saturday, November 17th

Morning view of my campsite. Butler Wash is surrounded by cottonwood trees and Comb Ridge is behind.

The temperature was down in the high teens in the morning. I broke camp and continued north up the road, passing more campsites and the junction of CO-230 that leads toward the east and a whole other area to explore another time, perhaps.

Typical view along the east side of the road

The northern end of Comb Ridge as seen from the road.

The northern part of Butler Wash Road has some rough, rocky stretches and steep ravines to cross. I'd recommend high-clearance for this area. There continued to be lots of dispersed campsites. The road parallels UT-95 for a while, then less than a half-mile to the highway is a small parking area for the Butler Wash Dinosaur Tracksite. It was a short walk to where the tracks were supposed to be, but they are not easy to find - I only saw one. So maybe don't drive out of your way to check it out.

Informational sign in English and Navajo.

The area where the tracks are to be found. That is Butler Wash Road skirting the ancient mud bed.

A close-up photo of the only dinosaur track I was able to find.

Once on the highway, I turned east toward home. I stopped at the Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff and had a "Baby Navajo Taco" for lunch. I great menu item, as a normal sized Navajo Taco is way more than any normal person should eat in one sitting ;-)

Thanks for coming along with me. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rio Chama Wild & Scenic River - October 2018

October 5th and 6th, 2018

The weather had finally cooled enough that I wanted to get out for a short camping trip. I thought about places to visit in northern New Mexico and decided I'd try Rio Chama. I'd briefly visited the area in August 2013, but hadn't camped as it was too hot for comfortable camping and storms were moving into the area.

Remember to click on any photo for a larger version.

The weather was ideal on this October day. I called the District Ranger Station in Coyote to confirm the road up along the river and the campgrounds were open (campground open mid-April through late October). It was a lovely drive up through Santa Fe, Española, and Abiquiu via US-84. About 8 miles past the turn-off to Abiquiu Reservoir is Forest Road 151 on the west side of the highway which, after a few well graded miles, comes upon the river.

Rio Chama Wild & Scenic River

The Rio Chama is a very popular river for rafting. There are several landings for rafts to put in or take out. Beside the one no-fee campground, there is a designated dispersed camping area at the southern reach of the river just past the Big Eddy Takeout. A few isolated dispersed sites may be found along the road, but many of the side roads are designated as day use only.

Terrain as one drives in on FR-151

Trail 813 of the Continental Divide Trail cuts though the canyon. At the end of FR-151 is the Monastery of Christ in the Desert that welcomes visitors. I didn't visit them this trip. The monks operate an on-site brewery but it is not open to visitors (Yelp reports their Tap Room in downtown Albuquerque has closed.)

I've been thinking of ways to better convey to my readers the expanse and beauty of many of the areas I visit. I'd tried taking short videos on previous trips and they were much too shaky hand-held and I never had the patience to set up a tripod. I bought an Osmo Mobile 2 gimbal designed to hold phone cameras steady. It worked well in my backyard and thought to use this trip to try it out in the field.

I drove up the river road stopping to take videos using my iPhone and the gimbal stabilizer. Though simple and effective as a stabilizer, the gimbal isn't magic and, when I looked at the videos once home, I was disappointed in the results. For some reason I felt the natural motion in the shots was not enough and insisted on wide, sweeping pans. The camera was steady, but the erratic rate of panning pretty much ruined the scenes. Not all was lost, however, as I was able to take a couple screen captures to generate the two photos below.

Rio Chama along the southern reach of FR-151

View of the river downstream from the same point as the photo above

I found a great campsite at the Rio Chama Campground right next to the river. There were a number of other campers this evening, but the sites are well distributed away from each other. I spoke briefly with two ladies in a pop-up camper and enjoyed attempting a conversation with a young couple from France who were in the next site - their English, though rudimentary, was much better than my French.

Snug in my campsite. River is just through the trees

View of the Rio Chama from my campsite

October 6th

The next morning I drove down river stopping to check out a couple of the day-use areas and generally admire the beautiful New Mexico canyon.

Northeast side of the canyon

Rio Chama looking northwesterly

I also took more video with my phone, but I achieved better results using my Mavic 2 Pro, than the handheld stabilizer, perhaps as I'd practiced more with the UAV. I was able to create a video that I hope will give you an idea of the beauty of the canyon and river. And, yes, my video editing skills need development, too. I recommend watching on YouTube in full-screen.

Before leaving the river area I did drive through the designated dispersed camping area. The road was not in very good condition, but there were a few riverside campsites that were quite scenic.

View to the east as I approach US-84

Echo Amphitheater Picnic Area & Campground

Once back on US-84 I turned left as I knew Echo Amphitheater was just a mile or so away. When I was a kid we used to stop and picnic there when driving north to camp. The site is administered by Carson National Forest. There is a day-use fee and also a nice, but small, pay campground that is open year round. The so-called amphitheater is a hemispherical formation in a similar type of sandstone as is found in Utah arches.

I took some aerial video and the result is not too bad. It does a fair job of showing the immediate area. I recommend watching on YouTube in full-screen.

From there I headed home, stopping for lunch in Española. It was a very short trip, but enjoyable. I got to practice with my new video tools and hopefully I can learn from the experience so I will be able to better illustrate my future travels.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ruins & Landscapes, UT & CO; Part 4 - May 2018

Part 4 of 4 - Continued from Part 3.

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

The section immediately below is out of sequence in order to make this blog post self-contained for those who are looking for information on Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado's Four Corners region.

Remember to click on any image for a larger version (recommended.)

May 17, 2018 (continued)

I drove back to the highway, CR-10, after visiting the outlying units of Hovenweep National Monument, and turned right toward the northeast. It wasn't long before I was in an agricultural area, leaving the piñons and junipers behind. As soon as you cross into Colorado you are entering Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, administered by the Bureau of Land Management. If you look at an official map, you will have visions of vast, empty open spaces. Had I not looked at the Google satellite view while planning the trip, I might have been shocked. All the relatively flat areas in the national monument are forage farms complete with giant storage sheds and farmers and workers homes.

Dispersed camping is allowed in the national monument, but not near the archeological sites or on private property, not unexpectedly. I'm suspect there are nice spots scattered around, but not many. The official brochure directs campers to the Bradfield Recreation Area campground east of Pleasant View (described in Part 3.)

Lowry Pueblo

I followed CR-10 to CR-CC where I turned left (west). If you are coming via US-491 look for CR-CC. There were directional signs for Lowry Pueblo, my destination. When I pulled into the parking area there were a couple of young men intent on their phones or something. Usually folks will glance up when you pass right next to them, but not these guys. When I got out I heard buzzing, but not very loud. They were flying a drone. I was curious, so went over to talk to them. They were from Kansas, if I remember right, and were traveling to Salt Lake City, stopping to video ancient ruins from the sky. They were flying a Mavic Pro - pretty cool. I chatted with them about it after it landed, as I've been curious if I wanted to add this device to my photo/video tools for exploring and the blog. After looking into it a bit once home, I've decided drones of the quality, and quietness, I'd want are priced a bit higher than petty cash.

A protective roof structure has been erected over Lowry Pueblo, as you can see from the photos. I assume they wouldn't go to that expense unless there were significant archeological items to protect, but it does distract from the ruins themselves.

The main path from the parking lot.

A close view of the main wall of the pueblo. This is very much in the style of the great houses in Chaco Canyon. It uses found stone and not shaped stone as I'd just seen at Hovenweep National Monument.

You can duck under a couple of low doorways to see this interior kiva.
There are steel screens to keep the curious out of this area.

The main structure as seen from the south side (I think.)

Pueblo walls next to the main structure.

Looking back at the pueblo walls with the ruins of a round room in the foreground.

This great kiva is about a hundred feet from the pueblo.

If you are following along chronologically then you'd jump to Part 3 at this point. Otherwise keep reading.

May 19, 2018 (continued)

After visiting the Bradfield Recreation Area and that section of Dolores Canyon (See Part 3) I returned to the bridge and at US-491 again turned south.

Anasazi Heritage Center

At CO-184 I turned east and drove about seven miles to the BLM Canyons of the Ancients Anasazi Heritage Center. This would be my first visit. I pulled into the parking lot of an attractive modern building, with a style reminiscent of an ancient pueblo, and past a large solar array.

I had read online that the center was placed here as there were ruins on-site. After parking I decided to visit the ruins first. I followed the paved trail that climbed the hill behind the center. There were small signs identifying plants and trees along the way, as well as, larger signs pointing out landmarks and conveying a bit of history. At the very top of the hill was a great view of McPhee Reservoir of the Dolores River and the Escalante Pueblo ruins.

View of McPhee Reservoir of the Dolores River from atop the hill.

Turning to the right you can see the San Juan Mountains.

Information sign.

Escalenta Pueblo was not large, but what a vantage point they had.

I was surprised and delighted that one of the signs in addition to pointing out Sleeping Ute Mountain, and Abajo Peak behind Monticello, also pointed out the Bears Ears just poking above the horizon. I thought it was so cool that my entire week's journey in Utah and Colorado was essentially within sight.

Sleeping Ute Mountain

To see Bears Ears you will need to look at the horizon above the larger building at left. Click for larger image.

At the bottom of the hill, as I was walking toward the Center, there were more ruins between the building and the parking lot. These were walls for a small unit called Dominguez Pueblo, though perhaps, as they conjecture only one family lived here, it should be called a house, not a pueblo.

Information sign.

Dominguez Pueblo

There were planting beds surrounding the circular brick plaza in front of the Center. The plants were very small, I guess spring comes late here, and each little plot had a small sign for what was expected to grow. There was also an interesting ceramic sculpture of a Mountain Lion decorated with ancient symbology.

Entrance to the Center.

Mountain Lion sculpture with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background.

Inside I was greeted by a friendly BLM Interpretive Ranger. We spoke for a little while, a little about the Center and surrounding national monument, but also about my trip and especially Dolores Canyon. He agreed the canyon was a little known treasure. I asked what kind of oak trees I saw all along the river. He didn't remember clearly, but believed them to be Gamble oak. I remarked that all the Gamble oak I'd known in New Mexico were shrubs. He allowed that in the right circumstances and with plenty of water they could grow quite high. When asked about rafting and visitation, he was the one who told me about the high flow last year and the low flow this year, and that when the river was low flow very few people visited the canyon.

I moved on to the collection which was very interesting. It is along the same lines as Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, Utah, though not as extensive. I felt my time was limited as I wanted to be home by a reasonable hour that evening. Consequently, I took lots of photos and tried to absorb what I could from a relatively quick walk-though anticipating returning for a more leisurely perusal on another trip.

Banner as you enter the collection.

I present these photos, without captions, in the hopes you see something that peaks your curiosity enough to put the Anasazi Heritage Center on your list of places to visit. There were a number of exhibits that I did not photograph.

They had recreated what's believed to be a typical ancient living space.

Looking across the collection from near the edge of the living space exhibit.

A view of the entrance plaza as I left the building.

One more look at the cool cat. I didn't see any info on the artist.

Leaving the Center I turned left on the highway, then south on CO-145 to Cortez. I stopped for lunch there (though not at a place worth recommending), then back south on US-491 to Shiprock, NM and home.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you found something interesting, or informative, or fun.