Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John Ford’s Point

John Ford’s Point is the fourth point of interest on the Self Guiding Valley Drive Trail at Monument Valley Tribal Park in the Navajo Nation. Beside the view point, there is a short trail to walk and it is a center for viewing Navajo Arts and Crafts.

John Ford directed more than 140 films and won four Best Director Academy Awards and is regarded as one of the all time best directors. He pioneered location shooting and the long shots framing characters against rugged natural terrain such as here at Monument Valley.

Stagecoach in 1939 was the first in the series of seven Ford Westerns filmed on location in Monument Valley. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Stagecoach was the film that elevated John Wayne to international stardom. The gift shop at the Visitor Center has several of these films for sale along with an assortment of John Wayne souvenirs.
Looking east, there is a head on view of Camel Butte, the fifth point of interest on the Valley Drive. Beyond is the Spearhead Mesa area that includes Artist’s Point, another major stop and view point.
Back to the west are the Three Sisters and Mitchell Mesa. The geology here is described as three main layers. The caprock Shinarump formation sits on the DeChelly or Cedar Mesa Sandstone that forms the sheer cliffs of the mesas and buttes. The stair steps below the buttes and spires are softer Organ Rock shales.

Part of the charm of John Ford’s Point is the array of Navajo vendors. The silver and turquoise jewelry draw a lot of attention. There is an opportunity to try the famous Navajo tacos featuring the fry bread shells as you gaze out toward Merrick Butte and the famous Mittens.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wildcat Trail at Monument Valley

The Wildcat Trail is a 3.2 mile lasso type loop in Monument Valley Tribal Park in the Navajo Nation along the Utah and Arizona border. It is the only hiking trail in Monument Valley that the public can travel without a guide. Most visitors at Monument Valley follow the self guiding Valley Drive or take a guided tour.

The trail head is near the visitor center, just past the right turn that descends to the Valley Drive. The trail makes a loop around the West Mitten, one of the most famous of the Monument Valley formations. There are also good views of the East Mitten.
Along the first segment are small signs identifying several of the desert plants. Besides the Broom Snakeweed, others mentioned include Russian Thistle, Rabbitbrush, Narrowleaf Yucca, Mormon Tea, Blackbrush, Cliff Rose, Threadleaf Groundsel, Prickly Pear Cactus, and there also scattered Utah Junipers. Along the north side of the trail is the massive Sentinel Mesa.

Around the north side of the loop are good views toward a group of formations that include the Big Indian, Castle Butte, King on his Throne, and Brigham’s Tomb.

Some of these same formations are among the ones in the famous view along Highway 163 approaching Monument Valley from the northeast.

Around the north side of the West Mitten I noticed a sliver of blue sky visible through the Mitten, a small arch forming. The opening is visible from both sides from the right angle, but is easier to see from the north side.
Around the east side of the loop, the trail passes directly between the East Mitten and the West Mitten.

 My hike took 1:45 hours on a 45 F degree mid November day. The park wasn’t very crowded and I saw 3 other hikers during my trip.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

De-Na-Zin Wilderness

The De-Na-Zin access to the Bisti/ De-Na-Zin Wilderness area is on County Road 7500 about 13 miles west of the junction with Highway 550, near Huerfano in northwest New Mexico. This access is in the eastern part of the wilderness. From the more popular Bisti access, road 7500 is 8 miles south on highway 371, then east about 10 miles. The De-Na-Zin access isn’t marked very well, but it is the only place along road 7500 with room to pull over and park and with an obvious gate through the fence.

The first 200 yards of hiking is along a short section of road through a sagebrush field. Most of the terrain along road 7500 is similar rolling sagebrush fields with very few houses and a few oil and gas wells. The road ends abruptly at the edge of a colorful eroded basin.

There aren’t any official trails in the wilderness area. In the area where I descended into the basin, there was an old fence leading north and I followed it across the eroded clay and sandstone surface toward a rocky small mesa that was just to the west of the fence line.

The small mesa overlooked a wide eroded basin and the rocky area extended in pieces to the east. There were some sculpted formations, often called hoodoos, visible to the east and I hiked toward them. Across the eroded basin north were some tall hills that would offer some challenging and probably slippery climbing.

The sculpted formations included a small arch. There are several rocks in this area supported by thin pedestals and more good views north across the deep eroded basin.

Rather than retrace my steps, I tried to loop back south toward the road. There is an old road in this area that works as a trail for part of the way. This road leads further east and I didn’t see where it enters the area. Along this area there is some petrified wood visible.

Further on, I came across some rounded bowling ball sized rocks eroding out of a sandy wash. I’m not an expert, but these look like the formations that are called concretions. Concretions build up around a nucleus and are sometimes mistaken as fossil eggs. The last 0.5 miles of my hike were along the fence line near road 7500. My total hike was for 2:00 hours for about 4 miles on an unusually warm 80 F degree late September day. The sky was clear and I carried 3 liters of water. After this hike, I also visited the Bisti access on the west end of the wilderness area.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bisti Wilderness

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a 38,305 acres eroded badlands area south of Farmington in northwest New Mexico. The Bisti access is the west side of the area and is 36.5 miles south of the San Juan River along New Mexico route 371, then 2 miles east on county road 7297. Highway signs call attention to the Bisti Wilderness and there were three of four other vehicles there during my visit. There may be a second parking area a short distance north.

Standing at the entry sign and looking easterly at the odd terrain, it looked like most visitors hike slightly south and east where it appears flat and open, and there is a wide dry wash. There aren’t any official trails here, any maps, or any interpretation at the site.

The Fruitland Formation makes up most of what is visible and contains sandstones, shales, mudstones, coal, and silt. These formations are 65-80 million years old. Hiking east into the open area, there is a fenced in space with a pond inside that takes about 15 minutes to get past. I turned north at the fence line and walked into an area of colorful eroded hills.

I climbed a small hill for a view of the some of the nearby formations. There is an on-line brochure for the area available on the BLM web site. The brochure says that the red color that stands out is due to clay soils baked by coal fires while buried millions of years ago. It looked like some black coal seams were visible in the formations near the access parking area. I think a mile or so further east there is some petrified wood and some formations that are called the cracked eggs.

My hike at the Bisti access was only for 1:00 hour on a warm and sunny 85 F degree late September day. I only sampled the entry point in an area where there are many square miles to explore. I also visited the De-Na-Zin access, the eastern section, on the same day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wupatki Ruins Trail

The Wupatki Trail is 0.5 miles and visits the largest Ancestral Ruins site in Wupatki National Monument, near Flagstaff in northeast Arizona. Wupatki is in a unique location on the borders of several cultural traditions in the southwest and is also in one of the warmest and driest climates.

The Wupatki Trail begins at the Visitor Center and starts with a good overview of the site. There is a trail guide here with 20 stops and also interpretive signs in a few places. There are cinders in the area from the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater volcano. Wupatki was settled after the volcano eruption but it isn’t known if these two events are related. It is known that the volcanic ash retains moisture and may have helped with agriculture in an otherwise very dry area. Wupatki may have served as a trade area given its border location. The structure is three stories high in some places.

Like some other large sites in the region, the natural boulders form part of the structure. The stones used as bricks here are long and flat compared to the style used in the area close to Mesa Verde. I didn’t notice any dark basalt stones here as there are some of the other Wupatki National Monument sites.

North of the main structure there is a Great Kiva type structure. The interpretive information says that no evidence for a roof was found here and the typical floor features, like the ventilation system, of other Great Kivas are missing, so this may have been an open air community structure. In the colder climates, I usually think the kivas are best used for cold weather survival. Although it is warmer here than the higher elevation areas, there would still be some snow and cold here, and in the summers the sun would be too intense during most hours of the day without some sort of shade roof.

It does appear that there is a fire pit on the floor here. The bench area here is at a level that makes sitting practical. Sometimes, at other sites sitting on the bench is blocked by the low roof. Toward the end of the trail there is a smaller rectangular room that is described as a kiva.

The most unique structure at Wupatki is the structure that is described as the ball court. Ball courts are common at sites in southern Arizona and it appears to be an idea from cultures in Mexico. The court here is 78 feet wide and 102 feet long with a 6 foot high wall. It is something like a hockey rink.

Next to the ball court is a geologic feature called a blowhole. This is a crevice in the earth surface that appears to breathe based on changes in atmospheric pressure. During my visit the blowhole was inhaling. I set my trail guide over the screened hole and felt it get pulled to the screen as if by a strong exhaust fan.


The return leg of the trail passes an area where Park Rangers lived in the early years of the park. Apparently parts of the ruins were rebuilt, but then disassembled later. One of the rooms on the back side of Wupatki is formed largely from natural boulders and visitors are allowed to enter this room.

The overall site is surrounded by many small dwellings. A few of them can be sighted, but they are off the trail and not accessible. The Visitor Center has several displays of artifacts and interpretation.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lava Flow Trail at Sunset Crater

The Lava Flow Trail is a 1.0 mile loop at the foot of Sunset Crater Volcano in Sunset Crater National Monument in northeast Arizona near Flagstaff.

Sunset Crater is the youngest of many cinder cone volcanoes in the north Arizona area. The eruption date for Sunset Crater is between 1040 and 1100 AD. The date was established from the wood in the buried pithouses found under the cinders. The height of the cone is1000 feet and the diameter at the base is one mile. It is 2250 feet from rim to rim.

The ash fall from the eruption extended over 800 square miles. The first part of the trail is a paved loop, while the distant loop passes through a lava flow and cinder barrens. Sunset Crater is closed to climbing to the rim. There is a trail guide here with 13 marked stops plus several interpretive signs.

One of the features of the lava flow is an example of a “squeeze up.” As the lava flows, a thin crust forms on the surface. An increase in flow causes the crust to bulge and crack. The crack continues to widen and the molten lava below squeezes up through the crack.

All of the lava, whether jagged blocks called aa, or ropey surfaced pahoehoe, or cinders is basalt rock. There is a display in the visitor center that says basalt is a low viscosity type of lava and has 48 to 55% silica content.

Another feature pointed out is a spatter cone. These form when lava is forced up through an opening in the cooled surface of a lava flow. The fluid fragments spurt upwards, then congealing and mounding around the opening. The eruption of Sunset Crater is part of the tradition of the people that are descended from those who lived here at the time. The ash spread by the eruption played a role in the agriculture of the villages and pueblos of the nearby Wupatki area.

Lenox Crater Trail

The Lenox Crater Trail is a 1 mile round trip to the top of a volcano cinder cone. This trail is within sight of Sunset Crater in Sunset Crater National Monument in northeast Arizona.

The trail climbs 300 feet, is mostly straight up, and is steep enough and at high elevation to cause most hikers to stop several times to catch your breath. The footing is all cinders. At the top there are views toward the San Francisco Peaks across the shallow depression of the cone. This is an older cinder cone and Ponderosa Pines have established themselves. The views up the trail are mostly blocked by the forest but the pine scent is always refreshing.
There are also some views toward Sunset Crater and the Lava Flow Trail area. Sunset Crater is no longer available for climbing, so Lenox Crater is an opportunity to view into a volcano crater. It looks like the Sunset Crater would be a much tougher climb.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wukoki Ruins Trail

The Wukoki Trail is a short 0.2 mile walk to an Ancestral Pueblo ruins site in Wupatki National Monument in northeast Arizona, north of Flagstaff. This trail is on a 2.5 mile spur road that begins near the Visitor Center and the Wupatki Trail.
If you enter Wupatki National Monument from the west entrance, this is the last of the four trails before continuing on to Sunset CraterNational Monument.

Wukoki is the modern Hopi word for “Big House.” The arrangement of sites in the Wupatki area reminds me of the Chaco Canyon area where the large monumental ruins sites are spread out in a dry environment.

Like Chaco Canyon, the Wupatki area appears to have been a center of activity. On the border between Ancestral Pueblo, Sineagua, and Cohonina cultures, a rich variety of pottery and traded goods has been found here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Citadel Ruins Trail at Wupatki

The Citadel Trail is a short but steep 0.2 miles to a large ruins structure sitting on a lava capped mesa. This trail is on the western side of Wupatki National Monument, north of Flagstaff in northeast Arizona.

At the base of the volcanic mesa is the Nalikihu Ruins site, the name a Hopi word for “House Outside the Village”. The wall arrangements show that this 800 year old farming site was built in stages and pottery styles similar to the Citadel indicate that both structures were used at the same time.

The Citadel has commanding views of the surrounding Antelope Prairie countryside. On the south side there is a large limestone sink hole and the San Francisco Peaks. The interpretive signs along the trail discuss why the Ancestral Pueblo people chose to build on these elevated locations, and perhaps it is for the excellent views.

The stonework at the Citadel incorporates the volcanic basalt rocks mixed in with the limestone and sandstone that the nearby Lomaki Trail sites use. The foundation for the site is a massive outcrop of the dark basalt volcanic rock.

From the Citadel mesa top there are eight pueblo ruins sites visible along the Earth Crack farming area to the west. Three of these sites are visited by the Lomaki Trail. It appears that at one time this was a large connected community. Farming in this area was affected by the water absorbing ash layer from the eruption of the nearby Sunset Crater. It is thought that this area was abandoned by 1250 AD.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lomaki Ruins Trail

The Lomaki Trail is 0.5 miles to three Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites in Wupatki National Monument in northeast Arizona. Wupatki is north of Flagstaff, AZ along Highway 89. The trail has several interpretive signs along the way.

Two of the ruins sites are called the Box Canyon Ruins, perched on the edge of a feature called an Earth Crack. The Earth Cracks in the Kaibab Limestone were caused by the volcanic activity to the south. This area is called the Antelope Prairie, a dry, windswept grassland. Along the earth crack the soil catches enough moisture to allow farming corn and squash. The building stones here are a mix of sandstone and limestone.

At the distant end of the trail is Lomaki Ruin, positioned at the edge of the earth crack, and spilling down into it. Visitors can walk through and look into some of the rooms.

Looking back to the south there are good views toward the Box Canyon Ruins and the San Francisco Peaks. The stones used in building here appear to longer and flatter than the more loaf style sandstone bricks that seem to dominate the Mesa Verde region to the north and east of here.

There are more ruins sites along this earth crack than the three that the trail visits. At least two more can be seen along the road as visitors arrive at the parking area. This short walk takes about 30 minutes, depending on how long you want to linger.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Penasco Blanco Trail to Chaco Wash

The Chaco Wash Trail is the segment of the Penasco Blanco Trail past the extensive petroglyph panels and before the Chaco Wash when it is flowing and uncrossable. The Penasco Blanco Trail is one of the four back country trails at Chaco Canyon National Monument in northwest New Mexico.

The hike past the Kin Kletso and Casa Chiquita Great House ruins sites and the six or more petroglyph panels is 1.7 miles one way. It is about 1.0 miles more to the Chaco Wash crossing. In mid March after a heavy snow season, the narrow wash was flowing with dark silt laden water. I probed the swirling stream with a Tamarisk stick and found the bottom was very soft and the banks very slippery.

Besides getting wet at least up to your waist, there would be a danger of getting your feet stuck and falling down in a quicksand like mire. The Chaco Wash flows a short distance past the trail crossing to meet with Escavada Wash to form the Chaco River.

Among the questions about Chaco Canyon is why this seemingly dry canyon was chosen for such extensive building, and where was water supply. There is some evidence of a masonry dam near the confluence of the two washes and perhaps there were some water management efforts.

At Mesa Verde, near along the Far View Trail, there is a constructed reservoir and channel structures, signs of water management. Check dams across small washes are also evidence that water was managed in the region.

One of the highlights of the distant end of the Penasco Blanco Trail is the Supernova Pictograph site. Even if the Chaco Wash is uncrossable, it looks like the site can be spotted from across the wash. Viewing the sandstone cliffs from high on the banks, the side trail can be sighted and it appears to end at a shallow alcove several hundred yards to the right.

On the stone wall face below the overhang some faint petroglyphs can be seen with binoculars. The alcove overhand is very narrow, and the Supernova is on the ceiling, represented as a crescent moon, a star, and a handprint.

This seemed like the right area but I couldn’t make out the images. In 1054 AD astronomers around the world recorded a supernova or an exploding star that we now call the Crab Nebula. The geography of rock art sites is often as interesting as the images themselves. This site is along a wash with a great house on the mesa top above, but otherwise is isolated.

I didn’t make it to the mesa top to see the Penasco Blanco site but there are some distant glimpses of it from the trail leading to Chaco Wash. Besides overlooking the confluence of the two washes, it sits along an 8 mile line of sight with the Pueblo Bonito and Una Vida sites. I spent 3:30 hours on the 6 miles I hiked on a 55 F degree day in mid March. I carried 2 liters of water and drank only one.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chaco Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip to a lookout point overlooking the east end of Chaco Canyon National Monument in northwest New Mexico. The trail head is near the entrance to the Gallo Campground and isn't mentioned on the park map.

There is a sign at the trail head near the camp host and some parking in the tents only part of the campground.

The trail climbs immediately to the mesa top and follows along the rocky edge. The main point of interest in the east end of Chaco Canyon is Fajada Butte. Fajada means “banded” in Spanish. The Cliff House Sandstone forms the upper layers and the softer Menefee formation the lower. A narrow layer of lignite coal is between the two.

These same layers can also be viewed along the main park road at Mesa Verde National Park. Fajada Butte is a sacred place for Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo People today. On top of Fajada Butte is a Sun Dagger site. Three boulders allow beams of light to fall on a spiral petroglyph that seems to mark the suns position on the summer and winter solstice and the equinoxes.

This short trail took me 0:45 minutes. The Gallo Campground also has two small alcove ruins to view and several petroglyph panels. Most visitors skip these sites that are along the road on the way to the Visitor Center and the huge ruins structures in the main part of the park.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Puerco Ruin Trail at Petrified Forest

The Puerco Ruin Trail is a 0.3 mile loop trail to a large ruins site and extensive petroglyph panel. This site is in the middle of Petrified Forest National Park close to the banks of the Puerco River in northern Arizona.

The site is partially excavated and has about 100 rooms built around a large plaza. This site is thought to have been occupied twice, from 1100 to 1200 and again 1250 to 1380 AD. The Puerco Pueblo sits on the cultural border of the Ancestral Pueblo to the north and the Mogollon to the south. The artifacts found here indicate that both groups made contact here.

The terrain here is a short grass prairie and the residents farmed the slopes, growing cotton, corn, squash and beans. This area lacks the Pinon Pines, Junipers, and Gambel Oaks that provided wood and nuts for the sites further north. It is a slightly warmer but dryer climate here.

In early March, the well known sites at Mesa Verde are still surrounded by two of more feet of snow while here it is snow free. The interpretive signs here say the walls are 10 inches sthick and suggest that strong southwest winds were a factor in how the sight was planned.

One of the excavated areas is marked as a kiva. This one is rectangular and doesn’t show many of the design features that the circular Mesa Verde style usually include. Mesa Verde style kivas usually show the ventilation shaft, fire pit and the bench like structure around the edge.

This site is described as being constructed later, perhaps even after the Mesa Verde sites had been abandoned. The Petrified Forest area has enough archaeology interest that it could be a National Park even without the petrified wood.

There is a small cliff face at the far end of the loop where several petroglyph panels are visible. The angle of view is a little awkward and binoculars would be handy to see the many images. The most eye catching image shows a curve billed shore bird holding what looks like a frog.

Nearby the Puerco Ruin Trail is the Newspaper Rock petroglyph overlook. There isn’t any hiking at Newspaper Rock, but there are 650 images arrayed on several rock surfaces. This is also a site where binoculars will be handy. The Newspaper Rock site doesn’t appear to be associated with a ruins site and the location doesn’t appear to be at a canyon junction or any obviously significant location.