Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tunnel Trail to First Ruins-Canyon de Chelly

The Tunnel Trail is a ranger led free hike offered during the summer season at Canyon de Chelly National Monument at Chinle in northeast Arizona. Except at the White House Ruins Trail, all hiking in the inner canyon must be accompanied by a ranger or a Navajo guide.

In June 2011, the Tunnel Trail hike is offered on Friday mornings starting at 6:45 AM and lasting until about 10:30 AM for about 4 miles of hiking. The hiking groups meet at the Visitor Center, then shuttle to the Tunnel Overlook, the first of seven overlooks on the south rim.

The trail descends about 200 feet to the canyon floor down stairs and a switchback trail. Along the way, the ranger introduces the canyon geology and some of the 5000 years of the history of the people who have lived here.
Part of the way down the descent, there is a pictograph panel visible high on the cliffs. Viewing the Canyon de Chelly from the rim overlooks, visitors don’t see any of the many rock art panels that are here. This panel is far enough away from the trail that binoculars are needed to see very much.
Reaching the canyon floor, the walking is over loose sand heading up the canyon. In the spring, this area will have flowing water but in late June the water is several feet below the surface.

Vehicles from the residents and tour groups grind along in the sand. After about 0:45 minutes of hiking we arrived at an area called the Sleeping Duck, named for the resemblance of the rock formation.

On the cliffs near the Sleeping Duck, there are many pictograph images that are above an early era Basketmaker ruins area. The images were faint but visible with binoculars. The trees that grow on the canyon floor are Cottonwoods, Willows, Tamarisks, and Russian Olives. There has been a project for several years to remove the invasive Tamarisks and Russian Olives. This activity has opened up the views of the canyon walls, and seems to be well appreciated by residents and visitors.

The hike highlight is First Ruins, the first large ruins site that the early investigators found. Most of the ruins sites in Canyon de Chelly are located in alcoves above the canyon floor, but with access to the floor. The farming areas that were used here and the water available is on the floor, rather than the mesa tops like the Mesa Verde area. Locating in an alcove above the floor avoids the danger of flooding. However, hikers to White House Ruins will notice that there are structures there built on the floor area.

We viewed First Ruins from the sandy floor area at least 100 yards away, so details are hard to see. The occupation period is thought to be 1025 to 1250 AD. It has about 20 rooms and 2 kivas. There has been some reconstruction over the years. With binoculars there are some white pictographs visible on the right side of the alcove.

On the return hike we stopped at Petroglyph Rock which can be seen from the Tunnel Overlook once you know to look for it. There are rock art images on three sides and they represent the Ancestral Pueblos, the Hopis, and the Navajo. Up high on the east side, it looks there are two atlatls being hurled into fleeing animals and there is a human figure with a duck sitting on its head among the many figures.

The Hopi work is in the center of the south side and is described as clan symbols. On the sides are Navajo horse riders pursuing game. It was a comfortable 63 F degrees when we started at 7:00 AM and was still reasonable at the 10:30 finish.
The walking on loose sand for part of the way is annoying, but the route is otherwise mostly level and easy. The pace was leisurely and discussions were held in the shady areas. I carried and drank 2 liters of water.

Junction Ruins to Standing Cow-Canyon de Chelly

Junction Ruins to Standing Cow Ruins is the lower and middle part of the Canyon del Muerto arm of the Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeast Arizona. To visit the inner canyon areas visitors must be accompanied by a Navajo Guide or a Park Ranger.

I went on a private half day jeep tour to just the del Muerto arm, from the canyon mouth to Mummy Cave Ruins. The standard half day tours visit as far as Standing Cow and then visit the Canyon de Chelly arm as far as White House ruins.

The Junction Ruins are located at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto. They are visible from the Junction overlook on the south rim drive. On the tour I took, Junction Ruins was the fourth stop and it took about 0:20 minutes of sandy driving to get here. The sites near the canyon mouth can be hiked to on the Tunnel Trail hike. In 2011, this free hike is being offered on Friday mornings.
After Junction Ruins there is a succession of small sites and it is hard to keep them straight. The sites are called Echo Ruins, Small Cave, Ceremonial Cave, and Round Corners. Most of the sites in the Canyon de Chelly area are in alcoves above the canyon floor and are viewed from a distance.

At one time, there was a north rim overlook of Ledge Ruins, but this overlook has been closed for a long time. In addition to the obvious small group of structures, there are two small storage structures in an alcove to the left. In the vicinity of Ledge Ruins there is another site high on the cliffs called Bridge Ruins.

Antelope House is the largest of the sites in Canyon del Muerto except for Mummy Cave. It appears to be the only one with structures that sit on the canyon floor. The interpretive sign at the Antelope Overlook says that building here began in 700 AD and continued on and off for 600 years. Most of what we see was constructed after 1050 AD. There is also an interpretive sign at the site that explains how these structures were built.
The park brochure says that Antelope House has an unusual circular plaza. It’s hard to see the circular plaza at the site but it is visible from the overlook to the right of the tall tower.

My guide mentioned that Antelope House might have been a trading center as pottery of many different styles was found there.

The Antelope House name comes from the series of pictographs along the left side of the site. The drawings are attributed to a Navajo who lived here in the early 1800s.
Standing Cow Ruins is a small site but has the interesting large cow pictograph. I think this was done by the same artist who we see at Antelope House. To the right of the cow, it looks like there are some vague white flute player images.

Just before the Standing Cow is the Narbona Panel, depicting the 1805 Spanish massacre that gives Canyon del Muerto its name. I didn’t get close enough to it to get a good picture, but it is a detailed and interesting panel. The normal half day group tour usually turns around at Standing Cow Ruin and returns to the canyon junction, then up Canyon de Chelly. From Standing Cow it is about 0:40 minutes of travel to the large Mummy Cave Ruins.

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Mummy Cave Ruins in Canyon de Chelly

Mummy Cave Ruins is one of the largest sites in the Canyon de Chelly in northeast Arizona. It is visible from an overlook along the north rim road. It can also be viewed on a guided tour.

The typical all day group tour visits Mummy Cave. I visited on a half day private jeep tour where we only visited the Canyon del Muerto arm. The private tours cost more but there is more flexibility and they move faster. It took my tour 2:00 hours to arrive here including making stops at the many sites along the way. Even when you view from the canyon floor, the fencing forces a long distance view.

The interpretive sign at the site says that habitation began here in 300 AD, making it one of the oldest Ancestral Pueblo sites in the canyon. The Navajo name for Mummy Cave is House Under the Rock. This upper area of the Canyon de Chelly area doesn't have the broad sandy canyon floor as the lower area.

There is a meandering creek in this area and the road is easier driving, though still a rough dirt road. There aren't as many ruins or rock art sites in this upper canyon area as the lower area.

The differences in styles between the side alcove sites and the center structure are easy to see even from a distance. The rooms are smaller and the stone work is rougher.

The center section is thought to have been built around 1280 AD by people who moved here from the Mesa Verde area as the structures resemble the Mesa Verde style. The Mesa Verde site that this reminds me of most is the Square Tower House on the Mesa Top Loop.

The location where mummies were found is to the right of the main structures and there are two pictographs on the canyon walls in that area. My total tour of the Canyon del Muerto arm of Canyon de Chelly took 3:20 hours.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shiprock and Buffalo Pass-Navajo Route 13-Scenic Drive

Navajo Route 13 makes a junction with Highway 491 a short distance south of the community of Shiprock in northwest New Mexico. Route 13 provides close views of the Shiprock formation and continues over Buffalo Pass in the Lukachukai Mountains 46 miles to Navajo Route 12 and the community of Lukachukai.

Route 13 is not a designated scenic route in the Navajo Nation but it is very scenic and paved all the way. The only difficulty is that in the mountain segment the road is steep and has sharp curves.

The Shiprock formation is a volcanic neck, the remnants of an eruption about 30 or 40 million years ago. For Navajos, Shiprock is “the winged rock” and a character in traditional stories. The height is about 1800 feet and it is visible from many view points in the Four Corners, including Park Point at Mesa Verde National Park. Originally, there was a volcanic cone around the volcanic neck, but this has eroded away leaving what we see now.

Besides the Shiprock Peak, the other noticeable feature is the volcanic dikes that form the wings. Route 13 passes through a gap on one of these wings. These wings formed as the magma filled cracks in the ground during an eruption.

Close to the road, there is a close up view of a section of one of the wings. The Navajo story involves the Gods lifting the ground to deliver the people from enemies. For a while, the people lived on top, descending to work the fields. All was well until one day during a storm, the trail up was split by lightning, preventing some of the people from descending and they slowly died of starvation.

From this legend, the Navajo do not want anyone to climb Shiprock. The name “Shiprock” appeared in the 1870s and is associated with the USGS survey maps.

Route 13 continues past Red Valley and starts to climb into mountains. The terrain changes from grassland to Pinon Juniper forest to Ponderosa Pine forest. Roof Butte seems to be the best known peak along the way. This area is a summer camp for herders. There are side roads leading into the forest with signs advising not to poach the wildlife.

At the top of the mountains there is a picnic area at Buffalo Pass. There are some marked off parking spaces and several picnic tables.

From the picnic area, there are good views back to the east toward Shiprock and Red Valley. Somewhere in the Red Valley and Cove area, there is a large arch known as the Cove Arch or Royal Arch. If it is visible from Route 13 I missed it.

Descending down toward the Lukachukai community there are spruce trees visible in the shady side canyons. There is a wide pullover area on the way down with views toward some sandstone formations. I think this view includes “Butt Rock.” In Navajo mythology, many of the formations in this area were named by Changing Woman as she traveled from the sacred peak known as Mt. Hesperus toward this area. I traveled Route 13 in late June.

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