We completed our day’s visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park on Friday, May 20  with a couple of walks in “Downtown Chaco.” Here in the center of Chaco Canyon we were also in the center of the Chacoan world. There was still a lot to see, but since our time was beginning to run short, we decided to focus on two sites: Peublo del Arroyo and Casa Rinconada, which offered different perspectives on Chaco than what we had already seen.Continue reading
(Note: Although Sean’s and my odyssey is focused on the now sixty-three National Parks proper, some of the units protected by the Park Service are so important or tell a story of such magnitude that they are part of an unofficial 63+ list for us. They are units that, but for the accidents of history or the vagaries of politics, certainly deserve to be celebrated as part of the core function of the whole national project of setting aside places of immense value. Dinosaur National Monument is one such place. Chaco Culture National Historical Park certainly is another. Just as with Dinosaur, I’m treating our trip to Chaco as if it were one of the sixty-three.)
The thing to understand about Chaco is that it was a city. But it was a very special kind of city. For three hundred years it was the center of the Ancestral Puebloan world, a place of ceremony, religion, culture, and trade with influence that spread across geography and time. A collection of magnificent Great Houses in an arid canyon at the center of the San Juan basin near the southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau in what is now northwestern New Mexico, Chaco was likely an administrative center where ritual bound together a far-flung Ancestral Puebloan homeland.
Chaco held such prominence in all my reading about the Ancestral Puebloan world since our visit to Mesa Verde National Park that I had prioritized seeing it for ourselves.
On Wednesday, May 18 , we began our journey to Chaco and a return to one of my favorite landscapes: Northern New Mexico. In addition to seeing Chaco, I also wanted Sean to experience the very special AirBnB I’d stayed in outside Taos the previous November. And I was excited to see the exhibition New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. It turned out that late May 2022 was the best option for an overlap between the AirBnB being available and the run of the exhibition. So off we went.Continue reading
On Saturday, November 20 , I departed Taos, headed ultimately home to Chicago. By the time I reached home the following Tuesday (two days before Thanksgiving), I had passed through Denver and Kansas City. But before that, I couldn’t resist stopping for a short hike at Great Sand Dunes National Park. After all, it was only an hour and forty-five minutes from Taos. And it was on the way. Sort of. It would be the first time I ever visited a National Park by myself.Continue reading
As soon as Sean and I knew we weren’t going to be having company for Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to extend my time in the west by working remotely in Taos for the second half of the week after my birthday. I even knew where I wanted to stay. Sean flew home from Albuquerque on Tuesday, November 16. I spent November 17-20  up on the Taos Plateau.Continue reading
Established in 1990 and co-administered by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument protects 7,236 acres of West Mesa west of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Rio Grande. One of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in North America, more than 20,000 petroglyphs dating as far back as 5,000 years are found in the Monument.
On Tuesday, November 16 , Sean and I visited the Monument’s Boca Negra Canyon area for a morning of exploration before he flew home to Chicago.Continue reading
Sunday and Monday, November 14 and 15 , Sean and I spent exploring Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city that I had long wanted to visit and that he remembered fondly from when he had traveled there for a deposition in 2008. It was forty-eight hours of art, food, exploration, and even seeing old friends.Continue reading
Valles Caldera National Preserve protects 89,766 acres of the volcanic Jemez mountains west of Santa Fe and the Rio Grande in north central New Mexico. It encompasses most of the gigantic caldera at the heart of the massive volcano that is the Jemez Mountains. The Preserve was established by Congress in 2000 with an experimental structure that created a trust to purchase a 95,000-acre privately held ranch. Small portions were incorporated into Bandelier National Monument and Santa Clara Pueblo. The rest was held by the trust until 2015 when it was transferred to the National Park Service.
Late in the afternoon of November 13 , Sean and I drove the twisting, somewhat frightening road from Bandelier National Monument’s Frijoles Canyon to the heart of the volcano.Continue reading
Established in 1916, Bandelier National Monument protects 33,677 acres of the Pajarito Plateau on the southern slopes of the volcanic Jemez mountains, located west of the Rio Grande Valley and Santa Fe in northern New Mexico. Over twenty-three thousand acres of the Monument are federally protected wilderness. But the heart of Bandelier is the thousands of Ancestral Puebloan sites scattered across the plateau and its steep canyons. Among these, the many sites in Frijoles Canyon are the most famous and dramatic. The hub of visitation in Bandalier, this canyon was where Sean and I headed for our all-too-short visit to the Monument on November 13 .Continue reading
Established as a National Monument in 1965 and then expanded and reestablished as a National Historical Park in 1990, Pecos National Historical Park protects roughly 6,700 acres in three parcels at the very southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. The Park’s primary focus is protecting and interpreting the remains of Pecos Pueblo, perched above Glorieta Pass in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Glorieta Pass it the primary gateway between the Great Plains to the east and the Rio Grande Valley to the west. The Park also preserves the site of a crucial 1862 battle in the Civil War, when American troops rebuffed a Confederate attempt to expand beyond Texas into the Southwest.
On Saturday, November 13 , Pecos was the first of three National Park units near Santa Fe that Sean and I visited.Continue reading
We rounded out my birthday visit to White Sands National Park on November 12  with the 4pm Ranger-led sunset hike. It was a chance to see what this special place had to show us in terms of light, shadow, and texture. And it capped the first day of a long weekend together enjoying New Mexico.Continue reading