For the narrative of the first 4 days of this trip, see the West 2015- The Itinerary, Part One post.
I left Albuquerque early on the fifth morning of my trip. Before leaving town, however, I stopped at another of the National Park Units I’d failed to visit on previous trips, Petroglyph National Monument. The monument is on the west of the city, with the park’s four units being located just outside the city’s sprawl. I knew, due to my need to head west, that I would only be able to visit one of those units, I picked Boca Negra Canyon, due to it’s easier hiking trails and abundance of rock art.
The first hike I took was on the Mesa Point Trail, which wound upward from the canyon floor, passing many visible petroglyphs, to a scenic view over the city of Albuquerque at the top of the mesa. I also hiked the shorter Macaw & Cliff Base trails. After a brief visit to the visitor’s center, I headed west.
My first stop outside Albuquerque was at El Malpais, a National Monument that protects a large volcanic field. The park contains cinder cones, lava tubes and other volcanic formations. As I’m not a caver, my 2003 visit to the park was nothing more than a half an hour visit to the visitor’s center. I wasn’t about the explore the park’s lava tubes (a fairly rugged activity), but I’d certainly wanted to do more than just a quick visit to the visitor’s center. So this time, I drove to a viewpoint on the eastern side of the park where I could overlook much of the volcanic field.
An hour beyond El Malpais is El Morro National Monument, the huge stone promontory also known as ‘Inscription Rock’. For over 300 years, people have visited this site. Many of the earliest colonialists, bit Spanish & American, have famously carved their names in El Morro’s sandstone. The oldest inscription is credited to Don Juan de Oñate, a Spanish Conquistador, whose carving is dated 1605.
On the way to my hotel, I made quick stop to check out the Painted Desert part of Petrified Forest National Park. On my agenda for the following day, I figured if I spent a little time in the park now it would allow me more freedom of schedule the next day. The Painted Desert was spectacular in the mid afternoon sunlight.
I was also treated to a magnificent desert sunset in Holbrook, Arizona that evening.
Looking to beat the desert heat, I drove to the Petrified Forest part of the park the next morning. The morning was hot, but not unbearable, and I did the Giant Logs walk near the southern entrance to the park.
My favorite part of the park was the Blue Mesa. The scenic drive and short hike through this otherworldly landscape was incredibly scenic and a part of the park I’d somehow overlooked on my last visit.
The second site of the day was yet another that I hadn’t given due diligence to back in 2003, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. On that day in 2004, the site had been overrun with groups of kids on field trips. I stayed 20 minutes, snapped only 6 photos and left quickly.
This time around I had the place mostly to myself. The site preserves the original trading post and grounds from the late 1800s. Hubbell spent many years trading with the Navajo, and eventually became trusted by them.
The final sight of the day was one of the highlights of my 2003 trip, Canyon d’ Chelly National Monument. The canyon is held sacred by the Navajo and is jointly managed between the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service.
The signature sight in the National Park is Spider Rock, which lies at the Eastern end of the canyon.
There are two scenic drives, one along Canyon d’ Chelly in the south, and one along the underrated Canyon del Muerto in the north. I hadn’t done the northern drive yet, and was exceedingly glad I did on this trip.
After a quick stop at the Four Corners Monument for a photo op and some Navajo Fry Bread, I spent the evening in Cortez, Colorado.
The next morning, I set out in search of Yucca House National Monument, and undeveloped National Park site in Southwestern Colorado, and one I had tried to find on two other occasions with no success. The park preserves an unexcavated Anasazi pueblo from the 12th century, and is completely surrounded by private land. There are no signposts to the sight, which is the reason it eluded me on visits in 2003 & 2009.
The second sight of the day was Hovenweep National Monument, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border. There is evidence of these canyons being occupied for as far back as 8,000A.D. They were abandoned, as were any other settlements in the area, around 1300 A.D. I took a hike around the Square Tower Group, near the visitor center, in temperatures well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
After taking a few hours at my hotel in Cortez to recover from the heat, I headed up to nearby Mesa Verde national Park for a dramatic sunset over the area.
The evening concluded with a Ranger-led program in the park’s amphitheater on stars and the legends behind them. This was an incredibly nostalgic experience for me, as my love of National Parks started with these programs and the visits to National Parks my parents took me on in formative years.
In the next stage, continue to head west, stopping in one of America’s most iconic National Parks….
West 2015- The Itinerary Posts