<< Day 10: Silverton | Day 12: Bandelier National Monument to Santa Fe >>
Silverton to Bandelier National Monument
This morning we said goodbye to beautiful, blustery Silverton.
We continued south on the Million Dollar Highway, but through this section we actually had guardrails! (With the weight of our RV, the low barrier probably just provides a false sense of security, but one never knows . . . .)
We made gradual climbs and drops over two mountain passes, both over 10,500 feet, and then we started dropping in altitude. Here are some scenes along the way:
Genevieve was feeling a bit queasy from all of the twisty turns, so I had her sit up front in my seat for a while. I experienced the treat of sitting with Sebastian and creating monsters from his magnet set.
After a little while, we stopped by the side of the road so that Genevieve’s pale green face could start turning pink again.
Genevieve and I took a short walk toward a train track overpass. On the way back to the RV, we heard the sound of a train whistle—the train was coming! We ran back to the overpass in time to see the steam engine train carrying passengers to Silverton from Durango.
Genevieve was very excited because she actually witnessed one of the train crew shoveling coal into the burner.
There is nothing like a little adrenaline to get some color back into your cheeks!
These delicate purple flowers were growing by the side of the road.
We could see the black smoke from the train as it continued on its way beyond the trees.
We passed through the small town of Hermosa (which means “beautiful” in Spanish), which had some pretty red mountains behind it.
There were also some new housing developments.
We passed another steam train.
We replenished our grocery supply in the city of Durango, which has an elevation of 6500 feet. The temperature was much warmer here, and we were all relieved to finally shed our jackets.
Then we stopped by a bike shop in Durango (Mountain Bike Specialists) to get a new tube for Sebastian’s bike—he had a flat tire. In the shop, I was assisted by a friendly clerk who immediately offered to trade houses with me when she discovered that I was from Santa Cruz. She has a niece in Sacramento and is thinking of visiting both the niece and the Monterey Bay area this summer.
We continued dropping in elevation, through rolling green hills and the San Juan National Forest.
We passed different types of houses.
Here are two different styles of red barns—traditional . . .
. . . and industrial:
Gotta' love this fence!
Many of the green fields had grazing horses:
The rocks on top of this peak reminded me of the fortress ruins that sit atop many hills in Spain
I was anticipating a “Welcome to New Mexico” sign. However, as I was snapping the photo below, Ben said, “I think that we just entered New Mexico!”
First view of New Mexico:
There hadn’t been a welcome sign on our two-lane road, but Ben noticed that the features of the road had suddenly changed. Now the road had a wide shoulder and vibration grooves on each side, the paint in the center lines was different, and there were triangular “No Passing Zone” signs before a curve or rise in the road. Yes, we were now in New Mexico.
A small but beautiful church:
I had wanted to photograph the "welcome" signs for each state that we entered, so I was a bit disappointed about the lack of a New Mexico sign. This feeling quicky passed, however, and I was exhilerated when I spied another sign: “Continental Divide.” Wow! I had read about this invisible line and was very excited to actually be standing on it! The Continental Divide marks the dividing point where all the rain falling on the west side runs to the Pacific Ocean, and all the rain that falls on the east side runs to the Atlantic.
As we drove onward, we could see the glimmer from Heron Lake, which was created with a dam.
The land became more arid, with desert scrub bushes.
The rock formations and colors were gorgeous.
We drove through several communities of Native Americans. Here are some houses in the Santa Clara Pueblo:
In front of this Native American home is a cream domed structure that appears to be an horno, which is an adobe outdoor oven.
Our destination today was the Bandelier National Monument, with some amazing cliff dwellings along the Frijoles Valley.
This deer was just inside the park entrance:
We stopped by the visitor’s center to get Jr. Ranger booklets for Genevieve and Sebastian. Then we set off on a 2.1 mile hike to visit the cliff dwellings.
First, we arrived at the Tyuonyi ruins, which once was a village with approximately 100 people living in about 400 rooms.
The town was built in a large circle, with three kivas (round underground ceremonial structures) in the central plaza. Here is a more distant view, where you can see the shape of the town more clearly:
We then hiked to the Talus houses, which were homes that the ancient Puebloans built about 700 years ago against the base of a cliff.
The homes utilized the small caves in the soft volcanic rock (called “tuff”). The tuff was formed thousands of years ago when nearby volcanoes repeatedly exploded, leaving a buildup of volcanic ash that was 1000 feet deep. The ash was eventually covered over with other layers of dirt and turned to a soft stone. The stone eroded over time, leaving tiny caves that were sometimes expanded by the ancient Puebloans to make small rooms for their homes. The openings to the cave rooms were reached by ladders.
The adobe homes shown above (the square shapes at the cliff base) were reconstructed in the early 1900’s; however, the doors were mistakenly placed on the front of the buildings. Archaeologists now know that the doors should have been placed on top of the homes; the ancient Puebloans would climb up a ladder to reach the flat roof and then enter the home through a hole on top of the roof, climbing down another ladder inside of the building.
Also note that scientists and historians now call the people who once lived here “ancient Puebloans”. For many years, the name “Anasazi” was used, but anthropologists have since learned that this name means "ancient enemies" in the Apache language; apparently the two bands of Native Americans did not live in harmony. The descendants of the ancient Puebloans live in neighboring communities along the Rio Grande river—their communities are called “pueblos” and not “reservations.”
On the hike to reach the Talus houses, Genevieve and Sebastian were very excited to discover some ants carrying a big bug:
They were equally thrilled to find this squirrel scurrying across our path:
When we reached the Talus houses, the children immediately climbed up the first ladder, into a cave room.
Just to give perspective, this is the rest of the cliff if you look upward above the cave room entrance:
The room was very small, with barely enough space for the four of us to sit. The ceiling was blackened from the indoor fires.
The view from the cave:
The next cave had a zig-zag painting inside:
Genevieve was busy filling in all of the information in her Jr. Ranger booklet.
Then we walked along the path to reach “the Long House,” which was of a row of small caves that used to have mud and wood homes attached to them. You can see parts of the existing walls along the cliff base here:
The post holes for the roof and wall beams, as well as the shapes of the carved rooms, are still visible in the cliff.
The ancient Puebloans made pictorial carvings (petroglyphs) into the side of the cliff. We could see many figures, including a turkey:
Turkeys were kept domestically in this area, and their feathers were woven to make soft blankets.
Here is a circular petroglyph:
We then walked ½ mile along a path to reach my favorite part of the park, the Alcove House.
Ben and Sebastian on the path:
Sebastian eventually sought assistance from his favorite taxi:
The Alcove House used to be called the “Ceremonial Cave”, but now archaeologists believe that it was an ancient village that contained as many as 23 rooms, 2 stories high, and was home to several Puebloan families. The site was excavated in 1908, and archeologists found bits of pottery, fur and feather cloth, pumpkin rinds, corn, and a pen for keeping turkeys.
The cave is 140 feet up a vertical cliff. It was traditionally reached using ladders and hand/toe holds in the cliff side. The park had constructed a series of 4 ladders for the convenience and safety of visitors.
I was very proud of Genevieve and Sebastian, who scampered up the ladders like monkeys.
The cave is located where the dark area is above the top ladder:
The path between 2 of the ladders:
And still more climbing:
The house currently is a large open space, but it used to have walls that created separate rooms. There were a few small caves for the children to hide in:
Here I am with the children on top of the circular kiva:
The kiva was used for religious activity, teaching and meetings. Archaeologists had restored it in 1910. We all climbed down inside:
The kiva had a small fire pit dug into the interior wall, with a long hole carved out as a chimney to allow the smoke to escape.
An exterior view of the chimney hole:
Genevieve and Sebastian each wanted to poke their head into the chimney area so that I could take a photo from the outside, looking down into the chimney:
(Ahh, the simple thrills in life!)
Climbing down the ladders required careful attention. Genevieve hesitated only briefly, and then repeated several times to herself, “I will not fall, I will not fall.” Then she climbed down fluidly without missing a beat. You go girl!
We enjoyed our 1 mile walk back to the visitor’s center:
From the path, we could see the blackened tree trunks from the controlled burns set by the rangers to keep the forest in its natural state and to avoid larger, devastating wildfires.
We stayed in the Bandelier Monument campground tonight. After dinner, Genevieve and Sebastian worked on filling out the pages of their Jr. Ranger booklets. Then the children armed themselves with flashlights, and we took a walk in the dark around the loop in our campground area.
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