Culture and Canyons in New Mexico
Returning to New Mexico on the I-40 we were welcomed back with gale force winds as we drove north to the mountains. I made the terrible mistake of opening the passenger window and we ended up chasing our map for about a mile down a dirt road. It came back a little worse for wear after having rolled through the field like a tumbleweed, but surprisingly intact.
We spent the night at a deserted campground in the Cimarron State Park and enjoyed the scenic drive the next day as we headed towards Taos. After being in Texas it felt strange to be cold and to actually see snow at the top of the mountain pass.
Taos is a little artsy town, with lots of lovely adobe shops and galleries. We did have a look around but had come up this way mainly to see the Taos Pueblo, a world the heritage site that is still home to its native population. The exact time is uncertain but the Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA. It was interesting to see people living now as they had for hundreds of years (running water and electricity are not allowed inside the Pueblo).
The Spanish missionaries did accomplish some of their goal and there is a pretty little church in the middle of the village. This building is considered “new” as it was built in 1850 after the original church (built in 1619 by Spanish priests) was destroyed by the US government after a revolt.
We continued west to Farmington where we detoured off the main road to the Bisti Badlands & De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Here we found a strange landscape of rock formations, free camping, and only 2 other trucks. It was a great find for us and Luke spent the evening with his camera while I wandered along behind. There are no trails in this area, but it was easy to keep our bearings by climbing up any of the taller hills. We explored more in the morning, and probably could have spent all day here, but Arizona was calling and we carried on west.
Entering Navajo lands we managed to find our way through the back country to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced shay). The National Park preserves this area but the Navajo continue to use the canyon as they have for the last 700 years. For the most part they do not live in the Canyon but use it for farming in the summer months. It is an amazing spot and we could see why they would want to live here, towering red canyon walls gave way to a green valley below.
They were not the first ones here however, and the stone structures hidden in the rock walls were built by people the Navajo call Anasazi, ancient ones. We drove along the rim of the canyon and were able to see many of the buildings from lookouts. You can only enter the valley with a Navajo guide, with the exception only of the hike to White House Ruin.
It is only a 2.5 mile hike to the ruins, but it descends 700 feet to the bottom of the Canyon. It was well worth the climb back out to be able to see the buildings close up as well as look up from the bottom of the valley at the sheer rock walls. Canyon de Chelly has been one of our favourite spots so far.
The Navajo Reservation in the four corners area is a place of beauty, full of amazing natural sites and friendly people. It’s been good to see and experience a little of the culture of the original inhabitants of this part of the world.