A Well-Planned Trip to New Mexico?
By Bob Jaussaud • Photos by Sue Jaussaud and her minions
On a recent trip Ron, Mike, Sue and I left the Colorado River early in the morning to meet Mignon in Kingman. We were headed for Chaco Canyon. At Winona, Glenn and Jenny joined us as we continued our journey through Arizona.
Unfortunately, we didn’t appreciate how long it takes to drive across Arizona. After a lengthy side trip to Grand Falls and additional time spent exploring portions of Old Route 66, the end of day found us well short of New Mexico. Our goal for the first night had been El Morro National Monument in New Mexico, but plans do change. We made it only as far as Holbrook, then had to find a place to camp.
Next day we toured through the Petrified Forest National Park and visited the historic Painted Desert Inn there. The Inn was constructed around 1920 and remodeled with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps starting in 1935. They built the furniture from ponderosa pine and the hand made light fixtures from tin. Fred Harvey managed the Inn when it reopened in 1940.
In the mood for historic inns, we next visited the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup. This place is a must see for any Route 66 aficionado.
So we ended up taking two days instead of one to reach El Morro, a magnificent sandstone promontory southeast of Gallup. El Morro has a reliable water source at its base. The availability of water has attracted travelers for centuries and many left their inscriptions on the cliff face. It attracted us too and we camped the second night there.
In the morning we headed out to find the ghost towns of Guadalupe and Cabezon in the mesa area northwest of Albuquerque. After many turn-arounds and a lot of head scratching, we gave it up. Our plans changed again and it was decided we should head directly for Chaco. Chaco Canyon was the hub for the Chacoan culture 1100 to 1200 years ago. The Chaco people built massive, multi.story stone structures with hundreds of rooms and their road system radiated from the canyon in all directions. There is a loop road that leads to the trailheads for several of the ancient complexes. Pueblo Bonito is especially impressive. Our plan was to spend a couple of days in the canyon and hike to most of the accessible ruins. Plans do change though. After a cold and windy night camped in Chaco Canyon, we started early for a hike up an ancient Chacoan stairway on the cliff trail to Pueblo Alto. Reaching the top of the mesa, we noticed serious storm clouds heading our way and prudently agreed to abort the hike. We made it back to the cars just before the storm hit and decided we better change plans again and head out of the canyon before the access roads became muddy and impassable.
Sometimes when one is forced to change plans things do work out for the better. Because we left Chaco early there was time for us to explore the Rio Chama area. What a gem that turned out to be! Our sunny route to Chama followed Highway 96 through the Santa Fe National Forest, passing rustic little towns in beautiful redrock country. At the eastern end of the highway we came upon the historic town of Abiquiu where the Old Spanish Trail originated in 1829. Abiquiu was first settled in 1742 to defend the New Mexico frontier from marauding Apache, Comanche, Ute and Navajo. It is part of a 16 thousand acre land grant to the Genizaros (former Indian slaves of the Spanish) that the Governor of New Mexico signed in 1754.
We visited the old town square of Abiquiu and saw the Georgia O’Keeffe home and studio she located to in 1945.
Just north of Abiquiu is the Ghost Ranch, part of a 1766 land grant named Piedra Lumbre or “Shining Rock.” Roy Pfafﬂe won the deed to Ghost Ranch in a 1928 poker game, but unfortunately for Roy his wife recorded the deed in her name (Carol Stanley) and Roy lost out.
Past Ghost Ranch we turned into the Rio Chama Canyon and followed a very scenic dirt road along the river for 13 miles, planning to buy beer at the monks’ brewery at “Monastery of Christ in the Desert.” We arrived at the Monastery only to learn that the monks no longer brewed beer for the public. Not all was lost though. On our way into the canyon we had found a perfect dispersed campsite along the river and we did have plenty of wine. So, plans changed again and we settled in for the night. Glenn displayed real driving skill when he managed to “settle in” between two trees. It was an impressive feat. The Rio Chama Canyon is truly beautiful. It is kind of like being on a movie set. In fact, many movies have been filmed in the area including: Red Dawn, Silverado, City Slickers, Wyatt Earp, Wild Wild West, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, 3:10 to Yuma, and Lone Ranger just to name a few. Next morning we decided to try, once again, to access Cabezon and Guadalupe, this time from the north. It was not to be. We encountered closed and locked gates, but saw some spectacular country and did manage to get a distant view of the old Cabezon ghost town, now on a private ranch. So, we changed plans again and started heading west, hoping to camp in the high country of Cibola National Forest. These plans, of course, changed. Because it had become unseasonably cold and windy in New Mexico, we elected to head for warmer climes in Arizona, eventually finding a beautiful campsite along Silver Creek just south of Holbrook. The weather changed for the better and we thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon hike into the canyon to see the petroglyphs. Even with so many changed plans, it was a really good trip. In fact, the only plan for this trip that hadn’t changed was the plan to have good times with good friends. That we did! ~Bob