It’s about a mile out and back to Alcove House from the Visitor’s Center. We were lucky to be able to see it, as it is now limited or may even be closed due to wear and tear of the site. This seems to follow what other sites are doing now.
There are four ladders that must be climbed to get to the site. Martha didn’t hesitate, as heights don’t bother her as much they scare me. It is a very cool site though, and I didn’t want to miss it. Since the rest of the buildings are out in the open, one can only speculate about this site. Was it a lookout site, a ceremonial site or a more secure site? Part of the fascination of all the ruins in the “Four Corners” is trying to answer questions that may never be answered. Certainly a factor is growth of a population that outran its resources of water and food. One has to wonder if our current era isn’t making the same mistakes.
We hiked 1.5 miles to Frijoles Creek Falls. It’s a pretty cool area where the creek flows down a steep canyon and into the Rio Grande River. Since we are in monsoon season, the water was flowing nicely over the fall.
We talked with a couple from Durango, Colorado, who had some good suggestions for our next stop, Taos. Combining theirs with our Airstream friend in Santa Fe:
1. Ride the narrow gauge train
2. Drive the 80-mile loop from Taos
3. See the missions on the upper road to Taos
4. See the two houses owned by a lady in Taos
5. Taos Pueblo
As I look north of Taos for the next place to go, I see we run into Great Sand Dunes National Park. We are coming up on Labor Day, so we need to be booked.
We went back to the Visitor’s Center and watched a movie about the park, then toured an area they had just reopened since the fires last year. It is a very nice visitor’s center with very friendly and informative staff.
We had lunch at the pretty, little cafe. Eating in a courtyard planted with Hollyhock with hummingbirds zooming around.
We drove west, up a winding mountain to see Valle Caldera that we had heard about from several people. Stopping at a beautiful overlook, Martha said, “I think that’s the prettiest place I have ever seen.” We drove into Valle Caldera National Reserve and stopped at a small house that was the Visitor’s Center. Two rangers were busy repeating instructions to visitors. We opted for the drive through the beautiful valley to get the big picture. At lunch at the Indian Art Festival, Bob had told me about fishing the two streams here. They are beautiful, clear spring creeks running across the valley.
It started to rain as we began our drive. It is a beautiful grassland reminding me of Yellowstone. We kept looking for deer or elk, but never saw any. We did see a very pretty coyote. Although there are some very nice cabins, there is no place to stay in the park, but there is a campground not far up the road.
Valle Caldera is a super-volcano, like Yellowstone, and it is still active. There are a couple of hills and mountains in the valley, which I learned reading the brochure, are due to the magma refilling and pushing up those hills. When this one went off a million years ago, it was 600 times more powerful than Mr. St. Helens!
It rained heavily as we splashed through puddles on this dirt and gravel road. I kept looking for a rainbow, but never saw one. As we drove out, the rain stopped within a few miles, making us wonder what forces this caldera holds.
One-hour drive from Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument. Signs said to turn back and take the bus, but we pressed on. There is a campground just past the gate, so we knew we could get in.
Martha, again selected an excellent camp site, so I signed up for three nights. With my Senior Pass, it cost $18! After setting up, we drove to the Visitor’s Center, hoping we could park. An overlook gave us a good look at the beautiful canyon. Then winding down a steep road to the bottom, we did find parking places.
Built in the style of the ancient pueblos, the Visitor’s Center is very cool. Inside were good exhibits of the 33,700 acre park and main dwellings. People have lived here for 10,000 years. With a good stream, that rarely runs dry, the land provided well for them.
There are some unusual features of this area. The main dwelling was huge, and it was on the canyon floor. Behind the main dwelling are cliff dwellings and Long House. A million years ago, a volcano exploded nearby, spewing ash heavily in this area. It was 600 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Over time, the ash solidified, pumice being its main component. Wind and rain dissolved holes and caves in this “Tuff”. The ancients carved caves for food storage along the cliffs. Just when you think you have seen it all, this strange landscape presents something so unique, it looks like a movie set.
It was very cool to walk along the cliffs and climb up ladders into the caves. One passing lady said, “You never hear of this. You hear fo the Grand Canyon, but who knew about this? It’s so cool!”
Then a man and his family passed. “Christopher Newport” was on his T-shirt, so Martha said, “Christopher Newport! I’m from Hampton.” She said she went to Hampton High School. “Oh”, he said. “Was Mike Smith the football coach?” She said he was. “Well he is still coaching! I will be working with him in the fall.” Amazed, Martha said to tell him Martha from 1968 said Hi. “I was a cheerleader.” I asked her to give us a cheer “You can’t crush a crab”, but she didn’t.
We stopped at the little restaurant, where they touted their famous hamburgers and bison burgers. A young man named PJ was working the place all by himself, doing the cooking, taking orders and cleaning up. He was a wonderful cook! There is a nice store with some local Indian arts for sale as well as books and souvenirs. We bought a couple of cards to send the kids. As we walked across the parking lot, our Christopher Newport friend yelled, “Can’t Crush a Crab!” 😀 Back at camp, for the first time on this trip, we built a fire in a great fire pit. Should be an interesting three of four days.