This week has been an incredible trip into the human history of this land we now call the United States.

Thursday afternoons have turned into long drive days. It’s not ideal to take a long drive after a full day of work, but it places us closer to our adventure destination for the next four days.

We’ve settled into a pretty regular schedule. I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and we often stay put from Monday night to Thursday afternoon. It makes it easier for me to work, and Mike uses those days to run errands, ride his mountain bike, and stock up on supplies for the rest of the week. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday are adventure days, as well as the days I use to focus on my side business of adventure writing and photography.

On Thursday after work we drove a long four hours (four hours is a long time driving in Hobbes, I assure you) to El Malpais National Conservation Area. We camped for the night with only a bright pink Winnebago for company, and woke up early to head to Acoma Pueblo, also known as Sky City.

Not all pueblos in New Mexico are open to the public. At Acoma you must visit with a tribal guide and photography, while allowed, has restrictions. As we drove the long road across the reservation to Acoma, I was pulled over by the tribal police. My heart pounding (reservations are, after all, sovereign nations), the officer explained there was a pilgrimage happening, and to drive carefully (phew).

As we got closer to the mesa the pilgrims multiplied. They walked for hours and hours, up to 16 miles, to purge their sins at the mission church on Good Friday. It was a powerful thing to witness.

Once at the Acoma Visitor Center we grabbed tickets and camera passes, then waited with our tour group to meet our guide, Steven. We loaded onto small buses that shuttled us up the mesa to Sky City.

Sky City has been occupied since 1100, and it feels like it’s a world away. Dogs ran wild in the narrow and rocky alleys between adobe houses. Potters sold their intricately painted wares outside their houses. Steven answered our questions in good faith, but explained that there was a lot they didn’t share. After hundreds of years of experience, the tribe learned that the more information they shared, the more open they were to exploitation. A wise choice, and one that I respect.

After Acoma we headed to another remote pueblo, Chaco. Chaco hasn’t been lived in since the 1400’s. It’s a national historic park, reached via hours of bumping over heavily washboarded dirt roads. We arrived just in time to snag the last campsite.

On Saturday we visited a few of the pueblo ruins and did a beautiful (and hot) hike on a wide mesa. We didn’t visit the most popular ruin, Pueblo Bonita, because I selfishly wanted it to myself. We woke up before dawn on Sunday morning, Easter Sunday, and waited at the entry gate for it’s 7:00am opening. As the sun started to rise we drove to the Pueblo Bonita parking area.

It was a freezing cold morning as I beelined through the pueblo to it’s eastern-most rooms. As the sun rose it illuminated rooms differently, creating layers of golden light as I looked through the perfectly aligned doorways. Mike and I wandered separately, and after awhile I couldn’t even hear him. I stood in the corner of a room created of perfect masonry and closed my eyes, surrounded by perfect silence, feeling the ancient life that swirled around me.

Leaving Chaco, we took another long drive to Bandelier. Bandelier is a national monument near Los Alamos (site of the Manhattan Project). There is a pueblo in Bandelier, built into a volcanic cliff. The tribe had carved storage caves into the soft cliff, some of which could be accessed by climbing ladders. We climbed a lot of ladders that day!

After leaving the main part of the park we stopped at an ancillary park section a dozen miles away. Bandelier had been completely overrun by people (the parking lot was nearly full on a Monday morning), but this little section was empty. It has one hike, called Tsankawi, which climbs a mesa to an unexcavated pueblo. The coolest part is we hiked in the footsteps of the ancient residents…literally. The soft lava tuff recorded their travel routes, in some places the trail was worn down to waist-height.

The tribe has asked that the ruins not be excavated. There were potsherds everywhere, an incredible thing to see.

Since leaving Bandelier we’ve been settled down in Santa Fe. Santa Fe is intoxicating for the senses, and I love it here. Great galleries, beautiful museums, amazing food, and really friendly people (sometimes too friendly!).

What’s next? We’re winding down our time in New Mexico. We plan to visit Taos over the weekend, and then we need to start trekking east. We’ll travel cross country so I can attend a work function in Maryland, and then will point north to meet up with family in the Adirondacks. I’m heartbroken to be leaving the southwest, but excited about what’s next.

Subscribe to my newsletter, Wild Places, for weekly updates from life on the road.

Leave a Reply