Day 12 revisited

It turns out that after a long day of riding blogging isn’t the first thing I want to do – imagine that!  Well, I’ll be staying here at the Hilton Garden Inn for the next 4 days so I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on the past few days.

Day 12 – Taos to Farmington – was a long day, a memorable day, and a day of contrasts.  I knew it would be long so I got a nice early start, a huge breakfast at the Taos Diner, then south out of town on the low road.  This drops down to the Rio Grande river and follows it out of the gorge.  It was very lush with all the spring run off and is home to lots of river expedition companies.  The two main recreation industries here are skiing and rafting, so they get the water coming and going.

A quick trip through Ohkay Owingeh and retracing yesterday’s route towards Ghost Ranch got me to Hwy 96, a nice road that wound its way through a small mountain range.  Where I turned onto 96 is the Abiquiu Reservoir, an unexpected sight in an otherwise dry land:

Abiquiu Reservoir, home to a large Scout camp and lots of boats, jet skis, and camping

As an aside, just before the reservoir I passed Dar al-Islam, an Islamic community that flourished in the 80’s and 90’s and is now mostly a center for Islamic studies.  New Mexico has attracted a lot of religious groups and communities over the years and I passed several Jewish and Hebraic, Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian centers/camps/communities/etc.  I also went by a very large Earthship community, which looked quite strange.  Toss in all the artists, hippies, and such and New Mexico is a state of all types, mixed together in interesting towns and surrounded by beautiful lands.  Their slogan is “Land of Enchantment” and it’s clear a lot have been enchanted over the years.

My only goal for the day was to visit Chaco Canyon, an ancient settlement from 850 – 1200 AD.  It’s rather remote and requires a long drive down a dirt road but is something I wanted to see.  After 15 miles of gawd-awful washboard, I was lucky to be able to see anything.  On a motorcycle washboard roads take on a whole new meaning and much of the time I was just holding on and letting the bike go where ever it wanted.  I’m told the county doesn’t want to improve the road because it would mean even more tourists and they want to control the numbers.  The road goes through Navajo reservation land and along the way were many homes, often a modern structure with a tradition hogan next door.

I make to the Chaco visitor center and who’s there but Mike and Jesse, the guys I met at the Rio Grande gorge.  We talk about the road and the possibility of taking a different road out but they weren’t sure the road went through.  I went in to pay and when I came out they were gone, so I headed into Chaco Canyon.  Click the link for a full description, but suffice it to say it’s an amazing place.  The design, detail, and engineering at Pueblo Bonito is incredible and the fact that so much is still standing after 1500 years is a testament to their skill.

There are remnants of building all over the landscape.

The surrouding cliffs had a good supply of flat sandstone for building, but they soon used them all up. Quarries have been found over 100 miles away that were used for some of the final building.

Might not survive an earthquake but a thousand years in New Mexico - yep!

Windows? Check.

How old is this log? 1,000 years? 1,500 years?? Like the stones, the Chacoans quickly used up all the surrounding timber and had to further and further to get more.

This shows the basic wall building technique - large, irregular rocks in the center with smaller, finer stone on the outside. All the walls were covered with adobe and painted, so it must have been a beautiful sight.

A small part of Pueblo Bonito

Another example of the engineering - the wall is thicker on the bottom to support the weight of multi-stories, showing it was designed initially to be this size. There were several sections that were 4 stories high.

The stones were all held together with mortar, and the abobe covering helped protect the mortar. The great thing about adobe is it's easy to apply and repair, making it a long lasting finish.

Recent studies show that very few people actually lived here, maybe 50-100 full time. The pueblo was probably used for ceremonial and religious purposes and there were sleeping quarters for up to 200 people. The whole area is built to align with lunar movements.

Imagine this with an adobe finish and painted. Not much different from today's houses.

That large pile of rubble is 'Threatening Rock', a huge stone pinnacle that stood right behind the pueblo. For some reason the Chacoans built right there and even built large stone supports for it and surrounded it with prayer sticks. It worked until 1941 when it came down and crushed a good chunk of the buildings.

It was a very hot day and I wanted to get to Farmington before the afternoon winds picked up, so I limited my time at Chaco.  It would take an entire day at least to explore all the ruins and the surrounding area, so I guess I’ll just have to come back again.

I asked the rangers about the other road out and if it was better, and they replied “It depends on your definition of better.”  No washboard to speak of but rougher.  My bike’s built for it so I decided to give it a go.

This road is better? Actually, yes. You can see some of the washboard, and that's cattle guard right up ahead, and then the horizon.

Where the other road in had been pulverized by countless rental cars and motor homes, this road is barely used so it was more ‘rustic’.  It was rocky, rough, rutted, the cattle guards were best taken at speed, and in many places I was riding on the bed rock. There were 17 miles of this and the only other vehicle I met was a school bus.  A brand new, shiny school bus.  I wonder how long it will stay that way?

By the end of the road my confidence and skills had gone up again and I was glad I went that way, but I wondered if Mike and Jesse did.  If so, their bikes would probably look and sound differently ’cause they weren’t set up for this kind of road.

At the stop sign I noticed the gas gauge was blinking Empty, so I headed south to Crown Point, one of the only towns in the area and a major town for the Navajo Reservation.  I’ve been reading the Tony Hillerman Navajo mystery books for a while and it was great being in places mentioned in the books.  I almost expected to see Lt. Leaphorn and Joe Chee.

What I didn’t see was a gas station.  I passed a shopping center, schools and a college, and housing, but no gas.  I finally stopped and asked a guy standing by the road and this is when I realized I was in another country.  He was 100% Navajo and barely spoke English, but between his few words and hand gestures he got the idea across that the gas stations were up this road then left into town.  Obviously I was bilagáana, not Diné.  (You figure out what that means!)

Gassed up, I headed pretty much due north.  This was good because the winds had picked up and with a tail wind I made good time.  I also went through the oil and natural gas fields, then the irrigation district with all the green farmlands.  Once again, a study in contrasts from the traditional hogans in remote areas to the high tech of oil wells and distribution, to the higher tech water distribution and farming methods.  One thing you won’t find in the entire Navajo reservation, however, is a casino.  They made a decision a long time ago to not profit from gambling, instead to use their skills and people.  They’ve invested in their schools and businesses and while it’s helped them they, like most other Native Americans, still are haunted by alcoholism, diabetes, and chronic unemployment.  I heard that they are considering a casino so I guess they’re being tempted into easy money.

To finish my longest day, I pull into Farmington and the Motel 6 and who do I see?  Mike and Jesse!  Without knowing it I’ve been following them across New Mexico.  I talked to them about the road out of Chaco and they ended up going back on the washboard road, which I tell them was a good thing.  This was to be our final meeting, the three of us were heading separate ways the next day so we wish each other a safe trip and I head to the laundromat.

The end.

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