Natural Bridges National Monument
Thursday, July 6, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 3,218
HOT, mid 90s, rain in some areas but not much on us.
Thursdays and Fridays are Fred and Tanya’s usual days off, so we planned on some shared adventures. This day was to be a rock art and ruin hunt on the west side of Comb Ridge. The Richters, especially Tanya, had been researching locations of sites that they wanted to visit. Sandy and I would benefit from their research.
A note about ruins locations: Ruins and rock art are inevitably degraded by visitors, sometimes maliciously, but usually by accident. Simply touching rock art transfers acid from our skin and accelerates degradation. Merely standing near the foundations of ruins compresses the earth on which they are built, hastening their collapse. For that reason, the conservation community prefers that detailed ruin and art locations are not publicly disclosed. They reason that if people have to work hard to find this stuff there will be fewer visits by uncaring people and site degradation will be reduced. For that reason, I’ll be vague about locations, though we did record GPS coordinates of the sites we visited.
The first few we visited were located a couple of miles north of SR-95 off the dirt road that parallels the west side of the ridge. The first site is referred to as Big Rock. We almost gave up on finding it when Fed noticed someone apparently working on something near our location. We approached the person and found that he and his partner were archeologists working at the site we were looking for. They were doing a detailed documentation of the site, investigating the relationship of the site to a system of ancient highways associated with the Chaco settlement in northwestern New Mexico. The archeologists were kind enough to give us an impromptu lecture about the site and it’s art. They also told us the locations of more ruins and art just to our north.
Following their directions, we found a small grouping of ruins and petroglyphs mentioned by the archeologists. We referred to the site as Big Spiral due to an especially large spiral-shaped petroglyph at the site. The place was really neat. We failed to find, however, certain pictographs described by the archeologists. The subject pictographs were supposed to be prints of babies’ feet and hands.
Note: What’s the difference between a pictograph and a petroglyph? The former is an image that is painted on a rock’s surface. The latter is pecked into a rock face with a tool. (Thanks to mentor, Fred, for that piece of information as well.)
A bit discouraged, we headed back out to the dirt road but had to step aside to let a couple of guys in a 4WD pickup go by. We spoke for a couple of minutes and they directed us to the Baby Footprints panel. We were delighted to find them … they were really neat pictographs. We also found another person at the site. He was busy photographing the site and recording its location. He sells this information to whoever is willing to pay his price … sort of a no-no, wouldn’t the conservationists say? But we didn’t complain when he sent us still farther north to another set of ruins. Was our luck running right today or what?
After all that we headed down the extension of the same road but on the south side of SR-95. We got to a point about halfway down the 17-mile road and were ready to turn up into Fish Creek Canyon when we chickened out. We were seeing a huge thunderstorm to our north that was headed our way. We decided it would be unwise to be stuck up a canyon on a remote, muddy road that was subject to flash floods. Instead, we headed the rest of the way south on the road to Bluff.
The site we sought in Bluff was no secret. It is called the Big Kiva Ruin and is an active archeological site near the town cemetery. The site preserves a large kiva or underground ceremonial structure. You can actually look into the kiva, which we did. There is also a large mound that must contain ruins of other structures. The site is littered with tons of pottery shards. So many that we filled Sandy’s hand with shards in just a couple of minutes. We returned them to where we found them.
We were about to leave town when Fred decided to stop at Far Out Adventures for information on other art sites. The owner, himself a part-time archeologist, directed us to the so-called Sand Dune Site. To get there we walked up a large sand dune that piled directly against the base of Comb Ridge Bluff. It was hot and walking in deep sand is no fun, but we got there. Sure enough, located right where the guy said, was a large panel of unusual petroglyphs.
We felt we’d earned dinner out after all our hiking and searching. So, we ate at the Bluff Café, under those same Twin Rocks photographed by both Bill and Tom Till. We also visited the adjacent Trading Post with it’s collection of fine, native art for sale.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Friday, July 7, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 3,218
Overcast all day … wonderful. Highs low 80s. A bit rain late.
Ruins and rock art is everywhere. People settled wherever there was water, enough land to plant for sustenance and shelter. Those places include the canyons of Natural Bridges. During the morning we returned to the Sipapu bridge and hiked down to the base of the bridge. Our objective was a place called Lightning House that the Richters had looked for once before but missed. That’s really easy to do, by the way. Ruins are usually set far back into south-facing alcoves in canyon walls, well above the high-water mark. Also, they are the same color as the rock. We found the site this time and were rewarded with fairly extensive ruins and pictographs. The art included Appendix Man, with a “scar” down his abdomen, and Pac Man, who looks like the old computer-game character. We must be getting into better shape because returning up the Sipapu trail seemed easier than it did on our first day here!
After a break back at the house for lunch, we piled back into the Richter’s Subaru Forester to head out to the Butler’s Wash Site. This is another well-known site, complete with parking lot and fenced off overlook. We took the half-mile path to the overlook to admire the fairly large set of dwelling ruins deep in a high alcove on the opposite side of a small canyon. We could see a trail where you could climb up to the ruins, but it looked both difficult and dangerous. We did notice, however, where a small stream poured through a notch into the canyon. We decided to investigate and, to our delight, found a small arch that we could walk across. Behind the arch was a small pool left from recent rains.
Our last stop was to be the Edge of the Cedars State Park & Museum located right in Blanding … yeah, that old 40-mile drive again. In fact, the museum is outstanding. It has an extraordinary display of native American artifacts from the region. It is the main repository of such material in this area. In addition, it illustrates the history of the ancient pueblo people, usually referred to as Anasazi but most correctly known these days as Ancestral Puebloans. Please, don’t pass through Blanding without stopping at Edge of the Cedars! We also toured a ruin behind the museum. It doesn’t look like much to the uninitiated but does feature a small kiva that you climb down into.
Fred Descends Into Restored Kiva At Edge Of Cedars
It seems you can see forever out here. And you can frequently also see rain in the distance. It follows, that you should also see rainbows from time to time and we have. On the way back from Blanding, though, we saw a doosie. It was a double and especially colorful.
You may have noticed that July 7 is Sandy’s birthday. To celebrate we bought a lovely wedding vase that Sandy admired at the Gift shop at Edge of the Cedars. Then, we returned to the house to make our dinner. Our intent was to prepare one of Sandy’s favorite meals, sautéed shrimp over beans and sun-dried tomatoes. We had to improvise, though, because we could find neither shrimp (we substituted catfish) or sun-dried tomatoes. The result … interesting but not quite what we’d envisioned. Sandy made her own birthday cake using her favorite gluten-free spice cake. Fred and Tanya gave her gifts of Jr. Ranger and Smokey the Bear pins as well as Jr. Ranger study materials. Sandy attacked those studies for only a few minutes before falling fast asleep.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Saturday, July 8, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 3,218
Overcast & Mild, Light Shower
Sandy began the day with a morning walk with Tanya. Then, though it certainly wasn’t necessary to help earn our keep, Sandy did some household cleaning and our laundry. We updated our notes for this log and the expenses that we track. Then it was time to repack for our departure.
We had a great time in Natural Bridges with the Richters exploring the Four Corners area under their guidance and with them, personally. We really appreciate their experience, their hospitality and their friendship. Instead of having to wait around for our camper, we were able to have a great exploration experience. It sure was nice!
Dinner our last evening together was a pasta/veggie dish. Oh, and who can forget yet another beautiful rainbow on the horizon late that afternoon?