Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 0 – The second pre-trip

After enjoying a week visiting with my parents and the rest of the Monclova family for Christmas I got back on the road on December 30, 2013, reached Las Cruces in time to share an excellent meal with my friend Thomas, and on December 31 met Annie at the Albuquerque airport for a New Year mini-trip. From the airport we drove straight to Santa Fe, where Annie had booked us in a nice downtown Bed and Breakfast, and we said goodbye to the old year by wandering through the chilly but colorful streets of downtown Santa Fe. An excellent dinner of chile relleno for Annie and mole con costillitas de Puerco for me drove another nail on the coffin but strengthened our resolve to lose a few pounds during 2014.

The New Year dawned crisp and beautiful, to the sound of a crackling fire, but after a sumptuous breakfast of pozole and tamales we took off to make the most of the first day of a new year. Our travels took us to the Bandelier National Monument, which is one of my favorite archaeologic sites in all of the US. The Anasazi lived here 700 years ago (the brochure tells us that the politically-correct term is Ancestral Pueblo Indians), and lived a happy existence in their cliff dwellings and small pueblo building, in harmony with one of the most exquisite canyons in the southwest. From there we headed up the gorge of the Rio Grande to the town of Taos, where we visited the Taos Pueblo with its amazing multi-story adobe buildings. At dusk we made it to the central plaza of the commercial town, which is a veritable paradise for the window shopper (Annie went native and clung happily to a pair of super-comfortable moccasins :)

The following morning we left our comfortable B&B to head unto the Navajo reservation (“the big res”) to visit the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. The canyon itself is very open, so it is more like a flat valley flanked by small cliffs of sandstone. There is not a tree in sight, so the place looks a bit inhospitable (I remember, from two previous visits years ago, that it can be awfully hot during the summers). Its call to fame, however, is the archaeology: During Pueblo times, 1300 to 1400 AD, it was the site of several large Pueblo buildings that were maintained mostly for ceremonial purposes. A kind of sacred valley where different Pueblo groups would come from time to time to celebrate important ceremonies, to trade, to look for young brides or husbands as the case might be. The most impressive of the buildings is Pueblo Bonito, which included well over 400 rooms, two plazas, and a good dozen of kivas (ceremonial underground circular structures).

After a few more hours on the road we saw the sunset at Shiprock, an eroded volcanic neck out of which radiate two large dikes that in the distance look like the wake of a ghost ship sailing through the desert (Shiprock is also worthy of fame because the magma was basanitic in composition—a type of basaltic magma with high potassium content, so biotite becomes a stable mineral, which is pretty uncommon).

The following day we drove to Mesa Verde, which is a high fertile plateau deeply dissected by deep canyons. This area was occupied by the Anasazi from 200 to 1300 AD. For most of this period they lived on the mesa, where they gradually changed from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists, and from scattered family groups into Pueblo communities. Then, in 1200 AD, some slick local politician convinced them that the beautiful people should live in cliff dwellings, so they descended the steep cliffs of the dissecting valleys, and built rather sophisticated Pueblos on the shallow alcoves. Alas, the fad lasted but for a mere century, and by 1300 AD the Anasazi left their cliff dwellings and moved to the south, toward Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. Mesa Verde is one of the most fascinating archaeologic regions of the US!

Once again on the move we started seriously moving west, and as the rays of the setting sun hit the red cliffs of the Navajo Sandstone to turn them on fire we arrived to Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal Park. We spent the night at their new The View Hotel (where the view is indeed out of this world), and before the brake of dawn the following morning were out there, braving a chilling wind, to see the sun rise and once again ignite the spires, towers, buttes and mesas of this amazing natural wonderland.

A change of plans led us slightly north, to swing by Reno to pick up Phoebe from Kait’s home. We are out of time now, so we are truly in road trip mode, flying through God’s Country. It has been an all too brief whirlwind tour, but it is the first time Annie has seen a bit of the southwest, and she vows that we will come back for a more leisurely tour in the very near future.   

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