Tonto National Monument AZ – Workamping with the Ancients!

December 2015 – During our RV travels in central Arizona we took an outstanding volunteer-led tour of the ancient Indian “Upper Cliff Dwellings” at Tonto National Monument. We had already visited the “Lower Cliff Dwellings” on our own, as those are open to the public for exploration without a guide. But a visit to the Upper Cliff Dwellings can only be made if you take a guided tour.

Saguaro cactus with sunshine starburst

The hike up to Tonto National Monument’s Upper Cliff Dwellings goes through some beautiful scenery.

The cost was just the price of admission to the National Monument ($5 per person or free with a Federal Interagency Pass or Senior Access Pass). But that low cost was deceiving — this was no ordinary tour!

The depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of our guide, Susan Treneer, as she taught us about these ancient Indian ruins was unbelievable, and our whole group was fascinated as we listened to her explain the theories behind the history of this special place.

Upper Cliff Dwelling Tour hike Tonto National Monument Arizona

The hike was uphill but not too strenuous.

A group of about eight of us gathered at the Visitors Center and then hiked the 3 mile round trip up the steep hillside to the ruins and back. We began by going through some lovely riparian habitat (wetlands) where sycamores and other hardwoods were still showing off their autumn color.

Sycamore tree fall colors Arizona

A sycamore tree just off the trail in a riparian area.

Periodically, Susan stopped us as we hiked to explain the different vegetation we were seeing and to talk about the people who lived in the Tonto Basin 700 years ago.

Hike to Upper Cliff Dwellings Salado People Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan pauses to tell us about the Salt River and the people who lived here centuries ago.

We climbed higher and higher on the hillside as we approached the cliff dwellings at the top, and the view of Roosevelt Lake grew more and more expansive below us.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona from Tonto National Monument

The views of Roosevelt Lake were outstanding.

Right before we entered the Upper Cliff Dwelling ruins, Susan brought out photos of some of the astonishingly beautiful and intricate pottery that the people of this place had made all those centuries ago. They are called the Salado People by archaeologists today, named for the Rio Salado (Salt River) that they lived near and which was dammed up in 1911 to create Roosevelt Lake.

Guided tour Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan showed us photos of beautiful Tonto Basin pottery made right here centuries ago.

The Salado people were extraordinary potters, and their pottery has been found as far away as the Paquimé ruins in northern Mexico, some 350 miles or so southeast of Tonto National Monument.

Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The people who built these ruins came down from Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado and from other Colorado Plateau cliff dwelling communities.

Our guide, Susan, excitedly explained that no one really knows why the Salado built their homes in these caves so high up on the mountainside. She explained that the valleys were already filled with people living an agrarian lifestyle. Those old-timers had been raising cotton, beans, squash and corn in the Tonto Basin for 1,000 years already.

Ancient Indian upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The adobe structures had roofs made of saguaro cactus ribs and juniper. These are original!

The cliff dwellers were the newcomers to the area. They may have been artisans who wanted to make a life selling their unique tricolor pottery. Or they may have been workers for the wealthier farmers who lived below them. No one is 100% sure!

Ancient cliff dwellilngs Tonto National Monument Arizona

The adobe homes, storage rooms and workshops were built right into the caves.

All that is known is that they came down from the Colorado Plateau, and traveled through the Kayenta, Arizona, area, and ultimately set up housekeeping in the Tonto Basin and stayed for about 100 years.

Volunteer National Park Service Guide leads tour Tonto National Monument

Susan was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the ancient southwest cultures.

Susan’s enthusiasm for the subject was infectious, and it struck me that she was absolutely loving her wintertime volunteer job with the National Park Service at this special spot.

Salado cliff dwelling roof construction Tonto Basin Arizona

For archaeology buffs, working at a site that is being actively studied by scientists must be a thrill.

In between describing the tools and other relics that have been found at Tonto National Monument, she also told us that archaeology has been her lifelong interest. She hadn’t studied it formally or been a professional in the field during her career, but now, as a retiree, she was able to work alongside scientists and archaeologists studying this site and stay on top of the most recent findings and theories while “on the job” with the National Park Service. How cool is that?!

Tour group upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Most members of our group had traipsed through ancient ruins in Mexico and Central America
as well as all over the southwest.

Susan’s volunteer job requires 32 hours a week of work, and she has taken the position for a few months. In exchange, she receives an RV campsite with full hookups overlooking Roosevelt Lake. This may not sound like a very fair exchange if you multiply out the hours worked and the value of the campsite. Even if it were a resort campsite, like nearby Monte Vista RV Resort with its swimming pools, hot tubs, sports courts and art studios, the pay would equate to just $8.20/hour. However, there is a deeper meaning to doing this kind of work, and she was obviously thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the ancient southwestern cultures in a professional setting and to share her passion with others.

Salado upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The public can only see the Upper Cliff dwellings on guided tours given on weekends.

Susan told me she has volunteered for the National Park Service for several years and has held similar positions at a few of the most significant ancient cliff dwelling ruins sites across the southwest, including Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

In one job, she didn’t work with the public but spent her days cataloging and storing ancient pottery. She said that having the opportunity to hold, examine and study 700 and 800 year old pots — some of them perfectly intact — was just thrilling.

National Park Service volunteer leads tour of Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings Arizona

These ruins were overflowing with artifacts and debris when they were first studied 100 years ago. In those days tourists were free to take home whatever artifacts they found lying around!

I asked Susan how she got started with the National Park Service, and she explained that when she started as a volunteer, she had to undergo an intensive 40 hour training class and also do a beginner’s stint as a campground host at Big Bend National Park (not her favorite line of work). But it was clear that the personal rewards she has found since starting work at the various cliff dwelling sites have been enormous.

Short doorway Salado cliff dwelling Tonto Basin Arizona

The Salado people weren’t all that short — 5’6″ was average for men, the same as their counterparts in Europe – but the floor of the caves has built up over time.

Her enthusiasm for all things ancient and puebloan — like the small “T” shaped window that looked out from the window onto modern day Roosevelt Lake where the free spirited Salt River once irrigated the farmlands — was truly infectious.

Upper Cliff Dwellings Salado People Tonto National Monument T-Window

The “T” window shape was used by the ancients in many places. We remember seeing this shape at the Mayan ruins in Palenque in southern Mexico.

Lots of folks think “work camping” is simply working as a campground host checking people in and out of a campground or cleaning the bathrooms. But as I learned from Susan, if you have a passion for a particular field of study that is a focus of a particular National Park, like the puebloan culture and associated archaeological ruins, volunteering is a fabulous way to apprentice yourself to get hands on experience and learn everything you can.

Salado Matate Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan pointed out a “matate” grinding stone that remains on site.

When Susan started, she was given a two page reading list of books to study. She was thrilled. “I like the intellectual stimulation,” she said. She wanted to spend her retirement not just traveling but learning new things and expanding her horizons in every way.

700 year old corn cob

Corn was similar but a bit smaller back then. This corn cob is 700 years old!

More than once she mentioned the names of the archaeologists who are her favorite mentors. They are pioneering new work on the origins, migrations and lives of the ancient people of the southwest, and some of their theories challenge those of the researchers of prior decades. So, their work is new, their ideas are fresh, and they are breaking new ground in understanding what the earlier people of the southwest were really all about.

Corn cob in adobe wall cliff dwellings Arizona

A corn cob got mixed into the adobe mud during construction and ended up in a wall!

We were totally impressed by the high quality of this tour. It felt like we were on a guided field trip with a true scholar. Susan had brought materials with her to show and instruct us, and she pointed out relics that were found at the Upper Cliff Dwellings and remain onsite and that the public can’t see without a guide. Best of all, she gave us insights into the lives of the people of an earlier time.

Charlie Steen shovel from 1930's excavation Tonto National Monument Arizona

The remains of a shovel used by archaeologist Charlie Steen during the 1930’s excavation of these ancient ruins.

Perhaps even more important, she opened our eyes to the kinds of volunteer work that are possible within the National Park Service and on public lands in general. It isn’t always just cleaning up after tourists!

Susan did say, however, that there is a lot of competition for the premium volunteer positions, and that you have to build your credentials and your resume, just as you would with a paying job. After all, they aren’t going to trust just anyone off the street with handling and cataloging priceless pottery that is centuries old! But once you get yourself established in the system, there are intriguing opportunities to learn and to share — and to get an RV campsite with a view too boot!

View from Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Looking out over Tonto Basin from the back of the cave

If you have a chance to travel to central Arizona with your RV, take a trip to Tonto National Monument in the Tonto National Forest and see these wonderful ruins.

If you are lucky enough to be able to RV seasonally or full-time as a retiree, perhaps you too will pursue a lifelong interest by taking a short term volunteer position on America’s public lands!

There’s more info and links below.

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Tonto National Monument AZ – Lower Cliff Dwellings

December 2015 – One of the treasures in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona is the exquisite sunrises and sunsets that light up the sky in vivid shades of pink and orange.

Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer RV

Sunset over our fifth wheel

Another treasure that lies inside the Tonto National Forest near Roosevelt Lake high up on the mountain sides is the Tonto National Monument ancient Indian cliff dwelling ruins.

Lower Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings

These ruins, built by the Salado people around 1300 A.D., are surrounded by saguaro cactus that stand so thickly on the hillside that, from a distance, they seem to transform the landscape into a pincushion! Up close, however, they are very tall.

Saguaro cactus Arizona Sonoran Desert

Saguaro cactus are very tall plants!

One of the best things about visiting the Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings is the half mile uphill hike to get to them. A narrow paved path takes numerous switchbacks up the hill, passing by dozens of beautiful saguaro cactus on the way to the ruins.

Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Cliff Dwellings

It is a half mile hike on a paved path through lush Sonoran desert to get to the ruins.

Saguaro at Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona


As the path climbs ever higher, the view of Roosevelt Lake down in the valley grows ever wider.

Tonto National Monument view of Roosevelt Lake Arizona

The hike to the lower cliff dwellings is short and steep but has some incredible views of Roosevelt Lake

Then the ancient ruins appear, built into a huge cave in a sheer rock wall cliff face.

Cliff Dwellings Ancient Indian Ruins Tonto National Monument Arizona

High rise apartments!

It is startling, after climbing up through all the natural vegetation of the Sonoran Desert, to come face to face with the remnants of a distant culture’s masonry creations. The current theory is that the 20,000 or so Anasazi people who had built and lived in the immense Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in Colorado had left there for some reason and moved south, a few of them making their way through northeastern Arizona to the Tonto Basin to live here.

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

You can wander freely in and around the Lower Cliff Dwellings

As a point of reference, in this same time period over in Europe, Florence had become the heart of commercial and cultural activity, and the Renaissance (the rebirth of interest in classical literature, art and music) was in its earliest stages.

At Tonto National Monument, the 700 year old walls are still standing, although they have broken down over time. With a little imagination, we could visualize the structure as it once stood as we moved from room to room.

Anclient Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Crumbling walls that must have many a story to tell…

There were quite a few rooms, most of them quite small, just 8′ square or so. The rooms near the front of the cave have a view across the valley to the lake.

Tonto National Monument Arizona Lower Cliff Dwellings

The ruins are built into a huge cave. The outer rooms have an incredible view!

Little openings led from one room to another, and the rooms stretched to the back of the cave.

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

The cave faces east, so after about noon, it is shaded and cool, even in the blistering heat of mid-summer.

Tonto National Monument has two sets of cliff dwellings that are open to the public, the Lower Cliff Dwellings and the Upper Cliff Dwellings.

Lower Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona


Even though the Lower Cliff Dwellings are slightly smaller, the fun thing about them is that you are free to explore them at your own pace and they lie just 1/2 mile from the visitors center.

Tonto National Monument Salado Cliff Dwelling Ceiling

A few roofs made of juniper logs and saguaro ribs are still intact.

It’s a fairly steep hike to reach these ruins, but it is short, and the views along the entire trail are just wonderful.

Roosevelt Lake view Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings Arizona

Even if you’re not into ancient Indian stuff, the views are well worth the hike.

The hike to the Upper Cliff Dwellings is about 3 miles long, and those ruins are open to the public only on guided tours on the weekends. We took that hike too and will share photos in an upcoming post.

Saguaro cactus Tonto National Monument view of Roosevelt Lake Arizona


Tonto National Monument makes a terrific daytrip from the Mesa and eastern Phoenix area, and it is an absolute “must see” if you are camping at one of the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake.

Sunset on Four Peaks at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Sunset over Roosevelt Lake

A word of caution to travelers taking a big RV to this area: The once stunningly scenic drive along US-60 from Superior to Globe is now a chaotic nightmare of construction (probably in preparation for the world’s largest copper mine that will be built between the two towns). Even though the distance is 10 miles longer, it is a much less stressful (and also very scenic) rout to take SR-87 (the “Beeline Highway”) from Fountain Hills north to Punkin Center and then go south on SR-88 to Tonto National Monument.

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A Glimpse of the Navajo (or “Diné” as they call themselves)

One of the biggest highlights of attending the photo workshop put on by Photography Life in Colorado this past fall was meeting pro photographer John “Verm” Sherman and, a few weeks later, his pro photographer girlfriend Dawn Kish.

Navajo Indian Dreamcatcher in Arizona

An Navajo dreamcatcher twists and turns in the wind

Dawn is a contributing photographer for Arizona Highways and she shoots for National Geographic as well. Her photography is so unique that one of her photos was selected by National Geographic Traveler as being among the Top 30 photos of the Last 30 Years.

Wow!!! Better yet, she is a vivacious and fun-loving woman who spends her leisure time rock climbing and mountain biking.

We were lucky enough to camp alongside her and Verm recently. When I told her we had just done some exploring in the Navajo Nation, she told me she had just finished an assignment making a video of the Navajo Nation Fair.

Suddenly, she plopped her laptop on our table, set up our two chairs to face it so we could watch, and brought up this incredible video.

I was spellbound.

I don’t know much about the Navajo (whose name for themselves is not Navajo but Diné). They are a very private people, and like indigenous people on every continent, they have been continually challenged to try and integrate into the society that enveloped them while hanging onto their traditions.

Dawn’s client asked her to make a video that honored the Navajo, and the result is both evocative and moving. She has captured their spirit and essence beautifully, and I had tears in my eyes as I watched a young Navajo girl dressed in full ceremonial splendor singing the American National Anthem — in Navajo.

Enjoy this beautiful glimpse into the lives of a special people whose roots in Arizona go back hundreds of years. It is ten minutes long and the link is below. Putting it in full screen is best!

If you are prompted for a password, it is Dine.

A few years ago, we watched a fabulous PBS “Independent Lens” documentary of a young Navajo girl who participated in the Miss Navajo Pageant, a competition that tests teenage Navajo girls’ mastery of women’s Navajo traditions, including slaughtering a sheep and speaking the language.

After seeing this PBS documentary, we traveled through Window Rock, Arizona, and saw their unique memorial to the Navajo Code Talkers. I picked up a fantastic book that gives a little insight into the Navajo, their patriotism to America and the unique (and arguably tide-turning) role they played in the Pacific theater of WWII: Search for the Navajo Code Talkers.

Just prior to that, while traveling in Mexico, we also had a special encounter with the little known indigenous Lacandon people of Chiapas who were “discovered” in 1948, a scant 66 years ago.  Like the the Navajo in America, they are working to find ways to integrate with mainstream Mexican society. You may enjoy this post about our trip there:

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Mysteries in the Navajo Nation, Arizona

October, 2014 – The snow in Ouray, Colorado, had transformed the surrounding national forest into a winter wonderland. Each night we looked up to see a dome of sparkling diamonds in the sky. This was a perfect chance to do some astro-photography, and one night Mark got out all his camera gear and his jacket, hat, boots and mittens before going to bed.

Night sky in Colorado with the Milky Way

Stars glitter in the heavens over Colorado

Back of the truck with snow

Even our water bottles were dusted with snow!

Sometime in the wee hours, while I was groping around for another blanket to pull over my head, he snuck outside and got some beautiful photos of the Milky Way and shimmering sky.

Another snowstorm delivered another dusting of the white stuff on everything, and we decided we had shivered enough.

As that night’s snow melted during the morning, we packed everything up, hitched up the buggy and started to pull out.

Snow capped mountains and a lake in Colorado

Our views on the Million Dollar Highway were spectacular.

Well, we TRIED to pull out!

The nice soft dirt that had been under the fifth wheel’s tires when we first set up camp had transformed into thick gooey mud.

Despite putting the truck in four wheel drive, the tires spun like crazy, flinging mud far and wide and splattering the whole front of the trailer. But the trailer didn’t budge! Mark grabbed our shovel and piled dry gravelly dirt in front of each of the truck and trailer tires.

Golden aspen and snow in Colorado

Nature was showing the last of her vibrant fall colors.

After a few groans from the hitch, the rig slowly began to move. We were on our way.

We drove up and over 11,000′ Red Mountain Pass into Silverton and then over two more passes before we dropped down into Durango.

The truck was working hard as it pulled our house along, but it made it through the three big climbs and descents just fine. Mark had recently installed a K&N air intake and an Edge Tuner, and these gave the truck a huge power boost on the many 10% grades.

The scenery was gorgeous, and it was bittersweet to leave the glowing aspens and snow-capped peaks behind.

But the red rocks of Arizona’s Indian country welcomed us.

Driving into Monument Valley Arizona

Monument Valley.

We were on a mission to get to Phoenix, Arizona, so we didn’t dawdle anywhere. However, when the turn-off for Monument Valley slipped by, we did a U-turn and circled back to drive a short ways out on spectacular Route 163 towards the valley.

Monument Valley Arizona

Classic Arizona skyline.

Dream catcher for sale near Monument Valley Arizona

A dream catcher blows in the wind
at a souvenir stand.

We hadn’t done that drive in many years, but it was just as dramatic as we remembered it being.

This is an iconic place, and lots of Hollywood movies have been filmed among these famous rock formations (see a list here).

Monument Valley Mitten formations Arizona

Monument Valley is famous for its mitten formations.

We had recently watched John Wayne’s black and white 1939 classic film Stagecoach and his 1956 film The Searchers which pretends this incredible landscape is in Texas!

5th wheel RV at sunset

A full moon appeared at sunset.

Seeing these monoliths for real on the horizon was breathtaking.

The road into Monument Valley is dotted with simple little structures where Navajo Indians sell their jewelry, pottery and other crafts.

A dreamcatcher fluttering in the wind at one of these open air booths caught my eye as it twisted and turned against the backdrop of the distant red rocks.

I got chatting with the very friendly woman who was selling these trinkets.

Cow silhouette_

Cows appear on a ridge.

Navajo Indian hand painted Christmas Ornament

Hand-painted Christmas ornament

I remarked that she had quite a spectacular view out her “office” window and she smiled and joked that her twenty mile commute along these roads wasn’t too bad either.

I soon found myself picking out a beautifully painted ceramic Christmas ornament.

“Those are painted by my friend,” she said. “She makes each one by hand, and each one depicts a different aspect of traditional Navajo society.”

On our hike we suddenly see a red rock canyon

Rainbow canyon in the Navajo Nation

I looked at the ornament in my hand.

It occurred to me that even though we have driven through the Navajo Nation many times — it takes up a good 15% of Arizona in the northeast corner of the state — we didn’t know much about the people or culture that reside here.

Outside the craft shop two old Indian women stood talking together — in Navajo.

I tip-toed past very slowly, trying to catch the sound of their language that flowed so easily and freely between them.

Guttural, staccato and clipped, it sounded like no other language I’ve ever heard.

“We really need to spend more time here,” I said under my breath to Mark as we got back in the truck, wishing we could stay and get to know these people a bit and learn a little more.

Before I knew it, he’d taken a turn off the main road, and we were bumping down some side road.

He had us on a crazy detour that was taking us far from the busy Route 160 that zips through the center of this land between Cortez, Colorado, and Flagstaff, Arizona.

We drove along a variety of back roads, watching unusual rock formations rise and fall around us as the traffic grew lighter and lighter.


Hiking with views on the Navajo Reservation

Suddenly, the land fell away in front of us.

Navajo Nation red rock canyon hike

We were standing on the edge of a rainbow canyon that stretched vast and wide before us.

We ran out to take a closer look and found ourselves staring out at a massive bowl of towering hoodoos made of pink and red and white striped sandstone.

The spires were a thousand feet tall and the canyon stretched to the horizon.

What a beautiful and mysterious place.

Red rock canyon lights up in the morning sun

From what I’ve read, the Navajo are reserved and private people, and they aren’t quick to reveal the secrets of their lives. How fitting that an exotic natural treasure like this lies hidden in the vast wide open plains on their land, unmarked and unfettered by the trappings of civilization. We watched in awe as the sunrise slowly lit the canyon with a gentle glow.

Hiking through red rock hoodoos and canyons in Arizona

Desert southwest hike through red rock canyon of hoodoo formations

I wrote this post over Thanksgiving weekend, and an observant reader reminded me that Thanksgiving was, of course, a celebration shared by the Indians and the pilgrims centuries ago. The celebration took place in the fall of 1621 in Massachusetts, likely at the end of September, and was attended by 90 Wampanoag Indians and 53 pilgrims. The Navajo were a far distant tribe in Arizona, but they shared a similar spirit and heritage with the Indians of the Atlantic coast.

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Canyon de Chelly, AZ – A Canyon of Indian Cliff Dwellings

RV blog post - We took the scenic route through Arizona's Navajo Nation to Window Rock and saw the stunning vistas and cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly.

Window Rock City Park.

Window Rock, Arizona.

The Window.

The Navajo Tribal Band practices for Oklahoma's Red Earth festival at Window Rock.

The Navajo Tribal Band practices

for Oklahoma's Red Earth festival.

The Navajo Tribal Band practices for Oklahoma's Red Earth festival at Window Rock. Navajo Code Talker statue at Window Rock, Arizona.

Navajo Code Talker.

Show of patriotism at a cemetery outside Window Rock on Indian Route 12, Arizona. Views along Indian Route 12, Arizona.

Scenic Indian Route 12.

Exotic rock formations and colors along Indian Route 12, Arizona.

Two toned rock formations.

Brilliant rock formations along Indian Route 12, Arizona.

A homeowner with a flair for color.

All kinds of colors in the rocks along Indian Route 12, Arizona.

The land was painted pink too!

Cliff views at Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona..

Looking down Canyon del Muerto.

Looking down Canyon del Muerto at Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona..

Sheer cliffs and lush valleys.

"Where two fell off."

Massacre Cave at Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona..

Massacre Cave.

Cave dwelling at Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona..

The little cave to the left.

Cliff dwelling at Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona.

There's a structure inside!

Expansive views at Chelly National Park, Arizona.

The immensity is hard to capture.

Looking across the canyon at Mummy Cave, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Tim & Mary Lynn look across at Mummy Cave.

Mummy Cave, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Mummy Cave housed a small community

in the shadows.

Building inside Mummy Cave, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

The structure inside Mummy Cave.

Navajo Fortress between Canyon del Muerto and Black Rock Canyon, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

The confluence of Canyon del Muerto

and Black Rock Canyon.

Antelope House, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Antelope House is tucked into the

bottom of this massive cliff.

Close-up of Antelope House, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Close-up of Antelope House ruins.

Hiking down to White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Beginning our descent

into Canyon de Chelly.

We hike to White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Looking down on the lush valley floor.

We hike past crazy swirling rock patterns on our way to White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Crazy swirling rock patterns.

Rock swirls dwarf the trees on our hike to White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

The swirls dwarf the trees in the middle of the pattern.

Pause in our hike to White House ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

We take a breather from hiking.

The lush valley floor of Canyon del Chelly.

The bottom of the canyon is flat and wide.

White House Ruin, two levels of dwellings, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

White House ruin has two levels:

a ground-level building & a cave dwelling above.

Dramatic pink and orange stripes decorate the front of White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

No architect today could design a

more dramatic front entrance!

Awe-inspiring drippy stripes on the cliffs surround White House Ruin, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

The drippy stripes down the walls

fascinated us.

Wildflowers, Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Flower or origamy?

Wildflowers, Chelly National Park, Arizona. Pictographs, Chelly National Park, Arizona: a person and a roadrunner.

Rock Art:  Roadrunner.

Pictographs at Chelly National Park, Arizona: a scorpion.

Rock Art:  Scorpion.

A hogan stands agains a dramatic backdrop of cliff walls on the lush valley floor of Chelly National Park, Arizona.

A Navajo hogan backed by dramatic cliff walls.

We hike through a tunnel on the White House Ruin hike in Chelly National Park, Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona

Early June, 2012 -- Leaving the Petrified Forest, we decided to head north by

Indian Route 12 which, to our surprise, was noted on our tourist map as a

scenic route.  As one-time Arizona residents we had no idea there was a

scenic road through the Navajo Nation way over in the northeastern corner of

the state.  We also wanted to see Window Rock, which lies on that road.  This

town is the Navajo tribal headquarters, and it always turns up in the Phoenix

TV weather forecasts with very cool temps.

We arrived on a warm day, however, and

were immediately drawn to the city park in

front of the big window in the rock.

The tribal band was practicing in

the park, and we watched and

listened for a while.  Chatting with

the band leader during a break,

we found out the band was

headed to Oklahoma City in a

few days for the big Red Earth

arts festival there.  Apparently

this is one of the largest

gatherings of Indian artists and

performers in the country, and

the group was very excited.

The park also features a large

sculpture of a WWII "code talker" in action on his radio.  A nearby plaque

explains how the US Military was struggling to find a way to keep the

Japanese from deciphering their communications in the South Pacific

Theater, and that 29 Navajo marines were recruited to devise a new

code using their native language.  By war's end there were over 400

Navajo Marines serving as code talkers, and the Marine Corps

commanders credited them with saving countless American lives.

Maj. Howard Conner, Signal Officer on Iwo Jima, is quoted as saying,

"Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would not have taken Iwo Jima."

This impressive history is also the subject of a fictional 2002 movie,


Back on Route 12 we saw more patriotism in a cemetery festively filled

with American flags.

The scenery on our route became very dramatic as we drove north of

Window Rock.  Huge red rock cliffs lined the sides of the road.

Suddenly it seemed that God switched paints on his easel, and large

rock formations began to cover the landscape in shades of green as

well as red.

Someone with an artistic eye painted their house a vivid blue,

making a wonderful contrast to the green and red rocks in their

back yard

In one place the

sandstone even had a

pink hue.  It was a

beautiful drive.

Our destination was

Canyon de Chelly

National Park

(pronounced "d'Shay").

This park is at the confluence of three

snaking canyons that are like three fingers of

a hand spreading eastward from where they

all join in the town of Chinle ("pronounced


The stunning thing about Canyon de Chelly

is the immensity of the canyons.  Standing on

cliffs that are 1,000' above the canyon floor,

the walls are very sheer and the views curve

past narrow walls of stone.  At the bottom of

the canyon is a lush, fertile valley floor where

the Navajo developed corn fields and peach

orchards in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the movies, landscapes like this are always accompanied by the piercing call of a

falcon echoing off the canyon walls.  But here the silence was so noticeable that our ears

hurt.  Scanning the horizon many miles distant, and looking deep into the valley below

us, the only sound was our own breathing.  Even the wind stood still.

In 1805 the Spanish tried to conquer the Navajos.  At the point where I was standing a woman

tried to fend off a Spanish soldier, and in their struggle the two fell off the cliff to their deaths.  In

the distance we could see "Massacre Cave" where the Navajos had hidden out.  In the end, the

Spanish claimed to have killed 90 men and 25 women and children, but the Navajo remember it

differently, saying that all the younger men were out hunting that day and the deaths were strictly

women, children and old men.

Either way, the cave looked tiny in

the distance.  Inside were some

structures that the Navajo hid in.

To the left of the main cave was a

much smaller one and, using the

long camera lens, we could see

another small structure inside there

as well.  It is hard to imagine living

on the edge of a cliff like that for any period of time,

especially with the Spanish after you.

At each viewpoint you get a slightly different view of these

lush canyons, and it was hard to capture the enormity of

the place in a little photograph.  Pan out or zoom in?  How

do you show it all??

At the Mummy Cave overlook we came across a

couple sitting behind a tripod. They were waiting

patiently for the afternoon light to provide its best

illumination of the cave ruins far below.  Waiting

for good light sounded like a great idea, so we hung out and

started chatting with them.  It turned out that they had spent the

last three years traveling the western states in their camper van, living

a lot like we do by boondocking on public lands.

Our eyebrows shot up when they told us they had just come back

from a sailboat charter in the Grenadines in the Caribbean ten days

earlier and were contemplating taking their travels to the sea.  What's

more, we found out Tim's mountain bike on the back of their van was

the same exact model as Mark's on the back of our trailer.  To top it

off, Mary Lynn enjoyed web design too.  What a crazy coincidence!!

Like us, too, they were using a Nikon camera to try to capture this cliff

dwelling in just the right light!

The good light never came, but we managed a few shots

anyways and hoped we'd run into these guys again somewhere.

Meanwhile, the mystery of the cliff dwellings lured us on.  The ancients built their homes in caves on these sheer

canyon cliffs between 700 and 1300 AD.  So these homes were first going up right after the peak of Mayan

remodeling down in Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico.  They may not be as majestic in terms of size or human

construction and engineering skills, but they are incredible for making fantastic use of the landscape.  What a

place to build a house!

Over at Antelope House we looked out across the canyon

at a beautifully striped, back-sloping wall.  Nestled at its

base was a small town made up of crumbling walls,

windows and towers.  You need binoculars or a long

telephoto lens to make out the tiny structures so far

below.  Even then they look like little toy buildings for wee

dolls.  They can't possibly be real.

Archaeologists call these ancient people the Anasazi,

which is derived from the Navajo language and is

variously translated as "Ancient Ones" and "Enemy

Ancestors," due to the subtle word "Zazi" which means

"Non-Navajo" or "enemy."  Also known as the Ancient Puebloans,

from the Spanish word for "townspeople," these long ago people

farmed the valley floor and disappeared around 1300, probably due

to drought.  The Navajo didn't arrive in this area until 1600, and by

then the ruins were long abandoned.

The Navajo flourished here for a while, but in 1864 US Col. Kit

Carson entered the canyon with a group of soldiers and

eventually cornered the Navajo at one end.  Few survived, and

those that did were forced to walk 300 miles to Fort Sumner in

New Mexico and stand trial.  They were allowed to return five

years later.

The most famous of the

ruins is "White House

Ruin," and we decided to

hike down into the

canyon to see it up close.

We hiked along with our

new RVing/sailing friends

who had ended up

camping alongside us overnight.  As with every overlook in the entire

park, the views from the top were so gorgeous I found myself running

and jumping over the rocks trying to get the best angles and trying to

fit it all into the camera frame.  Sigh.  Not possible!

The contours of the rocks are

wavy and rippled, swirling in

enormous and wild patterns.

You can almost feel the power of

the water that etched out its

course along these canyon walls

over the millennia, carving its

path ever deeper into the stone.

After snaking down the edge of the rock face,

we finally arrived at the canyon floor, crossed a

small foot bridge, and arrived face-to-face with

White House Ruin.

Two levels of dwellings were built into the base of the cliff -- one

on the ground level and another one up about 40' off the ground in

a cave.  An orange rainbow of stripes rains down the cliff wall,

painted by a divinely inspired hand -- or the result of a spilled paint

can way up on the top of the canyon.

At our feet we discovered unusual

flowers.  A young Navajo boy showed us

a lovely painting he was working on

featuring the White House ruin and some

of the rock art that we could barely make

out along the rock wall.

In no time at all we climbed back to the top, passing through a wonderful

tunnel on the way.  We would have stayed to see a few more of the

sights this mysterious canyon has to offer, but a massive heatwave was

spreading across the west and we wanted to get to higher, cooler

ground.  We seemed to be on an ancient ruin kick, something we had

started with the Zapotecs and Mayans in southern Mexico several

months back.  So we made our way to Mesa Verde National Park in

Colorado, possibly the best collection of cliff dwellings in the US.
























































































































Mesa Verde National Park, CO – Life on the Edge with the Ancients

Great pics and stories from our trip to Mesa Verde National Park. Also includes our visit to Blanding, Utah and Utah's Bicentennial Highway.

Unusual rock formations line the road.

A deer says

A deer says "hello" at Mesa Verde.

We peer out over The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

We take a closer look at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

Stone masonry from sandstone bricks.

The Ansazi built round walls as well as straight ones at The Tower House, Mesa Verde Nat'l Park

They were as good at round walls as straight ones.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Communities are tucked under overhanging cliff walls.

Looking closer in at Balcony House.

Looking closer in.

Mesa Verde was scarred by wildfilres but the cliff dwellings survived unharmed.

Above the cliffs is flat land -- some has

been burned by wildfires.

You'll need a telephoto lens or binoculars to see the cliff dwellings across the canyon at Mesa Verde.

A closer look at the buildings below.

The Ancestral Puebloans built split-level homes in caves along the canyon walls at Mesa Verde.

Split-level living with some buildings on a higher ledge

and others on a lower one.

The Cliff Palace is the biggest Anasazi ruin at Mesa Verde Nat'l Park.

Cliff Palace.

Here are a few of the rooms at Cliff Palace.

A closer look at Cliff Palace.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

A tour group walks through the Cliff Palace ruins.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

An above-ground structure at Sun Temple.

The Far View Sites.

Don't Touch!!!

No climbing -- unless you're a


There are beautiful fields and farm country between Colorado and Utah.

Landscapes as we leave Colorado and enter Utah.

We met a young, hard-working cowboy in Blanding.

The real deal.

Winter wheat at twilight in Blanding, Utah.

Winter wheat at twilight.

An old truck out back behind JM Welding.

An old truck out back behind Jack's shop.

Twilight in the fields around Blanding Utah.

What else to do while waiting for work

on the trailer - take photos!

The round plastic handle was becoming square.

An excellent welding shop that does awesome metal fabrication:  JM Welding in Blanding, Utah. What our hitch extension will look like.

The design.

Jack brings us the finished product.

Jack and the finished product.

Here's how our hitch extension works and what it does.

How it works and what it does.

Finished product.

Ta da!!

Photos from the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

The Bicentennial Highway, Route 95 in Utah.

These are typical rock formations seen along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Typical sights along the "Bicentennial Highway"

Here's one of many spectacular views along the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

Scenic Route 95.

We spot a perfect boondocking spot.

"Oh oh oh oh -- it's perfect!!"

We're happily camped alongside the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah. Views out our window from our boondocking spot on the Bicentennial Highway, Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

View out the window.

We have found one of the most amazing camping spots ever, on Scenic Route 95 in Utah.

No one for five miles in any direction.

Here's why we love RVing in Utah.

Why we love RVing in Utah.

Mesa Verde National Park & Eastern Utah.

Early June, 2012 - The mysterious cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly

National Park in Arizona had inspired us, so now we pointed our buggy

in the direction of Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park where another

massive cluster of cave homes lines the canyon walls.

We passed many

dramatic rock

formations on our

way, and we were

greeted by a deer

when we first

entered the park.

Mesa Verde is a vast park that requires a lot of driving on hilly twisty roads to

see all the sights.  We were surprised by the huge number of tourists crammed

into the Visitors Center, especially compared to the quiet and laid back nature

of Canyon de Chelly.  This is a park where you could easily stay a week or

more.  The place is packed with different cliff dwelling structures as well as

above-ground ancient Indian ruins.

We tried to get our bearings quickly and headed out to the

Square Tower house.  After driving some 10 miles or so

through the park winding along hill crests on curvy roads, it

was quite a surprise to walk down a short trail, turn a

corner, and find ourselves staring down at a beautiful intact


The little community stood tightly pressed against a back-sweeping cliff

wall.  The tower building was four  stories tall with a large window on each

floor.  But it all looked like a miniature doll house compound down there, far below our feet.

The buildings are made of sandstone bricks, each one about the size of a

loaf of bread, and they are mortared with a mixture of dirt and water.  The

Ancestral Puebloans - or Anasazi - built these structures around 1100 to

1300 AD, but sadly left no written documentation behind.

At the Mayan ruins of southern Mexico we had been shocked to discover

that entire dynastic histories are known in detail today, right down to kings'

birthdays, city-state conquests and squabbles for power.  However, at

these Indian ruins in Colorado we learned that very little is known with

certainty about the people who built and lived in them.

As we wound along the tops of the canyon walls, we were amazed to look

out across the narrow ditch and see all the tiny dwellings tucked into the

opposite canyon wall.  At first all we could see was the faces of the cliffs,

but as our eyes adjusted to spotting the cave homes across the way,

suddenly they become obvious in every nook and cranny.

The park offers inexpensive tours of most of the ruins, but we contented ourselves

with getting an overview of it all from the top rather than climbing down in.

When we finally reached the Sun Temple overlook, the best place

to view the magnificent Cliff Palace ruins, we were amazed by the

complexity and density of the buildings.  It was a complete town

nestled into a cave midway up a rock wall.

A tour group was passing through the ruin, and the tiny, brightly

colored people walking among the buildings gave us an interesting

perspective on this place.  This canyon and its massive rock

formations is immense and timeless.  But the people who built their

homes here stayed for just a few generations and filed through this

ageless place rather quickly.  Fortunately for us today, they left a

most unusual signature behind: uneven, jam-packed housing.

We learned that the

first people to settle

this region were the

Basketmakers who wove very fine

basketry and built pole-and-adobe

houses above ground starting

around 750 AD.  By 1,000 AD, just

before the Norman conquests of

England, they began building their

homes using stone masonry.

Interestingly, archaeologists say

their basketmaking skills showed

a marked decline once they

began to specialize in masonry.

It's intriguing to me that one skill rose while another

fell.  And isn't it still so true today.  We are all expert

at moving over ground at 60 mph but most of us

would balk at killing, plucking and carving up a

chicken for dinner, something our great-

grandparentss happily did years ago.  We have all

become so adroit with electronic and keyboard

technology, but gosh darn if we aren't all forgetting

how to spell.

We wandered among the above-ground dwellings

and hiked around the Sun Temple and Megalithic

house.  Like the Mayans at Bonampak who had

created an elaborate series of murals inside one

of their ruins but abandoned the building before

it was finished, here at Mesa Verde the Anasazi

had also abandoned their property before it was

totally completed.  It is baffling to ponder how a

society can reach such heights of sophistication

and then vanish.

Unlike the Mayan ruins, however, where today's

visitors can scamper all over every building at

will, we saw signs posted everywhere telling us

not to touch or climb on anything.

Rangers, of course, are excepted…

Somewhere in our meanderings through Mesa

Verde we realized that we had reached total saturation with seeing the ancient

dwellings of antique cultures.  We had seen some of the best of the best in the

last six months, and we were ready for a change of pace.

We left the Indians and Colorado behind and

crossed over into Utah, stopping at a gas station

to fill the truck.  From somewhere in the distance

we heard the clank-clank-clank of spurs coming

towards us, and suddenly we found ourselves

face to face with a cowboy.  Not a cowboy-hatted

urbanite donning the clothes and stance of his

country idol, but the real deal: a young,

hardworking cowboy who had just finished a dirty

week of cattle work.

When he started gassing up his truck, Mark struck up a conversation.  It turned out he'd been

ranching all his life and now commuted every other week between Ogden at the north end of Utah

and Blanding a few hundred miles south at the other end of the state, to work on a ranch.  He beamed

as he told us he had just found a house in the Blanding area so he could move his family down this

way.  "Heidi is real happy," he drawled slowly, his bright blue eyes twinkling.

We asked him if our planned drive along Route 95 would be okay with our big truck and trailer (we

had read something about 8% grades).  "Oh yeah," he said very slowly.  "It's a real pretty drive.

That's how I go back and forth to Ogden."  What a life: outdoors all day in some of the country's most

dramatic landscapes, and commuting to work on a National Scenic Highway.

Reassured that we would't be facing any gnarly

driving, we left the gas station and promptly

bottomed out the back end of the trailer on the

lip of the driveway.  Our brand new bike rack that

we both just love scraped the pavement loudly

and the truck ground almost to a complete stop.

Mark made a face at me, and we leaped out of

the truck to check the damage.  "We gotta fix

that!" He said nervously.  But we were both

relieved that there was no damage worse than a few scratches.  Our fantastic

new bike rack has been such a great addition to our travels this season, but it

hangs way out from the back of the trailer.  This was the fourth time we'd

scraped it hard on the ground, and the once-round plastic knob on the back

was becoming rather square.

We drove over to the Visitors Center and found an old fellow deep in conversation with

the lady behind the desk.  We asked if there was a good welder in town who could

fabricate something for a trailer hitch.  They told us that JM Welding just on the edge of

town by the airport would do a great job for us.

Still uneasy about the Scenic Route 95 ahead of us that was known to

be so beautiful but scurried diagonally across the Utah map as if it

were a cat chasing a butterfly, I asked the pair if that route was okay

for a big truck and trailer.  "Route 95?" the man said, "Why, I built that

road."  Turns out that the construction of this road, known as the

Bicentennial Highway, had spanned from the 1930's to 1976 when it

finally got paved, and this man, Ferd Johnson, had been part of the

team that built it.

"We all lived out in the canyons for two and a half years while we built

that road."  He said, telling us how rugged and wild and beautiful the

land was.  "There are three bridges crossing the Colorado river, and

those were tough…" he trailed off.  The lady behind the desk piped

up.  "I did the drive once with him," she said nodding in his direction,

"and he talked the whole way.  He had a story about

every mile of that road."

We left really excited to see this

scenic highway for ourselves.  But our

first stop was at JM Welding.  Jack,

the owner, understood exactly what

we wanted and said he could order

something like that and have it for us

tomorrow.  "Or I can build one for you

right now that would be better quality

for about the same cost."  Go for it!!

He grabbed a piece of chalk from his

pocket and drew an outline of a z-shaped

hitch extension on the shop's concrete

floor.  Within moments his son had cut the

pieces and welded them.  Jack powdered

coated it and cooked it for an hour while we chatted with Jed,

one of Jack's long-time customers who had just showed up.

"I'm really looking forward to driving that famous scenic Route

95 tomorrow," I said, making idle conversation.  Jed looked at

me blankly.  "Scenic road?  There's a scenic road out

here?"  I did a double-take.  "You know, that Scenic Route

95.  You take a right just a mile south of here…"  He

scratched his head.  "Oh, right…of course…oh yeah.  I

drive that road all the time.  It's pretty."

As we drove this magnificent road over the next two days,

our jaws dropping repeatedly at the stunning beauty around

us, we had to laugh.  Utahans live in some of the most

spectacular scenery America has to offer, but I guess after

a while it becomes an ordinary backdrop for their lives.

In no time Jack had finished our hitch extension

and Mark mounted it on our trailer.  Suddenly all

our fears of grinding our new bike rack into the

dust while boondocking down rough dirt roads


Next morning, after a peaceful

night parked out behind Jack's

shop where fields of winter wheat

waved softly in the twilight and

dawn, we struck out on scenic

Route 95.

From red rock cliffs to exotic

pink-and-white striped swirling

rock formations to dramatic

descents into vivid green valleys,

we drove with our heads turning


I literally hung

my whole

upper body out

the window a

few times to

snap photos at

55 mph.

The road swerved here and

there, curving deliciously

between cliffs and canyons.

Suddenly I saw a dirt road

scooting off to a wide flat

plateau.  "Oh oh oh!!!"  I

cried, not quite getting any

words out.  "It's perfect!"

Mark skidded to a stop,

squeaked out a u-turn and

drove back.  What a


Down the dirt road we went, bumping along to the most fabulous

and dramatic boondocking spot.  There wasn't anyone around

us for at least five miles in any direction, and we had the

canyon, the cliffs and the sky to ourselves.  That is the magic of

RVing in Utah.  50% of the state is public land, and you can

camp anywhere you dare to take your rig.  It was so beautiful we

stayed for a few more days before exploring Natural Bridges

National Monument.
































































































































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Wupatki Nat’l Monument – Ancient Indian Ruins & Great Camping in AZ!

Flagstaff's San Francisco peaks seen across the meadow outside Bonito Campground.

Flagstaff's San Francisco peaks seen across the meadow outside Bonito Campground.

Coconino Forest's ponderosa pine woods.

Coconino Forest's ponderosa pine woods.

Wildflowers at Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ

Wildflowers at Bonito.

Sunflowers and San Francisco Mountains, Flagstaff, AZ San Francisco peaks, Flagstaff, AZ

San Francisco peaks.

National Forest Service campground, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ

Bonito Campground.

NFS Campground, Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Coconino National Forest, Bonito Campground, Flagstaff, AZ Meadow near Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground.

The meadow that used to be filled with

sunflowers is now parched and cracked.

Sunflowers outside Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground.

Some sunflowers line the road.

Ponderosa Pine outside Coconino National Forest Bonito Campground. Sunset Crater National Monument

Sunset Crater just before a downpour.

Nalakihu Dwellings in Wupatki National Monument.

Looking down at Nalakihu from Citadel Pueblo.

Nalakihu Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

Nalakihu Pueblo.

Box Canyon Dwellings in Wupatki National Monument.

Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.

View from inside Wupatki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument.

View from inside Wupatki Pueblo.

Lizard spotted at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ Lizard spotted at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ Box Canyon Dwellings at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Box Canyon dwellings.

Lomaki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Pueblo.

Window in Lomaki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Lomaki Pueblo.

Citadel Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Looking out at the high desert plains from Citadel Pueblo.

Wupatki Pueblo and Kiva at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Wupatki Pueblo and its round Kiva (gathering place).

Wupatki Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Wupatki Pueblo, home for about 100 people.

Blow hole at Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Mark plays with the blow hole's breezes.

Imminent thunderstorm and downpour in Coconino National Forest outside Sunset Crater National Monument

Our picnic is cut short by looming black skies.

Lightning in Coconino National Forest outside Sunset Crater National Monument


Bonito Campground & Wupatki Nat'l Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

August, 2011 - We crossed the Sea of Cortez from just north of Bahía Concepción on the Baja side of Mexico to San Carlos on

the mainland side in late June, a 75 mile jaunt.  It was the very best sailing day in our entire seven months spent cruising the

Mexican coast: bright sunny skies, flat seas, and a sprightly wind drawing us along on a close reach.  Our arrival in San Carlos was

the first step of our re-entry into civilization and the US, and each stage of re-entry was a shock.

Perhaps the most jarring

moment in this process was our

first trip to a Super Frys

supermarket in Phoenix.  What a

staggering abundance of

gorgeous produce, so beautifully

presented and in such perfect

condition!  Mark and I stood and

stared in amazement, mouths

open in awe.  "Where's my

camera?" I cried.  Our friends

thought we were nuts.

Getting to Phoenix from San

Carlos required an 11 hour bus ride,

and we then returned to San Carlos by

truck (a mere eight hour drive) to deliver

some things to the boat and relieve the

boat of other things

we didn't need any

more (winter


Then over the next

six weeks we

skidded from being

merely bone tired to

being utterly

exhausted as we ticked off the endless items on our "to do" list of

chores.  We lived as perennial house guests, bouncing between

generous friends' homes.

The madness culminated with finding new tenants for our

townhouse.  Sleeping on an air mattress in our empty

townhouse during a frantic week of repainting the interior, we

realized we had come full circle.  Four years of traveling, with

only the briefest visits to Phoenix, and here we were back in

our townhouse again, surrounded by the same smells, the

same noises, the same sensations that had been the essence

of our old home.  What had the last four years meant?  Had we

grown or just taken a big detour through life?  There was no

time to think about that; there were chores to do!

Once our

responsibilities were

behind us, we grabbed

the trailer out of

storage and dashed up

to Flagstaff as fast as

we could go.  We made

a beeline for Bonito

Campground, our all-

time favorite

campground.  Despite

being die-hard

boondockers, we splurged on a weeklong stay there while we re-familiarized

ourselves with the RV lifestyle and restocked the trailer with everything we had

pillaged from it for the boat.

Here at 7000' elevation we finally began to take stock and get some perspective on all

that we'd been through.  When we left Phoenix in 2007, real estate was peaking at

astronomical prices.  Now, on our return, there was a sea of homes in various stages

of financial distress and foreclosure.  Few real estate signs were visible, however.  The

panic was largely on paper and online, and too often was manifested in midnight

moves.  Some of our once-wealthy friends were now scrambling to pick up the pieces

of their lives, while other less well-heeled friends were suddenly able to afford

gorgeous homes.

The city's everpresent, massive

expansion into the outlying pristine

desert was temporarily on hold while it adjusted to the new economy.  Our

memories of Phoenix as it once was were overlaid onto Phoenix as it is today,

and there were areas where the images meshed, and areas where they were

like two different places.

Some of the changes were within ourselves as well.  Our souls were the same,

but all this traveling had expanded our knowledge of the lands around us, and

we had come to know ourselves better too.  These thoughts swirled around us

as we rested and strolled about Bonito's pretty grounds.  Life aboard Groovy in

Mexico felt like a far distant dream.

The land surrounding Bonito Campground has changed too.  Last year this part

of Coconino National Forest was devastated by the Schultz wildfire which wiped out some

15,000 acres, mostly on the area's mountain slopes.  Campers at Bonito were evacuated

twice, first to escape the fire and later to avoid the erosion-caused floods.  As a ranger

explained to us, the floods altered the landscape forever and

even moved floodplains.  Many nearby homes were damaged

or lost, a young girl drowned, and the water rose to about 8' in

the campground's amphitheater, leaving the place buried in


Knowing some of this before we arrived, it was with trepidation

that we approached the campground.  The meadow that is

usually teeming with bright yellow sunflowers at this time of

year was devoid of blooms and parched and cracked in

places.  But what a thrill it was to see and smell our beloved

ponderosa pine woods.  Bonito's soul is the same, just singed

a bit here and there.  The wildflowers still line the edges of the

roads and promise to return to the meadows.  The

hummingbirds still buzz the campers looking for easy

meals in feeders.  Some ponderosas have blackened

trunks, but the tops are green.

However, the Schultz fire was

nothing compared to the volcano

that erupted at next-door Sunset

Crater around 1050 AD.  Spewing

marble-to-football sized chunks of

rock into the air for a few months

(or possibly several years), the

evacuation of the local farmers

lasted for generations.  The

volcano layered the land for many

miles around in a thick blanket of

cinder.  In its last moments it spat

out a final burst of cinder that was oxidized to a rust color.  This gives the mountain a distinctive

orange-red top to this day, and the sun and shadows spend their days playing with the color.

We took a drive through the

nearby Indian ruins at Wupatki

National Monument.  These

were built 50-100 years after

the eruption by the so-called

Sinagua people who returned

to the area to find that the

blanket of volcanic ash now

helped keep rare moisture in

the soil.  They somehow eked out a farm life, living essentially

"sin agua" or "without water."

The ruins are like tiny dots on vast open plains, each located

several miles apart.  The San Francisco mountains line the

horizon, but there are few trees or other protection between the open lands and the sky.

We opted to start at the far end of the drive, visiting the more remote

ruins first. These were built above small box canyons that are

essentially ditches in the ground bounded on two or three sides by 100'

rock cliffs.  The cliffs provide the only weather protection in the area.

The Sinagua people understood real estate:  location location location.

It was early

morning and utterly

silent.  The

crunching of my

feet on the gravel paths made the cottontail

bunnies run, and lizards of all shapes and

sizes scurried for cover under rocks along

the trail.  We were the only visitors at each

ruin, lending a sense of magic to each


At the biggest ruin, Wupatki Pueblo,

Mark played with the natural

"blow hole" air vent.  The

National Park Service has built

a structure around it, but the

blow-hole itself is the real deal,

blowing air out or sucking it in

depending on ambient

temperatures and air pressures.

As we returned to the

campground the sky turned

black, thunder rolled and

lightning streaked the sky.  For

seven months on the boat in

Mexico we hadn't seen a single

drop of rain.  The deluge that came now was fantastic.

We drove through it

laughing, barely able to

see the road ahead, and

we jumped back in the

trailer, glad to have real

shelter.  It was so great to

be back in our RV lifestyle

again.  The rain pummeled

our roof all afternoon, and

we fell asleep to the plink

plink plink of raindrops

overhead.  Little did we

know the downpours

would continue for several days.  The sun finally returned in full blaze

as we took off to head north to Dixie National Forest in Utah.




















































































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