My visit to the Gila Wilderness and its cliff dwellings happened early on in the Original Beetle Roadtrip. In many ways it was in the Gila, that a 24 year old Aldo Leopold found his footing. As someone who really enjoyed Leopold’s writing, it was only a matter of time for me to visit the wilderness he proposed and the very first Federally recognized wilderness in the United States.
I found a nice place to camp in the national forest, driving the Beetle across a stream to limit my neighbors, and from that campsite, I explored the Gila.
Theodore Roosevelt designated the cliff dwellings a national monument in 1907. The monument is 533 acres, and had just over 41,000 visitors in 2016. To me, there seemed to be almost that many people there when I visited. It became a challenge to get a picture taken without a person in the frame, but I worked at it.
The dwellings are located in an absolutely beautiful part of New Mexico. It was easy for me to see why the Mogollon people settled here, and I wondered why they abandoned it years later.
Hiking the trail early in the morning, I was lucky enough to come across a black bear on its morning excursion. Later in the day, I met up with a couple who had seen a mountain lion. I was not at all surprised by either in this beautiful, rugged terrain.
The above is one of the earliest known published images of the Chaco Canyon area. The artwork is by Richard Kern from his exploration of the area with the military’s reconnaissance of the Four Corners country, led by J.H. Simpson, in 1849. The account of the expedition was published in 1851.
I first visited Chaco Canyon during The Beetle Roadtrip. I spent an entire month exploring New Mexico, and Chaco was among the favorites. The southwest, in general, is so vastly different than the Far North, and I find the country fascinating.
Chaco is an International Dark Sky Park, and the sky was truly brilliant at night. It was here and in the Grand Canyon that I spent the most time looking up at the Milky Way. It is highly unusual for me to be able to sit outside and watch the stars move across the sky, while in shorts and a t-shirt.
Starting around 900 AD, Chaco Canyon became a major culture center for Ancestral Puebloans, and a hub for ceremony and trade. Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the “Great Houses”, had at least 650 rooms. Its massive walls were 3 feet thick.
The petroglyphs throughout the area are absolutely astounding. I could have spent the entire month exploring Chaco Canyon alone, if left to my own devices.
The park itself is just over 33,000 areas, and it saw 39,000 visitors in 2011.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established on this date in 1972. As I’ve said before on here, GMNP is one of my favorite National Parks. My trip there, which involved some serious dirt roading in a ’73 Beetle, was completely spur of the moment and unplanned. I brought back a Bug full of memories when I found this gem in Texas.
National Park Week, Day VII; Today’s Park Theme: Friendship Friday
My visit to Guadalupe Mountains was purely spontaneous. The trip goes all the way back to the Beetle Roadtrip, when I drove Coast to Coast to Coast in a 1973 VW Beetle. Those blogposts are lost to history, but it was a 4 month road trip, covering some 12,000 miles.
I had just come out of Carlsbad Caverns and was planning on camping out. Tent sites at White City were highway robbery, and I refused to pay the extortion simply out of principle. A woman in a souvenir store motioned me over to her when I was walking back to my car. She suggested, if I “don’t mind going a bit out of the way, drive out to Dog Canyon Campground in the Guadalupes”. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind at all, so the Beetle and I drove north, then west, and then dropped down into Texas and Dog Canyon.
Along the way, I found a side track to Sitting Bull Falls in the Lincoln National Forest. There is a short trail from the parking area to the 150′ waterfall with a natural pool below. There are also several hiking trails around the area. I met a group of Harley riders when I was there, and like everywhere I went, several of them had to tell me about the Beetle they used to own.
Dog Canyon is off the beaten path, but I don’t remember the old Bug having any clearance issues, but we did lose a race to a roadrunner. By now, I was confident in that little car going through most anything I asked it to, after having already crossed some streams, and the general mucking about the countryside I put it through. I have heard that this campground can get quite busy, but there was only one other site occupied for my entire stay there. Two men had the other site, and they played their guitars all day, and well into the night. I found the music to be a nice surprise, and they were both pretty good, although I remember one to be much better than the other. The sound of guitars sure beat the sound of generators.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established in 1972 and encompasses 86,367 acres. The Park protects world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. The Permian period occurred 251-299 million years ago, when the continents were locked together in the large land mass now called Pangea. The area of what is now Texas and New Mexico was on the western edge of this land mass. An inlet from the ocean existed in the area of what is now the Guadalupes, and a reef was formed. Within the Guadalupe Mountains is the remnants of this reef. The fossilized marine life from this era can be easily found in the limestone. On one hike, I met a ranger and asked about the fossils, he walked me over to some exposed rock right away, and there were several different species, fossilized in the rock face.
I hiked for several days, and at one point picked up a free backcountry permit and disappeared for a few days more. I brought a thin sleeping bag and a lot of water, but no tent. The warm weather and the complete lack of bugs of any kind was a wonderful experience. One night, while laying on my back, looking up at the Milky Way, a meteor streaked across the sky. To this day, it remains the brightest one I have ever experienced. The entire mountainside was lit up, almost as light as day, but a more “artificial” light, then it dissipated. I was so stoked, I didn’t sleep for hours, as I couldn’t wait to see another.
I have incredibly fond memories of my time in the Guadalupes. There were no shortage of trails, water was available at campgrounds, visitor centers and ranger buildings. A hike I wish I had done, but always expected I’d come back to do, was the climb to Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas at 8751′.
Evidence points to these mountains being inhabited for the past 10,000 years, so there is no shortage of history, both geographical and human.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park saw 172,347 visitors in 2018.
Lower Post, British Columbia; Photo credit: CBC/Danni Carpenter
The Alaska Highway has been closed due to an aggressive fire just south of the Yukon border in British Columbia. The community of Lower Post, BC has been evacuated. The town of Watson Lake is taking in displaced residents and stranded travelers.
The fire, which is believed to have been started by lightening, is approximately 4000 hectares in size. There were 14 firefighters and an air tanker working the fire as of the last update. Heavy equipment is currently being used to protect the community of Lower Post. The fire is not contained, and the highway is expected to be closed for several days. The road is closed at KM 823 near Coal River to KM 968 near the Yukon border.
The Alaska Highway has also been closed at KM 133 near Wonowan, BC and KM 454 near Fort Nelson, as well as between Fort Nelson and the Laird River.
Travelers can still drive to/from the Yukon using the Stewart Cassiar Highway. It’s a route I highly recommend! Absolutely beautiful country, but the services are even more limited than on the Alcan. I once took the Cassiar while driving a ’73 VW Beetle, so don’t be discouraged, although I suggest bringing an extra five gallons of fuel.
We are in a wet, bubble up here in Alaska, so the news that the Alcan is closed due to fire, came as a bit of a surprise. We had an inch of rain at my place yesterday alone, and the high on Saturday was 55 degrees. Our normal high this time of year is in the low 70’s. Currently, August 2018 has seen 3.54″ of rain fall in Fairbanks, which stands at the 10th wettest August on record.
Alaska had 399,000 acres burn this fire season, which is lower than the past three years. The total is 40% lower than the median over the past two decades.