Today, we’ll dip into the archives and revisit a trip from the past…..
We have visited Chaco Culture National Historic Park twice now. If you’re into cultures of the past, American history and Anasazi ruins Chaco is certainly a place you don’t want to miss. From Farmington, NM take Hwy 64 east to 550 and head south. Travel 550 for approximately 40 miles or so. The turn on CR 7900 is well marked for the park. You’ll then travel another 21 miles to the park entrance. A very short part of the 21 miles is paved. The rest bears a strong resemblance to your great-grandmother’s washboard. In fact, it is SO bad that we actually saw a bicycle that had vibrated right off of someones bike rack!
The park offers a one way tour through acres of carefully excavated ruins. The excavation is still in progress and it was fun to see what they’d accomplished between visits. These sites are huge, and unlike most sites, you can wander through them unattended at your leisure. This is the site of the ever photographically popular “infinity doors”. The doors are located in the Pueblo Bonito site. On our first visit I didn’t know which of the sites the doors were located in and so it was kind of a fun little “hunt” for them when we arrived. If you visit during a busy time it can be difficult to get a shot of all 4 doors without someone wandering through your shot. A little patience is all you need. It’s worth the wait.
This particular trip was sort of an impromptu visit. We were planning to stay in Farmington but decided it was early in the day and we had more than plenty of time to visit Chaco while in the area. We cancelled our reservations and decided we’d camp at the park. We realized this was a risk, but figured if worse came to worse we’d just drive on to the next town for lodging. To our dismay, all of the campsites at the park were already taken and so we figured we’d just push on when we were done.
While out wandering the sites, the wind picked up and the sky darkened. It never really “rained” but there was a scattering of huge drops and we knew it was coming. We didn’t want to backtrack all the way back to the highway we came in on so we decided to take the “back road” out of the canyon. Now, this “back road” is actually Hwy 57. Where they got the audacity to call it a highway is beyond me. It’s not paved….it’s not even gravel. It’s what I would call something of a clay substance perhaps. The surface was somewhere between Elmer’s paste and Mary Kay face masque. Before embarking, we stopped in at park headquarters and asked about exiting the canyon by that route……. “No problem!!!” they said. They also indicated that there was a family who lived about halfway between the park and Hwy 371 who rent campsites. We figured we’d check it out.
When we first started down the road everything was fine. It was a dirt road, but we weren’t worried because we had 4 wheel drive and plenty of clearance should things get “iffy”. We had driven for maybe a 1/2 a mile and found ourselves behind a little Toyota Avalon from Maryland I believe it was. I honestly have no idea how this couple made it out of there in that car. He had it wound up in first gear and there were times I was sure he was going to blow the engine! It spoke well of Toyota though! He offered to let us go by but we figured we’d better stay behind them in case they got stuck. At least they wouldn’t be stranded (alone).
As we continued down the road, the surface became increasingly sticky. Before long, all of our tires were completely caked with this foul, sticky horrifying mud substance. I hesitate to even call it mud. Being a N. Idaho native I’m VERY familiar with mud and this stuff was like nothing I’d ever seen before. We had the Yukon in 4whl-low and were still spinning in this stuff. It was the scariest driving experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. The name of the game was “keep it between the ditches”. I had no idea “mud” could be like this. Give me snow, give me ice, give me flood but please Lord, don’t ever make me drive in this crap again!!!! I finally stopped on a cattle guard to try to scrape the tires off a bit. I couldn’t stop on the road because walking in this stuff was impossible without falling down. It was useless. The stuff wouldn’t even budge! It took us over 2 hours to drive the 20 some miles back to the main road. It was absolutely horrific. Crossing the cattle guard back onto the main highway was like crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon! We all got out of our cars and ran around cheering! We had a bond with these people now. We had all survied the “Escape from Chaco” together.
We ended up continuing on to stay the night in Gallup, but that’s another story for another day. Today, let me just say….If you’re contemplating a stay in Gallup, just don’t. And if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
What is the moral of the story, you ask? Visit Chaco. It’s a fascinating place. There are ruins and rock art galore. Don’t miss it. Bring your camera, tripod and prepare to spend half the day here at least. But, whatever you do, DO NOT go out the back way if it is raining, has been raining, could start raining…… Even if it doesn’t LOOK like rain, stay away. Whatever the cost, go back. You’ll be glad you did.