Chaco Culture National Historical Park

I won’t give enough words for the awesomeness that is Chaco in this post. A few highlights and photos will have to suffice.

Chaco is a unique national park. It is in the middle of seemingly nowhere, requires some light off-roading to get there, and is mostly devoid of cell service. Carl Sagan talked about it in Cosmos, Jared Diamond wrote about it in Collapse.

You’ve seen a lot of photos of ruins from me here, so I’ll spare you the zoom in details and instead share some of the zoom out awesomeness. Above is Pueblo Bonito as viewed from the mesa above.

Next is Chetro Ketl, probably my favorite of the ruins. Check out the long and tall wall running bottom center to middle right. I can’t describe how amazing it is to stand next to that and witness the beauty in engineering and masonry.

We also participated in two night sky ranger programs that focused on the use of astronomy and solar / lunar positioning at Chaco. I guess you can see why some thought extraterrestrial intelligence may have been involved.

Sand Canyon Hiking (near Cortez CO)

Day two in the Cortez CO area took us to Sand Canyon southwest of town, a beautiful hike that also contains a large amount of Puebloan ruins.

We improvised a bit, bushwhacking and taking an improvised trail back on the other side of the canyon. Why? Because we saw more ruins over there, that’s why.

There was a cool “legacy” sign on the Jeep trail we hiked out on, clearly made before this area was designated a national monument.

Lowry Pueblo and the Canyons of the Ancients

We planned for about three days in the Colorado portion of the four corners exploration, specifically to visit Mesa Verde. We knew conditions might be a bit dicey given the high elevation, and as the date got closer we knew it might be best to have a plan be. Still plenty of snow up there and very cold days, so we camped at and focused on Canyons of the Ancients.

The visitor center is outstanding, especially for a national monument. Good film and very good artifact displays. It also goes into depth on the methods used to dig and conduct the research in the area.

Lowry Pueblo was a nice and easy visit with a nice selection of original and restored Puebloan ruins.

One big highlight was our camping spot by a big cliff overlooking canyons (ruins down there too!) and Sleeping Ute mountain.

Camping with Chris and Julie

We made a lot of changes to our camping rig this year. On these extended trips we do a mix of car camping (setting up camp adjacent to or a short walk from the car) and backpacking (one or more nights miles from the car in the back country). Last season (2018) we used mostly the same gear for both. We had some chairs and extra blankets that were car camping only, but that was mostly it. The photo above is from Bryce Canyon campground.

We love our Big Agnes backpacking tent. But it is small. And I’m not very flexible. It is good for sleeping but not much else. So with colder weather, or even warm weather with higher, dusty winds, we would retreat to the tent and just read and sleep.

We also exclusively cooked with our Jetboil, which is a great piece of technology but (at least our version) is mostly only good for boiling water. I remember making a Thai curry last year in stages that required we cook about 5 different segments independently.

We began to covet the neighboring RVs and trailers we saw while car camping. As we returned to Oregon in May after five weeks on the road we started to research trailers that would be both towable by our Subaru Crosstrek and fit in our garage. We notionally settled on a custom teardrop trailer made by a local shop near Portland. We started setting aside funds and were ready to consider putting an order in last fall.

I started to have second thoughts when researching hitch options by talking to local installers. My belief was that we should get electronic braking installed based on the areas we like to go (bad roads and steep hills). Julie and I discussed this concern and I mentioned that maybe we should just trade in our Crosstrek and getting a Forester. Julie’s eyes got wide and she countered with an alternate idea: maybe we should just upgrade our car camping rig. We are fans of low risk, low cost experiments so figured we could try it for the 2019 season.

Step one was to increase our carrying capacity on the Crosstrek. We installed a roof cage and bought a weatherproof carry bag. So far both work great.

Julie did most of the tent research. Our goal was to be able to fit two cots plus a small table inside. Both REI and Cabela’s had reasonable options, but we settled on the REI Kingdom 6 because the side walls were more vertical. Plus… Big bonus here… It has an optional garage that works as a storage and cooking area. We purchased two telescoping fly poles that allow us to open up one side of the garage with an awning.

The three photos above show different angles from inside the tent, with the final one showing our garage. We use an extra Tyvek ground cover we fashioned for long backpacking trip in New Mexico back in 2013. That stuff is durable.

We also picked up a single burner propane / butane stove which has worked very well, though the propane hose and regulator failed after about five uses so we’ve been using just butane ever since. We can actually make larger single pot dishes now, saving leftovers for a future night. You’ll also see in the photo above our upgrade cooler. I got an incredible deal on an Otter Box 45 L cooler for just $110 at REI. It just works. Also, use ice blocks not cubes.

The extra cargo space also allowed us to bring our Dutch oven and make goodies like you see above.

So, we still have the full backpacking rig which we used on Cedar Mesa and will use in about a week when we do five days in Grand Canyon. Sleeping on the ground is ok. But, we love our new gear and it has dramatically reduced our hotel stays compared last year. We strive for three consecutive nights with the car camping rig because setup and teardown take 90-120 minutes.

Hovenweep National Monument

After two nights of hotel stays (we’ve learned that two nights is much better than one after finishing a backpacking trip), we made our way east to Colorado with a stop at Hovenweep National Monument. This site is notable as it was a transition stopping point as the Puebloans abandoned the mesas and other regions in SE Utah in their migration south in the CE 1200s.

That didn’t mean they built transition structures – clearly they meant to stay a while as these were the largest, most robustly built that we’ve seen so far. We love how they used the geography and built into the boulders and cliffs.

We are now camped in Canyons of the Ancients and will spend a few days exploring more sites and hiking in this area.