Astoundingly Beautiful American Southwest – Vacation Destination #travel #camp #Arizona #Utah #vacation

White House Trail Canyon de Chelly

White House Trail, popular with school groups

I’ve been camping in the canyons of Arizona and Utah. Most of the time we were out of internet and cell phone range. It’s a wonderful way to unplug. Since I owe you a post, perhaps you’ll indulge me and look at few of my vacation pictures.

White House ruins Canyon de Chelly

Ancient ruins

Canyon de Chelly is in America’s National Monument system, located entirely on Navajo land. It may not be as big as the Grand Canyon, but it is grand nonetheless. Excellent roads take you around the north and south rims to amazing overlooks. In most places you must hire a Navajo guide to hike down into the canyon, but one exception is the White House trail. This fantastic path clings to the side of the sheer canyon wall, ending at some well preserved ruins from an ancient culture. The hike was popular with school groups the day we were there.

Junior Rangers

Junior Rangers are sworn in

I was honored to watch a group of kids sworn in as Junior Rangers at Natural Bridges. We hiked down into the canyon there on a long trek between the largest bridge formations.

Valley of the Gods Utah

Camped beneath a massive rock formation, overlooking Valley of the Gods. Amost got bogged down in sand! But we made it.

In the nineteenth century, when the American government carved up the conquered western lands, after everyone had their first choice, the remainders were placed under the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). These lands are often overgrazed and under-regulated. They seldom offer anything special in the way of views, but are wonderful for those of us, like me, who want to travel cheaply. You can  camp for free on BLM land anywhere you want. There will be no rangers to answer questions, and roads may be impassible in rain or snow, which can be a challenge since you’re usually out of cell phone range. But in the  Valley of the Gods the BLM has a gem of fantastically carved rocks and mesas. The main gravel road is in good shape, though side roads are dirt tracks that can be dicey. But I’ve never had a better campsite.

A landscape needs two attributes to be named after God or the Devil. First, it must inspire awe. The stare-in-wonder sort of awe. But that’s not enough. It must also be indifferent, even hostile, to humans. The combination leaves me feeling  small and quiet. It would be presumptuous to try to fill such a space with myself. Instead I ache with the grandeur of our world.



Visit #NativeAmerican #Pueblo sites

That's me with a tuff rock formation

That’s me with a tuff rock formation

I’ve been camping at Bandelier National Monument and the nearby Jemez Mountains. Fall is here in the mountains – one morning it was almost down to freezing when I crawled out of the tent.

Ancestral Pueblo People built villages into the bizarre “Swiss-cheese” cliffs of volcanic tuff (a soft stone formed by huge accumulations of ash) and on the valley floor below.

The ruins predate the Spanish conquest of northern Mexico (what is now the Bandelier_Cliff_DwellingUS southwest), but archaeologists have found evidence of ancient humans in the area dating from shortly after the last ice age. I guess the area’s been drying out ever since. Bandelier pueblo peoples didn’t “disappear,” as you may have read. They moved – probably drought had a lot to do with that – and evolved into modern pueblos.

There are other sites in the Jemez dating from the Spanish occupation – a mixture of fascinating Spanish history and sad conquest of the indigenous people. A kiva (ceremonial structure) has been reconstructed at the misnamed Coronado Historic Site. Early 20th century archaeologists found wonderful paintings on the walls, which were removed for study and preservation. A local pueblo artist has reproduced the paintings, but since they represent ceremonial figures, no photography is allowed. You’ll have to travel to New Mexico to see them.