3-18-2014 Albuquerque to Chaco Canyon and on to Farmington

Current (March 23): boondocking near Virgin, UT  Clear, Breezy, and 73 degrees F at 7PM

Chaco Canyon_053We have laughed at ourselves a bit, wondering why we felt so compelled to barrel west from Florida.  This morning, looking at our calendar and the map, it was obvious that we could have lingered a bit more.  Now we will do the lingering, now that we are back West, and close enough to home that we can get there easily. 

Chaco Canyon_001Although our next major stop will be Page, Arizona, around 444 miles, there is no need to speed our way west.  Instead we will travel the side roads, avoiding the interstate once again.  This morning dawned a bit less windy than the day before, but we were still happy to stay away from the high speeds required on the interstate and ambled north from our camp at Kirtland AFB toward Highway 550 and Farmington.

Not far from Albuquerque is the small roadside town of Bernalillo, lying low along the Rio Grande.  Once an historic route, marking the pathway of Coronado as he searched for the “cities of gold”, I-25 now bypasses the community at breakneck pace.  On another trip perhaps, it might have been fun to explore a bit, with a charming small town atmosphere that seemed to be strong and healthy. We did see a large sign for the Visitor Center at a local café that was encouraging. It was early morning, and we had barely started, so stopping just wasn’t in the cards this time.

Chaco Canyon_080Not long ago I read a great book, “House of Rain, Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest”, by Craig Childs.  Somehow in all my reading about the southwest and its culture, I had missed this author. Since then I have sucked up as many of his titles as I can fit on the Kindle, he is a great writer, especially for long winter nights when I am tucked away at home dreaming of canyon travels. This book is Craig’s own well informed hypothesis about what may have happened to the Anasazi Cultures, and Chaco Culture specifically. I read the book last year, wondering then why I had never managed to get to Chaco, in spite of traveling extensively in other parts of the Colorado Plateau and hunting down ancient kivas, pictographs, petroglyphs,and granaries in untold canyons.

Once again, the spontaneous choice of route led us to another treasure.  Looking on the map, I saw with astonishment that Chaco Culture National Historic Park was just a short jaunt from the highway.  Well, I suppose 21 miles each way, with several of those miles being dirt road isn’t exactly short, but is definitely short when compared to the distance from home and the fact that we might never travel this way again.

Chaco Canyon_039There is a small campground at Chaco Culture NHP, but the last four miles of the road are especially rough, and there was no way we would take the MoHo there.  We did see a few small van type campers, and one adventurous owner of a 24 foot View tipping and bouncing and bumping along on the way back out.  Nah…we were content to drive in with the Tracker and enjoy the park for a day trip. 

Of course, after being there, I realized that a day trip is only one way to experience Chaco, and a much better experience, a deeper immersion into the archaeological wonder that is there would take days or weeks.  I would love to camp there in a tent and experience the night sky, wander where the ancients wandered, and try to feel the place more deeply than I could in a single afternoon.

map to chacoChaco Canyon_014We turned from Highway 550 at the well signed marker for the park, traveled 6 miles on paved road before finding a large level gravel parking area where we felt it would be safe to leave the MoHo.  Since the park is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, there is no camping anywhere off the highway.  When you reach the parking lot area, turn right, (west), and the road is paved for another 4 miles before continuing west with  8.5 miles of reasonably smooth dirt (not washboard gravel) road.  The last 4 miles are not easy.  Even in the baby car the road was rough, going through a couple of washes that would be impassable if there had been rain.

Chaco Canyon_027Once at the park boundary, however, the road is paved, with a 9 mile loop road that meanders past several of the ruins.  As usual, we stopped at the visitor center, checked out the movie, the displays, and the maps and embarked on the loop road. I learned at the Visitor Center, that Chaco Culture is one of only 21 World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO in the United States.  It is interesting to go to the World Heritage Site website and read about how and why places are chosen.  Of the 21 sites in the United States, 8 are cultural sites and 13 are natural sites, with only one natural site, The Everglades, listed as a World Heritage Site in danger.

Chaco Canyon_055There are Anasazi ruins throughout the southwest, I have visited many, but nothing quite prepared me for the power and immensity of Chaco Canyon.  From the mid 800’s to the 1100’s, Chaco was the center of trade and commerce that extended throughout the southwest.  The artifacts excavated at Chaco in the early part of this century are still being deciphered, but include shells from the Pacific, great macaw feather capes from Mexico, gorgeous black on white pottery, and great stores of turquoise.Chaco Canyon_057

What is left today are the remains of several huge Great Houses, some with as many as 600 rooms, up to three stories high, exhibiting magnificent architectural detail and construction.  In addition, the ruins suggest a deep understanding of astronomy.  Over 400 miles of prehistoric roadway that connect the Great Houses to outlying communities are known.  It was Craig Child’s story of his journey along one of these ancient roads the I most enjoyed.

Chaco Canyon_063As with archeology in all places, the theories are simply educated guesses as to the reasons that Chaco bloomed, how it was used, why it was left behind.  The Hopi, the Pueblo Culture, the Navajo all claim Chaco is part of their ancestry, and their stories handed down through the centuries include stories of what Chaco was for their people.

Walking through the intricate maze of rooms, and standing at the edge of the Great Kiva’s, it was easy to imagine being in Chaco at the height of its glory.  Some suggest that very few people actually lived in the Great Houses, and that they were used for temporary housing for people from many cultures gathering for ceremony and trade.

Time seemed to stop as we walked the trails, read the signs, looked for petroglyphs on the canyon walls.  Our visit to Bandelier the previous day had been only a tiny taste of what Chaco was.  I had skipped Chaco in the past, thinking, oh..the rock isn’t red there, the canyons look boring, that part of New Mexico is dull…and all sorts of other reasons for not going out of my way to find Chaco Canyon.

One of the most delightful aspects of visiting Chaco, was the Pueblo Bonito trail, where we were able to wander through the rooms and corridors, amazed at the intricacy of the masonry walls and their incredible beauty after 1,000 years.

As evening approached, and we finally forced ourselves to leave, both of us were so happy that we hadn’t let that dirt road warning keep us from coming to this magical place.

Chaco Canyon_052Initially I called several campgrounds in the vicinity of Farmington, our destination for the night, including one in the town of Bloomfield, one in Aztec, and Mom and Pop’s RV in Farmington.  It was a Tuesday, it was windy, and yet it seems that at least one of those campgrounds would answer the phone or return my message.  By the time we got to Farmington, it was getting close to dark, and I still had no word as to availability, so we looked at each other and said, “Is there a WalMart in Farmington?”

Chaco Canyon_078Sure enough with a look at AllStays.com, we found an “ask to park” Walmart symbol and it was right on our route.  Before long we were settled in among a few other RV’s and several big rigs taking a break for a night’s rest at the back of the parking lot.  Happy for a place to be, we even put out the slide without any problems and settled in just in time for nightfall.

These are the original logs, preserved in the dry desert air for more than a millennium.

Not long after we were settled in, I got a message from Pop, from Mom and Pop’s RV campground in Farmington, saying he had a pull through spot waiting for us and that they had been out to dinner.  I called him back and he was extremely nice, even after I told him I wouldn’t need the space and was parked at WalMart.  His parting words were, “That is great, just so you are safe and not having to drive when you are worn out.” Pretty nice RV park owner, I would say, and if I am through Farmington again, I’ll definitely check his place out.

We laughed about how good it felt to simply park and sleep, how quiet and safe it seemed, how the noise from the idling big rigs seemed to be low enough to not trouble us.  The low temperature for the night was to be between 15 and 20 degrees, but that never actually materialized, and we barely dropped below freezing.

I slept like a rock, falling asleep with images and dreams of what Chaco must have been like 1,000 years ago.


Day 13 Cappadocia and the Goreme Open Air Museum


Today was the first day since I have been in this country that I didn’t see it as similar to somewhere else I have been back in the US. Today, Turkey was only Turkey, Turkiye’ as it is called here. Today we woke to fog in Urgup, in the central part of the Cappadocia region, but by the time we began our explorations, the fog began to lift. This place is surreal, like no other. I know I am behind, it is midnight right now after a day that started at 6am, and no, I haven’t had time to keep up with the stories. But I do have the photos, and the stories will have to fill in later. For now, just check out this magical landscape and these amazing chapels in the carved out caves of Cappadocia.
Ten million years ago, volcanic eruptions from Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan blanketed this limestone plateau in central Turkey with ash and lava. When they mixed with water, the result was a mud-like substance that slowly hardened into a soft rock called tufa or here in the west we call it tuff.

Centuries of erosion from rain, wind, and flooding from the Kizilirmak River shaped this tufa into a striking, surreal moonscape of cone-shaped pinnacles and towers, all in a variety of lovely hues. One of the region’s most unusual geological features, the peribacalari (fairy chimneys), formed when boulders of hard basalt trapped on the surface shielded the soft underlying tufa from erosion.

The holy grottoes of Cappadocia once housed the largest community of Christian monks in Asia Minor. From here missionaries spread the Christian faith as far as Ethiopia. Some 300 beautifully frescoed churches and dwellings for 30,000 people were carved from the soft volcanic pinnacles between the 4th and 14th centuries. I was awestruck by the maze of cones, windows, and chimneys built directly into the malleable rock. Beneath these fanciful shapes lie even more wonders—underground chambers, even entire villages, some 14 stories deep!

Residents fashioned bedrooms, churches, and storerooms from the rock, connecting it all with an elaborate labyrinth of passageways. We saw a host of churches carved more than 1,300 years ago, still boasting lovely frescoes. Some of the houses remain occupied today, and some of the ancient storehouses still provide shelter for grapes harvested from local vineyards.

Waking up in the Perissia Hotel was a delight, even though the morning was foggy. This was my favorite hotel, even though it wasn’t as new or as fancy as the suite we had it Antalya, it was charming and roomy, with pale lemon colored walls with rose accents, lots of windows with dark mahogany woodwork, and antique porcelain fixtures. We could see the dry brown landscape of Cappadocia through the fog, but had no real clue as to the wonders that awaited us on this day.

I have seen photos of this place, read a lot about it, looked at websites describing it, but again there is nothing that can really begin to describe what it feels like to be in a world of houses carved out of rock. It’s like some kind of fairy land, or something you might have dreamed once. It is the reason why travel can never be replaced by writing or talking or looking at the pictures. You just have to be there.

We explored the Pigeon Valley, and took photos of some of the amazing shapes formed by the erosion of the volcanic tuff with the volcano that made all this ash looming above the landscape. As the fog cleared we made several stops at viewpoints a long the way for short hikes and more photos, and for some of us, more jewelry shopping. Then on to Goreme’, the outdoor museum of churches and chapels that were carved into the stone. The caves have existed for a few thousand years, but in the time between the 6th and 13th century they were used as chapels for the early Christian church. The paintings from the earlier periods are primitive, mainly done in a terra cotta red, but as the caves became more sophisticated, the art developed as well, and the Byzantine and Iconoclastic frescoes painted in the interiors of these caves was incredible.

I have said this before, but again I am discovering why I am not a professional travel writer. I am completely out of adjectives. This trip has drained my skills completely dry. I walk around trying to remember to keep my jaw from dropping all the time, and just am at a loss for words. Cappadocia has to be experienced. Nothing else will do.

We had a decent supper in the hotel before going out in the evening to a remote location where a large restaurant was carved into the rock, mainly for the tourist busses I am sure, but it was still fun. The folklore show was interesting, but because there were so many visitors from so many countries there weren’t any kind of announcements about where the different dances were from, which was a bit disappointing. The men were the stars of the show in this case, with some amazing feats of dancing, including that Russian looking thing where they kick their feet out from a sitting position. I still don’t know for sure if that is really a Turkish thing or a Russion thing. The women were demure and certainly outdone my the men in these traditional dances, but they did perform one tribal belly dance that was fun because I knew all the moves from my belly dancing days. Later in the evening we had a cabaret style Egyptian belly dancer who was really quite good, with some top notch shimmies and belly rolls. She wore very high heels though, which was also a bit strange, but I guess it’s to please the men.

We ended this long day winding in the very dark landscape in a very big bus with a bunch of tired people back to the hotel via some weird short cut. Getting in after midnight made us really glad that the next day was going to be a late one.

Day 11 Phaselis, Aspendos, and Perga


When we first arrived last night at the Khan Hotel in Antalya, our initial thought was to skip all extra trips and spend time right in town, exploring the city and hanging out in our wonderful suite with the view. But we also wanted to actually see the place, Perga, where the amazing sculptures came from, so we signed up for the extra afternoon tour of Aspendos and Perga.
The morning was gorgeous, clear and beautiful with sunlight on the Bey Mountains (part of the Taurus Range) to the west and we knew it would be a great day to be traveling along the Mediterranean. After our standard breakfast of olives, bread, cheese, yogurt and honey for me and hard boiled egg and cereal for Mo, we boarded the bus for the drive west along the coast. Antalya is interesting in that it really is a fairly new city in spite of the ancient history of the Old Town portion and the innumerable ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods that surround the city in both directions. Most of the buildings in the major part of town however, are dated from the 50’s when western tourists discovered the magnificent climate, beautiful seas and beaches, and mountains. It makes for a rather boring city with canyons of cement cubes and streets without much character, especially compared to the creative chaos of Istanbul.
As we drove west along the beaches the mountains loomed up larger than life, with huge cliffs dropping right to the Mediterranean.
Approaching our first ruin of the day, the ancient Lycian town of Phaselis, we drove through thick forests of red pine with wide vistas of the sea and mountains, and open roads with no traffic, which was especially nice since they came close to the HWY 1 roads along the Big Sur coast of California.
Phaselis was established by the Greeks from the island of Rhodes as early as the 7th century, fell to the Persians and then later to Alexander the Great after he defeated the Persions. The city was in Egyptian hands for a short time, but after 160 BCE it became part of the Lycian culture that was actually under Roman rule. Because of its 3 beautiful harbors, rich timber resources, and fresh water sources it was a target for pirates repeatedly throughout its history, with losses during the Byzantine period and then as late as the 11th century when it ceased to be an important port and eventually vanished entirely.

The ruins themselves are not especially exciting, a great remnant of a Roman aqueduct, some large baths, and a truly beautiful theater are the standouts, but the setting is probably the most beautiful in all of Turkey. The harbors are especially gorgeous, with crystal water, sandy and rocky beaches surrounded by forests and Mt Olympus, one of 22 such named mountains in Greece and Turkey, rising to more than 7,000 feet above the sea.

Our visit was leisurely, with time to put our feet in the Mediterranean, hike up to the top of the theater, and take lots of photos of the amazing mountains and lovely forest. It was warm and sunny, and one of only two capri days for Mo and I on our trip. Interesting tidbit regarding the decline of the city had to do with the fresh water marshes that still exist nearby. Malaria was one of the scourges of this lovely climate by the sea with plenty of fresh water, so between pirates and illness it faded away into history.

Winding our way back along the coast and to Antalya, we were conflicted in our choice to go on the afternoon tour and at the last moment I very nearly jumped the bus in order to have time to explore the bustling city and wander the streets in freedom. Glad we didn’t do that, however, because our visit to the Roman theater at Aspendos was one of the highlights of Antalya. Aspendos was the eastern most city of the kingdom of Pergamon, the culture responsible for the gorgeous city on top the hill near Kusadasi that we saw on Day 6. This Roman amphitheater was built in AD 162 and is the most beautifully preserved Roman theater in the world. I climbed to the top of the theater, walking the gallery, and imagined the beautiful façade that once held many of the sculptures that we saw yesterday in the museum. Some people from the group sang for us to demonstrate the amazing acoustics, although I really wished my daughter Melody could have been the one singing there for me. I also took photos of the backstage area and how it looked to walk backstage onto the main stage with that huge arena in front of you. The Helenistic period was dominate by theater, comedies and tragedies, and it wasn’t until the Romans that these theaters became a venue for beast fights and gladiators. There were remnants of the fences that separated spectators from the animals, and the gaping hole where the lions emerged was impressive. We both really loved this theater and were glad we didn’t miss it.
The trip to Perga very late in the day was somewhat of an anticlimax, with ruins not as impressive as Ephesus, or as well preserved. There are ongoing archaeological digs that were interesting, and there is still so much to be explored. After seeing all the artifacts from this place in the museum, and looking at all the mounds surrounding the area, it is great imagining what waits to be found here.
We returned home after dark, somewhat sad that we had no time to explore the city of Antalya much, but still managed a walk through the pedestrian mall down to the sea wall and the bazaar that bordered the old city and the sea. It was pretty quiet, with many of the summer tourist restaurants closed and dark, but still lots of younger people walking about and again the standard groups of young Turkish men hanging around smoking and talking. There really weren’t many women about, but the presence of some young couples walking the promenade and the general respectful nature of the Turkish men gave us a reasonable sense of safety even in the dark evening. Still, I didn’t carry a handbag, used a clip to hook my wallet inside my pocket, and kept my hand on it the entire time. Although Suleyman warned us about the few people who might be less than honest, we never had any problems the entire time we were in the country, for which I am grateful. There was nothing of the pushing and shoving and invasion of personal space that Mo experienced in Morocco which I had expected might be a problem. The men in Turkey that we encountered were invariably charming, and entertaining, but the women were guarded and not the least bit inclined to be taken in by western tourists. Much like cats, the boys are all friendly and outgoing and the girls hang back and look at you with caution. I found this very different from Thailand where the women are incredibly sweet and kind and treated us with great friendliness.

Day 9 Pamukkale and Heiropolis and the Spa


Relaxing in Pamukkale with an afternoon appointment for a Turkish Bath and an Auruvedic Massage. Yes!

The travertine pools at Pamukkale have been a site for healing for a few thousand years or so. The geology of travertine wasn’t something I fully understood, so I had to go look it up.

Travertine is a kind of limestone deposited by springs. Groundwater traveling through limestone beds dissolves calcium carbonate, an environmentally sensitive process that depends on a delicate balance between temperature, water chemistry and carbon dioxide levels in the air. As the mineral-saturated water encounters surface conditions, this dissolved matter precipitates in thin layers of calcite or aragonite, two crystallographically different forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). With time, the minerals build up into deposits of travertine. It is an odd geological resource that can be harvested and renewed.

The region around Rome produces large travertine deposits that have been exploited for thousands of years. The stone is generally solid but has pore spaces and fossils that give the stone character. The name travertine comes from the ancient deposits on the Tibur River, hence lapis tiburtino.

Today we are at the Lycos River Hotel in Pamukkale. It’s the first fairly quiet day we have had since we left on this tour. Pamukkale is in a very rural part of Turkey near the city of Denizli, but the hotels are not even in Pamukkale. The hotels are associated with the springs and there are many here, of varying qualities and amenities, and all a mile or so from the village where most businesses are closed since the normal travel season ended back in October. I can see why as I viewed the snow on the mountains around the Meander River Valley were we are traveling. As has been the case all along on the trip, our hotel is adequate but certainly not luxurious. This morning was a bit dicey when I couldn’t get any hot water for about half an hour. Funny, since there are hot springs all around with water at 117 degrees F. Finally managed a lukewarm shower and out in a cold foggy morning for our visit to the famous travertine pools and hot springs, and the ruins of the city of Heiropolis.

In Hellenistic times, between 200 and 300 BCE or so, the thermal springs at Heiropolis made the city a popular spa area. Later on the Romans developed the city even more into a spa retreat, with huge baths and pools, libraries, and temples. There is a pool there now that is littered with marble columns where you can swim and dive, but on this day it was too cold to think of such a thing. The ruins are extensive here as well, and the artist rendition of what the city looked like in Roman times is amazing. The city is perched above the travertine terraces shaped like a semicircle, with another huge stadium on the hill, and a Necropolis outside the city that has the highest number of existing sarcophagus from ancient Anatolia. It has been quite a revelation to be in Turkey seeing so many ruins of ancient cities of Greek and Roman culture. Another interesting cultural note is that Suleyman insists that we refer specifically to Hellenistic culture aka 300 BCE, rather than “greek” culture. I think the Turks and the Greeks are not so friendly. Some of Suleyman’s wisecracking little remarks have been directed towards Greeks.

The skies were very gray and boring, and the wind was cold and the rain started while we were walking the ruins, so the photos are a bit dull. But even the dull skies couldn’t really detract from the physical geologic wonder of the travertines. Although I did buy postcards that show how gorgeous they are in the brilliant sunlight, all white against brilliant blue skies. No blue skies today, however, so we were glad to return to the hotel and our room, turn up the heat and do a bit a relaxing for a change. Tomorrow is another long day of travel back south to the Mediterranean coast and Antalya.

Day 8 Miletus and Didyma


For some reason this day slipped by without leaving a lasting impression. Another day of ruins and blue skies and riding in the bus. The morning started again with bags outside the door at 630, breakfast at 7, on the bus by 8 and off we go again. This group is much too large, actually, with 43 people traveling together. It’s interesting to watch the interactions and the patience shortening, including mine. I’m still not impressed with this tour company, although Suleyman our guide is pretty impressive.

First thing on the road and we stopped at a leather factory. Once more an opportunity for the tour company to get their cut off what the tourists are willing to buy. Again, though, the show was fun, with all of us lined up along the runway while they played very loud rock music and flashed the lights and the models so we felt like we were at a real fashion show. The leather was beautiful as well, great craftsmanship, and of course, very expensive. Most touchable was the “silk” leather, as thin as a shirt, soft and buttery, and still strong and guaranteed waterproof. Several people bought nice coats and jackets, but in spite of how delightful it felt to try on the silk leather coat, I didn’t succumb to 700 American dollars for a jacket. Give me a break! It is fun watching the group buy things though, and everyone cheers when we get back in the bus and show our “stuff”.

We rode along the coast to the Hellenistic ruin at Melitus, most interesting for the view of the valley that was a bay at the time the city was built, but has since silted in to become a fertile agricultural landscape, much like the valley around Troy. The theater was again Hellenistic in style, built into the natural contours of the landscape.

We then traveled to Didyma, a small village, noticing how simple and small most of the houses in Turkish villages are. Right in the village, behind a fence, is what is left of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. Standing outside looking in doesn’t quite prepare you for how it feels inside this temple. The columns are huge, and the artwork is dramatic, including a gorgeous sculpture of the face of the Medussa that is beautiful. This temple was used to honor the god of prophecy and oracles and is thought to have been associated with the temple at Delphi, with priestesses dreaming and prophesying. After the prophesies, they would be written down and the books were stored here as well. The temple is constructed entirely of marble quarried from the nearby Lake Bafa area. The temple was built in the 7th century BC, and was one of the leading oracle shrines in the world. The temple was destroyed by the Pesians in the mid 6th century BC but was restored by Alexander the Great in 350 BC. With the coming if Christianity, the temple was converted to a church and was destroyed in 1493 by an earthquake. It is interesting that in Turkey, much of the history of these ruins and cities includes some kind of a statement, “destroyed by an earthquake in etc”.

As I have been traveling through this country I have been feeling often as though I was back in California. Today, searching the internet, I found that the San Andreas and the Anatolian fault are so similar that the USGS is studying the Anatolian Fault and sharing information hoping to understand both faults. Here in Turkey we have traveled through serpentines and metamorphic and metavolcanic rocks that are the identical twins of what I am working with in the foothill metamorphic belt back home in Sonora. Even the accreted terranes are every bit as complex as anything I am dealing with at home in my current soil survey. An accreted terrane is basically a little continent traveling and slamming up against another continent, and terranes are the main building blocks along the foothills of California and right here where I am in Turkey. It’s fascinating and fun for me, especially.

We had lunch at a small restaurant with another buffet and a Turkish “Efes” beer, (very good!) and more driving up the Meander River Valley to arrive at the Lycos River Hotel in Pamukkale after dark once more. I hate arriving anywhere after dark, with stacks of luggage and people milling about. Ugh. Did I mention the patience thing?