This is part 1 of a series on travels to the Southwest
I packed up my duffle bag with lightweight cooking pots, sleeping bag, tent, first aid kit grabbed a flight to New Mexico and drove the rental car out of the airport parking lot and into the dessert. I went West to a Canyon that had an ancient archeological site listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
I stopped at the grocery store and piled my trunk with wood, water, lighter fluid, charcoal and packed a Styrofoam cooler with ice and food. I had no idea where I was headed other than the map and a destination.
The road into the Canyon is 30 miles so I made sure I gassed up at the only gas station around for 100 miles before heading down it.
The scene before me looked like burnt food. Big mounds of sand packed down from years of weight and weather. Black edges tinge the rocks while the sun beat down relentlessly.
I took a left onto the road and saw the Sign for Chaco Canyon Historical Park and made my way down the dusty road. Later I learned that if it does rain … the road turns into a giant clay slick and you can’t enter or leave the park for days until the road dries out again.
The long ride to the campsite only emphasizes the distance between you and the world you have now left behind. The road enveloped me like a story that takes you away from your daily reality.
The flavor of my surroundings is more of the same, I glimpse for some strong emphasis of stunning but am disappointed to see only these burnt loaves of rocks first on one side of my vehicle then rising up on the next.
Still the air crackles with mystery. I drive on leaving behind the remnants of civilization. I pass the mile marker and head to the camp site.
Before me rises a giant bluff. This is the site of the sun dagger that was this worlds way of marking the phases of the moon. The bluff is standard really to the layout of this world, nothing much but the highest point around and made of shear rock. There is I hear a toe and foot trail that winds up to the top but for the life of me I couldn’t get there and besides you can’t without a permit from the visitors center.
I pull into the campsite and see a small number of tents hugging the wall of the canyon. I drive forward pick out a spot close to a trail head and walk back to the registry box to dump my payment in the slot. I clip my tag to the wooden stick in front of my site with my name and phone number on it and the number of nights I am staying and walk to my car, back it in and start unloading my wood.
Build a Fire. It’s hotter than hell now, about 110 but in about 2 hours after the sun sets it will go down to probably 40 degrees if I am lucky. I pull out the first layer of fleece. It’s too hot to start now and I pop a baseball cap on my head as I am in the blazing sun and burn easily.
Stacking wood is an art. For those who have done it, you know. It’s an art; setting the kindling in and layering the wood so the most consumable piece starts the fire and then as it builds heat, layering it with hard wood or cedar. Makes a nice smell.
I grab the frying pan and pull out my 1/2 pound of meat, some butter and a bun and cover the whole deal with aluminum while the fire stokes up.
A moment of rest. I stare at the empty world around me. All I see is a beetle on the ground . There is a cloud every now and then and a grateful breeze intermittently. The grass is prickly but grows up in patches here and there. I glance a purple flower amongst the dry parched world and a brown chameleon darting here and there.
There are these weird cylindrical red chunks on the earth and I pick one up and stare at it. It’s a 600,000 year old root of a plant. They liter the camp site.
It’s getting dark. People are coming back to the campsite from the trails. I wave at a person across the brush, shake their hand, find out where they are from and we discuss beer and an invitation to join in with the conversation around the fire 6 spaces down.
As the sun sets behind the Canyon wall and my eyes adjust to the night, I grabbed my fleece top and gently lift it over my head. The goose bumps on my skin alert me to the drastic drop in temperature and a patch of sun burned skin.
My tent is slightly to the left of me on a flat 8 x 8 area that is edged with wood planks. The ground is not level at all so I rearrange my tent so my head will lay at the top of the slope. I checked the ground for rocks and sharper objects. There is nothing worse then rolling around on jagged rocks while your sleeping at night.
It’s a clear night and the stars are magnificent. I stay by my campsite and enjoy the peace and quiet of the evening.