I woke up early in the morning with the hope of getting some nice sunrise shots at Hovenweep NM. The clouds didn’t cooperate, and the photos weren’t spectacular. Instead of spending an hour or so shooting at sunrise, I hit the road and headed toward New Mexico. My first stop of the day was Chaco Culture National Historic Park. I was a little concerned about getting to the park as it is accessed via a dirt road. I didn’t know how the rain from the previous day would have affected the road. When I did get to the road it was dry and in good condition. Chaco Culture NHP is a site that contains a large number of ancient Pueblo ruins. It is really amazing, and one could spend a number of days exploring, seeing, and photographing it all. There is a campground inside the park facilitating a multi-day stay. The ranger mentioned that you can usually get a campsite for the night if you arrive before noon during the week. The road allowing access to the ruins is open sunrise to sunset. I knew that I would have limited time at the site, so I decided to see the two largest great houses, Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito, as well as do the short hike to Pueblo Alto.
I started with the short walk to Chetro Ketl. One of the most impressive parts of Chetro Ketl is the great kiva there. The photo doesn’t do justice to the kiva.
The great kiva at Chetro Ketl.
A portion of the main ruins at Chetro Ketl.
I presume that this ruin is considered to be part of the Chetro Ketl ruins. It is a bit detached from the main ruins, but in the same area.
Pueblo Bonito is the largest complex. It is truly massive. The size makes it difficult to photograph, but I took a few photos anyway. The great house was built close to the canyon wall. Apparently the canyon wall isn’t stable and large portions of it have fallen down resulting in a pile of rubble near the back portions of the ruins.
Here is a photo of the rockfall and a small portion of the Pueblo Bonito ruins.
The trail winds around and eventually enters the Pueblo Bonito complex. This photo gives a sense to the size of the main section of walls.
The color of the canyon wall was really nice. I thought it worked well as a background for the images.
One classic image from Pueblo Bonito is a photo of the aligned doorways. The light was pretty harsh by the time I made it to this point, but here is an black and white HDR image that does the scene some justice.
After seeing many images of these doors, I had assumed that they were full height doors. Much to my surprise they aren’t full height. They are only about half height. I don’t usually take pictures of myself, but I felt I needed one to give a sense of scale to the previous photo. The main trail leads through 5+ doors of this height…which are really, really fun to navigate
I did make an attempt to take a panoramic image of the ruins. It isn’t a great image, but it does give some idea of what they look like from inside.
I left Pueblo Bonito and headed for the Pueblo Alto trailhead. Before hiking the trail, you need to fill out a backcountry permit. It isn’t hard, but I guess it helps the NPS determine usage and give an additional reminder that you shouldn’t damage/remove the artifacts or ruins. The trail to Pueblo Alto starts in an imposing manner. You walk down the road and suddenly the trail takes you to the top of the plateau via a rockfall. The trail is well marked and not hard to navigate, but I would guess it scares off a few folks. It is much easier than it looks. Once you get to the top of the plateau, the rest of the trail is relatively flat and easy. On the way to Pueblo Alto you can take a small detour to get a view of Pueblo Bonito from above. It is a nice view.
View of Pueblo Bonito from above.
The rest of the hike to Pueblo Alto was very uneventful. Actually…Pueblo Alto wasn’t exactly eventful. Pueblo Alto was a small group of ruins. I was much more impressed by what is called New Alto. It looks cool and imposing as it sits alone on the top of the plateau.
An image of New Alto that just doesn’t do it justice.
I hurriedly hiked back to my car and headed off to the Bisti Wilderness. As I planned this trip the one place that I really wanted to photograph was the Bisti Wilderness. From my research it seemed like the quickest route from Chaco Canyon NHP to Bisti was a dirt road, CR 7500. When I talked to a ranger from the Farmington BLM he seemed to think it was reasonable to travel the road in a passenger car. Based on the dryness of the road out to Chaco Canyon NHP I decided to try the road. CR 7500 was passable in a 2WD car without too much trouble. Some sections of the road were a bit rough but overall it was well maintained and well signed. The road isn’t difficult to navigate as long as you are paying attention and don’t end up on one of the many side roads. It is around 24 miles long and access to the De-Na-Zin wilderness can be found about half way down the road. I didn’t stop by the De-Na-Zin on this trip, but I did grab some GPS coordinates as the access is easily missed. After leaving CR7500, I drove a few miles north on NM 371 before traveling the final stretch of dirt road to the southern parking lot for the Bisti Wilderness. I pulled into the parking lot to find another photographer, Dick, visiting the Bisti. We had a nice discussion about some of the features of the Bisti. Dick had already put in his miles in the wilderness that day, so he opted to photograph the hoodoos across the road that evening while I embarked on my first visit.
I had done a fair bit of research on the area which included several GPS waypoints and some basic maps and suggested routes. If you are going to visit the Bisti Wilderness and want to be able to find some of the more popular formations without getting lost yourself I highly recommend taking a good topographic map and/or a GPS (and of course have some experience using them!). There are plenty of hills and washes around which could make it difficult to find your car again if you aren’t paying attention to your route. Even with all of the research and reading I wasn’t prepared for what I found. The Bisti Wilderness is a fantastic place. The amount of oddly beautiful landscape available is amazing. I wanted to go find a formation called the egg factory, egg hatchery, nursery, etc. I am going to refer to the area as the nursery in the rest of this post. I figured that I would see what I could see along the way. Fortunately the sky had some nice clouds…unfortunately they blocked the sun when it reached its lowest point.
This cute, little hoodoo has sort of fallen over. I just couldn’t pass by without a photo.
I titled this image, “Hoodoo Junk Yard.” It looked like to me someone had discarded these hoodoo top rocks in a haphazard way like they were junk.
Just a few hoodoos on top of a small hill.
This formation is often referred to as the Bisti arch. It is really a photogenic little guy. It seems to me that it is best photographed in the late afternoon/evening.
The Bisti arch is near the nursery. After taking a few quick photos, I headed off toward the nursery. It was the one formation I really wanted to see in the Bisti Wilderness. It didn’t disappoint. I have added way too many photographs on this area, but I couldn’t resist. I spent quite a bit of time photographing the area and hoping the sun would peek out through the clouds. It did for a few moments which was nice. After the sun peeked out for the last time, I headed off to explore a few more areas of the Bisti Wilderness. Eventually I decided it was time to head back to the car before it became too dark and more difficult to find my way back. Overall it was a fantastic evening.
The nursery with an eggshell in the foreground and a bit of background for perspective and orientation.
A few half open eggs.
Another section of the nursery.
The sun had come out a bit when I took this photo of the rock I named “The Big Bug.” It just looked like a large insect of some sort to me. I guess it is guarding the nursery as it finds itself positioned at one end.
A different perspective on “The Big Bug” and the rock behind it where they both look a little like a petrified rose or flower of some sort.
The nursery in some nice light.
The edge of the nursery after the sun had “set” behind the clouds.
I was actually surprised at the size of these rocks. I expected them to be a bit smaller. Here is another image where I put myself in the photo to give a bit of perspective on the size of the landscape.