Four Corners, Part 6 (Reflections)

On August 20, 2017 · 0 Comments

I decided to have a little fun in the final article of the Four Corners series. A couple of my earlier posts mentioned a trip through the same general area many years ago. It served as a short leg of my longest road trip ever, eventually covering 8,000 miles (12,900 kilometres) in 28 days during the early summer of 1992. I wondered how memories tucked away for a quarter century would compare to the present. I hadn’t returned to Four Corners, Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde in the intervening twenty five years so this would be an interesting experiment.

Four Corners

Well of course we stopped at the famous Four Corners marker. You didn’t really think I’d name this entire series of articles "Four Corners" and never mention the actual geographic spot, did you? The marker made its first Twelve Mile Circle appearance back during the earliest days of the blog in a post I called Four Corners- USA. The photograph I chose to illustrate that earlier article came from the 1992 trip.

1992


4 Corners

A much younger me stood on the exact spot necessary to split my body into equal portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

2017


Four Corners

Obviously the location didn’t change after 25 years. However, wow, the Navajo Nation certainly spruced it up and made it look nice. The earlier image showed what amounted to a marker plopped onto a parking lot protected by guardrails. Now an attractive masonry and stone patio neatly encased the entire area. The set of stands where Navajo artisans sold their wares also improved remarkably. Permanent wood and stone structures replaced what previously looked like those flimsy temporary stands hawking fireworks around the Fourth of July.

It didn’t seem as remote as I’d remembered either. Sure, it was still out in the absolute middle of nowhere. This time we stayed overnight in Farmington so the drive to the marker took only an hour. That probably made the difference.

However, standing on that spot produced the same exact thrill. Bestill my geo-geek heart. Even the kids enjoyed it.


Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Canyon quickly became one of my most cherished memories from the earlier trip. I’d never heard of Chaco before that. That single viewing impacted me profoundly. I was so excited to return there, more than any other site on our trip. Check out these compare-and-contrast photos of the Kin Kletso pueblo taken from approximately the same spot atop the mesa twenty five years apart.

1992


Kin Kletso - 1992

That dark smudge on the right didn’t come from a bad scanning job, it came from a bad photo. Those of us of a certain age will remember the days before digital cameras. They probably existed in 1992 although a casual photographer such as myself didn’t know anything about them. I probably couldn’t have afforded one even if I had. I used a crappy point-and-shoot Kodak Instamatic with 110 film. That little blob was my finger straggling over the lens. We never really knew when a photo might be wonderful or horrible. With film, casual tourists didn’t snap a dozen photos of the same thing and delete all but the best one. That was too expensive. So I took the photo, sent it off to be developed after I got home, waited another week to get it back, and hoped for the best. Apparently I deemed it "good enough" to keep.

2017


Chaco Culture

The recent image came out much better. Some of the scenery changed a little, the bushes and access road most noticeably. However, Kin Kletso itself didn’t seem to change at all. Every stone in place in 1992 appeared to be remarkably the same after all those years. I tip my hat to the National Park Service for their great stewardship and preservation.

Getting there seemed a lot easier. I can’t recall if U.S. Highway 550 had four lanes back then or not. It certainly did not have a 70 mile per hour (112 kilometres per hour) speed limit. Even if it did, I doubt the camper we drove would have hit that speed. The sixteen-or-so miles of gravel and dirt road from the highway to the park remained as lousy as ever though. I still found it unnaturally amusing that the park itself featured nicely paved roads. From any direction, visitors had to travel over dirt, a roiling dust storm behind them, only to arrive at a blessed asphalt oasis in an otherwise empty desert.

The park itself gave me the same thrill even after so many years. I’d love to return and spend a few days probing the remote corners I’ve not been able to reach yet.


Mesa Verde National Park

Did it really take us more than half an hour to get from the Mesa Verde visitors center at the park entrance to the main attractions? I’d totally forgotten about that. It didn’t create any real hardship although it cut down our exploration time a little. The best photo contrast took place at Spruce Tree House.

1992


Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park

The earlier photograph actually turned out pretty well given the limitations of the camera and the person behind the lens.

2017


Mesa Verde

As with Chaco, everything remained pretty much the same at the actual ruins. Even the soot from ancient campfires along the mesa rim retained familiar patterns. The big spruce tree blocking the view disappeared somewhere over the course of time. However, other than that, I couldn’t tell much difference.

Mesa Verde seemed a lot more crowded this time. That might have been due to time of year rather than increased popularity. Last time I visited in late May, right before Memorial Day and before the summer vacation season. This time we arrived in late July at its height. We couldn’t see some of the features I’d visited earlier because they required tickets that sold-out for the day before we arrived. Nonetheless, we improvised and had a fine time. Our pivot to the Petroglyph Point Trail wouldn’t have happened otherwise and I got to see something new.

My memories of these places held up pretty well. Naturally I’d forgotten a few of the details although I did confirm my favorable impressions of three remarkable places.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 5 (Breweries)

On August 17, 2017 · 1 Comments

Every longtime reader in the Twelve Mile Circle audience already knew that this article was going to happen. Here comes the one about my latest brewery adventure. As always, I’ll try to put a bit of a geo-geek spin on it. I won’t talk about any actual beers because that wouldn’t meet the stated purpose of 12MC. Nonetheless, I’ll be understanding and sympathetic if you decide to skip this note and come back in a few days. That’s part of the deal I make when I write these travelogues. I always slip-in a brewery article and the audience has no obligation to pay attention to it.

Can You Say Nano?


Comanche Creek Brewing

What an adorable little brewery I found in Eagle Nest, New Mexico. Just look at it, a single small cabin with a porch. I can recall only one smaller brewery I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to more than four hundred now. This one didn’t seem to have enough size to even qualify a microbrewery; clearly it ranked as a nanobrewery. Welcome to Comanche Creek Brewing.

My relatives in nearby Angel Fire recommended it, assuming I could find its secret location. The brewery sat at the end of a long gravel road (map) terminating at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Handmade signs pointed the way. Actually the hardest part might have been finding the exit from Highway 38 heading north out of Eagle Nest. The signs made it pretty self-explanatory afterwards. I did have a "where the heck are we" moment though, as we pushed farther away from civilization.

The brewery took pride in staying open during its stated hours. Its website did counsel patrons to "call if it is a blizzard, we are probably still out here but check in just to make sure." It rained heavily the day we visited so we assumed they’d be open regardless and that was the case. Everyone huddled under the small front porch to keep warm and dry. Standing room only in the middle of nowhere. The brewer/publican/owner/etc. stood in the cabin doorway handing out beers as needed. My relatives said this was the first time they’d ever seen other visitors. I figured they must have been mountain bikers disappointing that rain canceled their runs at the nearby ski resort. I devised a formula. Mountain Bikers + Rain = Drinking. They filled every place in town.


Unplanned Geo-Oddity


Bathtub Row Brewing

New Mexico and Colorado both had smallest counties that differed dramatically from any other counties in their respective states. Los Alamos County, NM measured 109 square miles (282 square kilometres). Broomfield County, CO covered even less, only about 35 mi2 (87 km2). As I noted in an earlier article during this series, Los Alamos existed solely because of the laboratory located there that developed the atomic bomb. I also talked about Broomfield awhile ago. This county used to be a town split between four separate counties. Broomfield got tired of dealing with all those different rules so it formed its own tiny county in 2001.

I’d planned in advance to stop at a brewery in Los Alamos, the Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op (map). It fell along our direct path so it seemed logical. However, Broomfield, towards the end of the trip, came as a complete surprise. We stayed with friends outside of Denver who asked if we wanted to go to a brewery for dinner. Of course we did. Only after I returned, as I updated my brewery visit list, did I discover that Nighthawk Brewery (map) fell within the diminutive borders of Broomfield County. Surely completing an economic transaction within a county "counted" more than simply crossing its border.

I don’t know if I’ll keep a running tally of brewery visits to tiny counties. I will note for the record that I regularly frequent a brewpub in the smallest county equivalent in the United States (within the independent city of Falls Church, VA). Add Los Alamos and Broomfield to the list for what that’s worth.


Beer Crawl in Durango



I’ll mention the close proximity of several breweries and brewpubs in Durango, Colorado because I don’t want my map to go to waste. This simple interactive guide kept me on track as we navigated through town. I felt pretty proud of my quick handiwork so I decided to inflict it upon the 12MC audience as well.

No, we didn’t hit all of the breweries in one epic crawl. My visits are about responsible drinking, involving samplers or flights, not pints. Of the five visited, we went to one for dinner our first evening, then out to the remote one (Ska) around lunchtime the next day, then another three right in town during the afternoon and evening. We didn’t make it the final one or to the distillery. Blame it on palette fatigue.


The Full List

Some readers may be curious so I decided to provide the full list of breweries and brewpubs we experienced during our journey, in order. Twelve visits in ten days seemed pretty respectable.

  • Creek Brewing Company; Eagle Nest, NM
  • Enchanted Circle Brewing; Angel Fire, NM
  • Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op; Los Alamos, NM
  • Second Street Brewery; Santa Fe, NM
  • Three Rivers Brewery; Farmington, NM
  • Steamworks Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Ska Brewery; Durango, CO
  • Animas Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Carver Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • BREW Pub and Kitchen; Durango, CO
  • Nighthawk Brewery; Broomfield, CO
  • Platt Park Brewing Company; Denver, CO

The lifetime total stood at 422 visits as the trip concluded. I’m moving right along.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 4 (Native Americans)

On August 13, 2017 · 0 Comments

It would be difficult for anyone to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado without encountering signs of its original inhabitants. Archaeological evidence stretched back for millennia. Ruins defined an era of large, complex settlements beginning more than a thousand years ago. Their descendants still lived in the area, preserving a rich tradition and culture. The clash between archaic and modern bewildered me at times. It differed so completely from my experience on the Atlantic coast where a building from the Seventeenth Century would be considered "ancient."

Our journey went backwards in time, from the current day to successively older epochs. I hadn’t planned it that way. It simply unfolded as we drove along.

Taos Pueblo


Taos Pueblo

People still lived in Taos Pueblo, perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. I didn’t see the Pueblo during my visit to Taos in 2013 so I made a special point to get there this time around. My older son accompanied me. My wife and younger son decided to take a rest day back at Angel Fire, at a higher altitude with lower temperatures. The desert climate of Taos climbed into the mid 90’s that day (35° Celsius). Our first contribution to the pueblo economy got us two bottles of cold water.

Taos Pueblo (map) stood distinctly apart from the nearby town of the same name. Native Americans speaking a variant of Tiwa, a Tanoan language, first settled there about a thousand years ago. They built multistory adobe structures, from mud and straw supported by log beams, on both sides of a gently flowing stream at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The called themselves the Red Willow people and they prospered in a large farming community. The Coronado expedition arrived there in 1540, beginning a long era of Spanish contact. Pueblo structures that Coronado would have recognized appeared much the same to modern visitors. Only the addition of a church sometime around 1620 changed the landscape inside its walls dramatically.

Somehow, against all odds, descendants of the original inhabitants still occupied and owned Taos Pueblo. Little shops selling traditional crafts occupied many of the ground floor rooms today. However, no electricity or plumbing served these ancient places. I’d heard that a few people still lived within the pueblo although most occupied modern homes just beyond its gates. Its buildings also needed constant maintenance to keep their earthen walls from washing back into the desert during summer storms. The whole experience seemed otherworldly. No wonder it made the UNESCO World Heritage site list.


Pecos National Historical Park


Pecos National Historical Park

The residents of Pecos Pueblo (map) didn’t fare as well. Their settlement started around the same time as Taos, about a thousand years ago, and it prospered for centuries. Perhaps two thousand people filled its towering adobe structures during its apex. They chose their location well. This high ground separated the Rio Grande valley from the Great Plains. That allowed the people of Pecos, known as the Cicuique, to become middlemen in a vast trading network. They controlled contact between the Pueblo tribes to which they belonged, and various migratory tribes of the plains. This brought wealth, prosperity and power to the village. The Coronado expedition encountered Pecos at its peak, at a time when it dominated the region.

However, the situation slowly changed over the next couple of centuries. Spain eventually consolidated its governance in nearby Santa Fe, about eighteen miles (30 kilometres) to the northwest. Previously unknown European diseases such as smallpox ravaged the population. Great Plains tribes like the Comanche raided and harassed its inhabitants. Only a handful of people remained by 1838 when they finally abandoned their ancestral home and moved to Jemez Pueblo.

Pecos Pueblo became a ghost town, crumbling slowly back into the mesa. The largest remaining structure actually reflected Spanish rule, a church dating back to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Only the bare outlines of residences and ceremonial kivas remained elsewhere throughout the site, accompanied by a couple of modern reconstructions hinting at its former glory. The few surviving ruins of Pecos Pueblo became a national park property in the 1960’s.

I loved this photo by the way — perhaps my favorite from the trip.


Bandelier National Monument


Bandelier National Monument

Another pueblo rose during that same era near the present city of Los Alamos. Unlike Taos and Pecos, the people at Bandelier (map) did not build their village upon an open plain. Instead they used local geology to their advantage. Sheer cliff walls defined nearby mesas, with layers of soft volcanic stone called tuff. People could dig into the tuff to create rooms. They could also carve holes that anchored logs to attach external buildings. Thus, the pueblo grew in three directions, out from the cliff, into the cliff, and up.

However, the ancestral Pueblo residents left Bandelier before Europeans arrived. Early Spanish explorers found only ruins, long abandoned. Oral tradition and archaeological evidence pointed towards overpopulation and an extended drought. The people who lived there likely migrated from their Frijoles Creek homeland to more successful pueblos in the Rio Grande valley.


Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Mesa Verde National Park

Pueblos in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde also rose and fell before Spanish explorers arrived. I’ve written about Chaco and Mesa Verde previously based upon my visits there many years ago, so I won’t repeat their stories again. However, for the sake of completeness, I offer a couple of pictures I took during my recent trip.


Chaco Culture

This was a nice overlook of Pueblo Bonito (map) at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.


Mesa Verde

And this was part of the scenery at Mesa Verde’s Sun Point View (map)


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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