Chaco Culture National Park, National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We got on the road early on Monday morning and headed for Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is way down a washboard rutted dirt road surrounded by desert and the Navajo Nation. It is well worth the trip, but be prepared for sun and bring food if you need a meal because it is a long way to the nearest restaurant.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a National Park. It was a major trade and ceremonial center for the Puebloan peoples who visited and lived here. Cherie and I headed up the cliff trail near the Visitor Center. Sandy was having altitude adjustment problems and sat below in the shadow of a ruin to take in the sights and photograph us from below. (By the way, this vertical foray kicked off my vertigo and I had to be very careful on the way around!)

Then we joined a ranger to explore and learn about the Pueblo Bonito, which was once a four-story structure. Actually, I guess it still is. The bottom two floors were filled back in after excavation to keep it stablized. So what you are looking at in these photos are the two upper floors!

There were more petroglyphs near the hole in the cliff that the ranger said lined up on the north/south axis with another across the canyon, but they were difficult to photograph in the sun. I noticed online that there were really great petroglyphs down a long trail where we had neither the time or energy to hike. Too bad. I love ancient art and the mysterious symbols. Maybe I will get to go there again one day.

Because it is so remote, this is an International Dark Sky Park. Wouldn’t it be great to camp here and look at the stars! May seems like a good time to visit because it wasn’t very crowded when we were there. Of course, it was a Monday, so not many families were there. Mostly a lot of seniors or near seniors with trekking poles, like us.

Then Cherie, heroic driver, drove us to Santa Fe through country that looked like Hollywood western movie territory. I could imagine cowboys and outlaws riding through the sage. We stayed at Santa Fe Sage Inn. It was a very nice hotel for the price, and they had a great hot buffet breakfast. We pretty much hit the bed and rested for the next day.

Cahokia, Illinois, Missouri, St. Louis trip, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Cahokia Mounds, Part II

The weather improved greatly so our first stop on Thursday was Cahokia, where we climbed up Monks Mound. You could see St. Louis from the top. Cahokia was one of the greatest cities in the world at its time. Parts of its outlying villages continue to be found. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but a state park, not a national park. Like all parks these days, it struggles from budget cuts but its museum displays were outstanding and the grounds beautifully maintained.

A mural of how the city may have looked inside the interpretative center.

“Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas.” Click the photo to read the sign.

Looking up the stairway to the top of the first terrace.

Looking down the stairs at the mounds across the road from the third terrace

View of a mound and a woodhenge, taken with a zoom. There is development all around the site and that appears to be a landfill in the background.

Zooming in on the view of St. Louis from the top.

Ireland, Northern Ireland, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Monday, May 21, 2012: The Giant’s Causeway

After a short ferry ride across Lough Foyle, we were in the United Kingdom. The currency was now pound sterling and the speed limits and distances were in miles. The feel of the country was different. The houses tended to be larger, the fields tended to be fenced instead of walled. And yet the sheep were still everywhere.

Our goal was to visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and then get to our hotel near the Dublin Airport fairly quickly. We had to return the rental car that night and we were tired already with most of the day behind us and a long way to go.

We stopped briefly at Dunluce Castle, and had it been earlier in our trip I feel sure we would have paid to go into it, but instead we just took photos from the outside. This 13th century castle ruin is on the edge of the seacliffs, and one day the kitchen split away and fell into the ocean, taking the kitchen staff with it.

Since I wasn’t feeling so hot, we parked at the Park and Ride in Bushmills and took a shuttle to the Giant’s Causeway, which was a bit cheaper. Then we took a shuttle again down to the stepping stones of Finn M’Coul. I wanted to save my energy for climbing around this mindblowing geological formation. Science says that it is a result of a lava flow that cooled slowly. Folklore says that the giant Finn M’Coul began laying a stepping stone path in the sea over to Scotland.

Bladder campion – one of my favorite wildflowers

If I lived near here, I’d want to go here every weekend.

Next post: Coming home

Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park, National Parks and Monuments, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Mesa Verde National Park


Tower House

There are so many great photos that we took in Mesa Verde National Park. Not only are the ancient cliff dwellings fascinating, but the entire park is beautiful. Even the large area that was burnt by a wildfire in 2003 is bursting with wildflowers. It is difficult to pick only a few photos to share here.

We stayed at the Far View Lodge in the middle of the park. Our room had a king-sized bed and a little balcony overlooking the park. We drove in very late the night before, when a bear and a large elk crossed the road in front of us. That morning, we saw either a small deer or an antelope near our balcony. It was standing in the shade so I couldn’t tell which. Later that day we saw wild horses, the descendants of escapees from the Ute Reservation next door from a couple of generations back, and I saw an elk resting in the trees across the road from one of our stops, quietly watching our tour group.

The ranger-led tour that we took that afternoon focused on three sites: Tower House, Tri-Cities (a site where three different cities were built and the kivas have been preserved under a shelter) and Cliff Palace, the most famous of the cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because its 4000+ archeological sites include the best preserved sites, and its cliff dwellings are built into alcoves in the cliffs.

The cliffs are so tall and vertical that you have to marvel that anyone would choose to live there. The Anasazi originally lived on top of the mesas in pit houses around 600 A.D. and moved to the cliffs in the latter part of the period, around 1200-1300 A.D. One current opinion is that they may have moved to the cliffs to free up more land for farming on top of the mesa. When they left the area after a prolonged drought, they dispersed into the 19 Puebloan tribes of today.

When we were told that people with heart problems shouldn’t go on the Cliff Palace tour and that the exit involved ascending 100 feet including ladders, Sandy and I huddled for a conference and decided to do it anyway. He was fine and my grip held and so we went on a tour of a lifetime through the Cliff Palace.

top to bottom: Inside the Palace, the original steps to the Palace, and EEP! the first ladder.