Stark. Thought provoking. Stunning. Adjectives fail me.
FOUR CORNERS is the only place in the U.S. where the boundaries of four states, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, touch. You can have your picture taken spread-eagled across four places. Cool, right? I can’t actually speak from experience. On a recent visit, my husband and I found so many other compelling places to see, we sailed right past the turnoff. Turns out that for us the best part of Four Corners, which is kind of nondescript (and rumor has it, marked in the wrong place), was not the four corners.
Ninety minutes east:
… and 100 miles south …
This is American history I never learned in school. Hard to imagine, this open, arid land, once heavily populated.
Spruce Tree House Ruin in Mesa Verde takes you back a thousand years. Climb down into the kiva, peer through the windows. The settlement is partially restored, 90% of it original:
A few blocks off a busy, gray November thoroughfare in the working town of Durango, are the Aztec Ruins (“Aztec” a 19th century misnomer, actually built by ancestors of the Hopi), where you can duck through the low doorways of ancient passages.
Head south to Chaco Canyon and find more wonders:
The ancestors of the Hopi, Navajo and Puebloan people were first rate engineers, traders, entrepreneurs, travelers, story tellers and history keepers. They built masterworks, lived, worshipped, farmed, visited each other for decades, and then for a host of reasons we’ll probably never know, walked away. It is humbling.
Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.
TRIP DETAILS: November is a wonderful time to see the Southwest. It can be cold but it’s often clear and sunny, and visitors are sparse. If you like to hike, you can find many places to be totally, blissfully alone in the stunning silence of the winter desert.
Itinerary: 6 day trip, starting from Albuquerque:
(1) Chinle, AZ, visited Canyon De Chelly. Only one hike, the White House Ruins, is open to the public. Other sites require a Navajo guide.
(2) One night, View Lodge in Monument Valley, self-guided driving tour and a hike around Mitten Butte.
(3) Mesa Verde. Most of the ruins are closed after October, and at elevation of 6000+ feet it was pretty cold, but hauntingly beautiful. We walked in to Spruce Tree House ruins and took in the view from the Park Point Overlook (elevation 8572). Be prepared for a longish (20 mile), winding drive from the park entrance.
(4) San Juan Skyway loop to Telluride, CO and — this is a blog in itself, maybe one of the most beautiful alpine drives I’ve seen.
(5) Durango, CO, Aztec Ruins; Spent a night in Farmington.
(6) Chaco Canyon, NM. Self-guided driving tour, 7 mile hike to Penasco Blanco. Some of the biggest and most spectacular settlements in the region, as well as a jaw-dropping series of petroglyphs and pictographs. 17 mile drive from the main road to the visitor center, part of it gravel.
What we missed: Hard to get everything in in a week. With more time, I would have visited the Petrified Forest in Arizona and the Hopi Cultural Center in Second Mesa, AZ.
And Four Corners Monument? Maybe next time. (Maybe not.)