Four Corners: November Travel

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:

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West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley

… and 100 miles south …

Mummy Cave, Canyon Del Muerto
Mummy Cave, Canyon Del Muerto, occupied for 1000 years, ending about 1300 A.D., over 80 rooms perched on a cliff ledge

This is American history I never learned in school. Hard to imagine, this open, arid land, once heavily populated.

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13,ooo year old tools found neatly arranged under 18 inches of soil in a Boulder resident’s front yard. Protein residue from camel, horse, sheep and bear were found on the tools. Source: Science Daily,

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:

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Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

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:

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Penasco Blanco, Chaco Canyon

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.  

(Puebloan Proverb)

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.)

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Image source MapquestDiscover

12 comments

  • Dear Julie,

    This is the land I grew up in- but was I little more to the south and west and in a much scrubbier desert. We had the Casa Grande Ruins at the entrance to our town – a four story mud complex from the Hohakam – the people who came before. They were precursors to the Hopi. They had 1000 miles of irrigation ditches from the Gila river. They left 600 years ago- maybe when the river went dry.

    I loved seeing the photos and thinking of you exploring these lands with your sensibility and appreciation.

    Coffee? Yes. When.
    Ann

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    • Hi Ann,
      Wow. 1000 miles of irrigation. Somehow missed this part of our history. Maybe I was asleep when a 4th grade teacher talked about it. I have a much greater appreciation for your (former) neck of the woods.
      J

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  • Hello Julia!

    What an amazing trip! The Chinle area, including Canyon De Chelly is beautiful country. Along with Monument Valley. I always think of John Wayne when I see a picture of that valley since they shot so many films in that area back in the day. So glad you and hubby had a wonderful time. Thank you so much for sharing your travels with us! 🙂

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  • Karen! Hello stranger!

    I’d seen so many pictures of Monument Valley I didn’t expect to be impressed. I was bowled over. It was so quiet and so stunningly beautiful. I forgot that you lived in Arizona. Should have written to ask you what to see. Hope you are well and thanks for the visit.

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  • I have ALWAYS wanted to go to that place where the four states touch! A few years back we were close — dangerously close — to making the trip. Hubby had already done it and convinced our son (TechSupport) that it wasn’t that big of a deal. I still want to do it. I LOVE everything about that part of the country. I actually blogged about our trip. Let me know if you want to see it — I’l send you the link! It has lots of pictures, and I’ll bet you’ve been to every place we went!

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  • I’m sitting here feeling a sense of longing, because you have taken the trip I’ve wanted to make for years, but still never have. Why? Because my wife and I are both addicted to scuba diving in the tropics, which is where all our vacation time and money goes, most years. Maybe I’ll print out your post including photos and itinerary, and hang it up on the wall of my study, as a daily reminder of how much I’d love to do this trip.

    We’ve been out west before, and we were in total awe of some of the places we went to, where everything was so spectacularly vast, and stunningly beautiful – but we haven’t been back since the late 1990s. Looking at your photos, which I really like, it’s obvious to me that I would be awestruck again if I was seeing what’s in your photos while being there for real.

    Four Corners? Maybe not quite so much. 🙂 Good post!

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  • We like scuba diving in the tropics too! Well, my husband does. I snorkel along on the surface where it’s nice and safe. We visited Bonaire last spring. MAN. Beautiful. But. Every American should visit the Southwest, especially in the off season. While on one of our hikes I stepped a few feet off the path on a hike to, well, you know, and found a painted pottery shard that looked like the 1000 year old pieces in the museums. Put it back of course, as instructed to by numerous native Americans and Forest Service employees, but just gives you an idea of how much history is out there in the desert.

    (Hope you visit again. About to publish a post on legalizing marijuana and might need friends in my corner.)

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    • Ahh… Bonaire. One of the biggest reasons WHY my wife and I got addicted to scuba diving in the tropics. We’ve been there 3 times and would love to go again. It’s one of the very best dive destinations in the Caribbean, and we will always have vivid memories of the underwater beauty of the reefs and multi-colored tropical fish in large numbers and diverse variety of species.

      In a place like Bonaire, with it’s excellent shore diving, snorkeling can be just as wonderful as scuba diving, with almost just as much to see.

      Visiting the Southwest is on my bucket list, and we WILL do it, but it’s ironic that you mentioned your recent trip to Bonaire, since it’s the place that has probably been the most responsible for keeping us from making our visit to the Southwest. But we’ll get there…

      Do you travel a lot? Where else have you been for tropical diving? Just curious to compare notes…

      Replied to your post in favor of legalizing Marijuana earlier, and I just took a look, and all quiet on the Western Front. But if you do need a friend in your corner, I’ll be there.

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      • My husband, recently re-certified, has a long list of wishes. So far we’ve made it to Hawaii, St. Johns and Bonaire. Bonaire by far and away the most impressive. For me partly because of the flamingos. On the bucket list: Cambodia (might be in our next lives). Thank you for the marijuana love.

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        • Just left you a marathon reply to your comment on my “Happy 56th!” post, due to your mention of the 1986 World Series “Buckner game”. But my Red Sox PTSD flashbacks have subsided now. Lol

          But for me, necessity is not only the mother of invention, she is also the mother of brevity, and right now I need to be brief! Lol

          Easy to have a long wish list for tropical dive destinations. Haven’t been to St. Johns but would love to go. Been to Hawaii three times, but except for 1st trip in 1985 when it was my very 1st tropical dive experience, Hawaiian diving wasn’t as impressive as numerous places in the Caribbean we’ve been to. But lots of other incredible things to do in Hawaii besides diving, like sea kayaking and hiking, and seeing lava flows and… BREVITY!!! Lol

          Cambodia sounds like formidable logistics, and we had marijuana love? Damn! I don’t remember it, and that’s why I quit smoking pot!!! Was it good for me? Lol – you’re welcome!

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