We left Taos heading west to find new areas that neither of us had been to before and stumbled upon what must be NM’s fishing playground. Just west of Santa Fe and south of Los Alamos is Bandolier National Monument.
This is a beautiful area that was once a Pueblo settlement until the 1670s, similar to the ones we visited south of Albuquerque. One of the 20 year droughts that the southwest still gets forced these settlements to be abandoned. We camped up on the hill and hiked down into the canyon. The ruins were impressive, both on the canyon floor and up against the walls. You could still see the holes where the wooden ceiling poles were installed that separated the multi-floor dwellings.
We were allowed to climb into several of the old cliff dwellings.
One was 140 feet above the floor and required several ladders to get to the dwelling where an old Kiva was probably the site of many ceremonies.
Heading west from Bandolier was Valles Caldera National Monument, which used to be a national preserve, but was recently upgraded to monument status. Similar to Yellowstone, this area was a huge volcano caldera. The area was noted for the many movies that have been shot there over the years. The back area is day use only, but with many fishing spots that will be on list of places to revisit.
We passed the Soda Dam along the road, where calcium carbonate has been building up for thousands of years to form the rock dam and a pretty interesting rock formation.
We then headed north to Fenton Lake State Park for the night and relaxed in the high elevation woods near a lake and stream.
We talked to the Fish and Game guy who was there stocking the area with rainbow trout about the condition of the dirt road that headed north over the mountain. Even with the recent rains he said it was passable so we left the park the next day and headed over the mountains. The drive was beautiful and it was so high that the spring leaves had not come to this area yet.
We dropped down the other side of the mountain into Cuba, NM and then west to Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. This is also a world heritage site due the size and significance of the ruins.
Between 900 and 1100 Chaco was the trade center for a region that encompassed the entire southwest. They have found evidence of sea shells, macaws, chocolate and even coffee beans in the ruins. The great houses there span many miles and many are not even excavated yet. Those that are visible are creations of masterful stone masons.