Well, here it goes. The Grand Finale of my 3 part series of my Big Southwestern Road Trip! Boy, this has been fun and I hope that you have followed along with my adventures! If not, no worries! I will include links later in the post! 🙂
The 4-Corners Region
After heading north on HWY 191 out of Chinle, AZ for about an hour, we went West on HWY 160 towards the 4-Corners. The 4-corners has always been a bucket list item for me because I live in Colorado and frankly it’s a cool thing. Sadly, I never have made it down to this part of the state, until now.
The 4-Corners is the only place in the United States where 4 states touch in a perfect corner. Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. In reflection, for me, I found it completely insane that I stepped on the Equator way before I even came here! My fault but I finally did it! Bucket List checks off…
If you are traveling to the 4-corners don’t expect much. It’s probably one of the most desolate places in the US. The topography is dry and flat. It’s mostly Navajo Nation land and seriously nothing much to look at. In all honesty, the only cool thing about going to this place is the monument that is set in place. The Navajo’s charge you a few bucks to get in (which they should). It’s worth every dollar especially when you can get a picture like this!
Hum, what landmark can I stand on now? I’m sure that I will figure something out!
The closest major town to the 4-Corners is Cortez, Colorado. To me, Cortez is a charming ranching community that has a lovely historic downtown area. They have all the amenities in terms of shopping and stocking up that you will ever need.
As always, if there is a visitors center, we would stop in to figure a plan. Cortez has a nice visitors center with a terrific staff. They were very accommodating and maybe gave me more information than I wanted to know about my beloved state that I have lived in for 30 years… This isn’t a bad thing. Just eye-opening and nothing that the media will talk about.
When I asked my normal set of questions like where is there BLM land or national forest access for free camping, I was told, “there isn’t any”. This was perplexing to me because, well, this is Colorado.
It turns out since the legalization of marijuana in our state, we have accumulated a large homeless problem (even in the 4-corners region) because people want to come here and “legally” smoke pot. Well, these folks need a place to stay, so this population of people was commandeering the woods, and vandalizing the lands with trash, human waste among other “things”… Rightfully so, they closed these lands to the public.
I don’t want to make this a political post, but Colorado is in a whirl of hurt. It’s not the same state that I have loved for so many years and the changes that are occurring here now are tragic. Our politicians need to wake up and see what is happening under their noses. In my opinion, you can’t just pass laws and have no plan for the consequences that are a result of them. It just breaks my heart.
Anyhoo, onto more happy things!
Mesa Verde National Park
Part of the plan in visiting Southwestern Colorado was to see another national park. Mesa Verde National Park was in the right place at the right time! It’s kinda crazy but Mesa Verde was the 11th National Park that we saw last year. Again, I was in a bit of dismay. 30 years in Colorado and I hadn’t been here!
“Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States”.
Mesa Verde is definitely a cool park to see. They have these overlooks where you can see all the dwellings and imagine how the heck did people live here thousands of years ago. I will say from my perspective, they must not have been afraid of heights! Some of these dwellings are 100 feet off the ground! It’s actually quite incredible.
Another thing about Mesa Verde is the road back to see all the ruins. The scenery is fantastic. There are some pull-overs that are worth the stop! You can see Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah from the top. Make sure you do this. It’s breathtaking.
The upside to visiting a National Park in November is that there are zero crowds (yeah) the downside, they close off much of the hiking and some of the attractions. It’s all good though, we got to see most of the important things! Mesa Verde was definitely worth a visit!
Mancos State Park
Mancos State Park ended up being our camping spot for 2 nights. Night 1, we needed a place to camp and night 2 well it was just so pretty that it just made sense to go back. It’s unheard of but there wasn’t another soul in the park for 2 nights! I’ll tell ya, there is nothing like being in a place that you don’t have to share space with any other people! I loved the peace and quiet!
Check out the first picture and see how low the lake is. This park is known in the summer for its fishing and boating. Haha, that wasn’t happening this past fall! I’m not sure that I have ever seen a lake so low. All those poor fish! Anyway, I am happy that the Mountains in southern Colorado have been hammered with snow this winter! This is a good thing. It’s time for the aquifers to fill up after a few dry winters!
Durango, Colorado is a perfect place in Southern Colorado to stop and consider where you want to go next. You can go north up towards Telluride, east towards Pagosa Springs or south towards New Mexico. You can’t tell from this picture but some cold, nasty, snowy weather was moving in so we decided to go South towards New Mexico to try and avoid it. It would add some time to the trip but that was ok as it wasn’t time to stop exploring yet!
It was Veterans Day when we pulled into Durango. To our surprise, they were having a parade. Not just any parade, but one HUGE parade! I hadn’t seen a parade like this in years. It was pretty neat to see a small town in America rally together in such a manner to support our veterans. It gave me chill bumps. Still does.
Aztec, New Mexico
HWY 550 south took us to Aztec, New Mexico. I read someplace that this town had some ruins as well so why not stop for a visit! The Aztec Ruins National Monument is another completely unexpected surprise! It’s a nice way to spend an hour or so and actually walk around this ancient community. Definitely worth a stop if you ever happen to be in this part of the world!
The town of Aztec is pretty neat all on it’s on. Too bad it was a Monday, there wasn’t sole walking around and no business was open, except a pizza shop. The pizza shop guys told us where to go camp. On any other day, Navajo Dam would have been an amazing place to camp but the bad weather moved in and it got really cold and snowy real quick.
The Pine Campground was our close-by option. It was lovely as it sat directly on the San Juan river. The campground actually had a lot of die-hard fisherpeople. I guess this area of New Mexico has world-class fishing, so if this is your thing, don’t miss it!
The road to Taos, New Mexico
After leaving Aztec, we traveled HWY 64 towards Taos. To date, this is the most secluded road that I have ever been on. I think about 3+ hours. If I remember correctly, 1 car and 1 snowplow the entire drive! I’m sure the views were incredible but the weather was unfavorable for sightseeing. It was alright though, it was still a pretty drive! This road eventually crosses the Rio Grand Gorge and dumps you into Taos.
Fun travel tip: Once you cross the Rio Grand, start looking on the left side of the road. You will begin to the largest community of “earth” homes in the world! It’s quite a sight! There are so really great homes! Wow!
Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment”. New Mexico offers the clearest air in the US and has the best sunsets of any place that I have ever been too! I have traveled the world and there is nothing more special than a New Mexican sunset. (ha, to date)! That being said, Taos is one of my favorite places to visit and a short 4-hour drive from south Denver.
Taos, New Mexico, my old stomping grounds… My first trip to Taos was in the late 1980s for a ski trip! The original “old town” hasn’t changed a bit and remains one of my favorite places to visit. I know this area like the back of my hand which came in handy considering how crummy the weather was!
Because the weather was really cold and a decent amount of snow had fallen, camping in Taos was impossible. The tourist center was closed because it was late, so I followed my instinct and went south towards the Village of Pilar to find a place to camp.
Wild Rivers National Monument, Questa, New Mexico
Back in the day, when my parents were living in Santa Fe, I remember my Dad talking about fishing in the Rio Grand River and taking a giant hike down to it. Well, this is the place! Wild Rivers National Monument is a spectacular place! It’s were the Red River and The Rio Grand converge. The gorge is quite a sight to behold!
Wild Rivers offers some fantastic hiking. While hiking down the Little Arsenic trail, we stumbled upon some beautiful warm springs that fed into the Rio Grand. I’ll tell ya, that was a cool sight. Don’t miss this hike if you are in the area.
I will say though, the hikes in this area aren’t for the timid. You need to be in good shape to do it safely. If you do go, it’s worth every step-down, haha, coming up is another story! 🙂
A Final Note
As promised here are the links to more of my United States travel adventures. 2018 was quite a year. 7000 miles, 11 National Parks, countless National Monuments, State Parks, boondocking opportunities, unbelievable sightseeing and well just a whole bunch of fun! There is more to come this year! Until then…