Add Utah Scenic Byway 12 to Your Bucket List

Scenic Byway 12 spans a route of 124 miles, and travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. It is home to two national parks, three state parks, a national recreation area, a national monument, and a national forest and damn fine restaurant that is worth the trip for lunch or dinner alone!


Mossy Cave hike just outside Bryce Caynon on Scenic Byway 12

For all you motorcycle enthusiasts …Marsha Crest and David Lytle, this is a dream ride, bucket list material really! Even traveling in a car like we were, still bucket list worthy! Along the way you will also discover that Scenic Byway 12 takes you through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. If you are lucky, like we were, you might see deer, elk, wild turkeys, golden eagles and turkey vultures.


A sneak peek into Capitol Reef National Park


Leaving the Red Rock Overview

The big bonus for us was that this drive would take us to Torrey, when Capitol Reef National Park is just nine miles down Hwy 24. Capital Reef had been on our trip itinerary until is snowed just before we had planned to drive there from New Mexico. So, we were excited to get to see it, even if for a few hours.

Byway 12 could be done in segments using Boulder as a base camp but is also doable as a long day trip where you can just take in the highlights like we did. We got started around 9:30 am, armed with the Byway 12 guide brochure which you could download here as well – Byway 12 guide.

This drive is full of amazing points of interest – 26 to be precise in the guidebook. With all these stops along the way, know you can’t and don’t want to speed through it, because 12 is about time—landscape that has been carved through geologic time, human evidence of historic and archeological times, and wonders that have survived over time until today.


Another example of the crazy diverse terrain just outside of Escalante

Since we were starting the drive out of Bryce Canyon City our first stop was the Escalante Interagency Visitors Center. The very helpful ranger pointed out some great day hikes for later, gave us another handful of brochures and also informed us that the side drive we wanted to do – Hell’s Backbone Scenic Drive was still covered in snow at the highest elevation. Double Damn, but probably just as well as we certainly couldn’t have done that 44 mile back country drive the same day. I was intrigued by the drive as the construction of Hell’s Backbone Road was completed in 1933 by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), allowing vehicle traffic between Escalante and Boulder for the first time. The 12 byway didn’t exist either so getting around in this part of Utah was limited to horse or wagon. Hell’s Backbone Bridge, a photographers dream, allows travelers to pass above Sand Creek with views of the spectacular Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area. Well, another time when the snow has melted.


Hell’s Backbone Bridge


Hogsback portion of Byway 12

Stopping to take in all the viewpoints and the breath taking scenery, was working up an appetite and I was excited about our lunch stop – Hell’s Backbone Grill. With a name like that I bet you are envisioning a quintessential biker bar with pools table and Budweiser on tap. No so much – This charming restaurant sits on the grounds of the Boulder Mountain Lodge and is a true farm to table restaurant.


Charming isn’t it?

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding are chef-owners of this highly acclaimed and award-winning restaurant, operate their restaurant following Buddhist principles, with a commitment to sustainability, environmental ethics, and social and community responsibility. They serve organic, locally produced, regionally and seasonally appropriate cuisine, growing many of their own vegetables and fruits organically in the restaurant’s two gardens and on their six-acre farm. They feature dishes made with fruit from Boulder’s heirloom orchards and rely largely on local ranchers for the grass-fed and -finished meat they serve.


The grounds around the Restaurant and Inn are just beautiful in the spring

Okay, Hell’s Backbone Grill is my kind of restaurant and to find it in one of the most remote towns in the US, Boulder Utah, population 180 was just karma I figure. We both really enjoyed our meals and lingered over dessert. Their cookbook, “With a Measure of Grace” is filled with tempting recipes and the beautiful story of how the chef-owners have created a place for their restaurant in community very unlikely to embrace outsiders, made its way home with me.


Backbone BLT – applewood smoked bacon, organic romaine, sun dried tomato spread on the house-made sage flatbread with a small mixed green salad – SOOO good!

After a very satisfying lunch and stroll around the grounds at the Boulder Mountain Lodge, we had to get back on the road since we were really only halfway through the drive. It would have been easy to linger all day or just stay for a while. If your tempted, here are a a few links to check out –  Hells’ Backbone Grill  and Boulder Mountain Lodge


The next portion of the drive took us up, up, up Boulder Mountain through an alpine forest to over 9,000 feet. Groves of aspen trees mixed with the alpine pines creating an ever changing vista. The fall colors on this portion of the drive would be amazing, so think about that when your plan your trip! Just don’t wait to late as the restaurant in Boulder closes for the season in October!


These groves of Aspen will paint a stunning fall foliage picture

As breathtaking views of the rugged, rainbow-hued landscape stretching out below. The mountain was first plotted on an 1872 map by Almon Thompson, the cartographer with the John Wesley Powell Survey. However, the area was already well known to various Native American people, who left behind evidence that they lived and thrived in the pristine hills and hollows. Rugged and remote, this area of Utah would have been a hard and unforgiving place to settle.

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This picture was with digital zoom and turned out like a watercolor – kinda cool for a bad photo!

Of course we stopped at every scenic overlook, but when we arrived at Torrey we didn’t linger but just continued on to Capitol Reef National Park. Very different from the spirals at Bryce Canyon, the words massive, huge, and towering came to mind as we drove into Capital Reef.


Gooseneck Overlook

The signature feature of Capitol Reef National Park is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long monocline, or fold, in the Earth’s crust that towers as much as 2,000 feet above its eastern base. There is much to do and see here in this quarter million acre park. And all we really had time to do was drive through. Along the Fremont River, there are ancient pictographs and petroglyphs painted or carved into the sandstone by some of the area’s early native inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

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Can you just see how the massive plates of earth were pushed up

More recently, 19th-century settlers colonized a village they called Fruita, named for the fruit orchards they established under the crimson and cream-colored Wingate and Navajo sandstone cliffs. Visitors today still enjoy the “fruits” of those efforts during summer and fall when they pick and sample the harvest of peaches, apricots, plums, pears, and apples. The old Fruita Schoolhouse and Historic Gifford Homestead, pioneer dwellings that provide a glimpse of 19th-century Utah farm life, are located along Highway 24 near the park campground. For more info check out this link – Gifford Homestead.

Among the park’s sights are the Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Capitol Reef, known for its white sandstone domes. In the north are the towering monoliths of Cathedral Valley. The cool thing about Capital Reef National Park is that you are able to just drive through and into many of the towering canyons where some great trail heads start.


One of the sandstone domes



This is hiking and backpacking paradise 

There is no entrance gate and fees are paid on the honor system at the small visitors center. I suspect that this incredible park gets a fraction of the visitors that the other more well known Utah parks get. The funding for the park is obviously less but the park staff and volunteers are clearly proud of their park. I would love to come back here and do more exploration in a season that isn’t marginal and plagued by late snow storms.

You can learn more about the park by visiting the National Park website – Capitol Reef National Park.

Since we had Mr. Bentley in the car and it was actually really warm in some of the canyons, we only did some short walks. Soon it was time to hit the dusty trail back and we choose just to retrace our path back along Byway 12 instead of taking a longer loop.


Boulder Mountain high plateau

It was truly just as beautiful on the return, seeing things from a different perspective made the trip back really as enjoyable. Luck was with us and we did see three adolescent elk near Boulder Mountain on the return drive. No great photos of them to share, so really you do need to add this drive to your bucket list and see them for yourself.


Breathtaking Bryce Canyon – part one

We arrived at Ruby’s RV Park in Bryce Canyon City mid-day last Sunday and quickly got the Roadhouse set up in our spacious site. It is great to have real grass again after months in the desert. Chores done, pets all situated and there was still time for a trip into Bryce Canyon Park as Ruby’s is just a mile outside the park entrance.


Look at all that green grass!

After a quick stop at the Park Visitor’s Center to get the lay of the land we anxiously headed out. I knew Utah was chock full of spectacular red rock scenery and sure, I have seen some pictures of Bryce Canyon but nothing is better than seeing it yourself. The entrance to the park doesn’t reveal its splendors so I was simply awe stuck at the first scenic viewpoint.


The views from Sunset Point


Snow still at the highest point in the park

Our first few hours in the park was spent just driving the 18 mile road and stopping a each viewpoint to take in the jaw dropping beautiful vistas.

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Aqua Canyon

We had hoped to do a short 1 mile hike at Rainbow Point but the snow at the higher elevations was more than our tennis shoe clad feet wanted to traverse.


The Bryce Canyon Lodge sits serenely in the pine forest not far from many hiking and walking trails. Built between 1924 and 1925 using local materials, the lodge is an excellent example of National Park Service Rustic design. It is the only remaining completely original structure of the lodges designed by Underwood for Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


The following day, we took the free park shuttle from Ruby’s to Sunset Point where the trailhead for the Navajo loop started. This hike also connects to the Queens Garden trail which is rated easy with less than 700 ft of elevation gain. Easy is a good way to start when you are hiking at 8,000 feet. As usual we did not get a really early start so by 10:30 there were plenty of people on the trails.

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Hiking down into the canyon on the Navajo Trail

That did not take away from the spectacular scenery where you could get close to those massive hoodoos.


Yes, you walk right between all those spires!

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Visual overload is what I would call this hike! Four miles of nothing but stunning red rock formations, dotted with green pine trees. At some point, I just had to soak it all in and not worry about taking the perfect picture.


The Queens Garden trail takes you right through the rocks!


The terrain in the canyon valley changes at every turn

The rocks are sculptured into all sorts of shapes and there really is a formation that looks like the queen on her throne. Can you find her in this next picture?



There she is…the Queen

The last part if the hike was a bit of huffing and puffing as we climbed the 700 feet back up to the canyon rim. Shady switchbacks were a welcome place to stop, gaze at the natural wonder of Bryce Canyon, oh yeah, and catch your breath!

Lake Powell, an unexpected adventure

How does that saying going…”the best laid plans of men and mice often go awry”. We had not planned to go to Lake Powell but had reservations in Torrey Utah which would be our base camp to explore Capitol Reef National Park. Well, snow in Torrey just didn’t sit well with either of us so, presto chango, Lake Powell it is.

So glad we have the option to be flexible because we really enjoyed Lake Powell. The bonus was our wonderful friends Tom and Laurie, who are always up for an adventure, drove up from Mesa Az and spent three fun filled days with us exploring the area. Campfires, s’mores, great wine and the evening night cap of Glenfarclas 21 year aged whiskey was a great way to relax after our daily adventures.


Rainbow Bridge Arch – An adventure is always better when shared with good friends

Our first day together was a whirl wind of sightseeing, an early morning tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, followed by a short hike to Horseshoe Bend and after lunch, a drive to Lees Ferry Bend.


This remarkable slot canyon is located on Navajo land just outside of Page Arizona and is one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. Formed over hundreds of years of water running through sandstone, the walls rise 120 feet, twisting and turning to form a spectacular red rock slot canyon. Imagine light beams peaking through a narrow crack in the ground, bouncing off the slot canyon walls, creating a visual feast. Sounds great doesn’t it…well, the only way to see it is to go on a cattle call tour with one of two native guide companies.


Despite being one of hundreds of tourists being funneled through the canyon, the experience was well worth the price of admission. We decided to tour the lower canyon and go early to try to avoid some of the crushing crowds, which turned out to be a great plan.


We got lucky and had a great guide, Julie, who was very knowledgeable AND enthusiastic about the canyon. She regaled our group of 15 people with Navajo culture plus being a photo enthusiast, she also helped us set up some great photographs.


We climbed down ladders, up ladders, filed through the narrow slot walls and despite the large numbers of people, you were often alone and it was surprisingly quiet.


I love how the colors change as light filters into the canyon from high above. Light beams dance off the sides of the walls as the sun moves over the canyon. The textures and colors are amazing and change as you continue your journey.


Our hour in the canyon went to quickly and left me wishing I had all day to linger there in the glow if the red canyon walls minus the mass of people.


Who’d thunk there was even a canyon down there?

From one jaw dropping sight to another, off we went to Horseshoe Bend which is located 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and about 4 miles southwest of Page. Again, be prepared for a mass of people but by going early in the morning there will be less people and the morning color with the sun coming from the east will be beautiful. A short .75 mike hike gets you right to the edge of the overlook where the Colorado River is a mere 1,000-foot down.


Wow, if you are afraid of heights, you may want to just crawl up to the edge and look over as you will be rewarded with jaw dropping beauty. It is amazing to me that in the litigious USA there are no fences here. One could walk right up and simply fall over the edge but fortunately no one did that in our visit!


After a quick lunch, we headed out to Lees Ferry which has a fascinating history of its own and turns out, is also a beautiful place to drop your toes into the ice cold Colorado River.


Lees Ferry is the only place within Glen Canyon where visitors can drive to the Colorado River in over 700 miles of canyon country, right up to the first rapid in the Grand Canyon. A natural corridor between Utah and Arizona, Lees Ferry figured prominently in the exploration and settlement of northern Arizona.

This historical site is downstream from the massive Glen Canyon Dam where the Colorado river was free flowing in the days that the ferry was running. I can only imagine how fierce the river was then as it was really churning when we were there.


If you want the real dirt (think checkered past) behind the man the area was named after, check out this link:

The area along the river is well marked with information and there are remnants of the old steam ship that eventually sank near the ferry landing in addition to the well preserved buildings.


Bright and early the next morning, we were packed up and ready to head out on our 19 foot Triumph speed boat. Lake Powell is huge and our destination was Rainbow Bridge Arch, some 30 miles across the lake. You can also take the big tour boat from the marina out to this area if you aren’t confident about captaining a boat.

Armed with google maps, a paper map, binoculars, lunch and Bentley, of course, we headed out.

It is 60 miles round trip from Wahweap Marina to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument


Motoring through the man made cut to get to the main part of Lake Powell

From land the lake is beautiful but from the water its beauty truly unfolds as you navigate its many arms.

Thankfully there are great buoy markers and a few signs as you get close to Rainbow Arch. Truly the only way to see this area of the lake is by boat or by hiking in about 20 miles one way. Glad we opted for the boat!


Heading back into the dock at Rainbow Bridge Arch


It’s a beautiful hike back to this natural arch

I am sure there is more to Lake Powell than we discovered in the few days we had to explore. We will be back to see more of the lake…hmm, there may be a houseboat rental in our future.


Spectacular Santa Fe

You know how you feel when you meet someone intriguing and as you get to know them better, you like them even more? Well, that’s how I felt about Santa Fe. Our two week stay was just enough time to develop a crush and make it hard to say goodbye.

So why am I crushing on Santa Fe?

It’s a beautiful area – high mesa surrounded by snow capped mountains and amazing sunsets.



There are so many great restaurants, museums and art gallery’s one could spend on this here…hmm, now that’s an idea.


Great stores for foodies…Trader Joes and Sprouts make it a 5 star city in my rating system.
There is an endless supply of hiking possibilities.


Hiking at Eldorado Community Preserve


The Dale Ball trail system is just minutes from the Plaza

Spectacular outdoor beauty – Kashe Katwe Tent Rocks Monument, Bandelier National Monument were two of my favorite short day trips.


The hiking trail actually takes up through a narrow slot canyon


The unworldly Tent Rocks

The area is seeped in history, established in 1607, Santa Fe is the second oldest city founded by European colonists in the United States. Only St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is older.


The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Assisi open in 1886

Thirteen years before Plymouth Colony was settled by the Mayflower Pilgrims, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was established with a small cluster of European type dwellings. It would soon become the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America and the oldest European community west of the Mississippi.

While Santa Fe was inhabited on a very small scale in 1607, it was truly settled by the conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta in 1609-1610. Santa Fe is the site of both the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors and the nation’s oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, established in 1712 to commemorate the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in the summer of 1692. Peralta and his men laid out the plan for Santa Fe at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the site of the ancient Pueblo Indian ruin of Kaupoge, or “place of shell beads near the water.”

The city has been the capital for the Spanish “Kingdom of New Mexico,” the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, the American territory of New Mexico (which contained what is today Arizona and New Mexico) and since 1912 the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe, in fact, was the first foreign capital over taken by the United States, when in 1846 General Stephen Watts Kearny captured it during the Mexican-American War.


This historic city is now filled with beautiful art

Not surprising but dogs are a great ice breaker, especially when you meet folks who have the same breed. I actually met Cooper and his people, Joe and Sharon in Arizona. It was great that we all happened to be at the Santa Fe Skies RV Park at the same time again 2 months later. Joe and Sharon were great tour guides as they have been spending time in Santa Fe for years. We really enjoyed getting to know them better and hope to see them on the road again soon.


Cooper, showing off his new, bright hiking boots.


Having fun in Madrid with new friends

RVing is a great way to make new friends and our stay at Santa Fe Skies RV Park was no exception. There were several evenings spent gathered at the communal chiminear, fire blazing, cocktails in hand, chatting about life on the road.

And finally, Bentley’s vote…a 4 paws up rating. The Santa Fe Skies RV Park had a great walking trail and dog park which was his favorite place to play ball and catch some air! I think Bentley had a crush too.

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Will Hike for Food

No, this wasn’t a sign I saw someone holding by a Santa Fe freeway on-ramp. It’s the reward earned for a hike well done!

Often times we bring our lunch when we are out hiking as it is just so peaceful to dine alfresco with a view. Not to mention we aren’t the earliest birds out on the trail so it always seems our hikes run into the lunch hour. Today was no exception, we hit the Eldorado Ramble Trail around 10:30 but the food coffers were light – a granola bar and some nuts.


The 4.2 mile loop in the Eldorado Community Preserve is of diverse terrain and geography with only 624 feet of elevation gain – it is a relatively easy hike. This wonderful preserve is only 20 minutes from downtown Santa Fe.

I am a big fan of the All Trails app and one of the reviews mentioned starting the loop to the right so that you do not have to hike the steep 1 mile section uphill at the end of the hike – good advice as it was steep, rocky and the clay mud just stuck to our boot soles. Starting the trail this direction wound us down through scrub trees, mostly juniper, where birds could be heard singing but elusive to see.


At first it felt like hiking in the PNW except the paddle cactus and cholla’s were a reminder that we were indeed in the Southwest.


Wonder what kind of woodpecker did all this handy work?

While the wildlife was elusive, we saw a lot of scat, hoof and paw prints and even this partial deer leg. I must admit, it gets your mind going when you find something like this. I always like it be the last hiker on the trail and Wally is often quite a bit ahead of me as his stride is just that much longer. He thoughtful reminded me today that the mountain lions often take the last hiker. That’s a lovely thought, right? Too bad for him, I canceled all our life insurance when we retired!


We traversed through some really interesting rock striations that constantly changed over the course of the hike. Granite boulders, red clay rock, white limestone, slate and beautiful stair step areas, which were often stream beds.



After passing through a lovely meadow, we had to start the gradual climb up and back around to where the loop started.



The climb begins…breathe


These dainty beauties seem to love the steep southern slope

With views back over the valley, this seemed like a perfect place to take a break and nosh on our meager snacks. Careful to check for snakes, I was hopeful it was still too cold for them to be out sunning themselves.


Ah, the view

As we continued on this uphill portion of the trail, we hiked along a rocky canyon edge where we could see down to a small stream. While the air was still cool, the warm sun on our backs felt great and the 624 ft elevation gain seemed so much easier than the hike we did two days earlier which had a 1254 ft gain over 1 mile.


Following the canyon edge along these stacked rocks


But this is as close to the edge as this gal is getting

It’s damn hard adjusting to the altitude here in New Mexico and we are often starting our hikes at 7100 feet. I was hopeful that meant I am burning more calories but an internet search on that subject was a big let down. Turns out, I am not burning any more calories but just sucking wind!

The final part of the loop took us through an area where the rock stream beds were just beautiful and some were like stair steps that disappeared mysteriously into the trees.


Sure, I’d love to sit here an catch my breath

Back at the trailhead around 1:15 pm and now thinking of the lunch we did not pack, we headed back to the Roadhouse. Our route back to the freeway took us past Cafe Fina which seemed like it was in the middle of no where…but the packed parking lot suggested this might be a place to try.


A quick google search and the 4.6 rating had us turning into the parking lot. Wow, did we hit the payload! This old gas station is now a sprawling structure with several dining rooms and an expansive patio which welcomes four-legged children of the canine persuasion. Large picture windows let in plenty of light and offer views of the pinon-studded foothills. This is a casual eatery that has a big emphasis on farm fresh and organic. Pick up a menu when you come in and order at the counter. We were lucky that there wasn’t much of a line but we still had time to take a gander at the bakery case and a counter with a bounty of baked goods, including quiche. The bakery case flaunts a wide choice of homemade pies, pastries, cookies and cakes.

I opted for the organic chicken enchiladas, christmas style, meaning I had both red and green chile sauce – OMG, so good. The owner, Murphy O’Brien stopped by to see if we were enjoying our lunch and it was fun to chat with him about the Eldorado area. If you enjoy Southwestern cuisine and the history behind the food, you might want to buy this great cookbook – The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico.


Yes, I ate every bite and felt no guilt after logging over 13,000 steps and 5.4 miles for the day. Love the Eldorado area even more now, great hiking and Café Fino, what more can a gal ask for?


The Webster Dictionary definition:


1. the quality of bending easily without breaking.
“players gained improved flexibility in their ankles”
2. the ability to be easily modified.
“I enjoyed the flexibility of being retired”
3. willingness to change or compromise.
“It’s not warm enough here so lets go somewhere else”

Okay, I took some liberty with number two and three but hey, I am retired, like sun and 70 degree days. Flexibility is a beautiful thing and traveling in an RV lends itself to embracing this concept.

Traveling with an open schedule means you can change directions on a whim…maybe you aren’t loving your current location, maybe the weather where you are is too warm or too cold, maybe the weather where you were originally headed isn’t to your liking or perhaps there is a beautiful place that pops onto your radar.


Nothing in this forecast was appealing to me

We originally planned to head to Utah and hike at Capitol Reef National Park but when the Weather Channel delivered its bad news of snow, wind and temps well below my tolerance level, flexibility kicked in and we extended our stay in Santa Fe. For someone who is a habitual planner, this can be a bit of a struggle but when your schedule is wide open, the art of flexibility becomes a welcome practice.


Great hiking all around Santa Fe


Great Brew pubs in Santa Fe


Great Sunsets in Santa Fe

I am not necessarily a big jig saw puzzle aficionado but being able to keep sorting through the pieces for the one that fits is a bit like RV travel planning. Knowing the weather in Torrey Utah wasn’t to my liking, knowing the Roadhouse driver would like to avoid the high wind across Utah and New Mexico, I kept looking at the at the weather and google maps until I found the piece that fit. I love that “AH HA” moment when it all fits. In this case it was Page Arizona.

Why Page Arizona you may ask? Well, it is kinda on the way to Bryce Canyon which is hopefully our next destination after Capitol Reef. The high wind will be coming from the west, which means we will be driving into it as opposed to be buffeted on the side (not good in a big ass RV), the temperatures are within my desired range and I have never been to Lake Powell plus the campground there has full hookups available. SCORE!! Puzzle completed. After some discussion with the Roadhosue Captain, I booked at Wahweap Campground at Lake Powell for five nights. He was completely enamored with the opportunity to hike at Horseshoe Bend and not to have to drive the Roadhouse in the snow.

Stormy Night at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend…why wouldn’t I want to go there???

The good news is that Capitol Reef National Park will still be there for us to visit at another time. That is my new mantra and I sure do love practicing the art of flexibility.

Room with a view…Bandelier National Monument

Can you imagine spending your spring and summer at a cliff side home with a view out onto a stunning beautiful canyon? Out the windows you can see beautiful red rock cliffs across the canyon, a creek bubbling below and a village of people existing peacefully together. Sound idyllic doesn’t it? Well, welcome to 1100 AD! We had an opportunity to take a walk back in time at Bandelier National Monument and get a glimpse of how the Ancestral Pueblo people lived.




These cliff dwellings were definitely rustic and life while perhaps peaceful, was very much dependent on having enough food stores to keep the village fed. The Ancestral Pueblo people who lived here from approximately 1150 AD to 1550 AD built homes carved from the volcanic tuff and planted crops in mesatop fields. Corn, beans, and squash were central to their diet, supplemented by native plants and meat from deer, rabbit, and squirrel. Domesticated turkeys were used for both their feathers and meat while dogs assisted in hunting and provided companionship.


Cliff side dwelling used mainly for food storage


Living areas below the cliff – round holes are where roof supports were

No Fred Meyer one stop shopping, no running water, no electricity, refrigeration or easy mode of transportation. Hmm, maybe seems a bit less idyllic now doesn’t it! We all take these things for granted now, hunting and gathering evolves a trip to the local grocery store where almost anything you need will be waiting or a quick trip through Mickey D’s where instantly food appears.


Cavates carved into the stone behind each dwelling

Cavates, carved rooms, were also common behind the rooms built at the bottom of cliffs. Luckily, the tuff is soft and malleable. Carving these rooms using stone tools would have still been very difficult. The walls of the cavates were often plastered and the ceilings smoked. Smoking the ceiling made it less crumbly. Sometimes pictographs painted on or petroglyphs were carved into the walls.


Pictographs are still still visible along much of the lower walk


The village area below the cliffs

Most of us have never really known famine, drought or great hardship like these Ancestral People likely experienced. By 1550, the Ancestral Pueblo people had moved from this area to pueblos along the Rio Grande. After over 400 years the land here could no longer support the people and a severe drought added to what were already becoming difficult times. Oral traditions tell us where the people went and who their descendents are. The people of Cochiti Pueblo, located just south and east along the Rio Grande, are the most direct descendents of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon.

Personally, I was happy to experience and explore Frijoles Canyon by car and by foot knowing I was going back to all the modern conveniences. I felt the spirit of these ancestral people and wondered how on earth they managed climbing all those ladders on a regular basis. The fear of dying was strong in my mind as I climbed all 140 feet of ladders, returning to the ground with shaky legs and a deep gratitude for being alive in the 20th century.


An unprintable chant was going through my head as I climbed this ladder


This creek looks benign but notice the huge logs jams behind the trees in the background

Bandeiler is also a hikers paradise with 70-plus miles of trails. Elevations from 5300’ at the Rio Grande to over 10,000’ at the top of Cerro Grande – Bandelier offers a variety of scenery and habitats. Hikers will inevitably encounter challenging terrain, sweeping mesa tops, lush canyons, and isolated archeological sites. Hiking choices vary in distance and difficulty, with choices including: four miles one-way to the 600’ deep gorge of Alamo Canyon; six miles one-way to the ancestral pueblo of Yapashi; a 22-mile loop to Painted Cave in Capulin Canyon; about seven miles one-way to the densely forested upper part of Frijoles Canyon, repeatedly crossing El Rito de los Frijoles (Bean Creek). As with most national parks or monuments dogs are not allowed so Mr. B spent his day home relaxing.

We opted for a flat 3 mile hike after touring the ruins and took the Upper Frijoles Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail loops through the Las Conchas fire burn area and out to a beautiful overlook of the canyon.


What fun to find a bit of winter snow left


We heard woodpeckers working away on the burnt trees

The 2011 fire and subsequent flooding have left trails in the Frijoles Canyon severely damaged but the park is working to restore them. It is fascinating to see the devastation up close and also see nature taking its course of revitalization.


Deep in the canyon the burn area has barely started to rejuvenate



Nice reward for such an easy walk in the woods

Bandelier is a gem of a park and with so many great hiking options, we hope to make it back again to continue exploring before we leave the Santa Fe area.