Hiking and Geocaching, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, How To Get Kicked Out of a State Park

From Bluewater Lake State Park near Prewitt, New Mexico:

Today is our tenth day day here at Bluewater Lake SP, and we’re still very happy with our location. After paying for our first week, we decided to go ahead and max out our stay (14 days), so we’re paid up through Monday night and we’ll be pulling out of here on Tuesday, September 17. We think we’ve decided on our next destination, but plans can always change, so stay tuned.

There’s not a huge amount of developed hiking trails in this park, but the ones that exist are pretty scenic, in a different sort of way. First of all, there’s a short trail that leads from the area overlooking the dam, traversing along the rim of the canyon right next to the campground. In our last post, I included a link to a video that I created from that hike.

View of the dam from the opposite side of the lake

The more interesting and challenging hike is the Canyonside Trail and the Dam Trail. I did this hike last Friday, not really knowing what I was getting into. The Canyonside Trail starts at the top of the canyon, and you have to climb down some rock switchbacks to get to the bottom, next to the Bluewater Creek that runs through the canyon. The creek is fed by the overflow coming through the dam, so the water levels can change.

I was a little leery of climbing down the side of the canyon because of the possibility of rattlesnakes among the rocks, but fortunately I didn’t see anything but stone and foliage. Once I reached the canyon floor, I started following the trail alongside the water which was mostly hidden by tall grass and cattails.

Beginning of the Canyonside Trail in Bluewater Lake SP

Almost immediately the trail led into a grassy area that was a little marshy in places, but not too wet to navigate. I was really starting to wish that I had worn jeans instead of shorts as the grass was starting to make my legs itch.

The trail gets a little wet so stay on the stepping stones.

I had to cross the creek at about the .3 mile mark by stepping on stones that had been placed in the water. The trail continued to meander alongside the water, and at about the .67 mile mark, there was an intersection. You could choose to either cross back over the creek and climb up the canyon wall to the main road (.27 miles), or you could continue on the same trail which now became the Dam Trail, and follow it for .44 miles to view the dam (and then hike .44 miles back to the intersection). I chose to do the Dam Trail, just to see what it was like.

Trail marker at the intersection of the Canyonside Trail and the Dam Trail

The closer I got to the dam, the more marshy the trail became. In some areas the trail led up the slope a little bit, into the trees where it was drier, but in other areas, there were stepping stones set into the trail where it obviously stayed marshy most of the time. The plant life was amazing, and there was a huge variety of birds along the trail.

Lush foliage along the Dam Trail and Bluewater Creek

I was able to get pretty close to the dam before the ground just got too wet and soggy to continue, at least in the shoes I was wearing.

My turnaround point on the Dam Trail, where it was getting pretty marshy

I turned around and hiked back to the intersection, crossed over the stream on a large (and slippery) log that was placed there for that purpose, and then climbed out of the canyon on the switchback trail that really wasn’t that difficult at all.

Altogether it was a great hike–probably not one of my favorites because of the itchy legs, but it was definitely beautiful down there on the canyon floor with the sound of the water rippling over the rocks making it seem peaceful and serene.

View from the top after climbing out of the canyon, looking down at the trail along the creek

I found out later that there are 3-4 geocaches hidden down in the canyon, so I’ll probably try to make the hike again to look for them before we leave, if it doesn’t rain too much. I’ve already located one geocache that was hidden near the canyon rim just up the hill from our campsite, a pretty easy find, but I’d like to pick up another one or two if possible.

We’ve continued taking advantage of the conveniences of our location to get some more chores done. I finally got to clean the convection oven and give the floors a good scrubbing (so much dust!!). We rolled out our new area rug to replace the old one that was full of Flagstaff dirt, and I also cleaned all the window screens.

We’ve only run the air conditioner a couple of times since we’ve been here, and each time we were getting a bad odor in the rig. Andy climbed up on the roof and checked the A/C unit to make sure that the drains weren’t stopped up, and everything up there seemed to be fine. We think we’ve isolated the problem, and it’s the air admittance valve under the bathroom sink. We’ve had to replace this valve before back in the winter, but evidently it’s failing again. When the air conditioner is running and the windows are closed, the air pressure is causing air from the black tank (toilet) to leak through that valve back into the rig, causing the bad smell. We’re going to drive into Gallup tomorrow to Home Depot to pick up a replacement valve and hopefully resolve this issue. It’s not expensive, and it’s easy to install. This gives us a good excuse to have a lunch date, and we’ll also hit the grocery store while we’re there.

Yesterday we decided to take a day trip to the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, on the recommendation of our campground neighbors, Joe and Cathy (more about them later). The Park is located about 70 miles north of here, but it’s out in the middle of nowhere. Most of the route is paved highway, but the last 22 miles are on a dirt road that becomes increasingly washboarded and rutted as you approach the Park.

The dirt road leading to Chaco Culture National Historic Park will rattle your teeth!

There’s a $25/vehicle entrance fee, but we were able to get in free with Andy’s lifetime senior “America the Beautiful” pass. The Park is the site of several very large and well-preserved Native American pueblos, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito. The structures were constructed between 800-1150 A.D. There are also quite a few petroglyphs and pictographs which can be viewed if you’re willing to do some hiking and/or climbing.

I won’t go into the history of the Chaco Canyon culture–you can read about it on Wikipedia or on the National Park Service website if you’re interested–but we learned a lot about the area and the people from the tour guide who showed us around Pueblo Bonito and from the film we watched in the Visitors Center. It was nice to visit a site where you’re actually allowed to walk inside the ruins, even if they do discourage you from touching the walls (body oils eventually leave dark stains on the stone).

Our tour guide, Snow, was a wealth of information about Pueblo Bonito and the Chacoan people

There were several other pueblos that could also be explored, but after spending an hour at the largest, most impressive one, we thought our time would be better spent watching the film about the history of the area. However, we did take a short hike to one of the smaller sets of ruins about half a mile from the Visitors Center before watching the film, and were rewarded with an amazing view of the valley.

Ruins of Una Vida overlooking Chaco Canyon, a million-dollar view

The Park is very isolated. There is no cell service, no food for sale, no gas station or repair services. We packed a picnic lunch of our usual chopped salads with some sweet cornbread and some fruit, and enjoyed eating outside the Visitors Center at a nearby picnic table where we were visited by a covey of quail during our meal.

We left the Park around 2:30 PM to make the two-hour drive back to the campground. We got some rain while we were on the dirt road, so our pickup is pretty grungy-looking now. But we had a great time, and highly recommend that you visit the Chaco Culture National Historic Park if you’re ever in this part of New Mexico. They do have a campground that’s available for tent camping or small travel trailer-type RVs, but nothing over 35′ long is allowed. In fact, they actively discourage you from driving your RV to the Park because of the rough dirt road which can become impassable in inclement weather, and we totally agree with that position. But I wouldn’t mind taking a truck camper or even a tent and staying in the Park for several days to have more time to see and learn about everything. This weekend they’ll be doing a night program under the full moon at Pueblo Bonito–I would LOVE to be able to participate in that!! Oh, well….

They had a warning sign when leaving the park, but by that time we were already there! 😉

I put together a little video (< 5 minutes) with some clips and pictures from our visit that I think you’ll enjoy:

I mentioned that our campground neighbors, Joe and Cathy, turned us on to this particular National Park. When we moved into our current site #11 on our third day here, they were parked next to us in their Casita travel trailer. They are from Tucson, and have been on the road all summer and will be heading home in November. They do this every year. They were a very nice couple and we enjoyed getting to know them, but they had to leave under some interesting circumstances.

They had some friends who were also staying here at Bluewater Lake SP in an adjoining area. They would get together with their friends to have meals or go sight-seeing, and sometimes got a little drunk (or high). Nothing serious, just doing what folks do.

Well, last weekend they got together and went on a day trip, which turned into a late night, and because they decided to stop at Walmart on the way back, they were late getting back to the park, and the entrance gate was locked (they lock it at 9:00 PM).

Now, you can LEAVE the park anytime, but to do so, you have to drive over those traffic spikes (DON’T BACK UP) right next to the entrance gate. So these guys, being in whatever state of mind they were in, decided it would be a good idea for one or two of them to step on the spikes to lower them so that their spouses could then drive their two pickup trucks the wrong way over the lowered spikes and thus enter the park.

So that’s what they proceeded to do. And as soon as they did, they were lit up by the headlights of a Park law enforcement vehicle, and a park ranger confronted them. One of the guys got a little belligerent with the ranger, so both the drivers were told to immediately go and pack up their rigs and leave the park. (Joe and Cathy were actually passengers in one of the vehicles, and per Joe, they were not specifically told by the ranger that they were being evicted.)

The next day, Joe was outside when the ranger came by. The ranger said “Didn’t you get evicted last night?”. Joe replied that he was not specifically told to leave, that the ranger had pointed to the other two guys. The ranger just looked at him and walked away, but from that point forward, Joe and Cathy were pretty sure they were in the cross-hairs.

So they spent a day getting their laundry done and getting things packed up, and the next day they pulled out, headed to a different park where their friends had moved to. We miss having them around, and hope they have a safe journey back to Tucson. And we hope they never again try to drive the wrong way across traffic spikes when a ranger is watching from the shadows! 🙂

Since then we’ve had a couple of new neighbors who only stayed one night, so we didn’t get acquainted with them. Today, a big Class A has pulled in beside us, and the owner has spent all afternoon setting up his satellite dish, his outdoor portable ice maker, his solar lights, and various other “necessities” for camping, so I think they’ll be here for a few days. 🙂

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts. And we do occasionally post videos to YouTube–if you would like to subscribe to our channel, check it out here.

Safe travels!!


6 thoughts on “Hiking and Geocaching, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, How To Get Kicked Out of a State Park

  1. You meet all kinds of people, don’t you? So would someone standing on those spikes have worked if there hadn’t been a ranger looking on? …… Sounds like the big camper next to you is not used to roughing it and also like he’ll be around for his full 14-day allotted time. …… Thanks for sharing. I may not always comment, but I read all your blogs and most of your FB posts. Gotta keep up with my Li’l Bro!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love reading about your travels. I have been wondering about travel neighbors. That poor couple that got evicted (sort of) sounded nice. But, this big class A, I don’t know. I watch a lot of videos about travel trailers ( even though my kids won’t be grown for at least another 12 years or so before I can travel), and lots of them talk about indoor and outdoor speakers, outdoor lights, ect. I would want to be in a wilderness area for the quiet and peace, would I have to boondock alone somewhere for that? Do RV neighbors tend to be bright and loud? Why in the world would someone need outdoor speakers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you’re enjoying the blog! For the most part, RVers are out here for the same reasons we are, and we haven’t encountered very many that blast their music loud or intrude on our peace and quiet. Almost all campgrounds and state/national parks have quiet hour rules at night that are enforced. But even when boondocking in the woods with no one within a quarter-mile, we’ve been irritated by other RVers, not because of outdoor speakers or bright lights, but by them riding their four-wheelers and dirt bikes up and down the road all day and into the night. And of course, things always get a little more congested and noisy on the weekends, unless you’re really out in the boonies alone. But really, 95% of the time it’s all peace and harmony out here!! 😊👍🏻

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Oasis in Gallup, High-Risk Geocaching, Move to Storrie Lake SP, Breakfast at Charlie’s | Just Call Us Nomads

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