Natural Bridges: Portals to Quiet Places

by Craig "Indy" Watson

May 3 to 9, 2001, Joining the Natural Arches and Bridges Society (NABS)
for 4 days of 4-Corner Explorations during the 2001 Convention in Farmington, NM

• Hiking to Cove Arch (Royal Arch) and Anasazi Ruins ..................
• Locating the sites of 2 Wetherill Trading Posts from early 1900s

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Travel Day 1: Thursday, May 3rd

From Cardiff via Palm Springs, CA to Prescott AZ

Departed Cardiff 6 am, stopped on business near Palm Springs at 9 am, was back on I-10 East - 10 am. I arrived in Prescott at 3, completed business then checked into Prescott Valley Days Inn w an excellent rate, next to a Denny's Restaurant.

My reason for joining the Natural Arches and Bridges Society (NABS) was to accompany Harvey, my Prescott friend, on the hike he was scheduled to lead with the group during their annual convention. This particular hike was going to Cove Arch, Cove AZ (on the Navajo Reservation) guided by a Navajo man from Cove. I especially wanted to meet the guide, Harvey already knew him from previous forays into that area. I hope Sally Jo and I can hire this guide to take us on this hike and into adjacent areas this Fall.

The NABS convention was being held in Farmington, NM and the members were mostly staying at the Super 8 Motel there. That's where I stayed 5 nights. Although at least a week of hikes to arches in the 4 Corners was scheduled, I planned on participating only 4 days: Saturday through Tuesday. I had to travel 2 days to get there, while doing some rug business on the road there and back. I managed to drive home from Farmington in1 day.


Travel Day 2: Friday, May 4th

Prescott Valley via Burnham's Trading Post to Farmington, NM

Across the Arizona highlands from Prescott Valley to Sanders, AZ to visit Burnham's Trading Post. I needed some yarn and this is a good place to get it. I wanted to arrive by 9 am to be there when it opens, but it turns out they open at 8 am these days. I visited with Bruce Burnham awhile about various things and learned of the 2nd annual Smoki Museum Auction Bruce would officiate in late July in Prescott. I will to attend it if possible.

Leaving Sanders back on I-10, I landed in Gallup around 11 and headed north on infamous Route 666 (mark of the beast), lots of drunk driving deaths occur on this north-south narrow 2-lane freeway crossing the Navajo Reservation from Gallup to Shiprock then on to Cortez, CO.

Just north of Gallup 30 miles, I pulled over to photograph an incoming snow storm peeling down the eastern escarpment of the Chuska Mountain range to my left (west). A herd of Navajo horses was on each side of the highway here in fenced pastures, making for fun photography. Amazingly, I drove through a brief snowfall which amounted to less than an inch, blessing this spaciousness with a certain quiet as I tooted past Sanostee north.

At Shiprock, still early in the day, I looped west to Teec Nos Pos 20 miles to visit Roy at home. He was not there but I met his nephew who was herding the sheep and who let me in the house to look at the rug Roy is weaving for us. Roy and his Mom were at a Chapter Meeting.

Around 3 pm, I pulled into the Super 8 Motel, well-managed and inexpensive, on the east side of Farmington. It is next to the Animas River flowing south from Durango, spilling into the San Juan River a mile south. My room was near an exit on the 2d floor making for a convenient moving in.

Farmington is named Totah in Navajo meaning Three Rivers, like its namesake town in Michigan. The three rivers are the La Plata, the Animas and the San Juan. Later in the day, I met Harvey who drove up from Prescott and whose room was across the hall from me.


Day 3: Saturday, May 5th

Hiking to many Arches near Aztec, NM

Today en groupe with some 30+ arch club members and maybe 12 4WD vehicles we caravanned all day to maybe 4-5 different trailheads in the neighborhood of Aztec, NM. Some of this day was spent just north into Colorado, hiking to arches, and the latter part of the day we were east of Aztec, hiking to arches. Arches are not my thing but I enjoyed the novel experience and meeting lots of new folks, mostly arch nuts. I rode with Harvey and left the Beast of Burden Suburban at the motel all day. We got a good bit of exercise, saw lots of neat arches during a day which ranged from cold and windy in the morning to hot and windy in the afternoon sun.

Harvey, 2 other Arch club members from Prescott that I met that day and who are long-time friends of Harvey's, and I decided to drive over to Cove, AZ tomorrow, Sunday, instead of hiking with the group to more arches. Harvey was scheduled to lead the Monday hike near Cove and wanted to make final plans with the Navajo guide there.


Day 4: Sunday, May 6th

Scouting the Cove (AZ) Arch Hike

Harvey drove the 3 of us to Cove to meet the guide's wife and several children. The guide is also employed with building quite a few new homes out here under the Navajo Housing Authority, 2 story ones yet with propanel snow-proof and fire-proof roofs. All the roofs are blue making for ready identification of the new "suburb" from afar.

Cove is a very traditional, sheltered Navajo Reservation enclave. It lies caressed in a large harbor of red rock, the northeastern escarpments of the Luckachukai Mts. Just to the north lie the Carrizo Mts. From here, I can see Pastora Peak the highest Carrizo Peak. It is located about 2 miles east of Roy's sheep camp up there where we have visited with him for longer periods twice.

From here through the Carrizo Mts. to the next towns, Beclabito and Teec Nos Pos, lies an incredible expanse of unexplored, richly-enculturated space. Parts of the east side of the Carrizo Range has been described as full of prehistoric ruins.

Yet to this day very little of the area has received systematic scientific archaeological survey. Roy, my Navajo weaver friend in Teec Nos Pos (60 miles north as the crow flies from where I am standing), Sally Jo and I would love to backpack (or use Roy's llama Apache for our beast of burden) from his sheep camp near Pastora Peak over a week or so south to this point.

It would be the walk of our lifetime. Somewhere in that stretch lies the Lost City of the Lukachukai, also dubbed "Precipice House" due to its inaccessibility in Alcove Canyon. The lures are there, but only for the time now… and a week would be way too short!

Mrs. Navajo guide drove her pickup with children in front and hanging onto the bed standing in back out near our trailhead to Cove Arch, also called Royal Arch. It's very close, in the guide's family's backyard as it were. This is in the area just west of Cove, into the northern end of the Lukachukai Mountain range.

Back in here are several large alcove caves with extensive ruins, some of which have been excavated by Earl Morris in the 1930s. Others have not been excavated. Although the hike tomorrow will include mostly only the arch, I came along on this trip to meet the so we can hire him this Fall for a longer hike.

Harvey has been in this area previously on an archaeological expedition out of Cortez CO. For research. Harvey later gave me 2 publications regarding this region:

BASKETMAKER CAVES IN THE PRAYER ROCK DISTRICT, NORTHEASTERN ARIZONA by Elizabeth Ann Morris (Earl Morris' daughter), Anthropological Papers of The University of Arizona No.35, The Univ. of AZ Press, Tucson, AZ, 1980; and

PREHISTORIC SANDALS FROM NORTHEASTERN ARIZONA, The Earl H. Morris and Ann Axtell Morris Research, with Kelley Ann Hays-Gilpin, Ann Cordy Deegan and Elizabeth Ann Morris, Anthropological Papers of The University of Arizona No. 62, The Univ. of AZ Press, Tucson, AZ, 1998.

In one cave here, Earl Morris excavated around 300 sandals. This gives you an idea of the area's importance to Southwestern Archaeology.

On the way back to Farmington, Harvey managed to find Martha Austin's home near Waterflow, NM so we stopped to visit her. She is a professor at Navajo Community College (Dine College) and is highly educated and well-read. She serves as a guide for the curious to remote and important archaeological sites in the "Dinetah" or old Navajo homeland south of Farmington. Several large deep canyons exist in that region: Largo, Gobernador and Gallegos. These canyons drain the Dinetah northward into the San Juan River. Chaco River and Canyon may also be considered part of this area.

I was very happy to meet Martha as we had several well-known Navajo weavers as common friends, one being the instructor to one of Martha's daughters. Both girls are in college and the son we met there, mowing the yard, is "more than ready" to too!

Martha's family is the clan which runs Tsegi Canyon near Marsh Pass over at Kayenta. She is the woman to see if Sally Jo and I one day get a chance to get back in that area. I was in Tsegi Canyon in April 1997 with Harvey on a large archaeological expedition out of Cortez CO and that is when I met Harvey.

The headman Navajo guide who arranged that expedition for us has since passed away and Mary is the honcho now. Tsegi Canyon is one of the richest archaeological areas on the Navajo Reservation and is totally off limits except with one of the clan guides. A small area called the "Navajo National Monument" has been preserved for tourists, like Mesa Verde National Park. Betatakin and Keet Seel ruins are accessible from the monument headquarters here - the 2 largest known and publicized cliff dwellings in Arizona.


Day 5: Monday, May 7th

Cove Arch and Anasazi Ruins near Cove AZ

Some of the Arches Society group drove to Cove, parking at the guide's home. Another group would take this hike tomorrow. From there, we filled up 5 vehicles for the next leg, leaving about 6 vehicles at the guide's.

In all, some 20+ hikers were eagerly looking forward to this wonderful experience. Cove Arch is one of the most beautiful natural arches in America and the arch nuts consider it to be among the 10 best arches. Me &endash; I'm here for the exercise, to meet the guide(s) and other folks, to have a good time. And even for me, blasé about arches, this is one very big beautiful "window rock".

The hike to and under the arch took only some 45' from where the vehicles were parked near the end of the dirt trail. The view from under the arch was breathtaking and we could have stayed hours.

We had a discussion at the arch and agreed to hike a significant further distance to caves containing prehistoric ruins and rock art. We could see the caves from the arch.

Some 30 minutes later, after a long tarry under Cove Arch, we dropped into the wash separating the arch from the saddle into the alcove harbor. Here in the wash where Pinyon and Juniper grew big enough for good shade, we had lunch and chatted. I played Red River Valley on my hiking harmonica which seemed right with the red earth and rock around us.

Continuing down the wash then up to the saddle then down into the cave harbor, some 10 of us climbed up into a cave above to inspect the ruins and rock art while others hollered at us from below. A cave full of more extensive ruins lay in this harbor too but we did not hike to it today.

With binoculars one can see an old Anasazi pot stored in an inaccessible cave to the south, in this harbor! It was discovered by a student on that trek using binoculars some months back when a Cortez CO archaeological crew was in here, including Harvey. One of that team rappelled down from the cliffs above to photograph this pot left there probably at least 600 years ago! We suspect more such artifacts exist in this remote area.

If Sally Jo and I come back to this area, we'll look into this other nearby cave and also hike another mile or so north to Broken Flute Cave described in the references cited above. Broken Flute Cave is one of the most important sites in the area, very large, where extensive artifacts and mummies were excavated by Earl Morris' group in the 30s. Other caves exist here too, so this could be one great walk, although the one we took today wasn't too shabby!

After we got back to the vehicles, the guide showed the group 2 other arches during a drive of some 15 miles to the north of Cove on dirt roads. The hikers from the Arch Society tomorrow may visit these arches instead of going to the cave that we saw today.

One of my Navajo weaver friends lives near here in Oak Spring, about 10 miles north, named Albert Jackson. His wife is Susie Joe and she comes from Cove and a large, famous family of weavers.

Many of them have been published in Marian Rodee's book Weaving of the Southwest. The weavers in Cove are well-known for their sand painting rugs: large fine ones. James Joe is one of Susie's brothers and is also published along with Albert. We own 2 of Albert's rugs. I'd hoped to visit them on the way home but the wane of the day had achieved long shadows…


Day 6: Tuesday, May 8th

Wetherill Trading Post Sites in De Na Zin Wilderness Area, NM


Today Harvey, the 2 Prescott friends and I drove south of Farmington about an hour to explore areas around the De Na Zin Wilderness Area. Two Wetherill family trading posts were located here. Harvey had done his homework as usual and we were able to find an old Winslow Wetherill post: Te Dzin Trading Post, in the western and northern area of the De Na Zin Wilderness.

At least we suspect we located the site, as several structures lay in ruins there and the longitude and latitude nearly matched Harvey's research location. This along with the Ojo Alamo Trading Post of John Wetherill's and the Pueblo Bonito Trading Post in Chaco Canyon to the south 20 miles run by Richard Wetherill were all Hyde Bros.-owned Posts during the late 1890s and early 1900s. The Wetherill's operated the posts for this wealthy NY family.

Later the U.S. Government which licensed these posts and traders broke up this triad of posts for being too competitive, or monopolistic. This was the reason that Winslow and John abandoned their posts after only several years in this area.

From the northwest area of the De Na Zin, we drove over to the southeast area parking lot just off the gravel county road hugging the southern perimeter of this state wilderness area. This is my first time in the area. It's hard to believe these 3 Wetherill men had trading business out here, it's so barren, a moonscape. Of course more Navajos lived here then and maybe it was wetter too.

We ground-tied the Beast of Burden Suburban and allowed it to chill out in the parking area, signed in at the trailhead register and took off. Again, Harvey had done his historical research and had programmed the suspected location of his great grandfather's - John Wetherill's &endash; "Ojo Alamo" Trading Post into his portable Global Positioning System (GPS). Harvey had received this device as a gift and he was good at it already. I was amazed how it works and how incredibly useful it would prove itself to be for research purposes.

At any given time on the trail, Harvey turned on the GPS and it told us how far to go and in which direction to find the programmed location for the trading post. It also reported how many satellites were responding to our GPS. The number varied between 7 and 11 or so! The precision was astounding to me. We would walk a little bit and the distance we had to go yet was a hundred feet less out of the miles we covered. I'd hate to go to war these days without one of them in my pocket.

Apparently we were on one of the ancient Indian trails. It made a few forks but the GPS indicated the correct direction at every one. We passed petrified logs of immense size. We came to a spring which was fascinating out here in so much extreme dessication. The spring formed a wide shallow pool, a mini oasis.

"Ojo Alamo" means Cottonwood tree in Spanish. So? Amazingly, this is all we really needed to find the site as almost no trees grow out here. THE single Cottonwood tree at the Wetherill post site is still there, with massive trunk and extensive limb structures, some burned off from lightning. We estimated its age to be probably 300-400 years from its size, rooted near a significant spring and sub-surface water. We had lunch here under the tree and explored the immediate area.

This was the perfect excuse to get into the De Na Zin Wilderness Area. From Harvey's historical photographs we could place exactly the footers of the vanished homestead and corrals. Some structural work has been done to the spring in more recent years however. A large concrete watering trough is here And we lifted off the cistern cover to find a bucket on a rope down to several feet of clear water at the bottom. It was the only heart-warming, life-sustaining evidence in sight and that was at the bottom of a covered hole!

The walk from the truck had been a good hour or more, but easy and very interesting. The Wetherill's had reported finding dinosaur bones behind the post here at Ojo Alamo. While we rooted around the neighborhood an hour or so, we had no further hints or clues and the area "behind" the trading post goes forever. So we noted some Anglo rock art, signatures with dates, and packed up for the pleasant amble back.

We drove further east down this dirt road to the highway and from there it was another hour to the motel in Farmington.


Day 7: Wednesday, May 9th

I drove home from Farmington today leaving the motel at 6:30 am. It was a very long day, taking some 14 hours as I stopped for business 3 times along the way. My Beast of Burden Suburban was having a good day so - with giving it a long leash and loose reins - it galloped with a cool aplomb all the way despite 110 this day across the Mojave Desert. Its new oversized radiator was worth the $150 after all! It's got a huge appetite, but then again it hauls…