Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 13:42:23 EST
Subject: Forty Caves Canyon Expedition

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Backpacking Tsegito, Forty Caves and Chaiyahi Canyons on the southern drainage of Navajo Mt. (a holy mountain for the Navajo Indians) on the Utah Arizona Border within the Navajo Reservation.


Basecamp Day 0: Wed. Oct. 18th

Congregate at Navajo Guide's Home in Rainbow City, UT

Having stayed in Cortez Tuesday night Oct. 18th, on Wed. I drove to our hike's rendezvous point near our Navajo guide's home in Rainbow City, Utah. I took the scenic route via Farmington, NM which is about 60 miles southeast of Cortez, Colorado. I needed to pick up some camping supplies and do some banking there.

The picturesque drive out of Cortez east then south via Hesperus CO, Farmington, NM and then on to the Navajo Reservation town of Shiprock NM. From there I headed west through the Arizona Navajo Reservation towns of Teec Nos Pos, Red Mesa, Dinnebito, Kayenta, Tsegi, Marsh Pass, Black Mesa, Inscription House, Navajo Mountain and at last Rainbow City requires some 5-6 hours. Space and time is always expanding out here. I come here like I do, to listen and learn about living in this spaciousness. All I have to supply is the time. Sometimes in the whispers of wind I can hear The Sound before Man...

I arrived at the campsite near Leo's home at Rainbow City around 4 pm. I had met Leo last Oct. 1999 when Harvey Leake (joining us here later tonight) and I explored the Rainbow and Zane Grey Trails for 5 days nearby. I parked my truck in Leo's driveway for security that trip while Harvey and I took Harvey's 4Runner to the trailhead 10 miles further down this dirt road (to the Rainbow Trail and Zane Grey trailheads) alongside which we were camping tonight. Rainbow City is the end of the dirt road, the last town. It has a beautiful new secondary school complex which is not only surprising but also inspiring. The next closest town, Navajo Mountain, UT just 8 miles back down the dirt track - towards eventual pavement 20 miles further - was once touted as the most remote community in the United States. The 40 miles of hard washboard dirt road alone was probably enough to discourage much visitation. That is now changing: the road is scheduled for complete paving within 2 years.

Jim had already arrived from Lees Summmit, Missouri. He is a recently-retired secondary school teacher and avid southwestern historian: a strong hiker who has never used a tent in his 30 years of backpacking - always sleeping out. He told me that is due to his hiking in warm dry weather, as his time off was formerly Summers. Jim excels in the knowledge of the primary and secondary literature regarding various early archaeological expeditions into this area. He specializes in his pursuit of early inscriptions carved onto rock walls by early miners, archaeologists, adverturers, cowboys and Indians, and pioneer history. He is very knowledgeable in the topography and layout of the physical area into which we'd walk tomorrow. He taught Earth Sciences and taught me a lot about the layers and period of various sandstone layers through which we walked the next 3 days. His expertise was appreciated when we photographed some dinosaur tracks in Triassic sandstone on the way up a cliff into an Anasazi ruin in Tsegito Canyon (tomorrow). These tracks were smaller than the huge tracks further down Chaiyahi Canyon found in Jurassic period sandstone.

Those are the famous long trails of tracks each of which are up to 18" long and 12" wide, detailed in the old expedition diaries we had. The tracks are 3' apart. The petrified "tail tracks" made by these leviathons when their long heavy scaly tails dragged in this now-petrified muck would be fun to see. We did not go downstream in Chaiyahi Canyon this trip to see them. When Bernheimer was here, he had 9 men and 40 horses and mules to carry loads so they covered a lot of territory in those 2 expeditions.

With Jim's and Harvey's homework accomplished prior to this hike, we were in possession of the travel diaries of the Bernheimer Expedition into Forty Caves and surrounding canyons in 1924 and 1927. I read my copies (given to me by Harvey in Prescott on the way up) while I was in Cortez the prior days. Harvey obtained the diaries from the Museum of Natural History in New York City. So we were fairly well acquainted with his explorations by the time we got here. The Ancient Puebloans had been here about 1000 years ago, actually as recently as the 1400s perhaps, and that's where we are going... to their places out there in the canyons 20 miles back down this road. This was never a heavily inhabited area however, and still isn't.

Jim and I met and visited at this our first meeting. Harvey had hiked with Jim on at least 1-2 prior occasions. Leo our guide came over to meet and chat with us around 6 pm. His home is about 100 yards down the road. He has been married to his wife Sarah 26 years and they have 5 children, 1 of whom is still living at the home they built here. Leo and Sarah met while they were attending BIA Indian Schools in Albuquerque, NM. Both of them played on various sports teams. Leo had just returned that afternoon from a 4 day/ 3 night horseback expedition to the Rainbow Bridge on the other side of Navajo Mt. which loomed nearby to our southwest a few miles. Leo and Sarah have about 22 horses among their livestock. He uses his own horses for these trips. His adventurous clients come from all over the world.

His guide work has expanded in past years and he obviously enjoys doing it. Over time networking has connected him with clients like us. Each trek is planned by the client then adjusted to fit reality by Leo. That's how we worked this walk out with Leo. We were very glad to have him with us in such a remote area as we were to enter tomorrow. Leo was an important, equal, integral part of this 4-man crew and his even, good humor added positive energy and vibrations to our enjoyment. Like Jim from Missouri, Leo also slept without a tent on our hike. He reads obscure trails and animal tracks with great insight and detail, like many of these Navajo Indians, from his 40+ years of living and working outdoors in this area. He is also an accomplished artist and wood carver which occupies some his time.

Harvey drove in around midnight. I didn't hear him arrive. He came up from Phoenix after work. Harvey is John Wetherill's great grandson. John Wetherill discovered the Rainbow Bridge in 1909 among his many accomplishments on the Navajo Reservation territory. Harvey and I have made 2 prior outback trips together in this area. We met on an archaeology expedition into Tsegi Canyon, also on the Navajo Reservation, in April, 1997. Harvey is an Electrical Engineer for Arizona Public Service. His avocations include southwestern archaeology and history, especially knowledgeable in his Wetherill family history, inscriptions (like Jim our cohort on this hike), arches and other facets of the prehistoric Southwest. His extensive family has been involved with Southwestern archaeology, some of them having discovered the major cliff dwellings, and over time they built and owned many of the Navajo Resesrvation area trading posts. When I stayed at Harvey's last Saturday, I met some 25 of the Wetherill family at a gathering of this fabled family.


Day 1: Thursday, Oct. 19th

Into Tsegito Canyon

The morning dawned clear and mild. We 3 slept in our vehicles overnite, cooked ourselves breakfasts, visited a bit. Then we motored 100 yards to Leo's to park and disembark to the trailhead in Leo's truck. Sarah and Leo and Harvey rode in front, Jim and I settled into the pickup bed with the 4 backpacks. Along the way, in the truck bed looking back and to our left (west), Jim and I talked about Navajo Mt. a little. Both he and Harvey have been up there. A 4WD dirt road leads up it from behind the Navajo Mt. Trading Post in Cottonwood Wash here in Navajo Mt., Utah. The trading post has a long history but is currently defunct and gutted. The stone home nearby is ripe for renovation, also basically gutted but looks good structurally speaking.

The mountain itself broods some 10,000+ feet and this community lies on the eastern escarpment and lower foothills. As we rode by Navajo Mt. (trading post and community), Jim pointed out and described an area on Navajo Mt. reported to have some Ogamic inscriptions. This is detailed at length in one of Jim's trapper or miner letters he has found. I recall this report comes from the early 1800s. The writer saw these "runes". Ogamic is the runic alphabet of early Celtic people. Reliable documents have described some Welsh explorer boatmen being marooned in North America after a storm blew them into the upper Gulf of Mexico. Reports have them sailing up the Mississippi River after the storm in the 10th or 11th century.

A popular historical fiction book by James Alexander Thom paints the picture in his The Children of First Man. These "Anglo" Celtic Welshmen later bred into the Native American populations in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, it is told. Some fundaments from a large stone castle, possibly attributed to these Welshmen, were earlier excavated on the Falls of the Ohio River at Louisville KY where the dam now resides. No remains of them were left for later study of course. Other ruins from these wanderers have been reported on other Mississippi River tributaries like the Ohio, Tennessee and Arkansas Rivers.

The eventual descendants of this commingling were likely the famous Native American Mandan Indians who so impressed George Rogers Clark on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. And the same "Noble Savages" with the blue eyes and blonde hair were immortalized by George Catlin in his extensive painting of their various leaders' portraits (early 1800s). These Mandans were, sadly, to a person all killed when smallpox brought by the river's boatmen wiped out the Mandan tribe just after Catlin departed.

So the existence of their Ogamic runes on Navajo Mt. seems likely enough to Jim and me. Incredibly, after driving to Flagstaff AZ on Saturday evening 2 days hence, I picked up The Arizona Republic Sunday newspaper the next morning for breakfast at Denny's when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an article entitled "Celtic Rock Art in Colorado?" (Sunday, Oct. 22, 2000; p. A30 in the SCIENCE section). It was one of those situations where something never before considered or even imagined was suddenly everywhere.

This article describes petroglyphic (carved into stone) Ogamic rune panels in an area along the Arkansas River in caves in eastern Colorado (byline was from Pritchett, Colorado). So, maybe we can get up there on Navajo Mt. on the point described so graphically in Jim's miner's letter some time. We could see the exact area from the pickup. Harvey told me a sign reads "Welcome White Man" halfway up Navajo Mt.! It's not very easy to drive all the way to the top as the road disappears into rock. Harvey and Jim have driven to the end of the 4WD road however, which is not far from the summit.

Back to reality - ha ha - or rather another "alternative reality", as we said in the 60s. Our trailhead was still 8 washboard dirt miles down the road, past Navajo Mountain community. The tailgate on Leo's pickup banged open twice from the riffles of hard dirt over which we shimmied We turned off to the west onto a dirt 4WD trail about where we 3 Anglos suspected we would as this is on our topographic maps. Leo took us maybe 1/4 mile to the trailhead into Tsegito Canyon and the beginning of our loop through it, Forty Caves and Chaiyahi Canyons if things went our way, with 2 nights on the trail. But we knew the uncertainties lying before us. I took the "Beginning" or "Before" Group shot. First uphill, then long downhill sections and flats and downhill sections into Tsegito Canyon's creek's source. We took our first break here by this first spring in a treed grove. The creek disappears when it sinks underground 50 yards downstream.

Jim and Harvey have done a lot of homework for this walk. They have delved into museum attics and basements, archives, libraries and obscure magazine and newspaper sources across the USA. I was totally inundated with dates and names, publications relating their tribulations and/or victories out here. So I'm leaving these details out of my report and refer the readers instead to Harvey's and Jim's accounts.

Throughout the 3 days, Jim and Harvey discussed at amazing detail various inscriptions, itineraries of bygone adventurers into these parts, possible mistakes in their geography which sometimes didn't match what we were seeing as far as alcoves and other landmarks go. And we missed some of the larger documented prehistoric sites We didn't have time to peek into all of Forty Caves Canyon's nooks. The largest ruins (2) we would see the 3 days appeared this first day in Tsegito Canyon.

Every time I get out here, whether it is with the guys or my wife Sally Jo, I run out of time. I think that must be the ultimate definition of having a good time. Serious exhaustive poking around out here would require an additional 3-5 days I'd hanker, to examine all possible sites in the small area we explored superficially this time. Leo could read the wildlife tracks, pointed out porcupine early in the first day. I managed to claim my own special place in ignorance by announcing once recklessly and prematurely that some tracks were deer, big deer! Not so: just cows, small cows! Laugh a minute out here, like it or not...

If I were to trace the map readings and accompanying interpretations of where we were and where we should go, diary discrepancies with the reality of being here and the landscaping in many cases not matching how it ought to look, the short or longer climbs into deadend alcoves, on and on... I'd be here with you all night. Even Leo had only been in the upper canyons on the livestock trails. Once we got into the lower canyons (from middle of day 1 until late on day 3) it was new to all 4 of us. Leo expertly linked us to the trail in AND to the trail out with scouting while we sought out various inscriptions and cliff dwellings. We spotted a surface ruin today but we did not take time to look it over.

Well anyhow, the high points of the day were in some ways locating 2 good-sized Anasazi (Ancient Puebloan) cliff dwellings in Tsegito Canyon and many rock art panels of significant artistic beauty and extent. We all took some photographs and are sharing our photos with each other now.

Following the inspection of the 2 large cliff dwellings for artifacts and inscriptions, we gained a low saddle breaching the fin separating Tsegito Canyon from Forty Caves Canyon. The shortcut trail saved us a longer walk down all the way Tsegito then back up Forty Caves. Across the saddle. Whisked through as if by a dust devil, into this new place, the fabled Forty Caves Canyon of the days of yesteryear and here yet today - hurrah! I believe our research determined that the most recent documented Anglo expeditionary guys in here after Bernheimer in 1924 and 1927 was in 1951 (Gila Pueblo out of Tucson). We 4 were in fairly untrammeled territory now.

Once down off the several rock benches and into the bottom of the canyon, we were elated to confirm our highest hopes - good clear running water in a pristine stream, with sandy beaches and caves for campsites, cooking and bathing. Well, it's all heavenly out here but this is the cr¸me de la cr¸me for this particular outback walker - water! WATER! Cool water, clear water, water... "Oh Dan and I, With Throats Burnt Dry.." comes to mind. Water. Clear Water.

We each claimed a beach an hour before the sun dropped behind Forty Caves' cliffs. Several of us "... freshened up a bit!". But it is a dry heat and the second night, no such toilet was really possible in that stagnant water and it didn't matter. Set up tents (Harvey and I). Cooked dindins (all of us). Leo made a fire by the stream. I contributed some dry dung cakes which, as they heat up, slowly release methane burning with a hot, blue flame, nature's own truly "gas" heat! And it burns slow and long.

We all kicked back, on the communal beach by the tiny jingling waterfalls, quietness smothering night - a zillion stars for light...


Day 2: Friday October 20th

Another beautiful day in Paradise.

This really was about as nice as it got on this walk for me: good water, shade, big trees, a beach and caves for camping. Harvey, Jim and I took a walk up Forty Caves Canyon this morning, leaving our packs here for pickup on our return downstream. Leo broke trail meanwhile downstream and would locate another important shortcut trail saddle out of Forty Caves Canyon and into Chaiyahi. Either that or we would have to add a day to the itinerary as we'd need to go clear down to the end of Forty Caves Canyon then back up Chaiyahi. So we parted company with Leo for now. He would hang a shirt on a tree as a signal as we sought him out later today.

We were disappointed in upper Forty Caves Canyon in not locating a single large prehistoric ruin. We did find smaller habitations and rock art. Exploring one large, high alcove took a good hour of careful picking along the ledge and through brush to get there. Then we found only a unit ruin site We did not explore all the way up canyon today, however, where several other small tributary canyons dead-ended and looked somewhat interesting from our vantage point. Additionally several other likely looking alcoves on higher benches were not searched. The old camp was regained around noon so we had lunch along the creek then packed up and took off downstream. Only 30' later we found the large beautiful area identified as a camp by the Bernheimer Expedition, also with beaches and shade, cool running water, the works.

Just above this idyll, maybe 50' higher onto the west bench, I kicked back under a big Pinyon Pine tree while Harvey and Jim inspected a very large cove of alcoves to our north. They spent a good hour of difficult cliff and sagebrush gnashing but came back without significant finds: 1 smaller habitation with some rock art, and all those other empty caves! It happens. I was rested up at least. It was my quiet time today in the midst of all this tramping around.

Time does stretch out and lay in all these vacant lots we walk across. Jim had expertly taped together all 4 of the 7.5' topographical maps we'd need on our walk. Not surprisingly the area of interest happened to require the corners of 4 different maps put together. It's an old joke and often does work out that way. Around 2-3 pm we noted Leo's signal shirt way out there. Harvey spotted it when it was only a speck! Within about 30' we were close and waved to Leo, still far up a sandy ridge. The last 100 yards to Leo were steeply uphill in this loose sand - the worst. All that pore poison gushing out, an old purification trick using physical work.

We all took a break here as Leo explained the trail he found linking us to the desired short cut over the saddle. Beyond it would be good water - we hoped and expected, in Chaiyahi Canyon. The location of this old trail and saddle was crucial to saving us a day getting out. When we first got to Leo moments before, he told us the saddle was impassable and we'd have to take the long way around, another day. We laughed good-naturedly as our inner spirits gasped, then we got his joke. What relief when he then told us some Navajos had been working on this steep short cut trail so it was in good condition.

Underestimating the "short cut", it turned out to be a very steep rock climb of at least 20 minutes. Parts of this trail were held onto the sides of steep slick rock with steel posts sledge-hammered into the softer-than-steel sandstone. Then pinyon brush and logs were piled up against these posts as fence and footing. Even livestock was now using this precarious trail, Leo surmised. We found the trail camp on top which had seen lots of use recently with some discarded water bottles lying there.

On top of this saddle, we took a long break, now mid afternoon. The views are indescribable with clarity in all directions, where we'd been and where we were headed. The tortured landscape was torturing us, or at least me. But I was - you know - getting in shape, not getting out of shape. The trend was in the right direction. I consoled myself with that thought. From here, our walk to first water was another 2 hours.

The livestock trail off this bench into Chaiyahi Canyon and Creek was another one of those amazingly hand-crafted precarious things required in this territory. It was mentioned in our Bernheimer diaries where they stated it was a very interesting area. We were happy to be approaching water at last, near sunset.

Once on the bottom, we chose to stay but the water was stagnant and not a pretty picture. We all used it and thrived jest fine. It had frogs and unmentionable things in it (hint: cow tracks again). I used a backpack water filter accompanied by a prayer for deliverance and forgiveness of my sins. Jim and Harvey used iodine or similar tablets. Maybe they boiled their water too but I don't think so. I know Jim added an extra tablet. Leo boiled his water. I decided to boil some water here for dinner along with Leo at this campsite. I was dependent on others' cook fire at this point since my backpack stove went kaput at yesterday's dinner. Harvey loaned me his for lunch the next day and I was amazed at the improvement in design and performance compared with mine. But tonight I ate out with Leo as we shared his open fire to boil the so-called "water".

Both of these evenings were relatively warm and clear. First night out I wore silk long underwear and loose thin sweatpants at night along with T-shirt and thin fleece jacket and tassel hat towards morning. Second night, the thin sweatpants and a T-shirt sufficed. Of course both Jim and Leo were simply sleeping in the open on ground cloths.


Day 3: Saturday, Oct. 22nd

Up and Out of Chaiyahi Canyon by mid afternoon

Our breakfast along the still waters, the rock locked pools several inches in depth beside us, was leisurely, accompanied by mild weather, overcast and spitting a few raindrops. Leo started the fire easily and we boiled the suspicious water for cooking. I have 2 packets of instant oatmeal routinely for backpack breakfasts. Maybe it wasn't enough today as I ran out of energy later. Additionally I was somewhat nauseous last night from an East Indian dinner that didn't seem to harmonize with the Great Southwest or my stomach. But I kept it down, or maybe it was that water...

An hour later, after decamping and trekking downstream, we came to the upstream trail and a tributary of Chaiyahi Creek. The documentation Harvey and Jim studied purported a "Hole Ruin" nearby. In spite of Jim's reconnoitering some mile downstream and Harvey 1/2 mile upstream, no such site was located at this time. We passed a good hour here, still overcast and cool, more raindrops but nothing alarming.

Leo scouted out the upstream trail then returned in 45 minutes. We telephoned his wife using my cel phone. I was incredulous that we cou