The Great Northern New Mexico Loop
July 16-18, 2021
Angel Peak to Heron Lake
One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to Aztec "Ruins" National Monument. Second in size only to Chaco Canyon, this pueblo is somewhat better preserved.
Constructed c 1000 - 1200 AD, the West Ruin has at least 400 interconnected rooms of three stories.
The original pine, spruce, and aspen beams are still visible.
Multi-story structures with intact upper floors convey sense of what it might have been like to live in an ancestral pueblo, with hundreds of tiny, dark rooms linked by low doorways.
By far the most impressive building was a reconstructed great kiva. Archeologist Earl Morris excavated the Great Kiva in 1921, and then reconstructed it 13 years later based on uncovered remnants of the original building. Fifteen surface rooms encircle the central chamber. Four massive pillars hold up the ceiling beams, and each pillar rests on four limestone discs. The colors are based on bits of reddish and white-washed plaster found clinging to the original walls.
The reconstructed great kiva ceiling.
One by one, our friends arrived at Navajo Lake, in every possible camping rig: tents, popups, Four Wheel Campers, Teardrops, and one Class C RV.
There was just one problem. I recommended this campground based on a memorable weekend at Navajo Lake in 2011. But in the intervening decade, like many Southwestern reservoirs, the lake level has declined precipitously, making most of it inaccessible except via a steep and treacherous slope. What a bitter cruelty, to be camped next to a beautiful lake in 90-degree heat, with no way to get to the water!
The stronger hikers in the group eventually clambered down to the "beach" for a refreshing swim.
We all pitched in to create a celebratory potluck dinner on Saturday night.
We camped that night at Heron Lake, historically one of the most popular recreation sites in New Mexico. But a decade of drought has taken its toll. Surface elevation for Heron Lake is currently 7108' — 78 feet below "minimum storage level" and nearly 160 feet below "full".