Part II: Four-State Anasazi Archeology Tour: Utah, Arizona and New Mexico

Part II: Four-State Anasazi Archeology Tour: Utah, Arizona and New Mexico

The modern-day popular media has often portrayed the Anasazi people as having mysteriously vanished without a trace. Some have even implied that there is a paranormal or extraterrestrial explanation for their “sudden” disappearance. In our quest to better understand the more earthly explanation for the Anasazi’s disappearance, Steve and I continue our September riding adventure, along the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, into the remote southeast corner of Utah.

Our first stop in Utah is at Anasazi ruins with dwellings that are noticeably different from anything we’ve seen so far.

Hovenweep National Monument is the site of six prehistoric Anasazi villages spread over a 20-mile landscape of sage covered mesas and canyons. Around AD 1150 to AD 1200, the Anasazi began building larger pueblos combined with fortress-like towers, at the heads of box canyons. These structures suggest a defensive style of construction.

The sage-covered landscape of the Navajo Nation engenders a feeling of peaceful serenity.

Archeologists believe that the Anasazi’s exodus from this area began in the late 13th century, and evidence suggests that they were the target of vulturous tribes roaming the area.

Riding south on my KTM Adventure with Steve on the Kawasaki KLR, we enter the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. This semi-autonomous Native American homeland, which is the largest of its kind in America, covers 26,000 square miles across three states. That’s a parcel of land larger than the state of West Virginia. The sagebrush plain gives way to rock-strewn canyons and mesas baking in the noontime sun. In the far distance, we can see canyon walls with shades of red, brown, and tan layered in gigantic geometric patterns that were carved by the enormous erosional forces of the San Juan River.

We stop for lunch at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Bluff, UT. It’s easy to see how both the town and the restaurant got its name: two-towering sandstone spires rise precipitously from a high bluff behind the restaurant. If they ever topple over, the restaurant, as they say, is toast — we eat quickly and depart.

Two Navajo brothers are quick to indulge our photo request in Monument Valley.

Mother Nature’s Monuments

Millions of people have visited or seen photos of the incomparable Monument Valley. Relatively few people, though, have had the up-close experience afforded by another stunning valley in the area that’s only a quarter of the size of its more famous cousin.

Valley of the Gods, with its tall, red sandstone mesas, buttes and spires rising above the canyon floor, is a small-scale version of Monument Valley. A 17-mile unpaved road winds through spellbinding rock formations that were carved out over many centuries.

Near the end of our tour through the valley, we meet a gaggle of four sportbikes, bouncing their way along the rough road. Big friendly waves seem to say, “Hey look at us riding this remote gravel road on our street bikes! Can you believe it?”

Utah’s Goosenecks State Park overlooks a 1,000-foot deep chasm carved by the San Juan River, meandering back and forth along its sinuous path to the Colorado River. The numerous exposed layers of multi-hued tan sedimentary rock suggest that the river has been long at work creating this scenic wonder. The sun moves lower on the horizon, and we still have another stop on our day’s itinerary before sunset.