Guadalupe Outlier Trip

July 3, 2006 - photos

My “quest” for the Guadalupe Outlier began years ago, when I first heard of an outlier along the Rio Puerco near Cabezon.

A few years ago, I headed out into the area with Merri. At the time, our primary purpose was to search for a site for my 47th birthday. This area is quite beautiful but would be horrible for camping by mid-May. Still, we wondered the area a bit. Little did we know how close we were to finding the outlier at that time.

Last week, I headed out on a daytrip, partly for Guadalupe and partly to revisit Ojito. Going in via Ojito proved to take much too long, so, though that trip wasn’t a waste, it really got me no closer to Guadalupe.

Monday, 7/3/06, I headed out again, picking up the San Luis Road at US 550 just past Mile Marker 41. Past the town of San Luis, the paved road turns towards Torreon while I continued on more or less southward on dirt.

Although I wasn’t sure where the outlier was, I knew it was in the vicinity of the largely abandoned town of Guadalupe. On the map, I chose the most direct way towards Guadalupe, passing very close to Cabezon. Unfortunately, this road ended at a gate that made forceful claims to being private – is it really? Why would a public road suddenly end at someone’s property? Many roads in the southwest are gated to control cattle, but usually there are no overt signs meant to discourage anyone from passing through. Leave the gate as you found it – opened or closed. This one was more insistent.

As an aside, this is bleak grazing land. It is hard to believe cattle can find anything to sustain them. And yet, it is said that a hundred years ago, grass was 6 feet tall. No more.

I turned back at that gate after pissing on the lock and chain. I doubled back to the next shortest route and followed it only to meet a very similar gate. Little did I know I was lucky I didn’t go any farther – this route is a waste of time for getting to Guadalupe Outlier because it is on the other side of the wide Rio Puerco.

The Rio Puerco isn’t really a river or even a stream in this area – most of the time. Right now, in places, you’ll find some water but nothing that flows more than a few feet. However, that dry streambed is in places 20+ feet deep and more than 100 feet across. After a rain, this may indeed be a torrent. Even dry, it would be a challenge to cross in most places.

So, I doubled back twice, going back to the point where I had made my fateful decision hours earlier to go the most direct route instead of the route I had previously driven – the only way there, it turns out.

I contemplated putting this off for another trip as it was already 2pm, but I just had to try. So, on I went to the ‘town’ of Guadalupe. All this driving was the finest “car-hiking”, as we call it. This is such a beautiful terrain with stunning convolutions.

Though Cabezon is the most familiar peak, there are many in the area, most of which are volcanic in origin, I think.

historic GuadalupeI passed through the hamlet of Guadalupe – the first muddy spot I encountered – and drove on farther than I really expected to go. I drove through two big arroyos, one was damp but not too soft, the other was quite deep and a challenge to low gear.

Four years ago, Merri and I had been right here and somehow managed to drive by the negligible pullout between two peaks. This time, a tip from a friend had me on alert for a few clues that were just what I needed.

I pulled into the pull-out to park beside a van. The van’s driver and passengers soon showed up. We exchanged pleasantries and they drove off, leaving it all to me. I didn’t see another vehicle for hours after that.

unexcavated kiva?Through the non-descript gate the trail quickly rises towards a saddle. To the right/south, is a low hill with a depression that obviously was a kiva (#29, looking down from higher up). Here you also find the first real informational signs. Scrambling on up a steeper trail, you reach another saddle (the third, if you count the fact that the parking area is also in a saddle). To the left/west, is a rocky high point without any obvious-to-me signs of any occupation. To the right/east, nothing is obvious at this point, either, until one climbs farther and higher. Then, you are at the highest point and the ruins themselves.

In a place of many great vistas, this one stands out. There is a 360 degree view, dominated to the northeast by Cabezon and two flanking peaks. This point is near the end of a spit of land that juts out towards the Rio Puerco, towering over what may have once been rich/wet farmland (my guess). Built along a narrow ridge, Guadalupe reminds me of Chimney Rock (Anasazi) in southwestern Colorado and Tuzigoot (Hohokam or Sinagua) in central Arizona.

Almost as soon as I reached the summit, it began to sprinkle lightly, fainter than what the Navajo call a ‘female rain’ (gentle, nurturing). I felt … well, ‘blessed’ might come close. At the same time, I was conscious of being higher than most of the surrounding land, so I kept the proverbial ‘weather eye’ out and ears pricked for thunder.

I think outliers aren’t for everyone. If you’ve never seen any ancient southwestern Indian architecture, you don’t want to start with most outliers. You go a long way and often search a bit to find something with no information kiosks or amenities. Guadalupe, in particular, is rather small though in a magnificent setting.

That said, there is much to see if you look closely. One kiva is excavated and open to the sky; another is excavated and covered with a corrugated steel roof. The open kiva has many of the common features. There were a few things that struck me as exceptional.

kivaTypically, you’ll notice the inner ring – perhaps a banco – and the regular support columns plus a few niches (see picture #35).

Kivas are not always subterranean, but they were originally covered by dirt & lath roofs that need support. The great kivas (55 feet in diameter or more) required freestanding supports; smaller kivas did not. You’ll notice some short partial walls that may have served as baffles or hearths for the fire or may also have served as partitions for the sipapu, the place of emergence.

Though kivas vary in diameter, most are circular. In Chaco Canyon, I have seen double kivas that overlap, like two bubbles merging. Sometimes, there is a rectangular attachment that may have provided the entrance. It is my understanding, that in many cases one descended into the kiva but emerged at or below floor level as if from a lower world through the sipapu.

When a kiva is part of a larger structure, that circle may be inside a square room. I don’t know if that was an aesthetic choice or engineering. You’ll see the square walls outside the round interior wall – in between was usually rubble. You get a hint of this at the bottom of #35.

This kiva has a … what, an anteroom? It is to the right of #37, where the walls are neither square nor curved. Following to the right of #37, notice the offset of the wall. Is the piece to the left a support column or does this wall change for some other reason? Look at #58, from another angle. What shape is that anteroom? It’s not quite oval. Notice the doorway at the bottom of #58, adding to the evidence this oddly shaped room was used before entering the kiva.

Keep in mind that this construction is constrained by being on a narrow strip of high land. In places like Hovenweep, we see the Anasazi go to astonishing lengths to fit buildings to the location. Walls seem to grow organically right out of the rock they are built on. So, maybe a rectangle or a circle would not have fit like this odd semi-oval.

Look at #39. We may be looking at the round kiva within its square container, But notice the different masonry, which is usually a sign of a difference in construction time (in some cases, hundreds of years difference). So, did someone add a kiva next to a square room or vice versa or build a square container around the kiva later?

I’m not an archaeologist nor an anthropologist. I’m a computerist. However, I’m vaguely aware of Types I and II masonry and another, later, type called McElmo, which usually has larger stones in with smaller. I’m tempted to call the square wall McElmo, but I can’t recall what type all large blocks represent (as in the kiva wall).

In all of this, it is important to remember that these walls would have been plastered inside and out. As beautiful as much of this is, it wasn’t meant to be seen after construction.

Looking closer at #39, you’ll see a loosely filled doorway in the square wall. The Anasazi frequently expanded and remodeled. Some read something sinister in blocked doorways – fear of attack, which, no doubt applies in some cases. This is stranger – was this a doorway onto the roof of the kiva (is it high enough for that)? Notice directly below the loose-filled doorway is a narrower, more completely filled space. Is this a column, supporting the doorway? Is it a different filled-in doorway? It is not the typical support column you see elsewhere in this same kiva.

As a dilettante in all this, I own up to my ignorance. But observation and questioning are age-old tools for moving towards understanding. Don’t be afraid to look, to ask, to guess or to appear stupid.

patch#59 is a closeup of the kiva wall. Those smaller stones fill a crack/gap. You see similar ‘chinking’ in Chaco and elsewhere. I do not know if the original construction didn’t quite fit or the gap formed later (my gut, ignorant as it is, says the latter).

I’m often uncertain whether a given opening is a doorway or a window, unless it is clearly too small for anyone to squeeze through. This one is borderline – I could not get through it if I tried (which I definitely would not do). Notice the wood above the opening. A lot of wood went into these structures; only a small fraction survives the eons, the scavenging and the fires. Sometimes you will see a long stone doing similar duty.

Looking east to the end of land and the Rio PuercoThis opening looks out towards the end of this spit of land. I don’t know whether construction continued much beyond this point, but the end of the land would place you in a powerful spot (see #42).

hanging kivaIn #43, follow the wall running straight from the camera to see the curved wall to the right. Another kiva, more than likely, hanging on the edge of the land, smaller than the first.

covered kiva#44 is the kiva with a modern cover. It may be larger than the other – I didn’t go in, though it isn’t clear you should not.

#47 is a filled doorway or window. Near the end of construction, it might have been sealed against weather or to add a new room beyond this wall. It surely wasn’t closed against invaders, as it faces the end of the ridge from which only friends could come. Perhaps the view was too distracting.

Looking towards Boca del OsoAlong the dark horizon in #57 you can make out Boca del Oso, the mouth of the bear, a gap higher to the left. This is part of the plateau around Mount Taylor, near Grants.

I took lots of photos of the stonework, as usual, and many more of the surrounding land. What a magnificent place to stand, especially on a cloudy afternoon.

I left this aerie and descending to the closest saddle, then up to the rocky point roughly to the west. If the residents of the other peak make use of this area, they left no obvious lasting impact.

Down farther to the next saddle and out to the round hill with the kiva depression. Without excavation, I don’t know if anyone can tell whether there was more than one kiva or other rooms here. At this point, looking up one can’t see much but when the upper walls where higher, they were surely visible. Similarly, residents above could have looked down to see this spot easily.

Down and back to the truck. A raven stopped to check things out.

I drove off and retraced my steps (skipping the wandering I done before) back to pavement and home. I’ll be back again.


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revised Wednesday July 12, 2006 6:55 PM