Monastery of Christ in the Desert

While in the Abiquiu area of New Mexico we decided to take a drive to Monastery of Christ in The Desert which is located on Forest Service Road 151 from Route 84.  The road is mostly gravel and dirt, but takes you through some really pretty scenery of red sandstone cliffs that rise 600 feet from the canyon  (be forewarned though that it is not recommended during rain since it becomes slick to drive).   Along the way there a few pullouts that lead to the Rio Chama river, a tributary of the Rio Grande, in which you can camp, launch a boat/raft, or just have a picnic like we did.

The Monastery was founded in 1964 and presently houses about 40 monks who seek a Benedctine life of prayer as well as reading and manual labor such as tending to their gardens .  The road leading to the monastery has simple stations of the cross made out of wood and written in latin.  It is a very serene place as you walk around the grounds and into the chapel.  They have their own gift shop which includes religious items as well as items they make such as soap, lotions, leather belts, and candles.  In addition they make their own beer Monk’s Ale, Abbey Brewing Company which can be purchased at many  stores in northern New Mexico.  There motto is ‘made with care and prayer’; each type has a different monk pictured on the bottle.

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Dinosaur Ridge & Davonian Fossil Gorge

Dinosaur Ridge is located in Morrison, Colorado where more than 300 dinosaur footprints can be found.  What is interesting about the footprints is they are ‘on a slant’ due to the rocks being heaved upwards. It is also unique to see ‘bulges’ caused by the dinosaurs walking in the soft sand.  In 1877 they found bones of Apatosaurus, Diploducous, Stegasaurus and Allosaurus.  You can either walk along the 1.5 mile roadway to see the bones and footprints or take a van tour which is nice on a hot day.


Davonian Fossil Gorge is located by the Coralville Lake Dam and is a 375 million year old seafloor.  During the summer of 1993 the Coralville Lake flooded the area; once the waters receded the fossil bed was discovered!  In 2008 the area was flooded again, washing away some of the fossil bed while exposing others.  Today visitors can walk along the bed to see the richness of fossils from corals to brachiopods.

4-wheelin’ in Ouray, Colorado

Four-wheelin’ in Ouray, Colorado is spectacular!  It is the thrill of the drive as you climb mountain passes from 12,407’ (Hurricane Pass) to 13, 114’ (Imogene Pass) over rocks and narrow ledges; the amazing beauty you see as you gaze at the snow lined mountains that range in colors from yellow, red, brown, and green; the explosion of wildflowers in every color imagined; the historic mines and ghost towns such as Animas Fork; and finally the people you meet along the way in their jeeps, razors, ATV’s, dirt bikes, FJ’s, etc. from the ages of 20 to the 80’s!  They practice simple rules such as ‘taking turns’, waving a friendly hello, letting you know what’s up ahead, and stopping to give a hand when needed.  You can easily spend a week in the area as you explore the various trails, many which interconnect such as Engineer’s, California, Hurricane, and Corkscrew.  There are challenges such as Poughkeepsie Gulch and Black Bear Pass (which I refuse to do).


Mesa Verde National Park

The first Ancestral Pueblo people settled in Mesa Verde about 550 C.E.  They built pit houses which were dug into the ground and had 4 corner timbers to support the roof.  They mainly farmed since the soil was very fertile and the mesa was at an angle that allowed the sun to shine longer and extend the growing season.  Around 750 C.E. , they began to build houses above ground; this is called the ‘Pueblo’ period which is Spanish for town or village.  By the year 1000, they turned to adobe and stone masonry with some structures being 2-3 stories high and consisting of 50 or more rooms joined together.  It is common to see the “T” shaped doorways in the ruins today.  They evolved from basket makers to pottery with beautiful white on black designs.  Then around the late 1190’s they began to move into cliff alcoves and built amazing dwellings such as Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House,  and Long House which had about 150 rooms and used existing rock walls as part of their structure.  They used the sandstone to shape into rectangular blocks and mortar mixtures of dirt and water.  Within their community, there were also several kivas (Spruce Tree House has 8) which were usually circular in design and had ventilators and air deflectors.  They were used for religious, social, and other purposes; entry was by a ladder through the center of the roof.  They also had foot drums which were built into the kiva floor.  Several of the cliff dwellings also had small springs along the back wall which they used for water.  They lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years.   There are several theories why they left such as a 10 year drought, defense issues, or dwindling natural supplies.  In any case, there are over 600 dwellings throughout the park – you can take a tour of Long House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House.  Spruce Tree House is currently closed due to rock slides.  There are also several hikes – we did the Petroglyph hike which was pretty adventurous as you climbed through narrow rocks and up natural stone steps which eventually lead to a petroglyph.

Long House

Cliff Palace

Petroglyph Trail

Spruce Tree House

Pit houses and other sites


Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch

Ghost Ranch was originally inhabited by cattle rusters, the Arhculeta brothers, who would rob people as they traveled through the canyon and sometimes also killed them.  It was oringally called “Rancho de los Brujos” which translates to “Ranch of the Witches” since it was rumored to be haunted by evil sprits.  Later on Roy Pfaffle won the deed to the ranch in a poker game which he put into his wife’s name, Carol Stanley.  She subsequently divorced him the next day! She opened it to wealthy families who came for the drier climate.  She eventually sold the ranch to Arthur Pack who ran it as a dude ranch.  Georgia O’Keefe came out to the ranch and fell in love with the beautiful rock formations which she would paint and bought land from Pack so she could have her privacy from other people.  Her land is owned by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum today.  As Arthur Pack grew older, he was worried about what would happen to his land – he offered it to many different non-profit organizations and was eventually bought by the Presbyterian church.  They changed the name to Ghost Ranch.  Today the ranch is open to people for hiking and they run many educational and retreat programs.  Many movies were also filmed there including “City Slickers”.  Sadly they suffered a flash flood last year in which the waters rose 27 feet and destroyed many buildings as well as blocking hiking paths – you can see the tremendous fource of it as you hike along Box Canyon. When it was over, though, a double rainbox appeared – a sign of  hope and renewal.

The hiking there is specatucular!  We hiked Chimney Rock which is 3 miles roundtrip and takes you to the top of the ridge for a outstanding view!  As you hike upwards, you also see so many different ‘colors’ of the rocks from red, yellow, and lavender.  Box Canyon in 4 miles rountrip and goes along the banks of a creek until you are evenutally ‘boxed in’.   Cliffside Trail is a trail that winds up and down the rolling red mounds of the sandstone cliffs with beautiful views of the surronding mesas and canyon.  After a hike you can stop in for a home-made tasting lunch which is $11 and includes salad bar, meal, drinks, and dessert!

Chimney Rock Hike 

Box Canyon Hike


Cliffside Hike

Jemez Historic Site and area

Jemez Pueblo was  originally the people of Giusewa, which translates to ‘village of the sulphur’ due to the hot springs in the area and consisted of 3,400 people.  The Jemez historic site is the ruins of the San Jose de los Jemez Mission and consists of their original dwellings, which only 18% have been excavated.  The kiva is still actively used by Jemez tribal members so photographs are not allowed.  In addition there is a mission church which was built in 1621.  At one time the church consisted of colored fescoes, painted pine panels and carved wooden statues which were on the remaining pedestals.  The franciscians abandoned the site around 1640, but the Jemez people continued to live there.  Close by is the Walatowa visitor center which has a nice museum that shows you how the current Pueblo of Jemez live.  Some other local nearby geological sites are Battleship rock and Soda Dam which is a natural dam where water from the local hot springs flow underground and through the dam.


Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier was home to the Ancestral Pueblo People who were previously called the Anasazi which is now considered to be disrespectful.  They were farmers who grew corn, beans and squash as well as hunting deer, rabbit, and other mammals.  Surveys show there were at least 3,000 sites in the area.  Long House is an 800 ft stretch of adjoining stone homes with hand-carved caves as back rooms; you walk along it for about 1.5 miles and can truly capture how long it truly was!   In addition there was the village of Tyuonyi which had approximately 400 rooms which were 1-2 stories high  and 3 kivas.