Navajo State Park – October 13th to 16th, 2020

Sharing nature and history with friends, what is better than that? Our friends Sandy and Dave spent another three nights camping with us, this time in Navajo State Park. We were camping in different parts of the campground, but we spent the days with each other hiking and exploring the area.

We spent most of the first day driving from Alamosa to Navajo State Park. After picking up groceries in Alamosa, we headed up to Wolf Creek Pass. Dave and Sandy have spent a lot of time in this area in the past and were telling us stories of their adventures. The Continental Divide Trail crosses the highway at the pass. As we started down the other side of the pass, the scenery was spectacular. The trees were in their peak fall colors in full display in front of us. We stopped at the scenic overlook so we could take in the scenery longer. 

Near the bottom of the pass, we stopped at the Treasure Falls Trailhead and went on a short hike to the falls. Round trip was less than a mile. The falls were pretty, but we could imagine that they would be spectacular in the spring. There was a nice overlook along the trail so we could take in the beautiful fall colors of the valley and mountain sides some more. We took the main trail out to the falls and took the primitive trail on the way back. The primitive trail was aptly named as there were a few steep sections with loose dirt that were a little tricky to navigate. It seemed like a popular trail and the chipmunks were rather aggressive. They must be used to people giving them food. 

Surprisingly, there was a chicken wandering around at the trailhead before we started our hike. We didn’t see it when we got back. Where did the chicken come from and how did it get there? It was a nice little hike which let us stretch our legs and break up the long drive. The only thing about the trail we did not like was that there were no restrooms. A gas station in Pagosa Springs filled that need. We both needed gas anyway.

On the way to Navajo State Park, we stopped at Chimney Rock National Monument just to scope out how things operated there since it was along the highway that took us to the park. For $12 per person, we can drive up to the upper parking lot where there are two short trails with ancient pueblo ruins. Normally there are guided tours, but due to COVID the trails are self-guided. What was confusing was that the web site and entrance sign state that the monument closes at the end of September. This was October 13th. Apparently since they opened up two weeks later than normal due to the pandemic, they were allowed to stay open for two weeks into October. Their last day was October 15th, so we only had two days left to visit it this year. 

Our friend Dave was chatting with the staff and saying how disappointed he was that the tour was self-guided because he normally gets so much more out of it when there is a tour guide. The ranger he was talking with must have felt sorry for us, so he arranged for a tour guide to walk the trails with us the next morning. She normally just walks the trails and answers questions from the visitors as they pass by. 

Dave and Sandy’s campground reservation was in the Windsurf Beach area while ours was in the Tiffany Loop, about a five minute drive from each other. Dave and Sandy cooked dinner at our campsite with us before heading back to their campsite for the night. Our dinner was tortilla pizza.

We got up early the next day to arrive back at Chimney Rock soon after they opened to meet up with our tour guide. Sue Fisher gave us a wonderful tour. She was so knowledgeable about the area and the history. We learned so much that we would not have gotten from the self-guided tour. Thank you Dave! Sue showed us a sample of a yucca leaf that was beaten into thread with the point of the leaf still attached so it can be used as a needle. Yucca leaf fibers were used to weave sandals. Some of them wove unique patterns into the bottoms of their sandals. Perhaps the patterns were a way of leaving their mark in the dirt as they walked.

There are two short trails from the upper parking lot that take you around the excavated ruins. There are pit houses, kivas, and a Great House. The Great House was built in the Chacoan style, but they are not quite sure what the relationship was between the people at Chimney Rock and the people at Chaco Canyon. 

It was nice to hear that the Chimney Rock National Monument respects the native culture and people more than we have in the past. The modern day pueblo people still consider Chimney Rock sacred ground, believing that the spirits of their ancestors are still here. Before any modifications or new excavations are done, they seek permission from the modern pueblo tribes. While the National Monument is closed to the public during the winter months, tribes visit to perform ceremonies and bring the younger generation here to teach them their history. 

After our great tour, we had lunch at a couple of picnic tables near the visitor cabin at the lower parking lot. Then we headed back to Navajo State Park. In the afternoon we hiked a trail from the Visitor Center to Windsurf Beach and back. The trail followed close to the road, but there were views of the lake and it went by an old railcar and train water tower. Instead of being round like most water towers, this one was rectangular.  The Denver and Rio Grande railroad used to follow this route.

Dave picked a prickly pear cactus fruit and Left Buddy (LB) cut it open. It was dark red inside. All of us had a taste. The fruit flesh was a little sweet and moist, very tasty. However, it was loaded with small, hard seeds that we spit out. It would take a lot of fruit to fill you up, but we could imagine it would be a great treat in a survival situation.

The winds had picked up in the afternoon, so we both made simple dinners back at our camp sites. We heated up some leftover pasta.

We worked in the morning while Dave and Sandy explored the area on their mountain bikes. We considered taking our kayak out onto the Navajo Reservoir, but the water looked rough due to the wind. There also didn’t seem to be a good place to put the kayak into the water. At the Windsurf Beach, the water level was so low, that you had to drive out onto the beach a ways to reach the water.  The distance from the parking lot to the water’s edge was farther than we would want to hand carry our kayak. Our van probably could have handled the drive except for the initial slope leading down from the parking lot, which was deeply rutted and washed out. Getting stuck in the sand was not something we were willing to risk.

The coin showers at our campground were a new experience. Sandy and Dave warned us that the coin machine for the showers does not work. They tried the evening before and could not get them to work. So they went over to the Rosa loop to try their showers. Those showers were out of order, but a sign said that there were free showers back in our loop. Sure enough, when they went back to our showers and just pushed the button, the showers came on. When Right Buddy (RB) used the shower, there were two buttons, one for the fixed upper shower head and one for the lower or hand-held shower head. The button for the lower one did not work. The upper one worked, but it only stayed on for five seconds per push which was a little bit of an annoyance. LB used the other shower and both buttons worked for him and they stayed on for about twenty seconds. RB picked the wrong shower to use.

Lunch was a picnic over by Dave and Sandy’s campsite on Windsurf Beach. After lunch we walked the trail from Windsurf Beach to the Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area along the Piedra River. At the viewing area, we crossed the bridge over the river and continued along the trail for about another half a mile before turning around and heading back. 

The fall colors along the trail were gorgeous. The reddish browns of the clumps of scrub oak trees made a nice contrast to the bright yellows of the other trees like aspens, willows, and cottonwoods. 

There were about a dozen animal skeletons alongside the trail. They looked like they might have been deer or elk. Most of them looked like they had been there a long time. The bones were picked clean and were bleached white from the sun. One of the skeletons still had some pieces of hide left. There was also a spot with a bunch of turkey feathers. We were hoping that the animals were roadkill since we were not too far from the road. The alternative was that there were rather active predators in the area, such as mountain lions and bears. Of course, we did see a lot of scat that Dave and Sandy identified as bear scat, but it mostly contained nuts and prickly pear seeds. The nuts were probably from the scrub oak trees. Our tour guide the day before told us that the acorns from scrub oak trees are a favorite food source for bears. We didn’t see much wildlife. A few bluebirds and jays flew by and that was about it.

The only people we saw along the trail were five people on horseback along with their three dogs. Two of the dogs were running out front. The third was bringing up the rear. The one in the back looked like he was a little tired, with his tongue hanging out. He still looked like he was having fun, though. The horses seemed a little spooked by our presence as they passed us on the trail. 

Dinner was prepared back at our camp site. We baked sweet potatoes in our Instant Pot (paid link) and topped them with butter and brown sugar. Then RB steamed a couple of eggs in the Instant Pot to make room in the fridge for more groceries the next day. RB ate her egg right away. LB saved his egg for lunch the next day.

Not only did we enjoy having the company of our friends, we learned and enjoyed the places we were visiting more. Listening to our friends stories about a place made it more meaningful. Sandy and Dave shared their knowledge of the natural world which enhanced our knowledge. Their curiosity about nature and history sparked more curiosity in ourselves. We were parting ways the next day, but we’re so glad we got to spend a week with them. 

Check out our related video: Navajo State Park

(RB)