On Saturday we broke camp, headed up through the pines along the flank of Mount Taylor in the Cibola National Forest.
The Cibola is a disjointed collection of National Forest lands that are spread across northern and central New Mexico, Oklahoma, and west Texas. The area we were in is the Mt. Taylor district, and is a relatively small chunk of the entire Cibola, which includes forest and grasslands of over 1.6 million acres.
Mt. Taylor, or Tsoodzif in Navajo, is a dormant stratovolcano. At just over 11,300 feet, it is the highest point in the Cibola National Forest and was named for President Zachary Taylor.
The mountain is considered sacred by the Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, Acoma and Navajo peoples. For the Navajo, the mountain is an integral part of their creation story. The Navajo believe that First Man created four mountains with the sacred soil from the Fourth World to mark the four cardinal directions (with Mount Taylor representing the south) and that the spirits of the Black God, Turquoise Boy and Turquoise Girl continue to reside in the mountain. For the four other tribes, Mt. Taylor is a place to connect to their ancestral past.
Soon we dropped off of Mt. Taylor and into the desert between Grants and Cuba. This area is a checkerboard of Navajo trust lands, BLM land, and private holdings. The desert landscape, as Jim said, looks just like you’re in a cowboy movie. It’s a beautiful stark landscape of mesas, draws, and interesting rock formations. We pass by the striking volcanic neck known as Cerro Alesna (the Spanish word for awl) and head towards Cabezon Peak.
A couple of mallards surprised me when they got up off this tank!
Cabezon Peak is a volcanic plug that is visible from miles around. It dominates the relatively low mesas and hills surrounding it on the north. Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish. The Navajo believe that it is the head of the giant Ye’i-tsoh, who was killed by the twin gods Nayenezgani and To’badzistsini. The lava flows to the south of Grants, which include El Malpais, are thought to be the congealed blood of Ye’i-tsoh.
As we head towards Cuba, the scenery is amazing and the travel is quick. In the rain, this section quickly becomes impassable. Between Reserve and Luna on day 3, I saw motorcycle tracks that seemed very new, but never caught up with any bikes. Here again, I saw motorcycle tracks over the truck tire tracks in the soft dirt. They appeared to be only a day or so old. There are also some older ones petrified into deep ruts from a couple bikes that struggled through here when the weather was not so good.
See this thread for an account about what this area is like in the mud!
We got to Cuba around noon, fueled up, and ate lunch at El Bruno’s. It was good.
Cuba (originally Nacimiento) was settled in 1736 by 4 men. 30 years later, the San Joaquin del Nacimiento land grant was formed, and more settlers moved in. The town was later abandoned due to heavy raiding pressure from the Comanches, Navajos, Utes, and Apaches. Slowly, as this pressure decreased, the grant area was repopulated by farmers and ranchers. In 1887, a post office was established, and the town was renamed Cuba, meaning water tank or trough. Cuba became an important stop along the travel routes north from Albuquerque and Bernalillo, as well as a trading center for the various Native American communities in the area.
We left Cuba and headed into the Jemez Mountains. The Jemez are in the Santa Fe National Forest, established in 1915 and covering over 1.5 million acres. The land was formerly designated as the Jemez National Forest to the west of Santa Fe, and the Pecos National Forest east of Santa Fe.
Being a Saturday, I expected the Jemez would be fairly busy. It is a popular day-trip and camping destination for people from Los Alamos, Espanola, Santa Fe, and even Albuquerque, especially in the summer. But it looked like the 4th of July weekend up there! Every campground was stuffed to the gunwales with trailers, campers, trucks, and ATVs. Any flat area where dispersed camping was allowed was crammed full as well.
We stopped at Teakettle Rock and decided to press on to the Tusas Mountains in hope of more peaceful camping. It would also shorten our trip the next day, allowing us to spend more time fishing at the Rio de los Pinos. Jim told me that New Mexicans sure seem to like camping…together.
Out of the Jemez to the north, we dropped into the desert around Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch – Georgia O’Keeffe country, with its striking banded mesas and cliffs. Then to Abiquiu Lake, and down the dam face to the Chama River tailwater. The dam was built in 1963, and was raised in 1986. It is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The tailwater was crowded and running pretty dirty, so we passed on fishing there and headed on towards Abiquiu.
Abiquiu (“choke cherry place”) was first settled in 1742 by several Tewa families and a catholic priest. In 1747, a Comanche raid forced the town to be abandoned. In 1754, a land grant was established and the area was resettled as a defensive outpost. The settlers were primarily of Native American descent, and were previously slaves, servants, and captives of the Spanish. Known as Genizaro, the land grant was their only way to become landowners. Abiquiu was the home of Georgia O’Keeffe from 1929 until 1984.
From Abuquiu, the route heads through El Rito (originally El Rito Colorado, or the red creek), one of the oldest Spanish Settlements in New Mexico.
From El Rito, we headed into the Tusas Mountains, expecting fewer campers. There were just a few less...
About 7 PM, we finally found a spot to camp, at about 9,600 feet at the top of a small pass.
Total mileage for the day was about 220, leaving us only about 100 miles to Antonito the next day.