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U.S. Southwest

August/September 2019


From August 23 to September 1, 2019, Margaret and I embarked on a 700+mile/four state journey, across the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest.


We began and ended in Albuquerque, New Mexico , traveling west across the desolate red rock region of the Colorado Plateau, then east through the southern San Juan Mountains of Colorado, to the canyons and volcanic plains of the Rio Grande in New Mexico.


We visited nine new national park units (most of which focused on the preservation of ancient Puebloan archaeological sites), as well as the historic towns of Durango, Silverton, Taos, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe.

Route Map


To access the web pages for the sites we visited on this trip, click on the labels on the map above, or click on the links in the Trip Overview below.

Trip Overview


Starting in Albuquerque, New Mexico we traveled west, deep into the Navajo Nation territory, and visited the famous ancient Puebloan archeological sites at  Canyon de Chelly National Monument in eastern Arizona, and  Hovenweep National Monument, located  near the Colorado border in southeast Utah. Located in the red rock country of the Colorado Plateau's Canyonlands region, these sites are located in some of the most desolate and remote North American lands we have ever visited.

We then headed east into Colorado, passing through the agricultural town of Cortez and our next destination, Mesa Verde National Park. Towering more than 7,000 feet above sea level, the park contains some of the most remarkable archeological sites in the Western Hemisphere, clinging high in its remote canyons.

Mesa Verde NP Visitor's Center

After a couple nights in Mesa Verde, we continued to our next site in Colorado and a return to civilization, Durango. Once known for mining and other industries, it is now more known for its tourism trade and in particular, the Durango and Silverton Railroad . The railroad winds its way through forested canyons of the Animas River 45 miles, deep in the southern San Juan Mountains, to the former mining town of Silverton.

Just an hour east of Durango, our next visit was Chimney Rock National Monument, an ancestral Puebloan  archeological site, located on a red rock mesa 7,000 feet above sea level. Its unobstructed 360 degree views encompass thousands of square miles, in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.


Continuing east in southern Colorado, we began our climb across the southern San Juan mountains, and reached the highest elevation of the entire trip, 10,856 feet above sea level, at Wolf Creek Pass, on the Continental Divide.

Leaving Colorado, we headed south into New Mexico for the final leg of the trip. As we entered the "Land of Enchantment", we passed through pueblos more than 300 years old, while enjoying views of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains (including Mt. Humphreys, the highest peak in New Mexico) to the east. Our first site in New Mexico was the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, located just west of Taos, with stunning views of the canyon and surrounding landscapes. We then spent an afternoon and overnight in Taos, exploring the historic, artsy town.

Heading on our last eastern bearing of the trip, we descended from the mountains and soon arrived at our next destination, Great Sand Dunes National Park. One of my most anticipated national park visits, Great Sand Dunes boasts one of the largest and highest sand dune complexes in North America. Tucked away in the western folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the dunes encompass 30 square miles, and rise to nearly 800 feet above the valley floor.


Continuing south, we soon came to the town of Los Alamos, perched on the ancient, dormant Valles Caldera volcanic formation, and most famous for the development of the atomic bomb during World War II.


Just to the west of Los Alamos is Valles Caldera National Preserve, which conserves  13-mile wide circular depression, created during a spectacular ancient volcanic eruption (1.25 million years ago).  The preserve is also known for its huge mountain meadows, abundant wildlife, and meandering streams.

As part of our stay in Los Alamos, we also visited another famous archeological site, Bandelier National Monument, which preserves sites of the Ancestral Puebloans dating to 1150-1600 AD, in beautiful Frijoles Canyon.


We then headed south again, and spent a couple of nights in the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe. The city, dating back to the Spanish colonial period of the 16th century, is filled with art museums, historical sites, public spaces, and amazing food.

Petroglyph National Monument just west of Albuquerque, was our next stop. We saw many petroglyphs on volcanic rock, some 200,000 years old. Most of the petroglyphs were created by the very same ancient people from the other sites we visited earlier in the trip, after migrating here around 1200 AD.


Arriving in Albuquerque for our flight home, our final site of the trip was the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

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All photos/maps by Kevin Burkman, unless otherwise noted.

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