Nowhere else in the United States is one able to stand in 4 different states at once. At the same time, one is able to stand in the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe land, essentially standing in 6 unique places all at the same time. The Navajo Nation maintains a monument where many selfies and family pics have been snapped, to capture the spot where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado intersect. This is called the Four Corners Monument, technically addressed in Teec Nos Pos, AZ. Like many highway novelties, it is a fun time for most travelers to snap a picture, look through the various souvenirs sold by mini shops and get a glimpse of the region that is so rich with history. Yet, the monument is barely a scratch on the surface of the beautiful, majestic, historical destinations that are accessible from the 4 corners.
The Anasazi, also known as the Ancestral Puebloans, populated the area of the 4 corners region for about 1700 years from 200 BC - AD 1500. Many contemporary Native cultures in the area (Hopi, Pueblo, etc) are thought to be descended from the Anasazi. The word Anasazi comes from the Navajo, who are not descended from this ancient group, means "Ancient Enemies." The Anasazi developed complex cultures, are most famous for the creation of the cliff dwellings seen throughout the region. There are many places to see cliff dwellings, most famously, Mesa Verde National Park, which MobileRVing: The Buzz has written about in the past here. Touched upon in that article is the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, adjacent to Mesa Verde and over twice the size. A Ute guide is required to visit the park, however, to most guests; this seems to be very welcome.
Reviews of the tours at the Tribal Park are a perfect 5 on TripAdvisor; many pointing out the tour guides provide such a wealth of knowledge of the dwellings, history, and current affairs in Native life. Sometimes the guides are the descendants of the ancients, and sometimes they are newer indigenous peoples, but either way there is much one can learn from these traditional people. One reviewer says, “The quiet is like nothing else I've experienced on many trips to the Southwest. We had a private full day tour and hiked to several sites that seemed untouched by time. Our guide (Ricky) educated us in Ute and Hopi philosophies, and shared some personal experiences that we were honored to learn about. He closed the tour with a song that I can still hear. I can't believe more people don't know about this park. Go to Mesa Verde first, and then come here to see the real thing.”
“Ancestral Puebloan Chetro Ketl Great Kiva plaza site at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico”
This is just one region of the where the widespread Anasazi were during this period in history. Another famous spot is Chaco Culture National Historical Park. In New Mexico south of Farmington, this park features a great many of ancient ruins and clues to the complexity of the culture that flourished there. It is home to one of the "great houses" of the area, called Pueblo Bonito. Pueblo Bonito has more of 800 rooms, was loaded with artifacts (over 300,000 analyzed) and has some extremely neat details. For example, in some of the pottery shards, Mexican Cacao was found (chocolate), which meant that the great house had visitors from over 1200 miles away. There are also studies that the buildings are aligned in such a way to correspond with astronomical events and solstices.
Find yourself in Sante Fe, and this is the opportunity to check out Bandelier National Monument and walk among the ruins there. Reminders of ancient settlements are still evident in the park as are the strong ties of the modern Pueblo people. By 1550 the Ancestral Pueblo people had moved from their homes here to pueblos along the Rio Grande. Next you can visit Puye Cliffs to learn from the local Pueblo about the same people.
Travelling about 120 miles south to I-40, one comes to Acoma Pueblo, the Sky City. It is recognized as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America (over 800 years). On top of a mesa, stand about 300 buildings, with exterior ladders leading to top floors. Now, about 30 or so people permanently live on the mesa, where there is no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal. In order to access to the mesa, visitors need a tour guide. Of note, is the pottery of Acoma. It is known for its beauty, with geometric designs and animal shapes, as well as its strength. Shards of broken pottery are put into the clay for strength and, after the clay is fired, a potter lightly hits the pottery and, if there is a ring, it is saved. If not, it is destroyed as used for its shards. The Acoma Pueblo has an RV park off of exit 108 on Interstate 40.
Touring the Native American reservations in the area of the 4 corners is also of interest. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a great place to visit, with Navajo jeep tours, horseback tours, or hiking, almost entirely with a guide. Canyon de Chelly has remnants of ancient cliff dwellings, artifacts, and notable geological features, such as Spider Rock, two spires that come from the canyon floor. According to many reviewers, it is known as a remote place with stunning beauty and ancient cultural significance. One reviewer says, “One of the most beautifully underrated NPS sites in the southwest, Canyon de Chelly (de "Shay") offers beautiful red rock canyon overlooks, impressive ruins, and an immersion in Navajo culture and spiritual significance. Tours to the valley floor can be arranged through the Navajo, but the overlooks are publicly accessible and are stunning. Well worth the visit to this remote place.”
These are just the tip of the iceberg of all the activities there are to do in the four corners region relating to ancient civilizations. The Southwest is a very special place, both for its contribution to the legends of the wild west, as well as the Native American cultures that continuous to survive and teach us how to live in the land we are given. With some 80 to 90 Pueblos, or independent Native American villages/reservations in New Mexico alone, it’s quite hard to top the sheer abundance of heritage from these people that the Four Corners offers.