Spring and Fall are the only rational times to go backpacking in the Southwest Desert and I was lucky enough to get invited on a four-day adventure thru the Slickhorn region of Cedar Mesa in Southern Utah the first week back from Thailand. There are now at least four other Ultra-light backpacking enthusiasts in Durango and we all ventured 3 hours southwest to hike a route chosen by the mentor of many who prefer to pack ultra-light, Will Rietveld. (He’s written about and reviewed Ultra Light gear for quite a number of years and is a native Durangoan – link.) Actually everyone on this trip except me has hiked all over this southwestern wonderland, but only Will had done this particular loop before. Last year I’d hiked and blogged about trails north and northeast of this region, so it was good to discover another patch of this BLM-protected land where hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan ruins exist in a desert backcountry setting. You’d think we’d get tired of seeing and visiting ruins because we live so close to Mesa Verde National Park, but when you find these relics and ruins of ancient time along a trail without a soul around, it always produces awe and wonder. These folks, the Ancestral Puebloans, spent about 1,200 years with estimates of as many as 40,000 people this desert backyard of ours, and it’s a never-ending quandary thinking about how they lived, farmed and especially wintered in this high desert region. Not much remains and when you come across their art, their houses and their shards or a tiny corn cob, it’s pretty special.
I’ve seen and gone inside a fair number of Kivas (ancient underground structures thought to be ceremonial or religious in nature) but generally not often in remote locations where there is only a placard rather than a ranger telling you to respect the ruins. In our 4-day 41 mile trek we probably visited at least 3 or more sites a day, which besides providing cultural consciousness was always a welcome break out of the sun and heat. At the “Perfect Kiva” they even had an information binder stowed in an ammo box if you wanted to know more about that particular site, it’s discovery (as late as 1976) and the environs. It’s was amazing that we could still go down inside the Perfect Kiva and hang out as long as we wanted.
Not sure how many readers are familiar with the Ancient Puebloan concept of the Sipapu, so I’ll let you know it “symbolizes the portal through which their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world” Wikipedia. All these Kivas had distinct Sipapus as well as well-used niches, chimneys and the meditative tranquility of a very scared place.
Of course, just hiking thru, around and over sandstone canyons is worth the effort. We averaged 10 miles a day and not much of the route was on what you might call a conventional trail. This area is often visited, but requires lot’s of route finding thru the boulders, stream-beds, slick rock and slides.
Another benefit of hiking with these UL guys is that we all can learn some new or alternate tip or trick and I was able to tweak my gear shortly after getting home. Can’t wait to get back out on the trail again soon.
BTW on this hike my base weight was just under 9 pounds, plus food and water which decreases each day. Sure beats the 40-pound days of the past.