Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Anasazi Pilgrimage

  The Anasazi ruins at Canyon de Chelley National Park in Arizona.


One could possibly accuse me with having an obsession with all things Southwestern.  And this would include the ancient native cultures of the region.  For years I have been traveling to and studying the Anasazi culture of the Four Corners area of North America.  My first real glimpse of the amazing culture and civilization of this group of people was in 1985 when Momo and I traveled to Mesa Verde where we spent a week or so camping and trekking the ruins of this phenomenal national park. 

Since that fantastic summer, I have traveled there and to other Anasazi sites more times than I can recall.  The most recent trip was a few years back when Som, Cokie and I spent six weeks road-tripping the various sites of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.  One of our typical thematic trips, this one was titled “Our Anasazi Pilgrimage”!  We visited and explored such sites as Mesa Verde (of course), Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelley National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Chaco National Monument and Bandelier National Monument.  We also added some fabulous pueblos and missions to add variety to the expedition. 

Som was thoroughly impressed with the awesomeness of the culture and the spectacular nature of their ruins.  Cokie was too young to really recall this trip but at least he can say he’s been there!  Like he cares…  I enjoy watching him look through the family albums anyway. 


Please take a look at our North America Image Galleries!

Anasaziland Image Gallery


Take a look at the below images to get a better idea what these places are really like!




Chaco National Monument's Pueblo Benito, one of the most spectacular of all of the Anasazi sites in the Southwest.  I have had the pleasure of traveling to this remote site several times both in the summer and winter.  These spectacular ruins are in New Mexico.



Chaco's Pueblo Benito.




The Giant Kiva of Pueblo Benito at Chaco.




Parts of Chaco are in remarkably good condition.  Original timbers can be seen here and have been used to carbon date the ruins.



Chaco's Great Wall.





Most likely these marks were made by Spaniards traveling the El Camino Real by sharpening sword and dagger blades.  We saw similar markings in Egypt and Jordan.



Acoma Pueblo in western New Mexico is an amazing mesa-top city that has been coninuously lived in for nearly 2000 years, longer than any other place in North America.




A simple home in Acoma.




Acoma is a mixture of new and ancient homes side by side.




One of the older doorways in Acoma.



The Great Kiva at New Mexico's Aztec Ruins National Monument


A typical home in Acoma.  For years I had a repeating dream about a life on top of a mesa mountain.  In the dream, I was living in a pueblo looking in to the vast desert that was punctuated by campfires and other mesas.  When I saw an image of Acoma in an old National Geographic, I was spellbound by how similar to my dreams this place was.  I immediately traveled there and the sense of familiarity was scary.  I even asked one of the locals if there had been a kiva on the edge of one of the cliffs (in an area where this house was currently situated), and an elder said that there had in fact been a kiva there before the house.  Somehow I knew that already...




Aztec Ruins National Monument is in remarkable condition.  Here original timbers can be seen.



Aztec Ruins National Monument.



Although they apparently restored this kiva incorrectly, Aztec Ruins National Monument is one of the few places where you can see a kiva in semi-authentic state.



Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico is an amazing place.  Although the ruins are not as grand as other locations, the natural setting is hard to beat.  The woodlands and canyons of Bandelier are filled with wildlife and amazing sights.  Som really enjoyed trekking the back country of Bandelier and climbing in and exploring the caves of this once impressive civilization.  It reminded me of Cappadocia, Turkey.



The main pueblo at Bandelier.



The cave apartments of Bandelier!




Canyon de Chelly is impressive canyon complex as well as an amazing assemblage of spectacular Anasazi ruins.




Canyon de Chelly's phenomenal White House Ruins.  The trek to these amazing ruins is like a walk back in time.




Mummy Ruins of Canyon de Chelly.




White House Ruins of Canyon de Chelly are some of the most impressive of all the ruins in the region.



Som and my favorite spot during our pilgrimage was El Morro National Monument.  Surrounded by vast sage brush desert, the pueblo on top of this mesa stands out as a special place to live.





The pueblo complex of El Morro.



One of the coolest parts of El Morro is how isolated it is.  Very few travelers make it to this out-of-the-way spot in the New Mexico desert.  Relatively unrestored, it is still possible to find thousands of potter shards in and around the ruins.



Located along the El Camino Real, travelers for hundreds of years carved grafitti on Inscription Rock in El Morro.  From native Americans to Spaniards to the early white pioneers, the grafitti is fascinating to read.





Hovenweep National Monument just inside Utah is another of the more out-of-the-way ruins that we traveled to.  These impressive ruins are situated along a gorgeous canyon.  On this afternoon, we braved 110 degree temps to see them all.  I almost didn't make it!




Hovenweep National Monument.



Laguna Mission is one of the many missions we visited during our expedition to Anasaziland.


Colorado's Lowry Ruins are a small set of ruins with a very well restored kiva.  Virtually no one travels out to see these ruins but they are absolutely well worth the trip!


If one can compare Chaco to Tikal, Mesa Verde National Park would be like Copan.  The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verda are the most impressive anywhere in the region.  The Cliff Palace here is the most amazing of all.





Our brand new Element was our mode of transport during this expedition.  People everywhere were wondering why on earth we had this kayak in the desert Southwest.  Well there were some lakes and rivers on the way down from Washington....



Our last trip to Anasaziland was in 2003.  This is a picture of Cokie in Mesa Verde when he was less than one year old!  This was his second major travel experience. 



Navajo National Monument in Northern Arizona.  These are perhaps some of the more restored pueblos anywhere in the region.  Situated in a spectacular canyon, Navajo is a blast to trek and explore.



Newspaper Rock in Canyonlands National Park is one of the more impressive collections of Anasazi petroglyphs.



The alien-esque petroglyphs of Capital Reef National Park are massive and strange.  Perhaps Anasazi...




A snowy morning seen through one of the more pristine windows of Chaco.