The Phoenix Nest

Riana Campground, near Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico

Riana Campground, near Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico

A Stop on the Phoenix's Grand Fossil Tour

By Jim Fulton

I spent a week at Riana Campground, near Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, where I visited Ghost Ranch and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Arrival Day of Tour Nights Departure
GFT GFT 2
2019/8/27 616 119 7 2019/9/3
Mileage Elevation
Odometer Map Actual Local Accumulated   Feet Meters
57,030 206 853 200 GFT 38,513 Actual 6,080 1,853
GFT 2 5,503 Δ -856 -261
Page Contents

Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico

Abiquiu Lake is a reservoir that supplies the many small communities in the valleys between the southern spurs of the San Juan Mountains on the north and the Valles Caldera on the south. It was hotter there than at Dolores, and the nights didn't cool off so much, but it was tolerable. The wifi was better, although anomalously the cell service wasn't.

The Journey to Abiquiu Lake

Half of my trip to Abiquiu Lake retraced my route to Dolores; I had to return to Pagosa Springs before turning south into New Mexico. The San Juans were familiar and beautiful. After I turned south, the valleys got wider and the peaks lower, but still green and beautiful. At one point I drove over a crest, and saw ridge after ridge on the horizon, each a lighter shade of blue than the one below it, like one of those popular wall hangings, but real. No place to stop for a photo.

Maps and Photos of Journey

Maps of the Phoenix's journey to, around, and from Abiquiu Lake.Phoenix Popup
Photos of the journey to there.

Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico
Previous Location: Dolores River Campground, Dolores, Colorado
Route of Journey to Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, from Dolores, Colorado
Route of Journey to Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, from Dolores, Colorado
Current Location: Riana Campground, Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico
Route of Journey from Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, to Albuquerque, New Mexico
Route of Journey from Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, to Albuquerque, New Mexico
Next Destination: Stagecoach Stop RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Riana Campground

The Riana Campground was hilly and hot, an arid enclave above Abiquiu Lake. Most of the residents during my stay were RVs with air conditioning. The tent sites were mostly empty. Part of that may have been due to an algae bloom that infested the lake and put swimming out of bounds, but I suspect that August is generally not a popular time at the lake.

As campgrounds go, it was a great value! Water and 50-amp power were available at the site, but no sewer hookup. I had to go to the dump station at the end of my stay. The site had a covered patio with a picnic table, and even a charcoal grill. No grass though: this is desert country. There are signs warning of rattlesnakes, but I didn't see any. They're too smart to come out in the heat.

Photo Gallery for Riana Campground

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Riana Campground
Address PO BOX 290
Abiquiu, NM 87510
Home Page https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/233598
Phone (505) 685-4371‬
Associations
  • none
Rate (net US$) $16
Features
Amenities
  Sewer Fire-Ring
Picnic Table Paved Patio
  Pull-through Back-in
  Paved Gravel
 
Site Type
Lane Surface
Site Surface
  Paved Gravel   Grass    
50   30   20
Playground Usually Swimming   Golf
  Tennis   Waterfront   Other
Power
Play Areas
 
Reviews (as of 2018/10/25)
Reviewer
 
Rating Out of
Campground Reviews 8.4 Good 10
Good Sam n/r 10
KOA n/a 5
Tripadvisor 4.5 5
Phoenix 7 10
Attractiveness 7 10
Friendliness 8 10
Tree Cover 1 10: Dense - 1: Treeless
Site Length 8 10
Site Width 8 10
Ease of Access 5 10
WiFiPhoenix Popup 7 10
Pros
  • Great Value
Cons
  • No sewer at site

Points of Interest

My primary reason for stopping a Abiquiu Lake was to visit Ghost Ranch, the provenance of all the Coelophysis fossils I have seen on the Grand Fossil Tour. I also took the opportunity to visit Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

Ghost Ranch

Ghost RanchPhoenix is an “Educational and Retreat Center” near Abiquiu Lake in northern New Mexico. Among its claims to fame are its being the long-time home of artist Georgia O’Keefe, as well as the site of discovery of Coelophysis fossils from the late Triassic Period, about 215-200 million years ago. It is of course the latter that drew me to Ghost Ranch, as well as its museum. What impressed me while there were the gold and red canyons.

I took their Paleontology Tour, a hike of about two miles round trip, up into those canyons, so the site where Coelophysis was found back in 1947.Wikipedia That site is no longer active, though paleontologists and their students still come to the ranch for various projects and classes. Though I saw no fossils on the tour, the hike itself was sublime, as the photos show.

The museum was a disappointment. Although Ghost Ranch is the only known site for Coelophysis bauri, the only fossils retained by the museum are still in the original plaster jacket from the 1940s, with only a few bones visible here and there. Their only reconstructed exhibit of Coelophysis is a cast from a fossil displayed in another museum. The museum exhibits only a few other fossils, mostly from the region, and one of them is a composite of two different species of phytosaur. On the other hand, the tour of the museum that was given as part of the Paleontology Tour, was excellent. It was presented by an paleontologist, who was expert not only in the collection at the museum, but also in the geology and paleontology of the ranch.

Photo Gallery for Ghost Ranch

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Aetosaurid
Late Triassic Period
Fossil Found at Ghost Ranch
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Machaeroprosopus buceros
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Machaeroprosopus pristinus
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Coelophysis bauri
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Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Canyon (or Chaco Culture National Historical ParkWikipedia) is a major site of dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, from 800 to 1200 CE (depending on whom you read). The dwellings are architecturally far more complex than those at Mesa Verde or Canyon of the Ancients, but they were built below, not on the cliffs.

I watched a documentary on Chaco Canyon narrated by Robert Redford, only the week before. I watched it because it came up as I was going through my video library, one or two a night, and I happened to reach it at just the right time. (Yes, Virginia, there are coincidences!) According to the documentary, Chaco is not only a marvel of architectural complexity, it is also an astronomical observatory, with many walls and features aligned with solar and lunar events, like solstices and equinoxes.

There were no long ladders or stairs to climb at Chaco Canyon, as there were at Mesa Verde, so I spent a couple hours in the noonday sun, like “mad dogs and Englishmen [and tourists]”Phoenix, photographing the sites.

For you interested in visiting the site, know that you will need a stout vehicle. You can get to the complex from either the north or the south. Within the complex there are paved roads to the major sites (and long hikes in the sun to others). But to get to those paved roads, you must first traverse dirt roads that haven’t seen a grader since the Ancestral Puebloans lived there. Well, that’s hyperbole, but not in many years. I have a screen shot of a map that shows those rough roads in bright yellow, but of course that’s not the map I consulted when planning my trip. I myself took the northern route into the complex, and, hoping to find relief, the southern route out. The northern route was a little bit shorter, but much, much rougher.

Photo Gallery for Chaco Culture National Historical Park

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"Threatening Rock", "the Elephant", "Braced-up Cliff"
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The Phoenix's Favorite Photos from Abiquiu Lake

I noticed significant differences in the architecture of the wall among the dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans, with Chaco Canyon exhibiting by far the thickest and most complex wall structure.

(Click on the photos to see a higher-resolution version in a separate window.)

Comparison of Wall Architectures - Mesa Verde, Canyon of the Ancients, Chaco Canyon
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Spruce House
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Dominquez Pueblo
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Spruce House at Mesa Verde Dominguez Pueblo Hovenweep Pueblo
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Onward

My next stop after leaving Abiquiu Lake was Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was to visit New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, as well as Tent Rocks, Bandelier, and Petroglyph National Monuments, and Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Happy Trails!

Route of Journey from Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico, to Albuquerque, New Mexico
Next Destination: Stagecoach Stop RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Revisions to This Page

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I have always embedded Google Maps™ of my routes from place to place. These maps not only gave you a general overview of where I was, they allowed you to open that route in Google Maps itself, to zoom in and out as you willed, in order to look more closely at the geography of my travels.

I am sad to report that I can no longer show you Google Maps™ of my routes. Google, in its infinite corporate wisdom, now charges a fee to embed such"advanced" features, a cost which a pro bono site like this cannot endure.

From now on, I will only show you Google Maps™ of the previous, current, and next locations where I stay (at least until Google gets even greedier, and puts a price on those too). In addition, I will show you non-interactive images (screen shots) of maps of my routes. All maps will be included in the Journey section of the blog (rather than having the next destination map at the end).

Nonetheless, you can still view my route, in Google Maps™, at no cost to either of us (yet). On either the Current Location or the Next Destination map:

  1. Click on "View larger map" to open the map in Google Maps™.
  2. Click on the "Directions" button.
  3. If you opened the Current Location map, replace"Your location" with "Dolores, Colorado".
  4. If you opened the Next Destination map, replace"Your location" with "Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico".
  5. Hit Return.

Of course this procedure doesn't show you which among alternative routes I took, or what side trips I ventured on, or what strange adventures my phone's GPS might have sent me down, but I will give you an approximation of my route.

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