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Fun in the Four Corners

Apr 04, 2013 01:04PM ● By Brian O
By Jill Lane

Jumpstart your summertime vacation planning and set your sites on heading northwest to adventure. Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and Shiprock make up this diverse, scenic region.

The Four Corners Region of New Mexico – San Juan County – offers world-class fishing, an unparalleled concentration of historic Native ruins and plenty of family fun activities.

While many folks think of Farmington as the state’s oil, gas and mining region, there is more to this destination than meets the eye. Tucked throughout Farmington are myriad activities. Perhaps that’s why their marketing motto is “Endless Skies,
Endless Adventures.” Take a trip to B Square Ranch, an experimental farm and wildlife preserve, or visit the Four Corners Vietnam Memorial Wall honoring lost or missing soldiers.

Farmington is the traditional homeland to a number of Native tribes, both ancient and modern, including the Navajo Nation. Add the natural beauty, recreational opportunities and rich history of their land and people, and Farmington becomes the ideal hub from which to explore the region.

Nearby Aztec may be a small town, but it lives up to its nickname “Your Four Corners Playground (since 1100 AD).” Historic sites and outdoor adventure abounds. Historic Main Avenue along with Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village provide a glimpse into this town’s colorful pioneer history, with 14 original and replicated structures dating from the 1880s.

The heart of ancient Aztec is found in its UNESCO World Heritage Site at Aztec Ruins National Monument, where an ancient story of some of the earliest Native Americans comes alive. A 30-minute drive away is Aztec Arches, home of more than 200 natural sandstone windows and arches. To add fun family value, Aztec has an impressive collection of parks, including a new water park as well as 30 miles of single-track mountain biking paths.

Nearby Bloomfield is called “the heart of the Four Corners,” because of its rich history and cultural diversity. The Bloomfield Riverwalk provides fishing, hiking and biking for visitors. Thousands of years of history come alive at Salmon Ruins & Heritage Park.

Shiprock is the closest town to the real Four Corners where visitors can stand in four states at the same time. The Four Corners Monument is the only spot in the country where four states (New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah) meet. The brass and granite monument at Four Corners Tribal Park is surrounded by a circular gallery of Native artisans selling jewelry, crafts and Navajo foods.

Native American Culture

Ancient culture lives on in the Four Corner region. Thousands of years before the area was settled or New Mexico was named a state, Native Puebloans lived and farmed here. The window into their past is ever present in this area with a vast array of ancient Native sites to explore.

Aztec Ruins National Monument sits on a high plateau in Aztec, next to the Animas River. It is still considered a sacred site by many Native tribes. Comprised of the remains of ceremonial structures and multi-storied buildings, the monument offers glimpses into the ancient life of these Pueblo peoples. A self-guided half-mile walking tour takes visitors through excavated ruins and ends at the reconstructed “Great Kiva,” the oldest and largest in North America. An on-site Museum and Visitor Center complete the visitor experience at Aztec Ruins.

Nearby Nageezi is the gateway to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, an Anasazi cultural center that is front and center to New Mexico’s Ancient Trails Scenic Byway. Shrouded in mystery as to the real story of this ancient culture, today the Chaco culture is preserved through the remains of the great Chacoan buildings as well as structures believed to be astronomical observatories. Pueblo Bonito is the largest archaeological site in the park. The desert-like environment is believed to be part of the reason this ancient culture eventually disappeared. The Visitor Center anchors a loop road providing access to six of the area’s most noted sites.

Both Aztec Ruins and Chaco Culture National Historical Park are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, giving visitors a glimpse of life and culture going back more than a thousand years.

Salmon Ruins, located on the Bloomfield Highway provides yet another view back to this era. This 11th century Pueblo site was also the homestead farm to its later inhabitants - the Salmon family. Today you can explore the Museum, followed by a hike and picnic through the meandering site that incorporates both the Pueblo ruins as well as replica dwellings at Heritage Park.

Geographic beauty blends with cultural significance at Shiprock Pinnacle. This gigantic volcanic rock formation, named by the Navajo as “the rock with wings,” is easily seen from Highway 64 for miles. Shiprock is also the literary home to New Mexico author Tony Hillerman’s detective book character, Jim Chee. Another awe-inspiring geologic formation is Angel Peak. This scenic area, watched over by “the angel,” allows visitors to hike, camp and picnic beneath her sprawling and protective rock wings.

Fishing the Four Corners

“TOTAH” in Navajo means “the meeting place of the rivers.” Farmington is the hub for three rivers: the San Juan, Animas and La Plata. It won’t take any fisherman long to discover why the San Juan River has been named one of the Top 10 U.S. Fly Fishing

Navajo Lake State Park intersects with the San Juan River and is New Mexico’s second largest lake. With some 150 miles of shoreline, there’s more than just fishing for native brown, rainbow or cutthroat trout. The lake is also teeming with Kokanee salmon as well as warm water species. This popular state park also includes three recreation and camping areas.

Sports & Recreations

Glade Run Recreational Area is comprised of 19,000 acres of rolling terrain, sandy arroyos and slick rocks. Located outside Farmington with multiple access points, popular activities here include off-highway vehicle riding, biking, hiking, horseback riding, birding and wildlife viewing.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, once a coastal swamp of an inland sea, provides another unique outdoor area. This 41,170-acre Badlands area offers some very unusual scenery including strange rock formations and fossils. The Navajo name translation describes its makeup. The word Bisti means “a large area of shale hills” while the name De-Na-Zin means cranes because of the petroglyphs of cranes found in the wilderness area.

This fantasy world of geologic formations includes many rock spires and hoodoos (naturally sculpted rock) found throughout the area. The two major geologic formations are Fruitland Formation and Kirtland Shale. The coloration of the rocks varies and this moonscape setting is indeed an awe-inspiring experience for all who come here. Activities at Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness include hiking, camping, horseback riding, backpacking, wildlife viewing and photography. The area provides visitors a unique remote wilderness experience.

Golf is also a hit in the Four Corners area. Pinon Hills in Farmington is one of the top rated public golf courses in the U.S. and was ranked the No. 1 municipal course in the nation by Golf Digest.

If sitting on the sidelines is more your style, visit the horse race track at Sunray Park and Casino. In addition to live horseracing April through June, there’s year-round action at the Simulcast Horse Racing Theater as well as slot and video gaming at the casino. Automobile racing is another option at Aztec Speedway with hobby, mini and street stocks, as well as winged sprint and modified cars. Racing is scheduled every Saturday from April through September. Aztec’s Motocross racing venue is ranked among the best in the Southwest.

Sports & Recreations

While these might be more than enough reasons to visit the Four Corners Region, there are other fun warm weather activities in the area including: the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, celebrating Farmington’s history.

Scheduled this fall is a showcase exhibit of great artists called “An Adventure in Art.” Farmington also hosts the Outdoor Summer Theatre, set in a natural sandstone amphitheater. Harvest Grove Farm & Orchards offers up its summertime Farmers’ Market as well as a farm Exhibit Barn. The San Juan Symphony and the Totah Theatre offer live performances. And world class Native American shopping is found at numerous authentic trading posts and pawn shops.

– Jill Lane operates Events Unlimited by Jill and produces family-oriented publications through her Enchantment Lane Publications. She also writes children’s storybooks and manages New Mexico’s Roving Bulldog Reporter and Dog Governor, Travelin’ Jack.