The Red Mesa Valley is a very scenic area generally north of I-40 between Grants and Thoreau. It’s scenic due to all the red rock cliffs and mesas. Beyond the scenery, I find it interesting because of the many ruins and more than a few Great Houses found here. Perhaps best known to the public (or at least that part of the public who pays attention to this strange stuff) is Casamero, a Great House ruin on BLM land open to public visitation. Casamero sits in roughly the center of the Red Mesa Valley area.
Based upon the ruin architecture found in Red Mesa Valley, there appears to be some sort of association between Chaco Canyon and this area. Probably most archaeologists consider this area, and Casamero especially, to be an outlier of Chaco Canyon. Other archaeologists think there was a link, but chalk up the similarities in architecture to a local emulation of Big Dog Chaco Canyon to the north. In any case, it’s a great area to wander around if you stay off private and tribal lands.
I got wind of a ruin on top one of the many mesas in the area that might be worth a look. Beyond that I knew nothing. Actually there are many times I know nothing, but I usually don’t realize it in advance.
Jeri and I found the mesa without much difficulty but then we had to find a way up. Some of these are rather tricky, but we circled it until we found a way we could get up. Once on top these things are nice and flat with great views, so we wandered around looking for…well, anything. But we didn’t know especially what.
After walking for a while we were coming up pretty empty. Not even any pottery sherds, which was a bad sign. However our luck soon changed and we came upon a rather dense area of sherds. Most of these sherds were a surprisingly crude white ware, with a small percentage of black on white pieces. Practically no corrugated sherds were found at all. This seemed like an odd mix, one we hadn’t seen before.
We left the sherds behind us and continued across the mesa top. Suddenly, off in the bushes was a substantial rock pile. Hoping that it might be ruins, we hurried over to check it out. We weren’t disappointed.
It was a roomblock consisting of four to six small rooms, all single story. Adjacent to it was a middlin’ sized kiva depression. Lots of pottery sherds surrounded it, most of it the crude white ware we had seen earlier. We found what appeared to be a rebar “datum” stake to the southeast, which suggests the site had been at least recorded and possible mapped.
It certainly wasn’t a large ruin but it held our interest for two reasons. First, most of the ruins we visit I’ve already worked out exactly where they are and just head for them with my GPS. There’s not a lot of hunting involved. This one I knew nothing about, or even if there was something at that spot. So it was found, “in the wild”.
The other thing about this ruin was, well…the walls. Look at the detail picture of the exposed wall. The Red Mesa Valley is “supposed” to be Chacoan and display Chacoan architecture. Now I’m a bazillion miles from being an expert, but those walls just don’t look Chacoan to me. They look rather strange. Yet based upon the sherds around the structure, it must be fairly old, probably contemporary with the Great Houses in the Red Mesa Valley. So why this structure, isolated on a remote mesa top, looks so different is a puzzle. And how the residents obtained food and water is another question. Perhaps it was a Chacoan leper colony?