Out There Hikes:  Cove Arch

This beautiful arch was photographed with Sally Jo at its base, in Sand 
Canyon west of Cortez, Colorado in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. 
This arch however is not Cove Arch . . . Please take a look at Cove Arch shown in
the photo at the end of this story.

By Craig Watson


I attended the convention of the Natural Arches and Bridges Society (NABS) in May, 2001.  It was held in Farmington, New Mexico that year.  We explored many remote, natural stone arches in the Four Corners area.  The following describes one of our hikes.

Scouting the Territory

My friend Harvey (John Wetherill's great grandson) drove 4 of us to Cove, Arizona to meet the Navajo guide's wife and children.  The guide is also employed with building new homes out here under the Navajo Housing Authority, 2 story ones yet with propanel roofs.  All the roofs are blue making for ready identification of this new Cove "suburb" from afar.

Cove is a very traditional, sheltered Navajo Reservation enclave.  It lies caressed in a large harbor of red rock, the northeastern escarpments of the Luckachukai Mts.  Just to the north lie the southern slopes of the Carrizo Mts.  From here, I can see Pastora Peak, the highest Carrizo Peak.  It is located about 2 miles east of my Navajo weaver Roy's sheep camp.   Way over and up there, I have stayed with him for long periods twice while learning Navajo-loomed tapestry weaving from him (the first time, my wife Sally Jo accompanied me to begin her own first Navajo-loomed tapestry).

From here near Cove through the Carrizo Mts. to the next towns, Beclabito and Teec Nos Pos, lies an incredible expanse of unexplored, richly-enculturated space.  Parts of the east side of the Carrizo Range has been described as full of prehistoric ruins.

Yet to this day very little of the area has received systematic scientific archaeological survey.  Roy, my Navajo weaver friend in Teec Nos Pos (60 miles north as the crow flies from where I am standing), Sally Jo and I would love to backpack (or use Roy's llama Apache for our beast of burden) from his sheep camp near Pastora Peak over a week or so south to this point.

It would be the walk of our lifetime.  Somewhere in that stretch lies the "Lost City of the Lukachukai".  The lure is there.   Now but only for the time, and a week would be way too short!

Mrs. Navajo guide drove her pickup with children in front and hanging onto the bed standing in back out near our trailhead to Cove Arch, also called Royal Arch.  It's very close, in the guide family's backyard as it were.  This is in the area just west of Cove, into the northern end of the Lukachukai Mountain range.

Back in here are several large alcove caves with extensive ruins, some of which have been excavated by Earl Morris in the 1930s.  Others have not been excavated.  Although the hike tomorrow will include mostly only the arch, I came along on this trip to meet the guide.   My wife and I would hire him one day for a longer hike here.

Harvey has been in this area previously on an archaeological expedition out of Cortez CO.  For research.  Harvey later gave me 2 publications regarding this region: 

BASKETMAKER CAVES IN THE PRAYER ROCK DISTRICT, NORTHEASTERN ARIZONA by Elizabeth Ann Morris (Earl Morris' daughter), Anthropological Papers of The University of Arizona No.35, The Univ. of AZ Press, Tucson, AZ, 1980; and
PREHISTORIC SANDALS FROM NORTHEASTERN ARIZONA, The Earl H. Morris and Ann Axtell Morris Research, with Kelley Ann Hays-Gilpin, Ann Cordy Deegan and Elizabeth Ann Morris, Anthropological Papers of The University of Arizona No. 62, The Univ. of AZ Press, Tucson, AZ, 1998.

In one cave here, Earl Morris excavated around 300 sandals.  This gives you an idea of the area's importance to Southwestern Archaeology.

On the way back to Farmington, Harvey managed to find Martha Austin's home near Waterflow, NM so we stopped to visit her.  She is a professor at Navajo Community College (Dine College) and is highly educated and well-read.  She serves as a guide for the curious to remote and important archaeological sites in the "Dinetah" or old Navajo homeland south of Farmington.  Several large deep canyons exist in that region: Largo, Gobernador and Gallegos.  These canyons drain the Dinetah northward into the San Juan River.  Chaco River and Canyon may also be considered part of this area.

Martha's family is the clan which runs Tsegi Canyon near Marsh Pass over at Kayenta.  She is the woman to see if Sally Jo and I one day get a chance to explore over there.  I was in Tsegi Canyon in April 1997 with Harvey on an archaeological crew out of Cortez CO; that is when I met Harvey.

The headman Navajo guide who arranged that expedition for us has since passed away and Mary is the honcho now.  Tsegi Canyon is one of the richest archaeological areas on the Navajo Reservation and is totally off limits except with one of the clan guides and a permit from the Navajo Nation in Windowrock.  A small area called the "Navajo National Monument" has been preserved for tourists, like Mesa Verde National Park.  Betatakin and Keet Seel ruins are accessible from the monument headquarters here - the 2 largest known and publicly-accessible cliff dwellings in Arizona.

The Hike to Cove Arch
and Ancient Puebloan ruins near the arch

Some of the Arches Society group drove to Cove, parking at the guide's home.  Another group would take this hike tomorrow.  From there, we filled up 5 vehicles for the next leg, leaving about 6 vehicles at the guide's home.

In all, some 20+ hikers were eagerly looking forward to this wonderful experience.  Cove Arch is one of the most beautiful natural arches in America and the arch aficionados consider it to be among the 10 best arches.  It is one very big beautiful "window rock".

The hike to and under the arch took only some 45' from where the vehicles were parked near the end of the dirt trail.  The view from under the arch was breathtaking and we could have stayed hours.

We had a discussion at the arch and agreed to hike a significant further distance to caves containing prehistoric ruins and rock art.  We could see the caves from the arch.

Some 30' minutes later, after a long tarry under Cove Arch, we dropped into the wash separating the arch from the saddle into the alcove harbor.  Here in the wash where Pinyon and Juniper grew big enough for good shade, we had lunch and chatted.  I played Red River Valley on my hiking harmonica which seemed right with the red earth and rock around us.

Continuing down the wash then up to the saddle then down into the cave harbor, some 10 of us climbed up into a cave above to inspect the ruins and rock art while others hollered at us from below.  A cave full of more extensive ruins lay in this harbor too but we did not hike to it today.

Some interesting rock art exists here.  One large petroglyph appears to be have a Bison (buffalo) headress on with the characteristic curved horns.  Some writers have speculated that the rock art here is very old Navajo instead of Ancient Puebloan (Anasazi).

Hosteen Klah, the famous Navajo medicine man and weaver of the large sand painting rugs during the early 1900s near here (now Newcomb, NM area), was reported to have been inspired as a youth to study the ancient medicine ways when he saw the ancient figures in the caves of this region while tending his sheep.  This story is recounted in his excellent biography written by Frances Newcomb entitled Hosteen Klah.  Perhaps we were looking at those same figures now?  It seems likely.

If Sally Jo and I come back to this area, we'll look into this other nearby cave and also hike another mile or so north to Broken Flute Cave described in the scientific references cited above.  Broken Flute Cave is one of the most important sites in the area, very large, where artifacts were excavated by Earl Morris' group in the 30s.  Other caves exist here too, so this could be one great walk, although the one we took today wasn't too shabby!

After we got back to the vehicles, the guide showed the group 2 other arches during a drive of some 15 miles to the north of Cove on dirt roads.  The hikers from the Arch Society tomorrow may visit these arches instead of going to the cave that we saw today.

One of my Navajo weaver friends lives near here in Oak Spring, about 10 miles north, named Albert Jackson.  His wife is Susie Joe and she comes from Cove and a large, famous family of weavers.

Some of the Joe family weavers have been published in Marian Rodee's book Weaving of the Southwest.  The weavers in Cove are well-known for their sand painting rugs: large fine ones.  James Joe is one of Susie's brothers and is also published along with her hubby Albert. I'd hoped to visit them on the way home but the wane of the day had achieved long shadows . . .

Harvey (left) and I standing in front of Cove (Royal) Arch, looking west.


Out There

Copyright 2002 by Indiana Watson's Indian Weaving.  All rights reserved