Chaco Canyon - New Mexico
This was a pilgrimage of sorts to the acknowledged center of Southwestern Puebloan society. I can't really explain my general fascination with ruins, but the enigmatic mystery certainly is a major component. There's probably no better place to further fuel this fascination than Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
Lynn, Tobyn, and I decided to spend an extended July 4th weekend in New Mexico leaving Sarah at home to look after the dogs (besides, she also had to work). The plan was to make base camp at the Holiday Inn in Farmington NM and get an early morning start (ie. 5:00 am) each day. This ensured our accommodations since camping at the Gallo Campground within Chaco Canyon is severely limited.
Waking up before sunrise (New Mexico is on daylight savings time) we headed 11 miles east along Hwy 64 to Bloomfield NM and the junction with Hwy 550. Interesting that we passed the Salmon Ruins site (see http://www.salmonruins.com/
) and Aztec Ruins site (see http://www.nps.gov/azru/
) on route to Chaco Canyon. Take Hwy 550 south from Bloomfield 39 miles to CR7900. Continue south along this paved county road for about 5 miles until you reach the signed junction with CR7950. Heading in a westerly direction, turn onto CR7950. This county road is paved for the first couple of miles, but soon turns into a bone-jarring, rutted, dirt path that may be impassible in wet weather. Traveling about 15 miles along CR7950, you cross the boundary into the Chaco Culture National Historic Park. We covered the 70 miles to Chaco from our Farmington NM hotel in about 1 1/2 hours.
The roads within the Historic Park are paved! Fajada Butte (famous for its' Sun Dagger Site) appears on the horizon within the canyon. We made our way to the visitor center. Although the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, the visitor center hours are only 8 am to 5 pm. With the time now only 7:00 am, we decided to check some of the close-by ruins, Una Vida and Hungo Pavi.
Having our annual NPS pass, we decided to display this on the dashboard and move on to the truly massive and mysterious Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl ruins. The 0.25 mile long Petroglyph Trail connects the two Chacoan "great houses"
. The site is beyond words, so I won't even make an attempt to describe it here.
Having completed a couple of hours at the two "great houses"
, we headed to the next "MUST DO" trail, the Pueblo Alto backcountry trail that includes overlooks of Kin Kletso, Pueblo Bonito, and Chetro Ketl. A 200 ft scramble up a "crack-in-rock" trail is required to get to the lookout vistas. Tobyn and Lynn hung back as I made the way along the ledge top trail.
We moved on to the Penasco Blanco backcountry trail. We decided to stop at the initial petroglyph panels just beyond Casa Chiquita. The Casa Chiquita site is unexcavated, allowing one to ponder how the ruins looked 100 years ago before any restoration work was initiated.
Having completed the 2 backcountry trails, it was time to have a snack and beverage back at the air-conditioned truck. While Lynn and Tobyn relaxed, I sprinted around the Pueblo del Arroyo site.
We then moved on to the Casa Rinconada Community that includes the largest known kiva in Chaco Canyon. It was a strange coincidence that we ran into Mike & Sandy Mattes at this site. I knew Mike was off to visit Zion, Bryce and Mesa Verde this week. It turned out that Chaco was a spur of the moment decision since it was (sort of) on the way back to Phoenix from Mesa Verde. After completing the loop trail, we decided to head back to the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center is rated highly by me containing a wonderful selection of artifacts uncovered during many of the archaeological digs. The collection of "evidence bags" made a compelling statement about the stupidity of many of the "Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979"
1. Una Vida & Petroglyph Loop Trail is 1.0 miles long. My rating = 2, FAIR
2. Hungo Pavi Loop Trail is 0.25 miles long. My rating = 4, ABOVE AVERAGE
3. Chetro Ketl Loop Trail is 0.5 miles long. My rating = 5, OUTSTANDING
4. Chetro Ketl to Pueblo Bonito Petroglyph Trail is 0.25 miles long. My rating = 3, SOLID CONTENDER
Reference http://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/p ... -trail.htm
5. Pueblo Bonito Loop Trail is 0.5 miles long. My rating = 5, OUTSTANDING
6. Pueblo del Arroyo Loop Trail is 0.25 miles long. My rating = 3, SOLID CONTENDER
Reference http://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/p ... arroyo.htm
7. Casa Rinconada Community Loop Trail is 0.5 miles long. My rating = 3, SOLID CONTENDER
Reference http://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/c ... conada.htm
8. Chacoan Staircase Lookout is 0.1 miles long. My rating = 2, FAIR
Backcountry Trail Summary:
NOTE: Hiking permits are required for these trails. They are free and available at the Trail Head and Visitor Center. Trails are open sunrise to sunset.
1a. Pueblo Alto Loop Trail is 5.1 miles long. My rating = 5, OUTSTANDING
1b. Pueblo Bonito Overlook is 2.0 miles long roundtrip. My rating = 5, OUTSTANDING
1c. Kin Kletso Trail is 0.5 miles long roundtrip. My rating = 4, ABOVE AVERAGE
2a. Penasco Blanco Trail is 7.2 miles long roundtrip. My rating = TBD
2b. Casa Chiquita & Petroglyph Trail is 4.0 miles long roundtrip. My rating = 4, ABOVE AVERAGE
3a. South Mesa Loop Trail is 3.6 miles long. My rating = TBD
3b. Tsin Kletzin is 2.6 miles long roundtrip. My rating = TBD
4. Wijiji Trail is 3.0 miles long roundtrip. My rating = 3, SOLID CONTENDER
See links for more info:
for background cultural history
http://www.nps.gov/chcu/photosmultimedi ... 4#e_144965
for historical photographs (4-pages)
Talking with one of the Rangers, late September and October are considered the "best times"
to visit. The area has finished with Monsoon rains and heat and its fall season before the winter snows. Maybe consider a return visit to eliminate any "TBD's" from the trail ratings. I also hear the backcountry trails and the pottery sherd dump at Angel Peak Badlands at the end of the 30 mile Chacoan Road north from Pueblo Alto calling me. I'll also have to include the Salmon Ruins and Aztec Ruins sites...