Quick hike to an unusual Chacoan ruin
"Downtown Chaco", the area centered around Pueblo Bonito, has the highest concentration of Anasazi Great Houses in the entire Chaco Culture National Historic Park. There are many theories as to why this may be, and what significance this might have had to the ancient Chacoans. What is clear is that this concentration provides for an excellent chance for visitors to see many different Great Houses, and see variation on the generic Great House theme.
Pueblo del Arroyo, or "Town of the Wash", is one such example of modified Chacoan construction, and the trail winding through the ruin provides ample chance to see why.
Starting from the trailhead, the trail heads south towards Pueblo del Arroyo, unmistakable even after 900 years of sitting in the desert. The trail passes some buried walls to the east, and then branches as you approach the standing walls. The trail markers are numbered starting from there and moving to the right, and I will describe the trail in the same manner.
Heading towards the arroyo, around the back of Pueblo del Arroyo, one of the oddities of the building becomes obvious. While most of Chaco's Great Houses have been build with their flat wall to the south, on an east-west axis, Pueblo del Arroyo is twisted 90 degrees. Its long axis faces north-south, on the west side, while the plaza-enclosing wall is on the east, and is curved. Another odd feature of Pueblo del Arroyo, highlighted at stop 3, is the unusual tri-walled structure. Only about 10 of these structures have ever been found in the southwest, and almost all of those have been found north of the San Juan River. This may be a sign of early Mesa Verde influence on Chaco, before the likes of New Alto were built. Or it could be something else entirely, we just can't say.
The trail continues on along the west wall of the ruin, past a filled-in doorway, and rounds the corner to continue along the south side of the building. Take note at sign post 5 of the contrast between the fine Chacoan masonry, and the later, cruder, Mesa Verde-style construction. At stop 6 the trail diverges. Take the left fork up into the ruin to visit stops 7-9, and see into one of the pueblo's Great Kivas. Stop 7 has an especially interesting notation in the trail guide. Some of the best masonry work in Pueblo del Arroyo can be found near stop 7, but even this masonry isn't on par with the older Great Houses in Chaco Canyon like Bonito. Archaeologists speculate that many of the stones used in the construction of Pueblo del Arroyo were looted from settlements already in ruins across the canyon, or from dwindling mesa-top quarries. By the mid-late 1000s, resources had already started to diminish across the Chacoan world.
After viewing the largest kiva at Pueblo del Arroyo, retrace your steps to sign 6, and continue on the loop trail. The trail parallels the outer plaza wall for about 50 feet before cross into the plaza at stop 10. This is a good opportunity to contrast the excavated and restored sections of Pueblo del Arroyo to the unexcavated and unrestored plaza-enclosing wall.
The trail then closes in towards the eastern side of the main room block. Several macaw skeletons were found in this section of the ruin during excavations. The trail then enters the northern section of the main room block, passing a large cluster of excavated and unexcavated kivas near stops 13-15. Shortly after stop 15, you exit the room block and rejoin the trail heading back towards the parking area. Return to your vehicle from there.
There is no water available along the Pueblo del Arroyo trail, and very little shade. Fill your water bottles at the Visitor's Center.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.