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One of the most pristine ruins in Chaco Canyon.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, in northwestern New Mexico, is well known for its profusion of prehistoric Anasazi sites. The easiest of these sites to visit is probably Una Vida, a Chacoan Great House located directly behind the Visitor's Center. From the parking lot the trail is about a mile round trip, and takes you through the Great House with the option to go up to some petroglyphs on the nearby cliff face. Before starting the hike, I highly recommend taking a stroll around the Visitor's Center and museum, and picking up a trail guide for Una Vida.
The majority of the trail is a straight and generally flat stretch from between the parking lot and the ruin. Una Vida is easily visible from the parking lot, a massive, towering structure with walls still visible to the west of the Visitor's Center. Una Vida means "One Life" in Spanish, and it is unclear exactly what this moniker is supposed to mean. It could be a Victorian reflection on the impermanence of life and civilizations. Or perhaps it had some other meaning. The Anglo expedition that first discovered the ruins of Chaco Canyon had Pueblo guides, and some of the names of the ruins were told to the Anglos by these guides. Some examples include Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo Pintado, also sometimes known as Pueblo de Los Ratones. Perhaps Una Vida comes from some ancient bit of Pueblo knowledge.
The trail wraps around the north side of the pueblo, basically following the main walls. On the east side, near the plaza, there are the remains of a Navajo sheep pen. After the abandonment by the Anasazi, and before the Spanish, this area was part of the Navajo heartland. It is also interesting in that it shows that the traditional thought that the Navajo are afraid of or shy away from Anasazi sites is not always true.
Una Vida is a great example of what most of the ruins were like before Richard Wetherill arrived. Una Vida has never been excavated or vandalaized, and its existing walls have only been lightly stabilized. While most large sandy mounds along the bottom of Chaco Canyon generally contain Anasazi ruins, almost none of those are open to the public.
The trail enters the pueblo on the west side, near the large remaining wall. This wall provides the only shade along the trail. The trail is somewhat uneven around the pueblo, as it traverses the rubble of the town.
From here you can backtrack to the trailhead, or head up to the cliff face along the trail. Strange figures, mountain lions, fictional creatures, and antelope dot the cliff face. After taking in the views of Chaco Canyon, Fajada Butte, and Una Vida, you can return to the Visitor's Center.
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