A trip to the remote Chaco Canyon to visit the Chaco Culture National Historic Park is well worth the time. The final road to the park is long and rough so be prepared. This is an ancient and beautiful part of New Mexico.
Details from Wikipedia:
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park in the American Southwest hosting a concentration of pueblos. The park is located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash. Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the most important pre-Columbian cultural and historical areas in the United States.
Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancestral Puebloans. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings ever built in North America until the 19th century. Evidence of archaeoastronomy at Chaco has been proposed, with the “Sun Dagger” petroglyph at Fajada Butte a popular example. Many Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. Climate change is thought to have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual abandonment of the canyon, beginning with a fifty-year drought commencing in 1130.
Comprising a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the arid and sparsely populated Four Corners region, the Chacoan cultural sites are fragile – concerns of erosion caused by tourists have led to the closure of Fajada Butte to the public. The sites are considered sacred ancestral homelands by the Hopi and Pueblo people, who maintain oral accounts of their historical migration from Chaco and their spiritual relationship to the land. Though park preservation efforts can conflict with native religious beliefs, tribal representatives work closely with the National Park Service to share their knowledge and respect the heritage of the Chacoan culture.
The park is on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways. MUCH MORE INFORMATION ON WIKIPEDIA.
Arriving at Chaco Canyon
The road into the park is not well maintained but once you arrive at the park the roads in the park are fine. Their main road is a one-way loop with pull-offs and parking areas at the primary excavation sites.
There is an excellent visitor center with terrific rangers, a gift shop, restrooms, interpretive information, observatory, and a museum exhibition. There is also a campground not far from the visitor center that has restrooms only.
We stayed in the campground the last time we were in Chaco Canyon and that is an experience. It is so dark! And what a view at night!
This time we were only staying for the day so we made a stop at the Visitor Center to check-in and pay the fee (note: if you have a National Parks pass you can use it here). Then we started on the loop road. You can walk it but the loop is many miles and there are limited facilities along the road. Be sure to bring food and drink if you plan to stay for more than an hour or so.
Exploring Chaco Canyon
The landscape in the canyon is spectacular but the excavated ruins just add so much to the images. Using a very wide-angle lens and some Photoshop magic (combined 2 images – one of landscape & one of the sky) I was able to get this grand view.
There are a lot of visible ruins in this park but many were reburied after they were excavated and studied so that they did not go under additional degradation from the elements and humans!
Using a fish-eye lens was helpful to get a complete image of some of the many round kivas like the Great Kiva above and below.
There are a number of parking areas that lead to different excavation sites. Some of the ruins are close to the parking area but some are a bit of a hike and climb.
At one point the guys decided to climb up the cliff above the ruins so I decided to stay on the canyon floor and get some more landscape shots!
The sky was just gorgeous that day!
Our final stop along the loop was a large excavation that still has many of the walls and doors still standing. We were able to go inside. The doors were very narrow and short so it was not easy getting through some of them with my backpack on. We carried our tripods inside in order to get these amazing receding doors shoots.
All of the buildings in Chaco Canyon were lined up across many miles and were built with astronomy as a guide. You can just imagine the vast city that once sat in this canyon. These early people were extraordinary! It definitely makes you think that aliens were involved!
As the sun went down, the clouds lowered so the sunset light was not intense but it did warm up the scene below a little.
On our way out of the park, we had to stop for one more shot of Fajada Butte.
Chaco Canyon is a must-see area of New Mexico. The history is very interesting and if you read a bit about it before exploring the park, the excavations make more sense.
For more info on Chaco Canyon and the Chaco Culture National Historic Park please check out their website.
Please click on any image or check out my Gallery for these and additional images from this amazing place!
That is all for now. Part 6 of my New Mexico trip is coming soon.