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May 14, 2010

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Spiritual Chaco Canyon

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located in the northwest quadrant of New Mexico.  From 950 to 1100 this was the center of the ancient pueblo society.  Stone ‘Great Houses’, up to 650 rooms, were constructed.  The permanent population of Chaco Canyon did not require all of these buildings.  Instead they were used as a meeting place for tribes in the surrounding areas.

Original Wood CeilingOriginal Wood Ceiling

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Original Wood Ceiling

 

Roads spread from Chaco like spokes in all directions to connect to resources and improve access.  Wood ceilings separated the levels and were supported in the stone walls.  Larger beams were used as further structural support for the ceilings.  Many of these were knowingly overconstructed for the number of levels supported.  Nearly all of this wood was carried from miles away by men.  By the end of the building it seems as though they were building to build.  Was it to impress visitors, as offering to the gods, or because simply because it was what they knew how to do?

Excavation of the largest Chaco site, Pueblo Bonito began around 1900.  It was named a National Monument in 1907 which began to offer it some protection.  Standard policies and practices continued to do as much harm as good for many years.  I learned how much sand can be deposited in my tent in eight hours so it is impressive to see how much remains of the sites 1,000 years later.  The canyon site in 9 miles long and contains 14 Great Houses.  Over 2,400 archeological sites have been identified within the park.

Pueblo Bonito OverlookPueblo Bonito Overlook

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Pueblo Bonito Overlook

 

Enough with the numbers, except that archaeoastronomy (how past people understood the sky), is an important part of the sites and their features.  The canyon itself aligns with one such point allowing the buildings to ascetically follow this line.  Windows that mark the solstices are common.  This theme continues today as the park has its own night watch program and 14′ telescope for observation.  They also hold evening talk programs 3 nights per week in the summer.  I saw one by a rock art expert who had been surveying and recording the art in Chaco since the 70’s.

The area is still held in the highest regards by Native Americans today as a spiritual link to their past.  Ceremonies are held throughout the sites both public and private to this day.  Many are on the solstices as a continuation of practices that may have began on the same land long ago.

Ruins With Partial CeilingRuins With Partial Ceiling

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Ruins With Partial Ceiling

 

I’m talking a lot about the area and not so much about the sites themselves.  I think that is what the park is setup to do, get you to appreciate the why and how, not just what remains today.  The buildings are all shadows and lumps of what they once were.

Whole.

Plastered inside and out.

Decorated with paint, pottery, and statues.

Revered.

I found the sites just as hard to photograph as describe.  The lighting conditions of full sun and shadows a little to do with this as did the scale and shapes of the remains.  I think most of it was just me this time as I had a superb sky and scenic outlook to photograph late in the afternoon and didn’t come close to recognizing that and getting the shots I could have.

South Mesa ViewSouth Mesa View

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South Mesa View

 

I’ve actually been having the most fun with macro (close-up) shots.  It’s far from the first time that’s happened to me.

Pockets Of ColorPockets Of Color

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Pockets Of Color

 
Bee Coming To Get MeBee Coming To Get Me

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Bee Coming To Get Me

 

I’ll give you a few tips if you are going to visit.  If you want to find out more about the different buildings then google is your friend.

  1. Go to one of the evening talks.  If you go Friday and Saturday you can get two.  The other talk is Tue. or Wed.
  2. Don’t go up the “Sunset Trail” at the campground for sunset photos.  I think you could get some nice shots of Fajada Butte at sunrise if you leave early.
  3. Hike to Tsin Kletsin late in the day and follow the “South Mesa Trail” to get your sunset pictures.  The site isn’t much, but the photos have the potential to be outstanding.
  4. Take one of the tours at Pueblo Bonito.  You can go back if you want cleaner pictures.  The interpreters are very good and full of information.
  5. Yes, both entrances are dirt roads.  It’s no big deal.  Go slow for 10 miles and your there.  All the roads in the park are paved.  A gas station with all the supplies you need is only 20 miles away so you are far from remote or helpless.
  6. If you can make it on a solstice, any of them, do it.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Greg D.
    May 14 2010

    I enjoyed the photos. You captured another gorgeous New Mexico Day on your journey. You are certainly making all of us envious while we sit in our cubicles.

    Reply
  2. Nov 4 2011

    Hi Brian,
    Now that the snow and cold have arrived here in Denver, I’m putting in some time planning a few trips for next spring/summer, and Chaco is at the top. I was wondering if I could pick your brain a little about your trip there-
    How long did you stay, and would you have stayed longer if you could? I was thinking of staying at the site for 2 nights, will this give enough time to get a good feel for the place?
    Also, were there any other spots nearby that you checked out?
    What time of year were you there, and how was the weather? I noticed you mentioned a lot of sand in your tent, was it windy all the time?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Irene Lobeck
    Sep 10 2014

    I cannot tell you how stoked I am on finding your blog. I am in the middle of a motorcycle trip which also went from Austin to San Diego, north a bit, and will take me back to Austin on my Suzuki Savage. I will be passing through the Chaco Cultural National Monument and was looking for advice on biking up there. Glad to have found this — awesome travels!

    Reply

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