Scenic USA - New Mexico
Chaco Canyon Ruins
|Photo by Ron McEwan
Chaco Canyon Ruins inset photo by Andy Cook
Other inset photos from the NPS
Located in a remote northwest corner of New Mexico's high desert is one of the most exceptional concentrations of ancient Puebloan dwellings. Halfway between Farmington and Albuquerque lies the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, preserving 15 major complexes and nearly 4000 archeological sites. Beginning around 850 AD, Chaco Canyon was the center of a thriving culture for over 300 years. With no written records, Chacoan history is pieced together from hundreds of discarded fragments in a trash heap.
The only way to appreciate this incredible collection of dwellings, kivas and the Great House is a visit to the ruins found along the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive. The park road provides access to five major Chacoan sites, including Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada. These intriguing ancestral Puebloan sites are open from 7am to sunset, where moderate gravel pathways lead out to the Chacoan structures. Chetro Ketl, about four and a half miles from the visitor center, is the second largest Chacoan great house and covers more than 3 acres. Constructed in stages from 850 AD to 1150 AD, Pueblo Bonito rose to four or five stories high and most likely housed 1200 people. Center of an ancient world, Pueblo Bonito is the most important site in the canyon and a must see for all visitors.
Although the main draw to this park is the intriguing sandstone dwellings, the Chaco Canyon should also be explored. With a desert-like climate, the area sees no more than ten inches of annual rainfall. Despite the harsh conditions, the canyon supports elk, deer, bobcats, rabbits, badgers, porcupines, bats, snakes, lizards and a diverse bird population. The canyon floor, once cut by the Chaco Wash, has slowly been accumulating alluvium fill over the last 40,000 years. Surrounded by seemingly endless sandstone mesas, small side canyons (rincons) appear as slices into the high cliff walls. This Four Corners Region, home to today's Hopi and Navajo tribes, has always been plagued by sparse rainfall. But a 50 year drought, beginning in 1125 AD, is thought to have been the main factor that ended this thriving Chaco Canyon community.
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