Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon

Boy, is it hot here. Up early, more free motel breakfast, then off for fuel, ice and entertainment. We got the gas and ice, and arrived just after opening at the dollar store. No cribbage board, but at least we now have a deck of cards. We head south to the turn off to Chaco. It is clear that Halliburton is quite present in the area – lots of energy resources extracted from this area. While we have both written and electronic guidance, the National Park Service has done a fabulous job of signing the way, keeping the pilgrims from wandering all over the area, and onto ranches and Halliburton infrastructure.

We cross the park boundary – we are in the high canyon country that I love so much. We enter Chaco, and it is a broader, shallower expanse than I thought it would be. And one side of the canyon has a more vertical wall, while the other side is more broken and easier to access. Since we drive by the campground before anything else in the park, we stake out a site. It’s tough to choose: there is no shade, and we try to predict when a site would be shaded by the canyon wall. The campground host tells us that they had about 175-200 campers sharing 40 campsites for the solstice, but today there are about a dozen sites occupied. We did the right thing to stay in Bloomfield last night. I am surprised that while there is a plumbed restroom, there is no potable water. But, we can get water at the visitor center. Checked in, we head for the visitor center.

The regular building is undergoing renovation. No surprise: the research done at Chaco over the past decade or so has changed the perspectives of archeologists and anthropologists about life in Chaco at the height of activity in the 900’s – 1100’s. In place of the usual visitor center, NPS staff are working in an air conditioned yurt. The area natural history association has a well outfitted corner, selling books and DVD’s, and a few touristy items like coffee mugs and key chains. We chat with the ranger at the desk about best hikes, etc., drop $40 with the association on books and site guides, and then we are off to Pueblo Bonito.

Pueblo Bonito is the iconic ruin most often pictured in reference in Chaco Canyon. It is also the largest, most excavated, most studied, and mostly restored of all of the great houses. And it is breathtaking: approaching from the parking lot, some walls are evidently three stories high. The masonry work is beautifully crafted. The range and scope of the construction is remarkable. And, as we walked through, I realized that only half of the pueblo is evident from the parking lot. Pueblo Bonito is divided into two halves – it covers nine acres! Because it is the most excavated, we are able to walk through a number of rooms: contemplate, touch, marvel at the craftsmanship.

Many great houses are built on the canyon floor. There is no shade, and with the sun at its zenith, little shadow cast by the still-standing walls. Despite the heat, we move on to the neighboring Chetro Ketl, and then across the road to Pueblo del Arroyo. I can’t stop taking pictures. But, it’s really HOT, and we have consumed our two bottles of water. We retreat back to the visitor center to refill water bottles. We take the short hike to Una Vida, and then further up the hill to the petroglyph panel. We then headed to the campground, hoping that we picked a good spot.

Unfortunately, we did not. Our site was still in the sun, and might not be in the shade for yet another hour or so. But, it was definitely at a lower angle. We headed out on the 1.5 mile trail to see Wijiji, that might at least be in shade. The walk was nice and flat – no real effort needed – and it did eventually fall into the shadow of the canyon wall. With not many people around, a handsome coyote appeared on the trail in front of us. We watched him make a wide circle around us, appearing and disappearing in the scrub.

By the time we returned from our hike, our campsite was finally shaded – but it was also nearly dark. A quick chicken dinner, and we were tucked into our tent, wondering at the celestial display over our heads.

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