Tag Archive | Chaco Culture National Historical Park


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.

Travel Day

The sun rises early and hot, and so do we. We peruse the free breakfast, and then head into the desert. Our destination tonight is a Best Western motel in Bloomfield, New Mexico. When we compared our travel dates to the celestial calendar, we realized that we would land in the crowded Chaco Canyon campground within a day of the summer solstice. A call to the ranger confirmed this – they assured us that by the 23rd the campground would have emptied out.

The desert is hot, even for June, and we quickly retreat behind closed windows and air conditioning. Despite the heat, we can see a surprising amount of green still evident in the surrounding vegetation. On through Barstow, and finally a fuel stop in Needles. Steve checks his phone: he’s still working – generally a taboo activity once we leave our home driveway. At the Desert Oasis gas station, complete with palm trees, he returns a reporter’s call. I have left all of my electronic devices on the shelf on Berta Ridge – I feel virtuous that I have not broken our “on vacation” pact.

We have a few errands to run before we get to the river part of our trip. This is another thing we try to avoid. On our first river trip together, we needed a new blue plastic tarp. (Blue tarps are handy for covering gear, and for building free-form rain/sun shelter.) We waited until Flagstaff on that trip – there should be plenty of places to find a blue tarp. Ha! We made four stops at places like hardware stores and feed stores before we found one. Blue tarps must not be in the same demand they are in California, for no one had a healthy stock.

This trip, we need an all-in-one tool (think Leatherman), and a deck of cards and a travel cribbage board. Steve forgot the cards and cribbage board, and his Leatherman has been missing in action since we got back from Zambia. (We’re pretty sure it made it back, he just doesn’t know where it is.)

We blew through Flagstaff, thinking that we could find everything we need in Shiprock or Farmington. We also were getting hungry. I suggested that we stop for Navajo tacos in Tuba City, but nothing was immediately obvious, so we just kept on going. We finally stopped in Kayenta, famished. We got okay Navajo tacos – they were enormous, and we both ate more than we should.

We arrived in Farmington about 8:30 p.m., and we stopped at the still open Auto Zone to find an all-in-one tool. They had what we needed – score! However, by the time we got done, the dollar store next door was closing. We’ll try again in the morning before we head to Chaco. We landed in the Best Western, checked in, and crashed, although Steve was still poking at his iPhone as I drifted off. Boy, is it hot here.