Sunday, May 4, 2014

Chaco Canyon

Been off the grid for past 4 days whilst in Chaco Canyon. Longer post here

120 miles west from Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch we enter into Chaco Canyon or Chaco Cultural Historical Park as it is known today. The first 100 miles were all blacktop good road through Jemez mountains and then high plateau.  The last 21 miles were dirt and gravel roads.  We expected these roads to be rough.  In fact, they used to be but most was pretty good gravel where we managed 30 mph.  the last 4 miles were soft sand washboard roads at 10-12 mph.  
South East Entrance with Zajada Butte.  Campsite behind butte
We enter from the north side.  The road turns blacktop again as it is in the whole park (all 12 miles of road.  Good thing we refueled the jeep in Cuba, New Mexico.  We had thought we would bike around but the first two days were windy.
Artsy shot of Zajada Bluff
On the second evening I drove out to southeast entrance to photograph Zajada Butte at sunset.  Saw some elk grazing in the field.  Apparently, there are a number seep springs at which the elk get water to drink. Didn't know we would see elk out here but there were at least two signs warning of them.

Our campsite at Gallo Campground. 
When we decided to drive into Chaco we were concerned that we get in there and find the campground full.  Heretofore reservations could not be made.  We called ahead to the visitor center and were told to call back in a while when they had checked the campsite.  So we trusted our intuition and drove ahead to Cuba.  Now halfway to Chaco and really out in the middle of nowhere west of Jemez Mountains, we called again.  There were 4-5 sites available.  Hmm.  Any fit us?  We will see.  We drove into Chaco and, sure enough, we found 2 open spots in which we could fit.  Whew. eaney, meaney, miney mo. we selected one and enjoyed it.  Despite being in the middle and facing the cliffs, the other campsites were mostly occupied by tent campers so the view was unobstructed. 

We toured the grounds and stopped at the visitors center and a couple minor ruins that first day.  Very windy and we felt beaten up by both the drive and the wind.  We hunkered down back in the RV for dinner, reading and early bed.

The next day, our first big hike was to the Mesa overlooking downtown Chaco. Called the Pueblo Alto loop it featured a dramatic climb up through a narrow rock split to the top of the mesa then a loop along the mesa then back across the mesa to the Pueblo Alto Ruins.

Hiking up through this narrow split rock trail
As you can see it is quite narrow and steep.  The Chacoans used this route to access the north roads out of canyon and built a big pueblo on top.

Climbing through this canyon
 We climbed up about 250 feet through narrow split rock canyon.  I almost had to turn sideways.  Imagined the Chacoans climbing up here.  They were, on average, smaller than Sraddha.  Easey Peasey for them.
View from the top.  See out Jeep down below?
 Once on top the views were stunning in all directions.  We could see the 60-70 miles distant.  Jemez Mountains in east, Chuska Mountains (Arizona border) in west, snow capped San Juan Mountains in Colorado in North.

Sandstone Mesa
The mesa is all sandstone with lots of shrimp and oyster fossils from a bygone age.  This area used to be an ancient seashore.
Ancient burrowing shrimp fossils in sandstone
The mesa also offers an overview of downtown Chaco.  Pueblo Bonito had over 800 rooms.  At the height of a festival season, there might be several thousand visitors at one time.  Permanent residents might have been a few hundred.
Overlooking Pueblo Bonito  3 acres of rooms
The ruins were pretty amazing.  I am not a big "let's go see ancient ruins" guy but this was really a site to behold.  We had fun imagining what it must have been like 1,000 years ago when Chaco Canyon was the spiritual and cultural center of the ancient Pueblans.

We continued our hike around the mesa.  Saw this little "garden" as Sraddha said.  All kinds of coloeed algae and plants.  Lots of flowers.  Even got buzzed by a broad tailed hummingbird who thought we were encroaching on his flower field.
Sandstone "garden"
We spent 3 nights in Chaco Canyon.  Wonderful sunsets, cold mornings, windy and warm days, sore feet.  We hiked 80% of the trails.  Now we have departed with a better sense of perspective on an ancient culture.   We learned a lot about the what's, a little about the how's (more next post), and almost nothing about the why of the origins of this culture and it's fate.  Clues have been unearthed by archeologists but nothing definite.  Chaco remains an amazing place and a mystery which may never be solved.  But worth visiting.

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