Matt and Joanne’s Page

December 1, 2008

Chaco Canyon

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , , — Matt Stamplis @ 12:35 pm

On our way back to Oregon (from Michigan) we chose a slightly circuitous route in order to avoid snow in Wyoming and Colorado. So we drove down towards Texas and New Mexico: it added a bit of driving time (3340 miles and 51 hours of driving, according to google maps) but it allowed us to stop a few places we had never been before. One of the new places we stopped was Chaco Canyon and the mouthful-of-a-name Chaco Culture National Historical Park. I had vaguely remembered seeing some pictures of the place and although it was a bit of a detour off of I-40 we decided to go and spend a day there.

But on the drive to Chaco Canyon I started to get a little nervous: the final 20 miles of dirt road to get to the park was in lousy condition. In places the washboarding was bad enough that I had to slow the car’s speed to a crawl. And in one rocky spot, I had to hold my breath as our Civic just barely avoided bottoming out. All in all, the 20 miles on this road took me a nerve-racking hour and a half to drive! I was curious about this apparent lack of maintenance and did some searches online: there are groups lobbying to keep the road unpaved. One of them is even named dont-pave-chaco.com. They argue that by paving the road, visitation will increase dramatically and negatively affect the canyon. I more or less agree with this argument but my poor Civic would like to see parts of the road improved: no one needs to abuse their cars in this way!

Towards the end, as we progressed further into nothingness (60 miles from a gas station!), I started to have a few worrying thoughts. What if we get a flat tire? What if the car breaks down again!? What if this place is not worth it? Fortunately, the belts on our car managed to hold themselves in place (for once!) and the tires stayed puncture-free. And, as it turns out Chaco Canyon really is worth the drive! For starters, it has one of the most beautiful campgrounds!

This is one of the campground spots. Most of the sites are scattered along the side of this cliff band and are surrounded by huge boulders. A very sheltered and special place: inside the campground you can find the ruins of an ancient dwelling.

Chaco Canyon was one of the major settlements in the Southeast from around 800-1200 A.D. The area is famous for its huge public houses, where hundreds of rooms were connected together for communal living spaces, storage, and cermonial purposes. There are numerous great houses in the canyon that you can stop and see, in varying states of excavation. Pueblo Bonito is the largest site and also the most excavated: walking amongst the ruins gives you a good idea of the ingenuity of these people.

Morning shadows on Pueblo Bonito. Here you can get some idea of the size of this great house. It contained around 600 rooms and was up to four stories tall. The exposure of the sky is a little weird after stitching these shots together but I just didn’t feel like spending hours touching up photos today!

Taking a stroll around one of the massive plazas. Joanne’s bundled up here since temperatures dropped into the 20s at night. This may have been a bit of a shock to my mother-in-law who is still adjusting to the climate here!

I think every person who walks through Pueblo Bonito takes this exact picture…I couldn’t resist either.

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