So, I finally made it up to Chaco Canyon on Monday. Had to rent an SUV to do it (more on that later) as there is pretty much only one way in and that’s after 20 miles of bad road. Chaco sits out in the middle of nowhere – something which New Mexico has an abundance of – sort of North of Grants, Southeast of Farmington, West of Santa Fe and Northwest of Albuquerque. It’s some pretty desolate country, very near the Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness area.

The multi-storied structures in the canyon were built more than a thousand years ago by the Anasazis, the ancestors of Pueblo Indians. The earliest of these structures, Pueblo Bonito and Una Vita, were started around 850 AD while those such as Kin Kletso, Wijiji and Tsin Kletzin were begun as late as 1100 A.D. By 1250 A.D. the buildings were abandoned and everyone was gone, leaving behind a grand mystery for archeologists and anthropologists to chew on and argue over.

The Chacoans quarried the stone for their Great Houses from nearby cliffs. During the early construction periods, 850 – 1100 A.D., they used the harder, darker, tabular stone found in thinly bedded sheets atop the cliffs. Note the fine core and veneer masonry work used in the construction of these earlier structures, some of which reached five stories. During the later construction period, 1100 – 1150 A.D., they switched to a softer, tan-colored sandstone from the lower walls of the canyon. If you look carefully at the pic below, an example of the earlier building technique, you might notice an ancient Chacoan peeking through the window. Or not.

In this pic you can see the two different styles side by side. The main wall is in the earlier style while the shorter walls are from the later period. The speculation is that in later years the main wall began to lean and later Chacoan people built buttresses, in the later style, to stabilize it.

Kivas are an important part of the Chacoan (and Puebloan) culture and can be found in nearly every community. The kivas are round, subterranean structures used for religious worship. Kivas had a low masonry bench around the base of the room, raised floor vaults, a raised firebox and deflector, pits for seating wooden or masonry roof support pillars and an antechamber and entryway at plaza level. The Great Kivas often contained a set of wall niches possibly used for offerings and sacred objects.

You’re not suppose to actually get this close to a kiva but I had to save a beetle I saw crawling around in that aluminum tub in the kiva at Casa Rinconada. And no, the tub is not original to the structure.

The Chocoans were into their rock art or Petroglyphs, as they’re called. You’ll find these all over the southwest. There are those that refer to them as ancient graffiti but that, of course, will bring looks of consternation from some folks. In the pics below, note the stylistic difference between ancient man and modern. So as not to confuse, modern man is wearing a hat.

The spiral was a real big deal symbol all over the Southwest. Anywhere you find Petroglyphs, you’ll find spirals. Another thing you’ll find all over Chaco are pot shards. You’re not suppose to collect these things and all the good stuff was long ago hauled away. But it’s ok to photograph them. The pieces in this pic are a thousand years old.

As is true across the Southwest, the wind is almost a constant thing, creating strange and wondrous sculptures.

There are a number of archeoastronomical markers at Chaco Canyon, the most famous being the Sun Dagger found high atop Fajada Butte. Three vertical slabs of sandstone, which fell from the top of the butte centuries ago, are aligned in such a way that a thin dagger of sunlight pierces the cliff at noon each day. The Anasazis carved two spirals into the rock and at approximately noon on the summer solstice, the light of the Sun Dagger falls on the middle of the larger spiral. At the winter solstice, two shafts of light bracket the outer edges of that same spiral. At the spring and autumn equinoxes, a smaller shaft of light bisects the smaller spiral. See the Hoodoo at the top left of the butte? The sandstone slabs and etched spirals are just to the right of that. I would love to go up and actually see this but the butte is closed to the public.

I really enjoyed exploring Chaco Canyon and plan to go back again as some of the features are quite a hike and I didn’t have enough time to visit them all. As for my earlier remark about the SUV, all I can say is I simply do not understand why people think they are so safe. The thing was huge, a pain in the ass to drive, got lousy gas mileage and at every little puff of wind I felt like the whole damn thing was going to roll over on its back. I just wish my Altima could handle the road to Chaco but that thing has a clearance that could clip the top of an ants head and no way would it make it over the road leading into the canyon.

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