Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Chaco is a remote park. We turned off US 550 a few miles past Nageezi NM and from there drove just over 20 miles to the park including 13 miles on a dirt road that in places was thick with a washboard surface. I am not complaining. The remote nature of the park is one of the things that makes it so attractive. Other than the wind, occasional thunderstorms, and the rare small plane overhead, it is very quiet, very peaceful. One thousand years ago, however, the atmosphere must have been very different. There is evidence Chaco was an important hub of trade, and ceremonial and religious activity.

The following I think will give you a feel for the importance of Chaco:

“Approximately 1,000 years ago, there arose in the northern part of what is now the southwestern United States a place of unprecedented power. That place was Chaco Canyon, and at its center stood the structure known today as Pueblo Bonito. An enormous building, Pueblo Bonito rose four stories tall, held perhaps as many as 800 rooms, and encompassed almost three acres. Its occupants ruled not just the canyon in which they lived but also much of the surrounding region. Their power was political, economic, and perhaps most importantly, religious. It provided the unifying force for Chacoan society, one of the most complex societies ever to develop in the prehispanic Southwest. At its peak, Pueblo Bonito must have been a spectacular, awe-inspiring sight. Today, abandoned and in ruin, the structure continues to overwhelm all who see it.

Jill E. Neitzel

Overwhelmed. Yes. Goosebumps, chills, tears. Yes. All the symptoms of being overwhelmed were present as we stood just after dawn inside Pueblo Bonito.

The structures at Chaco Canyon were built between 800 and 1150 or so. While the people who built these amazing structures migrated elsewhere around 1200, Chaco does not feel empty.

This is a small ruin in an alcove near the campground
Look closely at the mortar. Can you see the fingerprints of the mason who made this wall?

There are beautiful petroglyphs and pictographs in the park.
This negative print of a hand was made by using the mouth to blow pigment around the hand.

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