Friday, November 5, 2010

A trip to Chaco Canyon

No painting today - a trip to the bank in Aztec, NM, turned into a full day trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and hiking to a few of the many pueblo ruins in the park.  The Chacoan culture began around 800 AD and spanned 300 years.  Multiple Great Houses were built along Chaco Canyon and throughout the region, all connected by a series of roads, and apparently as a trading and commerce hub.

The term "Anasazi" is the name most familiar to people to describe these prehistoric peoples living in the Four Corners region, both cliff and pueblo dwellers, including those living in Chaco Cyn.   However, "Anasazi" translates to "enemy ancestors" in Navajo, a term not favored by modern pueblo people such as the Hopi and Zuni, who are descendants of the the Anasazi.  So, they are increasingly referred to as "Ancestral Puebloans".

The architecture and masonry skills these puebloan people developed 700 years before any European set foot in the region are remarkable; one can only imagine the splendor of of these pueblos during the peak of their occupancy.

 A corner of a wall in the  Hungo Pavi ruin.  A perfectly straight wall from non-perfectly straight sandstone "bricks".

Masonry styles vary by pueblo and age of construction; I took several photos of the facades and marvel at the abstract patterns they form.
 Masonry detail of Hungo Pavi wall.  Remarkably intricate (and sturdy) laying of sandstone and mortar, with the wood cross-beam for support.   Wood is scarce in this area, and apparently these logs had to be transported 50 foot.
Outside of the largest of the Chaco Great Houses - Pueblo Bonito.  During its inhabitation, it was multiple stories and had hundreds of rooms.

One of the T-shaped doors in the large Pueblo Bonito ruin; this style of door is also seen in ruins of cliff dwellings, such as those in Mesa Verde.

These Great Houses were carefully planned and built over decades and sometimes centuries.  They also contained round, subterranean  structures known as "kivas", where fires and ceremonies were held.

 Another room in Pueblo Bonita, showing another series of doors and rooms.  With covered roofs and small windows, these rooms probably maintained reasonable temperatures even in the summer due to the thick walls and insulating properties of rock.   Wood beams show the height of the ceiling; the doors are short and necessitate stooping to walk through.

 Looking up out of one of the Pueblo Bonita rooms, a door and small window are visible, along with what appear to be a second set of beams and maybe a third floor.

A remarkable feat of engineering, for sure.
A section of the Pueblo Alto Trail Complex loop that leads through a narrow slot between two sections of sandstone.  It looks like a tight squeeze, but it's not.  Nonetheless, I had to take this photo as we entered it.  

After this short but steep climb through the sandstone cliffs, the trail  and overlooking Chaco Canyon.  It is from this trail you can get a real sense of the scale of these ruins.

Below:  Kin Kletso ruins, as seen from the top of the plateau and trailhead:

 A sampling of pottery sherds found by people who  resisted the temptation to pocket them (which is very illegal and hugely unethical), and instead placed them on a rock so others could see them.  Some plain gray, some textured, and some painted. Why paint designs on functional objects?  Because creating art and appreciation for beauty and design is as old as humanity.  Even in small pieces, the level of skill and craftsmanship of these vessels is apparent.

 New Pueblo Alto ruins.  About a mile after ascending the plateau these ruins are seen.

 Masonry detail of New Pueblo Alto ruins.  These apparent etchings into the sandstone caught my eye; they are clearly animal figures, and look equine to me.  If so, this dates them after the original builders left; horses were not present in the region until the Coronado invasion expedition in the mid-16th century.

Perhaps they are ancient versions of a child drawing on the walls with a crayon?
 A view across Chaco Canyon from the trail.   The sun was heading right to the left of the mesa across the canyon, and a sunset from this vantage point would have been unbelievably beautiful.
We didn't have time to hike to the main petroglyph and pictograph panels, but did take a short hike to some historical petroglyphs.  I'll save those for another post with some other rock art I've photographed recently.  

Catching some rays


  1. Very cool, great photos. I've never been but it looks like I would love to go.

  2. Wonderful phonographs and great stories behind them. thanks!

  3. Jala - thanks :) it is a really neat place, very spiritual. It's worth a visit if you happen to be in the northern NM region. The weather was perfect, and it wasn't teeming with noisy tourists.

    Helen - thanks; I'm glad you enjoyed both the photos and text. I enjoy sharing things I learn and discover that continually enrich my life with those that read my blog.


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...