Wednesday, September 16, 2015


September 13, 2015

I got up fairly early and headed straight down to the showers, which were located in Morefield Village, near the store and café.  I had a nice shower and then purchased a cup of coffee from the café.  It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was appreciated.  I drove back to my campsite and sat in the car, drinking my coffee and using the WiFi while I ate breakfast.  Then I packed up my gear and headed out.  I stopped at the store for a bag of ice and hit the road before 9:00.
The Road to Chaco Canyon

My Campsite
After exiting the park, I took Highway 160 east to Durango and then headed south on 550.  In Aztec, I stopped at the Safeway where I was able to find a restroom, block ice, and a Starbucks all in one place.  Then I filled up with gas and continued south into New Mexico.  The best road to Chaco Canyon is
county road 7900.  The first nine miles or so are paved and the next five miles are decent gravel.  After that, the county stops maintaining the road and there is another five or six miles of unpleasantly corduroyed dirt road before the road enters the park and becomes paved again.  It was nothing I couldn’t handle in the Mini, but I thought my teeth would get rattled out of my head.  There is one wash that it is unwise to cross if there is ANY water flowing, but it was dry when I passed.

The Gallo Campground is a mile before you reach the visitor center.  It is nothing fancy, but set in a pretty box canyon and does have flush toilets, although no showers.  The only site I was able to reserve was a walk-in tent site.  It was a bit of a pain, but quiet.  I set up my tent and blew up the air mattress.  Then I munched the last of my leftovers for lunch and set off for the visitor’s center. 

Rear Wall of Hungo Pavi
At the visitor’s center, I paid my $12.00 entry fee and watched a movie about Chaco Canyon.  Then I took off to drive around the loop road and visit the ruins located along the way.  My first stop was Hungo Pavi.  When it was discovered in the late 19th century, it towered three or four stories high.  By the time the Antiquities Act went into effect in 1906 and the site became a park, much damage had already been done.  Today, not much remains except the impressive rear wall of the greathouse.
Kiva at Chetro Ketl
Further down the road, I stopped at Chetro Ketl, which was somewhat better preserved and had a very large kiva in its plaza.  From there, I walked the Petroglyph trail to Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses. 

Pueblo Bonito
Pueblo Bonito once covered three acres.  It is notable in that it appeared to have been built according to a plan, rather than expanding over time.  Chaco Canyon was at the center of the Puebloan world.  Architectural innovations appeared there first and then spread to other sites such as Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde.  While the structures there were impressive, they did not seem to have housed many residents.  Store rooms outnumbered living spaces.  This makes me think that it was a place of trade or possibly that tribute was paid there.  There is evidence that the society was hierarchical.  Burials within the greathouses included many ornaments and possessions, while those in the outlying villages were much simpler.  Many different pueblo groups and even the Navajo, who are not a pueblo people, have legends of Chaco in their distant past.  It may have been a place of pilgrimage.
Casa Rinconada Community
Wanting to come back later to hike, I skipped the Pueblo del Arroyo stop and drove straight to Casa Rinconada.  The small villages there are nothing but piles of rubble, today, but a great public kiva remains in good repair.

Kiva at Casa Rinconada

Path to the Top of the Mesa
Pueblo Alto Loop Trail
                                                 After finishing the loop road, I circled around again and parked at Pueblo del Arroyo.  I didn’t spend much time looking at the ruins, having seen a lot of very similar structures, but set off immediately to hike the 5.4 mile Pueblo Alto Loop.  It was 4:45 when I started and the park closed at sunset, so I needed to get moving.  The trail climbs straight up the side of the cliff following a route used by the Chacoans.  The route follows a cleft in the cliff and is so narrow that at times it was difficult to squeeze one foot past the other as I climbed.  Quickly, I found myself on the top of the mesa, with nice views of the surrounding canyons.  The trail was difficult to follow across the bare stone, but was marked at intervals by stone cairns.  It led first to an overlook of 
Pueblo Bonito from Above
Pueblo Alto
Pueblo Bonito and then up to the ruins of Pueblo Alto and Nuevo Alto.  The exposed locations of these pueblos had eroded them far more than the pueblos down in the canyon.  They loomed eerily in the overcast evening light.  I loped around the loop as fast as I could go, disturbing cottontail rabbits.  The sandstone was marred everywhere by fossilized shrimp burrows.  As the sun got lower, it became increasingly difficult to see the rock cairns.  I was relieved when I found the cleft in the rock and started back down to the valley.  As I
Fossilized Shrimp Burrows
emerged from the crack, I startled a group of sheepish young men who had stopped at that point, reluctant to climb any higher.  For a few moments, as the sun set, the cliffs glowed orange and I managed to capture one photograph before the light faded.

Cottontail Rabbit
Path Down the Cliff

Sunset Lit Cliff
By the time I got back to my camp-site, it was nearly dark.  A fierce gale 
began to blow as I was cooking my dinner.  The back of my stove made a fine windbreak, but it also made a good sail and I was afraid the whole thing was going to fly off the table.  Bites of food blew off my fork as I was trying to eat and there was no way I could boil water and wash dishes.  Sand was starting to fly and fill my eyes.  I locked the dirty dishes in my car and retreated into my tent by 9:00, where I waited out the storm until it calmed enough to make a trip to the restroom before hitting the sack.  On my way back to my tent, I saw a kangaroo rat in the trail with a long tail terminating in a tuft like a lion.  He wasn’t the least bit concerned about me and I literally had to step over him.

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