Chaco Canyon, NM

20 miles down a dirt road, in the remote desert of Northwest New Mexico, you can find an ancient wonder that is not talked about as much as the Great Pyramids nor The Great Wall of China, but it is a true wonder in this world. Chaco Canyon, is a sacred site that is not referred to as ruins, by the locals. They believe that these great buildings are returning to the ground at the end of it’s life cycle, just as we return when we pass. Not much is known for sure about this place, in fact it’s shrouded in mystery. We do not know where these people came from, why they left, where they all went, nor what they even called themselves. One of the only things we do know for sure, is that throughout the canyon, buildings were being erected from around 900-1100 CE. To put this into perspective, 800-900 are considered the 10th century, (when Vikings settled in Iceland) and 1000-1100 are the 11th century CE. (The High Middle Ages in Europe)

Lone horse on our 20 mile drive down the rough entrance road.

When and if you decide to venture to this sacret site, the one thing I cannot stress enough to be prepared. This land is not to be underestimated. Chaco Canyon is not a tourist attraction made to cater to the conditions that most people today are accustomed to. There are no hotels with air-conditioning, there is not a nearby town stop and get food and supplies, to get out you must travel a very long and bumpy road, that, under certain conditions, are impassible. Remember it is the desert and it can get dangerously hot during the day and by nightfall, it can become extremely cold. Bring clothing for both conditions and plenty of containers to hold water. We found that having a camelpak for each person was extremely helpful. There are pumps to get clean water here, but I would advise to bring some with you just in case something happens on the rough trek into the site. Your only choice for the night is to camp and it’s very important to set up before the sunsets. Make sure all of your food is safely put away because the land belongs to the wildlife and they will search for food to survive. In the middle of the night, we were awoken by coyotes directly outside our tent. They moved on pretty quickly but it was a reminder of how wild an area we were in.

Above is a photo of Pueblo Bonito (Pretty Village), the largest great house in Chaco Canyon. This location seemed to be the center of the Chacoan community. It stretches across 3 acres of land and had at least 800 rooms, reaching up to 5 stories tall, in some sections.
View of the inside of a Kiva in Chaco Canyon. Kivas were used for religious ceremonies and gatherings.
View of Pueblo Del Arroyo, a Chacoan Great House. This great house had over 300 rooms and was occupied from AD 1075-1250s.

IMG_2996The truly amazing thing about this place, is the fact that it is visited so scarcely. As we traveled up into Colorado, we found ourselves visiting the famous cliff houses of Mesa Verde. After 9am it was packed with visitors pushing past each other to get a look at the buildings from a great distance. Here, in Chaco Canyon, you can walk right up next to these ancient homes. You can study the intricate ways in which these people designed their community. When walking through the doorways you can almost feel what it was like to live here.

View of butte from entrance of Chaco Canyon.