The Center of the Anasazi World

Anasazi Pictographs at Chaco Canyon

I remember writing in yesterday’s post that I spent three consecutive vacations in New Mexico, where I just happened to fall in love with Hatch chiles. But what did I go to New Mexico to see? The answer could be expressed in two words: Chaco Canyon.

Insofar as I am concerned, the most incredible archaeological site in the United States could be found in Northwest New Mexico at the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. At one point—between AD 900 and 1150—Chaco Canyon was like the Rome and the Vatican City of the Anasazi world. Within the park, there are literally hundreds of ruins, pictographs, and ceremonial roads within a relatively small area. One could approach it from U.S. 550 between Espanola and Farmington by turning onto a washboarded dirt road around the site of the former Nagheezi Trading Post, or via New Mexico 371 from Thoreau to Crownpoint, and then on New Mexico 9, once again getting on a washboarded dirt road.

The Largest and Most Spectacular Ruin: Pueblo Bonito

For three consecutive years, I camped at Gallo Wash with a large ice chest full of Hatch chiles and other edibles, getting my water from the only source in the park: The National Park Service Visitor Center.

There are other Anasazi ruins in the Southwest: I have been to Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Navajo National Monument (Betatakin), Aztec, Salmon, Bandelier, and Canyon de Chelly. But it was only at Chaco that there seemed to be a large population, with multiple ruins in easy walking distance of one another. I even climbed the butte above Pueblo Bonito, running into a coiled rattlesnake that was a little discomfited at encountering me. Trust me, the discomfiture was mutual, but both of us managed to avoid harm.

Fajada Butte, Location of the Famed Sun Dagger

Entering the park from the Nagheezi Road, one encounters Fajada Butte (shown above), atop which there is a rock meant to project a downward-pointing dagger at sunrise during the Spring Equinox. I did not venture to climb the butte, as it is probably forbidden anyhow (and dangerous). Nearby to the right is Gallo Wash, where I camped.

If there is one place in the Southwest that I can recommend to tourists interested in archaeology, it would have to be Chaco Canyon.