June 6, Day 5: Jean has long wanted to see the Pueblos of the American Southwest, and Chaco Canyon offers some of the most ancient and sacred. From 840-1150 AD, the Ancestral Puebloan people built massive, architecturally unique villages here, unlike anything before or since.
The Chaco Culture National Historical Park encompasses the remains of a complex society that was the hub of commerce, government, and spirituality for the region. Pueblo Bonito, pictured above, dominates as the most significant structure. UNESCO designated this a World Heritage Site; it is undoubtedly worthy.
We had a long drive in from Amarillo. Due to a massive traffic jam, we detoured off of I-40 at Tucumcari, New Mexico, taking instead a northern route on Highway 104. To our delight, the landscape was gorgeous, and we saw perhaps three cars in a hundred miles. The road stretched across the high plains of New Mexico with beautiful blue-gray bluffs in the distance and a few thunderstorms miles away. We camped for the night at a HipCamp site and continued to Chaco early the following day after a windy night in the desert.
There are no paved roads to Chaco Canyon; it sits amidst Navajo Reservation Land. Dust, scrub sage, and cattle decorate the route.
Chaco Canyon Ruins
The site was nearly empty due to COVID; a ranger shared that he’d never seen it so empty in 20 years. We felt fortunate to have it to ourselves. We, alone, explored Chetro Ketl, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, and Kin Kletso. The architecture was amazing for a culture with no metal tools. Nine-hundred-year-old wood beams, hauled from dozens of miles away, are still embedded in the exposed walls.
Pueblo Alto Trail
We decided to hike to the rim above, up through a narrow crevice tumbled with sandstone boulders. The wind howled down the narrow path and was only slightly less violent on the plateau above. The views of the desert, sky, ravens, and ruins were stirring, especially the “end of the trail” view over Pueblo Bonito.