While traveling throughout the Southwest, there are ample reminders of the days long past as active reservations still tell the tales of their ancestors. In New Mexico, not far from the Colorado border, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is perhaps one of the most well preserved sites containing the rich history of the past.
Though when you plan your trip you might think you are visiting a ruin of an ancient people, when you arrive you find that this particular site served such a purpose in the molding of the cultures that it is to this day considered active by those people around. Offerings are still presented at this location by the descendants of the people’s which one used this location as sacred temples and the feeling of life still circulates through the walls.
When we started on our travel toward this site, the warning of rain did not deter us despite roadways being unpaved and warnings of the potential of slick conditions. The location is approximately 25 miles from the closest gas station or store so we made sure to pack in everything we could need for our overnight stay.
By morning, the rain had come and though it was gentle, it brought with it cold conditions as a front blew in boasting snow later in the week. We had two options, leave without seeing the site or brave the cold and rain and explore as much as we could.
We opted to go ahead and explore and after a short trip to the visitor’s center we made our way out to the site. It was cold, it was raining, but the rain seemed to stop as we arrived making a way for us to see the beauty of the construction and the heritage around us.
It was almost surreal as we walked through the first structure and admired the advanced techniques for construction. A near puzzle piece of perfection the buildings jutted out of the otherwise rough terrain and displayed endless rooms with perfectly smooth walls and perfectly even doors and windows.
We began to understand by the second structure exactly why the people see this as an active site as the feeling of warmth still exists as you walk through the grounds almost as though you are not alone. Dotting the areas which have dilapidated over the years still can be found bits of Hopi pottery and along canyon walls petro glyphs left behind telling the stories of the people which once created the civilization.
The Chacoan people began their construction of this area at approximately 800a.d. and spanned their time in the area for some 300 years. Their culture utilize the “great houses” for living, storage and worship all with a unique “D” shaped design which can still be seen today from above. It was known as the Center of the Ancient World, and today with the reverence still paid by so many tribes this title makes more sense than ever.
After only getting to see 2 of the great houses, the cold became to much and we opted to leave. Upon another trip we would want to take advantage of the Ranger Tour for more information at each of the great houses or perhaps the Night Sky program which boasts some of the clearest views of the skies above in the nation.
Leaving the site we were in awe of the heritage, the masonry and the feeling of overwhelming peace. Very much so a place which could be toured for hours as there are many hiking trails leading throughout, it left us wanting more and to return.
With the minimal amount of rain we had received, the signs along the unpaved road on the way out made sense. Roads were near impassable and slick, so it is recommended that you check the weather before leaving out for this journey. Conditions rapidly decline on the roads toward Chaco and any passing traffic only seem to make it worse as it creates difficult ruts.
Plan ahead since you are not near any form of store. Bring extra supplies for the night and make sure you fuel up before turning down the dirt path.
Camp there! The campsite at the location is beautiful and makes for a quick transition from your site to your exploration. Several campsites back up to trailheads as well making for even more excitement.
Do not pick up anything! If you don’t happen to watch the video in the visitor’s center you might miss this instruction, however because the people consider this an active site it is not only illegal but also highly disrespectful to pick up rocks or pottery remains from the grounds.
Slow Down! When driving in roads are washboarded so make sure you pay attention when driving in for your own safety.
Distance To Major Cities:
Santa Fe, NM – 182 Miles
Gallup, NM – 95 Miles
Durango, CO – 108 Miles