Pueblo Bonito excavation from the cliff above.
photo by Ron Lussier

Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon was an important Anasazi (ancient Native American) cultural center from about 900 through 1130 AD. About 30 ancient masonry buildings, containing hundreds of rooms each, attest to Chaco's importance. Some structures are thought to serve as astronomical observatories or calendars. Archaeologists discovered jewelry made from Mexican and Californian materials in ancient trash heaps. Large well-constructed roadways thought to be built for pilgrims, subjects, or traders, lead from sites 50 miles away to the center of Chaco Canyon. In a very real sense, all roads lead to Chaco.

These cultural assets are now preserved in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, administered by the National Park Service. Chaco is located in the northwest quadrant of New Mexico, surrounded by Navajo and near Zuni and Hopi reservations.

While we appreciate most US National Parks for their present beauty, we appreciate Chaco for its past. It is an environmentally harsh place: hot and dry in the summer, cold and dry in the winter--nearly a desert. Though there is substantial evidence that the Anasazi farmed here, they had to use many dry farming techniques to support themselves. In fact, some archaeologists question whether Chaco Canyon supported itself, or whether outside farming sites sent supplemental food.

There is no written record of the Chacoans. Most of what we know about them relies on inference and circumstantial evidence. Almost everything about Chaco is shrouded in mystery: its structures are huge and its former importance is clear, but we know little about it. Archaeology and speculation rule here. Chaco is a park for the mind.


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