Travelogue of The Chaco Canyon in Depth Southwest Conservancy Tour
During the middle of September, Conservancy members explored the vast cultural system of Chaco Canyon and the extensive network of outlying communities that developed in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado from A.D. 800 to 1140. We visited Pueblo Bonito and other spectacular great houses in Chaco Canyon as well as the great kiva at Casa Rinconada. We also had the unique opportunity to visit many of the most important outlying communities that are integral parts of the entire Chacoan complex still being uncovered by researchers. Scholars are still struggling to understand how this vast system developed and operated, and why it suddenly collapsed in about A.D. 1130.
To complete the experience, we toured the modern day Pueblo of Acoma and spent two memorable nights camping in Chaco Canyon. Some of the leading Chaco experts joined us, and we were lucky to have incredible southwestern fall weather on our expedition with big blue skies, beautiful light and crisp air.
Sunday, September 13
We began our study of the Chaco culture at the modern pueblo of Acoma, where the possible descendants of the Chacoans still live perched on a high mesa, after which John Roney took us through two of the most important southern Chaco outliers – Casamero and Kin Ya’a – where we began to learn about the great houses and Chaco system. We finished the day staying at the historic hotel called El Ranco in Gallup, NM.
Monday, September 14
In the morning, we visited Richardson’s Trading Post, one of the largest in Indian Country. After a short ride in our 15 passenger vans we arrived at the Salmon Ruins and Museum on the San Juan River. There we were given a tour by Larry Baker of a 300-room Chaco outlier that sits at the end of the Great North Road from Chaco Canyon. We spent the next three evenings at the Red Lion Inn Farmington.
Tuesday, September 15
We traveled to the northern extreme of the Chaco system in the Montezuma Valley of Colorado and visited Albert Porter. Guided by Susan Ryan we learned about the structure of farmsteads and Great Houses in the Four Corners area. We then traveled to the Anasazi Heritage Center, where we saw two small outliers and further explored the connection between the Chaco culture and Mesa Verde.
Wednesday, September 16
Continuing our visit to the outlier communities, we visited Aztec Ruins National Monument where the Chacoans may have tried to move their center. Later that day we explored Chimney Rock, a spectacular setting for ancient astronomy used by the Chaco people to predict movements of the moon.
That evening we were joined by noted researcher Erin Baxter who gave us an introduction to the “big ideas” surrounding the Chaco phenomenon.
Thursday, September 17
We began our three-day exploration of Chaco Canyon proper. We visited the great houses at Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, and Pueblo Bonito. We camped the next two evenings in the park under brilliant skies. Our outfitter provided incredible meals, tents, and every comfort (except showers).
Friday, September 18
We saw a small herd of elk and took an early morning hike up and out of the canyon to Pueblo Alto, where an extensive research project took place. After lunch back at camp we visited Pueblo del Arroyo, the south canyon sites, and the great kiva at Casa Rinconada.
Saturday, September 19
We begin the day with a roundtrip hike to Wijiji, one of the last Great houses constructed in the canyon. After lunch, we l traveled to the outlier community of Pueblo Pintado and then returned to the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Albuquerque for a soft bed and great farewell party to all our wonderful participants.
Chaz Evans, Southwest Field Representative. All Photos Taken by Chaz Evans for The Archaeological Conservancy.