Chaco Canyon is home to what were some of the largest buildings in what is today the United States for many hundreds of years.
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park offers the chance to delve into and discover an exciting chapter of the prehistory of the Southwest. It hosts a concentration of pueblos in a far-flung canyon in northwestern New Mexico. It is famous for having the most sweeping set of ancient Native American ruins north of Mexico.
The Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located between Albuquerque and Farmington in New Mexico. While it may not be as well known as other sites like the Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde, the park does preserve one of the most important pre-historic cultural and historic sites in the United States. Not far away is another remarkable Ancestral Pueblo archeological site, Petroglyph National Monument, where one can see 24,000 petroglyphs.
The History Ancestral Pueblo At Chaco Canyon, Once A Great Center Of Trade
Pueblo peoples occupied a vast region of what is today the Southwest of the United States for over 2,000 years. A thousand years ago, the Chaco Canyon was a major center for ceremonial, trade, and political activity in the Four Corners area. It was a key center for the Ancestral Pueblo between 850 and 1250. This is one of the best places to find Ancestral Pueblo ruins in New Mexico.
- Period: 850 to 1250 AD
- Culture: Ancestral Pueblo
Chaco is noted for its ceremonial buildings, distinctive architecture, and monumental public buildings. According to UNESCO, it is a unique urban ceremonial center that is unlike anything that was constructed before or since. The buildings were built of quarried sandstone blocks and timber that had been hauled from far away.
All things come to an end, and eventually, Chaco was abandoned as the people migrated out and left the canyon. One proposed cause of this emigration is a 50-year drought that started in 1130.
The Massive Buildings Of Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The massive buildings that the Ancestral Pueblo built here remained some of the largest buildings in what is today the United States for hundreds of years until the 19th century.
It has been noted that many of the Chacoan buildings may have been built to align with the solar and lunar cycles (which would have necessitated generations of astronomical observations).
The Six Major Chacoan Sites Are:
- Una Vida
- Hungo Pavi
- Pueblo Bonito
- Chetro Ketl
- Pueblo del Arroyo
- Casa Rinconada
The massive buildings continue to stand as a testimony to the organizational and engineering abilities of the Ancestral Pueblo. These abilities have not been seen anywhere else in the Southwest. Sometimes the engineering and skills of the ancients continue to baffle scholars today – e.g. scholars are still debating how the ancient pyramids of Egypt were built.
Planning A Visit To The Chaco Culture National Historical Park Today
Today there are efforts to protect the historical sites and to respect that they are considered sacred ancestral homelands by the Hopi and Pueblo people (who continue to pass down oral accounts of their ancestor’s migration from Chaco). Some places like Fajada Butte are closed to the public. Most of the park and cultural sites are open for self-guided tours all through the year.
- Entrance Fee: $25.00 per vehicle
Chaco can be explored through guided tours, hiking & biking trails, and evening campfire talks. There are self-guided trail guides available for purchase at the park’s visitor center. For a more informative experience, join a ranger-led walk of the Pueblo Bonito site (these are offered year-round).
There are site major sites dotted along the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive. The Loop Drive is open from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm in the winter season and from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm during the summer season. The entrance gate to the road closes 30 minutes before closing. Refer to the NPS for full seasonal hours.
Remote sites in the backcountry can be accessed by four backcountry hiking trails. Along the way, hikers see ancient roads, petroglyphs, and stairways. Permits are required for these hiking trails (the permits are free). The trails are open from 7.00 am to sunset. Remember to take a hat, and water, and be prepared for the hot Arizona weather.
Camping is available at the Gallo Campground (backcountry camping is not permitted).
If visiting the Grand Canyon and visit the Desert View Watchtower – a beautifully made Pueblo kiva room.