Chaco National Historical Park

Chaco Cultural National Historical Park Travel Blog

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9.30.08 Chaco National Historical Park           


After a fine night's rest in the Walmart parking lot in Farmington, NM (I just love being self-sufficient!), we drove to Chaco National Historical Park.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the last ones available on this leg of our journey.


Chaco was and is considered the center of the universe for many Native Americans, including the Puebloans, Aztecs, Hopis, and Navajos.  There are remains of enormous grand houses with hundreds of rooms and kivas, built over hundreds of years.  I am terribly oversimplifying the significance of this amazing place and hope you’ll read about it online: and


Chaco is way out in the middle of the desert and canyon wilderness.  The 12.7 miles of bone-jarring, washboard, 10 mph speed road to get there keeps out all but the most determined.  That is after about 10 miles of paved roads.  There are only a few roads into Chaco, so be sure to read their website before you head there and make sure they are open.  They say the southern road, not the eastern one that we took, is a "really rough road."  Good gracious!  Given eastern road rivaled the Dempster Hwy, I'd hate to see that southern one!


There is  only one campground, a visitor’s center, and an 8-mile loop road filled with hikes to amazing architecture from 1000 years ago.  All trails and sites close at sunset.  All areas outside the park area (meaning along the road, sites,  and that's it) are considered back-country and require a permit (free and self-registration), if allowed, because this is sacred land to the Indian cultures. 


Everyone is nice at Chaco because they are so enthusiastic about Chaco and they count on each other in the wilderness.


At 2pm we attended a free Ranger-led tour of Pueblo Bonito, the largest common area at Chaco- expertly done tour!  Although the sun was intense, we learned so much crawling through the ancient rooms and up on the rocks above in the hour and a half.  Jazy was so excited and as soon as we reached the RV, she pulled out her history book and showed me where she’d highlighted Pueblo Bonito months ago and indicated she wanted to see it.  They really are getting to experience the best of the west!


In a campground of about 15 rigs, we had 3 Lazy Dazes (Fred and Ruth, who had done wonderful additions to their 3rd Lazy Daze were great!) and a homeschooling Mom (Jennifer) with two cute daughters.  We really enjoyed them!


At sunset we drove back in Ciao Baby to the Visitor’s Center with Jennifer and kids and attended the Astronomy presentation- AWESOME!  It is only given on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.  Only the campers were there, as there is no lodge around.


Chaco has “a very dark sky” and in a win-win agreement, a man from Chicago donated an expensive telescope for Park Service use.  The domed roof was rolled open and two other high-powered telescopes were also used to show us Jupiter and it’s four moons, a star nebula, and other exciting nightime sky features. 


A college-caliber presentation by an astronomer with a PowerPoint presentation (outside) was fascinating.  He also had a laser beam that he could use to point out the North star and constellations- that was really neat!


The Chocoans were very aware of sun and star patterns - certain buildings, windows, petroglyphs and other features shone light through multiple doorways or corner windows only on the summer and winter solstice, as well as the two-week predictor of the solstice.  Their knowledge of seasons, cardinal directions, and time provided for a fascinating discussion.  What a magical evening! 


I would love to be at Chaco on a solstice, taking time-lapse pictures of the sun hitting the exact center of a mountain valley and tracking right up the mountain edge.  As they said, you would never forget the significance of soltice after attending one there at Chaco, complete with native dancing.


I admit to waking in the night, opening the bathroom window and sticking my head out into the cool, dry desert night to gaze up on a sky filled with incredible stars.  Absolutely breathtaking.  I've only been privileged to see a sky like that twice before:  on Haleakala Volcano in Maui and in Big Bend NP, Texas.  Truly dark skies are so rare because of light pollution.  Night at Chacoo looked as if 15 layers of stars were transposed on the night sky.  Wow!

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Chaco Cultural National Historical Park