Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chaco Canyon

Odometer  46,519 mi
Trip meter (car) 150 mi.

Tuesday March 31, 2015

Up early today I looked at the thermometer and was surprised to see that it was below freezing outside.  I guess you get that with 7,000 feet of elevation.
We have packed a lunch, charged up the camera batteries, loaded lots of water in the car and applied sunscreen.  We are off to see Chaco Culture National Historical Park - better know as Chaco Canyon.

Map of todays route

Yesterday we found Theresa's RV park in Cuba, where we could park the motorhome and use it as a base to explore the park.  Being the closest RV park still means that it is 75 miles distant.   Taking a motorhome the size of ours into the park is ill-advised.  There is a campground in Chaco, however it has a 30 foot limit on RVs.  After seeing the road into the park today- we're glad we left the bus in Cuba.  Our first 50 miles were up highway 550 were a breeze- two lanes each direction, good surface, and light traffic.

Road Sign - Continental Divide

On our way north we crossed the Continental Divide at 7,380 feet of elevation.  Surface water behind us  drains to the Gulf and the surface water in front of us drains to the Pacific.

Entrance Sign to Chaco Culture

The Park is reached by a 21 mile drive in from US Highway 550.  Joan figures that they don't keep the road well maintained in order to keep down the number of visitors.  Whatever, we finally reached the National Park and all the roads go from packed clay to beautifully paved two lane road.

Map of Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The part of the National Park we wanted to see today are outlined in red above.  After 24 miles of a combination of paved, graveled, and clay roads we arrived at the visitor's center.  We showed our Senior Pass and got admittance to the park.  The volunteer gave us the map above and explained a little about each of the ruins that we would be able to see.  Pueblo Bonito is the crown jewel of the park, the largest and most intact of the pueblos.

Photo of Hungo Pavi Ruin

We started with a ruin called Hungo Pavi.  It is important to note that the name Hungo Pavi is not necessarily a name that came from the original inhabitants.

Stone veneer on walls of Pueblo Bonita

The masonry work in these structures is amazing.  The early craftsmen learned that the less mortar on the exterior, the longer the wall would last in the elements.  There are at least 5 different styles of rock work.  These structures showed a great deal of planning, the exterior walls were sized at the bottom to support the number of stories built above, and there is no indication of hanging structures on in a willy-nilly fashion.

Stone walls of Chetro Ketl

The walls average about 3 feet thick, and are built with small flat sandstones on the exterior covering a rubble fill in between.  The walls are tapered, wider at the base and narrower as they go up, giving them great bearing and strength.  Some buildings had at least 5 stories.

Remains of a Kiva at Pueblo Bonito

The kivas were the ceremonial gathering places for these inhabitants, and were built on a design that is similar in every Puebloan community throughout the Southwest. They were scaled up or down to suit the population , but all had the same structure and elements.  Part of the design was to have the assembly area subterranean, with only some of the wall and all of the roof above ground.

This particular community was built between 850 to 1100 AD.  It is significant for many reasons, one of which is that it was a very dense population for that time period.   Pueblo Bonito had over 500 individual rooms.  We know so little about these early inhabitants and what purpose many of the rooms had.  It is believed that they did most of their living outdoors and rooms were seldom used for sleeping.
Early pot hunters found the sites first and much of the very valuable intact pottery was taken, while broken pots were simply tossed into waste heaps.  Even so the area has been a treasure trove of artifacts, some of which can be seen in Southwestern museums and in a collection at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.  Unfortunately much of the contents are locked away in archives at the University of New Mexico, and can be seen by appointment only.

Over the 5 hours that we were in the Park, we visited the structures at Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, and Casa Rinconada The combination of rarefied air at this elevation (6,000 ft) and the miles of hiking had us wiped out by 3 in the afternoon.  
We drove back to the motorhome and relaxed before having dinner and turning in for the night. Tomorrow we head for Page, Arizona.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

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