Wednesday, 5/5/21: Chaco Taco

Driving the 20-mile entrance road to Chaco Culture National Historical Monument was a practice in patience. The 11-mile stretch of rough gravel slowed us down to 10 mph.

Choco Tacos used to be our favorite ice cream sandwich. Then it was the Snickers Ice Scream bar. Now it is Twix. That has nothing to do with our day, except we did have a Twix ice cream bar today, and most days on this trip.

The Chaco that is actually relevant to this day, is the Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Yes, I realize the different spellings - Choco vs Chaco). Most of the 55-mile trip from Brown Springs Campground to Chaco was a pleasant highway. However, 11 miles just before entering the park was the worst road I have ever driven. And I have driven some doozies. The first half was pure wash board limiting our speed to about 12 mph. That was the good stuff. Suddenly, we passed a sign that said, “End SJ responsibility for road maintanence.” Immediately, I was forced to slow to 7 or 8 mph, lest Saturn be torn apart. Rocks, boulders, ruts, sand, craggy hard pack..... The road threw everything at us except smooth. Soon, I was begging for SJ, whoever that was, to return.

Anyway, we finally reached the park. Sometimes referred to as the Machu Picchu of New Mexico. The 13 settlements spread throughout the Chaco Canyon were the crown jewel of the Ancestral Pueblo People between 800 and 1150 AD. Some 2000 people lived in the Chaco Canyon in sophisticated villages.

The Pueblo Bonito was the main city, featuring a giant 5-story high apartment building, several kivas, and a large plaza. Up to a 1000 inhabitants lived in Pueblo Bonito alone. Most of the villages were ominously built at the bottom of giant sandstone cliffs within easy reach of a falling boulder.

We never found out why, but Pueblo Bonito, the main settlement in the Chaco Canyon, was the only city to use chocolate brown stones as building material. All the other settlements used tan stones.

The floor timbers rotted away leaving the tall walls standing alone. I love the corner openings that I guess were doors.

There was one room that had an intact ceiling. The plaster on the walls might have been a restoration, but I had heard that the timbers were original.

The settlement next to Pueblo Bonito was Chetro Ketl. It was nearly as large as Pueblo Bonito, featuring a grand kiva and many smaller ones plus a large plaza.

As incredible as the ruins are, it was the 6 mile hike on the Pueblo Alto Trail that mesmerized us. We climbed up through slots, trekked along two levels of mesa plateaus, enjoyed a stiff cooling breeze that tamed the hot sun, learned about fossils of shrimp tunnels up on the highest points, and wondered how 2000 people could sustain themselves in such a barren land,

It might be barren of food, water, trees and the like. But it wasn’t barren of beauty. Remember when I bragged about all the other trails we have hiked? Well, yes, this trail is the best! In all, we walked 7 miles today, and each step was worth a million bucks.

Much of the 6 mile hike was along the top of the mesa. It was like walking on top of the world. And the world looks stark and bleak, but it was actually remarkably beautiful.

These ancient steps carved into the canyon wall were called Jackson Steps. I was glad that the trail didn’t lead down these precariously looking steps.

Cairns, piles of rocks, marked most of the trail. My biggest fear was of some punk kid going around kicking over the rocks and we’d get lost. There were many places that without the cairns every 50 feet we would have gotten hopelessly lost.

These are fossilized shrimp burrows. The Chaco Canyon was once under a shallow sea. Shrimp made these burrows and they kind of petrified.

Glossary of terms used for newcomers: 1) V-Jer. The name of our camper. 2) Saturn. The name of our Van. 3) Duende. Our mischievous gremlin that breaks things. 4) Tata. The good gremlin that helps us fix Duende’s dirty work. 5) The Black Hole. This is what we call Walmart because every time we go in for just a couple of items, we come out spending way more than we figured. 6) QT. Quaint Town.

Dave and Wanda

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