Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gallup NM to Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Friday, June 08, 2012

We left Gallup about 9:30 to head towards Chaco. We started east on  I 40 until we came to Thoreau when we headed north. Past Crown Point we turned east and eventually took NM 57 into the park. This is a non-maintained dirt and rock road. It is dirt through the low parts and when it crosses a low ridge or mesa it is solid rock. There is some washboarding on the dirt sections and it is indeed rough but not as bad as I remembered from the trip here about 10 years ago. The rough road was about 16 miles and I believe the road out to the east is similar. You do not just happen upon Chaco – you have to make an effort to get here
Really makes you want to go ?
This is some of the better road

This Butte is at the opening into Chaco Canyon
After checking in to get a campsite and eating lunch we went to the visitor center and watched the intro video. It appears the story and thoughts about this place have changed some in 10 years… The park was Chaco Canyon National Park or Monument…now it is Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  The emphasis now is more on the people who were here and their culture than it is on the buildings and pots.  Ten years ago it was said the people who lived here were Anasazi – which is still correct as it refers to all the early residents of the Colorado Plateau – but the correct word now to identify these people who lived in the early dwellings is Ancestral Puebloans  - those who came before those living in the pueblos. 

Bluffs like this surround the canyon - ruins some place and not others

One part of Pubelo Bonito
We took a ranger led tour of Pueblo Bonito. This Pueblo is huge with over 300 rooms. We toured many of the rooms and heard many stories. The main focus of the thinking is that there are many answers to questions and for most of them we truly do not know an exact answer. One of the major theories is that there were 100-300 people living here all the time – they took care of the place that could hold 10-20 times that many people who would come and go for ceremonial and trading purposes. In years past the Park Service was known to have very firm answers for how things were – guess they are learning that the more we learn the more questions we have! Ben enjoyed talking to the ranger who actually knew and had worked with Stephen Lekson – Ben’s current favorite archeologist and author.  Ben says he now has one degree of separation!

It was very hot from 2-3:30 for the tour so we plan to go back early tomorrow morning to explore.  We did drive the remainder of the loop and Ben hiked out to one of the Pueblos and Jane began reading a new mystery – a series similar to the Hillerman stories by Amiee and David Thurlo….time will tell if it will be good. Mysteries set on the Navajo Reservation so it should be interesting.

Our campground is nice – larger than I remembered. There are probably 30 campsites with tables and grills and a bathhouse with flush toilets. By parking the Sprinter just right we had shade until the sun went behind the mesa. 
The campgound
 We had our end of the campground pretty much to ourselves for a couple hours until the Geography Department from Texas State University in San Marcos Texas rolled in about 5:30. Nice group of folks – 3 professors and 8 students on a 28 day trip around the southwest. We enjoyed chatting with them.
Supper was cooked on the Coleman again – stuffing, chicken, gravy, and cranberry sauce – tasted pretty good!  I don’t cook much canned and processed food at home but it sure does make for ease of cooking on a trip!

Sunset at Chaco
 The archeo-astronomy program was interesting as the ranger explained how the Indians who lived here studied the stars.  He had many interesting tales to tell but the one I remember most was how disturbed they were a few years ago when a helicopter landed on top of Fajada Butte which is the landmark  butte that stands at the entrance to the canyon. They left after about 10 minutes but that meant the rangers and maintenance workers had to climb the butte to determine if any damage had occurred. There are very interesting sighting rocks on the butte and there was a set or stairs and a ramp built to allow the Indians to access the top of the butte.  Evidently the helicopter did no damage but they never found out why they landed. Then it was finally dark and I don’t know when I have seen so many stars. The sky here is dark with the nearest city about 90 miles away and there was no moon until about 4 AM. So we could see millions of stars – the milky way – and several satellites going slowly across the sky.  We watched the stars until about 10:30 and then fell asleep. I remember coyotes howling when we were here 10 or 12 years ago – and I heard some during the rangers presentation – but it was so quiet – sleep came easily.

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