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The information in this continuing series is presented in the guise of a tourist’s handbook; actually, an informative field guide backed by trustworthy research. The text is also “layered” from the most essential to more in depth details. Therefore the reader reads as much or as little of the information predicated on his or her time and interest in the subject matter. It’s also hunky-dory for readers to to skip some of the details. The point is to have an enjoyable virtual tour and learn what you can and will.

Previous tour diaries, as destinations, in this series were: Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, and a recent series on the Colorado Plateau, recently published this past week (all three series). These posted URL’s and dates can be accessed through my profile. All the information for the tour series is also extrapolated from a larger two-book tome I hope to publish sometime next year, entitled Famous Landmarks Of The Southwest. This magnum opus lists well over one hundred of the most scenic icons relative to the Colorado Plateau’s national parks, national monuments, some state parks, tribal lands (like Monument Valley), and archeological ruins. Hiking trails and slot canyons (details on same) are also presented in this two-book tome (the first book listing all the destinations and the second book presenting optional reading supplements relative to key amplifying details mentioned throughout the first book). The operative word in this special collection series for the Daily Kos community is extrapolated. This means I am offering an abridged account that will cut down on the more lengthy version contained in the ‘Famous Landmarks’ texts.

With these facts in mind, let get started on today's tour––Chaco Canyon, which is considered the most alluring of all archeological ruins in North America, and possibly the world. Considering some of the human intrigue that happened here before its abandonment, one might even say the most mysterious. (Continues after the fold.)

Location/Geography: In northwestern New Mexico, San Juan and McKinley counties. Closest town: Farmington or Aztec. Area: about 34,000 acres. Chaco Canyon lies entirely within the San Juan Basin and is surrounded by the Chuska Mountains in the west, the San Juan Mountains to the north, and the San Pedro Mountains in the east.

Spotlight (just the facts, ma’am): Chaco Cultural National Historic Park (hereafter, “Chaco Canyon” or “Chaco”) is an engaging and sui generis archeological ruins that has no parallel whatsoever to any other setting. Like a Mecca-shrine in its own right, only without a postulated prophet-oriented purpose, Chaco’s layout is deemed the most significant of all Ancestral Puebloan communities (a culture previously dubbed the “Anasazi,” though this moniker is no longer vogue or appropriate). To some Puebloans, particularly the Hopi Indians, Chaco remains a guarded secret. Solar/lunar alignment of its numerous structures typifies Chaco’s telling cosmological utility to the inhabitants. Hence, the magnitude of its archeoastronomy corollary to the cosmos. Some archeologists and anthropologists (hereafter, “cultural scientists”) equate Chaco Canyon to Arizona’s Casa Malpaís ruins, possibly even Colorado’s Chimney Rock archeological site, and specifically in view of the strong emphasis placed on observing changing seasons. Where these people built this literal shrine of the prehistoric ages, all roads led here. For modern day visitors, once leaving regional main highways the entry points (there are two) are unpaved. Driver are thus cautioned to slow down and ease back into another time frame from long, long ago. . .

After a while the scenery changes, the elevation dips and what's ahead is a more promising view of Chaco Canyon's austere and engaging backdrop:

And if you feel like it, you can give one of these guys a lift. But don't hit 'em, because this is open range country and any livestock you run into (or they into you) means you have to pay the rancher. No kidding. . .

Snapshot (more details): Chaco Canyon is typically desiccated terrain. Its high desert setting denotes an isolated sector away from the more populous Ancestral Puebloan communities that once lived throughout the Four Corners regions, whose numbers may have been well over 100,000 strong just before their great diaspora off the Colorado Plateau in the late 13th Century.

It is believed the numerous and so-called Great Houses built throughout Chaco’s compound were functional temples. Chacoans who came here, and perhaps an exclusive roster of people from select clan members, made annual pilgrimages for ceremonial purposes. From Farmington, New Mexico, on Hwy. 550, then to County Road 7900, travelers came from afar, each bearing a variety of acquired trade goods (as gifts), such as pottery and jewelry. Rimmed by mesas, Chaco is located within lowlands circumscribed by dune fields, ridges and a topography generally defined by a mountainous terrain. The broad layout of Chaco’s periphery generally follows a northwest-to-southwest axis. Home to the most exceptional concentration of archeological ruins in the Southwest, this site was designated a national monument in 1907. In 1980, an additional 13,000 acre allotment was added. The park is set in a secluded high elevation canyon carved by the Chaco Wash. With its assemblage of ancient ruins, Chaco is the foremost cultural and historic attraction of its kind. One glance at the Great Kiva of Chetro Ketl will suggest why many people, professional and laymen alike, consider Chaco the most important of all archeological ruins.

Remarkably, as much as is known about this visually arresting site, what some might dub a altogether mysterious setting and an equally mysterious human history motif, Chaco continues to generate its fair share of speculation. We know only that this assembly of singular structures was used during part of the year by the majority of Chaco’s inhabitants, most likely as a religious hub. Indeed, very little is understood about Chacoan ceremonies. Possibly, Chaco Canyon was similar in ways to other famous pilgrimage sites such as Mount Kailash in Tibet (an active site for the past 15,000 years). Designated a national historic park in 1980. Governing body: National Park Service.

Guided Tour Essentials (a more complete comprehension): Given Chaco Canyon’s geographic aspects, there are immense gaps between the southwestern cliff facades. Specifically, the numerous fingered-side canyons (commonly called rincons). The Chacoans made special use of these places, for they were critical in funneling rain-bearing storms into the canyon-like setting, thereby augmenting water resources. For obscure or clear reasons beyond archeological interest, especially the intrigue of its layout and numerous ruins, Chaco’s milieu may be the most important site of its kind in North America. Apart from the Ancestral Puebloans who came and went here over the centuries, many distant tribal people also visited Chaco, bringing with them offerings such as pottery, exotic birds, and jewels to mention some articles. From 900 to 1130, the Chacoan culture was nothing less than industrious; also, glorified. The inhabitants built multi-storied buildings and planed extensive roads throughout the 49,710 square miles encompassing the San Juan Basin that defines the overall topography of this region. Indeed, perfectly straight roads that originate in Chaco emanate out for many miles to other pueblo or so-called Great House sites. The question remains: Why build roads when these people had no carts, much less animals to pull them? Perhaps the answer lies in some religious significance rather than trade. Perhaps there's another riddle. Still, the network of roads Ancestral Puebloans cleared and fashioned led to this epicenter of culture and people came here by the thousands.


Another question often entertained when visiting this site concerns he original builders and dwellers. Namely, what were they thinking by aligning most of their structures to either solar or lunar light? Why was the alignment so important and so particular given the mathematics of design? Recently, some cultural scientists suggest that several of the large central buildings, especially the most famous, Pueblo Bonito, were used primarily for ceremony (though without saying exactly what kind of religious or spiritual ceremony). It follows how Chaco Canyon’s cultural center in the Southwest likely served as a ceremonial hub for outlying Chacoan communities. Astronomy, specifically the discipline of archeoastronomy, played a pivotal role in Chacoan culture, as realized from astute empirical observations of the heavens taken over many decades. Indeed, there is a special landmark close to their dwellings where trained observers, possibly shamans or the like, had marked the solstices, equinoxes, and solar noon, including so-called standstill positions of the moon revealed on thirteen light markings on petroglyphs (see below for a further explanation).

Incredibly, eleven of the major structures are directly oriented to either the sun and moon. Each major structure also has an internal geometry that corresponds to the relationships of the solar and lunar cycles. More astonishing, most major structures are oriented in a solar-and-lunar alignment. The aforementioned Pueblo Bonito, located at the approximate center of Chaco Canyon, plays the central role in this precise arrangement.

Latter Day Discovers: The ruins of Chaco Canyon were first discovered in 1849 by Lt. James Simpson, a member of the U. S. Army forces newly arrived in the New Mexico territory, also a member of the United States Topographical Engineers. He was assigned to the military governor Colonel John Washington. Washington’s goal was to contact the warring Navajos for the sake of obtaining a peace treaty, but it’s more likely he wanted to impress them with the military superiority of his expedition. Headed for Canyon de Chelly the expedition came across a fascinating landscape of well-preserved ruins (with much of the credit given to the typical aridity of the Colorado Plateau). This was Chaco Canyon and Col. Washington gave Simpson permission to examine the impressive landscape of multistoried ruins. Simpson's guide, Carravahal from the San Juan Pueblo, provided the name Pueblo Bonito, which is Spanish for “beautiful town.”  At the conclusion of his expedition, Simpson published the first description of Chaco Canyon. Later, it was Richard Wetherill, a rancher and archeologist, along with George Pepper from the Museum of Natural History, who became the first to excavate at Pueblo Bonito. They started their excavations in 1896 and ended three years later. When they finished, Wetherill remained at Chaco Canyon running a trading post until he died in 1910. In the short period Wetherill and Pepper excavated, they had uncovered an amazing one hundred and ninety rooms, while photographing and mapping all of the major structures in Chaco Canyon. Wetherill and Pepper contributed immensely to the early excavation of Chaco Canyon. Naturally, precious archeological booty over the years was discovered. In some cases, artifacts were consigned to museums and sometimes sold for profiteering and private collections.


Those pieces that were not usurped by so-called thieves of time provide a window to the past revealing the artistry of the people who made numerous utilitarian and artistic vessels.

Also, considering how clay pottery was introduced to Ancestral Puebloan culture during the so-called Pueblo I Era (750 to 900), the amazing artistry of crafting pottery has grown ever since. Here's an example of a contemporary Puebloan design:

(FYI: Strangely, not too many skeletons were ever found here, leading some cultural scientists to view Chaco as opened to the people only during part of the year. According to one researcher (Craig Childs) 650 remains were found throughout the region, with 131 remains found at Pueblo Bonito (a relatively low number comparable to other archeological sites), all buried in two major tombs. The remains were stacked like firewood. Was Chaco considered another infamous massacre site compared to places like Cowboy Wash or Sand Canyon? Possibly.)

Radiating Roads From The Center: Ancient roads of amazing engineering feats to build them radiated from Chaco’s hub. The North Road among them seemingly vectored off into the distance, whose purpose has long intrigued cultural scientists. Perhaps it was a symbol of migration or direction representing death. From the air, these roads, most of them, are discernible. Still, the North Road and its purpose holds the interest of many cultural scientists. It is the only main road leading to and from Chaco, which is also part of a braid of thoroughfares inscribed in the desert scrub landscape, thus requiring more labor than building the dwellings at Chaco. Regardless what was in the way, the road builders of Chaco changed topographical features by continuing straight ahead, including building massive and impressive ramps or carving stairs up to summits of landmark features, then back down the other side. More than 100 miles of roads have thus far been documented throughout the region, with nearly 300 miles of partial roads still visible in some sectors. Some believe the roads actually extended much farther, say, over a thousand miles, heading this or that way, and always in a straight line. Still, it was the North Road considered to be the most complicated and longest, which stretched more than 50 miles from Pueblo Alto (which is one of the many Great Houses) to the San Juan River.

The Unknown Factors Of Chaco’s Network Of Roads: Cultural scientists have long pondered and debated Chaco Canyon’s vast network of roads. For instance, was there a special ceremonial endorsement associated with the North Road or any other similar pathway leading to or from Chaco? Was there a direct connection from one settlement to the other, depending on which road was followed? Averaging 30 to 40 feet wide, what was the purpose for such width? Were some or all of the roads intended as trading routes? Perhaps some were even used for moving goods? In one sector of the North Road, there are four or six other regional roads running abreast––why? Was it more than a utilitarian road plan for the Chacoan people? Perhaps something symbolic? To address the previous thought about Chaco’s straight road designs, according to some theories these people needed to be seen from great places. Winding roads would have therefore meant being more invisible in a mostly flat and unbroken terrain such as this region affords. Seeing farther also highlights a certain psychological advance, suggesting a sense of security. By constructing locales that afforded a greater perspective of the distances, people go more easily travel from place to place without getting lost. Indeed, the precise linking factor of sites for navigating was possible, regardless any landmark blocking the way. Thus a pragmatic and georitual landscape was created.

The North Road overview (the longer outline):

Presented with the unique layout of Chaco’s roads radiating from the center it likely was a way of inscribing the Ancestral Puebloan minds onto the landscape itself. The way these people planned their settlements and built their monuments that lined up in a precise way does indeed mesh with the topographical features throughout this overall setting. For instance, consider another Great House of Chaco, Casa Rinconada. Lines radiating from this dwelling pass directly through a number of other Great Houses, including penetrating through the centers of some of the larger kivas, thereby connecting to significant landmarks in the great distance. This design is not merely coincidental. Flawless symmetrical angles and intersections were computed (added together) to the finest detail. Surveyors, as well as priests, were part of the planning; they designed the roads and structures, most likely assisted by arco astronomers who formulated a map of the cosmos overhead. Combined, these specialists in the community created the initial outline and floor plan that enabled people to accurately move along preexisting terrestrial lanes of travel. Such travel could be accomplished during time of drought, and probably without causing territorial disputes with other tribal people. These roads were thus used as convenient maps for people to follow in times of need as well as for pilgrimage.

One other notable aspect of the people utilizing the terrain, especially higher places, was for signaling. One settlement could easily stay in touch with a more distant settlement, especially to warn others of imminent danger. This was a way to let other Ancestral Puebloan communities know they were not alone. Settlements flickering to life as fires burned in the night compensated for both darkness and the distance. Most of the sites were located on average 20 to 30 miles apart. The sites were therefore a convenient network for conveying information, linking one settlement with the next in line. Even during the day it was possible to send signals that could easily be seen. This means was accomplished by knapping obsidian (volcanic glass) that flashed in the sun. Perhaps pyrite mirrors (a/k/a “fool’s gold”) were also used.

Given such broad dimensions of nocturnal open space. . .

Ancestral Puebloan sentinels were able to connect with outlying communities by doing this. . .


The Real Significance Of Chaco Canyon––Its Deign: The noteworthy aspect of Chaco's design is twofold. First, the elaborate architecture that has withstood the test of time for many centuries. Every slab of rock has been quarried and assembled, as though these builders were read from a master architect's blueprints such as is common today. Yet these people had no blueprints; they had no writing; no numbers. They had only pictographs for images left behind for others to see. But someone guided these people to build their dwellings with such preciseness and perfect solar or lunar alignment. There was indeed purpose in everything these people did.    

Principles Of Archaeoastronomy: The other important aspect of Chaco's dwellings refers to the precise alignment of most of its structures. The alignment also directly relates to archaeoastronomy. Such scientific knowledge required generations of astronomical observations to skillfully and meticulously coordinate each building's construction so that it aligned with the cosmos. But where did the mathematics originate that made this possible? Some cultural scientists surmise the high degree of mathematics came from the Mayan civilization. And there are some diehard X filers who hold out for extraterrestrial schooling. But the Ancestral Puebloans were an intelligent and innovative culture that likely tapped into what humankind has always tapped into for creative genius: something abstruse from within.

Other than the flawless design of Chaco's solar and lunar-aligned dwellings, all of which is predicated on archaeoastronomy, further evidence for this empirically-based science is the famous Sun Dagger petroglyph at Fajada Butte, a prominent site rising above the canyon floor (see below). The main complexes at Chaco are Pueblo Bonito, Neuvo Alto and Kin Kletso, all of which played a vital role in Chacoan belief systems. Visitors and scholars alike agree that Chaco represents the most interesting of all archeological ruins in the Southwest. Some might even suggest the most interesting site on the planet. Certainly, the abundance of curious and functional rock art keeps one speculating about the reason this unparalleled site was built, then later abandoned. In the wake of their departure, some of the structures that were partially destroyed by the very people who built and designed this ostensible religious center in a typically dry and sandy location here in northwest New Mexico.

Chaco Canyon is probably the best example of any archaeoastronomy site on the planet. Its science involves archeological aspects, as well as stellar observations. Apart from Chaco Canyon, Colorado’s Chimney Rock, and Arizona’s Petrified National Forest are some of the more notable archeological sites where such incisive observations took place.

Today's means of star gazing:

While for Ancestral Puebloans their predictive means was by way of the naked eye:

Specifically, tracking a precise sun ray on a precise glyph:

While achieving this verification without guessing:

In the archives of archeology, archaeoastronomy is a fairly recent contributor to a science-based disciplined by means of precise observations, both solar and lunar. Originating as pagan holidays in some parts of the world, archeoastronomy survives in modern times as neopagan holidays. Those who study archeoastronomy consider all its aspects worthy and telling in both a predictive and historical sense. Relative to the above mentioned sites (among some few notable others), what we have learned about the Ancestral Puebloans thought processes has contributed invaluable cultural information, particularly in their calculating annual solstice and equinox events. These observations include intervals of cross quarters (a cross-quarter day falls approximately halfway between a solstice and an equinox).


That famous glyph and dagger also was ensconced in this world famous Chaco landmark, called Fajada Butte"

Archaeoastronomy draws on several scientific disciplines for its knowledge banks. Primarily, disciplines related to astronomy, archaeology, anthropology, psychology and epigraphy (the decoding of ancient inscriptions). As for astrology, this, too, was important in adding to the storehouse of archeoastronomy’s knowledge. Its discipline, although not scientifically-based compared to astronomy, was nonetheless integral to humankind centuries ago. That’s because myth was as dominant in ancient times as mass media is today. For many people, astrology continues to hold fascination because the planets, sun and moon have always held sway with some people’s minds and imaginations. To be sure, its many facets of study and interpretations poses a wide appeal to cultures, race, even religion. However, the subject of archeoastronomy treated in this theme supplement will focus solely on this discipline, while also admitting astrology somehow, and in some way, managed to interphase with its science. Chaco Canyon’s significance is also touted in the following exposition.

Prehistoric Human History: Somewhere between 900 and 1150, Chaco was a major focal point of culture for the Ancestral Puebloans. They came here for a specific reason. Most likely, a ceremonial center. The layout of the dwellings certainly attests to a special relationship of the temporal with the eternal, namely an interest in the cosmos by predictive means (the solstices and equinoxes). The innate purpose for a massive complex distant from populated hubs, such as today’s Canyons of the Ancients (near Cortez, Colorado) or Mesa Verde, was to establish an archeoastronomy nucleus that was compatible with Chacoan religious beliefs. It's also assumed that the Mesoamerican Mayan and/or Aztec culture had influence on the Chacoans; certainly the similarities of construction and the advanced mathematics to conceive such building plans has ties with (especially) the Mayans. Perhaps such influence also stems from the urbanism of both the Mayans or Aztecs, particularly favoring a precision for predicting equinox and solstice events. It is assumed by many cultural scientists, even most Puebloans, how there's a likely crossover of religious beliefs and attitudes that may have struck a cord with the Chacoans. Without doubt, the Mayan polity, as a small hierarchical state, may have suggested a model similar to that of the Chacoans. Apart from such persuasive cultural modeling, the Chacoans did not merely imitate and build obvious pyramidal structures as the Mayans were especially noted for. Instead, they quarried sandstone blocks and hauled, or most likely rolled, these heavy stones in place and built the great structures of this epic cultural axis point. They also harvested timber from afar, assembling fifteen major complexes in Chaco Canyon, all similar to building designs of most other structures from this era. These utter and intriguing masterpieces of architecture would also become the largest building structures in North America until the 19th Century.

An Ancestral Puebloan Four Corners migration pattern:

Innovated Building Design: Although there is no archeological evidence that clan systems ever existed during the Ancestral Puebloan’s occupation of the Four Corners region, cultural scientists have discerned enough from Chaco and its construction to lead some to believe clans were in fact assembled here. Principally, these would be the Scarlet (or "Parrot") and Kachina clans that are preserved today in the Hopi society. Whoever were the major overseers of Chaco's development, clans or otherwise, they used innovative masonry techniques for the construction of the multiple-story pueblos and Great Houses. Pueblo Bonito, the largest of these stupendous Great House structures, had over six hundred rooms and forty kivas, typifying Chaco's significance as a major ceremonial center. Building pueblo structures, especially the Great Houses, took many decades of coordinated effort to complete. Indeed, the design demonstrates a deeper understanding of the natural cycles of the Earth and its relationship to the cosmos. Many other examples of astronomical knowledge have been found in Chaco Canyon. But its layout of perfectly aligned structures is really the clue why these castles in the desert were built.

Consider, also the back wall of Pueblo Bonito is aligned on a perfect east-west axis. The precise alignment means on the Summer Solstice(June 21 or June 22), the sun passes directly over this wall.

Near the summit of Fajada Butte a crack in the rock wall is aligned with a spiral petroglyph, so that sunlight shining through the narrow opening of the this chink is perfectly centered during the moment of the solstice. Sunlight penetrating a window in nearby Pueblo Bonito also perfectly aligns with an inside corner of the building, but only during the Winter Solstice. Additionally, several petroglyphs have been found depicting astronomical events, such as the great supernova of 1054 (see below for more clarification). It’s amazing to think someone first had to notice the clockworks of the universe, as viewed from Fajada Butte, then upon computing the evidence by keen observation over the decades, build Pueblo Bonito in such a way to confirm the great celestial event, if a confirmation. It also boggles the mind the inspiration and ingenuity behind this affair.

Although Chacoan culture flourished for some four hundred years, and possibly a great deal longer, the Ancestral Puebloans left the region toward the end of the 13th Century (around 1251 and possibly as late as 1287). Several causes may have contributed to this mass emigration (a diaspora by any other name). However, the reasons why these people abandoned this thoroughly distinctive settlement remains one of the great mysteries of archeology. The same applies for why the Ancestral Puebloans departed from their homeland after having successful sustained their existence here for well over one thousand years. Nevertheless, evidence of an extended drought suggests a reasonable cause that initiated a restive cultural mindset, by which all else followed.

Thus a tradeoff for this typical Chaco desert terrain scene (then and now):

For a new country, like this (New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley):

There is also a matching theory that the Chacoans left elsewhere for a wetter climate, which is largely accepted by cultural scientists. Another theory, however, has something to do with religion but does not adequately explain what those religious concerns were. There may even have occurred a simmering social disorder or disagreement among the people (or various clans in the Ancestral Puebloan community) that finally broke out. Perhaps, too, an infectious and fatal disease had spread, including poor nutrition and iron deficiency causing anemia. Certainly, in view of some human remains of mostly women and children found at some of the ruins, a malady of some kind may have triggered a hasty departure. Cannibalism is thus sometimes suggested, though this often contentious subject (as Puebloans see the matter) is seldom mentioned by most cultural scientists, especially the park service that oversee many archeological sites throughout the Southwest.

(FYI: Even after Chaco was fully abandoned by the 13th Century there was a later revival of sorts, for people came here to repair some of the dwellings (Pueblo Bonito for one example). Then these people moved on again. Not until the 19th Century does activity resume again, which happened when Chaco was rediscovered, first by the Navajos, or perhaps initially it was the Hopis, then later archeologists.)

If you plan to visit here, and if you happen to see what appears like freebie artifacts on the ground. . .

It's bad form and bad juju to pocket any archeological artifact, even seeming throwaway stuff from the past. If you do get tempted to swipe something, keep in mind a shaman might be watching and turn you into something wholly other. . .


Or worse. . .

Let’s continue this missive in tomorrow’s final installment. The information thus far presented should be enough to exercise the Daily Kos community’s minds, and who knows. . .some of you may have already figured out some of the enduring mysteries and all-out strangeness cultural scientists have pondered since Chaco Canyon was first discovered.

As always, intelligent and thoughtful commentary is welcomed.


Originally posted to richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 07:47 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for this fantastic guide. (10+ / 0-)

    Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde are two of my favorite places.
    History is palpable at these sites. Thank you.

    •  And thank you. . . (6+ / 0-)

      and both are also my favorite. What do you also know about Sand Canyon on the Canyons of the Ancients property, close to Cortez? That place is just as amazing, as is Hovenweep and so many other archeological sites. Of course, Chaco, like Mesa Verde, are the top guns of all ruins. Did you also know there is a tribal (clan) connection with the Mesa Verdeans and the Scarlet Clan that likely were the main tenants of Chaco? Well, more about that stuff in a future diary (or diaries) I"ll prepare, and solely based on the Ancestral Puebloan culture who thrived on the Colorado Plateau for well over a thousand years (and whose ancestors, the Puebloans, still live in parts of this territory, that is, the ones who stayed behind (the Hopi and Acoma people) after the great diaspora of the late 13th Century. Anyway, I digress. As usual. Thanks for posting your comment, Ishmaelbychoice. (And is this the same Ishmael of the famous book by this title, written by a friend of mine, Daniel Quinn?)

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:58:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's a book (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        called "Ancient Ruins of the Southwest" by David Noble that I used to to visit as many of the ruins of the 4 Corners area as I could. Because visitors are limited to 20 per day at the Navajo National Monument that experience is one not to be missed.
        Thanks for a great piece on Chaco it truly is magical.

        If peace is to prevail we all have to become foes of violence.

        by spacejam on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 06:10:46 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ah, I loved visiting red rock country and the (6+ / 0-)

    Pueblos.  It's  been over 20 years since We've been to the west and southwest, and I've forgotten much of what we saw. You're bringing back memories.

    Thank you Rich for another wonderful, interesting series.

    I am a work in progress. Still.

    by broths on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:23:04 AM PST

    •  and I thank you . . . (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      broths, cotterperson, KenBee, Aunt Pat

      broths, for being so supportive. Really. I am glad these diaries evoke memories and may even incite the will to return and see more of what you've already seen in this part of the country and the many other new places still waiting for your visit. Thanks for posting your comment. Very much appreciated.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:54:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You've hooked me, Rich (6+ / 0-)

    I haven't seen any of I have to go.

    When banjos are outlawed, only outlaws will have banjos.

    by Bisbonian on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:25:51 AM PST

    •  I'll meet you there. . . (5+ / 0-)

      if only I could get away from preparing for about a hundred more diaries for the community. You will love the mystery, the haunting aspects of this truly engaging site, and, I think, the world's only solar and lunar-aligned dwellings. These people had calculus and algebra and geometry and trig down to, well, a science. I'll be posting a special diary one of these days on the compelling topic of archeoastronomy, the whole enchilada, and that way I can get into the real and most engaging intricacies of this highly complex math and predictive science. Thanks for posting your jubilation (remarks), Bisbonian!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:52:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've been to Chaco a few times, (10+ / 0-)

    that place is amazing.

    If only we were as creative,

    with the resources at out disposal.

    thanks richholtzin for the work putting this together.

    It must have taken a few sun cycles,

    nicely done.

    Here's how the game is really Rigged.

    by jamess on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 09:30:38 AM PST

    •  jamess, thanks. . . (9+ / 0-)

      for your support on this diary and I am so grateful you and others are finding this subject matter interesting. And, yes, it did take a few sun cycles to put it all together, starting with experience that began some 40 years. Chaco is the kind of place you can come back to again and again, and read and re-read, and still learn something new. This is not one of the greatest archeological sites without merit. It may be the greatest and there is a lot to be thankful for given what these prehistoric people, the Ancestral Puebloans, have left us to ponder. How I wish I could have been there in real time.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 10:20:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well done! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    2thanks, cotterperson, willyr, KenBee, Aunt Pat

    Thank you.  I look forward to tomorrow.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 09:53:19 AM PST

  •  Thank you, Rich, (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, OldSoldier99, Aunt Pat, tardis10, CalNM

    for taking time to do such a fulsome piece on this astounding place. A friend and I had it to ourselves (!) one spring weekday in the '80s. We sat by a wash to eat, and several birds came an sat with us for just a few crackers. A short nap in one of the great kivas was mind-bending. We left spellbound. It's the only place I have actively wanted to go back to since I retired. Snow prevented our return last spring, but there will be another time.

    I'd often read about the mysterious disappearance of the people, and before we went there took a short guided walk to a Chacoan residence near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The park ranger said, "We know the Hopi are descended from them," and I asked him how we know that. He said when they find artifacts they don't understand, the Hopi were sometimes still using them or could explain them.

    When we visited the Hopi Mesas, the peace was palpable. I bought some jewelry from Hopi silversmiths, and they gave me a brochure explaining the symbols. I was so blown away by the place, it wasn't until the next day I looked at the brochure. It's cover said, "Hopi: People of Peace." To me, it was clear they had cultivated that.

    I've often wondered if that came from their ancestors' experiences at Chaco one way or another. Certainly those high mesas would allow them to see and fend off invaders and thus choose to cultivate peace.


    I wonder also if those wide roads let them transport the stone they needed by rolling them on logs, which they also needed. If that is part of it, I can see why there would be smaller roads for people carrying supplies needed for the long trip. But that's just one person's wonderment ;)


    On the same trip, we visited an old Native American man my friend had met on a much earlier trip. He remembered my friend, no doubt in part because of her Scottish accent. He took us to the excavation done by archaeologists where we picked up numerous pottery shards, it being previously studied and on private land. On his mesa, we picked up a few "bird points" (small arrowheads) of astonishing quality.

    /sweet memory lane, but many thanks for the chance to go back today, even if virtually ;)

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 12:11:52 PM PST

    •  I am almost afraid to post this. . . (6+ / 0-)

      because you raise so many wonderful points, cotterperson. Really. If I don't satisfy your thoughts in this missive reply, feel free to contact me via my profile email address. I'm all ears given what you have to say. And I may have some answers for you. But let me clarify the point about the Hopis: their direct ancestors, whom they refer to as the "Hisatsinom" (and please don't ever ask a Hopi about the so-called "Anasazi" or the more apropos (i.e., culturally sensitive) Ancestral Puebloan. Anyway, the Scarlet Clan, which these tribal people preserve, more than likely were the main tenants of this site. I respect whatever the Hopis have to say about Chaco, because they likely know the full story the rest of us will never know. Chaco Canyon will therefore maintain its clandestine nature. And why not? Religion to these "peaceful people" is or can be ultra private, so let's respect that (and apparently you do). The second point I want to make about Chaco is that it was likely many things, but mostly a seasonal mecca of sorts. The zillions of precious artifacts that were once stored there suggests people brought gifts, many of them trade items from far south of the Colorado Plateau. So, conch shells, jewelry made from seashells and the like, and of course, parrot feathers. . .it all makes sense. Then you hit me on the head with the same idea I have always thought: rolling the lows. Those ponderosa trees came from nearly 100 mile away. It is easier to roll these heavy trees than carry them, regardless the number of people enabled to do the work. Bear in mind, also, Chaco Canyon's roads are ALWAYS STRAIGHT. That means, no road curves, but is only straight, and all roads lead into and out of Chaco. If the was forced to make a turn, then it was always at a 90 degree angle. So, as the Hopi phrase goes, DON'T WORRY. . .BE HOPI! and to me, in this case, I say don't worry about the mysteries the rest of us cannot figure out. They know. That's all that matters. The rest of the enigma is just, well, titillating. Thanks, again, for your wonderful and insightful commentary.  

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 12:58:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for two great replies! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee, Aunt Pat, tardis10

        I'd forgotten "Anasazi" (the Navajo word for those who came before?) had been replaced with the more accurate and less-insulting Ancestral Puebloans. When I visited a store in Old Town Albuquerque with current Puebloan art, I did have a nice visit with the owner. He was remarkably intense about telling me we are all connected, and "connected" was even on the sign for his store. (I'd had had my sig-line from Kossack Winter Rabbit for some time by then ;)

        Your diary has given me quite a happy day!

        Thanks again.

        "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

        by cotterperson on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:41:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  P. S. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, KenBee, Aunt Pat

      In about a month, I plan on doing a special two-series diary solely on the science of archeoastronomy. In same, I will delve into some of the subject matter I just mentioned, including the possible (and likely probable) connection Chacoan landlords, functionaries and shamans (or priests) had with the Mayan Civilization. The advance mathematics to do what the Chacoans did (equinox and solstice prediction) and the solar and lunar alignment of most of the dwellings attests to this. Chaco Canyon simply does not mean basic math and observation of the cosmos; not considering what these people were able to do by aligning select sites, like Pueblo Bonita, with solar events (including those outlying dwellings perfectly aligned with lunar events, including the very complicated lunar cycle. I also know this ability was never lost when the name change from Ancestral Puebloan switched to Puebloan. So if you really want to get an earful, and are willing to learn what the speaker is willing to share. . .take a Hopi out to breaky, lunch or dinner and see what you can learn. I have done this in the past and it was always worth my picking up the tab.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 01:02:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Glad to see these, Rich (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, Aunt Pat, kurt, ybruti

    Haven't yet made it to Chaco. But I will.

    For now, your diaries will fly me there.

    As you note, Chaco was first protected as a National Monument, when Teddy Roodevelt used the brand new Antiquities Act to give permanent protection to Chaco and other historic, cultural, and scenic wonders in our national treasure chest of public lands.

    Roosevelt set a great example for the presidents who followed him, almost all of whom used this power to designate national monuments when Congress refused to act to so.

    Sound familiar?

    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 12:19:37 PM PST

    •  yep, sounds familiar. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, Aunt Pat

      and your pivotal point is just that, willyr, pivotal. My question is this: Why was not Glen Canyon protected under this same common sense law? Over 3,000 archeological ruins were destroyed by Dominy, et al., and by God or by Buddha, the damn Bureau of Reclamation knew this beforehand. Yet nada. I mean, the protection. Of course, Wetherill, et al., absconded with a great deal of Native American artifacts here, as well as Mesa Verda, and scores of other sites he plundered. . .before he God "archeological religion." Anyway, I am glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, and as you said. . .these diaries help get you there. One of these days you will be there in person. Thanks, again, for your comments. . .relative, as always.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 12:49:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  ..Chaco Canyon is my favorite place...period... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, No Exit

    Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant. The rest of us must suffer the consequences.

    by paradise50 on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:16:21 PM PST

    •  And mine. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      No Exit

      as an archeological hub expressing the singularity of culture and religion for the Ancestral Puebloans, even extending to today's Puebloan tribal people, Chaco Canyon is THE most compelling site of its kind in North America, and possibly in the world. Thanks for posting your comment paradise50.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 05:08:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  not just bad form, it's illegal (4+ / 0-)

    It's illegal to remove the artifacts encountered on public lands. They are protected by law. I hope you will make that clear in your tour book, many authors leave it out.

    I am an archaeologist (never heard it called a "cultural scientist" but that's what I really am) and I've been to Chaco and other sites many times. Beautiful place.

    Thank you for the diary. I'm curious about your sources for all that information on Chaco. Being an author of archaeological and historical research writing myself, I know there is a lot of reading of diverse sources, giving credit to others for their ideas and work. It's taken years and years for archaeologists and others to write the prehistory and history of Chaco, which is being rewritten again and again, as more evidence is found or studied in new ways.

  •  Chaco (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Leftcandid

    I was so excited to see this diary as we are leaving Wyoming the first of April for a month long adventure to the Southwest and Chaco is number one on our list! I intend to make copies of all of your diaries and take them with us. We are hoping that April is a good time to be in the Southwest, weather wise, hopefully not too cold and not too hot (Goldilocks). We plan to take our camper and hope to camp in some of these areas. We have always loved Zion and Bryce, also Mesa Verde, but have not gone to the Chaco and Canyon de Chelly sites. Looking so forward to seeing this awesome archaeological masterpiece!

    •  part 2 was posted a while ago. . . (0+ / 0-)

      wynative, and since you're part of the DKos community if you need some further info about the Southwest (before you get here) let me know. I'll gladly give it. Zion National Park will be next Sunday's feature diary, and the day before will be a geology overview. Bryce is already posted and listed in my profile URl's. Mesa Verde will one day soon also get a diary posted given its stunning high view overlooking the Four Corners axis country. Very happy you enjoyed the Chaco diary. When you get there you will know a lot more than the typical visitors. Be sure to visit the visitor's center and sign up or show up for the ranger talks. They are truly engaging and informative. Bon voyage!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 09:28:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Chaco (0+ / 0-)

        Thank you for the info. I feel bad that I have not read all of your material, but plan to do so ASAP. Can you tell me if you think April is a good time for weather in that area? SO is worried about it being too soon or too late to be there. We were at Mesa Verde when you could still climb the ladders and go down in to the kivas. I heard that is no longer allowed. After three visits to Zion, I still never get tired of the beauty and awesome hikes. I checked your profile and discovered that we are in the same age group. Finally old enough to be able to take a month to travel (retired). Cannot wait to see it all and it is all I can think about. Thanks again for the time it took you to post all of this fabulous information!

  •  Great diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit

    I'm looking forward to the rest of them to come.

    We've visited Chaco and plan to return for extended visits to Chaco and as many of the other sites in the Southwest as we can get to.

    We did the hike up onto the cliff above the ruins on our visit, which was in the fall. We didn't get as far as we wanted to go...saw those thunderstorms and lightning flashing on the horizon and moving in. Don't want to be up there on top of the cliffs when that happens!

    Thanks for the diaries.

    Any projection on when your books will be available? Do you have a publisher or are you self-publishing?

    When atlatls are outlawed, only outlaws will have atlatls.

    by wheeldog on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 09:18:22 AM PST

    •  thanks for posting. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      No Exit

      your commentary, wheeldog. Still debating which publisher to use, and there are a few interested. For now, however, I want to give back what I have been honored to teach (even get paid) for doing for many, many years, which is why I lucked out finding the ideal outlet. . .our very own Daily Kos community. And there will be lots of these diaries posted in the future. And what a reception and appreciative audience I have had the pleasure to share such things. What was your favorite site when you were at Chaco? I find it hard to choose, because there are so many intriguing ruins. I take it you were on Chacre Mesa when the storm approached? Lovely view from way up there. I imagine the architects of Chaco often went for the high view, just to see the layout.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 09:24:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is an intriguing place, for sure. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        No Exit

        We were there for just over a day, camped one night, then moved on because we wanted to get to the Acoma Pueblo.

        Sort of a scouting trip, actually, which is how we've hit a number of places down there and are now making more extensive plans to revisit and for longer times.

        Favorite, I think, was the ranger walk through the big pueblo ruins--especially the story of how the cliff behind it sheered off in the late 1940s.

        I created a bit of consternation, though, on the tour. The ranger and a bunch of the other folks (lots of them looked to be the New Age, spiritual vortex ooh-aahers, whom I refer to as the Sandalistas) were talking at length about how sacred the place is, this place is sacred, that place is sacred, this rock is sacred, that hole in the ground must be sacred, etc. etc.

        I was getting annoyed at how often and how trivially the word 'sacred' was being tossed around.

        So I posed this question to the ranger: If you took say, three elders or spiritual leaders from the tribes around there -- Zuni, Hopi, Ute, Navajo, whatever -- and took them to Rome, to St. Peter's Basilica, to the altar where supposedly St. Pete himself is buried, the most sacred place on earth to a couple billion Catholics, would those leaders also consider that spot to be 'sacred'? Or, rather, a place deserving of much respect, considering its spiritual significance to people of another religion or spiritual background?

        The point I was trying to make was that overusing the word 'sacred' trivializes it. Because a site may be sacred to persons of one belief system or cosmology doesn't automatically make it sacred to everyone, including persons who don't share that belief system. But the site still deserves respect.

        Well, the ranger wasn't too happy about the question and there was lots of muttering and dagger glances from the rest of the folks on the tour, so I shut up.

        So that was my experience at Chaco. Hopefully when we return in a year or so that particular ranger will have moved on and not be doing the tours any more.


        When atlatls are outlawed, only outlaws will have atlatls.

        by wheeldog on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 01:10:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Chaco (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit

    A friend and I were there in 1971 early Spring. We were the only visitors for most of the time spent there..eventually a young man the total population was three!My friend, Mary, and I each experienced what I can only describe as an otherworldly feeling after passing through one of the portals.It was something I have never forgotten...very eerie, but peaceful .I have been back twice, but not for at least 30 years.

    •  Other worldly, is it? (0+ / 0-)

      I can appreciate this sense, too, constantliberal, because it best describes the singular atmosphere, like no other. Personally, I have always felt the pulse of some 900 years ago, that is, what I seemed to have touched with my mind and/or other senses. I think if you go back today or tomorrow you will realize the same feelings as you had 30 years ago. Chaco never seems to change its focus of mystery and keeping its answers. Thanks for posting this intriguing comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 07:37:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Chaco, etc. (0+ / 0-)

        Many times while living in the western states, I would see, as through a window, the landscape without the detritus of today's world. Always a momentary feeling, but very real...a connection to what has past. Often felt that my Chaco experience helped to bring this experience to me. I always felt as if There was where I belonged ! Not trying to go all New Age on you, but you apparently understood that special feeling at Chaco. Your diary is great and we look forward to more installations!

  •  A very special place, indeed. (0+ / 0-)

    I've now been there twice, the first several years ago and  again last summer. Most of my time there has been visiting the outliers located on the mesas above the canyon. On two of the hikes, to Penasco Blanco and to Kzin Kletsin, I was very fortunate to have both sites completely to myself for the hour or so I spent at each. Its a special feeling to sit within the sites, hearing nothing but the wind and birds, and thinking about what it must have been like at this very spot, a thousand years ago. Even more, to find broken pieces of pottery lying on the ground and wonder about the hands that made it and used it.

    The big  question I have about Chaco is why here? Why invest so much time and effort to build a complex like this in such a hard and demanding place. The wood for the beams had to be dragged from the mountains 50 miles or more away.  The ability to grow food, or to hunt it, must have been marginal. There must have been, for lack of a better term, heavy magic about this place for the builders to make it what it was.

    I don't get mad. I get stabby!" - Fat Tony D'Amico

    by sizzzzlerz on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 05:14:34 PM PST

    •  Now that's the 64,000 dollar question. . . (0+ / 0-)

      Why here? Why this part of the remote northwestern desert terrain in the San Juan Basin? There's not even running water, except when the monsoons come. Therein might lie the answer: a mecca away from the maddening crowd, and yet the builders of Chaco also built a network of roads, extensive road building, and all roads led into and out of Chaco, with the famous North Road the most enigmatic of all. Then again, if you consider North, as the final road souls take, once Form is exchanged for Formlessness, then it is most likely symbolic. Anyway, I have a mess of information about that if you would like to contact me via my profile's email. I am also planning to do a special back to back series on archeoastronomy, which allows me time to uncover some more of Chaco's intrigue, including part of what you raised by asking this profound question. I think someone who has been there, like you, and spent time alone in one of the ruins, likely comes up with these sort of questions. Of course, no one truly knows what the Chacoans abstruse mission was in creating this place, that is, outside of the Hopi Indians, particularly some of their more clandestine clans (and those folks are not about to give it up...those answers. Thanks for posting this comment, sizzzlerz. I almost missed seeing it. 'Til now.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 07:34:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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