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Date of visit:
January 27, 2002

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
Location of Chaco
 

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Deep in desert
 Dirt road access
 Museum
 Uncrowded in winter
 Excellent ruins
 Well reconstructed
 Self guided tours
 Canyon vistas
 Hiking trails
 Mesa-top overlooks

 Kachina

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The Center of Chacoan Culture
The road to ChacoChaco Canyon, for all its wild beauty, seems an unlikely place for a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture to take root and flourish. This is high desert country, with long winters, short growing seasons, and marginal rainfall. Yet, a thousand years ago, this valley was a center of community life, commerce, and ceremony. People built monumental masonry buildings that were connected to other communities by a wideranging network of "roads." In architecture, complexity of community life, social organization, and regional integration, the master builders of Chaco Canyon attained a unique cultural expression.

Chaco Culture Historic ParkThe cultural flowering of the Chacoan people began in the mid-800s and lasted over three hundred years. We can see it clearly in the grand scale of the architecture. Using masonry techniques unique for their time, they constructed massive stone buildings ("great houses') of multiple stories containing hundreds of rooms much larger than any they had previously built. The buildings were planned from the start, in contrast to the usual practice of adding rooms to existing structures as needed. Construction on some of these buildings spanned decades and even centuries. Although each is unique, all great houses share architectural features that make them recognizable as "Chacoan."

During the middle and late 800s, the great houses of Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida, and Pehasco Blanco were constructed, followed by Hungo Pavi, Chetro Keti, Pueblo Alto, and others. These structures were often oriented to solar, lunar, and cardinal directions. Lines of site between the great houses allowed communication. Sophisticated astronomical markers, communication features, water control devices, and formal earthen mounds surrounded them. The buildings were placed within a landscape surrounded by sacred mountains, mesas, and shrines that still have deep spiritual meaning for American Indian descendants.

Fajada Butte at ChacoBy 1050, Chaco was well on the way to becoming the political, economic, and ceremonial center of the San Juan Basin. Its sphere of influence was extensive. Roads to more than 150 great houses built throughout the region connected dozens of great houses in Chaco Canyon. Current thought is that the great houses were not traditional farming villages occupied by large populations. They may instead have been impressive examples of "public architecture" that were used only periodically during times of ceremony, commerce, and trading when temporary populations arrived in the canyon for these events.

Why the need, for social complexity and integration on such a large scale? Chaco was the hub of an extensive trading network. Turquoise was made into beads, ornaments, and jewelry at Chaco, and traded throughout the Southwest and northern Mexico for parrots, macaws, copper bells, and other precious commodities. Chaco may have been a distribution center for food and resources in response to the region's highly variable climate and growing populations. Ceremonies may have brought "pilgrims" to Chaco along a ritually used road system that connected Chaco to distant communities and to the sacred landscape. We may never fully understand the Chaco story.

After prevailing for 300 years, Chaco Canyon declined as a regional center during the middle 1100s, when new construction ceased. Chacoan influence continued at Aztec Ruins and other centers to the north, south, and west into the late 1100s and 1200s. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people today look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans' sacred migration paths -- a spiritual place to be honored and respected.


Chaco's Ancient Architecture
Una Vida’s construction was underway by the mid-800s and continued until the mid-1100s, concurrent with construction at Pueblo Bonito and Penasco Blanco. There are about 150 rooms and five kivas in the structure. It is an excellent example of a mostly unexcavated site. (sitemap)
Una Vida
Una Vida Site Una Vida Site Una Vida Site

Hungo Pavi construction was underway by the mid-800s and continued until the mid-1100s, concurrent with construction at Pueblo Bonito and Penasco Blanco. There are about 150 rooms and five kivas in the structure. It is an excellent example of a mostly unexcavated site. (sitemap)
Hungo Pavi
Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site
Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site
Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site Hungo Pavi Site

Begun about 1020, Chetro Ketl experienced a major construction phase within 30 years and subsequent modifications in the 1100s. There are an estimated 500 rooms and 16 kivas here. The builders constructed an immense elevated earthen plaza that rises above the surrounding landscape. (sitemap)
Chetro Ketl
Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site
Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site
Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site
Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site Chetro Ketl Site

Planned and built in stages, Pueblo Bonito was occupied from the mid-800s to the 1200s. Eventually the structure towered four stories high and contained over 600 rooms and 40 kivas. Pueblo Bonito is one of the most extensively excavated and studied sites in North America and a place sacred to many American Indian groups. (sitemap)
Pueblo Bonito
Ground Level Views
Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site
Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site
Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site
Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site
Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site Pueblo Bonito Site
The climb to the overlook ... (map)
Overlook trail
Climb to overlook Climb to overlook Climb to overlook
Climb to overlook Climb to overlook Climb to overlook
Climb to overlook Climb to overlook Climb to overlook
View from overlook
Pueblo Bonito from overlook
Pueblo Bonito from overlook
From overlook From overlook From overlook

Kin Kletso, seems to have been built in two stages. The first one dates from about 1125, the second from 1130 or later. This great house had about 100 rooms and five enclosed kivas and may have risen three stories on the north side.
Kin Kletso
Kin Kletso Site Kin Kletso Site Kin Kletso Site
Kin Kletso Site Kin Kletso Site Kin Kletso Site

Pueblo del Arroyo was built in stages over a relatively short time. The central part was started about 1075; north and south wings were added between 1101 and 1105; the plaza and the tri-walled structure were built around that same time as well. The building had about 280 rooms and more than 20 kivas. (sitemap)
Pueblo del Arroyo
Pueblo del Arroyo Site Pueblo del Arroyo Site Pueblo del Arroyo Site
Pueblo del Arroyo Site Pueblo del Arroyo Site Pueblo del Arroyo Site

Text source and maps extracted from brochures provided by the site.
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