Next stop—Chaco Canyon.
Chaco Canyon is a huge complex of abandoned pueblos, from around the same time period as Mesa Verde. Actually, Mesa Verde is a bit of a late outlier of the chaco influence.
While there are a lot of buildings in Chaco Canyon (in various states of ruinity), there evidence suggests that very few people actually lived there. [A striking similarity to the Newark Earthworks/Octagon in central Ohio.] Thus, it may have been some sort of ceremonial center.
One of the great hikes to be done there is the South Mesa hike, to the Tzin Kletzin ruins.
The area around here is even more of a desert environment than Mesa Verde. I made sure to start my hike around 4:30pm, just so the sun wouldn’t be so intense. Also, all of the warnings about carrying enough water are quite true. Even that late in the day, doing a 4.1 mile hike, I drank nearly 2 liters of water.
The trail starts going along the main canyon itself.
It then heads up a side canyon that has various offshoots of its own. Here’s the location my map told be to veer left, to be followed by veering right.
If you look carefully, you can see that there just might be another little canyon heading off in the middle there.
It was actually a pretty big canyon, and the trail aimed for that low spot up the middle.
Here’s the view looking back from atop the back of the canyon.
See if you can spot the one person I met on this hike. She’s heading down the trail, right in the middle of the picture. That’s Toby, a fencer who shakes left-handedly (because that is what all fencers do before matches, because the other hand it full of sword), and whose license plate reads “ENGARDE”. (I got a big kick out of that.)
Once atop the Mesa, It was a bit a slow climbing, and then Tzin Kletzin came into view.
The return trip was a pretty straight trip back to the car. Across the canyon was visible another of the great ruins, New Alto (newer than the Pueblo Alto just to its east).
Most of the trail was this fine dust that had settled into the rut of the trail. It was very nice to walk on. Mostly.
[Note to self: just because you are walking on a fine dust trail does not mean that an old, dried-up prickly pear lobe cannot get blown down into the dust.]
[Second note to self: While it might be safe in the East to keep walking while looking at your map, in the desert Southwest, it is wise to stop when you do so—see note 1.]
The final descent off the mesa took me through that tiny crack.