After leaving the Grand Canyon, our next stop was Chaco Canyon. Of course, Chaco Canyon doesn’t have the depth of the Grand Canyon, but it is even more fascinating in its own way.
It really should be on everybody’s to-do list.
It’s always a bit difficult coming off the main goal of a trip. We’d done the Grand Canyon. Even more so, both Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon required reservations for camping and/or backpacking. The rest of our trip was not planned out, or I should say determined out, the same way. So it was somewhat easy to get lazy and say, should we bother to go further? (This was somewhat exacerbated by Ian’s knee acting up.)
But on we went anyways. It was Chaco Canyon after all. (Or, I should say, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.)
As a reminder, Chaco is the main location of the ancestral Puebloans. (The old name was Anasazi, but that is a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors” and thereby not very polite. The Navajo only moved into the area in the 1400s from northwest Canada.) Chaco thrived from around 900 to 1150 and was the center of many other towns of the time and area, including Mesa Verde.
Chaco Canyon is hard to get to, but that’s part of its charm. We came up from the south, which entailed driving 20 miles over a gravel road. Hey, it slows down the riff-raff. 🙂
We ended up camping in the mixed trailer/tent area, not the pure tent area as I did last year. For some reason it was more crowded this year. (We also wanted to have the car nearby—my power inverter had a 40-foot cord we wanted to have access to to keep laptops charged with. Hey, how do you think these blog entries get written?)
Our first day there we repeated the Pueblo Alto hike that I did alone last year. As before, it really was spectacular and a lot of fun. The access is behind Kin Kletso. As we approached, we could see others on the hike at the top of the sandstone cliffs.
That gives you an idea of the size of things.
The access point is a place where a crack in the rocks widened.
This happens in Hocking Hills, too, but in Hocking Hills the crack fills in with soil. In the dry environment at Chaco Canyon, that doesn’t happen. The cracks fill in with broken rocks, and that is what we climbed up.
From the top we overlooked Pueblo Bonito.
I also took the opportunity to make a panoramic (stitched) shot.
(Click for the full-size 2170×600 version.)
Across the valley you can see South Mesa, and the very highest point there is another ruin: Tzin Kletsin. To the right you can see the South Gap. (And for some reason Ian had good cell-phone service when we were lined up with it.)
As I did last year, we took the loop trail, which meant we were virtually alone (we saw only another pair of hikers). Most folks take the direct route right to Pueblo Alto. You can see a map of the loop trail here. We did it counter-clockwise.
Let me say a few words here about hiking barefoot here.
Folks marvel at it, but it is really the easiest thing in the world.
You’ll get podiatrists making these outrageous claims that our feet were not evolved to hike/walk/run on “unnatural” surfaces like asphalt or concrete. All you have to do is hike a bit on these sandstone cliffs to realize how silly that is. For one thing, given the choice of the kind of scree in the Grand Canyon and a nice flat sandstone rock, it’s the rock every time. In fact, in the gravelly part of the Grand Canyon, after a while I’d look for a larger, flatter rock to walk on. Our ancestors undoubtedly did the same. Unless a podiatrist has tried hiking barefoot themself, don’t trust whatever comments they make about it.
I might also point out that the sandstone was cooler than the sand. The sandstone is so consolidated that sunlight tends to bounce off of it. With sand, enough goes between the grains and is absorbed that sand it often hotter, though, on this day, it hadn’t heated up too much—just more than the sandstone.
Of course, the spring blooms were happening. At one point we came across this wonderful narrow-leaf yucca.
That’s about a foot and a half tall—I got down on my knees so that the mesas would be visible in the background.
It’s not just plants. There are all sorts of lichens growing on the rocks. Here are couple together.
Another interesting feature of the area are the fossil shrimp burrow castings.
These were created when the sandstone was formed beneath the water. The shrimp would make their burrows which would eventually fill with sediment. When the rock formed, the sediment solidified separately, leaving the castings. These things are all over the place.
One of the more fun climbs of the hike was to the tip of another level of mesa, where we had to climb up a small crack.
The Chaco Culture made some very straight roads, even building them to head straight up the cliff walls. They’d use dirt to to make a ramp up to a point, and then they’d carve steps into the rock. Here is what is called the Jackson Staircase.
Hey, those look climbable. (Note: it is illegal to even attempt it.)
However, if you look at them from above, they look quite a bit less so.
Those are steep!
(For that picture, I just held my camera out and hoped I got a shot—no trying to use the viewfinder in that situation.)
At the end of the loop we arrived at Pueblo Alto, another high ruin directly north of Tzin Kletsin. Here I am in front of it.
Since Pueblo Alto means “High Pueblo” or “High Town”, when you get to it, you’ve gotten “high”.
There is just something magical about Chaco Canyon. I’m not sure just what it is, but it undoubtedly drew the ancestral Puebloans there the same way.
And I should add that visiting the place barefoot adds an extra dimension to any visit. Our bare soles were treading the same rock and soil that had been tread by these peoples a thousand years ago.
That leaves a mark on one’s soul.