When I was at Chaco Canyon last year, one of the hikes I did not do was the hike to Peñasco Blanco. So it was high on my list this time.
Peñasco Blanco was awesome.
I ended up doing it alone—Ian’s knee was still bothering him, so he stayed behind to chill out.
Let me start by giving you a feel for the topography and locations in Chaco Canyon.
(Click for a larger version.)
In this image, each color depicts 100 feet. The Chaco Wash (i.e., Chaco Canyon) heads northwest to where it joins Escavada Wash (which heads southwest) to form the Chaco River. Peñasco Blanco sits at the tip of the convergence. Peñasco Blanco means “white bluff”.
(I should add that calling”Chaco River” a river is a bit ambitious—it was dry, too.)
You can also see the major ruin sites of the Chaco region.
The Peñasco Blanco trail starts right around Pueblo Bonito, and heads “downwash”. You can see the official map here.
ROAD CLOSURE: Hwy 57 from Blanco Trading Post (on US 550) is permanently closed at the park’s north boundary. Do not take Hwy 57.
This road had been closed for a long time, but it still shows up on maps, so the warning is useful. And what do I mean by “a long time”? Well, here’s the road.
The old road actually passed between the cliff face on the left and the balancing rock.
As one heads downwash one encounters a lot of petroglyphs (i.e., rock-writing). I can just imagine tribe elders remonstrating with the local “gangs” for “tagging” their territories. But once the pictographs are old enough, they are special.
Anyways, there is a special “Petroglyph Trail” for a portion of the Peñasco Blanco Trail.
Here’s “Panel 6”:
It supposedly has clan symbols that are still relevant to the Hopi.
There was also this “Panel 4” with a bighorn sheep and a katsina mask.
Continuing on, you can see the cliffs on the right and Peñasco Blanco across the wash atop the mesa in the distance.
Getting closer, Peñasco Blanco gets more obvious.
Once you cross the wash, the trail leads by what is called the “Supernova Pictograph”. This is near the ceiling of a small rock overhang.
The speculation is that this depicts the 1054 A.D. supernova in the Crab Nebula. The date of this supernova certainly is within the bracket of occupation of the Chaco area. (The “supernova” is the squiggly star just to the left of the moon below the hand.)
(Also note the nests of the swallows of the area.)
From there the trail starts to climb up the cliff wall to head towards Peñasco Blanco. In the past, I’ve used my photo-stitching software to do a left-to-right panorama. Well, at this point I thought I’d try a top-to-bottom panorama.
I really like what resulted.
You can see the trail I am on, a small gap along the rock face, and then Peñasco Blanco rising in the distance.
From there I hit Peñasco Blanco itself, which has a commanding view of the whole area. Looking northeast we look up Escavada Wash.
Looking southwest we see the Chaco River heading off to the San Juan River.
And looking southeast we look up the Chaco Wash towards all the major ruins of the Chaco civilization.
You can even see Pueblo Alto (actually, New Alto) on the top of the mesa to the left.
But what a perfect spot to see everything.
Here’s another view that gives a better feel for the whole set of ruins at Peñasco Blanco.
Finally, you’ll notice that, in this entire trip, there are no pictures of lizards. Oh, I tried. Some just didn’t focus. Others kept dashing across my path. But on the way back from Peñasco Blanco I finally got a decent shot of a collared lizard.
The total hike was around 8 miles.
Meanwhile, Ian hung out, and when I made it back we both attended one of the programs that the NPS put on. This one was on Pueblo Bonito, and we learned that they would be starting some new archeological excavations in one location there.
We also attended an evening program on the Dark Night Sky. Chaco is one of the few places that still has a nearly pristine dark night sky—there really is not much nearby. They also got out the telescopes there, and we got to see the moon (nearly full) up close and personal, and another of the telescopes (17 inch?) was focused on Saturn, on which the rings were manifest. Anyways, as the program started, I got this shot of the sunset looking downwash.
Again, Chaco is magical.