Let me continue from where I left off describing my trip Out West. I’m now up to August 18, when I hiked the Pueblo Alto trail. I’ve hiked it in every time I’ve been to Chaco Canyon (twice before), and written about it in Pueblo Alto and Getting High.
This time let me emphasize the Chacoan Roads a bit.
One of the programs put on by the Rangers was a program on the Chacoan Road system.
Chacoan Roads and the Sacred Landscape
Learn how the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon are embedded in a network of other sites. Meet at the Chacoan Staircase pullout, near Casa Rinconada.
When I arrived at Chaco Canyon a few days earilier I had done a quick drive around the main loop. But I had stopped at the turn-off for the Chacoan Staircase and got a picture.
One of the interesting features at Chaco Canyon (besides all of the ruins) is that there was a huge interconnecting network of roads throughout the region. One went north into Colorado; another went south towards Mt. Taylor. Here’s a map, from Chaco Roads by John Kantner.
What’s extraordinary is that so many of them go nearly straight over long distances, and when necessary, as we saw in the first picture, they built ramps and carved steps into the rock in order to traverse the canyon walls.
Here in Ohio we have the Great Hopewell Road which, as far as we can tell, ran in a straight line for around 60 miles from Chillicothe to Newark. It was “discovered” by archaeologist Brad Lepper. That is, he put two and two together and did all of the research and work (looking at historical records, etc.) that established its existence along much of its path. Back in 2009 I participated in a “pilgrimage” that walked that distance, trying to stay as close to the suggested Road as possible. It was billed as A Walk with the Ancients.
Interestingly, Brad was influenced by the Chacoan Roads. He did his undergraduate work at the University of New Mexico and, if I recall correctly, actually did some field work at Chaco Canyon. As I learned in the Chaco talk, the Chacoan roads were even in some ways similar to the Hopewell Road: soil (or sand) was removed from the middle and pushed to the sides to make linear mounds at the edges.
So it is no surprise that Brad was mentally primed to be able to recognize the existence and importance of the Great Hopewell Road. It’s one of those things that, in retrospect, seems obvious. But it still takes a special talent to put it all together and get that “aha!” moment.
I’d also like to add that the Great Hopewell Road came first. It’s about 2,000 years old, while the Chacoan Roads are around 1,000 years old. Did one influence the other? There’s no particular evidence, but it is still quite possible. We do know that, even 2,000 years ago, there were connections across the continent by Native Americans, so why couldn’t straight roads over long distances have been culturally spread?
Here’s a topo map onto which I’ve overlaid the locations of the Chacoan Roads over the Pueblo Alto trail that I hiked.
The trail is in purple, the Chacoan Roads are in green, and I’ve added blue numbers to mark points of interest regarding the roads along the trail.
#1 marks the staircase across the canyon from the trail. This is the one in the first picture.
The start of the trail is off my combined topo map at the Kin Kletso ruins (it’s included in another topo map I’ll show in a second) and involves heading up a narrow crack on the canyon wall. Here I am heading up it.
(There are other pictures in my blog posts for the Pueblo Alto trail in past years.)
At the split, the trail officially turns left and then circles clockwise. For some reason, I’ve always preferred doing it counterclockwise (leaving Pueblo Alto itself closer to the end of the hike). And that means that early on there is always a good view of Chetro Ketl from the rim.
By the way, you can see that there is a Chacoan Road leading from Chetro Ketl. I’ve never noticed it (I’m not even sure there are any signs of it left). But I never even looked for it because I only just got that map of the roads after getting back home and working on writing this. I guess I’ll have to go back again some time with my eyes wider open.
The next road intersection is #2. Again, I failed to look for anything, but the trail loops around the head of that lower, small side canyon and one can then look back towards #2.
But first, in the sandy wash at the top of small canyon, there were footprints.
I added another set myself.
Continuing past the wash, I could look back to the other side.
You can see the ramp from the old road. I also like this picture because it shows the two tiers of the Chaco topography.
Shortly past this point is a marker proclaiming that we are on one of the roads. This is point #3.
Here’s the broader context of that picture.
You can see the ramp again in the distance across the canyon.
At about this point, a hawk was soaring overhead. I managed to get a few shots that turned out.
From here the trail ascends to access the upper tier. But before doing so I looked across the Chaco Wash and could see the staircase (#1) near Casa Rinconada.
It’s right smack dab in the middle of the picture. Zooming, it’s a lot easier to see.
You can see the stairs carved into the rock on the left part of this picture. [You’ll need to click on the picture for a larger version in order to see them.]
The ascent to the upper tier takes us right through this narrow crack.
I think that crack is one reason I prefer to do the trail counterclockwise. It looks way more fun to climb up it than to climb down.
From the top there is a great view. Here’s a stitched, panoramic shot looking to the east.
[Click on the picture for a much larger version. Really. Click on it. It’s worth it.]
You can see the next small, lower side canyon to the east (on the right), and then the larger, higher side canyon (on the left). Off in the distance see if you recognize Fajada Butte.
Here’s a topo map that shows the location of the picture and what the view spans.
The head of the larger side canyon even has some recess caves in it. Here’s an expanded view of that area.
I have no doubt that there are signs of habitation in those recess case. However, there is no going off the trail at Chaco Canyon because the whole point is to preserve the ruins and archaeological evidence. But it is still fun to see what one can spot in the distance.
Continuing along the trail takes one to the Jackson Staircase, point #4.
How’d you like to try to climb that?
And here’s a closer view of the staircase.
The couple gives you a bit of a feel for the scale.
These were the only people I met on the loop part of the hike. There always seems to be a lot of solitude hiking at Chaco, if you are just willing to go a bit of a distance. I think that’s one reason I like the place.