"Yupkoyvi: "The Place beyond the Horizon"" Chaco Canyon National Monument by goodfish

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

I don't know where to begin to write about Chaco.

This was our second trip to this remote and mysterious canyon and I fell as completely under its spell as I did the first time. Of all the ancient, sacred sites we've visited in the Southwest, this is the one that speaks to me like no other. It is a place that is to be sensed as much as seen. No picture can capture it and the language doesn't exist that can adequately describe the experience!

This was once the Atlantis of a sophisticated culture reaching back 1000 years. Over 400 miles of impossibly straight, prehistoric roads radiating out of the canyon connected smaller communities throughout the San Juan basin with this vital city of commerce and ceremony. Massive Great Houses of intricate stone masonry rose 4-5 stories high above the desert floor, carefully aligned for communication between houses and observation of celestial events. Complex irrigation systems for trapping and channeling water made agriculture possible in a hot and arid environment. Artifacts recovered from the archeological sites indicate that there was extensive trading here from all corners of the region and as far away as Central America.

But the thousands of Great Houses, with their hundreds of rooms, are believed not to have been built as homes but largely as storage rooms and accommodations for people from outlying areas who converged here for ceremonial rites and trade. Why the Ancestors chose this particular place is a mystery as, unlike many other pueblos, the exposed location at the bottom of a canyon versus the top of a mesa clearly indicates that they weren't concerned about defense. But the larger question is why they abandoned this large and important site. Theories are many: drought, overpopulation, breakdown of the society, hostile invaders or a combination of all of these factors. Whatever the case, their descendants now populate modern pueblos throughout the Colorado Plateau and Chaco today is a silent and ghostly reminder of what was once the greatest prehistoric civilization in the American Southwest.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Not as overrun as other National Parks, great hiking
  • Cons:Remote, few services (which is why it's not overrun)
  • In a nutshell:Probably the most important archeological site in the Southwest
  • Last visit to Chaco Canyon National Monument: Sep 2008
  • Intro Updated Oct 23, 2011
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Reviews (17)

Comments (4)

  • GuthrieColin's Profile Photo
    Oct 28, 2012 at 9:47 PM

    Great Tips. I really need to make it here some day.

  • AlbuqRay's Profile Photo
    Oct 10, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    Excellent tips on Chaco Canyon, Kate! I just visited there again last week. Your tips are so well written and thorough, I think that I'll just reference my Shutterfly pictures and do a review for the Suenos Encantados B&B in Cuba, NM, which turned out to be a wonderful place.

  • TheLongTone's Profile Photo
    Jul 14, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    Great page & tips. This place is on the list of 'a billion places to see before I croak'. I have a pal in NM who does volunteer work there. Just so do dont expire thru unsated curiosity, the word was 'P*ddlrb*ms'. That Sue is a one.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Dec 2, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    Glad I stopped by to check out this tip, what an amazing place you visited. I have never heard of it, nor seen it on any travel shows, thanks for the tour!


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