"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 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 May 9, 2016
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (17)

Comments (6)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Feb 26, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    A very impressive and mysterious place! I have been to New Mexico several times but unfortunately never to this corner.

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Feb 26, 2015 at 3:15 PM

      Hello, Don! This corner is sort of in the middle of nowhere so a LOT of people don't make it there. It's been a dream of mine to rent an RV for a couple of days and spend the night there someday; preferably under a full moon. The ruins in moonlight would be something to see?

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Feb 26, 2015 at 3:44 PM

      Oh, and many thanks for stopping by for a visit! I'm especially grateful as I hadn't looked at these pages for awhile, and see that I have some errors to fix!

  • Usctwin's Profile Photo
    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:37 AM

    Amazing that they could build something like this back then!

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Feb 25, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      Isn't it? You really get the effect when you stand on the rim and look down on the biggest one. Oooh, need to get a pix to you...

  • 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!


“Itineraries are for sissies”

Online Now


Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 1 1 8
Forum Rank:
0 0 0 0 6

Badges & Stats in Chaco Canyon National Monument

  • 17 Reviews
  • 40 Photos
  • 12 Forum posts
  • 2,482PageViews

Have you been to Chaco Canyon National Monument?

  Share Your Travels  

Photos in Chaco Canyon National Monument

See All Photos (40)

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (8)