Friday, March 6, 2009
Adrift In The SouthWest Again - Conclusion
On this trip we saved the best for last. Of all the things we saw during our two week sojourn, Chaco Canyon was probably the most incredible and mysterious place of all. Readers will remember that I was first in this place a few months ago and at that time I knew I had to return not only for more for me but I really wanted Guitar to see it as well.
Chaco Canyon was the center of the Puebloan world from about 850 AD until around 1200 AD. Within this 10 mile long canyon and the surrounding mesas are over 120 archeological sites. This was to the Puebloan people what The Vatican, Mecca or Jerusalem is to modern religions today. Much of what was built over 1000 years ago remains there today. Much of it is still unexcavated but even those sites are grand and mysterious. Somewhere before 1200 AD the people and their culture moved away. The evidence is that some went north to Aztec, NM and Mesa Verde and after another 200 years they "disappeared" completely....at least to us.
Their society remains one of the great mysteries of the "New World". They were master builders and constructed buildings that were among the largest and most sophisticated in the entire world at the time of their construction. To build these buildings they transported millions of logs to the canyon from the mountains over 50 miles away....without the use of the wheel! They were star watchers and astronomy played a big part in their world. Their huge pueblo complexes are aligned on a true north/south direction usually with another wall that is aligned on a true east/west direction.
Chaco Canyon was also a meeting place of different cultures. Archaeologists can tell from the artifacts recovered that people from many different places and cultures came to Chaco. Copper bells and macaw skeletons from South America have been discovered in the ruins as has jewelry made of shells found only in the Pacific Ocean. Turquoise was found just about everywhere in the form of jewelry, fetishes and other implements.
In short this is a fascinating place....and it's not well known to the general public. It's also very remote, so except in the middle of the summer it's almost empty of tourists. My kind of place.
Guitar and I arrived around 1 pm on Thursday afternoon. After checking in at the visitor center and paying for a campsite we took the ranger guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the canyon. After the tour we walked around several other ruins and looked at petroglyphs on the canyon walls.
Night came too soon....but it brought it's own opportunity. Because Chaco is so remote there is absolutely no light pollution in the night sky. It is a great place to stargaze which we did. This past Christmas I gave both Guitar and Too Tall - Two Timing a star wheel that helps identify constellations in the night sky. It was the perfect tool to use as we stood under the crystal clear night sky of Chaco Canyon.
Friday morning we started on a 5 mile loop hike that started at one of the ruins and continued up to the rim of the canyon and to two other large ruins. The weather started out clear but cold and both Guitar and I had several layers of clothes. By mid morning we had shed most layers and were quite comfortable. The picture above and to the left shows Guitar leaving an "offering" in one of the pecked basins we saw on the trail. These basins were "pecked" out by the ancient people and when many of them were discovered in the early 1900's they were filled with turquoise offerings. Guitar didn't have any turquoise to spare so he left a couple of copper pennies.
We packed a lunch and at noon, sitting on the rim of the canyon looking down on the remnants of a 1000 year old building we ate PB&J sandwiches and cheese crackers....It was a memorable experience.
All along the trail we found pottery shards. It is speculated that because so many pieces of pottery are found in this area and other ancient pueblo ruins, that they represent some type of offering where pottery is broken to honor the ancestors. This ritual is still done by modern Navajo and Hopi people.
It's an eerie feeling to hold a piece of pottery in your hand, out in the middle of nowhere, that you know another human held 800-1000 years ago. It's likely that you were the first to touch this piece of pottery since that individual put it there all those years ago. We didn't finish the hike until mid afternoon and then spent some time at the visitor center museum and made plans for the next day.
Friday night we did more stargazing and I did something I had been wanting to do since my last visit to this place. Readers might remember that after my last visit here I decided to learn to play the Native American Flute. In the intervening couple of months I have gotten a flute and can play it a little.
I brought the flute along with me on this trip so standing in the darkness with only the stars overhead I gave it a go. The campground was close to the walls of the canyon so the sound of the flute reverberated off the walls. The playing wasn't expert, but I imagine the ancient ones weren't always expert either....At any rate it was an experience. For me, a pleasant experience...I'm not sure about Guitar.
Saturday morning we decided to take one more short hike and then to head out of the canyon back towards the Denver area. This hike was listed at a little over 3 miles but by the time we got back to the RV my GPS said we had walked closer to 4.5 miles.
It was another great hike that led to a ruin on the mesa top and then through some spectacular scenery and ended up at a huge excavated kiva, Casa Rincondata.
We finished the hike right at noon and had a lunch of canned sardines and crackers before heading out of the canyon. The lunch was memorable too. It's probably been twenty years since I've had canned sardines. I used to have them regularly on my boat when fishing in Savannah and this lunch not only was satisfying in taste but it brough back pleasant memories of fishing on my boat.
The road out of Chaco had not improved in the two days we were there. It still took an hour to go the first 12 miles. We made it as far as Navajo State Park that afternoon and spent one last night on the road.
Sunday morning we started early and drove through Chama, NM into Alamosa, CO and then on in to the Denver area. We were gone two weeks and logged about 2300 miles on the RV. It was another trip of a lifetime....many sights, new friends and a new appreciation for the magnificence of this country we call ours.
After only a few days home I'm already scheming and planning for the next trip. Don't know when or where but it will happen..and soon. I have a few more stories to tell about this trip but I'll leave them for another post.
Thanks for visiting.