Sunday, November 6, 2016

Chaco Canyon - Day One

As noted in my previous post, Mike Scudday and I made a quick overnight visit to Chaco Culture National Historic Park on our way to Utah this past spring.  In recognition of its rich archeological resources, the park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  The park's significance is based on its approximately 4,000 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, representing more than 10,000 years of human cultural history in Chaco Canyon.  Among these are Chaco “great houses” -- the largest, best preserved, and most complex prehistoric architectural structures in North America.  Sixteen great houses are interpreted within the park.  In addition, Chaco Canyon was the center of a regional system of communities.  These were linked by prehistoric road and trade networks throughout the San Juan Basin.

The park is accessed from US 550 via 8 miles of paved road followed by 13 miles of dirt road passing through BLM and Navajo lands.  Fortunately, the Bundy clan was nowhere to be seen.

Mike expertly guided his trusty steed over the rough dirt roads.

As we entered the park around mid-afternoon, we were greeted by Fajada Butte, which reaches an elevation of 6,623 feet.  After checking in at the park headquarters and obtaining a campsite, we headed out to explore some of the archeological sites.

Hungo Pavi

The first site we explored was Hungo Pavi.  This is an unex- cavated Chacoan great house containing over 150 rooms, a great kiva, and an enclosed plaza.  It is located at the mouth of Mockingbird Canyon.  The north roomblock includes three rows of rooms and stood at least three stories tall along the rear wall, dropping to a single story along the plaza. Construction occurred in two primary periods, the first between the late 900s and the early 1000s. The second building episode is dated to the mid-11th century, and added the eastern and western wings, upper stories to the main roomblock, and the row of rooms on the south side that enclosed the plaza.

The back (north) wall of the great house.  It would have been three stories tall at the time the canyon was abandoned by the ancient ones.

Tour guide Mike at the site, with Fajada Butte in the background.

Chacoans carved a wide, steep stairway into the cliff face behind and to the right (east) of the great house, as indicated by the crudely-drawn red arrow in the photo above (and seen more clearly if you click on the photo).  These steps provided access from the canyon floor to the mesa top, where they connected with an elaborate prehistoric road system.

Coming attractions:  In future posts, I will cover another great house, Chetro Ketl, and then the spectacular Pueblo Bonito.  So stay tuned.

Note:  Click on any of the photos to see a slide show of larger versions of the photos.

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