We took a short trip to northwestern New Mexico at the end of April and start of May. Although it was a short trip, we were able to make a brief visit to Chaco Canyon an spend 3 days on a S.A.R. field trip. (Ancestral Navajo: Rock Art and Pueblitos de Dinétah).
Lots more pictures on the gallery page for this post.
We had very pleasant weather for the trip which was good because we were out for most of the time. We set out from Santa Fe on Wednesday and after a short stop for lunch in Cuba at the Cuban Cafe, we drove to Chaco Canyon (Chaco Culture National Historic Park). The road to the park from NM 550 used to be very rough, but since we were there last it has been substantially improved. The drive in and out was much less tiring than in the past.
Every time we visit Chaco we learn more. This time, we were able to spend less than 3 hours, but we saw some new and interesting things. We first stopped at the Hungo Pavi site which I like because it has masonry (if that is the right word) which shows some of the skills of the builders. Next we went to Chetro Ketl. The buildings there are different–to my untrained eyes–from the ones close by at Pueblo Bonito. There is a good example of a large kiva at this site. Chetro Ketl seems to be less “monumental” than Pueblo Bonito even though both are examples of “great houses.”
It is a short walk from Chetro Ketl to Pueblo Bonito. We took the path along a wall of
petroglyphs. This was the first rock art we had seen at Chaco, which shows how little we have explored so far. There are multiple techniques used to create to create the petroglyphs. Some of the items are pecked, some are incised, and some are abraded or drilled. Some of the items were originally colored, but I didn’t see anything that looked like color on the rock art we saw. We did see some “forms” that we haven’t seen before.
When we got to Pueblo Bonito it was as impressive as we remembered. In an attempt to capture some of the buildings and their layout I stood in the middle of the central plaza and took about 30 photos that I will try to turn into a 360 degree panorama. We have heard a lot about Chaco since we last visited from John Kantner and others so we were able to look at what we saw with slightly more educated eyes.
On Thursday we drove up to Ignacio, Colorado to see the Southern Ute Cultural Center, which we had visited last year on a SAR trip. Because I hadn’t checked their website
recently, I was surprised when we arrived to find that the center was closed for inventory! We drove back a roundabout way and stopped at Navajo Lake. This is one more of the many places in New Mexico that we had not seen before. The lake is artificial and was created in 1962. We could see that the water level was low but there were plenty of boats in the marina. Despite the Cultural Center being closed, we had a very nice drive.
Thursday afternoon we met up with SAR group at the Salmon Ruins for an introduction by Larry Baker (Executive Director at Salmon Ruins) to the area we were going to visit. Salmon Ruins is anther place where we need to spend more time. We were able to spend a little time in the Museum, but did not get to see the ruins at all.
Early Friday morning we picked up Larry Baker on the way to Crow Canyon to view rock art and several pueblitos. The pueblitos are also known as “defensive sites” and that may
be a more apt name for them, as we will see. The rock art was very interesting. Larry was a good interpreter and really helped us understand what we were seeing. As we know, there is a lot of speculation about what these kinds images might mean and Larry didn’t try to tell us that what he told us was the only explanation. What we saw was quite extensive and interesting.
For the rest of the day we visited several defensive sites. We saw sites named “Hooded Fireplace,” “Tapacito,” “Split Rock,” and “Gould Pass.” Just as interesting as the sites was the drive through the extensive system of washes and canyons. Without a really good map or experience of the area it would be all too easy to get lost. We saw quite a few oil and gas sites in our travels.
The defensive sites we saw were all located in places where they had a good view of the land below. It is easy to imagine a small extended family keeping watch for Spanish or Ute interlopers and somehow warning others when trouble appeared. None of the sites was particularly large and generally had one central building–which might have served as a redoubt–and a few small outbuildings. In several of the locations I think the farming must have been done at some distance because of the topography and lack of water. In addition to the sites we visited, Larry pointed out others in the distance. I’m sure that if I had been by myself I would have seen none of the sites and would have thought of the area we visited as being empty and desolate.
On Saturday we visited the Frances Canyon Ruin and the Gomez ruin. These sites were north of where we were on Friday. Before visiting the ruins at Frances Canyon, Larry took us to the other side of a small canyon and pointed out the ruins, which allowed us to have a nice perspective of where they were located. These ruins and their tower the best preserved buildings we saw. The road up to the Gomez Ruin site was pretty rough but it turns out that the site is close to a tiny community, so people come and go that way with regularity. The site is built in such a way that there is no approach from two of its sides and it commands a very wide view.
This trip introduced us to a new class of sites that we had not seen before. They are much smaller that what we had seen previously and, with Larry’s informative guidance, we learned a lot.
As usual, Janie Miller had the trip well organized and the people on the trip came well prepared.