Chaco canyon, New Mexico

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Not a place you stumble onto by accident. This site was a hub of Anasazi culture but today is miles down a dirt road.
This butte was the location of the Sun Dagger, an arrangement of stone slabs that allowed a narrow shaft of sunlight to cross a carved spiral at the summer solstice. The slabs shifted (natural causes) not long after their discovery.

Chaco canyonfeatures in Harmony of the Worlds, Episode III of Carl Sagan's classic series Cosmos. Even in the best episode of the whole series, the Chaco canyonsequence is a jewel.

Coal beds and sandstone in the canyon walls.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park is a World Heritage Site.
Looking northwest up the canyon.
Pueblo Bonito is the largest ruin in the canyon, a vast D-shaped affair.

Rockfall at Pueblo Bonito

Chunks of canyon wall are poised to fall
A big chunk of canyon wall fell about 50 years ago, damaging part of Pueblo Bonito.
Ripple marks in one of the fallen boulders
The scar where the slide originated.
Small ruin near the entrance.
Travelers venturing to Chaco canyonget a few miles of paved road.
Even the main highway isn't densely settled, so this is a pretty ominous sign.

The dirt road is well maintained, but has stretches of thick dust, loose gravel, and washboard. Plan a minimum of three hours even for the most cursory visit. I suspect the road is unimproved to keep out all but serious visitors.

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Created 7 April 2003, Last Update 03 June 2020