Chaco Canyon and Aztec Loop: The Ancient People
Whenever we visit the Four Corners region of the Southwest, we're in awe of the history. Although most of our ancestors came from European countries like England, Ireland, France, Germany, and Denmark, there's something deeply "American" about our Native American heritage. There's a longing to better understand the people who came to our continent before we arrived.
In so many ways, the Ancient People seemed much more in touch with the world than we are today. They understood agriculture, astronomy, and building structure. They were deeply in touch with their spiritual life and family served as the focus of their lives. We wonder if they were as unaware as we are of the impact they had on the environment. They overfarmed their land, used up the natural resources such as the trees, and killed all the game. Does this sounds familiar?
Chaco Cultural National Historic Park
We headed out early in the morning for Chaco Cultural National Historic Park. It took practically three hours from Santa Fe, but it was well-worth the drive. As we entered the valley we enjoyed the beauty of Fajada Butte (6623 feet).
After exploring the visitor's center, we walked the ruins called Una Vida, and photographed the rock art near the center. This ruin was constructed between the mid-800s and the mid-1100s with 150 rooms and five kivas. The area is mostly unexcavated so only a few of the walls are visible. Increasing, scientists are leaving areas intact for future generations to explore. As equipment becomes more sophisticated people may not even need digging tools to explore under the ground.

Next, we headed down the six mile loop road and discussed how we should spend our day. Rather than hitting all the ruins close to the road, we decided to take the 6.4 mile hike by petroglyphs to a large ruin called Penasco Blanco.
As we headed down the trail, we noticed two park workers reinforcing the first ruin we encountered called Kin Kletso. They were working on walls and placing fill-dirt in the ruin to save the structure. We continued down the trail past Casa Chiquita.
The hike was very windy. Annette felt like she could fly a few times, but decided to stay on the ground. The walk was easy, but the sun was bright. We were glad we were wearing hats. The temperature wasn't hot, but the sun was! By the end of the hike, Annette was wearing a long sleeve shirt to protect her shoulders. As usual, Annette wanted to go into restricted areas, but she restrained herself.
Three hundred feet past the second ruin, the park brochure said to begin looking for petrogyphs. The walk was a long three hundred feet before we reached the petrogyph trail. It was interesting to find a number of Navajo petroglyhs in addition to the ancient rock art.

After another mile we found the turn off for the famous supernova pictograph. It's interesting to imagine what these ancient people thought about the supernova in 1040. The Chinese and Japanese also recorded this supernova in their historical materials. After a snack of animal crackers and water, we decided to head to the top of the mesa to look at the pueblo ruins.
Penasco Blanco was built during the 800s and remains mostly unexcavated. Unlike many of the other pueblos that were explored by Richard Wetherill, this one was left undisturbed. It was easy to image why the people chose this location for their home. The views in all directions were spectacular. We were amazed at the craftsmanship that went into the stone walls. We could see the individual differences and imaged the skilled masons who might have been building the structures.
It was windy at the top, but it was fun to be the only ones exploring the ruins. As we looked down the valley we could see the other pueblos in the distances. They used the lines of site between the pueblos for communication. The brochures discussed how the area was oriented according to the solar, lunar, and cardinal directions. The ancient people could do amazing math and mapping. The printed materials also speculated on the function of Chaco. Some people believe it was a like a giant fairgrounds were people would come for festivals rather than a regular city. They've found little evidence of the trash that would be accumulated by people who might live in the area full-time. Many of the pueblos may have acted as "hotels" for visitors rather than regular residences. The Chacoan people had an extensive road system that can be traced over 400 miles. There's also lots of speculation about whether cannibalism may have been a part of their rituals.

We headed down the mesa as huge clouds rolled in. We were treated to a few raindrops and enjoyed the walk back to the car. It was getting late so we decided to leave the rest of the pueblos for another time. We headed to Bloomfield to spend the night at the Super 8.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument is an interesting contrast to Chaco. The area got its name from early white settlers who thought that the structures were built by Aztec people. Many of the walls have been reconstructed giving visitors a sense of what life might have been like. It was fun to explore the reconstructed pueblo including crawling from room to room and sitting in the kiva. A nice trailguide provides lots of information as you stop at each area of the ruin.

Finishing the Loop
We enjoyed our drive from Aztec back to Santa Fe along highway 64. We took a sidetrip over the Navajo Dam and had a picnic in Chama, New Mexico. We saw sheep and goats and numerous farms along the road. The highlight of our trip back was in the small town of Los Ojos. We visited a local weaving shop called Tierra Wools. This company located in an old mercantile building grows their own sheep for wools and uses both natural and man-made dyes. They produce rugs and wall hanging for many places such as the Blue Corn Cafe in Santa Fe.
We were invited to watch their spinner, weavers, and dyers at work. We talked to them about the process and enjoyed learning more about weaving. Thanks to the people at Tierra Wools for your hospitality!

On the way out of town, we looked down to see the roof of Tierra Wools in the distance. We stopped at the Echo Amphitheater, a natural amphitheater in the side of a beautiful cliff. The hike to the amphitheater contained great views of interesting cliffs and rock formations. We even did a little rockhounding for agates near the Abiquiu Dam.

Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 7/01.
Updated 5/02.
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