Category Archives: Journey

Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Downtown Chaco

Casa Rinconada

We completed our day’s visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park on Friday, May 20 [2022] with a couple of walks in “Downtown Chaco.” Here in the center of Chaco Canyon we were also in the center of the Chacoan world. There was still a lot to see, but since our time was beginning to run short, we decided to focus on two sites: Peublo del Arroyo and Casa Rinconada, which offered different perspectives on Chaco than what we had already seen.

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Hiking to a Supernova

Almost 7,500 years ago, around the year 5446 BCE by modern calendars, a star exploded, sending incredibly bright light out into space. The light from that supernova reached Earth on July 4, 1054. Chinese astronomers recorded a bright new star that suddenly appeared in the sky. It was so bright that it was visible both day and night for months.

Halfway around the world, Chaco was near the height of its power, a ceremonial and administrative city and center of trade whose grandeur was unmatched in the Ancestral Puebloan world. A culture deeply attuned to the cosmos—multiple structures at Chaco were oriented to the solstices and equinoxes—the Chacoans would have born witness to the new star. It is possible that they recorded the supernova—now faded into what modern astronomers know as the Crab Nebula in the constellation Taurus—on a remarkable pictograph panel near the western end of Chaco Canyon.

Continuing our day in Chaco Canyon on May 20 [2022], Sean and I determined to hike to see the Supernova Pictograph.

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Pueblo Bonito

(Note: Although Sean’s and my odyssey is focused on the now sixty-three National Parks proper, some of the units protected by the Park Service are so important or tell a story of such magnitude that they are part of an unofficial 63+ list for us. They are units that, but for the accidents of history or the vagaries of politics, certainly deserve to be celebrated as part of the core function of the whole national project of setting aside places of immense value. Dinosaur National Monument is one such place. Chaco Culture National Historical Park certainly is another. Just as with Dinosaur, I’m treating our trip to Chaco as if it were one of the sixty-three.)

The thing to understand about Chaco is that it was a city. But it was a very special kind of city. For three hundred years it was the center of the Ancestral Puebloan world, a place of ceremony, religion, culture, and trade with influence that spread across geography and time. A collection of magnificent Great Houses in an arid canyon at the center of the San Juan basin near the southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau in what is now northwestern New Mexico, Chaco was likely an administrative center where ritual bound together a far-flung Ancestral Puebloan homeland.

Chaco held such prominence in all my reading about the Ancestral Puebloan world since our visit to Mesa Verde National Park that I had prioritized seeing it for ourselves.

On Wednesday, May 18 [2022], we began our journey to Chaco and a return to one of my favorite landscapes: Northern New Mexico. In addition to seeing Chaco, I also wanted Sean to experience the very special AirBnB I’d stayed in outside Taos the previous November. And I was excited to see the exhibition New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. It turned out that late May 2022 was the best option for an overlap between the AirBnB being available and the run of the exhibition. So off we went.

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Virgin Islands National Park: Heading Home

Drunk Bay, Ram Hill, Ram Head, and the Salt Pond

Tuesday, March 22, [2022] was our final afternoon on St. John. Hungry after our six-plus-mile hike to and around Reef Bay, we had a leisurely lunch at Miss Lucy’s very close to where we were staying at Concordia. The next day we would have to say goodbye to St. John and make our trip by boat, plane, and car back to wintry Chicago.

But we still had time for a couple more adventures.

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Virgin Islands National Park: Hiking to Reef Bay

Taíno Petroglyphs

Nestled in a valley near the center of the south side of St. John, there is a grotto of freshwater, a sort of naturally occurring cistern. Near the water’s edge is a collection of petroglyphs depicting what appear to be faces and symbolic shapes. The petroglyphs were made by the Taíno people, who inhabited the Greater Antilles and the northern Lesser Antilles at the time Columbus’ invasion began in 1492. This place of reliable freshwater was clearly important to the Taíno. It was to this most remote part of Virgin Islands National Park that our adventures would take us on Tuesday, March 22 [2022], our last full day on St. John.

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Virgin Islands National Park: Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay

Late afternoon on Monday, March 21 [2022], we finally swam at Trunk Bay. When Sean and I had been to Virgin Islands National Park nine years earlier, the day we’d reserved for visiting Trunk Bay turned out to be windy on the north side of St. John, so Trunk Bay was closed for swimming because of dangerous surf. But on this trip, we got to enjoy a late afternoon swim and sunset at one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet.

Caribbean Reef Squid
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Virgin Islands National Park: Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon Cay

On Monday, March 21 [2022], we went snorkeling at Waterlemon Cay, one of the premiere snorkeling sites in Virgin Islands National Park. Skipping it on our first trip had been my biggest regret, so I was very excited to see what it had to offer.

French Grunts, Yellowtail Snapper, Sergeant Majors, Corky Sea Fingers, Sea Fans, Sea Urchins, and Mustard Hill Coral
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Virgin Islands National Park: Hawksnest Bay

Elkhorn Coral and Great Barracuda

On Sunday, March 20, [2022],after we’d spent the morning and early afternoon on a visit to Annaberg, which was a repeat for Sean and me, we spent the late afternoon swimming at Hawksnest Bay, which we had not done on our first visit to Virgin Islands National Park in 2013. It was well worth it. And we could see why it is popular with St. John locals.

Southern Sting Ray with Horse-Eye Jack and Bar Jack
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Virgin Islands National Park: Confronting History at Annaberg

Transferred to the National Park Service upon the establishment of Virgin Islands National Park in 1956, Annaberg preserves and interprets the legacy of chattel slavery in the Danish West Indies, which supported St. John’s small piece in the Caribbean’s massive and world-altering cane sugar industry. Located on a bluff on the island’s north side, and commanding an astonishing view, the site was unexpectedly our destination on Sunday morning, March 20 [2022], the vernal equinox.

For Sean and me, this was a return. Read about our first visit to Annaberg here.

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Virgin Islands National Park: Back to Brown Bay

Sea Grapes

On Saturday, March 19 [2022], we decided to stay over on the eastern side of St. John, nearer to our home base at Concordia. We hadn’t actually been planning to go into Cruz Bay every single day of the trip, but somehow had. Also, we figured that with it being the weekend the more famous beaches like Trunk Bay were probably going to be packed. So we decided it would be a good day to return to a favorite bay from Sean’s and my previous trip: Brown Bay, nestled on the north side of St. John—almost to East End—and accessible only by a hike two-hundred feet up and over a ridge. On our first trip to Virgin Islands National Park, Brown Bay offered the most spectacular snorkeling of the trip. The return didn’t disappoint.

Four-Eye Butterflyfish, French Grunts, Mustard Hill Coral, Sea Fans, Sea Rods, Sea Whips, and Branching Fire Coral
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