Tag Archives: Chaco Culture

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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