Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chaco Canyon

While I was on vacation in New Mexico, I visited Chaco Canyon.    Photographs can't convey the massive scale of the ruins, each of which would cover city blocks.  Chaco Canyon was a ceremonial center of Southwest Indian culture, and was abandoned by 1250 AD, probably due to climate change.  There are several huge pueblos with many kivas, and some of these structures have astronomical alignments.   There is no point repeating everything in the excellent "Living the Sky" by Ray A. Williamson, which was recommended to me by Helen.
     The first sight upon entering the National Monument section of  Chaco Canyon is  Fajada Butte. Unfortunately, it is now off limits.  This site has a large spiral petroglyph behind stone panels with small slits between them.  The light from solstices forms sun daggers on the petroglyph.
  Probably the most famous ruin is Pueblo Bonito, a huge D-shaped pueblo with many kivas, hundreds of rooms, and a large plaza.  The alignment of the pueblo with the winter sun may have allowed the walls to act as solar collectors, absorbing heat during the day, and radiating it at night.

Pueblo Bonito, although 3 stories high, is dwarfed by the surrounding canyon walls.
The plaza at Pueblo Bonito.  Visitors can walk through the pueblos, and enter some of the rooms. Below are some of the walls at Pueblo del Arroyo.

One of the later constructions was Casa Rinconada, a huge kiva standing alone on a hill overlooking the canyon.  This is a central kiva, as opposed to the smaller ones, which were used by families or clans. The support posts are aligned to the four directions, and the light from summer solstice falls on specific niches.
The trough like structure is thought to have been an entrance for dancers, that concealed them from the audience.
The  view towards Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito from Casa Rinconada.
Although the Chaco Canyon pueblos were abandoned around 1250 AD, there is plenty of evidence of continuing  use of the site.  The canyon walls have many petroglyphs, and many of them are spirals or human forms.
This horse petroglyph was obviously made after the Spanish reintroduced horses to North America.  Nearby, someone has carefully scratched in a warning that what is forgotten is lost.
Near the petroglyphs, I noticed a shallow cave in the canyon wall.
I doubt the cave was used by the Chacoans as a sacred site, since they used kivas.  It could have been a food cache or a temporary shelter for a  later group, such as the Navajos.
About 630 feet west of  the cave is this propped boulder.
I have seen so many of these in both the Northeast and Southwest, I suspect they were constructed as landmarks or boundary markers. The placement of this propped boulder, and the ones at Bandelier, is interesting. In both cases, they are near ruins built by Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, which means "ancient enemies" in Navajo.  Depending on who built them, they could be memorials or warnings.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely photos. So glad you liked Living Sky. I will be visiting Chaco Canyon for the first time next week. Will be part of a week long service project. Hope to have lots of time to enjoy the canyon.