If you have been following us then you might know that we like to explore hidden gems in the middle of no where. The feel of traveling through these deserted roads surrounded by beautiful terrains is something that excites us the most and at the same time gives more mental peace mentally than anything else. Due to covid-19, we hadn’t traveled much for over seven months now. We desperately wanted to break the routine and feel the adventure again. But, safety is very important. So, we carefully planned this trip to New Mexico to visit Chaco Culture National Park and had the intention of being completely ‘contact free’. If you want to know how we did it, we have a separate article on “How we took a roadtrip safely during this Covid-19“.
We chose Chaco culture Historical park for two reasons. First one obviously is that its one of the less visited park and there will be even less people visiting during this pandemic. Second reason is – the curiosity of how a civilization flourished for hundreds of years in the most unlikely place.
Chaco Culture Historical Park, New Mexico
Between 850 to 1250 AD, Publonean culture people lived here in this desert valley and thrived for 300 years. As you all know this place has very little rainfall, scorching sun, freezing nights and not much vegetation that grow around. Its amazing to know how native people sustained here for years in the middle of no where and in fact made it their cultural & reginal hub. Today, only parts of their monumental infrastructure remain. But this massive complex that you see now talks so much about their life, talented construction skills, culture, community living, social organization and their growth in trade.
Why should you visit this place?
It could seem like just another place with ruins of buildings, curated trails for visitors and just a historical park in a desert. In fact that is what you see when you look at the images and the description. You know what amazed us the most? The Grand Scale & Architecture. (Well, I am not talking about the Egypt pyramid kinda scale!). This whole settlement was very well planned with hundreds of rooms, many complexes, multi-storey construction, engineered road network system even through & over the mountains and huge thick walls. Personally, I was really impressed with the masonry techniques used here. This kind of construction is very labor intensive to build in modern times. Frankly, the pictures shown do not really do any justice. You have to be in person there to feel the space and scale of workmanship around you.
Location: Chaco Culture Historical Park is in northwestern part of New Mexico. GPS : 36.0176716,-107.8944176
Access Road to Chaco Cuture Historical Park, New Mexico
This place has one access road from north and two from south. We took the route from Hwy 550 in the north as it had better road condition when we travelled in September 2020. From Hwy 550, Chaco canyon visitor center is about 21 miles. The first 5 miles on CR7900 is paved and the rest on CR7950 is unpaved. If it was just our Nimo, traveling through this unpaved gravel road would have been easy breeze. But, towing our self-built trailer can be little hard and will take longer than usual. Considering that, we planned to start very early from our campsite.
Tip: When driving though unpaved or gravel road, we always recommend to lower the tire pressure.
Do you wanna know where we camped the previous night? Check out this free boondocking spot near chaco canyon.
Visitor center was closed due to Covid-19. But they had a table set up in front of the visitor center with maps, entry fee details and regulations.
What can you do here?
Main activity here would be Hiking. They have many trails that lead to different structural complex and even through the houses. If you have very limited time, then definitely check out Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito and Casa Rinconada. Our personal favorite was the trail walk between Chetro Ketl and pueblo Bonito. On a first glance, you would think its just a normal trail with canyon wall on one side and some ruins on other side. But take a closer look at walls of the canyon. You will be able to find lots unmarked petroglyphs, unexplained perfectly circular large holes on the canyon and even remains of the brick masonry at a height of over 15ft on crevices of the canyon’s surface.
Camping: There is a paid campground at the entrance near the visitor center. But it is closed temporarily due to Covid-19. Remember to check their website before heading here.
Restroom : Visitor center has the restrooms. But it could be closed due to covid-19. The Pit toilets in the parking lot of trails were open though.
Services: No gas or food services available inside the park or anywhere close by. There are day use tables with shade available near the visitor center. Usually, we like to use these tables to have our lunch or enjoy nature. But, due to covid-19 situation we avoided using these tables or public seating of any kind to be cautious & safe.
- Wear a hat if you are going to hike during mid day. It is too hot during summer with no trees or shade.
- Be very careful where you step. That place has snakes & lizards crawling around. They hide in the shadows of bushes and plants. You will be fine if you stick to the trail.
- Wear hiking boots and appropriate clothing considering the climate.
- Drink plenty of water.
Remains of Rooms with wood ceiling & doorways
Chacoan’s built an extensive road network system connecting all distant communities like Aztec, Mesa verde, Salmon etc from north to south and west. These roads were engineered to be wide enough to allow trade and transport of goods between communities. Also, people from other tribes converge here for cultural and regional gatherings. What you see in below picture is only a segment of the stairway on the canyon. This is said to be connecting South mesa with Chetro Ketl in the canyon.
Since it was too hot (even in sept), we couldn’t hike all the trails. If you visit new mexico and have interest in ancient architecture, then this place might astonish you.
Other similar unique places to check out nearby : Ah shi sle pah Wilderness , Canyon De Chelly, Valley of the Gods.