A national park with a really long name – Chaco Culture National Historical Park – challenging to reach, but where else can you explore a 1000 year old city in the USA? Not much in the USA is 1000 years old … in fact to put it in perspective, our entire country is less than 250 years old … 1000 years ago, the Ancient Puebloans (or Anasazi) flourished and built huge communities in Chaco Canyon. George Washington himself hadn’t been born for 750 years while this civilization was flourishing.
Here’s our Top for Fun list from our days camping in Chaco Canyon….
1. 9 Mile Loop, 12 Chacoan Great Houses … one of the largest concentrations of ancient Chacoan/Pueblan structures and cities in one place, the park features a nine mile paved loop with several of the largest and best preserved great houses. Each site has an adjacent parking lot and an available guide – you can either borrow one or buy one for .50 to $2 at the beginning of the short walk to each site.
2. Camp Where the Ancients Camped … Over 1000 Years Ago! Gallo Campground features camping surrounded by petroglyphs and a cliff dwelling tucked into a desert landscape. It’s easy to imagine yourself surrounded by Chacoan ancients grinding their corn with children playing.
Because it’s so difficult to get to — see Can We Tow the Camper to Chaco — the Gallo Campground now accepts reservations! A great relief for those of us who really wanted to go, but could not survive arriving and finding a full campground!
If you go … know there’s no shade, all sites are full sun. Flush toilets, but no showers. Fresh water is available at the Visitor Center. Nothing else – no gas, no electricity, no facilities – is available in the park. Arrive prepared with provisions and anything else you need for the length of your stay.
3. Stargaze in an International Dark Skies Park. Because of its isolation, Chaco is one of the best places in the USA to stargaze. Far from any light infiltration from city lights, we can view the same night sky as the ancient Chacoans. The Chaco Visitors Center features its own telescope and evening ranger programs “emphasize the practices of the Chacoan people a thousand years ago, as well as modern approaches to viewing the same night sky they viewed–in a remote environment with clear, dark skies, and free from urban light pollution”.
4. Hike the same paths the Chacoans used… Two trailheads depart right from the campground and two others depart from near ruins. Ranging from 3 to 7 miles, some trails wander through the desert to reach more ruins, some climb the mesa overlooking the ruins and feature sweeping views of the Chacoan road network and desert landscape.
Climbing the mesa, you’ll climb the exact same path as the Chacoans used daily – walking in their footsteps brings the park even more alive. On the trails, you’ll see other staircases literally carved into the cliff face that no normal human being (including us!) should ever attempt to climb. Each trail has an informative trail guide with numbered stops letting you know more history and information about what you see.
5. Join a Ranger Tour … FREE! One of the best values of anything we can do anywhere! The Chaco park rangers bring the great houses alive with their love of Chacoan history, daily life and astronomy. Even better, they genuinely enjoy sharing their knowledge of the construction and use of the great houses with visitors. We enjoyed ranger led walks through Pueblo Rinconada, Pueblo Bonita and Chetro Ketl, even though when we arrived with the short time we had, we planned on doing just one ranger tour. But the first one brought everything alive and we ended up joining 2 more!
6. Relax and Enjoy! …Take advantage of it – how often do you really get to enjoy life completely away from cell phones, internet and television? because there’s nothing to do at night other than a night skies program (the loop closes at sunset), RELAX, have a fire, roast marshmallows, stargaze, enjoy life, take a nap … so many possibilities!
7. Learn More. Half the fun of learning about history is imagining life as it was and envisioning who might have been walking in your footsteps over 1000 years ago … or whose footsteps you’re walking in right now… what were they doing, were they stressed about providing for daily needs, enjoying a firelight dance, chatting with their neighbors, celebrating the birth of a new baby or ????? Learn more about the Chacoan history and life by Get it at Amazon — there are some available at the Visitor Center if you forget to bring one with you. I always like to take a book that brings the history alive when I visit anywhere with history – which is just about anywhere we travel.
Have you been there? Did you do something really fun that we missed but others should know about? Please leave a comment and share! Cheers! Jan