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Is It Possible to Take a Camper on The Road to Chaco Canyon?

Is It Possible to Take a Camper on The Road to Chaco Canyon?

To say the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is off the beaten track would be a HUGE understatement.  And it’s hours and hours from anywhere – a day trip, while possible, isn’t preferable.  Besides, it’s a dark skies park and you can’t be there to enjoy the amazing starscape on a day trip.  So I started doing research … and read horror story after horror story online:

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park ... amazingly the road turns back to blacktop as soon as you enter the park gates. Drive slow and hope everything doesn't shake apart!

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park … amazingly the road turns back to blacktop as soon as you enter the park gates. Drive slow and hope everything doesn’t shake apart!

The last 4 miles of the 21 miles of dirt road into Chaco is really bad. We saw a rental motor home buried up to it’s axles after getting too close to the shoulder so be prepared. Even with the road (top speed in the rough areas about 5 MPH) this is a great camping experience.     …..  comments from campers online

Then I went to the National Park Service website and saw this BOLD disclaimer:

“Warning: Some of the local roads recommended by map publishers and services using GPS devised to access Chaco are unsafe for passenger cars. Please use our written directions below to avoid getting lost or stuck.”

Reading “the directions below” failed to convince David that we should try this adventure.

But wait!  We specifically bought our Lance travel trailer because of it’s sturdy construction, no welds, etc.  It’s built to take exploring … isn’t it?   🙂

And this, also from the NPS website …. “sections of road are infrequently maintained, and they can become impassable during inclement weather”.

We finally met some campers that had ventured to take their travel trailer to Chaco and although they loved it, they warned of broken eggs and salsa creating an unimaginable fridge stink and other tragedies.

NM 550 North from Albuquerque, good paved highway.

NM 550 North from Albuquerque, good paved highway.

I convinced David to at least drive up NM 550 to the turn off and see.  Keep in mind, our 4 Runner has a 22 gallon gas tank and we get 10-13 miles a gallon.  From Albuquerque it was 154 miles according to GoogleMaps. 154 miles is well within range, but unfortunately unless there’s a gas station in the boonies of the boonies, we might not have enough gas to return.  A call to the park ranger station informed us that there’s a gas station right at the NM 550 turn off in Nageezi.  Another obstacle down…

Express Gas was a welcome sight at the intersection of NM 550 and CR 7900

Express Gas was a welcome sight at the intersection of NM 550 and CR 7900

The Park Ranger advised us to call the park (505-786-7014) for current road conditions just prior to leaving … we did and the coast was clear … weather says GO!  If you’re camping, remember, you’ll have to leave a different day – in our case 4 days later – so be sure to ask about the weather forecast for the day you’re planning to leave the campground.

At the turn off, there’s a cattle guard and a sign warning of rough road ahead which did little to calm David’s nerves.

The route includes 8 miles of paved road (CR 7900) and 13 miles of rough dirt road (CR7950). The 4 1/2 miles before entering the park are very rough.     …. NPS

Click here for NPS Directions to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

And the adventure begins.... Luckily not dramatic elevation changes involved!

And the adventure begins…. Luckily not dramatic elevation changes involved!

Others went flying past us as we crept along and stopped frequently.

Did we mention washboard dirt road?

Did we mention washboard dirt road?

Aside from rattling our teeth out, the contents of the trailer survived relatively intact.  Guess we’re used to securing the inside from our sailboat cruising passages.

Abandoned? Homestead along the way

Abandoned? Homestead along the way

And, of course, while the drive wasn’t exactly what I’d call scenic, we needed to stop now and again for photo ops!

Taking a break ...

Taking a break … and the ruts begin …

Ruts in the last 4 miles.

Ruts in the last 4 miles.

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park ... amazingly the road turns back to blacktop as soon as you enter the park gates. Drive slow and hope everything doesn't shake apart!

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park … amazingly the road turns back to blacktop as soon as you enter the park gates. Drive slow and hope everything doesn’t shake apart!

We were the only travel trailer in the campground for the 4 days we were there … a few truck campers braved the road, but other than that, only tent campers.  It was a fabulous place to camp and we’d go back in a heartbeat if we were ever in that part of the country again!

Whew, safely in camp and set up for exploring & enjoying those dark night skies!

Whew, safely in camp and set up for exploring & enjoying those dark night skies!

Have you braved the washboard rutted dirt road to camp with your travel trailer in Chaco Culture National Historical Park?  How was the road for your adventure?   🙂  Cheers!  Jan

    1 Comment

  1. Went there many years ago for the day in a Jeep, headed there next week with a Lance truck camper pulling our Jeep. Appreciate the info on the road, weather looks good so far, I hope it holds.

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