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I had wanted to visit Chaco Canyon for over 30 years. It’s near the Four Corners area of the USA, about two and a half hours from ABQ. The road is paved except for about 12 miles of unpaved washboard (corrugations) which challenged my new Subaru Forrester (rattle….rattle).

Pueblo Bonito from the mesa top (click to enlarge).

Pueblo Bonito from the mesa top (click to enlarge).

The “Ancient Ones” lived here from 800-1200 AD. The alternative name “Anasazi” is derived from a Navajo word, and is not used by the Pueblo people. The largest of the pueblos in Chaco is Pueblo Bonito. The people who lived here were a head taller than people living in several other locations in Chaco Canyon, which suggests healthier denizens (i.e. better food), and perhaps an upper or ruling class.

Pueblo Bonito as it may have looked in 1100-1200 AD (click to enlarge).

Pueblo Bonito as it may have looked in 1100-1200 AD (click to enlarge).

The building was up to five stories high. Roof support was provided by logs from large trees 50 miles away because there were no trees in the canyon and few trees on local mesa-tops. The logs had to be carried or dragged (no wheels or carts). Most of the wall stones came from near the top of the mesa, where sandstone was more layered, and easier cleaved into “sheets” then broken into “bricks”. The bricks were then tossed over the mesa cliff to the building area below.

Only 80-100 folks lived in Bonito, based on the sizes of rubbish pits, but there were rooms enough for thousands. The extra rooms were for storage and/or visitors who came for festivals, or to trade. For example cacao has been found in storage pots, and macaws have been drawn in petroglyphs…..both traded from central America (macaw feathers were plucked for ceremonial headdress).

Round kivas in Pueblo Bonito (click to enlarge).

Round kivas in Pueblo Bonito (click to enlarge).

One huge round kiva must have looked like the interior of a large church. The kiva could seat 400…..probably including representatives from Pueblo Bonito plus all outlying housing complexes. Edward, a member of the Acoma tribe, told us the two entrances were built to line up with a ruin about 5 miles away on the mesa top. The Anasazi deliberately lined up structures with one of the two solstices (horizon points of rising sun at June 21 or December 21). The Pueblo people did not do sacrifices. And worshipped no gods…..only nature, mother earth, etc. Folks would gather in the kiva to ask for a blessing on their bow/arrows, or atlatl (spearthrower), etc in preparation for hunts. When a deer was downed, they would carry it back whole and use every bit of it…… nothing was wasted.

The Pueblo people were minimalists as far as usage of food, water, etc. Each native used only 1.5 gals per day, while we in the USA use 150 gals per day. We could learn a lot from these ancient peoples, especially if global warming persists in the southwest. Where did they get water in this desert region where the average rainfall was (and still is) only 8 inches per year? Two answers: First, the aquifer was only 8 ft under the surface then, while it is about 1000 ft now. Yes, aquifers everywhere are being drawn down due to overuse. Second, the ancient ones also made dams, but these were small…. much less than the size of a football field.

The crack trail leading to the top of the mesa (click to enlarge). Our intrepid Meetup leader Earlene is holding up the wall.

The crack trail leading to the top of the mesa (click to enlarge). Our intrepid Meetup leader Earlene is holding up the wall.

We hiked up the crack trail to view the ruins from the mesa top. Up on the top, Edward showed us small round holes about 9 inches across that were eroded out by hand using sharp stones. In these holes “blessings” such as turquoise were inserted. When later they were removed and added to a permanent secret site of previous blessings, our minds conjured up treasure troves which may still lie buried beneath the cliffs. A row of five smaller holes were lined up with one of the solstices, so that poles standing upright in each of these holes would cast shadows (like a sundial) by which you could tell how many months to the next solstice.

The ancient ones built roads to connect Chaco Canyon to 150 other great houses in the region which includes neighboring states. Since they had not invented the wheel, the long roads (some 50 miles long) must have been for walking, possibly to encourage outlying peoples to come to the center of a thriving culture to enjoy impressive examples of public architecture used for ceremony, commerce and trading.

Pole-holes whose shadows would act like a solstice sundial (click to enlarge).

Pole-holes whose shadows would act like a solstice sundial (click to enlarge).

There were no written words to explain more of the mysteries, and I wonder how come they didn’t invent words? Petroglyphs exist, where pictures of men and birds and elk are pecked out of the sandstone rock. Near one of the structures in Chaco is a petroglyph of the Crab supernova which burst into the night sky in 1054 AD (it was also recorded by Chinese astronomers). Although the Chacoans would have seen this event (it was visible for 23 days by the naked eye), this interpretation is controversial and some have suggested the “star” in the petroglyph is better positioned to be Venus.

Crescent moon and possible Crab supernova at left (click to enlarge or to source).

Crescent moon and possible Crab supernova at left (click to enlarge or to source).

The Anasazi left around 1200 AD due to a 50-year mega-drought. According to Edward and the Acoma oral traditions, when conditions worsened, the Chaco peoples left permanently by heading south. Part of the group migrated east to start up the Acoma pueblo, while the rest turned west to begin the Zuni pueblo. Chaco Canyon’s history is another example of civilizations that rise, and flourish, and end. Could this be a parallel to the prophesied end of our own civilization (see quote below)?

The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

But of that exact day and hour no-one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the very day when Noah went into the ark. And they did not understand until the flood came and swept them all away. So will be the coming of the Son of man.
Jesus (Book of Matthew chapter 24).

The Crab nebula: how it looks about a thousand years after the supernova star burst in 1054 AD (click to enlarge or to source).

The Crab nebula: how it looks about a thousand years after the supernova star burst in 1054 AD (click to enlarge or to source).

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3 Responses to Chaco Canyon: A Spectacular Place of Mystery

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  2. Lovely lovely!! I almost envy your ability to hike – I am doing well, walking again with my wheelchair in storage!!
    Loved the reference to the Crab – thought of you this week as the news of two solar flares was broadcasted. Blessings

    • Hi Phil, glad to hear you are walking again. I tore a meniscus a couple years ago, and couldn’t hike for over a year while it was mending……I know a little of what you mean. I retired last December, and now spend time writing blogs and books. Have another book on the way called Weed and Water. Best regards to you and Shirley.

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