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On one of my last long weekends at Mesa Verde I had planned to begin taking stuff over to Pagosa Springs in preparation for leaving the Park in early October.  I woke up one morning and I had a feeling there was one more place I HAD to go before packing up the camping gear.  Chaco Canyon was calling me, as it did to others a thousand years ago.   So I changed my plans and headed South to New Mexico. First stop was Aztec Ruins ... a World Heritage Site along the way.

Aztec is a misnomer .... early settlers just assumed the extensive ruins MUST have been built by the Aztecs of Mexico, but actually it was the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, that created this magnificent complex.  The current thinking is that the center of Chacoan culture moved to Aztec after Chaco Canyon began to decline around 1100 AD.   One of the coolest things about Aztec ruins is the re-constructed Great Kiva.   This 1930's re-construction was amazing.  Like taking a step back in time a thousand years ago.  You could close your eyes and imagine the ceremonies that took place here.

I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures inside the Great Kiva.  It felt and looked like a sacred place and I decided to put away my camera.   One of the most amazing relics in their museum was an original Pueblo ladder ... nearly 1000 years old!

If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Aztec Ruins National Monument ... it is well worth your time!  After Aztec I was on my way to Chaco Canyon....my ultimate destination.  After another two hours driving, including 21 miles of dirt road, I arrived at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

My first goal was to setup camp .... home sweet home for a couple of nights :-)

I had ancient ruins right by my campsite!   You were reminded everywhere of an earlier time when this place was the center point for thousands of Puebloan people.... where all roads led.

I attended an interesting talk Saturday evening at the Visitor Center, and then did some star gazing using the Park's amateur telescopes (Chaco has extremely dark skies - perfect for star gazing).   On Sunday I woke up ready for a day of hiking and discovery.  After looking over my various opportunities, I settled on the 5.5 mile hike to Pueblo Alto.   Here are a few pics from my journey ...

Hahahaha....for all you doubters out there ....here is PROOF I was really there.  This is me looking out over Pueblo Bonito!

I finally made it to Pueblo Alto at the top of the Mesa.

This was actually a loop trail, so I still had something like 3.4 miles ahead of me (it seemed to take forever!!!)

Here's an undisturbed mound thought to be full of Pottery and other remains ...

Now here's something interesting.  There were millions of these ancient shrimp burrows imbedded in the sandstone.  The burrows attracted iron for some reason, so the burrows have a rusted appearance. I was told these burrows were something like 600 million years old!  Yikes!

The Chacoans were a determined bunch.  When they built a road it was straight as an arrow.  If mountains or mesas were in the way they just built some steps or a ramp....but the road remained straight!

I got one last chance to view Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito from up high ... spectacular!

I finally made it back to the starting point ..... I was beat!

I spent the rest of the day "recovering" from my day of hiking.   A few cold beers later I was good as new :-)

I found my brief visit to Chaco Canyon was too brief.  On my way out of the Park one of the local residents came by to tell me to come back soon ...

Chaco Canyon is a very special place.  It was and is a magnet....drawing you to this desolute corner of the world for no apparent reason.  It's the Chaco phenomenon.   Till next time,  Ranger Rich

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Comment by Kate on October 24, 2012 at 5:07pm

Thank you for sharing! I love the Southwest and learning about native cultures. Great pics! Quite the travel writer, Agster!

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