28 April 2009
WALKABOUT '09 - DAY 6 - MILE 700 - CITY ON THE EDGE OF TIME
Centuries before the Forbidden City  in China was even started, before the Renaissance  , before Rembrandt and Moliere, before Baroque, Rococo and Classicism, before the Pilgrims  and even before some dude named Columbus[1492!!!!] there was an advanced civilization in North America that had come and gone.
A place today called Chaco Culture, established in 850 AD -- home to the forefathers of Pueblo culture in North America. Home to The Ancient Ones.
Hopi, Navajo and 17 other tribes trace their heritage to the land in northern New Mexico and four corners region.
Mathematics, astronomy and other sciences all studied here.
Trade with people as far away as the Aztec capital.
Getting here is no easy task.
To pave or not to pave, that is the question. State government wants to pave the road to Chaco Canyon to help the local economy and that is understandable. It would also allow more people to visit the remote area.
There in lies the paradox. More people would mean more traffic, more pollution and more vandalism.
As it is now you have to drive 13 miles of very rough road to get to Chaco. And during the monsoons, the wash along the way is full and you cannot cross to the other side. A bridge would be nice but at what price??
About 40,000 people visit Chaco annually now. It never gets crowded like Grand Canyon or Mesa Verde. You are free to roam [with a pass from the visitors center] for miles to all the different ruins and buttes. You can even ride your bike on some trails!!
Having more visitors here would bring a halt to that. The people who make the trek now want to be there to explore and respect the land.
Sadly not all tourists do that. I saw a video on You Tube where this couple were collecting the stones used to build the structures at Chaco!! NO NO NO!!! Arrrrrgh!! That frustrates me to no end.
My favorite moment so far on this road trip has been seeing the stars at 3 am in Monument Valley and the glow on the horizon. My favorite place; however, was my visit to Chaco Culture. This is an amazing place.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you CHACO CULTURE!!
Your first stop is the visitor's center. Here you can pick up different booklets on the Great Houses of Chaco -- a series of 15 major complexes, some five stories high, which were the largest man made structures in North America until the 19th century!!! You also need to pick up a free trail pass if you want to explore beyond the Pueblo Bonito complex on to other trails.
IMPORTANT: BRING LOTS OF WATER AND SNACKS. This is a very remote place and other then water from water fountains at the visitors center there are no facilities.
I kid, I KIIIIID!!
We were there in the spring and the weather was great. It was not hot then but in the summer it can be quite hot.
Also, keep in mind that as the weather gets hotter you could very well see rattle snakes so BEWARE.
The huge round pits you see are called Kivas, used for ceremonial purposes.
Remember that old Saturday morning tv show called LAND OF THE LOST?? If you recall, the Sleestak lived in this 'lost city'. That is kind of what Chaco Culture reminded me of. Huge abandoned structures guarding the entry way to a lost civilization.
A huge section of the bluff like the one above only three times as big separated and fell into the city around 1850 if I recall. The boulders remain today.
Trader Josiah Gregg in 1832 was the first to write about Chaco. Later expediations included a US Army detachment and an expedition from the Smithsonian in the 1870s which resulted in transporting over 60,000 artifacts back to New York!!!!!!
But the worst offense was in 1901 when Richard Wetherhill who had worked for a previous expedition claimed a homestead of 161 acres, including the largest area housing Pueblo Bonito - the NYC of pueblo culture. That would be like homesteading Manhattan!!!!! His claim also included Pueblo del Arroyo and Chetro Ketl -- that would be like annexing Brooklyn and Queens!!!!
Artifacts continued to be taken from the sight and sold at trading posts!! OUTRAGEOUS!!
It wasn't until a federal land agent named Samuel J Holsinger investegated Wetherhills claim that he discoverd how historicaly rich the area was and recommended the area be turned into a national park.
This led to the establishment of the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906 which was the first US law protecting antiquities -- a direct consequence resulting from Wetherhills controversial activities in the Chaco Canyon area!! Damn right!!!
One of my favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt [ I call him Teddy] thus proclaimed Chaco Canyon National Monument on 11 March, 1907.
Or....The Day the Looting STOPPED!!
[CLICK ON ANY PICTURE TO ENLARGE]
This is truly an amazing place. If you ever find yourself in northern New Mexico it is a must. We only touched the surface of what was out there. It wasn't until I was already home and sorting through all the stuff in my suitcase that I came across my Chaco Trail Pass booklet and realized we had missed so much.
On the plaza where traders for centuries sold their wares.
So what happened to them? The people of Chaco?
Oh...they are still here. Their succeeding generations became the 19 pueblo tribes of the southwest. The complexes slowly died off around 1250 due to drought, illness, over production of the land.
In Chaco you can still feel their presence.
Forever guardians of the canyon.