Thursday, June 13, 2013

Great Sites: Chaco Culture National Park part 1

Part 1: Introduction to the Park

Approaching Chaco Canyon
Fajada Butte can be seen in the distance
Recently, I revisited Chaco Culture National Park.  It is one of the most magical/mystical places I’ve ever been to.  There is nothing else there—no amusement park, no big city, no hotels or restaurants, no residents (other than National Park staff)—just the remains of the ancient Puebloan center we call Chaco today.  Even though you may occasionally be passing other tourists, you cannot help but feel a personal connection as you wander among these large and imposing silent ancient structures and wonder what happened here.

This beautiful site is located in north-western New Mexico.   I usually come into the park from Hwy 550 either from Bloomfield (north) or from Albuquerque (south).   I turn off US 550 at CR 7900--3 miles southeast of Nageezi and approximately 50 miles west of Cuba (at mile 112.5). This  route is clearly signed from US 550 to the park boundary (21 miles). The route includes 8 miles of paved road (CR 7900) and 13 miles of rough dirt road (CR7950).   But if you are coming in from I40, take the Thoreau exit north Hwy 371, after Crown point turn east on hwy 9, then north on Hwy 57 all the way to the park entrance.  Click for more specific directions


Be sure to check “Traffic and Travel Tips” on the National Park Service web site before leaving.  Sometimes the roads leading in (which are dirt roads) are closed.

The park is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to sunset. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day but the park's roads, sites, trails and campground remain open. 

I have stayed at the campground before both with a travel trailer and with a tent.  Be aware that there are no hookups in the camp ground but there is a bath and restroom facility.  Note that the roads in are rub-board most of the way, so batten down the hatches and check for rain—you don’t want to attempt these dirt roads when they are muddy.  If you set up a tent, make sure you are not right below the canyon rim.  If there is even a small rain storm, water from all around will cascade down over the rim and flood you; I know because we got drenched one summer.  So place your tent away from the rim on high ground.

Park tours of the ruins are excellent and I highly recommend you join one.  There were two each day we were there.  Just check with the visitor center for time and location.
The main, excavated ruins are easily accessible from a paved road inside the park.  But if you are a hiker, there are some great hiking trails to remote sites.  And experiencing the ruins from the rim is awe inspiring.

Next week, I will talk more about the ruins and their significance.


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