Chaco Cultural National Historical Park is located in Chaco Canyon 21 miles off of Hwy 44 on a rutted unpaved access road. This remote location in Northwest New Mexico remains relatively untouched since the Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo) left the valley in the 13th century. Chaco Canyon was first settled between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago but the Chacoan or Anasazi culture developed around AD 850.
The area is wildly beautiful, but it has long winters, short growing seasons and marginal rainfall making it an unlikely choice to establish a major cultural center. The Chacoan people began to inhabit the valley in the mid 800’s building grand scale architectural structures and using masonry techniques unique at the time. Their multi storied structures were built of stone and contained hundreds of rooms and were far larger than structures previously built. Buildings were planned from the beginning and their construction spanned decades. Each of the great houses were unique but all contained recognizable Chacoan features. By AD 1050 Chaco was the ceremonial, administrative and economic center of the San Juan Basin. Roads linked Chaco Canyon to over 150 Great Houses in the region. Chaco was a special place where many clans gathered to share ceremonies, traditions and knowledge and may have been the center of a turquoise trading network set up to distribute commodities from distant areas like Mexico and Central America. Over 400 miles of prehistoric roadways are known which linked Chaco Canyon to the outlining communities. These were not just foot trails but engineered roads that required labor to build and maintain.
During the 1100’s-1200’s change began on Chaco valley, the construction slowed and people began to drift away interacting with other cultures. Today Chaco valley is an important center for many of the southwest Indian peoples who see the valley as an important stop in their clans migration patterns and spiritual development.
The valley contains several unique structures or Great Houses with the larges being PUEBLO BONITO built between 800 and 1200. It was four stories high and its “D” shape contained over 600 rooms and 40 kivas. The structure is sacred to many Indian groups. HUNGE PAVI the earliest of the complexes was built between 940-1040. CHETRO KETI one of the largest structures built between 1010-1050 shows Mexican influences in its huge raised plaza. It contains 500 rooms and 16 kivas. PUEBLO DEL ARROYO is another “D” shaped Great House built around 1100, its “tri- wall” construction is similar to the construction techniques used in
Mesa Verde; it contains 20 kivas and 280 rooms. CASA RICONADA is one of the largest Kivas built about 1100and may have served as a communal structure, it is not part of another structure but stands alone. UNA VIDA begun around 850 contains 150 rooms and 5 kivas. To the south of Una Vida rises Fajada Butte that rises from the desert floor.
Hiking trails lead to several other sites and structures.