Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chaco Canyon

Oct. 3, 2009
For many years, one of my favortie places has been Chaco Canyon. I've taken most of my children there for one-on-0ne adventures, and I was pleased when my good friend, Keith wanted to stop by there as we were driving home from Albuquerque.
One thing new: Apparently a smallish herd of elk wandered into the canyon a few years ago and have never left.
We camped in the Park Svc. campground and when I had trouble sleeping, I listened to elk bugling in the remote parts of the canyon. I asked several people if they'd heard them and they hadn't. Sound sleepers, I guess, but in all fairness the elk were a long way away and I wouldn't have heard them over the sounds of daytime.

We were at a ruin at the bottom of the canyon and this photo includes a stairway (partially circled) cut by the Anasazis to make it easier to reach the top of the surrounding cliff. There are quite a few of these stairways scattered around the canyon and they are part of the Anasazi road system radiating out from Chaco to their communities as far away as Mesa Verde. One of the Anasazi mysteries is why they built graded roads 15-20' wide when they had no vehicles, no beasts of burden, and only primitive tools. It is amazing to contemplate how much labor they spent building these roads, buildings, and stairs, with only stone tools. Why did they do it?

Pueblo Bonito is the impressive ruin in almost all photos of Chaco Canyon. One of the treats of a tour of Pueblo Bonita is that you can go deep into the ruin and enter this room that is completely intact. You can see how the Anasazi built the multi-story buildings - Rock walls with embedded logs to support the floor of the room above.
The Anasazi carried these logs by hand more than 60 miles from where they were felled!

We decided to take the 6.3 mile hike to Jackson Stairs, the only official trail at Chaco I've never hiked before.

To get to the top of the canyon rim, a path leads up a steep slope over fallen rocks and scree, then into a cleft in the rock. In this photo, I am about half way through the cleft, as we exchanged photos ops.

I stayed put while Keith passed me and here he is, just emerged into the sunlight near the top. The rock to the right has separated from the cliff. The debris at the bottom of the cleft is slowly forcing it away from the cliff and may someday push it right on over.

Here is Keith coming up the final stretch to the top of the mesa. I passed him to take this photo and he is only a few feet beyond where he was in the previous photo. The inside of the cleft in the rock is so deep it's almost dark. The nicest thing is it's very cool - a pleasant relief after a hot, sweaty hike in the sun.

I've been intrigued by this spot for many years. It was not mentioned in any Park Service pamphlets, signs, etc. until just recently. It now has a sign, "pecked basins". There are two basins here and there are more scattered around the canyon in random, remote locations - all on canyon rims. Nobody knows why. The one in the foreground is about 5" deep (the photo can trick your eyes into thinking it is sticking up, but it is a basin) and 14-15" in diameter. It was difficult to get both basins in one photograph without some aid, so I set my water bottle in the far one to make it stand out better.

Jackson Stairway

Keith is sitting at the top of this stairway. It is interesting in that there are hand holes at each side of each step. It is a mystery why the Anasazi made their stairways so wide. Some are 8 feet wide, these are about 3-4. The bottom of the stair was on rock that has since sloughed off, so now it kind of disappears, re-appears, and then is gone for the bottom 20'.

This is the view from the side. You can just see the steps extending down from the rock. Keith is standing on the rim a little farther along.

I sat on the rock at the top of the stairs and pointed the camera straight down, past my foot. As you can see, this is no house staircase - it is STEEP!

As you hike along the mesa, there is a layer in the stone where it looks like re-bar is weathering out of concrete. It turns out that they are the remains of where ancient shrimp tunneled in the mud of an ancient sea bed. The tunnels filled with minerals and it all hardened as you see here next to Keith's hand. The red pebbles are pieces of the tubes. Most of the tubes are about 1/2" in diameter. These are a little larger, and in one place we found one that was about 18" in diameter, but I don't think that one was a shrimp.

We had to go through this narrow chute when going from one mesa level to a lower one . Keith is struggling to get his boot past the other - you know, like, taking a step. I had a difficult time, too, but Keith's feet are several sizes larger than mine and he really had a tough time getting through it. It didn't help that we'd been hiking for a while and we were both getting kind of beat by then.

View from the top looking down at one of the ruins. The round things are Kivas and they originally had log and earth roofs. Current pueblos have a kiva for each clan, and they use them for religious, social, ceremonial, and other things. I think they are just cozy places to gather, kind of like foyers in LDS churches.

A native of Chaco Canyon.