Having studied about this remarkable place in my Native Philosophy class at UNM I couldn’t wait to get out and see it for real. How it sounded on paper and in the documentary ‘The Mystery of Chaco Canyon’ narrated by Robert Redford was pretty magical, but nothing could prepare me for actually seeing it first hand.
The drive from Albuquerque up North West to Chaco Canyon wasn’t all that bad, but turning off from Navajo 46 things began to get a little rough, so to speak. As it turned out, the next few miles of road were in fact dirt track and had it not been for the brilliant sun we had been having (even in November!!) we would have been stuck, literally!
Having set off at the wee small hours of 6.30am we were at the visitor centre just after 9.30am with plenty of daylight hours to enjoy the splendours of this amazing UNESCO World Heritage site!
Chaco Canyon is a truly remarkable site with a mysterious history of how it came to be, and how its inhabitants suddenly disappeared! Archaeological findings show that it was inhabited about a millennia ago in the mid 800s and lasted around 300 years. The particularly remarkable fact about Chaco Canyon is that the Chacoans actually planned out their building work of huge ‘Great Houses’ with multiple rooms before laying their foundations, rather than building a standard sized abode and adding to it later as was common with other civilisations at the time.
The really fascinating thing is that, long before any official observations of astronomy as we know it today had come about, these people planned their settlement and buildings according to lunar, solar and cardinal directions with the resulting lines of sight as a way of communicating between houses. They would also use sophisticated water control devices and such intricate sophisticated astronomical markers such as stone dials as the ‘Sun Dagger‘ for recording times of harvests and seasons.