I’d finally reached my last day at Chaco. I’d explored all of the great houses on the driving loop and had hiked a backcountry trail to Pueblo Alto and the Jackson Stairs, but I knew I needed to wrap up my visit to the park if I wanted to make it to some other areas in New Mexico before I started the boring driving back to Tennessee. For my last day, I decided to check out the longest hike in the park to Penasco Blanco. This hike not only leads to one of the more distant great houses perched high up on a mesa overlooking the valley of Pueblo Bonito, but I’d also hike right by the pictograph that might represent the ginormous supernova of 1054, a pictograph that evidently Carl Sagan made famous. I’d attended an archaeoastronomy lecture the previous evening at the park’s planetarium and I really, really wanted to see this famous pictograph for myself.
I again parked at Pueblo del Arroyo and started down the dusty brown trail. I soon reached Kin Kletso, noted some people scrambling up the cliff wall to see Pueblo Alto, and continued straight down the canyon into the bleak landscape ahead. The canyon floor was flat, brown, and rather uninteresting. No trees, no animals, and few birds. Just rock, spindly shrubs, blue sky, and wind.
Not too far down the trail I ran into another trail marker showing the distance ahead. I could see one more great house on the hill to the right, Casa Chiquita (seriously, who named these ruins?). This great house is rather small compared to many of the others scattered throughout the area. Casa Chiquita was built around 1060 AD, and is built in a square shape. The rooms are tiny, only about 2×4.5 feet. As I looked straight ahead, high on the mesa directly in front of me, I could see a teeny, tiny bump on the hill. That’s the great house of Penasco Blanco.