The car shook violently as I drove across yet another patch of washboard hard-packed dirt on the road to Chaco Canyon. I’d been driving for about three hours when I turned off the main highway onto a small road marked with a cryptic number 7900. A huge brown sign on the highway pointed the way.
The road wound around widely spaced small local homes, rusted out trailers, round plastered Navajo hogans. At one point, I passed a pretty little spotted brown horse wandering down the road. It stopped at a puddle of water and took a long drink.
I’d first heard about Chaco Canyon (really called Chaco Culture National Historic Park) a few years ago and decided I had to visit. It features the remains of massive structures the ancient Anasazi Indians built way back around the year 1,000. I’d seen photos and maps of the area and I could tell it’s a place well worth visiting.
The pavement ended. Ahead, a wide lane of hard packed dirt continued on. I slammed on the brakes and slowed down as my car inched its way onto this new surface. At first, I could keep my speed up to 30, but soon, I hit patch after patch of ribbed washboard bumps. I slowed down even more. Sometimes, I crept along at no more than 10 miles an hour. Pickup trucks whizzed past me as I crept along like a dark desert snail.
After what seemed like hours, but was really only about 45 minutes, I finally made it to an official looking National Park Service sign and a beautiful black paved road. As I followed the black ribbon around the corner, I saw my first view of Chaco Canyon. It didn’t seem all that impressive, actually, just a short canyon with a nice butte plopped down right in the middle of an open area.
I made a beeline for the campground. It was Friday about 2:30 and so many trucks had passed me on my way I started to get a bit paranoid that the campground would be full. The official park web site said that the campground was rarely full and I didn’t think that this place in the middle of nowhere would be very popular in the middle of autumn. I was wrong. By the time I zipped into the campground, only a handful of sites were left.
I pulled into the first one I found without an official little orange strip of paper hanging next to the camping area, an indication that someone had already paid for that location. I was pleased to see that a small ruin graced the cliff very close to my site. Turns out that ruins are everywhere you look.
I set up my tent, pulled on my boots, and headed out for my first taste of what I now consider one of the most fascinating places in the country, even if the canyon itself isn’t especially visually spectacular. After setting up my tent, I hurried out to drive around and check out the ruins and hiking trails. It didn’t take long for me to find one of the most spectacular ancient structures I’ve ever seen. I hiked until dark, then returned to camp, excited about all that I’d get to see and do over the next few days.
Check back for more posts about my hikes in Chaco, a bit of history, and lots and lots of pictures!