Exploring Chetro Ketl

After I spent several hours drooling over the fabulous masonry in the pueblo at Chaco I really wanted to see, I decided to explore some of the many others easily accessible from the main road winding its way through the canyon. But I decided to do it right. Instead of just jumping in the car and zipping around, I drove back to the visitor’s center to collect the information I’d need to get the most out of my trip.

The Chaco visitor’s center is really nice considering it’s in the middle of nowhere. The only thing missing is a museum to really educate visitors about the park, the people who built Chaco, and the beautiful items found in the ruins. I was looking forward to actually seeing some of the pots and art excavated in the early 1900s, but the visitor’s center doesn’t have anything like that. What the center does have is a nice introductory video about the park and the Chacoan culture as well as many different print resources. I watched the video with a couple other visitors then browsed around the bookstore. Of course, I have a weakness for books (argh) so I got one about the people who once lived there. The visitor’s center also sells guides for each ruin that you can visit from the main road. They’re cheap, between $0.50 and $0.75. A few are free. I also picked up a guide to backcuntry trails for $2.00. It was SO worth it.I went back to camp and started to read.

The morning of my second day at Chaco, I drove out to Pueblo Bonito and wandered around by myself for several hours. Then, I headed over to the giant complex to the southeast of Pueblo Bonito, called Chetro Ketl. It was almost as impressive as Pueblo Bonito, but you can’t wander as freely there.It’s the second largest complex in the park.

Kivas at Chetro Ketl

The overcast skies actually made for some pretty fun HDR photos of the ruins and surrounding terrain! The names of the ruins are all very bizarre. Pueblo Bonito makes sense, but some of the others don’t, including Chetro Ketl. I did read this in several places:

The name “Chetro Ketl” was reported by Lieutenant Simpson in 1849, but the meaning is unclear.  According to an 1849 ground plan created by Edward Kern, “Chetro Ketl” was at that time called “Pueblo Chetho Kette” which was translated as “the Rain Pueblo.”

Chetro Ketl

As you walk around the towering walls of this ruin, you can tell that this used to be a massive structure, at least three stories tall, and probably four. One interesting aspect of this ruin is that even though it’s huge (three acres!) it’s actually elevated 12 feet off the canyon floor. That means the people who built this complex had to haul in an impressive amount of fill dirt.

Chetro Ketl outer wall

The interior of the ruin features some really interesting architectural features, including a raised kiva with odd little knobby bits of stone sticking out the sides. Most kivas are dug into the ground, mostly because the religious beliefs of the Chacoans centered around the idea that their people originally came from under the earth.

Chetro Ketl raised kiva

You can also see a small interior room, protect by a plexiglass window, that still has much of the original plaster and painted designs on the walls. I couldn’t get a good photo of that, but it was amazing looking at the painted designs that have lasted out in the elements for over 1,000 years. This ruin also features an extremely well preserved “great kiva.” These are kivas that simply put, are much more massive than the numerous small kivas scattered all over Chaco.

Great kiva at Chetro Ketl

The round masonry-lined holes held massive trees to support the ceiling. The huge round sandstone disks were placed at the bottom of each hole to support the weight of the trees. You can also see the fire pit and other ceremonial structures, including the little niches around the edge of the kiva.

Next post: Pueblo Rinconada and the really great kiva!


  1. Ed Dolzel says

    I visited this site in October, 2012. Having visited many of the Mesoamerican sites in Yucatan in the past I was struck by the architectural similarities especially the colonnades which were filled in in an apparently later construction. I suspect that this site was mostly ceremonial and possibly a pilgrimage center, they certainly had extensive trade routes with Mesoamerica as evidenced by the macaw feathers and mummies, copper bells and chocolate residue which have been documented among finds in this area. Note: in order to actually see some of the representative artifacts found locally one would be well served to visit Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding. Utah, it is terrific and a comparatively short drive.

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