Chaco Canyon is a most mystical southwest exploration. Imagine a six-century-old, prehistoric town under the stars and full moon, all yours to hike in and around and photograph. If you sit real still on a cloudless star-lit night, I think you might hear the Anasazi Indians talking among themselves, smell the wood burning from a fire pit, or hear a lone coyote crying out from a nearby canyon wall. Well, you get the picture.
Chaco Canyon is not tremendously well known, and is admittedly rather off the beaten tourist track. It’s a place to hike (yep, bring your Boots’n'All), wander and explore – perfect for folks who are curious about Indian legend, history and architecture.
Chaco was the home of peoples known as the Anasazi (the “ancient ones”) and the center of their far-reaching culture. Built between the mid-ninth and early twelfth centuries A.D., Chaco ruins are older and larger than the famous cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. In fact, Chaco Canyon contains the largest collection of prehistoric ruins north of Mexico.
Where to Stay
You may camp right there at Chaco Canyon for $10.00 per site per night. Gentle note here….the nearest store is 60 miles away. If you didn’t bring food and supplies, you’ll be darned hungry the morning after your stay.
Another option for the upscale explorers is to get a room either in Cuba (south) or Farmington (north). This will limit you to day tripping, but hey, the soft mattress and restaurants might be a necessity for some folks!
What to Do at Chaco
Did you bring your camera and film? Sure hope so, because photography in Chaco Canyon is a MUST. If you’re an artist, bring your sketch book, pens and pencils. At every turn, you’ll see contrasts and shadows. Chaco is the southwest desert at it’s very finest.
The visitor’s center at Chaco features some films and good displays that we highly recommend. Pottery, jewelry and baskets are displayed – giving you an idea that the Anasazi pueblo dwellers were pretty darned talented.
Hiking through the thirteen pueblo ruins is intriguing. You’ll see the different periods of building represented by the variety of styles, huge kivas, storage rooms and living quarters of the ancient southwest Indians.
Chaco’s ruins are unsurpassed in the United States and represent the apex of pre-Columbian Puebloan civilization. Mysteries of Chaco abound. How many people lived here? Why did they disappear? At Chaco Canyon you have the wonderful opportunity to become an amateur archeologist, a detective, an observer, and a dreamer.
Pick up a backcountry hiking permit and get out into the canyon to less-traveled areas to explore on your own. The rangers at Chaco are very helpful with directions and advice. Chaco is a hiker’s delight.
When To Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. If you go in the summer, it’s hot, hot, hot…120-degree days can be had in this southwest desert, and that makes it just a little uncomfortable for hiking and exploring!
How To Get There
Chaco Canyon is located in the northwest corner of New Mexico, about 65 miles southeast of the town of Farmington.
There are two ways to find Chaco – from the south off Highway 371 (not recommended) or from the north off Highway 550 (recommended!). Near the Blanco Trading Post on Highway 550 you’ll see the sign to Chaco. Take that road about 16 miles off the pavement and you’ll arrive at Chaco’s entrance.
Remember! The road into Chaco from the highway is not paved and has some rough spots, particularly after a rain. We don’t recommend you take your precious new Miata, but if you must, be prepared for a little bump now and then.
Here are some great web sites and sources for more information:
Accommodation Info in Farmington