Early Tuesday morning I set out from Old Town Albuquerque north towards Chaco Canyon. The skies were dramatic and overcast with beams of light penetrating the mesas, buttes and plateaus so poetically it was hard not to stop and photograph every couple of miles. The landscape was abundant with color from the brick-red Chinle formation to the red, yellow and white bands of the Jurrasic Entrada Yellowstone and eventually reaching the Cliff House Sandstone and Menefee Formation in Chaco Canyon. The vegetation was mostly sparse with the pygmy juniper and pinon forests, cane cholla cactus and wild sagebrush dotting the earth. As I climbed elevation north towards Cuba the Ponderosa Pines stood tall and the pinon and juniper grew just in time for the downpour of rain to offer aromas that awaken your senses. I kept thinking to myself that most who took this journey to Chaco during it’s peak of thriving from 850 AD to 1250 AD would have been walking, not driving.
We are currently in the development stages of creating Day Tours to Chaco Canyon from Hotel Chaco located in Old Town Albuquerque that is currently under development and set to open in March 2017. In addition, I’m creating an immersive mutli-day tour that will weave in both Chaco Canyon and the Taos Pueblo, both being World UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Heritage Sites, across 5-6 days during the Summer Solstice and Fall & Spring Equinoxes. We will host one night of sleeping under the stars in Chaco Canyon to allow the visitor to soak in the sounds of the ancient and the present dancing together in a place that is often compared to being like a cloud. We will provide luxurious, cozy tents for the backdrop of the wild and sensational setting to experience an overnight in the canyon.
This is my second trip this year exploring Chaco, this intentional visit on the Fall Equinox is due to the Fajada Butte (6,623 ft elevation) towering over the barren land can be seen driving in on the rugged dirt road and boasts a spectacular story of the Sun Dagger site which marks the path of the sun. There are three large stone slabs leaning against the cliff which channel light and shadow markings onto two spiral petroglyphs on the cliff wall. During the Vernal Equinox the sun pierces light onto the spiral petroglyph just to the right of the center of the spiral (see the image to the right). Fajada is a Spanish word for “belted” or “banded” describing the black seam of lignite coal exposed midway up the butte that is also seen in other cliff walls around the park. This is a perfect time of year to visit due to the fall temperatures and photographic lighting that enhanced by the prolific Chamisa bush in full bloom flaunting a mustard yellow across every landscape visited.
As we journeyed towards the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito, meaning “Beautiful Town” named by Lt. James Simpson and his Mexican guide in 1849 during the military expedition into Navajo territory, I thought about the first time I visited this place alone. I had just turned 30 and had the intrigue and quest that compelled my route from the Gila Wilderness through the Malpais up to Chaco Canyon camping over 30 days and nights solo beneath stars and tucked in between the rocks that I longed to tell me stories of the ancient. What’s amazing about such a significant place of many interpretations is that we all have our right to experience it as it speaks to us individually. As I attempt to articulate and share the complexity and soul of such a profound place in one of the earths most significant geological phenomenons, the Colorado Plateau, I am humbled by voices that I cannot even hear. What I begin to realize is simply that this place calls people to it, just as it did to me years ago. Chaco Canyon is drenched in unique archeology and mystery. The Chacoans hosted episodes of construction that has lasted centuries. Nearly 2,000 people may have lived here year round, but these people came and went. They conducted special ceremonies, coming together in this sacred place cultivating visions of the cosmos. If you are from the New Mexico Pueblos this is the cradle of your civilization and the burial of your ancestors. If you are of the Dinetah then this is the center of the world from which you’ve evolved from. Metamorphism is a natural processing in our Earth, much as it was and is with Chaco Canyon. In the late 1100’s, structures and systems evolved, the sense of place and knowing oneself was emulated in the clouds, meaning that it never stayed in one place. As Chaco aged, it gave way to migration, reorganization of worlds and integration of foreign worlds. The ancestors left their imprint and it now lives in the songs and ceremonies of the Pueblo world, the Navajo and the Hopi cultures. We are all but visitors who can admire such advanced architecture that boasted purposefully constructed rooms that were four times larger than other surrounding Southwest areas.
Exploring each of the significant Great houses, kivas, petroglyphs, pictograph and ruins of Chaco, there is reverence and silence that comes natural. After visiting Chaco I drove home to Taos through Cuba. This time of year, on the Autumn Equinox and the last day of summer I could not have asked for a better day of exotic lighting. Driving on Hwy 96 east along the northern edge of the Jemez Mountains links you to the outer edge of what is known as Georgia O’Keeffe country. The vivid and vibrant hues evoked the artist out of me and I couldn’t help stopping and parking the car to capture the gold against the iron red rock. I stood silent watching mother earth and father sky make love. I kept thinking about the message of this journey to Chaco:
“There are no paved roads to the soul.”