Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pueblo Bonito Trail at Chaco Canyon

The Pueblo Bonito Trail is a 0.6 mile loop that visits the heart of the Chaco Canyon Culture that flourished between 850 AD to about 1150 in a remote canyon in northwest New Mexico.

The trail starts about four miles west of the Visitor Center along the canyon loop road. The Chetro Ketl Trail starts at the same point and branches the other way.

The large ruin site is D shaped with the flat wall facing out toward the center of the canyon, the rounded part facing the sandstone cliffs. This orientation is the opposite from some of the other sites along the canyon wall.

The trail passes by the east corner, the circles counter clockwise to the back, then cuts through to the plaza area. At the east corner is a good view of the fine stonework of the core and veneer of the thick walls.

In 1941, following a year of heavy rains, 30,000 tons of rock broke loose from the sandstone cliffs called Threatening Rock, and destroyed about 30 rooms at the back of the site.

There is evidence that the Chaco builders recognized the danger back in 850 AD when they selected the site, and built some terrace structures to shore up the detached rock segment that had a wide crack. Prayer sticks were also installed just in case.

From an overlook point in the back there is a good view of the geometric layout and the plaza area. Construction is thought to have begun here around 850 AD and continued until about 1100 AD.

It is estimated that only 50 to 100 people actually lived here and the main use was for ceremonies, trading, hosting visitors, and other special events.

Passing through the back wall into the plaza area, the trail leads to the west corner with a view back across the entire site. There is a north and south low wall here that divides the plaza area into an east and west half.
At the center of the plaza is the Great Kiva. This is on the east side of the dividing wall. This is thought to be a structure that could accommodate hundreds for community ceremonies. There would have been a roof over it and a plaza level entry way of stairs down into the subterranean seating area.

From the plaza, a trail route for the mobile passes through a series of interior rooms. There are 11 narrow doorways to go through that are 41-46 inches high. My backpack was bumping the lintels on most of them. Besides the stonework, the method of construction of the ceilings could be viewed.

A layer of large logs supported a layer of smaller ones and layers of more plant material and mud mortar were placed on top. There are a few fragments of wall plaster in some places and the unusual feature of corner doorways.

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