Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chaco Canyon Great House Overlook Trail

The Great House Overlook Trail is a 3.0 mile round trip segment of the Pueblo Alto Trail in Chaco Canyon National Monument in the remote canyon country in northwest New Mexico. This route allows an overhead view of several of the large ruins structures that rest on the canyon floor.
  The Trail Head for the Pueblo Alto trail and the Penasco Blanco Trail are both in the parking lot for the Pueblo del Arroyo site at the west end of the paved loop road. The two trails run together to the Kin Kletso ruins site.

The Pueblo Alto trail then climbs up the sandstone cliffs through an unlikely narrow crevice, and proceeds to the loop portion of the trail. At the loop, there is a view point of the spectacular Pueblo Bonito site, the largest of the Great Houses in Chaco Canyon.

It is 0.3 miles to arrive at the Kin Kletso site. The climb up offers a good view of this more rectangular structure. This site was built later than Pueblo Bonito, beginning around 1100 AD.

Along the cliff top trail to the Pueblo Bonito overlook, several features of Chaco life are pointed out. These include Pecked Basins, Terraces, and Stone Circles. The Stone Circle is perched on the canyon rim and looks like a good spot to gaze at the evening sky and get away from the probably busy activity on the canyon floor.

As the trail works back east, the Pueblo del Arroyo comes into view. This is the area where you would have parked and started the hike. The Pueblo del Arroyo is different from the other large structures in that it is positioned near Chaco Wash rather than against the canyon wall.

Hiking counter clock wise around the loop portion of the Pueblo Alto Trail for about another 0.5 miles, there is an overhead view of the large Chetro Ketl site, the neighbor of Pueblo Bonito. The large size of the Great Kiva in the central plaza stood out for me.

The elevated tower kiva also really stands out more from the cliff view than it does on ground level, especially the thickness of the walls. I noticed the figure 8 kiva more when at ground level. From above, the figure 8 seems trivial.

My theory on the kivas is that their most important use was as an earth contact shelter from the cold winters in this region. Most visitors arrive during the mild portions of the year and don’t think about dealing with cold.
Ceremonial use is emphasized in the interpretive information, but the kivas are the insulated rooms that have big fire places and ventilation features to allow smoke to escape and fresh air in.
Near the trail head area for these two back country trails is a short walk to the Richard Wetherill Cemetery. Wetherill is a major figure in the discovery of the sites at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado and was something of a surprise to find that he also was active here in Chaco Canyon.

The legend is that while rounding up stray cattle in 1888, he discovered the Cliff Palace site at Mesa Verde. Wetherill is controversial as his emphasis may have been to recover and sell artifacts from these ancient sites. The interpretive information here indicates that he came to Chaco in 1896.

He assisted project leader George Pepper with the first excavations of Pueblo Bonito for the Natural History Museum in New York. They recorded roads, stairways, dams, ditches and other structures and Wetherill did good work here. Protection for Mesa Verde came with the establishment of the National Park in 1906 and the 1906 Antiquities Act.

He established a ranching and trading operation in Chaco Canyon, but was killed on June 22, 1910 following a local dispute. A short distance past the Wetherill Cemetery there is a small petroglyph panel, adding more interest to this short side trip.

528614_Cool Camo Russell Outdoors

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