Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gallo Alcove Ruins at Chaco Canyon

The Gallo Alcove Ruins are located in the campground at Chaco Canyon National Monument in northwest New Mexico. Chaco is known for the very large Great Houses, but it also has an example of the smaller alcove type structures that are often found in the Canyons of the Ancients and the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah.

These two side by side sites are probably not noticed by visitors not staying in the campground, though they are visible along the road on the way in. There isn't a trail to follow except to make your way across the campground.

These small sites were occupied at the same time that the Great Houses were in use and might be typical of how the average members of the farming community lived. I noticed at least two more small ruins along the road leading to the Visitor Center, but no attention is called to these sites.

In the vicinity of the small ruins and the Gallo campground, there are several petroglyph panels. The campground panels are mostly examples of ones that have been damaged by visitors. There are some interpretive signs that display how the panels are supposed to appear compared to how they actually appear.

The Gallo campground also has a 1.5 mile trail that doesn't appear on the park map. It  leads to a lookout point above the east part of Chaco Canyon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

South Mesa Trail at Chaco Canyon

The South Mesa Trail is a 4.1 mile loop to the mesa top Tsin Kletzin ruins site in Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico. The trail head is the same as the Casa Rinconda Loop Trail and a hiker will hike at least half of this loop trail on the way to the start of the South Mesa.

After passing by the large Great Kiva site of Casa Rinconda and the small villages nearby the trail climbs 450 feet to the mesa top. There are great views of the canyon floor with the nearby Great Houses clearly visible. The mesa top site of New Alto on the north side of Chaco stands out and you can imagine that the two sites could signal to each other and to other distant sites.

After reaching the mesa top a ruins site appears on the horizon and seemed to be further away than it appeared. The Tsin Kletzin site is D shaped and has about 70 rooms and dates from about 1112 AD. At this site there are tall walls on the curvy part of the D that faces the south and short walls to the north.

At the canyon floor sites where the open plaza faces the south, the tall walls were to the north against the canyon wall. The masonry at the back wall appears to be more same sized blocks rather than the style using alternating large and small block bands.

One of the large kivas is easy to view and here a banding of large and small is visible. The landscape surrounding Chaco Canyon is very visible from this mesa top position. The Chuska and Lukachukai Mountains are visible to the west.

This was the area where much of the wooden beams used at Chaco would have come from. The trees mostly available in those mountains are the tall straight Ponderosa Pines.

Another distant formation that is easily visible is Huerfano Mesa to the northeast. This mesa has three buttes that stand out and is along Highway 550. Huerfano is thought to be one of the signaling sites that the Chaco people used. Huerfano Mesa is also one of the sacred inner mountains of the Navajo.

The Hero Twins of Navajo Mythology were born there. Changing Woman was the mother of the Hero Twins and she lived in the first Hogan there. It is the “lungs” of Navajo country. On the day I hiked I couldn’t see the LaPlata Mountains or Mesa Verde but I did see the spike of Shiprock, all to the north.

The return leg of the loop gives some good views of the south gap, a travel route out of Chaco Canyon. As the trail returns toward Casa Rinconda several of the other Great Houses come into view. There aren’t any Chaco features pointed out with signs on this trail as the Pueblo Alto Trail does. It took me 2:15 hours to walk the 4.1 miles on a 55 F degree blue sky late October day. I carried 2 liters of water.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chaco Canyon Petroglyph Trail

The Petroglyph Trail at Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico runs for 0.25 miles along the base of the canyon wall between the large Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl Great House sites.

There is a printed trail guide with 12 stops describing the features along the trail. I started at the Pueblo Bonito end of the trail. The Pueblo Bonito site is the largest and most famous of the Chaco Canyon sites. Most of the images on the trail are faint and it helps to have binoculars to see the ones placed high on the canyon walls.
Most of the attention at Chaco Canyon is directed toward the very large structures, but there were many small unexcavated structures here, where most of the residents lived. Along the trail there are carved holes in the sandstone where wood beams were supported. Grooves in the sandstone are frequently seen and are thought to be places where stone tools were sharpened.

The first stops along the trail have some historic inscriptions from explorers and early European residents. There is also a discussion of the techniques and tools with pecking, abrading, incising, and drilling all combined to form images. A bird image is pointed out as a good example, though it is difficult to see.

There is one small site with some wall fragments still in place. Petroglyph panels are often associated with building sites. The trail guide mentions that many of the Chaco petroglyphs include spirals and open-armed and open-legged stick figures. These images often face south or east. There is no accurate ways to place a date on rock images but the age of the buildings may be a clue.

Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonita are large sites that are very close together and one can imagine that there was a lot of foot traffic between the two sites along this canyon wall. There are other petroglyphs to see on the Una Vida Trail near the Visitor Center and the Penasco Blanco Trail. The Wijiji Trail has a pictograph panel. I spent about 40 minutes on this segment of trail between the two famous Great Houses.