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.

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