Monday, March 15, 2010

Penasco Blanco Trail to Chaco Wash

The Chaco Wash Trail is the segment of the Penasco Blanco Trail past the extensive petroglyph panels and before the Chaco Wash when it is flowing and uncrossable. The Penasco Blanco Trail is one of the four back country trails at Chaco Canyon National Monument in northwest New Mexico.

The hike past the Kin Kletso and Casa Chiquita Great House ruins sites and the six or more petroglyph panels is 1.7 miles one way. It is about 1.0 miles more to the Chaco Wash crossing. In mid March after a heavy snow season, the narrow wash was flowing with dark silt laden water. I probed the swirling stream with a Tamarisk stick and found the bottom was very soft and the banks very slippery.

Besides getting wet at least up to your waist, there would be a danger of getting your feet stuck and falling down in a quicksand like mire. The Chaco Wash flows a short distance past the trail crossing to meet with Escavada Wash to form the Chaco River.

Among the questions about Chaco Canyon is why this seemingly dry canyon was chosen for such extensive building, and where was water supply. There is some evidence of a masonry dam near the confluence of the two washes and perhaps there were some water management efforts.

At Mesa Verde, near along the Far View Trail, there is a constructed reservoir and channel structures, signs of water management. Check dams across small washes are also evidence that water was managed in the region.

One of the highlights of the distant end of the Penasco Blanco Trail is the Supernova Pictograph site. Even if the Chaco Wash is uncrossable, it looks like the site can be spotted from across the wash. Viewing the sandstone cliffs from high on the banks, the side trail can be sighted and it appears to end at a shallow alcove several hundred yards to the right.

On the stone wall face below the overhang some faint petroglyphs can be seen with binoculars. The alcove overhand is very narrow, and the Supernova is on the ceiling, represented as a crescent moon, a star, and a handprint.

This seemed like the right area but I couldn’t make out the images. In 1054 AD astronomers around the world recorded a supernova or an exploding star that we now call the Crab Nebula. The geography of rock art sites is often as interesting as the images themselves. This site is along a wash with a great house on the mesa top above, but otherwise is isolated.

I didn’t make it to the mesa top to see the Penasco Blanco site but there are some distant glimpses of it from the trail leading to Chaco Wash. Besides overlooking the confluence of the two washes, it sits along an 8 mile line of sight with the Pueblo Bonito and Una Vida sites. I spent 3:30 hours on the 6 miles I hiked on a 55 F degree day in mid March. I carried 2 liters of water and drank only one.

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