Considering the Total Solar Eclipse this month (August 21, 2017), I thought this would be the perfect time to write about our crazy adventure to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. A park known for its celestial history and astronomy. Above is an image of a petroglyph drawn by the Ancestral Puebloan residents during a solar eclipse event. It dates back to the year 1097 by astronomers. Many of these petroglyphs can be seen around Chaco Canyon. You have to make it there first, this is our experience.
After following a 16-mile Navajo Service dirt road, sits one of the United States’ most phenomenal and secluded locations. Simply getting to the site was an adventure! It was mid-April and a late season snow storm struck New Mexico as we were heading from Albuquerque to Nageezi. I had never witnessed so much snowfall in my life. Little did I know, growing up in Florida, what it would be like. At an average of 6,000 feet in high elevation, northwestern New Mexico is known for its unpredictable weather where snow is common. I made Paul stop on the side of the road a couple of times so I could play and feel the soft white snow. What a great feeling it was to bring out my inner child and appreciate the extreme weather change from hot to cold.
After a few hours went by, the snow started to melt. We stopped at a gas station before turning down the road to get to Chaco. We were in for a treat (sarcasm). The road rapidly turned into mud and ruts, from other determined visitors, that began to form at least three feet thick. We had a 4-cylinder truck, and a trailer lugging behind us going down and uphill hundreds of feet. At one point, we were sliding downhill sideways and I looked out my window (I’m the passenger) to see the trailer covered in mud and jackknifed with us. I thought we would get stuck for sure, but there was no going back. I’ll be honest, I was frightened, we had no phone signal and it was starting to get dark.
But then I knew to trust Paul’s off-roading skills and that it would all be okay. I decided to encourage him even more; cheering him over a spot that had flowing water and a sign that read, “Do Not Cross When River is Flowing.” I said, “Do it! Go, go, go!” and we went bursting through it and kept mudding. When we finally saw a sign for Chaco Culture National Historical Park we were so relieved and shaken with joy. We didn’t mind that we would be stranded at the park for three days because we had enough food and there was so much to discover and learn.
When we stopped at the visitor’s center to get a camp spot we were joined by a Park Ranger who was in awe by the amount of mud on the truck and trailer. Somehow the only thing not covered in mud was my white skirt. I found it funny that all the Park Rangers and campers were confused by all the mud we went through. I soon realized everyone owned a 4x4 and were most likely used to the extreme conditions Chaco offers.
We were able to find a nice camping spot in front of an ancient cliff dwelling. It felt like we won the lottery of isolation and beauty. There weren’t many campers and our view was priceless. We decided to take a little hike around the camping area and cliff dwelling. It was still cold, so I made my blanket a poncho.
There were ancient drawings of different figures and shapes on the cliffs and even graffiti from the 1800s of early travelers. Below is a sign made from 1887 that says, "Store 10 Miles down Canyon" if difficult to see.
This image below is a Sun Dagger. It was a solar calendar that the Chacoan people used to keep track of summer and winter solstice. These images appear all over the area and mark locations for ancient priests to view the sun and stars.
In addition to day time activities, Chaco is considered to have one of the darkest night skies in the United States. The staff offers astronomical interpretive programs and star gazing with their massive telescope. To protect these resources, the park retrofitted all park lighting to reduce light pollution. The night sky is considered a critical natural resource. We felt like we traveled back in time as Chacoan residents. Just by observing and learning how they built and positioned their buildings one could see that they were intimately aware of astronomy and their surroundings.
They were close observers of the skies and seasonal cycles. This was important for them to have the ability to coordinate and time their agricultural and ceremonial events, which were essential to their survival. Today, Puebloan descendants carry on many of these same traditions.