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Overnighting at Chaco was great, largely because it was so dark & quiet there.  After spending a restful night at the campground, our plans included taking the ranger-guided tour through Pueblo Bonito, which is the largest set of ruins in Chaco Canyon.

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The Park Ranger who lead the tour was G.B. Cornucopia & he was the same ranger who gave the Dark Skies presentation the night before.  He initially came to Chaco as a tourist interested in astronomy & over the years that interest lead to him becoming a Park Ranger there.  His tour of Pueblo Bonito started with the disclaimer that most questions about the Canyon can honestly be answered by the phrase, “We don’t know.”  Despite that, he certainly had a lot to say about what Southwest antiquities experts think may have taken place there 1000 years ago.

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This size of Pueblo Bonito is impressive &, if you are going take a day-trip to Chaco, it is the one ruin recommended that you see because it does have both rooms & kivas.  Of course, as Ranger Cornucopia said, they can’t say for certain what the purpose of the rooms & kivas were.  Until recently it had been thought that the kivas were used for religious purposes but current research has backed off on that theory.

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We also toured Pueblo del Arroyo on our own &, while not as sprawling as Pueblo Bonito, we enjoyed walking around it just as much, maybe because we had the place to ourselves.

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After spending a good part of the day touring the ruins, it was nice to sit down at the Jayco & read & enjoy the scenery.  There’s more of that to come in the next entry.

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No worse for the wear on the drive back to Chaco Canyon, after setting up camp, we decided to take the Park loop drive to get a feel for what was there & plan how to spend our visit.  We stopped & walked a few sites on the loop, including this giant kiva, the largest in the Park, at the Casa Rinconada site.

IMG_1019It was a pretty afternoon to be touring the Park which, if you’re interested in Southwestern antiquities, is fascinating.  Looking at the ruins, it’s neat to see how well they blend in with the surroundings.  Frank Lloyd Wright had nothing on these builders of 1000 years ago.

Because the Park is so far off the beaten path, and because you have to take the beaten path to get there, there aren’t crowds at Chaco.  That was guaranteed to make us happy!  It is great to tour the ruins & not be stepped on, crowded off paths, or run over by unruly kids… & not be rushed either!

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After touring the Park for a little while – & seeing the Park’s elk herd – we came back to the CG & enjoyed a simple supper & waited for dark before heading to the Visitor’s Center for the Night Skies program which is held on weekends if there isn’t a full moon.  (Chaco Canyon is an official federal Dark Skies park.)

The Park has an observatory & other people bring telescopes too.  A Park Ranger gives an informative presentation before heading outside to let our eyes dark-adapt so that we could view a sky with very little light pollution & millions of stars. We were blessed to have a cloudless night & moderate temperatures & got to do some viewing from the observatory telescope as well.

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While we took advantage of the Night Skies program that evening, during the day we took advantage of the sun.  We had bought a Renogy solar panel to keep our battery charged while at Chaco Canyon so Matthew set it up & we were quite pleased with its performance.  We hope to use it to boondock with the Sunline.  Chaco Canyon was our first time dry-camping & it was not problem at all.  More from Chaco in the next entry.

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There were many reasons for our trip to the Four Corners region this year and, given the beauty of the Southwest, many different places to see.  However, one of the reasons for going to this area, and the main reason we bought the Jayco pop-up camper, was to spend a few nights at Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.  

That reason hinged on an off-hand comment my Mom made 30 years ago after she & my Dad took a day trip to Chaco Canyon.  After returning from that trip, she told me that it would be wonderful to see sunrise and sunset at Chaco Canyon & I asked how that could be done, to which she replied, “Oh, only by camping.  There’s nothing near it.”

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When planning our trip, one of the first reservations made was for two nights at Chaco Canyon.  Upon doing research, we knew that CCNHP is about 20-miles off the state highway in northwestern New Mexico, 5-6 of those miles paved, 8-9 miles gravel & dirt, the last 4-5 miles, dirt with potholes.  Depending on when you take the road back to the Park, it can be a real shake-down cruise.  That was why we bought the pop-up; not knowing what we’d find on the road to Chaco Canyon we didn’t want to risk our well-cared-for Sunline.

 

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Both Matthew & I were apprehensive about heading back to the Park given what we saw on the ‘net, all potholes with a road through it.  As we turned into the road leading to CCNHP there was another pop-up ahead of us being towed by a mini-van; that driver took off like a bat out of hell & was soon considerably ahead of us!  No problem there, it just meant less dust to deal with.  We figured slow-n-steady wins the race, so to speak!

Obviously, the first 5 miles being paved was no problem.  The middle section wasn’t too bad either, if you’re used to dirt & gravel roads.  Given where we live, we are.  The last 5 miles… well, we were blessed because that section had been graded about 6 weeks before we drove it so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. We did catch up to the pop-up ahead of us the last mile as he apparently decided to slow it up a bit – wise decision!

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We were thrilled to check in at the Park Office with Jayco, Big Gray & us all in one piece.  My Mom confided that she was concerned about the road too, remembering how bad it was when she & my Dad came 30 years ago.  We went to the campground, checked in with the Camp Host, set up the Jayco (which didn’t take long b/c all sites are primitive) & took off for our first circuit of Chaco Canyon.  

All the pictures in this entry are from Chaco & there are more to come!