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Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde
The landscape of the west is full of mysteries and surprises. Some of the wonders are the ruins that are found in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. There are two areas that are especially rich, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado. If you have the opportunity you should visit them.
Northeast of Gallup and northwest of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, almost due west of the small town of Cuba a combination of paved and dirt roads leads to Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage Site. When I visited the area there were few signs to guide me and no traffic, just empty vistas. I wondered what I would do if the car broke down.
I did come across a lunch wagon parked at a cross roads. There were no other signs of people anywhere in sight and I could see for miles in all directions. The lunch wagon had a little sign advertising “Hamburgers“.
I asked the fellow why he had his lunch wagon there. He told me it was where the school bus let the kids out! Anyway . . .he assured me that I was going in the right direction and would reach Chaco Canyon in good time.
When we got there we went into the visitors center. In the middle of the room was a large display case with pottery such as this on display.
By each piece there was a little placard that said something like “John Doe, five years”, “Sam Smith, seven years”, etc. It turned out that was the prison sentence received for illegal grave robbery.
In the canyon there are many ruins, scattered over a wide area.
Some are located out on the flat canyon bottom.
Many such as Hungo Pavi have never been excavated.
Others have been stabilized by the Park Service.
Have you noticed the absence of people in the photographs? Because the canyon is isolated and somewhat difficult to reach very few people visit there. At least that was my experience. I haven’t been there in some time so it may have changed. At any rate I found it quite peaceful and spiritual.
Mesa Verde National Park
About a 150 miles north near Cortez, Colorado you can visit Mesa Verde National Park. This is another incredibly rich area. In telling the story of Mesa Verde, the park service writes “On a snowy December day in 1888, while ranchers Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason searched Mesa Verde’s canyons for stray cattle, they unexpectedly came upon Cliff Palace for the first time. The following year, the Wetherill brothers and Mason explored an additional 182 cliff dwellings.” There are over 4,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.
But many of the ruins are spectacular and they are accessible.
Some you can explore freely alone and others can be visited in ranger led tours.
Mesa Verde has picnic areas, bike trails and of course walking and hiking trails. Its a great place to visit.
More to come
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