The Secret of the Anasazi!

EL PASO, TEXAS – In May of 2003, the INHL team gathered in El Paso to begin another expedition in search of truth.  This time, to discover what was behind unanswered questions surrounding the archaic cultures who left us two incredible archeological sites in New Mexico and Arizona: Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly!  It is said that these sites held keys to the development, and eventual disappearance, of one of the mystery cultures of North America: the Anasazi, or Ancient Ones!

Map of Northern New Mexico and Arizona: Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly Country - Land of the "Ancient Ones"!

Map of Northern New Mexico and Arizona: Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly Country – Land of the “Ancient Ones”!

Leaving West El Paso in the Suburban, camper trailer in tow, the founding members of the International Natural History League (James Davison, Chris Multhauf, and Dave Etzold) head north on Interstate 25 to Albuquerque, and then northwest at Bernalillo on State Highway 44…into “Indian Country”.  As we drive deeper into this vast desert landscape, exotic and surreal horizons unfold out our windows.  Cruising in the Suburban, stereo pumping out cool vibes through a visual fairy land …nice…

Exotic New Mexico desert landscape, northwest of Albuquerque

Shiprock rising from a strange alien plain

Turning off the paved highway toward the Chaco Canyon UNESCO World Heritage Site, we are stunned to find that we face a jarring 20-something mile ride over a washboard dirt road to the entrance of the National Park!  Mile after mile of bumpy, dusty, rutted desert road seemed almost like a purposeful barricade left in place to shelter this sensitive historical site from a potential crush of visitors. We are, after all, on the Eastern edge of the Navajo Apache Indian Reservation!  On and on, we slowly maneuvered the SUV and barely attached trailer through the stark terrain, until finally:

Entrance Statement to Chaco Canyon

….and the campsite nearby, against a beautiful cliff face…covered with ancient pictographs!

INHL Basecamp at Chaco Canyon

Now, for a walk to stretch our legs in the late afternoon sun…nearby, a Historical Marker describing Fajada Butte in the distance.  Starkly illuminated by the low-angled sun, the Butte stands out as a significant feature in the valley that we will be exploring during the next few days.  Interestingly, the Marker describes a deeper significance to the Butte than just its stark appearance: there exists a unique astronomical instrument on top of Fajada Butte, which marks the solstice and equinox moments of the sun!

Fajada Butte, golden in the evening rays of the sun!

Historical Marker describing the solar astronomical instrument built by the Chacoan Culture             on top of Fajada Butte!

Now, this was right up our alley!  Right away, we are delving into the underlying significance of this culture and this place!  The INHL has surely found its stride, as it were, on this particular expedition.  There is an interesting connection here with other Meso-American civilizations in the recognition of the power of the sun, and how to mark and even predict the significant solar events of the calendar.  Years later, we would discover similar solar tracking devices and spiral images in Peru: in the Nazca lines and in Inca ruins on the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu!  For now, though, it was up to us to seek answers to the questions posed about these particular ruins, and the people that built them…The Old Ones…the Anasazi!  To do that, we would need some sleep and a fresh start in the morning.

Other campers, in tents, under the warm glow of the Chaco cliffs

National Geographic Society & Smithsonian Institution plaque at Chaco Canyon commemorating seven expeditions to the site from 1920 to 1927.

Chaco Canyon, the valley laid out below us, and the Pueblo Bonito ruins

Multhauf and Davison on our early morning exploration

Pueblo Bonito ruins and cliffs above

Huge ceremonial kiva…

Multhauf illustrating the scale of the doorways

Ancient 1,000-year old vigas and fine stonework…

Windows with strategic views…

So, we decided to follow a trail up the cliffs above the ruins for a perspective on this incredible, serene and isolated city the Chaco built so long ago!   From there, the views and fresh breeze inspired us to wonder about the disappearance of this, and so many other native American cultures.  Was it drought…or, disease….or, war…or, famine?  Why abandon these beautiful homes and ceremonial buildings to the sands of time?  We are drawn deeper into the mystery with every step.

Multhauf pointing the way carefully up the cliffs above Pueblo Bonito

Davison squeezing through a well-worn Chacoan trail to the top…

Another way to the top! The “Jackson Stairs”….better left to the Indians.

View of cliffs that collapsed hundreds of years ago on a portion of Pueblo Bonito!

Metate used by women grinding seeds and grain, and a Collared Lizard on a rock!

Large Bull Snake along the trail!

…a fitting close to this chapter in the search for answers to questions surrounding these cultures!  Next stop…Canyon de Chelle!

Map of the Chaco Culture World Heritage Site

~ by Dave Etzold on March 10, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Secret of the Anasazi!”

  1. Great post! The best information I found about viga plus and it is pretty useful.. congrats! If you want you can awlays read some related topics on my website.

    • Thank you! Now you should be sure to get over to Chaco Canyon and see that place yourself! Incredible, it will leave you breathless…much like my recent experience at Machu Picchu. Salud! DFE

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