What else to do in the neighborhood

Chaco Culture National Historic Park is one of the jewels of the Four Corners. The park is massive — it spans nearly 34,000 acres — and it's easy to spend an entire weekend hiking, biking and exploring.

How to get there: The park is located 78 miles from Farmington. To reach the park from Farmington take U.S. Highway 550 for 35.9 miles and then turn right at County Road 7900, three miles southeast of Nageezi and follow the signs to Chaco. The road does include three miles of paved road and 13 miles of rough dirt road. The road can become impassable during the rainy season.

Next month's Bucket List item: Next month, we take a closer look at rivers in the Four Corners. Just in time for spring, we'll clue you in on fun water sports you can try out at the rivers. Check out the story in The Daily Times Outdoors section on Thursday, May 29.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park — This park is famous for its concentration of massive Puebloan buildings that showcase the organizational and structural engineering prowess of their builders. The area was a hub of activity for thousands of people between A.D. 850 and 1250.

While the area as a whole is an explorer's delight, there is a hiking trail that embraces the entire culture of the park. The Pueblo Alto Trail has an overlook for Pueblo Bonito, the largest great house in the park. The trail also overlooks the other Chacoan buildings, takes you through Pueblo Alto and New Alto, brings you past famous Chacoan stairs built into the rocks and offers amazing panoramic views.

Jonathan O’brien of Phoenix, and his friend Andy Colb of Madrid, N.M., take a hike on April 12 at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
Jonathan O'brien of Phoenix, and his friend Andy Colb of Madrid, N.M., take a hike on April 12 at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

National Park Service Ranger Kayla Lanoue says the trail take you through areas with the highest concentrations of cultural sites in the park.

"When you come up on the overlook of (Pueblo Bonito), it is very easy to get to and provides a lot of insight. You can see the way they worked to create an interconnected system," Lanoue explained. "This is also the only trail that you can see fragments of the ancient roadways that led to Chaco."

There are more than 400 miles of prehistoric roadways that lead to Chaco. The road systems are believed to have connected Chaco to outlying communities and resource areas. According to a National Park Service brochure, Chaco was the center of a far-reaching trade network and goods were traded with groups as far south as Mexico. The roads are aligned precisely and continue without curving or adapting to the landscape. When a road comes to a mesa or cliff, it often goes straight up with stairs carved into the rock. The Pueblo Alto trail contains some of these architectural features.

"That is also the loop where you can see one of the famous staircases, the Jackson Stairway. It is one of the best preserved that we have that you can get to as a visitor," Lanoue said.

The trail has an unusual start, taking visitors up a crack in the rocks to the top of the cliff. Lanoue says is the ancient way of getting up to the cliff so you are actually following in old footsteps. Once you get up to the top the cliff, the hiking is then easy.

Jonathan O'brien, of Phoenix, was out with his friend Andy Colb, of Madrid, N.M., on his first trip to Chaco on a Saturday earlier this month. Colb wanted to bring O'brien up on the Pueblo Alto trail for fresh air and exercise and so they could see the ruins from above.

Pueblo del Arroyo is seen on April 12 from the Pueblo Alto Trail at Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Pueblo del Arroyo is seen on April 12 from the Pueblo Alto Trail at Chaco Culture National Historic Park (Jaclyn Waggoner — Special to The Daily Times)

"It gives you a bird's eye view of everything up here," O'brien said. "And it's a great hike for taking photographs."

The entire trail is 5.1 miles round-trip. However, if you'd like to just hike to Pueblo Alto, it is only 3.2 miles, and the section of trail to Pueblo Bonito Overlook is 2 miles.

Also out hiking on that Saturday was Arnie Burnham of Nebraska and Jo Wilkins of Colorado.

"Last year, we saw people up here when we were down at Pueblo Bonito and we decided we'd come back and hike this trail," Burnham said.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE

Check out a ranger program

The park offers ranger-led walks through Pueblo Bonito year-round. It also offers additional programs from April through October. Check with the visitor center or go to nps.gov/chcu for a schedule.

Get in a little bit of biking

Biking is a great way to experience the park. There are nine miles of paved roads through the canyon. The Wijiji, Casa Chiquita and Kin Klizhin trails may also be biked. Ask at the visitor center for free permits and directions.

Take the kids to a Junior Ranger program

Bring your children out to earn a Junior Ranger Badge while they explore the park. Junior Ranger booklets are free at the visitor center. They can help children learn about the ancestral Pueblo life.

See the nature and wildlife

The park has a nature walk that highlights local plants. There is also an elk herd that frequents the area, and plenty of birding opportunities are all around the area. Make sure to bring your camera with you on the trip.

Pueblo Bonito is the best known Chacoan great house because it has more rooms and kivas than any other Chacoan structure. It is believed to have functioned as a place for ceremonies, administration, trading, storage, hospitality, communications, astronomy and burial grounds of the honored dead. There were more than 600 rooms, and it is believed to have been four or five stories high. The Pueblo has a unique D-shape, something that can really be seen from the overlook of the Pueblo Alto trail.

"It is definitely worth the walk," Wilkins said. "This is a magical place unlike anything else I've ever experienced."

Jaclyn Waggoner cover the outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at jaclynwags@gmail.com.

INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY PARK

Chaco Culture National Historical Park offers night sky programs and daytime solar viewing throughout the year.

The park is celebrating being designated an International Dark Sky Park. The park’s fees are waved today, and there will be special programs throughout the day and night. 

10 a.m.: 1.5 hour guided walk through Chetro Ketl

11 a.m.: Hourlong “Astronomy and the Solar System” presentation by David Frizzell

2 p.m.: International Dark Sky Park dedication

3 p.m.: Book signing by Dr. Tyler Nordgren 

3:30 p.m.: Hourlong “Astronomy and the Deep Sky” by David Frizzell

5 p.m.: 1.5 hour guided walk through Pueblo Bonito 

8 p.m.: Hourlong “Stars Above, Earth Below, Astronomy in the National Parks” presentation Dr. Tyler Nordgren

 

9 p.m.: Star party constellation tour followed by telescope viewing