Chaco reopens after flooding impacts sections of road leading into park

Monsoon rains keep visitors from reaching park, others stuck inside

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Chaco Culture National Historical Park reopened on the morning of Aug. 19 after being closed a day earlier because of flooding and deteriorating conditions on the road leading into the park.

Nathan Hatfield, the chief of interpretation at Chaco and at Aztec Ruins National Monument, said National Park Service staff was able to make it into the park early on Aug. 19 and reopen it after it had been shuttered a day earlier. But Hatfield said conditions on the 21-mile road leading into the park — 12 miles of which are unpaved — were not good.

"The roads are still in pretty bad shape," he said. "We recommend, unless you have four-wheel drive and high clearance, that you do not attempt to come in."

Hatfield said recent monsoon rains led to the brief closure. He said he was at Chaco on the afternoon of Aug. 16 when a storm rolled through, and it was his understanding that rain continued to fall throughout much of the day on Aug. 17. That led to the issues that forced the park to be closed the next day, he said.

A washed-out section of the road leading into Chaco Culture National Historical Park is seen on Aug. 18.

"We have some park staff living there, and they took photos of the road," he said. "Some sections were completely submerged for long stretches."

Hatfield said there were portions of the road that were covered by 3 to 4 feet of water. There were other sections where water was washing across the road and undercutting it.

There was also some flooding in the park's campground, he said.

A portion of the campground at Chaco Culture National Historical Park is underwater on Aug. 18 after a monsoon storm rolled through the park.

As a result of the closure, park officials were offering refunds to visitors who had made reservations to camp at the park but were unable to get there. The refunds can be requested by visiting recreation.gov.

While monsoon flooding is not a regular occurrence at the park, Hatfield said it is not unheard of. The park also had to be closed because of heavy rainfall in July 2021, and Hatfield said the flooding typically occurs once every year or two years.

The Aug. 18 closure came during a busy time for the park, he said, explaining that 16 of Chaco's 32 campsites had been reserved. He estimated that meant that approximately 30 people who had planned to camp there were unable to do so.

A long stretch of the road leading into Chaco Culture National Historical Park lies submerged on Aug. 18 after a monsoon storm.

The closure also affected campers who already were at the park because they were unable to leave, Hatfield said, though he did not know how many people fell into that category.

"It's pretty full, especially on weekends," he said, describing the occupancy rate at the Chaco campground this time of year.

Hatfield said he did not know if or when repair work on the road would take place. He said sections of it are maintained by San Juan County, while others are the responsibility of the Navajo Nation.

Call the park at 505-786-7014 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.