Jeff’s New Mexico Adventures – Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The Chaco Culture Park ( is amazing. Not only are the ruins in very good condition, but you can walk around in them. And there are several places where you can see petroglyphs and pictographs. I love to photograph these ancient expressions of art and life.

You do need to be prepared for the drive. After you leave the highway you will drive many miles on an asphalt road, then six miles (9.7 kilometers) on a washboard gravel road then four miles (6.4 kilometers) on a washboard dirt road. If you drive slowly on a washboard road, you will feel all of the bumps, but you have more control over your car. Drive fast, and the ride is much smoother, but you have less control. You decide which will work best for you.

Instead of trying to see everything, we spent most of our day exploring three main ruins, Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito. We drove from Hungo Pavi to Chetro Ketl, then walked about 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometer) to Pueblo Bonito. It’s an easy walk from Chetro Ketl to Pueblo Bonito.

We spent about an hour at Hungo Pavi, and a couple hours at Chetro Ketl. We explored the buildings, kivas, and examined how walls, doorways and windows were built. These pueblos were made with rocks that range in size from a Styrofoam cooler to a Wheat Thins cracker. All of these rocks were carried and laid by hand. They also had to prepare the ground for building, mix the adobe to hold everything together, make and apply plaster to cover the walls, and then decorate the walls with paint. The time and effort that went into creating a pueblo like this is almost unimaginable.

We left here and walked along the trail at the cliff face toward Pueblo Bonito. Keep an eye out, both high and low, on the cliff face for petroglyphs. There are several, and they include a cowboy on horseback and a lizard that looks like a freaky wiener dog.

You can reach Pueblo Bonito in less than 15 minutes, unless you take pictures of the petroglyphs like I did. Then it takes 45 minutes, or more. Use a long lens to get good close-ups of the petroglyphs.

Pueblo Bonito is truly amazing. It’s bigger than Khetro Ketl, and in better shape. You can also walk into many more rooms than in Khetro Ketl. We spent several hours here. 

As I mentioned in my article on the Aztec Ruins there are areas in Pueblo Bonito with lots of small doors. My thighs were still recovering from the Aztec Ruins, so I walked around to the outside of this area. My wife, Linda-Ann, went through the structure, and said there were about 15 small doorways. If I had tried to go through there, I would have been stuck inside for the rest of my life, or at least until my thighs recovered.

A small portion of the site has been damaged by huge boulders that fell off the cliff face and onto the ruins in 1941. Imagine the damage numerous house-sized boulders could do to any structure.

There is so much to see here that we could have easily spent all day at Pueblo Bonito, but we didn’t. We drove to the Casa Rinconada Community. Here you walk on a dirt trail to several small structures, and one large kiva. Most of these buildings are in pretty sad shape, but the kiva is in very good condition. Twenty minutes of walking will get you around the trail and back to the parking lot.

This is a rare corner window at Pueblo Bonito. These windows were used for astronomical observation, and this one determined when the winter solstice arrived.

One of the many amazing engineering feats we discovered is that the Native Americans made roads that connected the pueblo communities. These roads were 30 feet (9.1 meters) wide. When the road crew came to a cliff, they would create dirt ramps and cut stairways into the cliff for people to use. You can see two sets of these stairways high on the cliffs North East of Chetro Ketl and East of the Casa Rinconada Community parking lot.

If you’re driving around Chaco near sunset, watch out for elk. We came across a small herd that was in a field next to the road. They were a little skittish, but we got some good cell phone photos. I strongly suggest the you keep your distance as they are wild animals.

Even with the poor road, I highly recommend that you visit the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Have you been here? What would you like to tell my reader about this location?

Have Fun,