Chaco Culture National Historic Park

Floor posts at Pueblo Bonito

The ruin closest to the visitor center is Una Vida, which can be reached by trail from the parking lot. Only partially excavated, it looks much as it did when Lt. James H. Simpson of the U.S. Army described it in 1849. Construction was underway by A.D. 930 and continued until late in the next century. There are 5 kivas and about 150 rooms in the structure.

The core of this Anasazi complex lay farther down the canyon. The largest and best known of the great houses is Pueblo Bonito, which was occupied from the early 900s to about 1200. Built in stages, this pueblo in its final form contained some 600 rooms and 40 kivas and rose four stories high. The pueblo was first excavated at the turn of the century and again intensively in the 1920s. It is considered the "type" site for the Classic Bonito Phase (A.D. 1020 to 1120) of Chacoan culture.

Chetro Ketl was begun about 1020. Completed in most respects by 1054, it was remodeled and enlarged in the early 1100s. It holds an estimated 500 rooms and 16 kivas. The enclosed plaza is a typical feature of great houses from this period.

Pueblo del Arroyo was built in stages over a relatively short time. The central part was started about 1075; north and south wings were added between 1095 and 1105; the plaza and the tri-welled structure were constructed about 1110. The building had about 280 rooms and more than 20 kivas.

Kin Kletso seems to have been built in two stages. The first one dates from about 1125, the second from 1130 or later. This pueblo had about 100 rooms and 5 enclosed kivas and may have risen three stories on the north side.

Casa Rinconada on the south side of the canyon is the largest "great kiva" in the park. The trail leading to this ruin passes by several villages contemporary with Casa Rinconada and continues up the mesa to the great house Tsin Kietsin, with its panoramic view.

Hiking trails lead to a number of other ruins. Pueblo Alto, on top of the mesa, is important as the junction of several prehistoric roads. Casa Chiquita and Penasco Blanco can be reached by hiking from the central canyon. Wijiji, built in a single stage in the early 1100s, is notable for its symmetrical layout and rooms of uniform size.

Perhaps the best way to see the ruins is to go on a conducted walk with a ranger. For information on these tours and the evening campfire programs, inquire at the visitor center.

Backcountry Ruins

Hiking permits are required for these trails. The trails are open from sunrise to sunset. There are no overnight hiking trails in Chaco Canyon.

Pueblo Alto Trail
Loop Trail 5.4 mi. (8.7 km)
Pueblo Alto 3.2 mi. (5.2 km)
Pueblo Bonito Overlook 1.6 mi. (2.6 km)

Elevation Gain: 350 feet
Time Required For Total Loop: 4-5 hours
Trailhead Access: Pueblo del Arroyo Parking Area

Leading to the prehistoric structures of Pueblo Alto and New Alto, this trail provides excellent panoramic views of the canyon floor and surrounding mesas. The route also includes outstanding overlooks of Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl, as well as views of Jackson staircase and prehistoric farming terraces. Several prehistoric roads converge at Pueblo Alto and sections of them are discernible by slight variations in the vegetation.

Penasco Blanco Trail
Distance: 6.4 mi. (10.3 km)
Elevation Gain: 150'
Time Required: 4-5 hours
Trailhead Access: Pueblo del Arroyo Parking Area

This trail leads to one of the earliest pueblos in the canyon. Construction at Penasco Blanco, Pueblo Bonito, and Una Vida began around the middle of the 9th century. From the trail, a large concentration of petroglyphs can be seen along the canyon wall. The route also includes a spur trail to the "Supernova Pictograph" site.

Wijiji Trail
Distance: 3.0 mi. (4.8 km) round-trip
Elevation Gain: Insignificant
Time Required: 2-3 hours
Trailhead Access: Wijiji Parking Area
This trail leads to the prehistoric pueblo of Wijiji, which was built around A.D. 1100. Wijiji differs from sites like Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl in that it appears to have been built in one construction sequence rather than several. Evidence of this single sequence can be seen in the exceptional symmetry of the building plan and the uniformity of the masonry. There is a small rock art panel to the northeast of the structure along the canyon wall.

South Mesa Trail
To Tsin Kletzin 3.0 mi. (4.8 km)
Total Loop 4.1 mi. (6.6 km)

Elevation Gain:450'
Time Required: 2-3 hours for Tsin Kletzin; 3-4 hours for full loop
Trailhead Access—Casa Rinconada Trail or from behind Pueblo del Arroyo

This route provides several excellent vistas of South Gap and leads the hiker 100' higher than any other point along the canyon trails. In the spring and summer, an abundant array of wildflowers enhances the beauty of the landscape. Tsin Kletzin dates from the early A.D. 1100s. The view from this building includes Pueblo Alto, Penasco Blanco, Kin Klizhin, and Kin Ya'a.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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