Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chaco Canyon Memories 2007

Jim McGillis at Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico in 2007 - Click for larger image (
September 17, 2008 - After two days “off the grid” at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, I reemerged into my normal “wired” lifestyle. As of this writing, I am in Taos, New Mexico, where I will attend the Quantum Leap Celebration. The Celebration starts later today and will extend across the next two days.

If you visit Chaco Canyon, you will find its geographical features as interesting as its ancient culture. The Pre-PuebloanChaco Culture” is on of the great mysteries of the past millennium. In the high and dry Canyonlands of Northwestern New Mexico, native cultures rose and fell between 600 CE and 1250 CE. During that time, the populous built masonry buildings of great elegance and unique architectural style.
This corner wall is one of the tallest remaining structures at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image (

These “great houses” or “great kivas” flourished throughout the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah). Then, in the thirteenth century AD, the high culture of Chaco disbanded, with evidence of deconstruction and destruction by the Anasazi, who originally built these huge structures.

As they disbanded, possibly heading south to greener valleys, their Great Disappearance became one of the enduring mysteries of humankind. When they were done with Chaco Canyon, the ancients set fire to many roof timbers and toppled many walls. It was as if they did not want anyone, including themselves to settle again in that place.

Everyone loves a mystery. Why else would people flock to this desolate and long-deserted place? We all want to know who they were, what they were doing here and where they went. To learn more about this now vanished culture, I suggest reading House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest”, by author Craig Childs. With scholarly detail and down-home story telling, Craig brings ancient sandstone haunts back to life.
Kin Klizhin "Great House", or "Great Kiva", Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image ( in Chaco, I sought out the least-visited great house, known as Kin Klizhin, which is nine miles out a 4-wheel-drive road. On the road, the only living things I saw were birds and a herd of elk. When I arrived at the Kin Klizhin Ruin, the visitors’ register indicated that I was the first person to visit there in the past six days. With no mobile telephone, no radio and no sounds other than the wind, I spent a couple of peaceful hours there.  Occasionally, I ducked behind ruined walls, seeking shade from the hot afternoon sun.

Sometimes, our lives feel overfilled with actions and activities. Although there is apparent loneliness to places like Kin Klizhin, I found it ironic that it was once a “welcoming center” for the Chaco Canyon Culture. For the fast-walking Pre-Puebloans, Kin Klizhin was less than one day away from the combination Mecca, Las Vegas, World’s Fair, Vatican, Angkor Watt, Taj Mahal, which we now call Chaco Canyon.
As I approach the Kin Klizhin elk herd, the Alpha Bull Elk has me within his sight.  - Click for larger image (

Why did they come to Chaco Canyon? Why did they leave? These questions are simple, but definitive answers continue to elude us. From my perspective, I believe that a unique, but inexplicable group consciousness arose then in the Four Corners, centering itself in Chaco Canyon. With its celestial aspects, geographical features and ancient cultural alignments, we look forward to our next visit.