. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Break Adventures, Day 2

We got up and got moving fairly early on Sunday morning and drove to Chaco Culture National Historic Park, south of Farmington.

There is so much information on the internet and on the Chaco Culture website about the history, geology, and nature of the national park so I can just summarize some thoughts and interesting information here and if you’re inclined to learn more, just Google it or follow the link I’ve embedded HERE.

Fajada Butte rising out of the valley floor (taken from the Visitor Center)
Cliff House Sandstone on top of the Menefee Formation (horizontal layering)
Fajada Butte rising out of the valley floor as seen from Una Vida ruin
Chaco Culture National Historic Park is located in the San Juan Basin region of northwestern New Mexico. The park's elevation ranges from 6,000-6,800 feet above sea level and consists of three prominent land forms: the valley floor of Chaco Canyon, the Cretaceous sandstone mesas, and a number of side canyons, called "rincons" eroded into the sandstone faces.

From the website, Chaco Culture:
"From AD 850 to 1250, Chaco was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area--unlike anything before or since. Chaco is remarkable for its multi-storied public buildings, ceremonial buildings, and distinctive architecture. These structures required considerable planning, designing, organizing of labor, and engineering to construct. The Chacoan people combined many elements: pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture--one that still awes and inspires us a thousand years later."
Chetro Ketl, one of the Great Houses (AD 950-1250)
The Plaza of Pueblo Bonito
It is interesting to know that in the valley was a major center of Puebloan culture 1,000 years ago in spite of it’s cold winters, short growing season, and limited rainfall and water, but it was. The Chacoan people inhabited the valley in about the year 850 CE and flourished for 300 years. They constructed massive stone buildings with hundreds of rooms and were unique to other Puebloans.

According to the website,

“The great houses of Pueblo Bonito, Una Vida, and PeƱasco Blanco were constructed [during the middle and late 800s], followed by Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Alto, and others. These structures were often oriented to solar, lunar, and cardinal directions. Lines of sight between the great houses allowed communication. Sophisticated astronomical markers, communication features, water control devices, and formal earthen mounds surrounded them. The buildings were placed within a landscape surrounded by sacred mountains, mesas, and shrines that still have deep spiritual meaning for their descendants.
Casa Rinconada Great Kiva, one of the largest in the Southwest (AD 1100)

In the 1100s and 1200s, change came to Chaco as new construction slowed and Chaco's role as a regional center shifted. Chaco's influence continued at Aztec, Mesa Verde, the Chuska Mountains, and other centers to the north, south, and west. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans' sacred migration paths-a spiritual place to be honored and respected.”

Here's some geologic history of the area: During the late Cretaceous period 75 to 80 million years ago, New Mexico was covered by the Great Inland Sea (see photo below). During this time, the Chaco region was situated at the edge of a shifting coastline of the ancient inland sea. The area is covered in layers of thin shale, mud and siltstones, sandstones, and coal seams, all part of the Menefee Formation. There are mesas and buttes rising out of the valley that consist of the more resilient Cliff House Sandstone, part of the greater Mesa Verde Group (with shrimp burrow trace fossils throughout). The Cliff House Sandstone was eroded down 2 million years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. About 50,000 years ago, the softer Menefee Formation was eroded away, leaving the Chaco valley looking much as it looks today.

Paleogeography of North America about 75 Million Years Ago; box outline is approximate location of Chaco.

Our first stop was to the Visitor’s Center, as we usually do at every park. There we picked up brochures and maps so we could take ourselves on a tour of the valley. There were six major sites located along the 9-mile long Canyon Loop Drive that we stopped at. These sites include: Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Rinconada. We also walked the short Petroglyph Trail.

Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl
Masonry at Chetro Ketl

Apartment rooms in the Great House of Pueblo Bonito
Petroglyphs above Una Vida