Certain ancient places—the Egyptian pyramids come to mind—capture the imagination with their enduring majesty and mystery. Chaco Canyon is one of those places. Located in the northwest corner of the state, these ruins were built over a period of three centuries (AD 900-1200) and are considered one of the pinnacles of Ancestral Pueblo culture. At its peak, Chaco Canyon was the center of a vast trade network that spread over a large portion of the Southwest. The park includes 13 major pueblos, a network of once-busy highways, and hundreds of smaller sites. The surrounding area has 2,000-plus ruins scattered across an area of 30 sq mi/85 sq km.
Within Chaco Canyon itself, nine multistoried dwellings remain, including the best-known, Pueblo Bonito. Constructed of sandstone blocks, this enormous urban structure once had more than 650 rooms. Another highlight in the canyon is the very large kiva (ceremonial meeting hall) at Casa Rinconada.
Be aware, though, that a visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park requires some forethought. Its location is somewhat remote, quite a distance from the nearest major highways. In fact, getting to the park, through either the north or south gates, requires driving about 20 mi/35 km of dirt road—be sure to call ahead to check on road conditions. Stop for gas, food and supplies before you turn off the main highway. Campsites are located in the park—we highly recommend an overnight stay in this ancient dwelling place. Accommodations are also available in Farmington, Gallup or Grants. 105 mi/170 km northwest of Albuquerque.
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