Chaco Canyon

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park hosting the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest. The park is located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash. Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the United States' most fascinating cultural and historic areas.

Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes which remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. Evidence of archaeoastronomy at Chaco has been proposed, with the "Sun Dagger" petroglyph at Fajada Butte a popular example. Many Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. Climate change is thought to have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual abandonment of the canyon, beginning with a 50-year drought in 1130.

Composing a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the arid and inhospitable Four Corners region, the Chacoan cultural sites are fragile; fears of erosion caused by tourists have led to the closure of Fajada Butte to the public. The sites are considered sacred ancestral homelands by the Hopi and Pueblo people, who maintain oral accounts of their historical migration from Chaco and their spiritual relationship to the land. Though park preservation efforts can conflict with native religious beliefs, tribal representatives work closely with the National Park Service to share their knowledge and respect the heritage of the Chacoan culture.

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History

Chaco was one of many Anasazi sites spread across the Colorado Plateau, and beyond. Archaeologists identify the first people in the broader San Juan Basin as hunter-gatherers designated as the Archaic; they in turn descended from nomadic Clovis hunters who arrived in the Southwest around 10,000 BC. The Archaic people left very little evidence of their presence in Chaco Canyon itself. However, by approximately AD 490, their descendants, designated as Basketmakers, were continuously farming within the canyon, living in Shabik'eshchee Village and other pithouse settlements.