There really is not much to strike the eye when looking at Casa Rinconada from a distance and only subtle indications of the remains of a pueblo complex can be seen. All that changes shortly after walking up the trail to get a closer look, because this ancient pueblo complex covers the crest of a small hill that is just high enough above the valley floor to keep the main features out of view. From the high vantage point, the remnants of dozens of small pueblo foundations can be seen sprawling throughout the field. Even more fascinating is discovering that the gigantic structure that remains intact happens to be a grand kiva that is located where a towering great house pueblo likely would have been constructed.
Ancient kiva structures vary in shape and size. The earliest kivas were round earthen pit structures that usually incorporated seating and a small pit draft furnace. As time progressed, so did the development of kiva designs and construction techniques. Carefully shaped stone blocks and mortar eventually replaced earthen walls and the designs incorporated both symbolic shapes and exacting geometrical precision. Nearly every great house pueblo in Chaco Canyon boasts several different kivas and grand kivas in the floor plan from a long timeline, so this National Park most definitely is showcase of these indigenous ceremonial structures.
Upon first glance, it is easy to see that Casa Rinconada is no ordinary grand kiva, because it is one of the biggest ceremonial kivas in the entire west. For those who are awestruck by the sheer immensity of the famous ancient ceremonial structures located in Central and South America, the same feeling will certainly arise when first viewing this magnificently preserved great kiva! This structure was extremely well built and plenty of artistic nuances were incorporated into the design. The stone blocks are not just simply set in place where they will fit and many consistent masonry patterns flow throughout the extra thick kiva wall. The original timber beams still support heavy stone slab lodes and remnants of the lodge poles can be seen on the walls.
Hours can be spent pondering over the significance of Casa Rinconada because there are so many details to take in. There are complex doorway shapes, long benches and dozens of mysterious square shaped pockets on the walls, along with many complex fabrications on the wide kiva floor. Two additional rectangular rooms are attached to opposite sides of this round building, which resemble back stage areas in a modern performing arts arena. This actually may be the thought train to go with when trying to picture the elaborate ceremonies that once took place. There will be plenty of memories to bring home after touring Casa Rinconada, so be sure to set aside some quality time for visiting this amazing landmark in Chaco Canyon!
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