The reason why the Chaco Culture National Historic Park covers so much ground is because there are so many unexcavated archaeological sites in this region of New Mexico and they all center around one ancient cultural complex. The highest concentration of great house pueblo structures are located in Chaco Canyon and they are only a portion of the many ancient structures that the Chacoan society built. Many more can be found in outlying areas on top of the mesas and in the ancient agricultural fields. Chaco was one of the greatest agricultural marvels of the ancient past and by exploring the outlying pueblos it becomes easier to grasp the overall picture of how this mysterious society functioned.
Experiencing the outlying Chacoan pueblo structures is a challenge that requires plenty of rough dirt road driving and some hiking. The outlying back country pueblos are the reason why it takes more than one week to experience the entire Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Official permits are required for all Chaco back country destinations and this protective measure is easy to negotiate as long as the rules are followed.
Some of the outlying pueblos are not easy to get to by hiking and some cannot be accessed with an ordinary passenger car. The dirt roads surrounding Chaco Canyon are rough, so a 4×4 high ground clearance vehicle is best for the trip. There also are a few outlying pueblos that are closed to the public for both protective and physical reasons, so it is best to check the status of an outlying pueblo before making travel plans. The Chaco Canyon Visitor Center is the best resource while on location.
Kin Klizhin is an outlying great house pueblo that is located in a vast ancient agricultural area west of the National Park paved touring loop. Kin Klizhin can be accessed with a high ground clearance vehicle, but a rugged 4×4 is a better choice. If rain is in the forecast it is best to cancel the trip, because this dirt road will turn into deep impassible mud when wet. From the visitors center, Kin Klizhin is a little more than 12 miles away, but it will take nearly an hour to get there because the road is so rough. The access point on State Road 57 is easy to spot and all it takes is following the signage to get to this destination. A back country permit will still be necessary for visiting this site and a self serve permit box is located at the start of the short Kin Klizhin hiking trail.
At the Kin Klizhin access point there is another Chaco Culture satellite structure served an agricultural function. The small structures face Kin Klizhin, which is a few hundred yards away. Caution must be taken in this small site, because it is seldom visited and bee or hornet colonies may be inside the structures.
All it takes is one look at the Kin Klizhin setting to realize that this once was a highly organized ancient agricultural area. There are ancient earthen dams and irrigation ditches throughout this area and Kin Klizhin sits upon a small hill overlooking it all. After following the short hiking trail to Kin Klizhin the agricultural complex becomes easier to envision and even traces of the ancient road from Chaco Canyon can be noticed on a good day.
The Kin Klizhin Great House Pueblo is unrestored and it lies in state, so it does take some imagination to picture what this structure used to be like. Kin Klizhin has 16 rooms, two round kiva structures and it used to have a tower that was 3 stories tall. Most agree that the tower served both a lookout function and a communications function, because Kin Klizhin can be seen from another pueblo high on the mesa in Chaco Canyon. Since this was once an agricultural area, it is likely that many of the pueblo rooms were used for food preparation in readiness for storage. According to Chaco Culture experts, the farms at Kin Klizhin were capable of producing enough food to easily feed a large society. This was just one of many large farms in this region, so it is easy to imagine that the actual Chaco Culture population must have been in the tens of thousands back in the day.
Exploring the many outlying ancient structures in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park definitely is the means for putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Experiencing these ancient sacred places in person can provide much more insight than any written material can do, especially in a spiritual sense. It is easy to see that visiting Kin Klizhin is much more than a just jaunty afternoon back country day trip, because this outlying great house pueblo truly is an educational experience!
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