No matter which direction that a visitor comes from, traveling on at least 20 miles of dirt road will be necessary in order to enter the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The paved highways will only take you so far in this region and many of the dirt roads are too rough for low ground clearance vehicles. Automobiles that have average to high ground clearance can handle the dirt roads to Chaco Canyon, while sport cars and tiny compact cars should not attempt the 20 mile dirt road trip, because of the risk of damage. This part of the Navajo Nation is a very desolate area and a broken down vehicle can result in a sky high towing charge, so it is best to choose the right vehicle for the trip!
The main travel route to Chaco Canyon starts just south of Nageezi on U.S. Highway 550. The road to look for is County Road 7900, which is also the road that goes to Pueblo Pintado. The first section of this road is paved, but where the road forks is where the fun begins. At the fork, County Road 7900 goes south to Pueblo Pintado and County Road 7950 goes to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park east gate. CR 7950 sees heavy traffic because it is the main road to Chaco, so this dirt road does get some wear and tear. A driver can expect endless teeth rattling washboard ripples and deep ruts on this long dirt road, so the eastern pathway to Chaco is not exactly a pleasant driving experience.
Alternately, State Road 57 is the only dirt road that goes to Chaco Canyon that is reasonably smooth. Small cars with average ground clearance and RV campers actually can handle State Road 57 with no problem. There are no long washboard ripple sections on this road, so counting the molars at the end of the trip will not be necessary! In fact, State Road 57 is also the most scenic way to go, because this road goes through the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness terrain and some of the mushroom rock features of the Bisti Badlands can be seen. The wild horses and beautiful landscapes add to the charm, so the smooth SR 57 dirt road to Chaco definitely gets the nod for being the best way to go!
As mentioned in a previous article, a good Chaco Culture National Historical Park travel plan is to visit the outlying Pueblo Pintado first, then follow Indian Service Route 9 from Pueblo Pintado Village to the intersection of State Road 57. Indian Service Route 9 is paved and is goes through some majestic mesa canyons, so the drive is a real pleasure when compared to the main Chaco Canyon east access road, which is bumpier than a cheap county fair thrill ride.
Once on the smooth State Road 57 dirt road, it is just a 20 mile straight shot to Chaco Canyon. Close to Chaco Canyon where SR 57 makes a sharp right is where the Kin Klizhin access road can be found. Visiting both Pueblo Pintado and Kin Klizhin can be done on the way to the south entrance gate, so this travel route to Chaco Canyon can be turned into a rewarding adventure!
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