Touring all of the ancient great house pueblos in Chaco Culture National Historical Park can take well over a week to accomplish and this is what many people set out to do. Some of the back country hikes to the outlying pueblos can take all day and there are a few of them to do, so some physical endurance is required too. Not everybody has the time or energy to see it all when visiting Chaco Canyon, so the best choice for a short excursion is to visit the ancient great house pueblos that are located along the nine mile touring loop road. Visiting just a few of the great house pueblos along this paved road will take several hours, so this is a good choice for a day trip tour.
There are several Chaco Canyon articles to be found in the index pages that will be of help for planning a visit. Some of the articles focus on how to get to Chaco and the local camping options. Chaco Canyon definitely is way off of the beaten path in central New Mexico and there are no modern amenity options nearby. Half of the adventure is just trying to get here on the rough dirt roads, which are not recommended for low ground clearance vehicles.
Pueblo Bonito is the most famous great house pueblo in Chaco Canyon and this destination is located next to Chetro Ketl on the touring loop road. Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito are closely related structures and there is a long petroglyph wall between these two sacred places. Pueblo Bonito is the most often pictured Chaco ancient site in travel brochures and the overhead view of this classic “D” shaped pueblo complex is world famous. From a distance. this great house pueblo looks ominously large with the sheer cliffs in the background. When a visitor nears on the short hiking trail, it is then that the grand scale of this gigantic structure comes into proportion.
Pueblo Bonito is located in an area that is often referred to as “Downtown Chaco” because this large building is surrounded by neighboring great house pueblos that are not spaced too far apart. Casa Rinconada, Kin Kletso, Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Arroyo are all within a few hundred yards of Pueblo Bonito. All it takes is one look to see that Pueblo Bonito was the cornerstone, because of the extensive architectural planning and craftsmanship that went into constructing this majestic complex. This ancient great house once stood over four stories tall with over 350 individual rooms and a big plaza. There are also 32 round kivas and three great kivas inside the walls of this complex, so Pueblo Bonito actually is the largest great house in Chaco Canyon.
The apex of this “D” shaped pueblo complex is on a corner next to the cliffs, which is the high ground on the valley floor. From the high vantage point, a good overview of the pueblo complex design can be seen. The only better view of this pueblo can be found at the overlook on top of the solid rock mesa. The Pueblo Bonito Overlook Trail is part of the Pueblo Alto Trail, which starts at Kin Kletso. The overlook trail begins by going up the steep cliff through a narrow crag, but the effort certainly is rewarding!
Pueblo Bonito lives up to its name, because this is such a beautiful ancient structural design to see! The exquisite masonry and rock cutting craftsmanship truly are amazing and the floor plan design is something that can be pondered over for quite a spell. Learning about the local native cultures will provide insight into what the kivas and individual rooms were used for. A good way to gain some knowledge while there is to take a ranger guided tour and the schedule can be found in the visitors center. The Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a sacred place, so it must be respected as such. All it takes is laying eyes on Pueblo Bonito to turn the trip into a spiritual journey that will inspire good memories for many years to come!
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