As mentioned in previous articles, there is no easy way to get to Chaco Canyon and it takes more than one week to experience all that there is to see in this majestic place. There also are no modern amenities nearby, so camping in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is the best option. In order to do a complete tour of Chaco, a visitor must be prepared to do some lengthy hikes in arid conditions. Some rough dirt road driving will be necessary to get to the outlying pueblos too. Doing a complete tour of the ancient Chaco Culture National Historical Park is as much of a physical accomplishment as it is a spiritual journey and the experience certainly is rewarding!
The outlying Chaco Culture great house pueblos do take some time to tour, because they are spread out over a vast area that covers a large portion of west central New Mexico. The Aztec Ruins, Salmon Ruins and the pueblo at Chimney Rock National Monument near the Colorado border are ancient Chaco Culture satellite pueblos. These outlying pueblos are located along paved highways so they are easy to access. The Kin Bineola and Kin Klizhin outlying pueblos are located southwest of Chaco Canyon in some very rough terrain that is only accessible by hiking or with a 4×4 vehicle. Currently Kin Bineola is closed because of flooding and it will be a long time before this site opens again.
The solitary great house pueblo that is located in an outlying area southeast of the main Chaco Canyon complex is Pueblo Pintado. This outlying pueblo is fairly easy to access by car from U.S. Highway 550 and this travel route does continue to State Road 57, which happens to be the smoothest dirt road going into the National Historical Park!
When venturing to Chaco Canyon or Pueblo Pintado it is best to top off the tank in Nageezi before getting off of Highway 550, because there are no fueling options further down the road. A little more than 3 miles south of Nageezi on Highway 550, the road to look for is County Road 7900. Where the road come to a fork, just stay on SR 7900 heading south and the water towers by the Navajo village of Pueblo Pintado will eventually come into view. Pueblo Pintado is a quiet Navajo community, so it is best to be respectful when passing through. The local Navajo also protect the ancient Pueblo Pintado as a sacred place, so do not be surprised if you are being observed from afar during your visit.
The roads are paved near the village and the dirt access road to the ancient pueblo is well maintained. After registering and dropping the permit in the box at the self service station, all that a visitor has to do is follow the short foot trail to Pueblo Pintado. Taking the time to read the information at the kiosk and looking at the original pueblo design will help to put the pieces of the puzzle together when doing the self guided tour.
Pueblo Pintado is located about 15 miles from the main pueblo complex in Chaco Canyon. This solitary great house pueblo is considered to be an integral part of the main complex, even though it is well outside the main cultural center in the canyon. Pueblo Pintado has a classic “D” shape Chacoan floor plan design that covers a few acres of ground, so this indeed a big great house pueblo. Pueblo Pintado had 135 rooms, 19 kivas, one great kiva and a very large plaza. Pueblo Pintado once stood four stories tall, so this truly was an impressive building back in its day. Even after nearly a thousand years of erosion, the immensity of Pueblo Pintado is still quite impressive to see, because much of this ancient pueblo remains intact. Looking up at the towering walls does have a way of making anybody feel small in the dead silence of the high desert!
When visiting Pueblo Pintado, it is best to stay on the well worn foot trails. Going off the trail will result in crushing the fragile stone building blocks that are scattered on the ground. Pueblo Pintado has never been restored, so staying on the trails will make it easier for future generations to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
As mentioned earlier, after visiting Pueblo Pintado it is easy to access the smoothest of the three dirt roads that go to the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. From the Pueblo Pintado, head back into the village and catch Indian Service Route 9 going west. Indian service Route 9 is paved all the way to to the intersection of State Road 57 and the scenery along the way is as majestic as can be. State Road 57 is a smooth dirt road that goes about 20 miles to the south entrance gate of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. New Mexico State Road 57 definitely is the dirt road less traveled, so it does not have endless miles of washboard ripples that shake the molars loose. This is definitely the best way to get to Chaco Canyon after touring Pueblo Pintado!
Doing the complete tour of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is an ambition that many people strive to achieve. Touring the open countryside when visiting the outlying pueblos adds to the charm and some cultural exchange in the local trading posts can greatly enhance the experience. The complete Chaco experience will not happen in one day, yet all it takes is five minutes in this majestic ancient sacred place to create memories that last a lifetime!
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