The paved road touring loop in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park goes by several ancient great house pueblos and a few back country hiking trailheads. The roadside pueblos have short foot paths that are easy to manage, while permits are required for the longer trails that go into the back country. There are also a couple of petroglyph panel hiking trails along the canyon wall and there is an interesting roadside scenic overlook at a Chacoan Stairway. As can be imagined, doing the Chaco Canyon touring loop will guarantee that plenty can be experienced, even if time is limited.
Every ancient feature at Chaco Canyon is protected by limiting the access to the foot paths. Walking across the bare ground is not permitted in this highly protected area, because so many artifacts lie in state and because erosion is a constant threat. The reason this is mentioned is because the the Chacoan Stairway can only be viewed from the roadside and hiking across the field to this ancient staircase will likely result in a stiff fine.
It is a fairly distant view from the roadside, but the Chacoan Stairway can be seen with the naked eye. More details of this stairway can be revealed with binoculars or a telephoto camera lens and the photos of this structure can be pondered over for quite a while. The Chacoan Staircase utilizes fallen huge stone slabs that form a natural start of a staircase at the base of the bluff. A little higher up there is a section of hand hold staircase on the way to the top section, where a clean looking staircase was cut into the solid sandstone bedrock slope.
There are several Chacoan Staircases to be found in Chaco Canyon. The staircases in Chaco Canyon connected the many great house pueblos on the canyon floor with the outlying pueblos that were built on top of the tall sandstone mesas in ancient times. When looking at the locations of the staircases, agricultural fields and the ancient pueblos on a map, it becomes easier to picture the foot traffic patterns that must have existed long ago. Staircases were also cut into the regional ceremonial roads that branch out like the rays of the sun from Chaco.
In the middle ground of the touring loop road there is a lush green meadow that has a deep dry wash ravine that runs from one end of Chaco Canyon to the other. During the spring and early summer seasons, herds of elk can be seen grazing in this area. The elk usually feed early in the morning hours, then they laze about while chewing cud till mid morning. This time period is the best for spotting elk when passing through. Seeing elk in Chaco Canyon is always a pleasant surprise and the sight of these wild animals may provide the answer to a few ancient Chaco Culture food resource questions.
Camping is the best option for an extended tour of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, because it takes about one week to see all of the ancient heritage sites in this park. The weather during the spring season can vary greatly, so be prepared for cold nights, high winds and rain if worse comes to worse. Other than that, be sure to bring a good camera along, because the ancient great house pueblos are very photogenic and the local elk like to smile for the camera too!
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