Between AD 850 and 1250, New Mexico’s ancient Puebloan communities would come together among the vast desert dunes of Chaco Canyon, to share their traditions and knowledge. Their descendants, the Chacoan people, were known for their incredibly complex and well-organised ways of life – from monumental architecture to far-reaching trade channels – and this incredible know-how is still evident in the structures seen at Chaco Culture National Historical Park today. Clans are said to have gathered in multi-story ‘Great Houses’, containing hundreds of rooms – that are thought to have taken decades, even centuries, to build – to hold ceremonies and celebrations. In fact, Chaco culture is thought to be at the core of several Navajo ways of life today.
Tourism is especially important to Chaco because it’s surrounded by one of the most productive gas and oil basins in the US. Increasing interest from fossil fuel companies to drill new wells in the area has the potential to destroy these sacred lands of present-day Navajo and Pueblo tribes. Therefore, a visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park is more important than ever, as it shows the government that Indigenous land can still be lucrative for the state, without selling out to fossil fuel giants. Within the park, ranger-led, accessible tours share the history of archaeological discoveries. Alternatively, four backcountry hiking trails (Wijiji, South Mesa, Pueblo Alto, and Peñasco Blanco) will take you past some of the most significant cultural aspects of Chaco. The shortest, Wijiji Trail is a three-mile round-trip and well worth the time. Stop by the visitor’s centre to find out what’s open (weather-permitting). In 2013, Chaco received International Dark Sky designation, making it one of the most remarkable regions in the world to see the Milky Way in all its glory.