The car is hot. The sun is not letting off as we drive the short distance toward Una Vida and Hungo Pavi . Within minutes the archeological remnants of another Great House sprawl below the steep northern walls of Chaco Canyon. The parking lot is spacious and Elaine pulls the car into an unoccupied spot for another quick stop.
As I fling my messenger bag with prime lens, polarizing filter and water bottle over my shoulder to distribute the weight better I realize that my left arm and the space between hair line and T-shirt neckline has been kissed by the sun with vigor. I quickly forget the brief burning sensation intensified by the friction of the shoulder strap. My focus is on the rugged dirt path as I walk with steady steps toward another ancient settlement.
Hungo Pavi is larger than Una Vida. The small sign informs us that the settlement was occupied from AD 1000 to AD 1250. The site is easy to navigate. without steep trails or stairs to climb exploration of the intact walls is effortless. Our cameras are clicking away capturing ancient architecture. We witness prime examples of early social structure and communal living.
In examining the wall I marvel at the precise workmanship of these ancient Pueblo people. On my paternal side I stem from several generations of brick layers and the skillful execution of placing one stone on top of another, keeping the walls straight and having them survive for nearly 1,000 years leaves me in awe and with deep respect.
A look at my watch reminds us that time does not stand still, even if we are fully immersed in the moment. We hike back to the car, sipping lukewarm water to replenish the fluids lost in the unrelenting heat. In less than five minutes we arrive at the largest parking lot. We have reached Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito, the dust path forks and the decision we make is easy. We realize that we have missed the official guided tour as we watch a group of visitors to our right explore the structures of Chetro Ketl. We turn left and arrive at Pueblo Bonito in silence.
Pueblo Bonito was inhabited from AD 850 to AD 1250s. It predates Chetro Ketl by approximately 100 years. It is logical that we start our archeological excursion in the older Chacoan Great House complex. An official metal plaque inform us “You are approaching the great ruins of an ancient Indian fortified town, Pueblo Bonito. This huge structure was unearthed and preserved for prosperity between 1920 and 1927 by seven expeditions of The National Geographic Society (Gilbert Grosvenor, President) Smithsonian Institution (Neil M. Judd, Expedition Leader). The expedition removed 100,000 tons of rubble and windblown sand accumulated over the centuries. They accurately reconstructed parts of destroyed walls match the ancient masonry.”
I am particularly intrigued by the connection of individual rooms, one door leads to another and my camera gets a vigorous workout.
The paths leads to the ceremonial center of the settlement. Large Kivas open up before us when we reach the expansive plaza.
Across the Kiva, nestled almost against the high cliffs of the northern canyon wall, another row of Great Houses demand attention.
Every corner we round another breath-taking vista of the settlement opens before us. We are between canyon wall and settlement when we find a wide staircase to the viewing platform.
We continue to wind our way along the high cliffs of the canyon. A sign points toward the Petroglyphs and Chetro Ketl. I am eager to continue with the self-guided tour of the historical site.
“You carry on and please take your time. I am going to wait in the parking lot.” Elaine waves to me as she turns right and walks toward the car. I don’t need encouragement. My next destination is Chetro Ketl. I am picking up my pace when I realize the added bonus: Chetro Ketl is no longer filled with tourists.
Check back soon for Part III of my visit to Chaco Canyon.