Starry, starry nights amid Indian culture in NM

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is in a remote region of New Mexico

We’ve been home from our eight days in northern New Mexico for a month now and I have two strongly lingering images – our meals and our night of camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

I’ve already written my piece on chile peppers, with a recipe, for the Boston Globe food section (to be published soonish), but could not sell anyone on the idea of a story on Chaco. Which is crazy! But it was just as well because that meant I could enjoy myself instead of run around interviewing people and taking notes about everything I saw.

Instead, I inhaled it all in slowly – the history, the breathtaking terrain,  the up-close petroglyphs, the unbelievably intact Indian ruins and, oooohhhhh, those dark star-saturated skies.

See the blue dot straight ahead, near the canyon wall? That's where we camped!

Thanks to Southwest Airlines’  humane luggage policy, we each got two bags for free, so used our extras to stash camping gear for our one night at the park, at Lina’s urging. (Thank you, my ever-adventurous mate!)

We loved almost every minute of our 20-hour blitz. We arrived midafternoon, enjoying the minor thrill of the eight-mile-long dirt road that leads to the park. (Take the north entrance if you don’t want to get stuck.) First we picked out at campsite in the tent-only area, amid boulders and backing up against a cliff. Heaven!!

Pueblo Bonito is famous for many things, including its intact walls and doorways

Next we high-tailed it to 2 p.m. tour of Pueblo Bonito, a Native American “great house” that was lived in from the mid 800s to the 1200s. It once towered four stories high, with more than 500 rooms and 40 kivas and is one of the most excavated and studied sites in North America, as well as one of the most intact. Although our guide went way over the scheduled time, he was fantastic and brought the history alive, and the archeology history was as interesting as the Indian history.

We toured a few other sites and then reached the petroglyphs just as the late afternoon sun was spotlighting them. They were the most intact and closest I’ve ever seen!

Up close and personal with petroglyphs

We had just a little time to set up camp and share a beer before we zipped over to the visitor’s center for what we thought would be the dark-sky talk and a chance to look through the telescopes. Chaco is the only national park with its own observatory. Well damned if the astronomers weren’t at a conference – um, thanks for letting us know? A ranger gave an interesting presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps’ involvement in the park in the 1930s and ‘40s, but we were feeling very pouty and whiny about the whole star thing. Until….

We returned to the campsite around 8 p.m. and the sky seemed to go from dusk to black within minutes. I looked up and – WAM, BAM, LOOK AT THOSE STARS, MA’M! I told Lina, who needs astronomers? Of course I would have liked a walk-through of the skies, but wowie, zowie, they were amazing — Milky Way, of course, and shooting stars and dancing constellations. We each laid down on a bench of the picnic table, wrapped up in our blankets, and watched in awe.

Lina's "just one more," Kin Klatso great house

That night we heard the eeriest sound. The only reason I knew it was coyotes is because a ranger had warned me. Wow.

After visiting a few more ruins in the morning (“Just one more” is Lina’s motto in life), we were back on the long dirt road, headed back to the big city.

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One Response to “Starry, starry nights amid Indian culture in NM”

  1. karel Says:

    Yes ! It’s already some 20 years ago that we a short trip to this area. Your story woke up pleasant memories to that time and the desire to repeat..

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