On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
On the Road continues, forever Alain’s in our hearts.
We are adding On the Road After Dark for a couple of weeks of catch-up.
On the Road: Week of July 6 (5 am)
Albatrossity – Chaco Canyon, Winter
way2blue – Venezia Before the Flood
BillinGlendaleCA – Ryan Mountain Trail, Daytime
frosty – Coronavirus and the Road
otmar – Festung Hohensalzburg, Part 1
On the Road After Dark: Week of July 6 (10pm)
Albatrossity – Chaco Canyon, Spring
Origuy – Carmel Mission Basilica
BillinGlendaleCA – Ryan Mountain Trail, Night Sky
Emma – Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm, WA
otmar – Festung Hohensalzburg, Part 2
If you have traveled much in the southwestern US, you may have heard of Chaco Canyon and the Chacoan culture. But probably not, for lots of reasons. The main center of Chacoan culture is preserved in Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico, and it is very isolated. You have to drive on a rutted dirt road for about 40 miles to get there, and you will need to camp because there is no lodging and no food available. The canyon is on the Colorado Plateau at about 6,000 ft above sea level, and can get very cold in winter as well as very hot in summer. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating place to visit, both in terms of the history and in terms of the flora and fauna.
The story of the Chacoan culture is still being unraveled, but beginning in the mid 800’s, construction of large buildings (containing hundreds of rooms), probably ceremonial centers, began in the canyon. These are impressive in their architecture and in what they imply about the people who built them. The structures are oriented to take advantage of the canyon features in terms of astronomical sightings, allowing the inhabitants to define the equinoxes and the solstices with great precision.
They were trade centers as well; items from Mexico and elsewhere have been found in the excavation of the ruins. By 1050 or thereabouts this site was the center of a civilization that stretched across the San Juan basin, with more than 150 widely spread Chacoan “Great Houses” linked by excellent and arrow-straight roads to Chaco Canyon itself. And then, probably as a result of droughts, it all collapsed in the 1200’s, and the inhabitants dispersed to other sites. The Puebloan Indians of the Southwest descended from the Chacoans, and their architecture retains many of the same features seen in Chaco. If you are curious to learn more, I can recommend “House of Rain”, by Craig Childs.
I have visited Chaco Canyon multiple times, in winter, spring, and summer (not yet in the fall). It is a magical place, and worth going out of your way for if you are ever in that part of the world. My first visit was in winter, New Years Eve in 2006, and here are some images from winter visits there.
The high Colorado Plateau does not get a lot of moisture, but even a little bit in the winter can transform the place. Here are some trees and shrubs after a snow storm and then an ice fog the next day. I’ve used this image on Christmas cards in the past!
This is a view of one of the ruins. These stones are fitted exactly to make straight walls and round kivas. In the heyday the walls would be covered with stucco and paint. This kiva complex is special to me because we were volunteers there during the winter solstice of 2012, when the Mayan calendar said that the world was ending, remember? The park management wanted to ensure that none of the ruins would host unauthorized ceremonies or other activities the day before the solstice sunrise, and we volunteered. Our job was to get to this kiva before dawn (it was -12F that morning) and watch over it. We had radios to communicate with rangers if we saw strange people there. We saw nothing, the sun came up gloriously and warmed us up, and the rest of the day was remarkably uneventful. If the world was going to end, there would have been worse places to be than Chaco Canyon.
The center of the canyon is dominated by Fajada Butte, which you can see from everywhere you go in that canyon. At the top of the canyon was a rock formation and petroglyph site that was used to predict the summer and winter solstices. Google “Sun Dagger” to get more information about this archaeoastronomical wonder. Sadly it appears that foot traffic along the trail leading to the site has caused some of the rocks to shift, and the formation does not function as a solstice predictor any longer.
One of the oldest houses in the canyon is Una Vida, which is a short hike from the visitors center. This Scaled Quail (aka “Cottontop”) was one of a small covey that greeted us there on New Years Eve.
Another common winter bird on the Colorado Plateau is the Gray-headed subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco. This handsome specimen was perched in a snowy bush, eating the seeds from the dried seed heads.
A year-round resident of the canyon, this Rock Wren can find plenty of rocks to perch on, nest in, and hide in. Like many wrens they sing cheerfully during just about every month of the year.
This bird was not technically in the canyon; we saw him on the way out once we got back to a highway with some utility poles. This is a Ferruginous Hawk, a large raptor (it probably would be called an eagle if it occurred in the Old World) who strikes fear into prairie dog towns throughout the Southwest.
The final shot is from my first hike on a winter’s day down the canyon to see its most famous rock art, the Supernova pictograph (painted rather than pecked into the rock like a petroglyph). It is thought to depict the supernova of July 4, 1054 AD, which was visible during the daytime. See here for additional information!