Carved in Stone

Prehistoric and Historic Sites of Northwest New Mexico - July 2007

Charm of Yesterday, Convenience of Tomorrow
Built in 1937, the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup is a historic Route 66 landmark and a favorite stop-over of mine in this part of New Mexico. The place has a comfy laid-back feel and a great little restaurant.

Quiet Night at the Ranch
The two-story lobby of the El Rancho is practically a museum. Wooden stairs curve around a giant stone fireplace and the whole room is decorated with Navajo blankets, stuffed deer heads and carved furniture. In the 1930s and 40s, this was a popular spot for movie stars filming westerns in the surrounding area and the upstairs gallery is lined with autographed photos of actors such as Tom Mix, John Wayne and William Hart.

Cliff and Kiva
Pueblo Bonito ('Pretty Town') is the largest and most famous of the prehistoric ruins at Chaco Canyon. It was used by the Ancestral Puebloan people (AKA: the Anasazi) from around 850 to 1100 AD. Four and five story tall buildings once surrounded two giant plazas. The circular pits are kivas (ceremonial chambers) that are a hallmark of Ancestral Puebloan sites. I actually took this picture in 2002, but liked it better than most of my shots from this trip.

Home in the Valley
Pueblo del Arroyo is named for the large gully or arroyo that runs down the center of Chaco Canyon and has cut into the side of this ruin. Although it is over 20 feet deep in places and as much as 100 feet across, the gully is difficult to see unless you are standing near the edge (it runs just to the right of the ruin in the picture). Evidence suggests that drought-induced gullies such as these may have contributed to the abandonment of Chaco Canyon by 1200AD.

Broken Rings
This multi-wall circular room was built late in Chaco's history and is a design more commonly found in the Mesa Verde region far to the north (it is the only one at Chaco). It suggests that people from the north may have migrated to the Chaco area or at least shared ideas with them. The exact purpose of the room is uncertain.

The Long Wall
Even in ruins, the scale of building at Chaco is impressive. This wall (once 3-4 stories tall) formed the back of the pueblo called Chetro Ketl. Most of the Chaco area ruins consist of a long row of multi-story room blocks surrounding a central plaza.

Kiva at Chetro Ketl
While most kivas found at prehistoric sites are 10-20 feet in diameter, there are several ruins at Chaco with 'Great Kivas' measuring over 40 feet across. The circular stone pits in the floor once held wooden logs which were used to support the covered ceiling. Kivas (which are still used by some pueblo tribes today) were used for the meetings and ceremonies of clans and religious societies. Kivas are frequently found in the pueblo plazas (the big wall in the picture above is from the row of ruins in the background).

Pueblo Pintado
Outside of Chaco Canyon itself, were a number of additional 'outlier' pueblos that were connected with the central communities by a network of roads. One of the largest of these was Pueblo Pintado which sits on a bluff overlooking the upper portions of Chaco Wash. In this photo, the outer wall of the plaza can be detected as a slight curving ridge of dirt in the foreground.

A Notch in Time
The room blocks of Pueblo Pintado are aligned in two large wings that come together in a giant 'L' with the plaza in the middle. From a distance, the notch in the tall wall near the corner makes it look like the bell towers on a Spanish mission.

The Lines of Poshu
Located above the fertile valley of the Chama River, the pueblo of Poshuouinge (Poshu) had two square plaza's surrounded by one and two story rooms. The faint circular depressions in the plazas are kiva ruins. Poshu was inhabited from around 1400 to 1500AD.

Ghosts of Santa Rosa
Spanish settlers came into the Chama Valley in the 1740s and founded the small settlement of Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiu. After years of struggle, the town was abandoned and the remaining settlers joined the nearby mesa-top pueblo of Abiquiu. Little remains of the original townsite except for the adobe ruins of the town church, which sits on a lonely bluff overlooking the Chama River.

Window to Heaven
Although in ruins, someone has done periodic repairs on the church and left offerings of a crucifix and statues. The grounds are watched over by the still active church at Abiquiu Pueblo where I received permission to visit and photograph the ruins.

Cliff Dwelling and Pueblo
Below the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe lies an area of high mesas and steep canyons known as the Parajito Plateau which was densely settled from 1200 to 1400 AD. In Frijoles Canyon, the Ancestral Puebloan people built both cliff dwellings (left) and large plaza-centered pueblos (right). The extensive ruins and pleasant natural scenery led to the formation of Bandelier National Monument in 1916.

Tuff Place to Live
The cliffs of Frijole Canyon consist largely soft volcanic tuff which could be carved by stone tools. The area's residents enlarged and shaped existing natural holes in the cliffs to create numerous rooms and chambers (called 'cavates') throughout the canyon.

Hole, Sweet Hole
The cavates are surprisingly large and comfortable inside with level floors and curved ceilings. This cavate (the one shown in the pcture above) had specially carved loops in the ceiling where weavers once hung their looms.

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