In my last post, I described our visit to the Hungo Pavi and Pueblo Bonito sites at Chaco Culture, as well as the tiny cemetery where Richard Wetherill is buried. But we still had a few that we wanted to visit. Or maybe I should say – that I wanted to visit. Jon had pooped out and decided to avoid the wind chill by spending some time reading on his Kindle in the car.
Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl share the same parking lot, but have separate trails out to each site. But, there is a trail connecting them that runs along the bottom of the cliff, and provides wonderful views of the petroglyphs on the cliff face. Petroglyphs are pictures that have been carved into the rock; usually by chipping away the outer, darker surface of the stone with stone tools. They are found all over the Southwest, and give insight into the things that the culture found important.
The Park Service has several stops marked on the trail, and you can stop at each stop and read about the petroglyphs located there in the trail guide that is sold at the Visitor’s Center, or at the parking area for $1.00. You can also borrow and return a guide if you don’t want to buy it, but for only $1.00, I took mine home with me so I could match up my photographs with what I was seeing later on.
The petroglyphs here depict lots of geometric shapes, swirls, animals and human figures, although there is speculation that some of the human figures are supernatural beings (I’ll let you decide for yourself). There is also graffiti that was left after Chaco Canyon was “re-discovered” in the 1800s and some contemporary graffiti. I find it sad that some people don’t have respect for these beautiful, historic sites, because once they have been defaced and damaged, they are gone forever.
The trail is also a great place to view evidence of the blocks of rooms that were once built against the cliff. They have collapsed now, but beam seats, where the poles that supported the ceilings were once placed, are still visible. There is also evidence of a staircase carved into the rock, with handholds to help the Puebloan people climb the staircase and travel to other Chaco Canyon sites built on the top of the cliff.
At the end of the Petroglyph Trail, I reached Chetro Ketl, and explored it in absolute solitude. Due to the challenges of the road leading into the park, and the fact that it was so cold that day, I was all alone at the site. Chetro Ketl is another Great House; it began as a single room block around 1010 A.D. but eventually grew over the next 100 years to be almost three acres in size. It was three stories tall, and at its height contained about 225 first floor rooms, and another 275 second and third floor rooms.
Chetro Ketl shows signs of intentional burning. Archaeologists don’t know why, but some guesses are to prevent others from using the site after it was abandoned, or to represent a ceremonial closing of the structure. This Great House is also unique because the builders intentionally elevated the open plaza above the surrounding landscape, by hauling tons of dirt and rock to create a platform. Reasons for this are also unknown, but it is believed that the builders may be been trying to mitigate the effects of flooding in the area that occurs after heavy rains.
Chetro Ketl also once had balconies, similar to the ones seen at Balcony House at Mesa Verde. When Chaco Canyon was re-discovered in the 1800s, these balconies were still there, and were documented to be intact in 1901. Sadly, over the next 20 years, scavengers looking for firewood and building materials destroyed the balconies.
There is also evidence of building with columns. This style of architecture was not seen at other Puebloan sites, and archaeologists believe that the Chacoans borrowed this style from Toltec builders in Mexico. The Chacoans traded turquoise and macaws with the Toltecs, so it makes sense that the influence would go beyond just trade goods. Later construction at Chetro Ketl filled in the spaces between the columns, so now they are solid walls.
Much of Chetro Ketl was covered back over with sand after it was excavated, in order to protect the site from further decay, so it is a bit tougher to imagine what it was once like than Pueblo Bonito. But it has so many unique features, that it is a fascinating structure to see. I loved my time there. I’ll tell you about the village site we visited next!