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Chaco's Ancient Architecture

Begin your sightseeing at the visitor center. The great house (Chacoan public building) closest to the visitor center, Una Vida, is a short walk from the parking lot. Construction was underway by the mid-800s and continued until late in the mid-1100s, concurrent with construction at Pueblo Bonito and Peņasco Blanco. There are about 150 rooms and five kivas in the structure. It is an excellent example of a mostly unexcavated site.

The core of Chaco lies farther down the canyon. The largest of the great houses is Pueblo Bonito, the center of the Chacoan world. Planned and built in stages, Pueblo Bonito was occupied from the mid-800s to the 1200s. Eventually the structure towered four stories high and contained over 600 rooms and 40 kivas. Pueblo Bonito is one of the most extensively excavated and studied sites in North America and a place sacred to many American Indian groups.

Begun about 1020, Chetro Ketl experienced a major construction phase within 30 years and subsequent modifications in the l100s. There are an estimated 500 rooms and 16 kivas here. The builders constructed an immense elevated earthen plaza that rises above the surrounding landscape.

Pueblo del Arroyo was built in stages over a relatively short time. The central part was started about 1075; north and south wings were added between 1101 and 1105; the plaza and the tri-walled structure were built around that same time as well. The building had about 280 rooms and more than 20 kivas.

Kin Kletso seems to have been built in two stages. The first one dates from about 1125, the second from 1130 or later. This great house had about 100 rooms and five enclosed kivas and may have risen three stories on the north side.

Casa Rinconada, on the south side of the canyon, is the largest known great kiva (ceremonial chamber) in the park. The trail leading to this structure passes several villages contemporary with Casa Rinconada and the great houses but very different in construction and function.

Hiking trails lead to a number of other sites. Pueblo Alto, on top of the mesa, is important as the junction of several prehistoric roads. Tsin Kletsin and Peņasco Blanco can be reached by hiking from the central canyon. Wijiji, built in a single stage in the early 1100s, is notable for its symmetrical layout and rooms of uniform size. Hiking permits are required for these trails and can be obtained at the visitor center.

(Information courtesy of the National Park Service)

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