Master Plan
Chaco Canyon National Monument, New Mexico
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The purpose of Chaco Canyon National Monument is to preserve outstanding prehistoric remains of Basketmaker and Pueblo Indian ruins dating primarily from A.D. 700-1200, and to provide for the fullest degree of public educational and inspirational benefit from these remains as is consistent with their preservation.

These carefully shaped wall blocks cover a rubble core.



To achieve the monument purposes, the National Park Service establishes the following objectives:

Conservation of Historical Resources

Preserve the outstanding historic and prehistoric sites, structures, and objects from direct or indirect damage from natural forces or human activities through effective programs of ruins stabilization, soil erosion control, and supervision of public use.

Conservation of Natural Resources

Conserve the natural resources of the monument through a sound land management program. In cooperation with the Navajo Tribe and other nearby land-managing agencies in the area, develop a comprehensive soil and moisture conservation program for adjacent lands.


Encourage broad scientific research to support and strengthen the interpretive and resource management programs. Special attention should be given to filling voids in the interpretive story and to developing the most effective soil and moisture conservation and ruins preservation practices.


Cooperate closely with others in the field of historical interpretation in developing and maintaining an informational and interpretive program that will make the significance of the Chaco Canyon resources most meaningful to the visitor. Concentrate interpretive efforts on the outstanding resources in the central portion of the monument, reserving outlying sites for archeological research and possible future interpretive use if and when required by increased visitation.

Architectural Theme

Structural motifs derived from the remaining stonework dominate the entire area. Few new buildings are planned or needed and their importance should not be overestimated. The proposed new interpretive facility could well be of concrete block masonry walls and a flat roof compatible with and subtly echoing but not imitating or competing with the indigenous architecture.

Interpretive Theme

The heart of the interpretive theme is the story of prehistoric man and his relation to the natural and cultural environment of Chaco Canyon. The story will trace the cultural shift from small scattered farm villages to large, highly urbanized communities, pointing out the accompanying changes and developments in settlement patterns, housing facilities, water control devices, trade, crafts, and religious developments. It will also point out that by the late 1000's Chaco Canyon had become a major center of pueblo culture, a position it maintained for another 100 years. Although the cause of abandonment is not definitely known, the interpretive story should point out possible causes, including abuse of the land and resources which, coupled with drought, apparently resulted in serious soil depletion and erosion; harassment by other Indians; internal bickering; or a combination of these and other influences.

The story would also include the reoccupation of this area by other Pueblo Indians and, later, by the Navajo. Because the Navajo are still living in the area there should be at least a minimal treatment of the Navajo story in the interpretive program.

Visitor Use

Develop the monument's historic preservation and interpretation programs. Continue to provide camping facilities in the monument only until such time as suitable accommodations and camping facilities are developed in the vicinity by the Navajo Tribe or others. Encourage these developments outside the monument as soon as visitor use increases to the point where economically feasible.

Scope of Museum Collections

The existing limited museum collection should be expanded to provide needed museum specimens and representative study collections of pottery and other artifacts showing the progression of the Chacoan Culture from the archaic sites to the climax Pueblo Culture. As a secondary, but important sub-theme, the refugee and Navajo cultures should also be represented. The return of sample collections from excavations made by others in the past should be sought. Avoid materials that are unrelated to Chaco's story.

Pueblo del Arroyo—a large ruin located a short distance west of Pueblo Bonito on the banks of Chaco Wash. Cottonwoods and willows in wash were planted to prevent arroyo cutting and undermining of the ruin.


Chaco Canyon National Monument contains a great number and a great variety of prehistoric remains including some of the largest and most imposing ruins in the United States. From these remains, which cover a period of approximately ten centuries, it has been possible to trace the growth and development of the Anasazi or Pueblo Culture from its simple primitive beginnings to its complex and highly urbanized peak development. As a result, the area offers excellent opportunities for not only preserving outstanding relics of the past, but also for studying and interpreting one of our country's most spectacular and interesting prehistoric cultures.

As in previous master plans, the existing access and circulation road system is recognized as a major obstacle to effective preservation and interpretation. This plan advocates prompt correction of this situation by eliminating the existing access road, which passes through the major ruins area, and replacing it with a new access utilizing the Gallo Wash which is just upstream from the visitor center and well removed from the major ruins area. Visitor access to the ruins area would be by means of a one-way loop road designed and developed primarily as an interpretive facility. The wealth of prehistoric remains makes possible the development of additional in-place archeological exhibits located along this loop road in such a way that the interpretive story can be told in a chronologically ordered sequence—starting with the earliest sites and developing to the climax at a major interpretive center in the vicinity of Pueblo Bonito. Roadside exhibits along the return route will highlight specific and distinctive features of interest not covered elsewhere on the loop road.

In addition to this proposed major revamping of the access and circulation road developments, this master plan points out the need for a strong research program to support both the interpretive and resource management programs. A great deal of interpretive research has already been accomplished; most of it has been concerned with the broad picture. There still remains a great need for the problem-oriented type of research which will provide the detailed information of social and cultural life that would probably be of most interest to the visitor and would better enable him most meaningfully to relate himself with these prehistoric people.

There is also a great need for research in the field of resource management—particularly as it relates to ruins preservation measures and soil and moisture conservation methods. As a means of encouraging and facilitating research activities, the establishment of an archeological research station in the monument is proposed.

This master plan also points out the need for the early acquisition of inholdings and the extension of boundaries in order to insure the preservation of several outstanding ruins. At the same time, the deletion of archeologically insignificant lands from the monument and the exchange of these lands for needed additional lands is proposed.

The need for close cooperation with other land managing agencies, particularly the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Navajo Tribe, is also recognized by this master plan. Such cooperation is particularly important in regard to the monument's needs for adequate access roads, for a comprehensive soil and moisture program covering lands beyond monument boundaries, for research, and for the development of visitor accommodations in the vicinity.

Because of its spectacular and nationally significant resources, Chaco Canyon is one of the outstanding archeological areas in the National Park System. In addition, the area is located in a section of the country which is rapidly becoming important as a recreational vacationland. With improved accessibility, Chaco Canyon and the many other Service areas in this region can be expected to receive substantial increases in visitor use. The development and management proposals covered by this plan should adequately provide for high quality public use, not only at the present levels, but at considerably increased future levels. With minor modifications (shuttle bus service in the canyon in lieu of private automobile transportation) even greater increases in visitor use can be handled with little or no reduction in the quality of their experience.

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Last Updated: 16-Apr-2010