Native Americans perform a ceremonial dance at Grand Canyon (left) photograph courtesy of the National Park Service. Visitors walk through geothermal spring at Yellowstone (right) photograph courtesy of the National Park Service.
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
World Heritage Sites in the United States

Chaco Culture
Including Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument
Northern New Mexico
 
Chaco Culture. Photo courtesy of the National Park ServiceRemains of early Puebloan architecture in
Chaco Culture
National Park Service

Chaco Culture World Heritage Site in the center of northern New Mexico lies at the core of an ancient American Indian civilization begun by people referred to as "ancestral Pueblo" or "Chacoan." The Chaco complex and its extensive system of masonry structures and roads were begun as early as 850 A.D. and flourished for several centuries.  As the economic and religious center for the surrounding region, the ancestral Pueblo constructed masonry buildings with rooms twice the size of Chacoan structures in other areas.  The buildings of Chaco Canyon are by far the earliest examples of the modern Pueblo Indian building tradition found in other areas of New Mexico and Arizona. This type of construction continues to the present day among the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States. This complex is protected at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and five smaller sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Chacoan buildings represent the highest technical excellence, craftsmanship, and coordination of effort in the prehistoric Chacoan area. Chacoan builders used very simple materials to erect walls which still stand over five stories. The scale and planning of these buildings, which are most evident in the geometry and symmetry of their plan or layout, is unique in the Southwest. At Chaco, the prehistoric social system may have been its peoples' most remarkable achievement. Chaco dominated and altered the traditional social, economic, and religious practices over a large area in a marginal environment.

Petroglyphs on cliff at Wijiji in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park ServicePetroglyphs on cliff at Wijiji in
Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
National Park Service

Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument are units of the National Park Service. Along these parks' trails are the “great houses” like Una Vida & Petroglyphs and Hungo Pavi, and the highly significant Pueblo Bonito. Each site uniquely captures the history and influence of the Chaco people and their descendants. Pueblo Bonito, at Chaco Cultural National Historical Park, once served as the center of Chaco life and culture. This D-shaped building took decades to build, ultimately standing 4 to 5 stories tall with over 600 rooms. Pueblo Bonito was the focus of ceremonial functions, administration, trading, storage, hospitality, communications, astronomy, and burial of the honored dead for the Chaco people. Aztec Ruins National Monument protects three additional great houses that represented the later period of Chacoan cultural fluorescence. At Aztec Ruins, visitors can enter a reconstructed great kiva and wander through a series of original rooms with 900-year old roofs still intact.

By 1050 A.D., Chaco served as the center of culture in the San Juan Basin, and its sphere of influence was extensive. Dozens of great houses in Chaco were connected to over 150 great houses in the region by extensive roads. However, by the 1100s and 1200s, change came to Chaco as new construction slowed and Chaco's role as a regional center shifted. Chaco's influence continued at Aztec, Mesa Verde, the Chuska Mountains, and other centers to the north, south, and west. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans' sacred migration paths-a spiritual place to be honored and respected.

At Chaco Culture National Historical Park, visitors are encouraged to begin with the Visitor’s Center, which includes a museum, theater, bookstore, and gift shop. From there, a 9-mile paved loop road accesses six major sites within the historic park, including Pueblo Bonito. From April to October, the Chaco Night Sky Program presents astronomy programs, solar viewing, and telescope viewing of the spectacular dark sky. The park sponsors other programs, including special events and hikes, from May to October.

Aztec Ruins National Monument provides ranger tours and talks from May through September, and a Junior Ranger program is offered year-round.  Cultural demonstrations take place many weekends during the summer months. Aztec Ruins hosts an Earth Day Celebration every April and and an Evening of Lights display every December.

Plan your visit

Chaco Culture is a World Heritage Site and contains two units of the National Park Service and smaller sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Chaco Cultural National Historical Park is located three miles southeast of Nageezi, New Mexico, off County Road 7950. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is open every day from 7:00am to sunset. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm. The Visitor Center and trails are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, but the park's campground remains open. For more information, visit the National Park Service Chaco Culture National Historical Park website or call 505-786-7014 ext. 221.

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located one mile north of Aztec, NM, near the junction of U.S. 550 and NM 516. The Monument is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm daily and 8:00am to 6:00pm in the summer. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. For more information, visit the National Park Service Aztec Ruins National Monument website or call 505-334-6174.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary. Aztec Ruins National Monument is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary, and has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

top
<<< Previous            Next >>>