Following the Footsteps of the Ancients

Daily Itinerary


Day 1 / Thursday, August 1

Check into our hotel in Santa Fe, N.M. Perched on a hilltop overlooking historic downtown Santa Fe, we have chosen The Lodge, with its Southwestern style accommodations and amenities, and warm and relaxed atmosphere.

This evening enjoy a welcome dinner with introductions and trip orientation.

After dinner, we are honored and privileged to have GREGG BRADEN as our guest speaker. Spend an informative and thought provoking evening with Gregg as he introduces you to the mystery of Chaco Canyon.

Day 2 / Friday, August 2

Breakfast vouchers will be provided for the hotel’s Hilltop Bar & Grill. Plan on an early breakfast. After breakfast, we will hold a group hiking gear check before early morning departure to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Upon arrival to the Chaco Canyon campsite, our group will set up camp. Team members will be on site to assist. After camp orientation and a brief safety talk, we will break for box lunch and conversation about the day’s itinerary with a question and answer session during lunch.

After lunch we will begin our exploration of the excavated area of Chaco Canyon, including Pueblo Bonito, Petroglyphs and Casa Rinconada

Pueblo Bonito:

Pueblo BonitoWe begin our walk in the center of the Chacoan world: Pueblo Bonito, the crown jewel of the Chaco Canyon. Construction of this Great House began in mid 800 CE and continued into the mid 1100’s CE. At four stories tall, with almost 800 rooms, 32 kivas and 4 great kivas, it is one of the largest excavated ancestral sites in the Southwest and the largest “building” in North America until the early 20th century.

Why? What possessed these ancient people to construct this architectural marvel in such an inhospitable and unlikely location? For what purpose was Pueblo Bonito constructed?

Archeologists postulate that it was the largest center for trade and religious/spiritual ceremony in the Southwest. Items excavated from Pueblo Bonito are stunning in their variety and quantity: macaws from South America, conch shells from the Pacific Ocean, turquoise from Arizona, unique cylinder drinking jars with remnants of cacao (chocolate) from Central America and copper bells from Mexico.

Yet trade is only one facet of the mysterious story that is Chaco Canyon. What is the significance of the placement, arrangement and design of Pueblo Bonito?

Pueblo_Bonito_AerialWhy is Pueblo Bonito the convergence point for a system of ancient roads that span like spokes from a wheel in all directions but seemingly lead nowhere? Why were the walls of the great house constructed to perfectly align with the astronomical phenomena such as the summer solstice? What is the significance of the T-shaped doors? Why, when viewed from above, is Pueblo Bonito D-shaped like the curve in archers bow, a design completely unique to Chaco Canyon?

We will answer these questions and more as we explore the origin myths, cosmology and migrations of the “Keepers of Space”, the Ancient Ones of Chaco Canyon.

Petroglyphs: Stories in Stone

Petroglyphs_Chaco_CanyonWe travel by foot along an ancient pathway to view the rock carvings (petroglyphs) etched in stone by the Ancient Ones. With no evidence of a written language, this visual language was an important way to communicate valuable information for over a thousand years.

Chaco_Canyon_Una_Vida_petroglyphs_NPSAs we tilt our heads high to the cliff face walls, we will imagine through the eyes of those who came before us and decipher the meanings of the symbols from long ago. What do the stories in stone tell? What clues have the Ancient Ones left behind to help us determine who these people were and where they came from? What special message does the most iconic petroglyph of Chaco Canyon, the spiral, hold within its mystery? What petroglyphic clues connect the Ancient Ones of Chaco Canyon to another mysterious and ancient civilization half way across the globe?

Symbols we will decipher include ancient Chacoan petroglyphs that depict clan affiliations, clan migrations, supernatural beings, anthropomorphic figures and symbols reflecting weather and celestial phenomenon. Later symbols by more contemporary peoples, such as the Navajo and early 19th century white settlers, depict poignant moments of human drama from days past.

Casa Rinconada

Casa RinconadaCasa Rinconada is the largest and most isolated excavated kiva in the park. Unlike the vast majority of kivas, Casa Rinconada is not embedded in a large building complex; rather it stands alone as a site of religious/spiritual ceremony. The geometrical design and detail put into planning Casa Rinconada surpasses anything else found within the park. With it’s T-Shaped doors, carefully spaced interior niches that reflect a lunar association, specific orientations to the cardinal directions and Summer solstice markers, Casa Rinconada is thought to have been designed as a physical representation of the Cosmos.

Casa_Rinconada_-_Equinox_Sunrise_at_the_Cliff_NotchAs archeoastronomer Ray Williamson states: “Casa Rinconada was meant to serve as an earthly image of the celestial realm. It was not an observatory but a ritual building whose structure reflects the central place astronomy had in ancient Pueblo religious practice.”

Back at base camp, you will have some time to rest and refresh, as our team prepares a delicious, hot dinner for the group. After dinner, we will gather for a discussion of the day’s adventures, with cocoa and roasted marshmallows. Everyone is invited to share their thoughts from the day while star gazing with a guided explanation of cosmological influences.nightskies

If weather permits, we will join the Ranger presentation on the Dark Skies of Chaco Canyon and participate in the telescope viewing. There will be a brief discussion of the next day’s itinerary before we retire.

Day 3 / Saturday, August 3

We arise early this morning, break down camp and share a hearty group breakfast. After a brief hiking preparedness check, we will begin the last day of our adventure together.

Pueblo Alto Trail:

Today we will explore the Pueblo Alto Trail and immerse ourselves in the sacred landscape of long ago. As we climb through the passageway that leads to the mesa top, we will walk in the footsteps of the Ancient Ones who traveled to and from the great houses of Chaco Canyon along this very route.

Upon the mesa we experience panoramic views of the distant mountain ranges held sacred by the Ancient Chacoan people and their modern descendants. To the South, and far across Chaco Wash, the remnants of Kin Klitzen, another Great House, can be seen. The views are so expansive researchers believe that the Ancient Ones used many of the prominent natural features and structures of the mesa top as signaling stations to communicate with other communities as far away as Mesa Verde and Chimney Rock, CO.

Pueblo_Bonito_Cliff_ViewIt is from the vantage point of the mesa that we view the spectacular Pueblo Bonito below. From above, the symmetry and size of the massive complex come into view. The D-shaped geometry of the great house is made obvious, as well construction features that align and integrate with astronomical events.

The site was designed to maintain the integrity of its configuration and alignment to the Earth and Stars from its very beginnings and throughout over three hundred years of construction. Why was this cosmological symbolism so important to the Ancient Ones? What does the D-shaped symmetry of its construction reveal to us about the origins of the Chacoan people?

Chacoan Roads:

Chacoan RoadsIt is here in the Heart of Chaco Canyon, where the extensive road system converged. To date researches have discovered over 400 miles of road segments, some as much as 30 feet wide that span the four directions. The roadways are an engineering marvel. Undeterred by natural barriers such as cliffs, the ancient engineers constructed stairways, ramps or pecked hand and toeholds into the rock to continue their obsessively straight road alignments. The most impressive set of stairs, the Jackson Staircase, can be seen carved into the sheer cliff of a box canyon. Why would an ancient people with no concept of the wheel go to such extensive lengths to design and construct such a massive and intricate system of roadways?

The roads may have been used as sacred corridors for pilgrimages to the heart of the Chacoan world for participation in trade and ceremony. But perhaps they had a symbolic meaning as well, one that represents the spiritual connection of the Ancient Ones to the Earth below and the Stars above.

Pueblo Alto:

Nuevo_Alto_PuebloAs we follow remnants of the Great North Road we arrive at the partially excavated remains of Pueblo Alto. Constructed between CE 1020 and 1060 it shared a similar design plan to other Chaco great houses but was unique in that it was only one story high with unusually high ceilings. Additionally, its midden (a sacred refuse area) is one of the largest found in Chaco Canyon. The size of the midden and the enormous quantity of animal bones and pottery sherds (fragments of pottery) suggest the site was used for ceremonies such as feasting and the ritualized breaking of pottery in spiritual ceremonies. To this day, sherds of the beautiful and detailed pottery of the Chacoans can be found strewn atop the mesa as a tangible reminder of the sophistication and artistry of their ancient culture.

As the sun dips in the sky this evening, we return to Santa Fe, check into The Lodge, and share a group farewell dinner.

Day 4 / Sunday, August 4

Check out and departure on your own.