Chaco Culture National Historical Park isn’t exactly easy to get to, but it’s worth the drive. Do not depend on your GPS! Many of the roads coming from the south are 4-wheel drive roads. Follow directions from the Chaco website, the roads are clearly marked as well. Located 21 miles off of US 550, the route includes about 18 miles of rough, dirt roads. It’s not impassible for rigs, but be sure and fasten everything down. The roads are washboard and small ruts, be sure and slow down to 5-10 MPH, and you’ll get there just fine – expect a bumpy ride! We kept the Jeep connected on the way there, but decided to not hook up until after the rough road on the way out. It’s much easier without the toad. There’s a large pullout on the right just before entering US 550, that’s where we hooked the Jeep up before hitting the road again. It might be a good idea to contact the park before heading up, just to get an update on the road conditions – especially if there’s a chance of rain. You will cross a dry riverbed, which can flood in rains. Be sure all your windows are completely closed – otherwise, your rig will be covered in dust. It will probably be so anyhow.
Check-in was a piece of cake. I had online reservations so it was just a matter of paying entry fees. Mr. Cornucopia has worked there over 20 years, and is a wealth of knowledge. There’s also a lady who has been studying the petroglyphs since the ‘80s. I forget her name, but she has evening talks weekly. I wish we’d been there when her talks were scheduled.
BE SURE and fill up your fresh tanks with water before leaving the visitor center! The only water in the campground is non-potable. There are no hookups in the campground, but there is a dump station. Our site (#15) was relatively level – we didn’t even bother to put down the leveling jacks. We had a beautiful view outside the back window, and also upon walking out the door. Our Sprint service was non-existent while there – plan to not have contacts with the outside world while there. If you’re lucky, you can get a call out – at times, we did manage to get out with one bar. There are restrooms in the campground, but no showers. Be sure to take enough food and water with you. Nothing is available in the campground, and it’s a LONG drive back to the store. There is a picnic table and fire pit at each site, but that’s it. NO shade.
The ruins within the campground
Beautiful tall canyon walls surround the campground. There are two ruins right there – Gallo Cliff dwellings, built between AD 1150-1200, under these walls within the campground. Walk the trail around the perimeter of the campground, and look for the petroglyphs. Start at the community fire pit, and walk all the way over to the tent areas. They’re not marked, and I wouldn’t have seen them if the petroglyph lady hadn’t told me about them when I checked in.
Petroglyph depicting a T-Shaped door, and a photo of the T-Shaped door
I have only one disappointment from my visit to Chaco Canyon. Designated an International Dark Sky Park, and bragging on their site to be one of the best places in America to stargaze, I was looking forward to getting out and shooting some amazing night sky photos. Sadly, we were restricted to the campground after sunset. The park closes then, and all the trails, sites, and the loop road are all off limits. There is nothing I can do (legally) outside of the campground after sunset. Why brag about the night sky, if you don’t let your visitors enjoy it? I did leave a comment card as I left.
Despite the rough roads, no utility or electronic connections and restrictions after sunset, Chaco is such an amazing place that I’ll put this on my “must return” list. I’m not sure if we’ll bring the rig back, but I do own a tent. We spent two nights there, but it wasn’t near long enough to explore as much as I’d like. If you’re short on time, Pueblo Bonito is a MUST see.
Pueblo Bonito panaroma, shot from the overlook trail (Highly recommend this trail!)
Cool ruins and petroglyphs right in the campground
Two trailheads right inside the campground
Water for tanks at visitor center
Pueblo Bonito Overlook Trail
Nobody is allowed outside the campground after sunset (a HUGE con)
Very rough road to get into Chaco Canyon
No shade in campground