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#1 TL2101

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 06:53 PM

My brother and I are thinking of taking his class A motorhome this year to Chaco Canyon. Neither of us have ever been to New Mexico and am wondering what is the best month to go for clear skies and nice weather. Anyone familiar with this area have any suggestions on the best month to go?

Thanks

#2 MikeBOKC

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:31 PM

Fall is very nice there. September-October should be a good bet.

#3 TL2101

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:47 PM

I was hoping to go sooner but looks like spring is windy with unpredictable weather and summer is monsoon season.

#4 Fuzzyguy

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:00 PM

Make sure your shocks are in good order and everything is tied down good! You will have several miles of very rough washboard road between the highway and the park entrance. It's worth it when you get there though as they have very dark skies, an astronomy program on Thursdays I think and most of the time, the campground is usually far from full.

Spring and summer can be good too. I was down there for the eclipse and the sky was very dark and transparent that night. Be sure to visit the petroglyph marking the super nova that became the Crab Nebula.

#5 jrbarnett

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 11:12 PM

Spring or Fall are your best bets. It's hella cold in winter and mid-summer sees monsoonal storms. Still at 6200 feet in the Four Corners, storms are a possibility year round. I'd not hesitate to visit in Spring, personally.

That said, seeing is never really good there, but who cares? You typically go to a dark sky site for targets you can't observe as well from home, so that usually means DSOs which aren't so affected by seeing.

Great place.

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Etc., etc.

Regards,

Jim

#6 TL2101

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 02:00 AM

The pictograph of the supernova and the Chacoan ruins make a great backdrop for an astronomy adventure. Might try for a trip in May otherwise will wait for fall all depends on my brothers schedule.

Cool pic's can't wait to check it out in person.

#7 jrbarnett

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 11:17 AM

Said Supernova Pictograph (those are swallow's nests on the rock face):

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If that's one of your goals, I'd steer for spring of a little later in fall to minimize potential monsoon tail end storms in early fall.

The pictograph requires that you ford Chaco Wash, which is prone to fast-moving, rapidly rising waters in the wake of thunder storms. The park service closes the trail to this site and Penasco Blanco on the bluff above it for a couple of days after any sustained storm activity (i.e., any storm of more than a couple of hours).

This is what the Chaco Wash crossing looks like a fews days after an early fall storm.

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In the hours after the storm (a 2 hour storm that yielded the flow you see) the wash was raging with water about four and a half feet deep. This is three days later, with the water approximately knee deep (but with a lot of silty mud on the bottom) and moving slowly.

With respect to your plans to take an RV in and the other posters comments about washboard, he's right. There are two roads into the park, neither of them paved. The south road off of Route 57, is by far the worse of the two, being rarely graded. RVs are definitely NOT recommended on that route. If you get stuck or flat and need a tow or service, it can cost upwards of $1000, *if* you can even get a signal to call for help. This is empty country.

RVs usually enter via the northeast road off of Hwy 550. The road is much better maintained than the south road.

South road pictures:

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Regards,

Jim

#8 killdabuddha

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 11:43 AM


Great photo tour. And methinks these are yer pics? How did they make their M1 record such that it's lasted so long? The usual ocher?

#9 jrbarnett

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:38 PM

Good question. The park service archaeologists are loath to "sample" from any pigment based rock art. I read an article recently about analysis of pigments used by the Fremont Peoples for their pictographs. The Fremont's were poorer northerly neighbors of the Anasazi, occupying parts of southern Utah and up into the Great Basin. While their other material culture (architecture, jewelry, pottery) was somewhat cruder than that of their Anasazi counterparts, their rock art was extremely elaborate and in many cases more detailed and intricate. A few years ago sections of a major Fremont pictograph panel located in Canyonlands National Park fell off the rock face and were analyzed for materials content and and age. I'll see if I can find the article and if so, I'll send it to you.

The other thing about Chaco is this. Petroglyphs are much more common than pictographs. There are some Archaic pictographs (anthropomorphic) in a rock shelter that are suspected to date to the Archaic period (when post ice age megafauna were still hunted in the region). There's another set of pictographs neat Wijiji in the extreme eastern end of the park, and there's the Supernova. Given the rarity of pigment based art in Chaco, no one wants to risk damaging the few examples with sampling for analysis.

Regards,

Jim

#10 Tom Polakis

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 05:17 PM

Jim,

My only visit to Chaco was back in 2005. Do you know if the observatory is still open for business. At that time, it housed a 25" Dob. Also, there was a C14, which you can see under wraps.

Tom

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#11 jrbarnett

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 07:45 PM

Hi Tom. I'm not sure. The Visitor Center adjacent to the observatory is closed currently for renovation. There is a temporary Visitor Center structure (a large yurt!) set up in the parking lot for the old Visitor Center.

Next time I talk to one of the rangers, I'll ask about the current status of the observatory. I'm planning on visiting later this year.

Regards,

Jim

#12 NeilMac

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:29 AM

Very Nice !! Thanks!

#13 killdabuddha

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Posted 10 January 2013 - 11:55 PM

There's a nice write-up of the site at Wiki

http://en.wikipedia....Historical_Park

that includes their construction orientations/alignments as per their particular astronomical emphases/cycles. Somebody ventured a guess as to the psychological(?) impetus behind it all, but I can't understand what is meant by "the center place"

"Reasons for the alignments have been offered:

As these people would view the heavens [...] there was an order of things up there. What you had here [...] contrasted to that. Some years it was too dry, too hot [...] too windy, too cold. If there was a way to transfer the orderly nature of the cosmos down onto what seems to be chaos that exists here, then you begin to then integrate at this place both heaven and earth. And this would be [...] the center place.
—Phillip Tuwaletstiwa, U.S. National Geodetic Survey, The Mystery of Chaco Canyon."

Is there a definitive center to the entire complex?

#14 jrbarnett

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 12:07 PM

"Is there a definitive center to the entire complex?"

Good question.

Many would identify Pueblo Bonito as the "center" not just of the canyon communities but also of the entire 22,000 square mile outlier "empire" of Chacoan influence. There are arrow-straight prehistoric roads radiating out of the canyon in multiple directions. These were people with no wheel and no beasts of burden. Unlike the Romans who curved their roads around natural features, and whose roads were clearly used to move troops, wheeled vehicles and trade goods, the Chacoans kept 'em straight. Your road hits a mesa? You cut stairs up the side of the mesa or build an earthen ramp for the road.

I think it's this larger complex of the canyon, radiating roads and outlier structures that earns Chaco the "center place" label.

I'm also not so sure about Pueblo Bonito's elevated status.

Sure, it's one of the largest (it stood 5 stories in its heyday, making it the tallest building ever in North America until the 1800s; it had some 900 rooms), and one of the oldest, but...

There are actually indications that another ruin, Una Vida, may have been constructed slightly earlier. Bonito also has the advantage of being fully excavated and considerably restored. The other two old ruins in the canyon - Una Vida and Penasco Blanco - are mostly unexcavated and only minimally stabilized. We don't know if Una Vida or Penasco Blanco would yield richer grave goods, for example. Also a slightly later but still very old ruin, Chetro Ketl, may have been larger area-wise, and includes many features that are unique in the entire Chacoan region. It is better excavated than Blanco or Vida, but not quite so well preserved as Bonito.

Bonito does have a very close N-S-E-W axial alignment with the straight rear wall running E-W. It also has produced the richest burials in North America, but there's so much in Chaco that is "undug" still that I sometimes wonder if Bonito's prominence doesn't have more to do with its better state of repair when discovered by Europeans than any "specialness" attributed to it by its builders.

Regards,

Jim

#15 mountain monk

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 11:54 PM

As for time, I would go to Chaco in September/October. As for pictographic sophistication, check out the"Harvest Panel," in the Maze District of Canyonlands NP.

Dark skies.

Jack

#16 Seldom

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:27 AM

As for time, I would go to Chaco in September/October. As for pictographic sophistication, check out the"Harvest Panel," in the Maze District of Canyonlands NP.

The Maze is a big place. Could you be a little more specific? Maybe a lat/lon? On road or off road?

#17 mountain monk

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 12:29 PM

To answer your question: It is very difficult to reach--one of the most remote and dark places in Utah. There is a marked turnoff south of Hanksville on Route 95. A graded road takes you to a ranger station--and definitely stop there for info. After that there are several approaches, all requiring 4x4. My favorite is the Maze Overlook (you can camp there), but that requires going down the infamous Flint Trail, one of the scariest roads in the American West. Great campsite and beyond fabulous observing. Next day scramble down into the Maze and head for the South Fork of Horse Canyon. I think the park now calls this Pictograph Canyon. Probably six to eight miles round trip--they have maps. The country is more beautiful than Chaco, and darker, but lacks the archeological interest. I went down in a Piper Cub next to the road just before the Maze Overlook in 1964 while exploring for National Geographic. It's a marvelous trip, both for observing and looking at the pictographs. PM me for further info, or see "The Maze and Aura," in The Abstract Wild.

Dark skies.

Jack Turner

#18 Skylook123

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Posted 12 January 2013 - 02:44 PM

It's interesting that the "Solstice Project" and the U.S. National Geodetic Survey evaluated fifteen major Pueblo/Chaco culture complexes covering 65,000 square miles, the structures are sited with entryways along a precisely east-west axis capturing the passage of the rising equinox sun for the latitude of the building. Compare the essential equinox orientation with the European henges going back seven thousand years, with the heelstone aligned with the summer solstice. It sort of matches the European cultural philosophy of change (solstice marks the change of direction of the sun), with the Pueblo and other Native American cultural philosophy of harmony with the environment (equinox being the time of equal daylight and night duration).

One can marvel at investing almost three hundred years of solar/lunar astronomy (about 900 - 1150 AD) done by the Chaco culture, the effort being justified by the Phillip Tuwaletstiwa quote above. I actually use that quote in a cultural astronomy lesson I do locally and at the Grand Canyon Star Party. Here's another one. The Supernova of July 4, 1054 (now the Crab Nebula) is only noted by Chinese, Anasazi (Navaho and White Canyon artifacts), and Chaco Canyon artists; no evidence of European or Arabic sightings. Why the American Southwestern documentation? With the sun and moon being so core to the Chaco culture, the moon was a center of attention. “On July 5, 1054 the crescent moon came remarkably close to the supernova, as seen (only) from Western North America” (Simon Mitton, St. Edmunds College, Cambridge).

And also in Mimbres pottery.

Pottery Examples

There is a sidebar titled "Pottery Making in the Southwest". The second figure down is an upside down depiction of the July 5, 1054 moon and supernova. In Mimbres culture, the moon is a rabbit. The supernova was visible in daylight for 23 days, and there are 23 spikes on the symbol under the rabbit's hind feet.

Sorry to hijack the thread, but if you are going to visit Chaco, you might consider little known Paria Canyon along the Paria River between Utah and Arizona, west of Glen Canyon Dam/Page, AZ. This was a Native American observatory going back three thousand years, with artwork on many panels showing evidence of Paiute, Lakota, Navajo, and Hopi styles.

#19 MarcusE

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 12:07 AM

I got a book called, "Chaco Astronomy" for Christmas this year. I haven't had much time to read it yet, but it is a series of previously published papers on Chaco, the petroglyphs, the architecture, the sun markings, etc. I didn't realize the extent that some of the dwellings are oriented to both the Sun and the Moon and their passage across the sky. Fascinating place.
The book will be good for some cloudy night reading....

Cheers,

Marcus

#20 lintonius

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 04:55 AM

I'm enjoying all this discussion and appreciate all the contributed info.
Having recently made the Colorado Plateau my home, I've done a lot of exploring already.
But Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep, Canyon de Chelley, and numerous others still await.
Though Spring and Autumn are probably the best bet, I wouldn't be afraid of summer either.
Unless the trip priority is observing...
The monsoons can be very enjoyable, as long as you're properly prepared.
And it often clears out after sunset. Just stay out of those slot canyons and washes!
Linton

#21 lintonius

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 05:09 AM

To answer your question: It is very difficult to reach--one of the most remote and dark places in Utah. There is a marked turnoff south of Hanksville on Route 95. A graded road takes you to a ranger station--and definitely stop there for info. After that there are several approaches, all requiring 4x4. My favorite is the Maze Overlook (you can camp there), but that requires going down the infamous Flint Trail, one of the scariest roads in the American West. Great campsite and beyond fabulous observing. Next day scramble down into the Maze and head for the South Fork of Horse Canyon. I think the park now calls this Pictograph Canyon. Probably six to eight miles round trip--they have maps. The country is more beautiful than Chaco, and darker, but lacks the archeological interest. I went down in a Piper Cub next to the road just before the Maze Overlook in 1964 while exploring for National Geographic. It's a marvelous trip, both for observing and looking at the pictographs. PM me for further info, or see "The Maze and Aura," in The Abstract Wild.

Dark skies.

Jack Turner


The Maze District is on the east end of Wayne county... my new home... and I'm looking forward to exploring it often, Jack!
My current vehicle selection will limit my options considerably!
But many of my new friends are well equipped. ;^)
Linton

#22 edwincjones

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 06:59 AM

I once made the mistake of going to Hovenweep to study/observe constellations-a mistake as just too many stars to see the overall outline.
The area is isolated and very dark, but a small light dome to the east from Cortez.
This is the darkest sky I have ever seen.

edj

#23 Seldom

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 01:19 AM

Maybe getting off topic, but Natural Bridges National Monument is a certified dark sky site. Linton, it's on your way to Hovenweep, but anywhere on a highway shoulder of SR95 should so almost as well.

#24 lintonius

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 01:52 AM

Maybe getting off topic, but Natural Bridges National Monument is a certified dark sky site. Linton, it's on your way to Hovenweep, but anywhere on a highway shoulder of SR95 should so almost as well.


Natural Bridges is an incredible place, Seldom... day or night!
I haven't done any observing there yet. But I will.
About anywhere within 100 mile radius could be an IDA "dark site"...
If only there was some light pollution for them to reduce.
Heck, we've held our first 3 Heritage Starfests *in or just outside* neighboring towns.
And it was darker than my 90-minute-drive dark sky sites in SoCal.
I don't mean to gloat about it...I'm just happy!
Linton

#25 bunyon

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 09:59 AM

Another vote for Bridges. The campground is actually fine, although the ranger and a lot of folks advised going further into the park. I set up a lot of gear last May and it was more convenient to stay in one place. I had feared for my fellow campers but they were a dark folk while I was there. There were no light domes of any kind. It's about twice as far from Cortez as is Hovenweep and over a range of mountains. Simply a spectacular place to observe. The ability to wake up in the morning and hike through a beautiful national monument doesn't hurt, either.

There is also some water there - not much but a little - at the visitor center.






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