Pueblo Bonito ~ Chaco Culture National Heritage Park
Touring the many ancient great house pueblos in the Chaco Culture National Heritage Park can take well over a week to accomplish and this is what many people set out to do. Some of the back country hikes to the outlying pueblos can take all day and there are a few of them, so some physical endurance is required for a complete a full tour too. Not everybody has the time or energy to see it all when visiting Chaco Canyon, so the best choice for a short excursion is to only visit the ancient great house pueblos that are located along the nine mile park touring loop road. Visiting most of the great house pueblos along this paved road will take all day, so this is a good choice for a day trip tour.
The previously published Chaco Canyon articles will be of help for planning visit and these blurbs can be found in the index pages. Some of the articles focus on how to get to Chaco and the local camping options. Chaco Canyon definitely is way off of the beaten path in central New Mexico and there are no modern amenity options nearby. Half of the adventure is just trying to get here on the rough dirt roads, which are not recommended for low ground clearance vehicles. This is part of what makes doing the Heritage Park loop road tour so nice, because it is the only smooth paved road in this entire region!
Pueblo Bonito is the most famous great house pueblo in Chaco Canyon and this destination is located next to Chetro Ketl on the touring loop road. Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito are closely related structures and there is a long petroglyph wall between these two sacred places. Pueblo Bonito is the most often pictured ancient site in this canyon and the overhead view of this classic “D” shaped pueblo complex is world famous. From a distance. this great house pueblo looks ominous with the sheer cliffs of the mesa in the background. When a visitor nears this site on the short hiking trail, it is then that the grand scale of this gigantic structure comes into proportion. Pueblo Bonito certainly is the grandaddy of them all, as far as sheer immense size is concerned!
Pueblo Bonito is located in an area that is often referred to as “Downtown Chaco” because this large building is surrounded by neighboring great house pueblos. All it takes is one look to see that Pueblo Bonito was the cornerstone, because of the extensive architectural planning and craftsmanship that went into constructing this majestic ancient pueblo complex. This ancient great house was over four stories tall with over 350 individual rooms. There are also 32 round kivas and three great kivas inside the walls of this complex, so Pueblo Bonito actually is the largest of the great house pueblos in Chaco Canyon.
Because Pueblo Bonito is so large, it is best to plan on spending a few hours touring this sacred place, because a tour would not be complete without hiking the petroglyph wall trail to the neighboring Chetro Ketl. The hike to Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl can be done as a loop and the end of the trail will be back at the parking area.
The apex of this “D” shaped pueblo complex is on a corner next to the cliffs, which is the high ground on the valley floor. From this high vantage point, a good overview of the pueblo complex design can be seen. The only better view of this pueblo can be found at the overlook on top of the solid rock mesa. The Pueblo Bonito Overlook Trail is part of the Pueblo Alto Trail, which begins by going up the steep walls of the cliff, but the effort is rewarding!
Pueblo Bonito certainly lives up to its name, because this is such a beautiful ancient town to see! The exquisite masonry and rock cutting craftsmanship truly is amazing and the floor plan design is something that can be pondered over for quite some time. Learning about the local native cultures will provide insight into what the kivas and individual rooms were used for. A good way to gain some knowledge while there is to take a ranger guided tour and the the tour schedules can be found in the visitors center. The Chaco Culture National Heritage Park is a sacred place, so it must be respected as such. All it takes is laying eyes on Pueblo Bonito to turn a trip to this majestic place into a spiritual journey that offers plenty to learn!